“Fuck you!” Ty gritted his teeth as his rage got the better of his judgment.
“What did you say?” His father was in his face, eyes blazing.
A cold wave of fear crashed over Ty, washing away his anger. He tried desperately to pull his father’s attention away from what he’d just said. “I’m almost eighteen, Dad. I’m old enough to make decisions about my own hair, for God’s sake!”
“That discussion is over.” His father’s voice was tight with barely controlled anger. “What I want to know is what you just said to me.”
“I think you know what I said. I’d rather not say it again.” Ty knew he sounded like a snot. Why do I always bait him? he wondered.
His father’s jaw clenched. “Boy, you need to learn some respect!” He loomed over his son, his paunch almost touching Ty’s taut stomach.
“You can’t beat respect into me,” Ty said, tilting his chin up defiantly. “You have to earn it!” Why the hell can’t I keep my fool mouth shut and pretend to respect him?
“You little shit!” His father grabbed him by the collar with both hands and shook him.
Ty clenched his jaw to keep his teeth from rattling. He has no right to shake me like this! Fury exploded within him. “Fuck you!” This time he yelled the words in his father’s face. Twisting suddenly, he managed to pull out of the older man’s grip. He tried to duck under his arm, but his dad grabbed him by the shoulders and shoved him back into the kitchen counter.
His father drew back his fist and let it fly toward Ty’s face. It seemed like the fist came at him in slow motion, but he still couldn’t avoid it. The punch slammed into his eye, cracking his head into the cupboard behind him.
As Ty’s vision clouded, he gripped the counter to keep from going down. His injured eye immediately started to stream tears. Pain fueled his anger, causing another blinding flare-up. He swung at his father, clipping him in the jaw with a hard knuckle. Ty felt a jolt travel from his fist up his arm and he registered shock. This was the first time he’d ever struck his father.
Ty’s dad had three inches and at least seventy pounds on him. With a roar, he grabbed him by his hair, dragged him forward several feet, and smashed his face into the doorjamb. Ty’s cheek and nose met the pine with a sickening crunch. He fought to keep his feet under him, blinking rapidly, trying to see through the red haze of pain. Blood gushed from his nose, splattering onto the hardwood floor.
“Richard!” He heard his mother’s cry of shocked protest. She would not save him. She never did.
His father had a death grip on his hair and was on a mission. He dragged him out of the kitchen, down the hall, and up two flights of stairs in their rambling, hundred-year-old house.
Ty stumbled, trying to keep up, wishing he had cut his hair now that his father seemed to be pulling it out by the roots. He didn’t try to fight his father; he knew he couldn’t win.
Rage consumed Richard Iverson. The voice in his head screamed at him in fury. (The fuckin’ little shit hit you! That’s what comes from being too soft on him. He needs to know his place. You need to teach him some respect. You need to show him how to be a man.)
He was puffing by the time he reached the top of the stairs, dragging his son behind him. The boy had a way of making the voice in his head go crazy.
(He’s far too pretty for a boy. Boys should not be pretty.) With his beautiful eyes, impossibly long lashes, and pale, smooth skin, his son looked just like his wife. To make matters worse, he was too small. He was never going to make it to six feet. He would be lucky if he made it to five-eleven.
Richard dragged his son into his bedroom and pushed him onto his narrow bed.
“You really asked for it today, Tiberius. Take off your pants,” he ordered.
Ty hated to be called by his full name and his dad knew it, but he was not about to argue about that now. It was time for damage control.
“I’m sorry, Dad! I didn’t mean to hit you.”
(He doesn’t mean that apology), the voice said. (He’s just trying to get out of a beating. He is weak, and you’re weak too for letting him get like this.)
“You heard what I said.” Richard’s tone was calm, almost normal. From the speed at which his son flipped onto his stomach and pulled his pants down, the boy was obviously not fooled. A satisfied smile curled the corners of the older man’s mouth.
