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Chapter 2: Thick skin

Alex drove down to the hospital after his lunch break, which he had been dreading all afternoon. He initially thought that Armstrong’s talk was enough to make him prepared for what he was going to be dealing with. He was worried that seeing Mrs. Parks in whatever state she was in would be worse than he anticipated. After all, this was unlike anything he had dealt with before. Suddenly this case made him question his actions in any relationship he had ever been in.

He ate the sandwich on the way there even though he didn’t have the appetite for it. As he pulled in to one of the parking places marked off for police only, he took the finale bite out of his sandwich and got out of the car, his heart starting to beat faster with every step. Hospitals had always made him anxious after his brothers passing from cancer twenty years ago.

That was already a dark time in his life, and his death almost put him over the edge. Luckily it didn’t and Alex was still standing today. Far too many people went into the hospital and never come back out. There were gone, lost forever, and there last few days of life were spent in the hospital. If that were to ever happen to him, he would definitely not want to spend his last moments in a hospital bed.

Rubbing the back of his neck with a sigh, he looked around and found the large front desk with nurses scattered every where. His ID, along with his badge, was in his hand ready to be checked because he knew there were far too many crazed wackos in town for an ID check not to be required.

“Hi,” he said to the red head nurse in front of him. “I am Detective Alex Rivers. I’m here to see Maria Parks.”

“Ahh yes, Officer Armstrong and Dr. Jaylon told us you’d be here. Give me one second and I can have a nurse take you down there.”

“That won’t be necessary. I can find it,” he insisted, wanting to spend the last few seconds getting his thoughts together. A tactic that only worked if no one was with him and he could mutter his thoughts under his breath.

“If you insist,” the nurse said. “It’s just down that wing, room 353. Should be somewhere on the end of the third floor. Elevator is on the left. Here is a sticker.” She held out a bright neon pink rectangular sticker on her finger and he took it, placing it on the side of his jacket. “Please make sure you keep it on,” she added, “all visitors have to where them.”

“Of course.” He nodded and stepped away, only to step forward again, remembering one of Armstrong’s requests. “Is it possible that I could speak to the doctor?”

“I believe Dr. Jaylon is in surgery, but I can ask someone to page her if you like.”

“Yes, that would be great. Thank you for your help.”

The nurse in Winnie the Pooh scrubs gave him a finale smile as he walked away from the and stepped into the elevator that was across the room. With every breath, he straightened his back, making sure his nervousness was undetectable. When the doors opened, he proceeded down the hallway that seemed to stretch on for miles, looking through every room until he reached room 353. Alex peeked in first, only catching a glimpse of the room before whipping his head back around the corner. He looked again, this time longer. It was a standard room, nothing special. There was a bathroom in the corner, and a chair next to the bed which he knew held no purpose for Maria because no one would ever fill it. But most important of all, a dark haired woman in the bed reading a book, her hand resting weakly beside her. Alex out his hand over his mouth, trying to force himself to keep quiet. She looked terrible. Completely and utterly terrible. She didn’t even look like a person. He knew that he didn’t know what he was going to see, but it definitely wasn’t this. It was like a movie. Something so unrealistic that it could never happen in real life. But it was. He was looking at it with own two eyes. Purple and green and blue covered her arms like watercolor paint. His stomach tensed once he realized he could only see patches actual skin tone. His jaw clenched as he ogled at her more and more, noticing every detail in such depth. There were tattered stitches going up her eyebrow and the skin around it was raw and swollen.

He didn’t know what this feeling was. Seeing someone sitting there, this battered, this broken, this... helpless, made him feel sick. He didn’t know what tone to speak in, or what facial expression to plaster on his face. Anything could be a trigger. He licked his lips, shook his hands, and with a deep breath, he walked in, being careful of every movement. The closer and closer he got, the more he saw. Though it was all the same. The same bruises, stitches. Everything was the same. Her eyes were red, neck swollen, and scars running up and down her arms. The worse part of it all was that he couldn’t tell if they were from her husband, or herself.

Chills ran down his spine at the thought of that, and goose bumps poked his skin, making him wish he was anywhere but here.

“Are you Maria Parks?” Stupid question, he told himself once he finished his sentence.

Instead of saying anything, she nodded, setting the book down next to her. Alex’s jaw clenched as he saw the fear in her eyes. They were dark, and looked like they were so easy to get lost in. Like ocean waves taking things away from the shore, only to get lost at sea.

“Okay, my name is Detective Rivers, but you can call me Alex if you prefer.” He expected her to answer, but the brunette sat there quietly, her bottom lip beginning to tremble. So, in silence, he continued. “I just wanted to let you know that I am going to be on your case. I thought I would come by and introduce myself.”

