Authors: Scarlett Jade
Christina blushed hot. “Oh.”
Patrick snagged a piece of bacon off the plate Addie was carrying to the table. “Nope, only through direct contact of fluids. You’re fine, okay? Just relax.”
Christina shifted her weight back and forth on the balls of her feet. “I have never really had anything like this.”
Patrick nodded sympathetically. “I get that. But we don’t bite. Come eat.”
Christina shuffled into the dining room and carefully pulled out a chair and sat down. Aaliyah sat down beside her and smiled up brightly. “I like bacon.” She shoved a whole piece in her mouth and chewed with glee.
Christina grinned back at the little girl. “Me too.” She took a piece from the platter and placed it on her plate.
Aaliyah reached forward to pick up a pancake with the tongs. “I like pancakes.”
Christina helped her settle the big pancake on her plate and took one for herself. “Me too.”
“We’re gonna be friends,” Aaliyah insisted around a mouthful of sticky pancake.
“I think so too,” Christina agreed as she poured maple syrup over her own pancake.
“Is that all you’re going to eat?” Addie cajoled. “You need to keep your strength up.”
Patrick hushed her. “Stop worrying. Christina will eat.”
“My stomach isn’t really settled right now. I hate that you went through all this trouble to make all this.”
Addie pointed at the boys, who were steadily wolfing down food. “It won’t go to waste, I promise.”
Christina sipped orange juice out of a fancy glass and she picked at another piece of bacon. Aaliyah burped beside her and she chuckled. “Excuse you.”
Aaliyah grinned up at her, her brown eyes shining. “I’m not goin’ anywhere.”
The whole table began to laugh and Christina felt herself relax just a little bit. As everyone finished their breakfast, Addie shooed them into the living room. “Let’s open presents and then I’ll clean the kitchen.”
“I can help…” Christina offered and Addie held up a hand to stop her.
“No way, you’re our guest.”
Christina sat on the end of the couch and watched with a sad smile on her lips as the children opened their presents. Addie handed a red wrapped box to Patrick and kissed his cheek. “Merry Christmas.” Patrick pulled a small green wrapped box from his pocket and handed it to his wife.
Christina felt very alone at that moment and she turned her face away to hide the evidence of her tears. Addie’s hand touched her shoulder. “Look, Santa left you something too.”
Christina’s eyes flew wide and she shook her head. “What? No.”
“Yeah! Open it!” Aaliyah crowed as she stopped playing with her new doll. “Let’s see!”
Christina picked at the tape on the end of the box and carefully unwrapped the gold wrapping paper from the box. Inside the little white shirt box was a pretty green scarf. Christina pulled it from the box and wrapped it around her neck, luxuriating in the softness. “Thank you.”
She knew deep down it had probably been a gift from Patrick to Addie, but including her in the family moment meant more to her than they would ever know. She sat silently, fingering the soft scarf while the children finished opening their presents. Stifling a yawn behind her hand, she blinked sleepily.
“Do you want to go rest?” Addie asked and Christina nodded.
“Would you mind if I borrowed your shower?” she muttered back.
“Not at all, let me show you where everything is.” Addie led her to the back of the house and showed her the simple cream colored bathroom and where the towels were. “I can get you a toothbrush and stuff too.” Addie stood on tiptoe and rummaged through the closet, pulling out a small bag that had a travel toothbrush and some toiletries in it. “I try to keep these on hand, just in case. I have some in the back of the car. I pass them out to people who are on the street.”
“You’re a good person,” Christina admitted, as she palmed the bag.
“Nah, I just want to help people if I can. Take as long as you want in the shower. Your bedroom is in through here. You can go rest if you want to, after your shower. I’m sure you’re tired. We will have dinner in just a couple hours.”
“I am very tired.”
“Oh, you forgot your clothes. Let me get them for you.” Addie zipped down the hall and came back a few moments later with the stack of clothes.
“Thanks.” Christina took the clothes, stepped into the bathroom and closed the door.
She stripped off the sweat suit and socks quickly and unzipped the little toiletry bag. Inside was a travel sized bottle of shampoo and a couple of bars of soap. She pulled a rag from the closet and a towel and stepped into the shower. Turning the water on, she got it as hot as she dared and turned the shower on. The water droplets hitting her skin were glorious and a soft moan escaped her lips. It had been too long since she’d had a real shower and it felt amazing.
