Authors: JC Coulton
The drive home passes in a daze of hope. It’s a phrase that Mark, my sponsor would normally use. It might sound weird, but the best way to describe it is that feeling you get when you start to believe everything will be ok. Maybe I’ll leave the force, maybe I’ll study. As long as I have Brenda’s emotional support, everything will work out.
Feeling this way is rare. It doesn’t happen often for me. It also doesn’t last long. I’m going to try and make the most of it. If there’s a pre-determined plan for me—one I clearly don’t know about yet—then I’m ready to have the courage to just let it happen.
For once, traffic doesn’t dampen my mood. In the short term, this news I’m about to give to Brenda doesn’t mean any real changes for her. She’s not going to have to pick up extra shifts at the café. I don’t want her to worry. In the long term, things could change, though. For starters, she should know that I’ll be home more for now, and the future isn’t as set in stone as it once was. We share expenses on the apartment. Tonight I’ll share what I know, and hope she doesn’t freak out. My savings account is in good shape, which means nothing has to change right now.
We’re so much better off than when we arrived in New York, I shouldn’t worry at all. We literally had nothing. This event is just a blip on the radar compared to the desperation we went through back then. This is more of a luxury problem than anything. I’m an experienced cop. I could get all sorts of other work if I wanted it.
I park the car and head up to the apartment. It would be shame to lose our apartment here. The upkeep of the building is excellent. With that thought, I have another spike of fear at the idea of losing my job. I manage to pull myself back into the moment. I’ve gotta remember this is just an investigation. I haven’t been fired yet. I don’t know what’s going to happen, so I need to pull back and stay in reality in the meantime.
The place still smells of berries and jam. Again, I’m feeling grateful for everything we have. I put some music on and start prepping the food. Cooking is one of my favorite things to do when I can take my time. Carrie likes cooking too. If she were here, I’d pour her a glass of wine. I’d let her tell me about her day. I’d ask her questions and rub her shoulders.
The more I think about her, the more I want her. These thoughts lead to stronger feelings, and the more time I spend dwelling on her, the more I crave being with her. I need Carrie. She’s real, and tough, and she treats me well. She’s the polar opposite of all the women I’ve ever dated in the past.
The food is starting to smell great when Brenda and George charge in the door. He’s laughing and talking excitedly, and Brenda is carrying his backpack. Since our ice cream date, he seems to have relaxed. It’s great to see him. I get an urge to hug the little guy but tackle him instead. He keeps telling me it’s the more manly way to say hello. Brenda sniffs the air and immediately smiles at me.
“That smells good! I’m starving.” She sounds pleased.
“Yep. As the oldest in the family, I thought it was about time to let you relax and show off my chef skills tonight.”
“Right…” she laughs skeptically. I know she appreciates my reference to her workload lately. She has been steering the ship around her; doing the majority of the housework, plus cooking way too often. I’ve let her down often. I was distracted and absent. It’s good to start making amends. She walks over and lifts the lid on the pot.
“Yum. Curry. Looks so good. Thanks Blakey.” She hasn’t called me that for years. It was the name she would call me when we were kids; usually when she was scared. We would hide from Dad together under the house. I remember she would grab some sort of weapon on our way out of the house; whether it was a can of corn or a broomstick. Thinking of that makes me respect her even more. He would have overpowered any efforts she had made at defending herself back when she was little, but she was ready to try anyway. That took guts.
George sets up the placemats and cutlery at the breakfast bar. I look into his face and at Brenda’s relaxed body language. This is my family. We’re good together. They take a seat so I can serve up the food. It smells incredible, I only hope it tastes as good. We dig in. The table is silent, everyone is eating and nodding. I smile.
“Guys, I’m glad you like it.” I must have a sense of formality in my voice because they both put their forks down as I start to speak. “I’m going to have a little more time to make dinners like these in the next little while.”
Brenda is already shaking her head in disbelief.
“Promises, promises,” she says. “I’ll believe that when I see it.”
“No, I’m serious. I’m taking some time off work.”
She meets my eyes with an expression that says ‘tell me more immediately!’ I think it’s best to shield George from this conversation, so I wait for us to finish dinner. She promptly tells George he can play video games—the distraction will give us some alone time—and we head up to my floor.
“What’s going on?” she asks the second she sits on the sofa.
