“I repeated to no one of your beautiful existence. You were only for myself - to be shared with no one’s heart but mine.”
His kind eyes looked empty, expressionless. Jack did not blink as he stared at the hole in my sunglasses. He reached out and took them from my hand. Unexpectedly, he threw them across the room, and they shattered against the wall. He stepped across his bedroom and put both of his fists through the wall. His sudden outburst caused me to jump, and the anger was terrifying. I began shaking and crying.
“Jack, please, stop. You’re scaring me,” I said.
He furrowed his brow and closed his eyes. The corners of his mouth turned down, and he walked over to his dresser, pulled open the top drawer, and walked back over to me with something in his hand. Jack held a picture in front of my face. I didn’t even have to look at it to know what it was.
“I’m so sorry, Jack. Your grandfather… he told me,” I said, attempting to console him.
He kept trying to speak to me as he held the photo and pointed, first to his wife, and then to his child. He was striving to control his grief while speaking, and it was not working. Only half-spoken words escaped his lips, yet full tears came pouring from his eyes. He dropped the photo as he covered his face and walked past me into the bathroom, slamming the door shut. The water turned on, and I heard the shower curtain open. I picked the photograph up off the floor and placed it nicely on his dresser. I stared at it only for a moment, and began to cry. Just knowing that my Jack had gone through something so terrible was hard to bear.
I backed away from the photo, sitting on the edge of the bed looking around the room. There was a lonely feeling that came creeping up, and I suddenly felt afraid. I couldn’t just sit there by myself any longer.
“Jack, I’m coming in,” I said at the door to his bathroom. I received no response as I opened the door.
I pulled the shower curtain open slightly after hearing nothing from him. Having no idea of what else to do, I jumped in the shower in my clothes. Jack was curled up in the tub in his clothes. The water wasn’t even hot. I gasped as the cold water hit me. I cradled him as he shuddered.
“The water heater must not be working,” he muttered.
Reaching toward the faucet to turn the water off, I submerged myself further into the cold water.
“Oh my god, that is freezing,” I yelled as I turned off the water.
Jack began to cry even harder, covering his face and shaking. He deep cries were inconsolable. I grabbed hold of his face, and for the first time since I saw him on the dock, he actually looked at me. He held my face in return.
“I’m sorry for what happened today… I have such guilt. I’m sorry for a lot of things. I’m sorry that I couldn’t save them,” he cried, and his teeth chattered.
“It wasn’t your fault,” I replied.
I clenched the locks of his dark hair and pulled his injured expression to my lips. I lifted droplets of water from his skin with every kiss, drinking them in. I was trying my best to be strong for him, but I knew that my courage dwindled against the shock from the day’s events.
We both jumped at the sound of someone pounding loudly on the door. My body went into a panic. Jack climbed out of the shower, cautiously, and I followed behind him.
There was another pound on the door.
“Jack, what if it’s local police? They had nothing to do with any of this,” I informed, as I felt afraid for whoever was knocking. After the first knock, the way he carried himself became monstrous, and his eyes were no longer kindly. It was as though the sudden alarming knock was triggering a form of post-traumatic stress. My words had not even fazed him. I understood, looking at him now, what his grandfather meant when he told me that Jack was dangerous. The very air around him, I felt, could have killed someone. It was of an inhuman nature, and was being indulged with every knock. I shielded my face and fell against the wall, very afraid of what was about to happen. My willpower was slipping, and I was close to passing out. The sheer relief of my mother’s voice on the other side of the door caused us both let out a sigh of relief. I almost started crying, joyfully.
“Jack, Maddy? Are you guys in there?” she yelled.
I ran to the door and opened it, soaking wet. My mother stepped right in, with her hands on her hips.
“Maddy? What the hell?” she immediately said.
“What, Mom?” I asked back.
