Author: Mary Holt
Genre: Psychological Thriller
Series: Raven, Book 1
Format: Kindle ARC
Date Published: July 27, 2018
Publisher: Solstice Publishing
No. of Pages: 286
Rating: 4.5 Stars
Murder, even in self-defense, is a preemptive act. Raven Balback’s obsessive husband demands she return to their marriage. The frightened woman, partially paralyzed from her last encounter with him, flees. Unable to locate his wife, Cole burns the buildings that sheltered her in the past and endangers lives. Raven must decide whether to sacrifice herself for strangers or grasp for a life free of her vows.
Raven Ballback takes a powerful action against her wickedly abusive husband Cole. She strikes him in the cane when he is in the process of attacking her. Rachel is severely disabled, and is rather shocked that she finally got the upper hand against Cole. If she had been in danger from him before, she is even more so now. When he comes around, she knows he will be after her.
Paralyzed on one side, running away will not be easy for her, but Raven has made a plan to run, and follows through. Due to an unfortunate incident, he may know where she is, so she runs even further away. Raven is very intelligent, strong and enterprising. Although she is always in danger, she fights with everything she has. She knows that Cole will not stop any anything to find her and reclaim her. In order to stay safe, Raven must learn to trust again - but oh, what a risk that is!
Reclaiming Raven starts out with a bang and the book holds that level of intensity throughout. While reading this book, I found it incredibly amazing that this is a debut author. My interest was captured throughout and I read this book in one sitting. It is wickedly fast-paced and I was on the edge of my seat for Raven. Cole is a man with demons, but enough smarts to always be ahead of the game. Would Cole find her?
With an overfull queue, I expected this book to be in my TBR for quite a while, but after gleaning the first few words - not even pages in - I realized that I could not put it down! I even tried to sleep after the first 20% or so, but, alas, I had to wait it through and read it from cover-to-cover. As I reached the thrilling conclusion, I was incredibly impressed by Raven's strength.
Raven is as strong as they come. Though Cole nearly took her life more than once and caused her disability, what he did not take was her fighting spirit. Cole is not just dangerous to Raven, but to anyone connected to her. In all honesty, I was afraid this book could possibly trigger me as Raven suffered such horrible abuse, and the memories of it were haunting. Instead, I was left rallying for her, page after page. There were many warm and sensitive moments in this book. Kudos to Mary Holt for a such a well-written story that was utterly captivating. I will definitely be following this author for more in this series and any future works she produces.
Many thanks to Mary Holt for this ARC to review in exchange for my honest opinion.
EXCERPT FROM CHAPTER ONE:
Raven startled awake and thrashed to free herself. Cole sat on her chest, and the moonlight lit the steel in his hand, matching the glint in his eyes. He lowered his voice and spoke as if to a frightened animal. “I missed you, love. So frigging much.” She knew from experience that the sweeter his tone, the harsher the action to follow. Raven guessed her death would arrive with low, honeyed laughter. His left hand stroked her jaw, and she fought not to scream. “Did you lie, bitch?” His voice cut as sharp as the knife he held under her right eye, the unaffected one. “I can’t breathe,” she said. “The truth. Tell me what you told them.” He bullied details for days and his wife for eternity. A hatred of sleep and intense focus made him relentless. “I didn’t say anything. I couldn’t speak.” The rhythm of her voice had changed after the incident. It became unbalanced, rushed in places and drawn out in others. The syllables often slurred in a muddle. “Doctors helped you, but I suffered alone.” His injured tone pierced her heart. She felt the compassion the stories of his childhood brought. Raven understood why solitude frightened him. “You found me,” she said. His triumphs often resulted in her hell. His face brightened. Marriage to Cole demanded unending praise. Admiration fueled him, food never did. “Now, we’ll be together forever. I’ll make sure,” he said, a blissful smile on his face. Lightning shot through her brain. Blinding. Electric. Fatal. How had her nightmare picked up in the same spot? All precautions had proven useless. He leaned down and looked into her eyes, “I still see you in there.” If he saw her, he would not be here. The naïve bride had vanished. If her life ended tonight, a different woman than the one he set out to kill would die. His left hand claimed her breast and found the nipple, taunting it. She felt his excitement increase, and metal clanged as he set the blade on the table. Cole lifted his hips to gain access to her panties. She knew the rules, had learned them long ago. No sound of protest escaped her lips. No flash of temper crossed her face. Cries of terror only bounced off the walls of her mind. He rocked back to grasp the white-cotton protecting her