© 2016 Elizabeth Black
Eric stepped out of the shower, and the stench of rot mingled with the crisp peppermint of his shampoo smacked him in the face. Something lurked beneath the mint, a coppery stink he tasted in the back of his throat. His stomach heaved. Confused, he looked around the room to figure out where the smell came from but he couldn't pinpoint it. Dread clung to him, dark and sticky, ruining his relaxed mood. The light bulbs over the sink hummed and harsh yellow light cast about the room. He squinted his eyes against the glare.
Why were those lights so bright? Something was terribly wrong in his peaceful world and not knowing what it was frightened him.
He toweled off as his wife Alicia brushed her teeth. Body dried and towel on its rack, he reached for her waist. She stood before him in all her naked glory, save a pair of hot pink sports underwear and knit black socks that were too big for her feet. His heart melted in love as he basked in her sweet innocence.
He leaned towards her to kiss her, and she turned her face towards his for a kiss on the cheek. Ugly purple bruises darkened her eyes. He pulled away, repulsed and alarmed, not quite sure what he saw. One side of her face swelled to a dark mask, not unlike a pumpkin that had been left outside in the damp earth to rot. An angry red welt encircled her throat like a bloody ribbon wrapped around her neck. Frightened, he reached out one hand but he couldn't bring himself to touch her swollen face. Touching her would make the vision real and it couldn't be real.
Alicia spat in the sink. Two of her teeth bounced against the porcelain. Blood tainted the paste.
"The girls are running late again," Alicia's bloodied mouth leaked crimson and white toothpaste. Why did she act as if nothing unusual was going on? He gaped at her, not understanding what was happening. The safety of his home evaporated as she spoke with her raw, torn mouth. "Make them wolf down their cereal, and toss them out of the house before they miss the bus."
"Alicia, who did this to you?" Eric said. She did not answer him. She brushed her teeth, running the brush over her ragged gums where the teeth had been knocked out. His stomach heaved again, and he swallowed hard to keep from vomting. He wanted to knock out the teeth of whoever had assaulted her but she acted as if nothing was wrong. Why?
The phone rang. Who would be calling him at this hour? It wasn't even 7:30 yet. He asked Alicia again who had done this to her, but she didn't answer him. She dried her torn mouth, and then smeared foundation over her face. To his horror, the foundation did not cover her bruises. It only made them look uglier and more purple.
Eric walked to the phone and answered it.
The phone continued to ring. Eric's steam-hazy mind knew that that wasn't supposed to happen.
Eric woke up in bed to the ringing of the telephone on the dresser next to him. His wife, Carol, stirred next to him.
"Are you going to answer that, or do I have to throw the phone across the room?" Carol ran one hand over her face, wiping the cobwebs of fatigue away.
It was 2:16 in the morning. He shook the wisps of the dream from his mind, but it wouldn't leave his head. Those dreams of Alicia never left his head when he commanded them.
He knew immediately who was calling him. He picked up the receiver.
"Eric, it's Alicia. I've been raped."
Eric bolted upright in bed.
"Are you alright? Where are you?"
"I'm at the hospital. Please help me."
"I'll be right there. I'll meet you in the waiting room. Don't go anywhere until I get there."
Eric leaped out of bed, and struggled into rumpled clothes. Carol remained in the bed, covered to her chin with blankets.
"It's her, isn't it?" He told her weeks ago that he hadn't had an affair with Alicia but that she was special to him. He gave her a look that said to not challenge him, since she knew damned well that her own affairs precluded any protest on her part.
"Yes. She's at the hospital. I'm going to meet her there, and make sure she's alright."
"Is it serious?"
"Yes. She needs my help."
"I hope she's going to be okay."
Eric ran to the bathroom to brush his hair and teeth. His heart hammered in his chest. He tried to shake off his frightening dream, but he had difficulty doing it. Seeing Alicia standing before him as she brushed her ragged gums alarmed him. Why did she act as if nothing had happened?
This dream was much different from the pleasant dreams he had been having of her lately. He dreamt about her ever since he met her one month ago. Each night he dreamed of mundane things they would do as they lived their daily lives together. Showering in the morning. Watching a movie with the kids as they ate popcorn. Making love. Tending to Alicia when she had the flu. Sitting next to each other in the living room as she played the game Myst, and he built a model airplane. He cherished those dreams. They were of another life he could have had if Alicia had been his wife. Vivid and vibrant, those dreams energized him each morning. Full of scent and color, they seemed so real he felt disoriented when he awakened. He had never had dreams like that before. He could not remember most of his dreams, but those of Alicia were so vivid that he thought about them all day long. He felt as if she was a part of his life in another universe. Maybe she was.
