Chapter 1: The first
She remembered the first time it happened very. The first hit, the first kick, and the first time their intimacy lost its meaning. It was seven years ago. Maybe it had happened before, but she just noticed it seven years in. It was name calling, the telling her she was crazy, and the bruises that helped her realize what was going on.
Little did she know that the first hit wouldn’t be the last. As time went on, the end seemed to grow nearer and nearer. She didn’t think she would live to even see the worse of what he could do because she’d be dead before he got the chance.
It was strange, their relationship. It was full of love and compassion. But so full of fear and silence too. He could say that he loved her, how she would never be good enough for anyone all in the same sentence.
The worst part was that she had always believed him. Whether he was telling her he loved her or that he was going to change. She believed him.
Sometimes there were bad nights. Really bad ones, where, the next morning she would wake up in a hospital bed. At some point she though she had been there enough times that someone would realize what was going on, but no one ever did. And she knew it was going to stay that way.
Last night had been that way, and yet again, here she was, awakening to the familiar sound of beeping heart rate monitors, and the shuffling of doctor’s feet on the tile floor.
She was only able to get to a hospital if he left in anger and she knew if she didn’t get help she would tip toeing on thick glass. But maybe life would be different if she stopped calling.
It was a haze of what had happened before. She could remember a few things, and the things she did remember were horrifically vivid. That was how it always was. She could either recall it so well it was like it was happening all over again, or she couldn’t remember anything. The blood spattering on the wall, the crack that was sent through the air when he slapped her, and possibly the worst of all, the pain of having to keep in the screams because of how bad it hurt inside. But when she wasn’t able to keep it in, she did scream. She could still hear them in her ears. Ringing and ringing, over and over again, simply reminding her of her mistakes. One had been tolerating him for all those years. Keeping quiet, living a lie. It was like she wasn’t even herself anymore. She wanted to say something more than anything. She understood, though, what would happen to her, to her kids, her life, and to her body. There was no choice but to keep quiet. But she continued to pray that one day she would be put out of her misery. Whether it be him... or herself.
The pain she had been in. Physically, emotionally, mentally. All the pain was too much. How she was still living was a question she didn’t know the answer to. There were so many times were she thought she was going to die. Where she was certain that it was the end. Time where she felt that death was right there, staring at her in the eyes, taunting her.
Looking at herself had been one of the things she stopped doing. Not because she wasn’t allowed to, but because she couldn’t. She could never look at her reflection out of shame, and fear. The truth was that she never knew how she would look when she woke up. It was always something new. Whether it was a cut or a bruise or a scar, it was new. Just another mark on her skin that was added to her collection. She could never, no matter how hard she tried, get used to to how she looked. She scared herself. Which was why there were never any mirrors hanging up on the walls. Because once she saw herself, guilt would overwhelm her, fear would swallow her, and thoughts of death would drown her. It was like a black whole that had no way out. He was the painter, and she was his canvas.
Alex stepped into the elevator of the small police station he worked at in Lansing, Michigan. He cringed internally as he pictured every previous encounter he had had with other people in the very same elevator. Mostly criminals that came in to get their story straight, or sober up after a night of causing a ruckus at a nearby bar, and occasionally seeing the girl he was on a date with last night in handcuffs for whatever reason (he never had the energy to find out). Somehow he had always chosen the wrong people.
Alex Rivers was one of the many detectives in Lansing, but because of the shortage of workers at the small station set on the outside of town, he worked there along with another detective, Enrique Garcia. The building was two stories high, and three if you counted the top floor which was just a remodeled attic. It contained a few jail cells which were only meant for brief inmates. Every day felt the same, and despite the fact that he lived in the capital of the state that was filled with people, he somehow felt like one part of his life never fell into place. Even though he lived in a large city, he still felt lonely. Like there was something missing from his life, and even after all this time, he still hadn’t found what it was. Perhaps he never would.
Enrique was part of the few things that did fall into place. He had been Alex’s friend ever since he started working at the station, and he was one of the few people who had gotten to know him well. Enrique was another detective that worked aside with him during some cases. They referred to each other as partners in crime. Literally. But Alex preferred to call Enrique his sidekick. He knew it bothered him, which was why he continued to do it. There friendship had always been the same. They saw each other as more then friends and instead as brothers, which was something Alex had never had the pleasure of having. At least not anymore.
