Freedom Comes at a Price

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Babes

She ran without looking back, her heart pounding in her chest. Tripping, stumbling over tree roots and rocks, she picked herself up countless times and pressed onwards. Her cotton sun dress, once lemon yellow, was now tattered and stained. The garment fell from her shoulders exposing her naked breasts as she ran, and she clutched at the fabric as best she could to protect what little modesty she had left.

Moonlight illuminated her path through the dense bush. She did not know how long she ran for, only that the more she ran the further she was from there. Tears streamed down her dirty face etching pale paths in their wake. Her thick, blonde curls whipped behind her like a bridal veil caught in a breeze.

With her heart about to explode from exertion she spotted a light below her in the distance. She almost screamed from joy, from relief, from exhaustion. Making her way down the grassy slope she misjudged her footing and fell, hitting a jagged rock. With shaking hands she reached down to her outer thigh and felt warm, sticky fluid. Groaning in agony, she picked herself up and continued towards the light.

Stumbling up the dirt path, she took in the sight before her. A double storied home, weather beaten and faded. The large windows above the wrap around porch were lit, and she saw figures moving behind the pale curtains. She prayed they would give her sanctuary. Dragging herself up the stairs, her slim, beaten legs finally gave out and she tumbled on to the decking, unable to go on.

Warmth, light, softness. Hushed voices, distant music. Sharp pains, shallow breathing.

Beth’s eyes fluttered open and she squinted against the bright sunlight beaming through the white curtains. She glanced around the unfamiliar room, confused and uncertain. She tossed the warm bedcovers back, glancing down at a strange nightgown which came to her knees. She attempted to sit up but was overcome by an intense pain radiating through her ribs. She let out a groan and lowered herself back on to the bed. A dark head momentarily poked around the door frame, and she heard the thumping of running feet and a young voice calling out.

“Father! Father! She’s awake! Daniel!”

Beth pulled the covers back over her, tucking them under her chin. Where was she? Who were these people? Was she safe? That last question Beth spent the least amount of time contemplating at that moment. She certainly felt safer than she had in a long time; She was warm, clothed, clean. But she was afraid, and completely unsure of what was in store for her next.

She heard a light knock on the door frame and she turned to see an older gentleman standing there solemnly, a look of concern on his face. The owner of the young voice popped his head in once more and smiled widely at her.

“It’s nice to see you awake, miss,” the man said. “My name is Victor. This here is Jamie,” he gestured to the boy. “How are you feeling?”

Beth, wide eyed and scared, looked back at him without saying a word.

“Are you okay, miss?” the young lad chimed in, stepping in to the room. The man shushed him and gently ushered him back out.

“Go get Daniel, son,” he said, turning to the boy. “Ask him to come at once.”

Beth heard the pounding of running feet once more, and the banging of a door being swung wide open.

“Daniel will be along in a moment to check on you, miss. Don’t you worry about a thing.”

Victor stepped out of the door frame and left. Beth shivered and took a deep breath, wincing at the pain in her chest.

A moment later she heard heavy footsteps enter the house. They got louder as they reached the threshold of the room she was in, and she nervously turned her head towards the visitor. She was surprised to see a handsome man filling the doorway. He looked to be in his mid thirties. His short cropped dark hair, low thick eyebrows, and broad stubbled jaw framed a serious expression.

“May I come in?” he asked gently. Beth nodded, her hands still gripping the covers under her chin.

“My name is Daniel,” the man explained as her pulled a wooden chair up next to her bed. He sat down and placed his hands on the knees of his dark woollen trousers. The sleeves of his creased white shirt were rolled to the elbows, leaving his tanned, muscular forearms exposed. “My father, my brother, and I have been caring for you.” He glanced briefly at an old, worn watch on his left wrist and reached towards her clenched hand. “May I?” he asked, holding his large hand out, palm up.

Beth hesitated, casting her eyes up to look at his face. Looking in to his eyes, she didn’t feel threatened or afraid. She didn’t sense danger. She released the covers and placed her small, pale hand in his. Daniel held her wrist gently between his fingers and, studying his watch, took her pulse. He reached over and placed his hand gently on her forehead.

“We found you on the porch three nights ago,” Daniel began, sitting back in the chair. Beth withdrew her arm back under the warm covers. “I’m glad you’ve finally woken güvenilir canlı bahis siteleri up. You’ve obviously been through a lot.” Beth remained silent. She cast her eyes down over the blankets, studying the delicate white embroidery on the crisp white fabric. Daniel stood up and returned the chair to the corner of the room. “Get some rest. I’ll be back later to check your wounds.”

