On the Run

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Isabel stood for a minute wondering absently how she was supposed to bring in enough money for them to live and save up to leave if and when they would have to.

She sighed, deciding for now to take advantage of what she did have, a shower and a washer and dryer.

So as she walked down the hall she dumped all of their dirty clothes into the washer before thinking twice. She pulled out her work shirt and the cleanest jeans she had.

The shower felt amazing. The hot water washed all of the dirt and grime off of her. She looked down though, as always, feeling ashamed of the pale, bruised, and scarred skin that covered her. She scrubbed pointlessly in an attempt to wash away the feeling of his hands on her.

With a sigh she dried herself off and slid on her clothes realizing too late that all her long sleeve attire was in the washer. All she could do was hope that they were done before work.

She brushed her hair before letting it hang loose over her shoulders. After checking the mirror one last time she checked on Elia and switched over the laundry before heading back into the living room.

She found a notebook and pen on a coffee table in front of the small brown leather couch. She tucked her bare feet underneath her as she curled up into a ball on the far side of the couch. With her wet hair the previously cool room suddenly felt chilled.

Huddling closer into herself she opened the notebook on her lap calmly writing the words ‘shopping list’ across the top of the first page.

After her list was complete she turned the page and started writing.

She never wrote anything important, no true stories. However, it always seemed to help manage her emotions. Even the little truths she wove into her stories helped her lose the feeling of no control. She had complete control of everything on this page and the next. It had always been her way of taking back control if only for a short time.

There was a light knock on the door and she froze, fear gripping her chest as she stared at it. She waited, as illogical as was, for Andrey to knock down the door and stand there grinning down at her triumphantly.

“Isabel? Can I come in?” Mark’s voice came through the door.

She exhaled in a gust of breath.

“Yes,” She choked out, swallowing the panic.

She watched as he opened the door and came in. She marveled at the fact that he had knocked and asked before coming in.

Isabel shook her head frustrated at herself. She needed to expect at least that amount of respect if she was going to teach her daughter to be a strong independent woman.

Mark turned the knob and opened the door cringing as Isabel’s voice cracked. He didn’t want to think about how bad that must hurt.

As he saw her balled up on the couch his jaw tightened reflexively. His eyes skimmed over the bruises along her arms and neck, even more obvious in the unnaturally white light.

“I brought you some hot lemon and honey as well as some tylenol for your throat.” Mark said trying to mask his anger

Isabel wondered what made Mark so tensely stoic, it frightened her. He placed the cup on the table in front of her along with a bottle of medicine. She stared at it wearily.

“Oh,” Isabel said, biting her lips. After everything he had done this for some reason seemed like too much and tears stung her eyes. “You didn’t have to do that.”

Mark shrugged, though she was still staring at his offering.

He took the opportunity to look at her more closely. Her chestnut brown hair waved down her back, the light curls weighed down with water that still dropped slightly off the tips. Her eyes, while still intensely guarded, seemed less burdened and more relaxed. He could only imagine knowing they had a roof over their heads helped with that. She was clean and comfortable, probably for the first time in at least a week.

“You are very beautiful.” He mumbled unintentionally.

Her fair cheeks flush deep red and she pulled her legs closer to her nervously.

“Sorry.” He said, frowning at the wall somewhere above her head.

Mark wondered why he had said that. It was true, but he had known that kind of attention wouldn’t go over well. He was trained better than that. Normally he was cautious about what he said, always. For some reason though when he met this lady’s green eyes he couldn’t think.

“Thank you.” Isabel said doubtfully, she wasn’t sure what he got from lying to her about something as trivial as her appearance, but she knew it could only be a lie. How many million times had Andrey said that she was fat or ugly even as he came inside her.

“You look freezing. The thermostat is right here.” Mark walked to the wall on the opposite side of the couch and turned the heat up before grabbing a throw blanket off the back of the recliner.

He ignored her flinch as he draped the blanket over her, before sitting on the couch about a foot from her bare feet.

“Mommy?” Elia whimpered peering around the corner into the room where her mom sat on a couch with the large dark man from the restaurant.

