“Cindy? Cindy, can you hear me?”
Whoever is calling my name needs to be quiet. I’m tired and I want to sleep.
“She’s coming around! Get the smelling salts!”
Shush…please just shush.
Something that smells terrible is shoved under my nose. I turn my head away as quickly as I can. UGH! That’s no way to wake someone up! Who is this prick anyway? I try to open my eyes. The effort it takes is pathetic. Flashing red and blue lights swirl my vision around. The concrete I’m laying on is damn cold.
What just happened? This question alone springboards my memory into action. Drew. The chase. Bennett.
“Oh shit!” I say as I try to sit up. Blinding Pain puts her hands on my shoulders and shoves me right back down. “Oh Christ!” I screech. My hand instantly clamps down on the butt of a switchblade sticking out the side of my abdomen. “What the fuck?! How did that get there?!” A paramedic wrestles my hand away, saying something about staying calm. “Calm, my butt cheek! What happened?!” I’m surprised at how lucid I am for having just been apparently stabbed. A sadistic hint of pride blooms in my chest.
But that’s when I remember. Drew…the bastard threw a knife at me! How rude!
There’s so much commotion all around me it’s hard to place any face or voice. But it’s almost like he’s calling for me. Over everything else, all the crap surrounding me, I hear Bennett’s whine. My ears lead my eyes to him.
He’s laying hunkered down next to a police officer, watching me with fear in his eyes. He has a muzzle on, which makes me sit up despite the fire in my side.
“Get that fucking muzzle off my dog!” I cry.
All voices stop and every set of eyes come to rest on me. Always the one to put on a performance, I sit up as straight as I can, using my good arm as a brace. I’m tempted to pull this goddamn thing out of my side myself, but I read somewhere that alone can cause a bleed-out. Not optimal in this case.
“I said, fucking get that goddamn muzzle off my dog,” I’m not even bothering with charm today.
“Ma’am, he could be a danger,” a fat, homely officer says gently. Bennett lowers his head as if ashamed.
“Fuck all if he’s a danger, you nitwit. My dog just saved my life! Did you not see the perverted bastard who did this to me? Would you have preferred that!?” I’m close to hysterics.
“Fu! Fu! Just breathe, babe!” I see Kim, Keith and all the rest of my crew being shoved backwards behind yellow tape. I lock eyes with each and every one of them, lingering on Keith and Kim. Tears hit my eyes like a tsunami.
“I’m so, so sorry,” I mouth silently.
Kim’s eyes flood just as bad as mine and she has to cover her mouth to keep the sobs at bay. Keith wraps an arm around her shoulders, jaw going nuts, his eyes never leaving mine.
“Officer,” his voice comes out strong, “Please release the dog. I’ll take full responsibility should anything else happen.”
“And you are?” Fat Homely Officer calls out.
Keith’s eyes bore into mine, “The future husband.”
I can’t help but break into a huge goofy grin, “Hell yeah, you are.” I whisper.
Even though this is a moment I could live in forever, despite the chaos, the knife in my side, the broken arm and the fact that Drew was trying to kill, I tear my eyes away from Keith to focus on my dog. He needs me.
“Please, officer,” I beg.
He runs his hand through his hair, considering. Finally he says, “If anything happens it’s on you,” he looks pointedly at Keith. Keith only smiles that devastatingly handsome smile of his. Did the officer’s Adam’s Apple just bob?
Bennett’s muzzle is released and he’s instantly army crawling his way towards me.
With that small battle won, all my energy evaporates and I sag back onto the concrete like a sack of wet noodles. Bennett is there for me to rest my head on. I don’t even bother keeping his tongue out of my nostril.
“You’re a good boy, Bennett. You’re my brave little boy.”
I repeat this over and over as everything goes from red and blue, to grey and finally to black.
My eyes flutter open and I see that I’m laying in a crisp, white hospital room. Machines are beeping all around me and needles are shoved into my good arm. My right arm is wrapped in a cast.
Much like if I was coming out of a migraine, I assess my body. Everything hurts.
I look around the room and see Kim slouched asleep in one chair and Keith in much the same position in a second chair. I don’t see Bennett and that makes my heart rate spike.
