On the Run

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Little Victories

After the park Mark took Isabel and Elia out to pizza. He figured that was probably a treat the little girl hadn’t had often. Even so he was surprised by the guarded excitement in the child’s eyes when he had asked her what kind she wanted. She had responded quietly and timidly, but she had spoken directly to him.

Mark was surprised by the joy he got out of these little victories. After the incident with the swing there were subtle changes in their behavior around him. Isabel met his gaze a little easier and didn’t flinch with every move he made. Elia still avoided his gaze and flinched away but not quite as badly. Or maybe that’s just what he wanted to believe.

Isabel was surprised at how much his assurance at the playground had affected her. The determination in that single word, when he said ‘never’, had shaken her. His eyes had seemed so honest, maybe even caring.

The way he talked to Elia with such gentleness and patience, warmed her to the core. She fought the desire to trust this man, but knew that to a degree she already did. That knowledge terrified her.

She watched as Elia asked politely for plain cheese pizza, and wasn’t surprised when Mark agreed cheerfully instead of getting upset.

“The crust is my favorite.” Elia offered up after they were sitting in the booth.

“Nope,” Mark grinned at her, “the crust is all mine.”

“Okay,” Elia replied, looking down at the table.

If he had wanted her to spar with him, Isabel knew she wouldn’t. The child had been forced to submit her whole life, it was too thoroughly ingrained to ignore.

“I’m playing Elia, you can eat anything you want hunny.” Mark smiles sadly at her.

Isabel realized then he had expected this response. She wondered why he was doing it if he knew Elia wouldn’t play along. Then it hit her, he probably wanted to get her used to normal conversations.

When they got back to the house Mark walked to the back door and let Elia out. Getting down on one knee to be at the child’s level he once again extended his hand cautiously.

“High five?”

Once again Elia stared at the hand for a minute before slowly shaking her head. She watched to see how he would react this time. Would he get mad now?

“Maybe next time,” Mark smiled calmly at the child.

She frowned at him but nodded slowly before looking up at Isabel who had come to stand behind her. Isabel smiled half heartedly at her daughter.

“Baby can you go ahead upstairs? I’ll be up in a minute.”

Elia nodded then walked past Mark. The adults watched her open the door and slide inside. They were quiet for a while before Isabel finally spoke.

“She’s not going to give you a high five,” She said nervously

Mark had already assumed that but he figured he might be able to get information.

“I noticed, why is that?” Mark asked, studying her reactions.

“Her dad used to do that when she was little.”

Isabel’s voice shook and she wrapped her arms around herself. Mark wished she would look at him; he wanted to see her beautiful green eyes.

“I don’t get it…” Mark frowned.

“He started using it as a way to jerk her around. After the second time he dislocated her arm…” her voice tailed off and tears glistened in her eyes. Then she met his eyes for a second before looking down, ashamed. “She doesn’t high five anyone but me anymore.”

Mark forced his face to remain as calm as he could. He only allowed the sadness and pain to show, afraid the anger would create more problems than solutions. He watched for a minute as she stared down at the ground before he couldn’t stand it anymore.

Gently Mark slid one finger under her chin and lifted her face to look at him. “It was not your fault Izzy. You are not responsible for his actions, and you did the best thing for her by leaving.”

“She was just a baby, it was my job to protect her.” Isabel whimpered, a single tear rolled down her cheek.

Mark used his thumb to wipe the tear away. “Yours and her fathers. He failed, not you. You got her out.”

Isabel stayed still for a second before pulling away. “I’m sorry. I just thought you should know it won’t work.”

Isabel started walking away, but froze when Mark responded.

“I’m not giving up.” Mark stated determinately, “On either of you.”

Isabel didn’t turn but she hesitated before Mark watched her shoulders droop and she continued.

Mark watched as she opened the door walking into the apartment. He sighed and ran his fingers through his hair. Hoping he hadn’t gone too far, he headed into the main house.

Isabel leaned forward, laying her head against the closed door. Her hair hung down blocking her face in case Elia came over. She didn’t want the child to see the silent tears that ran down her cheeks.

She could hardly believe she actually allowed him to touch her. She had only flinched slightly, and even then she knew it was more instinctive than fear. Was it possible, despite her efforts, she was starting to trust him.

She couldn’t let that happen. She felt he was a good guy, but she had thought the same about Andrey. Clearly, she had been wrong and she would not make that mistake again.

She sighed, what was so different about this man? It wasn’t just his words and actions that were kind and judgeless. It was something in his smile, in how he seemed satisfied with his life. He acted as if someone he trusted was calling all the shots.

Isabel thought about his invitation to church the next day. After a moment she sighed, rolling her eyes. This was crazy, she wasn’t worthy of a decent man. How could she believe she was worthy of any god that might exist?

“Mommy, can we color?” Elia came up beside her.

“Of course you can, baby. I have to clean up.” Isabel wiped her eyes before smiling down at her daughter.

Meeting her baby’s eyes she was suddenly more determined than ever. She would never let another man hurt her daughter. Mark might seem good but she was not about to take that risk on him. She thought maybe they should leave, but she couldn’t afford that. So instead she had to avoid him whenever possible. No more being alone with him.

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