Dree studied her reflection in the mirror. Her cheeks were sunken in and she had dark circles around her eyes. She turned her head from side to side and casually smeared a droplet of blood dripping from her mouth across her chin.
“Wow. You look dead.”
She spun in her chair and grinned.
“Sick! You blackened your teeth!” Riley fully came into her room and plopped down on her bed.
“Does it look like I eat brains for breakfast?” She laughed while reaching for her wig.
“Totally. What do you think about my costume?”
She crunched up a dead leaf in her hand and rubbed it into her raggedy wig. “Love it. It really looks like some big zombie dude grabbed you by the head and ripped it off your shoulders. You need more blood though. Hang on.” She tucked her hair into her wig cap, bent forward, tugged the wig on and then sat back up, her long, black hair curling around her shoulders. “Wigs are so freakin’ hot.” She adjusted it more comfortably then reached for her fake blood. She got up and moved toward him. She began to smear blood around the corners of his mouth and ran a finger down his chin and neck.
“I wish they weren’t going to be there,” he whispered staring her straight in the eyes.
She shrugged. “Yeah. Me too. We would have more fun if they weren’t there, but whatever. We’re going to have fun regardless of the shit they pull tonight.” She backed away and smiled. “Perfect. You look like a headless person now. Bravo.”
He got up to look at himself in the mirror. “Yeah. Good job.” He turned to face her, his face falling serious. “You’re driving us, right?”
“That’s the plan short stuff.” She paused while putting her theatrical makeup away. “Did something happen again?” She turned to look over her shoulder at him.
“Not really. Just the same shit. This bruise here?” He pointed to his temple. “That’s not makeup.”
She narrowed her eyes and slammed the last of her makeup in her backup. “He’s such an asshole.”
“I’m so glad you’re living here, Dree. I don’t know how I would …” he trailed off. Dree reached out and ruffled his hair. “Don’t sweat it, short stuff. We’re a team. You’re not getting rid of me. Besides, this is the first time in months I’ve had a roof over my head and a real bed to sleep in. Why would I give that up?”
He smiled and nodded. “Okay. Let’s go have some fun.”
“Agreed. Come on.” She grabbed her purse and they exited the bedroom.
“Wow. You guys look great!” Mandy paused stirring the punch she planned on taking to the party and apprised them both. “Definitely scary looking.”
Dree bowed and Riley howled in mock pain.
“Pretty sure you guys will win the costume contest.”
Dree shrugged and tried to hide her pleased smile. “I don’t know, you’re looking pretty great yourself. Bride of Frankenstein?”
Mandy laughed. “Yeah. Let’s go with that. I think that’s my official costume but I’m not sure I actually carried it off. But I thought, what the hell, if Richard could go as Frankenstein then it seemed like a no brainer to go as his bride.”
“Oh. Is Dick coming?” Dree gave Riley the side eye. She hadn’t really anticipated Dick coming, she was hoping he would think a Halloween party was beneath him but whatever, they would just avoid him.
“Yeah. He decided to go at the last minute.” Many shrugged. “Seems weird, really. He has never seemed interested in going in year’s past.”
Dree sighed. He was going because she was going to be there. She never should have told him she was thinking of going. She silently berated herself for her stupidity.
“Okay. I guess we’ll see you there,” Dree said. She motioned for Riley to follow her.
“Oh. You guys are driving? I thought we could all go together.” Mandy looked wounded.
“Nah. That’s okay, Mandy. We may not want to stay as late as you guys so I’ll drive me and Riley. Did you want us to take anything?” She looked out over the spread on the kitchen table. It was covered with wrapped candy apples.
“Oh actually, yes.” Mandy glanced over shoulder and pulled out a carboard box. She began putting the apples into the box. “If you could take these, that would be great. This cider isn’t quite ready so …” she trailed off and Dree helped her load the apples.
Dree could sense Riley stiffening beside her. Dick had entered the room.
“Hey. What’s going on?” He moved to stand next to Dree. He reeked of pot and beer. Someone had started the party early.
“Just loading up the apples, Richard,” said Mandy. “Dree is driving them over. We’ll meet up with them later.”