sex, and his weight lifted from her strong right arm. Raven’s hand found the hardwood cane lying along the bed frame, and she swung it with all her strength. The brass end struck Cole’s skull, which God had made of a far more fragile material. Garbled grief and fear poured out of Raven’s mouth. Anyone who overheard would believe tortured aliens created the sound. She struggled to remove her legs from under her husband’s collapsed and bleeding body. Being wedged under a rotting corpse could not have terrified her more. Once freed, she planned to make sure he would never rise again. If Cole woke up, he would kill her. She preferred that to spending the rest of their lives together, but only one of them could walk out of this room. Raven closed her eyes and concentrated her courage. With a distressed howl, she swung again and felt the shock as wood struck bone. Sick, she dropped her weapon. The second blow connected with cheekbone, not skull. Her head swam, and she needed to vomit. No physical or mental strength remained to launch a third strike. “Hurry, darn it,” she ordered herself as she dressed with the functional use of only one arm. Sweatpants on, she attached a shoe to her lifeless left foot. Her right slid into the footwear without trouble. Cole lay sprawled across the bed, and she smelled his blood. Underestimating him had caused her great misery in the past. If she failed to kill him, she knew she granted him another chance to murder her. She reminded herself that he had once given her Rohypnol and taken a Viagra. Days later, he forced her to watch the tapes. The memory of the violation gripped her as she reconsidered allowing him to live. Raping her did not satisfy him as much as humiliating her with the knowledge did. The external world had gone silent, but the demons inside her head shrieked curses. “Do it now,” she said out loud. “You’ve got to get out of here.” She gulped air by the lungful, hoping to inhale the nerve to finish it. Time grew short. Prison frightened her as much as her husband did. The police would lock her up with a thousand tormentors just like the one knocked out on the bed. Marriage taught her freedom meant everything. She would not jeopardize it. Raven had packed an escape pack and placed it in the closet near the door. She opened it and found Cole had not disturbed the contents. Possessions meant nothing to him. For the last year of their marriage, they had lived in a remote cabin with only necessary comforts. She made her way to the elevator. On the street, the first morning commuters headed into the day. She had parked her car four blocks away, a vast distance to drag a dead leg and a bag. The icy air bit into her face and her teeth chattered. In Raven’s new life, pain remained constant and relief only visited. The bullet to the brain had sentenced her to a lifetime of dragging a paralyzed left side. Afraid her husband had found his feet and chased her; she pushed faster. An uneven sidewalk heaved up and plunged down, uncaring about her rush. The hostile wind forced her eyes shut for a moment too long, and she fell hard to the pavement. Her unbuttoned coat blew back, away from her wretched body. “Just fricking kill me!” she screamed. The irony that she stumbled while running for her life did not cross her mind. Raven let go of the bag and cane while she struggled to her knees. Her skinned palm grasped the cold mesh of a chain link fence, and she pulled herself to a standing position. The sweatpants had torn, and blood stained her knee. “Damn it all to hell,” she cursed. Cole did not allow her to use foul language, and she felt a forbidden rush. She picked up her belongings and hobbled down the street, aware of the lost time. The white film coating the twenty-year-old wreck did nothing to improve its looks. Most people walked past without registering a make, model or color. That’s precisely why she chose it. A glance down the block failed to reassure her, even though she saw no one she knew. Her key stuck momentarily, and she mewled in fear. What if Cole came before she got it open? She could not outrun him. She leaned in and placed her stuff on the passenger side. Holding onto the door frame, she turned the back of her knees to the driver’s seat and sat when they hit. Spinning to face the windshield, Raven grabbed the fabric of her pants and lifted the weak left leg into the car. She called 911 before putting it in gear. Fifteen minutes later, she entered the highway. Her hand relaxed on the wheel, and she breathed a bit easier. The rearview showed neither Cole nor the police. She had never sought a restraining order against her husband. Isolation had made it impossible, and a piece of paper would never convince him to leave her alone. Now the cops would want to talk to her, and might even issue a warrant. Raven worried she had killed him. She had hit him as hard as she could. Twice. Her stomach lurched upwards in a dry heave. If the only man she had ever wanted still lived, he would find her. If he died, she had committed murder. Both scenarios spun off tornadoes of terror. Sobs shook her, so she steered to the shoulder. Not wanting a patrol car to stop and offer help, Raven moved on again after five minutes. She had no