All the Little Pieces, p.29Jilliane Hoffman
Sorry will never be enough.
She closed her eyes. Noelle Langtry’s mother was right. No matter what she did or said, it would never be enough. It would never bring her daughter back. Faith hadn’t killed Noelle, but her blood was all over her hands.
The bomb attached to her chest was ticking down. The alcohol had softened the sound somewhat, but it was still there, ticking away. Any day now it would spontaneously detonate and destroy everything around her, including all those people who had tried to take cover, watching from the sidelines. She drained the last drop from the tumbler of ice cubes and signaled the bartender to bring the check. She was still sober enough to recognize that she wasn’t sober enough to drive and considering she was driving on a restricted license as it was, there was no way she would risk getting behind the wheel again. She’d take a taxi home and …
Jarrod. Oh God, how was she going to face him like this? She bit her knuckle. He would know she’d been drinking. That she’d had way too much. That she wasn’t trying hard enough to do better. That she hadn’t learned her lesson. That she had failed again.
The bartender slid another drink in front of her.
‘No, I’m leaving,’ she started. ‘Just the tab; I need the tab. And a cab. Can you call me a cab, please?’
‘Sure,’ said the bartender. ‘Tell me when. This is from—’
‘Hey, little lady,’ said the man next to her. ‘Thought you looked empty. You OK?’
‘Him,’ finished the bartender as he walked off. ‘I’ll get your bill.’
Faith didn’t look up. Instead, she grabbed her purse and started to dig through her wallet to find her credit card. ‘I’m leaving, thank you, though.’
‘You don’t look like you’re leaving,’ said the stranger. ‘You look like you need another. Can I lend an ear?’
She wiped her face with a cocktail napkin. ‘I’m sorry. I don’t mean to be mean, but I want to be left alone. I have to leave. I have to go home now. I’m married. My husband is waiting for me.’ Her thoughts were blurring together with memories – good and bad – and coming out in choppy, slurred sentences.
He raised his hands as a form of surrender. ‘No problem. That’s cool. You didn’t look like you was having any fun, is what I thought. No problem. If you need to talk, I’m a good listener,’ he said as he got up off the bar stool to leave. ‘I have my share of problems with women, trust me. We can probably learn from one another.’
She shook her head. She didn’t even look at him. She stared at the fresh ice cubes settling into the red drink in front of her.
The bartender returned with the check and she slid him her Visa. ‘Ten minutes,’ he said. ‘He’ll pull up out front.’
Her eyes were fixed on the drink, like a dog on a squirrel. The clawing sensation was back. The creature inside of her wanted more. She tapped her fingers on the bar wishing the bartender would hurry back with her card so she could leave. Her mouth watered. The cab was on its way – one more wasn’t going to drop her. She was going to have to face Jarrod, no matter what. He was going to be mad, no matter what. One more was going to help more than it hurt.
She fingered the rim and raised the drink to her lips. She closed her eyes as the cold alcohol slid down her numb throat and quenched the creature inside. ‘Thank you,’ she said softly.
But there was no one around to hear her. The stranger was gone, the bartender had moved on to another customer. She was in a dive bar with a name she couldn’t remember in a strip mall she would never be able to find again if she tried. People were all around her, but she was alone at the bar, drinking with her demons.
‘I got her. No worries,’ said the man. The bartender shrugged.
The room was spinning. Round and round and round, like a merry-go-round out of control. Faith held her hands to her head.
‘Let me help you there, little lady. Steady as she goes.’
Her legs felt like Jell-O.
‘The cab should be outside,’ said the bartender.
‘I’ll put her in it,’ he called out. ‘I got you now,’ he said to Faith reassuringly. ‘You need some air, is all. I think you had a little too much. What’s your name?’ he asked. He had a southern accent. Southern people were so nice.
‘Faith,’ she managed. The bodies in the bar and at the pool table were rushing her. She held on to the stranger’s arm.
‘How you feeling, Faith? You with me here?’
‘I’m not feeling,’ she answered – or thought she answered. The words weren’t coming out of her mouth the way she heard them in her head. She was having problems walking. It was like she was running out of power, one appendage at a time. She feared if the stranger let go of her arm and waist she would fall on her ass. The room kept spinning and bobbing.
