Running down past the dunes, I find myself on the spreading shoreline. White sand was sprinkled everywhere and slipped itself into the sheets of water. The waves crashed and billowed as they rushed to meet the welcoming shore then they pulled away; laughing as they went. They played a never ending game, those waves. Soft breezes danced about and threaded themselves through my curly hair. The rising sun shot its rays across the morning sky, creating faint colors of oranges and light pinks. They danced in and out of the water, spreading their colors through the blue depths. Seagulls danced in the breeze as they searched the sea for shimmering fish scales.
I take a deep breath in. The smell of peace, hope, and the freshness of a new day fill my lungs. I shrug my shoulder bag off, plop it in the white sand and sit criss-cross-apple-sauce. Pulling out a pen and my notebook, I begin to doodle and jot down descriptions of my surroundings. As I write the sun begins to stretch further into the sky and early morning runners and beach combers slowly ventured out onto the shore. I take out my camera and hold it up to the sky. Fixing the lens, I snap a few pictures of the brilliant sun. A tiny crab scuttled around in the sand next to me. Smiling, I watch it until it found shelter in its whole.
Taking out my Bible, I flip to Psalms and read one. I lean back on my hands and tilt my head to look at the passing puffy clouds. "Today's going to be a good day, Lord." I tell Him, smiling. "Use me as a good witness." I sit there for a few minutes more talking to Him. The beach was becoming busier and the sun was now plenty high above the horizon. I look at my watch. Pretty busy already for a Saturday morning, I think. After snapping a few more pictures of the wild life around me, I pack up my things and head back inland.
As I get closer to home my hands start to shake and my nerves begin to climb. Without thinking my fingers find the bruises that are hidden under my sweatshirt. I wince. Shaking my head I drop my hand. Snap out of it Anna. I tell myself. You forgave him for that. Taking a deep shaky breath I continue down the street until I was in front of the door. Give me strength, Lord. I ask. Clutching my shoulder bag, I slowly twist the handle and push the door open. I poke my head in and look around. Silence. This is good. I think. Maybe he's asleep. Creeping inside, I slip off my shoes and put them in the shoe caddy. I pause in the foyer listening for any movement in the house. My cat Abraham slunk around the corner and stood there staring at me for a moment. I smile faintly at him. He mewed softly then disappeared under the couch.
I knew no one but dad was here; which is a situation I try to avoid. Mom had gone out with Aunt Kris to party last night and hadn't come back yet. Tom, my older brother, had probably gone to work already but he always left the house early whether he had to work or not. I didn't blame them for wanting to leave the house and stay away. At the same time, though, I wished they were here. At least I'd have some protection. Hopefully he was still sleeping.
Tip-toeing to the kitchen, I quickly jelly some toast and grab an apple. Snatching the sandwich I made last night and a water bottle, I shove them into my bag. I look up and become mushy inside. Heavy footsteps plodded down the stairs and I could hear him mumbling angrily to himself. Turning quickly, I run to the back door and grab my flip-flops. I fiddle frantically with the door. If he caught me there would be no hope. Oh Lord! I cry. Why won't you open? I silently plead with the handle. I could hear him coming into the kitchen.
"A-ANNA?" He yelled groggily. "W-WHERE a-Are YOUU?"
I freeze. To talk or not to talk? I ask myself. Turning around, I find myself looking into his annoyed drunk face. I clutch my bag and give him a hesitant smile.
"Good morning, dad." I try to sound cheerful.
He totally disregarded the greeting and his cheeks puffed up in anger.
"W-WHERE a-Are you GOing?"
"I…" I hesitate, debating whether I should lie or not. "I was going to go to Liz's house." I chose the truth.
"YOU t-THought YOu could ju-usst l-lea-v-ve withOUt mAKing me BREakfAssst?!?" He raised his fist.
I instinctively duck and wince as his blow hits my thigh.
