When Evelyn Johnson married the man of her dreams, she had no idea five years later she’d be running from a nightmare.
When her abusive husband leaves for a fishing trip, Evelyn takes the opportunity to escape. On her own, scared, and hurt, she crosses paths with a police officer, Chris, and his no-nonsense grandmother, Lou.
Finding refuge on their farm, she’s given the opportunity to heal, both physically and mentally. Then her relationship with Chris takes an unexpected turn, and she’s left torn between her growing bond with him, and her fear of the violent man she left behind.
In the end, Evelyn is left with two choices—run to keep herself and her friends safe or face her husband, so she has a shot at a future.
Read an excerpt
Evelyn would need to work through the pain to pull off her escape successfully. She had not planned to spend her morning at the emergency room. But then again, who does? Having enough to keep her busy wasn’t necessarily a bad thing, though. Idleness tended to make her jumpy and jumpiness tended to make Lance suspicious. A suspicious Lance could lead to a canceled trip, especially in the wake of the morning’s events, which had resulted in a fractured wrist, stitches above her eye, and bruised ribs.
Once a year, Lance and his buddies took off to a remote camping spot for a weeklong festival of poker, beer drinking, and occasional fishing. There was no cell service and the closest payphone was twenty miles away, a trek Lance used to make twice a day, until laziness and a false sense of security dwindled the trips to once a day, then every other day, then once when arriving and once when leaving.
Instead, Lance would rely on their neighbor, an aged woman, who had nothing else to do but sit in her rocker and stare out across the street from her bay window, to be his watchdog.
Rebecca Collins was the antithesis to women’s lib. A woman who had been deeply devoted to her late husband, Rebecca made it clear to everyone she met, a woman’s place was at the feet of her husband.
Some people would say the word hate was too strong to use against such an old woman; Evelyn had no problem with it. Twice, the woman had whispered in Lance’s ear. Once when she saw Evelyn speaking to a strange man at the grocery store, in a way that she felt was inappropriate and another during spring cleaning, when the sight of large trash bags being stuffed into Evelyn’s trunk meant a flee attempt. Both incidents had led to a few bumps and bruises and a deeply ingrained hatred for the woman.
Evelyn’s first order of business was to pack his bags. Pulling the neatly folded clothing from his drawers, she carefully placed them inside the duffel bag. Then she retrieved his toothbrush and shaving items from the bathroom, separated them into Ziploc bags, and placed them neatly on top of the clothes.
On her way into the living room, she stopped cold, her breath catching on the exhale. Glass and numerous cracked CDs and VCR tapes littered the rug, the mess almost forgotten in her hurry to pack his things. Dropping the duffel bag by the front door, Evelyn grabbed the trashcan from the bathroom and began the arduous task of picking up the tiny shards of glass, which had once served as the entertainment center’s front door.
Underneath the cracked particleboard, Evelyn found a pool of blood, dark red from the air, drying into the pale carpet. She dashed to the bathroom and rifled through the cabinet until she produced a bottle of carpet cleaner. She returned to the stain, doused it, and prayed.
Scrub brush in hand, she rubbed the spot furiously, dabbed it with a towel, sprayed, and repeated the process. To her relief, the stain faded to a light shade of pink and eventually to just a hint of color.
She stared at the fading spot and how close she came to death finally hit her. Had she hit the glass door a little differently, had his kick hit just the right place, there were all kinds of ways this incident could have ended in her demise.
It was the kick that finally broke her. Over the years, she had been punched, smacked, had her arm twisted, her hair pulled, but never kicked. Once she was down, he always walked away. But, not this time. This time he kept going. He kicked her and then he stomped her. For the first time in their five-year marriage, she feared she might die, and she suddenly hated him. No more excuses, no more what-ifs, she hated him. She loathed him. She wanted him dead, and then she wanted to leave.
Pushing the morning out of her mind, she finished cleaning, dusted everything in the house, and carefully vacuumed each room.
