(An excerpt from the upcoming novel A Heart of Steel by Stephanie Dean.)

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Steele knew she had made a big mistake the day she allowed her husband to move back home. She relished the peace after David moved out and had used her time wisely. The couple had been separated for 2 months, and while he was gone, Steele had been hired for her first, full-time, day shift position as a nurse in charge. For the first time in years, Steele began to visualize her dream of living a life without abuse. Single. Independent. Without a husband. She began to mentally prepare for her departure from the marriage but didn’t move fast enough.

For no reason other than to thwart her fortuitous plans, David began to phone Steele after learning she had landed a good job. David begged to come home and try again. He tempted her with the option of being a stay at home mom if they could put their marriage back together. David would have loved nothing more than to have kept Steele completely dependent on him. While Steele had interest in salvaging her marriage for the sake of their child, the prospect of living independently took precedence over feeling trapped with her abusive husband.   She allowed David to come home, but doubted the sincerity of his promises. Steele moved forward with her plan and prepared to start her new job.

After David returned to their house, Steele couldn’t recover her feelings, and deep down inside, she knew the marriage was over. Any feeling of love had been destroyed little by little over time by the abuse. The issue wasn’t a question of whether the marriage would end but how soon. If only to prove to herself she gave the marriage another try, Steele equipped herself with patience and resolved herself to being temporarily reunited. She waited for the final straw which was enevitable. The straw that surely came and broke any remaining tie to the marriage.

On Wednesday nights during the summer, Steele’s son Daniel always spent the night with her mother. David and his older brother Steve cut their grandmother’s grass, and in exchange, Momma Faye, as they called her, cooked dinner for her grandsons. The boy’s wives, Steele and Debbie met their husbands at Momma Faye’s house at 5 pm, and following dinner, the girls cleaned up dishes while the boys mowed. One Wednesday, just three days after David moved back in their house, he failed to call or show up for dinner at Momma Fayes. Steele helped her brother in law mow the grass.

Early Thursday morning around 3 am, Steele heard David unlock the back door of the house. He turned the overhead light on, stumbled into the bedroom and shut the door behind him.

“Where have you been?” asked Steele as she got out of bed.

Crying with voice escalating, she yelled, “You promised me things would be different.”

She moved towards the bedroom door. David lunged at her, pushing her up against the back of the door.

“Why? You in a hurry for me to leave again? You already found a new man?”

He slapped her a few times across the face.

“No, I havn’t, get your hands off me,” Steele screamed, trying to open the door.

With the palm of David’s hand pressed firmly on the door, her exit was blocked as Steele couldn’t budge it. Then, with one hand on each side of her head, David attempted to twist her neck, but he was drunk and clumsy. Steele mustered all her strength, lifted one knee and kicked him away from her. With a twist of the knob, she opened the bedroom door and ran. Steele grabbed her car keys off the kitchen counter, made it to her car and backed out of the driveway. As she drove away one final time, she never once looked back through the rearview mirror.

CLICK HERE for more stories and poems by Stephanie Dean.

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