Chapter 8: The calm before the storm, and the hurricane
Ever since Alex was assigned to Maria’s case, he had become more paranoid about locking doors, shutting blinds, and making sure to call Elena at least twice a day when she wasn’t home, which was frustrating for her because phones weren’t allowed at school.
Alex’s mind was, again, far away from his work as he sat down at his chair with Maria sitting next to him. He was still a little rattled from the first night and every one following it. After seeing Maria like that, he couldn’t deny that he suddenly felt more cautious around her.
He noticed that her eyes were empty as they stared off out the window, so he nudged her. “Are you nervous?”
“No. It’s just that this place isn’t the most welcoming.” She moved closer to Alex, surprising him.
Instead of saying anything, Alex put his hand on her knee and rubbed with his thumb. She jolted her head to look at his hand, but didn’t move her leg away. Despite the time they had spent together, he had found that nothing he said could ever be able satisfy what Maria really needed to hear. Partly because he had no idea what he should say. Anything could set her off. But he told himself that actions meant more than words, especially to her.
Alex pulled his hand back when he heard Enrique walk in the room.
“You’re here early,” he said setting his can of coke down on his desk.
“Yeah, I just came to talk to Armstrong but he is in a meeting and then I’m leaving.”
Enrique gave him a confused look. “Leaving? To go where? Don’t you have patrol?”
Alex stood up and grabbed Enrique’s wrist, dragging him into the interrogation room so Maria wouldn’t know that he was leaving for Dallas so soon. “Rogers is doing that. But anyway, I’m hoping they’ve found more information on Matthew and Natalie so I can find them. Armstrong said he thinks they are in Dallas. Once they can pinpoint, I’m allowed to go. That’s I’m waiting for Armstrong. He has to give me official permission.”
Enrique grunted. “Why am I not apart of your road trip? We are road trip buddies Ally! Come on, you have to ask Armstrong if I can come with you,” he whined, giving his best puppy dog dog eyes he could muster.
Before Alex could complain about how Enrique called him Ally again, Armstrong walked in with yet another case file.
“No need for that,” he started, ignoring the fact that Enrique was standing there. He already knew that he knew about Natalie and Matthew being in Dallas because he knew Alex was not the best secret keeper when it came to his best friend. “I need you to stay here Garcia. I have other cases that need your attention. A few I think will peak you interest. Detective Rivers has this one handled. Now, could I speak to you in my office for a moment, Rivers?”
Alex followed him without question and balled his hands up, praying that Armstrong would give him the clear. “Yes, sir.”
“Alright, I’m giving you authorization you to leave. This time they found a grey Toyota Tundra driving around the area and the driver appeared to be Matthew. It also had a Michigan license plate, but unfortunately they didn’t catch the number. I don’t have any addresses, but maybe Dallas means something to Maria. Other then that, I suggest you get going as soon as possible if you want to get him before he leaves. I’ve cleared your schedule until further notice. Good luck Detective Rivers.”
Alex stood up and shook Armstrong hand. “Thank you, sir.”
After they left the station Alex had yet to tell Maria about how he was leaving in the morning because he wasn’t sure how to. She had just gotten used to being around him, and now he was leaving her. He wasn’t sure she could be by herself for the main reason being that she could be a potential danger to herself, and Alex knew that if anything happened to her on his account he wouldn’t be able to live with himself.
But now with him having to leave in less than twelve hours, he had no other choice.
“Maria,” he started walking into the guest bedroom which he insisted he sleep in to make sure nothing happened.
“Hmm?” She whirred in response, looking up from the book she was reading.
Alex plopped down on the bed next to her. “When we were at the station, Armstrong had me the clear to go to Dallas tomorrow, so I’m going. I don’t know how long I’ll be gone. But you can still stay here if you want.”
“B-but... Alex, you can’t leave. Please, you have to let me come with you. If Natalie is there... She is my daughter. I have to come with you.Alex, please.” Her lip, that was healing, quivered. Alex admired how soft, how delicate they were, and how he wanted them to form a smile so badly. “Take me with you!” She continued.
“Hey, okay, okay. I know she is your daughter. But you have to remember that Matthew is there too. We don’t know who he’s been talking too, or what he knows. This is dangerous Maria,” he explained, sitting up.
