"I don't wanna die... I don't wanna die... I don't wanna fucking die...." Her eyes squeezed shut as she repeated the mantra to herself a thousand times. Dust and dirt rained down on her, the ground above her shaking as the sounds of struggle became nearly too loud to bare. A scream, a death rattle and finally the sound of a body falling heavy and discarded before a deafening roar echoed through the house above. A cry of victory.
Tears streamed silently down her cheeks as the air around her became eerily quiet and she waited with shallow breaths for him to find her hidden beneath the floorboards and bound at the wrists like a sacrifice left to appease a wrathful God.
One year earlier
"If you look to your left you'll see our tiger enclosure. Jasper and Phoenix came to us only two years ago after their owner realized they were not in fact pets and surrendered them to our care." Ava pointed to the large fenced in enclosure where two powerful yet lazy Bengal tigers rested happily near a running stream. She waited as the crowd stepped forward to begin snapping photos, the usual Ooh's and Aah's rippling through them as they watched.
"These beautiful creatures were very sick when they arrived but as you can see thanks to our on staff veterinary care and lots of love they have made a full recovery." As if on cue the next ten minutes or so were filled with questions regarding tiger care, most of which were pretty standard but a few stood out as well educated but unanswerable questions for her.
Two times a day she would meet a group at the front of the zoo and take them around to see as much as she could in the time allotted. She had only been working there for a few months and already she had the script memorized, making her job exceedingly simple, enjoyable and one of the best things to happen to her since she had moved to Philidelphia.
It isn't easy leaving everything you know and love behind but in Ava's case it was necessary and she tried her best to never look back. She concentrated on making a new life for herself, she'd even considered changing her name had the cost not been so high but after nearly three months of peace, she had begun to feel like the worst was behind her and she could finally begin to heal from the nightmare she had escaped.
"You're doing great out there Ava." She smiled warmly and turned from her locker to thank her manager. She had been lovely since Ava began working at the zoo. Taking time out of her day to help her find her way around, introduce her to a few people and had even invited her out a time or two.
"Thank's Blue." She smiled. The woman had earned the nickname for a trademark stripe she had kept in her hair for a few years running. "I think I'm really starting to get the hang of it." She added as she turned back around to fetch her bag.
"You're a natural. Would you be interested in trying something new?" Blue leaned against the locker next to Ava as she waited for her answer.
"I guess I could, what did you have in mind?" She slid her padlock into place and threw her bag over her shoulder, ready to put work behind her as soon as she was given the green light to leave.
"Maggie's called in sick, you know the gift shop girl. I was wondering if you wanted to fill in for her." Ava smiled.
"I guess. I mean how hard can it be?" She wasn't overly fond of the idea of standing around all day. She enjoyed the exercise but the temptation of not having to deal with the daily barrage of questions was almost too good to pass up. The girls left the locker room behind and headed back out into the now empty zoo. The only people who ever stayed past hours were either security personnel or responsible for maintaining the animal's habitats so Ava being neither made her way toward the back and into the employee parking lot.
"A few of us are going to get a drink, do you want to come?" Blue offered as they walked side by side through the rows of cars.
"Yeah, that actually sounds good."
"Great!" Blue exclaimed. After giving her the address of the bar that they frequented the girls parted ways and Ava found herself alone. She gripped the strap of her bag and reminded herself that even though it was dusk it was still light enough to be considered safe and she had nothing to worry about. It did little to ease her fears however but after everything she had been through it was understandable that in moments like these her body would be unable to forget the trauma that she had experienced not so long ago.
Ava came to a stop at her black dodge neon and began fishing through her purse to find her keys.
"Oh no...." She groaned before slipping the bag off of her shoulder and placing it on the hood of her car to get a better look. Lip gloss, tissues, loose candy, and coins decorated the bottom of her purse but no matter how hard she wished her little pink key chain remained lost an nowhere to be seen. It wasn't until she looked over into the windshield of her car that reality hit her full force and she let out a frustrated sigh. Sitting on the driver's seat, on the other side of a locked door was the little pink bear that kept watch over the silver key ring she needed.
"Shit shit shit!" She stomped. Ava paced back and forth for a moment before jiggling the handle with no luck and offering another curse to the sky. Her window was cracked but despite her efforts, she could fit no more than a finger or two inside, certainly not enough to snatch the ring that seemed to taunt her from the other side of the door. "That's just awesome." She groaned one last time before snatching her bag and tossed it over her shoulder with a huff. She turned quickly, settling herself on the idea of taking the bus but before she could set off she slammed into something hard and found herself screaming as she jumped back.
"Woah, Woah... Are you okay?"
"What the...." She began and devolved into a series of groans. Ava stopped and steadied herself, catching her breath as she finally looked up to see just what she had hit. A tall man in a maintenance uniform stood before her holding his jacket over his arms and watching her from behind worried blue eyes. He looked kind enough, maybe even a little handsome despite the close to the scalp hair cut he wore but somehow it seemed to work for him. Ava relaxed only slightly.
"Jesus where did you come from?" She finally asked and he pointed behind him.
"The same place as you I'm assuming." He joked and she smiled.
"You work here? Of course, you work here." Ava chuckled as she realized the idiocy behind her question. "I didn't see you there I'm sorry."
"That was my fault. It sounded like you needed help, I just came to see if you were okay." He offered and she nodded.
"Oh, yeah I locked my keys in my car," She pointed behind her. "I don't suppose you could help me get them out." Ava winced, hoping that there was something he could do and she wouldn't end up having to shell out the money for a mechanic. He walked toward her car and leaned down to peer inside.
"Yeah, I can... Wait here." Without another word, the man took off back toward the zoo and Ava once again placed her bag on the hood of her car. She pulled out a small mirror and took a moment to compose herself, the sweat of the day causing her makeup to run but thankfully only slightly. She ran a brush through her thick brown hair before tying it up into a messy ponytail and wiping the eyeliner from under her eyes before tossing everything back into her bag as his footsteps approached from behind her.
He laid his coat down next to her bag and quietly slipped a long silver tool in through the cracked window. It had occurred to her that it might have been a coat hanger for all she knew and within a few short moments the lock popped up and he opened the door for her with a kind smile.
"There you go."
"Oh my God thank you so much!" She beamed gratefully as she stepped around him and tossed her bag on to the passenger seat.
"It's no problem." He offered, grabbing his coat and stepping back. He turned to leave and feeling bad for not saying more Ava called his attention once again.
"Hey, What's your name?" She asked, leaning forward on her car door as she waited.
"I'm Kevin." He held his hand out to her and she took it, shaking it gently.
"I'm Ava. How come I've never seen you?" She asked and he shrugged.
"You just started here right?"
"Yeah." She nodded. "But I've met almost everyone already."
"Oh, I work in maintenance. Half of my job is staying hidden." He offered with a smile and she nodded.
"Sounds like a dream." She joked. "Well thank you again. Maybe I'll see you around Kevin."
"Not if I'm doing my job right." Ava laughed and watched as he walked back the way he had come. She slid into her car and started the engine, thankful that someone had come along and saved her the torture of riding the city bus back to her little apartment. After grabbing a quick shower and throwing on a pair of ripped jeans and an old band T-shirt she drove back to the heart of the city to meet up with her boss and a few others from work. She had been invited on several occasions but only managed to make it on a few. Being social wasn't high on the list of her priorities but each time she went out she found herself glad that she did and wondered why she didn't do it more often.
The night went by in a blur of laughter and drinks, good food and good company and as the clock past ten Ave paid for her portion, said her goodbyes and called herself a cab. She didn't want to trust that she was sober enough to drive home and as the world began to spin and she found it slightly difficult to climb the stairs to her apartment she was glad that she did.
Ava sat alone at one of the round metal picnic benches to enjoy her lunch. Most of the crew preferred to eat in the lounge where it was air-conditioned but not wanting to be bombarded by the elevator music that played over the speakers and rather enjoying the sunlight while it was still warm enough outside to do so Ava chose to enjoy her book and her lunch in peace.
The sounds of children begging for toys, food, and drinks surrounded her and she chuckled at the voices of frustrated parents trying to placate them for just a few more moments of peace as they walked by paying her no mind and continuing about their day.
A cool breeze blew through her hair bringing with it the trademark smells of Autumn. Red and gold leaves decorated the ground and the smell of rain became normal so when the clouds parted allowing the sunlight through she thought it silly not to take advantage of the moment and enjoy what was left of the year before the ground froze over forcing most inside where it was warm. Completely lost in her book and what remained of her lunch she had barely noticed when a shadow fell over her followed by the sound of a clearing throat.
She looked up to see Kevin standing to her side and he waved as she marked her place and closed the book on her lap. It had been a few days since they had first met and curious of what he wanted she smiled up at him and returned his gesture.
"Hey, Kevin right?" He paused for a moment before nodding.
"Yeah, can I sit with you? Is that weird?" He asked with a nervouse smile and she shook her head.
"No, it's fine." She motioned to the seat on the other side of her and he sat down with nothing but a Coke and a friendly smile. "Are you on break?" She asked eyeing the drink and he nodded.
"Yeah but the food here is terrible." He twisted the lid off with a hiss and took a drink.
"Yeah, I've noticed." She motioned to the half-eaten meal that sat forgotten in front of her. The potato chips were about the only thing she found edible and before he had confirmed what she found for herself she had decided it was time to start bringing her own food or forgo the meal altogether.
"What are you reading?" He asked peering over the table to get a look. She held up her book, a cheesy romance novel and shrugged.
"Just some fluff." She offered before placing it on the table and pushed it to the side. He took the book and gave it a once over before handing it back.
"I never understood why the men never wear shirts on these things. Is that necessary?" Ava laughed lightly. She had never really noticed but it was a fair observation. She made a mental note to check her other novels to see if he was correct.
"I mean it's not a bad thing." She offered and he shrugged.
"Yeah, sure I mean if you're into that kind of thing."
"Are you not?" She teased and he let out a loud laugh.
"I mean I'm not picky but I can see that any time I want." He made a motioned toward his own chest with a smile. "What I want to know is why the girls are never topless." Ava snorted and quickly hid her mouth hoping he hadn't heard the sound but as a smile spread across his face she became painfully aware that she hadn't gotten that lucky.
"That's cute." He smiled.
"Oh shut up." She laughed and so did he. "So I thought your job was to stay hidden?" He thought about her words and for a moment Ava could have sworn he looked confused.
"Oh, yeah it can be."
"You're not so hidden now." She leaned forward with a smile. "Don't you feel exposed?" She teased. Kevin looked around them before leaning down to meet her.
"Oh, no honey I save the exposing for after work." He winked and Ava sat back, shocked at his sense of humor but enjoying it none the less.
"Oh my God, you are awful." She laughed and he sat up with a smile, pleased with her reaction.
"So how long have you worked here?" She asked, checking the time on her phone as she waited for his reply.
"A few years."
"Do you like it?" He nodded quickly.
"Oh yeah, it's easy and I don't usually have to deal with people." Ava chuckled.
"God wouldn't that be nice."
"Aren't you a tour guide?" He asked and Ava shrugged.
"I was but I've been working in the gift shop the past few days. Something tells me they're gonna keep me there." She still hadn't decided how she felt about the situation but have no say in the matter she had found it easy enough to accept. She slid her book back into her bag and began to gather up her mess. "I'm sorry my breaks over."
"Oh okay, well it was nice talking to you." He stood with her and offered to carry her tray. Ava handed it to him with a smile and took note of the small but kind gesture.
"Yeah, it was fun." She offered and followed him to the trash cans where he dumped the tray and quickly turned back to face her.
"Can I sit with you again sometime?" He asked and without having to think Ava agreed.
"Yeah, I'd like that actually."
"Are you sure?" Ava nodded.
"Sure, you're fun to talk to." A pleased smile crossed his face as she adjusted her bag and readied herself to leave. "Have a nice day Kevin." He wished her the same and with that, they went off in opposite directions, Kevin to his duties and Ava to hers. She caught sight of him once or twice throughout the rest of the day and found herself smiling as he offered her a small wave each time. She was always on the lookout for good people to surround herself and even though they had only just met somewhere deep inside of her she knew that Kevin qualified as just that.
Chapter 2: Chapter 2
"It's funny how complete strangers can have familiar souls."
"So a guy walks into a bar..." Kevin began as he took a seat opposite Ava. She looked up from her book, amused and waited for him to continue. "He sits down and orders twelve shots. Before the bartender even returns with the check he slams back half of them and shows no sign of slowing down." She placed her book down on the empty table and continues to listen with a smirk. "As the guy finishes the final shot the bartender asks. "Why are you drinking so fast? The guy wipes his mouth and replies. "You would be too if you had what I had!" Ava chuckled lightly at his mild theatrics as he continued telling his joke.
"So the bartender asks, What do you have?" and the guy says "75 cents!" And runs out the door!" Ava nearly howled with laughter and clapped as he offered a slight bow. "I thought you might like that." He smiled, sliding her a bottle of soda and opening his own.
"I did. That was good." Still chuckling she opened her drink and thanked him. A day hadn't gone by that he didn't come to find her around noon, slipping into the same spot of the same table to continue their conversation as if it had never ended.
"So how are we today?" He asked with a smile to match her own.
"Good, I got a cat." She slid her book into her bag knowing full well it was no longer needed and turned her attention back to him.
"Cat or kitten?"
"Cat." She clarified. "He's been outside of my apartment for a few days now, I finally decided to take him in."
"Aren't you sweet." He mused. "Does it have a name?" Ava shook her head and Kevin took on a thoughtful expression.
"Orange." He made a series of noises as he tapped his fingers against the side of his bottle.
"How about Toby?" Ava scrunched her nose and shook her head.
"No, that's a fat cat name." Kevin laughed.
"Okay... Lucas?" Ava mulled it over for a moment and took another sip of her drink.
"Actually I kind of like that."
"Lucas it is!" He exclaimed pulling a chuckle from her before changing the topic of conversation. "So tell me, what does Ava Thorne do when she's not working or reading trashy romance novels?" She scoffed and crossed her arms at her chest doing her best to mock offense.
"They're not trashy!"
"Honey there's a half-naked man on the cover holding a girl who's ready to take one for the team. They're trashy." Ava laughed at his observation and shook her head.
"I'll have you know there is a lot of romance and story in those books." Kevin stared at her for a moment, his eyebrow cocked and a grin spreading across his face.
"Okay let me give this a try..." He cleared his throat. "Once upon a time there was a girl who was desperate to get some," Ava snorted but he paid no mind to her and continued on. "One day while buying fish or some shit from a local market she runs into a man who clearly has no idea how shirts work and says to herself "I'm gonna tap that." Plays hard to get for about 18 chapters before finally sucking the life out of him through his dick." Ava lost it and devolved into loud peals of laughter drawing attention from the families and couples that filled the area around them.
"Oh my God..." She managed to bark as she held her shaking stomach and attempted to catch her breath.
"That's what she said." He laughed causing Ava to fall back into a fit once again.
"You are absolutely awful." She shook her head as she finally began to calm down and he simply smiled.
"We already established this. What's new?"
"Okay alright," She began, readjusting herself in her seat. "If you must know I play music." She offered hoping to redirect the conversation to something a little more family friendly.
"Oh tell me more." He took the bait and she continued.
"I was a band geek in school, I guess it carried over and I just never quit."
"What do you play?" He asked. The playful smile had left him and she found him genuinely curious in his questions.
"Guitar, drums... What about you what do you do when you're not trying so hard to make me pee myself." She laughed and so did he.
"Well that is not the goal but if you do I'll consider it a victory." He smirked. "I draw. I like clothes."
"Do you design?" She questioned as she took another sip.
"Yeah, I mean what's the point of art if you're not gonna bare your soul a little." Ava nodded but before she could ask him another question her phone began to vibrate across the table. She picked it up and gave it a quick check before setting it back down and began to gather her things.
"I'm sorry my breaks over." He groaned and stood with her.
"They never last too long."
"Not long enough." She agreed slipping her bag over her shoulder and dropping her phone into her pocket. Kevin walked with her as she made her way back to the gift shop, eager to get the day over and be on her way back home.
"Listen I have a thing I have to go to tomorrow." She stopped and turned toward him as he continued without looking up at her. "It's just an art thing, some of my stuff is going to be on display..."
"That's awesome." He nodded, embarrassed and dropped his gaze.
"It's kind of boring going alone, maybe you want to come with me?" Ava thought for a moment and wanting to be sure they were on the same page decided to ask the question that pushed all other thoughts from her mind.
"Is this like a date?" He chuckled nervously and shrugged.
"I don't know. Maybe we just hang out and see. I'd like to talk to you some more anyway." Having nothing to do and nowhere to be Ava agreed. At his insistance, she handed over her phone allowing him to program his number into it before giving it back to her. They said their goodbyes and Ava carried on with her day catching glimpses of him from time to time as he walked past the shop stopping only to make a face in her direction. Judging from the looks that the customers gave her as she broke into random fits of laughter she was starting to become convinced she would gain herself a reputation for being insane.
"You didn't bring your portfolio with you today Barry, is everything alright?" He walked slowly around Dr. Fletcher's office, shrugging at her question before finally taking a seat in the chair opposite her.
"Yeah, everything's good why do you ask?" She smiled and reminded him that each time he came there was something he felt the need to show her. She had become accustomed to admiring his work as they discussed his life and all that it entailed. "I got a show tomorrow, I figured maybe it was time to take a break you know." She nodded slowly.
"Sure, that sounds reasonable. And how is work going for you? Everyone I've talked to has nothing but good things to say about your performance." Barry smiled as if to say he knew but decided to nod instead.
"It's good." He offered simply. She stared at him for a moment, her smile fixed in his direction as she watched him carefully from her seat.
"So what is it you're not telling me, Barry?"
"What?" He scoffed playfully.
"You're usually much more talkative." She pressed and he waved her off with a smile.
"I'm feeling quiet today that's all."
"And the others? Are they feeling quiet too?" He shrugged.
"It's been really uneventful Dr. Fletcher you know how things go."
"I do." She agreed with a smile. "I know that very well, but I also know my patients and I can tell when you're hiding something Barry. It's okay." She offered and he watched her for a moment before letting out a loud sigh.
"Okay say maybe I am hiding something."
"Okay." She lifted herself in attention and waited for him to continue.
"So maybe we did something a little bit silly but it's not a problem, I can fix it." He spoke unsure of his words and the assurance he had attempted to offer more for himself than for the kindly woman who sat before him.
"Fix what Barry?" He stopped, sunk into his chair and sighed once again. He thought for a very long moment, unsure of just how to explain but deciding it best to start at the beginning told her everything he could about Ava, how they had met and how she had no idea who he actually was. He mentioned their conversations, their budding friendship and how they were supposed to meet the next afternoon. Dr. Fletcher took it all in and simply watched him as he cringed at his own actions and waited for her much needed advice.
"I don't know what to do I gotta be honest, I... I.. I maybe messed up a little."
"It seems to me that you like this girl an awful lot Barry." He shrugged not wanting to let on one way or the other.
"Have you considered how this may affect the others?" He stopped, his shoulders stooped as he leaned forward to place his head in his hands.
"It's not them I'm worried about Doc." He sighed and closed his eyes. "She's gonna find out, she has to right like we can't hide who we are forever."
"Are you afraid of how she'll react?" She asked simply and he nodded, knowing the answer before the question even fully left her lips.
"Shouldn't I be?" He asked without looking up at her.
"Listen to me Barry, I've been doing this for a very long time and even before I got into trauma work I can honestly tell you it wasn't uncommon for someone to come to me with something that was embarrassing or even scary for them to tell a loved one or a partner." He looked up at her, worry still clouding his eyes and she spoke. Dr Fletcher leaned toward him, her elbows resting on her knees and her hands clasped loosely in front of her. "My advice to you Barry is that when the time feels right to tell her, that you be completely honest just as you have been with me." He rolled his eyes and began to shake his head before she stopped him with the quick rise of her hand.
"No no, listen Doc that's not an option..."
"Let me ask you this." He sat back and watched her carefully as she mulled around her question before speaking again. "Do you want to continue to see her?"
"Yes." He answered matter of factly.
"Then it seems to me that you have two roads available to you. Neither one appealing but you must pick one if you don't want to hurt this girl."
"Be honest with her Barry, tell her who you are and explain your reasoning."
"What's the second option?" He smirked, hoping it was better than the first but somewhere deep down knowing it wasn't.
"If you can't do that then the only thing left is to stop seeing her completely."
Chapter 3: Chapter 3
"Some secrets never leave us alone"
Morning came and went in a blur of coffee and chores. As the time came for Ava to pull herself from her couch and make herself presentable she found a sudden wave of nervousness wash over her. She had spent the night lying away, wondering about the next day and what they would become by the end of it all. Deciding to give herself over to the surprise of the afternoon Ava traded her pajamas for a pair of jeans and a long sleeve T-shirt, a faint line of makeup and ran a comb through her wavy brown hair.
They agreed to meet outside of the gallery and after admitting to not having a car Ava decided to forgo hers as well and catch a bus. In her mind, it made things feel even and somehow the fact comforted her despite the stench and the murmurs of the other riders as they moved past her to take their seats. She kept to herself, listening to music as she watched the streets change again and again before downtown finally came into view.
It was a college area so the number of bars and coffee shops outdid just about everything else but tucked in between a Chinese grocery and a bare-bones music shop lay a little white building that seemed out of place. For a moment she didn't know if she was in the right place but as she stepped off of the bus to see Kevin waiting patiently on a bench her fears abated and she tucked her headphones into the pocket of her dark purple jacket and greeted him with a smile.
"Don't you look pretty." He beamed as he stood to take her into a light hug.
"Not too bad yourself handsome." She returned his compliment with a smile. They had been going like this for almost two weeks and still, she wasn't sure exactly what it all meant. Normally she could tell when someone was flirting with her but this felt different. If he was flirting it was kind and felt nothing like a pass that would serve to put her on edge. Instead, she felt sincerity and warmth coming from his words and had no problems returning them in kind.
It was the first time she had seen him out of uniform. Dressed in faded blue jeans, a black long sleeved shirt that came down almost to his fingers and heavy pair of black boots he seemed almost out of place to her. Maybe it was that she had become so used to seeing the button up dark grey uniform or maybe it was because he seemed to have a sense of fashion where most men did not. Either way, she meant what she said and didn't argue as he took her hand in his and led her into the gallery with a smile.
Barry had secured his spot at the showing weeks in advance but his work wasn't alone in decorating the walls as he was quick to point out.
"That one there..." He pointed to a painting that Ava couldn't quite understand. Reds, golds, and oranges flowed over the canvas and reminded her of a vibrant sunset. "That's mine, you can tell because it's actually good." He joked and she shoved him playfully.
"Stop that's mean." Ava laughed. He wrapped his arm lightly around her waist and guided her over to another piece. They stopped in front of an abstract portrait of a lady. Another one she couldn't quite make out but not for lack of trying. Nothing was coherent, she could only vaguely tell that it was meant to be a human underneath the ragged brush strokes and rhinestones that seemed to have no pattern or place.
"That's what's known in the art world as a train wreck!" He whispered in a sing-song voice. Ava snorted and quickly covered her mouth as she did.
"Why do you do that?"
"Do what?" She pretended not to know what he was talking about, hoping he would get the clue and drop the subject. He stepped to the front of her.
"That?" He pointed to the hand in front of her lips and she promptly dropped it.
"I don't know what you're talking about."
"Yes, you do."
"No." She continued to argue and to her surprise he reached out, poking into her side and pulling a small shriek from her lips. "Stop it don't do that!" She warned in with fake sincerity and sensing her challenge he continued. The other collectors and patrons took sideways glances at the pair as he continued to poke at her sides and her ribs. Ava squealed, laughed and even shrieked as she squirmed to get away from him nearly knocking over a statue in the process.
"Kevin quit!" She laughed before finally erupting in yet another snort which only served to make the situation worse. She held her hand over her mouth, her eyes shocked as he stopped and pointed to her with a satisfied smile.
"There, that, right there!" He exclaimed. Ava tried to shush him but was interrupted by a portly and balding old man who had somehow stepped between them unnoticed.
"Excuse me but this is a place of business. I'm going to have to ask you to refrain from making a scene or I will be forced to ask you to leave." He looked between them and Ava nodded, slightly embarrassed.
"Sure, sorry about that." Kevin offered, his eyes still locked on Ava as he spoke. The old man stared at them for a moment longer before taking his leave and Ava as if on cue fell into another although quieter fit of laughter.
"Look what you did." She scolded him playfully.
"Uh uh, no you didn't answer my question." Kevin shot back and Ava shook her head.
"What question? I didn't hear a question. So what is this one all about?" She asked pointing to a canvas that had been smeared with so much glitter she half wondered if a clown had sneezed on it at one point.
"I'll do it again." He threatened.
"You won't." Ava shot back. Kevin reached out and poked at her side one last time and finally, she relented.
"I'll get us thrown out. Don't think I won't." He grinned.
"Okay, alright. I snort when I laugh. It's embarrassing. Happy?"
"Yes, yes I am." He spoke with satisfaction in his voice. He returned to her side, slipping his arm around her waist and leaning down to rest his chin on her shoulder as she continued to figure out the painting in front of her. "I think it's cute." He mentioned flatly and Ava smiled at his admission without saying another word about it.
They continued around the small gallery, moving past the light crowd of people and ignoring the looks they provoked whenever he would make an off-collar joke sending her into another fit of laughter. Ava noticed the whispers coming from the rest of the people and wondered if their interaction was at all appropriate for the setting but somehow finding herself unable to care.
"You're stuff is really good." She remarked as they set on the last piece. It was a landscape painting and she could very clearly make out the zoo's backdrop. The obvious inspiration wasn't lost on her as he thanked her and led her away. Taking one last look back she saw something in it that she had missed, a figure, a girl among a crowd with her back turned and as her eyes drifted over the dark brown locks she found herself wondering if that was meant to be her.
Dusk began to fall as they left the gallery and walked slowly down the semi-crowded sidewalk paying no mind to the people around them that seemed to be in an awful hurry to get to wherever they were going. But for Ava time seemed to slow down as he serenaded her with tales of his time in Philidelphia. Admitting to not being a native to the city himself she felt a closeness forming between them, a common ground she could relate too.
"I'm not from either." She added as they walked side by side, close enough to touch but somehow managing to keep a small sliver of space between them.
"No? Where do you hail from?"
"New York." Kevin smiled brightly.
"City girl! Oh, you have to tell me what it's like." His excitement wasn't lost on her and she gave in to his request happily.
"It's loud. Bright. Way too many people but there's always something to do." She began.
"Did you ever see Broadway?" Ava shook her head. "Central Park?" Again she shook her head. "Well, what did you do." Ava thought for a moment. She had plenty of memories but one stood out among the rest and thankfully it was one she thought he could appreciate.