The door opened and she was outside in a parking lot. ‘You tell me where you want to go, and I’ll take you there. You want to go home?’ he asked.
She nodded. The cab was sitting in front of the bar, only a few steps away, but the stranger was walking her away from it.
‘I have to go home,’ she said, trying to wave at the cab but her arm was too heavy. It wasn’t doing what she wanted. They were across the parking lot now, heading down an alley that led to a back parking lot.
‘Just a little bit more, then you can take a load off. Take a nap if you want.’
She heard the beep of a car alarm.
‘You’re gonna need it,’ he said. ‘It’s gonna be a long night, Faith.’
She nodded, because it was hard to say words any more. She was very tired. And everything was spinning. She had to lie down and close her eyes or she might be sick.
He leaned her up against the car and opened the passenger door. She looked around, trying to focus. This was not her car. This was not a cab. She suddenly felt very afraid and she knew she would soon forget her fear because she was falling asleep right there. She tried to run, but her legs no longer worked. She started to slump to the ground.
‘Not yet, Looky-Look. It’s nap-time in a minute.’ The stranger lifted her and carried her over to the passenger seat. He was wearing tinted glasses that hid his eyes, even though it was dark out. He smiled at her with crooked teeth. ‘And when you wake up, you and I are gonna have a whole lotta fun. Que pasa?’
‘I’m looking for my wife. Have you seen this woman here tonight?’ Jarrod said as he flashed the bartender a picture of Faith. He’d already seen her Explorer in the parking lot, and since there was only one bar in the strip mall, he knew he had to be in the right place. He looked around the sketchy bar, which had a decent crowd for a place called the Cubby Hole.
The bartender looked at him suspiciously at first, then nodded. ‘Yeah. She was in here for a while. She left a few minutes ago. She had me call her a cab.’
‘Thank you,’ Jarrod said turning to leave.
‘Oh, ah, buddy, some guy had his eye on her. He walked her out to the cab. She was in pretty bad shape. Just giving you a heads up.’
Jarrod’s heart sped up and he raced outside. The cab was pulling out of the parking lot and onto Sunrise Boulevard. It quickly disappeared into traffic, heading east toward the beach. Damn. He looked at his cell, which was tracking her cell – that’s how he’d found her. Her cell, however, was not moving. It was still in the parking lot. He looked around the U-shaped strip mall. Most of the stores were closed: A pet store, a consignment store, a Subway sandwich shop, a furniture store. At the other end of the U was a Big Louie’s Italian restaurant and a sushi restaurant, and across from the bar was a Thai restaurant – all of which were open and were probably the reason the parking lot was crowded. He zoomed in on Faith’s cell. It was in the parking lot behind the consignment store and it was slowly moving.
He ran through the alley that connected the main parking lot with a cleared dirt lot across the street in the back that apparently was used as an overflow lot for the movie theater a block up on Sunrise. The lot was much less crowded than
He heard the beep of a car alarm and ran as fast as he could across the street toward the guy who had just picked Faith up in his arms and was carrying her to his pickup. Her head was resting on his shoulder.
‘What the hell are you doing?’ Jarrod yelled angrily as he ran.
The guy didn’t look back at him. ‘Giving her a ride. She’s wasted, man,’ he called out as he went to place Faith in the passenger seat.
‘What the fuck? She doesn’t need a ride. She’s my wife, motherfucker!’
The guy suddenly backed up away from the open door and threw Faith against the Camry that was parked next to his pickup. Her head slammed into the car and she dropped with a violent thud to the ground. He slammed the passenger door and ran to the driver’s side.
Jarrod ran to where she lay, crumpled in a heap against the Camry’s tire, her face pressed into the pebbled dirt. She wasn’t moving. ‘Faith? What the hell?’ he yelled. He wanted to pummel him, pull his ass out of the car and beat the life out of him for hurting her, but he couldn’t leave her. ‘Faith?’ he asked desperately, crouched beside her, as he tried to sit her up. ‘How much have you had to drink? Talk to me! How much? Come on, honey. Come on, now!’
