The time flew by cleaning and preparing the house. As Monday approached, Brandt and I went to the gym to check it out. Brandt was right about it not being the best part of town. You could tell it had a higher crime rate in the area, but it still didn’t deter me. I wanted to see Edgardo, and curious to meet his sister, needing a female role model at this point.
Walking into the gym, I sensed a belonging before I even set down my duffle bag. The usual weight equipment resided off to the right of us as well as a cardio area with several treadmills, spin bikes, and ellipticals. The usual health gym in all aspects. We stopped at the receptionist’s desk noticing the most beautiful Latino girl standing behind it, folding towels.
Small in stature, I guessed about 5′2", her long stick-straight black hair hung in a low ponytail. She had doe eyes and an olive-skinned face without a blemish. Long lashes and a strong nose. Her incredibly fit body rippled with lean muscles that were evident but not in your face. She had an air of confidence, and it made me insecure just being in her presence. Me, with the way my body had deteriorated and the fear that resonated off it. I yearned to be in her position, and now determined more than ever, I would endure anything to get there.
A muscle-bound member of the gym, one with biceps larger than both my thighs, talked with her while we waited. His broad chest and veins protruded from his oversized arms muscles but I wasn’t drawn to him as I had been to Brandt. I much preferred Brandt’s physique. Muscular but not so pronounced. When she saw us, she shooed him away, coming out from behind the counter to shake our hands. “Hello. I am Marisol, Edgardo’s sister. He told me you would be coming to look around today. And you are?” So used to Brandt being the center of attention when we went anywhere, I didn’t realize she directed her question to me.
Startled, I grabbed her firm hand. “Ah... Chelsea and this is my boyfriend, Brandt.”
She then shook his hand. “Edgardo is teaching a class right now, so your timing is great. He asked me to show you around if you came.”
Marisol showed us the gym and the weights, explaining that we would have a personal trainer to show us the proper use of the equipment. Brandt was more concerned about the security here and talked with her about it as I went and looked at the women’s locker room area.
Next, we went down a long hallway to the back of the building. A large open area appeared to the right where two boxing rings as well as punching bags were spread throughout. We found Edgardo to the left on a huge floor mat with mirrors flanking the sides of the walls. A handful of people circled him while he had a guy pinned down on the mat teaching a technique. He struggled to get him off, and with a surge of motion, I saw Edgardo fly off him and land on his back on the mat, now pinned himself. Although Edgardo smiled, I thought it must have hurt.
We settled down on the bleachers off to the side and watched a couple more maneuvers. With each trained technique, I found myself fascinated. I observed only one female in the class, and she looked much bigger than me. She easily launched the guy she worked with off her, but I wondered if I could do the same. After having them split into small groups, Edgardo left his class to join us.
After shaking both of our hands, I couldn’t help but comment. “Would I be able to do that?”
He smiled, “Marisol is able to do these techniques on Bruner. He is about the size of a Mack truck.” Marisol explained Bruner was the one talking to her when we first came in. My eyes lit up at the prospect. “We may need to first buff you up a little though,” he added with a chuckle. Commenting on my too thin appearance, he didn’t say it to make me feel bad. Looking at Marisol’s physique, I realized I wanted the change too.
Marisol took me on the mat as Brandt and Edgardo talked about the aspects of joining the gym. She went through simple maneuvers with me, such as how to pull my hand away when someone grabbed me. I couldn’t believe how easy it could be, just knowing the position of the person’s thumb or how to twist my body, this should be taught in high school before girls go out dating on their own.
Brandt came up from behind, careful to make his presence known before touching me. He had been so patient and caring with me and I appreciated it immensely. He told me he was going out front with Edgardo to sign the paperwork, letting me join. I smiled at him, and he smiled back, chancing a brief kiss to my nose before walking away. Despite his reservations, he knew how important coming here meant to me.
After he left, I learned a couple more techniques, like to not scream but to yell ‘fire,’ and then pondered how in this day and age, few will come if you were screaming for help, but more people would respond if there were a fire.
Asking if I could sit back down to rest, I didn’t have the energy to go further, embarrassed by my lack of strength. Curiosity forced me to ask the question on my mind, “Edgardo said you were raped.” I shouldn’t have been so forward but I had to know. It was important to see someone that went through worse than me and make it back out whole.
