Identity Series Book 2: I Am Sarah

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Chapter 28

Our crew visited me in the hospital not long after my father left the room, but they only stayed a short while. They were still staying at the hotel, and Erik had assured them when we arrived in Cork that we would pay for their accommodations until we sailed. They left when Erik came back alone, and I was happy to see all the men say something to him and clap him on the back or the shoulder. He only looked at them silently, though, and gave no indication that he even registered their words.

My father left that night. He tried to talk to Erik again, but my husband wasn’t listening, and he never said a word as he stared at my father with a gaze that could have chiseled stone. Eventually, my father gave up and came to me.

“I’d stay if I could, baby girl, but I left a big problem back at the shipyard. A bunch of the employees were arrested for brawling outside a pub a few nights ago, and that really messed up production.”

“That’s okay, Daddy. I understand. We’ll be home in a few months, and I’ll be just fine until then, I promise.” As my father hugged me, I looked at Erik. He was staring at us, and he pressed his lips together tightly when his eyes met mine, their brilliant blue shining with unshed tears. Then he turned his back and looked out the window.

“I love you, baby girl,” my father said, and he kissed my forehead.

“I love you, too, Daddy.”

He glanced at Erik once before sighing and turning sad eyes back to me. “I’m so sorry,” he said softly, and out of the corner of my eye, I saw Erik flinch.

“I know,” I answered, and he kissed me once more before leaving the room.

When he was gone, I looked at my husband. “Erik?”

He flinched again and shook his head silently.

“Please come here.” He shook his head again and wrapped his arms around himself. “Please? Erik, I need you. Please?”

He turned his head, and tears were creeping down his face. He sighed deeply and walked to the bed. Instead of sitting in the chair, he dropped to his knees and laid his head on the mattress. I lay down next to him and gently caressed his hair. He let out a small sob and took my hand. He held it tightly and then moved so that our entwined hands lay underneath his scarred cheek. I could feel the wetness of his tears as they trickled down my hand to disappear in the blanket. I turned on my side and resumed caressing his hair with my other hand. He didn’t speak, and soon, I knew he was asleep, still on his knees.

We went home the next afternoon after we assured the doctors at the hospital that I would keep my appointment with Doctor O’Brien in two days. Or rather, I assured them because Erik was still not speaking. Not even to me. The silence in the car as we drove to the cottage was oppressive, and I tried to fill it.

“Erik? Can I ask you something?”

He silently shrugged a shoulder.

“Would you go to Mass with me tomorrow?”

An incredulous glare was sent my way before he focused on the road once again.

“Why not?”

His lips simply pressed together tightly, and his eyes darkened, so I sighed and looked out the window. The fact that the cars were still coming from the wrong direction didn’t seem to matter anymore. We reached the cottage, and Erik came around to open my door, but, after he helped me out, he only kept a light touch on my elbows to guide me to the house. When he opened the door, our hired housekeeper, Mrs. Kennedy, was waiting.

“Mrs. Desmond, let me help you,” she said cheerfully.

I expected Erik to protest, but he dropped his hands, turned away, and walked out to the garden. I kept my eyes on him as Mrs. Kennedy guided me to an armchair in the living room.

“Can I get you anything, dear?”

“Yes,” I said. “A cup of tea, please. Cream and sugar.”

“Of course. You just sit and relax and let me take care of everything.”

She went out to Erik, presumably to ask if he needed anything, and he gave her an almost imperceptible shake of his head. She disappeared into the kitchen, and I watched Erik through the window. His hands were on the wall, and he was staring out at the water. Mrs. Kennedy brought me my tea, and he hadn’t moved an inch. I was just about to go out to him when he bowed his head briefly and then abruptly stood up straight. His hands clenched at his sides, and he stormed through the gate in the wall down to the cliff. I set my cup and saucer on the table and went outside. I stopped at the wall and waited to see what he would do.