She nodded again, like if she said anything, Alex would thrust himself towards her. He stood there for a moment, debating what to do next as a female nurse stood in the corner watching them.

“Right, so uh, Armstrong also wanted me to take pictures of your injuries for the case. He said it was going to help us decide what offenses to charge him with and hopefully get him locked up for longer. May... I?” Alex walked up closer to her and held up the polaroid camera. Maria nodded as she looked down, but not at herself. To him, it looked as though she was afraid to look at her own body. To touch her own skin. To feel comfortable with herself.

“I guess we can make our way down. Do you mind turning to the right please?”

She obeyed, and Alex wondered if he was making it seem like he was forcing her to do so. When he asked her to turn to the right, she did, not saying a single word. Alex then took pictures of her arms and hands, then legs. It made him feel nauseas looking at all the black and blue’s that was painted on more than half her body. It pained him knowing that someone could do such a thing to someone that they claimed to love.

All that was left was what was covered by the hospital gown she was in. He stared at her as she looked down at whatever her eyes were focusing on.

“Do you have any injuries on your stomach, chest, or back?” He cringed at himself, hating his entire existence for asking it.

Maria nodded.

“Do you mind, uh, taking off your gown? Just so I can take a picture.”

She stared at him, like even showing him a sliver of her naked back was the worst thing in the entire world. To her, it was.

The nurse was about say something, but Maria reached back and untied the first two ties behind her before she could. She struggled to reach the bottom one. Alex decided to step in, not thinking clearly. Maria looked at him with exasperation in her eyes as she felt Alex sit down beside her and his finger touch hers.

He pulled back quickly. “I’m sorry, should have asked first.”

Shaken, she waved him off. “No, no, it’s okay.”

Alex sat there shocked for a moment at her words, but he played it cool, continuing to untie them.

“Okay now I am going to slide it down.”

Before he could continue, Maria interrupted while quickly wrapping her arms around her chest, making sure the gown didn’t fall down any further. “Wait,” she started, causing Alex to pull his hands back impulsively. “Can you shut the door, please? I don’t want anyone seeing.”

Without question, Alex stood up and jogged to the door and shut it before returning back to his previous seat.

He watched with loss of words as the white cloth slipped down her back, revealing more bruises, worse than he had ever seen before.

Alex’s hands trembled, the need for fresh air stronger than ever. This was too much for him to handle. But ignoring his own needs, he leaned back to take more pictures. Her body was like a blank canvas, and her husband had panted all over it.

“So,” he started, trying to end the awkward silence and make conversation. “How far along are you?”

She answered hesitantly, tightening her grip around herself. “Twenty-two weeks.”

He could sense her fear, whatever was causing it, and it pained him that he couldn’t help her. Trying to find something that he could say, he found that there was nothing, so said nothing.

Alex sighed, taking the finale few pictures. He moved on to her sides, which didn’t have any injuries besides some redness. As Alex walked around to her front side. She looked at her skin, and her stomach as she covered her breasts with her arms. It gave him some suspicion that at one point she might have been on the floor while he was kicking her. Even though there wasn’t any sound except for the monitors beeping, he could imagine her laying on the ground screaming out in pain as her arms were holding her. He supposed that’s why they were the worst. They were her only source of protection. But now they were useless.

“I’m done, so you can get dressed.” Alex looked away, letting Maria pull the gown back up. She grimaced for a quick second before the nurse took the gown and retied it for her.

Finished, he gathered the pictures together and put them in an envelope he had brought with him.

After much thought, he decided that there was nothing more to say to the battered woman, but as he reached the door, he turned back to Maria and said, “Is it okay if I come back tomorrow?”

Right before she had the chance to answer, a doctor, who Alex suspected was Dr. Jaylon, walked in.

“That won’t be necessary Detective. Mrs. Parks is getting discharged tomorrow morning.”

“Oh, okay. I guess I will see you when you come to the station then.” He turned back to look at the black female doctor who had greying hair.

“Hi, Dr. Jaylon. You must be Alex Rivers.” She held out her hand and he took it.

“It’s nice to meet you.” He leaned in closely to her, muttering his words quietly under his breath. “Do you mind if we talk for a second outside?”

“Yes, of course. One of the nurses said you would want to. I suppose you have some questions that need answers. I’ll check in with you in a minute, Maria,” she said before following Alex outside the room.

Once they were far enough away that Maria couldn’t hear, Alex spoke. “So you’re her doctor?”

“Indeed I am. I am also in touch with her OB, so I have their information if you want to get in touch with them. But aside from that, what can I help you with?”

Alex pulled out a pen and paper from the inside pocket of his jacket. “I just need a list of her injuries and causes and stuff like that. We have an idea, but we need specifics.”

“Well I have a file overview in my office. If you come with me I can show you and give you a copy.”