Darkness swept across Marisol’s eyes before she returned to her professional, tactful demeanor. A smile formed on her lips but it wasn’t happy. “Yes, I give talks here at the club on how to protect yourself and speak about what happened to me to help the other members.” Relieved she didn’t view me as prying, I felt grateful as she continued, “My first year of college. I went to a party off-campus. Stupid really. I didn’t know the people I who I went with very well, and I didn’t know where I even was that night. I only had one drink before realizing the people I went with were asses, and I left. I couldn’t afford a ride, so I started to walk to the bus stop when a guy jumped me.”
Her eyes drifted down, and she swallowed before returning my gaze, “It had been two years ago now. I left college but have since returned. I changed my major. Now instead of being an agriculturist, I am going to be a lawyer. I want to put away those guys.” Her story touched me like no other. I couldn’t help but think it took her two years to get back into her normal life. Would mine take as long? Two years to feel safe when Brandt would be leaving again in two months.
“Did they ever catch the guy?” I couldn’t imagine what hell it would be if Dan still walked the Earth somewhere and I didn’t know of his location.
She shook her head. “No, and at this point, I almost fear for him.” The questionable look on my face made her continue. “I provided a sketch of him to the police, but they haven’t caught him yet. Edgardo has that sketch in his wallet and goes jogging every night in different locations. He isn’t giving up hope of finding him, and if he does, I fear for what will happen. Not to the guy, but of Edgardo getting in trouble because of it.”
My eyes widened, sharing her fear. Just watching the little training that Edgardo could provide, I had no doubt he could kill him with his bare hands. Two years of searching every night to find him continued the fire to right the wrong to his sister. Wouldn’t Brandt do the same? It made me even more thankful Dan would no longer be bothering us.
When I called my parents and told them about the last couple of months with Chelsea and how we were finally healing together, they jumped at the chance to help. They had grown to love Chelsea as much as I had, and they would do anything to support us. After settling things with the business, they booked a flight out for tomorrow.
When we left to look at the new gym, I had my share of reservations due to its neighborhood. The last thing I wanted was for Chelsea to be in danger. Ever.
Outside, the gym looked rough. I took notice of a security camera and a fenced-in parking lot, but I still didn’t think it offered much in the way of protection. The inside of the gym looked better. Night and day actually. It looked like a real gym and seemed fairly busy for the time of day. After meeting Edgardo’s sister Marisol, she showed us the rest of the gym including the class Edgardo currently taught.
Chelsea became enthralled with the idea of self-defense. Although there was a woman in this class, she looked easily double Chelsea’s size. I hated to say it, but I doubted Chelsea had it in her. My only hope centered around her learning enough moves to get some of her confidence back.
I watched while Edgardo talked to Chelsea about how she could accomplish these techniques too. Her eyes lit up, and I knew she needed this, but I still didn’t know if I could let her come by herself. While Marisol took her over to the mat, I felt the need to pull Edgardo aside on the premise of signing up to join the gym. We walked to the front of the place out of the earshot of Chelsea.
“You have a nice place here.” We walked past a row of treadmills, only a quarter of them occupied.
He smiled, “Thanks. We have only been open for a year, but we are doing all right.”
I didn’t want to beat around the bush. “Your security is a little lax.”
He shrugged, “We have a fenced-in parking lot and a security camera.”
“Best used after the fact.” He looked defensive, but he must have seen where my concern came from.
“If you haven’t noticed, everyone here is being trained for either some type of martial arts or self-defense, and I also cater to the police. I give a discounted membership to the local police force helping keep it secure. A little insurance policy. People know it when they sign up. It prevents me from having any trouble.” It was smart. I felt a little better letting her come here now. Once she made it out of the parking lot of course.
“What about private lessons at the house? I would pay any fee.” I had a generous workout room where I could put a mat down for lessons and it would eliminate the need for her to come here.
“It isn’t what she needs.” How the hell did he know what she needed, more so than her own boyfriend?
When he saw my hackles rise, he calmly said, “The longer she stays in seclusion the harder it will be for her to leave. I saw it with my sister. Part of getting her confidence back is coming here... and on her own.” He was right, although I didn’t want to admit she needed to do this without me by her side.