Her head dropped into his lap. Her eyes rolled to the back of her head. She started to shake.
‘How much did she drink?’ Jarrod screamed out at the stranger as he started the truck and backed it up with a screech as the tires spun out on the pebbles. A cloud of dirt kicked up and the headlights suddenly blinded him. That’s when he realized that the pickup was going to run them both over. With one swoop he picked Faith’s limp body up in his arms and ran to take cover between two parked cars. The pickup tore after them.
Someone screamed. He heard a voice nearby yell, ‘What the fuck, guy?’
A loud bang sounded, followed by the scraping of metal. The van next to him rocked.
‘Holy shit! He just hit that car!’
The pickup pulled out of the lot, leaving a thick cloud of dust in its wake.
Jarrod put his ear to Faith’s mouth. Her breathing was shallow and labored. He reached for his cell.
‘911, what’s your emergency?’
‘I need an ambulance! My wife … she’s been drinking, I don’t know how much. She’s not responding; she’s unconscious. She hit her head. Someone threw her into a car and she hit her head!’
‘What is your location sir?’
A girl rushed up from behind the other side of the van. ‘There’s someone here, Phil! Are you OK?’
Jarrod heard a loud screech as the pickup presumably pulled onto Sunrise. ‘Um … the Cubby,’ he said into the phone. ‘I’m at a bar, out in the parking lot. It’s off Sunrise. It’s a little bar. I tracked her cell here. She didn’t come home and she wouldn’t pick up her phone. I was worried, so I tracked her,’ he rambled.
It hit him then just who was in that pickup and he dropped the phone on the ground and cradled Faith’s head in his lap. Only the whites of her eyes were visible. ‘I was worried, I was worried,’ he cried. ‘Jesus! He was gonna kill her!’
People who had likely heard the crash and had come from the bar or Thai restaurant had started to gather on the sidewalk by the chain-link fencing. A few moviegoers heading back to their cars joined them. There was a buzz as they asked each other what had happened and the couple who had almost been hit started to excitedly tell them.
‘Is she OK?’ someone shouted out.
‘Did anyone get the plate number?’ another asked.
‘I didn’t. It happened so fast. Maybe that guy did,’ someone replied. ‘It was a pickup. That guy probably knows him, ’cause I think he was gunning for that couple. There’s a lady behind the Pilot. She looks hurt …’
The 911 operator was saying something, but he couldn’t hear her. The phone was still on the ground and he couldn’t let go of Faith. ‘Someone call 911, please! Tell them where we are! Tell them to hurry!’ He could hear distant sirens approaching.
‘They’re coming, guy,’ someone said, coming up to the van, breaking ranks with the gawkers. ‘I called, and they said that that’s Fire-Rescue responding. Is she OK? Did she get hit?’
‘Did you hear that? Hold on, Faith. They’re coming, honey,’ Jarrod said softly, rocking her head in his lap. Blood started trickling out her nose and his eyes welled up. ‘She’s bleeding …’
‘Fire-Rescue is on its way,’ the man repeated awkwardly, retreating back into the throng. A few people recorded the chaos on their cell phones as more joined them.
Jarrod nodded. ‘Just hold on, honey. We’ll be OK. We’re gonna be OK,’ he whispered into her ear as he rocked her in his arms and the excited crowd watched from a safe distance.
Jarrod fumbled with the tremendous floral arrangement that sat on the windowsill that overlooked the parking lot of Broward General. ‘You could have died,’ he said quietly.
She didn’t reply. She touched her hand to her burning throat. It was painful to talk.
‘They pumped your stomach.’
‘I don’t remember that. I don’t remember much.’
‘You have a concussion. You were double the legal limit and you had Rohypnol in your system.’
‘I don’t even know what that is.’
‘It’s a roofie – a date-rape drug. You were drugged, Faith. Between all the alcohol and that …’ He stopped himself. The rose he was re-arranging snapped in his hand. ‘It was almost a tragedy. Worse than rape, you could have been …’ His voice trailed off again. Even he didn’t want to finish the sentence.
‘I don’t know that,’ she whispered, turning her face into the pillow. ‘You don’t know that.’
