Sweet Teas

She smacked the steering wheel with one hand and stared across the field as he stormed away. Her tears were hot and tasted bitter on her lips. She glanced in the rear-view mirror at the child sleeping peacefully in the car-seat.

Her heart pounded, hands shook. She watched to see if he would turn around, march back to the fight. He didn’t. He kept stalking away, his anger visible in every movement. She prayed he would keep going.

In her head, she imagined driving past him, giving him the finger, and getting home with enough time to pack their most essential things and leave again before he got there. She imagined she had a safe place to go. Somewhere he could never reach her. Some place her baby … she turned in her seat and brushed a strand of hair from her daughter’s forehead … somewhere they would both be safe.

The sweet teas sat, guiltily untouched, in their rightful cup holders. How dare they be so expensive. How dare she quietly ask him to “stop” when he started bitching about the cost ($4.85 for two larges) in a voice that made the baby startle and the drive-thru worker look at her with pity.

She should have known better.

His voice boomed, clapping like thunder in the small SUV as they drove away from Wendy’s. She drove silently, desperately trying to keep her tears at bay so not to upset him even more.

“Fucking cunt. Who the fuck do you think you are to tell me to ‘stop’ like you’re fucking God.”

“Nasty ass fat bitch. You apparently need a reminder of who is the fucking boss around here.”

“Fuck you. I’ll leave your bitch ass here and take my daughter away from your crazy ass.”

“I don’t give a fuck who is listening, I do what the fuck I want to do.”

“Why do you always have to be such a fucking cunt? I want to fucking smash your face in right fucking now.”

“You are fucking worthless. Worthless. Can’t do a God-damn thing right. All you have to do is sit there, shut the fuck up, and let me do what the fuck I want to do. Is that so motherfucking hard for you?”

“When we get home, it’s on. It’s fucking on. You want a fight? You got one. Fucking bitch.”

It continued for nearly twenty minutes. She got out of the car, hoping her daughter would continue to sleep. He slammed her against the side of the car twice when she tried to put distance between them. His saliva attacked her face like tiny razor blades with each hateful jeer.

It was Easter time. Eggstravaganza. All she wanted was to watch her baby’s face as the toddler went on her first egg-hunt. She wanted to do something as a family. Something normal.

Damn the teas. Damn her mouth. Damn herself all the way around. It was her fault. She’d set him off. If she’d just let him go … just let him go off … maybe it wouldn’t have gone down the way it did.

She dropped her forehead against the steering wheel. Sobbed as quietly as she could.

A tap on her shoulder jerked her out of her pity party. She looked up into kind blue eyes.

“Ma’am, are you alright,” he asked.

She nodded, afraid her voice might crack just a little too much on the lie.

“I’d be happy to call the police for you,” he said, looking into the back seat, “I heard every word and saw him put his hands on you. I’m the one who yelled.”

She shook her head. “No, but thank you.” She was grateful. His question, “Are you folks riding the shuttle?” had put an instant halt to the assault.

The old man sighed. “If you were my daughter,” he pointed to the sleeping child, “if that was my grand-baby, I’d kill that man.”

Her breath caught in her lungs as they expanded. Her eyes widened. She felt the tears pour down her cheeks.

“No man should ever talk to a woman that way or put his hands on her like that.” He picked up her hand from the steering wheel and tapped the wedding ring with one finger. “Especially not his wife.”

She couldn’t speak. It was the first time someone, anyone, a stranger, had spoken so bluntly to her.

“That baby deserves more, Miss. And so do you. And no matter what that man has made you believe, you are beautiful. There is nothing you could have done to deserve what I just witnessed. Nothing.” He wiped a tear from her cheek. “The law can’t protect you unless you let it.”

She met his gaze and offered him a weak smile. “Sir, there is no one who can protect me.”

He started to speak, but she shook her head and reached for the door. Pulling it closed, she watched as he shook and then dropped his head, turned away from her and walked back to the shuttle-bus.

There were people on that bus. People had seen it all. And if that man had heard it, so had all the rest. She groaned. Checked the mirror again, only to meet two beautiful green eyes peering up at her sleepily.

She slowly put the car into reverse and backed out of the spot.

He was still walking. About half a mile down the road. Glaring at every car that passed, giving the finger to a few that got too close to the line. She stopped a few feet in front of him. Exhaled. Checked on the baby.

“Now what,” he asked as he slammed the door and glared at her.

“I want to go home.”

“Fuck home. We’re doing this Easter shit,” he replied. His lip curled into a sneer and his eyes darkened. The fight was not over. “Your dumbass isn’t ruining this for me or our daughter. She deserves a much better time than this. She deserves a better mom.”

She started to speak, then looked again into the mirror. Her daughter smiled. She smiled back and wiped her tears away. She pulled into the next parking area, put on her best game-face, and did what she’d always done. “I’m sorry. You’re right.”

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