Chapter 6: Shattered
After Maria’s scare, Alex had made the decision he was certain was the right one. So that next morning, he drove to the station just like any other day of the week, except he had a different reason to talk to Armstrong rather than about what his duties were for that day.
He knocked on the door, waiting for Armstrong’s low, deep voice to give him permission. When he heard it, Alex walked in.
“What can I do for you Rivers?” He adjusted the pens on his desk as Alex sat down in the black leather armchair.
“I wanted to talk to you about the Maria Parks case actually.”
“Ahh,” he started. “I suppose you wanted to thank me.”
Alex’s mouth went dry, but his palms were moist. Armstrong was never the easiest person to talk to considering he was infuriatingly cocky.
“Actually no. I wanted to request giving the case to someone else. Preferably a woman.”
There was no emotion in Armstrong’s eyes except shock.
Alex sat in front of him, waiting for a reply.
After a while, Armstrong bit his bottom lip and knitted his brows in confusion. “And why may I ask would you do that?”
“Because I don’t think I can handle it. And I think she would be better off with someone who wasn’t a man. I know I terrify her. I don’t want to do that to her.”
Armstrong pushed his lips to the side as if he didn’t understand what Alex was saying. “Listen, Rivers. It is intense. I knew it was going to be. Especially for you. I knew it was going to take a lot of time and be a long road. I’m well aware. The reason I gave this case to you specifically was because you care. You feel things. You have sympathy for others and it isn’t just about the case for you. Maria needs someone like that. She needs to know that someone cares about her. Even if its just the detective that’s helping her. So no matter how many times you tell me you can’t handle it, you can. And you will. Do you understand?”
Alex let out a sigh of relief. This was exactly what he needed to hear. For once Armstrong had actually said something meaningful. He was surprisingly kind. Which was a side Alex had yet to see.
“I understand. Thank you, sir.”
Later that night, after Alex had finished his shift and written a couple of speeding tickets, he drove his truck back to Maria’s hotel for two reason. One being he wanted to make things right and prove to her that he cared about her wellbeing, and so he could remind her that his offer about her staying at his house was still up for grabs.
All he could think about what what had happened the previous night. Getting that call came as such a surprise, but at the same time he knew that it would happen sometime soon according the research he had done. He also knew it wouldn’t be the last time she had a panic attack. Which is why he wanted her to stay with him. To calm his nerves, as well as hers. He also kept thinking about Armstrong and how he told him that he thought he cared about people. That was true. He cared about Maria, and that meant he needed to do what he needed to do to make sure she knew that.
He had chosen not to bring Enrique along because he saw the way Maria looked at him that day were they investigated the house. She was terrified. Even if Maria didn’t have the courage to say it. Every man she saw, including Alex scared her. Every man reminded her of her husband, and every movement they made reminded her of all of the hurt, all of the scars.
Alex parked the truck in an empty space near the doors. Grabbing his keys and making sure to lock the doors because it didn’t exactly seem like the most trustworthy place. There were a few smokers eyeing him as he made is way closer to the door. Swinging open the door, a strong aroma of marijuana filled his nose, causing him to immediately hold his breath. The two men working at the desk did not seem happy to have someone of authority in the drug filled facility. Alex probably would have noticed it last night if he was there for different reasons.
His eyes wandered around everything around him, looking to see if Maria might be there, and he wouldn’t have to stay any longer than he had too. But he knew very well that she would be in hiding.
He eventually made his way to the front desk were the two foreign men were speaking in a language Alex didn’t understand.
Interrupting their conversation, Alex said, “Hi, I’m looking for a woman who is staying here. I came last night but forgot the room number because of... well you know. Do you know where I can find her? Name is Maria Parks.”
One of the men rolled his eyes. “Why are you looking for her?”
“I just am. She is my client. So you can either tell me what room she is in or I can file a report on procurement of illegal substances.”
“Sorry sir, but we can’t just give out customer’s room numbers. May I see some sort of I.D.?”
Now Alex rolled his eyes. He pulled off his badge from his belt and his I.D. from his pocket before putting them on the desk. “Alright man listen; I really don’t have time for this. This could be time sensitive, and I don’t have time to get a warrant. So now I can have you arrested for having drugs, and refusing a police’s request, or you can tell me what room she is in and make my day a hell of a lot easier.”
