M A R C E L L A
In the morning, Giuseppe helped Mari get to the shower and waited outside in case she slipped or needed something. She trusted him. He wasn’t at all interested in her like that, and that was why she felt comfortable around him. He saw her like his own daughter.
She scrubbed herself clean, letting the hot water rush all over her body, soothing her aches. But everything was still incredibly painful. She looked down at her naked body to see the purple black bruises littering her skin, her entire left side a deep mottled purple. There were also thousands of little cuts to add onto all that.
She sighed heavily. If she had to do it all again, she would do a few things differently. But she didn’t regret jumping out of that car. It was her only move, and Giuseppe was there to fix her. And she didn’t regret any of that.
She exited the shower and spotted the fresh clothes Giuseppe had given her of his. The sweatpants were too big, so she rolled up the waist and leg cuffs. It looked unfashionable but the over-sized t-shirt covered her mostly.
She picked up her crutches and followed Giuseppe into the kitchen area where she was met with three unfamiliar faces.
“Guys, this is my niece, Ella,” Giuseppe declared. All three stared at her, evidently surprised by her appearance inside their home for some reason.
Giuseppe got it to work making some breakfast for the two of them whilst she sat at the table with the others. She was now Ella, apparently. She guessed Giuseppe was Fred, but she’d call him uncle until one of them called Giuseppe by his name.
“So, Ella, what happened there?” one of them asked, gesturing to her body and her crutches. “I’m Garrett, by the way. Those two are Manuel and David.” She nodded to the both of them in recognition before answering.
“I fell pretty badly down a flight of wooden stairs. That’s why my uncle offered to take care of me for now,” she said eloquently. They nodded sympathetically.
“We didn’t know Fred had such a beautiful niece,” Manuel stated, his eyes darkening as he stared at her.
“If you call bruises, cuts and broken bones beautiful,” she joked, lightening the atmosphere. The other two chuckled whilst Manuel just gazed at her, a smirk toying at his lips. She avoided meeting his eyes, instead fixing her sights on the food in Giuseppe’s hands.
Her stomach growled instantly. She hadn’t eaten a good proper meal since John took her to that diner. After that, he just loaded both of them up with snacks, assuming that the journey wouldn’t be as long as it was. She licked her lips, sent Giuseppe a small thank you before digging in. She was aware they were all watching her as she ate, but she couldn’t care less in that moment.
Eventually they resumed their chatter and food, all except Manuel. He was still watching her, studying her movements. She wasn’t sure what she was supposed to do to make him stop. But it wasn’t like staring had been the worst thing she had faced in the past 24 hours.
She wanted to ask them questions but figured that if she didn’t want them knowing her business, she shouldn’t ask them about theirs. If they kept to themselves and they were civil, there would be no problems and she could stay until she got back onto her feet.
“Fell down some stairs, you say? Pretty hard fall,” Manuel commented shifting everyone’s attention back onto her. Giuseppe looked to her warningly before softening his gaze to act like the sympathetic uncle.
“Why isn’t your arm in a plaster cast?” Was this an interrogation? Because it felt like one, she thought. She had no idea what spurred on his narrowed accusing eyes, but she knew he wanted to keep pushing.
“I don’t like hospitals. They freak me out,” she replied nonchalantly. This guy was trying to break her down and get to the truth but that wasn’t happening.
“I have the same thing. The smell, the white walls. That makes me sick in itself,” Garrett said, saving her from any more questions. He seemed the most forthcoming in the group, but she couldn’t be sure that his warmth was genuine. Sussing out frauds was a hard challenge.
She ate and cleaned up the plates, deciding to help with the washing up. She didn’t want to appear a burden in their home. She knew she was limited, but there were some tasks she could manage.
She spent the day in Giuseppe’s bed, with nothing much to do. She asked him for a phone, pen and paper, so she could maybe formulate some plan, but her thoughts kept drifting to John. She wondered what he had figured out by now, or if he was even close to where she went. She wondered whether he was pissed at her. Of course, he was pissed at her. How could he not be?
He wouldn’t get his paycheck until she was delivered. Perhaps he got some of it when he took the job, but he wouldn’t get the rest until he was back in New York with Mari. Money was often an excellent motivator. But she didn’t intend to go back. She was prepared to jump out of that car even if it killed her. She wasn’t suicidal as such. She just wasn’t going back. And nothing could make her.
A knock came to the door and she was surprised to see Manuel enter with a tub of ice cream in his hands. She was a little wary at what he was doing so she kept him at the door, not gesturing for him to come in.
“Fred’s out at work for the night, so I thought I’d keep you company,” he declared, which worried her even more. He didn’t seem the type to be kind and comfort her. He seemed… dangerous.
“I like being alone,” she stated, which received a deep chuckle from him. Despite her words, he closed the door behind him as he entered and sat at the edge of the bed, looking at her. She wanted to squirm under her gaze. Actually, she wanted to run because of his gaze, but her body wasn’t in shape for that.
“I’m not gonna bite, Ella,” he hummed before passing her a spoon.
“No? You seem like someone who would,” she countered, raising her eyebrow towards him. It earned another cunning chuckle.
“Why are you so scared of me, hermosa?” he whispered, unreasonably close to her.
“What does hermosa mean?” she asked.
“It means beautiful. Now, answer my question.”
“Why should I?” she dared. A smirk tugged at his lips, sly and amused. It reminded her of the look John sometimes gave her, like he was impressed with her.
“Because I said so,” he warned her, his breath fanning her face. “Why are you so scared of me? Am I scary, Ella?”
“No. You’re intimidating. There’s a difference.” He let out a stunted laugh at her answer, his smirk now on full display. He started fiddling around with the ice cream tub before digging in.
“Fred’s niece, huh? What happened to your parents?” he asked. She didn’t answer him but looked down into her hands, pretending something awful had happened to them and she didn’t want to talk about it. Thus, he didn’t say anything more, which she was grateful for. “How long are you planning on staying here?”
He was prying and he knew it. She didn’t know what he wanted, what he was looking for. She sure as hell wasn’t going to give him anything. But considering her abilities in that moment, she thought it best not to stir the pot and make an enemy. So, she would answer his questions as vaguely as possible in order to get him to leave.
“Until I get better.” He nodded in agreement. When he moved to tuck a strand of her hair behind her ear, she flinched at his touch, her eyes widening like she was surprised it was happening.
He didn’t say anything. Their eyes just stayed locked, fixed in that moment in time. A smirk worked its way onto his face, and she narrowed her eyes at it.
“I should get some rest,” she stated to Manuel firmly. Her eyes flickered to the door to show him how serious she was about it.
“Of course, hermosa. You need to get better,” he said slowly, touching her hand before heading towards the door. “You know, you could be better at making friends. It’s good to have people on your side in case… a tumble down the stairs happens again.” He sent her a smug grin before leaving.
She wasn’t sure what he thought happened, but she knew he was a man she couldn’t trust. Giuseppe had warned her about him before leaving. She just needed to steer clear. She didn’t need anymore friends. She just needed a plan for her freedom, to start a new life far away from the people she knew. She would get a career and a loving relationship. She would be able to make her own choices. And she didn’t need any friends.