"I-I'm sorry, dad. Y-you were sleeping and…and I thought you might want to rest a little longer."
I duck again and stifle a cry as he brought his hand down upon my head. It bounced of my shoulder, though, because his aim was hindered by his fogged eye sight. Roaring in anger, he punched my stomach. I drop my bag and roll to the floor in pain. He unlatched his worn leather belt and threw it back over his shoulder.
I brace myself for the sting. I imagine the welt that would form where he hit me. Is this what the Israelites felt under Pharaoh? I ask God. I close my eyes and clutch my head; waiting.
It never came. I slowly open my eyes; tears blurring my vision.
"What do you think you're doing, dad?!" I hear a welcomed male voice demand.
Whipping the wetness from my eyes, I slowly sit up.
"Tom…" I sigh in relief.
He's taken the belt out of dad's hand and wrapped it around his own.
"She didn't make me breakfast…" Dad sulked like a four year old.
"And so you WHIP her for it?" Tom clenched his jaw tight. "You fool."
I frown. "He's not a fool." I defend dad, though I don't know why.
"Don't defend him, Anna." Tom said, his voice softening at my name. He turned to dad. "Go back up and sleep, man, or make your own breakfast."
Dad stood staring at me. "Don't think you're out of this young lady." He threatened.
I look down.
He turned and grumbled back up the stairs but not before he had grabbed a beer out of the fridge. Tom shook his head. Walking over to me, he slowly righted me back onto my feet. He smelled of sweat. He must have been at the gym.
"Where'd he hit you?" He asked softly.
I sniffle and point to my thigh, shoulder and stomach.
"Let's get some ice."
I nod and follow him into the kitchen.
"Why'd you come back home?" I ask as he poured ice into a Zip-Lock bag.
"I was working out. But I realized afterward that I forgot my power tools. For work."
I pull the bar stool out and sit on it; twiddling my thumbs.
"Okay, that should be good." Tom smiled and gave me the bag of ice.
I roll up my shorts a little bit and cringe as I feel the ice biting the forming bruise. Tom walked over to his gym bag and shoved the belt into an inside pocket.
He nodded towards the bag. "I'll get rid of that later."
I nod and apply the ice to my shoulder.
"Why'd you come back home?" He asked. "When I left you were at the beach."
"I hadn't eaten yet. And I needed to grab my lunch."
"You shouldn't have come back. You should have just gone to Liz's." He said while filling a glass of water.
"I know." I hang my head and gingerly touch my stomach. Pain rickets through my body. Pulling up the edge of my shirt, I stare at the purple spot forming.
"That's pretty bad." Tom commented. "You need a doctor?"
"No. Just pain medicine."
"Okay. You want a milkshake?"
"I don't need one."
"Aw, common. I know you want one." He smiled. "Let's go."
He grabbed his keys and phone from the counter. I hop down from the stool and retrieve my shoulder bag and flip-flops. We climbed into the car. He turned on the ignition and backed out of the driveway. I look up at the dark windows and see the silhouette of my dad's face staring down at me. I shiver.
A few minutes later we pulled up at Whipped Cream an' A Cherry on Top; the local ice cream parlor. It's always been my favorite place to spend time with Liz during any time of year but summer is our favorite. We spend hours talking on the porch and laughing at the funny outfits tourists wear. Our favorite is this family who comes down every year dressed as lobsters, surf boards, crabs, summer Santas, or palm trees. We can't wait to see what they'll dress up as this year.
"Anna!" Uncle Hardy exclaims when we walked in.
I smile. "Uncle Hardy!" I call back. He's not really my uncle but ever since I was little that's what the neighborhood kids called him so it's stuck throughout the years. For me, he is like a second dad. He comes to all my chorus concerts, attends awards ceremonies and helps me solve my problems. There are frequently bad nights at home and I always wind up at his house because I know I am safe. His family has become my family and I have become part of theirs'.
"How's that imagination of yours doing?" He winked at me.
