I look down at Roger’s sleeping form, his snores filling our shabby living room, searching within the depths of my heart for the love I once had for him, but there’s nothing. Only emptiness, and that special mixture of anger and fear you develop when you live with an alcoholic.
I look at his familiar face, at his slightly parted lips, and suddenly, tears sting my eyes. The boy I once loved is gone, and in his place is a bitter, angry man. One who claims to love me but acts like he hates me. The man I’m supposed to marry in just over a week.
I place the note addressed to Roger on the table in front of the couch. The note telling him it’s over, that he shouldn’t come looking for me.
I zip up my jacket, hoist the bag that contains my most important possessions over my shoulder, and slip out of the door without looking back.
If I marry him, it’ll be much harder to leave. If I marry him, I’m afraid his anger will escalate into physical violence. And if I marry him, I’ll never be happy. And I deserve happiness.
The icy evening air hits my face, and I shiver. I should’ve run away in summer, not in the depths of winter. But in the summer, I was still blind to the truth. In the summer, I was still holding on to who Roger once was: the only person who made me feel safe in the whole wide world.
I sigh and rub my hands together, my fingers cold despite the woolly mittens. I regret not having taken the car, but I know that if I had, Roger would’ve gone to the police. Taking the car would’ve meant it would be easier for Roger to find me.
I pull my phone out of my pocket and glance at the cracked screen. Two minutes past seven. I should just make the bus to Ashwood Grove, and from there I can take the bus to… some large city I can disappear in. I don’t care where I end up, as long as Roger doesn’t find me.
Once I reach the bus-stop, my coat is covered in snowflakes. It’s so freezing, I stomp my feet on the snowy ground in an attempt to keep them warm. It doesn’t work.
When the lights of the bus come into view, my shoulders sag with relief.
“Where to?” the driver asks once I’ve gotten on the bus.
“Ashwood Grove, please.”
I hand him the money, trying not to think of how limited my funds are. My job at the grocery store barely brought in enough money to cover the bills, and once Roger’s drinking got bad, he couldn’t hold down a job. Still, once I decided to leave, I saved every penny I could. Which amounted to a grand total of 162 dollars and 50 cents. Not much, but enough to get me out of this miserable town.
I sit down on a window seat, watching the snow fall outside, and suddenly there’s a spark of hope in my heart. I did it. I’m actually leaving.
I always figured fear was the death of hope, or maybe apathy. I was wrong. The one thing that can snuff out hope faster than anything else is the icy cold of a winter night.
When I got to Ashwood Grove, I was ready to hop on the next bus out of there. There was just one little problem. There was no bus out of there. They were all canceled due to the weather.
And now I’m stuck here, my teeth chattering, with the snow falling thick and fast around me, and nowhere to go. There’s no twenty-four-hour café, and I can’t afford a hotel. If I spend my money on a hotel-room, even a cheap one, I might as well get on the next bus back home.
I can do this. As long as I keep moving and don’t fall asleep, I can do this. I tuck my hands under my armpits, hoping to infuse them with warmth, and pace back and forth at the side of the road.
But every step feels more strenuous than the last, and my eyelids get heavy with exhaustion.
Just keep moving, just keep moving, just keep mo—
A flash of headlights, the sound of a car horn honking, and suddenly I find myself face-first in a snowdrift. I try to push myself up, but my arms give out under me. My muscles are frozen.
“Fuck. Fuck. Fuck!” A deep baritone voice comes from behind me. Strong hands grip my arms and spin me around; then I’m on my feet and looking into worried dark blue eyes, shining in the headlights.
“Are you alright?”
I nod, feeling numb. Anger replaces the worry on the stranger’s face. “What the hell were you thinking, stumbling into the road like that? I could have killed you!”
“I didn’t mean to,” I say, my voice sounding like it’s coming from far away.
The man’s strong jaw tightens. Dimly I register how handsome he is, with his blue eyes, strong cheekbones and the straight nose.
“Are you drunk?”
I shake my head, glad he’s still holding onto my arms. Otherwise, I might fall. Or I might just lay down in the snow and close my eyes, only for a minute or two.
Some of the rage vanishes from his face, and he looks at me more closely. “You look half frozen to death. Why are you out here in the middle of the night?”
“Because I have nowhere to go. Not until the next bus comes.” I’m too tired to lie. My teeth aren’t chattering anymore. Maybe there’s a point where you’re so cold, your body just doesn’t have the energy for something like that.
He stares at me, his brow furrowed, as if he’s taking my measure. Then he sighs. “Come with me. You can warm up in front of the fire and sleep in my spare bedroom.”
I blink at him, trying to remember why going with a strange man is a bad idea. I can’t. He mentioned a fire. The image of dancing flames rises up in my mind’s eye. I mean to say yes, or to nod, but my eyelids flutter shut, and the last thing I’m aware of is strong arms picking me up and the scent of trees and winter filling my nose.