"I know I wasn't really thinking very clearly. All I could think of was that I had to get away. I didn‘t have a suitcase. I put all my clothes in a laundry basket. I didn't have much. Charleston wouldn't let me spend money for things for me. He said it was a waste of good cash.
"I got out my little jar of savings. Charleston didn't know I had any money. I hid it at the back of the cupboard under the sink in the bathroom, behind the cleaning things. There was less than $150 in the jar. I had gotten paid from the diner earlier in the day, though, and I had my tips from that day, too. I was surprised Charleston hadn't remembered it was my payday and taken my money. He always had me cash my check on the way home from work, then usually took all of it as soon as I reached home. This one time, I guess he was so mad at me he forgot. Still, it wasn't much money.
"I put my basket by the front door and put my coat on the basket. Then I turned out all of the lights. I wanted him to think I'd gone to bed. I didn't want him to come into the house.
"I sat there for a long time in the dark. I had to plan things. What I was going to do. Where I could go. My mind had a hard time trying to concentrate on what to do. I think I was too afraid that he'd come back to really think much, or plan things properly."
Katrina was quiet for a time.
Gavin held her softly. When she didn't speak, he quietly asked, "Couldn't you have gone to a neighbor's or a friend's house?"
"No. The only friends we had were Charleston's. He never let me get close to anyone. We moved so often, I never got to know my neighbors. Anyway, I was afraid that if I went to a neighbor's house, he'd find me, and maybe hurt them, or hurt me when he got me back home."
"What did you do?"
Katrina took a deep breath, expelling the air in a swift sigh. "I finally got my courage together and left the house. I walked for a long time, carrying my basket. Then I caught a bus. I rode it to the end of the line. The bus driver said I had to get off, and asked me where I wanted to go. I told him I didn't know. He said I couldn't stay on the bus, so I had to decide where it was I wanted to go. I guess I told him I wanted to go to a bus station. I don't really remember. He let me ride the bus all the way to the garage, then took me someplace in his car. I was numb then, not paying attention to anything. The bus driver seemed like a nice man, like a grandfather, and I just did whatever he told me to do.
“Finally he stopped his car, and told me to get out because we were there.
"I got out and looked around me. Across the street was the cross country bus depot. I got my basket from his back seat, thanked him and walked over there. I remember being terrified that I would see Charleston or one of his friends…or that they would see me. I kept my coat collar up around my face as far as possible.
"I went into the ladies' room and looked in the mirror. I hardly recognized who was looking back at me. The parts of my face that weren’t bruised were dead white; my eyes were red from crying. I washed my face and combed my hair as best I could. I'd forgotten many of my personal items. All I had in my purse was lipstick. I used it for my lips and to add a little color for my cheeks where the skin was still white.
"After doing that, I didn't look quite so bad. I put the lipstick back in my purse and counted my money. I knew I had to get as far away as possible. I knew I could never let him find me, because he would kill me.
"I put some of the money away for a place to stay and for food and went to the ticket counter." Katrina smiled slightly for a moment.
"I’ve often wondered what they thought of me that night. I had a couple of bruises on my face still from that other night when Charleston and Robert…when…"
Katrina swallowed and took a deep breath.
"I laid all the traveling money I had out onto the counter. The clerk asked me where I wanted to go. I told him 'as far from here as I can get for this much money'.
"He didn't move for the longest time. He just looked at me. Then, finally, he picked up the money and counted it. He looked in his book for awhile, then looked at me again.
"'Are you sure you don't know where you want to go?' he asked me. I nodded. 'Just give me a ticket for as far from here as I can get with that much money.' Again, he looked at me for a long time. I was afraid he wouldn't sell me a ticket. 'Please, Sir!' I said. "I need to get away. I need to get on the first bus leaving here and I must go as far as I can. Please!' I begged him. I was terrified! The longer I stood there, the more frightened I became. I thought Charleston would come for me, or maybe Robert. I don't know.
I was shaking and probably crying, too. I never seemed to be able to stop the tears for very long, back then.
"Finally, he sold me a ticket here. I was on the bus for three days. When I got here, the bus driver told me of a cheap place to stay. It wasn't far from the bus depot. I went there and got a room.
"In a few days, I got a job at a diner. After a few months, I moved to a tiny apartment. I started going to night school to learn some office skills. After a year, I got a job in the company I work for now. In another year, I was able to rent this house."
"You don't own this cottage?" Gavin seemed surprised.
Katrina looked up at him, amazed at his surprise.
"Of course I don’t. Where would I have gotten the money to buy a home? Besides, there would be credit and background checks, and people would find out about Charleston.” She shook her head. “No, I rent it from the children of the lady who owns it. She's in a nursing home. The children promised her they would never sell the house as long as she's alive. I think they'll sell it in a hot minute as soon as she's in her grave, but I don't know for sure. I don't want to do anything to make a fuss, because I don't want to give them a reason to ask me to leave."
"So, you've been at this company roughly five years, now. Correct?" Gently Gavin prompted Katrina to continue.
"Yes. I've changed departments twice and advanced once. It's a good place to work."
"Do you have many friends there?"
"A few. I've kind of been afraid to get too friendly with people. I was afraid they'd find out about the…about Charleston, but I like my job and I like living here. It's a pretty valley." She finished talking. Katrina looked up at Gavin. His face was unreadable.
