The Fighter

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Chapter 10: A Web of Lies

My breathing grew harsh and loud in my hears. I could hear my heartbeat loud and clear. Sweat pricked my underarms and beaded on my lower back. My fingers went numb and my hands began to shake. My vision threatened to start swimming. Everything faded from my vision except for his picture, blown up on the large screen in the briefing room.

“W-what is this? What’s going on?” I demanded hoarsely, stammering, my voice barely above a whisper as I tried to keep a grasp on reality.

Josh bursted into the room behind me, and Richard narrowed his eyes at the both of us. “Josh, you were supposed to keep her out of here,” he roared.

“I know, but she caught on right away and bolted in here before I could stop her,” he defended curtly, his normally nice blue gaze hardening in anger as it shifted to me.

I was trembling as I tried to figure out what was happening. So they were keeping something from me. I knew it. I had been suspicious from the start; I knew I should have trusted my gut. I ground my teeth as I tried to put my thoughts together. “It’s clear every single one of you lied to me. Time to come clean,” I said calmly, so calm that it scared even myself. My anger was bubbling beneath the surface. I felt like Mount Vesuvius: dormant and preparing myself for a massive eruption.

Drew refused to meet my eyes, and that upset me more. After the night he and I had shared together, after everything I had completely opened up to him, and he couldn’t even look at me? He didn’t even have the decency to own up to whatever it is he’d done? He wasn’t man enough to face me?

Fucking pathetic! I screamed at him in my mind.

I glanced around the rest of the room slowly. Each and every person had averted their gaze. The pieces were slowly falling together in my head. “Fine, no one wants to start? Allow me. Richard enlisted Drew to ‘recruit’ me and even gave him permission to assault me if I didn’t cooperate. And Josh here — the one posing as a good friend of mine until this moment — he was the one who jumped me to begin with the night Drew brought me here. Isn’t that right, ’David’?” I sneered, not giving any of them a chance to protest before I continued. “I knew I recognized Josh’s voice from somewhere. And to top it, I knew something was off the first day I started training. Josh and Carson seemed oddly trained as it was, and constantly shared clandestine looks with Drew. For FBI Agents, you’d think you’d all be a little more subtle. It’s obvious Josh and Carson are already part of the team, especially since they were allowed to shoot firearms on their own right way. It was clever saying they’d had a jumpstart on training and had recreational practice with firearms.

“Then you guys staged that guy quitting so Carson could help you guys on the case without arousing any suspicion from me. Conveniently both Josh and Carson were able to pitch in on the case since — to reiterate my point — they’re already part of the team and not doing any training at all, just keeping up appearances for my sake. I’ve noticed all of your secret conversations with one another and clear exclusion of me,” I seethed. I gestured to the screen. “All of this points to some pre-meditated plan to get information from me or get me to open up about my past. But why the elaborate plan if you only needed me for a case?” Hurt and nausea tore through me as I realized it had all been a lie. I had changed my life for these people, and all for a fuck ton of lies.

“I guess I could understand all of you lying to me since you hardly know me, but you, Drew?” I leered at him, my lips curling in disgust. “After the things I shared with you, in confidence, and you can’t even face me right now like a man? I mean, wow, that really says a lot about you.” I paused and looked at everyone again. Guilt and shame hung in the air like humidity on a hot day. “I just want to know. Why didn’t you just ask me to come in for an interview? Hmm?” I demanded. “I’d do anything to get this guy off the streets. What made you guys think I wouldn’t open up about it?”

Finally, I got a reaction from them. Everyone shifted uncomfortably. Drew’s eyes flashed with regret and he rubbed the back of his neck. I narrowed my eyes at him and vaguely remembered…

Oh, fuck. Fuck, no.

I scoffed. “No,” I breathed in horror, and the humiliating feeling of tears burning my eyes came on fast and strong. “No. You guys used Joan?” But it made sense. Joan pushing me towards Drew when I first met him, her shunning me until I opened up to her, her standoffish reaction when I told her about my job with the FBI, how she knew Drew’s name. How she claimed knowing his name was because she overheard Drew tell me at the gym, when ironically Drew said that’s how he found out about my nickname.

My heart skipped a few beats, causing my chest to squeeze. This hurt, and it hurt bad. It was the most hurt I’d been since the day those teenage girls had bullied me. My best friend lied to me? For how long?

