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The room was spinning, the light sparking in the tears stuck in Clara’s eyes. She felt her body collapse to the floor, but it didn’t matter. Nothing mattered in that moment. Breathing was an afterthought, and why was her heart pounding so hard against her ribs like that?
Because of him. Because of what he did.
Pere was away; there was no one to tell. The village elders would never listen to Clara. She was a woman, she was unwed, and now she’d—well, her virginity was gone. And the people in town loved Bernard. Loved his handsome face and his straight shots with a gun and his grandfather’s place on the council of elders. Despite Clara’s beauty, her father’s lack of commitment to the community and her own disdain for boorish Bernard himself had made her a looked-down on member of the village.
I could have said yes to his proposal. I could have become his wife. Pere would have been pleased at the match, and the town might have finally welcomed me. Yet, even in the midst of her panicked, heart-shattered loneliness and fury, she knew she could have never married Bernard.
If anything, what he’d done today proved it.
What to do? Where to go? Because if nothing else was certain, Clara knew at least that she could not remain here. She could not stay where Bernard could—could return.
No. She would not endure that, not again. Never again. Pere was away. She had no other family, no truly close friends. Nowhere to go, to hide, to escape this tiny village, and the cruelty they would unleash if she tried to tell her story.
I have to run, she decided. But was there anywhere to run to?
Pere only left yesterday. If I borrow a horse, I can catch him. Bring him back. I traveled the road with him a few times; I know the way through the forest.
Pere. Clara’s father was far from perfect, far from being the mother she wished she had in that moment, but he loved her. He might believe her. No. He must believe her.
She packed her things in a hurry; she wouldn’t need much. Only a day’s ride’s worth of food and drink, no need for extra clothes. No need to burden the horse…
A fit of tears and heavy breathing took her. The room spun again, and she clenched her teeth, holding back the bile that rose as her traitorous memory fought to show her Bernard’s harsh grip on her body, tried to make her feel, again, the agony of his thrusts.
I will not live that again in memory, either.
Clara forced her body to sitting, then standing. She would not fail herself, would not drown in the horror of those moments. She wiped her eyes, then finished gathering a few things more. Her neighbor, farmer Victor, could lend her a horse—
Victor was a single man. No wife, no daughters, and lived in his little farmhouse. No one would hear Clara if she was made to scream…
Gaspard, to the west, she decided. His wife, Ines, had given Clara jam when Clara was young. She was a good woman. She would be nearby.
In a corner of her heart, Clara winced at her own mistrust. But she had allowed Bernard entrance to the house, and what nightmare had come from that? No, she would not be in that threatening place again.
She picked up her bag, stepped into her boots, and crossed the small room to the door.
It was time to find Pere. It was time to be saved.