Chapter 15: Buzzed
Alex didn’t blink. He read the message over and over again in his head. And although the number was unknown he knew exactly who sent it. How they got his number he wasn’t sure of. But he did know that this one message was going to change everything. For him, for Maria, for Natalie, and even Elena, who had grown very close to Natalie over the past few weeks. Natalie enjoyed playing with her old hot heels cars she had under her bed. It warmed Alex’s heart to see the two of them, who were polar opposites, get along so well together. It was awful that that could all go away.
“Alex?” Maria whispered as she peaked her head out of the doorway. “Is everything alright? You’ve been out here for a long time.”
Alex quickly held his hand behind his back. “Yeah, I’m fine. I was just trying to decide if you like room temperature iced.”
Taking the glass from his hand, she answered, “Ice.”
“Yeah, yeah,” he said not really focusing on anything except the message. “So, uh listen, Armstrong texted me and he needs me to come into the station. He needs some help with... Otto.”
Maria looked down, unable to meet Alex’s eye. He knew exactly what she was thinking. This is exactly what Matthew would have done. Leaving whenever he pleased... and lying. But Maria didn’t know that. Not yet anyway.
“I’m sorry, I know I should stay, but no one else is there. I’ll be back as soon as I’m done, and I’ll call Enrique to come over so you aren’t alone,” he said, kissing her cheek before grabbing his police jacket from the hanger and running out the door, leaving Maria standing there alone, just as Matthew had done so many times before.
There were still so many thoughts running through his mind as he drove the long road to the station. He felt guilty for not telling Maria the truth, but not guilty enough to turn his truck around.
He drove to the station to tell Armstrong about the message, which was something Maria would be the last person to find out about. The main reason because he wasn’t sure if she could handle it. Or if she should. Because of her past, she had become such a fragile person, she was easily broken. Even though some things got better, she was still broken, and a hit like this, well, Alex knew that this could be something that she wouldn’t be able to come back from.
When he arrived at the station, he took the elevator up to the second floor, hoping Armstrong would be there. He usually worked there on Friday’s, but he didn’t know if he would go back after the party.
“Armstrong?” He called out, his phone out and ready.
“Rivers,” he said in surprise. “What the bloody hell are you doing here? You’re off tonight.”
“I know, but I need to show you something.” He walked closer to him, and held up his phone. Unable to read the tiny text, Armstrong took it from his hand. He squinted his eyes, and opened his mouth the tiniest bit once he was finished. His harsh blue eyes met Alex’s in shock.
“When did you receive this exactly?” He said sharply.
“About fifteen minutes ago. I drove straight over here once I saw it.”
“Good. This is going to put him behind bars. We need to be ready when he comes, or we could miss our opportunity and Maria and her kids in danger.”
Alex nodded his head forcefully. “Agreed.”
“Which is why you are off the case.”
Alex stared at him in disbelief. “What?”
“Effective immediately,” Armstrong added.
“Whoa whoa whoa, Armstrong, no one knows this case better than I do. No one knows Maria better than I do.”
“I know. Which is exactly why you can’t be on the case anymore. You have gotten to emotionally attached. She lives with you, you sleep in the same bed, you threw her a baby shower for Christ sakes. I can’t have you emotionally attached to your client. It’s too messy and could put the case in jeopardy.” He paused for a brief moment. “So, the case will now go to the Garcia brothers. This is for the best, Rivers.”
He smacked his face with his hand. “You are kidding. Enrique gets the case? And Adam who doesn’t even work here? That’s ridiculous.”
Armstrong leaned in closer to Alex, leaving only a small amount of space between them. “Do not question me, Rivers,” he threatened, “Or I will fire you make no mistake about that. I have worked too hard on this case for you to ruin it.”
“You’ve worked hard?”
“Watch your tone. I suggest you leave before you say that because it will get you off any good case we get in the future. But on a better note, the results for the Police Federation came in yesterday and you won Detective Investigation of the year. Congratulations. They are going to be held next week. I expect you to be there. Oh, and tell Maria that we want to talk to Natalie about her father.”
