By J Thomas Fussell
Chapter 6: An Eastman Reunion
Julia Hunter sat on her sofa across from her best friend – a friend since high school no less, – Amy Eastman. Amy had shown up three days before with her daughter Larissa. Amy’s asshole of a husband had apparently worked her over (again), and thankfully, Amy had decided enough was enough (again). As far as Julia was concerned, it was about fucking time (again). She had tried to get Amy to leave Tom since the day the two of them returned from their honeymoon. Then, Tom had seen her speaking to a man lounging next to her and had decided to teach her a lesson about propriety. A lesson that apparently needed repeating as often as necessary. As soon as Amy had arrived, Julia had called a friend to get her shift covered at the hospital and taken the last three days off to try and help make this a more permanent kind of separation.
Amy’s face was still a mask of bruises and her throat had the unmistakable imprint of Tom’s hands. Fortunately, the unscathed ten-year old Larissa bore no wounds other than the trauma of the event itself. As for Amy, the bruises should start to fade soon, and at least now she could talk above a whisper. Even so, in Julia’s professional medical opinion, Amy was at least a dozen cards short of a full deck. Julia didn’t think Amy had eaten more than a handful of nuts since she arrived. The woman was wasting. Her pale skin looked almost translucent and Julia wondered when the last time her friend had seen the sun. Amy would make herself sick if she didn’t change her behavior. She hadn’t needed to lose the last ten pounds. She needed therapy.
If Amy isn’t careful, Julia thought, she’ll end up as skinny as me, and I have a thyroid condition.
For the first couple of days, Julia was convinced her friend was finally seeing the light; but here they were, three days later, back to the same old arguments.
“Come on, Amy,” Julia was trying to stay calm. She didn’t want to wake Larissa. “Look at what he did to you. Why in God’s name would you go home?”
“I have to go back,” Amy croaked. “I left some things, and I mean, I have to check on him. Right?”
“Hell no!” Julia exclaimed, exasperated. “Fuck that guy! He’s scum.”
“I know!” Amy said sharply, and then calmer, “I know.” A tear slid slowly down her cheek. God, she didn’t want to cry again. “Cried out,” her mother called it. “That’s when you know you have grieved or worried enough.”
The two friends were silent for a moment.
Amy sighed and then said with conviction, “I have to go back,” again. “I didn’t take anything when I left. I need my pills. Larissa needs more clothes and her school stuff. Besides, Tom is always sweet after a fight. He’ll be good.”
“Jesus, woman, look at yourself.”
Amy started to respond, but Julia just held up her hands and shook her head. The pained and sorrowful look in Julia’s eyes said more than the words that followed.
“Amy, I love you, but you’re not thinking rationally. He is not a good man, and he will eventually kill you. At least, let me come with you.”
Amy shook her head. “I can’t put you at risk.”
“Put me at risk? Me? Christ, Amy. How can you say that and ‘He’ll be good’ in the same conversation?”
“Look, I don’t need him to know where I run when I have to get away. This is my refuge. Where will I go if he knows where I hide when he’s lost his temper?”
“Lost his temper!” Julia stood up and looked up towards the ceiling as if asking God for insight on how to speak to her obviously insane friend. She had been down this road before though, and she knew Amy had to do what she had to do. “I love you, but I’m not going to stand in your way. You’re a grown ass woman even when you don’t act like one. God, lady, how do you think this is affecting your daughter? Is this the kind of man you want as a role-model for Larissa? Think about it, for God’s sake. Think about your daughter and what she’s been through. You need help.” All of the same arguments spilled from her mouth. She expected none of them to make a difference; they never did.
After a moment of awkward silence passed, Amy said, “How about this? What if I leave Larissa here? I’ll obviously not be staying if my daughter is with you. Right?”
This was new. Julia leaped at the idea. “Perfect. Can I make a small addition? Why don’t you call the cops and have them meet you at your house? That way there’ll be no danger to you or anyone else.”
“Okay,” Amy said, and then took a deep breath letting it out in long slow sigh. She didn’t know if this was the moment in which she decided to get a divorce, or if this was just a longer reprieve where Tom might be able to get the help he needed. “Okay,” she said again. “Let’s do this thing while I still have the nerve.”
Amy stood up next to her friend and embraced her tightly. “I couldn’t do this without you, lady. You know that, right?”
Julia hugged her friend back just as fiercely. “Anytime, hon. Anytime.”
Tom Eastman sat in his car a block from Julia Hunter’s house, just around the corner of Penhook Street. He wanted to go up to the door right now and bang the damn thing so hard the shutters shook. Oh yes, he was ready to teach a lesson to that wayward wife of his, and maybe his pretty daughter too. That little shit took after her mom, which might be considered a good thing by some, but as far as Tom Eastman was concerned, she took after Amy a little too much. She would have to get in line though. First, he would deal with Amy, and then he would consider what to do with Larissa.
