The moment where I finally explained myself to him. I couldn’t tell him everything, but he deserved as much of an explanation as I could give.
“You’re probably wondering how I ended up in this place in my life.”
“Not really…unless you count every single moment of every day since I got back from Wichita.”
“Where do I even start?”
“How about start with why the fuck you left me in the first place. That would be good.”
My mouth was dry. How could I possibly explain?
“Can I have some more water?”
He handed me the bottle.
I drank until it was so empty that the plastic bent. I finally spoke, “I don’t know how to explain my actions to you, except to say that I couldn’t be around Elle anymore. The guilt was too much to bear.”
“Clearly not having to feel guilt meant more to you than anything. Did running away help you find your inner peace?”
“You found your inner slut instead?”
He rubbed his eyes. “Fuck. I’m sorry. That was uncalled for. I’m finding that I just don’t know how to curb my anger around you.”
Taking a deep breath in, I said, “I was in a very bad place that first year that I ran away. I was living with an old woman who took me in and let me stay in one of her spare bedrooms. But things changed, and I had to leave.”
“She died, and I had to find a new place to live. Her family let me live there until they sold the house.”
“When did you meet him?”
“I was actually staying in a few different places, with some friends I met while waitressing, but I was virtually homeless. What I made wasn’t enough to pay for an apartment. Anyway, Dean was a regular at the restaurant. That’s how I met him. He was really nice in the beginning. We got to talking, and over time, he eventually helped me get on my feet.”
“So you married the guy?”
I realized that my story seemed off. I was omitting the biggest part, and without it, nothing made sense.
“He took me in. I was screwed up mentally. I didn’t really want anything but to just survive day to day. Back then, Dean was a different person. But over time, one of the conditions of his continuing to support me financially was to marry him. I didn’t really feel like I had anything to lose. It had already felt like my life was over. At the time, I had no plans to ever come back here.”
Sevin squinted his eyes, trying to make sense of everything. “How did Olga know where you were? She was obviously in contact with you if she told you about Elle.”
“I called her at one point. I needed someone to know I was alive. I wouldn’t tell her where I was, but she had a cell phone number.”
“Why didn’t she tell any of us?”
“I begged her not to.”
“Did you know about me and Elle? That we’d gotten married?”
“Yes. That was really hard to take, but I understood.”
“You said back when you first met this guy, you felt safe with him. What about now?”
“A lot’s changed. I need to leave him, but I’m scared.”
“Why?” The vein in his neck looked like it was going to pop out. “Does he hurt you?”
He verbally abuses me and hits me sometimes.
I used to think I deserved it.
I can’t tell you why. I’m afraid you’ll go after him, and then he’ll tell you everything.
You’ll never want anything to do with me again.
You can’t ever meet him.
“He doesn’t hurt me…exactly,” I lied. “He’s just not right for me anymore. It’s hard to make changes in your life when you’ve become accustomed to a certain way of living.”
“What are you talking about? You’re living in squalor!”
“Dean put a roof over my head, and he got me the job at The Pink Lady. His friend owns it. Stripping is the last thing you probably expected me to be doing, but it turned out to be the best way for me to make a living without a degree. I’m not sure how I would survive without being able to put some of that money away. If I left him now, I’d lose the job. So, I’m trying to save enough to stand on my own. That’s the only reason I do it, Sevin.”
“The ten-thousand dollars isn’t enough for a start?”
“I asked them to credit back your card, told them to keep their fee and credit the rest.”
“What? Why would you do that?”
“Because I can’t take money from you, Sevin.”
“I would rather you have taken the money and gotten away from that guy.”
“It’s not that simple.”
“I don’t want you to be miserable, Evangeline. You think I hate you, but I don’t. I’m angry that you left, angry at life. I’m not sure that’s ever going to change. I would never wish the kind of life you’re living on you. If you’re staying in a bad situation because you think you deserve it, you’re wrong. Come home. Your parents will take you in.”
Dean will come after me, and he’ll tell everyone.
I need to make him leave me first somehow.
I haven’t figured it out yet.
“That’s not an option right now.”
Desperate to change the subject off of me, I asked the question that had been nagging me. “How did you meet Nancy?”