“I’ve been worried sick. I’ve tried calling you, and calling you. You said Jack was showing up to work on the house. When I called you to find out why he didn’t show and no one answered, I got worried. Also, I realized that you never have ballet class on Sunday.”
I didn’t know how to respond. Before I could even think of what to say, Jack came in from his bedroom, pulling a shirt over his head. He had quickly removed his wet clothes, whereas I was still soaking wet.
“I’m sorry, Anne. I came down with something. I called Maddy and told her that I wouldn’t be able to make it to your house. She came over to see how I was doing,” Jack added convincingly.
“Okay, Jack, thank you for telling me that. I’m sorry for barging in, but I would like to speak to my daughter,” she said in a parental tone.
My mom stared at Jack, waiting for him to leave the room. He took the cue from her and walked back into his bedroom.
“I know you are in love, Maddy,” she spit out, “but for god’s sake, why can’t you just pick up the god damn phone? I’m your Mother, and I’m not trying to keep you from seeing him. I just get worried. Dammit.”
I felt really bad and started to apologize, but she continued to speak at me, and her voice sounded strained, on the edge of tears.
“I’m all alone, Maddy. What am I supposed to do when you’re gone?”
“Mom, I’m really sorry. It has just been a crazy afternoon, and I have been wrapped up in this…” I said as Jack entered back into the room. He threw me a towel and stopped at the end of the kitchen counter.
“Anne, I’m sorry about all this. We don’t take your feelings for granted. So on that note, how would the three of us like to go out tonight for dinner? I was thinking Italian, maybe,” Jack said.
“I thought you were ill?” My mom questioned.
“Well, I just got better,” he replied. My mother glared back at Jack, trying not to smile.
She started to laugh. “Alright, you’re picking up the check though,” she said, placing her hands on her hips.
“Fair enough,” he stated.
“Jack, I need to go home and get changed I have no other clothes with me,” I said as I soaked up some of the water in my hair with the towel.
“Alright, we’ll stop by your house first,” he replied.
“I’m not even going to ask why in the hell you are in your clothes, soaking wet,” my mother dramatically said.
“It’s probably best that you don’t,” I replied.
“Maddy, I’ll just meet you at home. Don’t take forever, and behave,” she yelled as she walked out the door.
I followed Jack into his bedroom, and he closed the door. I was concerned for him. He had just had a complete emotional breakdown prior to my mother showing up.
“Jack, are you okay?” I asked.
“I’ll be fine, Maddy. Everything just seemed to hit me at once. Let’s not talk about it,” he told me.
“I honestly don’t have an appetite. I almost died today, Jack. I saw you kill someone with your bare hands. This has not even sunk into my mind yet. It’s hard to even process,” I said, and Jack let out a sigh.
“I know how you feel now, and how you are going to feel later, Maddy. This was the second time they’ve tried to kill me. I know you want to break-down right now, but you can’t. You have to hold it together. I’m sorry that you had to see me like that. I have rarely ever gone to that place. I just came so close to losing you today… it was maddening,” he said and then cut himself off, trying to maintain his composure.
“I miss Ava and Cara. They will always be with me, but only in the space of my heart that is broken. The rest of what I have is for you.” Jack placed his hand on my chest. “I’m sorry if I scared you. I myself was afraid; I thought I was going to lose you.”
I felt weak and began crying. In return, Jack caressed where my heart was. “They tried to destroy what I have come to love. I won’t have it. And out of love for you, I would kill again… anyone who tries to hurt you.”
I wrapped my arms around him, collapsing my head against his chest.
“Jack, I feel as though I know nothing about you now. Everything I’ve learned the past week wasn’t who you really were,” I bawled.
“It was me. It’s only my past you are unfamiliar with. I suppose our pasts make us who we are. You will know more soon enough. You’ve only seen the good things up until recently. The rest, it breaks my heart to say, is all bad,” he replied, dropping his head shamefully.
