“Two of our girls never showed up for work this morning and we need somebody now.” The hefty, surly man behind the counter mumbled.
Isabel visibly relaxed.
However, horror shot through Elia and she spoke in a sheepish voice. “Is she safe?”
Isabel felt her face flush as Susan looked down at the child confused, “Who?”
“Your daughter, is she safe with her daddy?” Elias' voice quivered and she tried to hide behind her mother.
Susan felt pain grip her chest at the fear in this child's eyes, she looked up to see Isabel looked both guilty and embarrassed.
Even Tony reacted, looking up with a frown.
“Yes dear, her daddy keeps her perfectly safe.” Susan responded with a forced smile.
In the bright lighting in the restaurant she noticed faint shadows around the mother’s neck and collar of her shirt.
“I’m Isabel but you can call me Izzy. This is my daughter Elia.” Isabel said, hoping to avoid the questions she feared would follow her daughters comment.
“It’s a pleasure to meet you. You can meet Melody tomorrow if you want to meet up for breakfast.” Susan said, still smiling at Isabel.
Every ounce of Susan’s being screamed that this mother and child needed help. So after leading the little girl into her office Susan texted Mark.
Meanwhile in the bathroom Isabel quickly changed into a T-shirt Tony had laid on the counter for her. She reapplied her makeup before taking a stilling breath and forcing a smile in the mirror. She nodded once and headed out to start work.
* * *
Later that afternoon Mark was just finishing up at work when he noticed a new text from Susan:
“I need your help.”
It read simply.
A minute later she responded again.
“I hired a new waitress but something is wrong. I just have this feeling. Can you make sure she gets somewhere safe tonight?”
“You want me to stock the wait staff.”
It took her four minutes to reply.
“No, you’re right. I’m just worried about her.”
“I have someone I need to meet with tonight anyway. I’m sure she’s fine.”
Mark sighed, rolling his eyes. Susan had a habit of thinking everyone needed her help. She hadn’t asked him for help for years though.
After work Isabel carried Elia, fast asleep, to the bus stop.
“I will find us a place to stay tomorrow baby I promise.” She whispered quietly to her daughter.
She looked down at her daughter with heavy eyelids.
“Hey pretty thing.”
Isabel jumped at the harsh cold voice and opened her eyes to see a tan man with green hair walking towards her.
“You up for some fun? I’ll give you and your brat somewhere to sleep. Not that you would be getting much sleep.” He sat down on the bench next to her.
“No.” She said firmly, trying to scoot away.
Isabel realized then he had her trapped in the corner. He leaned towards her pressing his hands on the glass on either side of her.
“Fine we can just hang out here.”
She could smell the alcohol on his breath and she pulled her daughter closer wishing she could hide her somehow.
“She said no.” The new voice was deeper and darker, yet somehow smoother.
Isabel wanted to see the new arrival but fear kept her eyes locked on the man who still had her trapped. He was inches away now and she could feel his breath on her neck as he spoke again.
“This is none of your business man.” He moaned in her ear. Isabel tried again in vain to pull away.
Suddenly the whole scene changed.
It’s a funny thing to be staring at something threatening one second then it shifts into something calm and comforting. One second the first man had her trapped and was inching closer. The next he was gone, replaced by a large muscular back in an expensive looking suit.
All she could tell about the new man was he had dark everything and was huge. Not just muscular, he had to be at least a foot taller than her five foot four.
“Don’t push me.” He spoke calmly as if he hadn’t just thrown the first guy off of her, and as if he didn’t have his right hand resting on a pistol on his hip.
“Right. Whatever dude.” The first guy backed away.
Isabel stared at the man's hand still hovering over his gun.
“Fine, she’s not worth this shit.” The first guy muttered before walking briskly away.
Mark sighed frustrated before turning to see the lady and child he had just threatened his contact for. Zane was going to have to take over that relationship now. He hated having to work with that jerk anyway.
“It’s not safe here at night. Are you waiting for a bus?” Mark asked, crossing his arms in front of his chest.
Isabel shook her head, shifting her weight in another failed attempt to disappear.
“Do you have somewhere you can stay?” Mark asked, eying her again.
She appeared to be twenty-five or twenty-six only a couple years younger than himself.
Isabel shook her head with one jerky movement.
Mark wondered who this lady was. Why was she alone at a bus stop with a child at two in the morning?
Isabel glanced at his gun again nervously. She had seen the business end of a gun too many times to feel comfortable with it so close.
Mark sighed, running his dark almond hand through his jet black hair. He sat on the far side of the bench and stretched his long legs out crossing his ankles.
“Wh-” Isabel started, but her voice gave out.
The man noticed, watching her with a concerned look on his face he said. “Did he hurt you?”
“No.” Her throat hurt so bad after all the talking at work, trying to talk now brought tears to her eyes.
Despite that pain she tried again. “What are you doing?”
Her voice sounded rough and pained. Mark wondered why but decided it would be better to answer her question then ask one of his own.
He couldn't leave them out here alone and he knew she wouldn’t come with him. Instead of explaining this though he simply shrugged, “It's called sleeping and by the looks of it you should do it too.”
The woman rolled her eyes and Mark smirked at her reaction before laying his head back down and closing his eyes.
Isabel studied the stranger. His hair was just long enough to cover his ears. She could see a tattoo sticking out from under the sleeve of his suit.
He was handsome, and intimidating. She couldn’t help but stare at the gun again.
“If I was going to hurt you I would have done it already.” Mark said, watching her expression cautiously.
Isabel jumped and looked up to see his black eyes watching her as well.
“I’m sorry.” She croaked, swallowing hard.
She bit her lip instinctively pulling Elia closer.
“How old is she?” Mark couldn’t help but smile at the little girl.
“Five next week.” Isabel said nervously.
“She’s beautiful. I’m Mark.” He said calmly.
“Isabel.” She whispered cautiously.
Elia shivered in Isabel's arms and she glanced at the man hoping it would be too dark for him to see her properly. Even if it wasn’t she had no choice. She slid her jacket off wrapping it around Elia.
Mark gasped watching bruise after bruise appear on Isabel's too thin arms as she slid off her jacket. He wondered what she was doing. It was cold outside tonight. Then she wrapped it around the child, and he understood.
Mark slid off his own jacket reaching out to drape it over Isabel's shoulders.
He pretended not to notice her flinch away slightly, but she was sure he had.
“Thank you.” Isabel murmured as her eyes slowly closed. His jacket was huge, warm, and smelled so good.
Mark sighed looking at the lady and child beside him. What were they doing here?
Isabel seemed sweet but terrified. Then there were the bruises, it was highly unlikely that they were self inflicted. Though he had seen it before, it was the placement that made it so unlikely in this case.
Isabel shifted in her sleep and four long thin bruises appeared on the thin neck as her hair fell away. Mark scowled remembering how her voice had sounded as she struggled to speak. No way that was self inflicted. Someone had strangled her and beaten her to a pulp.
“What happened to you?” He whispered rhetorically.