Chapter 7: What happens at night
The first four days of Maria stay at Alex’s house had gone smoothly during the day, but the night was a different story. Maria had dreadful night mares. It happened every night, always at the same time. After the first two nights, Alex apprehended what caused Maria’s panic attack that night at the hotel.
The first night, Alex awoke to a muffled cry coming from Maria’s room, having a small idea at what was going on. Nevertheless, it still took him a few seconds of convincing for him to open her bedroom door. But when he did, he saw Maria tossing and turning, her face bright red and dark brown baby hairs sticking to her forehead with sweat. Small whimpers and sobs escaped her full pink lips.
Alex walked over to her and cautiously touched her shoulder in hopes of waking her up.
To his relief he did, and once she was aware of her surroundings, Alex tried to comfort her. But in attempts to do so, Maria only seemed to get more hysterical.
“What are you doing?! Stop!” She pleaded.
Flustered, Alex drew his hands back quicker than lightning striking the ground. “I’m sorry.”
“Go! Please, just go.”
Alex didn’t think twice before leaving her. But once he closed the doors, Maria grabbed the pillow next to her and buried her face in it, concealing her sobs.
Part of Alex wanted to stay and walk back in a make her feel better, but he knew he would only make it worse. So instead, he would sit outside her door and wait till it sounded like she fell asleep to return to his bed. Little did he know that she was doing the exact same thing. Once she calmed down enough, she would sit by the door too, aware that he was on the other side. And once he left, she returned to her bed as well.
The same thing happened the second night. And the third. And the fourth. Every night between eleven and two was when it would start. And every time it began, Alex rushed to her, already know how it would end.
The clock read 12:37 when Alex awoke on the fifth night. But this time it was to Xena’s wet, textured nose rubbing on his arm.
“What the hell are you doing, Xena?” He groaned, turning on his side.
Normally he wouldn’t get out of bed if he woke up in the middle of the night, but the more days in a row he would wake up, it became harder to fall back asleep. He reluctantly sat up in bed and put his feet on the cold hardwood floor, rubbing her hair with his fingers.
Once Xena settled back down on the floor, Alex heard not cries, not whimpers, but sobs. He heard sobs and muffled words coming from Maria’s room and he had a feeling that this time was going to be the worst he had yet to witness.
With Xena in tow, he briskly ran to Maria’s room and this time opened the door without question.
She was laying in the bed, the covers only over half her body, her forehead this time with beads of sweat dripping down her face and neck, along with her shirt which was wet around her armpits, neck, back for what he could see. Her hands were tightly wrapped around herself as her teeth were clenched. Her face was redder then he had ever seen it.
Alex put his hand on her arm and rubbed it lightly. “Maria,” he whispered yelled. When she continued in her state, he shook her arm with a little more force. “Maria! Wake up!” This time he didn’t whisper. He thanked god Elena was a deep sleeper.
Maria’s dark orbs shot open, the whites of them red and strained because of the endless amount of tears that was swirling around them. She panted while staring at the ceiling. She struggled to sit up, but Alex put his hand on her back to support her. Once she was sitting up, her breath quickened even more, causing her to put her hands over her chest. Her chest hurt, her head hurt, the back of her throat and her side. Everything hurt. And in every way. Physically, mentally, emotionally,
Not even thinking of the consequences, Alex pulled her into a tight embrace, putting his arms around her body, and cradling her head with his hand. To his surprise, she didn’t jolt away or yell, but instead buried herself further into his enfold. He could already feel her body heat radiating off from her and onto him. He felt her body shake as she whimpered.
“It’s okay, it’s okay, shhh. You’re going to be okay. No one is going to hurt you. Everything is okay,” he repeated, holding her just a little but tighter. With his free hand, he rubbed her back, mindful of the bruises. “You’re okay,” he whispered, pulling away only so he could cup Maria’s warm, wet cheeks in his hands. He looked at her directly in her eyes hoping she would do the same on focus on his. When she didn’t, her returned to their original position and began rubbing her back again, this time noticing how her shirt was sticking to her.
