What possessed me to grab the candle? I don’t even remember reaching for it. Not in my fury to escape my awful life. Surrounded by lavender-grey walls so faded they made me borderline suicidal. Not that I needed convincing these last two years. No, staying alive was the real struggle.
I clutched my duffel bag, now filled with the few possessions I managed to pack in my frenzy. That a raspberry scented candle sat nestled with five days’ worth of clothing, seven hundred dollars, my cell, laptop, purse, paperback copy of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, and a butcher’s knife left me marveling at just how little I owned.
I hovered in the horror section, eyes peeled to the front door. Irony it seems was my friend today, and the Sandalwood Public Library was a good place to lay low for a while. At least until I sorted myself out. It wouldn’t take long before he found me. And no way was I going back.
Foster care was shit, and Johan Sven was the devil in disguise. We both knew it and I had the bruises to prove it.
“Where are you, you little bitch?”
The latest ‘episode’ happened two hours ago. Only this time I hid beneath my bed with a knife clutched in my hands. Swore to myself that this fucker would die if he ever touched me again. Even prayed to a God I no longer believed in. Begged for Johan to bypass my room, or better yet, pass out drunk on the couch.
For once God answered.
It was late and few people remained in the library even with extended summer hours. Sandalwood, my own personal ghost house with residents left in waiting. The remnant of a bygone era, left as an aching shell. Personally, I loved this place. A relic in the age of cafés, bookstores, and the Internet.
I loved the well-worn tables and stacks of free books. Loved the quiet hush of reading and the calm serenity of knowing that other worlds were only pages away. It became my refuge on the days I wasn’t working after school. Days when I refused to return to Johan’s for as long as possible. The library more my home than Johan’s house.
I glanced again at the library’s entrance, praying that he remained asleep on his couch even as his phantom appeared everywhere, just out of sight. Final call was in minutes and I hurried toward the bathroom, hoping to stay out of sight. There was a break room out back. A quiet place I accidentally discovered my first time visiting.
Please be empty. I just need a single night’s peace to figure my shit out.
Quietly I slipped inside, greeted by nothing but furniture.
Two patchy brown couches bordered the periphery along with several large, cushioned yellow chairs. A wooden rocking chair sat in the corner and in the center was a large, mahogany table. High-polished with its grain showing through. Shelves lined the back wall along with several cabinets and drawers and in the far corner a coat closet.
“Attention everyone. The library will be closing in five minutes. Please bring your books to the registration desk for final check-out. We will open again tomorrow at 10 am. Thank you and have a good night.” The lights flashed once for good measure and I ran to the coat closet, hoping to remain incognito on this hot summer evening.
I had just settled into the tight space when the break room door opened. My breath hitched and I covered my mouth to keep quiet even as footsteps steadily approached. Heart wild, I stifled a cry when the door was suddenly wrenched open.
An elderly woman with long, white-streaked grey hair met my startled gaze. Brown eyes, hidden behind wire-rimmed glasses, widened in surprise before glancing at my duffel bag pressed to my side, hesitating at the purple and black bruises that marred my arms like a stain. In my haste I didn’t cover my skin, not thinking how exposed my chemise left me. Bruised arms and chest left raw for the world to see.
A single, shuddering breath escaped her when her eyes settled on the deep gouges around my collarbone and purple fingerprints at the base of my throat; a reminder of the previous night when Johan nearly killed me.
“Please,” I whispered, not sure just what I was asking.
Help me. Save me. Hide me.
She gazed at me appraisingly and nodded before retrieving a worn, multi-colored afghan from the shelf above my head.
“Wait here while I call the police.”
My hand grasped hers and a sob escaped my throat.
“Please, no. Not yet.” She looked at me curiously. I wanted, needed, one night’s peace. “Please let me stay the night. Just one night of silence.”
She pulled me into her arms then, surprising me enough to quell my anxiety. She smelled like homemade sugar cookies and lemonade. Felt like laughter, warmth and sunshine. Everything I always wanted.
“Shhh, it’s okay. “
She led me to the sofa and placed the afghan over my shivering thighs.
“Rest. I’ll finish locking up and together we’ll stay. No one will harm you.”
“Thank you,” I whispered, closing my eyes and willing myself not to cry.
A soft click signaled that I was alone yet again. A sudden chill left me cocooned in the afghan’s soft wool. Teeth chattering, I finally reached for my candle, desperate for anything to soothe this nightmare. A quick search provided matches and once lit, I stared into the candle’s flame, memorized by its soft flickering light. Warmth spread and in the encroaching darkness my hands finally stopped shaking.
One day these wounds would heal.
My eyes remained fixed on the flame that grew brighter in the dark while sparks of its embers flamed in my soul.
“Tomorrow,” I whispered, “My new life begins tomorrow.”