Their boss, Officer Shaun Armstrong, was a complete pain in the ass if you asked Alex. Not to mention the guy who was continuously under arrest for causing the usual bar fight three to four times a week and drinking to much, Otto Anderson.
Suddenly Alex found himself sitting at his desk, feet up, a bear claw in his mouth. He was eyeing Otto who sat in the cell bed silently staring back at him with his hazel eyes. Alex had known him long enough to know that this wouldn’t be the last he would be seeing of the drunk mechanic.
“Bear claw,” Alex teased, a mouthful of the sweet dough in his mouth. “You want one?” All he got was an eye roll in return.
“Good morning, Otto,” Enrique said, walking in with a file, a name in big black letters that ran across it. He sat it down on his desk which was in front of Alex’s, and also got an eye roll from Otto, along with an uncalled for scoff. “I have always enjoyed our early morning chats.” He smirked then took the bear claw Alex held out for him.
Alex leaned forward and looked at the same case file he had looked at so many times before. “What do we got today? I’m going to take a wild guess and say the same as yesterday.”
Enrique rolled his eyes. “Something much more exciting is coming our way. I can feel it.”
“You said the same thing when you though Katelyn was going to ask you out, but slapped you across your face instead.”
“That was a long time ago. My psychic powers have improved.”
Alex crossed his arms, satisfied with himself. “You keep telling yourself that. But until then, we are going to be dealing with this lug.” Alex eyed Otto, frustrated with how he hadn’t had any good cases since he started working at the station eight years ago. The other stations around town had been blessed with all the worthy cases, meanwhile Alex was stuck with parking tickets, lost dogs, and, well, Otto. So much for being a detective.
Interrupting their staring contest, was Armstrong walking out from his office where no soul dared to go unless necessary. “Rivers,” he started, not even bothering to look up from the file in his hand. “I need to talk to you regarding our newest case.”
“Indeed.” He turned to look at Enrique. “Garcia, you are free to go.”
Enrique stood up, not ready to lose what could be the greatest case that he would ever have the chance to work on. “What? Why me?”
Armstrong shifted his weight from one leg to the other, and looked at Enrique as if he was the dumbest human being in the world. He licked his pale lips then spoke again. “Because I said so. Now get out and find something else to do. I won’t ask again.”
Without another word, because he was aware of the consequences, he walked away and disappeared around the corner of the hallway mumbling, “The biggest case in years and I’m not even on it.”
“Watch it Garcia! I don’t have time to deal with your arse today!” He yelled, his thick British accent coming through.
Armstrong always had a short temper, and that was simply just another reason Alex had such a dislike towards him.
Watching as Enrique turned the corner, he turned his attention back to Alex. “Thirty-four-year-old Maria Parks.” He sat down on Alex’s desk and plopped the file down next to his knee. “As you probably already know this one of the best cases we have ever gotten. Full of opportunities for me as well as you. However, this one does require a delicate approach. It's not like we are dealing with your average client.”
Before Armstrong could go on, Alex spoke. “Is it a murder? Did someone get murdered?” There was no doubt he was getting excited. If Armstrong said the case was a good one, then it was. Not to mention it needed a ‘delicate approach.’ He didn’t even know what it was about and he was already on the edge of his seat ready to make a difference. Work had never been that exciting surprisingly, unless it involved chasing down people he was looking for. Before Alex moved back to his home town Lansing, he worked as more of an assistant than a cop. His only purpose was to track people down who had no value to him. And the person who he really wanted to find, he never did.
“Don’t get to perky, Rivers. We don’t want to upset this woman any more than she already is.”
Alex let out a sigh from his pink lips and lifted his hands in the air with frustration. “Can you just tell me what happened already?” He said, yearning to know what the case was about, and whether it met his criteria of a what a good case actually was.
“Patience. And you best get that damned look of your face before you leave here, or that’ll cause some real trouble.”
“Why would I need to leave? Shouldn’t they come in?”
“Well she is a sensitive woman, so you’ll need to introduce yourself to her first by going to her. And in order to do that you need to go to the hospital to see her. She hasn’t been discharged yet. Anyway, her injuries are extensive and they needed to be examined and watched carefully because of the state she is in.” Armstrong paused, letting Alex have a few seconds to catch up on the words that were coming out of his mouth. “Rivers,” he started again, his voice low, “she was in an abusive relationship with her husband for nine years. Hence why she ended up in the hospital. He tried to bloody kill her. One of the doctors finally caught onto what was really going on and called us.”