“Breath... breath,” he lulled.
“A-Alex,” she stammered, suddenly feeling light-headed.
She couldn’t finish her sentence before she hunched over and vomited on the floor. She needed to run, to get away before he could hurt her, but she was too weak right now couldn’t get anywhere.
Alex waited till it lessened before asking her questions. “Can you make it to the bathroom?”
She shook her head, her breath shortening again. “No... too... dizzy.” Suddenly leaned forward again, retching.
Alex looked away, but managed to grab her hair and hold it back from her face. He rubbed her back, not sure what to say to someone who was throwing up because of an awful panic attack.
After a few minutes, Maria had quieted down. Alex suggested that she shower and clean herself up so she would feel better, and it would give him time to clean up the floor, get her some fresh clothes, and change the sheets on the bedding to one that wasn’t soaked with sweat.
Alex sat on the bed waiting to see if he was going to need to do something more see if she was okay. He was grateful that she let him help her in the first place. He knew very well that even when he left all those times before, that Maria never calmed down until her dreams took her away again. He could hear her shaky breath as he walked away, but she said nothing. So he would just leave. Never again would he do that.
“Do you feel okay now or should I call for someone?” He asked, Maria who stared blankly at him, adjusting the shirt over her body.
Maria breathed unsteadily. “No. I’m sorry if I woke you. There just very vivid, as you know.” She ran her singers through her short wet hair.
“Don’t apologize. You don’t need to say sorry. You can’t help it.” He looked at her with sympathy as he realized she was holding back another sob. “Was it about...”
He didn’t have to finish his sentence for her to know what he was going to say. Maria pushed her lips together and nodded while squeezing her eyes shut. He pushed his brows together thinking about how she could no longer even say his name. Whatever she was dreaming about was worse than he could ever imagine. Eventually she could no longer keep her tears at bay and the first one that fell was followed by a never ending waterfall. But she still covered her face with her hands.
Alex continued looking at her, observing every little detail about her facial expression, and body language. All he wanted to do was hold her in his arms, tell her over and over again, until he lost his voice, that everything was going to be okay in the end. Yet he continued to tell himself to stay put, and to stay where he was. But enough was enough. He couldn’t stand seeing her like this. Seeing her sit there sobbing until her eyes ran out of tears to fall. Alex scooted over and wrapped his arms around her again. He needed to let her know that someone cared about her. That someone was here for her. That someone in the cruel and harsh world wanted to make sure she was okay, and wanted to make sure she felt that she was enough. He prayed she would somehow realize that and at least some of her sorrows would be lifted. After a moment, he felt her body relax and melt into his. Alex desperately tried to find something to say other than, “Breath, I’m here, you’re okay, it’s okay.”
It wasn’t okay, though. None of this, none of what happened to her, and every one else in the world who was like her, was okay. It pained Alex because the only thing he could say were things that weren’t true.
“How did this happen?” She bawled, the world around her becoming a blur.
Alex rocked her back and fourth, his heart silently breaking. He told himself to not break down because if she saw him crying it would only make it worse.
Maria stayed in Alex’s arms for a good long while before her breathing was on its normal rhythm again. Once she was no longer crying, she pulled back, and Alex let her go.
“Do you want to talk about it?” He asked softly.
“No,” she stated, wiping a tear from her face. “It’s too hard, and if I talk about it it will make it more real.”
Alex stood up. “Well if you decide that you want to, just wake me up. I’m not working anyway.” He gave her one last smile before turning away.
Maria sat there, her stomach turning watching as he left. “Alex, wait.”
He turned around meeting Maria’s eyes that were glistening in the moonlight that shone through the window.
“Can you... umm... stay? I just, well, I just don’t want to be alone right now. Please.”
Alex was taken by surprise at her request. Maria already let him see her at her most vulnerable state, and now she was asking for him for the second time.
She let out a breath she was unaware she was holding. “Thank you. Being alone is...”