All his common sense had been thrown out the door. Suddenly Armstrong was no longer his boss, or a cop. He was just a person. A person that could be screamed at. “You can’t do that! She’s four!”
“I’m aware of that.”
“Really? Are you? Because I don’t think so! You want a four-year-old to come in to a police station with a bunch of police officers, only to ask her questions about her dad who she is afraid of?”
“I know it sounds bad, but it will help the case.”
“That is all you care about. What about them? Natalie and Maria. Have you ever thought that maybe this is hard enough for them?”
“Yes. I have.”
Alex rolled his eyes, taking a few seconds to get himself together. “How much time do you think we have,” he asked a few seconds later.
“Till he comes for them.”
“I don’t know. Based on the text he sent you, I would say whenever there is a vulnerable moment. A moment where you can’t fight back. Something tells me he will know.”
He thought for a second, then it seemed clear. “When Maria goes into labor. That’s the vulnerable moment.”
Alex nodded, then left. He was too angry to be excited about some stupid award. Right now that was the last thing on his mind.
Instead of driving back to the house, even though he knew he should have, he decided on forgetting about all the problems for just a little while and grab a drink... or two, despite the time growing later and later.
He called Austin and invited him to grab a drink with him, so he wouldn’t find himself drowning into the dark hole he had climbed out of so long ago.
Alex knew that this was the last thing he should be doing. Sitting here at a bar drinking while Maria was probably freaking out and worried, just waiting till he came home to reassure her. But he couldn’t reassure her. Not now. And so he was sitting here, drowning his thoughts, wonders, and fears in an overflowing mug of beer. What kind of person was he? An hour ago he told Maria he loved her, and now here he was. If he didn’t feel like shit before, he certainly did now. Yet he couldn’t make himself get up and and leave. Partly because he didn’t have the heart to even look at Maria with destructive information swirling inside.
He sat on the bar stool, a number of severely intoxicated people surrounding him. It was only a short amount of time before Austin took the seat next to him. From the moment he sat down, Alex could tell he was on the verge of breaking into tears.
“What’s wrong with you? You look awful,” Alex said bluntly. It wasn’t a lie though. Austin’s face was red, puffy, and his eyes were glassy and strained from what looked like hours of crying.
“Gee, thanks Alex. And you can’t say anything about me, you look awful too. Now, spill,” he said.
“No, no, no.” Alex waved his finger in the air. “You go first.”
Austin’s amber eyes filled with tears, and he bit hard into his lower lip. “Ethan wants to take a break. Apparently he’s been struggling with his sexuality,” he said wobbly.
Alex looked away for a second with dismay. Austin was his friend, and the thought of having his eight, almost nine, year relationship broken off so abruptly made his skin crawl.
“What happened? You two looked fine earlier.”
Austin nodded, then rested his head on his fist. “He said he was thinking about taking a break for a while, but when he saw you and Maria together, he started questioning everything.”
“Damn man. I’m sorry. You deserve so much more than a douche bag who would leave you after all you two have been through together. I can’t believe he would do that.”
Austin took a sip of his beer Alex ordered before he got there. “Me either. But now it’s your turn. What’s wrong with you. Everything was fine earlier with you too.”
Alex rolled his eyes, unsure of where to start. “Well for starters, Armstrong cut me from Maria’s case, and second...” With a loss for words, he pulled out his phone from his pocket and showed the message to Austin.
“I don’t understand. Who sent this?”
“Matthew. Somehow he got my number and he wants to take Natalie and the baby from her. I don’t know how he plans on doing that, but he certainly thinks he can. She just started getting her life back together. She is happy, and now he is going to come back and ruin it.”
Austin knitted his brows together. “But doesn’t he have a criminal record that everyone knows about? He can’t just come and take them.”
“Well there are other ways he could come back without even knowing. And not a lot of people know about what he did to her. He could have someone else fight for custody of them, or he could do what he did before. Do something horrible that gives him the opportunity to take them without anyone knowing. He’s coming back though, guns blazing.”