“Unbelievable,” I spat. “I’m leaving.” I stormed out of the room just in time for my stomach to heave. I raced to the stairwell to vomit into the trashcan at the top of the stairs. I felt hot tears stream down my face as my stomach relieved itself. When I was done, I straightened and wiped my mouth with the back of my hand. I turned and barreled down the stairs. I needed to leave. I needed fresh air. I needed space. And I needed it now.

As I threw myself out of the doors and into the mid-summer heat, I heard steps racing down the stairs. I half-ran through the parking lot to get to my car, but those familiar steps quickly caught up to me.

“Maddie, wait!” Drew called after me.

I wiped my tears but kept going toward my car. I couldn’t face him now, not after he’d seen me naked and I’d bared my soul to him and he’d acted like he gave a damn about me.

Within seconds, Drew had jumped in front of me, bringing me to a grinding halt. “Can you just stop for a second?” He wondered, his eyes desperately searching mine. Those beautiful eyes that churned with deep, raw emotions like a hurricane blowing in from the coast, and they were searing through me.

I just glared at him. I couldn’t bring myself to say anything to him. I was pretty confident I’d made it very evident inside.

“Give me a chance to explain,” he pleaded, taking a tiny step toward me. “Please.”

I clenched my jaw. “No, I think you’ve used me enough for one lifetime,” I croaked. I hoped he could see how hurt I was by what he’d done. “I trusted you.”

His eyes widened with regret. “Maddie, everything we did was genuine and real.”

“You don’t get to call me Maddie anymore. Even if that were true, it doesn’t change all the other lies you told me,” I snapped, feeling another wave of tears well in my eyes.

His shoulders dropped in defeat. “I didn’t want to do this. My job was already on the line—”

“So you thought messing with someone else’s life — something so deep and personal — was worth it so you wouldn’t lose your job?” I probed.

He ran his hands over his face. “At the time it didn’t seem so bad, Madelyn!” He shouted, using my full name and taking me by surprise. “I was in a fragile place because I’d just let an innocent person die,” he blurted.

Oh, God.

A small part of me wanted to reach out, caress his face and ask what happened, but the majority of my being was fuming with betrayal. I set my jaw. “Well, now you don’t have to carry the weight of this lie on your shoulders anymore. We’re done here.” I pushed passed him and unlocked my car. When I got inside, I refused to look in his direction, as badly as I wanted to. I pulled out of the parking lot and let the tears take over.

I drove for hours. Going home didn’t seem like the right answer, and I couldn’t eat. I was feeling depressed, used, dirty, and alone. When I could finally get a grip on myself and stopped sobbing, I pulled over and called my mom.

“Hey, sweetheart,” she greeted cheerily.

Her voice instantly comforted me. She’d been my rock for so long, and I hated how far away she lived. Before she could say anything else, I broke down again and told her everything that happened. She was quiet for a moment after I’d finished my sad and sobering tale.

“Oh, my sweet Dee, you poor thing,” she said. “I can’t believe they’d do that to you. It sounds like their intentions were in the right place, but they were going about it in the wrong way. This could be a good opportunity for you to finally help put him away,” she told me.

Why wasn’t she more angry? How could she not be hearing how badly I’d been hurt?

“Well, I don’t think I can forgive any of them for what they’ve done,” I responded, beginning to feel numb. This was pretty common for me. I’d process my emotions and then become desensitized to them, which would eventually turn itself into fury.

“I think maybe you focus on what their investigation is. If not for yourself, then for the safety of humanity and other girls if he’s off the streets,” she claimed.

I sighed. “Yeah, maybe.” Not.

I wrapped up my conversation with her shortly after that and noticed that I’d subconsciously parked at the gym. I smiled sadly up at the building, feeling like it was my only friend now. I quickly glanced in the mirror and saw mascara streaks down my face. I licked my fingers and haphazardly wiped the makeup off before grabbing my ever-present gym bag and racing inside.

I charged through the gym with more intent than I’d ever had. If I thought I was angry at life before, then I had no idea what this would bring me. I changed my clothes and went straight to the punching bags. Just like the day I met Drew, I unleashed the full force of my emotions on the equipment.