Ty’s nose was bleeding all over his dark blue comforter. He panted around gritted teeth as he waited for the lashes. This was getting to be a much too familiar scene. Why does he hate me so much? Ty wondered for the thousandth time. The first strike landed with a clink, accompanied by much more pain than he expected.
“Fuck!” he yelled, twisting around and catching the belt in his hands as it came down for the second lash. He hit me with the buckle end of the belt! “What the hell?” he screamed, clutching the belt in self-defense. He hung on for dear life.
His father’s face contorted. His mouth twisted. His eyes burned. With a cry of demented rage, he slammed his fist into Ty’s mouth, splitting his lip.
Ty’s head snapped back. His grip on the belt loosened, and his father snatched it out of his hands. Ty cringed, waiting for the next barrage. Instead his father stormed out of the room, locking the door behind him.
Thank God! He must have realized he was out of control.
Ty heard his mother’s voice, high-pitched—almost hysterical—asking questions. He didn’t hear his father’s reply.
As soon as he started to calm down, he was flooded with sensation: his face throbbed, his head pounded, and his stomach churned.
Why is he so controlling? Why can’t I keep my hair three inches long? Why the hell does he care? It had been such a stupid argument. “That’s two-and-a-half inches too long!” his father had decreed. “You’re getting a haircut on Monday!”
“No, Dad,” he’d replied calmly. “I think I…”
“This is not a topic for discussion!” His father had cut him off. “I want it high and tight by the time I get home on Monday.” He had turned to leave the room—conversation over.
That’s when Ty’s temper had gotten the best of him and he’d let out the “Fuck you!” In retrospect, with his swollen nose making it hard to breathe, he should have just gone along with the haircut again. He wondered if he’d be able to talk his sister into sneaking into the kitchen and getting him some ice for the swelling.
Suddenly his father charged back into the room. Ty took one look at his expression and began to silently pray, Please, God, don’t let him kill me!
His father hadn’t always been cruel, but in the last several years he’d become increasingly sadistic. His father had installed the bolt on his bedroom door when he was fourteen. It was not uncommon for him to be locked in his room for the weekend, with his distraught mother bringing him food and water.
Each beating seemed worse than the one before. Usually his father was careful not to leave evidence. His mother and sister had no idea of the extent of his father’s malice. This time he’d gone too far.
Ty shifted slightly to get his face out the damp spot on his slimy comforter. Agony screamed through him when he moved, and he gasped in pain. Even when he lay perfectly still, it hurt so much he could barely think. Anger and fear warred for supremacy of his emotions.
His mind was reeling. He couldn’t believe his father had beaten him so badly. His hands were still cuffed to the radiator; his ankles were tied down to the foot of the bed. His father had never tied him up before, and it was terrifying to be so helpless.
He shuddered as he remembered the long whip his father had used to shred his back and butt. He couldn’t wrap his head around the fact that his father had gone out and bought a whip for the express purpose of punishing him. At the end of the beating he’d had enough rage in him still to call his tormentor a fucking asshole. That had resulted in his father whipping the bottom of one of his feet. His chest tightened with the memory of that agony, making it hard to breathe. He found he was shaking even though the room wasn’t cold.
He clearly hates me. What have I done to lose his love? A deep ache of loss consumed him as he thought back to happier times. When he was younger, he had gotten along well with his father. They had done things together—played ball, built model airplanes, gone on hikes together… Now the only words they ever exchanged were tight-lipped and strained at best. All too often they screamed at each other in fury. That always ended badly for Ty.
His father had a strong personality; he was a force all on his own. He was smart enough to have risen to the executive level at a high-end security firm just a few years after leaving the police force. Nothing slipped past his notice and he was adept at manipulating people. Ty had never seen anyone stand up to him—not his mother or his sister, nor even his dad’s friends or coworkers. Ty seemed to be the only one foolish enough for that.
