I glued myself to the wall behind me because I felt my own anger trickling into my veins, and two hot-heads accomplished nothing but a lot of shattered picture frames. “Was that you trying to twist what I did tonight into something Ty would do?”
“No,” she said, cinching her bathrobe tighter. “That was me making a conclusion based on the evidence. You didn’t ask me. You didn’t come to me first, second, or even third. You came to me last, telling me this was the way it was going to be.”
And then I got that everything-looks-different-from-someone-else’s-point-of-view ideology.
Perception is reality.
“God, Emma. I’m sorry,” I said, tapping the back of my head against the wall. “It was a crappy thing to do now that I hear it from your shoes. When I came up with this hair-brained scheme, you were being stitched back together and I had to get to Ty before he talked. But you’re right, I should have come to you first,” I admitted, realizing it now, of course. Why would anyone upstairs want to make my life easy? “I’m sorry. It won’t happen again. And just so we’re straight, I’m not telling you that you have to go along with this. I’m asking you.” And I was. I wouldn’t force anything on her, even myself if she didn’t want me to. “I respect whatever decision you come to and I mean that. I’m not just saying it because I’m supposed to.
“So,” I said, walking towards her, wanting to kiss her so badly I knew I shouldn’t, “are you going to tell me what’s really bothering you?”
I waited for her answer. And waited some more. I knew me not including her in my quest to make myself a felon had upset her plenty, but it wasn’t what was still causing the skin between her eyes to line.
“When I have a tough time deciding where to begin, I find starting with the truth helpful,” I said, trying to be supportive, but I knew it could be taken as a remark coming from the mouth of an insufferable smartass.
Emma collapsed on the end of the bed. “I’ve lived twenty years without you, one month with you, and for one night—one fraction of a night—you’ve been mine. And now I’m losing you,” she whispered into her lap.
And I got it. Got to the heart of the problem. Now that I’d identified it, I could work towards fixing it.
“Emma, you are not losing me,” I said, kneeling in front of her. “I’m just going to spend a little time behind bars, maybe none since I have an attorney on my side that doesn’t know how to lose.” I took her hands in mine, focusing on the feeling, knowing there’d be more than a few nights I’d spend dreaming of this moment. “And I haven’t just been yours tonight. I was a lost cause the day you called me out on a perfect sun-tanning day.”
A corner of her mouth lifted in a sad smile. “It won’t matter how long you’re in there because you’re going to end up resenting me. You’ll blame me for being there, and you’ll be right to.” She looked at me, apology etched in her face. “Nobody would be in this mess if it wasn’t for me. And I know I’m not very good at relationships, given my colored history, but blame and resentment have a way of choking out anything good that might grow in a relationship.”
Why were women so adept at twisting things up into the worst possible conclusion? “You talk this crazy every Thursday night?” I asked, kissing her when I wanted to shake my head in frustration. Embrace the good at all costs, I’d heard someone say once, and I was going to do just that. “Listen to me, Emma,” I said against her mouth. “I love you. Nothing’s going to change that, a little jail time least of all, although no promises I won’t come out with facial tattoos and a bald head, looking ready to bench press a bus.” She laughed, less sad this time. Something was finally getting through, but it was like trying to smash through a concrete barricade with a pencil. “But you’re going to lose everything you’ve worked for too. I try not to make it a habit of mingling with convicted felons,”—she lifted an eyebrow at me—”but it’s common knowledge that a mark like that stays on your record for awhile and makes employment difficult to ascertain.”
I wanted to shake my hands to the sky in exasperation. She was worried about me going away for all the wrong reasons. All I was worried about was not being able to kiss her until her, me, or both of us were senseless.
“The only thing I’m concerned about waiting for me outside of those exit gates is you,” I said, meaning it. My job didn’t require a clean record, Stanford could kick me out for all I cared,—I’d found exactly what I’d been looking for there—and I certainly didn’t need any more money. “Everything will be fine. Everything is fine now. Since I know you don’t believe it in your present state of woman crazy, can you just take my word for it?” It was asking a lot; trust wasn’t something that was easy to give away.
She touched my face, like perhaps she didn’t think it was real, until the trio of lines folded between her eyes smoothed. “Fine,” she said, blowing a chunk of hair off her forehead. “Now seems like a bad time to stop trusting you anyways, especially since I’m about to tell you I love you for the first time.” I didn’t hear it right away. I mean, I heard it, I just didn’t process it. It was what put the surreal in life. Hearing someone loved you because they did, because they’d chosen to, not because they shared the same DNA as you, but because they’d observed, studied, and analyzed you, and they’d liked what they’d seen. They’d loved it.
