The front desk is nearly as tall as my chest, made only so the person behind the clear glass attached to the wooden wall dividing us can only see my face with the exception of a small square opening so they can hear people talk. It’s more of an office with desks littered with papers and stacked filing cabinets behind it. The secretary on the other side of the glass is typing on the computer as I halt my steps, while another woman sits near the back wall behind her and licks the top of an envelope then presses down on the white paper to seal it.
For some reason the envelope catches my eye giving me a sense of déjà vu. It makes me think back to when I came home one night after soccer practice and my mom was drinking. She had a torn open white envelope on the dining room table similar to the one that the girl is licking. As I think it, questions begin to stir. Could whatever she received in that envelope make her upset? Is that why she was drinking, is that why she started a fight with me? What could have upset her so much that she felt the need to drink?
“Is there something I can do for you, miss?” Hearing the voice of the secretary pulls me out of my thoughts.
My cheeks tinge realizing I’ve been staring at the woman with the envelope in the back. Immediately I bring my gaze to the young black-haired woman in front of me and nod my head. Thinking about my mother will have to wait a minute. “Yes, I came in with a woman two hours ago and have yet to hear a thing,” I say surprisingly steady. “I want to know what’s going on and what’s taking so long.” A bit of irritation slips into my tone, not purposely but with waiting for so long and knowing every second we waste could be another second my mom and Declan are suffering. My desperation overrides the need to be polite.
“I’m afraid I can’t answer that. She was brought back to the interrogation room for questioning.” She answers sweetly with a polite smile which only makes me want to grate my teeth.
My fingers curl into my palms beside me as I try to keep my breathing steady. “I know where she is. What I need to know is when she will be coming out.” I respond, aware of my rising temper. This is the police station, you’d think they would be a little quicker when someone’s life could be in danger. For god’s sake, it’s their job to save people’s lives, not wait and stall until they’re dead. Dead. The word punctures pain right to my rapidly beating heart. Julian could be hurting Declan right now, he could be hurting my mom right now. The thought sends a shudder through me as my stomach twists inside itself like a knot being pulled chokingly tight.
The lady eyed the clock behind me. “There is no set amount of time for interrogations ma’am; the detective on the case will notify you when he’s done.”
My face becomes warm and not the nervous kind of warm. “I don’t think you are understanding, I don’t have time to wait! Two people have been kidnapped and you guys are doing nothing about it, a dangerous person has escaped jail and you guys have done nothing!” I practically growl, feeling my nails dig into my skin as my knuckles surely become white from squeezing my fists so tight. “Do you not get that? Waiting around and sitting in these god-awful chairs is another second the people I love could be suffering. Julian is lethal!”
A familiar hand falls on my arm before I have a chance to say more, her voice quickly and easily filling my ears. “Would you be able to go back and check and maybe give us a time estimate?” Olivia questions softly, slowly stepping in front of me and maneuvering me back. I didn’t even realize my hands were shaking until Olivia’s hand grabbed one of them gently and squeezed attempting to comfort me. “This is just an upsetting situation as you must understand, we’ve had little sleep and are quite overwhelmed with everything going on.” She explains to the women as I shift on my feet, trying to control the shaking.
The woman nods. “Of course, I’ll see what I can do.” She then stands up and walks to the door on the left of the office without so much as a glance back and she enters the hall to the back interrogation rooms. When she’s out of sight only then does Olivia turn around so we’re face to face.
She looks as if she wants to say something but after a short moment, she must think better of it and shakes her head. Instead, she steps forward and her long thin arms engulf me in a tight hug. The warmth of it startles me but after a second I let my arms snake around her as well because she has been with me every step of the way, she’s on my side now and later through whatever happens. Like a sister, like family. It doesn’t matter that we don’t share DNA; we are sisters by heart. And I know just as she sticks by me, I’ll stick by her for whatever she needs because that’s what family does.
