“So I want to talk to you about your plan.” Mark said, still sitting across from Isabel. “I know at first running was your only option. However, it’s unrealistic to believe that is the best course of action beyond this point. You have people who know the truth and can help.”
Isabel nodded numbly unsure what he meant. What option did she have other than run and hide? She certainly couldn’t fight.
Mark knew that with her uncertainty about law enforcement what he was about to suggest not only had never crossed her mind, but would take some convincing.
“I think you need to agree to witness against Andrey. With Elia as proof of what you have gone through at his hands, you could be the key to taking him down. Also you would both be well guarded, witness protection and frankly I wouldn’t let you out of my sight.” Mark suggested carefully.
“Elia…” Isabel started but Mark chimed in.
“Would be well protected, and she would have a much better chance of a normal childhood in a year or so.” He was convinced that this was the best way to keep them both safe, but it had to be Isabel’s choice.
“Think of it this way.” He tried again after a moment of silence, “if you ran again where would you stay if you couldn’t pay for a motel or apartment? A bus stop again?”
He quietly reminded her of that first night, and what could have happened. She frowned clearly remembering. However, then another question came to mind.
“Why didn’t you go to a shelter?” Mark asked though he figured he knew the answer.
“That’s the first place they would look, probably are looking regularly.” Isabel finally spoke.
Mark nodded, he had assumed as much. With so many crooks and people desperate for drugs at shelter’s it made it hard to hide from a drug cartel there. If the wrong person had seen them, they could be traded for an 8 ball of coke or meth. Two lives for free poison.
Mark glared at the table but then the doorbell chimed. Isabel nearly fell out of her seat.
“It's just my mom.” Mark forced a smile, “and think about it, okay?”
Isabel nodded, then stared at the table as she thought of what Mark had said. It made sense, she wasn’t dull enough not to know she would be placing a target not only on her back, but Elia and Mark’s as well. She wasn’t sure she could live with endangering them both. If it had just been for her own safety she wouldn’t have dared, but this was for Elia to.
“Izzy, this is my mother Joanne.” Mark said awkwardly.
“Oh sugar, call me Jo.” She grinned mischievously.
“Mom, can I please have some water?” Elia asked, walking in quietly
“I’ll get you some princess.” Mark replied eager to have something to do.
“Awe, your daddy raised you right.” Jo chuckled, then whispered when Mark walked away. “You got yourself the perfect sugar daddy.”
Isabel blanched and flushed red with anger, but Jo just winked at her.
“He is not my sugar daddy.” Isabel snapped, and she heard the splash of water in the sink to her left.
She didn’t turn to notice Mark had just dropped the cup full of water into the sink. With shaking hands he refilled it angrily. He was mortified.
“I have a job, pay rent, and work hard for everything I have.” She continued, severely offended.
“Oh sweetheart I meant no judgement, I just needed a break from my sugar daddy” the older woman winked.
“Mom, inappropriate. You owe Isabel an apology.” Mark’s voice was right behind Isabel now.
“Oh you two, it's nothing to be ashamed of.” Jo seemed exasperated.
“What’s a sugar daddy?” Elia asked innocently.
Jo turned to face the child smiling sweetly, but before she could say anything Mark picked Elia up, placing her on his hip.
“No! I’m sorry!” Elias' scream echoed through the kitchen and Mark’s face fell guiltily.
“Hey, sweetie, it's okay. You’re not in trouble, nothing is wrong.” He bounced her softly watching as she slowly opened her swimming green eyes. He pushed a strand of blonde hair out of her face before speaking again. “Your safe princess.”
Elia calmed and buried her head and mumbled into Mark’s chest, “I’m sorry. I know you won’t hurt me, but I still get scared sometimes.”
“I know sweetheart, you’re just a little hand shy. I’m sorry I scared you .” Mark replied, kissing the top of the child’s head.
“What was that all about?” Jo looked serious for the first time since Isabel had seen her. “Why is that little girl afraid of you?”
