At the bar the next night, Gretchen ordered her usual bourbon and settled into her stool at the end of the bar. Tonight was family night at Bunky's, so Ruddy limited his alcohol sales and brought out the pop for everyone. All the tables now received the grand plastic table clothes and silverware, she never asked where it all came from or where it was stored, and the whole town came out. The field around the place was filled with cars and kids bounced off the walls.
"Gretchen, why don't you come sit with us?" one lady asked. She was from two towns over and was a regular during family night.
"I'm fine, really."
The woman nodded and went back to her kids, who were currently playing tug of war with a spoon.
Gretch laughed and when she turned back around Ruddy was staring at her.
"What? I didn't do it."
He shook his head. "You know, I don't get much into your business and I generally leave you alone to your ways, but sometimes you give me more questions to ask then I know what to do with."
"Don't ask questions you don't want answers to."
He went back to wiping the bar. "Yeah, that's what I was afraid of."
"You're a smart man, Ruddy, a smart man."
"But not smart enough, right?"
"Ruddy, if you were any smarter, I'd be up shit's creek without a paddle because you'd never have let me continue coming here. So, I'd rather you not reach that genius stage just yet."
He nodded and stood up straight. "That's fair enough."
"I'll take another drink."
"You know my rules for this night."
"I'm not the family type person and it's on these nights that I need the liquor the most."
He studied her a moment before putting a glass down before her.
He went back to work and she was back to her own devices.
She glanced up in the mirror in front of her and her eyes drifted to the scars that marred her face. She resisted the urge to reach up and run her fingers over the roughened flesh, still fresh enough to be pink. She could still remember the knife coming at her and the gleam in the man's eye. He was tall and lanky and looked like he hadn't bathed in days and his intent was clear. She knew that he simply wanted to cut her throat, but she wasn't ready to join those bodies she'd seen being dumped in the hole. She still had a few years left in her if she had any say in the matter, so she'd fought back. She'd gone after him with everything she'd had and he'd ripped up her face while aiming for her neck. If it wasn't for her father's last strike, she'd probably be diced up by now.
Gretchen saw her father raising up from his battered position on the floor and charge the guy. The sound of the mans spine snapping was something that in her whole life she'd never forget.
"Go!" her dad yelled, "Get out of here!"
But she didn't. She'd gone towards him. Her shaking legs were slow, and she was a few feet away from hugging her father when his body suddenly jerked and red blossomed from his chest. His eyes were empty by the time his head cracked on the pavement. In the doorway she saw a man that she put as the ringleader. This guy meant business and she didn't wait around to find out what it was. Without thinking twice she took off running.
A kid popped a balloon next to her and she found her self back at the bar.
"I don't know how you do it. Most of the guys would be out cold on the floor by now."
"What? I've only had-" she paused to think about how many she'd had and realized her mind wasn't working like it should. "Yup, Ruddy, I think I'm done for the night."
"It's early yet."
"Not for me. I'm done. I'll see you tomorrow though."
"Need a ride home?"
"Naw, I'm good. I'm just down the street."
She slid off her stool and went for the door. She was suddenly queasy and the world began to tilt. Fuck. She hated being drunk. It was something that she avoided at all costs. Damn memories. She made it right outside the door and to the side field before she lost control and everything she'd consumed in the last decade came rushing out. Her body weak and convulsing on hands and knees. Her insides burned and she kept heaving although there was nothing left coming. Maybe next time Ruddy shouldn't be so accommodating as to how much she wanted to drink. She tried to think about how much she'd had before she'd gone to the bar when she was remembering her childhood. Did she finish that bottle of whiskey?
Her body shuddered again and she lost all thought except for the searing pain in her chest and the loss of control in her limbs.
"Well, looky what we have here. It's that freak."
The group of guys laughed and she barely recognized the guy as the one who'd insisted he dance with her before she'd shown him her face. Why wouldn't they leave her the fuck alone?
"Go," she tried to say go away, but every time she tried she gagged and ended up heaving again. She was losing her ability to breathe. Every time she took a breath she expelled it with some bile and she couldn't keep up. She was going to suffocate over this. How pathetic could you get?
"She doesn't look so tough now, does she? And where's her men to protect her?"
"I don't know, but I'm feeling sorry for her, man. I think we should take pity on her and give her something that she'll never get in her lifetime." They laughed and she really didn't like the sound of it.
"Yeah, it'll be the best she'll ever get."
She heard the crunch of gravel next to her and knew they were going to rape her, but she'd lost all control of her body and found herself falling to the ground and rolling on her back. She couldn't breathe, everything was going fuzzy and these guy were going to have their way with her. Just the way to end her perfect little life.
Challen had decided early that he'd go tonight for his single vodka. This once a night thing was becoming a ritual for him and he was discouraged when he found the lot packed with cars. Where had all these people come from? They certainly didn't live around here. He was about get out and lock the truck doors when he saw the commotion out of the corner of his eye. A group of about four guys around something on the ground. They were obviously talking to it and as the one approached it, Challen knew this was trouble.
All he wanted was his damned drink!
He reached back in the truck behind the seats and reached for his gun. He kept his carbine in the truck and the other two at the house. A few of the guys he worked with called him paranoid, but he didn't care as long as he stayed alive. In his line of work, you could never be too careful.
Slamming the door, he started across the distance that separated them. It didn't take him to far before he realized what the men had the intention of doing and what must be on the ground. He'd seen enough crumpled bodies in his lifetime to know that this one was female and that this was not a moonlight tryst.
"Hey, guys, beautiful night, isn't it?"
The turned to look at him, just like he'd expected them to.
"This isn't your concern!" they shouted at him. "Get your ass out of here!"
As he got closer he felt his blood kick up a notch. Was that Gretchen? What the Hell was going on around here?
