submitted by dourdan to BarryPepper [link] [comments]
Welcome to my novel, inspired by Barry Pepper's role in Crawl (2019)
Chapter 7: Health
I awoke to the smell of coffee and the sparkle of the sunlight. It was another beautiful day to be alive. In the distance I could hear the song, 'Maybe, I'm amazed,' playing on the living room speaker. The melody was one I knew by heart. I had hummed it in the field, on deployment, while dreaming of home. And when I was home, I sang it to my baby daughter.
“Baby I’m amazed at the way you love me all the time,” I sang only in my head. Baby always seemed like a better word than ‘maybe.’ The use of ‘maybe’ made an otherwise pretty, inspiring sung come off as somewhat sarcastic. “Baby I’m amazed by the way need you.”
I was strong enough to get in my wheelchair on my own, so I made my way to the living room fully expecting to see my wife. Instead, I saw Cece dancing in a loose flowing nightgown. She twirled around, with the baby in her arms, looking like the main character of The Nutcracker ballet. "Will you dance with me?" she asked, mid pirouette.
“Who are you talking to?” Clearly, I was in no condition to dance.
"You, of course, Daddy." Cece put the baby in a nearby carrier to free her hands. "Mom already left for the day."
"Mom does volunteer work with the USO, on my days off. It’s her break from the baby." Clearly this was a fact that royally pissed her off. "But now that you’re finally awake, it’s also my day to spend with you. Dance with me?"
That was when I noticed that the piece was playing on a loop. It was a cover of the Beatles song, performed by a female vocalist. It also seemed to only be two minutes long. Was this a performance piece? Had I interrupted a rehearsal of some kind?
"I don't know if I can,” I said, with a shrug. In truth, I just wanted to watch her.
Cece came closer, the silk of her nightgown touched my arm. "Anyone can dance."
“I’m a little out of practice.” In my chair, I was wearing the clothes I'd slept in; a white t-shirt and boxers. I had my prosthetic leg attached in case I wanted to attempt to piss while standing.
"Stand up, put your arms around me." Cece stroked my neck, down my shoulder.
"Give me a second." I knew I could. I had done it before but I needed a moment to gather my courage.
"Come on,” Cece said as she playfully kissed my cheek. “Stand tall, Master sergeant." My daughter helped me up, placing my hands on her shoulders. She was a good six inches shorter than me. But looking into her eyes, you'd never know.
"Do I still even have my rank?" I asked with a laugh. After all the shit I'd done I was lucky to not be in prison.
"Of course," Cece said, swaying her body softly. We slow danced like a teenage couple at prom. "General Blake made sure you were given full medical retirement."
If that was true, it was an impressive feat. "I guess I owe her one." I place my hands on Cece's waist, pulling her close.
"You owe her about a million. We all do." Cece put her head on my shoulder as we continued to sway. "I want to help you write your memoir,” she said in a whisper. “The world needs to know your story.”
"Before the chemo eats my brain?" I asked with a chuckle.
Cece didn't laugh. “Not funny, Dad.” She took a step away, letting me sit back in my chair. My daughter released a disappointed sigh, as she picked up a nearby remote and turned off the music.
Baby Gregory started to cry.
Cece turned her attention to her brother, rocking him in her arms. "Hush little one." She handed me a cup of coffee that had been sitting out long enough to be comfortably warm. "It breaks my heart to know that, maybe, there will come a day when daddy won't remember me." Cece took a sip from her own coffee. "Because I sure as hell will never forget the remarkable man he was."
I gave Cece a reassuring nod, assuming she was just being her usual sweet self. But as I matched her gaze, I could feel something much deeper. "Cece, are you alright?"
She shook her head, blinking away tears. "I know I was supposed to be the one to die. You made a deal with the angels to take my place." She sat down with a plate of scrambled eggs, bacon and toast, casually offering me a fork.
"You knew?" How was that possible?
“I knew I was going to die if you never found your way back to Mississippi. But he moment you were in the room, by my side I could feel,” she paused, placing her hands over her heart, “this is going to sound weird. I could feel your energy, your spirit, maybe even your soul.”
"Really?" The idea filled me with a sense of comfort.
"When you're in pain, I feel pain." Her free hand touched mine, lending an air of truth. "When you cry, I cry. But when you're happy, confident, strong, I can truly feel your heart." Cece blushed as she looked away. "So, where do you want to start? I have my laptop right there. If you like I can tell you what I remember from your stories."
"I really don't feel like chronicling my shitty life, now or ever." Even if the illness did take my mind, I would hope it could take the bad memories first.
“Oh? Ok.” Cece adorably pouted her bottom lip. "So, what do you feel like doing?"
I was midbite, giving me a chance to come up with a genuine answer. "For starters, maybe leaving the house?" Since I had no memory of even arriving in Colorado.
"Ok, but let’s finish breakfast first. I promised Mom I'd take care of you and the baby." She took another sip of her coffee while balancing her baby brother with one arm. "And unlike Mom, I can't feed either if you with my tits."
“Aw, fuck, Cece!” I bit my lip, trying to avoid spitting coffee as I laughed. I certainly had some topic of conversation for the next time I spoke with my guardian angel.
“I have your sense of humor,” she said with a shrug. “And so, will Greg.”
After breakfast I was introduced to the extent of our on-base lodging. The entire apartment was one bedroom, one bathroom, with a kitchen that opened up to a living room. Cece slept on the sofa next to the baby's crib. All while everything our four-person family owned was stored in a single walk-in closet.
