Holding my breath, I slide out of bed trying not to jostle the mattress or the man sleeping next to me. Once my feet hit the floor, I use every muscle in my body to stand without shaking the bed. I look over my shoulder and let out a silent sigh of relief before I slowly bring up the Uber app, praying the light from my phone doesn’t wake him, and order a ride. Once I see it’s confirmed, I turn off my phone and shove it underneath the mattress as far as I can, all the while trying to keep from waking Bradley.
Tip toeing into the closet, I retrieve the bag I packed earlier in the day after I got home from the hospital, and sling it over my shoulder.
Walking backward, I count my steps; ten, nine, eight and so on while I keep an eye on the sleeping figure. When I hit one, I turn on my heel and walk as quickly as I can while still being silent. When Beckham’s door comes into view, I slip inside his room, but leave the door open a crack so I can hear any noises coming from the hall. I give myself one moment to stare down at my son and pray with all that’s holy that it won’t be too long before he’ll be sleeping as peacefully as he is in this moment.
Wiping a tear that’s slowly trailing down my cheek, I lean down and pick my son up, hoping he’ll sleep through everything, but I don’t get my wish. His toe head pops up and his sleepy blue eyes try to focus on me.
“Mama, what’s going on?” he asks, voice clogged with sleep.
Placing a finger over his mouth to quiet him, I start to leave his room, but then remember the polar bear my parents got him when they went to Antarctica two years ago. He hasn’t slept without it since they gave it to him.
Circling back to his bed, I pick Chewy up and shove him between Beck and me since he’s already fallen back asleep. I can’t risk Beckham’s heartbreak if Chewy is dropped and left behind.
Headlights flash through his bedroom window, making my heart race double time. I’m scared of what lies ahead for our future, but I know this is what I need to do to keep us safe.
In my head, I count the stairs as I descend to the living room, making sure I don’t step on the one squeaky stair that will alert my departure. I never understood why Bradley wouldn’t fix it, but now I wonder if it was in case of this very scenario. I know if I get caught now, it’s likely Bradley will kill me, Beckham, and my unborn baby.
After turning off the alarm, I open the front door, but stop when it lets out a loud noise that I swear could wake the dead and very well might have woken my boyfriend.
No, not my boyfriend.
He just doesn’t know it yet. He won’t know until he wakes up in the morning and finds us gone.
Holding onto Beckham with everything in me, I run out of the house and down the sidewalk to the waiting car. I don’t even sit Beckham down in the seat before I slide in and buckle us both in with him on my lap.
“Go,” I urge the driver as sweat starts to form along my hairline.
The man turns in his seat, his brows furrow as he looks me up and down. “Is everything okay, ma’am?”
“It will be if you drive. Now,” I whisper yell. Locking eyes on him, I beg. “Please.”
He doesn’t say a word as he turns around and looks up at the stately house. I swear I see Bradley at the window and my heart nearly stops dead in my chest.
Leaning forward with my hands on the headrest in front of me, I plead with the driver to drive before I have a nervous breakdown in his back seat or have a heart attack from stress.
The driver doesn’t speak as he takes the car out of park and slowly starts to reverse down the driveway. Once we’ve been on the road for a few minutes, his soft voice breaks the silence. “Are you and your boy okay?”
“We are now thanks to you.” I lean my head back and close my eyes. For the last twenty-four hours, I’ve lived in fear since I found out my boyfriend is involved in some very illegal shit. Now I can finally take a deep breath.
“Wasn’t that the Stanton residence?”
My right eye cracks open so I can take in the man driving. Is he one of their goons and he’s going to take me back? “It was,” I answer hesitantly.
“I never liked those Stanton’s. They think they’re better than everyone else when really they’re the scum beneath all of our shoes.”
“I couldn’t agree more, but don’t let anyone hear you say that. You never know who’s on their side.” I pray I’m not making a mistake by saying those words.
“If I’m asked, I’ll say you asked to be dropped off somewhere else along the way. I’ve already logged off, so they won’t be able to see if I took you to the bus station or not.”
How had I not thought of that? If this good man hadn’t logged off, Bradley would have been able to track me to the bus station and then likely to where I bought tickets as well. At least I bought tickets to multiple places, so he’ll have to try and track me down at all of them, and I know Bradley won’t rest until he eventually finds me.
A few minutes later we pull up outside the bus station. The driver doesn’t turn around and wish me luck. He sits looking straight ahead as if this is any other trip for him.
The sound of my seatbelt unclipping and opening the car door makes everything real. I’m free. At least for now.
Almost as if on instinct, Beckham’s arms tighten around me, but that’s the only sign he gives me he’s even remotely awake.