As soon as he reached the edge, he started pacing, his hands still in fists. At first it was several steps in both directions, but soon, he was down to one large step back and forth. He was mumbling loud enough that the breeze coming off the water brought the sound to me, but I couldn’t understand what he was saying. This went on for several minutes, and then he stopped, took one look at me with an unreadable expression on his face, and then stalked off along the cliff without another glance.

I went back to my tea, and half an hour later, Mrs. Kennedy came into the room.

“Mrs. Desmond, I’ll be going now. There’s a salad in the refrigerator and some fresh bread and butter for tea, and there’s a chicken casserole in there, too, if you want to heat it up later for supper. Is there anything else you need from me?”

“No, thank you, Mrs. Kennedy. Mr. Desmond and I will be just fine.”

“I’ll be back Monday morning,” she said, putting on her coat and hat. “Normally, I’d be here around nine. Will that be all right?”

“Yes, we’ll see you then.”

She gave me a motherly smile and left. I went back out to the garden and looked down the beach in the direction that Erik had taken, but I couldn’t see him. It was cool outside, but I sat down on a bench in the garden anyway. I stayed there, breathing in the fragrances from the late-season blossoms, until it started to get dark. Erik wasn’t back yet.

Once inside, I pulled the salad from the refrigerator and fixed myself a plate. I wasn’t really hungry, but I knew that I had to eat for the baby’s sake. When I finished, I washed the plate and went into our bedroom. Our luggage had been delivered, and it looked like someone, probably Mrs. Kennedy, had unpacked our clothing, but Erik’s art supplies were still in their cases by the closet. I changed into a nightgown and crawled into bed, worried about where my husband was. I didn’t want to sleep without him there.

The night before, I had fallen asleep before he had returned, and I’d had another nightmare, but when I woke screaming, it had been my father who had comforted me. When I’d asked him where Erik was, he hadn’t known.

“Did you talk to him?” I’d asked.

My father had shaken his head. “I tried, but he wouldn’t listen, and he didn’t say anything to me. He just stared at me like he didn’t understand what I was saying.”

I had stayed awake until Erik had returned, and, even though he had only sat silently in the chair, he’d held my hand until I fell asleep, and I’d had no more nightmares.

I tried to read until he came back from wherever he had gone, but after getting to the bottom of one page and not remembering one word, I reluctantly put the book on the nightstand and lay down, still determined not to sleep until Erik returned.

A sulphurous odor filled my nostrils, and I tried to run, but I was strung up in the closet of our apartment. It was dark, but I could make out the outlines of two figures in the bedroom. I tried to scream when I heard the crack of the belt, but my voice wouldn’t work and all that came out was a small moan. The figures came closer, and I saw my mother with her black belt. Billy stood just beyond her, his eyes ablaze with lust. My mother licked her lips, and her tongue was that of a snake. Billy slowly came around her, and his hands moved toward my hips to hold me in place, but they didn’t stay there. At the first bite of the belt, I was able to scream, and…

I bolted upright in the bed, my scream resonating off the walls. Strong arms came around me, and I struck out at the owner, but they only tightened. I continued screaming and fighting until warm breath brushed my temple and soft lips kissed me there. I pulled my head back, trying to catch my breath, and found myself gazing into tortured blue eyes. Once I realized the arms belonged to Erik, I clutched his shirt and got as close to him as possible. He held me tightly as I sobbed, but soon, as the nightmare faded, my fear turned into anger, and I pushed him back forcefully before scrambling out of bed. I grabbed my robe from the hook on the closet, and glared at him as I put it on. Then I marched out of the room without a word. I went to the door that led to the garden and opened it, but I didn’t go outside.

The moon was shining on the water, and a dog howled somewhere off to my left, followed by two others. The air was not cold, but it had a crispness to it that reminded me of fall in Rochester. The weather was generally much milder here than in New York, but at the moment, memories of jumping into leaf piles and my grandmother’s spiced cider filled my mind. I so desperately wanted those things for our child, but now I wasn’t sure what was going to happen. I was relieved that Erik was back, but I was also furious at him for refusing to talk to me, or to anyone, for that matter.

“Sarah.”

