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There was blood all over my hands and I knew I was losing control, because I was more desperate to find a drink, than a napkin to clean off the mess.  A few really strong drinks to block out everything that happened.  I needed something strong to jumpstart my terrified ass into breathing normally again.  My fingers slid across my blood soaked steering wheel, while my body ached and pounded.  Shaking with harsh violent tremors, I tried to catch my breath and focus on driving as fast as I could. 
Icy chills from the cold night wracked through my shoulders, even though I had the heater turned up high and the windows closed.  Maybe the bitter coldness was coming from somewhere deep inside me.  The thought sent a quake of chills surging across my throbbing collarbone.
“Can you still drive?  Lemme drive.  Samantha, pull over and let me take the wheel!”  Jennifer yelled in the passenger seat beside me.  I turned my head to look at her.  Oh hell.  Oh, no…she had blood all over her too. 
Her long, pale blonde hair was pulled back in a messy bun and a few wild loose strands stuck to the sweat soaked skin of her neck.  Twisting in her seatbelt, she gripped one hand on the dashboard, leaving a smudge of dark fingerprints just beneath.  Big, brown, unblinking eyes pleaded with me to stop the car and let her take over driving.
No way, no one drives as fast as I do. 
And we had to get away.
Gunning the engine, I accelerated, trying to find the next rest stop, exit, or somewhere I could wash the drying blood from my skin.  Jen was absolutely right. We needed to stop somewhere and assess our damage.  “How bad do we look, Jen?”  My eyes peeked a glance at her again, as I tried to focus on the dark empty road laid out in front of us. 
“Well…you look like first degree murder, and me, I look like an assault with a deadly weapon.  What the hell do you think we LOOK LIKE?” She rubbed her fingers over her face and smeared a streak of blood across her tanned cheeks.  Oh my…Oh my God, there’s a lot of blood.  What the hell did I do?  “Just pull over, Sam.  You’re going to freaking bleed out while driving.  You’re leaking like a sieve.”
I gave her a little snort, “Don’t worry, okay?  They’re just flesh wounds; nothing is internally bleeding.  I’m just…I think we’re in shock…that’s all.  And I don’t think most of the blood is mine.” I ran my hand through my auburn strands of hair and my fingers came away bloodier.  Suddenly, I developed an acute case of Tourette’s syndrome, “Fuck!  That fucking-shit-son-of-an-ass-monkey-dick-weasel!”  I didn’t remember getting hit in the head.  “I should have ripped his dick off!”
Shit! Shit. Shit, just apply pressure
With almost seven straight hours of non-stop-adrenaline-fueled driving behind me, I pulled into the parking area of the first and only thing open on the long, empty stretch of road I found myself on. 
Of course, it was a bar. God must have forgiven me already for my sins, since he was so kindly answering my prayers for a stiff drink.  Although an all-night drug dealer with a special sale on Vicodin would have been more useful.  But I wasn’t going to complain.  Alcohol was good enough.
“Oh, really?  Samantha, this is a strip bar,” she said, pointing her grimy finger towards my windshield.  “That is a goddamn stripper club in the middle of a dark empty country road in the middle of North-Bumble-Fuck-Nowhere-New York; how much more horror movie cliché can we get? I’m not stepping foot in that shithole.”  My expression didn’t change.  “Come on, Sam.  Let’s not dive right into an episode of some B-rated slasher show, please?”
Shoving my gearshift into park, I clicked the interior light on.  Seven hours away.  Seven hours away is good enough for now. Besides, I had to pee.  Sharp pains spiked all over my beaten body, as I climbed into the small back seat, streaking blood across the white leather interior of my last birthday present to myself, my gunmetal gray Porsche Panamera. “Ughhaghh…I almost killed myself doing that.  Can you get my first aid kit out of the trunk for me?”
“Crap, Sam, you’re serious?  You’re going to walk into that bar looking like that?  Someone is going to ask questions.”  With the new brightness of the dome light above us, I could see just how bad the bruises were that blossomed over her cheekbone.  Just below her left eye, a deep purple and red discoloring from the ruptured capillaries beneath her skin fanned out, and the corner of her lip was a fat bloodied mess.
Thudding my head against the cool leather, I squeezed my swollen eyes tightly and tried hard to fight the tears that stung at their lids.  I am stronger than this.  I am stronger than HIM.  I didn’t want to waste tears on the pain, or the reasons for it. I should just be happy still to be alive. That both of us were still alive. “Jen, I need either a depressant or a potent analgesic so I can focus better. The pain is starting to scream at me.  And, I need to clean out my wounds.  Too many hours have passed, but it was more important to put miles between us and that hell.” 
