I awoke with a start as the front door banged open. A few crashes resounded around the small run down house, and a deep voice shouted my name. I knew what was coming yet my heart still contracted in fear as I curled up into a foetal position trying feebly to protect myself. I shut my eyes, though it was pointless as the darkness hid whatever there was to see anyway. I slowly counted down in my head, desperately trying to drown out the heavy footsteps on the wood floor. A bang announced his arrival. I whimpered pushing myself further into the corner of the walls.

"Celeste!" He roared. Stomping over to me, he yanked my blanket off me, leaving my body, clad only in a large flimsy shirt and underwear, exposed. I was visibly shaking now, my eyes large with fear. He leered at me before grabbing the front of my shirt and pulling me towards him.

"How many times have I told you to answer me when I call you!" He shouted in my face. His breath reeked of alcohol and I winced inwardly. At my lack of response, he pulled his hand back and slapped me across the face.

"Answer me, you stupid bitch!"

I whimpered, hating the feeling of helplessness that had overcome me. Still, I didn't talk. I couldn't talk. It was as if my tongue was numb and refused to obey what my mind was screaming out for it to do. He slapped me again, harder this time, eliciting a strangled cry from my throat. My face felt like it was on fire. He grinned wolfishly, his once handsome features twisting into a mangled expression.

"Good girl." He stroked my cheek, eyes hardening when I pulled away and stared at him defiantly. He shoved me down onto my bed and straddled me, pinning me down. My shirt was ripped off, leaving me exposed. It wasn't until he started to grope me that I realised what was happening. He was going to rape me. He'd never even tried that before. My heart thudded against my chest and my breath contracted in fear. When he started to unhook my bra, I cracked. I started to struggle in earnest, screaming for help. He slammed a hand over my mouth, muffling my cries. But I didn't stop; I couldn't stop. I twisted, kicked, punched, bit and scratched. Vaguely, through my thrashing about, I remembered the baseball bat that I had always kept next to my bed. I distracted him by yanking his hair hard. My other hand found the smooth wood of the bat and wrapped around the handle. I brought it up and swung hard, aiming for his skull. There was a dull clunk, then his body slumped over.

I was stunned for a moment; frozen in shock that I'd actually managed to knock him out. Suppressing a whimper, I leapt out from under him and pulled on some clothes. I knew what I had to do. I threw all my possessions, which was a pathetic amount, into a duffle bag. Finally, I wrapped up the photo frame holding a picture of me as a baby, with my mum holding me and my real dad's arm wrapped around the both of us. I gazed at it sadly before putting it into the bag.

Looking one last time at my stepfather, lying unconscious on my bed, I felt as if the tight band that had been wrapped around me for what felt like forever was finally cut free. I ran out of the home that I had stayed in for close to ten years. With that, I left behind my memories of my dead parents and abusive stepfather. I was finally free.

0o0o0o0o0

It was well past midnight. The public transport would have terminated already, so any hope of finding a women's shelter was out. I wandered around the park trying to find some shelter. Declaring my search hopeless, I collapsed onto a hard park bench. I buried my head into my hands.

My idle position elicited an overflow of memories. From the death of my dad when I was just five years old, to the marriage of mum and John, my stepfather, three years later, then the death of mum. I remembered the horror I'd felt at knowing I had just lost my last blood relative; the grief that took years to finally overcome. I had never liked John, and he didn't like me either. At fourteen, when my mother died, I was much too young to leave home and not qualified for a foster home. After all, I did have a loving guardian and a wonderful home. Or so they thought. John treated me okay for the first few years. But when I turned sixteen, I started to become his human punching bag. I couldn't comprehend what was happening, or maybe I didn't want to. More and more often, he'd come home drunk. I told myself he would get over it. Just deal with it for two more years. Finish school. I kept this mantra going everyday. Graduation was a month ago. Still I did nothing, hoping and wishing that he would magically change. Until today that is.

Tears fell from my bloodshot eyes, despite my vain attempt to stop them. I swiped them away roughly but they kept flowing. All my inner resolve broke down and I started to cry. The impact and stress of all those years crashed down on me like a boulder and I sobbed. Hugging my bag and rocking, I slowly drifted to sleep.

0o0o0o0o0

Thump. I jerked up to see a football lying next to the bench. I looked blearily around me. A beautiful park surrounded me, families sat under trees having picnics. Children ran around screaming with laughter. A guy, around my age, eighteenish, approached me, looking sheepish.

