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Crossroads of the Heart
by Jan Broadwell

Category: Romance
Description: Up until the early eighties, women were considered chattel, and Fran Riggs finds this out first-hand when, following the death of her beloved Bill, she falls into the clutches of a physically abusive alcoholic. Clark preys upon Fran's vulnerability to conquer her and to control her, but Fran, with the help of her best friends and her psychologist, Dr. Conyers, delves into the patterns of abuse that have been set in her life, and the reasons why she gravitates to abusive men. Searching for the kind of love that she had experienced with Bill, Fran recounts, through her sessions with Dr. Conyers, the patterns of alcoholism and abuse that have permeated her life. When Clark finally goes too far, Fran exacts her revenge and shows Clark what it's like to be victimized. When Fran finally meets Chase, she finds the love and happiness that had proved to be so elusive.
eBook Publisher: Solstice Publishing, 2009 2009
eBookwise Release Date: December 2009


1 Reader Ratings:
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Available eBook Formats: OEBFF Format (IMP) [316 KB]
Words: 74374
Reading time: 212-297 min.

Chapter One

Clark hung up the phone and glared at Fran, his blue eyes clouded and narrowed with violence. He snarled and gritted his teeth in rage. "I should kill you right now!"

Fran froze in fear, unable to speak or move.

He lunged at Fran, grabbing her around the neck, choking her until she could barely breathe. Her heart jumped into her throat. It was pounding so hard she felt it would explode right through her chest. The rush of blood in her ears was like a roaring waterfall.

Gripped with panic, she instinctively grabbed his wrists, trying to get loose. Suddenly she remembered seeing a program on television about battered women who were taught that if danger comes from someone who claims to love them, then they should do their best to make that person feel loved, and under no circumstances to ever show fear. Her brain screamed over and over in her head: Stay calm! Stay calm! Look in his eyes! Tell him you love him! Do anything to get free!

She did as her brain told her: looking Clark directly in the eyes, and with a strangled whisper, she begged, "Please...don't hurt me. I love you, Clark. I love you!" She didn't know how many times she said those words to him, but knew that she had to keep her emotions under control. "I love you...Clark...please...don't hurt me. I love you."

She continued to beg, and just for a brief second the look in his eyes behind his wire-rimmed glasses changed, seemed to soften a bit. He let go of her neck but grabbed the hair on top of her head as she struggled to suck air past her aching throat.

So drunk that he could barely stand, Clark stumbled and pulled her into the hotel bathroom by her short blonde hair. Standing directly behind Fran's right shoulder, forcing her onto her toes, bending her petite body over the sink, he slammed her face against the mirror, causing her nose to bleed. Blinded by tears, her whiskey-colored eyes stared fearfully at Clark's reflected maniacal derangement.

He looked like a man insane, not knowing what he was doing. Alcohol slurred his speech and saliva bubbled from the corners of his mouth. "Look at that ugly broad! Look at that ugly broad!" he raged. Alcohol, like adrenalin, seemed to make him stronger.

"Please, Clark...please... Don't hurt me. I love you...I love you. You know I love you. Please don't hurt me," she begged as thoughts raced through her mind. I've got to get loose and get out of this room...or he's going to kill me!

The hum of the plane's engines brought waves of relief to Fran's battered body and soul, thankful that she had escaped the stranglehold Clark had had on her a mere few hours ago in their hotel room in Washington, DC. She breathed a sigh of relief, grateful to have lived through the nightmare. Soon she would be back home in Atlanta. This is the last straw, asshole! You'll never hurt me again! Fran could hardly believe how many times she had left Clark, but always returned, hoping their marriage would work.

As the early morning sun filtered through the cold gray clouds, tears ran down Fran's cheeks as she sat looking out the small window, silently thanking Jehovah for giving her the strength necessary to get out of the hotel alive. She shivered at the thought of all the pain and abuse she had suffered through her life. How could things have gone so wrong? I loved Clark...he loved me!

An aging alcoholic in his early fifties, Clark was definitely not a good-looking man. His sparse red hair, a victim of male pattern baldness, was diminished in contrast to his azure blue eyes that looked out from behind his wire-rimmed glasses. He was short in stature, about five feet eight, with broad shoulders and strong arms. His regular exercise of swimming and playing golf kept his body sculpted and his muscles toned. She had fallen in love with Clark while walking in a moonlit garden, then making love with him. Stress had seeped from her body, making her feel that life was worth living again.

How in the world could she think about the good times with him now?