When my shaking dims only then does she retract her arms. We connect eyes and without words, I tell her thank you with the best smile I can manage at a time like this. She merely blinks dismissing it, clearly conveying her hug as a free gesture needing nothing in return, not even a thanks. Hugs are natural for her, so getting a thanks for one is ridiculous to Olivia because comfort doesn’t need anything in return. It just shows how much you care for someone. And caring doesn’t hold a price.
My smile falters when my mother pops back up in my head and the memory of the envelope. Reaching into my pocket, I pull out my phone as I eye the clock. Could my mother have kept that envelope? Only one way to find out. “I have to call Thomas,” I say more to myself than Olivia. Then before I even register what I’m doing, I begin typing in Thomas’s cell number and hitting the green call button. It takes all of four rings when Thomas’s deep voice filters through the phone and into my impatient ears.
“Ella? Where the hell are you? You should be in here, it’s not safe to be out and about right now and you know it.” The mild anger and heavy concern are not missed lingering in his sleepless voice. Has he been up all night? Suddenly a wave of guilt sifts through me knowing my buzzing phone has been the least of my worries.
Ignoring the anger, concern, and tired rasp I speak quickly and evenly. “I’m safe Thomas I’m at the police station but that’s beside the point,” I say, biting my bottom lip. “I need you to look for something for me—a plain white envelope with a broken seal. Not one that bills come in, but one that a letter or a card would come in.” I explain lowering my tone. “An envelope that mom probably hid somewhere so it couldn’t be found by anyone else.” In front of me, Olivia listens to my every word.
Thomas cuts in before I have a chance to explain further. “What why? What are you talking about and why are you at the police station? I’m coming down there right no—”
“No, don’t, Tommy.” I interrupt, almost pleading, then go into explaining why the envelope might be important, refreshing his memory on mine and mom’s fight that I’d only just thought about. I could be completely wrong but it’s better to be wrong than to not know, to wonder.
He made me Mac and cheese that day when he heard about it, surely he understands my point now. When I’m done he sighs roughly, staying quiet a moment to no doubt process what I’ve just told him. “I’ll stay and look for it on the condition that you text me every thirty minutes and not a second later ensuring your safety.” His voice is firm and unwavering, not giving any room for contradictions. He’s making it crystal clear that if I don’t agree he’ll march right down here and pull me back home where his hawk eyes will watch me like claustrophobic cameras so he knows I’m safe. With Julian free, we’re all paranoid.
I go to nod my head but then realize he can’t see me. “Fine,” I mumble my forced agreement and as I do I see the lead detective on my mom’s and Declan’s case come barreling towards me. “I got to go, I’ll text you in thirty minutes.” Without waiting for his response I hang up and shove my phone deep into my pocket as I bring my gaze up to Mr. Jackson who is now just a few feet away. Olivia shifts so we’re both facing the tall thin man, my attention now focused and alert as I itch for answers.
“Miss. Emerson.” He greets me respectfully. I only nod my response letting my hands nervously fall behind my back as my fingers intertwine with one another. “I’m sorry to have kept you waiting for so long. During interrogations, we like to be thorough making sure the information we are receiving is both useful and factual. With that being said, Mrs. Anderson was required to take a polygraph test so we could ensure she wasn’t lying which she indeed passed.” He elucidates in a calm level voice, letting me comprehend it all. “The information she provided was beyond helpful and right now as we speak an undercover FBI team is being put together to investigate these new locations.”
I step back, a gasp falling from my lips as my hand flies up to cover my mouth. They have the FBI getting involved. They’re finally doing something. We’re not just stuck at a standstill anymore. “T-today? You’re going to start looking today?” I ask needing the confirmation, needing to know I’m hearing him right and not imagining it.