I’m being investigated. The FBI has come in to look at the way the April Lee case was handled. You know, Carrie’s friend, the kidnapping case.”
Brenda gets the idea of how serious it is. “Well I’m glad to be in the loop early on. Are you okay?”
“So what is the investigation about?” Brenda asks me.
“When Carrie first arrived at the precinct, she wasn’t processed properly. Some evidence wasn’t collected as quickly as it should have been. Also, it turns out that Neon a suspect in a few other related cases. Basically, they just need to confirm I didn’t know about her involvement, and that I did my job according to protocol.”
“How do you think it’s going to turn out?” She turns an inquisitive gaze my way.
“I don’t believe I did anything wrong. I have nothing to be ashamed of. But we all make mistakes, and maybe I’ve made one I don’t know about.”
“Were you fired?” Brenda asks.
“No, not at all. I’ve been suspended with pay. Basically, little sis, it’s a curveball. I wanted to let you know.”
“Oh, okay, thanks Blake.” She looks fondly at me, and rests an arm on my shoulder to silently tell me not to worry. I watch her closely to check out the effect my heavy news has had but nothing seems out of whack. I decide to get some alone time.
“I’m gonna head out for a run.”
She nods and says she’ll clean up because I’ve done the cooking. I grab my workout gear, and within minutes I’m out the door, warming up at a park with a walking and running path. The somewhat fresh city air feels amazing. I can’t wait for the feeling of pushing my body to the limit. Once upon a time I used to do it with alcohol. These days, when I have feelings about something, I take it out by hitting the gym or pounding the pavement.
I run past the section of park with the new skateboard ramp and basketball courts. I remind myself to bring George here one of these days while I’m off work. I start to think of all the things that are going on. First of all, there’s April. Poor April. We only met a few times back in Cedar Rapids. I can barely remember her, except for the dim picture Carrie had of them dancing at the club, and the few photos she had posted with her dogs on Facebook. She was Carrie’s friend, but I can’t help the feeling of dread that something terrible has happened to her.
Then there’s this investigation. I have no clue how it’s going to turn out. The truth is I knew Erica was up to no good, but I still don’t know why she might have been under surveillance last night. Approaching her about April was supposed to be a good idea. I thought she could listen out about what was happening on the streets. I meant to help the case, turn her into a CI and make the most of our old connection. But there has to be more, if the FBI is watching her. And why did she tell Carrie she’d hurt April? I’m still confused about that; unless Neon knows way more than she’s letting one. Coming to think about it, Jessup had said something similar about her. I should really go find her again.
Then there’s Carrie. I’m crushed that she doesn’t want to talk or let me explain anything. If only she’d give me two minutes on the phone—or better yet, in person—I could convince her. The connection we have is special. It’s worth saving. Surely she can see that too.
I run for a little longer. The steady rhythm of my feet on the pavement keeps me company. Except for dinner, it’s been a shitty day. It doesn’t have to get any worse. I start to make my way down a residential block of homes. People are at their evening routines. Pulling their garbage cans inside and walking their dogs.
A loud motorcycle approaches from the other direction. A couple jumps off it and start walking my way. She pulls up her helmet and goes to say something to the guy. They’re in the middle of the footpath. He looks at her and wraps his arms around her, pulling her close to his chest. Something about this interaction makes up my mind for me. We all need to be held, even when we don’t know it. Carrie James may not want to talk to me, but I’m going to make her. She needs to hear how I feel, once and for all. I’m going to find her tonight, and make that happen.
I get back up to the apartment. Everything is clean again. All the pots and pans are hanging neatly. The place is quiet. This is what a home looks like. Carrie should be here right now. Winding down with me, watching a movie, getting ready for bed. When we’re together, we’re a good couple. I love her, and I care about her. That’s why I did all this, putting aside the rules and ignoring her request to leave her alone. Sometimes a woman needs to be chased. Carrie needs to know how much she matters to me. This is one of those times.
I’m determined and ready. I’m not taking no for an answer. I’m sure of my feelings. More sure than I’ve ever been. I’ve been running from intimacy for too long. At first, it was because I didn’t know myself. And I didn’t recognize she was the one until she slipped away in high school. And now I did it again! It was also the case and my ego, at being usurped by Jason. Now I have a chance to put that right. I can turn our first hug on the track field all those years ago into what it should have been—something incredible.