"Have you ever told anyone else what happened to you?"
"I guess part of it was shame, part fear. My grandparents were dead by that time and the only other relative I have is Great-Aunt Monalee. We only talk on the telephone two or three times a year. She's in her eighties and her health isn't all that great. I never wanted to burden her with my troubles."
"What about the police?"
"No. If I went to them, Charleston would find me, and they would probably believe whatever story he came up with. He could always talk his way out of any trouble he got into, and make himself look good as he did it. I was afraid they wouldn't do anything to him, but they would turn me over to him. Anyway, I didn't have any proof after the bruises went away."
"What about Charleston's relatives?" Gavin's voice was flat and hard. Katrina looked at him in surprise.
"Surely after what I'd been through, I couldn't have gone to Jason! Jason was almost worse than Charleston. I was terrified of Jason even while I thought Charleston and I were…I mean, even when we were first…married…because he sometimes would look at me in a way that made me feel…well…dirty and afraid. Jason would have been happy to have an excuse to use me himself to see if he had missed anything and then he'd have handed me straight over to Charleston anyway. There's no way I could have gone to him!" A shudder rippled through Katrina, goose pimples erupting on her arms, making her shiver even more.
"What about his mother? Or an uncle, or someone?"
"I never met anyone else. Charleston said his parents were dead. He told me Jason raised him from the time he was a young boy. I don't think there were any other brothers or sisters."
"You never met anyone else in his family, other than Jason?"
An eyebrow quirked at her answer. "No, yes? Which is it?"
"I…I did meet an uncle once. Uncle Andrew." Katrina smiled. "He was nice. A bit crotchety, but nice."
"Tell me about him," Gavin softly coaxed.
"It wasn't long after our wedding. He lived in the city where we went for our honeymoon." A croaky sound came from her throat. She paused, swallowing, then she took a deep breath and continued. "Anyway, we…we went to Uncle Andrew's house after awhile. He didn't seem too pleased to see Charleston, but because I was with him, and we had nowhere else to stay, he let us stay there.
"He was quite old. He sat in a chair by the window almost all day long. He always had a blanket over his knees and another around his shoulders. I think he was in a lot of pain. No one came to visit him, and he seemed lonely. I think that's why he acted a little cross sometimes.
"I liked him. After the first couple of days, he wasn't cross anymore. At least, not with me when we were alone together. During the day, Charleston was always gone somewhere. I would go and sit by Uncle Andrew. He used to tell me amazing stories. Sometimes we'd play checkers or chess. I…I wasn't much good at either game. I liked checkers, though.
"Sometimes, we'd start playing a game of checkers and he'd begin a story. I would like his story so well, I'd forget to play. He'd win easily, then he'd tease me a little." Katrina sighed wistfully.
"How long did you stay there?"
"About a month. I was truly sorry when we went away."
"Well, I…it's kind of hard to explain."
"When I was very small, my father was away all the time, I guess he was working, because we had a nice house, I had very nice clothes and toys. My mother was always distant, like she didn’t know, really, what to do with me, as long as I had food and was reasonably clean.
“I was ten when my parents were killed in a boating accident, so I went to live with my mother’s parents on their small farm. They were very old and didn't like the noise or bother of a young child. Maybe they just didn’t have time for me.
"Grandfather was always too busy with his outside chores to talk to me. At night, when he finished with everything, he would look at Grandmother, then purse his lips tightly and not talk more than one word answers to Grandmother’s questions. Grandmother was always too full of bustle to trouble with me. I…they didn’t really want me there, but took me in because I had nowhere else to go. Grandmother thought I was too stupid to teach, I think, because she would just tell me to do something, but not show me how to do it. When I asked her how to do it, or if I didn’t do it the way she wanted it, she would send me to bed and do it herself, muttering all the time about how I was lazy and stupid not worth the effort." She sighed and continued.
"Uncle Andrew, well, he had time and patience. He was the closest I came to having a father, I guess. At least I felt that way."
"Did you ever tell him that?"
"No, not really."
"Well, he asked me a lot of questions about my childhood and my kin. I…I always answered him. He…well, he was so easy to talk to, I probably said enough to him that he could guess my childhood wasn't very pleasant. It was very nice spending time with him. I don’t remember him talking about any other of his relatives being alive, and I never saw any friends of his coming to call on him. He only had Charleston and Jason, and I don’t think they really liked him. He didn’t seem to like them very much, either, so I think he understood how I felt and we kind of helped each other feel a little bit better."
"Were you nice to him because you knew he was rich?"
Katrina's head jerked up. She looked at Gavin for a long time. "He was rich? What are you saying, Gavin?" She hardly dared breathe.
"You sat with an old man and talked to him and played checkers with him,” Gavin said. “I want to know why you did that."
"I…I wanted to. I told you that. He was nice to me. Why shouldn't I be nice back?" Her eyes were troubled.
"You didn't do it because Charleston told you to be nice to the old man?"
"No. I told you, Charleston went away every day. I didn't have anything else to do, so I talked with Uncle Andrew."
"Out of pity?"
Katrina pushed back out of Gavin's arms and stood up. "Just what are you saying to me?" she cried out, angrily, her hands balling into fists at her sides. Looking at Gavin's face, Katrina suddenly realized she had given him great power over her, by speaking the nightmare and her childhood aloud. Ice encircled her heart and she gulped in a breath. What an idiot she was.