Now, he dreamed of her as if she had been pummeled within one inch of her life. What did it mean? Alicia called to tell him that she had been raped. Did he see the aftermath of her rape in his dream? He desperately needed to see her to know that she was unhurt, but he had a sinking feeling in his gut that she was in great danger.
They met at a convention. Alicia was a fan of the science fiction and fantasy, as was Eric. He had attended the Halloween Book Lovers convention every year for the past four years, but he had never seen Alicia until the convention one month ago. He was immediately drawn to her sweet demeanor, large chocolate eyes, and long, auburn hair. They struck up innocuous conversation, mostly about the game and other games they liked. He felt very close to her almost immediately, which surprised him since he did not often feel such an instant rapport with people. He tried to avoid chatting up women, since he was a married man, but he could not resist Alicia.
She soon told him her most intimate secrets, especially those involving her abusive husband. She was able to get away from home to come to the convention because her husband planned to spend the weekend with his drinking buddies as they watched football games. She had sent her son to spend the weekend with her mother.
Eric brought her flowers on the last day of the convention. Cheery talk had given way to lunches and hours of talking on the telephone while Eric was at work. Alicia didn't feel comfortable e-mailing him because she was afraid her husband would find the e-mail. They chatted for hours every day. Alicia told him about her nine-year-old son, Paul, and her freelance writing. She wrote from home. She didn't earn a lot of money, but she was hearing from more job prospects. Her future looked bright.
She wanted to leave her husband in June. She had decided that she couldn't take his abuse any longer, and she was preparing for her way out. She already had a new bank account in her name and she squirreled enough money away to place in a Roth IRA. She had opened a Certificate of Deposit a year ago that would mature in June. She could use the money to fund her new apartment after she moved out. She had taken several new credit cards out in her name for emergencies. The last thing she wanted was for him to use her credit cards to run up cash advances to buy drugs, which was something he had often done. She had paid off most of the balances, and she was feeling more comfortable about her financial status in the event of a divorce.
She went to therapy sessions at a local domestic violence center. Her husband was unaware of those sessions, and she knew it was best to keep it that way. The women and counselors had helped her to prepare for the day she finally left her abusive marriage behind her. She became more nervous and frightened as June approached, but she also felt as if she had more control over her life. She wanted to be an independent woman free from abuse. She wanted to raise her son in a safe environment, free from screaming fights, excessive drinking, and drug abuse. She knew that she and her son deserved better than that.
Now that she had been raped, she told Eric that she realized that she could not wait until June to leave her husband. This was the first time he had physically abused her. Most of his abuse was financial, emotional, and mental. He had never physically hurt her before, but she realized now that he had gone over the line. If she went back to him, she knew he would continue to escalate his abuse to include more beatings and rape. She knew she couldn't allow that to happen.
Eric ran into the emergency room waiting room but he did not see Alicia. He paced circles around a chair, worried about her. The nurse on duty remembered the woman who had been brought in an ambulance. She was in one of the other rooms. Eric thanked her, and went back to the waiting room to pace a deep ditch into the rug. After what seemed like hours, Alicia turned the corner. Her face brightened at the sight of him, and she ran into his arms.
"Eric! I'm so glad you're here."
He caressed her pretty face. No bruises. No cuts. She smiled, revealing a perfect set of teeth. He held her close, not wanting to let her go. He never wanted to let her go. She was his Morning Star, the woman of his dreams. He rubbed his fingers against her scalp and hair as she cried quietly on his shoulder.
She lifted her head, and searched his face. Her tears refracted light against her eyes, reflecting calm beneath the churning surface. An ugly red welt snaked around her neck. Her bastard husband had choked her.
"Are you alright?" Her voice sounded rough, like sandpiper on wood. Rage bubbled from his core, threatening to erupt in the waiting room,. He stared at her, amazed at her compassion in light of her own injuries.
Here she was asking him if he was all right, and she was the one who had been raped. "Alicia, are you alright? You always think of everyone else but not yourself."
"I don’t want you to worry about me."
"I can guess what happened. Eric balled his hands into fists so tightly his fingernails cut into his skin. Rage overwhelmed worry. He watned to draw blood from the man who drew blood from Alicia. "Let me take him to the back of a shed and beat the shit out of him. He deserves much worse.".
Alicia pulled herself out of his embrace, and she sat down on a chair.
"Pete came home at about one a. m, drunker than I've seen him in years. He let into me almost immediately. I think he knows about our phone calls. He demanded to know with whom I'd been talking to all day. I told him I was talking to my girlfriends. He didn't believe me." She coughed as she told him her story, as if she tried in vain to clear phlegm from her throat.
"I was in bed when he came home, and he woke me up. He demanded sex, and I didn't want to have sex with him. I told him he was drunk, and he needed to go to sleep. He jumped on top of me, and pulled my nightgown over my head. I kept trying to push him off, but he had me pinned down to the bed. He ripped off my underwear. I tried to shove him off of me, but he had me pinned to the bed./" Tears flowed down her face. She swallowed hard; speech did not come easily from her sore throat.