"When I was little, I wanted to be a ballerina."
"That's so cute!" He began and she shushed him with a smile.
"During the winter, in Time's square, they open up this ice rink and every Friday until New Years they put on a show." He listened intently, hanging on to her every word. "Most of the time it's nothing special but on Christmas Eve they always always always do the Nutcracker and every year my dad would take me to go see it. It was always crowded so when I was little my dad would lift me onto his shoulders so I was taller than everyone else and we would watch the entire show."
"Is that why you wanted to be a ballerina?" Ava nodded.
"They were always so magical. The costumes were as bright as the snow and I can still remember my fingers stinging with the cold when it was over. He would always take me for hot chocolate after to warm me up but it was kind of our thing. The only real thing I ever got to do while I was there." There was a long pause as she relived the memory in her mind, smiling as she could still somehow feel the cold biting at her fingertips and the smell of hot chocolate that came at the end.
"My dad... He uh, died when I was really little." Kevin began.
"I'm so sorry." She offered sincerely. He waved her off with a shrug.
"It's okay. But we kind of had a thing like that too. I don't remember it very well but at least once a month or so he would pull me out of school early, I'm talking like during roll call and he would take me to the zoo. It wasn't anything special like what you had but it was just for us and I remember I always got so excited whenever we would go to see the lions. I wanted to hear them roar." He smiled and so did she.
"Only once and I pissed myself." He laughed. "I think I was four. Anyway, after that, we kind of stayed away from the lion's cage." Ava chuckled alongside him. Without thinking Ava reached forward and grabbed his hand gently, watching for any sign of protest as she laced her fingers with his. It wasn't meant to send a message, to imply anything but it felt right and as a slight smile tugged at his lips she got the feeling he felt that too.
"Is that why you work there now?" Kevin thought for a moment, looking straight ahead before offering her a small shrug.
"You know I never thought about it but you might be right. Maybe it's how I keep him alive."
"That's really sweet Kevin." He went silent and a long sigh escaped him before he stopped their stride and turned to face her. Untangling his hand from hers, he motioned to a small bench just up ahead and asked her to sit with him a moment. Happily, she obliged and quietly she waited as he shoved his hands in his pockets and wrestled with something deep in his mind. "Is everything okay?" She finally asked after a long moment.
"Yeah... I mean I don't know, maybe." He offered, chuckling nervously. "I feel like I need to tell you something."
"Sure." She crossed her legs and leaned forward, watching him and giving him the space he needed to find the words.
"First I need you to know something." He stammered slightly. Ava said nothing, only waited for him to speak. "I'm having a really great time with you." He looked up at her for the first time since they began. She wanted to smile but the overwhelming look of worry in his eyes instead forced her stomach to do a backflip and she found herself suddenly very nervous.
"I am too." She offered but it did little to soften his expression.
"I'm glad." He said sincerely before continuing. "And I totally understand if this changes things but if I don't say something I'm going to hate myself..." He sighed heavily and leaned forward resting his elbows on his knees and dropping his head into his hands. He explained to her in what little words he could find about his childhood, sparing the details for a broad explanation and offering her what information he could about his disorder and how it came to be. She listened quietly as he told her about the years of abuse, the coping mechanism he had developed and the crowd of people that inhabited his mind. He paused every so often to give her the chance to absorb all that he had to say without looking at her, afraid of what he might see if she did.
Ava listened carefully and without a word. It didn't take much to see that this was difficult but she knew that in a way she was thankful for his trust in her.
"The thing is Ava, I'm not who you think I am." He began, nearly choking on his words as he did. She could see the glimmer of tears behind his eyes as he took one quick look at her before returning them to the ground at his feet. "I made a mistake and I'm so sorry."
"What mistake? Kevin, you've done nothing wrong." She tried to assure him and he winced, wiping at his eyes and sniffing loudly.
"Yes I did and I don't want you to hate me but I understand if you do." His breath came in short bursts and in that instance she recognized the fight to maintain control within him. Without a word she reached out, taking his hand once again, lacing her fingers with his and placing it gently on her lap.
"Tell me." She pressed gently, rubbing the back of his hand with her thumb in an effort to comfort him.
"The man...." He began heavily. "The man you met in the parking lot, that was Kevin." He explained. "But that's not me." Ava resisted the urge to sit back in shock and instead kept it to herself as he continued. "I... I saw you and I wanted to talk to you but I lied to you..." He ripped his hand from hers and resumed his position, hunched and resting his forehead against his palms. "I never told you who I was, I pretended to be him and I fucked up." He cried softly into the air.
"Why didn't you tell me?" She asked, ignoring the obvious answer and wanting to hear it from him. He shrugged weakly.
"I was having fun with you. I just... I forgot who I was and I just wanted to talk to you." He turned away from her in an attempt to hide his sobs and despite a growing need to reach out to him, to comfort him she stayed silent. "I started to like you and I just... I just forgot. I just wanted to be normal." He sniffed loudly and rubbed his nose with the back of his hand before turning back toward her, his eyes red-rimmed and apologetic. She had no feelings of hatred, no distrust in him after what he had admitted. In a way, she felt flattered that she could offer him a chance to forget but the sadness in his expression brought her careening back to reality, a reality where she had come to enjoy the company of a person whose name she didn't even know.
"I make you feel normal?" She asked gently and he nodded.
"Talking to you is easy. I just got caught up. I'm so sorry." He offered and she shushed him with a smile, reaching over to place her hand on top of his. He looked down at her gesture, unsure of what to make of it. Sensing the apprehension she pulled away and thought for a moment before letting out a long sigh.
"So this... condition... there are others?" He nodded. "WIll I ever meet them?" He looked up at her slightly shocked and she could see at that moment that he had never entertained the thought that they would make it past this conversation let alone that she would be willing to explore what it was really like for him.
"I don't know.." He offered softly. "I hadn't....."
"It's okay." She smiled. He wiped at his eyes once more with a loud sniff. "I can't imagine that was easy for you." She offered and for the first time since their conversation started he smiled. "Thank you."
"For what?" He asked quickly.
"For trusting me." She explained and his face softened.
"Are... you... I mean, are you okay with... with this?" He stammered and she thought for a moment, mulling around the question that was bigger than the moment.
"I... well I'm a little upset that you're not who I thought you were." His eyes dropped and his face looked pained. "But it's just a name right?" He looked up and nodded slightly.
"Like our conversations, tonight it's all been you right?" Again he nodded.
"I understand if you don't want to see me anymore." He offered and Ava quickly shook her head.
"No, that's ... no." She chuckled nervously. Ava stopped, unsure of what to say and simply watched as he stared absently at the ground and picked at his fingers while waiting for her to continue. "I still like you." It was a small statement but it seemed right in the moment. "What's your name?" She asked softly and without looking up he responded.
"Barry." She repeated with a smile. "That suits you."
"What's that supposed to mean?" He looked up at her, a slight smile pulling at his features.
"Nothing it just... suits you." Ave reached over once again taking his hand in hers and commanding his attention. "Look I have some thinking to do." He nodded. "And obviously I have some reading to do because I have no idea what this is." She motioned to his head and he smirked. "And if we're going to be spending time together then I feel like I should understand this." His eyes lit up only slightly and he smiled softly at her. A long pause passed between them before Ava stood and stretched, motioning for Barry to follow her lead. Without saying a word she reached out and pulled him into a long and soft hug.
"I'm so sorry." He whispered into her shoulder and squeezed him tighter in response.
"It's okay." She spoke as she pulled away from him and reached up to wipe the remaining moisture from his cheek. "Just promise me something."
"Anything." He smiled as he looked down at her, his hands still resting comfortably on her hips.
"Be honest with me, from now on." Barry nodded and leaned in for a last quick hug before releasing her. Night had fallen around them and the sounds of the city began to fill the air. Music began to thunder from a nearby dance club and laughter echoed out from the various corners of the city. None of which seemed to matter as they watched each other for a long time before one of them gained the courage to speak.
"Do you wanna get some ice cream?" Barry smiled at her question and a light went off in his head.
"I know the perfect place."
The night came to a close and at Barry's insistence, he took a seat next to her on the bus to see her home safely. Their conversation continued almost as if nothing had happened and as her street finally came into view they tugged at the line and stepped off of the bus and onto the deserted sidewalk. They walked side by side, their hands brushing together every so often as they made their way toward a small but well kept red bricked apartment complex that she called home. The building wasn't much, two stories tall with black shutters on every window that stood out against the blood-red brick. It was laid out in a U shape with a small playground in the middle for the kids that lived there but even though she wouldn't admit it Ava stopped to enjoy the swings every now and again, relishing in the wind in her hair and the feeling of being carefree once again if only for a moment.
"Do you live far from here?" She asked suddenly realizing that she may have led him far from where he needed to be. Barry shook his head.
"No, I live near the zoo." He offered.
"Barry that's like a fifteen-minute drive." She reminded him and he smiled.
"Ten minutes by bus and a two-minute walk." He countered. "I'll be fine don't worry about me." They stopped at the little staircase outside of her building. The soft glow of the yellow porchlight flickering above them as he continued. "Besides I wouldn't feel right if I didn't know you got home safe," Ava smirked.
"So what are you my bodyguard now?" She teased and he smiled.
"No, a knight in shining armor maybe but bodyguard... Nah." Ava laughed lightly.
"Knight in shining armor? How bold."
"What can I say, I'm humble." He smirked. Ava relished in his playfulness, nearly forgetting about the heaviness that permeated their conversation from before. Swiftly and without warning Ava stepped forward and lifted herself onto the tip of her toes, resting her hand on his shoulder for balance and placed a quick kiss to his cheek. His ears burned red and she chuckled lightly as she pulled away.
"I had a really fun time tonight."
"I did too." He offered sweetly. "Maybe we can do it again sometime." Ava nodded, shoving her hands in her pockets as the cold began to make itself known, biting at her knuckles and sending a shiver through her.
"Goodnight Barry." She turned without another word and stepped into her building. As she closed the door behind her he offered a quick wave before setting off on his own.
She readied herself for bed, her mind swirling with the night they had shared and the revelation therein. She opened her phone and began searching for books on dissociative identity disorder, keeping true to her word and wanting to understand everything about him. Just as she hit the order button a message came through and she opened it and found herself smiling before she even read what he had to say.
"I'm home safe."
"Good I'm glad." She responded and he replied quickly.
"Sweet dreams. I'll see you at work."
Ava shut off her phone and placed it on the nightstand. She buried herself in her covers and closed her eyes, completely unable to stop smiling as she drifted off into sleep.
Chapter 4: Chapter 4
"She is a broken piece of beautiful pottery, put back together by her own hands."
The illusion of safety
"Dissociative Identity Disorder, previously known as Multiple personalities is a mental disorder characterized by at least two distinct and relatively enduring personality states. This is accompanied by memory gaps, beyond what would be explained by ordinary forgetfulness."
"Woah," Ava said to no one as she re-read the passage and took a sip from her cooling cup of coffee. She sat at her kitchen table and her breakfast remained untouched as she flipped through the pages of her new book wanting to understand as much as she could but finding it hard to understand anything at all.
"What are you doing?" Her phone buzzed and she replied absently before returning her attention to her book.
"Reading." She placed the phone down on the table only to have to pick it up seconds later as it buzzed again.
"Reading what?" She chuckled.
"Are you bored, Barry?" She asked and before she could put her phone down he replied.
"Yes. Wanna hang out later?" Ava smirked
"You know I would but I have a really hot date with a really cute guy later." It took a moment for him to respond and Ava wondered if he would pick up on her banter through the limitations of text. Reading the message she laughed loudly, relieved that he had.
"Okay well, when you're done making him squeal we should get some dinner. Six o clock maybe? Same place as last time." Ava agreed and double checked the time before returning to her book. She read a few more passages before marking her place and setting it down. She struggled to understand a lot and decided instead to hop online and see if she couldn't find a more personal account of what it was like.
Time flew by as she lost herself in a montage of youtube videos and web forums. The information was helping her to understand things just a little bit better and as the fog began to lift exposing the mystery things started to seem in a way easy. She cleared her table and grabbed a soda from her fridge, ready to tuck back into her search and smiling slightly as her phone buzzed once again.
"That man I swear." She laughed. She turned it over and opened the screen to see a number she didn't recognize.
"How are you?"
"I'm sorry, who is this?" She asked a little more than slightly confused.
"Have you been well?" Ava read it over twice before responding.
"Do I know you?" She shot back and they replied quickly.
"How's your mother?"
"Alright, I think you have the wrong number." She dropped her phone down onto the table and went back to the flickering screen. After a few moments, she was startled by the sound of her phone ringing and dancing across the table impatiently. She watched it for a moment before flipping it over cautiously. The same number flashed on the screen and without a second thought, she ended the call. Her heart began to race as a million thoughts went through her mind, none of them pleasant and checking the time she realized that if she didn't hurry she was going to be late.
Ava stepped off of the bus to see Barry sitting in the same spot on the same bench, this time dressed simply in jeans, a black T-shirt and a light grey hoodie. He smiled as she approached him and stood, taking her in for a quick hug.
"How has your day been?" He asked as he pulled away.
"Fine." She answered quickly. "I started researching your head thing.." She began as he led her away from the bench with slow steps.
"My head thing?" He smiled as he looked over at her, his eyebrow arched.
"Head thing." He repeated.
"It's a mouthful okay just let me have this." Ava waved him off and he laughed.
"What did you learn?" He asked curiously and she shrugged.
"Well, the book wasn't helpful...."
"You got a book?" He interrupted and she nodded.
"Yeah, it reads like stereo instructions though so I went online. Found some other people like you. It's really interesting." Barry chuckled.
"I'm glad you think so. If you have any questions feel free to ask." Ava nodded as they rounded the corner. A street lined with restaurants and a small movie theater came into view and she was suddenly hit with a myriad of smells, each one blending into each other and impossible to separate. "So what are you in the mood for? Chinese? Korean? Italian? My treat." Barry smiled as he waved his arms motioning at the multitude of choices laid out before them. Settling on Chinese Ava followed him toward the restaurant that he swore was simply the best in the state and held the door open for her.
She stepped inside to the dimly lit waiting area. Red and gold decorated the entire building and the only thing that stood out was the fish tank just behind her. She leaned down and tapped gently on the glass to get the attention of a rather ornate goldfish as Barry made arrangments for a table for two. Placing his hand at her hip he walked close as they were led to a small booth in the back and he slid into the seat opposite her. Before either, one of them could speak Ava felt an obnoxious buzzing from deep inside her pocket and fished it out to see who it was.
"How's your new job?"
"Stop texting me." She replied quickly before sliding it across the table and pushing the whole experience out of her mind.
"Who was that? Was that nosey?" He scrunched up his nose at his own question and she smiled.
"No, it's fine. I honestly don't know just some random asshole." She waved it off and picked up a straw from the table, peeling some of the paper off and blowing the rest in Barry's direction with her straw. He did the same inciting a laugh from both of them.
"So how's your week been?" He asked and Ava chuckled.
"You saw me at lunch yesterday Barry it's not like we haven't seen each other all week." He waved her off.
"Yeah, yeah I still wanna know. There's gotta be something worth sharing." He offered and she mulled it over for a moment before responding.
"Oh, I know so my cat..." She began and he nodded. "Turns out Lucas is a Lillith." She took a sip of her coke and watched him as he smiled.
"How did you manage that?"
"What?" She sat back playfully offended.
"How do you look down there, not see a pair of balls and go hmmm. I think this is a boy?" Ava laughed loudly. "I mean come on girl you don't have to get around to know what nuts look like."
"Oh yeah and what if I don't know." She teased and he dropped his forehead onto the table.
"I find that hard to believe." He chuckled into his lap before sitting back up.
"Well believe it, I'm innocent." She said barely able to contain her own laughter.
"Pure or not everyone knows what testicles look like." He shot back loudly enough for a table of grey haired old women to hear them. Ava waved at them, embarrassed as they shot the couple a few disappointed glances. "I bet they've seen some balls in their day." He mentioned absently and Ava covered her mouth to hide her laughter.
"Do you ever quit?" She managed to whisper and he simply shook his head. Barry excused himself to find a restroom and out of habit Ava grabbed her phone and opened it intent on scrolling through the odd web page but instead finding eight missed messages. Her stomach sank as she looked over the number.
"Why are you ignoring me?"
"Are you happy?"
"Are you happy?"
"Are you happy?" She scrolled past the repeated message, her face growing flush as a sudden realization began to dawn on her and she found herself regretting her decision to even look at the damn thing.
"I miss you kitten." Ava nearly choked, dropping her phone onto the table and staring forward in abject horror. She hadn't noticed Barry's return and he looked on in worry as her hands shook and her breath hitched in her chest.
"Ava?" He asked for the third time finally shaking her out of her daze. She stammered for a moment before gathering her things and announcing that she had to leave, nearly knocking the waiter over as she stormed out of the restaurant. Barry dropped a twenty on the table, offered an apologetic smile and slipped out of the booth to chase after her.
"Ava." He called after her as she walked quickly down the sidewalk, her hand white knuckling the strap of her bag as she headed in no direction in particular. She could hear the world around her, his voice and his footsteps growing close but her mind was elsewhere in both time and space.
"I miss you kitten...." The words repeated over and over again in her head first in her own voice and then in his. A deep tone she had longed to forget. Finally clearing the space between them he called her name once again reaching out to lightly touch her arm and pulling back as she flinched away from him.
"Ava, what's wrong... did I do something?" She turned, her thoughts still swimming as she struggled to catch her breath. She felt the world closing in, her breaths coming in panicked gulps and she grasped her chest as she struggled for air. Barry reached out, guiding her toward the hard wall of the nearest building and placing her back to it. He coaxed her down and she placed her hands on her knees as he brushed her hair away from her neck and rubbed at her back. Ava slid down the wall and pressed her face into her hands desperate to fight back the tears that threatened to overtake her.
"I'm sorry." She croaked as he knelt down next to her.
"It's okay but please talk to me, what's wrong."
"Nothing." She whispered and he shook his head.
"Uh uh, no you don't get to do that to me." She looked over at him, her heart heavy and her mind tired. He sat down next to her and wrapping an arm over her shoulder pulled her into his hard frame. Ava made herself comfortable, the sudden contact doing a lot to ease her nerves. "No one has a panic attack over nothing. That was something." She looked up at him to see his eyes already fixed on her. "What's wrong baby?" Ignoring the flutter in her chest at the pet name that left his lips she cleared her throat and pulled out her phone, handing it to him and nestling herself into his side. He slid it open with his thumb and began scrolling through the messages.
"Who is this?" He asked quietly. "I'm assuming you know?" Ava nodded. She reached up and took the phone from him and jamming it back into her bag.
"Before I came here I was engaged." She began. "At first he was really nice, kind of like you." She looked up and saw him still watching her waiting for her to continue. "We um.. We got together in high school." She played with her fingers absently as she spoke. "We moved in together after graduation and um..." She struggled with her words and sighed as Barry squeezed her gently in response. His thumb tracing absent circles in her arm as she continued. "He uh, he got mean. He started trying to control me and when I fought back he um... he..." She felt a wave of tears welling up in her at the memory.
"He hit you?" He asked, concern evident in his voice.
"Um..." Ava began. "No that would have been a lot nicer. He straight up kicked my ass." She stuttered and Barry let out a noise that could have been mistaken for a growl. "He broke my jaw once when he saw me looking at another guy. It was just someone I knew, someone I worked with." She explained slightly frantic. Barry pulled her close, his lips pressed to the side of her head as she leaned into him in response. "He was the only person who ever called me Kitten. I came here to get away from him, it's been nearly a year I don't know how this happened...." She rambled frantically and Barry wrapped his arms around her allowing her to bury her head in his chest. She closed her eyes and did the best she could to control her breathing as she found herself calmed by the warmth of his arms and the sweet scent of his skin. Like Old spice and Sandalwood, it took her somewhere nice somewhere safe and she reached up, wrapping her arms around his neck allowing him to comfort her.
Barry slowly let her go and moved to his feet, offering her his hands and helping her to her own. He reached out, cupping her face gently before brushing her hair back with his fingers and offering her a pained smile.
"I'm so sorry that happened to you." He offered genuinely. Ava stepped back into his arms, needing to feel something other than the vast openness around her. Needing to feel safe. She lay her cheek against his shoulder and closed her eyes as he returned her embrace.
"I'm sorry you got brought into this." She could feel him shaking his head in response above her.
"If it means I get to have you it doesn't bother me one bit." She felt herself smiling and squeezed him lightly to show she appreciated the statement without having to open her mouth to speak. "As long as I'm around I won't let anything happen to you I promise."
"Can you really promise that?" She asked, pulling away from him and wiping her cheeks with the sleeve of her jacket. "He's violent Barry, the man is insane... I... I don't want you to get hurt." She stammered, her voice cracked and bordered on tears. "I couldn't live with myself if something happened to you."
"Do you think I could?" He asked simply. "I.. I realize we're only just starting here Ava but you mean a whole hell of a lot to me and just seeing you like this hurts me...." Ava watched him for a moment before a smile tugged at the corners of her mouth. She hadn't quite realized the depth of his feelings for her, getting caught up in the playfulness of it all left little room for the reality of the situation and the reality was that he meant a great deal to her too.
Ava stepped into him, pressing her cheek to his chest and finding her place in his embrace once again.
"You mean a lot to me too." They held each other like that for what felt like hours. Neither one wanting to let go as the world went on without them.
Ava's stomach rumbled loudly and she found herself chuckling as his body began to shake with laughter against her.
"Are you still hungry?" He asked pulling away from her, stopping only to brush the hair from her face. Ava nodded. Barry took her by the hand, lacing his fingers with hers and leading her back toward the restaurant. After a few minutes of sweet talking he was able to not only get their booth back but the twenty he had left as well. Ava did the best she could to put the whole thing out of her mind and Barry did his part to help.
He made a point to put on a show for her. Telling her every joke he knew, making lewd comments about the shrimp that lay uneaten on her plate and even pulling disapproving stares and whispers from the other customers as he shoved a pair of chopsticks into his mouth and did his best impersonation of a walrus.
Ava knew it was a show, it was all for her and she enjoyed every moment of his theatrics and the purpose they served to keep her calm despite the chaos of the afternoon.
They took the bus back as evening turned into night and by the time they made it to her front steps the sun had fully fallen leaving them blanketed in a curtain of darkness. She stopped at her front steps once again but instead of saying their goodbyes Barry pressed her to continue inside.
"Did you want to come up?" She asked softly and he shook his head.
"Someday." He winked. "But not today, I would just feel a whole lot better if I saw you to your door."
"You don't have to do that." She smiled, playing with her keys nervously as she looked away. Barry shrugged and motioned for her to continue. Feeling no room for argument Ava turned and led him inside. He followed her up the dimly lit stairs and toward the end of a long hallway. Stopping at the last door she turned to face him.
"This is me. And as you can tell I'm safe and sound." She made a motion to the empty hallway around her before turning back to his smiling figure. He leaned on her doorway, watching her intently and she caught herself blushing in response. "Are you sure you don't want to come inside?" She asked again. "Strictly PG." She offered with a smile and Barry shook his head.
"No I still have some things to do before I go home." He stepped away from the door frame and reached out, grabbing her hand and placing a soft kiss to her knuckles. Ava blushed in response.
"Listen if you need me, for any reason just call me."
"Barry..." She began to protest but was stopped short as he leaned forward without a word stole a slow and tender kiss from her in the dark of the hallway. Ava closed her eyes and breathed him in as deeply as she could. Committing to memory the softness of his lips, the feel of his breath warm against her cheek and the steady thundering of her heart deep inside her chest.
Barry pulled away and rested his forehead against hers, his eyes still closed as he repeated himself.
"Call me." He repeated. "Any reason, any time." Ava agreed and relished in one last kiss before saying goodnight and slipping into the safety of her apartment. He texted her a little while later to let her know he was home safe and thinking of her and she read the message a dozen times before finally placing her phone down on the bedside table.
In a move reminiscent of the antics of a teenager Ava threw herself back onto the bed behind her, smiling into the cool emptiness of her apartment and biting at her lip as she relived the warmth of their kiss a hundred times in her mind.
Chapter 5: Chapter 5
"Everybody has an addiction. Mine just happens to be you."
The weeks went by without another incident and Ava found herself relaxing more and more with the passing of each day. Summer turned into fall, the leaves on the trees decorated the city in a beautiful display of red and gold. The appearance of carved pumpkins and costumed children became a regular occurrence and so too did the appearance of another personality within Kevin's mind.
"I'm not gonna trick or treat this year. Miss Patricia says I can't but whatever I didn't want to anyway."
"Is that so?" Ava chuckled as the pair walked past a rather large and deserted park. It took a few encounters before Ava finally became accustomed to Hedwig's presence and despite protests from some of the others, she was able to convince Barry that she could handle him long enough to take a simple walk from time to time. Insisting it would be good for him too Barry relented and allowed him to steal the light for small moments after work had ended and the responsibilities of the day were put aside.
"Yeah, I mean it's stupid anyway...."
"What would you be if you could go trick or treating?" Ava asked him sensing that he was only trying to make himself feel better with his statement. Hedwig went silent for a moment before finally deciding to change the subject rather than offer an answer.
"Do you wanna play tag?" Ava looked over toward the large open park and shrugged.
"Okay. You're it!" She slapped his arm quickly and before he could grab her in response Ava took off toward the park. Despite being nine years old their shared body was much taller than her and even with her best efforts, she was unable to outrun him.
"IM GONNA GET YOU! NO ONE'S BETTER THAN ME!" He shouted as he chased after her. Ava turned her head to reply and saw him quickly gaining ground, a determined smile on his face as he closed the space between them. "GET BACK HERE!"
"I THOUGHT YOU WERE THE BEST?" She shouted back as she dodged his attempt to grab her with a laugh.
"I DON'T WANNA PLAY ANYMORE!" Hedwig shouted and changed his course, taking off toward a nearby playground and Ava chased after him. Her lungs burned and her legs ached as she struggled to keep up, stopping only as he leaped onto the jungle gym and dared her to come after him.
"Hedwig...." She breathed. "I need a break."
"You're just old." He teased from his hiding spot inside of a large plastic clubhouse attached to the playground. "Get in here." He beckoned her and she laughed.
"Okay but only if I get to sit down." Ava walked over and slid into the too small plastic house, sitting on the ground to face him. "Why did you stop playing tag?" Hedwig shrugged.
"Tags dumb anyway... etcetera..." He mumbled looking away from her. "Are you and Mr. Barry gonna get married?" Ava sat back, her eyes wide and unsure of what to say.
Hedwig watched her carefully. "Because that would be cool but I'm never gonna get married." He added shyly.
"Um... Hedwig that's... That's grown up stuff buddy."