That one, anguished, whispered word, the first I’d heard from Erik in over a day, brought tears to my eyes, but I was still mad at him, and I wrapped my arms tightly around myself and continued to watch the night. I tried not to flinch when Erik put his hands on my shoulders, but I didn’t succeed, and he sighed deeply and removed them.

“I’m so sorry,” he said softly.

“For what, Erik?” My voice was cold even as hot anger flowed through me.

“For walking out on you today. For not being here to keep away your nightmares. For blaming myself for something I had no control over. For listening to my demons instead of to you.”

The last two admissions startled me, and I slowly turned. He was standing right behind me, his head down and his hands twisting together. He looked so contrite that my anger dissipated as though it had never been, and I stilled his hands by taking them in mine. He released a long, deep breath in what sounded like relief.

“Where did you go?”

He frowned and ran his thumbs along my knuckles. “I walked for a long time, and then I found myself in a dingy, little boxing gym.”

“You’ve been gone for hours, Erik. What did you do there?”

He shrugged one shoulder. “Talked and fought.”

Annoyance flashed through me. The fighting I understood, but not the talking. “Talked to whom?” I asked icily.

“Three men,” he said, bringing his eyes to me. “Their names were Angus, Shane, and Jack.”

“And you could talk to them but not to me?”

He nodded slowly. “I didn’t want to, but they were very persistent. I wanted to just pound away at either a person or a bag and forget everything that has happened over the last few days, but within a minute of me walking in, they had surrounded me. They agreed to let me box with them, but then they started asking me questions: who I was, what I was doing in Ballycotton.” He grimaced. “Angus even asked about my scar. I tried to keep them busy with my fists, but they wouldn’t stop, especially once they realized I was American. I finally gave up, and I found myself telling them everything.”

“Everything?”

“Everything, Sarah. I started with why we were in Ireland and I continued talking until I had told them about what had happened to you, and even about my childhood. They were so mad at my father for what he had done to my mother and me, and Jack said that he’d be more than happy to kill my father for me. He looked a little disappointed when I said he was already dead. Anyway, it was when I told them that you were here alone that their anger was directed at me. They wanted to know why I had left you, and I told them that it was because I didn’t deserve you. I told them that I failed you, and you deserved someone who would be a better husband and a better father. I told them that I hadn’t been able to protect my mother, and I couldn’t protect you, either.”

“That’s nonsense, Erik!”

He kissed my knuckles. “That’s what they said. They convinced me that I couldn’t have done anything to stop what happened to you. Angus said that if you hadn’t been taken from the restaurant, it would have been from somewhere else at some other time you were alone.”

“Why did you believe them and not me?”

“I don’t know. Maybe because they were not involved; maybe because they were strangers telling me the same things you and your father have been trying to tell me for days; maybe because for the first time since you were taken, I was getting my anger out by pummeling on a person. They might have guessed that I was imagining MacCarthy in front of me instead of them when I knocked Shane down and they asked me to move to the bag. After an hour or so of that, they told me to come back to you, so I did.”

I pulled my hands from his, and he looked at me quizzically. “How long have you been here?”

“About half an hour. I wanted to talk to you, but you were asleep, so I took a shower and sat down to watch you. That’s when you woke yourself up screaming.” He took a deep breath and trailed his fingers down my face. “I’m so sorry I wasn’t here when you fell asleep, Sarah. And I’m sorry I shut you out. It won’t happen again, I promise.” His stopped with his hand cupping my jaw, and I felt a shudder run through him. “Please forgive me, sweetheart,” he whispered, and I turned my face into his palm and kissed it.

“There is nothing to forgive, my love,” I said, and he nodded once before pulling me into his embrace and kissing my head.

“I love you, Sarah. You are my life.”

I clung to him. “I love you, too, Erik. Always.”

He let go of me with one hand and shut the door, and then he gently picked me up and carried me back to bed. After ridding me of my robe, he pulled the covers over me and then changed into his sleepwear. He slid into bed behind me and pulled me to him, my back to his front, and it didn’t take long before I fell asleep in his loving embrace.

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