Good for her.
“Yeah?” The woman’s voice trembled.
“I’m Patricia from the shelter.” Patricia gestured to either side. “These are my friends, Meredith and Judy.”
Faith nodded at each.
“Are you ready to go?” Patricia asked.
“Okay then. Let’s do it.”
Faith picked up a stuffed garbage bag and a limp teddy bear.
Patricia stepped aside, and the woman shuffled unsteadily out onto the wide wooden porch. In the outside light, some of her wounds seemed more recent than the chaplain at Falcon Memorial Hospital had described. She must have been subjected to tremendous pain, severe enough to require prescription painkillers.
Faith looked around nervously as if ready to bolt at the slightest threat.
“You’re shaking,” Patricia said, more abruptly than intended.
The woman looked down. “It ain’t easy to leave.”
“I know. You’re very brave.” Patricia wanted to speak more words of comfort and reassurance. She wanted Faith to be happy. But the right words didn’t come. So, Patricia sighed and eased her arm around the stale-smelling woman. No more beatings for poor Faith. Ever.
Just as they moved toward the steps, heavy footfalls hammered the porch where it wrapped around the side of the house.
The Escalade’s horn erupted from the curb, signaling that Alisa had seen danger.
Patricia’s fingers fumbled for the handle of her weapon.
“Hey, bitch,” shouted a coarse male voice.
Patricia spun, put her body between Faith and the spine-rattling voice, and eased her hand off the gun. Experience had taught her that confrontation required calm focus, not panicked stiffness. She turned and looked up into a charging man’s flushed face. He stopped less than a yard away. His breath reeked of alcohol.
She shot a glance past him to see if he’d brought others. He appeared to be alone, and his stubby hands were empty.
Okay. The three of them against one riled-up drunk. Good odds.
She returned her attention to the man’s creased face. Their eyes met. His eyes were black and hard like coal. His unblinking stare bore into her.
She tensed. She hadn’t seen cold, piercing eyes like his before. Though drunk, this brute was likely as dangerous as he was ugly. She kept her face blank. “You talking to me, mister?”
“Yeah, you. What y’all doin’ on my porch?”
His porch? Must be the husband. “Your wife asked us over,” Patricia said as mildly as possible considering the situation.
His dark eyes narrowed. “Like hell she did. Sure ‘nuf she don’t know folk like y’all. Besides, you got armor on and a gun on your hip. You a cop?”
Patricia let out a long breath then shook her head. “No.”
He stepped near, gripped her arm, and squeezed hard. “Then get the hell off my property.”
Keeping her face an impassive mask, she peeled his stiff fingers from her arm, then turned to Faith. “Okay Faith. Stay beside me while we walk to the car.”
“She ain’t goin’ nowhere.”
The spit from his spewed words splattered the side of Patricia’s face. She fought the screaming urge to wipe her cheek; a reaction that would convey weakness.
Summoning all the authority she could muster, Patricia squared her shoulders and pivoted to face the abuser again. He towered over her, inches away, poised like a grizzly bear ready to fight. Smirking. Close enough to intimidate.
The Neanderthal swung an arm behind him.
Patricia’s instincts screamed, Gun! Her hand darted to her pistol, but she hesitated. Before she could decide to show her weapon, he fumbled out a small pistol of his own and shoved the barrel toward her face.
“This here says y’all are leavin’ right now, and my precious little woman is goin’ back inside.”
Patricia’s chest seized so tightly she could hardly breathe. Heart thudding, she stepped back, getting distance. The husband had given her ample warning fumbling behind his back. She should have drawn her gun. She should have maintained control; guns were about control. Now he was in charge. This wasn’t the ending she’d imagined. If they left now and came back tomorrow, would Faith be alive? And if they didn’t leave—
The man’s eyes bulged. His jaw dropped.
Judy, standing behind the man, had her gun barrel pressed against his head. “And I say,” Judy said coldly, “we let Faith make her own decision about where she’s going this afternoon. Now put your peashooter on the floor and back off.”
He laughed the harsh laugh of a defeated man trying to regain some pride as he placed the gun on the porch floor and stepped to the side. “Sure. Whatever the bitch wants. But, Faith, you leave, don’t bother comin’ back.”
Patricia took a couple of deep breaths. That was close. She gestured, palm up, to Faith. “So what is it? Go or stay?”
Faith wrung her hands. “I can’t take any more of this life. Not another minute.” Faith’s eyes danced. “Um, I gotta go.” She stretched her bruised arms toward the man. “Honey, I’m sorry.”
He scowled and swept his hand toward the street. “Go, you ungrateful bitch, and don’t even think about comin’ back.”
Judy retrieved the man’s pistol and kept her gun on him as Patricia and Meredith led Faith to the street. Once they reached the SUV, Judy backed off the porch and down the sidewalk, all the while keeping her gun trained on the man. At the curb, she placed his pistol in the mailbox and then pointed at the scowling man standing on the porch. “We know about men like you. You think harass is two words.”
Alisa covered her mouth with a hand, stifling a giggle.
Faith tossed her garbage bag into the Escalade, then, teddy bear in hand, stepped inside. Once seated, she cuddled the teddy bear like a child.
“I know you don’t have any children. Is there anyone else in the house he might hurt?” Patricia asked.
“No. Do you have kids?”
“Just one.” Patricia’s eyes followed Judy as she got into the car. “She returned to college this morning.”
“Yes. She was here for just a few days. Too short to really reconnect.”
“Is she a good girl?”
“Don’t let you baby get mixed up with scum like my old man.”
“I hear you.” Patricia knew too well that her headstrong daughter, Hayley, was in a different world. Out of reach. Beyond control. There was no telling what she was up to.
When everyone was buckled up, Patricia gave the okay, and Alisa pulled the Escalade away from the curb. Out of habit, Patricia turned and looked back. Good. They weren’t being followed. For the first time in an hour Patricia’s tension eased.
The trip to a better life had begun for Faith, just as it had begun for countless other souls Patricia and her colleagues had transported to her mama’s shelter. Battered women beaten to the point their survival instinct finally overwhelmed their fear.