“And you are sitting here because you don’t want to tell her, right?”
“How can I? How can possibly tell her that Natalie and her baby are going to be taken from her?”
Austin raised is hands in surrender. “Don’t yell at me. You’re the one who isn’t telling her.”
Alex rubbed his temples. “Sorry. It’s just that...” His voice drifted off as he thought of what to say next. Eventually he found some words. “Austin, she lost-losing- everything. Yeah, she has a better life now, but he is going to come back and ruin her life again. I don’t want to put her through that again. She doesn’t deserve that. No one does. She loves those kids so much. If they get taken from her... I don’t know what she would do to herself. She already rips herself apart for a having another kid.”
“Alex, I know you don’t want to tell her, but if you don’t-”
“I know, I know.”
There was a long pause and a few silent sips more until Austin spoke again.
“I think you should go home, Alex. If you are worried about her, then you need to be with her instead of here drinking. Don’t start spiraling now.”
“What about you? You need someone too.”
Austin waved him off. “Nah, I’ll be okay. I’ll call Sam. I can’t imagine she’s doing anything right now.”
Alex nodded and patted Austin on the back before thanking him and thanking him.
He walked back out to his car, then got in and just stared in front of him for a few seconds before having a little emotional breakdown and hitting the steering wheel with his fists and crying. He didn’t let it last longer than a few seconds though. After he got is frustration and everything else he was feeling out, he started the car and headed back towards the house.
Alex cursed under his breath when he saw the police car and remembered that he asked Enrique to be with Maria, and just as he had suspected, Enrique had Adam with him. They were sitting on the couch with Maria who was surprisingly still awake even at this hour.
When he walked in the door, all eyes were on him.
“Sorry. Otto was kind of a hand full. But I got Armstrong to come and take care of him,” Alex said, quietly shutting the door behind him.
Maria stood up, walked over to Alex, and kissed him as he did her. But she quickly pulled back. Eyes closed in confusion, she said, “Were... were you drinking?”
“No,” he answered, already feeling three disappointed pairs of eye on him.
“Your breath smells like beer. You were drinking, weren’t you?”
He stood there like a deer and headlights. “Umm, Enrique, Adam, thanks for coming. I need to talk to her, and you need to talk to Armstrong. You should go to the station.”
They didn’t say anything before leaving, and soon it was just Maria and Alex standing there, in an awkward silence.
“Maria,” Alex sighed, already knowing that she was pissed. He could feel it radiating off her body.
“Did you lie to me?” She said, her voice in a disheartened tone.
“No, I did go to the station, but something happened after that and I just needed to clear my head.”
She crossed her arms across her chest. “What? What happened? What was so bad that made you want to leave for a drink and lie?” He was silent, so she continued. “You left us, Alex. You left Elena, you left Natalie, you left me, and lied.”
“I know,” he said with a heavy heart. “I’m sorry.”
“You know what’s funny, Matthew said the same thing to me. Every damn time.”
“Maria, please,” he said, feeling the back of his throat form a lump.
“You said you loved me. You said, I love you, before you left and did this. I believed you. I said I loved you too. Does that not mean anything? Do you know how good that felt to have someone say that to me? And do you know how badly it hurts now that you went and lied.”
“Fine! You want to know why I lied? I lied because I love you. I lied because I love you so much and I can’t look at you and see you break down again. I’ve seen the progress you have made, and I knew that once I told you all of that would be gone. I lied because I know that there are some things I just can’t help you with, and that kills me. It kills me having to look at your face knowing that there is nothing I can do to make it better. I love you Maria, I really, really do. And I told you that because I do mean it. Which is why I’m here now to tell you what happened.”
Her expression had softened the slightest bit a couple of seconds after he started speaking, but there was still tension.
“When I went down do the station, Armstrong kicked me off the case. Enrique and Adam have the case now.”
“He what?” She choked on her words, and continued to stare at Alex.
“Yeah. He kicked me off because it’s against the rules to be emotionally attached to a client.”
