“Did Daddy hurt you again?”
Charlie turned from the mirror, the purple bruise below her eye only half concealed. Her young son looked up at her, his red, puffy eyes accentuated the paleness of his face. Charlie’s heart broke; he’d been crying again. She tried to smile and found it didn’t fit her face so she let it go.
“A little,” she said.
Owen ran to her, burying his face in her midriff. She hugged him tightly trying desperately not to let her tears flow. Kyle usually avoided hitting her where the bruises would be visible, but last night he’d been careless; out of control. She hated how Kyle beat her. She hated that Owen knew. What must he think of her?
“Come on, Owen. Breakfast and then off to school.” She gently maneuvered him toward the kitchen, holding his hand. He was the only good thing to come out of her marriage. She should have listened to her mother. “Charlotte, you be careful, my girl. He’s got a nasty streak in him, that one.” But Charlie hadn’t listened. She was Charlotte Stockton and Kyle Jeffreys loved her and oh, she loved him so completely. Perhaps it was a blessing her mother wasn’t alive to see how things turned out with Kyle.
“Can I have strawberry jam on toast please?” Owen’s voice pulled her back to reality.
“Sure thing, honey,” Charlie dropped two slices of bread into the toaster.
“Would you like the radio on, Mum?” Owen’s hand hovered over the old radio that sat on the window ledge.
“Not today, dear, Daddy is still in bed and we shouldn’t wake him.” Charlie shot a nervous glance toward the main bedroom.
She packed Owen’s lunch box while she waited for the toast, her senses attuned to any sign of Kyle being up. She contemplated making lunch for Kyle, but if she made it wrong… no, she would make his when he was up and could say what he wanted. Cyanide sandwich if she had her way, she thought and a guilty smile touched her lips.
The toast popped up making her jump. She buttered it, spread it with jam and handed it to her son.
Then she heard it. The bathroom door closed and she knew Kyle was up.
Owen heard too and looked at her, his eyes wide and haunted.
Charlie forced a smile. “Off to school for you, my good man.”
Owen needed no more prompting; he grabbed the proffered lunch box, stuffed it in his school bag, gave her a quick hug and scurried out the door, his unfinished toast in one hand.
As the screen door banged shut, Owen called, “I love you Mum! ‘Bye, Dad!”
Kyle strode into the kitchen, his tall, broad frame almost blocking the doorway. Charlie backed away in fear as he approached, his face red with rage, his ice-blue eyes glaring at her. “Where’s Owen?” His voice was low, menacing.
“He’s off to school,” Charlie replied, trying for a cheery note in her voice, but failing. “You’ve just missed him.”
“The brat’s been in my office. I found one of his toys on my desk. On my bloody desk!” Kyle suddenly threw the toy at Charlie, catching her in the mouth before she had time to react. Instinctively she touched the welt that was already forming. Please no, she prayed, not again, not so soon. She knew from past experience that fighting back only made things worse. So she said nothing.
“How many fucking times do I need to tell that boy to keep the hell out of my office?”
Kyle turned away, giving Charlie faint hope that she might get through this without another beating.
Kyle’s anger was currently focused on Owen. “I’ll give the little shit a good belting. See if he learns to do what he’s told any quicker than you do.” He took a cup off the rack and shoved it at Charlie. “Here, the least you can do is make your husband a coffee in the morning; you’re not good for much else.”
With shaking hands, Charlie took the cup from her husband and turned away, her mind in turmoil. Kyle had never threatened Owen before. Surely he didn’t mean it, no, he wouldn’t hurt Owen; he loves his son. I’m his punching bag, she thought.
“What would you like me to make for dinner tonight?” Charlie tried to steer the conversation onto less confrontational matters as she waited for the kettle to boil.
“I’ll be late. Playing poker with the guys.”
Charlie felt panic rising inside her. Kyle playing poker meant Kyle drinking, and that meant she’d be sporting a fresh crop of bruises tomorrow morning.
She placed a cup of coffee on the table for him, trying desperately to control her trembling hands. “Oh, OK.” Her voice was weak and she could hear her own fear in it.
“I’ll deal with Owen in the morning.” Kyle said. “About time he got some discipline. Little brat. A taste of my belt should fix him.” He took a mouthful of coffee before continuing. “You make sure he stays home, you hear? Don’t go thinking if you send him off to play with one of his little pals he’ll escape his punishment. If he’s not here when I get up, he’ll get double.” He scowled at her. “And you’ll get some more too if you think you can go against me. You mark my words, do you hear me?”
Charlie didn’t answer. She was numb with shock, realizing that Kyle’s threat was real. He had never threatened Owen before. Not like this. Sure he’d given Owen a smack if he’d been naughty, but this was far more serious. She was terrified.
“Well? Did you hear me? Do you understand?” Kyle had risen from the table, fists clenched at his sides, his eyes narrow slits as he approached his wife.
“Yes, of course, Kyle. I understand,” Charlie said, trying with all her might to sound calm.