Giving a scoff, the desk worker said reluctantly, “182. First floor on the right.”
Alex thanked him before turning and becoming face to face with a woman with a million tattoos and piercings with a cigarette in her mouth. He took a step back, trying to remind himself why he was here to stop himself from reporting the entire facility. As he pushed past her, he ruffled his hair, becoming more anxious that the worker found Maria’s name on the list. It was dangerous for her name to be on there because it meant anyone could find her. Just another reason to get her out of there.
He walked down the long hallway that seemed so much shorter last night, feeling like he was going to get high just from the fumes. He wondered how a pregnant woman could survive in this place. He hoped she accepted so she didn’t have to.
After passing what seemed like every number but 182, he could finally see the door at the end of the hallway. He took a deep breath and bounced on the balls of his feet, preparing himself for the worst. You could never tell what kind of mood Maria could be in. She could act as if you were the worst possible person on the planet, or as if you didn’t even exist. But the two sides he wanted to see was her crying on someone’s shoulder instead of keeping it in, and her being happy. He highly doubted though, that he would ever catch a smile on her face. Not when she was going through what she was.
Alex knocked firmly on the door, wondering if he would be more anxious if she didn’t answer than if she did.
“Maria?” He called out. “It’s me, Detective Rivers! Open up! You need to get out of this drug... filled... hell hole.” He gently kicked his boot at the wall. “Come on, I know you don’t like me but please! We need to talk!” Alex listened closely as he heard small thuds against the carpeted floor. Maria opened the door slowly, and Alex could tell part of her thought he was Matthew.
“Detective Rivers. What are you doing here?” She said meekly.
“I wanted to check up on you after last night.”
Maria looked down as if she was ashamed. But Alex took it as just another way Matthew had changed Maria. “I’m fine,” was her response, for one simple reason being that she was forced to always say that. But this time, Alex noticed this. Maybe she wanted to say she wasn’t fine, but couldn’t. At least that was what he told himself.
Alex tilted his head and his eyes naturally softened with empathy. He hated this. He hated that he had been assigned this case because he hated having to see Maria in the pain she was in. Hell, he didn’t want to see anyone in the pain she was in. Maria was on his mind constantly, always making him toss and turn with worry for a number of reasons. The worst part was that the more he got to know her, the worse it got.
“But are you really? Because you don’t look okay. What happened last night? Please tell me, because I really care.”
“It was nothing.”
“Maria, the paramedics were there. You were on the floor with an oxygen mask on you face. They called me in the middle of the night. You can’t just brush it off and say it was nothing. I was sitting right next to you.”
But it didn’t matter how much Alex tried to get her to talk. Maria just stood there silently, letting her eyes speak for her.
“Is there anything else I can do for you, Detective Rivers? Because if not, we are done here.”
“Actually I did need something else. Armstrong wanted me to tell you that you need to come in for questioning.”
Her brows furrowed. “Why, did something happen?”
Alex pursed his lips together and pushed them to the side. “Not really. But we got a lead he appears to be getting impatient.”
“But...” Her eyes filled with tears as they quickly moved back and fourth.
Alex merely shrugged. “He is an impatient man.”
“But I’m not ready, I can’t.”
He watched as her eyes quickly looked all over, something Alex had realized early on that that was something she did when she was scared or nervous.
“Hey, I get it. I’ll try and stall as long as I can, but in the mean time I think you should try and get ready because speaking from experience, he won’t wait long.”
Maria bit her lip and stared at the floor. The two of them stood in the doorway in silence for a few moments, and by now Alex was used to the pot-smell. Eventually, the burning question in Alex’s mind broke the silence.
He scratched the back of his head before he spoke. “I think you should stay with me. I really do.”
Maria knotted her brows together. “I thought I already told you, I’m fine. I don’t need anyone taking care of me.”
“Well actually I think you need to come stay with me. I mean, come on. You’re pregnant and staying in a hotel that is filled with drugs, and possibly dangerous people. You’re not safe here. Can’t you put aside that you don’t like me for just once and take me up on my offer?” He tilted his head to the side and took the smallest step forward.
Maria gave him the death glare, but her face softened the slightest bit after her eyes met with Alex’s for some time.