She tried to stifle the nagging question in the back of her mind. Could she really survive without him? It would only take one kind word on his part and she knew the plan would come crashing down. The good thing was the days of gifts and apologies were long gone.
That question was killed off as soon as he stepped foot through the door, with demands and complaints and not a bit of interest in her injuries. She jumped at his every request, even filling some before asked when finally, a horn blared from the drive. Without a goodbye, he grabbed his things and headed toward the door, shouting orders to mow the lawn and weed-eat by Saturday. We couldn’t have the neighbors thinking bad of him. That wouldn’t do.
Then he was gone, and for the first time she took a breath. When she looked up across the street, sure enough, Rebecca Collins had her tiny withered face pressed firmly against the bay window. Evelyn waved and inwardly chuckled when Rebecca yanked the curtains closed. Evelyn knew full well the woman was still watching through a tiny crack in the curtain.
“Watch all you want, you old bag,” Evelyn said through clenched teeth.
Shortly after the beatings started, and before Evelyn knew Rebecca, for the bitter old woman that she really was, Evelyn had made the mistake of confiding in her about Lance’s abuse. She had hoped for support or advice, but what she got was the rumor mill. Jo Lynn Minton was the first on Rebecca’s list, then Jenny Collins, Lisa Mullins, and Sherry Black, all of whom were wives of Lance’s closest friends. They took action, cornering their husbands about Lance, naively believing they would step in and take charge. But, when those men confronted Lance, it wasn’t to admonish his actions but to warn him of his new bride’s loose tongue. In the end, Evelyn ended up with a bloody nose, two black eyes, and a chipped tooth quickly fixed to avoid embarrassment on Lance’s part. After that, Evelyn had kept her distance, becoming more and more of a recluse, until her outings consisted of only trips to the grocery store and the occasional social function on Lance’s arm.
Despite pulling away from the public eye to avoid slips of the tongue, the public eye still managed to make Evelyn’s life miserable on occasion. Whether it was at the store or in her yard, the whispers always made it to Lance. He wouldn’t wait for an explanation; he would just hit and often Evelyn was completely unaware of the cause. Around her house, Rebecca was usually the culprit, like the spring-cleaning incident, when Evelyn would go room by room and rid the small house of clothing and items that were no longer worn or used.
The first thing she had started on that morning were the closets. After moving her car to the driveway, so she could later clean out the garage, she stuffed old clothes into trash bags and hauled them to her car. Lance’s truck roared in just as she shut the trunk.
At first, she had turned to greet him, but one look at his face sent Evelyn backing away across the lawn. He grabbed the keys, which still dangled in the trunk, and turned it, yanking the bags out and throwing them to the ground.
He was screaming, “What! You think you can just leave me and get away with it? Don’t you know by now, I’ve got eyes everywhere?”
Still backing away, Evelyn tried to speak but she slipped, fell with a thud, the morning dew that still blanketed the ground soaking through her clothes. Stunned and sobbing, Evelyn kept repeating that the bags were going to charity, trying to break through the thunderstorm that approached her with clenched fists. He raised his arm to strike, and she tried to cover her face, yelling loudly, “I’m not leaving. It’s for charity! It’s for charity!”
She gritted her teeth against the blinding pain that was sure to follow, but it didn’t. Instead, Lance just stared at her, then suddenly shot a dirty look across the street to the shadowed face of Rebecca.
Without a word, Lance disappeared into the cab of his truck, gunned it, and sped from the house. Embarrassed, Evelyn gathered up the bags that were strewn across the lawn, shoved them back into the trunk, jumped into her car and pulled away, fighting the urge to flip off the old woman, still watching from the window.
From that point on, Evelyn began lining out her day to Lance before he left for work, and if she forgot to tell him, she didn’t do it.