“Nope. I’m driving all of us,” said Dick.
Riley practically threw the last apple into the box as Dree hugged it close to her chest and pulled it off the table. She completely ignored Dick.
“Let’s go Riley.”
Dick moved to block her. “I said I would drive us.”
Dree stared at his chest. She could feel the anger bubbling up inside her. She moved to sidestep Dick only for him to step back in front of her. She stood for long seconds before lifting to meet his eyes. She didn’t even bother hiding her disgust. He smirked down at her.
“Move, Dick.” She emphasized his name to imply that he was acting like a dick, too. He reached out as if to take the box from her.
“I can put this in the car,” said Dick, a challenging light in his eyes. Riley cowered back, his eyes volleying back and forth between them with fear.
“Oh my gosh!” Mandy yelled while moving toward the stove. Her cider was beginning to bubble over. Her cry of alarm was enough to distract Dick long enough for Dree to pull free of his grasp and slide past him.
“Hey!” Dick called after them.
“Let them go, Richard,” said Mandy. “We’ll catch up. No big deal,” she placated him.
Dree didn’t stick around to hear anymore. She kicked open the door and hurried down the front steps, Riley close on her heels.
“God, I hate him,” Dree muttered between clenched teeth.
“Yeah,” Riley said and opened the back door of her Chevy Malibu so Dree could shove the box of apples into the back seat.
“He’s not that bad,” said Riley. “He doesn’t hit me as often as my last foster family.”
Dree sighed and buckled her seat belt. “I don’t even know where to start with that statement.” She started the car and backed out of the driveway. She saw the front door open and accelerated. She slammed on her brakes when she heard a car horn, uncomfortably close, honk at her. The car continued to blast it’s horn as it maneuvered around her.
“Jesus!” Riley shouted, putting out both hands to catch himself before hitting the dashboard.
Dree gritted her teeth and stared at Dick. He was illuminated by the porch light and she could see his knowing smirk even from her distance.
“Riley. We’re not moving until you buckle up.”
“Damn Dree. You nearly killed us.” He reached around and snapped the belt into place.
“Yeah, sorry dude. I wasn’t expecting Dick to open the door. I thought he might come running after us.”
Riley studied her for long moments, but kept silent.
Dree forced herself to take deep, calming breaths. He was not going to hurt her again. She was ready for him if he tried. She had been working out at Jimbo’s Gym for several months and she had never felt stronger. She was also noticing muscles that hadn’t been there before. She also taught herself to use a punching bag. If she wasn’t at school or working, you could find her at the gym. In fact, she kept most of her clothes at the gym, the only thing she had at Mandy and Dick’s house were PJ’s and a toothbrush. Though she appreciated having a roof over her head and a comfy bed, she didn’t feel comfortable living with them. After the incident, she insisted on them putting a lock on her door. She had had to convince Mandy that one was necessary without telling her that her asshole husband was the reason she needed one.
She spent many long hours at the gym obsessively working out after the attack, trying to sweat the memory of him touching her out of her body. Jimbo watched her work herself into utter exhaustion before approaching her late one night.
“What’s up, kid?”
She had stopped punching the bag, putting a hand out to stop it’s forward momentum before reaching over to grab a towel and wipe the sweat from her face. “Nothing. Just blowing off some steam.”
“You have a lot of steam.”
She shrugged and moved to step past him and make her way to the locker room.
“I’ve worked with enough damaged people to recognize the signs.”
Dree froze in place. Her heart began to pound and she focused on breathing evenly. How would he know? She hadn’t told a soul. In fact, she worked extra hard to appear as normal as she could. Or at least, as normal as she thought people expected. She turned to face him.
“I’m fine, Jimbo.”
“Sure kid. I don’t believe you, but okay. Tell you what,” he reached for the disinfectant and began spraying down the punching bag. “Let’s get you into some kickboxing classes.”
“Kickboxing?” She tilted her head. She had seen several girls in the ring learning kickboxing but she had never thought she had the coordination to try it.
“I think you would be a natural. And if you need to defend yourself, there’s really no better way.” He paused cleaning the bag and gave her a knowing look.