I lifted my head from his chest, raised his chin with my hand, and touched my cold lips to his warmth. When my nose touched his cheek, I could feel how cold I was by how warm his skin felt to mine. I pulled away, and my teeth chattered a bit. Jack opened his drawer and pulled out a white shirt and some sweat pants.
“Here, wear these until we get to your house,” he said.
As I took the clothes, he began kissing me, and pulling at my clothes. His hands were searching for my underwear, which wasn’t there. He pulled away and looked me up and down with his eyes. I could tell he was really trying to hold himself together. I slowly pulled my shirt over my head and then unsnapped my bra. I shrugged my shoulders.
“How did that happen?” I asked, watching my bra hit the floor.
“Your mom will probably be mad if we make her wait too long,” he said, staring at my chest.
“Were you telling me that, or my breasts?” I asked.
“I don’t know. Just… you have to put clothes on,” he said, sounding tortured.
“I don’t want to. Can you comfort sex me?” I asked as I held myself shivering.
His eyes roved over my flesh. “I would love to. And could use that kind of medicine,” he said as he approached.
We both jumped at the sound of my phone vibrating on the kitchen table. Jack ran and picked it up.
“It’s your Mom,” he said.
“Dammit,” I said as I answered. “Yeah?”
“Have you guys left yet?” My mom asked.
“Walking out the door now. See you in five,” I lied.
I looked at Jack when I hung up, and I threw my phone on his bed. “How about after dinner?” I said, sounding annoyed.
He only nodded in reply.
I could have used the sexual comfort because it really felt needed. My body began to shiver as I threw on Jack’s clothes. I grabbed my boots with the knife that may or may not have been involved in saving my life earlier. Dropping all my belongings into my bag, I tried to keep it together, but felt as though I was falling apart emotionally.
We climbed into the Lark and headed toward my house. I allowed Jack to drive. The nice thing about old cars is that there are no divided seats. I wedged myself under his right arm as he drove with his left. It may have been the fact that the sun had almost gone behind the horizon, or it was just a windy, cold day, but I could not stop shivering. I soon realized that I wasn’t actually cold: it was my nerves. I think everything that had happened had took its toll on me.
We pulled into my driveway and circled around to the front steps.
“I’m going to be a minute,” I said.
“I’ll come in.”
I left Jack and my mother in the living room, and walked upstairs. I felt some sense of security crossing the threshold into my bedroom. The tension in my muscles seemed to give out, and I collapsed onto the carpet of my room. It was moments like these that I missed my father. I realized my tension, and teeth-chattering tremors, was in fact my body trying to cope with the stress and not because of my body temperature. It all came out now in tears streaming onto the carpet. The thought that kept recurring in my mind was when Jack’s grandfather had asked me where his grandson was, and told me to leave him. In that moment, I’d believed something awful had happened to him, or I’d never see him again. And then, when the gun was aimed at me and my only thought was that I would never get to tell him good-bye, I felt as though I was going crazy. It clearly was not death I was afraid of. I was deathly afraid of loss, or abandonment. The anxiety that was washing over me felt so severe it was as if something had indeed happened to my Jack. I hadn’t felt so helpless since my father’s death.
I tried to pick myself up from the floor, but my body had turned to lead. I lay with my cheek against the carpet, my hands tucked under my chin. Along with the tears, I felt my skin crawling. The nerves that moved uncontrollably beneath my skin created a whimper behind my cries. The walls that had been my willpower now lay in ruins from extreme emotional turmoil. These violent emotions took me back nine years. I tried to speak, but all of my power had left me.
My mother came in to check on me, and her screaming felt like a dream. Jack quickly followed behind the shouting. I could hear my mother yelling at him.
“What have you done to my daughter, Jack?” I heard her yell.
Jack lifted me from off the floor, once again saving me in some way.
“Nothing, Anne. Please start a hot bath,” he responded kindly, pushing the bathroom door open with his foot. I heard the bath water start, and I was unsure who turned it on. I felt the shirt I had on pulled over my head. As I was lowered into the warm water, I started to feel my body relax some.