"So, I screamed as loud as I could. I hoped the neighbors would hear me, but we have party walls. Those walls are full of cinderblock and insulation, so no sound carries through them. That's when he started choking me. I'd scream, and he'd push his hands and thumbs into my windpipe. I passed out a few times. I decided to let him do what he wanted to me, but he kept choking me. I couldn't breathe.
"The next thing I knew, I was riding in an ambulance. I don't remember calling one. I had a tube down my throat, and the technicians shoved a machine over my chest and neck. It beeped a lot. I was afraid of the noise. I don't remember how I got into the ambulance. Then, I was in the hospital, in a room full of doctors. I don't know how I got there. I can't remember leaving the room to call you. I'm just glad you're here. I need you. Please hold me."
"Let me at him. Please. I'll throw him into a pit of alligators, or shove him into a pool of piranha. Such a fate would be too good for that bastard."
"No, don't do that. He'll only come after both of us." She cleared her throat again in a futile effort to speak in her normal voice.
"You sound terrible. Don't talk anymore. I can hear it hurts." Eric held her close, and both he and Alicia cried. Alicia was in shock. She cried lightly, but she wouldn't let all of her pain out. Trauma numbed her. She had detached herself from her own rape, which was probably the only way she could handle it.
Alicia cried on Eric's chest for a few minutes. Her tears and crying soon calmed, and she raised her head to look into his eyes. Her eyes were rimmed red with fear and grief. Eric thought he noticed a little shame in her eyes. He knew she had no reason to feel ashamed for what her husband had done to her.
Eric wanted badly to find him and pound some sense into him. "Pete has no idea how lucky he is. You're a "Your a tender, sweet woman who had a lot of love to give to the right man." He wished Alicia loved him. She appeared in his dreams every night as if she was a normal and everyday part of his life.
A black cloud of despair and bitterness hung over his marriage. His wife carried on an affair with a man she met on the Internet. Eric let her get away with it for three years, yet he was too chicken to do anything about it. Now, with Alicia in his arms, he wondered if she would have him. He was willing to leave his wife for a woman he met only a month before at a convention. Deep down, he knew he had been ready to leave his wife for several years. Meeting Alicia only provided a catalyst for him to finally end his unsatisfying marriage. He had only hoped that Alicia would have him. He would support her in any way to leave her husband, now that it was definitely time to set the divorce ball rolling.
"I don't know where my son is," Fear filled her voice. "He was sleeping when Pete raped me. He might still be home. I hope he's asleep. Please get my son for me. I don't want him in the house with that monster."
"When do you want me to get him?" Eric asked.
"I don't know. I don't know where he is. He's probably asleep at home now. I don't want to wake him up. I don't know who's with him. How about after school tomorrow? He gets out about three o'clock. Pick him up at my house, and bring him to me."
"Where are you staying?"
Alicia turned her head away from him for a moment. Looking confused, she shook her head and knitted her eyebrows.
"I don't know. The domestic violence shelter is full, so they put me up in a hotel." She squeezed her eyes shut, jogging the winding corridors of her confused mind. "I remember now… the Marriott, a few miles away from here. I chose that hotel on purpose. That's where I met you, during the Halloween convention. I'm staying in the same room I stayed in during the convention. That's a special, happy place for me. It reminds me of one of the few happy moments in my life Oh, wait… I remember now. I'm in room…" She squeezed her eyes shut and tried to recall a number. "Room 314. It backs up to the pool. I even brought a bathing suit with me. It's amazing the things you remember when something like this happens."
"I'll meet you at Room 314 in the morning. I'll take you to lunch. You need your sleep first. You need to get some food into you before I go get your son for you. Are you ready to head back to the hotel now?"
"Yes. I think I'm ready."
"Would you like me to drive you there?"
"Yes, please. Would you pick up my son after school tomorrow?"
"Yes. I know where you live. I'll get a police escort in case your ex is there. I wouldn't be surprised if he was released from jail. My sister's boyfriend was released from jail after he attacked her because the judge didn't think he was a threat to anybody else. It didn't matter that he had attacked my sister. That was the first time he had attacked her."
"Thanks for driving me back to the hotel and getting my son for me." Alicia hugged Eric. "I don't know what I'd do without you."
Eric held Alicia tightly in his arms. He didn't want to let her go. He had several thousand dollars squirreled away in a savings account.
"Let me give you money for a lawyer."
She squeezed him, caressing his back with her small hands. Her touch broke his heart. "I couldn't do that. I have some money saved up. I can pay a lawyer's retainer fee with it."