confidence the trembling would ever stop and dreaded the combination of spastcity and paralysis. An hour later, she pulled off I-95. The disinfectant smell of the rest area gagged her and made her remember months of physical rehab spent relearning to walk. As Raven fought the massive double doors, the floor became spongy. Waves appeared in the air as if someone had superheated the building. Crossing the lobby, the tip of her cane seemed to sink into solid flooring. Hell lay beneath the world’s false veneer, but she already knew that. No one else shared the ladies room, and she indulged in a long-delayed meltdown. Her good fist pounded the walls as she cried. Unable to kick, she rammed her shoulder against the partitions. “Why?” Raven knew the answer to that. She had auditioned for her part in this horror film, begged for it. Alone and afraid, she had thrown herself at Cole, drowning them both. “Lady, you okay?” The voice must have belonged to the geriatric maintenance man she had watched mop the red tiled floor. She had not realized noise from her tantrum carried through the wall. “Yes,” she lied. “Can I call someone to help?” asked the janitor. “No. Please.” Raven turned her aggression toward herself for drawing attention. “I’m okay. I swear.” “I’m supposed to report any damage--” Fear jumped in her chest, and she tried to sound normal. “Sir, it's fine. I promise you. You can come check in a moment.” The words separated themselves from one another instead of piling up. She hoped her voice sounded like it belonged to a sane person. After a quick wash in the sink, Raven made her halting way into the lobby. Embarrassed, she apologized to the attendant and waited while he checked the restroom. “Seizure?” the man asked upon his return. “Yes,” she said. Telling lies on the morning she might have killed her husband seemed a forgivable sin. She moved the car to a spot behind a semi, out of the attendant’s view. An ancient hand-crank opened the window and let out the stench of fear. Cole stood little chance of locating her on the road unless she pulled a stupid stunt like her bathroom fit. Official involvement in her life became trackable, the last thing she wished to be. She looked up the address of the closest spy shop on her smartphone. The store catered to voyeurs, blackmailers and private detectives. She needed to confirm he did not track her. The GPS formulated a route, and she pulled out to follow it. The store had not opened yet, so she stopped for breakfast on the way. A plate of pancakes disappeared without guilt. Her husband had decided when or if she ate. The thought of unrestricted food still made her greedy. She paid the tab and drove the final blocks. The large specialty store handled the sale of firearms and ammo in addition to surveillance cameras and equipment. The handgun case drew her attention while she waited. “Need a weapon?” The clerk appraised her. She thought the fact that her face slid down until it pooled at her jawline should provide n enough protection, but it did not. A decent severe disability should both repel people and score a good parking spot. “Yes,” she said. Her heart lurched, and bile sprayed into her stomach. “There’s no waiting period, but the state requires you obtain the permit first.” “How long’s that take?” “It’s no mistake.” The man had misunderstood her. Strangers often did. “How long does the paperwork take?” She did her best to separate each syllable and keep them from humping one another. “They respond within forty days,” said the clerk. “I’ll be gone. Any way we can--” She let the suggestion linger. BC, before Cole, her natural attributes as a woman worked to grant her desires. This side of the abyss, she thought of herself as a charmless crone. If people extended kindness, it sprang from a well of pity. “No,” he said and meant it. Raven reminded herself that she hated guns. Look what happened last time. She might blow her head off to make the voices and memories disappear. Maybe that is why she looked in the case. Jumpy, she could always tell herself it had been an accident. Cash ran low, too. Disability did not pay, especially if it happened before a person built a career. In a quarter century of life, she had only established an inability to judge people. Marriage entitled her to money, but drawing any of it out would lead her husband straight to her. “Would you be willing to check my car for tracking devices?” she asked the clerk. He stared to calculate her level of paranoia. She knew the skill protected his business but thought his profits relied on the unstable. “I can sell you one,” he offered. “How much?” she asked. “Two hundred.” She said, “I don’t have it. Wand it for twenty?” She pulled the bill from a pocket. The sight of money made people greedy. The muscular man looked around the store and out the plate glass window to assess the danger. She watched the scenarios flip through his expression. He might be worried about an accomplice outside, ready to bash in his head. Leaving made him and the store vulnerable. Inside his domain, he stood a fighting chance. “I don’t think so,” he said after a brief delay. The clerk must have concluded the risk to be greater than the reward Stressed beyond her limits, she