The paved road in front of her headlights seemed to vanish and stretch on forever, all at the same time. Her battered old truck held everything she cared about, her few clothes, pictures of her long-gone parents, her grandmother’s rocking chair, and an ancient bloodhound named Sam.

She barely remembered her parents. Her mother’s mother had raised her from toddlerhood until the old woman succumbed to her age when Sarah was fifteen. Then Sarah was on her own. Those first few solo years had been tough, filled with harsh lessons on money, jobs, and men. But she’d lived through it all. In some cases, just barely.

Sam had been with Sarah since her grandmother’s house. He’d been just a puppy then, bright-eyed and keen to run. But he was old now, so old Sarah should have had the decency to let him go, but she needed his solid comfort by her side. He was the only guy she could count on.

Two years ago, Sarah had thought she’d found someone besides Sam to lean on. Gary was sweet, fairly intelligent, and funny as hell. She’d fallen hard for him. She thought he had done the same for her. She moved in with him after just three months.The next three months changed them both. Sarah found out that Gary’s demeanor inside his home was starkly different from his public persona. He never hit her. No, she would have left for that.

The next three months changed them both. Sarah found out that Gary’s demeanor inside his home was starkly different from his public persona. He never hit her. No, she would have left for that. Instead, he slowly stole her confidence, her sense of self. He put her down in small ways, at first. Just an off-hand comment about how she’d maybe gained a few pounds. Or, did she forget to brush her hair, or was she actually trying to look homeless?

The jabs were so subtle, Sarah hardly noticed. But they added up over the months. She found herself doing things just the way Gary liked, making sure not to do anything that rocked his boat. After the first year, she didn’t realize anymore that it was all for Gary.

But, when the new girl moved in six months ago, Sarah noticed. She noticed the way Gary paraded Jill around in sexy, slinky new clothes. She saw how Gary’s words for Jill were covered in honey and he only snapped if he had to talk to Sarah.

Sarah tried to warn Jill, insisting that one day, it would be Jill’s turn to be trampled on by the man. But Jill ran to Gary, whispering in his ear, telling him all about Sarah’s warnings. In response, Gary lavished more attention and money on Jill, pushing his new woman to harass his old one.

Last week, at Gary’s urging, Jill turned violent, slamming a coffee mug in Sarah’s face. When Sarah tried to fight back, Gary held her down, letting Jill do whatever she wanted to Sarah.

When the other woman was done, Sarah cried, begged Gary to help her. But her former love did nothing for her. Instead, he and Jill got dressed up in their tightest, slinkiest clothes and went out, confident that Sarah would clean up the mess and be waiting for them when they returned.

But they were wrong. Sarah didn’t clean anything up. In fact, she let the blood flow freely from her cuts. She smeared it into the carpet, making a bigger mess. She left her torn clothes on the floor. She left the broken bits of the coffee mug laying where they fell. Sarah left the entire scene just as it was. Then called the sheriff. He should have a field day figuring out the scene. Her former lover and his newest woman would have a good time explaining it all.

Then she loaded up the few things she cherished and left. She drove to her grandmother’s grave and talked to her for hours, crying out her fears, her sorrows, and her hopes. Then she drove further upstate to her parents’ stones and visited there. She decided she needed a fresh start, somewhere far away from Gary and Jill, somewhere that her past mistakes couldn’t follow her.

So she drove. Into a night that stretched endlessly on.

The hitchhiker she picked up just before dawn looked strangely familiar. Almost like looking in a mirror. Sam liked the woman immediately.

“Hi, I’m Laura,” the hitchhiker said. “I’m glad you picked me up. I was worried my ex, Larry, would find me. Him and his new girlfriend, Lily. You wouldn’t believe what they did to me.”



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