We Didn't Notice

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The Trumpet Calls

Months passed and Claire grew bigger and bigger until she was ready to pop. Word of the wise-ish: do not make pregnant jokes to your wife and do not underestimate hormones. I was banished to the couch for a few days on several occasions due to both of them. Otherwise, Claire glowed and prepared our home for the newest addition to the Parkers.

I found I spent less and less time with the guys. Instead of heading to the bar every day off, I stayed home and watched movies with my wife, talking to my unborn child. The others experienced the same thing as their family lives took off. All of us except Craig, who remained single and the life of the party, and Tessa who spent her free nights doing whatever she did.

It was one of these nights I got a call at four in the morning. Another thing: when everyone in the neighbourhood knows you’re a cop, days off means nothing. I’ve gotten calls to check out suspicious vehicles at three o’clock in the morning, or other stupid shit.

I groaned as the phone rang while Claire growled, pregnant people don’t like that either. She glared at me until I moved to answer it, as if I were my fault the phone was ringing.

“I swear if it’s that drunk blonde again,” I muttered answering the phone, “Hello?” I was greeted with heavy breathing, not the Darth Vader prank call breathing but a laboured, scared to death breathing. You know when that girl calls 911 in those horror movies? How she breaths before the zombie, ghost, demon, whatever thing grabs her? This was what it sounded like, but this was real.

“Hello,” I said again as sleep dissipated like mist and I abruptly sat up. Claire flashed me a look while the breathing continued. I could feel the caller’s fear as my mind raced.

Before I became a cop, I attended a job fair where some dispatchers had a demonstration. I remember they gave us a scenario where the caller couldn’t talk because it was too dangerous. I recalled that memory as I faced Claire with a pounding heart. She sat up and gripped my hand tightly.

“If it’s not safe to talk, I need you to make some sort of signal to let me know you’re in trouble. If you need police press a button once, if not press twi-”

“Alex,” the voice uttered. My heart stopped and I felt as if someone poured ice water on my head. My breathing grew tight as my hand slacked in Claire’s. This was wrong.

“Tessa?” Her voice sounded so defeated, so low; Tessa was not supposed to sound like that. She was strong like iron, fearless as they come. Not like this. Anything but this.

“Tess.”

“Alex, I’m in trouble,” she whispered fearfully. “I don’t know what to do.”

Call 911,” I mouthed to Claire as I grabbed a pen and paper.

“Tell me what’s going on; how can I help? Where are you?” Then I heard another sound that tore my heart in half: crying. Tessa Sotoria Stark was crying! This is the kid who watched firefighters pull her mother out of a fatal collision without shedding a tear, who carried a dead ten year old out of a basement without sniffling, and she was crying!

“Parker, I’m scared.”

I struggled for breath as I looked around. My friend, my sister was in trouble but there was nothing I could do but clutch the phone.

“Don’t be,” I pleaded unable to fight the desperation and fear in my voice, “please, kid, tell me what’s wrong; how can I help you?”

“You were the first number on my contacts,” she admitted her voice dropping to a whisper. Claire looked at me with the dispatchers on hold, but I turned away, focusing on Tess’ gentle voice and the sounds of her falling tears.

“I’m sorry, Alex, for the way I’ve been acting the past few years; you guys didn’t deserve it. Tell Sarge I’m sorry, but I can’t make it up to him.” I opened my mouth to speak, to assure her Mark understood, that she had nothing to apologize for, that she could tell them herself, but no sound came.

She continued, “Thank you guys for everything and I’m sorry I couldn’t let you in but now you’ll understand. Everything will make sense. I promise, or you’re all dumber than I thought possible,” she chuckled. “Promise me you’ll tell the guys.”

“Promise,” I uttered, “but Tess!” My thoughts were jumbled in my head as I fought to make sense of this. “Tell me where you are; talk to me! Tell me what you mean!” I sounded childish and I felt like one.