He watched and mulled over his game plan. First, he had to make sure this was where they were. If not, he was back to square one and would have to go home empty handed. Maybe that little tart who lived in the house through the woods would need his attention. After all, it was her fault he was here at all. Besides, that vixen might need a man around to keep things up, and he was just the man for the job. Oh yes, he was the man alright.
His stomach growled, and Tom realized he had not eaten yet, but that would have to wait too. He studied the small brick house. Julia did alright for herself. The neighborhood might not be as exclusive as Silent Glade, but he guessed her house would go for almost four-hundred-thousand.
“$575,980 to be precise,” whispered a seductive voice in his ear. “She took it in her divorce. A nurse’s salary would not cover such extravagance. She doesn’t deserve it.”
He looked around. Where had the voice come from? It sounded like the hot chick in the house in the woods. What was her name? Mary Sue, he thought. Not that it really mattered, she was as right as she was beautiful. Julia didn’t deserve that house, the uppity little bitch.
Suddenly, Amy stepped out of Julia’s house. She was alone. Where was Larissa? Did Amy take Larissa somewhere else? That would not do. No sir. He reached for the door to get out and confront his wife.
“Wait,” said Mary Sue. “Watch first.”
“Yes.” Tom’s hand moved away from the door. “I’ll watch first.”
Amy looked around. If she saw him it would all be over. Maybe he should have gotten a rental. The door opened behind her and Julia stepped out. The two women hugged and exchanged a few words. Tom wondered briefly if the two were having an affair. Could his wife be a muff-diver? No, he couldn’t believe that. Not after she had had him. Why would a woman want another woman when she could have Tom Eastman? On the other hand, women were fickle creatures.
He watched more intently. The two women stood in stark contrast to each other. The svelte Julia looked positively tiny next to his more voluptuous wife. Amy had gained way too much weight in the last few years. Now that he saw her next to Julia, he would have to have a talk with her. No way was his wife going to be the chunky one at the company picnic.
The two looked deeply into the other’s eyes. Julia pushed a strand of hair away from Amy’s face and nodded. They separated, Amy moved to the street, and Julia closed the door.
Damn, she was getting away. Tom reached for the door again.
“No, not yet. Let her go,” Mary Sue said, “Get her friend first. Find your daughter. If you have Larissa, Amy will come to you.”
“Not yet,” Tom repeated, “Julia first.”
“That’s a good boy,” Mary Sue whispered.
“I’m a good boy,” Tom whispered under his breath.
Amy drove away in her beat-up Chevy. Tom had no idea where she was going, but he knew where he was going. Oh yes, Tom Eastman had a plan.
Julia sighed. She walked to the back of her house and peaked in on Larissa in the back bedroom. The girl slept peacefully. Her dark brown hair a halo around her head on the pillow. Thank goodness we didn’t wake her, she thought. Larissa needed her sleep and would not have wanted her mother to go. The girl was no idiot, and Julia wished Amy would take a page from Larissa’s on this.
Julia went to her kitchen and started another pot of coffee. She glanced out the window into her backyard. The neighbor’s dog and wandered in as she had no fence and was busy sniffing a bush. It looked up in alarm and then scampered away. Julia smiled. Dogs were amazing. How had it known she was watching?
Her doorbell rang. She stepped to the front door and peered through the peephole. There was nobody there. She swung open the door and looked around. With a huff, she closed the door and walked back to the kitchen where her pot of coffee was gurgling away. The doorbell rang again.
“Damn it,” she said aloud, hoping the alarm would not wake up Larissa.
She peered out again. Nothing. She pulled open the door and leaned out.
“Okay, Ha-Ha,” she said to the empty porch. “I know you are out here, somewhere. It was funny the first time, now go away before I call the cops, or worse, your parents.”
She closed the door again. Satisfied that whichever neighborhood kids were pranking her would get the message and leave her alone. She took two steps back towards the kitchen when the doorbell rang yet again.
“God damn it,” she cursed and rushed back to the door, slinging it open, and prepared to deliver a string of expletives so extreme that any kid would run screaming back to their mommy.
When she threw open the door this time, she had a brief moment of clarity where she recognized her error. Tom Eastman stood on her threshold, arm cocked, and punched her right between the eyes. Stars exploded in her head. She stumbled back into her living room and fell to a sitting position on the floor, then looked up just in time to see his foot flying towards her head and flung herself to the left. His foot caught her in the right clavicle instead of her head. She felt and heard the bone snap. Pain flashed through her body, and she grunted in pain. It was all the time Tom needed. This time he didn’t miss and his foot connected with the side of her head, and for a while, Julia Hunter knew nothing else.
Larissa awoke to the sounds of violence. For a moment, she didn’t know where she was. She thought she was back home, listening once again to her father beat her mother. It was a sound she wished she couldn’t place so readily. She jumped out of bed and quickly put on her pants. She had slept in a t-shirt and panties since she was very small. She leaned against the door and listened. Only silence returned to her. She slipped back to the bed and slid underneath. She had no idea what was going on, but she was taking no chances. If there was one thing her father had taught her, a ten-year-old had no recourse against an adult on a rampage.
