On the Run

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Birthday

Twenty-five minutes later Isabel and Elia walked up to the car where Mark was patiently waiting.

“Have you been waiting here the whole time?” Isabel asked while buckling Elia into her seat.

“Maybe,” Mark shrugged.

“Why?” Isabel asked, frowning.

She fought the flash of fear that told her he should be mad that he had to wait. She knew that they had agreed to a time and she had been early. However, Andrey had often gotten mad, despite that, if he arrived anywhere first. Instinctively she watched Marks face for any sign he was unhappy

It was clear however, that Mark was not mad. In fact he seemed happy, which quite frankly she couldn’t understand.

“I didn’t have anything else I needed to do, and I’m excited you agreed. I wanted to get going as soon as we could.” Mark’s dark cheeks took a slightly darker shade as he added, “The sooner we left the more time we would get.”

Isabel stared at him dumbfounded as she realized he actually wanted to spend time with them. There was no obligation, and no sign that he expected anything in return. He honestly seemed to want to be around her and her daughter. The idea floored her.

“What?” Mark asked, looking rather embarrassed.

“Nothing, sorry.” Isabel shook her head before staring out the window at the passing buildings.

She was suddenly nervous again. She was in Mark’s car with her daughter. She had left all of her money and everything they had at his house, and she didn’t know where they were.

Fear gripped her chest. What if this was some kind of sick joke? What if he dropped them off in the middle of nowhere with absolutely nothing?

She suddenly felt like something was squeezing her so tight she couldn’t breath. Right before the panic could take complete control she saw a large playground coming up on the right.

She glanced over at Mark. He had never given her a reason to not trust him, and she wished she could. However, she knew she probably never would.

Mark had fought to hide his concern as he saw Isabel’s growing panic. He wondered what she thought was going to happen, but quickly decided he probably didn’t want to know.

They climbed out of the car and Isabel hurriedly let Elia out. Elia clung to her hand, not moving from her side.

Mark was worried Elia would never let go of her mothers hand and start playing with Melody and the other kids. He was so happy when she finally, slowly wandered towards the playground.

He noticed Isabel watching her daughter adamantly and, not for the first time, wished she didn’t have to feel like the child’s only defense against the world. He knew it had to be exhausting.

After cake and presents, set up by Susan and Mark, the three adults sat while the kids played.

Susan and Isabel were talking about schooling options for Elia, when Melody called for Mark to push her on the swing.

“M-Mr. Mark?” Elia stammered walking up to him as he pushed the swing, Melody squealing in delight.

“Yes hon?” Mark smiled gently at the child.

“Thank you,” Elia whispered, stepping closer still.

Mark noticed several things at once; Isabel across the play yard suddenly stood horrified, she tried calling out but was too far away to do anything as the swing Melody was on came directly at Elia.

Mark reached out trying to pull Elia out of the way, but the girl yelped, throwing herself on the ground and curling into a tight ball. The swing soaring over her.

Elia was terrified, Mark, and his hands were so much bigger than her fathers and she was sure they would hurt so much more.

“I’m sorry.” She whimpered, flinching away.

Mark stood horrified, his well meaning attempt to protect the child having blown upon his face.

“Elia hunny, I’m not going to hurt you.” Mark scooped the child up and carried her out of the way of the swing. “Elia, are you okay? Did you get hurt?”

Elia looked up through tear soaked black eyelashes with huge green eyes that shone with confusion and surprise. She shook her head slowly then shifted in his arms.

Mark carefully lowered her to the ground kneeling in front of her. “Elia, listen to me okay. I would never hurt you like he did. Do you understand, baby?”

Looking over Elias’ head, Mark could see Isabel standing only a couple feet away now. Her hands balled tightly into fists as she watched them.

“Never.” He said, meeting Isabel’s eyes for a second before looking back at Elia. “I was just afraid you were going to get hit by the swing. Okay?”

Isabel relaxed, but only slightly, crossing her arms over her chest and chewing on her bottom lip.

Elia nodded slowly, still nervous but something in her expression had shifted ever so slightly. “Y-Yes sir.”

“Be careful, I don’t want you getting hurt.” Mark smiled sweetly at the child who nodded in response.

As he stood Elia turned, running into her mothers open arms.

“You okay baby.” Isabel said, trying to look inconspicuous as she looked over the little girl.

