Monday, July 27, 2015

Swiping Right

"What were you thinking?" Sarah asked.

I knew that she was saying it with love, but it still made me bristle, actually hearing the words come out of her mouth.

I sighed loudly.  On purpose.  But my shoulders drooped, defeated.  "I don't know.  I just wanted to do what I would do if Luke had never entered my life. I just wanted to feel.... normal."

I had been avoiding saying Luke's name since the second incident, but my therapist was encouraging me to say it and face it.  He kept telling me that by altering my life, it was letting him win.  It was letting him have power over me.

Sarah and I were having a girls' night in.  We had invited Maddie and Elena, but neither of them could make it.  We had stockpiled summer sausage, cheese, and crackers and a couple bottles of Barefoot crisp white wine.  We had American Ninja Warrior on in the background, as we watched, ate, and gossiped.

We both had paused the conversation, as we were watching one of the competitors attempt to run the course.  "I wish I had that kind of body control and strength," I rhetorically said.

"You and me both," Sarah agreed.

Once the run finished, Sarah responded.  "I know you do.  I can't keep up with you running, but if you start training again..."

I cut her off.  "I AM going to start training again."

"Okay, okay.  WHEN you start training again, I can go with you.  We'll just have to plan the runs out in advance so I make sure I can do them.  I'll roller blade or bike along with you."

"I suppose," I pouted.  I really wanted to be independent.  Thankfully, the self-defense classes Aaron wanted me to take were beginning the next week and Sarah had thought it'd be a good idea for her to participate, too.

Sarah's tone of voice softened, then.  "Listen, Aleah, I'm really sorry this all happened to you.  And twice, at that.  Luke is a piece of shit and deserves to rot.  I want you to be able to feel normal, too.  Also, I'm sorry I had been gone at Matt's so much before the last attack."  Prior to the last incident, Sarah had been staying at Matt's almost every night.  I had asked her at one point if she just wanted to move in there, and that I wouldn't be offended, but she said she didn't want to, yet.  She said they hadn't even been together a year, and mentally they had to at least make it to that point.  "I'm going to make a point to be here more often.  I've missed you, anyway."

I grinned and threw a cracker at her face.  "You're giving me the feels."

She rolled her eyes and scoffed.  "You know I absolutely despise all those weird word shortenings."

"SMH, girl, you know they're legit."

She glared at me.  "You suck."

"And you're on fleek."  I giggled.

She threw her hands in the air, exasperated.  "I don't even know what that means!"

I shrugged.  "I don't either."

We both laughed and finished the first bottle of wine and screwed open the other.  (Hey, we like cheap screw top wines.)

"So..." Sarah tentatively began.  "Heard from Aaron?"

I unwillingly grimaced.  "No."

She gave me a side eye.  "I'm sorry.  I'm sure he misses you as much as you miss him!"

"I know."  I let out a long, lingering breath.  "I know he brought me those flowers at the hospital.  I just wish he could've been there when I was actually coherent, so it didn't feel like a fleeting dream.  I miss him a lot and don't even know where he is!  It's been several weeks since I got out.  He could be dead." I took a long sip of wine, pushing the morbid thoughts of him laying in a ditch bleeding out far away, to keep the tears from forming.

"Aleah, that man loves you.  He will make sure to make it back here alive for you.  Otherwise, he knows you'd kill him."  She smiled. 

I rolled my eyes at her, this time.  "You're a nerd.  And yes.  I know he loves me.  I really do.  It's just hard."

We watched the next couple of competitors and their stories in silence.  I yearned to change the topic.  "So I think we should force Maddie and Elena to leave their hubbies and we need another night out in Omaha.  Maybe we can do an overnight and go to a few clubs and dance a whole lot?"

"Oh my gosh, yes.  Please, yes.  I've been missing some dancing in my life."

"Alright, lets figure out a weekend next month that works and check with the other two."

"How would you feel if I invited Kate?"  Kate is Sarah's longtime high school friend who had overdosed on drugs and went into rehab.  I know she'd been out and doing well, and Sarah had been talking about asking Kate to come out and visit with us for a long weekend or week.

I smiled.  "You should!  I always liked Kate and think we'd all have fun."

I hesitated at my next question, because I didn't know what Sarah would say, though I knew she'd be honest.

"Soooo... I've been thinking... I might ask Victoria to hang out sometime."

