He Found Me(3)

By: Whitney Barbetti

While I had prepared my escape down to the last detail, I had forgotten that it would be dark when I returned to this school. Squeezing my eyes shut, I tried to recall how to get to the basement, where I had stashed my goods. I felt around for the wall, my fingers gaining purchase on the peeling wallpaper and followed it until I felt the door that I knew went to the basement of the building. My flashlight would be too risky on the main floor, but once I took the first few steps into the basement, I snapped on the small light. I couldn’t remember there being basement windows from the outside of the building, so I kept the light muffled behind my hand while I made my descent.

I removed the flashlight from being muffled by my hand only momentarily to push away the cobwebs that hung down as I walked to the back of the basement. My yard sale bike sat behind some old filing cabinets, hidden. I wheeled it out and walked it to the stairs. I returned to the back of the basement and dug underneath one of the heavy metal desks for the larger backpack I’d hidden. Strapping it to the shelf on the back of the bike’s seat, I picked the bike up and let it rest on one shoulder as I carried it back up the stairs, slowly. When I reached the landing, the eerie quiet of the building initially alarmed me, because it was a huge contrast to the blood pounding in my ears. I paused for a moment to calm my reappearing nerves. My flashlight was tucked away in my smaller backpack, so I waited until my eyes readjusted to the darkness. I could see the light coming through the door I’d first entered, so I cautiously made my way that direction, taking care to pick up my feet with each step so I wouldn’t trip.

I opened the door slowly, peeked out, and then proceeded to carry the bike out on my shoulder, closing the door softly behind me. As soon as I was on the back lawn, I moved swiftly to the tree cover. The nice thing about this town was all the forest land. It made discreet travel possible for me.

The forest floor was relatively flat, which made bike travel easy. The grass was dead and most of the trees did not shed leaves. I spent the first half hour on my bike, making sure to stay as far away from sidewalks and streets as possible. As soon as I ran out of tree cover, I knew I was nearing my next destination.

I could see the faint neon lights of the truck stop ahead and stopped, pulling my hair out of its bun and converting it into a low ponytail. I stuffed the ponytail under my windbreaker and pulled a baseball cap out of the small backpack I’d been carrying. I pulled out the dollar store reading glasses and slid those on as well. I zipped the windbreaker up and adjusted my baggy jeans. I hoped I looked inconspicuous as I set my bike on the ground before strolling up to the payphone on the side of the building, making sure to not look anyone in the eye. It was already 10 PM, but since this truck stop was just off the interstate, I knew it would still be consistently busy. I kept my face down as I’d been instructed, out of the camera lens’ views. Luckily, I already knew most of those cameras were aimed at the gas pumps, but I didn’t want to risk a single detail.

Picking up the phone and dropping in some change, I dialed the number I’d memorized weeks earlier.

It rang once before the voice I was waiting for sounded on the other line. “Ready?”

I released a breath. “Yes.”

“I’ll be there in fifteen minutes.”

Without responding, I calmly hung up the phone and walked around the back of the building, to the field that was safely out of view of the gas station’s employees and security cameras. I shivered, the sweat from my bike ride cooling off under the windbreaker. I kept a steady eye at my surroundings while I waited for my ride.

While I would’ve liked to say I could have done this on my own, there was just no way. I was barely seventeen years old, with all my blood family long dead or gone. I’d spent the last four years with a Monster, and I needed an escape. I know what you’re thinking: “Why didn’t you call Child Protective Services?” I did. I was a walking, talking cliché. And after the last time I’d confided in an adult I thought I could trust, the abuse I’d suffered as punishment made me realize there needed to be another way out. A way out that didn’t include me baring my soul to someone again, to testifying against the Monster.

I was fortunate to have Six in my life. A long-time friend of my mother’s, he was at her funeral and he’d slipped me his contact information after the will was read. I don’t know how he knew I’d need him someday, but I did.

When my aunt passed away, it was just the Monster and me left. He sold his house and downsized to the small apartment. It was around that time he started realizing a cure to his loneliness was me.

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