“Yes mommy. Can I go play now?” Elia asked with more confidence than Isabel had heard in her voice in months.

“Um, yes of course baby. Go on.” Isabel said as she watched Mark slowly walk up to them.

Elia ran off to find Melody who had left for the main jungle gym.

“I guess I should thank you again…” Isabel said awkwardly. “This, whatever it is, is feeling very one sided.”

“It’ll even out I’m sure.” Mark chuckled, meeting her eyes for a fraction of a second longer then he had ever been able to before she looked away.

Isabel suddenly felt even more awkward, “I will pay you back somehow.”

“That’s not what I meant.” Mark said kindly, “And I’m not asking for nor am I wanting paybacks. That’s not how this, whatever it is, works.” Mark chuckled again hand gesturing quotations as he repeated her words back to her

Isabel felt herself grin before she bit her lip hard. She wouldn’t flirt with him, she had to avoid teasing him at any cost. Isabel had never thought of herself as a tease, but had learned quickly with Andrey, that she was. She had also learned that it was a very dangerous thing.

“Why do you do that?” Mark asked suddenly in a hush tone of voice.

Isabel felt her heart speed up as she fought for an answer to the question.

“Do what?” She asked, trying to buy time.

“Refuse to allow yourself to smile.” Mark responded, trying to sound non threatening.

Mark has seen a lot in his years as a detective but he had never seen anyone who seemed so afraid of smiling. He knew he shouldn’t have asked but curiosity had gotten the best of him. He immediately regretted it by the fear that suddenly flashed in Isabel’s eyes as she took a shaky step backwards.

“I’m sorry I’m not meaning to be unpleasant.” Isabel stammered as she unconsciously tugged at her sleeves, unintentionally shifting her shirt to reveal the edges of yet more bruising on her shoulders.

“You’re not, I’m just curious about it.” Mark forced a smile, trying not to imagine how each bruise had appeared on her small, fragile body.

“When did you leave?” He asked calmly.

Isabel swallowed hard, narrowing her eyes at him. After a minute she sighed, “I guess I do owe you some answers. We got on the bus a week ago.”

Mark knew exactly how hard each blow would have to be to leave a mark that long.

“Where from?” He asked, keeping his tone casually.

“Does it matter?” She asked, crossing her arms and scanning the playground for Elia, “We are here now.”

Mark just nodded knowing not to push any harder for now.

Isabel watched Elia play and thought about whether it would really endanger them more to answer Mark’s questions. To be honest she didn’t know, but she had worked hard to avoid any and all risks up to this point. She couldn’t stop now, not with Elia depending on her.

“Izzy! Mark!” Susan called, waving them over.

She couldn’t help but notice the difference in posture between the two as they walked side by side at arm’s length. Isabel was tense, constantly glancing around, as if waiting for someone to jump out at her. Mark on the other hand was relaxed, arms swinging by his sides. Susan knew he was always aware of his surroundings, but not afraid of them. He trusted God’s plan blindly and with more resolve than anyone she knew.

“Mel and I have to take off, sorry but we are meeting Dalton for lunch.” Susan said once they were within talking distance. “Will we see you guys at church tomorrow?”

Isabel felt thrown off balance by the question. She had tried a couple churches behind Andrey’s back when she first moved in with him. She had wanted to find the comfort her grandmother had sworn was there. All Isabel ever found was judgemental glares and cold shoulders.

“No thank you.” She said coolly, tightening her arms around her chest.

“I’ll be there, see you then.” Mark said next to her.

“Okay, have a nice night.” Susan waved before walking to where Melody was playing and leading the child to the parking lot.

Elia came to Isabel’s side again as soon as her friend had left. Mark was glad Melody seemed to have the capability to make Elia more… childlike and free.

Even if now she was back to quietly watching his every move, at least there was more curiosity in her eyes than fear.

As he felt the anger building up in his gut again he slightly prayed for forgiveness towards the jerk who caused this mess. As much as Mark knew he should forgive Isabel’s ex, part of me wanted to meet him. Mark figured ten minutes, that’s all the time he would need to teach the bastard a lesson he would never forget.

On the other hand he hoped the man wasn’t crazy enough to follow Isabel and Elia. The last thing Mark wanted was for one of the girls to get hurt.

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