No Time To Read? LISTEN In English On-The-Go!
Deb glanced at her watch. Three A.M.
Stopping at the motel desk she explained, “I’m Deborah Johnson. I checked in earlier this evening? Unfortunately, there’s been an emergency at home. That’s my cab out front.”
“I’m so sorry to hear that Ms. Johnson. Our cancellation policy—”
“No, no… I’m not checking out. But I am leaving my rental car, you have all my info. I plan to be back quickly. I love my suite here. I put the do not disturb on the door. Hopefully, I’ll be back by tomorrow evening. Alright? Good!”
She wasn’t sure if the man with the thick Indian accent had understood all of what she said. But he nodded his head yes and had mumbled, “Yes, okay.”
After touching down at Atlanta Hartsfield-Jackson International airport, Deb was incredibly thankful that Dave had arranged things so smoothly. She could barely believe how easily she was making her way through the busy ATL’s crowd. Nor that across the way, approaching her fast, was a splendid-looking man.
“He’s here? The blue shirt matches his eyes, even at this distance”, she whispered to herself.
Dave took her right hand and lifted her luggage from her left. Then a sudden pang struck her. Dave understood immediately.
“No, Deb… it’s alright. Susan’s a fighter. I just thought if I met you here it would give us time to talk on the way back to the hospital. Susan is heavily sedated and still in the ICU.” Deb’s relief left her feeling wilted. Dave continued, “And …”
“I wanted to forewarn you that Mark has parked himself there in the waiting room.”
Now, that was a shock. Deborah searched him intensely, “MARK! WHAT’S HE…? Did you call him?” People were turning heads, curious. “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to shout.”
Dave said, “No, I didn’t. I’d have no reason to. I honestly don’t know how he knows. Except.”
Deb kept walking briskly. Dave continued, “There’s been police chatter — and then there were the medics that brought her in. Didn’t you tell me your husband is a firefighter? He could have picked it up on the grapevine. But my guess is, he’s not really here for Susan.”
“Oh?” My husband, Deb almost sneered, but managed to push it aside. Susan first.
“He eyed me when I came out of her room. And asked if you were in with her.”
They reached his car. A pretty classic red convertible. She reached for the door, but Dave’s hand reached the handle before her. When was the last time Mark had opened a car door for her? She couldn’t remember. Only then did Dave stash her bag. Then slid in the driver’s seat.
Driving away from the airport he offered, “Look why don’t we take just a few minutes and grab a cup of coffee? My answering service will notify me if – “
Deb interrupted him with, “Good! That sounds good. It’ll give me time to pull myself together. And I’ll bet you could use some breakfast. Me, too. Although I don’t really feel hungry. There’s a Cracker Barrel up ahead, how about that?”
He was relieved. He honestly hadn’t expected Deb to be handling it this well. He flashed a wink and smile. “Cracker Barrel it is.”
As they were seated, Deb remarked, hoping she sounded casual, “Tell me again about Mark? How was his demeanor?”
Dave sought her eyes before taking in a deep breath. She didn’t want to be ‘put at ease’. She was looking for truth. “Agitated. He, um, didn’t seem in a good mood at all. I’m not sure if it was because of Susan and what’s happened or because I said you weren’t there. He asked me if I had heard from you?” Dave was still searching her eyes.
‘Careful’, Deb thought. She wasn’t ready to lay her cards on the table.
Deb hadn’t moved her eyes from his. And she didn’t flinch at the implication that was being made now. She just cooly replied, “Did he?”
Dave’s gorgeous smile returned. He relaxed back and murmured, “Thank you” as the waitress set down their orders. Dave was having ham and eggs, and Deb, pecan pancakes. Deb suddenly realized that she had ordered out of old habit from when she used to frequent Cracker Barrel with Mark.
“Oh Lord, this is the last thing my hips need!”
Dave laughed, “Trust me, your hips are perfect, Deb, along with the rest of you. One stack of pancakes isn’t going to hurt, babe.”
