Suzie's Wish
Part Two of Three
By: Gabriella Balcom

Three days later, Suzie dragged her feet getting off the school bus and walking home. School had been awful. In Physical Education, she'd refused to change into t-shirt and shorts, telling her teacher she was sick. She felt like a liar, but it was true. Her belly really had been yucky. Her side really had ached.

Mama's eyebrows went up when Suzie walked inside. "Didn't you wear those blue sweatpants yesterday? And that long-sleeved green shirt?"

"Uh—." Suzie didn't remember.

"Go change, okay? We don't wear things repeatedly."

"Okay."

Joe stepped in front of her in the hallway and sneered. "Hello, Stinky!" He always seemed to hear everything. She tried to sidle past. "Don't ignore me!" His face flushed.

I better not make him mad. "I'm sorry."

"If you disrespect me again, you're going to be sorry! You hear me?"

"Yes."

"Yes what?"

"Yes, sir." Please let me go, please let me go, please let—."

"Wash your smelly butt! You stink!" Chuckling, he turned on Mama. "You got my food ready, Nora?"

"Yes, Joe. It's on the table."

He bared his teeth. "It better be hot and done right!"

Walking away as fast as possible—without catching Joe's attention—Suzie went into her bedroom. That morning, Mama had gone all out on a large breakfast to please him, but he'd found something to get mad about anyway. Yelling his knife, fork, and spoon weren't lined up right, he'd kicked the kitchen table. Food had gone everywhere.

Suppertime arrived. All Suzie wanted to do was stay in her room and lock her door. If she did, though, Joe would kick it down like he'd done before. Dreading being around him, she walked slowly to join the adults in the kitchen.

As Mama placed meat loaf, potatoes, and green bean casserole on the table, it wobbled—a leg had been kicked, cracked, and hastily patched.

"Took your smelly self-long enough." Joe sneered at the small girl.

Noting Mama's almost-imperceptible head-shake, Suzie slid into her seat without speaking. Silence was best. Most of the time, Joe liked being the only one talking.

He slammed his fist onto the table and sent things skittering. "Don't. Ignore. Me!" His next blow made a glass go off the edge. It crashed onto the floor.

Suzie's heart raced. Please—no. Her chest tightened. "I-I'm s-sorry, Joe."

Face red, he snarled, "You're gonna be."

His slap knocked her out of her seat and onto the floor. She lay dazed, her head aching, and heard a strange ringing sound. Her jaw hurt. Her neck hurt. Everything hurt.

Mama rushed over but Joe got there first. Grabbing Suzie, he slammed her down in her chair. "Did I say you could leave the table?" Shoving his face into hers, their noses touched.

Beer fumes hit her along with a hint of rot, and she gagged.

His face darkened. Twisting the front of her shirt until it cut into her skin, he raised his hand and brought the back of it across her face.

Her body struck the wall with a loud crack.

Mama gasped. "Baby, are you all right?"

"March yourself back to that table," Joe growled at her.

"She needs help," Mama pleaded. "I think her arm's broken!"

Joe fumed but thought a moment. "We'll keep her home from school the rest of the week."

"She can't miss any more days," Mama insisted. "The principal talked to us about her absences twice already."

Joe clenched his fists but didn't argue. Suzie missed school a week once, half a week another time, plus other days. "Get her in the truck." He glared at the child on the floor who moaned like a wounded animal. "Look what you've done!" Leaning in close over her, his bully eyes narrowed to a slit, he whispered, "You tell anyone what happened, and I'll break your mom's neck. You hear me, brat?"

"Y-yes."

***

At the hospital, Suzie stayed silent when Joe told the doctor, "... kid thought she was Wonder Woman, jumping off our shed like that. You know how kids are—."

Dr. Smith nodded. "You'll never guess what my son did—."

While Suzie's arm was put in a cast, she bit her lip and tried not to breathe, much less move, and listened to Joe and the doctor laughing.

***

Suzie lay on her bed at home later, feeling numb inside. Why didn't the doctor see something was wrong? Couldn't the doctor see Joe was a big fat liar? Tears ran down her face. Unable to sleep, she stared at the ceiling, thinking about being with Daddy.

Feeling betrayed, Suzie tiptoed to the laundry room and touched the knot behind the washer. No portal appeared, but the purple glow behind her signaled she wasn't alone.

"You promised I had a protector," she hissed. "You said he'd help me, but he didn't."

Nya studied her. "Did you call the protector? Did you ask for help?"

"No, but—"

Eyes troubled, Nya sighed. "Do you expect everyone to read your mind and know what you need?"