Has he changed or have I changed? Ty wondered. Is it my fault or is it him? I’m not a bad kid, he tried to convince himself. I make excellent grades. I’m quiet and polite. I don’t do drugs. So what if I suck at football, I got into one of the top colleges in the country.
A sudden realization hit him so hard it felt as if he’d been punched in the gut. I won’t be able to stay here. He’ll kill me next time or the time after. I won’t survive another five months before I leave for college. I need to get out now.
Through a fog of misery, he felt his plans for college slipping away. He was in survival mode. He needed to go into hiding as soon as possible. He would not be finishing high school. He would not be leaving for college in the fall. He watched his future shimmer and fade before him as if it had all been a mirage. In its place was bitter disappointment and fear.
How will I get away? He knew he needed to come up with a solid plan for escaping, but the pain he was in affected his ability to focus and his mind jumped from thought to thought.
Why does he hate me so much?
How long before he unties me?
Where am I going to go?
He longed to sleep, but his back and foot stung so badly he couldn’t relax. Hours later in utter exhaustion, he drifted into a restless doze.
He woke with a small scream and a rattle of metal on metal as he jerked his hands away from radiator. It was the middle of the night. The temperature had dropped and the radiator was blazing hot. He’d burned the back of his hand where it had rested against the cast iron.
What the hell? Had his father intended this too, or was it just bad luck?
If he held his hands carefully, he could avoid touching the radiator. The metal handcuffs were hot to the touch and he couldn’t avoid touching them, but they were not so hot that they seared his skin.
He lay awake, shifting around now and again, trying to find a comfortable position that did not bring his hands into contact with the heat. Eventually, he couldn’t keep his weary mind awake, and he fell asleep again.
Once more he awoke with a start and a small scream. This time he’d burned his left hand, all along the outside edge. He vowed to stay awake to prevent further injury, but tied down with little room for movement, his sluggish mind succumbed to sleep again and again. Each time he woke with a cry of pain and a new burn.
Finally, in the wee hours of the morning, he broke down and bawled. He was exhausted and in a great deal of pain. He felt unloved and unlovable. He cried until he fell asleep again.
By the time the room began to lighten, signifying that dawn had arrived, he was beyond weary, but he was able to stay awake and keep his hands from touching the radiator. Every small movement sent a searing pain across his back. His arms ached from being over his head all night, he had to pee, and he was starving. He’d missed dinner the evening before.
He wondered again how soon his father would come untie him. Will he even show any remorse?.
He could do nothing but lie there, endure, and make plans. Tomorrow is Monday. I’ll leave at the same time as usual, but instead of catching the school bus, I’ll go to the station and catch a bus into Heartland City. It’s a big city. I can disappear there … get a job. Maybe get a cheap room. In the light of the morning, his prospects didn’t seem as bleak as they had the night before. But a deep, cold apprehension gnawed at his belly. Is running away really the best thing to do? Is there a better choice?
He had gone over and over his situation during the long night. When it occurred to Ty that his father might have a mental illness, ice-cold fear had shivered down his spine. There was no other explanation for his behavior; this realization made his father seem even more unpredictable. He wasn’t sure if he would survive his next beating, and no matter how good his behavior, surely his father would invent a reason to punish him again.
Ty considered going to the authorities, or one of his teachers, or a friend’s parents. It was tempting. He could imagine a very satisfying scenario whereby he showed his wounds to the police and they immediately arrested his father.
It wasn’t possible though; his father was above reproach—an ex-cop with multiple commendations. He volunteered at the Boys and Girls Club. He was a deacon at their church. He was always willing to help friends and neighbors with whatever little project needed doing. The man is a goddamned saint! Who will believe that he beat his son to a bloody pulp? Even if I show my bruises and scabs—and my face is going to be hard to hide—he’ll make up some story and it will stick.