I pictured Drew with his damn dimples and mischievous smile. Punch. I pictured all the times him, Josh, and Carson beat me. Double punch. I pictured Drew kissing me and making me feel like a woman. Four punches. I pictured Joan, my best friend, lying to me. Three punches. I kept going. Every conversation that held a lie, every person who’d lied, I let my fists fly. At one point I started kicking, but my vision had gone red, and I no longer felt like Madelyn Carver. I felt like I was out of body, watching her from afar, disassociating to protect myself from the immense pain that consumed me.

I panted and rested my hands on my knees. Black dots swirled in my vision, threatening a black-out. I dropped to my knees to take a much-welcome break, when I felt the hair on the back of my neck rise like I was being watched. I slid my eyes toward the entrance of the gym and saw the same hooded figure standing just outside, like the day at my apartment. I gasped and blinked hard. When I reopened my eyes, the person was no longer there, and I was beginning to wonder if I was imagining it because I was losing my mind.

I clambered to my feet and noticed the sun was going down outside, so I gathered my things to leave. I pulled my hair to tighten my ponytail and felt the elastic snap. I scowled and grunted in annoyance as my hair fell around my face. I caught a glimpse in one of the full-length mirrors in the locker room and noticed my hair was damp with sweat and springing into their natural ringlets.


As I left the gym, I made a mental note to go get my hair done. I passed an alley to cross to the parking lot, and a figure in the dark caught my attention. I briefly paused, squinted into the alley, and stumbled back as I recognized the hooded figure from earlier. The person lunged at me and pulled me into the alley. I dropped my gym bag somewhere near the entrance of the alley as I was pulled backward. Tired from my workout today and my demanding training at the FBI, I felt weak and powerless.

No, no no. Not now.

“Happy belated birthday. I found you, Dee,” an all-too familiar hissed in my ear.

My eyes widened and I screamed, but he clamped his hand over my mouth so no one could hear me. I wiggled and squirmed, but couldn’t get free.

“You can die your hair, but you can never get rid of these perfect curls,” he breathed, inhaling the scent of my hair. “You’re perfect, Madelyn. No one else is like you.” I gagged at the scent of stale cigarettes and fresh alcohol.

I whimpered. What the hell was he talking about?

“You see, I tried to recreate our magic time and time again but nothing was like what we had. Do you remember?”

I grunted and went full dead weight on him, hoping it would momentarily catch him off guard. It failed as he kept his ironclad grip on me.

Sick bastard.

He’d done it to more girls? Oh no, I was hoping I’d been the only one.

“You can try to fight me, Madelyn, but nothing can keep us apart forever,” he whispered.

Feeling newfound strength course through my veins, I remembered my training with the FBI. I found my footing, planted myself, and brought my elbow up, which loosened his grip on me just enough for me to bite down on his hand. He cried out and swore, and I took the opportunity to spin around, kick him in the groin, swing my arm up in an uppercut to clock him in the nose, and bolt.

He reached out and caught my ankle. It tripped me and I just barely caught myself on my hands. Pain lanced through my wrists. My face skid on the concrete, and I could feel scrapes on my skin right away. I kicked back at him as he turned red-faced from the kick to the groin. He mounted me from behind and I cried out for help, but there was no one around. He pushed my face into the concrete and the rancid smell of trash and grime filled my nostrils.

I mustered up the strength to flip myself over. He reached down with his hands and wrapped them around my throat. I clawed at his hands as I fought for air. It would be so easy to fall victim to death at that very moment, but if there was anything I’d learned in the last two months about myself, it’s that I was worth more than I’d been giving myself credit for.

“Wow, look at you,” he murmured. “Once again powerless from me. Isn’t that a turn on, Madelyn? And look at how you’ve matured. You’re beautiful. My first, my favorite.” Blood had begin to drip out of his nose and down onto my shirt.

Given he was straddling me, I brought my fist down on his crotch once more. This time seemed to effect him more as he rolled off me.

I scrambled to my feet and raced away, grabbing my bag and running to my car, desperate to get away as quickly as possible. I watched as he stumbled out of the alley, his hood now off and revealing his face under the streetlights. Blood poured down his face and he cupped his crotch. We made eye contact, and I contemplated flooring my car directly at him. His eyes were so dark they looked demonic, and his greasy hair was tucked behind his ears.

I zipped out of the parking lot and drove home. My hands gripped the steering wheel so hard my knuckles were white. I was gasping for air. I could smell him still, hear him breathing in my scent, feel his grasp on me, just like it did when I was a child. I was hyperventilating hoarsely. My throat hurt from his strangling, but I couldn’t stop the harsh breathing.