Suddenly, the door to the bedroom was thrown open violently. She could make out a man’s tennis-shoes standing at the door. Then she heard her father’s voice.
“The little bitch was here,” he said, “but where did she go. I didn’t see her leave with Amy.”
There was a brief pause and then he said, “Shit, woman. How the hell am I supposed to know where she went?” Another pause and then softer, “Yes, Julia might know where she went.”
Her father moved away from the door back down the hall. Where had her mother gone? Was Dad talking to himself now? Fear coursed through her and set her scalp to tingle. She looked to the window. Could she open it without her father hearing? She heard him in another room.
“Julia,” he said in a sing-song voice. “Wakey, wakey.”
“Come on bitch,” he said.
“I haven’t got time for bullshit”
Tears rolled down Larissa’s face as she slipped from under the bed and moved to the window. What was wrong with her father? Had he gone completely insane? Where was Mom? She unlocked the window, and felt another wave of horror wash over her as she tried to push it up and it wouldn’t budge. The window had been painted shut. She wrung her hands. God, she was tired of being afraid. Tired of running whenever her crazy Dad decided to come out and play.
Larissa opened the closet. Could she hide there? But there, leaning against the wall was an aluminum softball bat. She took it and felt its weight in her hand. Something changed in her then. At her age, she wouldn’t be able to place the change or even understand it entirely, but that timid little girl chose a different path this time and the bat felt good in her hand. She quietly closed the door.
The fourth smack split Julia’s lip and forced her to involuntarily inhale. The violent coughing spasms woke her from her stupor and she moaned. Where was she? What was going on?
“Ah, there she is. Good morning, Sunshine,” Tom Eastman said as he gripped her jaw roughly and lifted her face up to his. “You and I are going to have a little discussion, oh yes. In this discussion, you are going to tell me where my daughter is and where my bitch was going. If you play nice, I might not kill you later.” He cocked his head to one side and smiled. In a soft voice he said, “Yes, I think she knows her place. Don’t you worry, pretty one, this one is going nowhere.”
Julia tried to focus. Tom had totally lost it. She couldn’t make sense of his words. Was he even talking to her? Her mind was so fuzzy. She needed to pee. Where was Larissa? She began to nod off again and Tom squeezed her chin. The pain sharpened her and reason flooded back.
“About lost you there, bitch. Would be a shame if I had to slap you awake again. I didn’t enjoy that at all.”
Tom saw Julia’s eyes grow wide with fear, and he knew he had her. She would tell him whatever he wanted to know. Tom was wrong though; Julia’s eyes were not growing in fear for herself. Behind Tom, she saw Larissa tiptoe out of the hall carrying her old aluminum softball bat from her league days.
“Tom, you are a stupid piece of shit,” Julia said and then spat a wad of blood in his face.
“NO,” Tom heard Mary Sue yell. “That’s not fear.”
Tom shook his head in confusion. He heard the carpet shuffle behind him and he turned just in time to take a bat to the right side of his face. His jaw cracked and Tom spun away from the impact. Julia stuck her leg out and Tom fell forward. As he fell, he turned to see who had hit him, and to his shock, he saw his daughter lunging at him with the bat again. He tried to fend off Larissa’s swing and turned in the split second before impacting the edge of an end-table with his head. The last thing he heard as he passed into darkness was Larissa crying.
Julia climbed weakly to her feet. Larissa dropped the bat and burst into tears. She ran to Julia and clung to her. Julia hugged her back even though every move sent waves of pain through her back and neck. She looked down at her attacker and tried to kick him. A wave of nausea spread through her and she vomited on his low back instead.
Larissa burst into a strange laughing cry. The girl was in shock and Julia was in no shape to help her. Poor kid was going to need therapy the rest of her life after a nightmare like this.
“Let’s get out of here. Can you help me?” Julia took a step towards Larissa. “I need your help.”
Larissa shivered and seemed to get hold of herself. “Yes, yes. Let’s go before he wakes.” She couldn’t seem to take her eyes off her father. She shook herself away from the violence and grabbed Julia. It was enough and the two of the them stepped out of the house and into the light of day.
Tom awoke with an agony in his face. He had never felt anything like it. A grinding sharp sensation every time he moved his jaw. And the smell? God the smell. He retched and sat up. What happened? Had his daughter really walloped him across the face with a bat? In a weird way, he was kind of proud. Hell, he had done something right. Oh, this would not pass. No, sir. Tom Eastman was not the kind of man to be hit with a bat and not do something about it. No, he was not that kind of man at all. He had to regroup though. This had not gone as planned. He should not have listened to that little bitch, Mary Sue. Now he had the cops to deal with too. Did he hear them coming in the distance? That was not a good thing. No sir, not a good thing at all. Tom Eastman stood up and strode from the house. He had things to do. Man, did his face hurt though. He smiled. She had walloped him a good one.
To be continued…