Ty couldn’t take the chance that whomever he went to might turn him back over to his father. To everyone else his father came across as sane and reasonable. Even his mother and sister were just now starting to suspect the extent of his malice. And if he were put back in his father’s clutches after filing a complaint against him… Ty shuddered, the small quivers sending tendrils of pain across his back. His father would torture him to death. It was much too risky to seek help. He would just have to figure it out on his own.
Eventually he heard the faint sounds of people moving about in the house; he could hear the shower running and doors slamming. They would be getting ready for church. He tensed, expecting his father to come let him out any minute. He wondered if his mother knew his father had tied him up—had beaten him with a whip. He thought not.
The noises faded. They’ve gone downstairs, he realized. His groin was getting sore from the effort of holding in his pee. Surely he’ll come let me out soon. He watched the clock. The minutes ticked past and still no one came. Eventually he realized they weren’t going to.
They’ve gone to church! They’ve gone to church and left me tied up here. Church meant it would be close to three hours before they got home. His father always had to hobnob with his cronies after the service.
He groaned aloud. No longer able to stop himself, he shifted as close to the edge of the bed as possible and let himself pee. It soaked into his comforter. By the time he was done peeing, he was blinking back tears of humiliation. Christ, Ty. Man up!
With the rising of the sun, the day warmed and the furnace shut itself off. Eventually the radiator cooled to a tolerable temperature. As soon as he didn’t have to worry about burning himself, he fell into a dead sleep.
He came awake with a start some hours later. Someone had just entered his room.
“Oh my God, Ty!” His sister Jeanie’s voice was full of horror.
He opened his one good eye and looked at her. She made her way around to the head of his bed and stared at him, shock etched into her young features. She was only fourteen.
“My God!” she said again and reached out a hand to gently touch his cheek. Her enormous green eyes, which were so like his own, welled with tears.
“You’re not supposed to be in here,” he said. His voice was a croak.
“You … what happened to your hands?”
“Radiator,” he grunted.
She was silent for a few moments, staring at him.
“Don’t get yourself in trouble, Jeanie,” Ty admonished her. To his knowledge, his father had never been abusive to either his sister or his mother—domineering and controlling, yes, but not physically or even verbally abusive. Ty was the only one who brought down his father’s wrath. However, he didn’t want to be the cause of changing that situation. He couldn’t bear the thought of his bratty, lovable sister being hurt.
“You peed!” she said, looking at the large wet spot, her eyes widening.
“Yes,” Ty said irritably, “now get hell out of my bedroom.”
He closed his eyes and let himself sag into the softness of the comforter. It sounded like his sister was choking back sobs as she left his room. He heard her close and bolt the door behind her.
Now she’ll go tell Mom, like that’s gonna do any good, he thought. It’ll probably just make Dad mad again.
Ty’s mother was timid and completely submissive to her overbearing husband. Ty was sure she was in denial. She surely knew something wasn’t right, although he had taken care to hide the extent of his father’s abuse from her. He wasn’t quite sure why. Maybe it was because he knew it would break his mother’s heart, or maybe it was because he felt guilty—perhaps it was his fault that his father had gone crazy. Maybe if I’d tried harder in football or taken an interest in hunting with him… Ty sighed and tried to steer his thoughts away from blaming himself. He was despondent enough already.
It was another half-hour before his father came in. Ty kept his eyes closed, but he recognized the heavy footfalls. His body stiffened. The older man untied his feet first and then unlocked the handcuffs. He paused by the door on his way out. “Go clean yourself up,” he said. Ty couldn’t tell from his voice if he was still angry or perhaps even sorry. “I’ll come up in half-an-hour. Be back in your room by then.”
Ty moved slowly. First he lowered his arms, gasping as his cramped muscles screamed in agony. He pushed himself onto his hands and knees; the pain from his ravaged back was excruciating. He stayed in that position panting for several long moments before he had the courage to attempt to stand up. He couldn’t put weight on the arch of his left foot.
