As always, a little bit of nature to brighten the day. :)
~ Chapter Three ~
‘The monster’ watched from the shadows of the darkening parking lot, hoping to get a glimpse of her parents. He’d thought about going inside, to her room, but decided against it, at least for the time being. He needed to be careful. What if she’d given a description of him?
He worried briefly about the boy. Was he okay? He knew he couldn’t stay much longer. It was way past feeding time.
Why had she done it? He’d been good to her, and this was the thanks he got? Anger rose up and threatened to swallow him in its evil grip, but he suppressed it. Now isn’t the time.
“Arianna, why did you do it?” He whispered into the night. He imagined the stories she would tell them, and it wasn’t fair. It didn’t matter they were true. She should be loyal to him after being with him for ten years.
The fog set in while he tried to formulate a plan, but he couldn’t keep the thoughts straight in his head now. They would have to wait, but he couldn’t let it go. He backed away from the row of cars shielding him and disappeared behind some thick bushes. The boy waited.
Arianna finished her meal and lay back on the flat hospital pillow, exhausted. Her neck ached, and she missed Chance. She sprung up from the pillow, a decision made. “Justin, will you help me get Chance?”
“Of course you have a chance, you’re free now.”
He must not have heard her. She had to make him understand. “No, I said ‘will you help me get Chance?’ He’s my baby.”
Justin stopped scrolling through his phone and looked up at her, surprise covering his features. “You have a baby?”
Tears came to her eyes. “Yes. His name is Chance.”
Justin said, “Why didn’t you tell us? Where is he? We could’ve been rescuing him already Arianna.”
The hurt and anger in his tone caused her to flinch. “I didn’t think it was the right time.” Her fingers played with the hospital sheet, twisting it. “You know how doctors are. They probably wouldn’t let me have him after I slit my own throat.”
Justin’s screeched, “What? Why would you do that Arianna?”
She looked away from him, ashamed and scared.
He pulled her chin toward him with gentle fingers. “It’s okay, I’ll never hurt you. I just want to know why.”
She hesitated, but something in his eyes compelled her to answer. “I was confused and angry. He told me he was going to bring in another girl. That I’d gotten too old. I figured he would kill me.” She looked away once more, her body trembling in fear.
“What about your baby?”
“He wouldn’t hurt Chance and he would kill me if I tried to take him away.”
“How old is he?”
When she replied, “He’s two weeks today.
Justin gasped. “Is he okay? Is he healthy?”
“He’s very tiny, but he gained some weight. But he has a cough and I’m worried.” Arianna began to wail in a loud, eerie tone.
Justin tried to calm her with whispered words of comfort, but she was inconsolable. He reached over and pushed the call button. The nurse came rushing in a few minutes later.
His asked angrily, “Did you people know she had a baby?” How could they keep something like that from him? He had a right to know. He was… And that’s where he lost his steam. He didn’t have any rights. He barely knew this woman.
Nurse Cooper held a hand up, shaking her head. “We did, but we’re not authorized to discuss such personal information with someone who isn’t related to her.” She went over to Arianna, pulled a needle from her pocket and pushed it into the IV. Soon after, Arianna went silent.
Justin looked down at her, suspicious. “What did you give her?” He didn’t like the fact he had no say so about what was going on here. He couldn’t explain it, but somehow he’d already formed a permanent bond with this victimized young woman.
“Don’t worry, sir. It was something to make her rest. She needs it.”
“Please, call me Justin.” He smiled at the gray-haired nurse. He needed to try something else. His present actions weren’t working. “Is everything okay with her?” At the nurse’s look of confusion he elaborated, “I mean, is she physically okay, you know, down there? Is she permanently damaged?” He was embarrassed to ask the question, but wanted to know, and the only way to get an answer was to ask.
“I really can’t discuss it with you Justin. That’s such a personal thing…” She trailed off.
“I just ache for the torment she must’ve gone through. I need to know if she’s going to be okay, or if there’s permanent damage.”
The nurse grabbed his arm and pulled him a safe distance away from Arianna, as if she might hear. “I could get in trouble for telling you this, so keep it to yourself.” At his nod, she continued, “She has scars all over her body, but they’ve healed. She’s had some broken bones that weren’t set and it’s probably too late to correct them, but knowing their egos, they’ll try. Other than that, we don’t know much.”