“Jack, what is this? What happened? Do I need to call an ambulance?” I heard my mother yelling frantically.
“That’s your call, but I’m sure this will help, and she’ll come back to us shortly. Let’s see if she’ll drink something. She needs sugar. Grab a Coke or something,” he responded.
A few moments later I felt a cold aluminum can touch my lips. I took a small drink, and then another. Jack’s fingers brushed my cheek, and I felt his palm shaking against my face. He lightly called my name, repeatedly. I could feel myself being brought back. My heart-beat had not slowed since the afternoon. Perhaps my blood pressure had skyrocketed. The warm bath-water was soothing. I could see Jack now, clearly, and my mother.
“Maddy?” she said with tears in her eyes.
I swallowed and tried to speak. My voice was very strained. I reached for the soda can again and took a long drink this time. Setting the can down, I moved my lips again, hoping my words would come out.
“Tell,” I first muttered, but had to swallow once. “Tell her, Jack. She’ll understand. She has to know now,” I said, and then I splashed water on my face.
Jack grimaced as he dropped his head, probably at the thought of having to talk about the past. When he brought his head back up, his light-brown eyes were half flooded with tears.
“I suppose it’s time I stop running from it.”
I sat, wrapped in a blanket next to Jack, with a towel around my wet hair. My mother sat on the love seat next to us, leaning forward, appearing to listen intently.
“I had a wife,” Jack started with. “Her name was Ava. I had a daughter; she was three. Her name was Cara. They were both in the car with me when we were forced off a cliff by California police for seeing something we weren’t supposed to.”
My mother gasped as she touched her hand to her heart, darting her eyes to me. “What?”
“Mom, let him finish before you ask any questions,” I said. She looked back to Jack, waiting for more.
“I was a professional photographer, and was I assigned a job photographing coastal landscapes on the West Coast, where I grew up. I took Ava and Cara with me to a remote area that I knew had some pretty good shots. In the late afternoon, I saw three cars off in the distance below us, sitting with a few dozen people around them. I grabbed my four hundred millimeter lens and looked down at what was going on. They all looked like pretty shady people. Even without the lens you could see that. I watched for about three minutes and then five police cars showed up, two were state police. They weren’t even there a minute before they opened fire on everyone. I swear on my parents’ graves that the dozen people they killed weren’t even armed. They didn’t even put up a fight. One man had his hands up the whole time. The officers opened up the trunks of the cars and pulled out duffel bags. I knew in that moment I had just witnessed crooked police committing a robbery. I never stopped taking pictures. My wife was terrified, and so was I. We stood up to leave just as the Officers were picking up the bodies and putting them in the cars they had arrived in. Five minutes had not even passed. I heard yelling and decided to take one last look through my lens. Two of the officers were looking straight up at us, and three of the squad cars sped toward us. I jumped in the car, where my daughter had been sleeping in her car seat. She woke up to all the noise. Our escape was cut off by more police who had not been with the others.”
Jack stopped for a moment to recollect himself.
“The last memory I have of my daughter is watching her car seat being ejected from the vehicle and flying past me just before we hit the water.”
Jack closed his eyes, and his unsteady composure could be heard when he exhaled.
“When I woke up, it was dark and I felt incredible pain in my right shoulder. The pain was the only reason I knew I was alive. Half of my body was in water. I picked myself up and trekked all night. I had a pack of coyotes following me the whole time. It was strange; it wasn’t like they were hunting me. They only ran along either side of me, just curious. That is the most vivid memory I have of running for miles. My grandfather says that nature recognizes the blood of the Natives, and they were probably helping me. The sun was rising when I made it to the outskirts of Santa Ynez, and the coyotes stopped at the edge of the city. By seven in the morning, I made it to my grandfather’s house. The report of my wife and daughter’s death would have never been discovered had I not survived. It would have been a missing person’s case filed by my grandfather. I should have known the police didn’t buy into the story that I had died too once my grandfather notified police. He was quick to plan. He told the dispatchers that he drove out to where I had been, looking for me, and became worried when he couldn’t find me, or get a hold of anyone.
