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Hanna's Valentine: A Santa Claus, Indiana Story

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Prologue Eleven and a Half Years Ago Hanna Tears blind my eyes as I trudge down the road. I can barely see where I'm heading. My flip flop catches on a rock and I almost tumble to the ground. I stop to take a deep breath, but my chest feels like it's caving in, my heart breaking. Looking across the street, I see the sheriff's office. This is my only chance. If his family could help me until I graduate, all will be good. But if they can't help me, I'll be lost without him. All the promises we made to each other burn through my mind. I swore I would be at his graduation. That I would marry him, and we would start our life together. He's my everything. The only man I've ever trusted. I spin the plain, thin gold band tied into an infinity heart around my finger. I've only had it for a couple weeks. Hugh gave it to me the night before he left for boot camp. I still have two years of high school left until I graduate, but we love each other. I look down at my black tank top and carefully lift it so I don't expose too much of my skin as I wipe my face on the ends. I need to look presentable. I need to make this work. Appeal to him to help me. Hugh told me if I ever needed anything to go to his parents, so here I am. Looking both ways, I start across the street toward the single-story building Hugh's dad works in. As I get closer, tears roll down my face again, blurring my vision. Sobs wrack my body when I reach the door, and I bend over and brace my hands on my legs trying to again calm myself. "Oh my goodness! Come in here, sweetie," a women's voice says, and I look up to see the receptionist that works the front counter. "Aren't you Hugh's little girlfriend?" she asks, and I just nod, my words won’t come out. "I-I n-n-need to sp-speak t-t-to the sh-sh-sheriff.” I continue to sob, my chest aching from crying so much. I haven’t stopped crying since my mom came to me and told me we were moving again. All my life we have never stayed in one place more than a year. But she’d promised me we could stay here for the whole time I was in high school. I know the drive to another town where she works gets hard, but she promised. Those promises all turned to lies the day she met her new boyfriend. "Oh, he's going to take care of us, princess." She had pleaded with me, but I didn't care. "I can get another officer to help you," the woman says to me and I shake my head hard. "No, I need to speak to Sheriff Kullen." I beg, grabbing her shirt, needing her to understand how serious this is. "I've got it, Beatrice." His voice comes from behind me and I turn around and look up at his over six-foot frame. This is what my Hugh will probably look like when he gets older. Dark hair, piercing eyes, and large everywhere. But Hugh will have kindness in his eyes, unlike his father. Sheriff Jerome's eyes are filled with coldness. His jaw is ticking, and his body is stiff as he faces me. "Follow me, Hanna." He points toward his office. I step inside and wait as he closes the door behind me. I expect him to sit when he rounds his desk, but instead he remains standing, making me look up at him. I'm barely five foot at sixteen. "Uh, sir, Hugh told me to come see you if I ever have a problem, and now, I do." I continue to cry, my voice sounding different due to my stuffed-up nose from all the crying. He hands me a Kleenex. "Son of a bitch," he exclaims. "He knocked you up, didn’t he? Damn that boy should have known not to screw around with you." His words are hateful and drip with disdain. I stop crying and my eyes flare wide. "No, I'm not pregnant." I bite out. "If I were, I would tell Hugh before I told you. And what do you mean should have known?" I'm not stupid, I know what he's insinuating. Just because my mom is an exotic dancer doesn't mean she or I are beneath him. "Well, good. Then what is your problem? I have more important things to deal with than a teenage girl who misses her boyfriend. You should have broken up before he left for boot camp. He needs to focus on the commitment he made to the government." "My mother is trying to make me move away. I haven't spoken to Hugh. Can I stay with y’all until I graduate so we can still be together?" The words rush out. "Are you kidding? I have a young daughter that I don't need you to influence." His rejection is like a slap to my face. I'd never say or do anything mean to Hailey; I like her. "I'd never do that." "Look, the best thing would be for you to just move with your mother and forget all about my son. If he ever plans to become sheriff, he can't be associated with strippers." "I'm not a stripper," I yell at him. "My mom isn't a whore, she's just a dancer." "Ha!" His bitterness lets me know he thinks otherwise. "Just because she doesn't have a pimp and doesn't bring Johns home doesn't mean she isn't one." He points at me. "And you? What do you plan to do with your life? You’ll just bring down my son like you already have." "He loves me, and I'm going to cosmetology school." "Really? You think that will be enough for people to forget where you came from? No. As I said, you’ll just bring down my son and he won't be able to fulfill his destiny." "What if he doesn't want to be sheriff?" I yell, then slap my hand over my mouth realizing I shared something that Hugh confided in me. Sheriff Kullen pounds his desk and I jump back. "You listen here, you little whore. You'll leave my son alone right now. I'm going to tell him you left, and that's what you're going to do. You're going to forget about him and let him do what he is supposed to do." He barks at me and I realize I have no choice. "Can you give him a message?" I beg him. "Please." "Okay." "Tell him I'll always love him. I don't care about any of what everyone is saying, and if he doesn't either, I'll be in Portland, Oregon. Here is his ring back in case he has doubts. I don't. I love him and will never stop loving him." I slip the promise ring off my finger and set it on the corner of the sheriff’s desk. I turn away from him, refusing to give him anymore of my tears. I won't break down in front of him again. Walking out of the building, I don't see the car until it pulls to a stop in front of me. Kenneth, my mom's new boyfriend, jumps out and stomps around the car. "What the fuck were you doing in the sheriff's office, brat?" He grips my arm tightly and yanks open the back door. Kenneth throws me into the backseat and slams the door, locking me in. This move is going to be the worst thing my mother ever chose for us, and it's not just because I'm losing Hugh. This man is the devil. Kenneth takes off down the road. I look up when the car skids to a stop and he jerks the wheel. We are in a turnoff away from the sheriff’s station and other people. He reaches into the back seat and smacks me across the face and then punches me. "Don't you ever go to the police again," he growls in my face as the tears roll down it. I'm in trouble and have no one I can turn to.

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