Now alone in the small house, doubt began to creep into her brain. What if he decided to call this time or Rebecca changed her schedule? What if he got sick and had to return home or one of her other neighbors had been charmed into watching over her? The questions looped through her brain until she beat her head with the heel of her hand. The nagging feeling that she had missed something important, something that would undo the whole deal, nagged at her while she finished her evening chores.
Halfway through dishes, she reached over, flipped on the kitchen light, and gasped. She may be able to fool Rebecca into thinking she had missed Evelyn coming and going, but if the house lights didn’t come on in the evening or worse, were on in the middle of the night, during the old woman’s many trips to the bathroom, she would know something was up, probably call the cops. It would be over before it started. Had she thought of it before, she could have started getting up in the middle of the night with fake insomnia or accidentally forgetting to turn off the lights, but since she had no choice but to kick start her plan the next day, Evelyn had no time to set up a new schedule for Rebecca’s benefit. Predictability had its downfalls.
Despite this huge oversight, she wasn’t quite discouraged. They didn’t get papers delivered and after a rash of mailbox thefts a few years prior, all of their mail was sent to a post office box. It was nothing for it to be a week or more before Evelyn checked the mail, so no eyebrows would be raised. Evelyn had even learned how to check the voice mail from another phone, without Lance’s knowledge of course, so that she could clear messages, just in case Lance or one of his friends called.
She finished the chores just before eight o’clock, much earlier than usual, but of course, she didn’t have anyone to clean up after. Despite racking her brain, the light dilemma still bothered her, and she was no closer to a solution.
In the bedroom, Evelyn pulled a dusty suitcase and matching duffel bag from the top shelf of the closet and threw them on the bed. Pulling back the top covers on the perfectly made bed, she felt along the side until her fingers slipped into a small rip. Like a box of tissues, she pulled bill after bill out until a little over two thousand dollars was piled on the floor. Two thousand in three years wasn't too bad, especially when it was saved a little at a time, sometimes as small as a quarter.
Initially, it was meant to be their “get out of gambling debt-free” stash, Lance’s only vice, albeit an expensive one, but over the last year or so, somewhere in her subconscious, she knew it had become her ticket out. She knew it because less than a year ago she had allowed Lance to walk out of the house with the five hundred dollar diamond ring her parents had given her for Christmas the year she turned sixteen, without a word of complaint.
“Christmas! That’s it!” she yelled to the silent house. In a flurry of excitement, she jumped up and sprinted to the spare bedroom closet.
Five boxes and a screaming rib later, Evelyn finally located the one marked Christmas lights. With a quick rip of the tape, she dug through the box until she produced a small white timer. Relieved, she smiled. She packed away the boxes and returned to her bedroom to finish her planning.
In was ten o’clock before Evelyn finally curled up in her bed. Despite her fear of Lance during the day, Evelyn always found it difficult to sleep without him by her side. After what seemed like an eternity, she opened her eyes with a groan, fluffed her pillow, and tried her stomach, finally resorting to counting imaginary sheep, which didn’t help. It was two o’clock in the morning and her brain just wouldn’t stop. What if he called or the timer didn’t work? What if someone stopped by or the car broke down or he decided to cut his trip short? What if, what if, what if, it just wouldn’t stop. The next time she looked at the clock it was four o’clock, then it was seven o’clock and the alarm was blaring. Stiff and sorer than usual, probably due to the bed Olympics she had just performed, Evelyn turned the shower as hot as she could stand and stood underneath the cascade of stinging water.
Sometime during the night, Lance had called with only a gruff, “I’m here.” His complete lack of interest in her activities lessened Evelyn’s fears and considering Evelyn’s empty social life, the chance of anyone just popping by was slim. It was too bad that type of rational thought had evaded her during the night.
