On the Run

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The next month passed in a blur. They had three more movie nights and Mark convinced her to try out his church. Though it was uncomfortable at first, and she got more than one dirty look walking in with him, she found she enjoyed it. Some days she even went to the main house for morning devotion while Elia colored.

They both were growing more and more comfortable with Mark. Isabel even found herself wishing she had met Mark before Andrey. That, however, would mean she wouldn’t have Elia, and she knew given the chance she wouldn’t trade her daughter for anything.

Isabel frequently saw undercover cop cars drive past the diner, and Mark insisted on taking her when she went to look into schooling options for Elia. Partly Isabel was relieved that he knew who she really was, she didn’t have to lie anymore. However, she was terrified that her secret was out. The more people who knew the more the chance of Andrey finding out where they were.

She barely slept anymore due to nightmares and the bags under her eyes were dangerously noticeable. It was getting hard to cover them with makeup.

Mark was falling harder and harder for the woman living above his garage, and he was already head over heels for her beautiful little girl. It’s easy for a man to learn to love any child, but one like Elia who had been hurt and needed protection, he was a goner. Mark had quickly realized he would do anything just to make the child smile. Her giggling at his attempted high-fives was the highlight of his day.

When he thought of the reasoning behind the child fear of a simple high-five his heart broke and anger filled his whole body. Many times he had to stop and pray for help forgiving the bastard that had hurt them so severely. However part of him couldn’t help but hope he would follow them. Mark longed for a chance to force the jerk what it’s like to fight someone his own size.

Friday afternoon, while Isabel folded laundry, there was a knock on the apartment door and she froze terrified.

“Izzy, it’s me.” Mark’s voice jump started her heart, allowing her to breathe again. “Can I come in?”

“Yeah, of course.” She called, waiting as he slowly walked into the living room.

He pause glancing around and suddenly Isabel was nervous again. She rearranged furniture and hung some pictures of Elia. What if he got mad? This was his home, maybe she should have asked.

“I like it.” Mark smiled, relieving the tension in the room.

There was the pitter-patter of little feet running down the hall as Elia yelled, “Mommy look!”

Seeing Mark Elia froze, biting her lip. She had been way too loud, and wondered what he would say. She was not, however, afraid. Mark had never even yelled at her and Elia had decided he was nice.

“Sorry,” the little girl said to Mark nervously.

Mark couldn’t help the joy he felt with simply being addressed and the fact Elia, while still nervous, was not nearly as afraid of him. He remembered the little girl cowering at a simple glance from him when they met.

“For what princess?” Mark asked, smiling reassuringly.

“I get in bad trouble if I’m too loud. Daddy gets mad when his head hurt.” Elia said, shifting her weight awkwardly.

Mark tried to make sense of what she meant until Isabel explained, “Andrey was hung over a lot.”

Mark nodded, “well you won’t get in bad trouble here princess, and definitely not for being excited. So what are you so excited about?”

Elia held up a piece of paper with crayon on it. “I colored.”

“So you did, that's beautiful Elia.” Mark grinned widely at the paper. “High five princess.”

Mark stuck out his hand and Elia frowned at it for a second. Mr. Mark had never even tried to scare her. She wondered if maybe it would be okay, just this once to try. Reluctantly she reached out her own hand till it hovered inches above his.

Mark could see the child’s hand trembling, and he worried for her. He was also surprised at the anticipation he felt for this tiny act. However, he wasn’t all together surprised when she pulled he hand back shaking her head worriedly.

Elia stepped back, wishing she could make Mr. Mark happy. It was just too scary, she remembered daddy’s high fives and they hurt.

“Good try princess.” Mark smiled, making Elia relax and smile back.

Elia turned and dashed out of the room and Mark turned back to Isabel. She was looking after her daughter, smiling widely.

“She’s getting comfortable with you.” Her smile wavered with the statement.

Mark knew that along with the joy of her daughter learning to trust, there was fear that the trust would hurt her. He wished she would believe in him.

“I love that little girl.” He said with a smile.

Isabel stared at him for a moment before nodding slowly. “Me too.”

They were silent for what seemed like forever.

“So,” Mark started nervously, “my mom wants to come stay for a couple days.”

Isabel had never seen Mark so uncomfortable. She wondered if he was nervous about bringing up the topic to her, or embarrassed by his mother for some reason. Either way she watched him waiting for a question or something she should respond to, unsure what else to say.

“I normally let her stay in the apartment, so I wanted to offer to have you guys stay in the guest bedroom of the house for a couple days.“ He said awkwardly, “If you’d rather not, I understand, I just had to ask.“

Something about his demeanor seemed beyond uncomfortable, borderline scared. Isabel had never seen him this way and wanted to help however she could. At this moment she realized that his happiness was almost as important to her and her sons.

Isabel stared into Mark's dark brown eyes, suddenly struck by the thought that she could love this man, if she would allow herself to. She couldn’t though. She was already in so deep she might drown, but she couldn’t pull him in even deeper with her.

Mark met Isabel’s emerald eyes as she thought about his proposal. He hoped she would agree. He loved and supported his mom the best he could but the thought of being under that same roof as her again was beyond unnerving. Isabel's expression suddenly turned tender and he had to fight the urge to reach out brushing her cheek.

“We can do that.” Isabel responded, glancing down. “When?”

“That's the thing, she's pretty sporadic.” Mark rubbed the back of his neck nervously. “She just called and she will be here tonight.”

Isabel nodded, “Okay, just let me grab some of my stuff.”

“Yeah,” Mark looked as though he wanted to say something else, but he hesitated.

“What?” Isabel asked nervously.

Mark sighed exasperated. He frowned, avoiding her gaze, clearly uncomfortable.

“You might want to bring any money or valuables with you. I can put them in my safe.” He finally said uncomfortably. Then he added sadly. “I’m sorry.”

“That's okay.” Isabel forced a smile, wanting nothing more than to relieve his obvious stress.

They stood there for a minute as Mark seemed to study the floor. Isabel hesitated but slowly stood and walked over to where he stood. She reached out a shaky hand placing it on his cheek.

Mark leaned into her caress, still too embarrassed to meet her gaze. Only Susan and Zane knew about his issues with his mother. He tried not to allow her in his house without being supervised, and he always made sure the apartment had nothing of value in it. Not that that stopped things from disappearing, it was all stuff he could easily replace though.

“Are you okay?” Isabel asked. not removing her hand even as he laid his own hand over it.

Mark was quiet for a long time, as they stood together. Isabel's tension slowly faded and she realized that she enjoyed the touch. His hand was so much larger than hers, and much more gentle then any she had felt since she was little.

Slowly Mark lifted his gaze to meet hers, then took a single step forward not removing his hand from hers. He began to lean in slowly, and Isabel froze.

Isabel knew she shouldn’t let this happen. The closer Mark got the worse he could get hurt. If Andrey found out about this he would not think twice about going after Mark to hurt her.

“It’s not safe.” She managed to whisper.

Mark grinned, “You're worth it.”

With that said he pressed his warm lips gently to hers. For the first time in years she kissed with no fear. She deepened the kiss pulling her hand back only to wrap both of her arms around his neck. She stood on her toes as he wrapped his arms around her waist.

Mark pulled Isabel closer, revelling in the feeling of her soft warm lips as they moved with his. It felt like he had been waiting his whole life for this, whether he had known it or not.

Suddenly though, he noticed her stiffen in his arms. He pulled away leaning his forehead against hers and loosening his grip on her waist.

“Too much, I’m sorry.” He said tenderly.

“Thank you.” Isabel said, laying her head on his chest.
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