Life is like a deck of cards in a serious poker game. Unfortunately, I was holding a lousy hand. My family loved me, and although I didn’t always agree with my parents, they raised me well. It was when I decided to defy my father and go out on my own that everything went to hell in a hand-basket. I rebelled against my father. and his iron-fisted, demanding control of my life. I thought I knew what was best for me. I thought he was wrong at every intersection, but as it turned out, it was me that was making the mistakes.
I was wrong thinking I knew best.
The moment I walked out, it all started to go downhill fast. My father knew the relationship I had hid from him was a mistake. The day he found out, he hounded me night and day to come back home. My Dad had taught me at an early age not to trust any man he didn’t approve of. I knew the rigorous hoops every guy I dated was forced to endure. I was sick of the control and had to find out why he was so strict the hard way.
I should have listened. He is the Colonel for a reason.
Ever since I arrived in Heart Butte, I knew that eventually I would have to face my demons. But I felt safe here, even if I was still in hiding. I don’t know how many times I settled somewhere new. I have moved around so much in the past. Everywhere from big cities to small towns, and I never felt at home. Here in this small Montana mountain town, I knew I had found what I was looking for.
Still, I kept my distance. I’ve made several acquaintances since we got here, but I haven’t allowed myself to find a close friend. No one to talk things over with. No one to gossip with. Over the past two years, until coming here, I’ve been completely on my own. Keeping people at bay has become as normal for me as breathing. It is just too dangerous for them to get attached to me or vice versa.
Dad was right though. When I got involved with Anthony Dean, my life was turned upside down. Each day I was with him, he kept me on my toes. I never knew just what would set off his temper. But one fateful day changed it all. That day gave me the courage to strike out on my own and run.
The letter I found in Anthony’s desk drawer had thrown my life into a living nightmare. That single piece of paper has made me doubt everything I was so sure of. From my trust in my parents, my confidence in myself to everything about Anthony I thought I knew. That moment sent me on the run for my life. A life I now know will be full of pain and loneliness as long as he lives.
I can face my demons. I can cope with the pain of the past. My mistakes are mine to own. It was the loneliness that ate at me late at night, when I couldn’t sleep. It was difficult not letting anyone get too close to me. It was necessary and I knew it was for the best. I have to do what is best for my child.
A child who will never know his father.
I could keep him safe. I kept telling myself that in hopes it would be true. We remain separate from everyone for now but it wouldn’t be much longer when that would have to change. Once Jacob is old enough to make friends and start school things would have to change. I can’t keep running. Eventually, I’m going to have to play my cards and deal with the consequences.
Moments like this I can feel the exhaustion setting into my bones. As the night creeps in, that familiar feeling of loneliness encompasses me. My shoulders ache as I roll my neck in slow circles to loosen the muscles that have cramped up. Looking down at the laptop, my eyes blur at the numbers on the screen. The spreadsheet staring back at me holds only more bad news. The bank statement is my nemesis tonight just as the mortgage bill was last night. The dollars are dwindling too low. I’m going to have to fix the finances quickly if I want to be able to make the bills for the next few months.
I had a plan. I thought about how much I needed and what I needed to do to make the ends meet. It wasn’t going to work. I knew I could make the call if necessary, but God, if I want to admit the mistake.
I’m an adult, almost thirty years old, and should be able to handle things on my own. Of course, a full time job and a little financial help from my parents couldn’t hurt. But I’m refusing to ask for their help. I’ve risked too much to be found again. The last time I tried to reach out, it was too close for comfort. Too close to relax. I can’t afford to make the appeal again. My father is being watched at all times. If I reach out to him now, we would be found once again and forced to run.
Sighing and giving up for the night, I close the laptop and rub my tired eyes. They burn horribly from staring at the screen too long. With a backache from leaning over the kitchen table too long, a headache from working and reworking the numbers and hoping the total would be larger each time, I get up from the table to turn in.
Rubbing my lower back as I make my ritual rounds to lock up, checking all the windows, making sure the sticks on each are in tight. Locking the double locks on the front and back doors, before I move on. I have to make some hard decisions come morning.
Glancing over at the monitor that sits on the edge of the counter, I listen for my sweet baby. For him I will sacrifice my life. My baby boy’s safety is the most important thing and is what forced us to run from the past. His life means more than money, more than anything. Jacob’s world is my universe.
Walking to the kitchen window, I stare out at the darkness. The breeze is blowing outside, the trees sway and hit against the eaves. I can hear the brush of the larger tree against the side of the house. Its branches, scraping and ripping at the roof and drainpipe. The sound scratching fills my ears with the rush of the wind.
