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Twin Crucibles – Dusty Grein
(Part 3 of 4)
Amy sighed and carried her gym bag into the public facilities at the entrance to the park.
The bathroom itself was old and consisted of three stalls, one without a door, a cracked porcelain sink and a steel mirror that might have offered a reflection, years ago when it was new.
She changed into her other pair of pants and her last clean tee shirt. She had found a few things at the second-hand store across town, but after buying a change of used clothes and some new underwear, she had found her cash was running dangerously low.
Last night had been a bust. Some of the kids she met had told her about a shelter. She had gone, but it had only taken one look at the desperation in the eyes of those who were there to make her wary.
The kind man who ran the place had offered her a bunk, but the mattress was old and yellowed and wasn’t much bigger than the back seat of her car.
As she left, she had given an old man on the sidewalk three dollars. The look of gratitude in his eyes, for a small bit of cash, broke her heart.
She had gone back to her car and parked in the lot of a 24-hour grocery store. She had fallen asleep thinking about Mike–he still looked like a Pete to her–and she had felt herself smile as she drifted off to sleep.
This morning, after her refreshing trip to the old bathroom, she felt much better. It was amazing what the simple act of putting on fresh clothes and brushing your teeth could do for your spirits.
She checked her wristwatch. A tall woman had given her the watch the second day she was here. It was only a Casio, but it was now one of Amy’s most treasured possessions.
9:30. Almost time for Mike to show up.
She sat down in the grass next to the walkway, in what she now thought of as ‘her’ spot. The morning air was warm, but not hot. California was so much nicer than… well, than anywhere Amy had ever been.
Suddenly, a pair of hands covered her eyes from behind. Her first thought was that Mike had surprised her, but that exciting feeling turned to dread, as she smelled the unmistakable scent of Old Spice and beer sweat.
She started to scream, but the hands left her eyes and she felt a sharp line at her neck as a hand slapped over her mouth.
“Shh.” A hoarse whisper. “It’s all gonna be okay. But remember, you are mine!” This last was whispered with such venom it froze her mind.
As suddenly as they had appeared, those icy hands and that red-hot line disappeared.
She turned and there was no one there. In the distance she thought she saw someone with a baseball cap on, but even that vanished when she looked back a second time.
She spun around, afraid to stand still, afraid to move… afraid to even breathe, let alone yell.
Mike appeared from around a corner and waved at her, a big goofy smile on his face. She noticed his smile fade as she ran toward the safety of his arms.
* * *
Mike sat in his chair by the window and stared out at the darkened street without really seeing it. His mind would not slow down and for perhaps the hundredth time, or maybe the thousandth, he let his eyes travel back to the sleeping figure on his couch.
Somehow, just having Amy here made this room feel like a home in a way it never had before. It already felt like he’d known her for a million years, and he found it hard to believe that it had only been yesterday she said hello to him for the first time.
He had been concerned when she’d come running to him this morning. When she flew into his arms, he had been stunned, but the total trust she showed as she broke down and cried into his neck melted his heart and created an almost tangible bond between them. The feel of her thin arms crushing him so tightly had awoken something in him. As she explained what had happened, his incredulity had become anger, and the anger then became protective fury.
Mike was a small man in a large world, but with Amy in his arms, he felt larger than life. He knew from then on, there was nothing he wouldn’t do to keep her safe or make her happy.
They had walked to a nearby coffee shop on the uptown side of the park, and over bagels and rich coffee, she had told him more about herself.
In turn, he had told her about his life. For the first time ever, he actually spoke to someone else about the before.
He told her about Emily and Mama, and he even talked about Papa, whom he only faintly remembered. She told him about her mother and her twin brother Brandon.
Their shared loss had completed the process that her trust had begun. In his heart, he had given himself to her; he was hers now whether she knew it or not.
He had tried to get her to file a police report, but she’d refused. She had no proof that anyone was there, let alone a man who lived over a thousand miles away.
They had spent the entire day together, and as the sun started to sink, she had guided him back to her car.
“No.” He had been adamant. “You are not staying in your car. I have plenty of room. I can take the couch and you can sleep in a real bed.”
He’d known this offer was one that might make her pull away from him. She had been badly hurt, and he didn’t really know how deep that hurt went or how much damage had been done.
She had surprised him yet again, and smiled. “On one condition, I’ll take the couch.”
He had smiled at her as well.
“Okay,” she continued. “It’s actually two conditions…”
He was ready to promise to keep her safe. He would do anything to assure her that he would never hurt her, in any way.
“Number two is that I get to make dinner for you. I have enough cash left to buy what I need, and I make a mean Mac-and-Cheese.”
Now, watching her sleep as the plates they had eaten from sat in the dish-rack on the counter, he thought he had never tasted better mac-and-cheese in his whole life.
She hadn’t hesitated to hold his hand the whole way up the stairs, while he carried the small bag of groceries–which he had refused to let her pay for–up to his apartment.
Looking out the window once again, he saw her car parked next to the curb, under a streetlight. As he watched, a green semi-truck pulled up to the intersection below and sat there. This seemed sort of like the wrong part of town for a truck like that, but it wasn’t unheard of.
The truck, which had been facing him, turned right. It rolled slowly past his building, and then became merely a pair of fading taillights.
* * *
Amy sat in her car with the engine off and the windows down. The surf provided a never-ending backdrop of sound, interrupted only by the lonely cry of a gull circling the beach.
She read the note again.
leev him. yu r myn.
dont mak me hurt him.
go bak to the park, or els!