He was referring to my writing; of which I am always doing.
"It's great! I've been thinking of some new story plots." I smile.
"Lemme read 'em now when you get done with 'em." He said in his thick southern accent, his brown eyes smiling. "What can I do for y'all today?"
"Two large chocolate malts, please." Tom spoke up. He took out a twenty and slapped it on the counter.
"Na." Uncle Hardy smiled. "It's on me."
"Naw, I can't let you do that Hardy." Tom smiled back.
But Uncle Hardy had already rung up the order and had shoved the twenty back towards Tom. Tom nodded his head in gratitude and pocketed the bill as Uncle Hardy hurried off to make our malts. We sat down at a sunny booth.
Tom stared at me. I could tell he was thinking of what happened this morning. "Why do you always defend him when he's beaten you?" He asked.
"I…I don't know." I say. "He's our dad."
"He's a fool who sits around guzzling beers all day and goes out to party every night." Tom said heatedly. I frown. "He's not our dad anymore. That man died when the economy flumped and he lost his million dollar job."
"I know. But he's still our dad. So, I'm going to respect him like he is." I sit there in the booth looking down at my bruised thigh.
"It has to do with God, doesn't it?" He questioned.
"Yes, it does." I reply.
"Why does it matter? You're going to be out of the house in a year and a half anyway."
"It matters because I am to follow God and he's told me to honor and obey my parents. I know I don't do a perfect job but that's what I'm to do." I look up at Tom's bewildered face.
"You're not gonna give up on him, are you?"
"I would like to hope I'm not." I say.
Tom shook his head.
Uncle Hardy walked over with our malts on a tray.
"Oh Uncle Hardy!" I exclaim. "You shouldn't have!"
Instead of two large chocolate malts on the tray, there were two extra large build-your-own malts. I've only had one in my life time when I had a little spare change and was pretty sure I had eaten something sinful. Liz and I had to share one it was so huge.
Uncle Hardy smiled and set the malts down on the table followed by the 6 bowls of toppings.
"Y'all enjoy it!" He said, patting my hurt shoulder.
I wince a little but give him a smile. "Thank you so much!"
As we began to dig into our malts I hear the silver ring of the door bell and see a group of about six teenage girls walk in. I lower my head and stare at my ice cream, picking at it with my spoon.
Please don't let them see me! I plead with God as they look around the parlor; specifically looking for me. Unfortunately, I'm spotted. Jessica and her Valley Girl posy immediately started whispering and laughing girlishly amongst themselves. They stared at me as if I were an over-sized ogre who had green and blue stripes all over and gigantic hairy warts growing in clusters on my face.
Tom had been checking his phone so he doesn't notice my mood change but as soon as he looked up and saw how white my face is, he becomes concerned.
"What's going on?" He asked.
"Valley Girls from school…" I murmur.
He turned around and raised his eyes as they quickly stopped for a moment to stare back at him. When he turned back to face me, I hear a number of 'OH MY GOD DID YOU JUST SEE THAT?!?'s and more giggling. Oh Lord help me… I plead.
"They taunt you at school?" He assumed. I nod. I can see Uncle Hardy eyeing them, ready to take action if need be.
After a few more minutes of their giggling, they strut over to the booth we're sitting at. Jessica plants herself in front of the table and swings her hip out towards Tom.
"Soooo, Anna darling." She says in a high pitched fake voice while batting her equally fake eyelashes. "Guess who got the solo in chorus?" Her demons giggled obnoxiously behind her.
"I…" I begin.
She cuts me off. "It was so totally…" Pausing for dramatic effect, she looked at her bright orange nails that matched her flowered top and flipped her hair. "ME!" She yelps excitedly. "Yeah, it's so totally me! Oh My Gosh. Can you totally believe it?" She shot me a taunting smile. Her posy snickered at me.
Tom's face got heated with anger.