He nods, letting a smile slip onto his face. “Yes, Miss. Emerson, today. We have issued search warrants for multiple, possible locations if needed and intend on getting back your loved ones as quickly and safely as possible.” I can’t help but smile and laugh a choked-out laugh. This is real and now it’s only a matter of time. Beside me, Olivia is smiling too, a sense of relief covering her features. All too quickly, Mr. Jackson’s smile falls flat and his face becomes serious which sends my heart plummeting so quick into my stomach, erasing the ounce of happiness at once. “In order to do this, our undercover team will need a distraction.”
Time has become stagnant, pain has become routine, and Julian has become expected. And sometimes I wonder what I’m holding onto. Why hold on at all? Ella doesn’t want any part of me and Riley is better without me. They have Wes and Thomas. They don’t need me. Wes can find another friend who he isn’t always trying to get out of trouble. They’ll be okay—they’ll be better without me. He’ll take care of Riley, make sure Ella is okay, and hopefully admit to himself how he feels about Olivia.
They’ll have him. But yet—yet I can’t let go. Because I’m selfish and I don’t want to. I don’t want Ella to not want me, I don’t want Riley to be okay without me, and I don’t want Wes to forget about me. I don’t want to let go of them even though I’m the one who is always putting them in danger. I don’t want to let go of them and give myself to Julian even though it’s what would make them safe.
On my knees, I kneel with my head in a forced bow adjacent to Hayes just as Julian left us with our hands and feet shackled to the blood-soaked floor with a cross placed around our necks. The cross was a last-minute thing, Julian thought it would be a cute display. As if he put a cross around our necks it would make us pray for his forgiveness. I imagined choking him with it, if only my hands weren’t shackled I would until his face turned black and blue and there was no air left in his lungs to breathe. This is Julian’s favorite position, so this is how we spend most of our time. With bruised knees, aching joints, stiff legs, and a curved back.
I’ve never been so uncomfortable in my life. But who is comfortable when they’re being tortured?
A cool draft forces me to shiver and the whipped raw shredded skin on my back seers causing my very vision to spot with color. But this draft is nothing compared to the scalding hot water Julian threw onto the open wounds before he left. This draft is nothing compared to the humiliation of pissing my pants because my bladder couldn’t hold my piss any longer. This draft is nothing compared to the tears that broke through my eyes when the whip cracked onto my back for the twenty-third time and there was nothing I could do to stop them. He forced them out of me then delighted in them.
And I hate myself for it. And I hate him even more.
Shifting ever so slightly has my muscles burning and the deep lacerations painting my skin stinging. Everything hurts but my mind feels numb as if this is just a dream I have yet to wake up from. I’d give anything to stand right now, to stretch.
“I had to do it.” Hayes’s low scratchy voice breaks the silence we’ve been in for who knows how long. My eyes slide over to him as he kneels in the same exact position sense he endured the exact same thing as me. And like me, he had that look in his eye, that look of disgust and hate. It surprised me seeing him with such a look; it surprised me because he looked like me. And to even think he looked like me, to even think we shared the same DNA repulsed me. We were nothing alike and yet doubt still crept in reminding me we were twins. “I had to hurt her.”
My fists clench so tightly my nails draw blood in the palms of my hands. “When I get out of these chains I’m going to fucking kill you.”
He doesn’t so much as flinch. “It was either hurt Ella or watch Julian molest my pregnant girlfriend. Julian gave me the choice and I made it without hesitation.” Blood pounds in my ears as he continues to speak with a dry humorless laugh. “It didn’t matter you know. It didn’t matter what I did to Ella, he still molested her anyway. He didn’t keep his word because I betrayed him and that was enough.” He said, shaking his head. “And not soon after she committed suicide with our baby in her stomach. So killing me would be a gift, at least then I’d be free.”
I don’t say anything and I don’t forgive him for hurting Ella. Hurting an innocent girl to keep another one safe isn’t a justification. It doesn’t make it right. As much as I despise him, I understand why he did it though. He’d do anything for his loved ones just like I would. His girlfriend was pregnant for god fucking sakes. He had a baby on the way, his baby. He thought by hurting my Ella he’d be able to keep them safe but it backfired. He was desperate and when people are desperate they will do anything. And now he has nothing.