He limped slowly to his closet and retrieved his bathrobe. He almost never wore his robe, but he couldn’t imagine putting on any real clothes, and he wasn’t going to walk downstairs naked.
His head spun as he made his way to the second floor bathroom. By the time he got there, he was so dizzy he had to grab onto the edge of the sink for support. He stood breathing heavily, head hanging over the sink, recovering.
Finally he looked up. The face that stared back from the mirror shocked him. He looked like he’d been hit by a truck. His right eye was puffed shut, the skin around it angry and purple. His nose was so swollen it looked like someone had attached a squashed tomato to his face in its place. His lower lip was double its normal size, and his chin and neck were caked with dried blood. His auburn hair was plastered to his head with sweat and blood. He looked truly ghastly.
Turning slowly, he looked over his shoulder at his back and butt. Long angry welts crisscrossed his skin, worse on his back than his butt. Most were not so deep that they’d bled, but some had. He wondered if they would scar. The bottom of his foot was so bloody he couldn’t tell how bad the welts were.
He sucked in a deep breath and leaned against the sink.
My father did this to me!
In spite of the pain he was in, he was having trouble believing the extent of his injuries. The thought that someone he loved would do this to him was the most painful wound of all.
No, I used to love him, he corrected himself. I don’t love the monster he’s become.
Aware that time was passing, he eased himself into the shower. Taking the massage spray-head off its hook, he pointed it at his feet. Once the water was warm, he held it against the side of his head and watched the water run pink.
Twenty minutes later he was back in his bedroom, feeling somewhat better. Just as he finished changing the sheets on his bed, his father poked his head in the door. Ty glanced at him apprehensively. His father didn’t even meet his eye. He was apparently just assuring himself that Ty was where he was supposed to be. He closed and bolted the door.
Ty wondered if he was going to be fed. He was starving.
He’d taken a tube of antiseptic cream from the bathroom and now he rubbed it liberally over all the injuries he could reach. Then, lying down on his stomach on the bed, he stretched out and fell into a restless asleep.
It was still a risk—his father might think to check his backpack. He tried not to imagine what would happen if his father discovered his plans. If he dwelt on that, he might scare himself out of leaving.
In spite of his conviction to run away, he worried that life in the city might be almost as dangerous as life at home. He only had forty-two dollars. A bus ticket into Heartland City would cost at least five, he guessed. A hotel would not be an option. He probably had enough to feed himself for about three days if he was careful. He would need to find a job right away.
He barely slept that night, partly because he was in so much pain, partly because he was hungry and thirsty, but mostly because his mind was awhirl with his plans to run away. He was filled with trepidation but even more so with grim determination.
I will never come home again—ever! The thought of never seeing his mom or Jeanie again sent him into a spiral of despair. Maybe, after I have a new life, I can visit them. After I’ve made it on my own, after I’ve turned eighteen, I can show Dad that I don’t need him—that I hate him!
He finally fell into a sound sleep about four-thirty in the morning. At six-thirty his father poked his head in the door. “I’m giving you a ride to school. Be ready to go in forty-five minutes.” Then he was gone.
Ty wondered at the sudden fear that shuddered through him at the sound of his father’s voice. Am I terrified of my own father now? He had always been afraid when his dad was angry but never otherwise. Has this one terrible beating turned me into a coward?
Angry, he launched himself out of bed and was immediately sorry as pain lanced through him. His foot reminded him sharply that he couldn’t put weight on it. His left eye was open a slit, but it was covered with crusty gunk. He needed another shower.
He had chosen his clothes the night before, layers of warm, practical clothing, starting with long johns. His top layer was normal winter wear: his second-favorite pair of jeans—his favorite pair was too tight to layer over anything else—and a blue and green wool sweater that his grandmother had knitted for him in the final months before she passed away. He rarely wore that sweater and he hoped this choice would not make anyone suspicious. It was one of his warmest sweaters, and he wanted to take something with him that reminded him that he had once been loved. He grabbed his clothes and headed for the shower.