I sit there for a second. Beat fire with fire or water? I think. Looking up at her, I say confidently, though shaking: "That's awesome Jessica. I'm so happy you got it. I know you worked really hard for that." I smile. "Your parents should be proud."
Everyone around me did a double take and stood staring. For a split second I saw the girl Jessica could be displayed on her face. A mixture of reality, pain, and the meekness that should accompany a compliment that you receive from someone else flashed across her face. The girls behind her looked around at each other with wide eyes. Tom stared at me in bewildered respect. As the shock of what I have just said fades, the posy cocks their heads up and shoot me annoyed looks. The pure look on Jessica's face disappears faster than it came.
"Oh, I totally know." She smirks nastily to make up for the split second she was nice. "I totally deserve every bit of that solo and you should totally know that…"
"Get the hell out of here." Tom says coldly.
Jessica steps back in horror. The Valley Girls stumble back on each other and whisper nervously. She places her hands on her hips. "Fine." She retorts. "Common girls." Tossing her head into the air, she storms off and out of the parlor; followed, of course, by her posy.
"There's no need to curse, Tom." I tell him.
"Sure there is! She was about to tell you how bad she thinks you sing. I'm not gonna tolerate stuck up girls who taunt you!" He slammed his fist on the table, shaking it. "And why in the world did you give her a freaking compliment?"
"You beat fire with water…" I say.
"And just how long are you going to do that for? 'Till they've totally stripped you of who you are?"
"They won't ever do that, I'm not going to let them, but I'm not going to let them walk around blind forever either."
"What is that supposed to mean?" He questioned.
"You wouldn't understand." I reply quietly.
"I love you Anna but sometimes you really confuse me." Tom shook his head.
We finish our malts and Tom leaves the twenty he tried to use earlier on the table as a tip. I wave to Uncle Hardy as we head towards the door.
"Bye now sweetheart! Should I tell me wifey to be expectin' ya tonight?" He asked.
"Yes sir!" I smile.
"The good Lord loves ya. Never you forget that, ya hear?" He called after me as Tom and I walk out the door.
"I won't! He loves you too!"
Tom nodded his goodbye and we climb into his car. He put his left hand on the wheel and sat there for a second. I stare down at my bag.
"How is it that God could love you and let you get beaten by your own dad?" He said hurriedly.
I look at him and smile. "Well, there are a few factors. One is that we live in a fallen world. Bad things are bound to happen no matter what. Another is that as a Christian, I'm going to suffer. The world hates God and so because I love Him I'm going to suffer…"
"If you love Him, though, and you follow Him and He loves you back, why does He punish you by letting crappy things happen to you?" He interrupted.
"Well, I do have free will, so my actions do reap the consequences." I begin. "But everything that comes into my life is there for a reason and has gone through His hands; whether it's to bring me closer to Him or to teach my something. Does that make sense?"
"Some." He pondered. "I still don't see how dad beating you is going to bring you closer to your God."
"I'm learning the power of forgiveness and how to trust Him." I say meekly.
"You amaze me." Tom said, shaking his head. "You want me to drop you off at Liz's? I gotta work in a few."
"Sure." I smile. "That's good."
"I won't be around tonight." He said as he pulled out of the driveway. "I gotta date."
"Okay." I say.
"So, you might wanna take Hardy up on his offer. Dad is sure to still be sore from this morning."
I nod and look out the car window at the passing palm trees. Presently, we arrived at Liz's house; or mansion rather. Liz Williamson is the best friend I have ever had on this earth. She's been there through all my heart ache and troubles. She supports me and I support her. We met when we were both four years old and have hung out pretty much every day since. I've become a part of her family since I've had to spend lots of time with them. I feel so much closer to the Williamson's and the Hardy family than my own; even Tom.
I look over at him.
"Thanks." I say getting out of the car. "Be safe." I add.
"Will do." He said as he began to back out.
"Love you Tom!" I shout to him.
"Love you too." He smiled.