Balls of florescent light fly past me. From restaurants, arcades… Shops?
Maybe I’m in town. I think I ran into some glass; a window, a door? Probably a door. A desk, I definitely saw a desk.
My feet stop, no more running. I smash into something in my way, a brick wall it feels like. The room jolts into place as my butt hits the floor, and I suddenly realise where I am.
“You’re lucky you didn’t hit Thompson, at that speed you’d probably break one of his ribs,” a man says in monotone and offers his hand out to me. I accept and stiffly pull myself up, disorientated from my abrupt deceleration.
“She’s got those crazy eyes Frank, I’d get her a cup of cocoa,” another man approaches, speaking in a much breezier tone. He’s noticeably smaller than the one I crashed into, not skinny or short but a lot leaner. I’m assuming this is Thompson. Addressing Frank, he slinked his shoulders and squared his feet, and the way Frank lifted his chin and braced his back as he nodded in response implies a hierarchy between the two.
“She does seem very shaken,” Frank says, rubbing his fingers over his stubble. “Are you with us, dear?”
I must look like a deer. A deer caught in the headlights. I hadn’t been sure what to think or feel and I think my face captures that; a scared, confused young girl that’s comprehending words as if they’re being spoken by two speechless puppets.
“Go clear out the break room. My office isn’t the most comforting space and I think it might spook the girl.”
“Righto,” Thompson motions his body in a fraction of a bow and hastily exits to the left.
Frank places his hand on my shoulder and sighs a sympathetic tut, the kind that people do when they’re not sure how to comfort you.
From his eyes I see youth, mid-thirties maybe. But the silver tone of age is already creeping into his thinned out hair and wrinkles crack the bottom of his face; years of stress carried in his sunken skin.
“Come with me,” he directs with his forehead.
I fall onto each of my feet in turn. Now I feel like the puppet; my limp body flopping from side to side to get to my destination.
The room we enter looks cheap, but cosy. There’s a sad, rattling fridge and a cushionless, leatherless sofa tucked together between the beaten walls. You can see it’s a pale reflection of what it once was; a crack addict in break room form. The softness in the sofa has been compressed over the years into solid slabs, the brown leather has been broken off piece by piece until only specs of its original colour remain.
He takes his seat with an extra twenty years on his back and motions me to join him. The compact size of the room brings me comfort. I like things small, they make me feel secure; there aren’t any shadowed corners or out of view weak spots. I squish into the corner and keep my eyes glued to my desperate hands clutching onto each other.
“We can’t help you if you stay mute, dear.” His shoulders have softened and his posture relaxed since we entered into the room away from the other officers. “Would you like to tell me what happened?” he prods, without showing a hint of impatience.
I open my mouth, my tongue caught on the words that want to come out. I squeeze my eyes shut, pulling my voice from my seized up throat. “Morgan. Morgan Parlor. I hit her with a rock… I think.”
“Parlor? The couple that live on West Edge. Oh you must be their foster daughter, Elena. Yes, I believe we have received a call about this.” He looks at me with curious eyes; like he can’t quite figure me out; like he’s heard one story but what he sees is another.
“Give me a picture of what happened. What lead up to this incident?”
“I’m scared,” I croak, avoiding eye contact like it will turn me to stone. “I’ve been scared for so long. She hurts me, she threatens me. And this time… Well I guess I just, lost it.”
“Did she hurt you today?”
“Did she try to hurt you?”
“Well did she threaten to hurt you?” His voice is starting to pick up a mild irritation.
“No,” I repeat with a sigh.
“Hmm,” he mumbles in an indecipherable tone. “If you weren’t in any physical danger, I’m afraid to say if she decides to prosecute, there’s nothing we can do.” His eyes speak of defeat, something that seems like a rarity for him and I feed on that.
“But… she called me a prisoner. She throws me around like a dollar store rag doll that can be replaced in the blink of an eye. She sears my skin if I wear the wrong outfit, signs me up as an escort for a business agreement, let’s her husband use me as his personal anger management dummy!”
“Barns, I’ll take it from here,” a man rips me from my screeching panic attack.
“But-“ Frank starts to object.