"No, but—."

"Then why expect a protector to know? You want someone to automatically help. Yes, kind people do that, but what if no kind people are there? Life isn't fair sometimes. Someone isn't always there to help. Sometimes, you're alone with no one to turn to but yourself." Her voice softened. "Do you understand?"

Suzie sniffled, heartbroken. It's my fault?

Nya's lips tightened. She muttered under her breath, "I don't like this, but rules have to be followed, even when little abused girls are involved." She was careful as she touched Suzie's small shoulder. "The protector is real, but sometimes it's not wise to wait for someone to appear and help. Sometimes you must make effort yourself. You must try, whether it's hard or not!"

Suzie looked up, but she was alone.

***

"Sandwiches?" Joe looked at the kitchen table and made a growling noise. "Where are my steak and potatoes and sweet potato casserole, Nora?"

"I'm sorry, but we had no steak or potatoes."

Eyes narrowing, he began popping his knuckles one by one. "Why didn't you buy some?"

"I couldn't. Remember, I don't have a key to your truck." He'd never given her one and had taken away the key to her car. Instead of returning it after making a copy for himself, he'd locked the key away and claimed her car had stopped working.

"You and your crappy excuses—." He moved restlessly and his chair wobbled. Lightweight, it wasn't built to hold anywhere near his two hundred forty-seven pounds.

"I can go buy what's needed now—"

"Shut up! Get me another beer."

Nora hurried to obey.

"Of all women," Joe complained, "how'd I get stuck with such a do-nothing?"

***

Eyes stinging, Nora blinked back tears. How many times had she heard words like those, including when he got fired and she supported them? Of course, that was before he found another job and insisted she quit hers. She'd worked hard to make Manager, but—.

"I work myself to death while you laze around," he griped. "I told you yesterday I wanted steak, potatoes and gravy, and sweet potato casserole today."

"I'm sorry, Joe. I didn't have the ingredients."

He shoved himself up and his chair toppled over backward. "If you loved me, you'd take care of me, not make excuses! And you'd fix yourself up instead of being—." He poked a dark spot on her face. "Dirty."

She touched the area. "That's a bruise."

He changed the subject. "Giving me garbage to eat instead of man food means you think I'm nothing!" A muscle twitched in his neck and his nostrils flared. "I do everything around here. I provide for you. I provide for the brat, and I can't even get a decent meal?" He pounded once, twice, and a third time on the kitchen counter. "I bust my ass all day and come home to this!"

"But—."

"There's no ‘but' here but your lazy butt! Cook my steak and potatoes!"

How could she? Sensing impending doom, Nora backed away a little. "I've got to pee." She wished desperately, beyond-hope-frantically, that he'd calm down.

"Get over to the stove! Why do I put up with this? You had hours to fix a decent meal!" Pacing in angry jerks, he glared at her. "Just what did you do all day?"

"I cleaned the kitchen, fridge, bathroom. I did l-laundry."

"What's lu-laundry? Stupid woman, you can't even talk right! You're good for nothing!" Noting Suzie's wide eyes on him, he scowled. "When will the brat start earning her keep? I work my butt off and she sits around on her lazy one?"

Nora's stomach felt like a yawning pit, but she stepped in front of Suzie. She dreaded Joe's blows but getting them, herself was better than her sweet baby getting them. "She folded laundry, swept the kitchen, cleaned the tub, took out trash, and—."

"If she did all that, you had plenty of free time to fix my meal! What were you doing? Cheating with someone?"

"No! I l-love you." "You lu-love me but cook garbage instead of a decent meal."

"Joe, I fixed the food thinking of you." She tried to reason with him. "The sandwiches are salami, which you love. The ranch-flavored chips, sliced cantaloupe, and homemade carrot cake are your favorites." Biting her lip, she pleaded silently for him to recognize the consideration she'd put into his meal.

The hate in his beady eyes seared her. "You call that a meal?" With one sweep of his arm, he knocked everything to the floor.

***

Suzie was anchored to her chair, heartbeat racing, too scared to move or breathe.

Crying, Mama stepped between Joe and Suzie again. Slipping one hand behind her back, she motioned, "Go now!"

Unaware of the hand-signals, Joe barked at Suzie, "Clean this up instead of sitting there like an idiot!"

"I'll do it." Mama grabbed the broom and dustpan.

"I told the kid to!"

Mama was moving fast. "I'm almost done."

"What did you say?" His tone was deceptively mild, but his eyes promised swift retribution.