It had been written on a torn cereal box top, in crayon. With the spelling errors and the crude way the letters were formed, it looked like it had been done by a young child, or maybe a right-handed person using their left hand.
She found the note under her wiper blade this morning.
She and Mike had spent a wonderful weekend getting to know each other. She woke up early Sunday morning on his couch and found him softly snoring in his chair next to the window.
The sound of him sleeping was bittersweet and nostalgic. He sounded just like Brandon when he slept; that same pause between inhale and soft snoring, almost like a cat purring.
She felt a deep, strong bond with this man and his mysterious gray eyes. She wasn’t sure what ‘love’ was–the only person she had ever really loved was her brother–but that love hadn’t carried any of the electrical energy that she felt roiling in her chest when she thought about Mike, and what it would be like to kiss him.
He had been a perfect gentleman. They had walked around town yesterday hand-in-hand, and she felt like she already knew him well enough to let him kiss her, but he hadn’t even tried.
She had waited for him to make a move last night. They had been sitting on the couch together, watching a movie they had both seen before. She’d laid her head on his shoulder, and he had placed his cheek on her forehead. She was glad she had seen the movie before, because her mind was completely distracted by the feel of his slightly rough cheek on her brow.
She had whispered to him. “Thank you for this weekend. It’s been more than I expected to ever experience. I mean that.”
He had turned his head and quickly brushed her with his lips. She was afraid that maybe he didn’t feel the same way she did. They had just met three days before after all. It was almost as if he could read her fears.
“Amy,” he said quietly. “I need you to know something. I think I am falling in love with you, and while it scares me, the thought of not being near you scares me even more.”
That was all it took. She couldn’t wait for him any longer, and instead she sat up, turned, and wrapped her arms around his neck. Ever so slowly, while staring into his eyes, she kissed him. He responded and she crushed him to her. When she moved her hand to his chest however, she felt him tense up.
“Not yet.” His eyes had pleaded with her to understand that this was killing him. “I’m not in any hurry… but I can hold you while we both sleep, if you’d like.”
That was when she had decided that it must truly be love. It wasn’t as if she was innocent. She hadn’t been innocent since the night after Homecoming during her junior year.
Then there was Howard…
That thought brought reality, along with all of her fear and pain, crashing back.
She knew Howard was responsible for the note. Once again, she didn’t have enough proof to convince anyone that he was involved, but in her heart, she knew.
Now he had threatened Mike. She would rather die than let Mike get hurt because of her. She was a little afraid to tell him about this.
Help me Brandon.
She prayed silently with her eyes crunched up and her hands folded in her lap.
Show me what I should do.
The seagull that had been circling the beach and parking lot flew closer and landed on the garbage can, three parking spaces away. She watched as it reached down and grabbed something from the trash then looked up, staring directly at her. It started to screech the way they do, but what came out was more like a purr, or a snore.
Suddenly it dawned on Amy that Brandon had already given her his opinion.
With a new strength in her heart, she started the car and headed back to Mike’s apartment. He would be home from work in a couple hours, and they could figure this out together.
* * *
Mike stood in the doorway of his bedroom and once again watched Amy sleeping, this time in his bed. He had finally convinced her to get some sleep. Even if their plan went well, tomorrow would be a long day.
Obviously, her psychopathic stepfather was dangerous and meant business.
Mike had called the police as soon as Amy had shown him the note. The obvious ploy of writing it in crayon like a child just made it all the creepier.
The police had been very polite as they took her statement, and they promised to track down her father, but it might take a while, since he was so far away.
“Stepfather!” The words she barked were quiet but the tone was harsh.
“Sorry, ma’am. Your STEP-father will get a visit from the police, but without more to go on, there’s not much else we can do.” It seemed to Mike that they were humoring her, which was exactly the attitude she had been afraid of.
“My advice is to lock your doors and windows, and avoid the park for a while.”
Mike had heard enough. “Thank you, officers, for your time. Please let us know when you find out more about her stepfather. I will be checking back in with your commander. Thank you again, Officer…” He looked at the copy of the report. “Thurston? Is that right?”
“Yes sir, and my partner is Jovanovich.”
“Very good. We will expect a call back soon. Thank you.” He ushered them out the door, threw the deadbolt and engaged the security chain.
“They’re not going to do anything, are they? I don’t think they believed me.”
Mike crossed the room, and wrapped his arms around her. “Maybe they will. I know that asking for their names aloud can sometimes motivate people to do more.”
She laughed a little. “And threatening to tell their boss doesn’t hurt either, I suppose?”
They had eaten salads for dinner, and Amy had put one of his sweaters on after sunset. It was still warm, but it probably made her feel safer. She had told him about the night before she left home, if you can call the hell she grew up in a home.
Mike wasn’t sure if he had ever felt such pure and unwavering hatred for another human as he did for the monster she had grown up addressing as Sir.
The thought of him putting his hands all over her, drove shards of ice into Mike’s mind. It was then that he began to see a possible plan. Maybe it was time to turn the tables on the monster.
He had laid it out for Amy and explained why he felt it would work. It had taken some convincing, but she had finally agreed, and they were going to put step one into motion in the morning.
Mike double-checked all the window locks and the deadbolt one last time before he joined her in the bedroom. He slid into the sheets next to her. She snuggled back toward him, and he wrapped his arm over her. The smell of her hair in his face brought a feeling of contentment he had never known before.
He was ready to find and catch the bastard who had hurt her. With any luck, tomorrow would be the last time she would have to wake up afraid of him…
… next week, the conclusion