The Cinderella Myth
The end of July heat was suffocating Brea. She tossed and turned, feeling smothered by the sheets, the room, and her own troubled thoughts. Sliding out of bed she walked across the room to the window, hoping for a stray breeze. Moonlight filled the night sky, twining its luminous beauty into the dark landscape of her grandfather's farm. Looking out across the pasture she watched moonbeams skip across the surface of the pond. The promise of cool water beckoned.
Why not? Grandpa was asleep and the heat was unbearable. She pulled on a pair of shorts then tiptoed through the house without turning on the lights. The screen door in the kitchen squeaked as she pushed it open and stepped out onto the porch. Brea held her breath until the loud snort from Grandpa's room returned to its familiar snoring cadence. She couldn't face another round of his anger.
Brea touched her bruised cheek, remembering the back of Grandpa's hand as he struck out at her. In her whole life he'd never struck her.
His words hurt worst than the slap. "Did you think I wouldn't find out? Did you think nobody would tell me?"
"Tell you what, Grandpa?"
"That fifty dollar tip. Fifty dollars. And from them boys staying in the Rocky Bottom cottage. Nothing good ever came out of that godforsaken cottage. Nothing."
"I don't understand. What was I supposed to do, Grandpa, throw the money in the trash? You know I need the money for college."
"You don't need money from the likes of that family."
"That family? I don't even know who they are, Grandpa."
"And just as well. I've told you time and again that flatlanders are best avoided. And most especially steer clear of that crew, they're nothing but trouble. Always have been, always will be."
"It's pretty hard to avoid them when they practically live in Ruby's diner. And you know I need that money. My scholarship won't cover everything, Grandpa."
"You don't have to remind me, girl, it just galls me that them pricks think they can buy anything they want. Always tossing around money like it ain't worth anything."
Her grandfather suddenly looked old and defeated to Brea. She flung her arms around his sagging shoulders and whispered, "I love you, Grandpa. I wish you wouldn't worry yourself so. I know how to take care of myself."
"I know, girl, I know. I lost your mother to that flatlander's money, I just couldn't bear losing you, too. We're the only family we got."
"You'll never lose me, Grandpa, especially not because some flatlander waved a few dollars under my nose. I'm not my mother. I'm not looking for a Cinderella life."
Grandpa was a proud man and Brea loved him, but she didn't understand his sudden anger about this particular tip. She'd been working summers at Ruby's since the ninth grade and her taking flatlander tips had never bothered him before. Sighing Brea stepped off the porch and headed for the pond.
She slipped out of her clothes and eased her naked body into the pond enjoying the icy jolt as her body heat slammed against the cool water. Brea swam out to the dock anchored in the middle of the pond and pulled herself out of the water.
She thought about the boys. How the three of them smelled of expensive aftershave, wild oats, and freedom. There was a tang of danger that hovered around their virile young bodies that scared her, but she'd managed to avoid their grab-ass fingers and prowling hands, smiling just enough to keep Ruby's cash register happy. She was more than relieved when they finally got tired of their games and left. The extravagance of their tip both pleased and frightened her. The money was nice but in the back of her mind Brea wondered what they might be expecting in return.
Sliding off the dock she swam for shore. Standing on the bank, Brea twisted the water out of her long hair and began toweling herself off with her shirt. Glancing up toward the house she saw a dome light flash as someone opened a car door. Whoever it was, they were looking for trouble. There'd been no headlights as they drove up to house. She hurried into her clothes and using the brush row for cover worked her way towards the barn.
From the cover of the old barn, Brea watched the house, hoping it was just some of the local thieves looking for a few odds and ends that they could turn into money for drugs. They'd grab what they wanted and leave with no one getting hurt. But it wasn't the locals. The car belonged to the lake boys.
Brea watched the three boys as they huddled beside their sleek new convertible. She whispered a prayer, hoping they would lose their courage and leave. Instead, they headed for the house, their flashlights beaming around the porch, then inside the house. A few minutes later the soft glow of Grandpa's night stand lamp lit up the upstairs window.
She held her breath as Grandpa's voice drifted out the window, "Is that you, Brea?"
Grandpa's voice grew louder and was joined by a chorus of shouting younger voices. He would fight, but he was an old man, and there were three of them. Brea needed a weapon. Something to give her an edge when she faced them. She slipped between the hayloft doors and felt her way over to the support beam. Reaching up she felt the wooden handle of Grandpa's hay hook, gripped it tight in her fist, and lifted it from the nail where it hung. It wouldn't be much help if they had guns, but for up close, well, they'd carry home a few battle scars.
Brea ran across the open yard towards the dark shadows surrounding the porch. She heard something heavy hit the floor, more shouts, grunts of pain, then silence. The kitchen light came on as she stepped up on the porch. Peeking in the window she saw Grandpa crumpled on the floor and two of the boys standing over him. One nudged Grandpa with the toe of his hiking boot. A low moan sounded. Grandpa was alive, but he wouldn't be if she didn't do something to help him.