How had he found me? Oh God, I was alone too. I had no one to call. I didn’t even call the police. I just needed a minute to myself to think everything through and figure out my next move.

I parked my car at the next apartment complex over, glanced around me, and beelined for my apartment, sticking to shadows and ducking behind cars as I went. I made sure there were no FBI cars in the parking lot before I raced up the stairs to my place. I immediately locked the door behind me, then opened my hall closet for the supplies I’d hoped I’d never need to use. I pulled two by fours out, a hammer, and nails, and put up three boards over the front door, leaving space for me to peer through the peephole. Then I took a roll of barb wire and wrapped it around my outdoor balcony and locked myself in. I didn’t want anybody trying to get in.

I paced back and forth in my living room. This could buy me a few days at the most. I would just make it look like no one was home. Keep the blinds and curtains closed, only use a flashlight at night, and not leave.

After a few minutes of pacing, I stopped. First thing I needed to do was arrange for a change to my hair, and have it done soon. Then I needed to find a new place to move to and consider leaving town. I could move back home to Kathleen’s, but maybe that was too obvious?

I sighed and shut off my phone. I didn’t need anyone tracking my phone to locate me. I pulled my go bag out of the closet and tore open one of my burner phones, dug out the business card of my hairstylist, and shot her the usual text:

Me: It’s D. Need usual for my hair ASAP.

Within minutes, I got a text back.

Pricilla: Thursday. 10am. My place.

I breathed a sigh of relief. Now I just needed to wait out the next day.

Wednesday came and went. I avoided windows and doors, even though the blinds were closed. I was exhausted but had finally reached the point of being numb. I knew I had to do something about him. If he’d been out doing this to other young girls, he had to be stopped. That just meant swallowing my pride enough to walk back to the FBI with my tail between my legs. I kept telling myself it was for the greater good, hoping to ease my nerves some.

I know, I know. Madelyn six weeks ago would’ve scowled and probably not set her differences aside. But I’d changed.

I pulled a black hoodie over my head and frowned into the mirror. I had a busted lip, scrapes and bruises decorating my face, throat, and elbows, and dark crescent moons had formed under my eyes from not sleeping.

I’d refused to sleep in my bed. It reminded me too much of Drew and what he’d done to me. My hormone goddess had curled into the fetal position and cried herself to sleep in the corners of my mind, and I hadn’t seen her since.

I reflected on how I’d told myself not to trust Drew because of what a man had done to me in the past, and he had gone and proved me right.

I sighed and fought tears. I had exposed myself in every way thinking I was safe with him, and the very next day he stabbed me in the heart. I finally understood the song “Last Christmas” and its somber lyrics. Last Christmas, I gave you my heart, and the very next day, you gave it away.

I huffed and pulled the nails out of the boards on my front door. They clattered onto the tile, and I pried the boards off one at a time. I double checked to make sure I had my cell phone and burner phone on me, as well as cash from my emergency fund, before opening the door. The bright daylight and heat greeted me immediately. I blinked as my eyes adjusted before locking up and doing a quick once-over of the parking lot. When I saw nothing suspicious, I hurried back over to the other apartment complex to get my car, where it sat safely, as if two days ago I hadn’t been trying to escape in it from the man who’d ruined my life.

When I arrived at Pricilla’s house, I pulled into her garage like usual so my car wasn’t spotted.

Yes, I was always very discreet so people wouldn’t know my location, but it was even more imperative now. Pricilla greeted me at the door, with her arms crossed over her chest. Her white T-shirt popped against her dark skin, and her long braids were twisted up into a bun. I gave her a meek smile as I approached her, pulling off my hood and sunglasses.

“What the hell happened to you, dear?” She wondered as she stepped aside to let me in.

I shook my head. “Long story that I’ve been telling way too many times these days,” I grumbled as I took a seat in the salon chair she had set up in the office just off her bedroom.

She clucked her tongue and pulled at my long curls. “Well, your secrets are safe with me, as always,” she told me, and I admired her in the mirror as she started lifting my hair up to see what needed to be done.

Thinking about it, she was probably the only person in my life aside from Kathleen that wasn’t involved with the FBI who I could trust. In other words, the only honest person I could call a “friend.”

“So what are we doing today?” She asked me.