She scrubbed her hair twice and washed her body carefully. Her ribs were still tender and she prodded them as she bathed. Once she finished, she stepped out of the shower and dried quickly. She rung out the rag and draped it over the edge of the laundry basket, and her towel followed. She stared in the mirror over the sink for a moment. She still looked like herself, but her face was swollen a bit in places and she still had fading bruises on her face and neck. Smiling into the glass, she examined her lost teeth. One on the top and one on the bottom. At least they weren’t directly in the front, but they were still noticeable when she talked.
Rummaging through the toiletry bag, she found deodorant and put some on before pulling on the sports bra Addie had given her. There was no underwear, but she would’ve felt weird about wearing someone else’s panties, so she wore the yoga pants without underwear and pulled the long sleeve purple T-shirt over her head. She added the socks back to her feet for warmth and after brushing her teeth and pulling her hair on top of her head with a borrowed ponytail holder, she packed up everything and left the room.
Exhaustion made her steps heavy as she trod across the hallway to the room she would sleep in. She placed the extra clothes down on a chair beside the bed and crawled up on the mattress. Before she got comfortable, she was asleep.
She woke at some point during the night only long enough to use the bathroom and drink a cupped handful of water from the sink. Stumbling back to bed she curled up with the afghan she had been covered with at some point during the day. She felt safe for the first time in a long time and relaxed enough to get some recuperative sleep. So she did what her body wanted, she slept.
Christina’s eyes flicked open the next morning and she sat up slowly and stretched. Glancing at the bedside clock, her eyes widened. She’d slept for nearly twenty-four hours, but for the first time in a long time, she felt rested. Soft voices came from the living room and she hated to interrupt their family time, but her bladder was aching with agony again. Sliding out of the bed, she tiptoed across the hallway and freshened herself up. Then she pasted a smile on her face and ambled into the living room.
“Hi,” she mumbled softly, standing at the edge of the room and twisting her hands together.
Addie and Patrick were curled up together on the couch and the kids were sprawled on the floor. They were watching a movie and suddenly five pairs of eyes swiveled to stare at her for a moment. Addie smiled brightly and pointed at the chair. “Good morning! Come join us! We’re watching Miracle on 34
Street. Are you hungry?”
“I am,” Christina admitted and she frowned as Addie moved to get up. “No, please don’t get up on my account. If it’s okay, I’ll find something in the kitchen?”
“Sure, go ahead, honey. Whatever you want to eat. We ate breakfast a bit ago. I hated to wake you. It looked like you needed sleep. Patrick told me to leave you be. You slept a long time!”
“I did, it’s hard to sleep on a hospital bed. I feel a little better. More human, less zombie.” Christina left them in the living room and meandered to the kitchen. Opening the refrigerator, she found leftovers aplenty on the shelves from the dinner she missed the day before, and she chose some turkey and sweet potatoes. Placing the containers on the counter, she searched the cupboards to find a plate and she put a little of the food in the center of it and turned to place it in the microwave. Once it was warmed, she moved to the table and sat there alone, picking at the food. It tasted good, but she had no appetite. That and she felt miserably alone.
Addie came into the kitchen. “Why are you in here alone?”
“I’m just sitting here thinking.”
She walked into the dining room and sat down across from Christina. “What are you thinking about? I hear two heads thinking are better than one.”
“Just about my life and how things have fallen apart so quickly.”
“Pat told me what was going on and I can only imagine how you feel.” Addie smiled with a sympathetic look on her face.
“People think stuff can’t happen to them, but they are wrong. Bad stuff can happen to anyone. A part of me feels guilty though, like I deserved this.” Christina picked at her food and slowly took a bite of the mashed sweet potatoes.
“Why would you think you deserved any of this? No woman ever deserves to be raped,” Addie whispered softly, making sure her voice didn’t carry to the children in the other room.
Christina shrugged one shoulder and her mouth turned down. “Not according to my mother. I asked for it. It’s all my fault.”
“Pat told me what happened at the hospital. I can’t imagine someone like that. But, I guess there are bad people out there.”