The increased beeping wakes both Kim and Keith with a jolt and they’re instantly at my side.
“Where’s Bennett? Did they take him?” Tears sting my eyes.
“It’s okay, cutie. Calm down.” Keith lays a cool hand on my forehead, stroking it gently. “Bennett is perfectly safe. He’s staying with Sal and John until you’re released.”
I sag back into my pillow and take a huge breath. Thank God.
I spend a few moments gathering my thoughts. Keith just keeps stroking my hair and Kim holds my hand. They don’t say anything and I appreciate the hell out of them for that.
Finally I whisper, “What happened?”
Kim gulps, “Apparently one of your neighbors saw Drew throw a knife at you. Bennett went ballistic and basically tore him to shreds,” fury makes her voice shake, “Drew was taken to a different hospital. I hope he fucking dies.”
“Kim…” my voice breaks, “There are no words for how sorry I am. I didn’t know…”
“Stop that,” she practically barks, “Don’t even try to pin this on you,” she takes a shuddering breath, “No one knew…I’ll give the fucker this…he’s a damn good actor.”
“But you liked him so much,” I feel a tear fall down my check. Keith catches it with a soft kiss. “I was just so happy for you and now…” my head falls back on the pillow and I sigh, “He threatened to hurt you. I think he knew it would provoke me.”
“It’s not me I’m remotely worried about, babe. Besides, I think Bennett took care of it for all of us.” She says with a small smile.
That jars something in my memory.
“Hey…how the hell did Bennett get out of the house?” I find it amazing that the one time I leave him home he still comes to my rescue.
Keith smiles, “He tore through the tarp over the window.” It’s like watching a papa gloat over his son’s report card.
“You’re kidding me?” I couldn’t be more flabbergasted if he told me Bennett climbed up the chimney and leapt off the roof.
“Not at all,” Keith rubs my shoulder, “You have one brave little boy there, Fu.”
I half sob, half laugh.
“Yes…I really do.”
I’m so happy to be getting out of the hospital I could cry. Not to say I haven’t been doing a lot of that over the past week. I’ve turned into a blubbering moron. And it all started when I forced Kim to give me a mirror. My eye is more black then blue and road rash covers one whole side of my face. I look like freaking Frankenstein. I know I’m being vain and I know it will heal, but Christ, it’s just one more reminder of what that fuck-tard did to me.
Every time I picture Bennett’s snarling face I tear up like a proud mama bear. He protected me. When I couldn’t get to my house in time, Bennett was there. I know there’s something else I’m not seeing but I can’t get past my tears to figure it out.
Kim holds my hand as she handles her car over Highway 92. She came to get me since Keith is stuck at work with tax deadlines. He was pissed he couldn’t be here but I’m actually grateful since I still have things to say to Kim. She’s put on a brave face but I can tell that what happened affected her almost as badly as it affected me.
She must sense something in my voice because she clicks off the radio and finds the next pull-out to park her car.
“I don’t want to hear it, Fu, seriously.” She takes her sunglasses off and I can see the tears brimming and falling. “If you apologize for that douchebag one more time I’m going to stab you.” I can’t help but chuckle.
She takes a big breath, “Yes…I really liked him and yes I thought we could have gone somewhere, but Fu,” she squeezes my hand, “It was all a lie. He lied to every single one of us. Second to trying to rape and murder you, that’s what hurts the most. We let him in…all of us…and he only wanted in so he could take away the one thing in this world that has kept me going since I’ve met her.” She and I hiccup at the same time to choke back our tears. “I can lose a boyfriend every day for the rest of my life and that pain won’t even compare to the pain I felt when I ran up and saw your body laying in the middle of the street.” She swipes at her eyes with an annoyed hand. “So…fuck him and fuck you if you don’t listen to my words with that battered up brain of yours.” She gives me a watery smile.
Tears fall into my mouth as I laugh. I throw my arm around her and give her the biggest hug my lame body can conjure up. “You’ve always been there for me…and I promise, like cross-my-heart-and-hope-to-burn-in-Lucifer’s-barn promise,” I attempt a wink, “That I will never, ever scoff at your Mother Hen-ness again. I was stupid and cavalier and over-confident in my ability to handle the situation,” I look down at my body, “Clearly I over-estimated my abilities.” She laughs as she wipes away more tears. “I love you, Kim.”