Justin gave her such a look of gratitude the nurse smiled back and patted him on the arm.
He figured since she’d shared some info with him, he could return the favor. “She said her baby was born two weeks ago today, and his name is Chance. He was very small when he was born and he’s put on weight, but he has a cough she’s worried about.”
“Thank you Justin. That information will help. Does she know where she was being held?” Nurse Cooper asked hopefully.
“She didn’t say. She went bonkers before I had a chance to ask. Do you think she’ll be okay mentally?”
“Would you?” She asked.
“To be honest, I don’t know.” He thought about it seriously for a moment. Would he be okay? He doubted he would ever be the same. “I just don’t know. I guess that’s one of those situations where you don’t know until it happens to you, and it’s an experience I don’t wish for.”
“You got that right. She should be asleep for a couple of hours if you need to go take care of anything.”
“Thanks, I need to run home and take a shower and change my clothes. I was jogging when I tripped over her and I’m sure I’m not pleasant to be around.” He wrinkled his long, masculine nose in distaste and Nurse Cooper laughed.
“I hadn’t noticed.” She winked and rushed out of the room.
Justin walked over and looked down at Arianna. A strange feeling came over him. It was protectiveness, but more than that, love. No way. He couldn’t possibly be in love with someone after just a few hours, no matter the circumstances. ‘That’s what you think,’ Was his mind’s reply. What was happening to him? He touched the side of her cheek before bending to brush a kiss across her brow. “I’ll be back before you’re awake.”
As he was leaving, her parents returned. “Why is she asleep?” Her father asked.
“They gave her something to make her rest. She was distraught over her baby and…” He was cut off by the bellow of Arianna’s father.
“She has a baby?!”
Arianna moved around on the bed, but didn’t wake.
“Yes, I’m sure the doctor will be in to discuss all the ‘private’ stuff while I’m gone.” Justin heard the resentment in his tone and repented. It wasn’t her parents’ fault they wouldn’t tell him anything.
“So you’re leaving?” Her father asked.
He sounded hopeful and Justin frowned. “Yes, but I’ll be back.”
“You don’t have to come back, son. She’ll get over it soon enough…”
“Lenwood, I can’t believe you’d want to cause your daughter further torment. She likes the boy,” Arianna’s mother lamented.
“She’s a tough cookie. She barely knows the guy. She’ll be over it before the day’s out.”
Justin didn’t understand why her dad had a problem with him, but it was grating on his nerves. He clenched his jaw and said with quiet certainty, “I’ll be back in about an hour.” He turned on his heel and exited the room.
Justin felt an overwhelming urge to share all that had happened with someone, but didn’t know who to call. Should he call his best friend Dave? Would it be wrong to confide in him? For some reason, he rejected that idea. He would call his pastor. They weren’t big buddies, but they spoke. The pastor answered on the second ring, “Hello?”
“Pastor Matheson, this is Justin Hollander.”
“Justin, how are you?” He returned jovially.
He was a middle-aged man, in his late thirties with salt-and-pepper hair. He was physically fit and about six feet tall. Justin pictured him in his mind as he spoke. “I’m good, but wondered if I could bend your ear for a few minutes, or isn’t it a good time?”
He laughed and returned, “Perfect time. Perfect time. I’m putting off some yard work the wife wants me to do.”
Justin laughed with him for a moment before giving an outline of this morning’s events. “My question is; Do you think it’s possible God wants me to marry her?”
“Oh, I don’t know about that, Justin. That’s kind of between you and God.”
“Well, how will I know if it’s what God wants?”
“He has a way of impressing it upon you. You’ll just know. I’m sorry if that isn’t the answer you were looking for.”
“It’s okay. But I was kind of looking for something a little bit more definitive.”
“I understand, but that’s all I’ve got. Pray about it and ask Him what He wants you to do.”
Disappointment pushed his shoulders to a slump. “I guess that’s all I can do.”
“How is your mom?”
