Authors: Erica Hale
In the dark, she looked like a fallen angel. Direct from heaven to bless us all with her grace and beauty. I had to will myself not to keep staring at her. She’d hated when I’d done that in the past. She would say something snarky like, “I’m not on display.” The corner of my mouth went up. I wanted to smile down at her, wanted to gather her up in my arms and tell her that it was going to be okay. But I told her that I would never lie to her, which I did before—but that was different.
My legs began to cramp. They were stretched out, heels resting on the corner of the bed. I tried to scoot down in my easy chair to find comfort in it; but, after four hours of sitting like this, if it hadn’t come now it wasn’t worth waiting for.
I stood and walked back over to her sleeping frame. She lay on her right, which she always did no matter where she slept. Curled into a little ball, knees up like she was suspended in air doing a cannon ball jump into a lake. Her breathing was slow, and that was due to the medication that I had to trick her to take. I drugged her tea. It pained me in doing so, but she had to get some sleep. She was torturing herself lying awake, going over and over her own personal hell. It wasn’t worth it.
She was finding ways to blame herself. She was good for that. Ryan, my brother, would call her Atlas--the one who carried the weight of the world on his shoulders. Her breathing hitched and my heart nearly stopped. I looked down at her. She was in a dream. I prayed that the light-colored flowers that danced in her head hadn’t transform into vicious rats chasing her, corralling her to parts unknown. That’s what had happened an hour ago, before I drugged her with the good stuff. She nuzzled back into the pillows and murmured something that I couldn’t hear. But this time it was light and smooth, not the hellish screaming recalling her horror over and over again in her dreams.
I needed to go to sleep myself, maybe slip something in my tea to calm me down and drift off. At that moment I almost envied her. She looked so peaceful so beautiful in my oversized shirt. But I wouldn’t trade places with her. She suffered from a woman’s plight, something that a big goof like me couldn’t fathom. I walked around the bed to stretch out my legs before sitting back down in my once favorite chair.
She had given me everything once before, but like every other man in her life I exploited it, perverted it, and turned love into something you didn’t even want to whisper about. I tore her heart apart and she stuck her chin out and held her head high and walked out of my life. I knew it was for the best. She deserved more than what I could offer. I crumbled her up and tossed her in a wastepaper basket, not out of cruelty but because I loved her and still did.
The last time that I saw her it was early last spring and the sun was peeking out behind the clouds when she walked around the corner. The dress she wore was yellow and sleeveless. It was long in the back and the front rounded up to her knees. She was walking into Phil’s, a local restaurant in DC. She hadn’t changed a bit. She took strong and feminine steps. She had cut her hair, which I wasn’t too particular about. I remember the sun fell back behind the cloud, being jealous, I suppose. She was turning heads that she wasn’t aware of. I was jealous, I suppose. She walked in alone, probably meeting some asshole that would feed her promises that he knew that he wouldn’t keep. Telling her everything that she wanted to hear. Wishing that she would smile and give him the time of day that he thought he deserved. My throat went dry and my stomach flipped around in my body. I couldn’t sit there and be happy for her. I lost my appetite.
She rolled over on to her back, still cradling her broken arm. It was in an air cast. The doctor gave me an appointment card without looking at me. Just saying, “Could you please have her here at this time to put a cast on that arm, the swelling will be gone by the weekend.” I had every intention of getting her there and taking care of her as long as she wanted me to. I knew that she hated being here.
I scooted back in the chair and put my long legs back on the bed and waited. For what, I really didn’t know. Was she going to start screaming again? Or silent sobbing into the pillow? Or wake up not remembering where she was? I straightened and waited for whatever was coming. I wished it was under different circumstances that I had her in my bed again.
Right now in my mind, every man wanted her to be in their bed. Why did I let her go? Before I knew it my face began to burn, scorching tears trailed down my face. Crying wouldn’t help her. Maybe if I would have shed a few tears, maybe she would have stayed, but that was a lie. It still wouldn’t have worked. I wasn’t what she needed then. I hoped that I could be everything for her now. Only time would tell that story.
I got up again to listen to her sleep, something that I used to do all the time. Snoring lightly her head turned and my eyes closed. Her black eye and busted top and bottom lip might as well have been a beacon on her face, distorting her perfect features. I used to kiss her eyes to wake her up in the morning. Playfully bite that bottom lip until she would laugh, until we were drunk in love with each other. Too much time had passed, I suppose. Would she allow me to do those things to her again? We would laugh ourselves to sleep--she lying in my arms perfectly. Perfect wasn’t so perfect.
I knew the day, the hour, the moment that things broke into pieces. In my mind I would look at it, replay the event in my mind over and over again like a movie. She stands stiff as a board, me being nonchalant about the whole thing. I saw her weakness and I attacked like a pitbull. She would ask and I would deflect, then insult. “Vic, is it someone else? Are you sleeping with someone else?” she asked. Standing in this very room that we were in right now. Her hair was longer then. She wore it down just like I liked it. It kissed her shoulders in dark brown ringlets.
With my voice a tad rose, “How in the hell do you think I could sleep with someone else? You’re always here. Always up under me.” Right then, I saw the wheels of regret turning behind her eyes. The job offer that would put her in a higher tax bracket was basically given to her. Then I wanted her close to me. I was the one that begged her to move in with me. Complained when she went home after work. I begged for her to give up the apartment, because she spent most of her time with me anyway. But she held on to her place. She was good to me and she tried to keep it together. After my statement I walked away from her, like she was nothing. I was no better than the piece of crap that left her in an open field half-naked. He walked away from her too. Probably ran. I had thrown my crap back into her lap. After what seemed forever going in a circle, she got tired. I can only imagine that she had been tired for a long time before then, but even steel bends. I broke her.