“What did you say?”
Alex felt like whatever he said to Maria next wouldn’t be what she wanted to hear. If he told her he fought for that case, she would tell him that he only cared about the case. And if he didn’t, she would say he didn’t care about finding Matthew. There was no winning here.
“I... uh... I told him that no one knows your case better than me, and no one knows you better than me. I tried to get him to change his mind, but he was pretty clear. He gave the case to Enrique and Adam.”
She stared into his eyes flatly. There was no emotion in her. Every feeling had simply flooded her body. “So Enrique and Adam have the case now?”
Alex nodded in reply.
“Wait, hold on, were you actually at the station for Otto?”
His head low, he answered, “No. Something happened before I left, and that’s why I had to leave. Armstrong was already there.”
“Then why did you go over there? Did Armstrong call you?”
“Alex,” she huffed, “what is going on? There is something you’re not telling me.”
“I know, I know, but I had a good reason.”
“And what could that reason could that possibly be?”
“Because I knew if I told you you would get stressed out and upset and that’s not good. But now I guess it’s better you know.” He paused, Maria growing more frightened by the second.
“Know what? What’s going on?”
“When I came out into the kitchen, I had text on my phone. I checked it and it was... it was from Matthew.” He watched as her eyes darkened and turned as black as the night sky, lacking all the beautiful twinkling stars. He stepped closer to her, his stomach turning.
“What did it say?”
With hesitation, Alex explained, “He is coming back.”
“That’s not true. Tell me that’s not true. Say it! You’re lying. You’re lying. Please say you’re lying.”
He shook his head, tears forming in his eyes.
Once she did this, her knees practically gave out, and she fell, along with Alex, who luckily could grab her before she hit the floor.
“He can’t, Alex. He can’t come back. Why would he even want to?” She cried hysterically.
“Natalie and the baby. But you aren’t going to worry because that’s not going to happen.”
“But it could,” she sobbed.
“No, no it won’t. We got Natalie back two months ago, and we aren’t losing her again.”
“This can’t be happening. Please tell me is isn’t. Please.” She covered her face with her hands.
Alex, once again, couldn’t control his emotions and he started crying along with her, but pulled her into his embrace so she couldn’t see his face. “Come, on. It’s late. You’re tired, and sad, and scared, and mad, and you’ll feel better when you sleep.”
“I wish he was dead,” she said. “I want him dead.”
Maria cried herself to sleep that night, and Alex didn’t sleep at all, waiting anxiously for her to have a nightmare. But she never did, and perhaps that was because she never fell asleep either.
The next afternoon, even though he wanted nothing more than to stay in bed all day and sleep, he drove over to the station with Natalie and Maria, who, after last night, decided that having Natalie talk to Armstrong might be a good thing.
After the blowout last night, Maria hadn’t said much to anyone, and Alex could tell she was slipping into her hole of darkness again. This time, though, he wasn’t sure how he could help her climb out.
Walking in, Maria kept Natalie close beside her, and eyed everyone cautiously.
“Rivers, I’m surprised to see you here with the the little one. Is she here so we can ask her questions?” Armstrong asked, moving his glasses from his face to his head.
“Yeah, well after last night we changed our mind. Can we just get this over with?” Alex shoved his hands in his pockets.
“Sure. I’ll take her with me and we should be done in ten minutes.”
Maria pulled her the slightest bit closer. “I can’t go with her?”
“I wish I could let you, but it could alter what she says. You’re her mother so she may not say something in front of you specifically because of that. But you can stand outside and watch, you too, Alex.”
She felt her stomach drop, and she held onto Natalie’s hand a few seconds more before letting go and looking down at her. “Okay love, this is Officer Armstrong. You are going to go in a room with him and he is going to ask you some questions about daddy, okay?”
“That daddy?” The four-year-old asked, pointing at Alex, who didn’t seem surprised at her question, and neither did Maria.
“No, other daddy who got you the Hop on Pop book. And then when your done, we’ll go home and have ice cream and watch Mulan.”