“I fucking love you too, babe.”
The first thing I see when we pull onto my street is a small throng of people standing on my lawn. As we get closer I see that Sal and John and Megan and James are leaning into each other, waiting for me. Boone is tethered to a leash that dangles from Sal’s wrist.
Kim parks the car and helps me out. My side protests loudly and it takes all my efforts not to curse like a sailor.
Sal releases the leash and Boone comes over to me, smiling happily. He plops his butt down and stares up at me. I’ve noticed he’s not much of a talker. Kim helps me kneel down so I’m face to face with him.
“Hey, Boone,” I scratch him behind his lazy ear, “Did you watch after my Bennett for me?”
Boone looks me straight in the eyes, “He’s good dog. I’s look after him. I’s look after you too. No more bad men come here.” With that he slurps up my face and ambles back towards Sal.
I watch him go, eyes round as saucers, an amazed expression plastered all over my face. I look at Sal. She’s smiling broadly, biting her lips together to keep back either tears or a laugh. She rushes over and gently embraces me with a hug, “You’ve been chosen,” she whispers in my ear.
I don’t have time to ask questions as everyone comes at me at once. John is all f-bombs about not getting a shot at “that sick piece of fuck” while Megan wishes she could “rip his nuts off and sauté them for the dogs.” James just holds my shoulders tightly, eyes shifting around like he expects Drew to pop out from behind the nearest tree.
“Don’t fucking scare us like that again,” he whispers to me over John and Megan’s tantrum.
I smile up at him, “No more,” I whisper back.
My small crew opens up and I see Keith and Bennett standing at the front door to my home. I just now notice the window has been replaced.
“You’re welcome, little lady,” James says.
Bennett’s tail is all over the map, his face one gigantic smile. He’s wagging so hard his whole lower body is shaking side to side.
“Stay, Bennett,” Keith gently orders. Bennett’s butt is still wagging as he sits down, drooling all over the place.
Keith walks off the porch and comes up to me, gently wrapping his arms around my shoulders.
“Fu,” his forehead drops onto mine, “Christ, you’re going to be the death of me,” he laughs.
“Keith, I’m so sor-”
“Stop,” he orders. He glances at Kim. Clearly they’ve had this conversation before. “I love you, Fu. I can’t live without you…I wasn’t lying. I am your future husband.” He kisses me gently.
“Hell yeah, you are,” I repeat the words I mouthed to him before. He knows it and gives me that same devastatingly handsome smile.
“You have to promise me something right now, though…can you do that?”
“You have to promise not to be so fucking stubborn all the time. Let me take care of you and for once in your life listen to our advice,” he says this gently, slowly stroking my hair.
I smile around a fresh vat of tears…blubbering moron still at it. “I promise,” I whisper. He cups my chin and gives me another one of his toe-curling kisses.
“Now,” he flourishes his hand toward the front door, where Bennett’s furry butt hasn’t stopped wagging, “I think it’s time to say hello to your real protector.”
I can’t stop the tears as Keith helps me up the steps to my home. The second I set foot on the porch I swear the house breathes a sigh of relief. And Bennett is off his butt and slobbering all over me. I’ve never wanted anything more.
I clutch him to my chest and breathe in his sweet doggie scent. He’s “woofing” softly and even though he’s gigantic he’s careful to not rub up against my injured side or bump into my arm. How he knows not to do that is beyond me.
“My brave little boy,” I whisper into his scruff. I don’t know how long I hold him but it doesn’t feel long enough. He eventually stops wiggling and just sits there, panting happily as I stroke his coat and hug him. “I love you so much, Bennett,” I say.
“Woof.” His tongue finds my nose. “Woof, woof, woof.” I laugh along with everyone else.
Eventually Keith helps me stand and we all pile into my living room.
“I’m making everyone coffee,” Kim proclaims, “Fu, sit. Megan, help me. John, get Fu a blanket. James, light a fire.” Kim is back to her take-charge mannerisms and I can’t help but feel a hole form in my heart. Stupid bastard Drew.