"I'm just saying..." He looked away from her shyly. "That's what people do they fall in love and stuff and get married and have babies. Is that what you're gonna do?"
"Hedwig." She scolded lightly.
"I know." He waved her off. "Did you know sharks never stop moving." Ava did her best to act surprised and shook her head.
"I had no idea." She smiled and pulled her knees up to her chest as he continued.
"Not even when they're sleeping."
"That is really interesting Hedwig, where did you learn that?"
"Mr. Pritchard told me. He tells me lot's of things." Hedwig smiled over at her sweetly and copied her, pulling his knees up to his chest and rocking back and forth slightly as he did.
"What else does he tell you?" A cold wind whipped through the clubhouse and Hedwig began to shiver slightly. "Are you cold?" Ava asked and he nodded. Ava slipped out of her hooded sweatshirt and placed it over his shoulders. "Is that better?" Hedwig nodded, pulling it tighter around him.
"It's too small."
"Well yeah, you're bigger than me." Hedwig scoffed.
"No, I'm not." He laughed. Before Ava could reply he squeezed his eye's shut and shook slightly, a look of pain crossing his face before being replaced with confusion. He looked around for a moment, blinking rapidly and setting his eyes on the jacket.
"Are you okay?" Without a word, he handed her back her jacket and nodded.
"Where are we?" Ava smiled. She had become adept at telling who was out and when and despite enjoying the innocence and freedom that came from her moments with Hedwig she was relieved to be back in the warmth of Barry's presence.
"Hedwig wanted to play."
"I can see that." He chuckled taking in the clubhouse around them. The sounds of laughter began to echo through the air and as the pitter patter of little feet came closer they decided it was best to take their leave. Barry clambered out of the tiny hole and brushed himself off, Ava doing the same and they left the park behind them, ignoring the stares and looks of confusion that came from the parents who had gathered at the park while they were tucked away.
"So what's on the agenda for the day?" Ava asked as they stepped onto the sidewalk and began walking with no real destination in mind. Barry thought for a moment before offering a slight shrug.
"It's still early, I was thinking maybe we knock over a bank, go into hiding and live out our days on a beach." He spoke so matter of factly that Ava was sure that if someone overheard their conversation they may not think it was a joke.
"Okay, but you forgot about one thing." His eyebrow rose in attention. "I can't swim." Barry looked at her slightly shocked.
"I had no idea! How do you not know how to swim?" She shrugged.
"I never learned."
"Well, then I guess we'll just have to move to Cuba."
"That's still an island." She reminded him flatly and he laughed.
"Honey everywhere you go there's going to be water. We're just gonna have to teach you to swim." He sighed and she chuckled lightly.
"Okay so why don't we work on that first and then we can go knock over a bank and live out your dream." Barry turned toward her and offered his hand in response.
"Deal." They shook on it and shared a small laugh before continuing on. Putting their plans of a life of crime aside they hopped on a bus and headed toward the heart of the city. Barry had mentioned a movie that he was dying to see and having no other ideas Ava agreed. The theater was small, one of those places that you go to see movies that are only released in other countries. It was a French film and Ava struggled to read the subtitles but Barry had no issues explaining to her everything that had him so captivated about the film.
like Romeo and Juliet, it centered around two star crossed lovers, a couple who were never meant to meet but found themselves addicted to each other in such a way that he compared it to not being able to breath when the other wasn't around. She put the captions aside and instead became enthralled with the imagery of the film. Resting her head on his shoulder as they watched she found herself relating to almost every part of their story. The way he held her with such tenderness, it was almost as if he thought she would break if he squeezed too hard. The way she seemed to shudder with each long and passionate kiss as if she relied on him to breathe life into her.
Somewhere in the middle of a very heated love scene, Barry had leaned over and without much coaxing began a scene of his own. His hands tangled themselves in her hair as his lips explored hers. Ava felt herself shudder as his tongue flicked out to taste her and throwing all of her cares and worries to the wind she parted her lips and allowed him to taste as much of her as he desired. Ava lost sight of the theater, the movie, and her prudence as his lips found their way to the soft and delicate skin at the sides of her neck, stroking her hair as he nipped and sucked pulling soft sighs from her chest.
He carried on, returning his lips to hers and it wasn't until the credits began to roll and the lights slowly filled the theater once again that he painfully and slowly stopped his assault on her senses. He pulled away from her, his breath heavy and his hand still tangled deep in her hair as he looked at her wide-eyed and with a desire to match her own.
They sat there for a long moment, Barry stealing soft kisses from her every now and again and finding herself unable to stop him she gave in happily.
"Is that why you brought me here?" She teased as he rested his forehead against hers, giving himself a moment to catch his breath and calm his body. He smiled.
"It wasn't my plan but I have no regrets."
"Neither do I." She spoke in a whisper. Barry leaned in, intent on picking up where he left off but just as he was close enough to smell her lip gloss they were interrupted by the distant clearing of a throat and looked down to see one of the janitors standing impatiently with a broom in hand.
"Sorry guys but we gotta get ready for the next show." Barry and Ava shared a laugh before taking the hint and making their way out of the theater, her skin still flushed from the memory and judging by the wild look in his eyes as they made their way out into the street, she wasn't the only one still caught in the heat of the moment.
They took the bus back to her street and Barry apologized a million times for the deep purple bruises he had left on her neck. They were souvenirs to her and despite her mock shock and surprise, she found herself loving each and everyone as a reminder of what they felt when they were alone in the dark of the movie theater. Her mind continued to wonder even as they talked about other things back to his lips, back to the ache in her belly and her near insatiable desire to be close to him.
They stopped at the front steps of her building as usual and Ava, still needing closure grabbed his shirt and pulled him into her kiss. He responded happily, matching his pace with her own and after only a short time pulled away despite her protest.
"All in good time sweetheart." He whispered and she groaned.
"You're a tease." Barry slipped her one last drawn-out kiss before they said their goodnights and he watched her walk into the safety of her building. Her head was still buzzing and her knees shaking as she climbed the stairs with an ever permanent smile and made her way to her apartment.
It wasn't until she had pulled out her keys, ready to slip them into the lock that her mood shifted and her stomach dropped sending a wave of horror ripping through her body and replacing every ounce of ecstasy she had once felt.
Her door was cracked open and the wood around the handle was splintered, its remnants decorating the floor at her feet. Gingerly and with a shaky hand she reached out and slowly pushed it open only to gasp in abject horror as even in the darkness of her apartment she could see the mess that was left behind.
Ava raced down the stairs and out the front door calling for Barry as she stepped onto the sidewalk. She looked around her frantically, tears streaming down her face as she called out for him only to hear nothing in response.
She fished her phone out of her pocket and despite her trembling fingers managed to find his number and hit dial. She let it ring until it went to voice mail and hung up with a curse.
"Shit.... shit...." She cried as she hit dial again only to find the same response. This time she left a message.
"Barry it's Ava, Somethings happened, please call me." She was overtaken with fear and paced back and forth across the sidewalk for a few moments before sitting herself on the steps and hugging her knees to her chest. A long time passed and her tears finally began to subside but her fear remained strong as she waited.
Ava jumped as her phone began to ring and nearly dropping it to the ground she fumbled it to her ear.
"Ava? What's wrong?" He spoke quickly. "Are you okay."
"Please come back." She sobbed into the phone and without question, he told her to wait and ended the call. Ava sat there for what felt like an eternity, her body shaking and her mind racing as she tried to make sense of what was happening. Finally, she heard the loud clapping of footsteps and looked over to see Barry in a dead sprint rounding the corner and running toward her.
She stood and suddenly he stopped. His body shaking and he groaned as if in pain. She waited, watching him desperate to know if he was okay and after just a moment it was over and he stood tall. Even in the distance, she could tell he was different, it was a face she had never seen before and she didn't know what to think as he walked with large and purposeful strides toward her. His face was hard, his features strict and he came to a stop just a foot from her.
"What's wrong." Ava swallowed hard. His voice was much deeper, harsh even and his accent was more pronounced than it had ever been before.
"Someone broke into my apartment. I... I..." She stammered but without asking a single question he set his sights on the building and he took on a look that sent a chill through her body. He reached out and grabbed her wrist, pulling her behind him and guarding her with his own body as he asked her to show him.
Ava led him upstairs, staying behind him as he walked with heavy steps down the hallway and pushed open the door.
"Wait here." He spoke in a low growl before turning on his heels and disappearing into the dark apartment. She chewed at her nails, waiting as he walked around and turned on the lights as he explored each room. After a long while, he finally came out to meet her and shook his head.
"It's a mess. But no one's inside." Ava breathed a sigh of relief only forgetting for a moment that the absence of a body did not mean the presence of safety. He followed her close as she stepped inside and took a look for herself. The apartment looked as if a hurricane had blown through it while she was out. Books were torn and strewn about the floor, the cushions from her couch were scattered and the pictures that hung on the wall were now smashed leaving piles of broken glass that crunched under her feet as she walked.
Her bedroom was no better, the pillows and blankets were torn from their place, her clothes tossed in all directions and she felt the presence of tears on her cheek before she consciously realized she was crying. Ava turned around quickly and threw herself into the man behind her, sobbing into his chest and reluctantly he wrapped his arms around her and allowed her to do as she needed. He held her tightly offering no words of comfort and despite knowing that it wasn't Barry who embraced her she couldn't be bothered to care.
"We should call the police." He spoke after a long moment and she nodded, pulling away and wiping her face with the sleeve of her jacket.
"Um... What's your name?" Her voice cracked as she spoke.
"We can discuss this later."
"Please. I just... I need to feel normal right now." She begged softly, hoping that her words made sense to him and as he sighed she felt safe in the knowledge that they did.
"My name is Dennis." Ava sniffed loudly and offered him her hand. He looked at it for a moment, unsure of what to do before finally deciding on extending the pleasantry of shaking it in his own.
"It's nice to meet you, Dennis. I'm Ava."
Chapter 6: Chapter 6
"You are my strength, but loving you is my greatest weakness"
"So you don't have any idea who could have done this?" Ava held her head in her hands, a loud and long sigh escaping her lips as she answered his question for the third time.
"No, I told you I think it could be my ex-boyfriend but I can't prove it." She answered in frustration. Dennis stood behind her watching silently as her apartment was turned over once again by a group of people in uniform. She was vaguely aware of the flashing of cameras around her but having no energy left in her body to care about the assault to her privacy she simply focused on the task at hand.
"Uh. huh..." He responded as he took down her statement. "And you say he lives on Long Island."
"Yes, last I heard." Her patience was wearing thin and she looked up to see that his was as well.
"So why would he come all the way down here?"
"Because he's a son of a bitch." She nearly growled. She felt the heavy presence of Dennis's hand on her shoulder and closed her eyes to steady her nerves. "He wasn't happy when I left. Said he would get me back or die trying." She explained the text messages and a few phone calls that consisted of nothing more than heavy breathing but it didn't seem to sway the man's opinion on the matter. He closed his notebook and began to usher the other officers from the apartment.
"I'll run the name for you but I can't make any promises Miss Thorne. In the meantime, I suggest you stay with a friend or a relative just in case whoever did this comes back." Ava nodded and locked the door behind him as he left. She pressed her back against the door and sighed knowing full well he hadn't taken her concerns seriously at all.
"I don't think they'll be of much help." Dennis offered and she agreed.
"I'll be surprised if they even bother to look into it." Without saying another word Ava moved into her little kitchen and grabbed a beer from the fridge offering one to her guest. He shook his head politely and paying no mind she took a long drink from her own, nearly emptying the bottle in one go. Quietly and with purpose the pair began to clean up the mess. Dennis reclaiming what he could of her books and slipping them neatly into the shelf as Ava dug through her clothes, tossing them back into her dresser without bothering to sort or fold them. She would regret the decision later but at that moment she just needed to be done with the whole thing.
Once her bedroom was in some form of order she stepped out into the living room and began to help with the chaos that lay all around her.
"Thank you for staying." She offered quietly as they worked together on the last of her books. A few of them were missing pages but they were able to set aside the damaged copies so that she could replace them at a later date.
"No thanks needed." He spoke flatly. "It would be wrong to leave you."
"I appreciate that. You don't have to help me clean up." He shook his head and continued on as if she had said nothing.
"You've done a lot for us. It's the least I can do." Ava smirked.
"What exactly have I done aside from monopolizing Barry's time?"
"You've given him a purpose." She hadn't noticed that he stopped and taking his cue she did the same. Books still in hand she turned to face him.
"I have?" She asked weakly and he nodded.
"Hedwig seems fond of you as well, although I don't approve as much as the others."
"Why's that?" She asked, returning to her task. Dennis sat down on the edge of the deep red couch behind her and sighed.
"He's just a child. He's not as aware of our... unique situation."
"You think he could get into trouble?" Ava set the last book into place and turned around to face him. Without saying a word she somehow knew he agreed. "I like spending time with him."
"I am aware."
"I don't plan to stop. A... and if you care about him as much as you seem to you should know it's good for him too." Dennis studied her for a moment, crossing his arms at his chest and she couldn't be sure if she had struck a nerve or if he was simply attempting to figure her out.
"I don't know that I agree."
"You don't have too." She countered, mirroring his pose and crossing her arms as well.
"I keep him in line, we have fun. Doesn't he deserve to just be a kid?" Dennis thought for a moment, his eyes trained on her as he did. She could see something turning over in his mind and waited, allowing him to be the next to speak.
"He does." He finally spoke flatly. "And that's what concerns me."
"He's not a problem."
"I never said that he was."
"Then how do we settle this?" Ava shot back and for a moment she could have sworn she saw a smirk tugging at the corner of his lips.
"A deal?" She nodded. "For Hedwig?" Again she nodded and he stood. Sighing heavily as he did. "I suppose we could work something out. Being outside is dangerous for him."
"Well, I don't know that I agree either." This time he actually did smirk. "How about this..."
"We only hang out indoors, where it's safe. But..." He watched her curiously as she prepared to make her stipulation. "He deserves to be a kid. You can keep watch if it will make you feel better but I think it would be good for him to experience a fair or an amusement park or something like that. Don't you?" She added in hopes that if she made him consider his own feelings on the matter it would help to sway his opinion. "If it's super crowded then I don't think anyone would notice and if anyone does they'd probably just assume he was...well, you know." Dennis agreed with her insinuation and took his seat once again at the end of the couch.
Ava watched him, waiting impatiently for him to give her his final verdict and after a long while he finally agreed but only on the grounds that he was allowed to keep an eye on them anytime they ventured outside. Dennis watched her as she went to the final task of cleaning the shards of glass from the floor. He took the broken picture frames from her as she went along, placing them gently on the kitchen table for further inspection.
Ava lifted the last frame and a soft cry escaped her as her heart twisted inside of her chest.
On the last day of summer, Barry had taken her to Crystal Springs, a large waterfall near the edge of the state where they spent the day exploring the streams and woods that surrounded them. At the end of it, all Ava had asked to take a picture near the waterfall to remember their date. Being taller than her and not wanting to hunch down Barry lifted her into his arms and just as she snapped the photo he grabbed her attention and kissed her.
It was her favorite picture and she hung it proudly on her wall. But seeing it now, shattered and with the words "WHORE" Written in bright red letters across both of their faces her happy memory had turned to one of sorrow and she cupped her hand over her mouth, shaking as she took it in.
Somewhere in the distance she heard the sound of footsteps slowly moving behind her. A groan filled the air and after it had passed he gently reached out to take the photo from her hands. She held tight to it, for what reason she was unsure but he finally pulled it from her with a soft, please.
Barry reached out, turning her toward him and she fell into his chest sobbing heavily as he scooped her into his embrace and whispered softly against the top of her head.
"That was my favorite day too." He kissed the top of her head and continued to stroke her hair as he spoke gently. "We can get you another one."
"That's not the point Barry." She cried. "It's not about the picture." And it wasn't, it was only a small part of it. She had tried so hard to create something new, find something new and he had invaded her life once again. In one fell swoop, he had taken the safety of her home and tainted her memories. Inserting himself where he didn't belong.
Barry reached down, lifted her into his arms and carried her like a bride over the threshold toward the couch where he sat her across his lap and held her tight against him. Ava wrapped her arms around his broad shoulders and nuzzled into his neck, her soft sobs still coming in waves as he did his best to comfort her.
"You know what my favorite part about that day was?" He asked softly.
"What?" She croaked.
"You were so excited to go. I don't think I'd seen your eyes light up like that before..." He began. Ava sniffed loudly and turned her face to the side for a breath of fresh air. She rested her cheek against his shoulder, her forehead tucked into the crook of his neck as he continued. "When we were walking on the paths, do you remember?" She nodded softly. "I remember we walked out into this clearing, where it was open but the treetops hung over us so it was still kind of dark. You ran off and came back a few minutes later with a little orange butterfly in your hand. You gave it to me and it flew off and I watched you, watching it fly away and something kind of hit me."
"What was it?" She asked, her voice tired and strained.
"Well, I thought it was strange how I had absolutely no idea that I was falling in love with you." The air seemed to be sucked out of the room at that moment and Ava's head spun as his words echoed low and soft through her mind. Her ears rang and she found herself crying once again but this time for an altogether different reason. "Are you okay?" He asked softly. Ava nodded as she lifted herself up, cupped his face in her hand and took him into a long and passionate kiss.
He returned her gesture in kind and didn't argue as she adjusted herself to straddle his lap never breaking their kiss as she did. His hands ran up her back sending a shiver down her spine as she opened her mouth against his and tasted him greedily. The world around them melted away. All of the messages, the invasions and the pain slipped away as they lost themselves in a blur of lips, teeth, and tongues only breaking their embrace long enough for Ava to whisper a soft please before he had any chance to protest.
"Ava..." He breathed, his forehead pressed against hers and his hands resting delicately on her hips.
"I love you, Barry." She whispered between stolen kisses and his grip began to tighten, his hands sliding down to her ass where he pulled her deeper into his lap. She wrapped her arms around his neck holding him tight to her as he buried his face into her shoulder and groaned. He let his hands wander, teasing at the soft skin of her back and lifting her shirt slightly as he allowed himself to explore her. "Please." She whispered again. Barry looked up; his eyes level with hers and his pupils completely blown with desire. His breath came in heavy spurts and he reached up gripping her tight at the back of her neck.
"I want to..." He spoke gently, his eyes closed and his forehead pressed against hers.
"I want it to be right."
"I need this." She sighed. "I need you." Barry opened his eyes, he looked at her, looked through her and she could see a storm brewing behind his gaze, a wildfire that burned white hot and threatened to consume them both.
"Please." She whispered once more. Barry pulled her down and into his kiss and feeling the change in his body against her own she needed no answer and none was given.
Barry reached down and delicately helped her to lift the silk fabric of her shirt over her head, watching as her hair came down over her shoulders in soft curls.
He watched her carefully, almost as though he didn’t want to miss a single detail and allowed his hands to explore the curve of her body, taking what he wanted of her ribs, the ticklish skin of her sides and reached up to fumble with the clasp of her bra.
Ava sighed as it came loose and he slid the tiny black straps over her shoulders with careful fingers. It didn't take long for his lips to once again find the curve of her neck and Ava closed her eyes, breathing in every sensation as his lips began to wonder intent on leaving nothing unexplored.
Her fingers danced at the back of his neck as he gently coaxed her back, holding her steady at her shoulders as he found the sensitive skin of her breasts and she arched against the flick of his tongue, pushing his head forward driving herself deeper into his hungry mouth.
Ava cried softly as he devoured her, his hands gripping tightly at her back as she writhed against him. Barry released her, returning his lips to hers and in a sudden fluid motion began to move her, coaxing her onto her back and sat up. Ava watched him as he reached forward and lifted one leg after the other pulling off her boots and placing them to the side.
"Take your shirt off." She whispered with a smile and he did just that. Ava took him in, the hard line of his chest, the curve of muscle that she had only up until this point imagined. Slowly he crawled over top of her, adjusting her legs around his hips before taking her once again into his kiss. Ava relished in the warmth of his skin against hers and the strength hidden within his figure. She felt safe in his arms, warm in his embrace and she watched in awe as he continued his decent, slowly undoing the button of her jeans and watching her as her breath hitched in her throat.
Barry carefully pulled down the hem of her jeans exposing her hip to the cold of the apartment. The sensation was quickly replaced with the warmth of his mouth as he kissed and sucked at the skin there leaving another one of his marks behind. A subtle declaration of "Mine" and one she had no argument against.
A wave of butterflies ripped through her as he removed her jeans and tossed them to the floor, running his hands up her legs and her thighs softly, stopping at the top of her panties to ask permission before discarding them just the same.
Ava watched him, running her hand over the back of his head as he trailed a long line of slow and purposeful kisses over the inside of her thighs pulling soft moans and sighs from her chest as she tilted her head back against the arm of the couch and closed her eyes.
They say never take your eyes off of a wild animal, well the same is true for a hungry man and Ava cried out as he wrapped his arms around her thighs, pulling her tight against his mouth and dove into her wildly, tasting the sweetness of her core and tightening his grip on her as she wriggled against the strength of his arms.
She gripped at the cushion underneath her losing herself and her inhibitions into the empty air of the apartment screaming out curses and calling his name as he slipped his fingers inside of her and begged her to scream louder, desperate to hear the sounds she made when she was finished.
She shook underneath him, completely at his mercy and just as she thought he would never release her he rose up, placing himself once again between her thighs and devouring her with his kiss. She pulled him tight against her and canted her hips against his, tasting herself on his breath and desperate to feel him.
Ava reached down and fumbled with the buckle of his belt pulling a soft chuckle from his lips before finally freeing him and waiting impatiently as he kicked his jeans off to the end of the couch and reached down to once again to lift her thighs over his hips.
"Are you sure?" He whispered against her kisses and she nodded, wrapping her legs around his, a silent invitation.
Barry's kiss turned tender as he reached down to position himself, taking one last look into her eyes before sliding into her with a deep sigh. Ava arched her back, inviting him to go deeper and crying out at the shock of the sensation as he filled her. They stayed like that for a moment, breathing each other in and exchanging soft kisses before he finally began to move at an agonizingly slow pace.
Her toes curled without her permission and her head fell back as he drove into her again and again, his speed picking up as her cries became desperate and she pulled him tight against her. He bit nipped and kissed at her neck, deep growls echoing through his chest as he held tight at her hip and took what it was he so badly wanted from her quivering frame.
As the intensity of it all took over he reached up, gripping the arm of the couch for leverage and drove into her with hard and determined thrusts. Ava screamed into the heavens, clawed at his back and called out his name as her body shook and she felt herself being overtaken by the strength of her release bringing him to his own and he collapsed into her, his face buried into her neck as he struggled to catch his breath.
Ava gripped him tightly and kissed as his neck, his ear, and his shoulder her breath coming in shuddering gasps as his mouth met hers, brushing the sweat-soaked hair from her face as they lay locked in their embrace.
After a while Barry stood and helped her to her feet, lifting her to carry her over what remained of the broken glass and stealing a few more soft kisses as he moved them into her bedroom and placed her gently down. She smiled up at him, tired and weary as he lifted the covers over her and climbed into the bed, wrapping his arm around her waist and pulling her back into him.
"Do you really love me?" She whispered into the air before sleep was able to take hold. Barry reached up, turning her face back toward him, the seriousness in his eyes causing her to roll onto her back to face him.
"Yes." He answered softly. "I'm crazy about you." Ava smiled, nestling into his chest and tracing soft circles in the space above his heart with her fingers.
"Sometimes when I'm with you, I feel like I'm flying," Barry smirked against the top of her head as she spoke. "I've never felt like that before." Ava looked up at him and closed her eyes as he pressed a soft kiss to her forehead. "I've loved before but not like this." She admitted.
"What's different?" He asked as he played absently with her hair.
"You know how when you're in love, it feels like you don't want to live without them?" He nodded sleepily and pulled her tighter against him. "With you, I don't think that I can." Barry reached up and lifted her face to meet his. She could see the ache for sleep in his eyes as he watched her for a moment before speaking.
"Ava you're more than I ever thought I could have." He spoke in a moment of unfiltered honesty and she smiled. "I’ve spent every day trying to figure out what I did to deserve you. I don't ever intend to let that go."
"Barry..." She whispered and he stopped her with a kiss.
"Go to sleep baby. I'll be here when you wake up." Ava nestled into him once again still high on the events of the night and despite not wanting it to end felt herself being slowly lulled to sleep by the soft beating of his heart deep inside his chest.
Chapter 7: Chapter 7
"Double double toil and trouble, fire burn and cauldron bubble"
Nearly a month had passed and unable to convince her to pack up her things Barry had grabbed what he could from his place and settled in with her until the danger had passed. She had grown used to the sound of Hedwig's pet hamster running on its wheel and they quickly settled into a routine. Mornings of stolen kisses and long embraces under the covers. Shared breakfasts and showers when the mood suited them.
They spent most of their afternoons inside whether it was sharing a movie or mind-blowing sex but one thing became absolutely clear as the days pressed on. Nothing could separate them and God help anything that tried.
Ava woke to the sounds of children laughing from outside and stretched as far as she could. Rolling over she found his space empty and suddenly it dawned on her. What would happen when all of this blew over? Would he go home back to his place leaving her to settle back in with lonely nights and cold sheets? Would he stay? Could they live like this forever? She pushed the thought from her mind and reached over, pulling his pillow into her and breathing in his scent. Somewhere in her trance Ava had fallen asleep again only to wake to the sound of her bedroom door being pushed open. She rolled onto her back and groaned as the smell of fresh coffee filled the air and he sat down on the bed next to her.
"How did you sleep?" He asked reaching over to brush the hair from her face. Ava tugged at his shirt without a word and pulled him into her kiss. Happily, he obliged, tugging the covers off of her body and slipping himself in between her legs for a deeper embrace. He hovered over her, smiling and it was moments like these that she had begun to live for. No worries, no responsibilities, just the feel of his body against hers and the glisten of love in his eyes as he took her in.
"Good." She finally answered his question with a smile.
"I brought coffee."
"I know." She grinned. "But that's not what I want." Ava rolled him onto his back and smiled down at him as she straddled his hips and waited for him to make the next move. Without delay he sat up, kissing her fiercely and taking no time at all to rip the sheer tank top from her body, exposing her to his hungry advances. There was never an argument to be made in times like these and Ava had begun to wonder if there was such a thing as too much when it came to sex. But the thought was quickly pushed from her mind with each and every thrust of his body against hers. She rode him without abandon, wild and untamed as he latched onto her breast and rocked his hips against hers, meeting her every downward motion with a thrust of his own.
The room was filled with their shared cries of passion, the lewd slapping of their bodies and finally a shuddering release. Ava melted into him as he devoured her in his kiss. Deciding it was easier to just stay where they were Barry ran quickly to the kitchen to fetch the doughnuts he had bought and they snuggled in for breakfast in bed, another habit that had become cherished in the passing days.