She shook her head, trying to focus and regain control of her emotions. A feeling of loneliness and desperation made it impossible for her not to think back to her childhood when she had lived in a small frame house in Dalton, Georgia.

She remembered two small rooms with tarpaper-covered walls; one room served as living room as well as bedroom and was furnished with two old iron beds. She and her four siblings slept together in one bed, and their parents in the other. In the middle of the room was a pot-bellied cast iron wood-burning stove with a pipe running up through the ceiling. The only other furnishings in the room were two straight-backed chairs with ragged caned bottoms and a rickety old table with an oil-burning lamp, since there was no electricity.

The other room was a cramped kitchen with a chrome and red metal eating table and four chairs with torn red plastic seats. Fran's mother kept their broken, mismatched dishes in a chipped white metal cabinet that stood on the far wall by the back door. An old beat-up aluminum wash pan and a water bucket with a dipper sat on one end of the cabinet's work board, and on the other end sat another kerosene lamp that Fran's mother used when she cooked their meals. The wood cook stove was on the right wall, a stovepipe running up through the ceiling just like the fat one in the other room that was used for heat.

The roof always leaked when it rained, and it was raining when Fran's father walked into the house, drunk as usual. "Margaret, what are these goddamn pots doing on the floor?" he bellowed as he kicked several of the pans, spilling the rainwater.

"I've got them there to catch the rain," she told him as she scrambled with her twin daughters' help to place the pots back under the steadily dripping rain. She acted as though everything was all right, as did Fran and Nell, hoping against hope that there wouldn't be another fight.

By the standard of her peers, Margaret was a rose among thorns. By her seventeenth birthday, she'd had beautiful full breasts, and rounded hips that complemented her slim figure, and beautiful long legs. Many envied her voluptuous lips that were like the velvet petals of a pink rose, and delicate skin that was as fresh as the morning dew. The natural curl of the tresses that framed her face and flowed past her shoulders embodied the silkiness and shine of the feathers of a raven, making her an object of desire for many men. Her dark almond-shaped eyes drew long stares from them, but Clay was the man who had captured her heart.

A mother of five children by the age of twenty-six, the long tedious years with Clay had taken their toll on Margaret and on her affections for him. She endured his abuse for the sake of her children, and because she thought that was what a wife was supposed to do.

There never seemed to be any one thing that started an argument--it just happened. Fran knew that when her father was drunk and bellowed curses, a fight always ensued.

The fourth in a family of nine children, Clay's parents had made a living by growing a few acres of corn and making moonshine outside a small north Georgia town. His teenage years were spent chopping and splitting wood, carrying water, and plowing the fields with a harness and mule. Clay's blue overalls had emphasized the rippling muscles beneath his broadcloth shirt. His dark brown hair, parted and combed over to one side and then back, held a splendor of red in the bright sunlight.

Margaret's heart was captured, at the tender age of eighteen, by Clay's deep cobalt stares and worldly ways. Mild-mannered by nature, he was an honest man. Whatever he told you, you could believe; yet he would never walk away from a fight. Eager to please his new bride, they moved to a house in the mill village, close to his new job at the cotton gin.

Their honeymoon was short-lived. She was soon to be pregnant with her twin girls, only to be followed not much more than a year later with the birth of a son, then another daughter, and lastly another son. Margaret was not a stupid woman, but her strict religious upbringing had left her vulnerable to her husband's wishes.

Clay continued to sell moonshine on the side. Margaret knew that it was his way of life, something he knew well. When customers would come around to buy moonshine, he began to notice that these men buying liquor would lust after Margaret. His drunken jealousy, real or imagined, would pit his wrath against the one he loved most. It was little wonder that he drove her affections away.

Fran thought, as most little girls do, that her father was handsome and that her mother was the most beautiful woman on earth. She did not know her parents' marriage was not normal. In later years, she often wondered what had brought them together in their love/hate relationship which had seemed natural to her as a child.

Fran winced as she listened to her father muttering obscenities under his breath. When his sinister silences simmered, she could almost smell his fury. Trying to appear calm, Margaret cut a small piece of material with her scissors from her sewing box to patch Louise's hand-me-down dress, which had been torn on a nail sticking up from a loose plank. She had hammered the nail back into place so her children would not get hurt while playing on the floor.

All of a sudden, Clay picked up the scissors from the kitchen table where Margaret had placed them. He began tossing them from one hand to the other, pacing round and round.

"What's daddy going to do with those scissors?" Nell whispered plaintively to her twin sister Fran, their pensive looks mirroring one another.