I could feel her smile and heard her smooth voice now devoid of any fear. That’s our girl, “It’s okay, Park, it’ll be okay. I said goodbye once and you guys pulled me back but this time I have no choice.”

Her words were gibberish to my ears as I fought the urge to stamp my foot and demand for answers. Tess was holding all the cards; she knew what I was going to say and do. She knew how this would end all along.

Her voice was smooth and comforting like a mother’s warm embrace. Despite what she claimed, she would have been a great mom. I had heard her use that voice once before. There had been a really bad car collision with only one survivor: a four year old boy. The car was on fire when we arrived and the fire department was at least 10 minutes away. Tess got to the car and pulled the boy out of his car seat ignoring the flames that licked at her skin. She disobeyed Sarge’s orders to stay put but neither of them particularly cared. She suffered second degree burns on her hands and arms. After, she held the boy, distracting him while the hose pushers and EMS removed the smoldering ashes of his family’s remains. She used that voice as she whispered comforting words in his ear.

“Alex,” she spoke again as the fear re-entered her voice, “I’m sorry I won’t be there to meet your child; you’ll be a great father and Claire will be a great mom.” I could now hear yelling in the background but it wasn’t clear or loud enough to determine who or what it was saying. Doors slammed as glass shattered. I could hear her whimpering as I clenched the phone, as if reaching across the distance and holding her.

“Alex?”

“Yeah?” My voice was barely above a whisper as tears filled my eyes and my hands shook uncontrollably.

“My stepfather never abused my mom; he never hurt anybody but himself. Goodbye.” Then the eerily quiet room exploded in sounds as I could hear the door burst open and objects fly around her.

“You called someone?” A voice screamed. A voice that caused my fear to temporarily morph to rage, fury, and even hate. It was Don.

“You bitch!” I could hear skin hit skin as a moan escaped Tessa, a body fell to the floor, and the phone dropping to the floor.

“Get them to send police to Tessa’s house now!” I ordered Claire as I jumped to my feet pulling on jeans and a shirt while listening to this monster beat my friend, my sister. I could hear the impact of his fists, hear her moans and pain filled cries, but never once did I hear her beg.

That’s our girl.

More breathing filled the static but it wasn’t gentle or delicate like Tessa but full of fury. My vision turned red as my grip tightened around the phone to such an extent I thought it would shatter in my hands.

“If you hurt her one more time I’ll-”

“You’ll what?” Don growled. “You guys have done such a good job watching out for her.” He laughed, “She thought you would save her...” I heard her scream a cold, blood-chilling scream then the line went dead. I grabbed my cell and ran out of the house ignoring Claire. My sister needed me.

I called the guys and told them what I heard. It mostly went something like, “Parker, it's four in the morning; what the fuck, man?” Followed by my explanation and an abrupt hang-up.

Tess’ house was in the center of everyone else’s. I always wondered why we never watched a game there, but now I knew. We all met there in under two minutes in day old clothes, PJs, or, in Craig’s case, boxers and a robe from some girl he’d been with. He didn’t even know her name. Mark expected this and brought some extra pairs of pants and several shirts.

The sun was beginning to rise as its rays pushed back the darkness. Five police cars sat in the street with their lights flashing silently. We stood there just as quiet watching as B platoon went to work.

“I should have noticed,” Nathan grumbled in his fuzzy Hello Kitty PJ pants. Greg placed a hand on his shoulder.

“We all should have.” The pieces of the puzzle slowly came together: the injuries, her anger towards any abuse calls, her strange moods. It made sense.

The chief came and entered her house then exited and approached us wearing a pained face. We expected the result but it still hurt nevertheless.

Looking back, I don’t remember his words but I must have heard them. Craig collapsed to his knees, Derek turned away and threw up, while Nathan screamed at the world, cursing every god and anyone who would listen. Mark started swearing bitterly to himself, Greg began asking questions, and I just stood there numb, oblivious to the world around me.