He knew. She didn’t know how he knew, but he did. In some ways, she felt relieved that he knew but they didn’t have to talk about it. She smirked and nodded her head once in agreement. Jimbo had made sure she got into a class and came to check on her from time-to-time. That was four months ago. She wasn’t nearly as good as most of the people in her class but Jimbo had been right – she felt stronger and more prepared to defend herself, if she needed to.
She hoped she never had to.
She had tried to leave a half dozen times, but when it came right down to it, she couldn’t. That would mean leaving Riley and she didn’t want him to have to endure that household by himself. She had only known Riley for six short months but she felt protective of him and they had gotten close. Riley was her friend, but she viewed him more as a little brother than anything else. He had lived with the Browns for nearly two years so he knew how to handle them as much as he could for his young age, but still, it made her angry that he had to endure Dick’s abusive personality at all. He deserved to live with people who loved and cared for him, not that asshole. If it had only been Mandy, it wouldn’t have been so bad. Mandy stayed carefully neutral when it came to Dick’s behavior but Dree knew she wasn’t blind to his “faults,” she just chose to look the other way. And for that, Dree couldn’t respect her. In fact, she sort of felt sorry for her because what was he like before her and Riley had come along? She didn’t even want to think about that.
“Dree,” he said quietly in the darkened car. “Can I ask you a question?” His voice was serious and Dree swallowed nervously. She forced her voice to remain light.
“Of course, short stuff. You can ask or tell me anything. You know that.”
“Has … has Dick ever … you know.” He cleared his throat.
She tried to swallow the lump in her throat but it got caught at the back of her mouth and she started coughing. She took a moment to think of all the possible ways she could answer that question and decided to go for innocent.
“What do you mean?”
“Come on Dree. I’m not stupid. I saw how much you had to fight to have that lock put on your door.”
She released a heavy sigh. “Look,” she began.
“No. You look.” Riley turned in his seat to give her his full attention. “I’m not as weak as you think I am. I can take a punch now and again. You think I’ve haven’t been knocked around before meeting you?’ He snorted with dry amusement. “But I feel like you’re in more danger than I am. If shit gets real, you need to leave.”
She glanced at him in surprise. “I appreciate that, Riley. But let’s be clear, I’m not leaving without you. We’re a team. Period.”
Riley nodded in satisfaction and sat back in his seat. “I’m just saying, whatever happens, you need to protect yourself. Don’t worry about me.”
They arrived at Riley’s friend’s house. She drove around for long moments before finding a parking spot nearly one block away. “Wow. There are a lot of people here.”
Riley smiled for the first time since watching her get ready. “They know a lot of people.”
“Apparently.” They both got out of her car and Dree pocketed her keys.
They had been at the party for nearly 30 minutes and had just made their rounds greeting friends from school, when Mandy and Dick arrived.
“Wow, they look great!” Sarah said, interrupting her conversation with Dree to nod toward the pair. “I love when couples come dressed as a team.”
“Sure,” Dree rolled her eyes. “They’re adorable. I’m getting more punch. You?”
Sarah giggled and covered her mouth as a small hiccup escaped. “I wonder who spiked the punch?”
Dree grinned while leaving her to head toward the table. “Who cares!”
Sarah laughed and disappeared into the crowd.
Dree scooped up another glass full and was turning to go back into the living room when Dick entered the kitchen. He reeked of beer. She wrinkled her nose with distaste.
“Smells like someone started the party early.”
Dick leered at her and blocked her escape. Dree hoped someone would come pushing through soon.
“Just a little pre-party fun, Dree. How about a little one-on-one party, just you and me? They’ve got a cabana out back … we could get to know each other…” he paused and licked his lips. “Again.”
She smirked and crossed her arms. Inside, she felt like someone had poured acid down her throat and it was slowly eating away at her insides. “A party for you, maybe. Let’s see if you can keep it up for longer than three minutes this time.”
The self-satisfied grin instantly dropped off his face. His face was mottled with red spots. “You bitch,” he muttered.
“You’re a disgusting human being, Dick.” His name dropped from her lips like venom. “Mandy needs to know what a perv you are.”
Dick stepped forward and grabbed her arms. “Oh. I am so going to enjoy shutting you up, you little whore.”
