Riverbend (The River Valley Series Book 2)

By: Tess Thompson

Prologue




2003



FROM THEIR BEDROOM, Annie waited for the sound of Marco’s boots on the hardwood floor and then the slam of the front door. After this, she watched the second hand on the small plastic alarm clock make its way around the clock five times. She dressed quickly in a long-sleeve shirt and jeans even though it was August and hot. It was habit now, this hiding of her bruises in the daylight. Adrenaline coursed through her body and it was like a drug propelling her forward despite her fear that Marco would know she’d left home without his permission. Looking behind her a dozen times, she marched to the bus stop, her mind reeling. What if he came home unexpectedly? What if he became ill at work and had to come home? What if he called the apartment and no one answered?

The 310 bus dropped her two blocks from the Planned Parenthood building. It was hard to breathe and she dripped with perspiration under the hot sun as she zigzagged between other pedestrians. She marveled, as she always did, at the diversity of the faces and attire. Other people. How long had it been since she’d been anywhere but the neighborhood grocery store? She couldn’t say. Maybe six months. Perhaps longer. After the last time he’d come home and she’d been out, she decided the subsequent beating wasn’t worth it. She would stay inside and cook and clean. This was her life now. There was no way out.

Her hands shook as she filled out forms in the tan and orange lobby, waiting her turn. She didn’t bother to look around at the other young women waiting. There was nothing to see in the other women’s eyes she couldn’t see reflected in her own image. Women without funds, without insurance, without choices.

The forms asked her the question no one had asked in her isolation. “Are you in a safe environment at your home?”

She marked the box: no.

The nurse weighed her. Annie was shocked at the number on the scale. But she should not be. She ate compulsively now, the only thing that gave her pleasure, or perhaps it was more than that. Perhaps it was a shield against Marco. The bigger she got, the less Marco forced himself upon her in the long, bleak night.

Fat Cow, he called her now when he hit her. Sometimes, Blubber Ass.

“You’re eight weeks along,” the doctor said a short time later, her eyes scanning Annie’s exposed skin. There was no hiding here. The gowns were short. Annie stared at the wall. It was impossible to miss the bruises covering the backs of her thighs and backside where he’d beaten her with his belt and the ones in the shapes of fingers on her upper arms. They were two days old, and purple.

The questions came then.

“No, I’m not safe,” Annie said, no louder than a whisper. “But I can’t get away from him. He’ll find me. I’ve tried before.”

“You must get away from him or this baby is in jeopardy,” said the doctor, not unkindly or even with judgment, but Annie felt hostility towards her anyway. Yes, it was easy for her to say, to advise, to counsel. She was in her forties, Annie guessed, and wore a plain gold band on her wedding finger. After work she would get in a car that ran consistently and go home to a safe house. There were probably children and a yard and Saturday afternoons where they all went to the Santa Monica pier and ate corndogs. She probably slept well at night knowing she was using her skills and training to help poor girls like Annie. But the truth was, this doctor with her salt and pepper ponytail, comfortable sandals, and crushed-cotton blouse could not possibly understand what it was to be twenty years old and in a prison of sorts with no hope of ever getting out.

Next, the idea of shelters and other options were presented. Phone numbers and pamphlets were thrust into her hands. Annie pretended they were viable options, tucking them neatly in her purse. But she knew they weren’t. None of them could protect her from Marco’s rage. She was under his control, isolated from all her former friends and her mother.

She had no job. He’d taken even that away. You stay home and cook for me, he told her one night, pinning her against the sink in their small apartment, after she’d made the mistake of mentioning how much she was learning as a prep cook at the restaurant where they’d met. This is what good women do. If your slut mother knew that maybe she could keep a man.

She had no money of her own. No car of her own. No way to escape.

But later, riding home on the bus, as she gazed out the window as they passed the small rundown shops slathered with the gang graffiti of South Los Angeles, something came to her like a voice one could not locate in a crowded room. She must reverse their lives. Marco must go to jail so she could be free.