I pursed my lips. “Cut it. It needs to be a lot shorter. Straight perm, and as light as you can get me,” I requested.

Her dark brown eyes widened but she nodded and began mixing together the chemicals.

After I paid Pricilla, I promptly left and drove back to my apartment. I was caught somewhere between fleeing and leaving this life behind, or trying to help put him behind bars. I decided to leave my car parked in front of my building so I could decide which battle I was going to fight.

A sinking feeling grew larger with each passing second in the pit of my stomach. I felt so conflicted. I knew what the right thing was and what the selfish thing was. It was the epitome of damned if you do and damned if you don’t.

I sighed and locked my deadbolt, kicking the nails aside that were lying on the ground. I pulled out a couple of boxes and started packing up my closet. If I decided to stay, it would be easy to unpack my clothes. If I decided to leave, well, then I’d already started packing.

As I was rifling through my belongings, I froze as my fingers brushed a familiar glossy gift bag at the back of my closet. With trembling hands, I feebly pulled it out. I’d never actually opened the gift inside after my mother passed away. It hurt too much, and the memories were never good.

But now I had nothing to lose. I suddenly felt ready to see the gift she got me all those years ago. My lower lip quivered as I shakily pulled out the small square that was neatly wrapped. I recognized the shape instantly; it was a CD case.

Promise to keep fighting the battle I couldn’t, her voice said to me, reminding me of that sacred promise I’d made all those years ago.

What battle had she been referring to? Cancer was her battle and I couldn’t have fought that for the life of me.

My fingers pulled the tape gently, trying to preserve the wrapping paper as best I could for the sentimental value. I lay the paper on the bed and gasped softly. The CD case was clear and revealed her handwriting on the CD: Dee’s Mixtape, it read. She knew how much I loved music and resorted to it as an escape. I sobbed and clutched it to me, the gaping hole in my chest throbbing in pain. With my birthday being just a few days ago, and the anniversary of her death looming over me, I couldn’t stop the painful sobs that wracked my body.

“How could you leave me?” I cried out, wrapping my arms around myself as I sunk to the ground, my knees buckling and no longer able to support me.

After several minutes of uncontrollable crying, I gingerly crawled over to my bed to grab my laptop. I opened it up and slid the CD into the CD slot to hear what was on it. The first thing that played was a recording of her voice, and more tears were brought unbidden. I closed my eyes and let her voice fill my head and bring me peace.

“Dear Dee,” she started, her voice loud and strong, like it was before she got sick. “First of all, I just want you to know how much I love you. And no matter how long you’ve waited to listen to this, I just want you to know that I’m watching over you.” There was a brief pause, at which I was listening so intently I could practically hear the blood coursing through my veins. I fidgeted as I impatiently waited to hear her voice again.

“I know none of this makes sense,” she continued. “But I miss you. I hate being in this hospital every day without you. I know everything that’s been happening, and I’m sorry I couldn’t prevent it.”

What the hell?

I scrambled to pause the track and gape at the screen as if it were some sort of joke. She knew? My heart squeezed in confusion but I was antsy to know more, so I resumed the recording.

“You’re so incredibly strong and independent, and when you’re older you’re going to realize the weight of what’s happened to you. I hope you listen to this again when you’re old enough to fully understand. And whatever you’ve done with your life, just know I am so incredibly proud of you. You’ve continued to push on despite the terrible things life has thrown at you.” There was another pause and I sniffled at her encouraging words. Her voice cracked on the next sentence. “You’re my bright little ball of sunshine. Always remember that. Remember to always do the right thing, look both ways before crossing the road, and above all else, to love yourself. It will be hard in light of what’s happened to you. And I’m so sorry I’m leaving you when you’re so young. Everything I have done, I have done for you and to protect you.”

What did she mean by that? Everything she’d done?

“Listen all the way through. And remember I love you,” she concluded, and the computer skipped to the next track.

I sat on my floor leaning against my bed in awe, and listened to the whole mixtape. She had compiled some of my favorite boy band songs, strong and independent female songs, and a mix of the newest N’Sync songs that had been released just before her death. The lump in my throat was present the entire time as I laughed and cried my way through the soundtrack. I felt like a hysterical maniac, and when I reached the end of it, I nearly pissed myself.

Oh my God.

I closed my laptop and jumped to my feet. I knew what I had to and it definitely involved me swallowing my pride and walking back into the FBI with my head held high.

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