Chapter 20

Elizabeth Arlen

Where was the card? Where was the card that had Michael's number on it? Where was it? She searched through her bag and her desk, tearing things uncharacteristically apart and leaving them lying scattered across the floor in a fashion akin to a hurricane. Where was the damn card? She tried to remember; she'd picked it up when she left his office after their first session from the front desk. What had she done with it? She remembered walking up to the front desk to schedule her twice a week appointments with the nice lady who worked there, taking calls in dulcet tones, checking her watch and glancing frequently at the barometer on the wall. Natalie glanced at the cream, speckled cards with her new therapist's name printed neatly in black, sitting in a clear, plastic holder and she picked one up and slipped into the pocket of her jeans.

She tore into her laundry basket. What pair of jeans had she been wearing that day? Had they already gone through the wash? Natalie sat down for a minute and took a big breath. They'd probably already gone through the wash, which meant that the card was gone or at least unintelligible.

"Fuck." She whispered. She stood up and began to put the bedroom back together. As she reorganized the notebooks under her bed, she paused for a moment; something was nagging her brain. As she put the black and white spotted notebooks back into order, she placed the one she was using when she had that first session aside. She crawled up off the floor and paged through the worn, full pages until she found, taped to the corner of a page, Michael Ashby's card. Well, what a stupid place to put it. She thought to herself before quickly dialing the number and sitting on her bed, surveying the damage she'd done to her previously orderly room. Oh well.

It rang four times and the girl found herself falling back into panic before the therapist finally answered the phone.

"Hello, Michael Ashby speaking." He said.

"Hi," She began and abruptly stopped. She'd never called him anything before. What did she call him?

"Hello, who is this?" He asked. Natalie pulled at her bed covers.

"It's Natalie West, Dr. Ashby." She stood up quickly and checked the door to reassure herself it was locked.

"Hi Natalie, what can I do for you?"

"They want me to testify. They want me to testify. On stand. In a courtroom." She said quickly.

"Against your father?" He cleared his throat. She could hear that he was walking.

"Yes, yes. I don't know what to do." She said.

"Natalie, if they want you to testify, you can't say no; it's a requirement by law. But I understand how the prospect of seeing your father again is very scary. Your testimony will help put him in prison forever, okay?"

"He was already supposed to be in prison forever." Natalie paced the span of the room.

"He's not going to escape this time, Natalie. You're safe now."

"How do you know? You can't say that! You can't tell me I'm safe; I'm not safe, I don't feel safe." She paused and he said nothing, "I don't know if I can do it." She felt lightheaded from all the thoughts scrambling around in her brain, drowning rational thinking.

"In the courtroom, there are police officers that will keep him away from you. When you're on the stand, you have a room full of people to protect you and all you have to do is tell the truth; as long as you haven't been lying about anything, you'll be fine." He reassured her, "What are you afraid of, specifically?"

What was she afraid of? He would be there, staring at her, watching her. She would have to tell a room full of people what he'd done to her in that bathroom. What he'd said.

"Natalie? Are you still there?"

"I don't know." She whispered.

"Yes you do. It's okay, Natalie, you can tell me; what are you afraid of?"

"What if I have some anxiety attack on stand and I can't testify? What if the case is thrown out because of my lack of testimony? What if he walks?" She asked, "What if I can't handle it? I don't know if I can without the fucking pills." What if…what if she couldn't speak? What if her voice was a fluke? How could she get up on the stand and not speak? What would happen?

"Natalie, you can do this. It's going to be hard to do, but I think you'll find it makes you feel a lot better to confront this than to try to run from it. Try not to focus on the 'what-if's, okay? You can never predict exactly what's going to happen, and thinking of endless options is just gonna drive you crazy."

"Yeah," She said.

"I'm glad you called me instead of just keeping it inside; that was the right thing to do."


"Will you be okay?"

"Yeah, I think so." No. No, no, no.

"Alright, I'll talk to you at session on Tuesday."


"Good night,"

"'Night." She sat down by her bed, surveying the disaster she left in the room and took a deep breath. Raking her hair back, she leaned against the edge of her bed and focused on her breath.

