She stood on the pavement shivering. It wasn't so much that it was cold, than the fact she was afraid. Scared of what came next. Sometimes the imagining was worse than the reality, but she didn't think that this was one of them.
He came down the road, arms swinging. She could imagine those fists swinging, smashing into her, and she cringed deeper into her old frayed jacket. He'd wanted to meet here, out in the open, with witnesses. At least she had that. If he hit her she could run, there were plenty of places to go. She shivered again. It wasn't his fists that really worried her though, it was the words. The way he could make her feel two inches tall with one of his sneering diatribes. She hated him for that, a hate that started in the pit of her stomach and rose till it clogged her throat. She swallowed down tears. She wasn't going to admit to him how much it all hurt.
He'd seemed like such a nice guy. But then they all had. She was good at ignoring the warning bells. The looks, the small things that led to bigger things later. None of them had ever hit her, they didn't need to. And she stayed, and stayed, telling herself it wasn't so bad, he wasn't so bad, things would get better soon. They sometimes did, it would be better for a week, a month, but sooner or later it came back to this. The anger, the hate, the harsh words that made feel like she deserved every single bit of abuse. Because it was her fault, really, in the end.
He had told her so often enough. She didn't keep the house tidy enough. The kids were badly behaved because she let them be. It was her genetics if nothing else. She didn't even defend them when he called them stupid, lazy, selfish. They were just as bad as she was. But at least he loved them. To her, he said, "I love you, but" always a but, a criticism. Nothing was ever simple. She bit her lip watching him get closer. Her heart was beating like a caged bird, fluttery and afraid, wanting to escape.
Everyone thought he was such a nice guy. Even she did. That was always the biggest problem. They seemed so, normal, nice, and then the words would start, and she'd wonder what was so wrong with her that she made this happen every time. And she stayed. She was the fool, the joker of the world. Stay to take it because being alone was worse. Too afraid to leave, to face the world alone. Stay because leaving was so hard. Stay because there was nowhere else to go. Stay because he might get really nasty if she left. He was smart, smart enough they would never find the body if he wanted it to end that way. And she didn't know, she just didn't know if he was like that. Because, lets face it, she had terrible judgement.
And now here she was, waiting on a corner in the wind, because she needed to talk. She'd left, she'd taken the kids and gone. He'd crossed the line once too often. He'd pushed her too far and she'd broken. She was broken, forever broken. She could never trust again. Never love again. Never even pretend again. Because, lets face it, letting someone destroy you word by word was just a poor excuse for love. And she deserved better than that.
He reached her, his face sneering. "So you ready to come back yet, sick of him already?"
"There is no him, there never has been, I just wanted to say something to you."
"Well go ahead, you dragged me all the way out here you better finish what you started." His voice was full of angry contempt, and she had to brace herself and not cringe from the words she knew would follow.
She leaned in close, so there would be no mistake, no misunderstanding, so he would hear every single word clearly.
"If you hurt them, if you touch so much as one single hair on their heads, I will end you."
She turned on heel and used every last bit of will power to force herself to walk calmly away, every nerve screaming at her to run.
She could still hear his muttered words, and they still hurt, but it was worth it, to finally be brave enough to defend them. There was no such thing as knights in shining armour. There was just you. If you didn't save yourself, then nobody else would. And she had, finally.