Alex accepted and the two walked down the rest of the hallway till they came across a collection of closed door offices. One being Dr. Jaylon’s.

She opened the door and walked around her desk and sat in her big leather chair. “Please, have a seat.” She motioned towards the two chairs in front of her desk.

He sat down still trying to warm himself up. Lansing got well below zero in the winters, and though it hadn’t gotten that cold yet, everyone could tell the frigid weather would be making an appearance soon.

Dr. Jaylon flipped through a binder until she came across what appeared to be Maria’s page.

“Okay, Maria Parks, age thirty-two, admitted for unconsciousness, and wounds to the head, back, and extremities, and a broken rib.”

Alex held his finger up and leaned forward, causing the doctor to stop. “Hold on, go back. What kind of wounds are we talking about in medical terms?” He squinted his eyes in curiosity.

She set her hands on the table and folded them together. “Well as you saw she has severe bruising, and some of skin split which required stitches. Her right rib cage has a broken rib also. Her injuries appear to be intentional. We don’t know for sure though.” The woman who smelled of vanilla looked down at the page again. “However we can only get results like that from your department, or if she confirms anything. But if you ask me, this wasn’t her doing. All the evidence is there. She came in with a split lip and eye brow, and her neck suggests strangulation. Though we haven’t got much out of her. A few of us are still deciding whether or not to admit her to psych.”

“You want to admit her? After all she’s been through? That’s crazy.”

“Detective, I appreciate your input, but we have known her longer, and we have reasoning behind our decisions. This is my professional opinion. I’m in this business, you aren’t.”

Alex backed off slightly. “Right, my apologies. So back to what you were saying, it looks like someone beat her up?” He implied.

“To me it does. But that’s why you are here, aren’t you? Because someone did this to her?”

Not wanting to explain the whole thing and give away anything that might compromise Maria’s care as well as the case, he simply said, “We aren’t really allowed to give away confidential information. But I can assure you that based off what the case says, I don’t think she needs to be admitted.”

She raised her eyebrow at the desk in annoyance not wanting to start arguing about her college degree. “I see. Now because you are the one on her case, I guess I would be allowed to give you an official copy. I’ll have a nurse give you one before you leave.”

“Yes, thank you.” He told her, ready to finally leave the suffocating hospital walls.

The doctor stood up and showed Alex out. He had originally planned to go back to the station and write a list of questions and observations from his brief introduction with Maria, but plans changed when he realized he needed more to go off of.

Once he and Dr. Jaylon had parted ways, Alex found himself wandering back to Maria’s room. He knocked on the door frame softly, doing his best not to scare her. When she looked up, he gave her a small smile. “Hey, sorry to bother you again. Do you mind if I come in?”

“Do I really have a choice?” She mumbled, her raspy, almost to quiet that Alex couldn’t hear.

Alex walked further into the room and sat down on the chair that would have remained empty.

“So,” he started crossing his legs, “Armstrong told me not to ask any questions, but I have a few that I think will help. And if you don’t want to answer them, you don’t have to.” With attentiveness, he continued. “Can you tell me exactly what he did to you?”

Alex watched as her face became white. Her bloodshot eyes became dark, but this time in a different way. They stared off into space, like she could picture it happening all over again. Her large orbs began to become glassy, causing him to take back his request. “You know what, never mind. Forget I asked.”

She let out a breath, her face regaining some color. “Really?” She whispered, the pain of talking too much to bare.

It was like she had never been told that in her entire life. Like no one had ever given her the privilege of making a decision. It only made Maria realize how much her relationship with her husband, Matthew, had affected her. Her speech, her actions, everything about her had changed. She was lost. Maria was not Maria. Not anymore. Not since Matthew destroyed her.

“Yeah, really. We’ll talk more later.” He finalized before walking out of the room with an entirely new perspective.

It was around ten the next morning when Alex walked in with a cup of coffee in his hand. Enrique was already sitting at his desk looking at whatever he liked to look at on his computer when Armstrong wasn’t there.

“Did Maria come yet?” Alex asked setting his stuff down next to his chair.

Enrique turned to look at him with one of his annoyed looks on his face. Probably because Otto was in the cell once again. “Nope. But you know who is here? Otto. And you know who is being a pain in the ass? Otto.”

“Not surprising.”

“Watch it brother,” growled Otto from the cell, his history of smoking causing his voice to be husky and raw.

Alex picked up his drink and put it to his lips that were chapped because of the brisk weather. Before he could take a sip, he heard Armstrong yell for him from his office.

Scoffing, he leaned his head back before trudging back to Armstrong’s office. He was sitting at his desk, his glasses on as he read the newspaper.

Alex, his light brown hair tasseled unlike the day before, crossed his arms across his chest. “Yes?”

“Get the file, she is here.”

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