“Come with me, Elena. Thompson needs assistance on the Bur-lack case, I expect you will keep your focus on the things that need your input,” the man commands; a strong steady statue with moving lips.
“Yes boss… Certainly, I’ll get right on that,” Frank’s hierarchy slips downward and his demeanour reflects that. The air that was between him and Thompson has followed him to this room, though this time he’s on the choking end of it.
The man at the door has an instructing stance, he doesn’t have to repeat himself to get me out of my seat.
Walking through the halls with this man, this inexplicable man, compels a strange sense of calm to emerge within me. Medium build, younger than the other officers I’ve seen, and yet he carries himself with an impenetrable confidence. His short, blonde hair flows over his head in waves. He has a grace and fluidity that has an almost supernatural enthralment. Every picturesque movement he makes draws you in, riveted. And his seductive, commanding eyes are almost hypnotic; you couldn’t deny him, not anything.
He guides me past the endless ringing phones, mindless chatter and copy machines into his office and closes the door on every sound and person occupying the rest of the building. His steps are slow, like he takes the time to perfect every motion that he makes. His high end leather shoes make a satisfying squelch sound with every slow motion step he takes past me. When he gets to his desk, he turns his face to me, our eyes freeze in contact and so does he.
I think myself to have a rather wide understanding of those that I meet. I’m well versed in the hidden sides, the faces people hold beneath the ones they portray. Writing characters, their fears and desires and the things that drive them to do what they do, it’s made me take a deeper look at the thought behind the words, the meaning behind the smile.
But this man, this stare, I haven’t a clue what’s hiding beneath. I couldn’t even guess. Much like his confidence, his mind is impenetrable.
His eyes dig their way through me and wrap around my heart, clutching it, ready to squeeze it to dust if ever they pleased. They have the power to tear a man down and build another up stronger and faster than even the media could.
Those eyes, they could kill. So what are they planning to do with me?
“Miss Forsette, please take a seat,” his words are threaded with such grace; a tone smoother than the sweetest of jazz. It’s not only commanding, it’s inviting; and I can’t help but feel an indescribable sense of ease.
He waits for my motion to take his own seat, matching my speed, studying my movements like he’s putting a picture together; the kind that I was unable to make of him.
“Take a breath Miss Forsette. Ignore the tick of the clock, it has no relevance in this room. Time is something I have much of.”
“I’m… Okay,” I sputter, nerves tickling at my hips.
“Then I shall begin. This is where your troubles end Miss Forsette. If you are willing to divulge some necessary information, this will promptly become a mere nuisance of the past.”
“Frank is not the authority on this; that would lie in my hands. Now, are you able to put your trust in these hands that I offer up to you so readily?” he asks, leaning over his clasped hands.
“Trust isn’t something that comes very easily to me sir.”
“Perhaps I shouldn’t have requested you put your faith in a stranger, it’s certainly something I wouldn’t do. Allow us to get acquainted, Theodore Montigue, it’s a pleasure.
“I assume you picked that yourself.” A nagging suspicion of this man’s character creeps towards me. The strange self-assurement and ease of his character was one thing to be cautious of, but a Shakespearian name and a promise to free me from all of the woes I entered with is too much to overlook.
He unclasps his hands and presses his back against his chair in the manner of a king on his throne.
“That name carries far more than most. A symbol of destructive conflict, something so present in the world we live in; never dying. A name to always remember and a rule to always live by. Yes. I did choose it myself.”
“What’s a business man like yourself doing in a public service position?” I ask, eyebrow raised in an interrogation like fashion.
He chuckles to his shoulder, again gracefully. Like everything that he does.
“What is a smart, young, avid reader that avoids confrontation at all costs doing throwing rocks at people?”
I cross my arms and narrow my eyes. Touché.
“We all have reasons for the things we do Elena, now would you care to enlighten me of yours?”
“I lost control of myself, that’s all.” I drop my arms and eyes, my strength swapping out for vulnerability. “She threatened me and this time I couldn’t take it. I couldn’t.”