“I’m not much better, honestly. I have lied and told fibs. I wrecked my best friend’s relationship with a guy who seemed to really be into her. I am a terrible person.” Tears pricked at her lashes and she pushed the plate of food away.
“Who hasn’t lied? Can you fix what you broke with your best friend and this guy?” Addie queried as she pushed her red hair back from her face and rested an elbow on the table.
“I don’t know. I just kinda wish I could go back in time. But it sorta worked out, I guess. She found out her parents were her grandparents and that her dad was in Phoenix and was a porn director. She’s living out there with him and last I talked to her, she was happy. I just feel like my stupid lies have caught up with me.” Christina flicked her gaze to Addie’s face and she blinked back tears.
Addie fingered the edge of the tablecloth for a moment before she spoke. “Everyone has told lies. But no one deserves what you got handed to you. It’s not your fault.”
Christina’s battle with her tears was lost and a tear trickled down her cheek. “Thanks.”
“What are your plans for the future?”
Christina twisted the hem of her T-shirt between her hands. “I-I don’t know. I want to go back to school. But I can’t get back in my dorm until January.”
“Yale is a big deal and you’re welcome to stay here until then. But you have to be careful not to get sick.”
“I know, that’s what worries me.” Christina’s voice trailed off as she finished what she wanted to say in her head.
He can’t know I’m pregnant either.
“Pat said your immune system is down. When you get back to school you need to see an OBGYN too. Prenatal care the whole way through is very important.” Addie reminded her.
“Yeah, you gotta have insurance for all that. You know, I’m just not as hungry as I thought I was. I might go back and lie down.” Christina stood and picked up her plate.
“Just scrape that into the garbage disposal and rinse your plate. I’ll stick it in the dishwasher later,” Addie told her and Christina smiled in response.
As she finished cleaning off her plate, she slipped back through the house and to her room. Closing the door quietly behind her, she plopped down on the bed and picked up the remote on the side table and pointed it at the TV. It flickered on and she began scrolling through the channels. Finally she settled on a talk show and lay back on the pillows.
A knock at her door made her jump. “Who is it?”
“Patrick. I need to talk to you.”
Her skin crawled as she stood and opened the door a crack. “What is it?”
“Ah, the police are here.”
Christina blinked rapidly and pushed her hair behind her ear. “Why?”
“They need to talk to you, is what they said. Addie is getting the kids interested in a craft in the play room. I’m going to go join them for now. You’ll be all right.” He smiled reassuringly.
Christina opened the door further and stepped out into the hallway. Two police officers stood in the living room, looking very uncomfortable. “Can I help you?” Christina squeaked, her nerves getting the better of her.
“Miss Morgan, we are sorry to bother you, but we felt it was important to see you as soon as possible,” the first police officer stated.
“Okay. What’s going on?”
“Yesterday a middle-aged gentleman was found in his apartment hung by strands of Christmas lights. A suicide,” the second police officer commented.
“Okay? What does this have to do with me?” Christina shuddered.
“That man was Rand Walker.”
Her throat closed in panic at hearing his name and she wavered on her feet. The last thing she remembered was the officer asking if she was okay.
Her eyes flicked open and she found herself lying on the couch in the living room. “What happened?”
“You passed out,” Patrick blurted. “Because they shocked you.”
“We’re really sorry.” The officers chorused. “We just wanted to let you know that your attacker was found.”
“Why did he kill himself?” Christina asked, her voice shaking.
“He left a note, admitting that he was the cause for the string of rapes around here in the last few years. The only thing we can figure is that when we showed the police drawing on TV, he saw it and knew people would start putting the pieces together. Jail isn’t a comfortable place for a rapist. Maybe he got scared.”
“So, he can’t hurt anyone anymore?” Christina whispered.
“No, he can’t. We also found your belongings in his house. A purse with your wallet inside. There was no evidence in it and we can release the item to you. I am sure you’d like to have your things.”
“Okay,” she mumbled, numbness settling in firmly around her heart.
If I just shut it off, I don’t have to feel anything…
The officer left the room and soon came back with her purse in hand. “Miss Morgan, you brought him to a stop. He won’t be hurting any other young women.”
“But did he get justice?”
“I think death is probably the ultimate justice. He will never hurt anyone again.”
