I wanted to scream. I wanted to
throw things, and trash things, and yell furiously as they crashed to the
ground. I wanted throw myself down right here and kick and cry out like a four
year old having a tantrum in the middle of a shopping mall. I wanted to light
myself on fire to see if it eased the pain in my chest from not breathing for
way too long. I wanted to go back in time to when my life wasn’t fucked up
beyond belief and make all the right decisions I didn’t make the first time
around. But most of all, I wanted Ranger to come back and let me finish. I
doubt it would do much good at this point, but I wanted to clear the air so
that if he was going to hate me he at least had the whole story first.
I felt like everything leading to this moment, my entire life, had been for nothing. All the goals I’d ever set for myself, to be successful, independent, stable, loved, were too far away to reach. How could I let my situation get so far from the destination I’d outlined? I was living out of a suitcase in the bedroom of a man whom I’d thought was assisting me to integrate back into my old life. In reality, he’d just made everything a little more complicated by giving me a false identity and introducing me to all the new men as thus. It didn’t matter what those men thought of me, if I was to go any further within their ranks I’d have to reveal my true identity. And knowing this company, they would never trust me again, even if it was made clear that this was all concocted by their boss and the second in command. I’d have to leave again.
That thought is what made me crumble to the floor where I stood in the short hallway that lead from the main command floor to Ranger’s office. I’d been back a month and half, jumping through all the hoops Ranger and Tank had set up before me. I’d been so focussed on making sure one man didn’t figure me out that I hadn’t even spared a thought for the rest of the town, for my friends, for my family. The only one I’d made any contact with was my father, and that was only for the briefest of moments in the middle of the night, hardly worth mentioning.
How could I leave again, knowing that they were probably still worried about me? Mom would know something was wrong by the way Dad acts. And the others... surely Tank’s announcement that I was me in Shorty’s last night couldn’t have been that quiet. People were bound to hear my name and instantly begin to talk. Word travels fast in Trenton. At one time I would have said it was just the Burg gossips, but I’d learned that it was more than that. The Burg may be a major part of it, but the residents of wider Trenton were equally capable of spreading news at the speed of light. People were probably discussing my return over coffee cake in kitchens all over town as I sat there in agony.
“Is that Kit Danger?” The voice reached my ears as if from a distant land, muffled by my bubble of grief. I couldn’t find the muscle control to stop my heaving sobs for even a moment and look up to figure out who had discovered me. I didn’t care. I didn’t need to be that Kit Danger woman anymore. They could think whatever they wanted. My time here was through, anyway. Ranger hated me. I’d probably lose my job first thing Monday morning.
“Go get Tank,” the voice added.
A surge of anger welled up in my chest at the mention of the man. If it weren’t for him, I wouldn’t be in this predicament. I’d still be in Mexico somewhere, teaching English to underprivileged kids. Instead, I’m hung over, and depress, and angry, and crying in hallway over a man I’d had doubts about loving six years ago.
Before I could pull myself together and get away, Tank was there, crouching down in front of me and trying to prise my hands away from my face. His gentle, concerned tone grated only the jagged edges of what used to be my heart until I snapped. One second I was gasping for breath, jerking away from his touch, and the next I was stood, heaving air into my lungs as I watched Tank’s shocked gaze above the hand clasped over his nose. It took a moment to realise what I’d done, that the blood seeping through his fingers was caused by my fist colliding with his face, but I didn’t care. His actions had hurt me in ways I’d never thought possible, the pain he was probably feeling was a mere fraction of that.
I didn’t wait for anyone to react, making a beeline for the stairwell door I’d watched Ranger disappear behind. How long ago had that been? Was it possible I could run into him on my way down? I shook the thought from my head. It didn’t matter. I didn’t want to face Ranger again right now. I just needed to get out of his building. His presence was everywhere here, stifling me, suffocating me.
I emerged into the parking garage and slid behind the wheel of the first SUV I came to. Id’ been intending to flee the garage, going as fast as I could, but I found myself just sitting there, staring at the white knuckles of my hands where they gripped the steering wheel. Every so often, I had to blink tears from my eyes as they blurred my vision. I couldn’t drive like this. I’d kill someone. Probably myself.
A knock on the window startled me into letting out a short, high pitched cry. I glared over at the culprit to find a grinning Lester. He pulled the door open and leaned against the roof of the vehicle to talk to me. “You look like you could use a designated driver right about now,” he informed me. “Climb across to the passenger seat and we’ll be on our way.”
I shook my head, holding my ground. “You’re probably in on it all as well,” I said scornfully.
“In on what?” he asked, confused.
“Deception,” I pointed out. “Playing me for a fool.”
Now it was Lester’s turn to shake his head. “I’m not that good an actor, Steph,” he assured me. “I couldn’t even pretend to not hate you after I found out you were you, remember? Now scooch over, I got something I think you wanna see. I know I’m excited about it.”
Rather than argue, I just climbed awkwardly over the console between the front seats and settled on the passenger side, remember to put my seatbelt on this time.
“What is this place?” I asked. Most of my pain and anger had dissipated during the ten minute drive here, pushed to the back of my mind by the story Lester was telling about how he met and convinced himself he was in love with his former wife. It was an easy distraction, focussing on him instead of myself, and I wanted to continue doing so, but he’d pulled into the parking lot of a six story block of apartments.
He’d refused to tell me where we were going, ignoring all my questions as we travelled up to the sixth floor in the elevator. Once there, he’d lead me to the door at the end of the hall and pulled a key from his pocket to unlock it. He pushed me inside first and I found myself standing in an empty, studio apartment while he closed the door behind us.