"If it's not enough let me know. I'll pay the balance. A good lawyer will cost you a minimum of five thousand dollars down. I know. I'm looking into it myself. But let's forget about lawyers for now. You're too traumatized. Let's get you well first."
Pink flowers from spring blooming trees floated to the road. Such a beautiful site marred by tragic events in Alicia's life. He pulled into the Marriott's parking lot, sorry he had to let her go for the day.
"Do you want me to stop by tomorrow?"
"Yes. Definitely." She kissed him on the cheek before she stepped out of his car. Her kiss was electric. His heart skipped a few beats. He wanted to hold her close and make the rape go away. She waved at him after she stepped out of the car, and then disappeared inside the hotel lobby. He drove home.
Exhausted, Eric crawled into bed after returning home. Carol did not stir next to him, but he knew she was awake. She did not ask him what had happened to Alicia, and he didn't want to talk to her. Sleep came quickly.
Eric lay next to Alicia's naked body. He ran his hands through her freshly washed hair. The crisp, sweet scent of raspberry shampoo she used to wash her hair floated in the air. The smell overpowered his senses, making his head spin. They had taken showers before going to bed. They wanted to be clean before they made love. He kissed her soft lips. His hand stroked her skin from her neck, down her shoulder and left arm. Skin warm and moist, he wanted to lose himself in her body. He intertwined his fingers in her own. She turned her head towards him, and press her soft lips against his. His body tingled as their tongues explored. She spread her legs apart. She wanted him.
He made love to her gently and quietly, the way she liked it. Every curve molded into his body. A perfect fit, he made love to her, wrapping her in his arms, never wanting to let her go. He nestled his head against her white throat. The thin layer of fine hair along her throat softened like peachfuzz. He saw no welts. He remembered that she had been raped, and that her husband had left welts on her throat. Realizing that he was dreaming again, he forced himself to forget her rape so that he would not wake up. He wanted to love her. He didn't want to think about her ever being hurt again. He tightneed his arms around her, and held her so closely she tapped him on the shoulder to tell him she couldn't breathe. He loosened his grip on her, but he held her close. He didn't want to ever let her go.
When they finished, they lay together, Eric lying flat on his back, and Alicia lying face down with her head resting on his chest. She ran her fingers through the hair on his chest. He kissed her forehead, and then her eyes. He liked kissing Alicia's face. He kissed her lips, and then looked deeply into her big eyes.
"I love you," Eric said.
Alicia opened her mouth, and the sound of an alarm clock ringing came out of it.
Eric snapped awake. The clock on the dresser shouted its shriek, ordering him to get out of bed and to get ready for work. He slapped it until it was quiet, and then he got out of bed.
He and Carol did not talk about why he left home to help a woman he barely knew who had been taken to the hospital in the middle of the night.
Eric stopped at the bank before heading to the Marriott to check on Alicia. He knew that she needed to sleep, so he decided to check up on her at noon. Both of them had been up very late, and she had had a harrowing night. He got enough money to buy both of them lunch. He knew that Alicia needed nourishment if she was going to find a lawyer. She hadn't mentioned seeing a lawyer, which was understandable since she was traumatized from being raped. He would give her a check to cover the amount she needed to pay for her lawyer. He planned to talk to her during lunch to find out what she needed to do to leave her husband and to get some counseling to deal with the rape.
Eric pulled into the parking lot at the Marriott. He remembered that Alicia was staying in room 314. He remembered the room number she had stayed in before she had told him. He remembered bringing her flowers on the Sunday morning of the convention. She was pleasantly surprised. She told him that she almost answered the door in a towel because she had met two new friends at a party the night before, and they had planned to have breakfast together the next day. She told Eric that it was a good thing she put her robe on before answering the door, because she did not expect to see him. She was very flattered that he brought her flowers. She had told him that she already had plans for breakfast, but she was free for lunch. They made a date to eat lasagna and fettuccine alfredo in the hotel's restaurant at 1 pm.
Eric stood before room 314, and reminisced over the last time he stood in front of this door. At that time, he held a bouquet of baby's breath, daisies, and black-eyed Susans in his hand. With that pleasant thought on his mind, he knocked on the door.
A woman answered the door. She was not Alicia.
"I'm sorry," Eric said. "I must have the wrong room. Is this room 314?"
"Yes," the woman said.
"Is there a woman named Alicia staying with you?"
"No. My husband and I have been staying in this room all weekend. We're leaving soon. We check out this morning. Maybe Alicia is due to be here later today."
The woman's husband came to the door.
"This Alicia. What does she look like?" he asked.
"She's very pretty," Eric said. "She's about five foot seven. Long auburn hair and brown eyes. She weighs about one-hundred and thirty pounds."