I take a quick shower and dress in a shirt she likes. I already know these things about her. Those little things—like the way she brushes her hair really fast, and the way she likes her eggs. Everything is incredibly clear to me. I take my laptop and head to the car. It’s getting colder at night. There’s no one else around. The car engine comes to life quietly and I reverse it, before pulling smoothly out and up to the street. I’m going to Carrie’s hotel and I’ll wait there until she’ll see me. That’s it. If she refuses to see me, I’ll start with the flowers. After that, I’ll send chocolate. It’s on.
I pull up at hotel and this time I head down to their underground parking. Convincing her could take some time. I don’t want to piss off the valet guys. Instead of taking the elevator to her floor, I walk outside to get her coffee and some flowers. I’m better to lead with something strong. There’s usually a street vendor selling flowers about half a block or so away. I get there and order a combination of exotic blooms I’m sure she’ll love.
On the way back I stop for a coffee at the diner across the road. It’s busy. I get close to the front of the line. There’s just one man ahead of me. He’s struggling to find the right change. That’s why I happen to be staring out the glass window when Carrie walks out the front of the hotel. At first I don’t recognize her. I’ve never seen her dressed so provocatively. A tiny pink dress, all sparkling with a plunging neckline that is nothing short of sexy. It’s matched with her hot red lipstick and fluffed up hair.
My first reaction is desire. She looks so fucking sexy, I want to stride out there and pull her into my arms like the couple I saw earlier on the street. I start to wonder if she’s going out on a date, and suddenly I’m panicking. I look to see if anyone is meeting her. I’m so tempted to walk up to her and stop her from making a mistake with some other guy—especially if it’s Special Agent Jason Fucking Cooper.
Instead, I stand dead still. She’s different somehow. The way she’s standing is…unusual. And it’s not just the towering heels. Something about this is all wrong. I abandon my place in the coffee line, and walk to the window. From here I can see the makeup on her face and the look in her eyes. She’s waiting for someone. She’s dressed up waiting for someone and it’s not me.
The thought sickens me. Carrie James is mine. I want to look away but my gaze keeps coming back to the smooth skin on her bare thighs. She’s exposed. She’s on show like a piece of meat. I can’t take my eyes of her. I can’t stop wondering about what it means.
Right now, Carrie James—my Carrie—looks like she’s on a date. She’s waiting for another man to pick her up. There may be another set of hands on her tonight. And here I am, holding a bunch of flowers like a complete chump. What a fool I am. The reason she doesn’t want to talk to me is not because I’ve hurt her feelings… It’s because she’s seeing someone else. Fuck!
I look down at the flowers and back up to see her face the second before she gets into a taxi. She’s still alone. There’s no one with her. Just before she closes the door she looks back. She doesn’t see me, but I can see the tense expression on her face. It’s not the face of someone about to go on a date. It’s the face of someone who’s scared. She’s up to something and I am betting it has something to do with April and New Jersey.
I make the decision that second. There’s no time to get down to my car so I dart out to the row of taxis. I throw open the passenger door of the nearest one. The guy looks a little shocked. I tell him I’m NYPD and off duty, and tell him to follow her cab. I’m relieved when he doesn’t ask for my badge. I don’t have one anymore. It’s probably somewhere in Jacob’s desk drawer. He screeches out into the flow of traffic. I can only hope I have a chance at catching up her.
I memorize the number on the taxi’s roof light and tell the driver to hit the gas. He seems more than pleased to have a chance to drive like a renegade. When I assure him that I’ll cover any tolls and speeding fines, he hits the gas even more.
We’re darting in and out of traffic, and horns are blaring, but we keep her in sight. Block by block passes by, and we gain a little more each time. Soon, her cab is only two cars in front of us. I’m not surprised at all when her taxi takes the on-ramp to the bridge to New Jersey. I have seed of hope she may be going to look there for me, but it’s a pipe dream. I remember the icy tone in her voice the last time we spoke.
I tell the driver to stay behind them. Her silhouette comes into focus in the back seat. She never looks back. Now I’m not worried. Even if she were to look around it’s already getting too dark to see. Her cab’s indicator lights go on, signaling an exit. We follow. I ask the driver to switch off his two-way radio so I can concentrate. We’re going to have to stay right on them in order to keep up.