Sarah's eyes practically fell out of her face.  Before she could say anything, I rushed on.  "I feel really bad for her, she doesn't know anyone up here, she might be kind of depressed, and she got screwed over by Luke, in some ways more than me.  I think she could use a friend.  And if she and I had met in any different circumstances, I think she would've been part of our group, honestly."

Sarah's mouth opened and closed several times, before taking several loud gulps of her wine.  Sarah a lot of times overreacted to things at first, but if she managed to keep her mouth shut for a few minutes and thought about it, she tended to be reasonable.

She squinted at me, as if to read to see if I had an ulterior motive.  She seemed to think my rushed reasoning sufficed, though.  "I think you should be really cautious.  I don't know if you should trust her.  I think I would suggest to not be friends with her.  However, you typically are a really good judge of character."  At that, she gave me a pointed look and I knew she was thinking about the exception of Luke.  "I also think you're right, and I kinda feel bad for her."

"I do, too.  I don't know if I could or should ever trust her.  But I at least want to see.  If it doesn't work out, no love lost."  I shrugged at the thought.

Sarah let out a short laugh.  "You're treating her like a Tinder date."

"Then I guess I'm swiping right!"

She shook her head.  "At least let me hang out with you guys, too."

I saw the determined look on her face and knew she wasn't going to let me get away with hanging out with her alone.  "Fine.  But no complaining for whatever I decide.  If she even wants to.  I guess we'll see."

We dropped it at that, and went back to watching our show.

Monday, July 20, 2015

Please Be Okay: Aaron's perspective

"Fuck."  I ran my hand through my hair.  "Are you shitting me, Brad?"  I immediately started throwing random things haphazardly into a duffel bag.  I couldn't fucking believe he attacked her again.  I knew, deep down, I just KNEW that I shouldn't have left her.  I'm sorry, Aleah.  Please be okay.

"I just thought you'd want to know.  Don't do anything stupid, Aaron."  I hung up the burner phone, throwing it into the bag along with whatever else I'd tossed in there.

I rolled my eyes.  I knew even taking off like this could jeopardize everything for me, but I didn't care.  Making sure Aleah was okay was more important.  Leaving her was terrible, but ultimately, I was doing it for us.  I knew having this experience would lend its hand one day for a major payoff, probably in the form of a promotion.  I wanted to be more than enough for her.

If she even knew how close to her I really was, she wouldn't be happy that I hadn't contacted her.  But I couldn't.  Infiltrating this drug ring was crucial, and that meant only meeting my one police contact in our designated spot at the predetermined meeting times.  I couldn't have outside contact with anyone.  Another undercover had made it in, and he was bringing me in, as a friend from a previous life, trying to enter into this one.  They needed someone young and attractive who could swing the partying lifestyle, and not only talk the talk, but walk it.

I shoved Jose's shoulder, as he lay still passed out on the other cheap hotel bed we were crashing in after our long night of drinking.  My headache was only worsening with each passing minute.  He was my partner, and I needed to let him know I was going to be gone for a minute, without letting him know.  We never knew when we were being watched.  "Jose.  Jose!" I shook him, to wake him up.

He stirred, groggily, blindly swatting at my hand.  "Dude, what," he said without opening his eyes.

"I gotta go, brah."

He opened an eye to look at me.  He propped himself up on an elbow, yawning, and cocked an eyebrow at me.  I knew he was silently asking me where without asking.

"I just need to walk last night's shit off."  That was literally a code for "it's personal and I can't tell right now."

"Don't be long.  We have to swing by Tito's."  He gave me a pointed look.

I knew what that meant.  We had an "engagement" that we needed to be at later in the day.  I nodded my head at him and left.


I had a baseball hat on, and looked grungy.  I made sure I did.  I didn't want anyone recognizing me.  The door to Aleah's hospital room was shut.  I lightly knocked on the door, and there was no answer.  Perfect.

I slipped in, and knew I needed to make my visit brief.

I stopped when I saw her.  Eyes closed, hooked up to machines.  Her head was wrapped in a bandage.  I put my hand to my forehead, blinking hard.  I don't cry.


Seeing Aleah helpless, almost appearing lifeless, hurt.  I didn't protect her and I should have.  I should've been there to beat the shit out of that worthless fucker, Luke.  I sniffed hard, pulling it together, wiping the lone tear that threatened to break the barrier across my cheek. 

I approached slowly, holding the bouquet of flowers in my hand.  I got her favorite.  I couldn't have her know I was there, so in the small wafer thin paper stuck in the flowers, I had drawn a heart, and that's it.  I hoped she would know just by that.