“Do you think you could say that one more time?” I asked, turning my ear. “Just because I wasn’t expecting it and I really want to give myself over to the moment and this time I can at least brace myself for it?” I was rambling. Patrick Hayward was rambling like an idiot. And I didn’t care.
Looking at me, no, seeing me, Emma opened her mouth. “I love—” I couldn’t wait for the third and final word. I was kissing her again, which felt a lot more like consuming, but it was a joint effort. Pressing against her, we took our kiss horizontal, the mattress molding around her while I held myself above her.
I didn’t want to brace my forearms on either side of her head, but the reminder of her bruised body stayed relatively in the front of my mind when nothing else did, so I held myself just above her, just barely against her.
Minutes passed, the kissing nowhere near cresting, when something that felt a lot like responsibility filtered its way through my male one track mindedness.
“Em?” I whispered, hoarse from our mouth marathon. “There’s one more thing I’m asking, asking, you to do,” I said, rolling onto my side next to her.
She rolled onto her elbow, pressing a peck to my mouth before replying, “What?”
“I need you to be strong,” I began, hoping I’d deliver this with as much strength as softness. “I need you to tell the cops everything. I need you to do what your mom didn’t. I need you to tell them everything Ty ever did to you, down to the last finger he laid on you.” Against everything I’d prepared myself for, her face didn’t blanch white, her eyes didn’t fill with fear, her shoulders didn’t fall with doubt. Emma had found the strength I’d known was there the whole time.
“And there will probably be a trial, and you’ll have to tell the god-awful story all over again. And I know how hard it will be for you to relive, to admit to strangers you were abused by the person who should have loved you unconditionally, but you need to do this so the SOB gets locked away for awhile and gets a permanent mark on his record.” I ran my thumb down the side of her face, having to dodge bandages and stitches like it was an obstacle course. “So next time he’s raising his hand to the next girl who falls for his act, he’ll think twice. He’ll wonder if this girl is as strong as you are, able to stand up to him. To hold him accountable for his actions.” I kissed the tip of her nose, watching a tear fall on her cheek. I didn’t realize it was mine at first. “Lock him away, Emma. And then I swear to you, he’ll never hold any sway in your life again.”
Her hand slid into the curve of my neck and, somehow, I felt what she was going to say before she said it. “You didn’t need to ask, tell, or demand me to tell my story,” she said, peaceful like I’d never heard her. Peaceful like the silence after a thunder storm in the summer. “I gave Ty too much of my life, and I’m not going to give him any more. I’ll tell everyone on the face of the planet my story if that’s what it takes to be free of him. I don’t even care if he only serves a week. That’s one week he can’t hurt anyone else,” she said, inhaling. “I know if I’d had one week without having to live in fear of every moment alone with him, every word I said that could set him off, it would have been like paradise.” I wanted to kiss her again, I wanted to do more than just kiss her, but I heard the sound I’d been listening for approaching at last. Ty hadn’t wasted any time telling his story, but I’d said what I needed to say and could face what was to come next with a ready heart.
“All right, Em,” I said, pulling her up with me so I could hold her one more time. “The cops are almost here.”
Turning her head, like she was trying to pick up the sirens, she said, “How do you know? I don’t hear a thing.”
“They’re a little over one mile away,” I said, opening Pandora’s box just a crack, just enough to plant the seed so that when I told her everything, that seed would have taken root and could be built upon.
“And you can hear them from a mile away?” There was nothing antagonistic about her voice, just curiosity. Asking for an explanation—one that I couldn’t give at this time of impending arrest.
“I can,” I said, moving right along to my closing point. “When they get here, don’t say a word. Okay?
Once we’re gone, go to the nearest police station and make your report.”
“Since I’m a fan of efficiency and convenience, why can’t I just tell these cops, in the comfort of your home, what happened?” she asked, her fingers gripping into my back like she too was already experiencing the separation anxiety I was.
“These cops are coming to arrest a bad guy, not take a domestic violence report from a nice girl,” I said, steering us out of the bedroom because I didn’t want anyone busting down my front doors. “We need empathetic, non-biased cops on our side here, and I promise you the ones about to come through that door won’t be.”
She could hear the sirens now—her head whipped towards the door like she was ready for an invasion and tear gas. Ever so slightly, so much so I could barely detect it, she started to tremble.
“This is no time to lose your courage now, Em,” I said, squeezing her shoulders. “Be brave. I promised you everything will be all right and that’s a promise I made with no maybes, no conditions.
That’s a promise I’ll go to my grave to keep.” I looked hard at her, kissing her lips for the last time in what would be a while. The cops were already power-walking up the driveway—three of them. “Okay?”