Being careful, Mama swept food and ceramic shards into the dustpan. Since her back was to him, she couldn't see his face or his hand.

Suzie did see and her stomach churned. Please, no!

Joe's fist caught the underside of Mama's jaw, and the force propelled her body up and to the left. She hit the side of the refrigerator and then fell.

"Mama!" Suzie ran to her mother and shook her. "Mama!"

"Quiet!" Joe nudged Mama with his right boot. "Quit exaggerating and fix my meal." Receiving no answer, his face turned red, and he clenched his fists. He kicked Mama's hip. "I'll show you who's boss! Get up!"

Terrified, Suzie ran down the hall. What do I do? What do I do? What do I—?

Blinded by tears, she remembered something important and forced herself to come from behind the washing machine. Standing in the middle of the laundry room, she whispered ragged words. "P-Protector, are you there? Save my M-Mama! Please." Sobs racked her body. "Please help her!"

A shadow fell over her and she squeaked. Was it Joe? No, he would've yelled or hit her already. Raising her head, she saw a large form standing floor-to-ceiling near her. Shadowy and dark, it didn't look solid—more like thick smoke in the shape of a person. Suzie's breathing was labored, her words desperate. "P-Please," she stuttered. "Help my Mama."

The smoke thing vanished, reappeared in a second or two, and extended a large arm toward her.

Suzie saw something lying in its hand. "Joe's cell phone?" She was confused and unsure what to do. "How'd you get that? He keeps it locked up, and he'll be really mad if he knows it's gone!" Looking up at the form looming over her, she had no clue what was going on. "How does this protect Mama? How does this help? What do I—?"

Reason struck home. She snatched the phone and dialed numbers as fast as she could.

"9-1-1 Emergency Services," a female voice said, "Do you need police, fire, or ambulance?"

Suzie whimpered. "A-All of them. Send everybody!"

"Honey—." The voice wasn't brisk and businesslike anymore but sounded much more soothing now, like someone trying not to frighten a hurt puppy. "I'm Amy. What's your name?"

"S-Suzie."

"Hi, Suzie. Can you tell me what's going on?"

***

Deputies Jose Flores and Sally Hunter arrived quickly; despite the remoteness of the rural location, they were going to. They were with the Sheriff's office, which covered several county areas outside the ranges of city police. The distance they'd just come normally took longer to travel, but Jose had driven so fast he almost went off the road a couple times. "Dang, Jose," Sally had told him. "Drive faster or let me but stay on the road." Two other units—maybe more—were on their way also, but they'd take longer to arrive because they were coming from even farther out.

No one answered the scarred, cracked door at the home. Since it was locked, Jose wasted no time in kicking it down and eased inside, his gun drawn. Sally, on his tail, also readied herself to shoot if necessary. They had no trouble with the large man—maybe 6' 3" and about 250-260 pounds—who charged them but stopped short when he saw two barrels aimed at his chest, center mass. Sally took mere seconds to cuff him. Joe zip-tied his feet. The latter was prudent, because they'd seen blood on his shirt, and knew what that could mean. They promptly man-handled the yelling, squirming man into their back seat before going back inside. That way, if he managed to get loose somehow, he wouldn't be able to take off.

They found a woman lying on the kitchen floor, blood trickling from her mouth. Sally checked for a pulse and found one. She snapped, "This whole thing leaves a bad taste in my mouth. I hate stuff like this. I almost wish the bastard hadn't stopped coming at us when we told him to stop."

Jose pursed his lips. "I would've dropped him like a wild hog." They were common in the country where both of them lived, and he was a hunter.

Sally hunted also. "Only if I hadn't beaten you to it. Dispatch—Amy's on—said a child called 9-1-1. Amy thought it was a girl, maybe eleven or twelve years old."

Their eyes met in silent agreement and Jose's voice was harsh. "We gotta find her fast. Paramedics'll be here soon to deal with the mom."

"I pray to God the kid's not beaten like—"

"Talking won't find her. I got left. You take right."

Each of them opened doors, checked behind them, looked under beds, inside closets—anywhere a kid could fit.

"I found her," Jose yelled.

Sally raced toward him. A little girl lay face-down and motionless on the floor in front of a washer. Sally laid gentle fingers on her neck. "Thank God, she's got a strong pulse."

Jose turned the child over carefully. "I don't think she's eleven or twelve. More like seven or eight, I'd say."

"I don't see blood on her but—dangit!" Sally had lifted up the child's shirt and gotten a look at what was concealed underneath.

"What?" Jose demanded but saw for himself. "Ah, crap—."

-

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