"That's very strange," the husband said. "Someone tried to enter our room at about 3:30 a. m. She didn't have a key. She kept turning the doorknob. I got up, and answered the door. A pretty woman with long auburn hair and brown eyes stood there in front of me. She looked very confused. I told her that she was in the wrong room. She kept asking me if this was room 314, and she said it was her room. I told her it couldn't have been because my wife and I had been in that room all weekend."
Eric worried about Alicia in her confused state. "Do you have any idea where she went?"
"She must have gone to the wrong room. I was concerned about her. She looked frightened and distracted. She also had an ugly welt around her neck. I though she might have left her room to get away from some guy."
"Yes, that's Alicia."
"Is she in trouble?"
"I asked her if she wanted to me to call security, since I thought she was in trouble, but all she kept saying was that she was staying in room 314." The man knitted his eyebrows and shook his head. Eric's heart sank. Judging from this man's statements, Alicia grew more despondent since he left her alone last night. Damn! I should have taken her home with me!
"It was almost as if she couldn't hear what I was saying. I was very worried about her, but she didn't want my help," The man wrung his hands, upset over his lack of action. "I couldn't sleep after that. I was very spooked, and she seemed so frightened. I can't get her out of my mind."
"You didn't tell me about any of this," the wife said.
"I didn't want to wake you. I thought I was having a dream, but she seemed so real. She looked like she wanted to be in this room. Maybe she was staying in another room, and locked herself out. I was afraid that a boyfriend had beaten her up. I didn't see her again. She looked a lot like that Alicia you described, though."
"That's very strange," Eric said. "I dropped her off at the hotel last night, and she said she was staying in this room. You described her. I'm sure it was Alicia who came to your door."
"I'm sorry we couldn't be more help. You're right – it's very strange," the husband said. "I hope you find her. She looked very distressed. That ugly welt had me worried, but she didn't want my help."
Eric walked to the lobby. He was confused. He knew he went to the right hotel. He dropped Alicia off here last night. Did Alicia spend the night wandering around the hotel in a daze? She obviously wasn't staying in room 314. If she wasn't in that room, where was she? Where could she have gone? Did she remember the right room number? She had been having memory lapses, but she was insistent that she was staying in room 314. That was the room she had stayed in when she went to the Halloween convention. She said that it held pleasant memories for her. She told Eric that the domestic violence shelter was full, and it couldn't house her, so it placed her in the Marriott.
So where was she?
He had no way of tracking her. She didn't carry a cell phone, so he couldn't call her. Maybe the desk clerk knew where she was staying. He walked to the front desk. A young woman with the name "Marjorie" on her nametag smiled at him.
"Hi," Eric said. "I'm looking for one of your guests, but I think she gave me the wrong room number. Her name is Alicia Jones. She told me she was in room 314, but a couple is in there now."
Marjorie's fingers raced over a keyboard. The soft blue glow from the computer's screen reflected on her glasses.
"I'm sorry, sir, We have no Alicia Jones staying here." She tapped her fingers on the keyboard. "And no one is booked in room 314 after the couple leaves today. Are you sure she's staying here at this hotel?"
"Yes. I dropped her off here last night." Another thought came to Eric. "Hmmm… she could have used a fake name."
"I'm sorry sir. I wish I could do more to help you. If a Alicia Jones does show up here later, would you like to leave a message for her?"
"Yes," Eric said. He took a piece of paper and a pen from the counter, and wrote his name and cell phone number on it. "Please tell her that I was here today, and that I want her to call me."
"I'll do that, sir."
Eric didn't know what to do. Maybe Alicia's room was being cleaned, and it wasn't ready yet. She might have been moved to a new room in the middle of the night, but the desk clerk said that she was not in the hotel.
So where could she be?
There was no point in driving to the hospital. She had been released. He knew which elementary school her son had gone to, so he decided to stop by there first. He knew what her car looked like. Maybe she went by the school to pick up her son early.
He drove past the school, but he did not see her car in the parking lot. Where else could she have gone?
She might have gotten up early, checked out, and went to find a lawyer. He knew she needed one, and she needed one immediately. The problem was that he had no idea what lawyer she may have gone to see. He couldn't spend all day driving around parking lots near lawyer's offices looking for her car.
He wished she had a cell phone. He could have called her if she did.
There was only one other possible place she could have gone, and that was home. He knew she was too frightened to return there, but she had to find her son before her abusive husband took the boy away from her. Eric knew where Alicia lived. What harm could come from driving by her house, and seeing if her car was parked outside? He didn't want to run into her husband. He was afraid of what he might to do him. He was furious with the man for harming Alicia, and he wanted to take him to the back of a shed and beat the shit out of him. He held his rage in check. It wouldn't do Alicia any good if he attacked her husband. He wouldn't be any good to her if he were in jail for assault and battery.
Eric drove to Alicia's home. Her car was in the parking lot. Dear God, what if that bastard husband of hers was beating her up right now, in their living room?
