Trevelyn McMillan was starting to squirm. “Kutt, would you pull this stinkin’ Cadillac off the interstate so I can at least pee and maybe get something to eat.” It wasn’t a question, but a rare, frustrated demand as Trevelyn McMillan studied her bearded stepfather, hate shooting from her translucent blue eyes, unconsciously cringing in anticipation of a backhand.
The Cadillac, filthy from a rain storm and muddy North Texas pit stops, slowed slightly as they neared an exit east of Amarillo, Texas.
“Maybe, maybe not, Tre,” D.A. Kutt sneered. His beady eyes leered at her skin-tight leopard pattern stretch pants. She flipped her shoulder-length blonde hair, covered her legs with an old grey zip-up hoodie and folded her arms over the black tank top that accentuated her prematurely full chest.
“And quit looking at me like that. If Mom were here, she’d cut your throat.”
“Well, she ain’t here, and you better start respectin’ me. Do what I say, when I say,” his right hand jerked away from the steering wheel and caught her on the point of her left shoulder. She yelped in pain and shrank back. Tears appeared at the corner of her eyes.
“Respect you? We’ve moved seven times in the last two years. I changed school five times and I have no friends. None. I’m embarrassed to wear the flimsy clothes you buy me. Mom’s funeral, I was embarrassed, even in front of her two sleazy friends. I’m calling the law on you first chance I get, pervert.”
“Sure, Tre.” he laughed. “Just try it. They’ll throw your little ass in the filthiest prison they can find. You been stealin’, I know. You been skimmin’ the drug take you collect for me. I ought to rip your damned throat out.”
She shrank further into the corner, massaging her left shoulder.
“And no damned cryin’. You’ll ruin your make up. Big truck stop comin’ up here. Be ready to do business.”
She sniffed and rubbed away the tears with her bare arm. He mouth was set firmly.
“I may be thirteen, Kutt, but I’m not a stupid slut,” she spouted. “I’ll never do the things you tell me to do. I’m not selling your drugs. I’m not selling myself. I’ll die first. All I want is to go to the bathroom, freshen up and get a little something to eat. Please, Kutt.”
“All you’ve done since Dallas is eat, eat, eat.”
“Nothing but truck-stop garbage. Just like home.”
“And damned lucky. I put a roof over your head, a good home, steady meals . . .”
“Home? Really? A leaky apartment with no heat or air conditioning. Middle of the worst hood in Dallas. Druggies, whores and gang bangers. Yeah, right.”
“Okay, okay.” he shouted, pulling into the truck stop. The side yard was full of semi –trailer trucks. Half a dozen passenger vehicles were parked around the building. Neon signs advertised hot food, beverages, restrooms and authentic Indian gear. A huge field with half a dozen grazing cattle stretched to the south and west. Tre gazed at it momentarily. A six-foot wood fence shielded the truck stop from the field.
“Thank you,” she murmured.
“But, I want you makin’ the rounds of the trucks when you get back. And no sass back. You wanna eat. You gotta work. Just like your poor dead Momma. You’re thirteen and good for nothin’ but whorin’, just like her.”
She blanched, looked at him wistfully, smiled briefly and opened the car door. She pulled out a light back pack.
“Hey, hold it. Leave the back pack.”
“I need to change my underwear and put on some cologne, idiot.” She shouted back, not bothering to look back. She swung the pack over her shoulder, looking up at the sweltering Texas panhandle sun, wishing she had sunglasses.
Kutt watched his step daughter stroll into the truck stop. He sneered as he saw her pause and look into a trash barrel. It was full of short boards and discarded strips of sheet rock. The tramp, checkin’ out the trash, he said to himself, then pulled out his phone and dialed a number.
“Buddy,” he shouted. “Kutt here.”
“You got the package?”
“Yeah, we just pulled into a truck stop east of Amarillo.”
“Stopped? Why the fuck you stop? You get her sweet little ass across town. We got a deal.”
“Buddy. She’s thirteen. You got to feed these young ones.”
“Not me, I don’t. I pump ‘em a shot of joy juice and they hump all day, all night.”