The screen door screeched her presence, but the hay hook backed the intruders away from Grandpa. Brea hurried to his side, there was blood on his face from a gash on his forehead. Kneeling down beside him she breathed a sigh of relief when his eyes fluttered open.
Looking up at the boys, she said, "You boys get the fuck out of here. Get on back to the lake where you belong or I'll call the sheriff."
The boys took a step toward her and Brea stood to face them.
"You really think that old Barney Fife of a sheriff would arrest us?" asked the taller boy.
"If not him, the State Troopers will," said Brea.
The boy laughed. "Only in your dreams, sweetheart. We put too much money in the town coffers. Besides, you invited us here. Remember that fifty dollar tip you pocketed this afternoon? We came for that promised piece of ass. Ain't our fault the old man interrupted our fun."
"I didn't promise you boys anything. I don't party with flatlanders and everyone around here knows that. You'll never get that explanation to fly in court, so you'd best be on your way."
A floorboard behind her creaked a warning and Brea spun around, the hook biting into the arm of the third boy. His scream released the other two and they rushed Brea. She slashed at them, leaving long bloody marks on their bodies until they finally managed to break her grip on the hook.
They tore at her clothes like a pack of feral dogs, forcing her to the floor. She didn't go down easily, with teeth and fingernails she fought them with the savage rage of a trapped bobcat. Still they raped her, each one taking their turn, covering the cold linoleum beneath her with both their blood and hers. Their boots finished the brutal attack on her body, but Brea refused to scream or cry, letting her anger keep her strong against their assault.
When they finally left, Brea crawled over to her grandfather. "Grandpa, are you okay?"
There were tears in his eyes as he looked at her, "Put some clothes on, Brea. I can't bear to look at you. You shame me, girl."
Brea pulled back. "Grandpa, this wasn't my fault."
"I'm ashamed that I couldn't save you, Brea," he said, reaching for her hand. "You're so strong and brave. Stronger than I ever was. Whatever happens after tonight, don't let her buy you off. You're better than that."
"Her? Who are you talking about, Grandpa?"
But her grandfather couldn't hear her. Brea held him in her arms, tears flowing freely now. Not for what they'd done to her, but for the loss of her grandfather to the cruel whims of the flatlanders.
A week after her grandfather's death, Brea went back to work at the diner. The three boys had been arrested for involuntary manslaughter, even though everyone knew it was murder pure and simple. The DA decided not to cloud the issue with a rape charge, which suited Brea just fine. She wanted them to pay for what they'd done to Grandpa. As she worked the tables she caught snatches of gossip and speculation that would suddenly die as she approached a table, but Brea held her head high. She lived through the rape and Grandpa's death. She would survive this.
The breakfast crowd had finally cleared out and Brea was busy cleaning tables and setting up for the noon rush when a tall, elegantly dressed woman walked in. She looked around in distaste, before settling into a booth at the back of the diner.
Brea studied the woman. Something about her face tugged at Brea's memory but she couldn't quite put her finger on it. The woman crooked two fingers at Brea, bidding her over to the table, her cold eyes running over Brea like she was a cow flop that needed to be shoveled onto a dung heap. They were the same violet eyes that Brea saw in the mirror every morning, and all the pieces began to fall into place.
The woman was older and the joy that lived on her face in the old photo albums was long gone, but Brea would have known her anywhere. Shyly she approached the table. Had her mother come home to help her through this mess? Would she be ashamed that she'd abandoned her daughter? Would she beg for forgiveness? Brea had dreamed of this moment all her life, dreamed of a mother who would love her.
"Please sit down, young lady, I'd like to have a word with you. You are Brea Canfield, aren't you?"
Brea stared at the hard face, then slid onto the bench across from her. Didn't she recognize her own daughter, or even her name? Couldn't she see her own eyes staring back at her?
"You're the girl who's set to testify against those three young men, aren't you?"
Brea nodded. "If you mean the ones who raped me and killed my grandfather, then yes, I'm the girl."
"Good. Since the DA can't be talked into dropping the charges, I'd like you to refuse to testify against them. Or simply say that you were mistaken and can't identify them."
Hands clutched tightly together in her lap, Brea asked, "And why would you want me to do that?"
"Because I can make it worth your while. I've been told that you need money for college and I'm in a position to pay the full ride for you," she said, pulling a check book and pen from her purse. "That's if you see that the charges get dropped."
"And who are these boys to you?" Brea asked.
"My son and his friends. They all have bright futures ahead of them and I won't see them ruined by the simple-minded accusations of trash like you. Now, how much do you think your virtue is worth?" A smirk crossed her face as the pen began scratching in her checkbook.
Grandpa's final words whispered their way back to Brea. "Don't let her buy you off."
He'd known she would chance coming back to save her son.
Brea smiled. "There's no amount of money in the world can buy back what's been done, lady. The minute you stepped inside this diner with that checkbook your fairytale world started to crumble around you, right down to your expensive glass slippers."
Copyright © 2013 by Sandra Seamans