"So what do you want to do today?" He asked as they lay happily wrapped in each other's embrace.
"We could do that again." Ava teased and he smirked.
"Haven't we had this discussion before?" He shot back, reaching under the covers to pinch at her sides. Ava wiggled away with a laugh and shrugged.
"Yes, but we never agreed."
"No, you didn't agree. We can't fuck all day that's just the reality." Ava eyed him playfully, popping the last piece of her meal into her mouth and chewing slowly.
"How do you know if we've never tried?"
"Okay look," He leaned up on his elbow and smiled down at her. "As much as I'd love to spend every waking moment making your knees shake..." Ava bit her lip as he trailed a finger down her chest toward her navel. "I can manage maybe eight or nine times a day, that's it." Ava laughed loudly, nearly choking on her food and covering her mouth.
"Eight or nine?"
"That's it I'm sorry." He replied defensively pulling another laugh from her.
"The most we've ever gone was four times and you passed out for hours afterword." Barry made a series of noises as she smiled up at him and in his best mock offense bit back.
"I didn't hear you complaining when your legs were shaking so bad you couldn't stand." Ava scrunched up her nose.
"You didn't hear anything Barry you were in a coma." She nearly yelled and without warning Barry launched into an assault, tickling and poking at every sensitive spot he had come to find on her body. Ava screamed out attempting to push his hands away before erupting into a series of uncontrolled snorts and laughter. "STOP STOP STOP OKAY ALRIGHT!" Barry released her and with a smile pulled her back into his chest and buried his face in her shoulder. "You're an asshole." Ava joked and he smirked against her skin.
"You love me."
"Yeah." She agreed and nestled into his embrace. They stayed like that in a long and comfortable silence. Ava playing with his fingers absently as he nuzzled into her hair, pulling her tighter every so often but behind it all Ava felt a question licking at the edge of her mind and deciding it better to ask than be ruled with anxiety she spoke.
"Can I ask you something?" She turned toward him and he watched her attentively.
"You know you can."
"What's going to happen when this is all over?" Barry adjusted himself to see her better, confused by her question.
"When what's all over?"
"This. When you decide I'm safe. Are.... are you going to leave?" Barry slipped his arm from her waist and sat up, Ava did the same and the room fell silent.
"I don't know. I guess I hadn't thought about it." Ava looked down, playing absently with her fingers as he thought. "Do you want me to stay?" He asked and she looked up quickly.
"Well, I don't know... I just thought... well these past few weeks have been amazing. I don't want to go back to coming home to an empty apartment. It wouldn't feel right." Barry nodded and reached over, taking her hand in his and placing a kiss to her knuckles.
"We can't stay here Ava. There are 23 of us and this is a really small apartment." He smiled. "It would get awfully cramped."
"I know." She sighed and dropped her gaze. Sensing her Sadness Barry crawled on top of her and stared into her eyes with a smile.
"Look, its Halloween and I'm feeling festive. Why don't we get out, do something and we can talk about this later okay?" Reluctantly she agreed and allowed him to help her stand. They showered and dressed and as the clock struck noon they made their way out of the apartment and onto the street. At Barry's insistence, she tossed him the keys to the car and climbed into the passenger seat. It felt weird not being the one in control but seeing as how he had some perfect idea and refused to tell her what it was she was left with no other options. They pulled off away from the apartment and Ava stared out of the window, watching the trees go by, paying no mind to the blue sedan that pulled out after them and keeping a safe distance as they drove along.
They stopped for lunch at a diner along the way and pulled up to the festival around dusk. When he said he had an idea in mind she never imagined that he would take her clear across the state but the roaring bonfires, costumes, and screams of delight brought a smile to her lips and anticipation to her thoughts.
"Every year..." He began as he stepped around the car to meet her. "They have a Halloween festival out here."
"I honestly had no idea." Ava smiled as he took her by the hand and led her toward the large open field.
"It's not one of those things they advertise." He winked. She was used to haunted houses, apple bobbing, and costume contests but what lay before her was none of those things. She found herself smack dab in the middle of what looked like a horror convention. Elaborate costumes decorated the people who walked past. Demons and werewolves, characters from various shows and even the odd clown or two. Loud rock music boomed from somewhere distant and scattered crowds of people did the best they could to thrash along to the beat, most of them too drunk to even notice there was one. As they made their way into the crowd a large bear walked toward her with open arms and Barry quickly pulled her away.
"Don't hug the animals." He warned.
"Why?" Ava asked with a laugh.
"He just wants to grab your ass."
"Jealous?" She teased and he smirked.
"I'll fight a teddy bear, don't think I won't." Barry winked and threw his arm over her shoulder pulling her into him with a chuckle. "So what do you want to do first? We got music, we got food although I wouldn't eat or drink anything here as it's probably all been laced and we have my crowd..." He pointed over to a large group of people sitting off to the side on scattered blankets. It didn't take a stoner to recognize the smell of weed pouring off of the crowd as they passed instruments, art books and .... Other things back and forth with loud cackles of laughter.
"They look like fun." She smiled up at him.
"Art kids." He sighed with a smile. "Again don't eat or drink anything they give you and you should be fine." He laughed. Barry led her over and quickly found a small group of people he knew from the year before. Three women and two men who identified themselves by the color of their aura rather than name. They seemed nice enough and welcomed Barry with open arms, inviting them to sit. It wasn't long before Ava was offered two separate joints and a pill she couldn't identify and not wanting to fly to the clouds as it was described she thanked them and politely declined.
"Your aura is pretty." One of the girls leaned toward Ava and smiled. Her long blond hair hung down in waves over her light brown dress and the look that she held was warm and inviting.
"Thank you, I think?" Ava chuckled. "What color is it?" She asked curiously and the woman looked her over quietly.
"It sparkles like diamonds." She said in a sing-song voice twirling her hands into the sky. "You're a special lady." Ava smiled.
"Not that special I assure you." The girl leaned in closer, shaking her head and making a series of clicks with her tongue.
"You haven’t awakened yet, but you will."
"Okay, Bridgette maybe lay off the hash." Barry laughed as he gently coaxed her back.
"Barry here, now he's special." She hummed, closing her eyes and moving to a beat only she could hear. "He's got all the colors of the rainbow." Her eyes opened and she gasped, reaching forward and motioning for Ava to give her her hands. Ava looked to Barry as if to ask if she really should and he shrugged. She took her hands and scooted forward; placing them on her lap palm side up and hovered over them so long it began to feel uncomfortable.
Ava watched her sway back and forth, her face pained then expressionless, a smile and then nothing. "Barry darling, would you mind giving us a moment?" Barry stared at her questioningly. "Girl talk." Bridgette smiled and after a moment he finally shrugged.
"Do you want a drink?" He asked and Ava shrugged.
"Sure but didn't you say it's not safe."
"Don't worry." He leaned in and pressed a kiss to her cheek with a smile before standing and leaving her in the company of Bridgette and her friends. Bridgette stared at her with curiosity in her eyes while the others seemed more interested in watching the stars than joining in any real conversation.
"What was that all about?" She asked not expecting an answer. Bridget scooted toward her, adjusting her dress as she came to a stop in front of Ava and smiled.
"Oh nothing, he just doesn't need to hear everything that's all." Bridgette's tone changed and suddenly the strung-out hippy was replaced with the voice of a woman who was stoic and down to earth. She lit herself a cigarette offering one to Ava before shoving the pack back into a small purse that dangled at her hip.
"No thank you, um... Have you been sober all this time?" Ava asked quickly and she shook her head.
"Oh, no honey I'm over the moon. But that," She shrugged. "It’s just an act. It's the spirit of the Holiday." She smiled.
"So what do you want to talk to me about? Should I be worried" Ava asked nervously. Bridgette shook her head.
"No honey you're fine. I just saw a few things I think you should be aware of."
"I’m sorry what?" Ava asked.
“I see things sweet pea. Like a psychic.” She explained which did almost nothing to ease Ava’s mind.
“I didn’t think those were real.” She hadn’t meant to sound condescending but Bridgette’s smile didn’t waver and for that she found herself thankful.
“You’re not the only one.” She waved her off with a chuckle. “Look I can’t tell you what to believe but you got some dark clouds circling you and I just thought you should know.” Ava thought for a moment, unsure of whether or not she wanted to hear what the young woman had to say but decided it did her no harm to hear her out just in case.
“What do you mean by clouds?” Bridgette took a deep pull from her cigarette and stared up at the sky for a moment as if she were trying to decide on what to say.
“Well some of it you seem to be aware off, a stalker?” Ava felt a chill run through her and she nodded. “He’s not finished with you.” Bridgette added and the weight of her words fell heavy on Ava’s mind.
“Am I safe?” She asked quickly and Bridgette nodded.
“More or less. There’s going to be a few close calls but you’re protected.” She pointed behind Ava and she turned to see Barry lost in conversation with a young man holding a large bundle of multicolored balloons. A smile crossed her lips as she turned back to the girl in front of her.
“I don’t want to do that to him.” She looked down sheepishly.
“That’s not up to you.” Ava looked up.
“I never meant for any of this. I just… I just wanted a new life.”
“We all want things to be easy. We all want the past to stay buried but sometimes our ghosts come back to haunt us but that doesn’t mean we have to fight them alone.”
“I don’t want to fight them at all.” Ava shot back and shook her head. “I don’t want Barry too either.” She added almost desperately and Bridgette smiled.
“Well, lucky for you it’s not your fight. It’s not his either.”
“I don’t…” Bridgette held up her hand to stop Ava before she could finish.
“Don’t ask, I can’t explain.” She chuckled lightly. “I’m not that good. But I can tell you not to worry, when the storm comes you’ll find your way out.” Ava didn’t know what to make of her words, or if she should even try to find a deeper meaning in them at all. But she appreciated her reassurance and decided to change the subject before worry had a chance to set it’s claws in and ruin her otherwise good night.
“What else did you see?” She asked hoping for some good news. Bridgette thought for a moment, crushing her cigarette into the grass and brushing her hands off before turning her attention back to Ava.
“I see someone who is very much in love with you, more than you probably know.” Before Ava could ask Barry slid in next to her with a smile and handed her a drink before opening his own.
“So what did you guys talk about while I was gone?” He asked and Ava shrugged. She decided against filling him in on their conversation and instead began another of her own. Over the course of the night, they were harassed by two more large stuffed animals and at least half a dozen zombies but it did little to take away from the fun they were having. The music began to die off and the crowd began to dwindle and taking their cue they all stood, Barry and Ava, helping them to pack up their things before heading off in the direction of the street where they were parked.
Ava was offered at least several candy bars but it didn't take Barry's constant reminding for her to understand the danger of taking candy from strangers and naturally each time she declined. As they reached the edge of the field Bridgette and the others took the couple into their arms and said their goodbyes.
“It was really nice meeting you.” Ava offered as she pulled away from the young woman.
“You too sweetheart. Barry has my number, don’t be a stranger.” Bridgette offered before finally letting her go and setting off in the opposite direction.
They made their way back to the car, Barry agreeing to let Ava drive home and tossing her the keys as he walked around to the passenger side door. They climbed inside and took off toward home but before they could make it past the first intersection they were stopped by the sound of screeching tires and the force of the impact against the driver's side door.
Ava came too, the smell of smoke all around her and the taste of blood in her mouth. She tried to move but was stopped by a stabbing pain that ripped through her in all directions. She looked over to see Barry, his head drooped forward and his eyes shut and a deep fear welled up in her.
"Barry?" She managed to choke out, wincing at the pain in her chest as she did. She reached over with a shaky hand and pressed two fingers to his neck, breathing in a sigh of relief as his heart beat softly underneath his skin.
Her attention was pulled to the now open window and the sound of footsteps as they echoed across the pavement. She looked around her frantically, tears streaming down her face as she realized her leg was pinned under the dash and there was no way out. She looked up through what was left of the windshield to see a dark blue car parked just a few feet ahead and a large black figure coming into view.
She panicked, unable to take in deep breaths as he came to a stop at her door. All she could see was his chest and she looked away, hoping that if she closed her eyes and clicked her heels three times they would be home and none of this would have happened.
He leaned down, resting his hands on the shattered door and reached in to turn her face toward his. Ava cried out and tried to recoil but he held her steady, staring at her through the eyes of the clown mask that hid his face. She didn't need to see to know who he was.
"It's too bad you were driving." He spoke low and leaned into the car, his face mere inches from her. "He was supposed to die tonight. Not you." Ava sobbed heavily and begged him to leave, to forget her and go but he simply laughed.
"Now now-now..." He reached his other hand in through the door and Ava screamed out as the glint of a long silver knife came into view.
"Please!" She cried over and over as he grabbed her hair and yanked her head back. "Please, please don't." She begged as he held her still.
"I suppose beggars can't be choosers." He sighed pressing the blade of the knife to her throat.
"Oh God, please don't... What did I ever do to you?" She cried out and suddenly he ripped the knife away and leaned in toward her. This time his hand wrapped itself around her throat and Ava choked, struggled for breath as he held her. She reached up and clawed at his arm with what little strength she had, gasping as he tightened his grip and stared into her eyes from behind the mask.
"WHAT DID YOU DO? WHAT THE FUCK DID YOU DO?" He growled. "YOU NEVER SHOULD HAVE LEFT ME, BITCH."
"HEY! HEY GET AWAY FROM THERE!" A voice called out from behind them. His attention shifted to the sound of footsteps running toward them and with a loud curse took off toward his car. Ava screamed, a series of deep sobs taking her over as he jumped into the blue sedan and peeled off with the screeching of tires and the smell of burning rubber the only sign he was ever there.
"Miss... Oh God miss are you alright?" A pair of men ran toward the car and peered inside. "Helps on the way, just hold on." Before Ava could say anything about the man in the mask she felt her head going weak, her vision slipping into blackness and as the sound of an ambulance began to ring off in the distance Ava's head fell back and the world simply faded away.
"Broken leg..... Multiple fractures...." Ava struggled to open her eyes as she heard the distant voices listing off a series of injuries she could only hope weren't hers. "Yeah, that cut is pretty nasty, took almost 50 stitches to close it up."
"Where... Where am I?" She groaned. Her mouth was dry and her body ached all over. Her vision was blurry and she winced in pain as she attempted to lift her hands to rub them.
"Welcome back. We thought we'd lost you." She blinked a few times, her eyes clearing enough to see a doctor standing at the foot of her bed with a chart laid open in his hands. He turned to the nurse who left with a nod before bringing his attention back to her.
"Where's Barry?" She asked as he slid the chart back into the slot at the foot of her bed.
"Your friend? He's fine. Just a couple of stitches, he should be good to go here soon. You on the other hand. You had quite the nasty accident." Ava attempted to sit up but was stopped by a shooting pain in her side. She cried out, holding her ribs and admitting defeat. "Just lay still Ava, you cracked two of your ribs. It's going to be a little bit before you can move comfortably." He walked over to her and placed a second pillow underneath her head in an attempt to make her more comfortable.
"The police are going to want to talk to you about what happened. Did you see the other driver?" Ava nodded. "Good. You'll want to tell them everything you can remember. Now don't be surprised if the details are a little fuzzy, you took a nasty blow to the head."
Ava reached up and touched her temple, wincing at the sudden sharp pain that resided there.
"All in all I would say you're pretty lucky." He smiled down at her. "Just a few minor breaks, some stitches but you should be back on your feet in a couple of weeks."
"At least I survived." She attempted to joke but found the pain of talking to be a little too much. He took a small cup from the table next to her and held the straw to her mouth. She took a long and much-needed drink, thanking him as he returned her glass to the table.
"We had to intubate you. Your throat is probably going to be sore for a little while." He explained. "We're going to get you on a steady course of antibiotics just to be safe and you should be good to leave in just a few days." Ava smiled weakly, a silent thank you but before she could ask any further questions their attention was pulled toward a commotion just outside of the door.
"Sir you can't just... Sir." A woman began to argue only to be cut off by a booming growl Ava had never heard escape him before.
"I'm her boyfriend let me through."
"Sir she needs to rest... SIR!" The nurse shouted as he pushed his way through the large double doors and nearly jogged to her side. The doctor slipped out of his way as he leaned over her, taking her hand in his and kissing her knuckles, her forehead her lips. She winced slightly as he did, only then becoming aware of the cut that existed there. Softly he apologized and turned away.
"Is she okay?"
"Yes, she's going to be fine." The doctor ran down her list of injuries, Barry wincing with each one.
"I'm so sorry." He whispered into her hand as he placed another kiss against her fingers.
"I'll leave you two alone. She is going to need her rest." He reminded and Barry nodded before turning his attention back to her.
"Barry it was him, Brian he was there." Ava began to sob, the pain in her side becoming worse with each shallow breath.
"Shh shh shh, are you sure?" He asked softly and she nodded.
"He said you were supposed to die tonight. He put a knife to my throat, he...." Ava devolved into a series of sobs and somehow found the strength to lean into his chest for comfort. "He was going to kill me." She cried and to her surprise so did he.
"I'm so sorry; I should have been driving not you."
"No... No, Barry, he would have killed you." Barry leaned over and silenced her with a soft kiss, minding the cut in her lip as he did. They held each other there for as long as they could until Ava fell back into sleep and even at the nurses request he refused to leave her side, opting instead to pull a chair up to the side of her bed, holding her hand as he rested his head against her pillow.
She remained there for a few days and on Barry's assurance that he would care for her; she was released with a list of instructions and two prescriptions. Ava was grateful to smell the fresh air as they stepped outside and closed her eyes to take it in. It didn't matter that it bit at her nose and nipped at her skin, after being on death's door even the simplest things take on a whole new meaning.
He helped her into the back of the cab before walking around to the other side and climbing in himself. He gave the driver the address to her apartment and turned his attention toward her.
"What do I need to grab from your place?"
"What?" She questioned lightly.
"You're not safe there." He grabbed her hand and placed a soft kiss to her knuckles. "You're coming to stay with me."
Chapter 8: Chapter 8
"What will become of us? Where does it all lead?"
They pulled up to her apartment by midday and despite Ava's heavy arguments about leaving her home, Barry was having none of it. He slipped the driver a $50 and asked him to stay put, telling Ava the same thing and smirking as she gave him a sideways glance. Barry jogged up the stairs and disappeared into the building leaving Ava alone to make small talk with the large Indian man in the front seat.
After a long, while he finally returned with his things, tossed them into the trunk before slipping into the backseat to hand her Hedwig’s hamster and set off back upstairs. He returned again with two overstuffed bags in hand, what Ava assumed were clothes and tossed them into the trunk, closing it with a loud thunk.
He slipped back into the backseat and gave the driver a set of instructions that Ava recognized immediately.
"Why are we going to the zoo?" She asked and Barry winced, turning his attention to the floor.
"I... I live there." He stammered
"You... huh?" She asked and he shrugged.
"It's not much but they let me have it and it's big enough for all of us." Ava leaned back into her seat.
"I guess if it fits all of you guys there's room for me too." She mentioned sullenly and Barry leaned in resting his chin on her shoulder.
"What's wrong?" He asked. Ava looked down at him and found herself laughing despite her desire not too as he batted his eyelashes in jest.
"Nothing." She smiled.
"Hmmm, no sweetheart you're a terrible liar." Ava scoffed.
"Okay fine, but how would you feel if you lost everything and broke your leg and your ribs and your...." He stopped her with a soft kiss, a move he exploited way too much but she couldn't seem to bring herself to hate him for it.
"You didn't lose everything." He smiled. "You've got us. You've always got us." He reminded her, leaning in for another quick kiss before settling back in his seat. She still couldn't shake the sadness that loomed over her as they pulled in to the employee parking lot and just as he did before, Barry asked the driver to stay put while he moved their things from the trunk to his home. After moving the hamster and tipping the driver Barry reached into the backseat and helped to lift her to her feet, her ribs had healed up enough that she was able to use crutches to get around but breathing in too deeply still carried with it its own set of problems, as did the massive gash in her arm that would need tending.
She followed Barry down past the security office and after taking a look at a flight of stairs turned her eyes to him as if to challenge. Barry rolled his eyes and gently lifted her into his arms, asking if she was in any pain before he continued his descent. She wrapped her good arm over his shoulders and used the other to brace the crutches as they moved down a long and cold hallway, the sunlight fading behind them with each slow step.
He was careful not to hurt her, putting her down only when the hallway opened up into a service area large enough for her to maneuver with her crutches on her own. Pushing past a row of lockers he stepped in front of her and pulled out a set of keys to unlock a large wooden door that separated where he lived from the rest of the world.
He stepped inside and flipped on the light and to her surprise, it wasn't at all what she expected. Minus the lack of windows and the overhead fluorescent lights, it actually looked like a legitimate apartment complete with a living room, kitchen and a smattering of individual bedrooms for those who took up enough head space to feel they needed one.
Barry showed her around, minding her injuries as he did so. His bathroom was bigger than hers, a point of jealousy she didn't hesitate to make only for him to remind her that it was hers now. Ava let out a yawn and Barry guided her gently into his bedroom. It was bare for the most part, only housing a bed, a nightstand, and a large drawing table at the far end of the room. She made her way over to it slowly and looked over each piece carefully as he brought her bags into the room and rested them against the wall closest to the bed.
Various sketches of animals, a few dresses and a couple of faces that stared back at her with familiarity. She smiled at the realization that she had inspired him and stopped only as he brushed her hair away from the back of her neck to place a soft kiss there.
"You drew these?" She asked and he nodded.
"Is that me?" Barry smiled, embarrassed and again nodded.
"They're beautiful." She offered. Without saying a word he led her over to the bed and helped her to lie down, placing the crutches against the wall next to her and pulling the blanket up to cover her. "You really don't have to do this." She reminded him and he sighed.
"Ava after what happened...." He paused and ran his hands over his head in frustration. "After this, I don't want you out of my sight. I could have lost you." Tears welled up in his eyes and Ava reached up to cup his face. He laid his hand over hers, pressing a kiss to her palm before letting her go to drape it over her stomach. "Get some sleep; we can talk more about this later. Right now I just need to know that you're safe." Ava nodded and closed her eyes, feeling his lips against her forehead before allowing herself to drift into sleep and forget the events of the day.
Her dreams were nothing more than a smattering of images. A Jackson Pollock painting stained with blood. The sound of tires screeching, the smell of blood, the clown. She thrashed, screamed and called out for Barry but he was nowhere to be found as he placed the knife to her throat once again, this time dragging the blade across her skin.
Ava woke in a panic, her body drenched in sweat and she nearly cried out as she saw a face she had never seen standing above her. It was Kevin's body but the face was feminine. Dressed in a dark red shawl and a long black skirt she stared down at Ava with a matronly smile.
"I was just about to wake you dear." She spoke in a soft British accent. Ava tried to sit up, forgetting her injuries and winced as the stabbing pain in her side made it hard to breathe. "Now-now-now, let's not overdo ourselves." Just as the doctor had done before the woman reached over her to grab a pillow and slid it gently behind her.
"Thank you," Ava spoke polite but still slightly confused.
"You're most welcome." She sat down on the edge of the bed and grabbed a bottle from the nightstand, taking two pills and handing it to Ava with a glass of water. Graciously she took it, thanking her again as the woman set down her glass on the nightstand where it was.
"It seems as though you've had quite the accident." She spoke sweetly as she took Ava's bandaged arm and turned it over palm side up.
"I don't think I should have survived," Ava spoke as she began to undo her dressings.
"Hush now, don't say things like that. You wouldn't want to upset Barry now would you?" She didn't look up at Ava as she spoke, continuing her work with determination and a kind of gentleness that Ava greatly appreciated. "Never mind what Hedwig would think, hearing you talk like that." She smiled.
"How is he?" Ava asked. "I hope he's not too upset."
"He's not aware of the incident. He has however been informed that you'll be staying with us and let me tell you he is quite excited about that." Ava smiled. She was so focused on how she felt about all of this that she had forgotten that there were other factors in play as well.
"I feel silly, you know my name but I don't know yours." Ava smiled. A question tucked inside a statement.
"My name is Patricia." She sighed as she dabbed a cool cloth across Ava's arm, apologizing when she pressed too hard causing her to wince.
"Why are you taking care of me? Not that I mind." She added hoping she hadn't offended the woman. "I just figured Barry would want to do that."
"You're quite right about that. It was a long argument between us but Barry, however, needs to care for himself as well. His wounds may not be physical but we all need to rest." She explained and Ava understood. "So I am rather curious," She began absently. "How do you find our particular... situation." She hesitated and Ava sensed she had trouble finding just the right words. Ava thought for a moment, unable to decide for herself just what to say.
"I... Well, I guess I hadn't really thought about it."
"Not at all?" Patricia asked, looking up from her task for just a moment before returning her attention to Ava's arm.
"Well, I mean... I don't know. I'm just kind of going with it I guess."
"I suppose that’s understandable. It is a lot to understand."
"Not really." Ava offered and she looked up once again. "Actually I don't understand it at all outside of what I've read. I ...." She paused and let out a deep sigh. "I guess I just fell in love and let things be the way they are." Patricia watched her for a moment and Ava began to relax as her stare turned into a soft smile.
"That is a perfectly reasonable way to see things." She nodded and returned to wrapping Ava's arm in fresh gauze.
"How do you like it?" Ava asked and Patricia looked up at her quickly.
"What do you mean dear?"
"Well... being an alter I mean... You seem to be pretty aware of the situation." Patricia nodded. "Do you like it?" She finished her task, clipping the gauze into place and returning the roll to the bedside table. She sat up and placed her hands on her lap, lost in thought and Ava hoped she hadn't asked the wrong question.
"I don't believe I've ever been asked." She mused. "It is strange, having a body that is not your own." Ava nodded. "But all things considered I am grateful for life, it is a gift and if this is the existence that He has in mind for me than who am I to question." Patricia closed her eyes and a soft smile crossed her lips as she breathed in deep. "God's plan is always best. Sometimes the process is painful and hard but do not forget that when He is silent, he is doing something for you." She sighed without opening her eyes.
"Is that something you believe?" Ava asked and finally, the woman opened her eyes and turned toward her.
"It's something I heard. I found it quite lovely. It has helped in some rather dark times I can tell you that." Patricia leaned down toward Ava, smiling and placing her hand on Ava's gently. "Perhaps it is something that may help you as well." Ava returned her smile. Religion wasn't exactly her thing but she appreciated the kindness and maybe believing that everything would turn out alright would help her through the sadness that tugged at the back of her mind.
Patricia sat up and began to gather up the mess around her.
"Do you think you would be well enough for a bath?" She asked gently as she finished gathering the old and discarded gauze. Ava nodded and with that Patricia stood from the bed and made her way toward the door.
"I'll be back for you in just a moment. Don't worry dear, this is your home now and we are very happy to have you with us." She smiled warmly and Ava tried to return her kindness.
