Her body is a bundle of nervous energy. I can feel the muscles in her leg tighten under my hand as we sit outside the courtroom. She’s barely spoken all morning with the exception of a few yes’s and no’s. I’ve been wondering what exactly to say, but I can’t find the words. “Sorry your psycho ex-boyfriend might get off” just doesn’t seem to be good enough. My father is in the corner speaking with Bill Schmidt and two of the other lawyers working for Taylor. My mother is sitting beside her, the picture of poise. Dave is pacing back and forth in front of us, which to be honest is irritating the piss out of me. Really though who am I kidding, I’d be doing the same thing if I could. I want this to go well, not only because I’m not sure that Taylor could handle if it didn’t, but because the chance of this jerk doing it again to either her or someone else is high. The lawyers have given us the facts both for and against Nathan and are confident that it will fall in Taylor’s favor, however, there is a chance that he could get paroled. Taylor jumps suddenly when Bill comes to stand in front of us, her attention snapping to him.
“They are just about ready for us, are you ready?” Bill says softly.
I want to scream in the few moments it takes Taylor to answer him, no she’s not ready to face the man who almost killed her, but I don’t. I just squeeze her leg with my hand and wait for her response.
“I… I… yeah, I don’t really have a choice do I?” she says, unsure of herself.
Bill begins to speak again but all I can think about is how I want to kill the asshole who is putting this look of uncertainty onto my beautiful girlfriend.I’ve never seen her look like this before, and I don’t like it.
“Like I’ve told you, Taylor, he won’t be able to get to you, though, if you don’t go through with this he will more than likely walk out of here. I don’t want to see that happen any more than you do,” Bill says softly patting her shoulder.
I squeeze her leg a little tighter, unsure what the next words out of her mouth will be and when she does finally speak, I’m floored.
“Let’s go, big guy,” she says nervously but with a look of determination that makes me chuckle.
Bill just smiles at her, probably just as shocked as I am at her reserve. When Taylor stands my mother pauses for a moment before following suit, glancing my way with uncertainty. Her look makes me feel like I’m twelve years old, back when I still believed I could fool her. We all follow Bill to the doors, my father is behind me pulling up the rear and as if this morning couldn’t be any more full of surprises, his hand lands itself on my shoulder, giving it a squeeze as we pause before entering. I watch as Taylor takes a deep breath and then follows the lawyers in, at the same time I can almost see her demeanor change, her body goes stiff and she’s nearly vibrating. Wheeling in I glance around the room and I see the man sitting on the other side of the room, dark black hair cut close to his scalp except for the top and when he catches sight of Taylor I see the corner of his mouth turn up. While she won’t look in that direction he is watching her and it’s making me sick to my stomach. I’m at my designated seating area and as nauseous as it’s making me I can’t stop myself from watching him watch her. I’m sure she can sense his eyes on her but she’s not given in yet. I don’t know what kind of reaction I expect from her but part of me wishes she doesn’t look that way at all. Dread creeps over me when I finally catch her head turn out of the corner of my eye and it takes everything in me not to rush to her. I’ve never seen fear like what’s in her eyes in that moment.
I’m drowning, the air is slowly disappearing from my lungs and I can feel my legs get wobbly. Look away. LOOK AWAY! My body is screaming at me to run, but I know somewhere deep down that I couldn’t move from this spot if I tried. I’m stuck here. Bill is saying something to me but I can’t make it out. I can vaguely hear my name but the ringing is so loud in my ears it feels like the voice is screaming through a closed window. Then I feel it, well sense it really. The blackness starts to invade my vision and as it closes like a curtain there is the nothingness. As quick as it faded, my vision is back and Bill Smith is looking at me, he’s gripping my arm tightly and fanning me with a folder with his free hand. The other lawyer, Jared is on my other side holding me upright.
“Taylor, are you okay?” Bill asks me.