Michael Ashby hung up the phone and rubbed his temples. Testifying would probably be good for her. Terrifying, but empowering in the end. He got up out of his living room chair and returned to the bedroom, placing the cell phone on the end stand. His wife rolled over and stretched out.

"Everything okay?"

"Yeah, everything's fine." He pulled his socks off and climbed back into the large bed, encircling his arms around her. She snuggled back into him, resting her head on his chest. "Hey, Sasha?"


"You liked testifying didn't you?"

"'Like' is a strong word for it, but I felt better afterwards. Why?" Dark brown eyes turned to look up at him.

"Just curious."


Anna returned to her car and found herself fighting back tears. Asking Natalie to testify was a courtesy; she would have to do it whether she wanted to or not. Please God, let her say 'yes.' She thought. The last thing she wanted to do was subpoena the girl to testify. It would feel much better to her if it was a decision she came to on her own. That's court life.

Her cell phone rang and she fumbled about in her purse to answer it.

"Hello, Anna Gott,"

"Hey Anna, this is Detective Tracy, we finally found Alex Jones."

"Really? Where was he?"

"Some hole downtown with a hooker."

"Is he backing Marshall's story?"

"He doesn't want to say anything until he's worked out a deal, he says."

"I'm on my way." She hung the phone up and started the car. Fabulous. One plea bargain, supposing Jones hadn't done anything too serious while he was out of jail, and there was some evidence besides Natalie's testimony. Hopefully it would tear holes in Marshall's story, instead of backing it.

"What are we gonna do?" Janet asked as Josh joined her in bed. He stripped off his t-shirt and tossed it toward the hamper, while shifting down to a comfortable position.

"About what?"

"About Natalie, what do you think?" Janet said. Josh hesitated and looked away from his wife.

"She's got to testify. If it puts that bastard away for good, she has to do it."

"He was supposed to be away for good last time." He reminded her.

"Well, I'm sure they'll put higher security on an escapee a second time around." Janet said. She sunk down into the covers; her body felt heavy and tired, her brain addled with a perpetual headache. She loved her niece, and frequently forgot for a few seconds that Natalie wasn't her daughter. What to do? Josh was right; she would be required to testify. Ten years ago, she'd been under observation, still in the hospital when her father was rushed to trial, so it hadn't been an option.

"Of course they will." Josh agreed. He saw the worry on his wife's face and he leaned down and kissed her gently.

He reached down to stroke the small girl's dark hair. There was a lifeless look in her eyes as she stared down the hallway of the hospital. It was two weeks since her and her mother's admission, bruised and bloodied, wavering between life and death.

That man. Josh fumed inside. That man had nearly destroyed Sara and Natalie. Maybe he had destroyed Sara. Maybe she was gone forever. But at least there was some desperate hope for Natalie. Nicholas hadn't allowed Janet and Josh to see them in a year, but now they would take care of the girl.

It was obvious she was a little scared. She barely knew her aunt and uncle and it would be a struggle to gain her trust. But what can you expect from someone kicked around by her father for a few years?

Natalie shied away from her aunt's touch, leaning away from the hand seeking to comfort a wounded soul. Janet looked at her husband, an anxious look on her face. Neither of them was sure how to handle a traumatized six-year-old. What to do? What to say?

There was also the fact that Natalie was completely verbally uncommunicative. She hadn't said a word to doctors, detectives or her relatives. She could write down simple answers to questions, but she was unwilling to speak.

As she was wheeled down the long, white, sterile halls, Nicholas appeared before them. Josh frowned; this wasn't right. He'd been arrested, hadn't he? How could he be here? He stalked forward and snatched the little girl right out of the wheel chair. He slammed her against the wall. Janet and the doctor didn't seem to notice.

Natalie was older now. Seventeen again. Nicholas ripped at her clothing and she tried to push him away.

"Help me, Josh!" She screamed, still fighting away her father's invasive, violent hands. He shook his head, baffled.

"I can't," He whispered as Nicholas bashed her forehead against the wall, leaving a trail of blood down the side of her face. "I wasn't there."Now that she was dazed, her fighting became slow, and heavy. Tears began to fall readily down her pale face.