“Rainbow. Now go with Officer Armstrong.”
Armstrong held his hand out and Natalie took it. Her hair that was in a little pony tail bounced with each step.
“Do we follow them?” She asked Alex, her voice toneless. She wasn’t mad at him, disappointed that he would keep it from her, but she knew it was out of good intentions. The drinking she was mad at him for though. However, she didn’t have the energy to stay mad at him about that, so she let it go. For this time only. If it were to happen again, then she would get upset about it.
“Yeah,” he said, holding out his hand just as Armstrong had done for Natalie. And just like her daughter, she took it.
They followed Armstrong until he got to the door, which is where Alex led Maria behind the room and to the one way glass you could hear and see through.
Natalie and and Armstrong said a few things, but none Alex could really find anything important in. The only thing they really talked about was how he acted towards Natalie, and how she felt about him. She did say though that he was could either be nice, or mean, which he didn’t find surprising. Maria said that Matthew didn’t even think Natalie was his daughter. But that didn’t help him figure out why he wanted to come back, even with the risks being high.
Maria, who was staring off into the room in Natalie’s direction, blinked slowly, that numb feeling she hadn’t felt for a couple months suddenly returning.
“I can’t lose her, Alex. I can’t. I love her so much. I cannot live without her.”
“I know; I love her too. And we won’t lose her because we are going to figure this out. We’ll get him before he even comes near you.”
“You say that, but how do you know? What if we don’t, and then he comes at our weakest point? What then? What if he never does come, and we will be wondering for forever when he is going to? I can’t do anything, Alex. I am sitting and waiting around and there is nothing to take my mind of this. What am I supposed to do? Why is he even coming back? He doesn’t even have a motive.”
“If he is coming back he must have. He wouldn’t just risk going to jail for nothing. Maybe if we can find his motive and take it away, we can prevent him from coming. Any ideas?”
“No, like I said, I don’t even he think he has one. I don’t even think he really wants Natalie. He probably just to make me upset.”
“Maybe that’s it. Maybe he doesn’t actually care about Natalie or the baby, he just wants to hurt you like you hurt him.”
“Sounds about right. I don’t know how we could take that away from him though. He’s already doing it,” she said, now looking at Alex.
He scratched the back of his neck in thought. “I’m not sure. But if he does as you said and will come at us at our weakest moment, we need to find out what our weakest moment is, and find a way to make it a strong moment. Armstrong said our weakest moment would be when you have the baby, or after because every one will be distracted and in the moment.”
She nodded, her mind now straying from the conversation.
“But,” Alex continued, “since we can’t really do anything now, we are going to enjoy these last couple weeks and worry about it when the time comes.”
“I can’t. I’m numb again, Alex. I don’t feel anything. But my whole body hurts. I can’t eat, I can’t sleep. I can’t go one second without watching him come and take them in my head.”
“... Is it getting bad again?”
She turned to look at him and nodded. “Yeah, it is.”
Alex pulled her closer and they stood there together until Natalie’s questioning was over.
Later when they finished, Armstrong pulled Alex aside while Maria and Natalie waited for him by his desk.
“Alright,” Armstrong started, “by what she said, he really doesn’t want her because she says that he isn’t really close with her and he yells at her a lot. So I’m guessing that he probably just wants to make Maria upset. Or he could just be using Natalie and the baby as a way to distract you guys.”
“Distract us from what? This is all we ever think about.”
“To distract you from the fact that he could be coming back for Maria. Right now he is mad because she got him in all this trouble, and we know how he reacts when he is mad. So saying that he is coming back to take her kids from her would make her upset and put her through pain. Emotionally and mentally. And if were to come and hurt her too, she would be hurt physically as well. He’s playing mind games. He wants to get in our heads.”
“So saying he was coming back for the kids was just made up to make her upset?”
“I believe so,” Armstrong said.
“This is insane! What the hell am I supposed to do? She is going to have the baby in a couple weeks, and Matthew could be coming back any day now. This is crazy!”
