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       Jacked, p.45

           Tina Reber
 

  “Erin?” Adam’s voice echoed.

  I knew if I looked up he’d see the unshed tears in my eyes.

  “Babe, are you okay?”

  I held my breath, afraid to let any sound escape.

  Adam crouched down in front of me. “Erin, what’s wrong?”

  EVERYTHING!

  The word rattled around inside me; a fury of sound punishing my sanity. “Nothing. I’m, um… I’m just not feeling well.”

  “You sick?”

  I’m dying.

  “Can you?” Breathe. Just breathe. “I’m going to go home. You stay. Have fun. I’ll call a cab.”

  “If you’re sick, I’ll take you home.”

  I thought you were my home.

  I knew he was concerned but inner rage was warring with my rationale. “I’ll be fine.”

  “I’ll get our coats.” He was already taking a step away.

  “No, really. You stay. I can find my own way home.”

  That instantly displeased him. “Stay put. I’ll be right back. You’re not leaving here without me.”

  God, why did he have to be nice? Why couldn’t he be a typical jerk and leave me to my own devices so I could hate him even more? Maybe he should take me directly to the hospital, because the pain consuming me was excruciating.

  My pulse was elevated, galloping instead of beating.

  My skin felt like it was on fire. My chest was tight. My inner practitioner started listing symptoms and treatments.

  He. Knew.

  He stayed away from me for an entire week, sneaking around my house, making repairs to my shit. Why? To make himself feel better? He’d said he tried to stay away from me. I distinctly remembered those words coming out of his mouth.

  And now I’d put my heart out there. Given it to him.

  I needed to make an appointment with a Cardiologist as soon as possible. Maybe some crack whore died tonight and I could receive her hardened, uncaring heart. I’d give her mine willingly. Wouldn’t take long to gather a transplant team together; anything to take the pain away.

  Agony.

  Adam held my long wool coat out for me. “Stay inside. It’s raining. I’ll get the truck.”

  My eyes slid closed while the rest of me crumbled.

  It was a silent twenty-five minute drive; my only words being that I wanted him to take me home to my house when it appeared that he was headed to his. “You don’t want to stay at my place?”

  He sounded wounded; his expectations were not my own.

  If I’d only waited another ten minutes instead of running to the restroom. Why did Ellie feel the need to ruin me so effectively? Did she have an ulterior motive? Didn’t matter. The fact still remained that he knew and didn’t tell me. I could understand, in a way, why he chose to keep it secret. We’d be right here where we were now, well, me at least, but it would have happened weeks ago.

  Too many thoughts were slamming into each other, flashing like the lightning that rippled through the sky. I couldn’t form a solid resolution on anything. Feelings too numerous to identify bombarded the spaces in between, leaving me dizzy and disoriented within my own head.

  “I’m just gonna go to sleep.”

  “You feeling that bad? Do you think it was something you ate?”

  The only answer I was capable of was in the form of a non-committal shrug.

  Adam pulled into my miniscule driveway and shut off the lights.

  My mind told me not to, but the swell of emotions pushed the words out in a whisper. “Were you ever going to tell me?”

  He turned toward me. “Tell you what?”

  “About the accident. About the chase before it.”

  “Jesus,” Adam groaned, cupping his head in his hand.

  “You knew. For weeks you’ve known.”

  “Erin. What do you want me to say?”

  Nothing. There was nothing to be said, just a final admission.

  “Do you want children?”

  “What?” Shadows from the streetlights broke through the rivulets of rain, casting gray streaks over his questioning face. “Kids? Yeah, I guess. Eventually. Why are you—”

  A dry ache formed in the hollow of my throat. “I don’t want children.”

  His confusion turned to shocked surprise. “You don’t?”

  My decision was absolute. “No. Never.”

  I’d stymied him. “Ah…” He blew out an exasperated breath. “Is that with me or—”

  “I don’t want kids with anyone. This is a problem.” I pulled on the door handle, flicking the interior lights on in the process. I’d had a few panic attacks before, but this one was full on. “You should have them. You’ll be a great dad. I have to go.”

