Content Warning: Domestic Violence
Cara startled at the twisting doorknob immediately followed by the heavily pounding fist on the bathroom door.
“Why the fuck is the door locked?”
“Sorry,” she called out, hoping her voice sounded level and natural. “Force of habit from peeing at work. I’ll be done in a sec.”
“You take that test, yet?”
She closed her eyes at the anger in his voice. “Doing it now.” Her hand shook as she watched the slightly fainter “positive” line form next to the bright blue indicator line, and her heart dropped into the pit of her stomach.
As Mitch banged on the door again, she quickly swapped out the positive test with the one she’d begged a co-worker to take for her, shoving the baggie with her test into the hole in the lining of her purse and tossed the packaging in the trash.
“Be right out.” She finished up then quickly washed her hands before opening the door.
“Well?” he demanded, holding out his hand.
She passed him the test and watched the for the relief she expected to see in the brown eyes she’d once thought were so warm. It was strangely absent.
“See?” he said, reaching past her to toss the test in the trash. “I told you going without the condom would be fine, and you had to pitch such a big fit about it.”
She didn’t respond. She knew better than that by now. Her cell phone chimed, and she reached into her purse for it.
“Who the fuck is that?”
She forced a smile she was far from feeling. “Won’t know ’til I check.”
Blinding pain blossomed against her ear as his fist made contact with the side of her head and she fell against the bathroom counter.
“Don’t get smart.”
If she’d been smart, she never would have agreed to have coffee with him in the first place. She certainly wouldn’t have agreed to dinner. As she pushed back to a standing position, she caught sight of herself in the mirror. The circles under her eyes were as dark as bruises, though they weren’t–he was careful never to hit her face. Small mercies, she supposed.
Her phone chimed again.
“You gonna get that, or what?”
Turning away from the reflection she hardly recognized anymore, she reached into her purse and swiped her thumb across the screen. Before she could even see who’d texted, he yanked the phone from her hand.
“Who the fuck is Kassie?”
“A girl at work.” It wasn’t. But he didn’t need to know that.
“She wants you to cover her shift.”
She sighed. “That means a double.”
“Do it.” He tossed her phone on the counter where it landed with a clatter. “We need the money.”
She nodded and quickly texted Kassie back. Tossing her phone back in her purse, she quickly ran a brush through her hair, trying not to wince as the bristles coasted across the still-throbbing spot above her ear. Carefully, she pulled it back into a ponytail and quickly braided it before pulling her uniform shirt over her t-shirt.
“What time will you be home?”
Never. Cara shrugged. “Depends on how busy we are at close. I should be home by eleven, though.”
“No later,” he warned. “And make sure you bring me something to eat.”
She nodded, waiting for him to move from the doorway. When he did, she went into the bedroom.
“Now, what the hell are you doing?”
“If I’m working a double, I need my meds and my phone charger. Without it, I won’t be able to text you to find out what you want for supper.”
She shoved her phone and the pill bottle where she’d been squirreling away as many of her tips as she’d dared into her purse and grabbed her hoodie. “See you tonight.”
He didn’t respond, but she didn’t expect him to. He was already scrolling through his phone.
She forced herself to keep a normal pace as she descended the stairs to their walk-up and down the sidewalk, knowing he’d be watching out the window like he always did. As soon as she was out of sight, she called Kassie.
“Where are you?” her friend, Lainey, asked. She’d changed her name to Kassie in Cara’s contact list since Mitch hated her and had insisted they not see each other.
“Heading toward the train platform.”
“Was it positive?”
Sudden tears clogged her throat. “Yeah,” she choked out.
“Goddamnit,” Lainey muttered. “What can I do to help?”
Cara sniffled. “Meet me at the clinic on Fourth?”
“Of course. You sure that’s what you want?”
“No…but I can’t be tied to him for the rest of my life, and I can’t risk a another life, either. And somehow, he’d find out. He’d find out and hurt a kid to hurt me. I can’t do it.”
“Okay. Whatever you need.”
After hanging up with Lainey, Cara got on the F Train for the short ride to the clinic. There was a part of her that suspected that Mitch had been hoping to knock her up as a way to insure she’d stick around. She’d been trying to save enough to get a bus ticket across country and get as far away from him as possible.
She’d known she was pregnant before she’d even taken the test. She hadn’t planned on saying anything to Mitch, at all–she’d just planned on leaving– but he’d heard her throwing up a few too many times. She’d tried to play it off as the flu, but he’d insisted she take a test, and that’s when she knew she needed to up her timetable whether she had the money or not.
She stuck her earbuds in and hit shuffle on her playlist and the haunting strains of a single piano filled her head, and she blinked back the sadness and anger that swirled through her. She’d always wanted to be a mother. Not now while she was so messed up and couldn’t even care for herself, let alone an infant–and definitely not with Mitch. She did want a child of her own someday. But it couldn’t be this child or this day.
As she pushed her way through a small, but vocal, throng of protesters to meet an obviously pregnant Lainey near the doors, the line: How long will I love you? As long as stars are above you. reverberated through her head, and she knew that the best thing she could do for this child was to let go with all the love she had.
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