Deb blushed. Immensely pleased that he had noticed. She spoke with a teasing fake Southern accent, “Why, thank you, kind Sir, ever so!”
Encouraged by his hearty laughter, she continued flirtatiously. “Is this my old physician talking or what?”
Any reply from Dave was truncated by her ringing cell phone. ‘Well, well –‘ she thought. ‘Mark’s number. Finally.’ She answered. “Yes?”
“DEB?! WHERE ARE YOU? I’VE BEEN GOING OUT OF MY MIND!”
Dave’s raised eyebrows let her know that he could hear Mark across the table. Deb smiled and winked at him, took a slow sip of her coffee.
“Don’t shout at me. And, I might add mister, I’ve got the same question for you! Where are you? I went home several times and you weren’t there!”
Deborah spoke again. “Well? I’m waiting.”
Mark cleared his throat. “I didn’t mean to yell at you, baby. I’m just really upset. Susan’s been hurt. It’s bad, Deb. Haven’t you heard? I’m at the hospital.”
After another moment of silence, Deborah still spoke cooly. “Yes, I know. I know about Susan. I’m on my way. Are you on duty at the Fire Department today?”
He answered no. No elaboration.
“Good.” She steadied her nerves in Dave’s supportive gaze. ” ‘Cause I want to talk to you about some things.”
“Alright. You sound odd.”
“Do I indeed? That’s probably because I’m. Onto. You! Wait there for me.”
And she hung up on him.
Dave reached across for her hand. “You’ve come a long way from that frightened, confused lady I first met.” She smiled, but it didn’t reach her eyes. The cost for that change had been high.
He held onto her hand. “When Mark asked? I told him I wasn’t aware of you being at the hospital. I hadn’t seen you.”
Deb placed her phone back in her purse. “It’s alright, Dave. I’ll handle him.”
He grinned. He could almost feel sorry for the man.
“Now, tell me about Susan. Don’t pull any punches. I want to know just what all it is that’s she’s up against.”
His smile vanished. He suddenly looked tired with the weight of the world on his shoulders. “Brace yourself.”
“Too late for that. Just give it to me straight, Dave.”
“Multiple contusions, abrasions, and lacerations to the head and neck. Broken wrist. Bad bite marks.”
Deborah’s hand flew up to her mouth.
“Bruised kidney. We got the bleeding stopped now, Deb. But her blood pressure is still too low. Another thing I’m worried about is her will to live. She’s fighting now. But the more she becomes aware of what happened to her —“. He cleared his throat, then took a sip of his coffee before continuing. “She fought back! We know that. He didn’t complete…”
“Has anyone been able to talk with her?”
“Uh, she hasn’t talked about it yet. She’s not at that point. It’s a matter of survival right now for her. Rape’s a brutal thing.”
He stopped as the waitress had returned topping off their coffee. More people were beginning to come into the restaurant. Deb glanced down at her watch: eight a.m.
Picking up the glass of water by her plate, she drank it down in one swallow. Opening her purse she removed her compact and freshened her lipstick. There were no tears streaming down her cheeks. Just a resolve in her mind.
Putting away her compact, she met the handsome man across the table eye-to-eye. “A demon in a red pickup truck thinks he can get a way with this!”
Dave knew she was looking through him. This was neither the weak, nor the flirty woman sitting across from him. He was seeing a warrior spirit rising up. Her look was one of determination. And her facial features and body language was speaking loud and clearly. Saying, ‘I will not be denied.’ ‘I will not be stopped by anyone or anything.’ What did she mean by ‘a demon in a red pickup?’ It sent the hair on his arms raising up and a chill down his spine. Did Deb know something? Would it put her life in danger? He had never seen Deborah look like this.
But then this was a situation with gut-wrenching decisions to be made. Her marriage, her best friend’s life.
And what the future would hold for all of them.
To Be Continued.