The car door clicked and before I opened my eyes, the nearly muted thump of the trunk opening and slamming shut filled my ears. Then her soft whispers, “I got the bag with the clean clothes out, too.  But, I swear, if any of those horny-ass bastards from that bar come stumbling on us changing in the car, we’re going to have more blood on our hands, Sam.”
Unclasping my first aid kit, I tore through the bag looking for anything that I could use.
Tearing off the cap of a bottle of peroxide, I poured it straight over my hands, letting it spill all over my lap.  “DAMN, that HURTS!” I screamed out when the cold liquid flowed into my cuts, making my body explode with white-hot pain.  I bit my teeth into the soft leather of the front seat headrest to silence my cries.
 Jen pulled out a few butterfly bandages, and when the stinging of the peroxide settled to a dull ache, I began methodically cleaning and sealing my lacerations, biting down on my lip hard when the pain was too much.  It was a freaking miracle that there were no deep puncture wounds, but still, this was enough.  It was all enough…I’d had enough.  I could feel how bruised and swollen both my eyes sockets were, and my lip felt as if it was split in half. Thank God, it wasn’t. When the reality of the situation hit me, I looked up at her, “We need new names, don’t we?  And we need to get rid of my car.”
We gave each other a measured stare.  Without a doubt, we both knew there was no fixing this situation. We did what we had to do, and now we had to move on.  There was no going back, and truthfully, I was so relieved.  I inhaled deeply, and then slowly puffed out my breath. Even though it hurt like mad, I smiled.  I was free.
Her lips curled into a smile to match mine. “I want to be Bree Masterson and I want to be at least five years younger than I really am.  Think I can still pass for 28?”
My laughter made me grimace and moan in pain. “Sure, just clean off all the blood, that’ll take at least two to three years off you.”  After scrubbing my face with a few scrunched up alcohol swabs I found, I slowly pulled on clean clothes.  “I like the name Lainey.  Lainey Nevaeh.  I don’t care about my age though. I’ll stay 32.”  It was the only name that kept repeating itself in my head as I cleaned myself. It meant something to me, although I didn’t think anybody else would have understood.
“Ah, yeah, because you never were like any normal teen and roasted yourself in the sun, you could still pass for twenty-one.  Why the last name Never?” she asked slipping her legs into a clean pair of jeans in exchange for her bloodied ones.
“Not the word never.  N. E. V. A. E. H, it’s heaven spelled backwards.  I don’t know, maybe because, I’m not in that hell anymore. ” Pulling a compact mirror out of my purse, I tried to cover up the redness of my swollen eyes as much as I could.  “There’s no use with the make-up, is there?  Let’s just get a few drinks and find a place to sleep.  We are so deep in the Adirondacks that we should be fine here for a few days.”
The bright pink neon light that flashed the bar’s name read McSmexymelts, with a dancing neon ass-shaking animated sign next to it.  “Holy crud, Sam…ah damn…I meant…Lainey, we’re really doing this, aren’t we?”
Trying not to limp too much with the burning sting from the cuts and scrapes on my legs as they rubbed against the material of my pants, I made my way to the entrance of the bar. “Yeah, Bree, we are really going to have a drink in a strip bar.  I don’t care how many lap dances I see or how many snail trails decorate the poles.  We both need a drink after all of that.”  I waved my hands in the air in the direction of the dark patch of highway we had just come from.
She touched my elbow before I could reach for the door, a slow smile building on her battered face. “No, I meant, we’re really done with it all.  We’re not going back, are we?”
“Freaking LOOK at me. I will never go back there.  I don’t care what I just gave up.  None of that stuff is worth my freedom and my sanity.  To hell with them all,” I said, meaning every word.  Then I laughed.  I laughed and smiled for my freedom. Hell, I wanted to break out into a cheer, but I needed that drink first. 
The cozy warmth of the bar was the first thing I noticed, the second was the sweet smells of cinnamon and vanilla. It was like a slutty Bed and Body store.  The walls were painted a deep rich burgundy and the tables and chairs were a dark cherry wood.  A long bar graced one whole side of the wall and a dimly lit stage decorated the backdrop. 