His disappointment turned to sadness. “She’s doing okay. She’s kind of pushing me to get married and start a family before she starts losing her mind. She wants to get to know her grandkids before that happens.”
“I’m sorry about your mom, Justin. I’m praying for her, and so is the whole congregation.”
“So am I.” Justin said. “Thanks for your time.”
“You can call me anytime. Hopefully next time I’ll have the answer you’re seeking. Do you want me to come down and talk to her? I mean, do you think it’s wise to do that right now, or should we wait? It’s your call.”
“I think it’s a good idea, but not today. Let’s give her some time to adjust to what’s happening in her life.”
“You sound like you already care for her, Justin. Maybe that’s all the sign you need.”
They said their goodbyes and ended the call with a promise from the pastor to come visit Arianna the next afternoon. Justin rushed back to his house, took a shower and changed his clothes. He was back at the hospital in less than two hours. The room was empty except for Arianna’s sleeping form, so he stood over her, watching her sleep. She was beautiful, even in her emaciated state. He couldn’t imagine how beautiful she would be with a healthy glow and more rounded cheeks. She looked innocent. A rush of anger swept through him that someone had taken her true innocence and used her like a filthy rag.
She must’ve become aware he was there because her eyes popped open at that moment. She physically shrank away from him.
“What’s wrong Arianna?” He loved saying her name and doubted he would ever get tired of hearing the sound of it roll off his tongue. It flowed like honey and…ugh! Where did he get such silly thoughts, anyway?
“Why are you mad at me?” She asked timidly. There was confusion in her deep green eyes.
He leaned down, closer to her face. “I’m not mad at you, honey, why would you think that?”
“The look in your eyes…it scares me.”
Even though she was still timid, there was a candor to her voice he admired. There was some spirit left in there.
“It wasn’t directed at you. It was directed at him.” He didn’t try to lie to her and tell her he wasn’t angry, because he was. The man had taken so much from her…
“Do you think you can get my baby from him?” She asked hopefully, naively.
“I probably can’t, but the police will. Do you know where you were being held?”
“There were several different places. I think I was somewhere close to my parents’ house here lately, though.”
“Why do you say that?”
“I could smell the brine…from the lake.”
“Good, that’s good. What else did you notice?”
“We were in a neighborhood, not in the city proper. There wasn’t a lot of traffic.”
“That’s great, Arianna. You’re very observant. He pulled the small notebook out of his jacket he’d grabbed at home and wrote down her descriptions. “What else?”
“We were there longer than at any of the other places, and the kids went to school all year long. There was a park nearby too, with a bicycle jump. I could hear the kids jumping their bikes.”
“But there was no way you could escape?”
“The window was very small and he didn’t even know I could open it. It was an octagon split in four pieces with wood strips. I worked at it until I could easily pull out one of the panes of glass so I could get some fresh air. But it wasn’t as big as my face, so I could barely see, let alone try to escape.”
“I am so sorry.” The helplessness Justin felt was tremendous. He couldn’t imagine how she’d felt, being trapped by a madman for all these years.
“It’s nice to look at you after seeing him for so long.”
Her words surprised him, sending warmth coursing through his veins. “Thank you.” He gave a thousand-watt smile.
“You’re very good-looking. Are you a model?”
He laughed self-consciously. “Uh, no, I’m a computer tech. I own my own business. I repair computers and build new ones.”
She wrinkled her cute snub nose. “You’re a geek?”
“No, I’m not a geek. I don’t game, and I don’t watch comic book cartoons. I don’t like Star Wars, and can barely tolerate Star Trek.”
For the first time, she laughed. It wasn’t a giggle or a small snort; it was a full belly-busting laugh. His heart did pitter-patters, and for a minute he was afraid he was having an attack. He’d never experienced these feelings to such an extent before, and he was thirty years old. Could this be love? Was this what it felt like?
She continued to laugh, so he asked, “What’s so funny?”
“You are. You’re defending yourself for being a geek.” She burst out in laughter again, and he couldn’t help but join in.
“It’s okay to be a geek, you know. I was before all this…”
“But I really don’t like all that stuff.”
“Sure you don’t,” She teased.
A commotion at the door stopped their laughter. The police had arrived.