A half-hour later he was standing at the kitchen counter, wolfing down a very large bowl of cereal. Jeanie waltzed into the room, her long, sleek, auburn hair flying behind her. She stopped short when she saw him and stared at his face. Ty watched her striking eyes darken in sympathy. Bitterness welled up in his chest. He focused on his cereal.
She approached him tentatively. “Are you okay, Ty?”
“Why are you eating standing at the counter? Oh!”
He knew she realized the answer to her own question as soon as it was out of her mouth. She had seen his shredded ass; he wasn’t going to be sitting comfortably anytime soon. He didn’t look up from his cereal.
She stood close in front of him. “What are you going to do?” she asked softly.
He met her eye. Her concern and love was plain to see. A huge lump suddenly choked the back of his throat. He shoveled another spoonful of cereal into his mouth and swallowed hard.
“Whatever I need to do to survive,” he answered finally.
She nodded and suddenly hugged him tightly. He noticed she was careful to keep her hands on his arms and not touch his back.
He clung to her and blinked back the tears that threatened to come. This might be the last time he saw her for a long time. She had been a brat for a while, but the last couple of years they had gotten along pretty well for teenage siblings. He would miss her. He couldn’t tell her goodbye though. He took a deep breath and disengaged.
Tears were in her eyes as she looked at him. Maybe she knew anyway.
Their father walked into the room just then and she stiffened. “You ready?” the older man asked.
“Yeah.” Ty stuck his bowl in the sink and shrugged into his faux-leather jacket, clenching his jaw to keep from grimacing in pain. He picked up his backpack carefully, trying to make it seem like it wasn’t as heavy as it really was. He had put several cans of beans in the bottom of it as well as some apples and oranges. It was overfull already from the extra clothing and toiletries he was bringing. He’d left all his schoolbooks in his room.
His dad was already in the front hall. “See ya around,” he said to his sister. Middle school started forty-five minutes later than high school; Jeanie didn’t need to leave yet.
“Wait!” she whispered. She emptied the contents of the front pocket of her jeans into the side pouch of his backpack. It looked like several twenty-dollar bills.
She knows I’m leaving.
“Remember I love you,” he said softly. His voice choked with so much emotion he almost couldn’t get the next sentence out. “Tell Mom I love her too.” His mother had left for work before he was out of the shower.
He shouldered his backpack onto the left side where it hurt less and hurried out of the kitchen, not even looking at his sister again. He was too close to tears.
His father had the front door open, looking impatient. Ty kept his eyes on the floor as he brushed past his father and limped down the front steps.
Jeanie figured it out so easily. Surely Dad will know as well. His heart pounded double-time.
As he approached his father’s sedan, he remembered his sunglasses. They would hide his black eye at least. He fished them out of his pocket and put them on. The day was overcast, so he hoped the sunglasses wouldn’t be too conspicuous.
His father glanced at him, started to say something, and then apparently changed his mind. Perhaps he had been about to complain about the sunglasses.
They both climbed into the car in silence. Ty hissed through his teeth and fought to keep his expression controlled as he settled painfully into the seat. Ten minutes was far too long to be sitting. He could feel every bump. Before long his face was coated with a sheen of sweat, his breathing ragged. He focused on appearing calm and hiding his misery from his father. He’ll think I’m weak if I wince.
As long as I can control myself—not show any weakness, not be disrespectful—for ten minutes, it will be over. I’ll never have to see him again.
Neither of them spoke during the ride to school. Ty did not expect an apology—his father never apologized—but he hoped to detect some shred of remorse. There was none. His father still seemed angry.
They were waiting at the last stop light before school when his father noticed the gloves he was wearing. He had found a pair of fur-lined leather gloves that his father never wore anymore. He wanted gloves; he hated having cold hands, and even though it was spring, it was still very cold at night. He never normally wore gloves to school. The only gloves he had were ski gloves and he couldn’t wear them without looking ridiculous.
