I'm not letting my grandma read The Beast or Therapist. :D
Anyhow, this is The Way Back, for my grandma's 89th birthday in August!
TBR it today: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/22717767-the-way-back
The Way Back
She should have left the first time he hit her. She knew this now, but, as they say, hindsight is twenty twenty. Looking at her children asleep on the seat next to her made her glad she didn't leave that first time Tom slammed his fist into her face, she never would have had them.
Abbey hadn't been sure she wanted children back then, but she often thought her first accidental pregnancy might have been subconscious, an effort to tame her errant husband. It had worked, almost. Tom hadn't touched a drink for two months after Zach’s birth, he had stayed home and been the perfect, doting husband and father. Then he fell off the wagon, hooked up with his girlfriend and came home drunk one night while Abbey had been nursing Zach. He’d raged against her that night as she rocked quietly in the nursery with Zach at her breast. He finally passed out in a pool of his own vomit halfway down the hallway to their bedroom.
She knew then that nothing would change him, but still she had stayed. She stayed after Sophie had been born, with her perfect blonde curls and chocolate brown eyes. Tom had accused her of cheating that time, so he moved into a hotel with some new girl he’d met at the PBR Finals in Vegas, a barrel racer with lean long legs and an icy stare. That lasted three months before he came crawling back declaring himself a changed man. Against her better judgement, she’d given him yet another shot.
She’d given him another shot, and another, and another. A seemingly unending supply of second chances that he’d taken complete advantage of. Abbey had tucked in and decided to ride it out, stiff upper lip, stand by your man and all that jazz. Until three months ago.
Zach was now a big, strong, eight year old with a temper like his Daddy’s. Abbey had spent years brushing it off with ‘boys will be boys’ or ‘he’s just going through a phase’. Not this time. Zach had been playing video games in the family room while Abbey prepared dinner, something meaty and rustic to keep Tom happy. Sophie was six, and a bit of a loud mouth (like her namesake, Tom’s mother, the rich bitch with an attitude that made country club wait staff run for the hills when they saw her custom Cadillac pull up out front). Sophie had been bugging Zach, typical little sister crap, when Abbey heard her scream and start sobbing. She wiped her hands and ran to them to assess the situation. Zach was standing over his little sister, she was curled on the thick carpet in front of him. His eyes had been on fire, his hand clenched into a fist and Sophie had her eyes squeezed shut with her hands defensively over her head.
“What the hell happened here?” she had demanded of Zach.
He had turned to her and answered in a slow and careful voice, “I hit her. Look what she made me do.” It was like hearing Tom’s voice from the mouth of her sweet, funny and bright little boy.
“She didn’t make you do anything Zach, you made the choice to react,” she’d replied, using her months of google searches on domestic violence to deal with him.
“She pissed me off so she got what she deserved,” he’d replied in the same voice. “I’ll tell Dad when he gets home, he’ll get it. It’s a guy thing. You wouldn’t understand.” He had turned, sat back down, calmly picked up his PSP controller and continued to play. The contempt in his voice had made her blood run cold. That’s when it’d hit home, her children were acting out the exact same scenario they had witnessed a hundred times. They were on the path to become her and Tom in their marriages in the future, and she was the only one who could stop it.
“No need to tell Dad, let’s just all get along and everything will be ok,” she’d said in her bright, cheery, fake voice. She’d walked to Sophie and helped her up, she wasn’t injured, just upset. It still struck Abbey that her daughter was going to end up just like her some day. Cowering at the end of a boot, or a fist. Keeping her grin wide and plastic as she served dinner like a parody of a fifties housewife. Keeping her opinion to herself and her mouth closed, unless her husband was demanding a drunken 3AM blowjob, cramming his piss smelling, semi-hard dick in her face as she was sleeping.
She had known then that it was the end. She never had the guts to leave to protect herself, but somewhere a momma bear was roaring with rage and making plans.
It took three months of stashing money away, taking the cash Tom gave her for the gardeners and housekeeper and driver and keeping it in her coat pocket in the closet. Telling the staff that she would get the money to them, stringing them along until she started to see them getting pissed and wanting to ask Tom about it. Except they were all scared of Tom too. She sold some jewellery on the sly, fed him beers and whiskey every night until he passed out drunk and she could go through his pockets for loose cash.
