Different girls have different dreams. My sister Farah wanted to be a teacher and live a safe life with a safe man. She wanted average. My only dream was not to die violently.
When I was ten, a nice lady at the motel we lived at would often give me candy. As I grew older, I suspected the reason Melody's kids didn't live with her was because she was a prostitute and the mean man she lived with was her pimp. Back then, I only knew she had a sweet smile and a pretty laugh. I wanted to laugh pretty like Melody, but my dad said I had a donkey laugh.
As I hid in the motel room years later, I thought back to her sweet smile. When the paramedics took Melody away, her face was a bloody mess and I couldn't even see where her eyes and nose were anymore. A victim of violence at the hands of her boyfriend/pimp, her beautiful face was gone forever. Days later, I heard from the ladies who worked with Melody how she hadn’t made it.
Every night afterwards, I prayed to die quickly like in a car accident. I just didn’t want to die from having my face pounded in.
This fear kept me from leaving the motel room long after I ran out of food. I refused to die at the hands of the strange men messing with the door. Knocking and laughing, they often peeked in the window. They were still playing, but soon their games would end.
I wasn’t a religious type and didn’t grow up learning about God. I just knew some people had darkness inside them. While good people could do bad things, bad people were simply bad and there was no fixing them.
My dad was bad, but he wasn’t obviously evil. He had a handsome face and a really great smile. People loved that smile and so did I. When he smiled, I knew I was safe. When he wasn’t smiling, I worried. Since Farah left for college, I worried a lot.
Now, I waited.
A few times, I imagined climbing out of the window and running away until I found a good person or the police. I pictured escaping, but reality took hold and I imagined what those men next door would do if they caught me. No matter how hungry I became, I feared their hands on me more than starvation.
Leaving through the door wasn’t possible since I’d pushed a dresser against it. Too weak and exhausted to move it now, I waited with a knife in my hand. Whether I used it on them or me, the blade was the way the end would come.
I knew the men next door were bad because only bad people stayed in this motel on the lonely highway. This was why Dad hid us there.
Under a death sentence, Dad had borrowed money from bad guys to pay off other bad guys then stole money from nice people to pay back the first bad guys. Eventually, both the police and bad guys were on his tail.
Those last few days, I learned to hate my dad. Whining about needing Farah back, he left me to die. Sometimes, I imagined using the knife on him if he returned. Kill him and end his pointless life. Not only could I stop him from hurting people, I might finally leave this awful motel.
The knock sounded loud in my head and I prayed my father had returned. As much as I hated him, I needed to leave this place. If he took me anywhere with normal people, I would find my way back to Farah.
Someone was at the window. Though my father was a decently built man, he wouldn’t shadow everything with his size like the man outside. I hid out of view as the man peered through the crack in the curtains.
His voice wasn’t loud, but it held an edge. Not angry, yet willing to cause me pain if I didn’t answer. Yet, I remained silent because it was safer to let him come get me. If I hid in the corner and looked as afraid as I felt, he wouldn't think I was a threat. He might get close enough for me to cut him before he hurt me. After I cut him, I would suffer, but that would happen anyway.
“Cooper Johansson sent me.”
Instead of his words, my mind focused on the blade in my hand. After working at the door again, he peeked in the window. I nearly felt his frustration as my mind returned to the name Cooper Johansson.
Cooper loved Farah. She was his girl. He said she was more beautiful the more she showed to him. Cooper was sending someone to bring me to Farah.
Standing, I walked cautiously towards the window. Outside, a dark haired man frowned at me. His blue eyes were beautiful, but cold.
“Tawny Smith,” he said, officially losing his temper.
“Your sister’s boyfriend sent me. Open the door.”
“Are you opening the door or do I need to kick the fucking thing in?” he asked then clenched his heavily stubbled jaw before sighing. Finally, he added in a slightly less pissed off voice, “Open the door, Tawny.”
“I can’t. The dresser is against it and it’s too heavy to move now.”
The man stared at me like I was a moron and he was probably right. I wasn’t even strong enough to climb through the window. While I could flop out, I wasn’t willing to face what might be waiting for me. Now, the only threat outside was the gorgeous man frowning at me.
“Can you slide open the window?” he asked softly as if talking to a stupid child.
Nodding, I set aside the blade and used both hands to pull the rusted window open.
With only a screen separating us, he nearly whispered, “Move back.”
Obeying, I grabbed my blade and stood against the wall while he shoved the screen into the room. Instead of awkwardly climbing in with his size, he jumped headfirst, hit the ground, and rolled to his feet like it was nothing. Well, his thick wavy hair was mussed.