cried. “Jesus Christ,” the man said after a change of heart. “Fast.” Raven had run for sport in the past. The concept now struck her as funny. She whirled toward the door and clomped her way through it before the clerk changed his mind. He grabbed a handheld device from under the counter and followed. Five minutes later, she thanked him and got back in the car. “The twenty,” he said. She handed over the bill. Knowing that Cole did not trace her movements brought her peace. Sitting in the parking lot would have made the store guy nervous, so she drove a few blocks to a fast food restaurant. She had accomplished her one vital task. Now, she needed to form a plan. In the beginning, she had believed the immensity of her husband’s love had given her the upper hand. Intoxicated with sexual power, she felt Cole would bend to her will. She abandoned herself to his world-changing passion and found the depths profound and addicting. His obsession taught her personal validation. An inner warning chimed in Raven’s head, and she sought the parking lot exit. She had not put enough distance between herself and Boston. She did not know her destination but must drive. He could not anticipate her whereabouts if she did not know where she headed. The highway forced a decision. North or South? More US territory lie to the South of Boston, and the weather boasted above freezing temperatures. Any child could have told her husband which direction she chose. Fifteen hundred miles away, the temperatures hung in the eighties. She concentrated on that as the sleet changed to snow. Ice made forward progress painstaking, and the defroster did not clear the windshield. Her gloved right hand held an ice scraper. Every three or four minutes, she steadied the wheel with her left elbow and used the tool to create a porthole. The day had grown darker, not lighter as most do. Snow limited visibility to a few car lengths. She could not discern travel lanes. Brake lights indicated other beings still existed, and that she was not trapped alone in a snow globe shaken by Cole. Driving conditions had become unsafe, and most motorists had abandoned the roadways. Headlights broke Raven’s trance as a semi approached in the rearview mirror. The eighteen-wheeler’s weight, size, and decent tires provided him with a stability her junker did not possess. She decided to follow the bigger vehicle instead of breaking trail. Getting behind the trucker required a lane change. The left lane remained unused. No tracks marked the deepening snow. The shoulder to the right had not been driven on, either. She scraped the inside of the windshield and muttered. “Please. Go around, go around.” The driver blew his horn and blinked his lights, startling her. He wanted her out of his way. She turned on her cautions, but the truck drew closer to her bumper. Her wipers beat but failed to remove the snow. The idea that the powerful forced lesser individuals to sacrifice themselves infuriated her. “Damn you!” she shouted. “You’ve no right!” Paid by the mile, the eighteen-wheeler continued his attempt to coerce her into driving faster or pulling over. Let him take the risk in the unplowed lane, she thought. She could not afford to crash the car. # Raven awoke on a stretcher with no idea of her whereabouts. She attempted to sit up, but straps thwarted her. She struggled against her bonds, terrified. A kind-faced EMT said, “Ma’am, can you hear me? You’re going to be alright. My partner and I are here to take care of you, and we’re good at our jobs.” He yelled at the ambulance driver, “She’s awake.” “What’s going on?” she asked. The paramedic’s expression showed genuine confusion. “Song? You hear a song? Sometimes I sing, but my friend up front told me to stop. He doesn’t have a musical ear.” She repeated herself, and this time the man smiled with understanding. “You were in an accident. Slid into the guardrail from what I saw. Your front bumper’s a mess. The roads are treacherous, and they’re calling for six more inches of snow. How do you feel?” “My head hurts.” “You must’ve hit it on the steering wheel. We don’t see that much anymore due to the air bags in new vehicles. Yours is far from new, though, huh? The old ones have actual metal, though. The bumpers aren’t plastic like nowadays. That probably helped you. It’s a tradeoff. The--” The chatty man took her vitals and relayed them on the radio. “I can’t be here,” she said. The restraints held, and she wiggled in claustrophobia and fear. Immobilization managed to raise the anxiety level of a woman fleeing a killer. Awareness of her physical vulnerability heightened every nerve ending. “We’ll be to the hospital in ten minutes. It’s slow going. You wouldn’t want to be in two accidents in one day, would you? I once heard a--” “Take me back to my car,” Her voice sounded more strident than pleading. She shifted her shoulders again. “And untie me.” “As I said, it's not that far. I got you. You’re--” “My car. My car. Where is it?” They couldn’t keep her, could they? Her mind raced to remember what she knew of the law. She knew they were to help an unconscious person but not someone who refused their assistance. “A tow truck took it. It’ll be in the impound. You can go over there and