“I see the scars you carry with you. The ones hidden under your sleeves, and also the ones hidden beneath your skin.” He takes the glass in his hand and tilts his head to look down at the softly swirling liquid. “I’ll need to bring your social worker down here to make arrangements for you. I’ll take the liberty to assume another foster placement is not a suitable environment for you,” his eyes peer up from the glass and my smile speaks for itself. A sly smirk crosses his face before he brings the glass to his lips and takes a sip.
“I’ll make the call,” he says, swiping up the phone in his right hand, his left still fingering the edge of the glass. “You’ll need an adult over the age of twenty one, with a stable job and place of residence. Do you have a contact number for a friend or someone close to you who fits that description? “ he asks in a way that implies he already knows the answer.
He dials the social worker’s number so swiftly it appears as a single motion. “I believe I do,” I rush out my response before the line connects. I reach out of my seat towards his desk and mouth “may I?” pointing at a handy notepad and pen. He replies with a single nod and returns his attention to the phone.
As the pen in my hand scribbles a number on the paper and Theodore bargains the urgency of the situation with the woman on the other line, the storm inside me calms. For all the manic and uncertainty the last few days have presented, this is the first sign of hope. The only thing I have to ask is why? Why is this man being so kind to me? Why am I not in a jail cell… Or lying in a hospital bed in between Morgan and Maurice’s bloody fist?
It doesn’t feel like luck, and that being my only answer I must ignore the question.
Theodore’s position must be a persuasive one; the social worker arrives in less than fifteen minutes… and she bought lunch. Esther unsurprisingly takes a while longer. She’s the one who brought fashionably late back into fashion.
The air in the room shifts when Ms Reeler’s wound up energy enters the mix. She struts in, stiff and rigid; her hair tied taught in a tight bun, her suit plain and flat, not a wrinkle of emotion present on her face. Looking between the two of them, it’s like observing an apple and an orange cut from the same tree. They’re both so well put together, so steady, so self-assured.
The difference is, for her composure it seems a pin could drop and knock it all out of place, but Theodore isn’t a dress for show mannequin. His air is present far deeper than the surface. His act, is not an act, and his picture of confidence is not a thirty thousand piece puzzle that’s taken him years to assemble; it’s clear, no cracks, framed and hung up with a diamante string.
And that’s why with one you get an overwhelming sense of security and the other… Well that woman makes me more nervous and unsteady than a surprise exam paper.
“Are we starting this meeting officer? You did persist that this was of immediate importance,” she says robotically as she places her bag on the floor beside her chair; a slight annoyance in her expression. I begin to pick at the sandwich in my lap, drawing my focus toward the soft white bread.
“It’s actually Captain, Ms Reeler. But please, Theodore is fine,” he drops his tone to a level more assertive, less relaxed than when it was just me and him. I hear an audible gulp from beside me. Ms Reeler re-adjusts her position in the chair, her poise buckling under the carbon-crushing pressure. In a mere few minutes in his company she is already becoming disarmed. And my optimism is only growing stronger.
“Are you aware of the situation at play here?”
“Well-“ she stammers and pokes at her blocky black glasses.
“You’ve left a severely traumatised young girl in the supposed nurturing hands of an extremely abusive foster couple, despite several concerns made by the young girl’s therapist. Concerns that specifically mention the detriment to the young girl’s mental health: “being in the custody of people who have little understanding of the term itself.” This is correct information, yes?” he berates her in a way I’ve never witnessed. It’s in his tone, the deathly calm way that he strings his words together, a silent threat.
“ I’m not confusing this case with an episode of “Tormented Children Tortured by the System,” am I Ms Reeler? Because if I’ve made an error, if this is all simply a misunderstanding, a wild piece of fiction I’ve concocted, it would be wise not to waste our precious time on it any longer. Is that right Ms Reeler, should we all head home for the day?”
“Uh…Uh,” she opens her mouth, only responding with an unintelligible stutter. He definitely caught her off guard.
Again she fiddles with her glasses as if correcting her vision will bring the clarity back to her mind that she’s since lost upon entering the room.
I have to clench my gut to prevent any laughter coming out. Watching someone who has only been firm and intimidating around me turn into a fumbling mess right before my eyes is more that a treat.
Though the more I’m starting to like Theodore, the more I’m wondering why he’s backing my corner so strongly. And when exactly he got the time to go over my file.
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