“No! I don’t care! I’m her mother! Alex, I’m begging you. Let me do this for her. I need to see her. I can’t just sit here in this house all by myself waiting for you to come back.” She flung her arm through the air and her volume increased.
Alex only looked at her, every part of his body aching. But after a long pause, he gave in. “Fine. But only if you agree to listen to me. I don’t want you to get hurt.”
“Okay. Thank you. I’m sorry for going all crazy.” She combed her dark brown hair back with her fingers.
“No, don’t apologize. I would do the same.”
The next morning the two of them left for Dallas, and the drive to so far hadn’t consisted of much talking. After having a day full of seven hours in the car, Alex decided it was enough for one day, even though they were only a little bit over half way there. He could also tell it was uncomfortable for her to sit in the same position for so long.
As Alex pulled in to the hotel, he readjusted the badge that was clipped on his shirt, making sure it was visible to everyone who looked his way.
“So we’ll stay here until the morning. I hate driving in the car,” he complained to Maria who, sleepily unbuckled her seatbelt.
Ignoring him, she asked, “What happens if he finds us?”
He gulped, mouth going dry. That was something he didn’t want her, or himself for that matter, to think about. And if was being honest with himself, he didn’t know what they would do. So, thinking about her well-being, he gave the best answer he could think of. One that would particularly put her at ease. “I don’t think he would come after you. That would only mean that we would get a chance to arrest him, and he wouldn’t want that. You’re safe from him now. But,” he continued, taking her hand in his, “if he does, I’ll make sure he doesn’t get to you.” Deep down he knew that he would need to reassure her of this many more times before the case was complete and things started to go back to normal.
“I’m sorry, I know you said it before. I guess I just haven’t wrapped my mind around everything yet.”
“Ask as many times as you need.”
Maria wiped her eyes. “I just miss her. I’ve never been this long with out her. And I cry about everything now.”
Alex laughed the slightest bit. “I know I keep telling you this, but we will find her. I promise. I will get her back.”
Maria nodded and tried to relax, but Alex was starting to be able to see behind the mask she wore. She was anxious about Matthew and Natalie, and if she would ever see her again. Alex was never one to promise anything. But this was something he would without hesitation.
When they got their bags, they walked into the lobby. Both were relieved to find that the smell was of fresh linen rather than pot.
Alex caught the eye of the woman at the front desk, who smiled as he walked over.
“What can I help you two with this evening?” She asked.
Alex rested his elbow on the counter. “Yes, I would like a room just for tonight, please.”
“Unlisted,” he told her, knowing she would understand. The good things about being a police officer was that you knew a lot of ways to stay safe. One of the first things he learned at the academy was that if you were running from someone and were staying at a hotel, you shouldn’t give you name, but rather say unlisted. If you did that, they don’t know who you really are, and couldn’t let anyone up to your room. Obviously Maria didn’t know that because the previous hotel had let Alex right in. Sure he was a cop and had an I.D., but just like he said before, the world was full of crazy people.
The worker nodded in response, and glanced at Maria while giving her a sympathetic smile before looking back down at her computer.
“And would you like one or two bed?”
Alex vacillated. There was a good chance Maria would have a night mare again, or possibly something worse. But he knew by now that Maria would let him know when she wanted to be coddled or not. So Alex decided on two, that way he would be right there if she needed him.
“Of course, let me get the key.” She turned and disappeared into the back room. The woman came back through the door a few moments later, holding a key card in her hand. “Okay, you’re all set. Have a nice night you two.”
Alex swiped the card with his free hand. “Thank you,” he huffed, his shoulders growing numb.
They walked down the hallway and turned left by the elevator.
“What do you want for dinner?” He asked interrupting the silence.
“What do you want?”
She spoke as if she never got to make any decision in her life. “Whatever you want. I like anything.”
After a moment, she answered. “Tacos.”
“I could go for some tacos,” he said, the elevator doors opening, allowing them to exit onto the second floor. Alex picked up the two bags from the floor, and threw them over his shoulder.
“I can carry one of those you know,” Maria offered.
“No need, I got it,” he said, struggling to hold the big duffels.
Maria raised her eyebrow. “At least give me the key. Please, I don’t want to feel completely useless.”
Giving in without much persuasion, Alex gave her the key.
“Thank you. Now what room again?”
“Two-twelve. It should be on the left,” he continued, following behind her.