"I don't know," Fran said, picking up Hugh who had started to whimper. Bert and Louise followed them into the kitchen where they all huddled together.

"I'm scared, Fran," Louise said, fighting back tears.

Fran put her finger to her mouth and whispered to all of them, "Hush! Be quiet and maybe things will be all right. At least they're not shouting at each other now."

Fran looked anxiously around the edge of the door at her mother, who was still sitting in one of the cane-bottomed chairs, sewing the small strip of fabric over the tear in Louise's dress. She feigned busyness, pretending not to notice Clay.

"Fran, look!" Nell whispered. "Daddy has a smile on his face."

"Nell, that's not a real smile. That's the look daddy gets when he is about to do something mean." She had put Hugh down, but quickly picked him up again. Clay's silence was always a signal that the argument wasn't over. Bert and Louise hid behind Fran and Nell, whimpering.

Fran gasped as she saw the sharp scissors in her father's forceful hand plunge through her mother's jaw. Fran screamed in horror as her mother fell to her knees, blood spurting from the deep puncture in her face, running down her neck and soaking the collar of her dress.

Clay turned his back and did not see Margaret push herself up from the floor where she had been knocked out of her chair, did not see her grab the hammer and lunge at him.

The hammer found its mark behind Clay's ear and he stumbled, but did not fall.

Cold fear gripped Margaret when she saw him pick up a piece of firewood. Her insides quaked, knowing there was no escape from the beating she knew all too well was coming. The children continued to scream and cry, huddling together with their arms around each other, as Clay knocked Margaret to the floor again and began beating her over the head.

"Daddy, don't! Please, Daddy...don't hurt Mother!" Fran heard the screaming voice, not realizing it as her own. Gripped by intense fear, she was a paralyzed observer, watching from a distance the chaos and carnage that took place before her young eyes.

Blood was everywhere, even splattered on his face. Big bloody clumps of Margaret's scalp and hair stuck to the firewood. Her head was turned awkwardly to one side, her arms limp as a rag doll thrown down by a spoiled child in a moment of tantrum. Her body did not move, but Clay continued to hit her with the wood.

"She's dead! Mother's dead! Daddy, you killed Mother!" Bert screamed as he ran at Clay, pounding him with his little fists, tears streaming down his face.

Their next-door neighbor, who had heard the commotion, burst through the door and pulled Clay off Margaret. Then he shoved Clay into a chair.

"Get over there and sit down, Clay, you're going to kill her! Then what will the kids do without a mother?" the man shouted.

Margaret moaned as she pulled herself up on the side of the bed while her children watched, holding their breaths. With an almost inaudible whisper, she said, "Don't cry, babies. I'll be all right," as her battered body staggered over to the water bucket. The dipper shook violently in her hand as she sloshed water into the wash pan. She could barely lift the washcloth off the nail where it hung on the wall. It seemed to take every ounce of strength she had to put the cold wet cloth to her face and wash away some of the blood.

Forcing a smile, Margaret turned to her children. "See, it's not as bad as it looks, babies. Don't be afraid anymore. It's okay," she said as she watched a policeman shove Clay through the door to a waiting police car. Another police officer turned to the neighbor and said, "Why don't you see if you can get her to go see a doctor? She has some bad-looking places on her face and head. That puncture through her jaw definitely needs to be looked at."

"I've been hurt worse than this before. I'll be fine," she told them, slumping into a chair.

A loud dinging sound signaling the passengers to fasten their seatbelts jolted Fran back to reality. Despite the lingering nostalgic sadness, she felt a renewed sense of determination and anticipation as she looked forward to seeing Kathy, her next-door neighbor. It was Kathy who had suggested Fran go for counseling. Oh, Kathy, you were right, she thought after finally deciding to take Kathy's advice and make an appointment to see Dr. Conyers.

"Good morning, ladies and gentlemen. This is Captain Wayne Chaney. I hope I haven't disturbed some of you from your naps, but we have some turbulence and heavy fog as we approach Atlanta. I ask you to remain seated and keep your seatbelts fastened. We should be landing in approximately fifteen minutes."

Fran glanced around and saw the woman across the aisle looking at her with a concern look on her face. She felt embarrassed, not knowing that unconsciously her face had revealed the inner struggles that had been occupying her mind.

"Are you all right?" the woman asked. "Is there anything I can do? Should I call the airline attendant, get you something to drink maybe?"

"No, but thank you. I just had a bad dream." Fran smiled, thinking, I can't wait to call Kathy. I really do need professional help.

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