~ Chapter Five ~
Justin pulled into the hospital parking lot, turned the key off and pulled it out. And sat there. Thinking. He was astounded how quick his life had changed. It seemed it was meant to be. If he was wrong, by the time he figured it out it would be too late. There was something about Arianna. Maybe it was how helpless she was. Maybe it was her soul calling to his…he coughed, embarrassed at his own fancies. “Come on Justin. Just get out and go in. What can they do, order you out?” He shrugged. “Exactly.”
He opened his door and pushed his foot over the edge. “Man, this is worse than the first day on a new job.” And you’re talking to yourself.
He forced his body out of the car and walked on wooden legs toward the entrance. He shrugged again. If they kicked him out, they did. He had to try to see her. He missed her sad, searching eyes. The ones that trusted him so easily. Amazing considering what she’d been through. Maybe that’s why she’d been kidnapped.
His walk down the hall seemed extraordinarily long. The tall, skinny cop was sitting on a chair outside the door reading a newspaper.
Justin pointed to the door. “Is everything okay?”
He shook the paper, folded it and dropped it beside his chair. One thin shoulder touched his neck for a brief moment. “Don’t have a clue. They threw us out.”
“What do you mean?” His heart rat-a-tatted against his ribs. What did they do to her?
“She went all crazy when we started asking questions. She wanted you back in the room, but we couldn’t allow that. Department policy.”
“I am the one who found her, you know. You’d think they’d want me in there if it makes her feel more comfortable, and safe.” He frowned.
“The girl is obviously in shock. Lord knows what that guy did to her.”
Anger rose to the surface. “Stop talking about her as if she’s just a subject on a piece of paper. She’s a living, breathing human being who deserves compassion and understanding.”
The cop held his hands up. “Calm down, son. You barely know the girl. For all we know she’s coo-coo.”
He could barely keep from slapping the insensitive cop. His voice colored with anger, he said, “Is it also department policy to talk about victims in that manner?”
The older man’s face wore surprise. He searched Justin’s for a moment then frowned. “No it isn’t. I’m sorry. I don’t know what got into me. Maybe I’m tired, but that’s no excuse.” He shook his head.
Justin was shaking his own head. “Don’t worry about it, but you need to work on the compassion thing. Do you think I could get in to see her?”
“I don’t know. Her parents left a few minutes ago. They probably went to terrorize the cafeteria workers.”
Justin couldn’t stop the smile that leapt to his lips. It was nice to know someone else didn’t like them, either. “I’m going to go in, then.”
The police officer shrugged once more and bent to pick up his newspaper. “Be my guest. If she’s awake, she’ll probably talk for you anyway.”
Justin opened the door and stuck his head through then stopped and backed out. “Where’s your partner?”
The cop dipped his head to the right. “He went to the restroom.”
Justin nodded. “Okay. I’m going in.”
The room was dark except for a dim light behind where Arianna lay. He moved toward the bed on silent feet. She was out. Even in sleep her expression was pinched, lines of worry and stress mapping her face. Tenderness washed through him. He gulped to keep a sob from escaping. He wasn’t used to this kind of emotion. How could one tiny woman cause so much feeling to erupt within him?
He grabbed a chair and set it right beside her bed. He couldn’t imagine ever being strong enough to get through an ordeal such as the one she’d endured. And he didn’t even know the half of what happened. Maybe he didn’t want to. He wondered about the baby. Was he okay? Would the man hurt his own child to get even with her? He hoped not.
She stirred, but didn’t wake.
He sat up to stare at her more closely. He’d intended to look up a picture of her while at home, get a feel for what she’d look like under normal circumstances, but he’d had other things on his mind. Besides, she’d been a child when he’d kidnapped her.
She stirred again, murmured, “Justin?”
He stood up and stepped to the bed. “Yes?”
Her emerald eyes popped open and stared at him. He jumped, not expecting it. Shivers ran up and down his arms and legs. He couldn’t read what was written in them, but it scared him.
A small smile tickled the corners of her curved lips. “I’m glad you came back.” She reached a hand out and lay it over his where it rested on the cold metal of her bed.
The move pleased him, even as her easy trust in him was worrisome. She’d been through years of horror, yet she trusted him with a fullness that was confusing. He had to say something.
He reached out and pushed a strand of red hair behind her ear, captivated by the way it shimmered in the low light behind her head. “Arianna, why do you trust me?”
Her eyes closed for a brief moment in time. When she opened them, they were full of emotion. Gratitude? He wasn’t sure.
“I don’t know. There’s just something about you.”
“What’s so funny?”
“Nothing. I was thinking the same thing.” Not letting go of her hand, he moved back and took his seat.
Her words hesitant, she said, “You…you were?”