  “Wait. I’m coming in. We need to talk about this.”

  Everything inside me was fragmented. Part of me already knew that this was going to end one day. Another part knew I was behaving totally irrationally but I couldn’t stop the avalanche. I was powerless against the anger and disappointment. “Please just go home.” I shut the door and ran through the rain.

  “Erin. Come on.”

  The keys shook in my hand. “Please, Adam. Just go home.”

  “Erin, for fuck’s sake.”

  I shoved my thick door open and closed it just as quickly, feeling Adam’s fist pounding on the other side. “Erin. Open the fucking door. What the fuck?”

  He was mad. The pounding became more vicious.

  He didn’t have the right to be mad.

  I didn’t cause my aunt and uncle to be sliced and compressed under thousands of pounds of tumbling steel. My family had been permanently scarred that night too. Me included. And he knew all along.

  It was all too much; I was drowning in information overload.

  “Just go home. Please.” I knew he didn’t hear me.

  “It wasn’t my fault!” he shouted. “Damn it! Would you just talk to me?”

  I could barely hear myself over the gasping sobs that finally broke free.

  Children made women into homicidal maniacs capable of unspeakable things.

  My cell rang while the random pounding continued. He was inventing curse words now, stringing many together. I swiped my face, smearing mascara and eye shadow, which instantly burned. I left everything at the door: my coat, my cell, the remains of my dignity.

  A short while later I heard his tires squeal as he backed out of my driveway.

  The unexpected surgery had been excruciating.

  IT TOOK EXACTLY one hour for the onslaught of regret to hit. It was worse than the previous sixty minutes of uncontrollable sobbing. My cell eventually stopped ringing around two in the morning. It was close to three-thirty when the Valium kicked in.

  It was quarter after nine when the need to pee woke me up. It was nine twenty when I took another Valium.

  I moved to the couch at one thirty with a roll of toilet paper and an empty box of tissues.

  I ate stale crackers around four.

  I ate a tablespoon of peanut butter off my finger around five.

  I cleaned up the remains of the antique candy dish that had somehow slipped off the table by the dining room window and shattered onto the floor. I didn’t recall bumping into it.

  I called Jen at seven twenty. She listened to me cry for an hour then made me question my reactions.

  There was one missed call from Adam—just one.

  The damage I’d caused was irreparable.

  A loud pop woke me up at ten thirty. My legs jerked, sending the sofa pillows that were between my ankles to the floor.

  I turned the television off and went up to bed.

  ALL DAY MONDAY I tried to keep busy, keep my head in the game, but the special meeting to review changes to hospital policy left me too much idle time to wander in my head while staring blandly at a slideshow presentation.

  This was worse than when Randy told me he was seeing someone else. That had been an explosion of anger, followed by an attempted cleansing by piling his shit next to the door. My
current state was akin to having a soul excision without anesthesia. I had zero energy and even less enthusiasm for breathing. I wanted to tell every whiny patient to fuck off. Couldn’t they see I was broken too?

  I hid in the quiet of Jamal Clement’s ICU room for a while, watching him sleep, thinking about how vastly different his problems were from mine. While I sat nursing a broken heart, he’d survived several gunshot wounds, had gone through major surgery, and was finally breathing on his own. His road to recovery was littered with hurdles, and I wondered how long after he’d be discharged until his life would be in mortal peril again. My mortality seemed to be contingent upon my own stupidity. At least I wouldn’t have to testify about who he’d said had shot him. Thank God that responsibility didn’t fall on me.

  I spent the remainder of Monday night flipping through a sad array of Netflix movies, settling on watching Niecy Nash tell family after family that they lived in pigsties. I felt just as cluttered and disorganized inside. Maybe I needed a trio of well-meaning designers to come clean me out, drag my shit out into the yard, and put my shame on public display.