I can’t respond but I manage to nod before turning my head to look for Elliot. Our eyes lock and briefly I can feel the air making its way back into my lungs. His face is scrunched up and he looks like he wants to jump right out of his chair, he looks distraught, torn in two. That’s when I hear it. That slow chuckle that I’d know anywhere, that has haunted me. My head snaps back to the cause of all this torture and I can feel the fear turning to anger. The dread morphs into a rage so strong that now instead of holding me up Jared is holding me back. Before I can wiggle my way free to get to him the bailiff calls us to order and Bill stiffens beside me completely blocking my path. Time feels like it’s standing still as I try to focus on anything other than Nathan, I can’t even pay attention to what is happening around me. Flashes of being held against my will come back to me, the sick happiness he had. I’m trying to shake myself free from these images when I feel a hand on my shoulder. Jumping, I turn to find Elliot’s mom leaning forward, concern all over her features.
“Are you okay sweetie?” she whispers.
Not trusting myself to open my mouth I simply nod, grateful that she broke that cycle of horror. Turning back just in time to hear the judge call for a recess I’m thankful that I can leave this room, get as far away as possible from the monster across the room. I’m between Bill and Jared and I’m watching Elliot’s muscles bulge beneath the sharp black suit jacket as he exits the courtroom ahead of us and I can’t imagine a day without him. Suddenly it hits me, just how incredible he is, how if this doesn’t end in my favor this may all disappear. There is no guarantee that it will go well and the reality of that is crushing me. I finally reach Elliot and nearly collapse in his lap, it isn’t something I do normally but in this moment all I want, or really all I need, is to feel him next to me. He doesn’t even flinch, his arms encircle me and he’s holding me tight as I get lost in the sound of his heart against my ear.
“I got you now, cupcake…” he whispers into my hair.
There was hustle and bustle all around us, but sitting here cocooned in his arms it all falls away. He loosens his grip after I don’t even know how long and wheels us to a quieter spot before he lift my chin with his fingers.
“Tay, look at me,” he says when I refuse to look him in the eyes, “Please?”
I finally open my eyes and the pain and helplessness staring back at me is something I’m not used to. It mimics my own so much I almost forget that I’m not looking in a mirror.
The way she melted into me was new and not in a good way. It seemed like she had aged ten years in that hour and a half we’d been in the courtroom. I needed to get her away from there but it wasn’t possible, not yet. I couldn’t hide the pain or fear from her, not this time and when she finally looked at me I let her see it. She recognized it right away because it was so similar to what I found in her eyes. We sat like that no words passing between us until Bill found us.
“I’ve been looking for you Taylor…” he said.
“She needed a break, Bill. I’m sorry I should have let someone know,” I answered.
That began what was easily the worst days we’d ever experienced. Having to watch her go through that was the worst kind of torture. Having to face him nearly every day was taking a toll on her. Nathan’s lawyers had a strong case just like we did but over the course of those two weeks Bill, Jared and Walt had managed to pull out a win in Taylor’s favor. By the end of it, she was gaunt and nearly lifeless, all of her spunk and smiles had faded away. The last day in the courtroom as the judge sentenced him I thought it would make a difference. It didn’t though, she fell into something I’d never quite expected. She barely ate over the next few weeks and her sleeping habits became erratic. I’d wake up in the middle of the night to find her gone from the bed and sitting outside in the dark, headphones covering her ears, or I’d come home to find her completely zonked out on the couch. I’d been worried for weeks, I knew in my gut that something was going on but I let it go because she would always brush me off. I didn’t know what it was to be in her shoes and it wasn’t until Ethan stopped by a little over a month after everything was all said and done that I let myself see how far it had gone.
“Hello,” I said answering the phone.
“El, something is wrong…” Ethan’s voice whispered over the line.
“What, where are you?” I asked instantly in a panic.
“I’m at your house, I stopped to pick up those tickets… Taylor is here Elliot,” he said.
“She should be at work, what do you mean she’s there, is she okay?” I asked gathering my keys and wallet from my desk.
“I found her on the floor… I’ve got her to come around but Elliot,” he said softly.
“I’ll be there in fifteen minutes,” I answered before he could finish.
So many things raced through my mind on my way home that I could barely breathe. Slamming the truck into park behind Ethan’s I nearly face planted on the concrete before landing in my chair. I sped up the ramp and through the door and what I saw was more than I’d bargained for. Scattered around the floor were letters, about three dozen, all opened and while I rushed through them I made out my name on a few as well as others with my parent’s names. I found Ethan and Taylor in the kitchen a plate of waffles in front of her and Ethan looking white as a ghost. I stopped before I reached them and when she looked at me it was like someone punched me, knocking the wind out of my lungs. As well dressed as she was, her blouse just hung from her already small frame and the circles under her eyes were so dark I couldn’t believe I didn’t see it before.