"Hi. Sorry about that." He said, gesturing to the football.

I smiled tightly, "No worries."

"What's a pretty young thing like you doing sleeping here?" He asked, sending me a shifty smile.

"I don't see how that's any of your business." I replied coolly.

He sat down next to me and wrapped an arm around me, "Hey now. No need to get defensive."

I peeled his arm off me and moved away from him, "Just take your ball and leave."

His eyes widened at my tone and he held his arms up in surrender as he backed away. I buried my face in my hands and sighed wearily. My eyes felt swollen and dry, my cheeks felt bruised and my hair was a complete and utter mess. Looking around me again, I realised that I couldn't stay here any longer. Pulling my aching body up, I started to walk in the general direction of the bus stop.

"Celeste? Celeste!"

I spun round looking for the source of the voice. My eyes snagged on a cheerful lady waving her arms at me. Lisa... She was my mom's good friend. I had kept in contact with her for the first few years after my mom's death, but we had drifted apart. I gave her a small smile. She approached me.

"Celeste, my dear, I haven't seen or heard from you for a long time!" Her bright smile faded as she saw the state I was in, though, "My gosh, what happened?"

I shook my head and only had to utter one word, "John."

Understanding dawned in her bright hazel eyes. She had never like him either, "Celeste! How long has this been happening?"

"Too long."

She caught sight of my battered duffle bag, and immediately connected the dots. She frowned, "A girl like you shouldn't be on the streets. It's dangerous."

"I know. But it was too late last night to do anything else." I replied.

Lisa shook her head sadly and silently pulled me into a warm embrace, something that I had forgotten the feel of. She pulled away and held me at arm's length, "You are coming home with me." I tried to protest but she cut me off, "Let's go clean you up and then you can come have lunch with us. You haven't met my family before have you?" Lisa asked as we walked towards the public bathroom. She helped me brush my hair while I washed my face clean from the tear stains. She chatted with me as we approached the laughing family sitting on a picnic mat.

She introduced me to her husband, Liam, who was still handsome despite his aging, her daughter, Chantelle who was extra bubbly, and a few years younger than me, and finally, her son, who was simply gorgeous, too bad he was only five. I was infinitely thankful that none of them commented on my appearance, which I imagine must have been very haggard despite the brief washing up.

The family chatted amiably throughout lunch, trying at every opportunity to include me in the conversation. Chantelle was incredibly talkative. She chattered on about anything and everything. I found out that she was a cheerleader, she had a boyfriend, a 'sweet' guy from the swim team, and that she had excellent grades, despite the stereotype. Apparently, the Jone's, that was the family's name, had another son, Brayden. He was my age, and was graduating the following week from his boarding school. I was too shy to ask why he was in a boarding school in the first place.

Lunch passed too quickly for my liking. I was just starting to remember what real families were like. The family started to pack up, I helped of course, and when they were done I stood awkwardly to the side, playing with the straps of my bag.

Lisa spotted me and beckoned me over, "It's okay honey. We'll look after you. You'll be okay."

I smiled at her kindness, but felt a tug at my heart, knowing that I couldn't intrude on their perfect lives, let alone take advantage of their hospitality. "Thank you so much for your offer, Lisa, but I can't stay with you."

Lisa looked puzzled, "Why not?"

"I can't impose on you like that. I need to stand on my own two feet. I need to get a job and be independent."

"Oh, honey, you aren't imposing on us in the least! We'd love to have you and besides, you can be independent while staying with us. We aren't going to hinder you from doing anything, and if it's a job you're looking for, well..." She smiled secretly here, "we could give you a job too."

Now I was puzzled. Did they have some sort of connections or something?

"We've been thinking of getting an au pair. We need someone to help out around the house and look after Joey while we're at work. This way you can stay with us and earn money."

I was taken aback by her enthusiasm and willingness to help me out. It warmed my heart, but I still wasn't sure. I didn't know if she was making up the need of an au pair just to help me out.

Lisa sensed my hesitance and said, "Look, why don't you give it a month, see how it goes."

I pondered on their offer. This would take a huge load off my shoulders. Finally, I smiled, "Alright. Thank you so much. I really can't say how grateful I am."

0o0o0o0o0