I pictured her face recalling her smile and her voice. The way her eyes were stormy and fierce one moment then soothing and loving the next. I remembered her slamming back shots in a drinking contest against Craig. She had won. I remembered how she cheered when her team, the Los Angeles Kings, won the Stanley Cup. My memories all meshed into one bouncing around until they settled on one: her final words then her screaming. That scream would haunt me until the day I died.

“I want to see her.” I looked up and watched as Nathan stood against the chief. The funeral home had arrived and was bringing her corpse to the van for transport. The chief’s face broke even more.

“I’m not sure that’s a good idea, son,” he answered placing a hand on Nathan’s shoulder. Nathan’s grey eyes raged.

“She is my fucking partner! Now get outta my way!” He smacked the chief’s hand away and ran towards her body where a young, probationary constable intercepted. His name was Tyler Watson, the newest edition of B platoon. He had been there for two weeks and looked to be twelve years old. He had the biggest crush on Tess but then again, we all did.

“Get out of my way,” Nathan seethed. Tyler shrunk as he stood against a very pissed off Nathan. He glanced back at the chief before standing tall and taking in a deep breath.

“I’m sorry, Constable Moore,” then he repeated Chief’s words, “it’s not a good idea.” Nathan formed a tight fist as Mark grabbed his shoulder. Nathan relaxed, barely, as Mark stood between them glancing at them both. No matter how mad we were Mark was our sergeant and we would obey whatever he said.

He faced Tyler, “Step aside, Watson.”

Tyler’s eyes grew large. “But, Sergeant-”

“Do you want to meet the consequence?” Mark glanced at Nathan before taking a deep breath, “She’s one of ours, Tyler. Let us have this.” Tyler looked back at the chief then stepped away and let us pass. That kid had serious balls to do that but never come between us and our girl. Ever.

The funeral home attendants stepped away, having witnessed the whole confrontation. Nathan gripped the sheet with bloodless fingers. The white sheet had turned scarlet in some areas; what did that bastard do to her? With a nod, he pulled back the sheet to reveal a face.

That was not our Tessa, who was stronger than mountains, as mysterious as the moon.

Her face was caved in on itself as her nose, cheeks, and lips collapsed into an unsortable mess of blood, bone, and brain tissue. Her hair was dark and sticky with her blood. Even her teeth, which were chipped and broken, were grinning scarlet. The blood trailed down her neck where her shirt- the Joker one Derek had given her for Secret Santa- had been ripped open revealing a bloodstained bra, more discoloured bruises, and past scars.

Once again, Nathan released a strangled cry while Derek and Mark turned away and Craig released a string of curses. He now bore the title of Worst Potty Mouth; he dethroned her. Greg looked to where a crowd of bystanders- neighbours, reporters, people who wanted something more than The First 48- watched, pulling out their phones and cameras.

“Watson!” Greg called. “Get those people back.” Tyler nodded as Greg, Mark, and Derek blocked her body from view.

I glanced at Nathan; he was leaning over her body whispering words while stroking her hair ignoring the blood transferring onto his hands. His grey eyes were red as tears streamed down his face. I lost my sister but he had also lost his partner and no words would ever soothe that ache. A pain worse than any other.

I looked back to her face and searched for something, some feature I recognized among the blood and bone. Her face was beyond recognizable surrounded by scarlet. I had seen a few bodies but this...

Then I found it. Amidst the red, the blood and the bone I discovered some white. I looked closer and found a single emerald eye open, her eye that I knew so well. It had lost a certain light to it and appeared dull and flat but it was still mysterious and full of knowledge. Even in death, Tessa knew more than me.

“You fucker!” I looked up and found B platoon escorting Don to a squad car. Craig had also noticed and ran at the man we once considered family. Nathan stopped his whispering as his eyes clouded with hate and he took off to join Craig. I looked back into that emerald and pulled the sheet over her face. Then I joined my team.