"Thank you. It was nice meeting you."
"You too." Patricia left the room, leaving the door cracked only slightly to allow a bit of light to come through. The bedroom was pitch black without a window, she made a mental note to ask Barry about a nightlight and as she waited for Patricia to return found herself chuckling softly at the thought of what his reaction might be.
"You broke your leg."
"Yes, Hedwig I broke my leg." Ava laughed as he pointed at the purple cast that covered her leg from her knee to her toes. "You've mentioned that before." She reminded him.
"Yeah..." He scoffed. "I knew that. Etcetera. But ... how? Did it look cool?" Ava laughed loudly once again.
"No buddy there was nothing cool about it. It hurts and it itches and I hate it."
"How did you get into the kitchen? Can you walk with that thing? Did you crawl?" Ava lifted her hand to stop him.
"One question at a time please." She laughed. "I walked, I use crutches and no I did not crawl." Hedwig continued to assault her with questions as he bounced around the kitchen unable to sit still. Ava wasn't sure if it was the motion or the smell of the peanut butter in her sandwich but her stomach began to twist in knots. She motioned for him to hand her the trash can and after three or four times he finally did, just in time for her to lose her breakfast.
"Gross!" He backed up to the opposite end of the kitchen. "Are you sick or something?"
"No Hedwig. I'm fine." Ava lurched again throwing up more than she felt she had eaten. Ava heard the familiar sound of a groan, a wince of pain and then finally a soft feminine voice.
"Are you all right dear?"
"I'm fine; I think it's just the medicine." Ava spit into the trash can. She heard the sound of the tap and finally, the can being pulled from her grip. "I'm not fine." Ava leaned back against the chair, her stomach still reeling and threatening to take another spill. "This sucks." Patricia laughed lightly and handed her a small glass of water.
"Drink this." Ava took the glass from her and as she took small sips found herself wondering just how the hell the smell of water can make a person sick.
"You really didn't have to come to my rescue." Ava groaned as she let her head fall back against the chair behind her. "We were just talking."
"Yes well, Hedwig doesn't do well around... well things like that." She motioned to the trash can. "I can't imagine having a panicking child on your hands while in the throes of sickness would do you much good." Ava chuckled as Patricia cleared her plate from the table. "I'll draw you a bath."
"No, really you don't..." Ava began to protest but Patricia walked away before she could, leaving her alone in the silence of the kitchen with nothing but her reeling stomach to comfort her.
The days turned to weeks, Thanksgiving came and went without much notice and Ava began to settle into her new life with a comfortableness that surprised even her. Somewhere during their time together Ava and Hedwig began to conspire against the others to celebrate Christmas despite being the only ones who seemed to be for the idea and by the first week of December they had a small tree set up in the living room. Ava spent her days reading what she could and filling up on daytime T.V. She had gotten to know Patricia quite well, well enough to even consider her a friend and every once in a while Dennis dropped his guard enough to enjoy a movie with her.
Jade insisted on painting her toenails despite the cast.
"Being sick is no reason to neglect yourself." She chirped as she slathered on the second coat of cobalt blue and discussed relationships, boys and the struggles of being a teenage girl trapped in the body of a full grown man.
Hedwig had taken to learning how to break dance and despite breaking more items than Barry cared to replace Ava encouraged him, laughing and clapping as he finished and took a small bow. She found the distraction welcoming and his excitement at having a friend who wasn't covered and fur and living in a cage seemed to brighten him up in a way that the others claimed they had never seen. Even Dennis began to loosen his tight rules about their interactions allowing her to take him to a movie with his help and supervision but seeing how his eyes lit up at the adventure was enough to calm her fears about having done the wrong thing by taking him outside of the safety of the apartment.
Ava's phone had been quiet and with no sign of her tormenter, she began to relax, encouraged by Barry's nightly promise to keep her safe and Dennis's assurance that if he ever did find her he would be swiftly dealt with. She trusted in them, in her new life and fell into a routine with each of them at her side.
As she lay still in the dark, Barry breathing slowly against her shoulder she sometimes found it hard to remember that the others weren't sleeping just down the hall. They had all become so real to her in such a small amount of time that she sometimes forgot they weren't each their own people. They were family and she treated them as such. A detail Patricia was quick to share her appreciation of as much as she could.
"Are you still awake?" She whispered as she rolled onto her back. Barry's arm fell naturally over her stomach and he nuzzled her with a small groan.
"Sort of." Ava smiled.
"I want to get Hedwig a present. For Christmas." She whispered and he nodded. "He needs a new CD player." Barry smiled and kissed her shoulder softly.
"He'll like that."
"hmmm." He responded, his eyes still closed and sleep heavy in his voice.
"Are you happy?" He nodded gently.
"Always." Ava nestled into him and smiled happily. "I have a surprise for you." He whispered and without opening her eyes she responded.
"What is it?" Barry smirked.
"It wouldn't be a surprise if I told you."
"That's not fair." She pouted and he laughed lightly.
"You'll see in a few days. Call it an early Christmas present." Ava smiled and tucked herself into him, allowing her mind to wonder as she drifted comfortably into sleep.
Chapter 9: Chapter 9
"These little town blues are melting away. I'll make a brand new start of it in old New York"
Ava and Hedwig sat outside on an old stone bench as the sun came up over the iron bars of the zoo. Sipping hot chocolate and bitching about the cold, Ava was quick to ask if he was so miserable why he insisted on coming outside to begin with.
"It's not Christmas if you don't watch the snowfall." He answered with a roll of his eyes. '
"Hedwig, it's not Christmas yet anyway." Ava laughed. "You got a few days left buddy."
"I got you something." Hedwig smiled sheepishly. "Mr. Dennis helped me pick it out."
"He did?" Ava watched him with her eyebrow arched in question. They had spent some time together in the passing weeks but their relationship was never set in stone. Dennis seemed to enjoy spending time with her but Ava had quickly learned that trying to determine the emotions of Kevin's protector was a lot like trying to gauge the emotional response of a large and intimidating dog. If he liked you, you knew and if he didn't well... that was a response that Ava never wanted to experience for herself.
She had considered the idea that forming actual relationships was well outside of Dennis's job description but that didn't stop her from trying whenever she was presented with the opportunity.
"I got you something too Hedwig." His eyes lit up and he nearly spun around in his seat.
"What is it? Did you know I like Kanye West now? Did I tell you? Is it a CD?" Ava laughed loudly shaking her head at each question that fumbled from his lips.
"Okay one, I can't tell you. You'll find out on Christmas. Yes, I knew you liked Kanye now, you've told me three times since you discovered him and I can't answer the last one." Hedwig whined loudly, nearly slipping out of his seat as he slumped down.
"You can tell me I'll keep it a secret." He begged but Ava shook her head sternly.
"No Hedwig, you'll just have to wait for Christmas. And don't even think about peeking, I hid it away." Hedwig closed his eyes and Ava instantly recognized the struggle that spread across his face. She took a sip of her hot chocolate and waited as whoever it was that wanted to see her slipped into place.
He pulled his coat closer to him and placed the nearly empty cup he had been holding down on the ground at his feet.
"Did you two have a nice visit?" Barry asked and Ava shrugged.
"More or less, I think I made him mad." He laughed lightly and nodded.
"Yeah I hate to break it to you but he was pretty pissed when we switched places." Ava winced.
"Oh no, I really didn't mean to." Barry shook his head and waved her off.
"No, it's okay. He'll calm down, he always does." He smiled and so did she. Barry scooted closer and threw his arm over her shoulder, pulling her into him and placing a kiss to the top of her head.
"It's weird when you wear Hedwig's clothes." She reminded him, looking up at the yellow tracksuit and finishing the last of her drink. Barry laughed lightly.
"You think this is weird? We've worked really hard to make sure I don't wake up in Patricia's, that's something you'll never un-see." They shared a laugh and Ava nestled into him, watching the snow fall over the frozen grass and doing her best despite the cold to enjoy the winter morning, tucked tight against the warmth of his side.
After returning to the apartment, Ava took to getting herself ready for the day. Barry wanted to be on the road by noon but having no idea where it was he was taking her she struggled to figure out just what it was she should be wearing. Despite her best attempts, she couldn't get even the smallest of clues beyond "Dress warm" and Ava was beginning to think that Barry was having too much fun tormenting her with the surprise of it all.
Despite his worry and her inability to decide they managed somehow to leave right on schedule. Barry drove north and Ava continued to prod, asking leading questions that he refused to answer as they put the city behind them. It felt strange being back inside of her car after all that had happened and it was hard to push back the anxiety that seemed to follow them as they crossed state lines. Barry had her neon fixed in the weeks after the accident despite her protests but still, even now she was unable to get back behind the wheel, feeling waves of nausea at just the thought of it. Barry understood and they took to getting cabs whenever they needed to go somewhere close by but this was not a cab trip and Ava wracked her brain trying to figure out just where it was he was taking her.
Somewhere in her quiet contemplation Ava drifted off to sleep only to be woken by Barry gently shaking her from the driver's seat.
"Wake up baby, we're here." Ava groaned and rubbed at her eyes and it wasn't until she fully sat up that she realized just what it was that she was seeing. Giant billboards loomed over them as they drove, mobs of people going about their day decorated the sidewalks and buildings that at one time she thought were tall enough to reach the clouds towered over them like giants.
"Barry..." She nearly squealed as she pressed her nose to the glass.
"Welcome home." She could hear the laugh in his voice and despite wanting to reach over, shower him in kisses or scream for the heavens she was simply transfixed. She recognized everything from the restaurants that lined the square to the tiny pizza parlors that sat nestled into odd places and never quite seemed to fit.
She pointed out the store where she bought her prom dress, the coffee shop where she spent Saturday afternoons with her mother, even the toy store where her father bought her a stuffed bear that hardly fit in the car. They wrestled with it for what Ava remembered being a very long time and they had almost considered strapping it onto the roof when it finally gave up the argument and conformed to the back seat allowing them to close the door.
"Did you live around here?" Barry asked as they moved away from the square and farther into the city. Ava guided him into a tiny neighborhood that didn't look much different from her old one back home. Red brick buildings lined the sidewalks, brownstones she called them and as they drove slowly she pointed out the one she remembered as her childhood home. "Where are your parents now?" Barry asked as they continued.
"Divorced," Ava answered absently.
"Oh, it's fine. They split up when I was seventeen. Mom has a boyfriend about your age down in Florida and I think my dad is in Vegas. At least last I heard he was." She explained as she nestled back into her seat.
"It really doesn't bother you?" Ava shrugged.
"No, they weren't happy together. It sucked at first but they're happy now so I'm okay with it." Barry smiled over at her for a moment before returning his eyes to the road.
"Does anything bother you?" He asked with a grin. Ava thought about it for a moment and shrugged.
"I guess the whole thing with Brian... My ex, that does. But most things I try to take in stride."
"Like us?" Barry asked and she nodded.
"You were easy to understand." She added sweetly and he looked to her, his eyebrow cocked.
"Really?" Ava shrugged in response.
"I love you. Everything else is secondary." Barry laughed loudly and shook his head.
"And before you loved me?" Ava turned to him and smiled.
"What about it?"
"What made you decide to stay? You know... after I told you." Ava turned back to face the front and thought about his question. The sky began to grow dark and as it did the city lit up in a brilliant display that Ava found magical even now as she watched through adult eyes.
"You made me happy Barry." She finally answered absently. "When I first left New York I kind of kept to myself. It was hard to feel hopeful after everything that had gone down and for a long time I thought I would always be looking over my shoulder, ready to run you know." He nodded and continued to listen as she spoke. "Then you came around and you made me laugh. When we talked I forgot about everything that came before you and I was just happy. I guess I just didn't want to lose that." Ava leaned over and rested her head against his shoulder.
A long silence passed between them before Barry finally brought up the idea of dinner. Claiming they had nowhere to be for at least a few hours Ava pointed him toward a small pizza parlor that she used to frequent as a kid. Barry argued with her insistence on it being the best in town, that was until he was able to try for himself and quickly relented and apologized much to Ava's amusement.
"Have you ever been up this far?" She asked as they left the little restaurant and began to walk hand in hand back toward the square. Barry shook his head.
"No, I actually only left the state twice and both times were for funerals." He explained.
"Oh, I'm sorry."
"Don't be." He smirked to her surprise. "One I was too young to remember much and the other I was eight and it was for some great aunt I don't actually think I ever met. That's where I got my first kiss though." He added with a smile.
"Okay spill." Barry laughed loudly and Ava watched him, waiting patiently for his reply as they crossed a busy street and headed toward a crowd of people that had begun to gather on the sidewalk.
"It's not important." His ears burned red and Ava nudged him.
"Oh come on, I told you mine was with my cousin." Ava laughed loudly and so did he.
"Yeah, I still don't know why you would admit that." He chuckled and she shrugged.
"It's a funny story. I have no shame about being an idiot child so come on spill."
"Alright but it's nothing…" He shied away from her as he spoke. "We went to a park afterword, me and my mom and there was this girl there. I... I got a little ballsy, she was pretty and I asked if I could kiss her."
"Just out in the open like that?" Barry shook his head.
"Nah we were hiding behind a tree. Her brother did punch me in the lip afterword though." Ava winced and he smiled. "It wasn't that bad."
"I'll never understand boys." Ava laughed.
"You see to understand me pretty well." Barry offered and she smiled.
"I said, BOYS. You're a man there's a difference." Ava explained. Barry came to a stop at the edge of a crowd and stood on his tiptoes to get a better look but only dropped down with a sigh and began to look around. "What's wrong?" Just as she asked a familiar sound began to fill the air around them and Ava suddenly felt stupid for not realizing where they were.
The opening melody of the Nutcracker suite took her back to a time she was much smaller and she began to tear up as the memory of her father began to dance in her mind.
"This way." Barry took her hand and set off with desperation away from the crowd and finding a low spot in the fence that surrounded the park he jumped over and helped her scale it as well. She followed close behind as they moved past a smaller group of people and the ice rink came into view. From the side, she could see the glimmering lights, the ballerinas that sparkled as they moved and swayed across the ice as if they were floating. Ava stood transfixed, this was the closest she had ever been to the show and even though they were forced so close together by the growing crowd that there was hardly any room to breathe Ava found herself unable to care at that moment.
"You remembered." She whispered as Barry slid his arm around her waist and pulled her into him.
"Of course I remembered."
"But why go to all this trouble just to bring me here." Barry smiled and leaned in closer to her.
"I have my reasons." He whispered before planting a kiss to her cheek. "And after everything we've gone through I just thought it would be nice." He took her hand in his and placed a soft kiss to her fingers.
"It is nice." She smiled.
"I want you to be happy." He whispered against her knuckles.
"I am happy." Barry placed her hand on his shoulder, pulled her tight against him and kissed her. Reaching up to cup her face as he did Ava fell into the moment with him. Forgetting about everyone and everything all she felt were his lips, all she tasted was him and all she wanted was for the moment to never end. Barry pulled away from her and pressed his forehead against hers. He reached into his pocket and Ava looked down to see him pull out a small black box, holding it up in the space between them and at that moment she felt as if she might fall.
"Barry…" She whispered. Without a word, he slowly opened the top and a gasp escaped her as she realized with the glimmer of a small purple stone what was happening.
"I uh… I know you don't like diamonds…" He smiled.
"They're tacky." Ava laughed lightly. It was only then that she became aware of the soft stream of tears running down her cheeks.
"And I… I uh know your favorite color is purple…" Ava sniffed loudly and smiled. "I'd get down on my knees but it's cold." Barry chuckled and so did she."
"Shit I had a whole speech and everything." Barry smiled and rubbed at the back of his neck nervously. "Damn if I can't remember it." Without thinking, Ava leaned up and kissed him quickly.
"It's okay Barry, just ask." She whispered as she pulled away and rested her forehead against his. They closed their eyes, the whole world melted away and suddenly Ava could hear nothing but the sound of his ragged and nervous breathing.
"I don't…. I can't…" He began, groaning as the words became impossible to find. "I never thought I would find you." He finally settled with a whisper. "You've changed us all and we… we want you to stay with us." Ava chuckled softly.
"Did you have to ask the others first?" She teased pulling a small laugh from both of them.
"Yes actually, and it was pretty unanimous." He admitted.
"Pretty?" Ava laughed. "Who didn't agree?"
"Would you shut up and let me finish." Barry laughed and so did she. "I love you, Ava. We love you and I brought you here because I wanted you to be surrounded by something you love when I asked… when… I mean…." He started to stammer and Ava smiled brightly as she waited. "Shit… I…."
"Shut up Barry I'll Marry you." Ava leaped forward and knocked him back a step as she silenced him with a kiss and wrapped her arms around his neck. Barry broke their embrace long enough to slide the small ring over her finger and she admired it for just a second before returning her attention to his lips. They stood there locked at the lips and lost in each other's embrace until the air around them became so bitter they were forced away from the rink and back to the car.
Ava fell asleep once again as Barry drove them back into Pennsylvania and it wasn't until she felt herself being lifted from the car and into his arms that she began to stir. She wrapped her arms around his shoulders and nestled into the crook of his neck as he carried her down the stairs and into their shared apartment.
Barry laid her down in their bed gently and Ava watched as he slipped out of his jacket and kicked off his shoes.
"When did you decide to ask me?" She whispered as he finished changing into a pair of black pajama pants. His back was turned to her but she could still hear the smile in his voice as he spoke without hesitation.
"I've been thinking about it for a while."
"How long is a while?" She sat up and shed her coat, tossing it onto the floor beside her. Barry sat down on the edge of the bed, his back still to her as she reached down to unzip her boots.
"Honestly?" He asked and she placed a soft kiss to his shoulder, her way of encouraging him to continue. "The night of the break-in." He began. "That was the first time I'd thought about it." Ava stopped and smiled.
"What? Thought about asking me or that that was even an option?" She slid her boots off and placed them down gently on the floor as he thought.
"No, that was the first time I thought about asking you." He admitted as she moved to sit next to him. Barry turned to face her and despite the darkness of the room, she could see the soft smile that curled his lips. "I had an idea that you might be the one well before that."
"Oh really?" He chuckled softly and nodded. "When was that?"
"Why are we so focused on me?" He smirked. "What about you? Have you ever thought about it?" Ava smiled and dropped her gaze. A soft yes left her lips as she took his hand in hers and ran her fingers gently over his. "Tell me." He whispered.
"It… the night of the accident." She spoke softly. "Before everything went to hell there was a moment." Barry sat silent, watching her fingers as they danced across the back of his hand absently. "You were passed out, I was scared that…" She stopped and sighed. "Thinking that I'd lost you was the scariest thing that has ever crossed my mind." Barry pulled his hand away from hers and reached over to lift her chin to face him. "I mean I kind of knew before…" Before she could continue Barry leaned in and silenced her with a soft and purposeful kiss.
"It was our first date." He whispered as he pulled away and rested his forehead against hers.
"What was?" She asked without opening her eyes.
"When I first thought you might be the one." Ava smiled and reached up to trail her fingers down the side of his face.
"What did I do to win you over?" She pulled away from him with a smile which he returned in kind.
"You accepted me." He blushed. "No one's ever done that for us. Well, no one without a medical degree and even then…" Barry ended his sentence with a pained laugh and turned his eyes back toward her. "I don't know if you realize how much that means to us." The seriousness in his voice filled Ava with a kind of sadness and pride she didn't quite know how to process. "There are a lot of people out there who don't even believe were real." He added. "It's not easy being told you don't exist."
"You're real to me." Ava offered and he smiled. "Sometimes when we're laying here at night, I forget that the others aren't sleeping down the hall." Barry laughed lightly at her admission. "I can tell the difference between most of you before you even speak."
"How?" He asked quickly and Ava shrugged.
"I don't know. It's something in your eyes I think. I don't know if it means much but it's not just you that I love Barry." He looked over at her, a question written across his face. "Hedwig makes me laugh more than anyone else ever has." She began. "Patricia cares for all of you and for me like a mother, even if she can be a little stern sometimes it's just because she cares. Dennis may not be good with emotions but damn if he doesn't make me feel protected." Barry laughed loudly and so did she. "Jade is a doll, Luke can play a mean game of poker and I've learned more from listening to Orwell ramble than I think I ever did in school. I love all of you and I'm sure if I ever got the chance to get to know Kevin I would love him too." Barry smiled weakly and nodded. "You all mean so much to me, more than just this." She held up her ring to emphasize her point.
"You're like a family to me. It's a little strange that you're all wrapped up in one person I'll admit but I wouldn't change a thing about it." Barry simply stared, unable to find the words to say. "Being with you is easy." She smiled.
"And spending the rest of your life with us?" He asked quietly. Ava smiled as he watched her carefully for an answer.
"It's the only thing I'm sure about," Ava admitted. Without speaking Barry leaned over and pressed his lips to hers, guiding her back onto the bed and allowing his hands to make clear what it was that he wanted at that moment.
Chapter 10: Chapter 10
As the seasons change so do the lives around us and so it was for Ava as the new year came and went leaving her with a renewed sense of hope. Having decided to take things slow and focus on building a new life together, talks of wedding plans were pushed to the side and Ava allowed herself to slip back into the routine of work, dates and moving on as if nothing had happened. Whenever she was asked about her time off, the accident or even Barry she did the best she could to skirt past the details but some things were harder to avoid than others.
It was strange hearing her fiancé referred to by another man’s name but she quickly grew used to it and to ease her frustration Barry took to making small jokes about the matter when they were alone. As the days pressed on they found themselves forgetting bit by bit the horror that had followed them not too long ago and Ava had begun to feel as though Patricia was right and that eventually somehow everything would be okay.
“So what are we doing tonight?” Barry asked as he slipped into his spot at the table where they had first begun their friendship. Ava shrugged, pulled her coat tight around her and smiled. It was unseasonably warm for February. Enough for the snow to have melted but not enough for her to feel entirely comfortable as she soaked up what rays of the sun could reach her through the lightly cloudy sky. “Are we staying in or going out?” He pressed and Ava thought for a moment.
“We’ve been cooped up all winter.” She groaned. “And as much as I love Hedwig if I have to hear that trap bull….”
“Okay alright.” Barry cut her off with a laugh. “I get it; he does take things a little far.”
“I wouldn’t say that.” She explained. “More like he needs to take the volume down a notch.” She chuckled.
“How does dinner sound?” He asked with a smile and quickly Ava’s expression changed to excitement.
“Wait isn’t there a holiday coming up?” Ava teased. Valentine’s Day was just a few days away and Barry had already expressed his frustration at trying to figure out just what to do. Jade was convinced he was only trying to one up himself after his New York trip and as time went on Ava found herself inclined to agree. “Maybe you should pocket that idea for then.” She suggested. Barry groaned.
“It’s our first Valentine’s Day, I think I can do a little better than that.”
“Barry you’ve been wracking your brain about it for weeks. Simple isn’t always a bad thing you know.” She offered and he shrugged.
“You deserve better than simple.” He said and she smiled into her drink.
“I don’t need big grand displays of affection.” He watched her, his eyebrow cocked in question as she pushed her cup to the side and crossed her arms on the table in front of her. “It’s sweet but really I would be just as happy to do anything with you.” Barry smiled, turned his eyes away and offered a soft nod in response.
“What did I do to deserve you?” He asked with a smile and Ava blushed.
“You’re cute.” She teased, pulling a soft laugh from his lips.
“Is that all?” Barry shot back, tossing an empty bottle in her direction. Ava knocked it away and nodded.
“I mean it is about the only thing you have going for you.” Barry scoffed at her joke and moved to sit next to her. Ava jumped up and stepped back, watching him carefully as he followed suit, a wicked grin spread across his face as he watched her.
“You’re lucky you’re adorable.”
“I know.” She shot back as she dodged his attempt to poke at her side. Ava skirted around him, avoiding his assault with a laugh. Barry lunged after her and Ava dodged around a nearby tree, keeping him at a distance and ignoring the stares from patrons as they lost themselves in their game. Barry danced around her and after a few moments finally managed to get a strong hold on her waist, pinning her back against the tree and digging his fingers into her sides. Ava lost herself in a series of laughs and snorts, begging him to stop as she attempted to squirm out of his grip.
“Take it back!” He laughed as she doubled over in his grip and squealed.
“Take it back!”
“WERE ON THE CLOCK!” She managed to choke out against his assault. “YOU’RE GONNA GET US BOTH IN TROUBLE!” Barry released her and allowed her a moment to catch her breath before pressing her back against the tree, trapping her between the bark and the hard line of his body. He stared down at her with a grin, her face red and exhausted from the laughter as he pushed a stray lock of hair behind her ear.
“So? What’s the worst that’ll happen?” He spoke low and Ava chuckled nervously in response.
“You could get us fired.” He smiled. Barry leaned down and pressed a soft kiss to her lips before taking a step back and allowing her to slip around him. She grabbed her things from the bench and fell into a last quick hug before returning to her station and doing her best to avoid the barrage of questions that came at her from various coworkers and nosey guests.
The days went on much the same and by the time the weekend came it seemed as though Barry had formed an idea for Valentine’s Day. Despite Ava’s best attempts he remained tight lipped about his plans and no one else was talking either.
Ava had tried and failed to get out of working that day and Barry assured her that everything would be fine, choosing to take the day off for himself to prepare as he put it. It was strange not seeing him slip past the gift shop as she worked but it was quickly put out of her mind when a man in a dark blue uniform slipped into the guest shop with the largest bundle of flowers she had ever seen between his arms.
“I’m looking for uh…” He reached into his pocket and pulled out a slip of paper. “An Ava..”
“That’s me.” She beamed before he could finish. He handed her the bouquet and wished her a happy Valentine’s Day before leaving the little shop. It wasn’t long before a small group of women, coworkers and guests began to circle her, cooing and gushing over the arrangement and begging to know who it was from. Blushing, Ava sifted through the bouquet before finding a single white card tucked away between the roses. She pulled it out gently and flipped it around to read what was inscribed.
“Those are pretty.” Ava looked up to see Barry strolling into the shop with a confused look spreading across his face.
“They’re not from you?” He stopped at her side and leaned in to place a quick kiss to her cheek before pulling away and shaking his head. Ava’s throat became dry, her hear pounded in her chest as she looked down at the card.
Barry took the card from her shaking fingers and flipped it over twice in his hand before ripping it into pieces and tossing it into the wastebasket.
“Get your things.” He growled pulling Ava’s attention back to him.
“Now, go.” Ava nodded and did as she was told, slipping into the small back room and pulling her bag from her locker and tossing it around her shoulder.
“Where are you going?” She stopped as June, a mousy blond haired girl stepped in front of her. “You can’t just leave your shift isn’t over.”
“I know but it’s an emergency.” Ava argued.
“I can’t let you, we’ll both be in trouble.” The girl was pushed to the side and Barry reached into the room, taking Ava’s hand and pulling her back out into the lobby.