He turned to look at her. ‘It was him, Faith. It was Ed Carbone – the guy they’re looking for, the guy you identified out there with Poole.’
She shook her head.
‘Or someone sent by him to finish the job. He almost got you in the car. I was there. There’s an officer outside your door right now. Detective Nil said he’ll be here to interview you today, although I told him you probably don’t remember much.’
‘No …’ she said, wiping her eyes.
‘I tracked your cell when you didn’t come home. Charity told me about what happened at the bakery. I knew you were upset and I had a bad feeling you were going to try and … self-medicate. I tried calling you, like fifty times, but you didn’t call back. I tried texting – nothing. I reached out to talk to you, to be there for you, but you won’t let me in. You won’t let anyone in. You won’t let me in.’
She rolled over into the pillow. ‘I can’t do this …’
‘I can’t go back, Faith. I can’t. I’m sorry. I can’t undo what I did. I want us to be us again. I want to get back to where we were, but I can’t do it alone. And I can’t do it with you drinking and shutting me out. You drink for a number of reasons, and one of them is so you don’t have to deal with me. I know that.’
She said nothing. He could hear her crying softly into the pillow.
‘And I know this has been hard on you, that you never wanted any of this. I know that you feel like a pariah. That mother shouldn’t have said those things to you, Faith. Or hit you. No matter what she’s been through, she has no right.’
‘She does, Jarrod. And I can’t get away from that. There’s nowhere to hide.’
‘You did not kill that girl, Faith. You didn’t kill the Santri girl, either.’ He grasped the metal siding of the hospital bed. Petals from the broken rose that he still held in his hand fell onto the bed. ‘People have to stop looking for a scapegoat in this. The media has to stop making you look like the bad guy. It’s not fair.’
‘The roses are beautiful,’ she whispered. ‘I love roses.’
He sighed and stroked the bud in his hand. ‘You have a drinking problem and you need help. I’ve found a place. It’s residential.
She shook her head.
‘This is not an option, Faith: It’s the only way. I can’t watch you destroy yourself any longer, waiting for you to finally hit bottom so I can try to pick up the pieces of what’s left of you. Because I don’t know when that will happen. I keep thinking you’ve hit it – when you were arrested, I thought, “This is it. This is the wake-up call.” But it wasn’t. Now you were drugged, almost abducted, raped and murdered and I still don’t think you hit it. He had you in the car. You were in the car, seconds from disappearing forever. Don’t you get it? I can’t watch any more. I can’t wait for you to leave the stove on, or forget to pick up Maggie again or drive into a lake. I can’t watch and I can’t have Maggie watch.’
She shook her head again and moaned into the pillow, curling up into a fetal position.
He found her hand and grabbed it, squeezing it hard. He felt like he’d been on a long, long journey – part fun vacation, part business – and the train was approaching the final station, when the trip would officially be declared over. Even though the travels had been sometimes exhausting and not always what he’d thought they were going to be, there were a lot of good times and unexpected good times worked in among the rough ones, and that was what he was remembering as the conductor requested all passengers gather their belongings. An overwhelming sadness came over him. He wanted to ask her to take another trip with him, but knew it wouldn’t be the same one they were about to finish. It might be better, it might be worse, but it wouldn’t be the same.
‘Jarrod, no. Don’t send me away. Please,’ she pleaded.
‘I love you, Faith, I do. I have since that first night we were together. When you woke up in my bed, with your legs wrapped around mine and your head on my chest, I was glad you hadn’t left. And when you did finally go back to your dorm, I missed you. God, I missed everything about you. I love the way you smell and taste and feel. I love the way you think, how you giggle, how you write. I love watching movies with you. I love watching you with Maggie and I know she is hard. I know she’s been a really difficult kid and you blame yourself for that for some reason, but I love how hard you try with her. And I love how hard you try with me, with us, even after …’ He took a deep breath before continuing and his eyes filled with tears. ‘And I’ll be here waiting when you get out, but I won’t be if you don’t go in.’ He leaned over and kissed her on the cheek. ‘The choice is yours; I’ve already made mine.’
All the Little Pieces by Jilliane Hoffman / History & Fiction have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes