by Curtis Smith

Eric swoops down our unpaved lane, a scene of fury and kicked-up dust not witnessed this side of gladiator movies, his brake lights flashing only when his Camaro bucks to a chassis-squeaking stop. He rushes me into the passenger seat and orders me not to unlock the door for anyone but him. In the moth-fluttering halo of the Camaro’s headlights, he fights my stepfather. Eric light on his toes at first, a circling dance of brisk jabs, my stepfather plodding forward, a sadist’s grin plastered across his fat mug. Each time my stepfather lands a punch, I cringe, my hands squeezing a purse, which contains not only the seven hundred sixty-eight dollars I’ve saved from my shifts at the supermarket but also the asswipe’s wallet. Blood flows. Three times my stepfather knocks Eric down, and three times Eric gets up, a series of wobbly resurrections, his cautious jabs abandoned for wild, grunting haymakers. Finally, the asswipe gives up, spitting on the Camaro’s windshield before lumbering back to the house. Eric staggers in the headlight’s shine, his knees buckling but his fists still raised. “I ain’t licked yet!” he yells. I help him back into the car, and we speed off. I honk the horn, a final, cursing goodbye to all this drama and small-mindedness, goodbye to my stepfather’s precious hunting dogs, their howls and pen-rattling frenzy receding by the time we fishtail onto the road. The speedometer’s swift climb testifies to my deliverance from this hell.

Silvery clouds shroud the moon, and with the cool, heavy scent of the green fields rushing over us, I know I’ve never been more alive. I hold a T-shirt to Eric’s bloodied face, and the fact that the asswipe has busted my boyfriend’s nose matters less than knowing that Eric won’t stand for anyone, not even a half-drunk bear who outweighs him by a good hundred pounds, cursing me or making me cry or peeking in at me through the bathroom keyhole. When I show him my stepfather’s wallet, Eric tosses it out the window, saying he wouldn’t take a million dollars from the jerk-off. This is my kind of love, a two-fisted and bloody adoration, the kind of love people write songs about. The kind of love people die for.

With a twist of his chin, Eric works his face away from the sopping T-shirt. “You didn’t tell me he could punch like a mother fucker, darling,” he says in an airy, pinched voice.

I put my lips on his and kiss him. The gearshift stabs my ribs. Our wheels veer onto the shoulder, the gravel pinging beneath us in a hundred chunky notes. Blood coats our tongues with its coppery taste. “Damn, girl, you are something else,” Eric says when I pull away. I settle back into my seat and place a hand over the thumb-sized baby floating inside my belly. The night road hums beneath our speeding tires, our car a God-sent chariot taking us anywhere, anywhere but here.