“Please,” Alex continued, noticing how he seemed to be persuading the younger woman. “The only reason I keep asking is because I think you will feel better. You won’t have to be alone, and I want you to know someone cares about you.”
Maria exhaled and leaned her head against the doorway. “I want you to understand that I don’t want to go to you house because I don’t like you. I actually do, and I appreciate you trying to show me you care. But it’s scary. I don’t know you, and going into your home it’s just...”
“I know,” he said.
“The only man I have ever lived with in my life was Matthew, who... well, I guess you know. It’s hard to think about being in a house with a... man. There are just so many things that I don’t know, and things I keep promising myself won’t happen again that could. I can’t do that all over again. I just can’t. And I don’t think your wife would like it having me around.” Her big warm eyes started tearing up again as she explained herself. It broke Alex’s heart to see her in such discomfort, and hear her voice shake.
“I’m not married.”
“Oh. I’m sorry for assuming.”
“It’s fine. And I know. I know you don’t know me well, and there is probably nothing I could tell you to get me to trust me. The only thing I can say is I care about you, and I would never do anything to hurt you. If there is something else you want me to say that shows you you can trust me, I will say it.”
Maria looked up at him, her orbs so full of sadness, terror, and everything in between. “Thank you for saying that.”
“Um... I-I guess.”
Alex smiled and internally thanked the people above that she agreed. “This will be good.”
“I hope so,” she muttered. “Uh, come in, come in.” Maria opened the door further and Alex walked in, hands shoved in his pockets. He could feel the soft thud of Maria’s feet behind him. The bed was neatly done, and there was one bag over by the floor by the window.
Maria pushed her short brown hair behind her ear. “You can grab that bag over there, please. I just have a few things in the bathroom.”
Alex walked further into the room while Maria disappeared off into the bathroom, closing the door behind her. She looked at herself in the mirror. She could see every bruise, every scar, everything that was on her skin. She could see past the skin too, and instead saw what it meant. It was taunting her. His was voice still mocking her. It was hard to even look at herself. As her breathing quickened, her warm tears started to pool up in her eyes. She was lost.
Nothing had changed since the last time she stood there looking at her body and trying to find what was different from the previous day. The scars he had painted on her body were hideous reminders of how weak she was, and how so much of her life had been wasted away. They were a reminder of Natalie, and how what happened to her was Maria’s own fault. They were a reminder of all those nights Matthew wanted her, and all she could so was stay silent. They were a reminder of all the punches she had endured, all the pain she had felt, everything. They told her story. Her story that she didn’t want told.
Yes, Matthew was gone, but the truth was she didn’t know who she was without him. When she looked at herself in the mirror, she didn’t see Maria Parks. She saw a broken, weak, selfish person who could only find solace in inflicting pain on herself so she knew it wasn’t just Matthew who could hurt her.
Maria looked down at her stomach and rubbed tiny circles on it with her thumb. But pulling her from her thoughts before she could travel into them any further, was Alex knocking at the door.
“Hey, are you okay in there?” He asked.
Suddenly, without thinking, Maria grabbed the metal tray on the sink and threw it at the mirror, then watched it shatter as pieces crumbled everywhere. She put her hand over her mouth and fell to the ground, hearing the hit the tile floor.
Once the noise reached Alex’s ears, he swung open the door, and jumped at the sight. “What the hell,” he said, realizing Maria had tears rolling down her cheeks, silent sobs escaping her mouth as he noticed the mirror pieces on the sink. He stepped over to her and but his hand on her back. “Are you okay? What happened?”
“Stop! Don’t touch me! Just... please... don’t touch me,” she fumed while moving away from Alex, further into the bathroom. She sniffed and wiped her face as Alex stood there like a statue.
“Okay, okay, I won’t touch you. But there are shards on the floor that I don’t want you to cut yourself on, so I’m going to grab a towel and put it on the floor,” he explained.
Maria nodded, hesitant to stand. Alex pulled a towel down that was hanging on the towel rack and laid it out on the floor.
“May I?” He asked, holding his hand out for Maria to grab it, and she took it and used it to help herself stand. Even with his help she moaned at the pain.
He was relieved when she allowed him to help her. He took it as a sign that maybe she was learning to trust him more, and making some progress.
“Are you okay?
“I’m fine. Just continue doing what you were doing please.”