The old floorboards creak and settle like the sounds of a haunting surrounding me. A chill shimmies down my spine, as if I were touched by a ghost. Being alone like this is spooky at times, especially late at night with a storm moving in.
For the past month, I’ve had a nagging feeling I was being watched. I’ve avoided windows when it’s late and the lights are on in the house. I never open the door to the cool breeze once the sun has gone down. I only sense that eyes are watching me and the dread behind that feeling keeps the adrenaline flowing into the wee hours of morning.
The moment I had found the letter, I knew my life and Jacob’s were in trouble. Anthony was always incredibly mean when I did something he didn’t approve of. So when I stumbled onto the letter I knew it could ruin my family. I knew Anthony would kill me and my child to protect his own interests.
My heart ripped apart when I realized he never loved me. Realizing he had played me from the beginning was lowering. From the first harsh word to the last hit of his fist, I knew I had been used. My father is a Colonel in the United States Marine Corps. He is a man of power and authority. Anthony Dean was set on taking what he believed was his due, and would walk over anyone in his path. Still it hurts deeply, knowing when I found out that his due included me.
I got lucky that night. Walking upstairs to my room, I remember how he had walked out that night after hurting me and went on a drinking binge. He had gotten into a fight and was arrested on the spot. Anthony’s anger at me had been his undoing. When I found out he was arrested and knew he couldn’t follow me, I ran. I kept running until we hit this small town in the mountains. Now, I’m tired of looking over my shoulder and don’t want to run anymore.
The long night seems to pass with bouts of tossing and turning again. I keep seeing the letter and Anthony’s outraged face when he found me out. The accusations he yelled, the threats he promised to follow through on echo in my head. All of which I was certain he meant to keep. I can still feel the pain in my face where he hit me. I can remember the sharp spark of white lights that burst behind my eyelids just before I passed out from his last blow.
Then there was nothing until the blinding light in the emergency room that woke me. Unnerving to have lost consciousness and I had sat up too fast only to then pass out again. The dream woke me with a start. I was trembling when I jerked in my own bed. Another nightmare. Just a memory that keeps haunting me.
The pillow and sheets are saturated from my cold sweat that has slickened my skin. Disoriented, I frantically look around the room for shadows. On the dresser across the room sits the monitor. I can hear him. Jacob is waking before the sun and I need to be there for him once again.
There’s no back up for me. No husband or father to share the duties. It’s just me. Rolling out of the bed I swear I just fell into, I quickly dress and splash water on my face to get the sleep from my eyes. I’ll get a shower after Mel picks him up. My single break in my armor, and the only friend I’ve allowed in. For now, I just need to settle my nerves and calm my paranoia. He hasn’t found us. We’re still safe.
The bright morning light is doing little to boost my mood when I walk into the nursery. Exhausted once again and too determined to let anything get to me, I’m not ready to admit I need help. I’ll have a little time later to myself to work the logistics. Maybe then I can catch a nap before Mel brings Jacob back from the babysitter.
Until then I make a mental list of everything I need to do. Reminding myself to clean the house and cook up some goodies to keep on hand. I lift my sweet boy into my arms kissing his face and holding him close. As I change him, I wonder if a small town was a good idea.
We head to the kitchen as I yearn for a tall mug of coffee and a vat of caffeine. Coffee has become a lifeline to get me through the day. Cooking and cleaning keeps me occupied and as I’ve discovered, living in a small town, people tend to show up whenever they feel like it. It's a habit I haven’t gotten used to.
“Hey, Cass, honey, you home?” Mel’s voice sings through the front door and into the kitchen.
“Back here,” I call back and hide the checkbook, quickly returning it to my purse. No one needs to know my financial dilemma.
Mel was the first person I met when we moved to Heart Butte. She is exuberant and friendly and pushed a friendship onto me before I knew what was happening. Mel helped me over and over from finding a place to live to a shoulder to cry on. She provides some local gossip regularly to help me know what’s happening around town and with who for entertainment. I’m grateful for her. I haven’t had a friend in a long time and Mel is just what the doctor ordered.
The tall, willowy redhead strolled into the kitchen and smiled at me. Sitting sadly alone at the kitchen table. The dark circles I noticed under my eyes on full display. Slumping my shoulders in as much of exhaustion as defeat, Mel can see it’s been another sleepless night.
Trying to not let it get to me, I smile at her but it never hit my eyes as I greet the redhead. Mel knows my expressions all too well. I’m too easily read and she knows I was thinking about what has driven me to this small town…something sad and depressing that left me so lonely and so fragile.