I’d like to think I wouldn’t do the same but I’m not sure I can. How horrible of a person does that make me?
“I’m sorry.” I breathe out sincerely meaning it all the while my stomach twists feeling sick. But it still doesn’t change what he did to Ella, how he taunted her and hurt her and fucking carved into her stomach.
He brushes it off, his black eyes Julian gave him twitching. “I tried to warn her. I even snuck our mother out knowing Julian was coming for you.” He said. “I left clues.”
It registers then, everything he’s saying. “You snuck our mother out knowing I was going to be captured and by doing that it was an open-source of information to find me. You wrote eyes open on Ella’s stomach and told her about our mom so she would figure out where Julian was taking me.” I say out loud. He was trying to help me? “Why would you do that?” It doesn’t make sense.
He shifts groaning as he does, every movement for the both of us is extremely painful, even just to squint. “Because contrary to what you might think, I want Julian to suffer.” The words come out sharp and his voice equally so. “Because I hate him, I fucking hate him.” The way he says it. The way his voice falls so icily rigid isn’t just months of hatred, it’s a lifetime full of it. And it’s deep down to the very roots. It’s real and raw, it’s hurt and anguish, it’s grief and guilt. It’s everything Julian has done to him, made him do, and has taken from him.
Two hours later I’m in the back seat of an undercover police car with Olivia and Declan’s mom driving to an ordinary neighborhood just fifteen minutes away with strict directions to not leave the car. Declan’s location has been confirmed by the spies sent out an hour earlier to watch the house that was a suspected location. They’ve taken pictures, showing four people who stand on watch outside the house, two in front and two in back. Which is enough evidence to know the house isn’t an ordinary house. Normal people don’t have bodyguards outside their doors. And normal people don’t talk about who they are torturing in their basement.
Torture. Declan was being tortured, has been being tortured for just over a week. Hearing it crushed me, it nearly had me on the edge of a meltdown but I kept it together remembering my vow. He needed me. I had no right to break down when he was the one in pain.
What made me even more uneasy though is not hearing a thing about my mom or where she could be.
The plan was simple: FBI agents were going undercover as normal persistent people trying to advertise and sell furniture magazines, they’d go house to house until they reached the house. Two FBI agents would try to convince whoever was at the house to buy the magazine and they would stall as long as possible while police and Wes’s dad, the gang leader who wasn’t actually a gang leader, surrounded the place. Wes’s dad worked for the police as an undercover gang leader for his own organization to catch other illegal activities that the police couldn’t catch themselves. By blending in and becoming what people thought he was made him both successful and efficient.
At least that’s what I’ve learned just this morning. Wes will be with them. With every passing moment, my heart beats faster, booms louder knowing I’m closer to Declan. I ache to see him again, to hold him again, to hear his voice again. After what seems like a lifetime, the car slows parking onto the side of the road, houses flanking each side. It makes sense why Declan’s in this neighborhood and not hidden somewhere remote. Nobody would guess it, nobody would even suspect. Hidden in plain sight but completely disguised. The houses are nice but ordinary, middle class.
Melanie, the head FBI agent on the case looks back from the driver’s seat. “Don’t leave this car until the all-clear signal sounds, got it?” Olivia, Declan’s mom, and I all nod our heads in unison. We’ve already been through this. Even though we’re forced to stay in the car we have bulletproof vests on under our clothes just in case and microphones clipped under our shirts in case of emergency. She nods, then reaches over and grabs the magazines in the passenger seat before opening her door and stepping out.
When she’s out, I watch her walk away with another agent stepping alongside her and beginning their trek to the first door. It’s all for show of course but these people don’t know that. All but five seconds later and my phone rings. Reaching into my pocket I take it out and read the caller ID as Olivia and Declan’s moms watch me. I answer it at once upon seeing Thomas’s name. “Hello?” There’s a slightly nervous edge to my voice as I peer out the window in search of the guarded house holding Declan captive.
