I tried to go back home. I really did. It was as if autopilot was engaged and somehow I ended up at the women's shelter. The security guard buzzed me in and sat me down to do intake paperwork. I stared at the manila folder. I didn't want to go back but I couldn't move forward. With tears in my eyes, I filled out the paperwork.
I slept very little that night. The bed was hard and the sheets were scratchy. My roommates were loud and the rain was pounding on the roof. I finally fell asleep. It was a short, restless sleep filled with terrifying dreams that I was grateful I didn't remember.
The next morning, I rummaged through the donation box and found a light top that fit me. I threw it on and went into the bathroom. My hair was short but I cut it shorter and straightened out the natural curl. Satisfied with my new look, I walked out of the bedroom where Cassie was waiting for me. I was so relieved to see her. I embraced my friend and started to cry. For some reason, I couldn't keep my story in any longer. It had been my burden for far too long and I wasn't strong enough to carry it on my own anymore. I broke down and told Cassie the truth.
I told her my real name. It felt foreign on my tongue, but it was liberating to say out loud. I told her how Matthew and I met and the whole whirlwind journey that was our relationship.
I told her about the physical abuse and the pregnancy that had finally allowed me the opportunity to leave him. Cassie listened without judgment. Finally, she said slowly, "You need to go home." I looked at her knowingly. The shelter was not my home anymore. "I'm so scared," I told her. Cassie held my hand. "You are strong enough to handle this. One day, not today, you will have to face your past. In order to prepare for that, you need to live a normal life. A life without fear. A life that is your own." I understood what she was saying and I knew what I had to do. "I'll need you to sign my discharge papers," I told her. Cassie smiled and handed me discharge papers which were already drawn up and signed. She gave me a wink. "I had a feeling you'd say that," she said with a smile.
I got back home at about 9:00 am. Jace was up and in his pajamas still. We stood in silence for a brief moment before we both started talking at the same time. We laughed and the tension left the room. "Jace, I am so sorry. I never should have flipped out at you like that. I have some issues that I am trying to work out. I've learned my lesson and it won't happen again," I told him.
Jace let me finish before he began to speak. "I never should have pressured you to go out like that. I was my fault. I'm really sorry," he apologized. "Jace, I promise it wasn't your fault. I'm just trying to figure some things out and I took my stress out on you," I insisted. Then, Jace did something that really surprised me.
He took my in his arms and gave me a hug. At first, I was too stunned to do anything, but after a moment I returned his embrace. "I was really worried about you last night," Jace said as he pulled away. "I'm glad you're okay," he said smiling. With that, he turned around and left the room. Just like that, we were alright.
My phone rang and I dug it out of my pocket. It was my boss, Daisy. "Hey Lily," her voice came over the phone, "So I have a friend and he owns a bar called Bridgeport Sports Bar downtown. Their bartender just quit and they need some help tonight during bar rush. I recommended you. Would you be able to do it?" she asked me. I paused. It was so early to be going out again. My heart rate accelerated and my palms began to sweat. I thought about what Cassie had said. I'd come this far. Maybe I was strong enough. "Lily?" Daisy said. "Oh, yea Daisy. Ummm...I'd love to. I'll be there at five," I said as I hung up the phone.
Jace came out of the bathroom, freshly showered. He smelled amazing. "Hey Jace, I actually have a favor," I started. I told him about my phone conversation with Daisy and about the job I was going to work tonight. I told him I was still shook up from last night and I needed someone to be there after my shift to take me home. "I would love to. I would stay the whole time but I have a gig at Waylon's. I'll be at the bar before your shift gets off to take you home," he said sincerely. "Thanks," I responded with a smile. I hopped in the shower to get ready for work, and despite the events of last night, I felt giddy and excited. Surely that was just the new job...nothing else.
I arrived at Bridgeport Sports Bar a little before 5 pm and they gave me my uniform. It was a little slinky but it worked. The first hour I spent nervously glancing around the bar, looking for any signs of Matthew.
After a while, I began to warm up and I think I impressed the manager with my mixology skills. I was getting better and better with all the practice.
I finished my shift and looked around the bar for Jace. I was so relieved to see him across the room waiting for me. He looked great in a fitted black tee shirt and faded blue jeans. He took me home and I was grateful the day ended without any drama. We rode home in comfortable silence. I glanced over at Jace and our eyes met. I smiled and turned away stupidly. Sometimes it was so comfortable around Jace but other times the awkwardness of our interactions were absolutely cringeworthy. He reached over the cab seat and squeezed my hand to eliminate the tension. My heart rate accelerated. Maybe in a different life Jace and I would have made a perfect couple. I wouldn't allow myself to string him along if he liked me or if he had different intentions. I made a mental note to talk to him about that later. I would never, ever put myself in a position to get hurt the way Matthew had hurt me. Never again. I repeated in my head.