"Yes you were." She said slowly. Then they weren't in the hospital at all. They were in Natalie's bedroom, the white curtains being pushed around by the wind coming in through the open windows. She lay in bed, blood still dripping down her face. And Nicholas stood over her, a sick smile on his face as he stroked her hair.

"Oh God," Josh said.

"Wake up," Josh opened his eyes to find Janet sleepily shaking him. He was cold and reached for Janet's hand, rubbing his eyes with the other. "You were talking in your sleep." She said, "Did you have a bad dream?"

"The worst." He said. It baffled him; how could he see something he hadn't been present for? He couldn't get the image of dream-Natalie staring at him, hurt and betrayed. 'Help me, Josh.' He ignored her warning that night. Did he even give her a chance to tell him? To truly explain what her fears were? He wasn't sure anymore.

"What happened?" Janet asked

"What?" He continued to rub his eyes, as if the effort would erase the memories of his niece being sexually abused.

"In the dream; what happened?" She repeated patiently, gently stroking her husband's back. He shook his head.

"Same as before; I don't want to talk about it tonight, Jan." He said, moving back down into his bed, which felt altogether too hot. This was life. What if's. Maybe he didn't give Natalie a chance. Maybe he did and he ignored it. Maybe he did and she couldn't find a way to communicate it to him. Maybe. It was hard to tell.

Josh rolled over and slid an arm around his wife and tried to get some decent sleep. It was a hard feeling to shake. This feeling of guilt. This feeling that there was something he could have done to prevent Natalie from so much pain. To prevent his wife and son from having to watch her go through it. To save himself the shame he was feeling. As that thought flowed through his head, he began to feel selfish. This is ridiculous, he thought. He prayed for his mind to shut up so he could sleep. He took a deep breath and the sweet scent of Janet's shampoo wafted through the air. Sleep, he thought, just sleep for now. And I'll talk to Natalie tomorrow.

Natalie sat up in bed, frustrated; it was clear from the continuous turning of the gears in her head that sleep would not be visiting her tonight. She threw her hair out of her face before hugging her knees to her chest and rocking back and forth slightly.

Testify. Speak to a room filled with people about how her father had locked himself in a bathroom with her and what he'd done. What he'd said. And there he would sit, watching her in the way that he did. Watching her. It was hard to identify what was more terrifying: the prospect of confessing what truly happened in that bathroom or confessing in a room where he would hear it and watch her. He would get a kick out of this, wouldn't he? Sicko, she thought, fighting back tears. She would sit on that stand and they would relive it together.

Bile rose in the back of her throat at the thought of him leisurely sitting in the courtroom, smirking as she told her story. He would enjoy it. And he would smile at her the way he'd done when she was a child. The way he'd done when they were in that bathroom. That smile he'd smiled when she was aiming a gun at his stomach. She shivered a little and pulled her comforter around her shoulders a little closer.

"Natalie," Aidan sat up in bed, rubbing his eyes and gazing at her in the bleak light the window provided. She smiled a little.

"You should go to sleep, Aidan." She whispered.

"Are you okay?" He climbed out of his bed and stumbled across the room to her bedside. She fought to keep the smile up.

"Yeah, I'm fine." She said. He crawled onto her bed.

"If you're sad, I can stay with you tonight, if you want." He offered. There was a tension in her stomach. He wasn't a stupid kid; he could tell she was upset and he wanted to help. What else had he to offer but his company?

"You should sleep." She said, brushing a hand through his hair. He looked down at the floor. Disappointment? What was he feeling?

"I just wanted to help." He said quietly. Oh, he was good. A classic guilt trip. What's more is he knew it; he knew he could guilt her into it if he acted sad enough. She couldn't bear the thought of disappointing him. A child's manipulation; withholding love.

Slowly, she descended back into her bed.

"Just this once, Aidan, okay?" She said. He smiled and nodded eagerly before cuddling up beside her. She lay on her back and her old worries attacked her mind as her right side warmed with human contact. Absently, she continuously stroked a hand through Aidan's soft hair, praying that she would be okay.