“It’s not Mark it’s everyone, and no offense but why is none of your business.” Isabel gently grabbed Elia, glad she was small for a five year old, then she smiled weakly at Mark before walking out of the room.
“Well that was rude.” Jo said annoyed.
“Not nearly as rude as you were. If you are going to treat them like that you can pack up and leave right now.” Mark snapped angrily.
Jo looked at him wide eyed flabbergasted for a long minute. If she thought he was going to take her side over Isabel’s though she was sorely mistaken.
“I’m sorry. I meant no offense to the young lady, I just…” jo started but was cut off quickly.
“Assumed she was another you. Well she’s not. She barely allows me to make sure they have what they need to survive, and she didn’t choose to walk away from a good thing for a bigger price tag.” Mark snapped.
The second it left his mouth both relief and guilt washed over him. He had been angry at his mom for so long for leaving him and his dad in the beginning. His dad's business had just started and they were barely breaking even, so she had left. She returned when money was good to drop Susan off for a day, only to leave her for four years.
Susan didn’t talk to their mother, and didn’t know her father. Mark’s dad had legally adopted her and raised them side by side. Mark and his father were the only family she had ever known.
Mark’s relationship with his mother, while existent, was strained at best. She only really reached out when she needed money or a place to go. He would not allow her to treat his guests that way. This was not her house, she had lost that chance a long time ago.
He was relieved when she stood taller and walked out the door.
Mark sighed, falling back into a chair. With his face in his hands he wondered silently why family had to be so complicated. Then with a sigh he prayed for what felt like the millionth time for God to take away his anger and resentment.
Suddenly he felt a hand run up his tense back and to his shoulder.
“Are you okay?” Isabel asked, looking unsure about her own extended arm.
“Yeah, she just…” He wasn’t sure how to finish that statement, but after a minute she spoke up.
“Has a unique personality and view on things…” Isabel said in the nicest way she could think of.
Mark guffawed, “that’s probably the nicest thing anyone has said after meeting her.”
Isabel shrugged, “she seems harmless. Though if I had met her before you…”
She trailed off, but Mark didn’t need to hear it to know what she meant. She was right if he hadn’t had a father who demanded respect for women, he would have never learned it.
“Where’s Elia?” Mark asked changing the subject.
“Asleep. She stayed up later and had an exciting morning” Isabel smiled.
“I feel awful about scaring her again, I just wanted to guard her, I guess.” Mark sighed annoyed, “I realize it was just words and picking her up wouldn’t stop her from hearing. I guess I just felt she should be close.”
To Mark’s relief, Isabel smiled. “I get it. Trust me, I used to get between her and Andrey even when he was just talking bull. I appreciate you wanting to protect her. She’ll be okay, she knows you wouldn’t hurt her, she still sucks if I moved too quickly at times. She’s just hand shy.”
Mark sighed, shaking his head sadly. “If I had my way no man would dare touch her again.”
Isabel chuckled, drawing his attention back to where she had sat in her chair to the right of him.
“Either of you.” He added and she fell silent.
Mark stood leaning back against the table next to her before bending down to kiss her forehead before speaking in a low voice. “I care about both of you more than I thought possible.”
“I’m not what you want, Mark. I don’t even like sex.” Isabel said, remembering the awkward and often terrifying times she had spent in Andrey's car or house.
She had known she would never want to do that again, but it hadn’t crossed her mind that someone else might want to. On the other hand Andrey had always enjoyed it, so maybe it was a guy thing.
Mark was not at all surprised at Isabel’s declaration, he could only imagine what her idea of sex was. He didn’t doubt that with trust and understanding she would move past her fear. Sex wasn’t what Mark was hoping for anyway, he would wait as long as necessary.
“I know. I would never force you to do something you don’t want to. That’s not sex, it’s rape.” He kissed her forehead again before leaving to give her a minute to process his words.
Isabel wasn’t sure what to think of that. Hadn’t she consented at first? Andrey had said that gave him free reign. Whenever she said no, he said it was part of the game. She had consented so it wasn’t rape. Mark just didn’t know that, right?