“It’s your new apartment,” Lester informed me proudly. “I said I’d find you an apartment, and I did. I was going to wait until tomorrow to show you, but I figure you need to get out of Tank’s house as soon as possible if you’ve taken to punching him in the face now.”
I just nodded my agreement. The thought of returning to Tank’s house made me sick to the stomach. Anything that happened there he would likely tell Ranger, and that was the last thing I wanted right now. Ranger didn’t need to know what I was doing if he couldn’t wait for me to finish explaining before running off.
“This is good,” I stated, because I felt like Lester was waiting for my approval. “How much?”
“I got you covered,” Lester assured me, rather than give me a number.
“I don’t want your char-“ I tried to protest, but Lester cut in before I could finish.
“This isn’t charity,” he informed me. “It’s a gift. And if you don’t accept it, I’ll be hurt.” He made a face that was so pathetic I had to laugh.
I paced around the room, taking in the curtainless windows and large expanses of polished wood floors. “How soon do you reckon I can get this place into liveable shape?” I asked, running my hand over the space where I’m pretty sure the fridge is supposed to go. “I don’t have any furniture.”
Lester raised a single eyebrow at me, leaning against island bench nearby.
“What?” I said, defensively. “I don’t.”
“That’s what you think,” he said simply.
My knuckles throbbed in where they’d split on impact earlier, but I ignored the pain as I crossed the living room to the cabinet I swore I would never unlock. The bottle was in there for a purpose. And that purpose was not for me to drink. That’s why I drew the black line boldly across the middle, to make the tide. Tank had emptied every other bottle of liquor I owned down the sink the same day he’d beat my body into the mats upon discovering my intoxicated state. I’d gone under the radar for a long while, but one slip up had brought my habits to his attention and that was the end of that.
I carried the bottle to the kitchen, placing it carefully on the breakfast bar while I retrieved a glass from the cupboard. I set it beside the bottle and unscrewed the top, gently lowering it, too, to the bench. My movements were slow and deliberate. Calculating. Did I really want to ruin five years of hard work?
As if only just catching on to what I was doing, I took two hasty steps back from the counter and locked my fingers behind my head. I stared at the amber liquid like it was going to jump out of the bottle and down my throat if I took my eyes off it. My feet started moving, pacing the small area between the breakfast bar and the sink, never once removing my eyes from the object that was both my desire and my disgust. Something so inanimate should not have so much power over me.
Events from the past should not have so much power over me.
That’s what this was really about. I thought I’d accepted the fact that Stephanie had possibly slept with the cop six years ago when it happened. I’d forgiven her because I assumed she didn’t recall the night. Which was correct. She didn’t remember anything that happened that night, because she’d been so drunk. The problem was, I didn’t factor in the possibility of her getting a reminder from the man himself. A text she’d never mentioned, just like the entire night. She’d returned to me and we’d worked through the apparent issues she’d raised that night and I thought we were moving forward and getting somewhere.
And then she was gone.
Why? Because she’d had a miscarriage. A miscarriage of a baby who’s father she couldn’t say for certain because she’d possible slept with another man. So she hadn’t mentioned it. She’d kept it to herself. Rather than figuring out the truth, she hid everything inside, guarded all her pain and whatever else she was feeling and eventually ran away.
I knew now, after hours of abusing the punching bag in the gym, that it wasn’t the fact that she hadn’t told me she’d had a miscarriage that hurt as much as the fact that she’d known she’d been with Morelli that night and never bothered to mention it to me.
I grasped the glass in my hand as I passed it once more, hurling it at the wall to vent my frustration. The woman I loved, had always loved, hadn’t thought enough of me to tell me her problems so we could work through them together. I grabbed a plate that was sat in the drainer from the previous day and hurled it at the wall beside the door too, listening to it crash and rain down onto the floor.
“Woah,” Tank’s voice snapped me out of the dark place I’d worked myself into. He was stood in the doorway, taking in the scene with caution. A strip of white stretched across his nose. Before I could ask what had happened to him, his gaze caught on the open bottle on the counter. “Have you-,” he started to ask, but I shook my head, cutting him off.
“No,” I growled. “It has no power over me.” But in my head I amended the statement to SHE has no power over me. Both had to be true. It was because of her sudden absence that I started drinking six years ago and because of her reappearance and shocking revelations that I suddenly had the urge to pick it back up again. “Get rid of it,” I added through gritted teeth, latching onto the edge of the counter top to stop my aching hands from grabbing for it as he swiftly removed it from within reach and moved around me to pour it down the sink, just as he’d done five years ago. And another seven before that. I’d probably be dead of alcohol poisoning by now if it weren’t for him.
“So I take it your chat with Steph didn’t go well,” he said casually as he ran water in the sink to wash down the scotch. “I also gather you mentioned my part in the scheme of things,” he added, turning to lean against the bench with his arms crossed over his chest. “On the plus side, her training has been worth it. She has a decent right hook on her now.”
“She’s always had a decent right hook,” I correct him, scowling at the mess of glass on the floor on the other side of the counter.
“What did she tell you?” Tank questioned, stepping up beside me. It was no wonder why he asked. He’d been punched in the face by a woman a third his size downstairs and come up here to find me brewing up a rage in the kitchen. The conversation had not gone as either of us envisioned it would. And I couldn’t tell if that was a good thing or a bad thing at this point.
“I don’t want to talk about it,” I spat.