Dree’s bravado slipped and she could feel fear wrapping around her throat. She struggled to maintain control over the situation as she tried to jerk her arm free. “Let me go, Dick, or I will scream the place down.”
He laughed and started dragging her to the side door leading into the back yard.
Dree did everything she could to stop his momentum but he succeeded in dragging her outside. She opened her mouth to scream but before she could utter a sound, he pushed her down the stairs. She landed in an awkward heap. She struggled to breath as the wind was knocked out of her.
“You think you can strut around MY house like you own the joint. No bitch, I own you. I took you off the street, gave you a nice house to live in, a warm bed to sleep in, you owe me,” he ground out as he leaned down to grab her by the hair.
Dree could feel tears springing to her eyes which only added fuel to her rage. She jerked her head away from him.
“What the hell?” Dick’s eyes widened as he was left holding a handful of her wig.
Dree released a nervous laugh before spinning around and landing a kick to his stomach. He doubled over with an oof and she took the opportunity to knee him in the face. Blood immediately sprouted from his nose. He growled like an animal and lunged for her. She ducked under his outreached arms then rolled putting a leg out to trip him and cause him to fall to his side.
Dree scrambled away, her hands clawing at the earth as she tried to get away.
Dick clamped a hand over her foot and dragged her back toward him and the shadows of the house. She knew her element of surprise was over and Dick was out for blood. If he succeeded in pulling her into the shadows, he would rape her again. Frantically, she began reaching out for anything within reach.
Dick’s breathing was heavy and she could hear him mumbling to himself as he dragged her.
Her hand landed on something hard but heavy. She reached out with both hands and took a firm hold on the object.
Dick ducked under the deck and pulled her fully to him. He squat down over her, trapping her legs. He continued to grunt with excitement as he began unbuttoning his pants.
Dree squeezed her eyes shut causing a few tears to slide down her temples. She forced her body to still, it was the only way to make him think he had defeated her. But she would be damned if she let the bastard win!
“Ah. Giving up so soon, Dree? Pity. I like you better when you have some fight in you.”
She could just make out his hateful grin as he loomed above her. When he was just a few inches above her, she brought her hands down and hit him with her full strength.. His eyes rolled back into his head and he collapsed on top of her. She let out a terrified squeak and began struggling and bucking under him to get him off of her. She pushed him away and crab walked quickly away from him. She was gasping for air as if she had just sprinted 200 yards.
She opened her eyes wide in order to see his form in the darkness. She had backed herself up under the stairs and she had no where to go. She frantically looked around for an escape route if he reached out for her again. She sat for a full minute waiting for him to come to life and grab her. Her heart thumped against her chest wall so hard she thought she might faint.
She continued to wait …
Her breathing began to slow and still, he didn’t move.
Finally, she inched forward as quietly as she could convinced that at any minute he would shoot an arm out and grab her ankle like she had seen in so many bad horror movies. She was nearly past him when she stopped. He was so still. Too still. Against her better judgement, she picked up a stick and nudged him. He didn’t even flinch. She crept closer and stared at his bloody face. His eyes were open and never once blinked. She cautiously reached out a hand and placed it on his carotid artery searching for a pulse.
She clamped a hand over her mouth and stifled a scream. Dear God in heaven she killed him! She looked around for the gnome she had bashed his head in with. She picked it up, grabbed her wig and frantically looked around for any other incriminating evidence. She could hear voices just above her, someone had opened the kitchen window. She crept out of her hiding place and forced herself to breathe normally though her skin was clammy and she felt nauseous.
Slowly, keeping to the shadows cast by the porch lighting, she made her way to the side gate and let herself out. It creaked once but it was so noisy inside the house that she didn’t think anyone heard it. Crouching low and walking fast, she made it past the house and to the sidewalk. She walked half a block and was fully out of sight of the house before she broke into a dead run, reached her car and with shaky fingers, opened the door. She stuck her key into the ignition and then stopped.
She couldn’t go back in and get him. She would be caught. They would know what she did. She had to make a run for it. She had to disappear.
She had to leave Riley.
“Forgive me,” she whispered and pulled out into traffic.