They walked down the hallway, and soon Alex noticed how his surroundings faded away. Unexpectedly, they were replaced with the hallway of the hotel that night where the Jordan stood at the end of the carpeted hall. The windows showed the moon instead of the warm sunset sky, and the floor was blue instead of red. Maria was no longer in front of him. Worry and anxiety filled up inside him. Worries about Maria’s future, worries about her past, and worries about failing her. Squeezing his eyes shut and reopening them again, everything returned back to normal.
Suddenly he found himself inside the room, tossing their bags on the bed.
“I’m going to go to the bathroom, and then we can get food,” he said before scurrying off into the bathroom.
While waiting for him, Maria laid on the bed, enjoying the silence. She closed her eyes for a brief moment, and took a deep breath. She told herself that everything would be alright, even though it seemed far from it now. Hope. She told herself. Have hope.
Soon after, Alex came out of the bathroom wiping his wet hands on the pants of his police uniform. “Ready?”
“Yes. Aren’t you going to change?”
He walked over to Maria and sat next to her, his worries starting to crawl back into his mind. “No way. It gives me authority... and it the badge looks cool.”
Maria gave him the eyebrow and stood up, ready to get out of suffocating buildings and have someone with her that she was beginning to feel comfortable around. It was refreshing, and felt good to not have to worry about her own safety in seven years. At the same time, she knew that the time allotted for her to forget was limited. Soon all her worries and concerns and fears would come falling down on her. And it wouldn’t be a trickle, but rather a monsoon, and she would be left drowning in black and blue again.
They drove to a quaint restaurant near the hotel, not having the energy to look any further.
The hostess led them to the back of the room, where the red, green, and white tile tables were spread out.
After a few minutes the waiter came around, a genuine smile on her face, and took their orders, then wandered off into the back.
“So...” Alex started. “What’s the sex?”
Maria nearly choked. “What?”
“Oh my god Maria, I mean the sex of the baby. Do you think I want to know about your sex life?”
Her face turned bright red of embarrassment. “Well you already do,” she mumbled while looking away. Alex pressed his lips in a thin line and looked down at the table, as did Maria.
She was right though. And it wasn’t just that. Alex knew a lot about her that she probably didn’t have a say in whether she wanted people to know that or not. From the day she was born, to who her parents were, where she lived. What her sex life was like. But from what Alex knew, that wasn’t what he would describe as a sex life. It was more of a pleasure that only one person could enjoy, while one had to endure the other.
“But if you’re wondering, I don’t know actually,” she continued after a long pause. “Matthew wanted to wait. I didn’t really have a say in the matter. Whatever he wants, he gets.” The brunette brushed off the table with her hand then leaned her elbows on the table, still feeling awkward that she had only known Alex for a week and he already knew so much about her, and had continuously seen her vulnerability that she wasn’t used to showing.
“So you want to know?”
“Desperately. I like knowing what color to paint the walls, what clothes to buy, the name, things like that. My whole family is boys, so I thought that Natalie was a boy. We painted her room blue, not that it matters, but then she was a girl, and I would have changed the color to something more girly, but I was so tired. I got barley two hours of sleep because she never slept.”
“Yup. I remember those times. All Elena did was eat. No sleep at all,” Alex said. “And if you really want to find out, we can go when we get back to Lansing.”
“Well you, I just mean that I can go with you... i-if you want,” he stammered.
“I suppose you’re right. I have an appointment at the end of the month anyway.”
“Then after that you can buy all the clothes you want,” Alex immediately regretted his choice of words once he remembered Maria’s possible financial issues. Matthew supported everyone, and Maria didn’t have anything, including a house because she she showed no desire to go back to the home she previously shared with Matthew.
Maria stayed quiet, also realizing Alex’s words. Luckily, there food came out right after so they could move on from the awkward silence. And once it passed, they talked the rest of dinner. Alex about his struggles with his wife leaving and rough childhood, and Maria about her time as a teacher. It was like he had known her for forever. Like she was an old friend.
When they finished, they drove back to the hotel and called it a night. Maria showered while Alex looked over some stuff Enrique sent him regarding some smaller cases he was working on. But he mainly just complained about his ex Jamie, and how she was with someone else. That’s what brothers did though, right? Complain about there love life to one another. Even though they weren’t blood related, Enrique was the closest thing Alex had to a brother.