Where had she first read the statistic? Victims of sexual abuse are more likely to sexually abuse their own kids. While Aidan wasn't her son, he was a kid, and just slightly older than she'd been when it had first begun. From the moment he was born, she prayed to God that she would never hurt him. But she already had. She'd grabbed him that day and scared him. And that's how it began back then too, a voice in her head said, he started grabbing you long before he started touching you. What's next for you, Nata? No. This was foolish. You aren't your father. She shook herself and tried to fight off the nasty thoughts before falling into a fitful sleep with her nephew at her side.

Janet opened the door to the kid's room carefully; sidetracked on her way to the bathroom. Aidan's bed covers were strewn around the foot of the bed and the little boy was curled up to her niece's stomach. Natalie laid on her back, looking completely ridged, an arm tentatively placed around his shoulder. The boy was sound asleep and completely relaxed in bed with his cousin.

"Natalie?" Janet whispered quietly. There was no response from the girl Janet was absolutely sure must be awake. She slipped into the room and carefully pulled the covers up over the two children and resumed her trip to the bathroom.

Natalie lay completely still underneath the covers until she was sure Janet had left the room. She opened her eyes and stared at the ceiling for a moment. Checking the clock, she saw that it was a few hours since Aidan had climbed into bed with her. She woke up when the door opened and a shudder ran through her body; what would Janet think of this? Would she be upset? Her lack of protestation allayed her fears not at all; whatever anger Janet felt for Aidan being in Natalie's bed was just delayed by not wanting to wake Aidan up, most likely.

"Allan, just listen to me! You don't think it's possible?"

"I can't believe this; you don't even know them, Paige!" Allan took his wallet out and found some bills to pay for the drinks they had consumed, and slammed them down on the counter. The bartender took them with a smile and a nod.

"Come on, Allan! You barely know these people! They're taking advantage of you and I just don't think that's right!" Paige said following him out of the bar and outside.

"They're not taking advantage of me! How are they doing that? They aren't asking anything of me, Paige! I like these people. I care about Natalie and her mother, and Janet and Josh are good friends. I can't even believe I'm hearing this." He fumbled around in his pocket for his car keys, "Paige, I'm starting to remember why we weren't talking. Maybe we should go back to that."

"Oh, come on, Allan! You care more about a bunch of strangers than your own damn family!"

"What's this really about?" He turned to her, his arms folded across his chest.

"When was the last time you called mom?"

"Don't start with me, please. You know how I feel about mom and that hasn't changed in the past few years."

"She's sick, Allan."

"She's always sick, Paige. She's sick whenever she calls me."

"She isn't lying."

"I don't care. I just don't care." He unlocked his car and got in.

"Just go see her, Allan. She's been asking for you." He slammed the door shut and put his hands on the steering wheel, squeezing till his knuckles showed white. The thin silhouette of his twin sister hovered in his peripheral for a few moments before vanishing with the snap of heels on cement. He took a deep breath and slid the key into the ignition, trying to muster the strength to drive home.

Anna smoothed her skirt a little and stared through the window at Alex Jones, a skinny, sneering African-American man, leaning back in the old metal folding chair. Next to him his lawyer sat erect and nervous, his mouth moving so slightly it seemed impossible to believe he was talking at all. Confident hands tucked a piece of blonde hair behind her ear and she took a deep breath before turning the cold handle and walking briskly into the room, a detective following her in without a word.

"Good evening, my name is Anna Gott; I'm the District Attorney," She sat down at the other end of the sterile, old table and neatly crossed her legs.

"I want a deal." Jones said immediately. Detective Tracy made a jerky movement at this statement, but said nothing. Anna glanced at him before leveling her gaze on the criminal before her.

"Before I can offer you a deal, I need to know everything that happened before you and Nicholas Marshall split up."

"But if I can tell you my story, you'll get me a deal," Tracy shoved Jones' feet off the table, continuing his silence.

"We'll take your cooperation into consideration. Now please start from the beginning, Mr. Jones." Her pen was poised over a legal pad; intent eyes watched the small smile rise and fade on his face. She chewed on the inside of her mouth, her lips pursing.