make arrangements to have it moved to a repair shop. The doctors need to check you out first. You suffered quite a bump on the noggin.” “Crap.” “Excuse me?” “Never mind.” Cole provided her health insurance. Inputting that information would leave a trail, but she did not have cash to pay. There might be an arrest warrant out for her. Did hospitals check those? “Where’s my stuff?” she asked. “I’ve got your backpack. It was the only thing I saw that I thought you’d need right away. The rest’s in the car,” said the kind man who had no idea that instead of saving her life, he endangered it. “Don’t worry.” “Give it here,” she demanded. “It’s safe. I put it on the--,” said the attendant, pointing. “Give it to me!” “Calm down,” he said, but he handed her the bag. “Getting upset will not help your headache or your blood pressure.” She found her wallet, phone, and laptop. She would have to do without the rest. “It hurts,” she said. “We’re here,” said the driver as the vehicle came to a stop. “Let’s get her unloaded.” The paramedic released the giant metal clasps that held the stretcher in place. He jumped down and stood to the right side. The driver manned the left. Together, they pulled the gurney forward until the rolling legs unfolded from underneath, one set at a time. The transition felt smooth, but a bolt of pain shot through Raven’s head nonetheless. “AAAggghh,” she cried. “Sorry about that,” said the man who had ridden in back with her. They entered the automatic doors into the Emergency Department, bypassing the desk and the triage station out front. A nurse, clipboard in hand, said, “What do we have?” “MVA, female, twenty-five-years-old, possible head trauma. Unconscious for up to ten minutes. Respirations 20, BP 130/76, pulse 90.” Good. She thought she would be fine unless a subdural hematoma put pressure on her brain. That could kill her in a matter of hours. If it were that or Cole, she would gamble on the pain-free death and consider it a win. “How’re you, dear?” The nurse asked. Prominent impairment caused strangers to use endearments when speaking to Raven. Most days the infantilization angered her. “My head hurts.” She let her speech remain thick. Her only hope lay in the nurse believing her incapable of providing personal information. Disability as disguise. “A doctor will be right in, sweetie. Let’s get you comfortable.” The nurse and EMT’s used the sheet to transfer her from the stretcher to the bed. She moaned with conviction and clutched her belongings. The paramedics took another radio call and left. She smiled. Now they could not inform the condescending caregiver that she functioned well enough to drive and know her name. A white coat wearing physician arrived moments later and reviewed the nurse’s preliminary report. She checked Raven’s pupillary reactions and said, “Do you know your name?” She didn’t answer. “Do you know what day it is?” Still no reply. “CT scan STAT,” the doctor ordered the nurse. “Draw labs when she returns.” “I’ll help you into a gown, honey.” The nurse reached to set the bag out of the way. “No! Mine!” Her scream sounded bloodcurdling in a pathetic, garbled way. Let them assume a developmental disability, she thought. “Don’t upset her,” said the doctor. “She might injure herself, and we can’t sedate her until we know what’s going on.” “I can’t put her in the--” began the nurse. The doctor said, “It’s a head CT. Her clothing doesn’t matter.” The nurse flushed red. She left the room and returned carrying a wristband which she attached to Raven’s right hand. “A nice man is coming to take you for a test. It won’t hurt. We’ve called your husband, and he’s on his way.” She looked in horror at the words ‘Raven Balback’ printed on the band. The hospital knew her name. The paramedic must have rifled her bag while she lay unconscious. Her wallet held an old emergency card. She had acted as retarded as she wanted them to believe. She needed to run. Now. Cole must be a hero in the nurse’s eyes. He stuck around after his wife’s horrific transformation. A vow-keeper. Her blood ran cold, and she shook with dread. The room temperature dropped as if a cadre of ghosts visited. A young man in green scrubs walked through the door. “CT?” He scanned the wristband that sealed her fate, and they took off. Fluorescent lights lined the hallways. She concentrated on memorizing the turns. Returning here meant death. Three minutes later, she arrived in the radiology department. A large red sign hung outside the Magnetic Resonance Imaging Lab. No metal allowed in the room. Years ago, she had read about a fatal accident in an MRI lab. The magnet had pulled an oxygen tank from across the room and crushed a patient’s skull. The orderly entered the CT booth to announce their arrival. Raven’s thoughts ran a loop of the single word, ‘run.’ The young man returned and said, “I’ve got a STAT call. They’ll be out within five minutes.” With that, he strode off. Her head screamed and vision blurred from the pain when she pulled herself to a sitting position. Putting the bag over her back involved threading it over the useless left arm and shimmying her right side into it. She lost expensive seconds. The staff had called him. He answered. Cole was alive and would come for her. She tried to manipulate the safety railing, but her fingers could not complete the motion. It required two hands, and she had one. Tears obstructed her vision. Panicked and frustrated, she shook the barrier to her freedom. Her lifeless leg would not allow her to hop over the side. The foot or head of the bed provided the only hope. If she backed off of the closest raised end, she would land on her back. She decided to scoot her bottom towards the opening on the far end. Her right hand pulled her forward, but the left side impeded progress by refusing to inchworm. Lifting the leg each time she wiggled cost valuable time. Her brain criticized her, just as it had done before the gun went off. The selfish organ had delegated most of the trauma to her lower limbs then issued judgments about their pace. The door to the CT room remained closed, and her ears strained for the sounds of someone approaching. The open hallway presented dangers of employees to stop her, or worse, Cole. The exposure frightened her, and sobs rose in her throat. She squelched them. Time flattened out, and Raven reached her destination three feet away. She sat for a half a second with her knees dangled over the edge. Someone had left a walker outside the MRI lab. To get to it, she must make her way back to the head of the bed. Exhausted and in pain, she wanted to give up. A sound inside the room indicated people moved closer to the door. Her injury precluded walking without her cane. The rails that had kept her captive provided stability as she moved towards the goal. The trip around the bed took far too long. When she reached the bed corner nearest the MRI lab, Raven was forced to let go of her support. One step. Two. Unassisted and wobbling, she reminded herself that as a child, she had once hopped on one leg. She could do this. Between attempts, she stopped to regain her balance. A fall at this time would ruin everything. Her headache worsened with the action and the stress. Reaching the objective required a total of ten steps. When at last she clasped the walker in her right hand, she shook with relief. Overheard movement on the other side of the door did not allow her to remain and relish her victory. Any second now, someone would come to get her for the scan. Or the patient undergoing an MRI would finish and desire their walker back. She had come too close to give up now. A group stood at the far side end of the hallway. She turned her back to them and made her way around the corner. Following signs, she sought the elevator. A restroom appeared on the right, and though she had no time, she entered it. She heard voices in the hall as she pulled up her pants. “I left her here,” said the orderly’s familiar voice. “You saw the bed.” He sounded defensive. “CT hasn’t seen her,” said an unknown female. “Maybe she’s in the ladies room.” Raven held her breath. The facilities she had chosen were marked employees only. “Let’s check it out before we issue an alert,” said one, and the voices moved away. Raven washed her hands, adjusted her bag and opened the door. Peering out, she saw no one she recognized. The elevator lie twenty yards ahead. Once there, she punched the button and prayed for the car to show up. A ding alerted her, and she wheeled in the walker. Elevator door still open, she heard the orderly’s voice once again. “Any other ideas?” he said. She hit the ‘close doors’ symbol, and they slid shut. ‘L’ for lobby started the descent, and relief washed over her. Almost there. Almost where? She did not have the time or money to get the car out of the impound lot. She chose to leave it. # A valet stand stood in front of the hospital. “Can I get a taxi?” she asked. Raven read pity in the employee’s look. Whether he directed it to her overall wretchedness or the large bruise that now obscured the good side of her face, she did not know. In either case, his glance did not last. “Sure,” he said and pulled out a cell phone. She extended two crumpled one-dollar bills, but he shook his head and said, “You keep it.” A cab pulled up, and the driver opened her door and helped her in. He took the walker around to place it in the trunk. “Main bus station,” she said, and they left. She wondered about how long it would take her husband to catch up. Not long. He had found her in Boston, and he would find her again. Cole’s parents had insisted their son become their version of a man. They taught him to persevere against pain, never to give ground, and to take what he desired. They had given him money instead of love, and he would use that to locate her. Raven did not know which city she was in, much less the route to the terminal. She would have to trust the driver and the meter. Seven minutes after she entered the taxi, they arrived at the destination. The driver unloaded a wheelchair from the back as well as the walker. He had mistaken one used for hospital transport as hers. The man helped her into the chair and hung the walker on the push pegs. She paid him, engaged the one-armed drive on the chair, and pushed her way up the ramp. She located the restroom sign and rolled towards it. Once in the stall, she took inventory of all she owned. Laptop, sunglasses, and a change of clothing