B platoon had placed themselves between us and Don; however, they were not putting up much a fight. I glanced at the reporters before pushing my way through and pulling Craig and Nathan away.

“What the hell?” Craig yelled, thirsty to avenge our girl.

“You need to calm down,” I growled keeping an eye on Don.

“You don’t tell me what to do.” Nathan attempted to jump forward but I pulled him back. Grey eyes met brown; fury met fury.

“You think Tess would want you doing this? Getting caught beating a handcuffed subject on camera? Embarrassing yourself and CPS? Being reprimanded, fired, and possibly face criminal charges?”

“I don’t care! He killed Tessa; she’s my partner and I failed her!” Nathan screamed back. I breathed deeply and looked at Craig as tears prickled my eyes but I refused to let them fall.

“You don’t care, but she would.”

Nathan’s face cracked as he bit his lip, tears streaming down his face. Then he walked past me and approached Don. I watched carefully and glanced at Craig.

He was in his late twenties but looked like a young child. His wide brown eyes were large in fear and uncertainty. Every day off, he was at some bar bringing home a new girl home; he was confident, good-looking, and sure but now he looked like a lost boy. Mark’s shirt was huge and hung off him like a sack or a dress. The jeans bunched at his bare feet, looking like a boy trying on his father’s clothes. They only stayed on because of the belt David, a member of B platoon, gave him. The white, silky robe surrounded him like celestial wings but even they were tainted with dirt and blood. I flashed him a gentle smile. Craig’s eyes grew hard as he turned to watch Nathan, no longer a child.

Nathan stood before Don watching him intently. If looks could kill, DOn would be nothing but a smoldering pile of ash. Don looked back at him with eyes devoid of any pain or guilt. They were content and smug. That bastard.

“Why?” Nathan asked as his voice cracked. “Why would you hurt someone like her?” Everyone froze anxiously awaiting his answer; even the reporters and funeral attendants, as if they too knew how special our girl is- was.

Don didn’t move but licked his lips. He looked as handsome as ever but I noticed a giant welt forming on the left side of his face. I hoped that was Tessa’s doing and that it caused some long-term, painful brain damage. Maybe cancer, if we were lucky.

He wore his usual dress pants and tight dress shirt, which revealed his toned muscles. Blood coated his hands while some splattered onto his arms, face, neck, torso, and shirt. Then he smiled. The son of a bitch smiled.

“Because,” he muttered with a chuckle, “because I could.”

“You-” Nathan reached for Don’s neck but was pulled back by Mark and some of B platoon.

“Tess was tougher than all of us,” Craig argued stepping beside Nathan, “she’d kick your ass easily.”

“What made her so tough?” Don retorted with another cruel smile, forcing us to hold Nathan back once again. Greg joined us along with Derek and Mark, needing to know why; why would Don do something like that to such an amazing girl? And why would Tessa, our fierce wildfire, allow that to happen? On patrol one night, a drunk teen tried to grab her ass on an ill-advised dare. Tess had him in an arm lock on the ground crying before Nathan had even blinked.

“Tell me, Don,” Mark ordered in a calm, intense voice. To anyone else, he sounded professional as if his sister wasn’t involved, but we could hear the slight waver in his voice. We could see the fury in his eyes. We knew our sergeant. Don shrugged and looked away unconcerned.

“Now!” Sarge jumped forward and pushed Don to his back as everyone else yelled. Mark was always the calm and collected one but no one had ever murdered one of his family.

Don stared up with fear in his eyes before he answered, “Because Tessa is Tessa; she would do anything to protect others at the expense of herself; because she meant her vows; because she’s a good person, I don’t know! Because Tessie is Tessie.” I shivered as her pet name echoed through my mind causing me to sneer.

Because Tessa is Tessa. Because of her kind, good nature she suffered for years in silence and lost her life too soon.

“Get him the fuck outta here,” Derek hissed darkly as B platoon obeyed pulling him off the ground and shoving him away.