“Those are my gloves,” his father said, sounding like he was struggling to control his temper. “Take them off.”
Ty immediately took off the gloves and laid them on console between the seats. His father’s hand snaked out and grabbed his wrist. Ty stiffened as fear streaked through him.
“What the hell did you do to your hands?”
So the radiator was just bad luck. “The radiator gets really hot, Dad.” He could not keep the bitterness out of his voice.
His father dropped his wrist. “You can have the gloves,” he said. His expression remained stony.
The fucking bastard has no feelings whatsoever. “Thank you,” Ty said, slipping the gloves back on.
Richard Iverson was shocked at the extent of the injuries he had inflicted upon his son. The voice in his head had been strangely silent since he’d gone off on the boy. He winced inwardly when he realized what his son must have gone through during the night, trying to avoid getting burned. He obviously had not succeeded very well. But Richard kept his emotions from showing on his face. (That boy doesn’t need your pity,) the voice in his head was back. (He needs to fuckin’ grow up. This will help him become a man, toughen him up.)
He pulled up in front of the school and Ty climbed carefully out of the car.
“Ty!” the older man called.
“Yes, sir?” Ty answered automatically.
“If anyone asks, tell them you got in a fight with your cousin Cory.” It was a likely story as Cory was known for picking on Ty.
Ty met his father’s eye. “You want me to lie then?” His voice was accusatory. How many times had he been beaten for lying? Now his father was telling him to lie.
Ty jumped at his father’s tone and hot fear knifed through him. “Yes, sir. I’m sorry, sir. I’ll tell people it was Cory.” He turned to go.
He whipped back around. “Yes, sir?”
“I’ll pick you up right here after school. We’ll go get that haircut.”
Ty fought back the urge to smirk. Like hell we will! “Yes, sir,” he said again, appropriately contrite.
Inside the school the hallways were empty. School wouldn’t start for another thirty-five minutes. Ty considered writing a note and leaving it in his best friend’s locker, but he decided against it. He would call Dave in a couple of days and let him know what happened.
He headed directly for the closest exit on the other side of the building. He was almost to the door when he heard Ms. Billington’s voice.
“Ty! Where are you going?”
Ty stopped but didn’t turn around. Ms. Billington was his English teacher. She was one of the cooler teachers. She didn’t put up with any nonsense but seemed to genuinely care about her students.
“I just realized I left my math homework at home,” he lied. “If I run home now I can be back in time for the bell.” He prayed Ms. Billington didn’t know where he lived. Unfortunately, Ms. Billington was now right next to him.
“Good heavens! What happened to you?” She stared at his face in shock. He still had his sunglasses on.
“Um. I got in a fight,” he mumbled, looking down.
She digested this for a moment. “Ty, do you want to talk about it?” she asked gently.
“No!” he said a bit too abruptly. “Look, I need to go so I can be back in time.”
She looked at him skeptically.
“I’m fine,” he said, trying to sound convincing. “Can I go now?”
“Yes, but I’d like to talk to you when you get back.”
“Yes, ma’am,” he said and hurried out the door, trying not to limp.
As soon as he got outside, he realized his heart was racing. That was too close. There’s no way I’d make it all day at school without confessing to someone what really happened. That would get me in so much shit with my dad!
He set out toward the bus station, limping as fast as he could. It was about three-quarters of a mile away. Unless something went terribly wrong, he would be well lost in the bowels of the city by the time his father figured out he was gone.
An hour later found him standing in the back of a nearly empty bus, hanging onto the handrails. The ticket to Heartland City had cost far more than he’d expected—twenty-three dollars for a non-peak-hour ticket. He would have to be conservative with his money, and he would need to find a job right away.
Although he was filled with apprehension, he could not help feeling a twinge of excitement. For the first time ever, he was on his own.