Beth awoke as Daniel place a bowl of water on the table next to her bed. She grasped at the blankets and pulled them tightly over her once more. Placing the chair in the same spot as before, Daniel sat next to her, a soft, kind expression showing on his face.

“I won’t hurt you,” he said. Beth didn’t know what to believe, but she relaxed her grip. “I need to check the wound on your thigh,” he said. “I stitched it, but it will need constant attention to avoid infection.”

Her mind flashed back to that night. She remembered running, falling, pain. Daniel reached for the blankets, attempting to access the wound, but Beth held tight and squealed in distress.

“It needs to be washed and redressed, miss,” Daniel pleaded with her. “You’re in my care now. Please let me help you.”

With tears in her eyes, she looked up in to his face. She only saw patience and kindness. She nodded. Daniel took the top of the blanket in his hands and slowly drew it down from her body to reveal her nightdress. He carefully lifted the hem of the gown to the top of her lily white thigh. Beth closed her eyes, embarrassed. A solitary tear escaped her clenched eyelids.

Daniel’s skillful hands carefully unwrapped the bandage from her leg. He reached in to the bowl of water and retrieved a cloth, squeezing the excess water from it. He gently pressed it to the wound, tenderly wiping it around the eight neat stitches he’d placed high on her thigh.

“It’s looking great,” he murmured to himself. “Coming along nicely.”

Beth opened her eyes and glanced down at her legs. She gasped. A deep purple and red bruise covered her thigh from knee to hip, and she had grazes and welts on her knees and shins. She barely recognised them as her own legs.

“It’s mostly superficial,” Daniel said, noting her shock. “You’re healing really well. Don’t worry about what it looks like now. In a week or two it will all be faded.”

He carefully wrapped a fresh bandage around her thigh, lowered her gown, and placed the covers back over her. He looked at her; The thick halo of golden curls splayed across the pillow; Her brown eyes sad and hooded; The downturn of her sweet rose bud mouth. His heart broke for her. He wondered what on Earth this woman had gone through. A tear silently slid down her cheek. He reached over and took her hand in his, squeezing it gently.

“You’re safe now.”

**The music was swinging, and the ladies were dressed to outshine each other. Beth wore her favourite red sandals and the beautiful yellow cotton dress her mother had sewn for her 19th birthday only one week prior. Her usually unruly hair was smoothed under a full can of hairspray and pinned in to two victory rolls atop her head. She felt beautiful and grown up, out without parental supervision at her first dance. It was Independence Day, 1949.

The band started to play Evelyn Knight’s ‘A Little Bird Told Me’, and the women in the room began to scream. It was one of the most popular songs of the year, and Beth had to admit she loved it, too. Sitting with a group of women along the wall of the room, Beth hoped silently that she would be asked to dance. Lost in the rhythm of the music, Beth closed her eyes and swayed gently.

“Excuse me, miss. Would you like to dance?”

Beth opened her eyes, and jumped back slightly. A bold, broad man stood in front of her, too close to her, encroaching on her personal space. Beth looked up in to his face.

“Go on,” said the woman sitting next to her, giving her a smile and a playful nudge.

Beth hesitated; Something in her gut was telling her “No”, but Beth wasn’t sure why. She brushed it off as nerves, stood up, and placed her hand in his outstretched palm.**

Three more days passed before Beth felt well enough to even consider getting out of bed. During those long days she was visited by Jamie, who tried his hardest to raise her spirits, and Daniel, who gently tended to her injuries. She kept her wits about her, knowing things could change at any moment. She still declined to speak, but she had adapted to acknowledging them in other ways; With gestures, sounds, and looks. She refused to give away too much about herself for fear of repeating the past.

Earlier that morning, as usual, she had woken as Daniel had taken his spot at her bedside. She had sat up in bed, helping to remove the blankets and bandages, and she hadn’t flinched when he had touched her. Half way through the process of changing her bandage, her heart had started to pound and, feeling faint, she’d had to lie back on the pillows, draping her arm over her eyes. She felt her cheeks and güvenilir illegal bahis siteleri chest flush pink. Butterflies had danced in her stomach.

“Almost done, miss,” he had soothed her. “Just relax now.”