Unable to argue his point, I asked for the form to join. “Just make sure she learns a thing or two.”
Watching me fill out the form, he looked at me strangely, “You don’t think she can do it.”
It wasn’t something I wanted Chelsea to know, but he had to understand my skepticism. Chelsea probably weighed less than a hundred pounds at this point, and a strong wind could blow her over. “No, but she seems to think it will help her, and I would do anything for her. If she wants this, she will get it.”
“She is stronger than you think.”
I nodded back at him, “Yes, she is a strong-willed person, but I don’t want her to think she can take on anyone who comes her way. I want her safe.” He handed me the form for Chelsea to sign as I gave him my own form with the financial information on it.
“The worst thing you can do to a victim is to keep treating them like one.” He walked back down the hall, and I followed him, contemplating what he said. I didn’t treat her like a victim. I was just cautious since I let her get hurt once; I refused to ever let it happen again.
Later that night we were getting ready for dinner in the area designated as a kitchen we made in the basement. Chelsea didn’t do that much in the gym but had been sore from the activity. She denied it, but I could tell. It made me worried with her being so frail. She never worked out before, and now with the mess of the house renovations, she would tax herself with added cleaning.
I just wished I could be with her all the time. Split myself in two and be with her during the day to take care of her and finish the recording at the studio, but at least I wouldn’t have to worry about it for the next week with my parents here.
And now I wouldn’t have to worry about her getting to the gym. “Chelsea, I have Louis coming on Wednesday to drive you to the gym.”
“Louis? You want me to show up at the gym with a chauffeur?” She didn’t take it as nicely as I wanted her to.
He wasn’t just a chauffeur, but a trained bodyguard, and I trusted him. “Chelsea, I don’t want you to go there by yourself, and since I can’t drive you, I think Louis would be a great alternative.” I wasn’t backing down no matter what she said.
“Brandt, I want to do this by myself. I will need to anyway. You talked with Edgardo. He told you about the security he has.” It sounded good in theory, but still too dangerous for me to let her go by herself. “Besides it is broad daylight.”
She had been taken in broad daylight making the argument useless. “Chelsea, it is a bad part of town.”
“But Brandt, he has had no issues in the past.”
“It doesn’t mean that he won’t. Your safety is more important to me.” I said it in a way that made her realize I wouldn’t be giving in.
The doorbell rang, and I went to see to the door as I didn’t let Chelsea answer it yet. After talking with the home security service, once the renovations were completed, we would be safer than Fort Knox, but until then, I would be answering it.
Peering through the side window, I noticed Tony. I hadn’t seen him in a while, and I opened the door and greeted him with a grin and a handshake. “Hey, Tony. Nice of you to stop by.”
He heard the jovial manner in my voice. So much different from his last visit. “Brandt, you are looking good. Hey man, I just wanted to come check up on you. See how things are going.”
“Better. Things are going better. Why don’t you come in?”
Tony walked past me but stopped inside the hallway as I shut the door behind him. Chelsea stood there staring at him. She had a look on her face that was hard to gauge making me wonder what she was thinking. Did it take her back to that day? She needed to see Dr. Kellen again. As much as I didn’t want to see anyone about this in the beginning, Dr. Kellen still managed to help me, and I thought Chelsea would be agreeable now that we could talk openly about what happened.
Tony weighed her expression carefully, understanding what type of thoughts his presence brought to her. “Ma’am, I just wanted to see how you were doing.”
Chelsea surprised the both of us and gave him a huge hug. Tony looked at me, but I shrugged at him, giving him a reassuring smile. He gave her a small hug back, as I placed my hand on her shoulder. She reluctantly let him go, obviously overcome with emotion. With her eyes a little glassy she said, “I never said thank you, and I am sorry.”
Tony looked at her sheepishly. “Ma’am, it is my job.”
“That is bullshit! Brandt told me you were the only one to believe in him. Without you, we may not be here.” She looked at me, and I had to agree. We owed a lot to Tony. “Thank you for everything.” She grabbed his hand, “Now come in. We were just about to eat, and there is plenty.” He didn’t argue, knowing he wouldn’t be able to bow out of this one.