“They treat cop killers like kings in prison!” Don shouted before entering the back of the squad.

“Then you should see how they treat wife beaters and murderers,” Greg hissed hotly causing Don’s cocky smile to fade. Then B platoon drove away as if fearing we would change our minds and end Don. Believe me, we considered it.

“Why didn’t she ask for help?” Nathan asked through a wall of silent tears. “We could've saved her.” Don’s words echoed through my mind, “She thought you would save her.”

“Because she was Tessa,” I muttered. I sounded tired and drained, both emotionally and physically. Everyone nodded as Craig looked at me appearing like a five year old boy once again.

“What did she say before...?” I breathed deeply and shared her final words: her apologies and her gratitude. The words were not comforting as she hoped, but were daggers reminding us for our failure.

We stood there silently as we attempted to accept our new, horrible reality; a world without Constable Tessa Stark. By this time majority of B platoon had left, carrying on with their patrol. Chief talked to Sarge privately, both scolding him for his outburst of emotions but giving him silent praise for defending our girl, before he also left the scene. Even the bystanders and reporters had moved on after having their fill for drama. Occasionally a kid or elderly couple would ask what happened but we ignored them until they got the message or got bored. Only my team and the crime scene guys remained.

Finally, Derek broke the silence: “I gotta head home, guys; Chelsea is freaking out.” The spell was broken as we thought of our lives and those in it: our wives, children, and grandchildren in some cases. My cell had vibrated several times and I knew it was Claire. But it was impossible to think the world continued moving without Tess.

“Me too,” Craig muttered rubbing his temples, “I just want to sleep and forget.”

Greg hummed, “That bar is calling me. Once an alcoholic, always an alcoholic.” We all turned to Mark expecting for some inspiring words like in the movies; to tell us this tragedy would not be in vain, that Tess would be proud and would always be with us, bullshit like that. Instead, he looked at us with exhausted, grief-ridden eyes and shook his head defeated.

“Get some sleep,” he grunted unable to meet our eyes, “I’ll see you all next set.” They all departed leaving Nathan and me. The silence grew tight and strained as we each looked for words to say.

“I miss her,” Nathan finally admitted through gritted teeth as a new wave of tears filled his eyes. I nodded sympathetically; next shift, Nathan would sit at a now empty desk, patrol alone where laughter once reigned. Eventually, he would get a new partner; a poor bastard who would never compare to Stark no matter how hard he tried. Unless Nathan quit and left this world far behind, but he wouldn’t.

“She was my partner,” he continued, “and I failed her.” I wanted to console him but I couldn’t force myself to lie.

“We all did,” I responded weakly.

“She was going to take me to the next Flames vs. Kings game,” Nathan sighed before walking away.

“Where are you going?” I called unprepared to face this pain by myself.

“Home,” he answered sounding much older, “I’m going to hold Taylor tight, kiss my son, and never let Alyssa out of my sight. See ya later, Parks. Tess was very fond of you, you know?” Then I was alone.

I stood there and felt the sun’s rays on my skin. The golden chariot had risen to mark the late morning. The wind blew at me gently as I stared at her home. No, her prison. Then I walked towards it.

Tyler and some other young recruits guarded the scene accompanied by their FTOs. They didn’t stop me and allowed me to enter Tessa’s world.

It was a modest house with a medium sized kitchen and a large living room. The living room contained a large TV with various lights and air horns for game days. To an outsider, it appeared male-dominated, but I knew better; it was dominated by Tessa. Pictures of her high school hockey team covered the walls along with some autographed pictures of various NHL and WHL teams, particularly her favourite team, the Los Angeles Kings, and their road to glory. One photo showed her with her favourite player, Jones Martins, their backup goalie. She’d followed his career since she saw him first play for the Calgary Hitmen. Another photo depicted this as it showed her dressed in her Hitmen pride, shaking his hand grinning from ear to ear.