Jamie brought her lunch on a tray; Hot soup and warm, fresh bread. He folded himself up neatly on the end of her bed, as he’d become accustomed to doing, and began telling her all about his day. He chatted on about school, the fight that had happened in the schoolyard, his chores, and his family.

“And Daniel went in to town this morning and bought you a new dress, and some shoes!” he exclaimed enthusiastically, pointing to a brown paper parcel sitting on top of the dressing table. Beth hadn’t noticed it before now. “Maybe after lunch you’ll feel up to taking a walk with me.” He smiled at her, and she couldn’t help but smile back. He really was a very sweet boy.

Dressed in a powder blue cotton dress which fit well and white canvas sneakers that were half a size too large, Beth tenderly made her way down the few steps of the porch that she had landed on just less than a week prior. Jamie held her arm lightly, steadying her progression. Beth breathed deeply, inhaling the fresh, cool air. She took in the view before her; One she had not had the time to appreciate the night she had arrived there. In front of her were rolling green hills, tall oak and birch trees, and a rocky cliff. Her heart pounded, acknowledging just how close to that cliff she must have been on her descent down to the house.

Jamie led her around the side of the house to a large barn. Beth froze at the sight of it, the trauma of her past washing over her. Jamie’s small hand on her arm patted her gently and he spoke kindly, urging her forward.

“It’s okay, miss. Father and Daniel are in there working on the tractor.”

Beth looked down at him; His youth and innocence shining like sun beams from his kind face. She swallowed deeply, then uneasily placed one foot in front of the other.

“Father, Daniel, look who’s here,” Jamie sang, guiding Beth through the large door.

Daniel, who had been crouched next to the large rear tyre of a red, rusted tractor, stood abruptly and strode over to them. He wiped his hands roughly on an old rag tucked in to his belt loop.

“Take it slowly,” he said, replacing Jamie’s arm with his own. He lightly held her around the waist and led her over to a hay bale. “Please, sit here.” Beth gladly sat, sighing. “You should’ve come to get me, Jamie,” Daniel gently scolded his young brother. “The last thing we need is her falling and tearing her stitches.”

“It’s okay, Daniel,” Jamie said, playfully climbing in to the cab of the tractor. “We did okay by ourselves. You’re so protective of her.”

Beth glanced over at Daniel and noticed a wave of red wash over his neck. She averted her eyes, pretending not to see him blushing.

“It’s really good to see you up and about, miss,” their father said, leaning against the hood of the machine.

“She looks nice in that dress, doesn’t she,” Jamie called out innocently. Beth smiled lightly, twisting her fingers in the hem of the fabric.

Daniel crouched in front of her, his elbows resting on his knees.

“It’s nice to see some colour in your cheeks,” he said. They made eye contact. “Are you feeling well?” he asked. Beth nodded.

“May I help you back to the house?” he offered. Beth nodded again.

Taking her hand, he pulled her gently to her feet and placed his arm around her waist once more. He led her out the door and around the side of the barn towards the house. Beth felt tired; This was the most she’d moved in almost a week. She leaned in to Daniel’s side and felt his arm tighten around her.

They reached the house and proceeded to climb the stairs. Beth stopped to catch her breath.

“You’re tired?” Daniel asked, dipping his head low to look at her. Beth nodded slowly. Daniel reached down and effortlessly scooped her up in to his arms. He carried her through to the bedroom and placed her gently on the bed. He bent down and slowly untied her shoes, easing them off her feet. He placed them on the floor and pulled the blanket over her legs. Beth leaned back, her wild curls spreading across the pillows.

“Thank you,” she spoke.

**”My father will be here soon to collect me.”

Beth stood on her tip toes to reach his ear. The music played on, loud and jovial. Beth had been dancing with him all night. Her initial feelings had faded, and she’d been enjoying his company. He hadn’t let her out of his sight since the first song, and Beth had felt stirrings deep inside her when he’d danced close to her.

“Take a walk with me,” he asked, his hand on her waist.

The night air was crisp, and Beth’s dress whipped about her knees in the breeze.

“I have a notepad in my car,” he said, gesturing to an immaculate Buick Roadmaster convertible. “Let me write down your address so I can take you out.”

Beth grinned widely, excited at güvenilir bahis şirketleri the prospect of a date. She didn’t hesitate when he opened the passenger door for her to sit inside out of the wind. He slid in to the drivers seat and reached in to the glove compartment.