In those three months she had squirreled away roughly eight thousand dollars. She was damned proud of herself and purchased her very first vehicle for a thousand of it, the old Dodge Ram they were fleeing through the night in to escape him. The very same truck that she was pushing to over a hundred kilometers an hour in spite of the groans of protest from the engine.
She had driven from Calgary to Goldfield in what seemed like the blink of an eye, leaving in the afternoon when she knew Tom would go on a bender with some rodeo buddies. He probably wouldn’t come home that night, so their absence wouldn’t be noted for a while. Ten hours later she was coming into her hometown in the middle of the night. The main street was deserted, even the Tim Horton's parking lot was almost empty. It was Thursday, and she was going to wake her father up and see him for the first time since she left ten years earlier. She had spoken to him on and off over the years, and sent him photos of the kids dutifully, but Tom had never liked her Dad, so Tom had made sure he wasn’t welcome in their fake perfect lives.
She slowed down and felt like she had driven back in time, to high school, the streets hadn’t changed. The kids were still sleeping, the lights from the dash lighting them up, making their faces seem so innocent and unscathed. Sophie was in the middle leaning on her big brother. He had his arm around her protectively, like a big brother should. She had told them they were going to see their grandpa Pete, whom they had never met. Both kids had laughed their heads off at the ratty truck, she laughed with them, not wanting to clue them in that this was something they’d have to get used to. Gone were the days of them living high on the hog off Tom’s family money. The new reality was that she was going to be a single mom in an economically depressed town.
She passed through town, crossed the bridge over the Fraser River and headed out West, towards her childhood home. She knew that wouldn’t have changed in the years since her departure, her father was a creature of habit after all.
About five miles out of town, halfway to their destination, she heard a clunk, then the truck shuddered and slowed down.
“Come on, come on,” she begged it as she coasted to a stop. She was in a straight stretch of the wide gravel road, not a light was in sight. Just their luck, five miles from their destination, in the only uninhabited stretch of the way, the truck gave out. She spent a few futile minutes trying to get it to turn over, but all it would do was whir, then click and give out. She even considered opening the hood herself, but she wouldn’t know what to look for. She had never paid much attention to anything like that when she lived with her dad, she was Tom crazy from early on. She grabbed her phone to google truck repairs, but she was out of range. There wasn’t a single bar showing on the display.
“Fuck,” she said under her breath. The kids stirred beside her and she shut the lights off to think. She didn’t want to end their flight by waking them up to walk the rest of the way. It was pretty chilly up here on the way to the ranch, the snow had probably only been gone for a week or two.
She sat like that in the dark for a few moments before the tears came. They squeezed out, big, fat, hot tears of failure. She tried her best to make no noise beyond the sniffling and nose blowing that came with all her crying jags. The kids slept, unaware that their mother was having a mini breakdown on the seat beside them. Years with Tom had taught her the fine art of crying your heart out without making a single sound
She didn’t know how much time had gone by when she saw lights in the distance. She turned her hazards on to let whoever was driving know that they were here. She did her best to clean up her face and got ready to beg for a ride, she prayed she knew them and they didn’t have bad intentions.
As luck would have it, it was an RCMP cruiser, it pulled in front of her, its nose facing hers, and flashed the lights. A single officer was inside, she saw him call something in on his radio and they both got out at the same time.
The lights from the police car backlit the scene, she could only see a silhouette until the imposing officer was half a foot from her, towering over her with a wall of solid muscle and tight uniform. She might be fleeing, and having a mini breakdown, but she could still appreciate the outline of a ripped male body. She shivered in the cold air, looked up and heard, “Abbey? Holy shit! Abbey!” just before she was swept up in a pair of muscular arms and swung around like a child.
She struggled, then hugged back, certain the officer must know her. He set her down, put his hands on her shoulders and looked her up and down. He seemed familiar, but she couldn’t place him exactly. He took his hands off, held his arms out wide and said, “Come on, you haven’t been gone that long.”
It clicked suddenly and she recognized the face of her teenage best friend, David Edwards. He was not the skinny, lanky boy she remembered though. He had filled out, his body unrecognizable, but he still had the same gorgeous violet eyes. Elizabeth Taylor eyes their eighth grade English teacher had called them, much to his horror. He spent the rest of high school dodging the unfortunate nickname “Lizzie”, and had gravitated to the other outsiders, like herself. They became fast friends, almost inseparable, until the summer before ninth grade when she had met Tom at the annual rodeo. Tom had taken over her life then, claiming her heart, body and mind. She and David maintained their friendship as long as Tom allowed it. She faked her way through to graduation until she could run away back to Calgary, to Tom’s controlling isolation.
