Jail Bird Rock

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Slowly, rhythmically, she drummed the fingers of her visible hand on the table. She smiled at him, her blood beginning to settle she reached for the detached calmness of a mission. This was just like any other hit. And oh, how good it would feel to release this tension. How could she tell Jake about her preferred method of relaxation? Her New Year’s resolution was far in the review mirror, blowing in the breeze of her rage at anyone who would threaten Ben’s life.

You’ve considered killing him more than once, the Voice reminded her.

Shut your mouth, she returned, clenching her fist around the needle.

“Lanie…” He tilted his head, meeting her cold ‘]smile with a beatific one of her own. “I can’t believe you’re here. I’ve been praying about this for a long time.”

 Her tapping paused. Had she heard him right? “Excuse me?”

He sat up a little straighter. “I’ve been hoping I would see you again. I have so much to tell you. And I want to know about our – ”

She slammed her hand on the table, the crack so loud that it sounded like a shot. “You listen here, you sick, miserable pile of human garbage. You don’t get to talk. You don’t get to say a single thing to me, do you understand?” She was so close to showing him the needle. To showing him that he couldn’t manipulate her with his smooth words and plaintive eyes. This religious thing was new, but in a way it wasn’t anything new at all. Sean would use anything to finagle what he wanted out of people. She swore. “You psychopath. You sadistic, heartless, brute.”

The guards knew not to come in. Even after a generation, the bargains and blackmail still held firm. So how had Sean slipped through the cracks?

She wouldn’t be interrupted. Suddenly, she wanted to strangle him with her bare hands. It was the only way she could keep from remember what he had done to her. The only way to keep him from hurting her was to hurt him first. She wasn’t a little teenage girl anymore. He’d been rotting in prison for ten years, and there was only so much training he could do.

She could take him.

She could…

He just looked at her, his eyebrows scrunched, his teeth gnawing on his lip. There wasn’t an ounce of fear on his face. He looked uncertain, but still determined. To do what, she wasn’t sure. His calmness melted her confidence, and her hands began to shake again. She put them both under the table and tried to glare at him.

“You’re going to answer my questions, scumbag,” she bit out. “I’ll be able to tell if you’re lying, and if you do, you’ll be dead by the end of the day.”

He sighed a deep sigh. “Can I just say one thing?”

Should she let the snake talk? He would have to eventually, if she wanted answers. “If it’s the wrong thing, you’ll be dead. It better not be about how we left things.”

“Okay, that might be hard, but…I’m sorry.”

She snorted. “Yeah. You always were.”

He winced. His act was impeccable, as always, and without missing a beat, he leaned forward with earnest sincerity. “No, I mean it this time. I mean, I know I’ve meant it before, but…I’ve changed, Lanie.”

Her heart turned to ice. “Right. Well, great job for getting me here, Sean. It took me a while to piece it together, but I should have known it was you from the beginning.”

There was that fake confusion that appeared any time she tried to question him. That condom’s not mine. I don’t know where that perfume smell came from. No, I don’t know how that bruise got there. “What was me? I didn’t even know how to reach you. I tried for years to find out where you were, but I couldn’t.”

“I know. You told me you were sending your special forces brother to track me down and drag me back. I believed you for years, until I figured you were too much of a weasel to deal with him again, especially after everything he saw the night of my parents’…disappearance.”

He looked at his hands. “My brother no longer speaks to me. Not after what I did to you. And he’s right to let me rot in here alone.”

“Yeah, yeah. Drop it, okay? You did it. You got him out of the way, and now I’m here, you piece of pig’s liver. Go ahead and gloat about how clever you are before I send you back where you came from.”

He rubbed his hands through his hair, then over his jaw. “Okay…obviously you think I did something. Something happened, and you think I had something to do with it. I can understand where you’re coming from. I know that I did some horrible things to you. My God, you’ve become a hardened woman, and I’m so sorry for the part I played – ”

“I’m not hardened. Sean. I’m strong. And you had nothing to do with it. Honestly, I haven’t thought about you at all until I realized you must have been behind what happened in March.”

He shook his head. “March? What happened in March? Can we please just start at the beginning?”

Doubt nudged at the back of her mind as his confusing mix of emotions twisted his smooth face. She looked hard into Sean’s eyes, all scanners on full alert. Something was wrong here. She thought about the wording of the letter again. Please give me a chance. After everything’s that happened…

Time to change tactics. Trying not to be too theatrical, she let her face soften into what she hoped was wistful apology. Fighting the nausea, she gently took his hand and stroked his fingers. “I’m sorry, Sean. It’s been a stressful time. There was an accident at work. He and I…we were really close. After everything that happened, I realized how much I missed you. You’re so smart, Sean. I can’t seem to figure out is how you did it.”

