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I didn't think it would be that bad. I didn't think her stepmom was actually that horrible. I didn't think anyone could truly treat their daughter that way.
But that woman did.
It was almost painful to witness Dawn getting viciously smacked in the face by her stepmother. I wanted to help Dawn. I wanted to help her so badly, but I was frozen in shock. I didn't know what to do.
The woman finally caught sight of me and the corners of her mouth crinkled upward into a plastic smile. "Oh?"
Dawn stood up, and I opened my mouth, but had no idea what to say. What could I possibly say? Run away. Come with me, now. Get away from her. But before I came up with anything, Dawn slowly shook her head, her cheek already turning red from the blow. Then, she smiled–or grimaced, rather–and waved at me. I just stared as she was dragged inside.
I waited. I couldn't possibly leave after witnessing what had just happened. How could anyone do that? I didn't understand. Did the woman enjoy what she was doing? Was it even worse on the inside, where I couldn't see?
I stayed outside the house, waiting. There was a sudden scream, and I grew even more alarmed. I pulled out my phone, considered calling the police. I was certain that whatever was going on with Dawn and her stepmom was child abuse, and I couldn't just let it happen. But I hesitated. I had little evidence. Dawn's face, obviously, but her stepmom could blame it on anyone.
Before I could make up my mind, the front door flew open and Dawn ran out, pounding down the stairs.
She didn't even glance at me as she hurried by, grabbing my arm and pulling me with her. As I stumbled after her, I noticed that she looked like a mess. Her hair was crazy, her face red, sweaty. There was a wild look in her eyes.
Something fell to the ground, and I stopped and bent to pick it up. Dawn turned, annoyed. "Let's go," she growled.
It was a photo, and I meant to return it, but I examined it quickly and noticed that it seemed to be a photobooth picture. It was of her–Dawn–and someone else. A boy. They both grinned sincerely, and the boy was kissing her on the cheek.
I glanced up at her and down at the picture again, even more curious about her life.
"Let's. . .go." Dawn muttered. I nodded and stuffed the picture in my jeans pocket and followed her. Her grip tightened around my wrist as we continued on.
I could see her visibly shaken, still trembling from whatever had gone on in there. It was weird; she almost seemed to. . .flicker. Like she wasn't there for a split second, and then she was there again. I blinked a few times. Just the sun, surely. Maybe the shock of all this was affecting my eyes somehow.
After a few blocks, away enough from her house and stepmother, I pulled her to a stop.
"Dawn," I said softly. "Please, hold on a minute."
She stopped but didn't turn to face me. Her arm dropped to her side.
I paused, not knowing what to say. I didn't want to push her into telling me what happened. If she wanted to tell me, she would. Instead, I placed a hand gently on her shoulder.
"I know I'm still a bit of a stranger, but let me help you." She turned her head to look at me. Her eyes were red and puffy, a white mark on her cheek where she had been struck. "What you've had to endure is. . ." I searched for the right word, "appalling. Horrifying. And I can't began to imagine what it's like, but. . .but I want to help you. There must be a way. . .my house. My house is safe. She wouldn't find you there. I don't think the motel would be safe, if she ever came looking. My parents will make sure she can't get you again. I'll make sure she can't get you again."
A long silence. She was reluctant, I could tell. She didn't want to come to my house. I stared at the ground, waiting for an answer, if it ever came.
"Until school starts, at least?" I added after a minute of silence.
A breeze blew gently, rustling the trees and her hair.
"O. . .okay," she answered, her voice weak. "Just until school."
I nodded. "Until school. Day after tomorrow."
We went back to the library and picked up her bags, and her cat mewed in welcome as she picked him up and hugged him. I carried some of her bags as we headed to my house, which was located conveniently close to the library. Thankfully it was a saturday, and both my parents were off of work. They'd both be at home, probably. Mom doing her saturday yoga. Dad emailing people or working on a home project. They'd be in good moods, I was sure. Saturdays caused good moods in my family. Nevertheless, I practiced what I would say to them in my head.
Hey Mom and Dad I met this girl and she needs help her family is abusing her please can she stay with us a little until she gets it all figured out please she really needs help she has nowhere else to go
My mom was tenderhearted. She'd most likely agree. Dad was more logical. He wouldn't be as easy to persuade, but I was sure I could convince him.
We reached my house in fifteen minutes, and I told Dawn to wait on the porch while I stepped up and opened the door. I walked inside the entryway, leaving the door open.
"Miles, is that you?" Mom called from the den, where she was probably stretching along to her yoga show.
"Yeah!" I called back.
"Did you get those books I asked for?"
"Oh, uh. . ."
Crud. I'd forgotten her books.
I heard Mom heading towards me. "Well?" She turned a corner into the entryway. Her hair was pulled into a ponytail, and her face was slightly red. She eyed me with the look only disappointed mothers can give.
Suddenly her eyes widened as she looked past me, onto the front porch.
"Miles, who is this?"
I looked back at Dawn, who stared at my mom warily, almost suspiciously. I gestured for her to come inside. She hesitated, but slowly came in.
"Mom, this is Dawn." I introduced. "She, uh, she. . .she needs somewhere to stay. I met her earlier today, and, um, she doesn't have anywhere to go. Her family. . ." I glanced at Dawn from the corner of my eye. She was glaring at me. I swallowed. "Her family isn't in the best position to take care of her. We have that extra guest room. Do you, uh, do you think she can stay with us until school starts, at least?"
My mom listened with wide eyes. When I finished, she asked, "Where are you from, dear?"
Dawn flicked her eyes from me to my mom and back. "Around," was all she blurted.
There must have been something in Dawn's eyes that mom caught, because mom's gaze softened; she smiled gently and said. "I'm sorry about your situation. Of course we'll help you. I trust Miles, and I won't turn away someone who needs help."
"Heather, who's at the door?" came my dad's voice from the kitchen.
"Come here, Daniel." My mom replied. Dad's sigh was audible to all of us, and we heard him coming up the hallway.
"Why did I–" he started to mutter, but stopped as he reached us. He raised a dark eyebrow, something I've been told I do as well. I resemble him more: dark hair, tall, slim. My mother was our contrast. Blonde hair, shorter, slightly rounder. But my mom and I were both ready to convince Dad to let Dawn stay when he first questioned us.
After a few minutes, he finally agreed. He had known people in his lifetime who had had similar situations, and he wasn't ready to turn anyone else like that down.
The guest room was already ready, since we kept it clean and prepared, mainly to look nice. My mom showed Dawn to the room, but my dad stopped me.
"Miles, we don't know this girl at all," he said in a low voice. "Where she us from, what her last name is, or her intentions. I don't know if I can trust her." He paused. "But I trust you. I trust that we're really giving aid to someone who needs help and not a. . ." He trailed off.
I shook my head. "She really needs help. I saw it myself. Her family is aweful."
Dad nodded. Before he could say more, Mom and Dawn returned, and I helped Dawn carry her bags to the room.
"So, uh," I began after setting down her bags and turning to face her. ". . .do you want to, maybe, come to school monday?"
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Edge of Night☽
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Billions of blue blistering barnacles
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