“I’m sorry I’ll explain later.” She called behind her as Barry pulled her from the little store and began to lead her through the zoo.
“Where are we going?” She asked as she struggled to keep up with his strides.
“Somewhere safe.” He growled once again and it was in that moment that she realized the voice that commanded her was not Barry’s.
“Dennis stop.” She called but he didn’t listen, pulling her along and paying no attention to how it would appear to someone watching as he drug her past the Safari zone and out into the company parking lot. “Dennis please stop.”
“We’re almost home we’ll talk then.” Ava yanked her hand from his grip and took a step back as he reached out to grab her once again.
“No, we’ll talk now. This is insane I can’t just leave my job. Jesus you probably just got me fired.” Dennis stared her down, fuming and took another step toward her.
“I’m just… You’re not….” He huffed as he ran his hand over his head in frustration. “I didn’t mean to cause a problem.”
“I know. But you can’t do shit like that.” She barked a lot louder than she had intended. “I would have been fine to finish out my day.” Dennis shook his head quickly.
“No, it’s not worth the risk.”
“How is it not? I’m surrounded by people.”
“He knows where you work.” Dennis bark and she stiffened under his glare. “He knows where you are.”
“Dennis he knew that before. Don’t you remember the apartment?”
“OF COURSE I DO!” He bellowed and Ava took a step back. “We weren’t there to protect you then. It could have been so much worse and I’m not going to risk it this time.” Dennis lunged forward and grabbed her wrist pulling her into him and toward their apartment. Ava struggled, clawed at his arm and he grabbed her around the waist in response, dragging her down the stairs and toward the door.
“LET ME GO!” She screamed but it was useless to struggle against him.
“STOP FIGHTING ME!” He growled as she threw herself forward in an attempt to break his grip. “I’M JUST TRYING TO PROTECT YOU!” Dennis swung her around slamming her back into the door and pinning her arms above her head in his one massive hand. Ava kicked up, her knee connecting with his groin and Dennis doubled over giving her just enough space to slip through.
Ava took off without thinking, the sun beginning to set around her as she ran out of the parking lot and onto the sidewalk that ran around toward the zoo’s entrance. She looked back and found herself shocked as she saw no one chasing after her and decided to slow her pace. She had run far enough to put the zoo’s black metal gates behind her and stopped to gather her thoughts. She cursed at the sky, struggled to control the steady stream of tears that stained her cheeks and after a few moments decided to keep walking with no destination in mind.
A long time had passed; how long she couldn’t be sure as she kicked at the ground and allowed the swing she sat on to rock her gently back and forth. The sun had set long ago and the air nipped at her cheeks, stinging them as she sniffed loudly and pushed back the last remnants of tears unable to fully calm herself as she had hoped. She checked her phone.
“6:37” She had been gone for nearly three hours although it didn’t seem like such a long time to her. She wondered where he was at, if he was out looking for her, if she should care. She looked up at the building that used to be hers, the lights in her old apartment were on and she wondered for a moment how strange it would be for her to ask to stay the night. It wasn’t that she was avoiding Barry and the others, but sometimes when things seem so out of place a little familiarity is exactly what the spirit needs to heal. At least in her case it felt like that was just the thing her soul was crying out for.
“Hello?” Ava looked up and saw a dark figure standing at the sidewalks edge watching her. She knew immediately who it was and despite her instinct to run crying into his arms stayed put. It wasn’t until he stepped closer that she realized her initial instinct was right. Once again it was a body she knew almost better than she knew her own but the light that shone behind his crystal blue eyes was not a light she recognized. “You’re Ava?” He asked softly and she nodded.
He walked over to her slowly and sat himself down in the swing next to hers.
“I was told I might find you here.”
“By who?” Her voice cracked, her throat was dry and stung from the screams she allowed to flow from her chest not too long ago.
“Barry.” He stammered. “He said you might go home.”
“I’m sorry who are you?” Almost immediately she felt bad for snapping. She had never been rude with any of the others and felt herself ashamed at her reaction this time.
“I’m so sorry, I shouldn’t have gotten involved. It just seemed like you might need some help.”
"That was my fault. It sounded like you needed help, I just came to see if you were okay”
Ava covered her mouth in shock as his first words rang though her head. She had spent so long with the others she had almost forgotten the man she had originally met that day in the parking lot. It was his body after all and his life she had interfered with, who was she to act as though HE had intruded on her space.
“Kevin?” she asked quietly and he looked up at her sheepishly, nodding gently. “Oh my God I’m so sorry.”
“It’s okay.” He offered. She found herself wondering how much he knew, about her and Barry. How much they had been through, how intimately they knew each other and almost immediately she found herself feeling ashamed she had never taken his feelings on the matter into account. “I just wanted to make sure you were okay.” He broke her train of thought and she smiled.
“Why? I mean… I’m sorry.” She caught herself chuckling lightly, embarrassed by her own question. “I just meant… well we haven’t really met.”
“We did once.” He offered with a smile which she returned in kind. “Dennis was wrong.” He began. “I just wanted to tell you he doesn’t represent the rest of us.”
“I know. He just got carried away.” She spoke softly. “He didn’t mean to hurt me.” Ava pulled the sleeve of her jacket down to cover the bruise that had begun to form on her wrist. Kevin reached out, grabbing her hand and exposing the mark for him to examine with his own eyes. He sighed heavily and wrapped his hands around her wrist, rubbing gently at the spot and offering her a soft smile.
“You have nothing to be sorry for.” She assured him.
“You and Barry are close?” He asked after a long silence and she nodded. She turned her arm over and showed him the small ring that glimmered under the light.
“He asked me to marry him.” She smiled.
“I know.” He nodded.
“I’m going to guess you were the one that didn’t quite agree.” Again he nodded.
“It’s nothing to do with you.” He assured her. “I was just scared.”
“Of what?” She asked softly and he sighed, taking her hand in his and rubbing gently as he thought.
“A lot of things. We’ve never really been close with anyone else. I didn’t want Barry to get hurt.”
“I love him.” She explained before he could continue. “I love all of you.” Kevin smirked, lifting her hand to kiss her knuckles gently. It was a friendly gesture and one that did quite a lot to warm her heart.
“I know that now.”
“Have you changed your mind about it?” She asked and he nodded.
“If you want my blessing you have it.” He smiled. Ava watched him for a few moments and without warning Kevin released her hand and sat up. “I have to go.”
“I’m sorry I have to.”
“Can we talk again?” Kevin stopped, a smile spread across his face and he nodded. Before Ava could thank him for coming his body stiffened and he closed his eyes. She waited as he struggled and another slipped into place but as he stood and brushed himself off she realized it wasn’t the one she wanted to see.
“We need to leave. It’s not safe here.”
“I’m not going anywhere with you.” She shot back defensively. “I want to talk to Barry.” Dennis shook his head.
“That can’t happen.”
“He can’t protect you like I can.”
“I don’t need you to protect me.” She shot back and he stiffened. “Look at how well it worked out last time.” She spat and he glared down at her. Ava pulled her sleeve back exposing her wrist and he winced as he looked down at the dark purple bruise that covered her skin. “Is this what you call protecting me.”
“I’m…” He stammered, his body softening and his eyes darting between her wrist and her face as he struggled. “I never meant to hurt you.” Ava slid her sleeve back down and watched as he struggled with what to say. It had never occurred to her that being in the position of protecting another was new to him and he didn’t know how things were supposed to be done.
“All you had to do was ask me. If you had given me a moment to think I would have come with you.” He sighed heavily and nodded. “You scared me.”
“I know that.” He groaned and reached up, holding his head in his hands. Ava stood up and reached out, taking his hand in hers and exposing his face to her. There was a sadness buried deep behind his eyes, not deep enough to be fully hidden but he struggled with it and Ava found herself feeling sorry for him as he watched her.
“I appreciate what you were trying to do.” She offered and he nodded. “Maybe I do need your protection but not like that. Never again.” She added sternly and again he nodded. “I want to talk to Barry.” Dennis shook his head. “Dennis I NEED to talk to Barry.” She spoke louder. This time it wasn’t a request. Dennis opened his mouth to argue but before he could a familiar pain twisted his expression and she watched as he slipped away. She couldn’t be sure if he had given in or if Barry simply heard her calling his name but in the blink of an eye Dennis was gone and Barry stood before her, his face twisted with worry.
Without speaking he took her in his arms and thanked whatever God was listening that she was safe. She found herself giggling slightly as he covered her face in small thankful kisses. Her forehead, her nose, her cheek and finally her lips.
“I’m fine. I’m fine.” She smiled as he pulled away to look at her for a moment before pulling her back into his chest. “I’m okay.” She whispered as he rocked her slightly.
“I was so worried.”
“I know.” She whispered into his chest.
“Don’t run off like that again, please.” He begged as he pulled away, his hands still resting on her hips.
“Dennis needs to learn to control his temper then.” She added sternly and he nodded.
“We are all so sorry about that.” He offered and she shook her head.
“Don’t be. I can handle him.” She smiled and Barry nodded, resting his forehead against hers and closing his eyes. “I met Kevin.” Barry chuckled lightly.
“Yeah?” He asked without opening his eyes and she nodded.
“Yeah. He’s nice.”
“He’s a good man.” He agreed. They stood there for what felt like an eternity locked in each other’s embrace and relishing in the quiet that surrounded them. Without saying much Ava and Barry walked back toward the bus stop and despite his pressure, she insisted they walk back home rather than take the bus.
“I can’t handle the noise right now.” She explained. “I just want to be alone with you.” Wanting her to be happy Barry led her home and as they stepped into the apartment all the worry and fear that had permeated the day slipped away and Ava fell into the display that lay waiting for her. Roses and candy sat ready on the living room table and as she bent down to inhale the sweet scent of flowers Barry slipped around to hand her a small stuffed fox. Ava smiled brightly and gave it a quick squeeze before thanking him with a long and exhausted kiss.
“Happy Valentine’s Day love.” He whispered as she pulled away with a tired sigh. Without warning Barry reached down and lifted her into his arms, carrying her through the living room and into the bedroom where he laid her down gently onto the bed and began to help her out of her clothes. She lay there quietly, exposed to him and watched as he fished out her favorite pair of pajamas and laid them down next to her. Ava shook her head.
“You look tired.” He whispered as she beckoned him toward her. Ava smiled, knowing full well he wouldn’t argue and he didn’t, resting comfortably into her kiss and sliding himself in between her legs for a deeper embrace. “Are you sure you wouldn’t rather just sleep?” He teased as she began to tug at his shirt impatiently.
“No.” She smiled, finally pulling it free and helping him to lift it over his head. “I need something good today.” She whispered and he nodded. “I need you.” Barry looked down at her knowingly and nodded, giving no argument as she undid his jeans and before she was able to slide them fully away from his hips he slammed into her, pulling a loud and exasperated cry from her chest as he continued with quick and determined thrusts. Somehow in the midst of it all she was able to push his jeans down with her feet, giving him no choice but to stop long enough to kick them off and as he did she rolled him onto his back and took over where he left off.
Barry watched her in awe as she threw her head back and cried out into the darkness of the room, reaching back to balance herself on his thighs as she worked out the days frustration on his body. Sensing her need Barry reached forward, gripping her ass and pulling her down hard into eager thrusts of his own. Ava fell forward, her hands curling into his chest as he took over, holding her steady and encouraging her as she moaned and cried into his ear.
Barry gripped her tight and rolled her onto her back, never breaking his pace as he reached between her legs and began to rub, locking his eyes with hers and begging her to finish for him.
“Please Ava…” He whispered and with that, she felt herself giving in. Her body shuddering under his and her screams boarding on embarrassing as her head fell back and she gripped at his arms, feeling them tense under her hands as he too gave in and fell into her chest with a loud and guttural growl.
They made love twice more that night, each time swearing it was the last before finally collapsing naked and exhausted into each other as dawn began to break outside. Before sleep finally took hold Barry was able to bring up the idea of leaving, going somewhere new and starting over and being too tired to argue Ava agreed. Maybe he was right, they couldn’t stay there forever but a small glimmer of doubt still nagged at her as she closed her eyes and nestled into his chest. That was until they woke to twenty-seven unread text messages on her phone, each one more menacing than the last. Details of what he would do to her, where he would find her. How he would kill her.
In a moment of rage, Barry smashed her phone against a nearby wall and it was then that Ava realized her doubts had no place in their life anymore. Either he was right and they needed to leave this place far behind or they would have to stand and fight and Ava found herself sick at the thought that any more blood would need to be shed over a mistake that should have stayed buried in the past where it belonged.
Nearly a month had passed and despite spring taking a firm hold on the world around them, Ava found herself falling into the throes of depression as she sat locked away like a princess in a tower, never to see the outside without the protection of her knight lest a dragon come to take her away. She had tried to argue her way back into her job but luck was not on her side. She had gone behind Dennis's back and even though Blue had sadly told her it was not possible it didn't stop him from being angry that she had tried despite his firm objection.
Theirs had become a battle of wills and Dennis seemed to find it hard to balance his need to keep her safe with her desire for her boundaries to be respected. It wasn't uncommon for their arguments to end in screaming and with Dennis taking more and more of the light Ava found herself wondering just what it was she was still fighting for. She slept alone most nights and if it weren't for the company of Hedwig and Jade when it was allowed she would be all alone. Truly locked away and forgotten to the rest of the world and all for his burning desire to know she was unharmed.
She managed to accept things, to deal with what she could for as long as she could until she woke one day to find that the front door, her only way out had been fitted with a new lock, one that secured from the other side of the door. He was locking her in and that was her final straw.
She waited for his shift to end and met him with the fire of a blazing inferno as he came through the door.
"WHAT THE FUCK IS WRONG WITH YOU?" She shouted and he fell back into the door, frightened by her sudden appearance and the fierceness in her eyes as she shouted. "WHAT IS THAT?" She screamed, pointing at the lock and he stood straight, brushing himself off as he collected his thoughts.
"It's only there if I need it. I don't intend to lock you away unless you insist on leaving again."
"ARE YOU FUCKING SERIOUS?" She stepped toward him and he stepped back. "How… what part of you thinks that's even remotely okay?"
"DO YOU WANT TO DIE?" He bellowed and she stood firm and unwaverred by his attempted intimidation.
"I have one asshole making my life a living hell and I do NOT NEED YOU DOING THE SAME!" She shouted. "Jesus Dennis, do you think you can just keep me here against my will?" He stepped back, shaken by her words and stood dumbfounded as she waited for his reply. "Take the lock off, let me talk to Barry."
"No." He barked and she stepped toward him.
"LET ME TALK TO BARRY NOW!" Without a word, Dennis reached forward grabbing her by the wrist and dragging her through the living room and down the hall. She fought, screamed and clawed as he tossed her into Barry's bedroom and slammed the door shut behind her. She scrambled off of the cold cement and pounded at the door, falling to her knees as the sound of a lock clicked into place trapping her in the home that had now become her prison.
"Is she in there?" Ava woke to hear the sound of a woman talking softly from behind the door. "Have you lost your mind?"
"She keeps trying to leave," Dennis explained but Patricia seemed to be having none of it.
"And this is how you respond? I can't believe you… open the door right this second." She demanded and Ava sat up.
"It's not safe for her." He argued.
"If you do not open this door and release the poor girl it will soon be unsafe for you as well." Ava recoiled as Patricia growled, she had never heard anything but kindness in the woman's voice up until now and a small part of her felt comforted to know that Dennis was acting of his own volition and the others were just as horrified as she was by his actions. Ava listened quietly as the sound of keys rattling changed into the sound of the lock being undone and finally, the light of the hallway filled the room, stinging her eyes as Patricia stepped quickly to the bed and lifted her to her feet.
"Oh my goodness you poor thing are you alright?" Ava shook her head and found herself shaking as she was taken over by her own despair. Patricia pulled her into her chest and cooed softly as Ava began to sob heavily against her, somehow feeling comfort in the same body that had earlier tried to lock her away. "Now now darling it's going to be alright." She comforted her, smoothing her hair and rubbing her back all the same. "Did he hurt you?" She asked as she pulled away and Ava shook her head. "Come on let's get you out of here."
Patricia led her into the kitchen and helped her into a chair, pouring her a glass of water and offering her a snack before seating herself in the chair opposite her.
"I cannot express how sorry we are for Dennis's actions. It's my fault." She added solemnly.
"How?" Ava croaked before taking a sip of her water.
"I suggested he look out for you but I did not mean like this." Patricia sighed heavily and adjusted her shawl. "I should have been paying attention. I should have been watching. I am so sorry."
"It's not your fault." Ava offered genuinely and Patricia nodded in thanks.
"Would you like to speak to him? Perhaps give him a piece of your mind?" She offered and Ava shook her head.
"The last thing I need is to talk to him right now." Patricia nodded.
"Would you prefer I speak to him? He listens to me." Ava thought for a moment before settling on a nod.
"I want the lock off of the door."
"Consider it done."
"I'm not a prisoner."
"Of course not." She agreed. "This is your home, not a jail cell." Ava looked away and at that moment Patricia stiffened, a look of worry twisting her expression as she watched her. "You do still consider this your home do you not?" Ava fought against the wave of sadness that enveloped her and failed, crumbling into her sobs and resting her head against the table. "Oh, sweetheart…" Patricia cooed, moving her chair to Ava's side and rubbing her back gently. "How can I help, please tell me."
"My whole life is gone." She lifted her head and wiped her nose with her sleeve. "Everything I worked for is gone. I'm dying here." She admitted and Patricia sat back.
"Are you not happy with us?"
"What is there to be happy about? I'm trapped, I sleep alone. If it weren't for Hedwig popping in from time to time I wouldn't even have a reason to laugh and even he's running out of ways to make me smile."
"What do you need?" She asked quietly and Ava took a few deep breaths to calm herself.
"I need you to stop protecting me. I need to feel normal. I haven't seen Barry in almost two weeks. I can't live like this."
"Leaving Dennis in charge was my mistake, one I deeply regret." Patricia offered. "I will make this right I promise. Can you trust me? Is it alright for me to ask that of you?" Ava looked up and thought for a moment. She wasn't sure how she felt, whether or not Patricia deserved her trust but having nothing left in her she decided to agree. Somehow Patricia talked her into taking a bath and having a nap to relax and despite her desire to protest found she lacked the energy. It did feel nice, even as Patricia sat on the edge of the tub and brushed her hair as she soaked, humming softly and smiling down at her in a way that even after all that had happened did quite a bit to ease her nerves.
Ava slipped into bed, this time with the door wide open and even though she didn't feel particularly tired fell fast asleep with Patricia at her bedside.
Ava stirred as she was lifted out of bed and into the familiar arms of the man she had wanted so desperately to see. He kissed her forehead and without a word carried her out of the apartment and up the stairs into the cool night air. She didn't ask as he gently lowered her into the car, buckling her seat belt and placing a kiss to her forehead before closing the door and after a short moment sliding into the driver's seat.
She watched through tired eyes as they pulled out of the parking lot and looked into the backseat to see her backpack tucked away next to his before falling back into sleep as he drove, putting the zoo and the horrors of the day behind them.
Ava didn't wake when he parked the car outside of the hotel's lobby and she hardly stirred as he lifted her from the car and carried her into the room he had rented, laying her down on the bed and pulling the covers over her gently. She could hear him setting his things down, emptying his pockets and slipping out of his shoes and after a long moment, she felt the warmth of his body against hers as he slid into bed behind her.
When she finally did wake the sun was just peeking in through the window and she turned onto her back to see him sleeping soundly beside her. A soft smile spread across her lips and deciding not to wake him she slipped out of bed and over to the window. She looked out to see a large pool in the center of the U shaped building. A woman in a red dress stumbled out of a nearby room, her shoes in her hand and Ava chuckled lightly as she recognized the look of a girl who longed to put the night behind her and continue on as though nothing had happened.
She hadn't heard him get up and jumped slightly as he came up behind her and slipped his arms around her waist, pulling her back into him and placing a tired kiss to her shoulder.
"Where have you been?" She whispered as he held her, staring out of the same window and watching the world go by.
"I'm not sure." He answered honestly. "I've been losing time."
"I missed you." She spoke softly, running her hands over his and leaning her head back into his frame. Barry turned her gently to face him.
"How long has it been?" He asked genuinely confused.
"About two weeks." He closed his eyes and sighed. "Dennis has been in charge."
"I know." He groaned. "Patricia told me everything. I'm so sorry." Ava reached up, cupping his face and he opened his eyes to her.
"It's not your fault. I'll kick his ass later." Barry laughed and so did she. "I'm just happy you're here."
"I took a leave of absence."
"Barry you didn't…" He shushed her with a soft kiss and rested his forehead against hers as he pulled away.
"It's just for a week. I thought after everything that happened we could leave town for a while. Maybe have some fun." Ava smiled and nodded, reaching up to stroke his cheek as she did.
"That does sound nice."
"I don't want you to leave." He admitted and her breath caught in her throat.
"Barry I…" She stammered as he opened his eyes once again. "I never thought that."
"I'm not accusing. It's just… Patricia said you weren't happy. I can't live knowing that." Ava wrapped her hand around the back of his neck and somehow found a way to pull him tighter against her as he spoke. "I can't stand feeling like I failed you."
"Barry no, you didn't."
"Yes, I did." His voice was pained and he shook under her hands as he spoke. "I used to make you so happy."
"You still do. You always do." Barry watched her and Ava winced at the sadness that sat behind his eyes. He didn't believe her and she wasn't sure that anything she could say would convince him otherwise. "I love you." She offered, pulling a slight smile from his lips.
"I love you too. I just need to make this right."
"You won't let me tell you that you don't have to will you?" Barry shook his head and she smiled. "Okay then, how do you plan to make it up to me?" Barry smirked and pulled her into a deep kiss, reaching down to grip her ass as he did and pulling a small squeak from her lips.
"I rented this room for the whole week, that's phase one."
"Phase one?" She laughed as he pulled away and tossed himself onto the bed. He rolled onto his side and smiled up at her.
"I thought getting away for a little while would help."
"That definitely does." She agreed. "What's phase two?"
"Honestly I hadn't really thought that far ahead…" Ava laughed loudly. "But there's a ton of stuff to do out here, I emptied out our savings and we can do whatever you want."
"Whatever I want?" She repeated and he nodded. Ava pushed him onto his back and straddled his hips, staring down at him with a wicked grin. "Anything I want?" Barry smiled up at her, gripping at her hips as she leaned down for a kiss. He sighed as she allowed her lips to wonder over the curve of his neck and bucked her hips gently against his. He swallowed hard and tightened his grip on her as she nipped gently at his ear before sitting back up. "I want breakfast." Ava slid off of him and Barry groaned loudly as she grabbed her backpack and slipped into the bathroom.
"That was mean." He called out as she shut the door and began rifling through her bag to find something suitable to wear.
"I want pancakes." She called back as she pulled out a light yellow sundress and a pair of sandals. One of her favorite things about Barry was that his fashion sense meant that he knew how to properly pack a bag for her. A trait she found more than a little endearing.
They spent the morning talking over breakfast and after insisting nearly twenty times that he had nothing to apologize for Barry finally began to settle down about the whole experience. Despite his silence on the matter, Ava could still see that worry that loomed behind his eyes and this time it was her turn to put on a show for him. She did the best she could to make him laugh, occupy his mind and fill his time and as the day went on it seemed to her to be working, at least she hoped that it had.
After a few days, the incident was all but forgotten and Dennis had stolen the light for a few moments to apologize at Patricia's insistence. In a way, Ava could imagine her dragging him by the ear like a mother scolding a child but no matter how funny she found the image she wasn't letting him off of the hook that easy. Hedwig managed to get a scolding of his own after stealing the light with the sole purpose of jumping on the hotel's bed with a laugh.
"This is fun!" He shouted as Ava laughed from behind him.
By the middle of the week, Jade had slipped into Barry's spot for a few hours and insisted that a little girl time was good for the soul. Ignoring the stares of the people around them as they walked arm and arm through a nearby mall they gabbed about boys, clothes, and Ava even allowed her to pick out an outfit from a store she never would have walked into on her own. She had a mouth and an attitude and even though Ava had to stop her from cussing out a few rather rude young men she still enjoyed the venom with which she spoke.
Jade was strong, they all were in their own way but Ava knew well enough that they had to be. Even after all this time she hadn't been told any of the details of Kevin's past but knowing the group as she did and seeing what it was they each had to offer was more than explanation enough for her.
It was bad.
And that was all that she needed to know.
They spent their Thursday at a nearby water park and almost half of the time Barry was more interested in the red and black polka dot bikini she wore than he was in any of the rides. A fact that Ava was quick to point out anytime that she noticed. As they walked back to the hotel room, burnt and tired from the day Ava found herself feeling just as happy, excited and giddy as she had the first time they met up outside of work.
Barry barely had the door to their room closed before she grabbed him around the shoulders, tossed him onto the bed and showed him just how thankful she was for everything that he had done for her in such a short amount of time. But it wasn't just her she realized as she lay awake, tucked in his arms and listening to him snoring softly in the darkness of the little room. It had been a long while since Hedwig had laughed like that and since it seemed that Jade could really breathe and even Dennis in the short time she talked with him seemed lighter than he had just a few days before.
They all needed to get away and as morning rose and Ava woke to find Dennis cleaning the room quietly as she slept she realized that nothing she assumed had ever been truer.
"I hope I didn't wake you." He spoke low as he finished clearing up the garbage left over on the little round table at the far end of the room. Ava shook her head and sat up, covering her bare chest with the comforter as she did.
"What time is it?" Her throat was dry and her voice croaked. Dennis looked up for a moment before turning his attention to the watch at his wrist.
"It's just after seven." Ava chuckled.
"It's early, why are you up?" Dennis said nothing, continuing his work and Ava shrugged. She turned her back toward him and managed to somehow slip on a pair of black leggings and thin purple shirt as he tied up the garbage bag and placed it near the door. She combed her fingers through her hair as he washed his hands and found herself slightly shocked as he returned to the bed next to her with a small yellow flower in hand. He offered it to her silently and she smiled.
"What's this?" She took it and lifted it to her nose as she watched him.
"An apology." He rubbed his hands nervously across his thigh as he spoke. "I picked it from outside." He admitted and she smiled.
"I was wrong." He continued quickly.
"Did Patricia put you up to this?" She teased and he shook his head.
"I feel…. Bad." He stammered. "I would like to make it up to you if you'll allow me." He added and Ava thought about it for a moment. She was still angry, still hurt but didn't she owe it to him to at least give him the chance to apologize? She looked down at her ring and realized that if she wanted a life with Barry it meant that she would have a relationship with all of them as well and a life spent in awkward silence and hatred was no life worth living.
"Okay. I'd like that actually." Dennis looked to her for a moment, a slight smile crossed his lips and he nodded.