  Maybe the shit inside my head was my version of their hoarding saltshaker collections? It was all stupid stuff that we clung to, useless crap we’d collected over the years that we gave power and meaningless value to.

  I had too much crap.

  I wanted to call Adam, tell him about my self-discovery, but it was too late. The pillow beneath my head scratched my face. Something was poking my cheek. I smoothed the fabric beneath, finding the frayed edge of a tiny hole with my fingertip. Great. Now my belongings were starting to decay along with me.

  A chill shook my body; the cold, drafty desolation in my living room was too much. I wrapped my fleece blanket over my shoulders and turned up the heat. I’d allow myself to wallow for one more night and then tomorrow I’d get back into focus, get back into studying, and put my original plan in the forefront.

  I never even asked him if he’d be okay with not having children. I totally overreacted. No, I didn’t. I wasn’t what he would end up wanting.

  And he knew the bastards that killed my aunt and uncle and didn’t tell me. But what good would it have done it if he had? He held my mother when she cried, for God’s sake.

  Most guys didn’t want to even think about knocking a girl up either. Adam had been inside me quite a few times without a condom. He’d never finish inside me that way but we were still relying on my IUD to keep us from procreating.

  I flipped to the other side of the couch. Sleeping was out of the question; my mind was heavily laden with thought after thought. I had drifted into a numbing zone when my cell pinged, showing I’d received a text from Adam.

  There were no words surrounding the photo he’d sent, as the image of the two of us together said it all. I don’t know when he’d taken the picture, but we were in his bed. I was apparently asleep in his arms, though my mouth was curled with a serene and quite content smile. Adam’s eyes were heavy, as though he’d just awoke and taken the picture. We were blissfully happy.

  Were.

  My cell rang in my hand, showing Adam’s name where our picture just was. It was almost midnight, so he had to be out in the city somewhere. The relief that he hadn’t given up on us hit me hard. “Hi.”

  “You gonna talk to me now?” He was on guard and short with me, and rightly so.

  “Yes.”

  “Ritchie, you point that camera at me one more fucking time, I’ll shove it so far up your ass you’ll choke on it,” he warned. “I can’t even move anymore,” he mumbled to me. “She’s got every camera crew on me.”

  I listened to him stress out. He was pacing in some parking lot, no doubt.

  “You still there?” he finally asked.

  “Yeah, I’m here.”

  “You going to give me a chance to explain?”

  “Yes.”

  “I didn’t cause the accident, Erin. I swear to God I didn’t.”

  A tear formed, followed by another, prefacing the thickening in my throat.

  “Baby, you have to believe me. I’m so sorry. I tried… I tried to stop them but they just… I swear I tried.”

  I wiped my eyes. “I believe you.”

  “I’d never hurt you. I didn’t know how to tell you. You’d been through enough. You. Your family.” Adam drew in a breath. “And now that you know, I don’t know how to fix it.”

  “You knew them.”

  He sighed. “I’d arrested them both once before. I didn’t know they were the ones in the vehicle until afterward. Our field supervisor called off the pursuit after they almost hit a pedestrian. We had no choice, sweetheart.”

  He was following orders.

  “Tell me how to fix this, Erin. Please”

  “I… I want you to be happy, Adam. That’s all.”

  “You make me happy, baby. You.”

  I recognized the desperate truth in his voice, but eventually he’d come to resent me. I knew I couldn’t give him the future he deserved but the greedy, selfish part of me didn’t care to concede.

  “So who filled your head? Was it Nikki?”

  I swirled a few passes of toilet paper around my fingers. “The bride, actually.”

  “You fucking serious?”

  “She told me you were engaged, too.”

  Heavy breathing mixed with silence. “I never gave her a ring, Erin. Never. We never got to that point.”

  Some of the pressure left my chest. “Ellie said you had a date set but you were cheating on Nikki with someone else.”