She waited for the slick braggadocio that was usually accompanied by the casual suckling of a cigarette. He stared at their joined hands, a blank expression on his face that slowly resolved into a wary unease. He slid his hands from hers, folded his arms on the table. “Umm…I still have no idea what you’re talking about. I’m sorry for whatever happened with that other guy, and that it brought up those feelings for you about me. But I didn’t ask you here because I want anything from you. Especially not anything…like that.” He cleared his throat and waved vaguely between them. “I’ve been doing a lot in here, while I’ve been locked up. For the first couple of years, sure, I was pretty ticked off and didn’t think I deserved to be in there. I was angry with you, and I blamed you and everyone else for how my life turned out. But one day when I was bored, I decided to join in one of the prison ministry groups. Just for an excuse to get out of my cell. Then I started going to NA, and counselling, and everything started to make so much more sense.”

Perturbed, Lanie shifted, the needle moving a little closer as her senses tingled with a sense of impending doom. “That’s not what I came here to talk about.”

He held out his palms. “I know. This has a point, I promise. I just want to address what you said about missing me. That worries me. Lanie…do you realize that I was abusive to you?” He swallowed hard, several times, but didn’t break her gaze.

Was this some sort of joke? She couldn’t hold in a snort. “Yeah, Sean. I have the scars and old fractures to prove it. Don’t worry your pretty head about it, though – you weren’t nearly as bad as my father and grandfather, no matter how hard you tried.”

He flinched, then looked away for a moment. When he looked back, that determination burned brighter. “I know. It’s a cycle, Lanie, and everyone in our families is part of it. You have to break it. You have to realize that you don’t deserve to be treated the way they treated you. The way I treated you. Don’t feel nostalgia about someone like me. I’ve read about this – women who are abused often end up forgetting about all that happened to them just because their abuser was nice sometimes.” Disgust tightened his jaw. “It’s what we do. We know how to make it seem like you’re the crazy, ungrateful one, and that things aren’t really that bad. But don’t believe it, Lanie. Don’t believe me.”

He snatched her hand back, and she jerked, but his hold was light, his gaze imploring.

“If that guy you’re talking about is anything like I was, run away. The good times are not worth the cost of abuse. He probably had his own things going on, and we should pray for him, but you can’t change someone like that, and you shouldn’t stay with him. If he’s the reason that you look so…honestly, Lanie, ‘hardened’ is the only thing I can think of. I’m pretty sure I had at least a little to do with it, but you used to be so open and hopeful. You treated me better than I deserved, because you hoped your love could change me. I’m really grateful for that, to know that you loved me despite everything I did. Even if it was due to codependence. After learning more about God and how He feels about me, I’ve really started to be more appreciative of those who’ve supported me in my life. My foster parents. Some of my teachers. And you.”

She wasn’t even sure whether she was still in this dimension. What had happened to him? Trying to regain her balance so that she could get her answers, she let her touch drift up his forearms and smiled softly. “That’s why I cared about you so much, Sean. No matter what, you were always able to make things better.”

He pulled away from her again, leaning back into his chair with his hands under the table. “Whatever it is you’re hinting at, Lanie…I’m really not interested. Truly. I know you’ve come back to the familiar because it’s comforting, but I think it’s best that we don’t try to start anything. It’s nothing against you, but I’ve actually been focusing more on personal growth than romantic relationships.”

With a smile like the sun, he looked dreamily up at the ceiling. “For the past two years, I’ve been taking psychology. In four more years, I’ll have my master’s degree. I’m not sure when I’m getting out of here – ” hastily, he offered her a sheepish look. “Not that I’m complaining. I deserve every minute, and I’m actually grateful for the chance to revaluate my life, away from my old friends and habits. But I’m looking forward to getting out, and starting my own practice, and counselling women so they know what love really is, and helping them to break free from relationships like the one you and I had. Helping them to know the love of God, and how it can fill you so much, until you feel like you’re about to burst.” 

Seeming to catch himself yet again, he took another steadying breath, leaning toward Lanie again, without touching her this time. “You’re the last person on my list that I wanted to try and make amends to. Thank you for being willing to come and talk to me. I am so very sorry for all of the physical, mental, and emotional abuse that I inflicted on you and…well, you know, who. It was not your fault, and it was due to my failure to manage my own emotions. The things I did to you were horrific and unconscionable, and you’ll never know how sorry I am. For all of it, especially the last time my violence was nearly fatal. But I know you don’t want to talk about that, and I don’t want this discussion to cause you harm.” He bowed his head. “What I want is for you to have the opportunity to get whatever you need to off your chest, and continue on your own healing journey. Find someone who is truly worthy of loving you. Have the family and life of your dreams, and children who are free from the cycle that you and I were almost powerless to avoid. I’d like to ask your forgiveness.”

She pulled the needle away from him, resting it on her leg. His words crashed dark, swirling waves inside of her, beat her against the outcroppings of her intentions with unrelenting force. Each crack was the sound of a slap, or a broken plate against the wall. The sound of a bone breaking under one of his feet, or fists. Thundering obscenities and insults and invectives in a succession so quick they were nearly indistinguishable from each other. Followed by the bright, sunny blue skies of soothing concessions and apologies and promises. A spanning panacea were it felt like there would never be a storm again.

Then, once again, she would capsize and nearly drown. It was inevitable.

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“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him.”
~ Romans 15:13


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