Having never stepped foot in a strip joint before, Bree’s eyes widened as they scanned around the room, taking it all in.  Me, I’d been to tons of them when I was younger, the result of being stuck around so many guys and never having many girlfriends to relax with.  It didn’t faze me a bit.
Grabbing Bree’s hand, I pulled her to the bar and settled myself on a tall elegant stool, complete with velvet cushion.  The stage was empty, and just a few patrons, a mixture of male and female, sat at tables, eating and drinking.
“Well, this stinks.  I thought I was going to see some strange cooch climbing up some poles,” Bree chuckled, as she slid her body over a stool.
“Dancers don’t come on ‘til ten, love,” a deep voice called out from nowhere.  Bree and I both looked at each other, and then scanned the bar for the person who belonged to the voice that answered us.  We came up empty.  Her eyes met back up with mine, wearing a furrowed brow.
“Wow.  Impressive.  Hairy McTittieBounce’s Bar has an invisible bartender,” I chuckled.  “Well, Mr. Invisible Bartender, we need the strongest drink you can make.”
A head of thick sandy blond hair rose up from behind the bar in front of us, and the prettiest face you ever saw was attached to it, complete with a pair of clichéd baby blue eyes.  No, not pretty, beautiful.  Blah, like a damn Ken doll.  God, men weren’t supposed to be that pretty.  Handsome, yes.  Pretty, no.  But, this guy?  This guy was beautiful.
It kind of made me want to roll my eyes and gag.  I might have, if my face didn’t hurt so much.
The moment he laid eyes on us, the Ken doll’s eyebrows arched up to his hairline and he made a little strangled gasp-like sound. “Are…Are you okay?” he asked me.  A light British accent tinted his words.  Well, wasn’t that a bowl of yum.  A beautiful man with an accent; it was going to be impossible to get Bree out of here.
I offered him my best smile, which caused one of the cuts on my lip to bleed again and he quickly handed me a wad of cocktail napkins. “Are you saying I don’t look okay?” I gasped in mock horror, and then tried for a wink with my less swollen eye. “What? Do I have something hanging from my nose?” I asked, laughing absurdly and patting my lip with the napkins he had offered.
I had to crack jokes and laugh at myself, because the reality of the situation was too much for me otherwise.  Life is tough; you have to endure the bad with the good, because the alternative is so…final. 
I will endure this.
Next to me, Bree put her head down, covered her head with her arms and giggled into the wood.  The bright purple welt across her cheek was darkening by the minute and didn’t help her look any better. 
The Ken doll paused to examine my face and reached out his hand, touching my chin lightly, while I tried not to flinch, “Well, it can’t be too bad if you’re both laughing about it, yeah? You need me to round up some boys and give somebody an arse kicking?” If my cheeks weren’t so discolored with bruises, he probably would have noticed the hot blush that surged right under my skin.
“Um, no.  Thank you, though.  Just a few drinks, okay?  Anything that will numb all this puffy loveliness we got going on,” I said, slowly leaning my face away from his hand.  Why in the world would a man think it would be comfortable for a woman to be touched when she looked as battered as I did? 
“Sure, you bet, love,” he mumbled, walking away to grab a bottle each of vodka, rum, and tequila off the top of the shelf.  From the middle shelf, he pulled out some gin and another bottle of something I couldn’t read and some lemon-lime soda.  Then he just started pouring everything together.  I was almost illegally above the limit of drunkenness just watching him make the damn drink.   He placed two small cocktail napkins neatly in front of us and went back to mixing, I toyed with the idea of telling him to save his fancy little beverage linens, because I didn’t intend on taking my drink from my lips long enough to set it down, but I didn’t.  Mostly because I didn’t want anyone really to know the pain I was in.
“Dibs,” Bree whispered softly next to me.  As if I had a chance in hell with her around, me Miss Plain Jane Smarty Pants compared to her Miss Lottie too Hottie.  Don’t misunderstand me, I was attractive, but Bree fell into the blonde-bombshell-outrageously gorgeous adjective pile when people described her, and I got thrown aimlessly into the awkward-yet averagely-decent-looking-brainiac pile. 
Snorting out a laugh, I nudged her with my elbow.  “Sure, he’s all yours.  He’s way too pretty for my taste.  Besides, I think I’m done with men for a while.”  Rubbing my clammy palms down the pant legs of my jeans, I bit at the one tiny part of my lip that didn’t hurt, “I’m feeling kind of buzzed and I didn’t even drink yet.”