"See, I think that it's you all who need to be leaving." He brought his rifle forward and held it casually in his hand, but firmly enough to get the point across that he would use it.
"I don't want to cause you trouble, man, but you need to get outta here!"
"Well, see, I happen to like trouble. It's my profession, so, why don't you guys just get out of here and leave the lady alone."
The lead guy glanced at the gun and smirked. "See, now you should never bring a gun unless you plan to use it. We don't scare easily."
"It's a pity. That'll be all the much harder on you. But, I'll be fair." Challen put the gun down by a nearby car so it wouldn't be easily reached by one of the others. He walked towards them and chanced a glance down at the figure. Aw fuck, that was Gretchen! But what was worse was that he could see the struggle and the desperation of the situation. "Okay, guy, let's get this over with quickly."
When the first guy charged, it was an easy dodge with an elbow to the back of the neck. He went down for the count.
"Come on, let's get better than this!"
The next guy went forward, sauntering around the edges with his hands up in front of him. Challen almost laughed. Dropping to a squatting position, he flipped his legs out and took him out while he wasn't prepared.
"This is absolutely pathetic!"
The last, and lead, guy looked between Gretchen and Challen and decided that tonight he was in no condition to be fighting anyone.
"We'll continue later."
Challen rolled his eyes and moved forward, tossing the gun strap over his shoulder and dropping next to Gretchen. He turned her over so she was facing down to the ground and placed her over his knee. Systematically he began rubbing her back, rubbing the heel of his palm hard in practiced strokes. Well, he picked up something while traveling with the med-corps.
"Come on, Gretchen, you don't need this," he said softly.
A moment later she heaved again except this time it was followed by a huge gulp of air.
"Sh, calm down, take it easy. Breathe slowly. Slowly." He kept rubbing her back while slowly getting her to a sitting position. That's when the stench hit him and the full effect of what she'd done. "Damn, woman."
But she was breathing and she wasn't heaving and her body was in some semblance. It was no surprise to him when he removed his hand and found that her body moved with it. She'd passed out.
He nodded to himself and carefully picked her up. "Well, there goes that night cap."
He thought briefly about putting something between her and his truck bench, but dismissed it and put her in, resting her head back against the ledge. He took the time to acknowledge the fact that she almost looked peaceful when she slept.
Challen Calder, you are going soft!
Like Hell, I was just appreciating the moment.
He got in the truck and drove home. He would have taken her back to her place, but he didn't even know where that was. Instead, he took her back to his house. It didn't take him long to carry her into the bathroom and remove her well stained clothes. He decided that her under garments could stay on.
"You owe me for this one."
He turned on the shower and let it wash away the most of the obvious grime before he went to work scrubbing her down. Once again he took the time to appreciate her form, yet supple body.
Dude, she's a nut, he told himself, don't even think about it!
But when ran into the other scars on her body, he knew she wasn't crazy. She'd been through some shit. Running down the length of her side she had a gash that had been crudely stitched about the same time as her face. She had another on her inner thigh where, if he were to guess, she got snagged on razor wire.
As he turned off the shower and carefully toweled her off, he wondered just who the Hell she was. He found an old tee shirt of his and put it on her, waiting until she was completely covered before reaching under it and pulling off her bra and underwear. Whatever she'd been through, he figured she had her modesty.
Before he thought too hard on her anymore, he put her in the bed and headed out into the living room where he turned off all the lights and crawled onto the couch.
The first thing Gretchen noticed when she woke up was how raw her throat felt. The next was the strange surroundings she was in. Instantly she became alarmed only to have all the memories come flooding back. Was she at one of the men's houses? No, because somewhere in her mind she recalled someone else. Where, then? Where was she?
Slipping her feet over the side of the bed, she moved to sit up and almost vomited all over again. The world tilted and a pounding came full throttle through her head. She let out a groan and folded herself back in bed. Wherever she was, she'd have to deal with it at a later moment.
"Here, try this."
She felt a glass being held against her lips, but she refused to drink. She wanted no part in whatever was about to happen.
"Hey, come on, I don't really care if you feel like shit, but I don't need my bed in the condition you were last night."
She knew that voice. Cracking an eye, she peered up at Challen who was now sitting on the edge of the bed holding a glass with some brown concoction. "Ah, fuck."
"Good to see you too, now drink."
She tried to sit up, but she couldn't, it hurt too much. But he was there, putting her in a sitting position and putting the drink to her lips again. This time, she lifted her hands to take it from him and tasted it. She almost gagged.
"What the Hell is this?" she mumbled.
"Something that I learned in the Corps. It'll help, but you need to drink it all."
As she drank it slowly, he sat at the end of the bed and watched her, his back against the footboard.
"It's crazy, but I didn't buy you for the drunk type."
Already she was beginning to feel better. What was in this? Scratch that- by the looks and smell- she didn't want to know. "I'm not."
"Then what was last night?"
"A bad fluke. Spurred by things I would have rather not remembered."
He nodded. "I can understand that."
Now it was her turn to watch him.
"Don't stare too hard, I might crack."
"Not bloody likely."
He smiled and got to his feet. "I went down to the laundry mat this morning and your clothes are clean in the bathroom. When you're ready I'll fix you lunch and take you home."
For the first time she realized that she wasn't wearing her clothes and that she felt a breeze where there shouldn't be. Without checking, she stared at him.
"Where's my underwear?"
"It was wet and the rest of your clothes were dirty."
He saw the question in her eyes about when and how he took off her clothes. He was right, she did have that modesty.
"I'll leave you wondering on that one."
She smirked and shook her head. "You are no gentleman."
Laughing, he, too, shook his head. "Did I ever claim to be?"
Turning he headed out of the room. Calling over his shoulder he said, "Bathroom's on your left and lunch'll be ready in ten."