“I don’t understand.”
“That’s because I’m not done yet. While she was taken to the hospital, the husband, name Matthew Parks, thirty-seven, took off with her first born because he found out that someone called us. Your job out of all this is to check up on Maria and make sure she doesn’t do anything she regrets, and find the husband and daughter so we can put Matthew in custody, and get the daughter back to her mother. I have made a list of charges, including kidnapping, domestic violence, attempted murder, and probably a few other things we don’t even know about yet. Once you find him, and you better find him or I will have you reassigned somewhere else worse than here,” he threatened, “prepare for a custody arrangement. He will likely be sent to jail but when he gets out, he will still be the children’s father. For right now we can estimate about a year for the abuse charges.”
“He would only go to jail for a year?”
“Yes. Might I remind you that that is standard. But since he almost killed them we could expect another ten years. Then there is the kidnapping, which he could get twenty years for. So that’s about thirty-one years. But we don’t know for sure. Everything is a mess right now.” He paused again, letting the information, once again, sink in. “The reason we got this case is because of you, Rivers. Chief figured you would be best for you to handle this one because you are good at finding people. And I might trust you more than the others. Now, please keep in mind that Mrs. Parks is broken. She has had no real life for almost a decade, and she’s been hiding and enduring everything. She is afraid of everything, including police, and, well, men in general. I went down there to introduce myself yesterday and she was terrified. Barley said a word. All I’m saying is you need to be prepared. Don’t get to excited, don’t sit too close, don’t reach your hands out, no sudden movements, anything like that. Don’t worry about questions, just introduce yourself and get pictures of her injuries with the camera if she’ll let you. And who knows, maybe she’ll confide in you,” the brit concluded.
Alex stared at him with is hazel eyes, his face blank, and lips speechless. How was it possible for anyone to have a relationship with someone who took their kid, and almost killed them. It perplexed him, and he couldn’t comprehend how someone could stand being with someone as terrible as her husband sounded. What this woman went through, what she had to live with, was unimaginable. No one should ever have to feel like they were a piece of property. Like they were trapped. Alex didn’t think he would ever be able to live with himself if he treated anybody like that. Woman or man, and anyone in between.
“Rivers, are you even listening to me? Or do I have to explain everything again?”
“No, no, I got it. I heard everything. Don’t upset her, be careful not to sit to close, thirty-one years in prison, yeah, I got it.”
Armstrong continued, eyeing Alex carefully. “Good, good. Don’t upset her.”
“I wont. I have amazing people skills.”
Armstrong rolled his icy blue eyes annoyingly. “Sure ’ya do. But I don’t think your amazing people skills will do any good with her. She’s been through a lot. Almost lost her unborn child, lost her daughter, a husband and great love in the process. And while your there, maybe try and get some medical records from the doctors. Don’t expect them to let you at first. Bloody arses don’t share anything.”
Alex sat there uncomfortably again. He wasn’t sure now, after hearing all this information he actually wanted the case now. The fact that this woman had a kid who had been taken from her, and scares with another, hit too close to home. If Alex’s daughter, Elena, had been taken from him, he didn’t know what he would do with himself. With it being just the two of them, they had always been close. So a life without Elena was one he had no interest of living. He couldn’t even begin to imagine how she felt. She had lost everything. And Alex thought he had lost everything when his wife left. How pathetic he felt now. Pushing aside his doubts, he answered, “Got it. Anything else I should know?”
“No. That’s all. You have the case file, go over it. She’ll be coming in for questioning once they discharge her, which should be soon.” He gave Alex one of his final I hate you looks before walking away, his feet scuffing the floor.
Alex flipped through the file, and found that it didn’t hold much. Just the same information that Armstrong had told him, along with a few other things like how Matthew had been charged with assault before, and he had a history of making bad decisions. Alex couldn’t even begin to think of what living with him must have felt like. Someone who said they loved you, but still hurt you. Someone who forced you to keep quiet about everything while you sat there had to live through it. Someone who had power over you. It was like living with a stranger, or a personality that didn’t even exist. Because the good man, who everyone thought Matthew was, wasn’t real. He was a ghost. But Alex guessed that’s what the victim became too. You were forced to endure all that pain for so long without being able to say or do anything so you eventually lose yourself. Perhaps she tried to say something and maybe every time she would open her mouth, nothing would come out.