  “Jesus Christ. No. It was actually the other way around.” Adam was getting creative again with his curse words. Weird, but I could actually hear him rubbing his face. “Please tell me you didn’t believe her.”

  “You’re not a cheater, Adam. I know that.”

  His wordless answers were filled with relief.

  “You know she and Nikki are friends, right? I wonder how she would feel if she found out everything Nikki’s told her were lies.”

  “Adam…”

  “I never asked her to marry me, Erin. We talked about it, won’t deny that, but… Christ. I don’t want to be talking about this over the phone with you.”

  “I know. Maybe we can—”

  A loud bang went off outside, followed by another. And another. Glass shattered. The pillow next to me moved on its own. I hunched and then screamed when the lamp next to the couch exploded, sending the room into darkness.

  Adam yelled in my ear.

  I hit the floor, cutting my knee on something sharp.

  Another bang. The mirror above my sofa cracked and then smashed to the floor.

  “Stay on the phone with me!” Adam ordered. He was shouting so many things but I lost him when my phone skidded across the floor.

  I scurried down the hall, tripping over my own feet as another shot went off. Pain blistered into my forehead when I smacked into the wall at the mouth of the hallway. Forward momentum knocked me down. My arm gave out under my weight but I had to keep moving.

  Absolute terror folded me effortlessly.

  There was no place for me to go. Nowhere to hide.

  I ended up in the downstairs bathroom, huddling between the toilet and sink cabinet.

  Something warm trickled down over my eye while I shook uncontrollably in the dark.

  MARCUS COULDN’T DRIVE fast enough.

  Other units were dispatched; their lights and sirens lit up the night sky behind us. But it didn’t matter. I didn’t want to think about what I might find when I finally reached her.

  He drove our rig right onto her front lawn. Gun drawn, I was up at her door, shouldering it in easily. Marcus was at my back.

  “Erin!” I shouted, hoping and praying with every fiber of my soul she’d answer me back.

  Shit was scattered on the floor: broken glass, pillows, a lampshade.

  Marcus shoved me up against the wall; the whites of his eyes drilled reminders into me of years of training, of protocol, of keepin
g the team safe. Several other uniformed officers entered behind us.

  “We clear first,” Marcus growled low through his teeth.

  All I could see was blinding rage and a terrifying fear that I wouldn’t get to her in time. I pushed back but he shoved me harder, knocking some sense into me.

  Flashlights lit up the rooms, the stairs, announcing police presence with every step.

  “Adam!”

  I heard her shaky voice before my flashlight scanned over her petrified face. Her arms were around my neck in the next step. I had her pinned to the wall two seconds after, shielding her body with mine until all threats were neutralized. She was barely dressed; I at least had a vest on, able to protect her.

  “I’m here, baby. I’m here. You’re safe.”

  The familiar smell of her hair, the feel of her warm skin against my cheek as she shook in my arms—it was the best and worst feeling in the world, making it harder to breathe.

  I caged her in, unwilling to holster my weapon in case I needed to kill the fucker who did this. I’d think about revenge and retribution later.

  “Are you hit?” My words came out choked with everything I’d been feeling, knowing I’d seen blood on her face.

  She was trembling. “N… no.”

  I wiped her hair back, scanning her from head to toe, moving clothes to see her skin, assuring myself that she was okay.

  My heart clenched. “You’re bleeding.”

  She touched her forehead. “I tripped in the hallway.”

  “Did they come inside?”

  “No.” Her head shook. “I don’t think so. I… I didn’t hear anything. Adam…”

  I hugged her, taking her tears as my own threatened to follow. I kissed her hair, trembling with her. “I know, sweetheart. I know. I got you.”

  All throughout the house officers were calling out “clear,” announcing that each room was free from perpetrators. Lights in every room were turned on.

  Marcus holstered his weapon. “You all right?”

  Erin swiped her hair back, nodding.

  He shined his flashlight on her forehead, minding her eyes. “She need an ambulance?”

 
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