“Stressing out again?” Mel asked and patted my shoulder as she moved past to get a soda from the refrigerator. “Honey, I wish you’d tell me what the problem was so I could help,” Mel begged. I just keep refusing to open up. No matter how hard Mel tries , I just won’t talk about my past.
“I need a job, Mel. I need an income fast. Otherwise, I’m not going to make the bills.” I finally give in and open the door for her slightly. I don’t have a choice. Mel sits across me and nods.
Reaching across the table Mel takes my hands into hers. “We’ll find you one and Jacob can stay with me or Edna while you’re working. It’ll be ok. This town helps everyone out. You just have to let the people know what you need,” Mel assured me.
Mel was aware that my problems were far greater than just monetary. She’s asked plenty of times but I’ve dodged her questions and avoided the subject. I listen to her issues, laugh at her stories but shut down when the subject turns to me. It has stopped her.
“I need a tenant for my extra room. If I can rent it out, I can just make ends meet.” I had thought long and hard about it before making the decision last night. I know with the extra room rented out, I could work part time and be able to pay the bills. Now, if I could just find a tenant I can trust.
“I’ll see what I can do. Is Jacob ready to roll?” Mel offers and polishes off her soda before depositing the empty can in the recycle bin.
Mel collects my baby and the bag of his things before she heads off giving me time to think, clean and search for a job. Once I’m done I’ll take another look at the checkbook. Like the numbers will be any different than they are now.
Mel called not long after she had dropped off Jacob to inform me she posted the room for rent at the church, the grocery store and in the town post office. Mel also informed me that she managed to find me a job as a part time secretary. The pay wasn’t the greatest, but it was something. At this point, something was better than nothing. And she was calling in favors for me.
Sitting on the bed, I pull out the old shoe box from under the bed. Slipping off the lid, I lift out some old photos. My father and mother’s faces smile up at me. The pictures of my family and even some of me in happier times brings back memories. Moving from one picture to the next, my heart breaks. Longing to be able to call my mother just to hear her voice, it is so tempting to make the call. I just want to feel my father’s arms wrap tightly around me, to hear him tell me that we’re safe.
It’s a dream that can’t happen, not now.
The letter I found, the one I dream about, is still so fresh in my mind. My father had lied. My mother had betrayed both of us. I’m just so confused by it all that I don’t know what to think. Anthony had this letter all this time. I feel like a fool, how did he know what she did?
Anthony threatened me because of it. He had told me that my father’s career and his marriage were both lies. Because of my father’s lies, my mother’s betrayal, Anthony was going to make him pay. At first, I thought he felt this way because of me, but I quickly found out it had nothing to do with me. I was simply a means to an end. It was painful to discover I was merely a way for Anthony to punish my father for his sins.
I could feel the tired ache edging its way into my body. My head feels heavy and limbs weighted as I tuck the pictures away again and hope one day I can see my family. Maybe get the answers I need to feel safe again.
An hour after dropping the kiddos off with Edna, I stood at the church bulletin board and pinned the bright pink piece of paper up on the cork board. “Room for rent,” I spoke out loud as the old man stepped up beside me. Putting on his bifocals he read the bulletin.
“You think that’s a good idea?” Earl whispers as he motions toward the notice. The retired Marine looks around cautiously. Every wall seems to have ears in the small town. It’s hard to keep everyone from knowing that Cassie’s past is connected to him through her father. He just wants to keep his friend informed of his daughter’s life, but Earl needs Cassie to trust him first. Just to be sure she wasn’t in harm’s way.
I look down into the pale gray eyes of the older man. “Not like I have a choice. It’s Cassie’s decision. We can only make sure whoever rents it is approved through the Colonel.”
I knew the rules. Cassie wasn’t to know her father had found her - much less that he was keeping tabs on her. The Colonel is to be notified only if Cassie has any problems or needs help. Cassie has been in need of help since she arrived. We ran into a brick wall with her though. She won’t let anyone know how much trouble she’s actually in. Cassie only let down her guard slightly with me, but not enough to know exactly what had happened to send Cassie into seclusion.
“I’ll make the call and let him know. We can’t have someone causing her problems.” Earl moved slowly away to make the call.
He knew his friend would worry about his daughter. Scratching his head, Earl looked back over his shoulder. Cassie wasn’t going to like her father getting involved in her life this way. A part of him felt it was a betrayal of trust, another part, the father in him, knew it was a trust in her father he was upholding. If his own child were in trouble, he could only hope that the Colonel would do the same for him.