When Alex’s lunch break rolled around, he left the suffocating building that was now overflowing with questions that there was no answer to, and walked down to the small bar and grill that was a few blocks down. It was a small establishment, run by an aging woman and her grandson, who Alex had become friends with long ago. When in need in of job, Alex started working there so he could pay off his student loans and take care of Elena who was only four then.
He had been there enough times that the moment any of the employees saw him, they already knew what he wanted, and made his order there first priority. Turkey sandwich plain and simple with, of course, a pickle on the side. Root beer, or sometimes even a root beer float if it was an especially a good day, or maybe a really bad one.
Alex adjusted the heavy, bulky, and always infuriating, belt that hung around his waist as he opened the double doors that read Violet’s across it in fancy lettering. The restaurant was empty, as it normally was this time of day. There were a few teenagers, who should have been in school, sipping milkshakes, but he ignored them. Though he noticed their changing facial expressions as they saw him walk in. He propped himself up on the wooden bar stool and was greeted by the grandson, who’s name tag read Rumi across it. His real name was Rumer, but god forbid anyone call him that.
“Anything good? I have a root beer float in the back in case you want to celebrate... or scream,” Rumi asked, a black bandana tied around his head.
Every time Alex would pay a visit, which was usually every other day he was working, Rumi would be the first person to ask if he had finally gotten the case he had been longing for since the first day he started working.
Rumi leaned forward and crossed his heavily tattooed arms when he began speaking. “I guess, but it depends what you mean by good.” Besides Enrique, Alex and the waiter had become close as well. “Traumatic, dark, intense, depressing, yes. But it’s a damn good case. Just what I need to remind myself why I decided to be a cop in the first place. I’ve only been waiting twelve years for something like this.”
Rumi’s dark eyes eyes lit up, as did the room. He turned to three other people his age wandering around the restaurant trying to find ways to busy themselves.
“Sam! Austin! Camilla! Alex got a case!”
“Oh dear lord,” the cop mumbled to himself as he heard the pacing footsteps of his other friends racing towards him.
Austin ran over from a nearby table and sat right next to Alex on the chair next to him, smiling up excitedly.
“What is it? Did someone steal a car? Rob a bank? Break into a house?” He asked, wiggling in his chair.
One thing Alex loved about all his friends that worked at the bar was their astonishing social skills. They could very well make friends with anyone on the planet, except for Camilla, who preferred to stay to herself.
Alex waited till Camilla and Sam joined them, in order to avoid repeating himself five thousand times.
“Ooh, is there a hot guy involved? Billy broke up with me and I could really use a pick me up,” Sam sighed, taking the empty seat on the Alex’s remaining side.
Alex gave a small laugh, and shifted in his seat uncomfortably. “No, there is just this woman who’s been in an abusive relationship with her husband for the past seven years. He almost killed her a few weeks ago and luckily someone figured out what was going on before she actually died. Can you believe that? Seven years. Seven years. How is that even possible?” Alex purposely didn’t mention the daughter or the baby she was carrying. Not because he didn’t feel like explaining it, but because it made his throat burn, as well as bring back memories of his once-was life.
The group went silent.
Rumi wiped of the table with his tattooed hand that wasn’t too noticeable because of his African American skin tone, not looking up and anyone else in the group. “Well shit.”
Precipitously, his grandmothers voice cam yelling from the kitchen in the back. “Rumer! I am not having this conversation again! Language!” For an old woman, she had impeccable hearing, and quite the voice.
With a sigh, Alex spoke softly, already wishing the day was over and his hospital visit would be postponed, or better yet, cancelled all together. “Anyway, I guess I should be getting back. I have some stuff I have to take care of for the case. Do you have my sandwich?”
“Turkey, no cheese, pickle on the side, root beer float.” He gave him the bag and soda cup with a wide tooth grin on his face.
Alex got off the stool, the weight of his belt making it a struggle, and took the bag from Rumi. “Thanks guys. See you later with an update.”
They all waved in response.
Alex got back in his car, the bag full of his lunch in his hand. He drank the root beer float on the way mostly because the weather had surprisingly cooled down and his hand was turning numb even just walking back to the car. It was only September and he could feel that winter was definitely approaching, and so was his questioning about why his mom had chosen Michigan out of every other place in the world. But it wasn’t just that that was on his mind. The case, mainly the woman on it, kept flooding his mind, and soon he found himself second guessing if he could handle something like this.