The problem was Alex couldn’t. Not with her like this. Alex thought her to be the type of person to tell what she was feeling when she was ready. So, he didn’t push.
They finished packing her things in silence. No one dared to speak, and Alex already had his fill of saying the words, are you okay?
“Ready?” Alex asked, standing by the door with a bag hung over his shoulder.
Maria nodded and grabbed her purse, following Alex out the door. The two walked side to side out to the black truck, neither saying anything for the whole way there.
As they pulled up into the driveway, Alex started speaking.
“Okay, so before we go in, there are probably some things you should know. One, Elena is sixteen which means she can be moody, rude, and doesn’t like social interaction very much. Two, there are three rooms, one is Elena’s, one’s mine, and ones a guest, but you could choose between mine and the guest. Third, I have a dog. A big one. Like, German Shepard big.”
She didn’t say anything, so he continued
“Yeah, but don’t worry, she is a gentle giant. Her name is Xena. She used to be a police dog in Seattle but then she got injured and had to have her front leg amputated so they retired her, and I took her in. I usually take in the police dogs who can’t work anymore.” Alex watched as Maria suddenly went quiet. Without thought, he slowly reached over and grabbed her hand and took it in his own. She looked up startled, but didn’t move it. “I know it’s a lot to take in, but its going to be okay. You don’t have to worry anymore, not with me.”
She gave the smallest smile as her gaze drifted down and far from Alex’s.
The hazel eyed man unbuckled his seatbelt and pulled the keys out of the slot and opened the door, as did Maria.
Alex unlocked the red front door and walked in, happy to smell home instead of pot. He saw Elena sitting on the couch with her computer once again doing research on something new.
“Hey chico, how was school?” He asked, hanging up the keys on the hooks next to the door.
“It was fine,” she muttered still staring at the screen, but looked up once she remembered something. “Oh, and can Tilda sleep over?”
“The eighteenth. Her parents are going out of town again.”
Alex sighed. “Yeah, sure.” He then turned to give Maria a look as he heard Xena snore loudly. “Hey, this is Maria. I’m helping her with a case, and she is staying with us for a while.”
“Got it,” she said, her focus on her computer once again.
Alex rolled his eyes. “Forget her. This way.” Alex led Maria into the guest room which was painted a pale yellow with dark blue curtains and a queen bed that had untouched sheets because no one ever slept there.
“So this is the guest room, but you can sleep in mine if you want. They both have bathrooms so...” His voice drifted off, awaiting a response from the brunette.
Her eyes wandered the walls as she walked further into the room. “This is fine, thank you,” Maria told him.
After Alex got her settled, Maria agreed to go down to the station and answer questions. It went smoothly for the most part. Maria answered almost every question. But that was because they were easy. They didn’t ask about her injuries, or what Matthew would do to her. And there was no mention of Natalie. Alex didn’t even see the point of asking her questions anymore. Especially if they weren’t going to help at all. Making her sit there in a police station with two men in a small room just seemed unnecessary. Besides, there wasn’t much more to her story. At least for now. But Alex knew that this wasn’t the end, despite how much he wanted it to be. New evidence would come in, new suspects and witnesses would come forward, and more questions would need to be asked. The end always seemed near, but usually it was just the beginning.
Once the long day finally came to an end, both of them were more than ready for the day to be over. Maria went off into the guest bedroom, and Alex went off into his. But he was restless and felt uneasy about keeping the information that they had from Maria. Natalie was her daughter, she had a right to know what was going on.
“Hey,” Alex started, walking into Maria’s room with a toothbrush in his mouth. “I need to tell you something.”
Her face went white, “What?”
“Armstrong told me that they think they know where they are. Natalie and Matthew. He told me not to tell you, but she is your kid, so I think you should know. Anyway, I should be leaving for Dallas once we get more information to see if we can find them. I don’t know what I am going to do with Elena yet. She’ll probably go and stay with Tilda. Anyway, on a different note, I don’t have work tomorrow and Elena doesn’t have school so we are just going to hang around here.”
Maria said nothing, but watched as Alex tried to ignore the awkward silence.
“Alright then. I’ll let you get some sleep,” he continued after a few moments.
Maria nodded as Alex stood up and walked out of the room, only turning back to tell her good night, then shutting the door behind him leaving her alone.