"You're the best thing that's ever happened to me," I whisper.
As the rain begins to let up, I slowly get up. I look up towards the house, and see my bedroom light on. Knowing who's inside, I feel my stomach turn upside down in fear. Debating whether or not going back, I decide it's better that I don't. I run towards the fence, and climb in again. I land on the other side with a soft thud, and I start running the two blocks to Jake's house. By the time I reach Jake's house, I'm short of breath and tears are running down my face. I knock on the door, and wrap my arms around myself. I don't know why, but I start crying even more. Maybe it's the thought that daddy's discovered I'm gone, and will begin his hunt for me. I lift my fist to knock on the door again, but it opens.
He doesn't even have a chance to finish my name because I throw myself into his arms, sobbing loudly. He immediately wraps his arms around me, pulling me close to him. He pulls me inside, away from the rain and shuts the door. The routine is all so familiar now. He's standing against a wall, and he slides to the floor, taking me with him. He's sitting against the wall with his arms wrapped tightly around me, as I sit in his arms, my face buried into his chest as I cry. He rubs my back, kissing the top of my head, trying to comfort me. After a few minutes, my sobs die down to small hiccups, but my fists are still clinging tightly to his shirt as he holds me against him.
"Let me look at your face," he whispers.
I feel his hand gently brush my wet hair away from my face, and he carefully tilts my head up towards his. By the look in his eyes, I know the bruise is one of the bad ones. He runs the pad of his thumb across my cheekbone, caressing the stinging skin. He presses his lips against that one spot on my cheek, before pressing his lips to my forehead. I lean into him again, pressing the side of my face to his chest. I close my eyes as the steady beating of his heart lulls me into calmness.
"What happened?" he asks softly.
"Same thing that always happens..."
"Was he drunk again?"
I nod, and he sighs.
"You want to know something?" I ask.
"I don't know, do I?"
"What do you mean?"
"Are you going to scare me again?"
"If by that you mean that you think I'm going to tell you that I'm plotting to kill myself," I pause and he inhales, "the answer is no. And if I did, I wouldn't come see your first. I'd just run out in front of speeding car or slit my wrists in the bathtub."
Suddenly, his hand finds itself under my chin, and he gently, yet firmly, nudges my face upwards to meet his eyes. I find tears in them, and my face softens as I realize the effect my words had on him. I reach up to touch his face, but his words stop me.
"Don't ever say that again."
"I'm sorry, I-"
"Every time you say something like that I'm afraid to let you leave. I'm afraid to leave you alone in a room. Do you know why I'm afraid?" he pauses, but before I can answer, he continues, "I'm afraid because I know I'll lose you for good. And you know I'm not strong enough to go through that. The thought of losing you is enough to destroy me. I've been too close to it too many times."
"You're the only one that would miss me," I whisper sadly as a few more tears roll down my cheeks.
"Am I not enough?"
The simple words bruise me.
"Of course you're enough," I whisper, my voice shaky as I try to keep sobs out of my voice.
"What were you going to tell me?"
"I don't know. I forgot."
As he whispers this, he nuzzles his nose against mine, closing his eyes. I smile through my tears, gently rubbing my nose against his. When his eyes open, I notice the tears that cling to his eyelashes. I reach up to wipe them away, and he gently catches my hand by my wrist. He closes his eyes again, pressing his lips against my knuckles as he pulls away from me slightly. I cock my head to the side slightly, my eyes studying his face. His eyes open, and he looks straight into mine.
"I'm so sorry, baby."
"For what?" I ask.
"For this. For what he does to you. That you won't let me stop him from hurting you like this. That there's nothing I can do to make your life better. I'm sorry."
"If I did anything to try to stop him, he'd kill me, Jake. Sometimes it's better to just step back and take it, ya know? You learn from past experiences. But, please don't be sorry for that. You may think there's nothing you can do to make my life better, but you're doing something right now."
"What am I doing?" he asks, tears clouding his vision as tears cloud mine.
"Are you hurting me?"
"God, I hope not," he says quickly, and I smile.
"Do you love me?"
"More than anything."
"Will you always be there for me?"
"Forever," he whispers.
"That alone makes me want to live that long. Just so I can spend the rest of my life with you. You're doing more than you can even begin to imagine. And I love you for that."
"I love you, too."
I smile softly, and he smiles back, reaching up to wipe my tears away tenderly. He ever so gently takes my face in his hands, and presses his lips against mine slowly. His lips move gently over mine, almost as if he was afraid I'd break. After a few more seconds, he pulls away, touching my face with the pads of his thumbs. I open my eyes, and lean into his body, seeking warmth and protection. He holds me tightly as my head lies against his chest.
"You're the best thing that's ever happened to me," I whisper.