Christina accepted her purse from the officer and she rummaged through it, relieved to find her wallet in one piece. The two twenty dollar bills she’d had inside were missing, but her driver’s license was inside. “Thank you for my purse.”
“Will you be staying in the area?” the first officer asked.
“No. I will be going back to Yale in a few days. I was only here to visit my mom and that didn’t quite pan out.” Her smile was feeble as she clutched the bag to her chest.
“I see. Well, can you provide us with contact information in case we have any further questions for you?”
“Sure.” Christina rattled off her address at the school and her cell phone and email. “My phone is dead, though.”
“We’ll get you a charger,” Patrick offered.
“Perfect. Well, I wish we’d come bearing less grim tidings, but for what it’s worth, I’m glad we found your attacker.” The officers left as quickly as they’d come and Christina stared woodenly at the door for a few moments.
“Christina?” Patrick touched her shin and she jumped.
“It’s over,” he stated simply.
“Yeah,” she muttered, then blurted, “I need to see if he used my debit card.”
“Who would’ve thought it would end like this?” Patrick uttered, shock clouding his voice.
“He took the easy way out,” Christina replied. “Instead of taking the punishment for his crimes against women, he killed himself.”
Patrick shifted on the couch and leaned forward, resting his forearms on his knees. “Suicide is probably the biggest punishment he could give himself.”
“No, the bastard deserved to live with what he did every day, not die and never have to face it.” Christina snapped back.
“Maybe. Do you want the phone so you can check your debit card?”
“That’d be great.”
Patrick stood and shuffled off to the kitchen. He was back in less than a minute with the cordless phone. “Here you go.”
Christina pulled her debit card from her purse and dialed the number on the back. Relief washed through her as she realized she had money in her account. “He didn’t take my money.”
“That’s a good thing.”
“I want to get a flight back to school.”
Patrick looked confused. “Why? You can’t get back in the dorms.”
“I could just stay in a cheapo motel for a while…” Christina mumbled. “I hate to burden your family.”
“You’re far from a burden, Christina. We’re happy to have you here. It’s only a few more days until your dorms open anyway. Why waste the money? You’ll need it for things for the baby, right?”
“I probably will.” She sighed.
“Then stay a few days. I have a few colleagues in the area. I’d like for you to see them, if you will. Just to make sure that everything is okay. I know I did a lot of blood work while you were in the hospital, but I would feel better if you got checked out completely.” Patrick coaxed.
“I can’t afford it. No insurance, remember?”
“They will see you for free.” Patrick smiled warmly and Christina felt her defenses fall.
“Okay, I’ll stay until I have to go back to school. Thank you for your kindness.”
“I can’t have you on the streets, Christina.”
Addie drifted into the living room. “Everything okay?”
Patrick glanced up at his wife and nodded. “I think so. Christina will be staying with us for a few more days.”
Addie’s eyes lit up. “Fantastic. What did the police have to say?”
Christina sighed and rubbed her forehead. “My attacker killed himself.”
“What?” Addie hissed, hurrying to sit on the edge of the couch.
“Yeah, apparently he left a note saying he’d done it to others and he didn’t want to go to jail. So he took the easy way out,” Christina choked, her hands balling into fists.
Addie gasped and her hand covered her mouth. “He can’t hurt anyone else,” she murmured between her fingers.
“Yeah, I guess that’s the only good thing, but he won’t be brought to justice.” Christina stood suddenly, anger bubbling through her veins. Pacing the floor, she ran her hand through her hair and tugged it to relieve the headache building at her temples.
“You need to calm down,” Addie advised.
“I know. It just makes me sick. How could he be such a coward?” Christina blurted.
“I understand the anger, but at least he can’t hurt anyone else. I-I had an attacker as a teenager myself and he was never found. I still wonder if he’s out there. Yours is not. He can’t hurt another girl like he hurt you.” Addie stood and touched Christina’s arm gently. “Let it go.”
“He wrecked my life.”
“Maybe not,” Patrick interjected. “He probably saved your life. Look at how advanced your disease is. If you hadn’t come to the hospital when you did…” His voice trailed off softly.
“I was surviving just fine,” Christina retorted, knowing even as she said the words how stupid she sounded.