He told us everything. My mother sat with her eyes glued to Jack, and her hand over her mouth most of the time. He didn’t say much about the memory of his wife and daughter. His privacy about them showed me how much they meant to him. They lived in the space between his dreams, and they were his to cherish.
“So we come to today. My grandfather called my apartment last night to check on me, and Maddy heard a lot. I had to tell her everything,” Jack said honestly, but also dishonestly. He completely left out what had happened earlier. How would he tell my Mother that he killed two police officers? I could barely tell myself. I could barely tell myself that I had stabbed a police officer who’d tried to kill me. Shit.
“I think the shocking truth of all this just hit your daughter. She had already been having a hard time with it when she found out,” he told her, twisting different truths together.
“What are you going to do, Jack?” My mother asked.
“The same thing I’ve been doing, trying to live a new life and forget,” he replied.
My mother gazed back at him in disbelief.
“Jack, that is not living. You are going to live your life knowing of this great injustice that happened, and it will always be in the background of your mind. What if this happens to other people? They can’t get away with this! And what happened to the camera?” my mother replied.
Jack brought himself to his feet quickly. “I don’t need these reminders. The camera was destroyed. Just know that the Chumash Council are their own government. They have plans that have been carefully set in place. The less people know, the better. Besides, your daughter is what matters to me now, and finishing your house,” he said, walking to the window.
My mother and I both watched Jack. From my angle, I could see his reflection. I could tell he was on the brink of tears, and possibly another emotional breakdown. He turned toward us and looked from my mother to me.
“I have such… survivor’s guilt,” he whispered, his eyes half flooded. “Maddy, sometimes I don’t know what you see in me.”
“Jack, don’t do that,” my mother and I said together.
“Don’t think that way,” I added.
“You bring out the best in me. Though, I feel if you could lick my heart, it would poison you. I have such rage.” Jack’s whisper turned into a sinister growl. We truly felt his unnatural emotion.
I glanced at my mother who in turn glanced at me. We both felt uncomfortable with the silence.
“Girls, if you don’t mind, I need to go home,” he said as he walked toward the door.
“Jack, you can stay here. Its fine, just stay. I feel awful for my stupid rant at your apartment. You can sleep here tonight,” my mother offered.
“You’ve been more than generous to me, Anne. I really need to go back home right now,” he replied
The way he said home, I didn’t know what he meant. Did he mean his apartment, or did he mean California? His reply shocked me. I did not expect him to turn down the offer. Recalling the past must have really put him in a hard place.
“Are you okay driving him home, Maddy?” My mother asked, and I jumped to my feet.
The short drive back to the bakery was silent. I parked at the bottom of the steps. It was distasteful, and heart-breaking, that Jack only kissed me on the cheek briefly, and then told me good night.
“Call me if you need anything,” was his last reply as he closed the door.
I felt extremely isolated and sick. He was going to leave me after everything that happened. He said he needed to be alone. That is exactly what I did not want. I was afraid of being alone, afraid of being without him. It felt like a battle to put the car in reverse and leave. I wanted to jump out of the car, run up the steps to his apartment, and experience comfort sex. Perhaps because I loved him is the reason I was able to drive away. Because I loved him, I was going to give him the space that he needed.
I had time to think on my short drive back home, before my mother would start attacking me with a million questions. I thought Jack needed help. My mother was right. Trying to forget the past would not be living. His mind would never be free, knowing how badly he had been wronged. How could he - how could anyone - face such a problem alone. It was an impossible thing to forget or move on from. The people who killed his family had all the power. Trying to figure out a solution was torturous and tiring. I wished all the evil in the world on the people who did this to my Jack.