"Are you hungry? I'd like to take you to breakfast. Maybe we can talk." Ava nodded and without a word, she placed her flower down on the bedside table and began to slip on her boots. She tied her hair back into a messy ponytail and followed behind him as he led her out of the room and toward the parking lot.
"So when did you come around?" Ava asked as she tucked into her fourth plate of blueberry pancakes that week. Dennis tensed and began to redirect his attention to the silverware in front of him, arranging it slightly and avoiding her gaze. "It's okay if you don't want to answer." She offered.
"I was the first." He spoke and she nodded. It was all he seemed comfortable saying and for her it was enough.
"So you remember everything?" To her surprise, he nodded.
"More than the others."
"Is there any chance you might tell me someday?" Dennis looked up, confusion splashed across his face.
"Why do you want to know?" Ava shrugged.
"I don't know anything at all; I thought maybe it would help me understand things a little better." Dennis watched her and suddenly she felt very self-conscious about her meal, deciding to push her plate to the side so long as his eyes remained fixed on her.
"Kevin's mother was cruel. His father tried to stop her but he left. He never came back." Ava watched him for a moment, allowing his words and his honesty to sink in.
"And you came to help him?" Dennis nodded.
"I did what I could but I couldn't help enough. He's very weak."
"He didn't seem weak to me," Ava admitted and his eyes softened. "He seemed sweet."
"I like to hear you say that." He smiled and so did she. "But I'm sure you've noticed he doesn't stick around. The world is… it's too much for him. The memories are too much."
"Can you tell me?" Ava asked softly. Dennis sat back and crossed his arms at his chest.
"What are you asking?"
"I'd like to know what he went through. Just an example."
"I don't see how that would help." He spoke sternly and Ava sat back, mirroring his posture and thought for a moment.
"The first time Brian hit me, I didn't really know what had happened. By the time I realized what was going on I was in too deep and I didn't know how to get out." He listened as she began to speak, twirling a torn piece of her paper napkin in her fingertips as she moved through the memory for him. "On my 19th birthday we went out with my family and the waiter made a comment about my dress. He said I looked beautiful and wished me a happy birthday." She smiled and so did he.
"We got back to our apartment and before we even got the lights on he punched me, knocked me to the ground. He ripped my dress off and threw it in the garbage, called me a whore and accused me of embarrassing him." Ava tensed as she spoke, tossing the piece of napkin onto her plate and wrapping her arms tightly around herself for comfort. Dennis began to relax, leaning forward and listening to her story intently. "He broke my wrist that night. He cracked my jaw." Ava opened her mouth pointed to three very white teeth on the top of her mouth. "He knocked those out, their fake. My mom bought them for me years later when she found out what happened." Dennis watched her, her eyes focused on the plate in front of her as she relived that night deep in her mind. To her surprise he leaned forward, sliding his hand palm side up toward her and sensing his cue she reached over and allowed him to take her hand in his.
He cupped her hand in between his and did what he knew to comfort her, rubbing his thumb across the back of her hand and giving her the space she needed to process her grief.
"That will never happen to you again." He offered softly and she nodded. Dennis reached over the table and lifted her chin to face him. He sat back in his seat, holding her gaze and the seriousness in his eyes sent a shiver through her body. "I will never hurt you again." He promised and in a way, she knew that he was being as honest with her as he could be.
Dennis released her and after a long and tense moment, he finally began to speak once again.
"The first memory I have was when Kevin was three." Ava sat up, listening intently as he began.
"Were you always as old as you are now?" She asked quickly and he nodded.
"I've developed over time as we all have but I've never been a child." She nodded. "It was night; Kevin had gotten up to get a glass of milk. He dropped the jug in the kitchen and his mother heard it. She came down the hall and she was calm which was unusual. Even when she saw the mess. Kevin tried to clean it up and she left and he thought everything was okay." Ava held on to his every word, leaning forward as he spoke and waiting for him to continue.
"When she came back she had three things in her hand and she put them on the kitchen table. She waited for him to finish cleaning up the mess and took him over to the table." He stopped and sighed, closing his eyes as he did. "There was a belt, an extension cord and a paddle laid out on the table." Ava tensed, resisting the urge to gasp as he continued. "She told him to choose."
"He was three?" She asked and he nodded, his eyes remained closed.
"Kevin just cried. He couldn't choose. He was too scared." Dennis rubbed his hands over his face and finally opened his eyes to her.
"What…. What happened?" She asked quietly and he ran his hands over his head and sighed.
"He got all three. I tried to talk for him but he wouldn't let me through. I just watched. I couldn't protect him." Ava reached forward, offering him the same gesture he had offered her and silently he took it, allowing her to cup his hand in hers.
"That's not your fault. He was little." Dennis sighed and pulled his hand away from her. Having none of it she slipped into the booth next to him and continued. "You can't blame yourself for that Dennis." She reached over and cupped his cheek, pulling his attention toward her. "That was her fault, not yours." Dennis nodded silently, closing his eyes and placing his hand on top of hers. It dawned on her that his overzealous desire to protect her might have had a lot to do with what he was unable to do before and suddenly her anger was replaced with sympathy.
Without thinking, Ava lifted herself slightly and placed a kiss to his forehead. He opened his eyes to her, shocked and surprised and she found herself wondering if he had ever experienced something like that before.
"I trust you." She whispered with a smile. "I forgive you. And thank you, for protecting Kevin all these years." Dennis smiled and to her surprise he reached over to take her in his arms, holding her tightly against him for a long moment and she returned his embrace graciously.
It was the first time he showed any real emotion with her, perhaps the first time he showed vulnerability with anyone and she cherished it knowing what it meant to be open with someone when you felt you had no right.
They continued on their conversation avoiding anything heavy in favor of lighter topics. She had no idea that he had hobbies and enjoyed writing when he was alone and it was nice that after all this time he finally seemed comfortable opening up to her. Ava cherished his friendship, his honesty and it was easy to forgive him for what he had done, knowing that it was all he knew and that it wasn't born of hatred or anger but a burning desire not to fail her as he felt he failed Kevin.
As the day went on she managed to convince him to stay a little longer and they enjoyed a movie together before giving in to the temptation of an afternoon nap. Dennis leaned into her, his head resting against her shoulder as they drifted off and she didn't know how or what it would take but she found herself considering him a project. She wanted nothing more than to crack through his hard outer shell and see the man he really was underneath. Despite knowing it would be the hardest thing she ever did she felt a strange sense of determination and found herself chuckling as she wondered what Barry might have to say about it all.
Chapter 12: Chapter 12
Authors note: I am so very sorry for the absence. I have not abandoned this story I actually have it all written I just haven't updated due to life changes that took me by surprise. On a random day out of the blue, I found out I was getting divorced and had to move across the country with my 2-year-old son so unfortunately, that meant that some things had to fall to the wayside while I was figuring things out. But now that I'm more stable I plan to upload regularly as well as finish the second part to this story so thank you for being patient with me.
"Where are we going anyway?" Ava called from the bathroom as she slipped on a pair of silver hoop earrings. Barry had packed her a sleek black dress, a pair of heels and despite her questioning, he refused to tell her why.
"You'll see." He teased from the other room and she sighed. Ava let her hair down, fluffing her soft curls gently and coaxing it into a side part. She groaned in frustration as it became evident that her hair was having not part of the negotiation. She was stopped by a soft knocking at the door and as she responded it wasn't Barry's voice who responded but Patricia to her surprise. Ava opened the door to see her standing there with a soft smile on her lips.
"I just wanted to see how you are doing dear." Ava smiled and opened the door to allow her to step inside.
"I'm good. Great actually." Patricia's smile widened and she stepped behind Ava to help her with her hair. She reached down and grabbed a small black brush from the countertop and began to push her waves to the side.
"That's wonderful to hear." She spoke as Ava allowed her to work. Patricia succeeded where Ava had failed and gently pushed her hair over her shoulders before placing the brush back down on the countertop. "I've been so worried about you." She spoke softly as she turned Ava to face her. "And Dennis, I understand you spent some time together?" She asked worriedly and Ava nodded.
"We did actually. It was nice." Patricia smiled softly. "I think I'm starting to understand him."
"Music to my ears." She beamed and clasped her hands together at her chest. "So am I to assume there are no hard feelings?" Ava shook her head.
"No, it was just a misunderstanding. He said it won't happen again."
"And you believe him?" She questioned.
"I do actually." Patricia nodded and reached out to take Ava into a light embrace.
"Well, I suppose that I should let you finish getting ready." She spoke softly as she pulled away.
"You don't have any idea where he's taking me to do you?" Patricia laughed lightly and shook her head.
"No idea sweetheart, Barry is quite tight-lipped when it comes to his plans." Before Ava could respond Patricia was gone and Barry had slipped into her place. He smiled down at her and brushed his fingers over her cheek lightly.
"You look amazing." He whispered and she blushed. "Come on we should get going." Ava grabbed her bag and he held the door open for her, locking it behind them before leading her out to the car. Ever the gentleman Barry opened her door for her and waited until she was comfortably inside to shut it and move around the car to take his place in the driver's seat.
Ava didn't recognize anything as they drove into the heart of the city but the look of the neighborhood told her that Barry had spared no expense on the outing he had planned for the night. They pulled up to a large black building and she found herself growing nervous as she caught sight of the well-dressed couples that stood outside. It was definitely fancier than anywhere she had ever been before and she wondered, as he parked the car if she even knew how she should act once they were inside.
Once again he opened her door for her and with his hand placed gently at the small of her back led her inside where he gave the man at the front his name. Ava slipped her arm around his and tucked into him nervously, giggling slightly as he leaned down to place a kiss to the top of her head. They followed the host out of the front room and toward the back where they were seated at a small table in front of a roaring fireplace. Soft music played overhead and as Ava sat down she couldn't hide the surprised expression that crossed her face when she saw more forks than she knew what to do with spread out on the table in front of her.
"This place is fancy as hell." She whispered as they sat down. "I don't feel like I belong here." She smiled and so did he.
"Relax, you'll love it." He winked and she blushed.
"Good evening my name is Toby and I'll be your waiter." Ava looked up to see a tall slender man dressed in a white suit standing at the side of their table. "Can I offer you a wine list?" Barry shook his head and ordered two drinks that Ava couldn't recognize. Toby nodded and after handing them two rather elaborate menus left them to decide.
"No wine?" She teased and he shrugged.
"You don't like wine."
"But you do." She smiled and again he shrugged.
"Tonight's not about me." Ava blushed once again and turned her attention toward the menu. Most of the items were in French and when Toby returned she was embarrassed that she had no choice but to ask what a few things were. Barry chuckled lightly as he watched her and after she finally decided on a chicken dish she could hardly pronounce he made his selection and handed back their menus.
"So how are you feeling?" He asked as she sipped at her drink. Vodka wasn't usually her thing but whatever he had ordered tasted fruity and light and to her surprise, she found herself quite enjoying it.
"You're the second person to ask me that today," Barry smirked.
"Still, I haven't asked yet."
"Are you feeling better?" He leaned back in his chair and swirled his drink lightly. Ava nodded.
"Much better actually." Barry smiled and lifted his glass to her. She did the same, a silent toast between them. "What about you?"
"I'm happy you're happy." He smiled and she chuckled lightly.
"Is that all?" Barry nodded.
"That's always been the most important thing to me." Ava blushed and watched him as she sipped at her drink once again. Barry leaned over the table, a grin spreading across his face as he coaxed her forward.
"What do you say we do something insane?" Ava thought for a moment, her eyebrow cocked in question.
"What did you have in mind?" Barry sat back and offered her a smile as his only response. Before she could question further Toby returned with their meals and Ava was taken back by the display that sat in front of her. She hadn't been to anyplace fancier than an Applebee's so seeing something that looked more like a work of art than a full course meal was suffice to say not something that she was used to.
Despite her initial impression, she was in heaven with each bite and Barry made no effort to hide his amusement as she rolled her eyes and squealed lightly with each bite.
"Oh my God, this is amazing!" He laughed as she continued to tuck into her meal.
"I knew you'd like it." They finished their plates and despite her first impression, Ava found herself full when Toby came around to ask about dessert. He slid them the check and Ava being curious tried to fight Barry for it just to see how much he was willing to spend on her happiness. He laughed and held her away as he slipped a credit card into the little black folder and handed it back to Toby before she could sneak a peek.
They made their way back outside and once again Ava hooked her arm with Barry's and followed him out to the car.
"So you didn't answer my question." He spoke as he turned toward her. "Do you want to make tonight memorable?" Ava leaned back against the car and smiled up at him.
"You never told me what was on that pretty little mind of yours." Barry smiled and stepped closer to her.
"Can't I have my secrets?" He asked and she looked up at him in question.
"I suppose." Barry leaned down and kissed her gently, holding her chin as he pulled away.
"So… yes or no?"
"Just yes or no? I don't get to know what I'm agreeing to." Barry shook his head.
"Trust me." He whispered before leaning in for another kiss. Ava watched him carefully as he pulled away, biting her lip gently and wondering just how bad it would be to put herself completely in his hands.
"Yes." She whispered. Without a word Barry reached behind her and opened the car door, once again allowing her to slip inside and adjust herself before closing the door behind her. They drove for what felt like forever and Ava watched out her window for any sign of what he may be planning but when he finally pulled up to a tucked-away little chapel she felt her breath hitch in her throat and the world around her stopped as he put the car into park.
"Barry…" She whispered and without a word he killed the engine, slipped out of the car and jogged over to her side. Ava took his hand and allowed him to help her to her feet. He closed the door behind her and lifted her hand to place a small kiss to her knuckles.
"Marry me, Ava. Tonight." He asked as she watched him, unable to find the words to say.
"Right now?" She smiled nervously and he nodded.
"Right now. It was always going to be just us so why not here, why not now?" He pleaded and she found herself chuckling.
"Yeah?" He beamed and she nodded. Without another word, Barry slipped her a quick kiss before taking her hand in his and dragging her toward the front door of the tiny white church. She found herself giggling more than she thought she should as he made the arrangements with a short chubby woman who stood behind a counter. The woman stepped out into the waiting area and took Ava by the hand, leading her back toward a small room tucked off to the side and she looked behind her, offering a soft smile before disappearing inside.
"Alright sweetheart just a few questions before we begin." She spoke happily as she sat Ava down in a folding white chair and had her look up into a mirror. She pulled her hair back and placed her hand on her shoulders. "For safety purposes, I have to ask, are you here willingly." Ava nodded with a bright smile. "Good. Would you like a veil dear?" Ava shook her head.
"No thank you."
"Good. You're pretty enough on your own anyway." Ava thanked her for the kind statement as she stepped away and toward a wall of flowers that sat on the back wall of the room. "Do you see any you like?" Ava stood up and walked over toward the wall. Her eyes set sight on a bouquet of yellow daisy's tucked around a single sunflower and reached out to take it from the wall. Something about the arrangement reminded her of her Dennis, of Patricia and of Kevin and the kindly woman smiled as she took it down and tucked it to her chest.
"Don't be nervous dear." Ava nodded and followed the woman as she led her out of the room and down a narrow hallway. They stopped at an open doorway and Ava sighed.
"Do I look alright?" She asked quickly, reaching up to adjust her hair.
"Better than most of the girls who come through here." She smiled sweetly. "Go on dear, he's waiting for you." Ava took a deep breath and stepped into the doorway. A small row of pews lined the chapel isle and at the very end, he stood waiting, wringing his hands and smiling nervously as she smiled softly in his direction. He looked almost out of place, dressed all in black against the white walls and pink accents that decorated the room and Ava found herself laughing nervously as she took a few slow steps down the aisle.
Ava dropped her gaze and walked quickly toward him, her cheeks burning red and her heart racing in her chest as she stopped at his side with a chuckle.
"I like your flowers."
"Thanks." She smiled.
"Are you ready?" They turned toward the preacher, a portly balding man dressed in a black suit with a bible in hand and they both nodded. Neither of them were listening as he began his speech, focused more on each other and the magic in the moment than on anything he had to say. Barry smiled down at her and despite her nerves burning at a mile a minute he seemed serene, calm and so sure of what they were doing and in truth, she was too. Despite being in mild disbelief and feeling as though she needed to pinch herself.
"Barry take this woman to be your lawful wedded wife, for better or worse till death do you part?"
"I do." He spoke low, his eyes trained on her and she lifted her flowers to cover the shy smile that covered her face.
"And do you…"
"I do." She squeaked before he could finish his speech. Barry reached into his pocket and pulled out a set of silver rings, a new stone set in one and reached out for her hand. He slid her engagement ring off and slipped it into his pocket before sliding the new one into its place. The stone was blood red and stood out against the silver band.
"I bought these a while back. I wanted to surprise you." She smiled as she looked down at it, knowing that such a small thing could mean so much. She took the other ring from his hand, sliding it onto his finger and running her thumb over it gently before releasing his hand.
"I now pronounce you man and wife." Before he could finish Barry reached forward, cupping her face and pulling her into a long and passionate kiss. Ava blushed against his hands and feeling the warmth of her cheek against his palm he deepened his kiss. Ava melted into him, feeling as though she would be embarrassed if anyone else was in the room but had no desire in her to care as she fell into his arms and held him tight against her.
"Congratulations you too." The priest left them and after a few moments, Barry finally stepped away, staring down at her brightly as he took her by the hand and led her back out into the waiting room. The kindly woman offered her congratulations as well before handing Barry a piece of paper and explaining what he needed to do with it to make it official and after a few moments, he returned to her side.
"I love you." He whispered into her ear, wrapping his arm around her waist and pulling her tight.
"I love you too." Barry bumped his forehead against hers and with that they left the little chapel and headed back out toward the car. They stepped out into the parking lot and into the cool night air and almost immediately Barry switched.
"OH MY GOD!" Jade squealed before Ava could respond and ran toward her taking her in her arms and holding her tight. "This is so not what I had planned but I am so happy for you!" She beamed as she pulled away.
"I knew you two were gonna make it I just knew it!" Ava laughed and Jade slipped out of place, a round-robin of faces came out to greet her and offer their congratulations.
"So you two are married now?" Hedwig asked and Ava nodded. "Does that mean you're like my mom now?" He was genuine in his question and Ava felt bad for laughing.
"No Hedwig it doesn't but were still friends."
"Okay good because that would have been weird." Hedwig stood straight and groaned as another took his place.
"This is wonderful! Oh so wonderful I am so very happy for you dear!" Patricia beamed with excitement as she took Ava into her arms.
"Is everyone going to come out to say something?" Ava smirked as she pulled away.
"It's very likely." She smiled. "This is a happy occasion after all." Before Ava could respond Patricia slipped back and allowed Dennis to take her place.
"Congratulations." He spoke almost sternly. "I'm happy to know I didn't screw things up." Ava reached up and cupped his face.
"Never." She smiled and he returned her expression in kind. His eyes flicked up behind her and his body stiffened as he took her hand and pulled her closer to him.
"Get behind me." He nearly growled and she did as she was told. Dennis took her by the wrist and led her toward the car, keeping her close as he walked and it wasn't until he stopped that she was able to see what had startled him so badly. Ava gasped as she stepped around him, her hand covered her mouth as he bent down to run his fingers over the large gashes in the side of her car.
The word BITCH had been carved into the driver's side door and Ava nearly cried as he stood back up and took her by the hand.
"We have to leave, it's not safe here." Ava nodded and turned as he pulled her back toward the little chapel. They only made it a few steps before a dark blue car stopped them in their tracks, coming to a quick stop and before they had time to react three men in dressed in black and donned in masks spilled out of the car and surrounded them.
"AVA RUN!" Dennis shouted but it was too late. One of the men grabbed him, holding him steady as the other swung a bat at his head and he fell to the ground. Ava screamed and kicked at the air as she was lifted off of her feet and drug backward toward the car.
"DENNIS!" She screamed as she clawed at her captor's arms and attempted to kickback. He looked up and called out her name, attempting to pull himself up but it was no use as he was hit once, twice more with the bat and knocked back down onto his stomach.
"LETS GO LETS GO!" The masked man shouted as he tossed Ava into the backseat of the car and pulled the door shut behind him. Ava threw herself forward and pounded on the window as the other two dropped the bat and ran toward the car. She screamed out his name and cried out in horror as they pulled away with the smell of burning rubber leaving Dennis in a growing pool of his own blood on the asphalt.
"Can you describe the men?"
Dennis walked down the stairs toward their apartment, staring blankly ahead as he passed the hard rock walls and a row of lockers.
"What about the car."
He pulled out a set of keys and tears stung at his eyes as he looked down to see the blood that had dried on his hands, on his sleeve, and on his pants.
"Go home, we'll contact you as soon as we find anything."
He slid the key into the lock and stepped inside, shutting the door gently behind him and leaning back against it with a sigh. Dennis shed his coat and dropped it onto the floor; he unbuttoned his shirt with shaky fingers and tossed it onto the floor as well. His senses were screaming, Pick it up, clean it up… but a bigger part of him couldn't be bothered to care. He was numb and nothing mattered. Dennis walked into the living room, it still smelled like her perfume and his eyes watered as he stopped dead in his tracks. A pink sweater lay draped over the back of her favorite chair and he reached out, lifting it to his face and inhaling deeply. His body shook, his breath came in hard spurts and as though someone else was in control he dropped to his knees, crying loudly into the fabric and wishing it had been him instead.
Dennis went stiff, slipping out of place to allow another to come through. Hedwig shook where he knelt, gasping for air before devolving into a series of howls.
"We have to do something!" He cried. "Mr. Dennis please do something bring her back!" He gasped.
"I can't." Dennis cried. "I couldn't save her."
"You can, you have to." Hedwig pleaded and Dennis shook his head.
"I failed." He whispered. "I've failed everyone."
"No. no, we can't give up you have to go back out there and find her please." Hedwig howled once again and Dennis stood, dropping the sweater to the ground and walking absently toward the kitchen. He stood in front of the sink, his thoughts a mix of despair and absolute destruction. He had failed her, just as he had failed Kevin and he had failed everyone.
"We must form a plan," Patricia spoke quietly. "This is not the end, this is not how it is supposed to go." Without a word Dennis reached over and slipped a knife from the block, staring at it for a moment before holding it to his wrist.
"No. This is how it ends." He growled, pressing down and wincing as the blade nicked his flesh.
"You will do no such thing." Patricia gasped.
"Watch me." He pressed down harder, crying out as a stream of blood began to flow from his small wound. "It's over." Patricia slipped into the light and tossed the knife as hard as she could toward the back wall.
"I will not have you making decisions like that for the rest of us." She bellowed. "Are you so weak you truly think that this is how it is to end?"
"I don't want to die." Hedwig cried quickly before handing the light back to Patricia.
"Do you see what you have done? The poor child is out of his mind with fear."
"IT'S OVER PATRICIA!"
"ALL IS NOT LOST, NOT YET!" She screamed back. "We can still save her."
"NO WE CAN'T. I COULDN'T PROTECT HER!"
"Not you." She spoke softly. "No. We need help." She mused.
"Not from who but from what. Don't you remember Dennis, don't you remember him?" Dennis stopped and leaned over the sink, his hands shaking as he gripped the rim of the smooth metal basin.
"He's not real."
"But he is." She cooed. "We must call on him, now is the time."
"No, no no it won't work." He argued but she simply shushed him.
"It HAS to work. What other choice do we have?" Dennis thought about her words, his heart racing, and his mind a mixture of thoughts. "You want to save her don't you?"
"Of course I do." He growled.
"Then we must try." She pleaded and Dennis closed his eyes.
"Alright." He spoke slowly. "Tell me what I have to do."
Chapter 13: Chapter 13
Her eyes fluttered open, the smell of gas and oil surrounded her as the world slowly slipped back into place. Her body jumped and the sound of an engine rumbled from somewhere behind her. They must have driven over a bump. She tried to pull her arms forward and winced as her wrists stung behind her back. They were bound and it was no use.
She tried to swallow but all she could taste was blood and fabric and in a moment of panic she began to kick, to scream but her sounds were muffled against the gag that had been placed in her mouth. It wasn’t until her knee connected with something hard that it dawned on her she must be locked in a trunk and as her eyes began to adjust she quickly knew she was right.
“HELP ME!” She cried against the fabric. “SOMEONE HELP!” But it was no use. She was trapped in a metal box with no way out and she closed her eyes, tears stinging the cuts on her face as she sobbed quietly into the dark.
Dennis sat stiffly, ignoring the drink in front of him as he simply watched and took notes.
Red head: 16 birthday party
He sighed as each option came and went. To be honest he didn’t fully know what he was looking for but trusted in Patricia’s guidance as he scanned the food court in hopes that the answer would magically fall into place.
Skin as tough as a rhinoceros
…Long mane of hair….
She rattled off the features of the beast as Dennis kept watch.
He will save her. He will save us all….
Dennis slammed his notebook shut and tucked his pen into his shirt pocket. Quickly he stood and left the mall behind, wanting nothing more than a little silence to ease his mind. He hadn’t yet grown comfortable with the idea, in fact he was more than a little hesitant about the plan and he wasn’t alone.
“We can’t do this.” Barry sighed as he walked through the parking lot. “It’s wrong.”
“You must trust me. I am doing what is best for everyone.” Patricia argued gently.
“No not like this. This isn’t right.” Barry shot back and pinched at the bridge of his nose. “We can’t” He slid into the driver’s seat of the little black neon and placed his hands on the wheel, gripping it tight as their argument continued.
“Barry please, I am begging you to trust me. Don’t you see? Don’t you see how extraordinary we could be?”
“Extraordinary? What you’re asking is… No, I won’t be a part of this.”
“Don’t you miss her?” Barry stopped; his blood began to boil as Patricia’s words echoed through his mind. How dare she?
“Don’t.” He growled.
“Would you not do anything in your power to save her?” Patricia spoke low and to the point. Barry clenched his fists and closed his eyes.
“I’m warning you.”
“Or you’ll what? Ban me from the light? Stop us?” She laughed as she spoke. “Dear Barry this is not yours to control he is coming. Oh yes, he is coming.”
“There has to be another way.” He sighed and leaned back in his seat. “This is… It’s wrong.”
“It is a small price to pay.” She shot back. Dennis slipped into the light and to her dismay began to agree with Barry’s point. It was wrong, at least he wasn’t one hundred percent convinced it was necessary and if there was another way wasn’t it worth pursuing?
“You’d risk her life to explore… other options?” Patricia spat and the boys agreed. “Barry? She is your wife and you find that an acceptable risk?” He nodded.
“She wouldn’t want this. When this is done, we have to face her.” He added quickly and Dennis agreed.
“And what if you’re wrong? Would it not be better to ask forgiveness than to risk losing her completely?” Barry thought for a long while. He let his head fall back against the seat behind him and closed his eyes. “We don’t have much time.” She reminded him and he sighed.
