My knees buckle and I collapse in a heap onto the coffee table, the sonogram of our baby girl falling to the floor along with the yellow envelope.
“Do you need some water, Miss?” The private investigator’s eyes widen, sweat dotting his forehead.
I wave him off. “You need to leave. My fiancé will be home soon.”
The white haired man gathers his things to go, but pauses at my door. “I don’t trust your man, and I honestly don’t think you should either.” With that, he leaves me with my thoughts.
For what seems forever, I sit twisting the engagement ring on my finger. Wondering if it truly belongs there. The reporter’s words echo in my mind.
How could the father of my child be a serial rapist? I lower my face into my hands . He raped me, what’s the difference? This whole time I’ve fought with myself, trying to blame it all on alcohol, but was it really because of that?
I reach for the envelope, jerking back as Parker’s key turns in the lock.
When he looks away to hang up his coat, I kick the envelope under the couch.
I hoist myself up, my heart stopping. “Pizza is on the way.”
His nostrils flare and I steel my spine, his eyes blazing. “You didn’t cook dinner?”
I wince, his hand clamping around my arm.
“What have you been doing all day?”
“I had class,” I say and manage to twist free of him. “I only got home a couple of hours ago. I had assignments to do.”
He jerks me closer and my forehead knocks against his teeth. With a roar, he hurls me toward the kitchen. “Make something decent!”
Shaking, I rub the bruising lump on my head, biting back tears. I take a quick look in the fridge, angry at myself for not at least going to the store before I came home. I know that makes him angry. As quickly as I can, I fumble together a salad and some grilled cheese sandwiches.
“This is all we had,” I say, presenting the food and trying to calm my voice.
He takes it from me and spreads out on the couch. “What do you want?” He says when he sees me still standing there with my plate.
“To sit down and eat.” I tap my foot.
“I’ve been going to events with my dad, the mayor, all day long. I’m tired. Eat in the kitchen.”
Not wanting the argument to escalate, I retreat.
For three hours he lounges in front of the television paying me as little attention as possible, except to call me from the kitchen to feel the baby. Somehow I think he’s excited about her. Why can’t he be excited about us?
I have to fight to keep my eyes from wandering to where I kicked the envelope. What did he find? When I paid the P.I, I had been sure he wouldn’t have turned up anything.
“Where are my sleeping pills?” Parker says, jolting me out of my head.
I must have given him too blank of a look, because he hurls a pillow at my head. “They’re on the nightstand in the bedroom!”
With a grunt and a belch, he gets up and starts down the hallway. When I go to follow him, he whirls around, nearly knocking into me. “My house, my bed. And tonight, my house, your couch, okay? I’m too tired for you to be waking me every five seconds to pee.”
My feathers bristling, I head back to the couch. Why do I want to be with him? Our daughter moves, and I remember. I turn on the T.V., waiting in the dark for an eternity before Parker’s snoring finally finds me.
The shaking in my hands travels up my arms and into my head making my teeth chatter. Stop it! He’ll hear you!
Closing my eyes, I still my body.
I use my cellphone as a flashlight and pull out the envelope. My stomach flutters and I wonder if the baby knows how worried I am, or why.
The crackling of the envelope seems like thunder in the stillness and I pause every few seconds to see if he’s still snoring.
With a final rip, I spill the contents onto the couch, faces of more women than I can count staring back at me from the photographs, each one seeming to steal a kiss, or make a pass, at the man whose ring I’m wearing. My vision clouds, pulse pounding in my ears. Hadn’t he taken enough from me? All this time I’ve wanted what my parents have and somehow I’d fooled myself into believing this was it.
One by one I pick through the pictures. Do these women mean anything to Parker? Do I? I laugh. Of course I don’t!
Tears roll down my face. At least I knew one thing, he hadn’t raped any of them. And if it’s up to me, he never will.
The next morning, I wait for him to leave and slip out the door behind him. I’d spent half the night staring at all those smiling faces, taking comfort from the fact the light in their eyes hadn’t died. Out of the faces I had chosen the one that repeated the most, a petite red head with gleaming pale eyes. She can do so much better, I just hope she believes that. In one photo, taken at his dad’s last rally, the woman wore a t-shirt advertising a bakery, so that’s where I’m heading.
The bell chimes happily when I step inside, the baby rolling toward the scents of vanilla and chocolate, but refusing the rosemary. Swallowing, I step up to the counter.
“What can I get for you?” The man says.
Looking over his shoulder, I see her. My heart drops at the sight of her blackened eye.
She spots me and flinches, but quickly gathers her composure. “I’ll help her, John.” She pulls off her apron and pats his shoulder. “She’s a friend.” Motioning me outside, she wets her lips. “What do you want?” She says when we’re safely outside.
“Did Parker do that to you?”
She scoffs. “No.”
“Whatever you might think he is, you’re wrong.”
“How so?” She drums her fingers on her leg.
I run a hand through my hair, trying to think of any way but bluntly to say this. I can’t. “He’s a bad guy.”
“Then why are you with him?” Her eyes narrow.
I wave her question aside. “Doesn’t matter. You need to get away from him and stay that way.”
“It matters to me.”
I point to my stomach. “Two fleshes became one, due in seven months.”
Her lip trembles. “But you’re not trying to protect him?”
“He’s not worth protecting.” Timidly, I reach for her shoulder, aching at the lost look in her eyes. “But you are. Get away from him while you can.”
Her voice quiets to a whisper only loud enough for me to hear. “Don’t you think he should pay for his crimes?”
I blink at her. Could she really believe me so easily? “If he’s hurt you, then you need to go to the police. You won’t be alone.”
“His dad’s the freaking mayor!” She throws her hands into the air. “Why would the cops believe a nobody? They haven’t before.”
I move back, shielding my belly, from the intensity of her. Suddenly the lost woman is replaced by a blazing fire of strength.
Seeing my reaction, she softens. “Go home. Stay there. Take care of yourself and your baby.” She touches my arm. “It’s all going to be okay.”
In a haze, I walk away somehow knowing the woman I’d meant to save might just be the one to save me.
A week later I sit watching the local news coverage of the mayor’s latest rally. Bringing a spoonful of cereal to my mouth, I see a gleaming red head emerge from the crowd. Pulling a gun from her purse, she fires a single shot and ends my struggle.
Thank you all so much for reading! Have a question you’d like to “ask” London? Leave it in a comment below and I’ll e sure to add it to my next character interview.