A police car had turned into the driveway before Eric. Bile churned in his stomach, and he breathed hard to keep it down. Did Alicia's husband beat her again?
Eric followed the police car into the parking lot, and parked across the street from Alicia's house. A cop and a young woman stepped out of the car, and walked to Alicia's townhouse. The cop banged on the front door. Eric rolled down his window so he could hear what they were saying.
A woman in her sixties answered the door. She yelled at the cop.
"No, you aren't taking him. He needs his father."
"I have a court order." The cop held out a sheet of paper. "You are to hand the boy over to his aunt. If you don't, I'll have to take you in. Where is the boy?"
"You can't have him. I'm his grandmother. I know what's best for him. If she hadn't provoked him, he wouldn't have had a reason to hurt her."
When Eric heard the woman blame Alicia for her own rape, a knot of rage choked his throat.
"Ma'am, hand over the boy right now. I'll call for backup if I have to."
The woman fumed as she stood in the doorway. She walked inside, followed by the cop and the young woman. Eric stepped out of the car, and walked to Alicia's front door. As he walked up the path to her house, the cop and the young woman came outside. She was holding her nephew's hand.
"Hi, I'm Eric Kaplan. I'm a friend of Alicia's. Could you please tell me what's going on?"
The young woman stared at him, eyes red and puffy with tears. She turned to the cop, who took the boy's hand and led him away. Confusion and dread fell over Eric. Where was Alicia?
"Alicia is my sister. I got a phone call at about 2 in the morning. I'm sorry to have to tell you this, but Alicia's husband murdered her last night. He raped her, choked her, and beat her to death. He's in jail now, pending murder charges. I went to emergency court early this morning to take temporary custody of her son. I expected her mother-in-law to put up a fight, since none of those people believed that he had been abusing Alicia."
Tears streamed down her face, streaking her makeup. "She was getting ready to leave him. She told me all about it. She was going to leave him in June. I should have helped her more. I should have had her live with me. Now I've lost my sister, and I'll never get her back."
The young woman placed one hand on Eric's shoulder, and squeezed. "I'm sorry that I have to tell you that she's dead. I hope you were a good friend to her. She needed friends. I have to go now. I'm going to fight that family for custody of my nephew. I don't want any of them near him."
Eric stood in stunned silence as the woman, her nephew, and the cop walked away. Alicia's mother-in-law glared at him from behind a window. He walked back to his car, feeling the woman's hateful gaze on his back.
He drove around town aimlessly, not knowing what to do. How could Alicia be dead? I spoke to her on the phone only hours ago! I visited her in the hospital and dropped her off at the Marriott! She cried on my chest. I still feel her body in my arms.
She couldn't be dead! Not with the life he planned for her, with him.
He stopped at a lake near his home. He couldn't sit still, mind racing, and he no longer wanted to drive around town. He needed time to think. He often walked the pathway around this lake when he needed to sort through his thoughts. When he first learned that his wife was cheating on him, he walked around the lake for over an hour.
Now, he walked the pathways amongst the trees and the dormant gardens, thinking about Alicia, and how he had lost her.
He didn't know what he would do without her. He loved her. He loved her smile and her jokes. He loved the way she became shy with him, averting her eyes when he told her he thought she was very pretty. He loved talked to her about Myst and the other games they liked. He enjoyed listening to her on the phone as she bragged about her son. He liked allowing her to lean on him when she told him about the time her husband took nine hundred dollars out of their joint bank account to buy cocaine he planned to sell, but instead the coke went up his nose. He wanted her to cry on his shoulder when they went out to lunch when her husband spent his morning before leaving for work telling her that she was stupid and worthless, and wouldn't amount to anything. Eric wanted to hold her close and comfort her, and he knew that was no longer possible.
He knew he would no longer be able to help her. Lost and angry, he balled his hands into fists of frustration.
As he thought about how much he cared for Alicia, one realization finally made it to the forefront of his mind.
She didn't know she was dead.
It all became very clear. She must have phoned him the moment she died. He saw the bruises and broken mouth she had at the moment she had died. He saw her at the hospital because that was where she had died. No wonder she was so disoriented and confused over how she made it to the hospital, and how she could not remember how she had called him. It made sense to him that she would choose to haunt the hotel room where she had stayed at Halloween. That was the one place she said she felt comfortable.
Eric knew how to find her. He had to get back to that hotel.
When he pulled into the Marriott's parking lot, it was 1:30. The room would have been cleaned by now. He remembered that Marjorie had said that no one was booked in that room today.
He had hoped that he would find Alicia waiting for him in that room.
He walked down the hall, and finally stood in front of the door to room 314. His heart hammered in his chest, anticipating her standing only a few feet behind that door. Would she be inside? What would he say?
He knocked on the door.
He waited a moment, listening closely, but he heard no sound inside the room.
