Hell And Back(4)

By: Natasha Madison

“I didn’t mean to wake you. I was just going to let you know I’ll be home later this evening, and I’ll be cutting the grass then.” I put my hand in the back of my jeans pockets, making my T-shirt strain against my chest. I’m a detective for the special victims unit. My job is to look big and mean. The sleeves of tattoos covering my arms from shoulders to wrists sometimes scare people off. By the look on her face, I can see she’s not sure what to think. My six-foot-two-inch frame isn’t one a lot of men are willing to mess with, so I imagine she must be feeling the same way.

“You don’t have to do that.” She closes the door a little more, making it impossible for me to see anything but the darkness inside. After Nan died, I saw her lawyers go in with a cleaning company. They basically closed the place up, and it stayed that way until this week.

The first night I noticed something amiss when Kendall was leaving my place. I saw movement across a window. I stood out there staring, waiting for something else, but there weren’t any other movements. Until yesterday when the door opened and out stepped the smallest woman I’ve ever seen. Not only was she short, she was maybe a hundred pounds soaking wet. Up close in the light of day, I can see she’s obviously been missing many meals.

But what strikes me the most are her eyes. I see fear in them, someone who is broken.

“It’s okay,” she tries to say before I interrupt her.

“Your grandmother didn’t have a lawnmower, so you have no choice but to take my help.” What the fuck am I doing? I’m lying now just so I can cut this chick’s grass. A chick I don’t even know. A chick who looks like she has more baggage than anyone can carry.

I should turn around and just say I tried. I can’t explain it, but there’s just something keeping me rooted on this fucking porch. I just can’t pull myself away even though I want to.

“I was going to look in the shed today, see if I saw it. I know that Gramps used to have one.” She leans into the door a little more, making it hard to see anything but her one eye. But she is now standing straight instead of leaning behind the door, and I can see her body a little bit more.

I notice the bruises on her arms, and she senses the minute I do, because she resumes her previous position behind the door in order to shield her body from view.

“Don’t worry about it. I’ll take care of it this evening.” It is in that moment I know she relents because all she does is nod her head and close the door. Not giving me anything else. Not another word.

I’m not quite sure what just happened, but as I make my way over to my truck, I’m shaking my head, hoping to clear up the thoughts of the conversation.

One thing I do know for sure is she’s running from someone, and she’s hiding here.

The question is who is she running from? Only she can give me an answer, and it’s obvious I’ve got some work cut out for myself if I’m going to get an answer from her. Something tells me I need to be ready, and I need her to tell me for what. It won’t be easy, that’s for sure. The woman inside that house looks like she has seen the inside of the devil’s playground, and she’s survived to tell about it.

Chapter Three

I close the door, collapsing down to land on my ass. My breathing comes rapidly like I just ran a marathon, sprinting the whole way.

My chest heaving, my hands trembling, my legs still weak, I look down the hall at the kitchen where I see Lilah has hidden under the table. The fear in her eyes matches the fear coursing through my body.

“Momma,” she whispers, unable to forget she was never allowed to talk loud. A lesson she learned when her father threw a chair at the wall after she asked him a question one morning.

I nod my head, the tears already running down my face. My hands shake uncontrollably while I try to wipe them off. We are still safe. He hasn’t found us.

Making my way off the floor, I walk slowly back into the kitchen, where I bring Lilah out of her hiding place.

“It’s okay, just the neighbor. No one is here.” I place her back onto her chair where she leans down and continues to eat her cereal.

She’s staring into the bowl, not saying anything more.

“Today we should go out and pick up some more food. Would you like that? Maybe we can stop for ice cream?”

The good news is, after meeting the lawyer, I found out the house has been paid for in full. The property taxes paid into escrow for the next fifteen years. When Grandpa passed away, she used all of his life insurance to make sure I never had to struggle. She thought of everything, even putting one hundred thousand dollars aside for me to live on.

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