As I neared her bed, she seemed to stir.  Her head moved slightly, and her eyes fluttered half open.  She didn't appear to be with it. 

"Hey babe," I said gently, hoping she wouldn't hear the waver in my voice.

She smiled, barely.  It made my heart clench, in pain.  I smiled back, but wasn't sure she could even tell, as her eyes were more closed than open.  Her mouth opened slightly, but she didn't speak.  I set the flowers on the table next to her bed and grabbed her hand closest to me with both of mine.  It was cold and limp.

I swallowed hard.  "You know I had to see you with my own eyes."  To make sure you are okay.  I needed to make sure you weren't hurt beyond repair.  I wouldn't forgive myself if you were.

I squeezed her hand.  I grabbed the flowers and showed them to her.  "I brought you this."  I set the vase on the table next to the couch.

I again thought of Luke and what he had done.  I clenched my fists, but forced myself to release.  "I should have been there.  I'm so sorry."  My voice was shaking, precluding the thunder before the storm.  I didn't know if I could hold it together.

I grabbed her hand again and just sat there for a few minutes  I knew I didn't have much time.  I then noticed a single tear falling down her cheek.  I hastily wiped it away.  I love her so much, I felt as if I was going to implode.

Her hair that was sticking from under the bandage was plastered to her forehead and temple.  I stroked it back, pushing it behind her ear.  "I love you," I said, as I kissed her cheek.  I continued pushing her hair back behind her ear, my fingers gently caressing her face, until her eyes fully closed again.

At that moment, I contemplated backing out of my gig.  I thought about calling my temporary boss and telling him I couldn't do it.  However, I also knew Aleah would be very angry with me if she knew I did.  She would be thankful I was there, but would also be very angry.

I placed my finger tips on either side of her face, and kissed her lightly on her lips.  "I love you," I told her one more time, before I quietly slipped out of her room, and left the hospital.

Monday, July 13, 2015

With My Own Eyes

"Hey, babe."

I smiled, ruefully, at the hazy image.  I opened my mouth, but my throat burned.  I couldn't talk.  Tears prickled the corners of my eyes, but I smiled through them.

"You know I had to see you with my own eyes."

He squeezed my hand, gently.  Which I just realized he was holding with both of his.

"I brought you this," he said, while holding up a small bouquet of stargazer lilies.  My favorite.

His expression shifted. It was all still blurry, but I could tell what was once a loving look shifted to darkness.  He quietly said, "I should have been there.  I'm so sorry."

He removed one of his hands from mine and wiped away the tear that was falling from my right eye.  He stroked my hair, tucking it behind my ear.  "I love you," he gently whispered, and kissed my cheek.

I opened my mouth to talk, but it felt like sludge was blocking my throat.  It was just too much effort.  He continued stroking my hair, and I drifted back to sleep.


I grinned to myself.  He came.  Aaron came to see me.  I knew he'd come. 

My eyes felt so heavy.  I could hear quiet voices talking.  The beep beeping of a nearby machine.

I wanted to see Aaron.

Slowly, my eyes started opening.  Everything started to focus and I blinked multiple times.  I slowly rolled my head to the right, and saw two people sitting on the couch.

I scrunched up my face trying to figure out where I was.  Everything smelled so... sterile.  I blinked a few more times, raising my hand to rub my eyes, noticing the IV stuck in my arm.  The hospital.

The voices stopped.

I opened my eyes again, feeling a little more able to focus.

My mom and dad.  They both stood up and rushed over to me.  My mom spoke first, gently placing her hands on either side of my face.  "Aleah, baby, how are you feeling?"

"I'm so tired."  I paused.  "Why am I in the hospital?"

My mom didn't look fazed.  "What's the last thing you remember?"

My dad interrupted, "I'll be right back."

"Umm..." I closed my eyes, to help me think.  My head was pounding.  "I remember going running.  I was running a longer route than I normally do.  I was in the woods and..."  The visual came rushing back, reminding me of what I last remembered.  I lightly reached up and touched my neck, knowing why my throat hurt now.

Tears started to well up in my eyes.  "Where's Aaron?"

"Honey, Aaron isn't here, you know he's somewhere working."

"No, I saw him!  He was here earlier."

My mom looked at me quizzically. 

"What day is it?"  I was starting to feel panicked. 


"I've been out for two days?"