Bending down so I can see inside the car, I make eye contact with the driver through the rearview mirror. “Thank you. You have no idea how much you’re helping me and my son.”
The driver’s only response is to nod before I close the door and he drives off.
Looking around, I see there’s no one around, which is exactly why I picked this time of night to arrive. It will give me just enough time to do what I need to do before our bus departs.
My eyes dart around the area as I make my way inside the public restroom. Luckily, there’s a long counter for me to sit Beckham down on. His tired eyes crack open and then squint in the harsh light.
Brushing the blond hair off his forehead, I hug my little boy who shouldn’t have to pay for the mistakes I’ve made. “I know you’re tired, sweet boy, but you’ve got to stay awake for a little while, and then you can sleep for as long as you want.”
His little hands wrap around my waist and hug me back. “What are we doing?”
“We’re going to go on a long bus ride and then we’re going to start a new life away from Bradley. Would you like that?”
Beckham pulls back to look up at me. “He’s scary, Mama. I don’t want him to ever hurt you again.” His finger comes up and almost touches my black, swollen eye, but stops at the last second.
“Me either baby, that’s why we’re leaving. We’re going to find someplace safe to live, but first I need to color my hair.”
“But why, Mama?” he asks innocently.
“So, no one will recognize me.” I pull out his favorite Yankee’s baseball hat and place it on top of his head, hiding his nearly white hair. I don’t want to color his hair if I don’t have to. I’m not sure how good it is for someone so young to have their hair colored.
“I’ll know who you are.” He smiles.
“Yes, you will. You’ll be the only one. It will be our little secret. Would you like to help me mix the color?” I open the box and let him pull out all the bottles and creams. After reading the instructions, I hold up one of the tiny bottles and ask. “Do you want to pour this in the big bottle?”
He nods and gets to work. While he’s trying not to spill any of the liquid, I pull out a pair of kitchen scissors and cut my hair that reaches the middle of my back until it sits above my shoulders. My hair has been long for as long as I can remember, and no one would suspect I’d cut and color it. It’s painful to cut it, but I know it needs to be done to keep us safe.
“Now shake it up as hard as you can,” I instruct as I put on the pair of latex gloves the box provided.
“Are you coloring your hair like GiGi?” he asks as he stands and shakes the bottle with all his little might.
“No, sweetie. I don’t think I can pull off blue hair like GiGi can.” Plus, it would draw attention I don’t need.
He smiles up at me and holds the bottle out to me. “I think you’d look cool.”
“Thank you. Maybe one day, but not today.”
I set the applicator tip to the part in my hair and draw a line of hair color from the back of my head to the front. The dark contrasting greatly against the pale blonde.
Closing my eyes, I take a deep breath and let it out slowly. Without thinking about it, I finish coating my hair until it’s covered with the dark brown color and smelling up the bathroom.
Beckham looks up from Chewy and wrinkles his nose. “It stinks, Mama.”
“I know it does, but it’s part of the process. In twenty minutes, I can rinse it out and we can leave. How does that sound?”
He nods, going back to playing with his polar bear as he leans against the wall by the sink. I want to set the timer on my phone, but quickly realize I don’t have a phone. Luckily, I have a watch my parents gave me from one of their trips abroad to time myself with.
Twenty minutes later, I’m putting my head under the faucet and having Beck hit the top of it since the water keeps turning off every ten seconds it seems. Without a hairdryer, I pull my hair up into a ponytail, unwilling to squat in front of the hand drier until it’s dry.
I clean up as best as I can, making sure not to leave any stains from the hair color. Throwing the color and the hair I cut off in a plastic bag, I shove it into the bag, not wanting to leave evidence of my transformation behind.
When the bathroom looks more spotless than it’s probably been since the place opened, I squat down in front of Beckham with the best smile I can muster on my face.
“Are you ready for an adventure?”
His blue eyes light up. “Are GiGi and PopPop going to be there?”
“Not right now, baby.” I pull his hat down a little further on his head. “We’re going someplace where no one knows us.”
“I won’t have any friends,” he pouts, but quickly looks down at his stuffed polar bear. “Except you and Chewy.”
“You’ll make new friends in no time. The only thing I ask is you don’t tell them about Bradley.”
His nose crinkles as he shakes his head.
Standing, I hold my hand out for him to take. My eyes well with tears when his little hand takes mine. No little boy should have to be put through this. What kind of life is a life on the run for a seven-year-old?
When we step outside the bathroom, a few people are milling around, but everyone is keeping to themselves. I make sure to keep my distance and my head down as we make our way out to the bus and our new life.
Stepping onto the bus, I look back at Jackson, Mississippi, and wish it farewell.
“I hope to never see you again.”