He smiled. “Yeah.”
The moment was special, but he wanted to get some information that would help the police before someone came back. “Arianna, tell me about your son. I want to find him, but I need a starting point.”
She pulled her gaze from his and stared at the ceiling. “I honestly don’t know. I told you all I remember.”
“I know, but maybe if you think about it when you aren’t under such pressure you can remember something that will help.”
Seeming to ignore him she said, “I used to love sitting in front of the window on Sundays and listening to the bells as they rang. It was calming somehow.”
“That’s nice. I like church bells, too…” His heart sped up. Church bells? There was only one church in the area near the park that rang their bells on Sunday. St. John’s Catholic Church.
“Arianna, can you remember what way they came from?”
She shrugged a bony shoulder, squinted her eyes closed. Her lips worked back and forth.
If the moment wasn’t so important he would laugh. It was cute.
“I know People would walk past the house while they were ringing. They’d go up the street to the left.”
His back straightened in excitement. “That’s great. Good job.” He couldn’t hide the smile that widened his lips. He had a place to start.
Silence reigned for a few minutes then he said, “Tell me about him.”
“Who? ‘The monster?’ Or Chance?”
“Both. But Chance first.”
Her pale face brightened, eyes lighting like lights on a Christmas tree. “He’s perfect. He has a head full of red hair. His eyes are green like mine. His fingers are cute and perfect, and so are his toes. He’s a good baby and hardly cries. Only when he’s hungry or wet.”
Justin didn’t know what to say. She loved him that was obvious. “He sounds awesome. You said he had a cough?”
Some of the light dimmed. “Yes. I don’t know much about babies, Justin. It’s a horrid sound. Like when your throat gets dry and you can’t clear it.”
He shook his head. Maybe he didn’t get his airways cleared enough and it had caused infection. He didn’t want to tell her that, though. “So did the…mons…the guy, let the baby stay with you at night?”
She looked at him then, sorrow in her eyes. “Not at first. He took him away as soon as he was born and kept him that whole first day. I was frantic. I needed to see him. Hold him, you know?”
Justin shook his head in agreement, angry that she’d been denied so much. “Yeah I think I do.” He’d watched TV. He knew the first few moments were the most important in the birth process.
“But after the first couple days, he got tired of getting up to feed him and brought him to my room. I was so happy. His little baby smell was a joy to me.”
Justin turned his head so she wouldn’t see the tears shimmering in his eyes. He couldn’t define the ache inside him completely, but knew it went far beyond sympathy. What must it have been like? Giving birth to a child from the result of an act you couldn’t control? And still, she loved that baby. Another string holding his heart hostage broke. She was an amazingly strong woman.
She squeezed his hand under hers. “Justin, what’s wrong?”
He swiped at his eyes with a sleeve and turned to her, knowing his eyes were bright with unshed tears. Real men didn’t cry.
He smiled. “Nothing. I must have something in my eye.”
She patted his hand. “Don’t cry for me Justin. It’s over now. At least most of it. As soon as I get my baby back, it’ll all seem like a horrible nightmare.”
He shook his head in agreement. “Yeah.”
Noise outside the door warned him someone was about to come in. “Arianna, I will look for him. I won’t stop until I find him.”
She returned his nod. “I know you will Justin. Thank you so much. For everything.”
Tears pooled in her emerald eyes now and he couldn’t help thinking it linked them somehow. The sense of shared urgency that had spread between them at the noise was amazing. They hadn’t spoken, yet both knew without words. They were going to make him leave and she wouldn’t get to speak privately to him again. At least for now.
He stood to leave, not looking forward to the expulsion he knew was coming. He wanted to do it willingly.
Arianna’s father came through the door, whatever words he’d been speaking froze on his lips when his gaze fell on Justin.
“What are you doing back? What do we have to do to make it clear we don’t need you here?”
“I’m leaving sir. I just wanted to come say goodbye to Arianna.”
Her father’s words were clipped with rudeness. “Well I’m assuming you’ve said it, so goodbye.”
“Daddy,” Arianna cried.
His gaze turned to her. “No Arianna. Your pleas aren’t going to work. You’re not a little girl anymore. We appreciate what he did for you, but we’re done with him now. He can go back to his real life, whatever that is.”
Justin cringed with the insult, but tried not to let Arianna see his anger. With uncharitable disgust he thought, I wonder which was worse: Living in a house with her parents, or being kidnapped and abused by some random stranger. He immediately repented of his less than gracious thoughts and addressed Arianna. “I’m gonna leave now, Arianna. Please talk to the police so they can find your son.”
Her voice was soft and quiet. “Okay Justin.”
He turned and walked out the door, certain he would be seeing her again.