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My screaming ceased to bring me comfort a few turns into the drive.I relaxed onto my back, the most comfortable position I could find considering how badly bruised and beaten I was.Large tears were falling from my eyes and mixing with the blood on my face.I wanted to sleep, I wanted to dream, I wanted to be pulled from this nightmare but even with my eyes closed, sleep alluded me.
"Hi, I'm Julie."
"I'm Raleigh.Very nice to meet you."
The look she gave me was a curious one.I was used to this reaction and it didn't faze me any longer.At a younger age, it had hurt and I had been ashamed of my voice, not wanting to speak to anyone.But I learned to move past it.I learned that I had quite a bit to say and even though I couldn't hear it, even though it sounded strange to others, my voice was worth the explanation.
"Where are you from?"
"Oh.I didn't recognize your accent."
I smiled at her."I'm deaf.There's no accent."
Her face reddened and she looked apologetic."Shit.Now I feel bad."
But I shook my head."Don't worry about it.It happens."
She nodded and seemed to move past her embarrassment quickly."So if you're from Delaware, what are you doing all the way down here?"
"Right.Sightseeing at a trucker stop in Tennessee?"
"I'm trying to get to the coast," I explained."I got a ride all the way from Indiana."
"No shit!That far?How long did you have to wait for that one?"
"A few days." I smiled at her.I liked this girl.It had been a while since I had spoken with a female my own age.
"Which beach are you trying to make it to?"She picked up her bag from the ground and slung it over her shoulder.
"It doesn't really matter, I guess.Just one with an ocean."
"Well, I'm on my way to North Carolina if you'd like to tag along.I could sure use the company.These truckers aren't the best conversationalists."
I smiled and nodded, agreeing completely.Julie was the first female hitcher I had met and I was in desperate need of a friend.The road from Delaware had been lonely and even though I had the company of whoever stopped to pick me up, I knew our relationship would be short lived and therefore not fulfilling.
"Alright, then!Let's go find us a ride!Two pretty girls like us should have no problem getting picked up."She smiled at me and extended her hand.I stood up from the curb where I was sitting and followed her to the first driver in a long line of waiting trucks, eager to see where this new relationship would take me.
My breath became heavy as I felt the car roll to a stop.Part of me wanted the three men to forget about me and leave me in the trunk.The other part was dying to stand up and stretch my sore arms and legs.I knew I needed to see a doctor.At least one of my ribs was broken and I wasn't sure how deep the cuts on my face and torso were.But a doctor was out of the question and even if I had been naive enough to ask for one, I knew I would be laughed at.
The trunk was thrown open and I blinked at the brightness of the day.We must have been driving all night and into the morning because the sun was well on its way overhead.As my eyes adjusted, I blinked to see the smaller of the three men speaking to me.
"Get out!"I could tell he was screaming from the tension in his neck.
I sat up and looked around warily, not expecting to recognize where I was but hoping for a miracle nonetheless.Pine trees surrounded us in every direction.The dirt road was barely visible and clearly wasn't traveled often.There was a house carefully situated within the trees, very unimposing and quaint with yellow trim and a brick façade.
I climbed out of the car and winced as pain shot through my ribs.The man put his pudgy fingers around my arms and led me to the front door which had been left open by Ray and the man with the green eyes.The inside of this house did not do justice to the outside.The windows were all open yet there was a heavy, stale smell in the air.The carpets were dirty and ripping from the floor near the walls and the wallpaper was stained or eroding.The two men were already sitting at a table, one of the few pieces of furniture in the house, and pouring out the contents of my bag.Julie's sat on the floor next to them.
There, mere feet from me, being carelessly thrown about, were the entire contents of my life.Everything I owned and all I could carry with me.Clothes, underwear, toothbrush, expensive make-up because I couldn't leave my vanity behind, and my wallet which contained the only piece of identification I still owned.
Ray found the wallet and grabbed for it, opening the leather pouch and eyeing what was inside.
"Raleigh Anne Winters from Dover, Delaware.Never heard of it."I stared at him as he threw my ID aside and continued through my wallet.Watching him pick through my life left me feeling violated.What gave him the right?
"358 bucks…not bad."Ray handed the money to the man with the green eyes who glanced at me suspiciously.
"Any credit cards?"He asked, still looking at me as if he wanted me to see him ask the question.
My stare returned to his green eyes after Ray had spoken.He stood up and walked toward me, leaving the cash on the table."Give her to me."