When his eyes met mine, we stared at one another. Too handsome to be real, he was somehow flesh and bone mere feet from me. Several inches over six feet, wide shouldered, and tanned, this man made me feel both beautiful and hideous under his gaze.
His earlier irritation gone, he looked at me as if disinterested. For a second though, I saw a glimmer of something hiding behind those cold eyes. Maybe a humanity he didn’t like showing people.
“I’m Judd,” he said finally, glancing around.
“My sister sent you?”
“Cooper wants you in Ellsberg. Pack up so we can leave.”
Studying Judd, I was nervous to leave. Yet, based on his expression, I had no a choice in the matter.
“Your shit,” he said, taking my face in one of his strong rough hands. At first, his gaze focused on the faded bruise across my chin caused by Dad’s belt buckle. Then, he stared into my eyes and asked, “Are you on drugs?”
“Drugs make people stupid and I’m dumb enough already,” I said, reciting the words my father often told me. “Do you know my sister?”
Walking to the window, Judd pulled out his phone. As he spoke with someone, I accepted this was real and I would be free if I did what he said. Rushing to the bathroom where my dirty clothes were folded neatly in a duffle bag, I grabbed my stuff before returning to Judd who was still on the phone.
“She’s fucked up or something, man,” Judd said quietly. After a minute, he sighed. “I’ll get her out of here and feed her. Once she seems less out of it, I’ll have her call her sister.” After a moment of silence, he glanced at me over his shoulder. “Cooper, I’ll call you when we’re on the road.”
Hanging up, he shoved the phone into the pocket of his dark leather jacket. “You packed?”
“You’ll take me to my sister.”
Hearing the lack of a question in my words, Judd merely shoved the dresser aside and gestured for me to follow him. I walked to the doorway and stared out at the bright day. Even after spending the last week convinced I would die in the motel, I was afraid to leave.
Stopping at a black Suburban, Judd frowned like he was ready to yell at me. He had the same look on his face as my dad when the belt was coming off. Judd didn’t yell though. He only walked to where I stood, grabbed my wrist, and tugged me into the parking lot. Opening the passenger door, he cursed.
“Where are your shoes?”
When I didn’t answer, Judd stalked back into the room to find them. I stood next to the SUV and waited for him to return. Instead of Judd’s voice, I heard the man who had taunted me for weeks.
“Look who is out and ready to play.”
Tommy had small rat eyes and long stringy hair he hid under an old cap. Even looking homeless, he was in charge of the other men and I’d watched him intimidate the manager. Whatever Tommy did to gain his power, he wanted only the one thing from me. Based on his smile, he thought this was his lucky day.
“Pretty, pretty,” Tommy murmured, rubbing at his long goatee while his three friends grinned nearby. “Is Daddy around?”
Pressing myself against the SUV, I didn’t answer him as I held the blade behind me. I was so tired and my stomach felt hollowed out. All I wanted was to see Farah who offered salvation.
“Fuck off,” Judd said, shoving Tommy out of his way. Opening the SUV door wider, he tossed my shoes and bag inside. “Get in the car.”
Walking past Judd to climb into the SUV, I whispered, “They’re going to hurt you.”
Judd’s handsome face was hard like a statue and he didn’t seem to hear me before shutting the door. Walking around the SUV, he never acknowledged the men.
Tommy continued to leer at me like he often did through the curtains while promising to make me squeal. I didn’t think he would give up his prize with just one guy standing in his way.
Even moving fast, Tommy never stood a chance. Judd effortlessly grabbed the freak and slammed his head against the SUV hood. The first impact shattered Tommy’s nose while the second strike splashed blood across the windshield. Tossing him to the ground, Judd yanked out a gun and used its butt to bash Tommy across the head.
When Tommy’s friends moved to help him, Judd pointed the gun at them. “Fuck off.”
“You don’t know who you’re messing with,” said one of the guys.
“I know enough to be sure if I blew this fucker’s head off, you’d dump him in a ditch somewhere instead of calling the cops. Now, either I’m dropping all four of you or I let you walk away. How loyal are you fucks?”
Apparently not very loyal, they backed away quickly. Judd held Tommy by the back of his jacket and hit him again and again until the freak who terrorized me for weeks hung limply. Dropping him on the ground, Judd stomped hard on Tommy’s groin. Finally, he wiped the bloody gun handle on Tommy’s jeans before returning the weapon to his jacket.
Walking leisurely around the SUV, Judd joined me inside. He said nothing while using the wipers to remove the blood from the windshield. Despite the violence, Judd looked bored. Hell, he wasn't even winded.
As we pulled away from the motel, I couldn’t take my eyes off Judd. He was both my handsome knight in shining armor and the scariest motherfucker I’d ever seen.