The car passes the bus station, and pulls in to some of the quieter streets. My lungs constrict in my chest as I run through all possible scenarios. She’s either meeting someone, or this has something to do with April. Whatever the case, she’s clearly out of control and alone again. Agent Cooper has either washed his hands of her, or she’s on some bait and switch mission that I’m unaware of.
She’s not safe. My girl is in trouble. I’m leaning forward in my seat, unsure what to do. She’s not legally doing anything wrong or obviously in any danger. I just get the feeling something bad is about to happen. I can feel it in my gut.
I want to call someone who’s on duty. I’m not even in our jurisdiction anymore. No one in the NYPD can help us right now. And what would I say to them anyway? I’m tracking a possible victim who’s wearing a short skirt in public? I’d look like even more of a fool. Now is not the time for that! I can’t be seen anywhere near this case. I’m suspended, for Christ’s sake. I’m pushing it just by following Carrie—even if it’s for personal reasons.
Her cab starts to slow down, and comes to a stop on a block close to where I found Neon. I can tell for sure now, this isn’t a date. My stubborn Carrie is about to do something stupid to find her friend. I can’t believe the FBI has missed this move. From the first day April was taken, she’s been determined to save her, with or without the help of the law. It’s been one of the main causes of conflict between us, and now it’s about to get a whole lot worse.
I pay and thank the driver quickly. Carrie gets out of the cab in front of me. I pause for a second, and wait inside my cab so she doesn’t see me yet. My next move has to be a good one. I can’t afford to fuck it up with this woman again. She’s suspicious of me; more so with Neon’s harassment. If Carrie has taken Neon’s prank calling to heart, she must think something is going on between us.
My girl is hurting. This is what she’s doing to try and take back her power. I watch as she climbs out of the taxi. That sexy little dress hikes up. She makes her way across the street towards a nearby coffee shop. This is when I get out of the cab and head for a spot where I can keep tabs without getting her attention.
After a while, she leaves the coffee shop and walks to one of the abandoned brownstones. It’s the same one where I found Neon. I see a small cluster of working girls hanging back in the corner between two of the buildings. I can’t see their faces but I immediately connect the dots. Carrie James is attempting to go undercover. The dress is to make her look like a hooker. This is gutsy, and incredibly stupid. I need to say something, anything to stop her.
I cross the road at a jog. She’s starting to engage with the girls standing there. I can’t hear what she’s saying but as I get closer I see her talking to one. She calls her April. But this can’t be her. This is one of the girls Neon said was from Buffalo. Fuck! Now it all makes sense. God, this can’t be April Lee. Oh my God! She looks completely different from her photos. She’s wasting away. Her pale skin is covered in red blotches. She’s sick. I watch as Carrie keeps trying to talk to her. Whoever the woman is, she doesn’t seem lucid enough to recognize her. It’s heartbreaking to witness the slap and the drop in Carrie’s shoulders as the woman rejects her.
I’m close enough now to reach out and grab her. Someone needs to. She’s not happy about it.
“Blake, get away from me. I don’t want to talk. Just leave me alone.”
I persist and when she pulls her arm away I reach around and support her with a hand at the lower back. My presence makes April stumble back up the steps she came from. She goes into the brownstone townhouse.
“April, come back!” Carrie screams but my grip stops her from following her friend. “Let me go, Blake. I’ve got to help her.”
I shake my head.
“No way! There’s so much you don’t know. Please, please don’t believe what you see. You need to leave here. This is not what you think.”
“Not what I think! How dare you come here and say that to me now. That’s April. She’s not here of her free will, and you’re aiding and abetting a criminal for the sake of degrading my best friend.”
“You don’t understand, Carrie.”
“I understand what I need to. And I know about you and Neon. I saw the pictures in your album, I heard her voice threatening me on the phone, and now I know she was the one who stalked me. You can’t deny any of that Blake. I saw you last night. Just fuck off with your lies, and get out of my life.”
With that, she pulls her hand back and slaps me in the face. It’s something I never thought she’d do, but all the frustration and rage has to come out somehow. There will be a red mark on my face tomorrow for sure.
I reach up and touch my cheek. She hit me with more force than I expected. For second, I let go of her arm. The look on her face is one of shame. Again, I want to hold her, to tell her it’s ok. She looks up, and I sense another pair of eyes on me. We’re no longer alone here. Shit! It’s Cooper behind me.