The small man handed me over as Ray watched."Where are you taking her?"
The man who now held me, his grip just as strong as it had been last night, turned to face his friend at the table and said something I couldn't see.Ray nodded and returned to my bag and I found myself being pulled from the room and up the stairs.Horrifying scenarios raced through my head as I struggled against him, tripping and scraping my shins on the splintered stairs.I could only imagine what he was going to do to me and I wasn't ready for any of it.I pulled against his hand, pushed his arm away with all my strength but nothing helped and I was too sore to fight for long.
At the top of the stairs, I was pushed into the bathroom and pinned against a wall.
His face was within inches from mine as he spoke to me."Look, you may not be able to hear me, but I don't believe for a minute that you can't speak.Everything about you from your designer jeans to the four credit cards in your wallet screams Daddy's money and higher education so if you want to keep up the act, that's fine.Just know that I'm not letting you out of my sights.You aren't going to fuck this up for me."
I stared at him, more of a glare, really, and waited for him to say something else. This man was perceptive and even if he didn't know who I was or why I had been on the side of the road, he knew my type: spoiled brat from up north with too many advantages and not enough ambition. He glared back, challenging me to speak but when I didn't, he released my shoulders and took a few steps back, lowering the lid to the toilet seat and sitting down.
"Shower," he commanded and pointed to the curtain."You look like shit."
I finally looked away from him and glanced in the mirror.The girl staring back at me was not someone I recognized.Her once blonde hair now appeared brown from all the blood and dirt.Her grey eyes were red and swollen and blood was smeared from her forehead to her neck and caked around her nose.Her lips were cracked.I had to look away as tears welled behind my lids.
The man with the green eyes stood up from his seat and pulled back the dingy and stained shower curtain, pointing for me to climb in.I shook my head.He was crazy if he thought I was going to get undressed with him still in the room.But he grabbed my hand and pulled me toward the tub.It was stained with mold and rust and I had used cleaner ones at the truck stops I had been through in the past few months.
I looked up at him and pointed toward the door.A warm shower would feel so good right now but not with him watching.
"I'm not leaving," his stern face glanced to the window above the sink and I finally understood his reasoning.If he could feel how much pain I was in, he would certainly know that jumping from a second story window was out of the question.
"You can either shower with or without my help.But you need to."His face softened as he reached for my arm."It will be good for you."
I pushed his arm away and signed for him to fuck off before I stepped out of my sandals.
His fingers gripped my cheeks as he jerked my head up to look at him."Fuck you, too."
I stepped back in surprise. He had understood?
His lips crept over his teeth as he smiled at me."You're not the only one with secrets."
I smiled sweetly at him, mockery streaming from my eyes and lips.He laughed and released my face, pointing again to the shower and grabbing a towel from the shelf above my head.I slowly undid the buttons on my jeans, not wanting to bend over to pull them down because I knew how badly it would hurt.I managed to wiggle them down my hips and stepped out of them, glancing at man who had returned to his seat on the toilet.He was staring at me with a concerned expression which angered me but I looked away, not wanting him to know that his presence bothered me.
I tugged at the bottom of my shirt and attempted to lift it over my head but the pain in my chest was too much and I cried out as my shirt fell back into place.I held my eyes shut until the throbbing lessened, fresh tears of pain and embarrassment already falling onto my cheeks.The man was standing in front of me when my eyes opened and I jumped, startled he could move so quickly.
"Sorry," his mouth twitched at the corners like he wanted to smile."Let me help you.Arms up."
I hesitated but obeyed and he carefully pulled my blood stained shirt from my body.I winced as it was ripped from my torn and raw skin but was relieved when I was free of it.He threw the shirt on the floor next to the remnants of my jeans and bent over the tub so he could turn on the water.I watched him carefully, unsure of what to think.Was he really trying to help me or did he have ulterior motives?It had been him, after all, who had convinced Ray to spare my life.What did he want with me?
All of my questions were put aside as I felt the steam start to fill the room and soothe my aching muscles.The man with the green eyes stood up once the temperature was to his liking and looked at me.
"Thank you," I said, barely using my voice at all.
He smiled at me as if he had won a contest."You're welcome, Raleigh."
"What's your name?"I asked, no longer caring that I was having this conversation in my underwear.
He lifted one large hand and spelled it out for me.K-A-D-E-N.
I nodded and turned away from him, slipping out of my panties and bra before stepping into the shower.