“Elliot, I’m fine…” she started and then stopped.
“Tay, cupcake you aren’t fine,” I said in barely a whisper, noticing the bruise on the side of her face.
“She was passed out, she must have hit her face, I could barely get the door open El,” Ethan muttered.
“Why didn’t you tell me he was sending you letters? When did it start? You need ice on that face, babe…” I stumbled out as I made my way to the closet for my supplies.
I gingerly placed the ice pack over the bruise and she winced at the pressure. God, I hope she didn’t break anything, I thought as I softly checked her over.
“When did it start?” I asked backing away from her.
“A few days after the judgment. Elliot, I didn’t want to tell you, I didn’t want to drag you guys further into this than you already were and then he started writing things about you and your family…” she said breaking into a sob, “I thought they would stop…”
Moving closer I pulled her onto my lap, I couldn’t stand to think that she was going through this and hadn’t said a word.
“Ethan, could you gather those up and bring them in here, please,” I asked tightening my hold on her.
“They started at first going to the apartment, and then they started showing up at work, and then yesterday there was one in your mail…” she said still sobbing.
“Taylor, he can’t get to you, we made sure of that…I won’t let anything happen to you,” I said stroking her hair.
“Here, El, there is some pretty graphic shit in there…” Ethan said setting the stack on the table beside me.
“Call ma, and then get my phone and call Bill Schmidt,” I said as the anger inside me grew.
I wheeled Taylor into the bedroom and waited while she changed into sweats then wheeled her back out to the couch and covered her up. Before I could get through all the letters my mother had arrived, already aware of the situation from Ethan she went straight to Taylor. Not even twenty minutes after Bill showed up with a few officers.
“Elliot, how is she?” Bill asked softly after he joined me in the kitchen.
“Not good Bill. I didn’t even know about them until today, she’s been acting strange, barely eating, not really sleeping. I didn’t even see it,” I answered, angry that it took so long for me to see what was right in front of me.
“It isn’t your fault Elliot, she’s traumatized, and she has every right to be. This sick jerk messed her up. And the hearing wasn’t exactly easy on her either. It’s going to take some time for her to feel safe again,” he said trying to ease my guilt.
I sat and watched her for hours, finally getting some rest after the day’s events. The officers bagged all the letters and after she finally agreed to file charges they left with Bill. My mother was still in the kitchen long after Ethan had gone and when I was finally sure Taylor was sleeping I made my way in to find her.
“Elliot, is this why you guys have been skipSundayunday dinner?” she questioned me.
“Yes and no. I didn’t even know about the letters till today when Ethan found her passed out. But she’s been so off lately, I knew something wasn’t right but I didn’t know what it was. I thought it was just the stress of seeing him and the hearing, I thought she would pull out of it… I didn’t want to push her too hard. She hasn’t really wanted to do much of anything lately so we just hung out here,” I answered.
“It’s okay Elliot, it isn’t your fault that you didn’t know, is she still seeing her therapist?” she asked.
“She says she is, but I don’t force it, Ma…” I said now wondering if she was.
“Okay, it’s going to be okay. I’m going to spend a few days here, your father needs you at the office and I don’t want her going into work for a while. She needs rest and she needs some help right now to get her back on her feet. Don’t even say it, I know you think that you can do it, but right now she needs something you can’t give her…” my mother said.
I opened my mouth to protest but then realized that this had been happening for over a month and I didn’t see the drastic changes in her. My mother was right, she needed a mom right now and really mine was the closest she had. My father dropped off a bag for my mom later in the evening, coming through the door with a pizza and wings. As I was wheeling out to wake Taylor I stopped for a moment remembering a time when my Mother would stay for days with me in the hospital after my accident, just being there for me and now she was going to be here for Taylor too. When her eyes finally flicked open and she sat up I could see the difference already. What that little bit of rest did for her. I just hoped that one day she would realize that she didn’t have to keep doing things on her own, I’d always be there for her.