He knocked on the door again.
Silence greeted him.
He cleared his throat, and said "Alicia, it's me, Eric. Please answer the door."
In a moment he heard soft footsteps from the other side of the door. The door opened, and Alicia stood before him. Her hair fell in thick waves around her face and neck. Her large eyes stared at him. She was happy to see him.
"Eric!" She threw her arms around him. He held her tightly, knowing that this would probably be the last time he would see her. He had thought that he would never be able to help her again, but he knew that he could help her now. She needed him. He also needed her. He wanted her spirit to be able to rest.
They walked inside the room. Eric locked the door. Alicia sat on the bed. Eric walked to her, and sat next to her.
"Did you find my son? Is he okay?"
"Yes, he's fine. He's staying with your sister. Your husband and your mother-in-law aren't allowed to see him."
"Thank you so much. I don't know what I'd do without you. You've helped me so many times, and I'm very grateful. I don't think I've ever told you how grateful I am. You've been a wonderful friend."
I want to be more than a friend… He held her in his arms, and let her rest her head on his shoulder. He needed to tell her, now. She needed to know. He couldn't have her haunting a Marriott hotel for the rest of eternity.
"Alicia, there's something I need to tell you."
She pulled away from him, and looked deeply into his eyes. Fear clouded her gaze. Was she afraid that he was going to reject her?
"I'll always be here for you. I want to make sure you know that. I care very deeply for you, Alicia. You're very important to me. I've wanted to you to become a part of my life."
"I want you to be a part of my life, too, Eric. You're more than a friend to me. I feel very safe and vulnerable with you. No one has had that effect on me for a long time. I can tell you anything, and I know that I have your support."
"I need to ask you something. You've said you've felt disoriented and your memory isn't working right since your husband raped you. Do you remember how you got to the hospital?"
"No. I just woke up and I was in the hospital. I don't know how I got there."
"Try to remember. Can you try to remember the rape? I know it will be hard on you, but you need to remember."
"He was choking me. I could smell beer on his breath, and whiskey. He hardly ever drinks whiskey. He just kept choking me. I past out a few times. I can't remember what happened next."
"Try to remember. Try to remember how you ended up in an ambulance."
She looked at her hands. She picked at her cuticles with what was left of her fingernails. Alicia chewed her nails.
"He had beaten me across the face. It hurt a lot." She placed her fingers in her mouth, and felt her teeth. She sucked on her fingers. She looked up, wide-eyed, and stared at Eric. "I think he broke my nose and he knocked some of my teeth out."
She clutched her stomach, but she did not lift up her sweater. "He kicked me in the stomach several times. It hurts, Eric. What did he do to me? He grabbed me by the neck, and lifted me off the bed. My face hurt. He choked me so hard I thought my head would pop off. Everything was so hazy."
"Then what happened?"
Her gaze turned inward and she was silent for a few moments. Eric gave her space to allow her memories to flood her mind. "I heard banging on the door. Some people came in my bedroom. They had a big kit with them and a stretcher." She spoke so quietly and in such a dull voice Eric struggled to hear her. "I think I saw a cop. He grabbed my husband, and pulled him off me. I saw him handcuff him. The men put me on the stretcher. They put that big box on my chest and neck. I remember the beeping. Everything was very hazy. I kept going in and out of consciousness."
"Go on." His heart raced, waiting for her realization that came slowly.
"When they took me outside, I saw the neighbors on our lawn. The lights from two cop cars and the ambulance were flashing. I remember them wheeling me into the ambulance."
"Do you remember the drive to the hospital?"
"Yes. I couldn't swallow. I couldn't breathe. My chest and stomach hurt. My face and mouth hurt. That machine kept beeping louder and faster. And the beeping was getting very erratic. I can't remember much after that."
"Do you remember being wheeled into the hospital?"
"Yes… but I don't remember much after that."
"Try to remember. It's important. Where did they send you after they wheeled you into the hospital?"
She stuck her index finger in her mouth, and chewed on her ragged fingernail.
"Lights. I saw fluorescent lights overhead. They flew by. I knew that the attendants were running. The gurney made squeaking noises, like one of the wheels was off kilter."
"What about after that?"
She thought for a moment. "They rushed me far down the hall, and they took me in a room. Operating Room 6. The room was very bright, and it smelled like disinfectant. Someone shoved a tube down my throat, or maybe that happened in the ambulance. Someone else put a mask over my face. I think they were giving me oxygen. I saw a blood pack go up next to me, and I felt a prick in my arm. I guess they gave me an i. v. Someone yelled "epinephrine" and another attendant put a needle into the tube that attached to my arm. The attendants pressed a bunch of buttons on the machine they had on my chest. The beeping was going very fast, and then it went erratic again."