were in the bag. She found her phone, two protein bars, and a bottle of water at the bottom. Raven checked the contents of her wallet and discovered her debit card, a never used Visa, and two hundred and fifty-seven dollars. She would not receive another disability check for nine days. The lighted board displayed bus schedules, and she scanned for the next departure. One left for Chicago in thirteen minutes. She hurried to the counter and ordered the sixty-seven dollar ticket. “The bus isn’t equipped with a lift,” said the agent. “An accessible bus has to be requested at least twenty-four hours in advance. The information’s on the website. “It’s okay.” “There are three steps.” The words unsettled her, but she clenched her teeth and nodded understanding. She must get on that bus. If she crawled, so be it. Ticket on her lap, she made her way out the door to bay two. A group of passengers delivered their luggage to the storage compartments on the side of the bus and boarded. She looked for the cutout access but did not find one. The entire curb sat six inches high. “Sir,” she called to the man loading bags. “Can you please help me?” The wheelchair increased her level of patheticness. She needed all the compassion she could garner at the moment. Her intuition screamed that she ran out of time. Raven received a blank look in response and became unsure if the man spoke English. Maybe he lacked fluency in brain injury dialect. She indicated her chair and walker with a wave of her arm. The employee looked around to see if anyone else could exempt him from assisting, then came forward. She set the brakes and used her right hand to push off from the chair. In her hurry, she forgot the ticket on her lap. It fluttered down, and the wind caught it and carried it away. “Please,” she said. “The ticket!” Her voice became a dolphin’s shriek, unintelligible even to her. She sat back in the chair to keep from falling. The uniformed baggage man chased after her receipt, but it flew under a bus two lanes over. “All aboard for Chicago and points in between,” came the final call from the driver. “Wait,” she said. “He’s gone after my ticket.” Missing this bus was not an option. Cole headed to the hospital. From there, it would not take him long to find her. “Without a ticket, I can’t let you on,” said the driver. He did not appear heartbroken. Before she had regained her ability to stand, buses used to stop and board everyone else. The driver would then inform her the lift was out of order and leave without an apology. “Please,” her voice sounded thick and shaky again. “I bought one. It blew away.” The driver stepped out of the doorway, closed the baggage compartment himself, then said again, “All aboard!” He did not glance at her. “Asshole!” she yelled as the bus backed out. Impotent rage consumed her until fear overshadowed it. In a panic, she fumbled her phone. It fell to the pavement. Seated in the wheelchair, Raven could not reach the ground. She struggled to her feet and hung onto the unstable frame to reclaim the lost item. As she lowered her head, the pain intensified. Upright again, it took a moment for the assault to clear. The attendant handed her dirty and damp ticket back. She burst into tears, and he responded in soothing Spanish. Another driver approached and said, “I’m leaving in five. Want me to exchange that for you?” Raven offered tears of gratitude. Every exit had shut as she reached for it. Maybe hope still existed. “Next bus to Chicago?” he asked after inspecting the ticket. “No,” she said with conviction. “Where are you going?” “Miami. With ten stops.” “How much more?” “Through to Miami? I don’t know. Probably a hundred.” He reappraised her with caution. She thought he must wonder why she would change her destination. The cost would leave her less than a hundred dollars but would take her far from Boston. She must get away. The police would not help. Cole could prove he was her husband, and that she fled the hospital with a head injury. If they did not arrest her, they would return her to his care. A woman with significant disabilities lost her voice. She passed the driver the money. In basic Spanish, he asked the baggage handler to get her settled. The man wheeled her to the door and stood protectively behind as she made her laborious way up the stairs. She found a seat in the rear. The chemical toilet smelled unpleasant, so no other passengers had chosen to sit that far back. She did not wish to embarrass herself every time she needed the facilities, so the position worked for her. The shorter the walking distance, the better. “It’s thirty hours to Miami,” said the driver when he returned and handed her the ticket and ten dollars in change. “I get off in DC.” The words warned her she could not cling to him. The driver did not need to worry. She desired to be left alone.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
The idea for Raven was born from my experience with the girls. Though one was non-verbal and the other used very few words, they knew so much more than they were able to express. I would make a terrible eye-witness to a crime, but they noticed the smallest changes in their surroundings.
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