Tony and I discussed the renovation on our way down to our makeshift kitchen. Chelsea told him how she thought I lost all sense when I brought in a sledgehammer and started to wail on the wall. He laughed, but I would have done it all over again to see her face light up.
Throughout the whole dinner, the old Chelsea emerged as she talked to Tony. I knew him a hell of a lot longer than she did, but she already uncovered twice as much about his life. He opened to her, and well, I couldn’t blame him. Chelsea had a way of making people feel interesting, important. She did that to me during the first date we were on.
Tony grew up in Washington State and always wanted to be a police officer just like his father. He was working his way up the ladder to become a detective, and I knew that he would. He had good instincts just like Bill, the detective who helped me find Chelsea. We learned that his father had been shot on the job, but recuperated only to die of a heart attack over a year later. He had several brothers and sisters, but they were scattered over the United States.
With every personal question, I kept getting more amused with Chelsea. She didn’t seem to care that she was probing the poor guy and honestly, neither did he. We learned his whole life story before we had dessert.
Chelsea ate. She ate a lot. I didn’t know if her mind was stimulated with all the questions, or she was just that hungry. She obviously liked Tony and his visit prompted an idea.
When Chelsea left to go to the bathroom, I talked frankly with Tony. “I need a favor. I will pay you, and I pay well.” He looked at me skeptically but I knew I didn’t have much time to set it up, so I went ahead quickly with my scheme, “Chelsea just joined a gym, and I need someone to go with her.”
Tony shook his head. “I already belong to a gym.”
“Yes but Chelsea signed up for some self-defense class there and insists on going. It isn’t in the best neighborhood, and I don’t like her going alone. My only other option is a bodyguard, but already she is balking at the idea.”
“If she doesn’t like the idea then why do you think she would like you hiring me?”
“I don’t want her to find out. We are going there tomorrow. What time do you work?”
He seemed a little confused. “I work the late shift tonight. I don’t get done until seven in the morning.”
“What are you asking Brandt?”
I carefully explained the details. “There is this guy Edgardo that owns a gym on Spring Avenue. Do you know the one?”
“Yeah, I guess. I have never been in there, but I know the neighborhood.”
“Well, he has discounted rates for police officers. If you were to start there and happen to run into us, well, maybe I could convince Chelsea to meet you there to work out.”
I could see it in his eyes he didn’t like me being untruthful to Chelsea, “Brandt I understand your concern, but I can’t take money...”
Unwilling to let him back out of it, I tried to sweeten the deal, “I won’t pay you then. I will pay for your membership. Plus...” I appealed to his professional goals. “Plus, a lot of police officers from other precincts are there, and you could network. It might get you to detective sooner.” That made him think, eager to further his career.
“Okay, but not because I want to go behind her back, I just want to help. I can pay my own way.” He said it now but when I called tomorrow to pay for him, and he found out, I knew he wouldn’t care. He left for work soon after and I felt better about the whole arrangement.
With Chelsea lying in my arms once again, the universe was at peace. It felt so good to be so close without all the turmoil obstructing us. And when she closed her eyes and fell asleep, I felt on top of the world. We weren’t there yet, but we were on our way.
We left for the gym early knowing we had to pick up my parents at the airport after. When we got there, Chelsea happened to notice Tony in the back room, hitting the punching bags. “Tony? What are you doing here?”
“Hey, Brandt told me you started to go to a gym.” Tony smiled at her, but I got the idea she wasn’t totally convinced by our casual run-in.
“Yeah, we just signed up yesterday.”
“Well, Edgardo offers discounts to police officers and a lot of the guys come here.” She looked around, and there were some officers in there working out in sweats that had their precinct name on it. If she suspected anything, she didn’t mention it.
“Well, it is nice to see a familiar face here.” Tony only nodded and went back to the bag as Edgardo called us to the mat.
Helping Chelsea learn some of her moves, I let her flatten me on the mat. I hated to say it, but I really wouldn’t put my money on her with this stuff. I let her work me just to give some of her confidence back. When we were done, and she left for the locker room, I quickly called Dr. Kellen. I made an appointment for the two of us knowing she was ready to talk, and as hard as it would be, we needed to do it together. I learned over the last two months our suffering alone in silence almost led to our demise.