"Yeah... there's some stuff that happened..." my mom trailed off as my dad came back in with a doctor.  He was an older man, with white hair and wearing a bow tie.  I could sense his compassion through his kind eyes, and liked him immediately.

"Hi, Aleah.  I'm Doctor Hudson," he smiled warmly.

I couldn't help but to smile back, despite my panic.

He sat on a roll-y stool and moved close to my bed.  "How are you feeling, dear?"

"I don't understand why I've been sleeping for so long.  I was wondering if you saw my boyfriend, Aaron?  And why is my head pounding?"

He opened his mouth to talk, but I remembered another question.  I whispered, my heart rate quickening, "Where's Luke?"

My dad quickly jumped in.  "He's in jail, sweetie.  No bond."

Dr. Hudson spoke then.  "Well, I'll answer the easiest question first.  You've have many visitors in and out, and if your boyfriend came by, I didn't get the pleasure of meeting him.  I'll answer your next two questions as one big answer."

I nodded.

He continued, "I'm sure the detective will have questions for you, but what he told me I could tell you was that apparently you were choked and unable to breath to the point of passing out.  A couple of joggers heard your screaming and found Luke on top of you, with his hand around your neck, and when the joggers ran up, they yelled at him, he turned, picking your head up by your neck, and then slammed your head back down to the side, onto a rock.  If you hadn't already been passed out, the impact may have knocked you out.  You have quite the laceration on the back of your head.  After you were transported here by ambulance, you woke up, and panicked.  We had to give you a sedative because you were thrashing around screaming, and we were concerned you were going to hurt yourself."

I was shaking, hearing what had happened to me, but I didn't even remember or know.

"Your vitals look good, Aleah.  You'll probably be in some pain, specifically your head and your throat.  We have you on a drip right now, helping ease the pain in your head.  And we're expecting the bruising around your neck to fade considerably.  Tomorrow morning we'd like to stop the drip and see if you are able to swallow some pain pills, and get you home in the next few days."

I nodded, feeling unsure.

The doctor looked in my eyes and my throat, and then left me alone with my parents.

My dad said, "I need to call Brad, and let him know you're awake now."

My mom asked if she could get anything for me, and I asked for some water.  My throat hurt, but also felt dry.  She nodded and left the room.

I took a shaky breath, regretting my decision to run.  I carefully repositioned my head to the side.  I was still so tired.  I started to close my eyes, but they popped open, something catching my attention.

There, sitting on the small table next to the couch, was a vase filled with stargazer lilies.

Friday, July 10, 2015

Live or Die

After Aaron had arrived in Chicago, he had called me immediately.  We had spoken multiple times over the next several days, by phone, but then I hadn't heard from him.  He wouldn't (couldn't?) tell me where he was going or what he was going to be involved with or doing.  He told me he wasn't entirely sure when he'd talk to me again, either.  He said he'd touch base as soon as he could.  I had cried.  Hard.  My heart felt broken and I was devastated that he was temporarily gone for an unknown amount of time.

It was now almost a month later and I hadn't heard from him.  I had broken down and called Brad (Detective Stratton) July 3rd to see if he knew anything.

He sighed into the phone.  "Aleah, you know that I couldn't tell you anything even if I knew."

"I know.  I'm just... worried.  What if something bad happened to him and he's in a hospital dying, alone?"

He chuckled.  "Trust me, he wouldn't be alone.  And I would definitely at least know that."

I furrowed my brows, even though he couldn't see.  "I guess..."

"Listen to me.  He's got a good head on his shoulders, and he's crazy about you.  I didn't encourage this relationship between you two, but I would have made sure it never happened if I thought he was going to do something to fuck it up."

I trusted Brad, too, and knew he wouldn't lie to me and would protect me, since I was his pseudo-daughter and all.

I had watched fireworks with Sarah, Matt, Maddie, and Gavin.  I felt like the 5th wheel, although it was really in my head, I'm sure. 

The day after was really nice, but I was feeling lazy, so I lounged around the house until ate afternoon.  Sarah and I were planning on having a roomie night, but I wanted to go running first.  I had hooked my MapMyRun app to her phone, so she knew where I was, now, since Aaron was MIA for now.

I decided to run a half marathon in the fall, so I was in the training process, building my miles up.  My jog today was 7 miles.  I had planned out a tentative route that I thought would get me close, and I knew I may have to improvise to actually get me the full 7 along the way. 