If I wasn’t being myself, she wouldn’t have three broken ribs, a fractured wrist and broken arm. Multiple bruises that went from her face to right below her knees. She would be safe; we would be laughing out loud. I bit her lip; she acted like she hated it. Our routine as easy as breathing. But I gave her an invisible shove in the wrong direction, forced her with my flippant attitude towards everything.
I was not man enough to break it off, but I didn’t give her an option and made her break it off with me. I didn’t want any fault with it. But I was the blame. I should have been more responsible with her, with her heart. She could have died out there, froze to death. Without my arms to shield her from the wind and the snow. I wasn’t there. I forced her without her knowing into another relationship, demanding that she love someone else. I gave her the ‘It’s not you. It’s me’ speech in the driveway. She had already retreated out of the house. Stuffing the little that she had in a plastic bag from the kitchen, but I drove my point home. In layman’s term, I told her to leave and don’t look back.
Her feet rubbed together under the blanket. Something that she always did, which drove me crazy. Because she would end up kicking my shins. I missed it.
I had just come home from Houston, my flight had been delayed three hours and I was always tired after a job. Turning my phone back on, I had one missed call and voicemail from a number I didn’t recognize. Walking what seemed like a million miles to my car in long term parking, I listen to the message. “Mr. Victor Moore, this is Nurse Rebecca Jenkins. I am with St Francis Hospital; you are listed as an emergency contact for a Miss Tonya Irvine. Would you please give me a call?” She left a number but I didn’t need it. I knew exactly where she was.
In this type of situation you have no idea what you are walking into. Tonya could have broken her ankle walking in those skyscraper heels she wore. Or her body could have been twisted beyond life in a car accident. I ran stop lights and abandoned the rules of the road. Replaying the recorded message over in my mind, I did not think the nurse sounded distressed. Or was she just good at hiding it from emergency contacts?
“Miss Tonya Irvine,” I said to the nurse at her station. If you guaranteed me a million dollars, I wouldn’t be able to recall her features. I was living in something that I hadn’t been in so long--fear. The nurse pointed and I ran. Before my hand could reach the door, it flung open. I stepped back, and walking towards me was a man that was my height. It was unusual. Both of us stood at 6’8”. Beside him was a younger woman, who gave me a look. I’m sure this is what Tonya and I looked like walking down the street. The woman couldn’t be any more than 5 feet.
“Is she okay?” I asked the equally tall guy.
Before answering me, he looked down to the woman and let her know to wait for him in the car. She gave me a look up and down and made her way down the hall. “Who are you to Miss Irvine?” He removed a small notebook and pen from the inside of his coat.
I didn’t know how to answer. Best friend, ex-lover, the one that I forcibly removed from my life. “A friend. I’m her emergency contact.” This guy was a cop. What happened?
“When was the last time you saw Ms. Irvine?”
“What does that have to do with anything? How is she? I want to see her.” I tried to push past him and he blocked the door.
“Sir, it is very important that you tell me when was the last time you saw her. By the look on your face, you care about her. I want to eliminate you as a suspect.”
A suspect? My heart began to break inside my chest. She’s gone. I’ll never tell her that I was sorry for being so cruel to her. Or that I hated when people rubbed their feet together, but I loved it when she did. Then I felt the weight of this guy’s enormous hand on my shoulder. “Sir, please.”
“I haven’t seen Tony in over five years.” I could remember the smell of her hair and how she always had had her nails done.
His hand felt like a ton on my shoulder. “Ms. Irvine has had an accident. Right now, she is resting. But if she remembers anything, please give me a call.” He handed me a card and I wanted to smile. She wasn’t dead. She lay behind this door. “My name is Detective Stone, Ray Stone. I will be the one that is in charge of the investigation of your friend’s attack.”
“Attack? Did someone break into her house, what happened to her?!” I didn’t know that I was shouting until one of the nurses put her finger to her lips, the international sign to quiet down.
“Moore, Victor.” My hands were shaking. Tonya wasn’t big as a minute. She was tiny but shapely. If someone put her in the hospital, I knew that I was going to have to kill them.
“Mr. Moore.” The detective started in a hush voice. “We have spoken to some of her co-workers and we have put together a time line. Ms. Irvine left work at approximately 2:15 pm. Then our station got a call of a woman that they thought was dead in a field. That was about 10:18 pm. I walked to the door then Stone grabbed my arm, “One more thing. She’s a little roughed up, so don’t be startled when you see her. Your friend is tough; this could have been really bad, okay. Just be a friend to her.”
I was planning on it.
“Victor,” she whispered. I didn’t know if she was dreaming or not.
I bounced off my chair and was on my knees at her side. Her eyes fluttered open, eye lashes spiky from dried tears. “Victor, where’s my car?” It was a good question. “I want to go home.” Her voice was raspy, which I concluded was from screaming. I gripped the covers on the mattress to hide my anger.
“Tony, you should stay here for the night. You need to get some rest.” She must have forgotten the fractured wrist. She tried to sit up and pushed up on it and her face contorted in pain. “Lie back down.”
She ignored me. “I want to go home, Vic. Please.” She moved the mountain of pillows around to lean against the headboard. Looking down at herself, she became embarrassed. I saw it on her face. She wrapped her arms around her braless chest. “Please could you get my car?” She cleared her throat and turned her head away from me.
“Tony, please just get some rest. The doctor wants you to just take your time, okay. I’m here.”
Her head whipped around to me. “I don’t want to be here…with you. Just take me home.”
I wanted her to stay for selfish reasons. Wanted to make sure she was going to be okay. I couldn’t force her. “Well, let me get you something to eat. Doctor wants you to get something on your stomach with all the pain meds you are on. I don’t want you to get sick.” I rose and took a step back from her trying to gauge what she was thinking.
Still looking away from me
. I wanted to scream it out.