With that completed, I went to find Tony. He looked tired, and I figured he was about ready to go home and crash. Not thinking how I could bring up the subject, I had been delighted I didn’t have to. When Chelsea came out of the locker room and saw us together, she brought up the subject on her own. “Tony, how often do you come here?”
“Well, I try to make it every day. Earlier in the morning works better with my schedule as I need time to wind down after the night shift.”
Without missing a beat, she added, “Do you think you could meet me in the parking lot? I mean on the days you are coming. Brandt doesn’t want me to come alone, and he is insisting on having a limo drop me off.”
Tony laughed, “You would rather walk in with me than come in a limo? I will trade places with you.”
She smiled. “I just figure it is a good compromise instead of singling me out.” Looking at her, I shrugged, unwilling to give anything away.
“Well, yeah. I can do that. Hell, I am here anyway.” They talked about the class schedule against his work shift and it worked out perfectly, coming together for her benefit. I would need to think of another way of repaying him; I felt so relieved.
Saying our goodbyes to the overtired officer, we went to the airport and picked up my parents. Chelsea and I both shared excitement to see them. I didn’t talk to them all that much the last time they were here as it was such a morose time. I felt increasingly lucky to have them in my life. Thinking back to my childhood, I never gave them a fair chance. In fact, I deliberately wished them out of my life, thinking they would be better off without me. I had it so wrong, unable to see it until Chelsea pointed it out.
Mom had tears in her eyes when she saw Chelsea at the airport. Chelsea still looked skeletal and much smaller. Mom didn’t know the struggles we had over the last couple of months and I don’t know why I kept it from her. This time, when Chelsea explained that she was getting better, we all believed her.
We didn’t even get out of the airport before they started talking about remodeling ideas. Dad just looked at me and smiled. Especially when I told him what demolition we had done already. He shook his head and laughed, being in construction he could only imagine.
Getting back to the house, the rest of the time we spent working out the details with my father. I was grateful to have him here, working together just like old times. I never appreciated it before, and I wanted to make up for it.
Chelsea came alive going over details and ideas with my mother. Dad kept catching me looking at her throughout the day. She looked vibrant again. The sparkle was back, as well as her laugh. Not very often yet but growing with time.
Later, my mother pulled me aside and talked to me about Chelsea’s weight. I couldn’t agree with her more, but we needed time. They asked me about the upcoming tour, and they could tell it was my biggest concern. I could keep Chelsea here and busy, but I knew she would never come with me on the road, and having her apart from me would kill me.
We discussed the new security system and having Tony and his friends patrol the area more, but I knew the first couple of weeks would be the hardest. It wasn’t until my dad offered a solution that I accepted his help. He said they would come back for the first couple of weeks of the tour and stay at the house to supervise the renovation, causing an overwhelming relief to overcome me. Why did I ever doubt them? They were my family through and through.
Mom also talked about what I wanted in the renovation. I only hoped Chelsea would be happy with it. The sky was the limit, and as far as I was concerned, the longer she worked on the house, the longer it would take before she went back to modeling. I hoped she wouldn’t go back at all, but I couldn’t stop her, and I knew it. It would kill me, thinking of all the weirdos out there, now that she had been in danger once, but she was too strong-willed for me to do anything about it.
While we sat down for a meal in the temporary kitchen in the basement, mom talked about moving the washer and dryer up to the top floor. Chelsea hesitated with the placement, and an idea popped into my head to make this renovation last even longer. Adding on to the top floor over the garage seemed the only solution. It should increase the job by a month at least. Luckily, my parents talked Chelsea into the added expense saying it would increase the market value. She caved, overwhelmed with the added design, and I couldn’t help but smile, knowing she would make this house into her own by the end of it.
Chelsea looked exhausted by the end of the day, and I was worried about her as she got tired so easily. I didn’t want her worn out as she was still healing. My parents went to bed early noticing my concern and bowing out for my sake.
When I tried to talk Chelsea into going to bed, she said there was one last thing she needed to talk to me about. Pulling me into the family room, she pointed to the fireplace describing the look of the stone, but all I could focus on was the pink and silver urn on the mantel beckoning to me. When her eyes followed mine, we both got somber. It would get easier, I knew, but my heart still bled for the little girl I would never hold. When I turned back to Chelsea, her statement froze me to the spot, “Brandt, I don’t want her here anymore.”