“No need to explain. I get it. Let me grab a pillow,” he said before scurrying off into the darkness of the living room and collecting his things. Alex also grabbed another shirt from his drawer, an ice pack, and a bottle of water that he was going to make Maria drink. The intensity of her night mare caused her to lose a lot of fluids, and now that she her body was creating a tiny human, she needed to stay hydrated.
He walked back to the room and set his stuff down on the bed.
“I brought you clean shirt in case you wanted to change, and I got you some water and an ice pack for your ribs. May I?” He asked sitting next to her and holding the ice pack to her side. Alex handed her the water and she took a few sips. She was apprehensive with his shirt at first, but soon took it and changed while Alex looked away. After, the two of them settled in the bed and laid there unsure of what to say.
Distrustfully, she nodded. “I’m sorry if this is strange. You can leave if you want to,” she said.
Alex shook his head, helping her lay down with the ice pack still on her rib. “No, it’s okay. I don’t mind. If something as simple as making sure you aren’t alone helps you not have night mares, then I will gladly do that.”
Maria shifted from her side, to her back, and once again, stared blankly at the ceiling.
They stayed like that for a while, and Alex almost drifted off to sleep until Maria spoke again.
“You were right,” she said, her voice dark and unsteady.
Alex looked at her and saw her eyes filling with tears again, though this time it wasn’t at bad. “About what?”
“Being scared. I am scared, Alex. I’m terrified. All the time. It’s all I think about. I’m always afraid that once day I’ll open my eyes and he’ll be standing in the doorway, or that this is all just a dream and I’ll wake up next to him. I mean, what if he comes back? I know he left, but he could come back and hurt me. He could hurt my kids. What if he hurts Natalie while I am here? I can’t do anything to save her. I can’t lose her.”
“And you won’t. You are allowed to be scared. But you don’t have to be anymore. I will make sure nothing happens to you, or Natalie, or your baby. And as for Natalie, we are going to find her. I promise you that.”
Maria turned her head and her eyes met Alex’s as they sparkled. “You promise you won’t get scared and... leave?”
She let out a breath. “Thank you,” Maria paused for a brief moment, then spoke again. “Can I ask you something?”
“Ask away,” he answered, his eyes closing no matter how hard he tried to keep them open.
Maria looked over at him again and continued. “You said you didn’t have a wife. Does that mean you and Elena’s mom aren’t together? I know it’s a personal question, I’m only asking to get my mind off... this.”
Alex sighed while all the memories of Elena’s mom rushed back to him. All those painful memories he kept trying to push away. “Well for starters, I stopped thinking of her as Elena’s mom a long time ago because she really wasn’t her mom. To me a mom is supposed to take care of you, and love you unconditionally. They are supposed to be around and the main woman in your life. Biology has nothing to do with it. But anyway, her name was Lillian. We met during high school and got married. Only we probably had a kid way too early. We were only twenty-two. I think that’s when it started. I like to think age didn’t affect it, but it did. At least for Lillian. When Elena was a couple months old, she started... hanging with the wrong crowd. Going out and not coming back until super late a night. And one night she left, and never came back. I never saw her again after that.” He widened his eyes. “God, I don’t know if she is dead, or alive, or had more kids. Hell, she could be in Russia for all I know.”
“I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have asked.”
“No, it’s okay actually. It feels good to talk about it every once in a while. Me and Elena never talk about her, and me and friends, well, its not really something that they bring up. I’m just glad Elena turned out okay. Being a guy raising a girl I knew wouldn’t be the easiest thing. Especially with things like periods and the birds and the bee’s and puberty and everything like that.”
Maria laughed. “I’m sure that was awkward.”
“Yeah, it was. Now you need to try and sleep. I know you haven’t slept good in a long time.” He reached his hand out and brushed away the tiny hair that was still stuck her face. “Just relax and wake me up if you need me.”
It was definitely true; Maria couldn’t remember the last time she had had a good night’s sleep. Not only was the baby disrupting her sleep, but her mind was always racing about Natalie and Matthew. She laid awake at night either fearing the worst or was waking up because of night mare.
But tonight, with Alex laying beside her, she was more at ease, and was able to sleep soundly.
But she knew it wouldn’t last.