He doesn't say anything, but he doesn't need to. I know how he feels. I close my eyes when I feel his lips press a kiss on the top of my head, and his arms tightening around me ever so slightly. Suddenly, I hear the air-conditioning start up, and I shiver in anticipation, curling into him even more.
"Come on; let's get you into some dry clothes before you catch pneumonia or something."
I nod, and allow him to help me up. Before we can make any advance towards the stairs, the front door opens and voices fill the room.
"Careful, sweetie!" Claire warns as Jennifer, Jake's five-year-old sister runs inside, almost slipping, "Oh hi darling, I didn't know you'd be here."
I turn around to face her and she gasps. Her face softens and she comes closer.
"Honey, what happened?" she asks, and I swallow nervously-I hated this part.
"I uh, I had a bit of a blonde moment and ran into the door on my way in the house today. It was kind of slippery from the rain, and yeah."
"But your hair's black, silly!" Jennifer says.
"It's just a cover up, Jen," Jake says, putting an arm around me.
"Ohh! Wow, you're good."
I giggle nervously as she skips into a different room. My eyes look back up at Claire, Jake's mother, and her face is still etched with concern.
"Jake sweetie, would you mind if I talked to Isabella alone?" she asks gently.
"I don't think right now is the best time, mom."
"I won't be long. Do you mind, Isabella?"
I shake my head, not knowing what to say. Jake looks at me concerned for a moment, before kissing my forehead and walking off in the same direction as his sister.
"What really happened, honey?" she asks.
"What do you mean? I ran into-"
"No, you didn't. If this was the first time I'd seen it, I might believe you. But it's happened so many times, I know you don't hurt yourself like this so often. Tell me the truth; did Jake do this to you?"
"Jake? No, of course not."
"Good, I didn't think so. Look sweetie, I know it has to be hard with your mother not being around, and I know you must need some kind of motherly support. I want you to know that you can talk to me about anything. And if you want it to be just between the two of us, it can be. No one else has to know. I promise. But I want you to be able to trust me. It's obvious my son loves you very much, and that you love him. I can see that what you both have is real, and I care for you a great deal, honey. Please, let me help you."
Her words were enough to force the tears from my eyes once again. She was so right. There were so many nights where I wish I could just go into the other room, and talk to my mother. Confide in her; tell her what's bothering me. I closed my eyes tight; as I thought of selfish it was of her to take that away from me. As I opened them again, I found the face of a woman that was willing to give me that love I'd been missing out on. As my bottom lip trembled violently, I let out a sob; she opened her arms to me. I allowed myself to step into her embrace, and I hugged her tightly as I sobbed. She hugged me back, whispering loving words to me.
"My dad...he..." I sobbed, "he hits me."
"Oh sweetie," she whispered as she hugged me a bit tighter.
"He's been doing it ever since she left. He hates me...he wants me dead. And frankly, sometimes I want me dead, too."
She pulls me back, tears streaming down her face and holds me firmly by the shoulders.
"Don't you dare say that to me again, you hear me? You're too much of a special girl to throw her life away like that."
"But it hurts..."
"We need to put a stop to that hurt."
"No!" I say suddenly, and she jumps slightly in surprise, "if he knows that I told you, he'd kill me. I wouldn't hear the end of it, please, you can't say anything. You said I could trust you."
"And you can. Sweetie, listen to me, what he does isn't right. He can be stopped."
"No he can't. He'll come after me."
"The police will arrest him, and for all that he's done to you, he'll be put away for a very long time."
"But I have nobody. Where would I live? I-I just can't. It's really not that bad, you know? I mean, sure, it hurts a little bit, but, I've done a lot worse to myself and-"I stammer as I cry.
"Sweetie, listen to yourself. You can't mean that," she hugs me again, "you're always welcome here, you know that. I'd have absolutely no problem taking you in, and you know that Robert won't have a problem with it. He adores you. So does Jennifer, she sees you like the big sister she doesn't have. And let's not leave out, Jake."
"I'd feel like I was imposing."
"You wouldn't be. Believe me," she says, "will you stay?"
I think about it silently for a moment, before slowly nodding my head. She seems to relax slightly, and she hugs me again. As we pull away, my cell phone rings, and I jump slightly, a small scream escaping my lips. As I reach into my pocket for it, Jake runs in, his eyes showing fear.
"What happened?" he asks.
"Cell phone," I say innocently, and he relaxes, chuckling slightly.
I step away from them both, and flip it open.
"Where are you?" he hisses.
I feel my stomach drop as my breath hitches in my throat.
"WHERE ARE YOU?!" he yells, and tears find their way to my eyes again.
"Please, daddy, don't yell-"
"I ASKED YOU A QUESTION! ANSWER ME, ISABELLA!"
Before I can answer, the phone's gently taken from my hand, and it's closed. Jake pulls me into his arms as I tremble. He runs his hand up and down my back, whispering, "It'll be okay, baby, you're okay, you're with me," into my ear. When my cell phone rings again, I let out a small shuddered sob, and Jake holds me closer.
