Someone pounds on my door. My eyes focus on the digital clock as I kick off the covers—4:12 a.m. I run to the door in the flannel lounge pants and t-shirt I slept in, hoping the noise doesn’t wake the crabby old man upstairs or the single mother of a newborn across the hall.

“Hurry! We’ve got to go!” Jessica cries as she pushes past me and into my little studio apartment. Her backpack stuffed full; she juggles her purse, a large diaper bag, and her toddler—Justin.

I stand, still by the door, blinking away the sleep; trying to make sense of the scene. Justin looks terrified as he sucks his thumb, still wearing his PJs, too.

“Brandon will know I’m gone any minute. This will be the first place he looks. We aren’t safe here. We have to go. Get dressed, pack a bag, and let’s go!”

I turn on a light and see the big red handprint on Jessica’s face, then the blood smear under her nose and on the back of her hand. Brandon, her husband of four years, is an alcoholic who has become more manipulative, more violent, and more depressed. Unfortunately, he is also a police officer in our little town. Jessica hasn’t been able to get any help or protection. Seeing the fear in her eyes, I realize I have to go. I rush to dress and throw a few necessities into a gym bag.

Jessica added another bag to the collection by raiding my kitchen and putting food that will travel into a grocery sack. She changed and dressed Justin, and is now waiting by the door.

“Let’s take your car and leave mine here,” she says as she picks up bags and baby. I agree, and also suggest we leave our cell phones so Brandon or his police buddies can’t track the GPS signal. Jessica hands me her phone. I turn them off and set them on the kitchen counter.

Jessica straps in Justin’s car seat. She gently buckles him in as I start the car—grateful I filled the gas tank on my way home last night. Jessica situates herself as I pull out of the parking lot and towards the interstate.

An hour down the road, Justin sleeps and Jessica starts to relax. We approach an interchange for a northbound route, and Jessica tells me to take it to the state border. She unzips her hoodie and I see her shirt is drenched in blood.

“Brandon’s not coming after us, is he?” I ask.

Jessica shakes her head. “Just keep driving.”

©2012 by Kathryn McClatchy—All Rights Reserved