Note: This is for a contest I'm entering. I haven't submitted it yet, mostly because I'm trying to figure out which one I like better.

Keeping Hope

He found that using her as a punching bag was the best way to relieve stress. She knew that she had to leave, but she couldn't find a good enough reason. The beatings weren't enough to make her pack up and go. He loved her, he claimed. She loved him too. She just didn't love the punches. She didn't love the bruises and the bleeding; the broken bones and the tears. She didn't love having to worry if he'd come home in a bad mood.

"Miss Lana?" A female voice called. "Are you there?"

Lana jumped, looking for the source of the voice. The house keeper, Tiana, came into the room, soapy rag and bucket in hand.

"What do you need?" Lana asked.

"I had heard you come in earlier, Miss." Tiana began. "I'd called for you to see if you wanted me to make you something to eat, but you never answered me."

Lana tried to remember. She remembered going through the front door, wondering if he was already home. She hadn't seen his car in the driveway, but that didn't mean anything. She remembered going up the stairs, her heart racing in fear. Nothing else, though.

"I must have not heard you, Tiana. I'm sorry." Lana replied softly.

"It's okay, Miss Lana. Would you like something to eat?" Tiana asked. Lana shook her head.

"No. I'm fine." Lana replied. What she really wanted to do was relax in a hot, soapy bath. Her body ached from when he turned on her last night, beating her until she was slumped in the corner, curled up in a fetal position. The whole time, Lana had wanted Tiana to come into the room. She wanted the house keeper to see the violence and call the police. But, Tiana lived in the carriage house out back. She wouldn't come into the main house off duty unless he or Lana paged her.

"Miss Lana? Did you hear me?" Tiana asked. Lana looked up.

"No. I'm sorry. What did you say?" Lana asked, looking apologetic.

"I asked if you would like me to draw you a bath. You look very much stressed out and upset." Tiana replied warmly.

Lana nodded, wrapping her arms around her tired body. The fact that the house keeper seemed to read her thoughts gave Lana a comfort she hadn't felt for many months. "A bath sounds lovely, Tiana."

He never used to be this way. So violent. So angry all the time. Lana missed the man she fell in love with. He'd show up every so often, but only after he left Lana beaten, too broken to even move. It was those moments, when he cared and loved for her, that kept Lana there. That, and she had nowhere to go. He was the only one who loved her enough to take her in and put a roof over her head. The fact that he beat her? Just something she'd have to live with.

The door slammed downstairs. Lana jumped. The bath, while it'd made the aches temporarily go away, had done nothing in the long run. Lana hurried out of the bedroom and down the stairs, her heart racing.

"Where were you?" He asked, spotting her as she entered the room.

"Upstairs. In the bedroom." Lana replied meekly.

"What were you doing up there?" He asked, advancing towards her.

"Just sitting on the bed. Thinking." Lana whispered, quivering

He didn't say anything. Lana hated his silence more than anything. It meant that he could strike her at any moment, and she wouldn't be able to predict when. At least when he spoke, she knew when the hand was coming.

"Sit. Eat dinner with me." He commanded, taking a seat at the dining room table. Tiana had made dinner and placed it on the table, leaving the house before he'd come in. Lana nodded and took a seat opposite of him. He looked up from his plate of hot food and glared at her. "Bring your plate next to me."

Lana nodded and stood up, picking up her plate. She walked over to him and sat down, placing her plate on the table. He began to eat, watching her. She took small bites of her food, being very careful not to upset him. Her heart, she feared, would explode if it did not stop pounding against her fragile chest. The thought of her having a heart attack from fear only seemed to make her heart beat faster. She swallowed hard, hoping that he couldn't hear her heart pound; showing emotion always set him off on a violent rage. If she could manage to prevent being beaten just for one night, maybe things would change for the good. All she could do was hope.

From the beginning, everyone told her that he was bad news. That he'd destroy her before she even realized what he was doing. She'd laugh it off, telling them that they were all delusional. Until that first night. His fist had connected so neatly with her jaw. Blood had blossomed in her mouth so quickly. It was then she'd almost considered leaving. Until he took her into his arms, sobbing right along with her. A ploy, perhaps? To this day, she still didn't know.

Lana found herself outside her mother's door. Her body was covered in fresh bruises and blood. Her blood. She was shaking uncontrollably. He'd pulled a gun on her, threatening to kill her.

Her mother answered the door, dressed for bed. She looked surprised to see Lana.

"What do you want?" Her mother asked. Lana tried to keep her composure.

"Can…can I stay here for the night?" Lana asked. Her mother shook her head.

"No." Her mother began to close the door.

"Mom. Please. I can't…I can't stay there." Lana begged. Her mother paused, looking at Lana. In the pale moonlight, some of the bruises began to show up on Lana's arms and face. Dried blood covered her mouth.

"It's your own fault, you know. We warned you. You didn't listen. You should have left him the first time he hit you." Her mother said briskly, hand still on the door.

"I know." Lana replied, tears falling down her cheeks. "I should have. But, I didn't. I…I thought he'd change."

"Like I said. It's your own damn fault." Her mother replied. She let out a sigh. "Come in before the neighbors see you. I have a reputation, you know. I don't want you to come and ruin it, looking like you do. They'll ask questions that I'll have to answer."

Lana nodded and slipped into the house. Her mother closed the door and turned to the young woman, her arms folded over her chest.

"What made your stupid self finally wake up and realize that you should get out of there?"

"When he threatened to kill me." Lana replied.

"Oh. That's real good. Took death to make you finally wake up." Her mother sneered. She paused and looked at the clock. "I'm going to bed. You can stay here tonight, but only tonight. The couch is yours. I expect you to find somewhere else to go tomorrow."

Lana nodded, taking a breath. "Thank you, mom. I really do appreciate it."

Her mother didn't respond as she headed towards the stairs. As soon as she was out of eyesight, Lana's mother smiled. Her baby would finally be okay.

He had told her that he loved her every day. That the beatings were for her own good. She tried to believe him. Perhaps believing him would make it all easier. It never did. The beatings just got worse, and he stopped saying that he loved her. Maybe he never really did care for her to begin with. She was the easy target he was looking for, already broken. Maybe he knew that it wouldn't take much to make her break even more, in body and in spirit.

The phone rang in Lana's ear. She wanted to sleep, but she couldn't. She had to make this one phone call. She had to set things right.

"Hello. Chicago police department. State your problem." A male voice said, sounding tired.

"I'd like to report…uhm. My fiancé is beating me. He's been beating me for over a year now. It's been getting worse. He pulled a gun on me tonight." Lana said, everything rushing out at once.

The police officer sighed. "I'm sorry to hear that, ma'am." He paused. "If you don't mind, I'm going to need to have you come down to the station so we can fill out the paperwork and get pictures of the wounds."

Lana nodded. A weight was lifted off her chest. She could rest now, knowing that everything was going to slowly start getting better. It was as if she'd been granted a new beginning. "That's fine. I…I just don't want him to hurt me again."

"With us on your side, he won't. I can promise you that."