“I found the envelope you were talking about,” Thomas says without greeting as my eyes narrow in on the cream-colored three-story house towards the end of the road with a driveway packed with vehicles. In my peripheral vision, I notice Olivia and Declan’s mom eyeing the same house. The house. My fists clench so hard to keep my hands from shaking, to keep myself from grabbing the door handle and running to the prison keeping Declan from me.
Tearing my gaze away, I instead focus on my lap as my foot taps small repetitive taps. My mind running a mile a minute. “You found it? Where was it? What does it say—”
“Babydoll.” He interrupts, his voice soft and firm and not right. “Just calm down for a minute, okay?” As soon as those words leave his mouth I know somethings wrong. “I don’t think you want to hear this over the phone. The letter was hidden for a reason.” He tells me gently which only makes me all the more curious. I need to know what made my mother so upset. I need to know why she’s been acting so off. I need to know if it can help me find her.
“Tell me, Thomas, I’ll be fine,” I say as Olivia’s eyebrows raise. I shrug in response.
He’s quiet for a moment. “Ella, this isn’t just a normal letter.” He says quietly and it makes my insides twist. “I really think you could come home.”
“Just tell me, Thomas, I can’t come home. I need to know what made mom so upset.” I say almost pleading.
He sighs sending static through the phone. “Alright babydoll, but you’re not going to like it.” And with that, he reads the letter to me.
I’ve missed you so. Soon I’ll see you again and you’ll come to me without heed. To ensure that you will, you’d do good to remember the man six feet deep you once knew that you failed to set free. If you happen to deny my request (again), I’ll kill the last two birds in the nest with my lucky stone and no postpone. You’re my little dove, so I expect we understand each other. I promise to be a gentleman as long as you don’t do me wrong. But remember, my wrath can be turned into a bloodbath. I expect that won’t be a problem. Until we meet again, my love. I’ll think of you and I’m sure you’ll think of me.
When he’s done I find my hand has somehow raised to my mouth as my eyes blink like broken butterfly wings trying to fly. And it feels like my heart has stopped beating in my chest. Like air isn’t coming into my lungs. Like my self-control has been fractured. Because I’m hyperventilating, I’m shaking, and I’m seeing in twos and fours and sixes. Because that letter is a nightmare that is true. My dad dying wasn’t an accident. Julian killed him. My dad was murdered. And now he has my mom and she went willingly so he didn’t kill Thomas and me. And I didn’t even know.
“Ella?” Thomas murmurs through the phone but I can’t respond, all I can do is sit and shake and feel numb. Beside me, Olivia gently takes the phone out of my hand and raises it to her ear as she says a couple of inaudible words I can’t make out through the ringing occupying my ears before ending the call. She then wraps her arms around me and doesn’t say a word. There is nothing to say, so she just lets me have this moment as my mind breaks down and digests the information that would surely shock anybody.
My moment to register the information seems to be cut short as a finger taps on the glass window behind me. Olivia’s face morphs in a matter of seconds and beside her Declan’s mom’s face has fallen ashen. So when I turn my head to see what’s wrong I wish I hadn’t. A gun is pointed at my head on the other side of the glass and when my eyes veer up to see the holder of the deadly weapon aimed at me, I can’t hold in the whimper that falls out of my lips.
Julian has a gun that could kill me with just a pull of the trigger, and I’m at his mercy. And with a quick glance sideways, keeping one eye on the gun, I don’t see Melanie or the other FBI agents at all. They must be inside somebody’s house or too occupied to notice Julian as they concentrate on their plan that is suddenly going all wrong.
Soooo yeahhhh...Comment please!! This is the longest chapter I’ve ever written. Over 4,000 words. Haha, I hope you guys enjoy and I hope it was worth the wait!!