"Jake, why don't you take Isabella upstairs and let her borrow some clothes? You should take a nice warm bath too, sweetie. I don't want you to catch a cold," Claire says.
"She's right, baby. C'mon, let's get you upstairs."
Keeping an arm around me, he slowly leads me upstairs. As we turn down the hallway, his sister bumps into us again.
"Isa, are you okay?" she asks.
"I'm fine, sweetie," I murmur, giving her a small smile.
"Will you play Candyland with me later?"
She flashes me a smile before skipping down the stairs. Jake continues to lead me into his room, and we walk in. He presses his lips against my forehead before walking over to his drawer. He pulls it open, and rummages around for a few moments as I stand in the middle of the room with my arms around myself. He comes back to me with a pair of sweat pants, his favorite "TOOL" shirt that I got him, and a pair of boxers. I take everything from his hands with a slight blush. He gives me his trademark side smile, and touches my face lightly.
"I'll run you a warm bath," he whispers before kissing me softly.
I watch him retreat into the bathroom, and moments later, I heard the sound of running water. He comes back into the room, and walks up to me. Before he can wrap his arms around me, I motion to his clothes.
"I'm sorry, I got you all wet. Do you want to shower and change first?"
"No, I'm fine. I just want to get you into some warm clothes," he says, "did he hurt you anywhere else?"
I look down at the floor, and motion to my back, and my left side. I hear him sigh softly, and his arms find themselves around my body, hugging me. I allow myself to be held by him, forcing myself not to cry again. He pulls back slightly to look at my face, and kisses my forehead.
"Your mom's going to get him locked up," I whisper.
He pulls back, his eyes wide with surprise. He blinks several times, as if trying to comprehend what I'd just said. I shrug and turn my head to look at a picture of us together sitting on his nightstand.
"You told her?"
"She knew something was up," I grin slightly as I look back at him, "I'm not so good at hiding things apparently."
"Not good at hiding things? Only three people know about this. You're great at hiding things, and that scares me sometimes."
"I don't hide anything from you."
"Promise?" he asks.
"Promise," I smile.
He smiles back, and then retreats back into the bathroom. I hear the water being turned off, and I start to walk towards the bathroom. I stand in the doorway as he dries his hands with a towel.
"Just relax for a while. I'm going to go out and pick up some food," he says.
"You don't have to. I'm really not that hungry."
"You're going to eat what I bring you. Don't argue with me, baby."
I giggle slightly, and nod my head. He smiles gently and kisses my forehead.
"I love you," he whispers.
"I love you, too."
"Do you need anything else?"
"No, I'm fine."
Before he can walk out, I grab his arm, and hold his hand. I tip my head up and press my lips against his in the softest kiss imaginable, and I pull back to look into his eyes.
"Thank you for everything, Jake. I hope you know that I love you more than anything."
"Am I going to come back and find you sitting in pink water?" he asks, his eyes searching mine, and his voice barely above a hushed whisper.
"Promise me," he says holding my face in his hands, "promise me that when I come back, you'll still be here."
"I promise. I'm sorry, I don't mean to scare you like that. I just want you to know how much I love you."
"It's just...I don't know, the way you said it. Like it was the last time you'd see me."
"You're not that lucky," I whisper with a small grin.
"Oh, but on the contrary, darling. I have you, which makes me luckier than anybody."
I giggle softly, and I wrap my arms around his shoulders. He wraps his around me, and pulls me close to him in a big bear hug. He pulls back slightly, plants a single kiss on the tip of my nose. I giggle softly, and he caresses my cheek.
"How much of a dork would I be to ask your sister for some bubble bath?"
"A pretty big one," you say playfully, "but she won't mind. I'll be back in a minute."
I nod, and laugh slightly as he walks out of the bathroom calling Jennifer's name. As I wait for him to come back, I take my hoodie off, and I sit down on top of the toilet seat. I slip off my black Vans, and socks. I unbuckle the black belt around my waist, and pull it off as he walks in with a bottle of bubble bath in his hand.
"Here you go, miss. "A bottle of the finest bubble bath in the house."
"Thanks," I say giggling as I take it from him.
"I'll be back in a bit. You just relax, okay?"
He gives me a lopsided grin, and I smile as he presses a kiss to my forehead. He turns and walks towards the door, closing it behind him when he leaves. I step forward, and lock it before turning around to face the bathtub. I unscrew the top of the bottle, and pour a reasonable amount as I turn on the faucet again for a few moments. I giggle as it foams up, and I close the faucet. I slowly take my clothes off, setting it on top of the toilet seat, before carefully stepping inside the tub. I lower myself inside of it, and I sigh as the hot water ease my sore muscles into calmness. I lean back, and close my eyes, letting everything that's happened in the past few hours wash over me.