My god, he was different. The scrawny boy had given way to a tall, well muscled man. He oozed confidence and still had a killer smile. His teeth were white and bright and perfect, and most importantly, his eyes were still kind and generous.
“David! I didn’t recognize you. You’ve really changed,” she said, fatigue and stress masking her true excitement. Once upon a time she would have jumped into his arms for a hug, but years with Tom had given her an insecurity that was masked as snobbery to most who met her now.
“You haven’t changed a bit, you look exactly the same as the last time I saw you,” he said approvingly. “How have you been? What are you doing here?”
“I’ve been good, really good. And I’m here to see Dad, well, if we can get there,” she answered.
“That’s funny, I just saw him today at the Co-op and he didn’t mention it,” he said. The Co-op was the local feed store, fuel station and gossip central for farm folk.
“It’s a surprise, he doesn’t know,” she said with a small smile.
“Well, let’s get you home,” he said with a knowing look in his eyes. She never could keep anything from him, and she was grateful that he didn’t pry.
The truck was not repairable at the moment. David told her they’d leave it there, load their things in the police car and he’d take them the rest of the way. She woke the kids up, Zach first, and let David lead him to the car while she carried Sophie. They let Zach sit in the front and flick the lights on and off while she settled in the back with her daughter. The trip took a short few minutes and David chatted amicably with Zach as he drove. Zach had a million questions about what it was like to be in the RCMP, but David fielded each one with good humour and informative answers. She appreciated his kindness, keeping Zach calm and distracted.
They pulled up the long driveway of her father’s ranch...of home. It appeared that nothing much had changed, as she suspected, except for the brand new pick up truck parked in front of the modest two level farm house. As they came to a stop, her dad stepped out the front door looking sleepy and confused. He was wearing jeans he had obviously just pulled on, and a white undershirt. He looked old, older than she had anticipated. Her heart thumped in her chest, terrified that he’d take one look at them and send them on their way.
David got out first and she heard her dad call out, “Why are you here David? A visit from the police in the middle of the night is never a good thing, just get to the point and get there fast.”
Same old Dad, she smiled and stepped out, still holding Sophie. “It’s good news tonight Pete, I swear,” David replied quickly.
Abbey walked around him and added, “At least I hope it’s good news Dad, how are you?”
Her dad rubbed his eyes and slowly the realization overtook him and his face split into a wide grin. “Abbey!” he exclaimed and came down the steps. He stood in front her her and held his hands out to take Sophie from her. “This must be little Sophie, but she’s not so little now, is she?” he said and hugged Sophie close. Abbey though his eyes looked more watery than usual, but knew he wouldn’t cry. “Where’s Zachary?”
“Hey Dad, Zach’s in the car. Hang on,” she said and turned and gestured to her son. He stepped out of the car looking unsure of the situation.
David walked over and put his hand on Zach’s shoulder. “This here is your grandpa Pete,” he told him.
Zach smiled and walked towards them. Sophie woke up, looked at her grandpa and said, “Hi!” Abbey laughed at this, and was relieved that in spite of everything, her children were resilient.
They got the kids settled into the guest bedroom, Abbey and David loaded all their belongings into her old bedroom next door and she sat on the bed exhausted. The walls of her room were still pepto bismal pink, that had been an effort to prove to Tom that she wasn’t too much of a tomboy for him. He liked his women to be girly, and at the time they met, Abbey had been more interested in riding dirt bikes than wearing dresses.
“Wow, pink,” David remarked as he brought the last box up from his police car. “I don’t remember it being this pink, you know. Then again, it’s been what, almost fifteen years since I saw the inside of this place?”
“Yeah, about that. Maybe longer,” she smiled and suppressed a yawn. “I’m sorry, it’s been a long day.”
“You want to talk about it?” he asked.
“Not yet, I will, I promise, but not yet,” she assured him. “Right now I want to curl up on my single bed, under my crocheted pink bedspread, and sleep until I can’t remember my name.”
He reached out and touched her shoulder as a gesture of kindness, but he was standing, towering over her, and she flinched. Really jerked back away from his touch. She looked up at him and saw that knowing look back in his eyes.
“Whenever you’re ready,” he said simply. “I’m here for you.” He turned to leave, pausing at the door to add, “I’m really glad you’re back.” He flashed his killer smile, she had to smile back, and he was gone.