“Don’t fucking scream,” he said, holding a knife to her throat.

The pitch was piercing. Beth’s eyes shot open and she gasped for air. That was when she realised the scream was coming from her. He body wracked with sobs and she shivered in a cold sweat. Her door flew open and Daniel ran to her bedside. He grasped her clenched fists in his warm hands. A moment later, Jamie appeared in the doorframe before he was quietly ushered away by his father.

“It’s okay. You’re okay,” Daniel reassured her. Releasing her hands, he sat on the bed next to her and tucked her small body in to the crook of his arm. He held her as her breathing slowed to a normal rate. She pressed herself in to him, her eyes clenched shut. His chin rested on the feathery down of her soft curls.

“I have nightmares sometimes, too,” he whispered, confiding in her. “I’m not sure I’ve had a full night’s sleep since I got home from the war.”

Beth turned her head and looked up at him. His dark brown eyes reflected the moonlight from the window adjacent to the bed. She noticed he was shirtless, and she felt the hairs on his broad, firm chest tickling her shoulder. She cast her eyes down, embarrassed suddenly.

Gently lowering her on to her pillows, Daniel smoothed her hair down behind her head. His palm grazed her cheek and she closed her eyes at the innocent touch.

“Rest now,” he said softly, standing up and pulling the bedcovers up to her chin. He stood looking at her for a moment before he turned. Beth watched him walk away, dressed only in thin, white linen pants, before she fell back in to a troubled sleep.

The following day, Daniel asked if she would like to join him for a walk. Side by side, they strolled out of the house and turned down the dusty dirt lane. They walked slowly in companionable silence for a few minutes. Eventally, Daniel spoke.

“Do you get a lot of nightmares?” he asked gently.

Taking a deep breath in, Beth answered quietly. “Yes, many.”

Daniel nodded. “I do, too. I was an army medic from 1942 to 1945. I saw many things I wish to never see again. The sights still haunt me.” He clasped his hands behind his back as he walked. “I’ve been home five years now, but those memories will be with me for the rest of my life.”

Beth nodded silently, understanding how he felt.

“I don’t even know your name,” Daniel said suddenly, turning to look at her. She had been a guest in their house for a week, yet she not said more than a few words during that time. Beth stopped walking and shielded the sunlight from her eyes with her hand. Daniel paused next to her.

“I’m Beth,” she said with a small, easy smile.

“Beth,” Daniel murmured to himself. He ran his hand over his dark, short cropped hair. “That’s a really pretty name. How old are you?”

Beth thought for a moment. “19. I think.”

“You think?” Daniel asked, perplexed.

“Yes,” she answered simply. She was unsure just how long she had been away for. Some days had felt like hours, other days had felt like months.

Daniel, his arms loose by his sides, suggested they turn back for home. Beth followed along silently next to him. Their arms brushed lightly against each other’s as they walked.

“How did you come to land on our porch, Miss Beth?”

Beth was taken aback by the sudden question, and stepped away from Daniel.

Daniel cleared his throat, adding, “We are all curious to know what happened to you.”

Her heart started to race and she felt panic rising in her chest. Before she knew what she was doing, she ran.

Beth bolted towards the rocky cliff. Her chest heaved, her injured leg throbbed, and she thought she would pass out. Daniel caught her only meters before the drop.

“I’m sorry! I’m so sorry!” he cried out, taking her shoulders in his hands. “I shouldn’t have asked. You’re not ready to tell us.” He pulled her in to him firmly, his arms wrapped around her. “I’m so sorry,” he whispered in to her hair.

Beth sobbed openly. She pressed her tear stained face in to his chest and encircled his waist with her arms. She cried desperately for her lost innocence, for her family, and for herself. She hadn’t been held tenderly in so long and she savoured the feeling of being pressed up against someone who wasn’t hurting her.

Daniel bent and lifted her in to the air. He cradled her against his chest and walked silently back to the house with her in his arms. She pressed her face against his shoulder, her arms wound around his neck, and breathed deeply. The wind whipped her hair around them as they walked.

**The smell of soil and dirty, stagnant water was overwhelming. It was so dark that Beth couldn’t see her hand in front of her face. Feeling her way around the walls, she found a door without a handle. She clawed at the hinges until her nails broke and her skin bled. Nursing her wounded hands, she slumped to the dirt floor.

The sound of a key turning in a lock made her jump. She scrambled to her feet, fear and desperation filling her body.

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