Isabel sat taller smiling at the little girl. “Come here baby.”

Elia looked at Mark who smiled at her kindly before looking at his phone. Deciding it was safe she slowly skirted around him watching his feet in case one flew out to hurt her.

Mark watched the little girl tiptoe around him and his heart ached. He was determined to help this girl trust him and he suddenly had an idea of how to do that.

Elia stood on the opposite side of her mother staring at the ground and Mark flinched visibly as he wondered how often her father had gotten to her by going straight through her mother.

“Baby, you remember Mr. Mark?” Isabel asked, rubbing her daughter’s shoulder encouragingly.

Elia nodded shyly.

Mark stood and walked slowly towards the child before kneeling down about three feet in front of her.

While the girl watched his every move she didn’t show any sign that he was frightening her. She glanced up at her mom who watched him, clearly ready to jump in if she felt the need.

Fair enough she was simply being a good mother. Mark would expect nothing less than for her to be protective after the hell they had clearly been through.

He extended one hand with slow deliberate movements. He moved cautiously, watching the little girl’s face for any sign that he might be frightening her.

Elia looked desperately up at her mother then turned back to Mark. He had his hand extended and though it made her nervous, she knew he just wanted a high five. He wasn’t trying to hurt her.

She stared at the hand and couldn’t help imagining the large strong fingers wrapping tightly around her own tiny hand.

Elia watched Mark’s hand as if it were a bear trap ready to snap shut at the slightest of preause. It made Isabel sick to her stomach but she forced herself to watch quietly. Mark had yet to give her any reason to think he might be dangerous to the little girl. However that did not mean she trusted him with her.

In fact Isabel was sure she would never trust a man with her child ever again, or herself for that matter.

“You don’t high five?” Mark said quietly, unsurprised.

He had figured it would take some time before the little girl trusted him even this much.

Elia was shocked by the calmness of his voice, he wasn’t yelling. She glanced back at his hand and shook her head cautiously.

He just nodded as though he had been expecting this then smiled at her. “Okay, we’ll try again later.”

Isabel sighed relieved as Mark stood and took a couple steps away from Elia.

“I think there’s enough time before work for you to get a bath, if you would like.” Isabel smiled at her daughter running her fingers through Elias’ hair.

“Really!” Elia beamed, her excitement temporarily overwhelming her fear.

Elia turned back to Mark who now leaned against the wall watching the ladies.

Elia wondered if she had been too loud. Would he get mad?

Mark smiled happily at a normal reaction from the child, he was beginning to worry fear was all she knew. Looking at the adoration on her mother’s face though he knew that Elia also knew love. Even if it was only one parent’s love, it was better than nothing.

Watching Isabel’s obvious love for her child was amazing. He had thought her beautiful before but now the way she smiled at Elia took his breath away.

Again he wondered how anybody could hurt such a loving and gentle soul. Mark silently prayed for the ability to forgive Elia’s father and for help defending Isabel and Elia if it came to that. He prayed that Isabel and Elia would find the peace and happiness they deserved. Lastly he thanked God for bringing them, so unexpectedly, into his life.

“Okay, I’ll come back when it’s time to go to the cafe.” Mark smiled kindly at Isabel.

Isabel nodded back nervously, she was still uncomfortable with this situation.

Mark wished he could put her at ease, but knew only time and God could help her with that.

As she turned back to her daughter, he figured now was not the best time to invite her to church, he would do that soon though.

Isabel watched as Mark walked out. Something was different about this man, she wasn’t sure what or if she even cared to know, but he wasn’t like anyone she had met before.

“Mark?” Isabel’s voice stopped Mark as his hand landed on the door handle.

“Yeah?” He responded looking back at her.

“Thank you.” Her expression looked confused and guarded.

Mark knew she was still waiting for him to snap. He wished words alone could convince her he wasn’t going to.

“You are very welcome, if you need something don’t hesitate to ask.” Mark smiled back at her before leaving.

“Bath?” Elia asked tentatively and Isabel smiled nodding at her daughter.

“Let’s go princess.” She stood, reaching out to take the child’s hand.

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