“Adrenaline. Loss of blood.  Don’t change the subject, I’m still calling dibs,” she whispered.
Nope.  I think it’s freedom.
The bartender slid two glasses full of his dark concoction across the lacquered length of the bar, “Here you go, loves.  This drink is called an Adios, Motherfucker.  Which, I hope to God you both said to whomever the hell put their hands on you,” he said, leveling a pair of serious-as-hell blue eyes at us.
Adios, Motherfucker.
Bree held up her drink to mine and clinked her glass against it. “To new beginnings,” she whispered.
“To freedom,” I whispered back.
Adios, Motherfucker.
I watched as the beautiful bartender walked away from us, moved around the bar talking to the other patrons and grabbing plates of food off their tables.  He carried them through a door into a back area and reappeared with other steaming plates of food to serve.  There were no other employees around.
We sipped our drinks in silence, both of us most likely trying to forget the last twenty-four hours of our lives.  But, man, I wanted to forget a lot more.
Bree’s eyes followed the bartender like a little lost dog, “So what do you think?  Want to stay for a while?  The scenery is nice.”
“Oh, sure. Yeah.  I always wondered what it would be like to live in a freezer.” 
“It’s not that cold.  And we’re far enough.” 
“Jen…dammit…Bree….what the hell kind of name is Bree anyway? It’s like twenty degrees and it’s October.  Across the damn world would not be far enough.” 
“Germs don’t live in cold environments?  We could dye your hair black.  I could use a whole new hairstyle and look.  It will be like playing hide and seek.” 
“Shut up.”
“I’m serious.  We have plenty of money and no one would ever look for you in the middle of the woods.  They’d try looking in major cities and that’s if anyone is even looking,” she whispered.
I almost spit my drink all over her. “So you think nobody will be looking for me?”
“All I’m saying is that we could blend in here and the bartender is really gorgeous.  What do you think? He seems nice, right?”
“Oh, yeah.  I’m such a great judge of character.  Please.  I wouldn’t know a sociopath if he tore off my arms and beat me with them.”
“You ladies need anything over here?” The Ken doll asked a few minutes later, as he wiped down the top of the bar.  My eyes zoned in on the sinewy muscles of his tanned arms as he dried off the condensation from our cool drinks in smooth circular motions. 
“Oh, yes.  Yes I do,” Bree mumbled low.
“Yeah, actually,” I said, as I nudged Bree under the counter of the bar to shut her up,  “Do you know of any hotels or anything nearby?”
 He offered me a small sad smile. “Love, you’re in the middle of the Adirondacks.  You have one campground with a trailer park, a few ranger posts and secluded houses, that’s about it.  You both look like you need a hospital, or a cop. Not a hotel.  There’s a small town about thirty minutes drive north, where most of the people around these parts live, near the prisons, where the jobs are.”
“Yeah?  What kind of jobs can you find there?” Bree asked, completely ignoring the advice to visit a hospital and kicking me with her foot.  Oh God, she really wanted to set up camp here because of the pretty Ken Doll.  Ugh.
“Regular town jobs.  There’s the prison, a school, supermarket, library, and the local POLICE.  There’s also that hospital I mentioned, that you so sweetly ignored. Why are you asking about work? Are you girls looking for a job?” he asked, wrinkling his brow.  Crap, this did sound like the beginning of a bad horror movie…
I knew if I didn’t ask, Bree would. I could plainly see where her mind was going, right into his bed.  “Think you could use two waitresses, just for a few days a week?  My behind is way too big to jiggle up there,” I pointed to the empty stage.  “I’m Lainey, by the way.  And, this is Bree.”
“Lainey and Bree?  Are you sure you don’t want to dance?  Those names are perfect for it,” he laughed flirtatiously.  “I’m Dylan Grayson and you’re hired, but not until that, um, space alien thing you got growing on your face heals.  It’s not really working for you.  I’m sure you’re both very pretty under all that war paint.”  He flipped his bar towel over his shoulder and walked through the back door again.
“I’ve never waitressed before,” Bree sighed next to me.
“I did, for a while in high school,” I replied, finishing my drink.  “Let’s try to find a place to stay tomorrow, maybe at the trailer park, and try to get rid of that ostentatious Porsche.” I held up my shaking hands and watched my fingers tremble.  “Waitressing isn’t so bad, pretty easy once you get the hang of it.  I mean it’s not like being a neurosurgeon or anything.”