Another wall was more feminine and showed her wedding photos. She was beautiful in her white dress that hugged her gracious curves. Her smile was as bright as the sun while her eyes sparkled like the stars. I laughed at a photo showing her beautiful bridesmaids: Nathan, Greg, Sarge, and other officers from before my time. Another showed her with a younger girl wearing what appeared to be a bridesmaids' dress. Then my smile turned into a scowl as I spotted a photo of the happy couple; they were both smiling but there was something off. Her smile was genuine while his held a certain malice hiding in his eyes. The next few pictures spanned over a few years. At first glance, they appeared happy but, with my new knowledge, I found her smile had dimmed and dimmed each year until it was nothing but a mask, a facade hiding the horrors of her world.

“Hey, Parks,” I faced Pete, a detective from the Homicide Unit. He used to be the sergeant of B platoon until his promotion two months ago. I grunted a response.

He laughed, “The only person I knew to have an all-male bridal party.” I made a face and looked at the picture with Tess and the young bridesmaid.

“I thought her sister...”

“That’s not Brielle,” Pete informed after squinting at the picture. “That’s Nathan’s niece, Suri; she and Tess were like sisters, but she wasn’t in the bridal party. Nah, Brielle died with Tess’ real father in a collision with a drunk when Tess was 15,” he explained, “I thought everyone knew that; that’s what made her pursue policing.” I fell silent as shame burned my ears.

I could tell you her favourite hockey player and team. I knew her favourite drink, song, movie, and how she would respond to calls, but I knew nothing about her family or home life. I looked to that knowing smile on the photos and scoffed, that’s the way she wanted it.

“Pete, I’m not sure what you’ve heard,” I began awkwardly, “but I was the last person to talk to Tess and I was wondering if I could see where...” Pete nodded and led me through the house to an open door.

I stood there gathering what remained of my battered courage and entered the small, dark room. It appeared to be an office with a desk and a glowing computer, which cast strange shadows. More pictures showing Tessa’s career decorated the walls. One showed her in her dress uniform shaking the previous chief’s hand as she graduated from the academy. She looked so young and radiant; free from any fear or pain. Other photos showed her with the guys; her and Nathan at a Flames' game, all of us at the bar, a photo of the two of us dancing at the Christmas party. She was really pretty in that light purple dress.

My breath was ragged and my hands shook as I forced myself to look down, look at the scene where she died. I was thankful for the darkness.

The first thing I saw was a phone lying on the ground. The phone she used to call me, the phone where I listened to her ravaged screams...

I reached over and flickered the lights on with a gloved hand. My face grew hot as bile jumped to the back of my throat. My vision grew dark as I grabbed Pete to stabilize myself waiting for my vision to clear.

“I have seen plenty of shit in Homicide,” Pete uttered with a pale face, “but this...”

The shaggy, cream carpet was now covered in blood to the point blood gushed around my shoes when I stepped in it. Bloody handprints, both big (Don) and small (Tess), covered the desk and walls. Pieces of teeth, bone, and brain matter littered the bloodstained carpet. My eyes went to a trophy laying on the ground, the trophy we gave Tess for being the Best Looking in Uniform. We had an online poll and she won. The base was covered in drying blood and grey brain matter and I remembered her collapsed face. That son of a bitch.

“This belongs in the Saw movies,” Pete added as I swallowed the bile and stood on my own.

“Do you... Have you... Are you finished with this room?” I mumbled unable to tear my gaze away.

Pete nodded, “Yeah, we have all the photographs we need. Besides, we know who did it and how.”

“What happens next?”

“Her next of kin will have the opportunity to claim her things. Then someone will clean all this up and, if her NOK doesn’t want the house, it’ll be sold.”

I shuddered at the thought of someone using a room where a murder, a gruesome massacre occurred. I didn’t know if she had a next of kin...

“Could I have a moment alone?”

Pete faced me as he clasped a strong, beefy hand on my shoulder.