I had ended up getting the dog that Aaron and I went to look at in the shelter.  I named him Bosco.  If I was running 3 miles or less, I would take him with me.  It made me feel more secure.  But I felt like more than 3 was just too much.

About half way out, I ran through a wooded trail at a park.  I had my headphones in and was watching the dirt trail closely so as not to step on a gutted out tree root and twist my ankle or worse, when I ran straight into someone.

Their hands clasped my upper arms and gripped tightly.  I frowned, and quickly looked up, expecting someone to just think they were catching me from falling.  Instead, I looked up into the overeager face of Luke.

His mouth was moving, but I couldn't hear what he was saying because of my headphones in, and he had my arms pinned at my sides, so I couldn't take them out, either.

He stopped speaking and looked at me, intently, but amused.

My eyes darted around, but not finding any humans.  I knew with how deep into the wooded area I was, it was probably useless to scream.

He gripped my arms even tighter and backed me up against a tree, but still on the trail.  I was frozen in fear.  I didn't think I could move.  My eyes were wide, my mouth slightly parted.  My breathing was shallow, but my heart pounding out of my chest.  Although the music was blaring in my ears, I didn't hear anything except white noise.  A bead of sweat trailed down my temple, and my jaw, resting on my chin before dropping.

Luke released one of my arms and grabbed the cord to my earbuds, ripping them out.  He smirked at me.  "Well, I'd say it's time to finish what we started."  He stated it matter-of-factly, as if this was an agreed upon activity.

My legs started shaking, barely holding me up, as his hand slid up the side of my leg over my black spandex shorts, under my tank top.  He grazed his hand along my stomach, then roughly pried my sports bra up and stuck his hand under, squeezing my breast.

For the first time ever in my life, I was super thankful for my pre-period symptoms.  My breasts were super tender, and the pain seemed to jolt me awake.

Without removing my dead, wide-eyed gaze from his, my jaw dropped open and I screamed as loudly as I could.  A blood-curdling, bone-chilling, scream.  When my breath ran out, I quickly inhaled and screamed again.  I still couldn't force the rest of my body to work, move, push, fight, anything.  But, my lungs came to life.

Luke seemed shocked, momentarily not responding.  He quickly pulled his hand down and put it over my mouth, but it was barely muffling the high pitched, shrill shriek.  "Shut the fuck up, Aleah.  What the hell do you think you're doing?" he hissed loudly, looking around for anyone that might have been present.

I kept screaming.

He moved his hand to my throat and squeezed.  And that did shut me up.  I couldn't breath.  Natural instinct kicked in, and I knew I needed to fight for my life.  I was frantic.

I started swinging my arms wildly, trying to claw at Luke's eyes, kicking at him.  He tried pinning my limbs, and we fell to the ground, his hand still wrapped tightly around my throat.  I felt the sharp stab of a stick or something against my side, and winced in pain.  Everything seemed more heightened.  All of my senses, except for smell, were awake.  It was live or die. 

Everything started to narrow and tunnel, going dark on the edges.  My oxygen was depleting.  I looked around, and behind Luke, and saw a hazy image of a couple of people running towards us.

And then it all went black.

Monday, July 6, 2015

Conversation Piece

The last time I had spoke with Victoria, she had admitted to me that Luke had let on wanting to make me pay.  But the real bomb she dropped was that she had access to his Facebook.  She told me that after this all happened, and after Luke tried telling her his made up version of what happened, she had logged into his account, looked at his Facebook messages, and there was a conversation between Luke and one of his dirty ex-housemates, that they had discussed a plan to rape me.  The both of them.

The plan was supposed to take place after the New Year, but apparently Luke had gotten antsy and taken matters into his own hands.

I wanted to meet and talk to Victoria again, because I had requested something of her, and I wanted to make sure she was following up with my request.

We were at the same coffee shop she had originally came and spilled everything to me.

"Did you do it?" I actually doubted she had, because I was still questioning her tainted loyalty to Luke.

She nodded her head yes.  "I did.  I feel guilty, but I did."  She reached into her bag and handed me a stack of papers.

I flipped through them quickly, noting the long printout of the Facebook conversation, and tucked it away in my bag, for me to read through later before I gave them to Detective Stratton.

She continued, "I also changed his Facebook email address and password.  Now he won't be able to get on and mess with anything or delete it."

I laughed.  "You're maniacal."

She grinned and blushed.  "Aleah, I really am sorry for everything.  You know... I think if we had met under different circumstances, we could've been friends."

I smiled, sadly, back at her.  "I agree."