Keith tucks me up against his side and Bennett snuggles against my other side, again being careful of my sling and stab wound. I have a stab wound…sounds kinda badass now that I’m outta the thick of it. Bennett lays his huge head across my lap and sighs contentedly.
The warmth that surrounds me makes me drowsy. I love the sound of my friends roaming around my house. I think the house likes it too because she groans and settles, little creaks and cracks coming from here and there. Maybe it’s just my medicated mind making it up but either way I like it.
“So what happened after I passed out?” I ask. Kim has placed a hot cup of coffee in my hand and everyone is sitting around my living room. Even Boone is cuddled up next to Sal, grinning contentedly.
“Drew was fucked three ways towards Sunday,” John says, “That piece of shit didn’t stand a chance against Bennett.” Bennett “woofs” softly from my lap. “He wasn’t unconscious when they took him away, unfortunately, but he was screaming like a little bitch. I think Bennett may have snagged one of his fingers.” Gross. And oh-so pleasing.
“Frank called me when you were in the hospital, Fu,” Kim says, “Wanna hear what he had to say?” She gives me her mischievous look.
“So get this…Ed’s been working for a temp agency, trying to get back on his feet, doing odd jobs here and there. Frank says that he’s not even close to being broke like Drew implied. He just wants to put the past year behind him and move on. He’s also in AA. I guess that year in jail helped cool him off. He had no idea what his son was up to.”
“How did Frank find all this out?” I ask incredulously.
“Frank talked to Ed himself.”
“No shit? Wow…that’s…good news, I guess,” I stroke Bennett’s coat thoughtfully, “So then what’s Drew’s deal?”
I notice everyone looking around at each other…I guess they all got the memo before me.
“Drew’s a bad seed,” Sal finally says, “Frank found out that not only does Drew have a few restraining orders on his record, he’s also been arrested for assault with a deadly weapon and drunk driving. He’s also got a pretty heavy debt towards some not-so-great people.”
“Fucking wanker,” Megan growls.
I laugh, “Not to mention psychotic douchebag.”
“It’s my guess that Drew thought his dad’s money would get him out of the shit-hole he dug himself into with these people. So when you sued Ed, Drew thought he was screwed,” Keith says.
“Huh…when I had Drew talking he said the same thing.”
We all sit and stare at the fire, living in our own heads for a few minutes.
“There’s going to be another trial, isn’t there?” The thought makes my stomach turn.
“Yes,” Kim says gently. She of all people knows how much the last one took out of me, “Frank already said he’d represent you, pro bono.” She smiles warmly at me.
A shocked laugh escapes before I can stop it.
“And every single one of us will sit with you, Fu,” James leans over and pats my knee. Bennett’s tongue peeks out and licks his hand as he does.
How did I get so lucky? This will forever be a question I’ll ponder.
“I just thank God Bennett was here,” Kim says softly, “And that the tarp was still up,” she adds.
“I should thank the window guys for being too busy to get to me,” I say with a laugh, but then something hits me. “Don’t you think it’s strange that Bennett would be sick and needing to stay home on the very night that Drew makes his move?”
Bennett raises his head and “woofs” in my face, clearly pleased with himself.
We all stare at him. A silence falls over us as we watch him watch me, waiting patiently.
“He was sent to you, Fu,” Keith whispers, just loud enough for everyone to hear, “Is it possible he knew to stay home?”
Bennett looks over at Keith and his blue face breaks into a gigantic smile as he “woofs” again.
No one moves or speaks. We all just stare at Bennett like he’s Baby Jesus. “I just knew” where Drew’s words.
Boone sits up and starts panting happily.
“You made yourself sick, didn’t you, sweetie? You ate all that damn grass so I would leave you home. You knew…”
He “woofs” joyously, his tail swishing across the couch. He smiles adoringly into my face and sticks his tongue up my nose. Shock, joy and unadulterated love keep me frozen in my spot.
“No. Freaking. Way.” Megan breathes.
My eyes meet Sal’s. She quirks an eyebrow at me and starts scratching Boone behind his lazy ear. “Nothing is ever impossible.”