As Maria stepped in the shower, she could feel its cold tile against her feet and the cool air brushing against her exposed skin. She turned the water on and felt the warm water drip down her body. Watching as a stream of water ran down her chest, she leaned her head back and the water ran down on her scalp, making her dark brown hair darker. It felt too hot, yet, so good. She put her face in the waters way, making her skin tingle because of the heat. But she didn’t care. The water was comforting. Reassuring. Reviving. While with Matthew, the shower was the only place where she could be by herself, and have feelings. The only place where he couldn’t talk to her, where everything was quiet and tranquil, where the only noise was the sound of water against her skin, and her occasional humming to a song she would sing to Natalie before bed. But most importantly it was the only place where her body was her own. This was where she could clear her head. Maria winced the slightest bit, for the hot water stung at the cuts on her eyebrow, lip, and side of her face. It burned. Nipping at the raw skin. But it didn’t hurt as bad as it did when the flesh first split.
As the stinging sensation ran through her veins, she ran her fingers though her hair, and the water it had absorbed splatted on the floor.
Every stream down her skin took away fears insecurities, worries, and took them down the drain with it.
The only problem was that sometimes things get stuck in the drain, and after a while, you are forced to deal with it again.
She let out a breath, feeling the warmth cradle her. It was like a security blanket that sadly only lasted a few minutes before it disappeared.
Running her fingers through her hair again, she closed her eyes and finally being able to have a moment of calm, but was soon reminded of her fears when she heard a noise that only echoed in her head. It didn’t surprise her how often that happened. At times, it was like she was going crazy. Maybe she was. Her mind had constantly told her things that were only in her head. The noises for starters. None of them were there, but she could hear them nonetheless. Sometimes she would lay awake at night listening, waiting, and trying to convince herself that they really were there. That she wasn’t crazy. Because even though they weren’t, to her, they were. They were real. Even if no one else could hear it.
Her eyes scanned the room when she heard the door knock. But before her heart could start pounding, it opened, revealing the ruffle haired detective, his eyes closed, and a towel in his hand.
Maria put one hand over her chest and one on the wall while she breathed heavily
“I just came to make sure you are okay,” he started, immediately wondering why the hell he went in the bathroom when was Maria was there. Then he remembered, much to his heartache. He didn’t want to leave her alone. There was too much in her head. She was at capacity and Alex knew they could escape at any time. And if they did, Maria would drown in the waves of it. Unless she learned to swim.
Alex on the other hand found himself drowning in a pool of questions, with one that resurfaced over and over again. Why did he do this too her? Alex only had to spend one night with her to see all the pain he had left her with. It made him feel sick. How could one human being have so much hate? That was the question of the week it seemed. Alex then continued, “Are you?”
“Y-yeah... I am.” This time it was true.
The two of them were laying in their separate beds, sleeping. Some more than others anyway.
Alex had always been a deep sleeper. Maria on the other hand, was not. Not since Matthew had first put his hands on her. That first night seven years ago. Had it really been that long? Seven years? Had she really lived with that monster of a man for seven years of her life? Had she really wasted that much time in pain that she didn’t have to go through? She knew the answer.
As she heard Alex snoring softly, her breaths shortened. She heard footsteps pass the door, and felt her hands tingle. Every slight noise made her heart beat faster, faster, louder, louder, until each each echoed within her head. Thud, thud, thud, thud, over and over again. Then there were the voices. The voices that started as whisper increased in volume, turning into yelling and screaming. And although it was different voices, she could hear one over all the others. Matthew. He was taking pity on her, mocking her. Hurting her more and more. Not physically, but mentally. She could feel him. Feel his hands on her neck, making her gasp for air. She could feel his hands on her hips, his fleshy lips kissing her skin, running up and down her. It was as if a sharp blade were cutting her. She could feel everything, even though there was no one there.
She opened her eyes, and saw shadows moving in front of her. With great fright, she sat up as quick as she could, and tried to gain balance as blood rushed to her head. Maria could hear her heart pounding in her ears. She felt her body become warm as he pushed on her chest, harder and harder. She chocked, trying to take in the clean smelling air. Her vision blurred, allowing her to only see figures that raced back and fourth in front of her. The voices still surrounded her as she put her trembling hand on the nightstand and stood up. Her head spun in circles and her stomach turned, nausea overcoming her. Maria shivered, quickly tip toeing over to Alex’s bed.