“Yeah,” she whispered, as she leaned her head on my shoulder, “and living in a trailer sounds like loads of fun.”
When our glasses were empty, Dylan walked over and slid over two refills.  He leaned his elbows against the top of the bar and smiled at Bree, “So where is it that you come from?”  I had to hand it to her, even bruised up she could get a man’s attention.  I hoped he wasn’t married.
My head softly fell against my arms and I drifted away from their conversation.  Heaviness spread across my shoulders and down both my arms, weighing me down, pulling me under like a fierce riptide drowning me, overcoming me; destroying me.
I stared blankly at Dylan’s lips as he smiled at something Bree said.  My vision blurred and I wrapped my arms tightly around my waist trying to focus on the way his accent lingered on each word, but he was just too pretty to watch.  Too bright and shiny…  “She just had a little run in with an old boyfriend, that’s all…everything is fine now…She’ll be fine…yeah, we need a place to stay…”
“Ladies room?” I asked, barely above a hoarse whisper.  Dylan stared wide-eyed into my glazed expression and quickly pointed to a back hallway.
The bar stool crashed against the floor, making a horrible clanging and banging sound as I pushed off and rushed into the hallway.  Racing into the bathroom, I locked myself into a stall and emptied my stomach into the toilet.  A cold burst of sweat broke out across my forehead and I dropped hard against my knees on the cold tiled floor of the bathroom, trying to brace myself up with violently shaking arms.
I slid down against the vileness of the cold porcelain and squeezed my eyes tightly, swallowing down the hard knot of disgust.  Panic tightened my chest into fast pounding explosions and desperation to stand up away from the dirty-filthy stench of my insides and the white watery bowl that held them was overwhelming. 
Life as I knew it was over.
My life.
That woman I once was, Samantha Matthews, was gone.  Left for dead.
Everything and everyone I ever knew…Everything I had ever worked for…gone.  Just.  Like.  That. 
What happened? 
It was building like an unstoppable freight train in the pit of my stomach and I clenched my fists tight.  I couldn’t focus on clear thoughts. Frantic visions clouded my mind and my brain went off like a gunshot, fast and lethal.  Thousands of images, words, and emotions fired out of my mind like a machine gun.  Adrenaline surged through my body and my heart pounded unevenly. The dark gloves of panic gripped my entire body and squeezed.  My head hit the floor with a wet thwack, and the edges of my vision blurred like reels of an old movie.
“Fuck you, Samantha,” he says coldly, when he finds me in the living room with all my packed bags.  I won’t even face him.  I can’t look at him at all.
I choke out a laugh, “No thank you.  I don’t want to catch anything.”  Jen will be here any minute; I hope there’s no traffic.
“Samantha, you’re sick, baby.  You should have taken all your medicine,” his monotone voice drolls.
“You’re the one that’s sick…” I spin on him as he’s clamping his heavy hands around my throat, cutting off my words. Thick fingers press into the skin of my neck, crushing my esophagus.  I kick and thrash wildly, frantically clawing my way to break free.   Pure panic rushes through my throat as I gag and gasp for the air he is stealing from me. Lifting me easily off the ground, he slams my back against the bookcase, my head and shoulders landing on the spines of all my books.  Pain explodes across my body; bursts of light blurs my vision.
He’s yanking me by my hair, dragging me along the coarse carpet of the floor, burning my palms and the skin on my knees.  I pull away, digging my heels into the plush rug, but his fists just twist my hair tighter around his hand and my body lifts off the ground.  Swinging my fists out, I fiercely try to connect with his flesh, clawing and punching. 
I stopped loving him. 
When I knew what he did, it was instant. 
This, this is him just getting rid of the evidence.
Images of that monster clawed their way into my skull, how could they not?  It was because of him my hands trembled so much.  It was because of him that there was death all around me.  Monster.  A fucking vicious troll; a beast who I once loved, like an evil mythical creature that lied and waited until he thought I was powerless and struck me hard and fast, like the poisonous bite of a cobra.  Deadly. 
Me. Unknowing.  Foolish.
My panic turned into hysterics. Tears streaked down my cheeks, raining down on my lap.  I let myself breakdown in the solace of the small closed off room, where no one would be witness to my weakness.  Even strong people needed to break sometimes. 
I didn’t cry from fear, or hurt, or pain.
I cried for Samantha Matthews, the woman that they forced me not to be. 
For everything I lost.
There are only a few words I have left in my mind for them: 

You never should have underestimated me.


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