“I know. Give me one chance.” Barry offered.
“What do you propose to do?” Patricia asked quietly and he leaned forward, sliding the key into the ignition and starting the engine.
“I know someone, maybe she can help.” Patricia relented and with that Barry set off leaving the mall and the parking lot behind him. He drove north and turned the radio as loud as he could, drowning out her complaints and arguments as he left their home behind and turned onto the highway. He wasn’t sure exactly what it was that he was doing and he was even less sure that she would be willing to help but he had to try something that wouldn’t come at the cost of his soul.
Barry pulled up to the little yellow house as the sun began to set behind him and breathed a sigh of relief as he saw her tiny red car parked in the driveway. She was home and for him that was at least something. With a heavy heart and a long sigh he killed the engine and stepped outside.
He hadn’t made it up the stairs before the front door came open and an old woman in a yellow dress and a kind smile looked down at him from behind an old screen door.
“Can I help you?” She asked, kicking away the fat grey cat that circled her feet.
“Yes ma’am, is Bridgette here?”
“She is.” The old woman bent down and lifted the cat into her arms, stroking it slowly as she watched him with careful eyes. “May I ask whose calling?”
“My name is Barry; I just need to talk to her.” She watched him for a long moment, not taking her eyes off of him as she leaned back and called Bridgette’s name into the house.
“There’s a young man here to see you.” After a few moments Barry was relieved to hear the sound of footsteps and finally she came into view, stepping around the old woman with a smile.
“It’s alright mama he’s a friend.”
“I don’t want him staying too late. It’s not proper for a lady…”
“I know mama, don’t worry.” Bridgette smiled as the old woman turned and left. Bridgette stepped outside and took Barry into a warm hug. “What brings you out this way?” She asked as she pulled away. It wasn’t a few moments later before her smile faded and her eyes held a look of knowing. “Oh no, please don’t tell me…”
“She’s gone.” Bridgette closed her eyes and his voice trembled as he spoke. “We’re in trouble, we need your help. I need your help.” Bridgette nodded and without a word took him by the hand and led him inside. Bridgette’s mother smiled at them from an orange Lay-Z-Boy chair, two more cats perched on the arms and he returned her gesture, following Bridgette past the large open archway of the living room and toward the back of the house. She led him down a narrow flight of stairs and into a dark wood paneled basement, motioning for him to sit at a large round table as she moved behind a U shaped bar in the back.
“Do you want a drink?” Barry shook his head. She returned with two bottles placing one in front of him. “You need one.” She spoke as he flashed her a questioning glance. Not wanting to argue he popped the top and took a long drink. “Tell me everything.” Barry explained the entire situation. The phone calls the break in, the flowers on Valentine’s Day and even what Dennis had done. He began to shake as he told her of their vacation, their impromptu wedding and what neither he nor Dennis were able to prevent. He left out everything about the beast, Patricia’s plans and hoped that she didn’t see far enough into him to know he was keeping something from her.
“What are you going to do?” She asked as she took a long drink from her bottle and he sighed.
“I don’t know. Some of the others think…. It’s stupid.”
“Tell me.” She pressed and he sighed.
“They think there is a way we can save her. They think that we can evolve or change or… God I don’t even know what but I… I just…”
“You didn’t want to put all your eggs in one basket?” Barry nodded.
“I don’t want to go doing something drastic just to find out it won’t work.” Bridgette nodded and watched him as he began to peel the label from his bottle absently.
“And what it if it does?” She asked and he looked up at her.
“I’m not sure I like that idea either.” Bridgette nodded and leaned back in her chair. “Fuck we don’t even know if she’s alive.” He spoke low and she sighed softly.
“Do you have something of hers?” Barry shook his head and stared down at the table. As if without warning his eyes lit up and he reached into his pocket, pulling out her engagement ring and staring at it for a moment before handing it across the table.
“I’ve been carrying it with me. I nearly forgot.” Bridgette took the tiny ring and placed it in her palm. She closed her eyes and took a few long breaths before returning her attention and the ring back to him.
“She’s alive. I don’t know how much comfort that brings.”
“A lot.” He smiled. Barry fought back the tears that burned behind his eyes. He didn’t trust a lot about this world but Bridgette had never steered him wrong. They had met in college and she had become a close friend, a sort of guide for him when things got to be too much. The others never put much stock into anything she had to say but for Barry her word was often enough and no matter what he or anyone else believed about her or her abilities he knew what she was saying was truth. “Can you tell me anything else?” He asked weakly.
“Please.” He whispered and she sighed. Bridgette stared at him for a moment before closing her eyes and giving into his request.
“She’s hurt and she’s scared. But the man who has her has no intention of killing her anytime soon.” With that he lost control, dropping his head into his arms and sobbing softly. Bridgette moved around the table and placed her hand gently on his back. “That’s good news.” She whispered. “It means you have time.”
“I don’t want time. I want her back.” They sat there for a long moment, neither knowing quite what to say and it wasn’t until Barry finally collected himself and was able to sit up that Bridgette asked for his hand. He handed it to her and she turned it palm side up, staring deep into the lines and cracks that existed there, reading whatever secrets they dared to tell. After a long time she placed his hand back on the table and her expression took on a dark and somber tone.
“What is it you’re not telling me Barry?”
“Nothing.” He answered and she shook her head.
“Bridgette please…” He pleaded as she stood.
“I can’t help you. Not with that, not with… Him.” Barry’s blood ran cold and all he could do was nod.
“I don’t want that either. That’s not me you have to believe me.”
“I do.” She spoke quickly.
“That’s why I’m here, you saw didn’t you? What the others are planning to do?” Bridgette nodded. “I can’t let that happen but I can’t stop them.”
“Okay, okay wait.” Bridgette held her hand up to stop him and closed her eyes.
“Just tell me if there’s another way.” Bridgette sighed and shook her head.
“I don’t know Barry, I really don’t know.”
“You HAVE to know.”
“I DON’T!” She snapped. “Barry I can see things but I’m not God okay I don’t have all the answers.” Barry groaned and ran his hands over his head in frustration. “There has to be another way, can you call the police? Maybe I can help you find her…”
“No, that’s not good enough.” He snapped. “We’d be walking into a trap, we couldn’t stop them before.”
“Maybe if you have a plan…”
“No.” He snapped once again and she stepped back. “I’m sorry.” He spoke quickly.
“It’s okay. Look maybe I can call some people, get some other eyes working on this. I just… can you give me time?” Barry reached up, pinched at the bridge of his nose and sighed.
“I don’t know. I don’t think I’m being giving a choice.” There was a long silence, a tense pause before her voice broke slow and with purpose through the quiet between them.
“Barry if you go down this road I can’t help you anymore. I can’t be a part of this, I’m sorry.” Barry nodded. He had hoped things would have been different, that she could have given him the answers he so desperately wanted but what she gave him made him feel worse than he had when he arrived. At least he knew she was alive but was it enough? He thanked her and followed behind her as she led him up the stairs and back through the little hallway. Her mother was gone this time, the house was dark and in a way he felt as though it was an omen. One he truly didn’t want.
They stepped outside and she offered him one last hug and a warning before allowing him to leave.
“Barry please be careful. You don’t know what this creature is capable of.”
“I know.” He argued softly.
“No you don’t.” She reached up to cup his face, commanding his attention as she stared into his eyes. “In trying to save her, you may end up killing her. He can’t be controlled, not like you hope he can.” He watched her for a moment, taking in the seriousness of her warning before leaving her with a soft goodbye and sliding back into the little black neon.
“Have you come to your senses then?” Patricia asked as he pulled out of the driveway and put the house and Bridgette behind them.
“Just because I don’t see another way doesn’t mean that I agree.” He growled. “No matter how you try to justify this, it’s wrong.”
“You don’t have to be involved.” She spoke softly. “All you have to do is hand over the light and we will do the rest. No consequence will be held by you, no guilt.” Barry sighed, gripping the steering wheel tight as she spoke. “You cannot be held accountable for what you do not know.”
Her thoughts began to stir but before she could open her eyes her senses were assaulted with the smell of mold and dust. The air was cold and nipped at her exposed arms as she struggled against the restraints that bound her arms. As the haze began to clear she took in the room around her. Shelves lined the walls, stuffed with old games, books and empty jars. A thick layer of dust seemed to be covering everything even the cracked cement floor beneath her. Her dress was torn and a thick gash ran the length of her thigh but she found herself at least a little grateful that the blood had already dried and it no longer posed any kind of a threat aside from the stinging pain it provided as she slipped her legs out from underneath her.
Ava looked behind her at the large wooden beam she had been secured to and groaned. She had hoped that Brian would have been stupid enough to leave her bound but free to move around, giving her more options and at least some hope.
“HELLO?” She called out with a raspy voice. “IS ANYONE THERE?” She looked up at the ceiling above her, even in the darkness she could make out a faint light coming from the slats above. “Hello?” She called again weakly. After a moment the silence was broken by footsteps and finally the creaking of a door.
His steps fell heavy against the stairs and without warning a light came on above her stinging her eyes and she turned away.
“You’re awake.” He called out into the basement. Ava turned her head slowly to see him, her eyes remained fixed on the boots that stepped toward her. “How are you feeling?” He asked as he dropped his cigarette and crushed it into the ground.
“Fuck you.” She spat and he chuckled.
“Good to see you still got some fight in you.” Ava looked up as he stopped at her side. He was dressed in black and he stared down at her through cold, dark eyes. He crouched down and rested his elbows on his knees as he stared into her.
“What do you want from me?” He simply smiled.
“Don’t flatter yourself Ava, if you weren’t useful I would have gotten rid of you as soon as I had the chance.” He reached out to touch her and she turned her head away, still managing to glare in his direction as he smirked. “You’re just bait.”
“For what?” She spat and he stood.
“Funny you should ask.” He stepped away from her. “See originally I was going to convince you to come back. That’s all I ever wanted.” Ava smirked.
“You have a fucking funny way of showing it.” He stepped back toward her, dropping down and grabbing her face in his hand forcing her to look at him.
“I said that WAS the plan. Then you got involved with that dumb shit at the zoo. I waited Ava, I gave you a chance to realize that he wasn’t right for you to see that it was me.” He growled. “You never were smart.” He let her go and moved back to his feet, walking over to a small forgotten table and staring down at it for a moment as he thought. He clenched his fists and his breath came in heavy spurts before he slammed his fists down smashing a picture frame against the wood. “ALL YOU HAD TO DO WAS MAKE THE RIGHT CHOICE AND NONE OF THIS WOULD HAVE HAPPENED.” Ava winced as he screamed into the basement. He lifted his hand, thick streams of blood poured from his knuckles and he studied his wound absently.
“That’s it? You’re pissed off because I moved on?” He laughed. “Jesus Brian we were over for months. I left the fucking state.”
“You needed time. I get that.” He answered her coldly.
“Time? You tried to fucking kill me.”
“I LOVED YOU!” He shouted.
“THAT’S NOT HOW YOU SHOW IT YOU THICK FUCK!” Brain cleared the distance between them and before she could react she was blinded by a searing pain. Her jaw ached and she looked up to see him staring down at her.
“Why do you do that? Huh? Why do you always have to be so fucking difficult?” Brian shook his head and reached behind him, pulling out a long silver knife, the same one from the night of the accident and twirled it in his hands. Ava’s eyes went wide and without thinking she began to scream. Over and over until her voice cracked she called for someone, anyone to come and find her and he simply laughed.
“No one’s going to hear you.” Brain screamed out into the basement, mocking her cries for help. “GO AHEAD AVA SCREAM ALL YOU FUCKING WANT!” He dropped down to her side, his face inches from hers. “The nearest house is miles away, no one and I mean not a fucking person is going to hear you.”
“Just kill me. Just fucking get it over with.” She began to sob, hanging her head and once again he laughed.
“No. No sweetheart that’s not the plan.” He reached out and pushed her hair back behind her ear as he spoke. “I don’t want to kill you.” He reached into his pocket and pulled out a black cell phone, punching various numbers on the screen before it began to ring. Ava watched him, watching her as he waited and after a moment a voice rang though. One she didn’t want to hear in that moment.
“I have something of yours.” Brian held the phone to her ear and she remained still, her eyes fixed on him. “Go ahead. I know you want to say hello.”
“He… hello.” She whispered.
“Ava? Oh my God are you okay where are you?”
“Barry?” Brian reached behind her and Ava tried to move but it was no use as the blade sliced through her arm. She screamed out as the searing pain took over her and despite her will to remain focused all she could do was cry. Brain moved to his feet, taking the phone with him and she called out frantically begging to hear his voice one last time.
“She’s waiting for you. Come find her.” And with that he hung up the phone and slipped it back into his pocket. He sheathed his knife and ran up the stairs as Ava screamed after him, turning off the light and leaving her in dark as he shut the door behind him.
Three days had passed and he couldn’t stop hearing the sound of her screams no matter how hard he tried. He couldn’t sleep, couldn’t eat and it was a memory he wished so desperately that they hadn’t shared. But it was the end for Barry. He gave over control, unable to fight the horde any longer he stepped out of the light and allowed them to do what needed to be done. He simply asked not to be told. Dennis waited patiently, watching the little silver car as the birthday party let out and his eyes fixed on the girls walking side by side and staring down at their phones. He hadn’t any idea who the third woman was but it was of no concern to him as he waited.
They slipped into their car and he out of his as the old man began packing their things into the trunk.
“Now Dennis, do it now.” Patricia goaded him as he stepped toward the vehicle. “Don’t think just do it. For her, for Kevin.” Dennis took a last deep breath before slipping on his mask and pulling the little spray bottle out of his pocket.
Chapter 15: Chapter 15
One Week Later:
Ava woke to the sound of footsteps running down the stairs and recoiled into the beam behind her, desperate to get as far away from him as she could. She expected the worst and was somehow pleasantly surprised to see that instead of a knife or a lit cigarette he held a newspaper and wicked grin. He tossed it at her feet and she watched him for a moment, unsure of what it was he wanted her to do.
“Looks like your boy’s made headlines.” He chuckled as he lit a cigarette and leaned back against a large wooden table. “Go ahead take a look.” Ava watched him for a moment longer before turning her eyes to the paper that lay on the ground at her feet.
Missing girls found dead underneath the Philadelphia zoo
Three students were reported missing earlier this month and in a surprising turn of events all three girls were found in a make shift apartment underneath the Philadelphia zoo. Details have yet to be released detailing the cause of death but one of the girls who managed to escape her captor told reporters that the girls had been eaten.
A manhunt has begun for the suspect, a maintenance worker by the name of Kevin Wendell Crumb was said to have lived in the apartment but his coworkers and manager were surprised to hear of his involvement in the case.
“He was quiet, a good worker. I just can’t believe he would do something like this.” One man told us. Here is what another had to say.
“He was weird; I think he was in therapy for schizophrenia or something? Anyway, it doesn’t surprise me, I just feel bad for the families.” More details will be released as the story unfolds.
Ava read the article in disbelief. It couldn’t be true and even though her heart sank deep into her chest a bigger part of her refused to believe it.
“He wouldn’t do this.” She whispered and Brian chuckled.
“Believe it sweetheart, it’s all over the news the cops are out looking for your boyfriend right now.” He knelt down beside her and pushed the hair from her face gently. “You really know how to pick them don’t you kitten.” Ava hissed and pulled her head to the side, refusing to face him as he stared smugly down at her. “A cannibal…”
“He didn’t do this.” She growled and he nodded. Brian crushed his cigarette into the ground and blew a thick cloud of smoke into her face pulling a deep cough from her chest.
“Well, whatever the case you’re running out of time.” He reached out and grabbed her chin forcing her to face him. “If they find him, if he dies I have no reason to keep you around.”
“He’ll find me.” She answered weakly. “He’ll come.” Brian smirked.
“Well let’s hope for your sake that that’s true. Maybe then you’ll have a fighting chance.” He let go of her chin and ran his hand over her hair. “I would give anything to see the look on your face when I kill him but beggars can’t be choosers.”
“Go to hell.” She spat and he laughed, moving to his feet as he did.
“I’m already on my way darling.” Brian chuckled as he climbed the stairs and clicked off the light, leaving her once again in the dark as he slammed the door shut behind him.
She had no idea how much time had passed and Brian didn’t make another appearance as the sun rose and set despite her absence in the world. Had it not been for the tiny window she wouldn’t have known that day had turned into night and back into day again and as the morning turned into afternoon her thoughts took on a dark and somber tone.
Two days from her count had passed with no food, no water and had it not been for the sound of footsteps above her she would have been convinced she had been left for dead. But it wasn’t entirely out of the question after all. Maybe he didn’t have the balls to do it himself, maybe instead of offering her the mercy of a knife or a bullet to the head he was simply allowing time to do its job and take her without the pain of guilt, if he was capable of feeling any at all.
Ava jumped at the sound of a loud crashing, heavy footsteps and shouting above her.
“What the fuck was that?” She recognized Keith’s voice as something heavy dropped to the ground sending a spray of dust over her.
“I don’t know just get the guns.” Brian barked back.
“No man, no I didn’t sign up for this shit!”
“What the fuck did I tell you? Don’t pussy out on me now!” Brian screamed back and Ava stared up at the ceiling, her breath coming in short bursts as she waited.
“It killed Michael man you fucking saw that shit. No, fuck this I’m out.” Ava shouted softly as the sound of something connecting with a body rang out and Keith shouted into the air. “What the fuck man?”
“You stay put and do what I fucking hired you to do.”
“You didn’t hire me to die man. You told me we were just going to take her for a few days you said we were going to scare her that’s it.”
“PLANS FUCKING CHANGE!” Brain screamed and Ava recoiled. “Now get the fucking guns and sit your ass down. If he comes in here you take him the fuck out you understand?”
“Brian this is insane don’t you hear yourself?”
“Point and shoot, it’s not fucking hard.” He growled back. “He’s just a man, you can handle that right?” The room went silent and Ava listened as the door flew open and the sound of footsteps came barreling down the stairs. Brain quickly made his way toward her and wrapped a thick black cloth over her mouth.
“You stay quiet and don’t move.” He smirked before grabbing a handful of her hair and yanking her head back to place a quick and angry kiss to her forehead. Brian slipped away and ducked down behind a small bookshelf at the far end of the room and lifted a finger to his lips, a silent warning before he disappeared completely behind it.
The world had gone quiet and with nothing but the sound of her own heart pounding in her chest Ava waited. Tears streamed silently down her face and she whimpered against her gag. She felt as though she might throw up and her body shook as she struggled to breath.
Ava jumped as the sound of a deep and guttural roar broke through the silence followed by the rumble of the house as the door was kicked in.
“Hey, hey man back off..” Keith shouted and another roar echoed in response. “BACK THE FUCK OFF MAN DON’T MAKE ME DO IT!” Ava watched with wide eyes as the floor above her shook, a gun shot rang out and the sound of metal scraped across the floor before the a loud thud shook the floor above her. She heard him cry out, begging for his life as the house was filled with a series of groans and loud growls.
"I don't wanna die... I don't wanna die... I don't wanna fucking die...." Her eyes squeezed shut as she repeated the mantra to herself a thousand times. Dust and dirt rained down on her, the ground above her shaking as the sounds of struggle became nearly too loud to bear. A scream, a death rattle and finally the sound of a body falling heavy and discarded before a deafening roar echoed through the house above. A cry of victory.
Tears streamed silently down her cheeks as the air around her became eerily quiet and she waited with shallow breaths for him to find her hidden beneath the floorboards and bound at the wrists like a sacrifice left to appease a wrathful God.
After a long moment footsteps began to fall heavy against the ground above her and Ava sobbed silently as the door flew open, slamming against the wall next to it as he descended the stairs. She could hear him sniffing at the air, deep growls echoed from his chest as he stepped onto the concrete and peered around.
Sudden relief filled her quickly replaced by fear. She knew the face, knew his body but this was not Kevin. It wasn’t Barry or Dennis or any of the others she had come to know and the cold and calculating look in his eyes did little to ease her nerves.
“Please…” She begged against the fabric. “Don’t kill me.” It came out in a muffled whine and she dropped her head allowing her eyes to close and wishing it would be over soon. He began to struggle, to groan and she looked up as his face quickly changed into someone she knew. She breathed heavy and tried to smile despite the fear that still consumed her.
Without a word he ran to her side, dropping down to his knees and sliding the gag from between her lips. Without thinking and before she could say anything the rough fabric was replaced with the softness of his lips, his hands cupping her face and she could feel him crying as he held her.
“God I thought I lost you.” He whispered as he pulled away.
“Barry run.” Ava nearly screamed and his expression turned to one of confusion.
“RUN!” Barry whipped around to see Brian come up behind him with something metal in his hands. Before Ava could see what it was he lunged forward and cracked him in the side of the head knocking him onto his stomach. He hit him once, twice more and tossed the weapon to the side as Barry coughed up a wad of blood onto the cement. Brian slipped the knife from its sheath but before he could cut her free he was knocked onto his back and Dennis straddled his hips, pinning him to the ground and throwing a series of hard punches into whatever soft surface he could find.
Ava screamed, cried out for them to stop but Brian knocked him to the side and grabbed the knife from the ground.
“DENNIS LOOK OUT!” He looked up just as Brian stopped at his side and lunged forward knocking him onto his back once again. He reached over and grabbed the knife from the ground, shoving it hard into his side and Brian screamed out as a river of blood began to flow from the wound. He reached up, using all the strength he had to throw a punch into the side of his face and freeing himself from Dennis’s weight. He stood slowly, pulling the knife from his side with a pained cry and tossed it to the ground. He bent down, grabbing a large mason jar from the bookshelf closest to him and as Dennis came to his feet he slammed it into his head, knocking him to the ground once again.
Quickly he bent down to grab his knife and without hesitation cut Ava’s wrists free and brought the blood stained blade to her throat.
“MOVE!” He shouted and she did, having no strength to fight as he drug her through the basement and out of a back door. He pulled her up a small flight of concrete stairs and onto the grass, screaming at her to move faster as he drug her by the hair toward a large open body of water. Ava screamed, cried and tried to claw at his hands as he pulled her forward and she fell onto her knees.
She looked back and saw him staggering out of the same open doorway, this time it wasn’t Dennis but the same man, whoever he was who had found her in the first place. She screamed out and he set his eyes on her, taking off in a dead sprint toward them.
“MOVE MOVE MOVE!” Brian screamed, pulling her hair hard and lifting her to her feet. He drug her toward a large wooden dock, the knife pressed tightly to her throat as he stopped at the docks edge and waited. The other man came into view and with a deafening roar began to charge toward them. Brain yanked her head back and pressed the knife hard into her throat causing her to cry out and he stopped dead in his tracks.
“ONE MORE STEP AND ILL KILL HER I SWEAR!” Her savior roared and pounded at his chest in challenge. “Don’t fucking move.” Brian growled. His eyes trained on the knife before turning back to Brian’s and once again he roared into the sky. “BACK OFF!” The creature lunged forward and without warning Brian tossed her back into the lake behind him.
Ava kicked, thrashed and tried to scream out as the water threatened to take her. She watched in panic as Brian was knocked onto his stomach, the creature standing over him with his head in his hands and she reached up, unable to keep her head above water. She heard him roar one last time before he bore down on Brian and snapped his head quickly to the side. He stood, pounding his chest once more and let out a cry of victory as she slipped under the water.
She floated into the murky depths, the panicked look on Brian’s face burned into her memory as the world went quiet and her lungs forced her to take a last breath. She went numb, her chest filled with a blazing fire and the last thing she could remember was wondering why hadn’t he come to save her? Why was she sinking when all she wanted was to feel his arms around her, pulling her from the blackness that enveloped her in its unrelenting grip.
“Breath, Breath, come on fucking breath!” Ava heard his voice somewhere far away and she struggled to open her eyes.
“Don’t give up!” A woman shouted and Ava followed the voices until she was overtaken by a searing pain and finally a blinding white light. She lunged to the side, coughing up whatever she could and vomiting into the grass beside her. Without thinking Ava screamed out, rolling onto her back and fighting against the hands that attempted to still her.
“It’s okay, it’s okay you’re alive.” After a moment she calmed, falling into a series of heavy sobs and it wasn’t until a familiar voice called her name that she opened her eyes. Bridgette stood over her with a soft smile and pushed the wet strands of hair from her face.
“BARRY!” Ava shouted as she sat up, fighting against the hands that insisted she stay still. “Where is he is he here?” She begged and Bridgette shushed her gently.
“No he’s gone.”
“What?” She cried. “Where did he go? Why did he just leave me?” Ava sobbed and fell into Bridgette’s arms. She comforted her in the best way she could, pushing her hair away from her face and reaching over to wrap a towel around her shoulders.
“It’s okay Ava. Just breath.”
“Where is he?” She asked once again as she pulled away. “He’s alive isn’t he?” Bridgette nodded.
“He’s alive. There’s a group out looking for him now.” Ava’s eyes went wide and she reached up in a panic.
“It wasn’t Barry, it was someone else…”
“I know. I know. That’s why we don’t know where he is. I can track Barry but not the beast. We’ll find him I promise.
“The beast?” Ava repeated and she nodded.
“There’s a lot you don’t know.” Bridgette smiled down at her before helping her to her feet and it wasn’t until that moment that she became aware of the small group of people who surrounded her. A few faces she recognized from Halloween night but the others were completely lost to her despite the kind smiles they gave her. “We need to leave, it’s not safe here.” Bridgette held her tight, steadying her as they moved away from the house and toward a large gravel driveway.
“Where are we going?” She asked as Bridgette opened the door of a black SUV and ushered her inside.
“Wait, what’s going on?” Ava asked once more as she slipped into her seat.
“I’ll explain everything I promise but we have to leave now.” Bridgette answered sternly and she nodded. She closed the door and Ava slid her seat belt into place as the others filed in and before long they were off and pulling out of the driveway. Ava looked back, Brian’s body could still be seen limp and lifeless on the dock, growing smaller and smaller as they drove further away.
She turned to the man next to her, a small and thin brown haired man who simply smiled.
“Hi.” She whispered and he nodded. “I’m Ava.”
“Names Garret,” He offered his hand to her and she took it weakly. “Welcome to the resistance Ava.”
Thank you so much for reading this story. It took a different turn than what I had originally expected and while I took some liberties with the time line I tried to keep things as accurate to Split as I could. I wanted to explore other motivations behind the beast’s emergence and originally I had intended for him to be the one to save her but the more I thought about it the more I realized he probably wouldn’t care. In my mind the only reason he went after her was because maybe Dennis or Patricia called in a favor for releasing him in the first place.
There will however be a sequel and it will start at the ending of Glass completely rewriting the death scene, explaining more about the black clover society and the resistance that is currently fighting their attempts to silence supers. The ending to Glass was awful in my opinion and I feel we deserve better.
So thank you once again, I hope to see you all in the next installment.