“Listen,” Armstrong took his hands and rested them on Alex’s shoulders and applied some pressure. “Everything will work out in the end. We have a lot of people working on this case, everything will work out.”
“I hope so. You don’t understand, I love her, Shaun.” It was weird using his first name because he had never been allowed too, but he thought this moment didn’t require a formal addressing. Right now he was a normal person.
“I know, and that’s why you aren’t working on the case. Now get out of this damn police stations and let loose for a bit. You only need to really worry when she has the baby because that always seems to be when everything happens. I’ll keep an eye out. You all will be okay, Rivers. I promise you.” Armstrong patted Alex on the shoulder before walking away.
Alex walked over to his desk that was clean on top and took Maria’s hand before getting in the elevator.
Later that night, after ice cream sundaes and watching Mulan twice, Maria packed a hospital bag just in case. Armstrong had also recommended that they sit down and talk to Natalie about what to do if Matthew somehow got her. But even with so much going on, Alex found time to tell himself and Maria that the time to worry was not now, and that everything would be okay in the end, because that’s how it always was. His mother always told him it would always be okay in the end and if it wasn’t, then that meant it wasn’t the end. And this was certainly not the end.
For Maria though, it didn’t matter how many he told her it would be okay because she was opposed to the idea. In her head, not being okay meant it was the end. And right now, it was the end. She had nightmares every time she fell asleep, if she slept at all, and Alex felt sick to his stomach every time that would happen because he knew there was nothing he could do except comfort her, which was making a difference less and less.
“Are you asleep?” She asked, the time nearing three am.
His throat dry, and eyes tired, he answered, “No. Were you?”
“No. The baby is kicking too much, and I can’t sleep. Not anymore.”
“You keep saying not to think about it, but how can I not? How come it’s so easy for you, but I’m lying awake at night only thinking about... this.”
“I am thinking about it, and I love them too. They are your kids though, and you’ve known them their entire life. You know everything about them, and Natalie loves you more than anything, as you do her,” Alex suggested, looking at her rich eyes that were twinkling in the light.
“They’re yours too.”
“Of course. I don’t want Matthew to have anything to do with them, and I love you. You may not be there blood father, but I don’t think blood matters. Natalie already calls you daddy, and I would hope that you would want be considered the dad because that’s what I always think of for them.”
“Yeah, I wasn’t sure if I should say anything because I didn’t want to scare you, but I do love Natalie and the baby who still doesn’t have a name.”
She scoffed and held her hand to her forehead. “That is the last thing on my mind. There is too much going on to think about names.”
“Well can I make a suggestion?”
She and ran over his skin with her thumb. “I love how you listen, and care, and think about little things like that. I think Giovanni is perfect Maybe we can call him Gio.”
“I like that too. Are you nervous to have Gio? Now that he has a name.”
“Yeah. Because of all the complications with Natalie, everything was different, and I don’t even remember much about how it felt because I was so scared. And Anthony was totally different too, so I have nothing to compare it to.”
Alex didn’t say anything as he waited for Maria to start getting upset so he could try and calm her down.
“What?” She said. “Is something wrong?”
“No, it’s just, you didn’t start crying when you talked about Anthony.”
“I didn’t.” She furrowed her brows in realization and thought. “I think now I can breathe. All this sadness I’ve been holding onto for those few years has slowly diminished over time. And yes while it is devastating that he is gone, I know he really isn’t gone. Not completely. Now that I’ve gotten the chance to talk about it and grieve I feel like a huge weight has been lifted. I’m not tied down anymore with feelings I couldn’t express.”
Alex let out a breath. “I am so glad. I hate seeing you unhappy, especially when I can’t do anything.”
“Sometimes you just have to help yourself because at the end of the day, only you can help you. But I would not have been able to get to this place without you, so thank you.”
Alex reached under the covers and grabbed her head, kissing it before intertwining his fingers in hers. “I’d do anything for you.”
She blushed, and smiled slightly. “I love you, Alex.”
“And I love you.”