“Alex, the only way to survive this job is if you don’t personalize this stuff. Don’t tarnish Tessa’s memory with this shit; remember her being happy, the things she wanted you to see. Don’t be haunted by her demons, Parker. Let me know if you need anything.” With another sad smile, Pete disappeared down the hall leaving me with Tess’ secrets.

I collapsed to my knees ignoring the warm blood that soaked through my jeans. The numbness I had felt the past few hours turned to pain; a horrible, ravaging pain that cut through my insides like a knife. The tears I held back ran down my face like a wave. I wanted her back; I wanted one more laugh, a smile, anything! Why didn’t I go the bar with her last set off? I would give almost anything to have her back. She lied; nothing made sense.

I slumped forward holding my stomach when I noticed a piece of pure, white paper among the bloodstained shelf. I pulled it out and found her handwriting. It wasn’t neat or pretty, as people claimed female writing was. Instead, it was messy but in its own unique way.

It was dated the day she met us at the bar and apologized, the day she set me up with Claire years ago. I began reading and heard her voice, as if she was reading it to me.

Dear guys, I know you will find this letter before Don does, at least I hope so, or these words will never reach you, and my voice will be forgotten. Let me start off by apologizing for everything; if my plan worked I would have made this apology in person, but I have to be sure these words reach you. You are all great guys and you didn’t deserve how I treated you; I’m sorry. I know this will come as a devastating blow but I am tired. I am tired of hiding the bruises, coming up with bullshit excuses, finding reasons to stay away from him. I’m tired of being scared all the god damn time. I would have done this a lot sooner if it weren’t for you guys. You are the reason I held on for so long. Thank you for that. Nathan, you are the best partner in the world; please don’t be bittered, be that partner for the new guy. Mark, thank you for being so understanding, despite my attitude. I don’t hold anything against you. You are the best sergeant ever. Greg, thanks for giving your advice when I needed it most. You are the wisest dude I have ever known. Enjoy being a grandfather, you deserve that happiness. Derek, you’re crazy; hold onto Chelsea cause I don’t think anyone else can handle you. You’re awesome. Craig, I guess there’s still hope for you. Alex, there’s a girl who always drinks at the Slicks; she’s your age, blonde, and hot. Her name’s Clarissa. Talk to her; I think you’d get along. I’m sorry you guys but this is my final farewell. I have no living next of kin so help yourself to anything. I’ll miss you guys. I love you all.

Your girl,

Tessa Sotoria Stark.

“I said goodbye once and you pulled me back, but this time I have no choice,” she had said. She was suffering so much she was going to end her life, but she soldiered on. For us, and we did nothing to help her. Instead of getting better, it got worse.

I released a groan and held the letter to my chest as I closed my eyes slipping the note into my pocket. Then my phone vibrated again, but this time I answered it, wanting nothing more but to hold my wife in my arms and forget my pain.

“Claire?” I expected her to yell at me but I got the opposite.

“Alex, are you okay? Nathan just told me what happened; he was worried about you moping around by yourself. Where are you?” She paused. “Is it true? Is Tess really gone?” The air escaped my lungs hearing those words out loud. I opened my mouth and fought for breath. I could hear Claire crying on the other end. All I wanted to do was to curl up in a ball and cry but I remembered how Tess who was scared, who knew her imminent death was coming, comforted me, despite it all.

“It’ll be okay,” I whispered back repeating Tess’ words. “Somehow, it will be okay, babe.” Claire’s sobbing slowed.

“When are you coming home?” She asked in a soft voice. I wanted to hold her so tightly.

“I’ll be there in five minutes,” I promised.

She chuckled sadly, “I would never have expected Don to hurt her. Poor, strong Tessa.”

“Did you know?” I asked looking up into Tess’ photographed face. Her emeralds gleamed brightly against her sharp, black dress uniform.

“At the time, no,” she muttered, “I knew she wasn’t happy but looking back... I didn’t notice all the signs. I didn’t notice, Alex.”

“None of us did. None of us noticed.”


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