"There was this big brawl in the yard and I look behind me and Marshall's climbing the wall, right? I figure I got nothing to lose in giving it a shot too, so I'm right behind him, climbing the wall and on the other side, there's a broad in a car waiting for him. He wasn't too happy I planned to go with him, but I'm bigger, you know? So we both get in the trunk of the car and this chick speeds off to God-only-knows-where and I'm the trunk with this guy and he says, 'You better not get caught, huh?' and I told him all I really wanted was a chick and a drink, you know?" He paused, "Hey, any of you guys got a cigarette? I could really use a cigarette?" Detective Tracy sifted through his pockets and produced crumpled, half-empty package and tossed it on the table, "Anyway, when the car finally stopped, we were in the garage of a house and the two of us took showers and shaved. I actually shaved my head, and I think it looks pretty good, don't you think?"

"Fabulous. Keep going." Deft hands delved into the package and drew out a cigarette. Tracy pulled out his lighter and lit it for the convict; the miniscule flame cast light on Jones' face and shadows around his eyes for just a moment, giving him a gaunt, haunted look before vanishing and leaving in its wake the smoking, smirking man.

"So, yeah. We got into some nicer clothing, having cleaned ourselves up and stuff and I said I wanted a drink. I don't think they were too happy driving me around places, but I threatened to tell, you know? But I would have; I wanted some booze that wasn't home made, if you get my drift. So they drove me to a bar. We made a stop in this suburban neighborhood and the guy climbs up the side of a house! It had one of those little second story porches, you know? He climbs up there and went in for a minute. Then he comes back in this big rush and says to drive on. He told me he was going in to see his daughter. He said she was real pretty and her mom hated him, so she'd been keeping his daughter from him. The man kept goin' on and on about her and I'm sittin' there thinking 'I just don't give a damn; I want some liqueur and some whores', you know? They took me to a bar and I told them I wanted to be picked up that night some time around12 at that same place, supposing nothing happened and they hadn't gotten picked up."

Her foot twitched nervously underneath the table. She hoped and prayed that this man wouldn't corroborate Marshall's story. Tell me the man was sober, she thought again and again; tell me he didn't do any drinking when he followed her to the church. Blood tests hadn't come back yet. But even if they proved he hadn't been drinking, it would be good to have a little extra evidence. Just in case.

"I drank all day. Met a couple of ladies. When they dropped me off was the last time I saw Marshall; the lady picked me up at 12 as I'd requested and told me she'd somehow pissed the guy off and he'd abandoned her to go see his daughter again. Then we went back to her place, you know? And then they picked me up, so here we are."

"Did we pick up the female accomplice?" Anna looked up at Detective Tracy, who seemed to barely hear what she was saying.

"We didn't realize she was an accomplice. We'll pick her up; I have the address." He left the room.

"Well? Do I have a deal? What can you offer me?"

"Just a few more questions first, Mr. Jones. Did Mr. Marshall do any drinking at all that you saw?"

"Naw. Unless that lady gave him something when I was cleaning up, I didn't see him drink nothing. I guess he could have after they dropped me at the bar. I offered to buy him one, but he said he wasn't interested, you know? He said he had things to do. I don't know."

"Okay. Did he mention at all that he was planning to sexually assault his daughter? Did he state any plans to hurt anyone?"

"Naw!" This time emphatically, "Hell no! If I'd known he was gonna rape his daughter I would've beat his ass up; he wouldn't be walking right now. He said he was pissed at his wife, but he didn't say nothing about hurting her or his daughter, just that he wanted to see the girl. Shit, man; that's fucked up, you know? Back behind bars, we put people in the hospital for that kind of shit. Jesus," He took a long drag on his smoldering cigarette. Ashes were piled in an old, plastic ash tray, flecks scattered about the table.

"Alright." The lawyer was looking increasingly nervous, but remained silent, "Let's deal." This is good. One more witness and we'll get the accomplice as well. Please God, let those blood tests show the bastard was sober when he did it.

AN: Thank you for reading and thank you for being so patient with me this summer! I took an online class and that delayed this chapter a lot. As usual, give me a review and I'll return the favor for you. I hope you liked the chapter and I hope you'll continue to read!