“Ha, no shit. Well, she ain’t high and she ain’t yours until I get that hundred grand.”
“Oh, it’s waitin’ on you Kutt. Just get your sorry ass here.” He disconnected his phone.
In the truck stop restroom Tre looked at her reflection in the mirror after washing off her smeared make-up and eyeshadow. It was the first time she’d looked in a mirror without makeup in weeks. So, this is what you really look like. She frowned briefly, and then grinned, a strange feeling creeping into her reflection. She opened her backpack, unzipped an inner compartment and checked the bills stashed inside a Tampons container. Found herself thinking of her mother who always hid her folding money in a ceramic coffee canister. She would pull it out every morning and count it. Tre remembered her mother looking up at her from the table, bloodshot eyes and makeup smeared face. She recited her Mother’s words.
“Tre, Tre, Tre. Don’t get trapped in this life. You’ve got to get out. Don’t let him get to you. Don’t let him touch you. I know the bastard. He’ll use you just like he’s using me. And…I’m sorry, but I gotta have my medicine.”
Tre wiped the tears from her face. “Well, Momma, you were right. So, now you gotta help. I’m so confused. Who am I? How should I act, and what’s waiting besides Kutt? I can’t keep up just hiding inside myself, my own little world of confusion. I am so hurting, Momma.”
“Ha,” she shouted, spinning back to the mirror. “No more, Momma. No more.”
She re-opened her stash and removed five $20 bills, then went to the gift shop. She bought two sandwiches, two candy bars, two bottles of water, loose fitting cotton shirt, pants, tennis shoes and ball cap with the American flag on the front. She liked the colors. It said something, meant something. Land of the free. Yes, that’s me. She headed for the door.
Suddenly, Kutt was at her side, his hand locked on her left arm. “Where you think you’re going, you little bitch,” he hissed. His face and cheeks were red. Beady eyes bulged below heavy dark eyebrows. She could tell another beating was coming. She’d seen him like this before when he was high. Knew it was useless to fight. Not yet.
She said nothing, just relaxed and went along with him. Felt his hand relax. Just outside the door she reached into the trash barrel and grabbed a short, broken board. She swung at him with all her might. He saw it coming, but too late. The board caught him just above his left eye. She heard the smack and saw blood spatter. His eyes rolled back. He released his grip. She recoiled and hit him again, and again. He was unconscious laid out behind the trash barrel.
Tre looked over her shoulder, expecting to be grabbed by some passerby. No one was watching. Cars and pickups rolled in and out of the parking lot. She turned to run. His left hand had grabbed her backpack strap. She shrieked and jerked away. Turned and ran for the back fence. She looked back as she rounded the corner of the building. No one. No shouts. She raced for a small hole in the fence, pulled a board away, then another and slipped through. She immediately confronted a three-strand barbed wire fence. She threw her backpack over the wire, ducked between the top and middle wires and headed for a row of low-growing trees and brush. The ground was hard and spotted with prickly pear cactus. She dodged and jumped and landed in the concealing brush out of breath.
Tre lay there unmoving except for her heavy breathing. She could hear shouting from the restaurant fifty yards away. She thought she could hear Kutt’s surly voice. Enraged. But no one came through the hole in the fence.
She slithered under a mesquite tree for shade. The sun was low in the west. She stayed there until the golden globe disappeared beyond a dusty yellow horizon. First question: Which way? There was undoubtedly more of Amarillo to the west, if she followed the sun. She looked south. It appeared more wide open and uninhabited. She would stay south through this field, then another field, and another until she found somewhere she could be safe. She imagined how she would do it; avoid roads that could handle Kutt in his filthy stinkin’ Cadillac.
Tre looked down at her clothes in the dim light. Her clingy black tank top and leopard print stretch pants were filthy and ruined. Her flip flops were useless. She peeled them off and put on her sweats and new tennis shoes. Luxuriated in their newness. They fit so good. Warm and comforting. She started to leave her dirty clothes on the ground. Glanced back at the truck stop. She leaned down and stuffed the clothing into her bag, leaving no hint of her passage.