“Alex! Wake up! Please, please!” She sobbed, but still in a whisper, in fear of causing Matthew to hurt her more. Every second Alex continued sleeping in his comfortable position, the more fidgety Maria grew. “Alex! Please wake up! He is here! He was touching me!” Maria reached out and touched his arm, shaking him roughly back and fourth, unable to control her body’s movement. After a few seconds heard him groan.
He squinted his eyes. “Maria, it’s midnight. What’s going on?”
Maria’s eyes shifted back and fourth quickly as she continued gasping for air.
“Maria, what’s wrong? Are you okay?”
“He’s going to come, Alex. I-I knew he was. He took Natalie, a-and he is going to-to come back. He’s going to hurt me, and Natalie and my baby. We-we have to leave. He is here. I could s-see hi-him. I could feel him. He was touching me. He put his hands on my neck.” She raised her hands to her neck and pushed on her skin, her nails leaving a red tint. Alex didn’t try to touch her, knowing if he did Maria would only get worse. So, remorsefully, he sat in front of her, waiting for her to finish. “You said that he was-wasn’t here, but he is.”
Alex got off the bed at a slow pace, then reached to turn the light on. “Hey, hey, hey, look at me. Don’t look around the room. Look at me. Look at my eyes. Take a breath.”
Still panting, she managed to say, “I-I can’t stop.”
“That’s okay. Just breath, okay? Breath in deep, and breath out. Is it okay if I touch you?”
With her cheeks wet, she nodded.
He reached his hands up to cup her cheeks. He applied light pressure, letting her know it was his hands touching her skin, and no one else’s.
Maria’s dark brown eyes shifted all over the room a few times, but then they slowed and eventually met Alex’s. She was still breathing heavy, and Alex could feel her body shaking. “Okay, now, sit down on the bed.” Alex moved his hands from her face to her hands. He made Maria sit down on the bed, and he sat next to her.
“No, but Alex-”
“Look at me... Listen to my voice. Mathew is not coming back. You hear those voices? Those are people outside. Matthew is not coming back. You are safe. You are safe. You are safe. I am here for you,” he said. When Alex realized that touching Maria’s hands wasn’t enough to calm her down, he enclosed his arms around her and rocked her back and fourth, then moving his hand to rub her back lightly. After a few moments, Alex then reached to turn the light off and darkness swallowed the room once again.
“Here, lay down.” Alex put his hand on her back and helped her lay down on the bed. He then pulled the covers over her, while she was still timorous. Alex then got back in the bed next to the brunette. He was taken by surprise when Maria scooted closer to him. When he felt her body relax against his, he stroked her dark hair, and his stomach fluttered when he felt her breath against his chest.
“Maria,” he whispered.
“Do you hear my heart beating?”
“Good. Focus on that. Listen to my heart, and breath when I breath.” Alex took a deep breath, which was followed by one from Maria.
After about ten minutes, Maria had finally calmed down.
“Maria,” Alex breathed again.
She hummed in response, her eyes closed from exhaustion.
“Do you feel better now?”
Maria took another breath. “Yes,” she answered. Maria moved her head back on the pillow. “Thank you for doing that.”
“No need to thank me. I’ve had my fair share of dealing with this sort of stuff.”
“They happen quite often as you’ve seen. Before when I did I had no one to help calm me down. But now I have you. So thank you.” She looked up at him, her eyes, that had the slightest bit of smeared makeup underneath, regaining their life. Slowly, but surely. “You know the first time it happened I thought I was dying. But I did some research after that and I found out it was panic attacks. It didn’t make it any better, though. I’m just grateful you are here now.”
Alex moved closer to her and rested his head besides hers. “Me too,” he added. When he felt her body soften beside him, he relaxed too, knowing that she was better, and wasn’t just saying she was okay so he would stop pestering her. He glanced a her, and noticed her face was soft and glowing, and not just because she was pregnant. Alex felt like this case had given him so much more than what he thought it would in the beginning. Instead of just giving him an opportunity to show his potential as a detective, it gave him the chance to get to meet someone like Maria, and learn a little bit of what is was like to suffer from abuse. He had also turned into someone Maria trusted, even though they had just met. And though he would never admit it out loud, he was glad Maria trusted him. He liked how he could calm her down and sooth her. It made him feel like he had magic, and it gave him hope for Maria’s future.