Donning a comfortable shorts outfit, Evelyn carried her bags to the garage and loaded them into the trunk, then went back for her sleeping bag and pillow, just in case. Of what, she wasn’t quite sure. As an afterthought, she searched the garage for any useful tools and settled on a jack, an emergency tire kit, purchased for Lance and never opened, and an emergency flashlight, complete with radio and flashers. Short of a weapon, Evelyn was satisfied and returned to the house.
With a steaming cup of coffee in hand, she took a seat in Lance’s recliner. Seconds ticked by and after a few minutes, which seemed to stretch out endlessly, she turned on the television. The image slowly faded in until the toothy smile of a perfectly sculptured blonde filled the set. She was rambling about how the latest movie released had offended her because of something pertaining to her brother. Her nasally voice cut through Evelyn’s weary nerves. It was just way too early in the morning to be socially conscious, she thought and flipped the channel. This time she was met with yet another blonde, scantily clad, bouncing up and down to techno music, yelling “Come on, you can do it! Three more, two more…..” Click.
After scrolling through the channels, she found her way back to the original show. This time it had a map of the United States and a professional-looking young woman was explaining the images plastered across it. Curious as to what kind of weather she would be facing, she stopped flipping and sat back. She didn’t understand the fronts moving this way and that, but the general idea was a chance of thunderstorms late in the evening with sunshine for the day, temperatures pushing into the eighties. The forecast reminded her of sunglasses, which she quickly retrieved from the kitchen table.
By midmorning, the glistening of grass disappeared and Evelyn, with gritted teeth thanks to her sore ribs, rolled the push mower from the garage. With a yank and a grunt of pain, the aging mower sputtered to life. It usually took a little over a half-hour to mow the tiny lawn, but over an hour had passed before Evelyn finally finished, wiping away the sweat caused by both the heat and pain. She could feel Rebecca watching her from across the street.
Back in the house, she showered again, slipped into a clean comfortable shorts outfit, refilled her coffee cup, and sat back down in the chair to wait. She had forgotten to turn off the television and instead of the meteorologist, a scruffy man who looked older than he actually was chattered excitedly about his new book to the interviewer, a petite woman doing a horrible job of feigning interest and battling to keep the writer on track. Evelyn picked up the remote, and tapped it impatiently, but found nothing of particular interest. Giving up, she returned to the same channel and feigned interest along with the interviewer.
Evelyn jerked, sending the cup of coffee flipping through the air. She braced for the pain when the liquid splashed across her leg. It took her a minute to realize the coffee was no longer hot. She had fallen asleep.
Immediate panic set in. Of all the times to finally fall asleep, it would have to be during the most important time of her plan. Jumping up, she glanced out the window, scanning the street for any sign of the familiar van. Still disoriented, she glanced from the street to the clock and back to the street again, until her startled brain finally processed the information. With a sigh, Evelyn realized she still had fifteen minutes. Determined not to make any more mistakes, she stood at the window like a statue, watching the road intently.
At exactly one o’clock, a small white van pulled into Rebecca’s driveway. The old woman, clothed in her best tattered dress, wobbled slowly down the steps, stepped into the van, and was gone.
Evelyn rushed through the house, checking lights, and making sure everything was off. On her way back into the living room, she tripped, barely catching herself against the wall. Pain shot through her injured arm and ribs. With a deep breath, Evelyn forced calm. It made no difference how quickly she left. Rebecca would be gone for hours, and Evelyn had no particular place to be. Causing herself more injury would do her no good. With one last look around, and a last-minute check and prayer over the Christmas timer, now plugged into the front room lamp, she slowly walked into the garage, slid into the driver’s seat, and froze.
The eerie calmness that had enveloped her earlier was suddenly stripped away, leaving only doubt and fear. Then, as quickly as it appeared, the panic subsided, leaving her hand, which previously gripped the wheel with whitened knuckles, free to turn the key. Watching in the rearview mirror as the garage door crept open like a stage curtain in the opening act, Evelyn backed out slowly, closed it again, and pulled onto the empty street. For the first time in years, Evelyn remembered what it was like to be free.