She wrapped her arms around her body and curled into a fetal position. Eric ached for her. He wanted to take her in his arms, to comfort her, but he let her talk. "My chest hurt. Then, the attendants removed the machine. They put pads on my chest, and I heard the beeping again. It was still erratic, and then it suddenly whined. Someone stood over me with a huge needle. It must have been about a foot long. She shoved the needle into the middle of my chest. I was surprised it didn't hurt. The whining was still going on. I don't know what it means. Eric, what does it mean?"
Eric held her hand. He ran one hand through her hair.
"Keep trying to remember, Alicia. What happened after the attendant shoved the needle into your chest?"
"Like I said, I heard a whining coming from a machine. All of a sudden everyone stopped working on me. They just stood around." Alicia allowed the memory to establish itself. She turned very pale.
She looked at her hands. Her eyes teared up. In a very quiet voice, she said, "Someone took the sheet covering me, and pulled it over my head."
Eric said nothing. He put his arms around Alicia, and let her rest her head on his shoulder.
"Oh, God, no!" Alicia cried.
She weeped quietly on his shoulder for a moment. Her body shook. She wailed in his ear. The shaking turned to convulsions. Her body thrashed so much that she bent over backwards. Her spine was a rigid rictus. Eric held her tightly so that she would not fall out of his arms. He leaned her backwards onto the bed. Her legs kicked, and one foot crashed into his ankle. The pain shot through his foot, but he would not let go of her. He wrapped his arms very tightly around her. She wailed, and grasped his hair in her fists. He was too afraid to look at her face. He was afraid he would see her beaten and bloodied, as she had appeared the moment she died.
She tired herself out. Her convulsions slowed until she trembled in his arms. Her teeth chattered. She was terrified. Eric didn't know what to do to help her. Helpless, he held her tighter. What could he do to give her peace of mind?
He knew that the most important person in her life was her son.
"Alicia, your son is safe. Your sister has him. She is going to court to get temporary custody of him. She is going to keep him away from your husband and his family. He's in jail now, and he can't get to him. Your son is safe. You don't have to hang on here to look after him. He's in good hands. Your sister is going to take care of him."
She relaxed in his embrace, but she did not stop trembling.
"I don't want to leave you," Alicia said.
"You can't stay in the Marriott for the rest of time, Alicia. You have to move on. Your son is safe. Where does your sister live? I can keep track of how your son is doing for you."
"She lives in Columbia. 123 Logan Lane. It's easy to remember." Alicia said. "Thank you for looking after me. As long as I know my son is safe, I'll be alright."
She sat up. To his relief her face remained unbruised. Fatigue wilted her body. Her hair hung in a halo around her face. Wisps of hair fell in her eyes. She looked over his shoulder, restless. She stood up, and walked to the sliding door to the deck.
"Eric, look at this. The morning star is beautiful. It's so bright," she said.
Eric walked to her side. The morning star didn't look any differently to him than it normally looked. Alicia's eyesight must have been playing tricks on her.
"Look at all those stars. I can see the Milky Way. That's one thing I like about this hotel. There are so few lights that the sky looks beautiful. I'm so drawn to the morning star. I want to walk to it."
Alicia's eyesight definitely played tricks on her. The haze from lights by the swimming pool drowned out the night sky. How could she see the Milky Way with so much glare?
"Oh, look! I just saw a shooting star. Let's walk outside, Eric. I want to look at the sky."
She opened the door, and they walked outside. The air was chilly but not uncomfortable. The morning star hovered just above the horizon. Alicia took a few steps towards it.
"I want a closer look." She walked around the pool, and headed towards the woods. Eric walked at her side. He had a difficult time keeping up with her because she moved so quickly.
Suddenly, she stopped walking. She turned towards him. For the first time, he saw peace in her eyes. She no longer looked frightened and traumatized. He wondered what had made her suddenly feel so calm.
"I'll always look after you, Eric. Know that. I've loved you since I first met you. I wish we could have spent our lives together. Thank you for taking care of me. Thank you for helping me. I must have sought you out because I knew you'd look after me and my son."
"I'll do anything for you, Alicia." Eric's breath caught in his throat. He watched her, burning her image into his memory. "You're my Morning Star. I wish things could have been differently for us. I would have taken good care of you. I love you."
She took him in her arms, and kissed him. She slipped her tongue into his mouth, and kissed him gently. He wrapped his arms around her, and kissed her in return, knowing he would never see or touch her again.
He stood alone in the grass. He listened to the night peepers in the forest. Alicia's sweet scent hovered in the air around him.
He left the hotel with a heavy weight on his heart. He had lost the woman he loved, but he knew she was now safe and that her son was safe. That would have to be enough for him. He decided to visit Alicia's sister later in the day to find out if she could use his help. That would be his legacy towards Alicia. He knew he would do right by her.