Cece dug through a trunk, pulling out a pair of jeans and a button-up shirt. “Here we go.” She proceeded to help me get dressed. I could actually dress myself easily enough, maneuvering my fake and real legs into the stiff denim. I put on my belt and the shirt on. I could have probably worked the buttons and zippers myself. But there was something addictive about human touch. Or maybe it was just Cece’s touch.
Still holding the baby, she had only one arm to work with, forcing her to come even closer. She balanced Greg on her hip while she buckled my belt. I watched as her fingers paused on my stomach before moving up my chest to button my shirt. Each movement was slow, deliberate. The sound of her wispy breath sent a shiver down my spine. "Lilith was the true bride of Adam."
"What?" I was unsure of what I just heard.
Cece only blinked like an innocent little doll. "Did you say something?"
“No, sweetie, it must have been the AC.” I knew I had an erection. I wanted her to touch me so bad. Her lips were inches from mine. I could practically taste the vanilla coffee creamer on her breath.
My hard-on was quickly deflated when Jamie appeared behind Cece, staring daggers at me. "If you even think about it, I will personally send you to hell."
Cece raised an eyebrow. “I don’t think the air conditioning is on. You sure you’re ok?”
"It’s nothing sweetheart," I said to Cece as I reached for the baby. "I can hold Gregory while you get dressed."
"That would be great.” Cece left the baby in my arms as she went to the bathroom. “Thanks, Dad.”
Balancing Gregory with one arm, I stood up. Walking was not the easiest thing in the world, so my intention was to hold the baby close to my chest.
His soft little face felt warm. "Da?" He squirmed, looking from side to side.
"Are you looking for Mama?"
Gregory shook his head. "Ga!"
"You looking for Cece?" I asked. That made much more sense.
But the baby seemed to be motioning towards the closet. “Ga!”
"What's back there?"
There were quite a few unpacked suitcases in various states of disarray. Looking closer, I could see a trail of sequins, made of holographic material. The pieces of plastic seemed to shimmer in shades of red, purple and blue. I stroked my hand along the zipper, opening the case just enough to take a peek. There were costumes, papers, an entire packed suitcase. At the bottom were her shoes; her worn in pointe shoes. I couldn't help but smile; she was still dancing.
"Oh that," Cece's said from behind me. "Just another one of a million that we owe General Blake." She casually pulled off the top sheet of paper. "I'm going to compete in Miss Colorado Springs."
According to the papers Cece was being sponsored by the Air Force base. "Wow, that's incredible."
"It's a preliminary to Miss America, so talent competition...yeah," Cece's voice trailed off. "I would've liked to only compete in talent but that's not how pageants for full-grown adults work."
Turning towards her, I caught sight of my daughter stepping into a pair of jeans. Her hips and legs were covered in scars; deep wounds that would never heal. I tried to tell myself they were from the surgeries that saved her, or maybe from her heroic escape, but I knew the truth. Those boys had butchered her; they hurt her in ways that she could never recover from.
The baby in my arms apparently felt my energy and started to cry, reaching for his sister.
Cece quickly finished getting dressed. "I'll take him." With one arm she put on a jacket. "Let's take a walk to the park by the elementary school."
"Does he have a stroller?" I asked.
"No, just the carrier car seat," Cece replied. "But I'm ok, just holding him." Greg seemed to melt into her arms, like a store-bought doll. "I imagine it won't always be this easy, once he learns how to walk." She turned to my wheelchair, which sat alone in the living room. "Should we bring your chair, in case you get tired?"
"Sure. But I'm not tired, right now." I pushed Cece in the chair, on the journey to the playground. It was warm for December in Colorado; jacket weather but nothing more severe. There was snow on the ground, just enough to make the world sparkle. "It's sure beautiful here."
Cece nodded, looking up at the afternoon sky. "Yeah, it is."
The past was the past. But as I swallowed a mouthful of spit, I felt the muscles in my neck grow tense. A cold breeze caressed my chemo port as if to remind me; this isn't heaven, you still have work to do. "So, when were you going to tell me about the Miss Colorado pageant?"
Cece shrugged. She motioned towards a bench for us to rest at.
"You don't seem very excited."
"I am," Cece said as she bit her upper lip. "I'm grateful for the opportunity to dance."
"But modeling, not so much?" I asked, in a vain attempt to get her to shed some of the emotional weight.
"No, I like to model.” Cece fidgeted with her hands, mentally composing an answer that would make sense. "It’s, well, you said it yourself; reciting the story of your shitty life is not the most pleasant thing in the world."
"Oh," I said with a sigh. Why would I expect her to be brave about her past, when I myself refused to acknowledge my trauma? I knew enough about the Miss America pageant; instead of a normal interview portion, contestants were required to have a platform, a topic they wanted to represent. "Couldn't you talk about something else?"
"I will. My platform is going to be about community support for military families. I want to encourage people to donate and/or volunteer for charities that support the families of deployed personnel. There are quite a few good ones, organizations that I’m truly proud to represent.” Cece sighed. “But that doesn't stop people from asking about my past." She bounced her baby brother on her lap.
"Why would people ask? Wasn't that the point of moving to Colorado?"
"Haters gonna hate,” she replied in a baby voice, “especially in the age of the internet."
I sat beside her and held her hand, desperate to change the subject. “You have always been so strong. I have complete faith in you.”
“Thanks, Dad.” She gave my hand a comforting squeeze. “General Blake told me I needed to be brave, like you.”
What? The idea made me slightly nauseous. “What has General Blake told you?”
Cece casually shrugged. “Just that you did some shit.”
"Oh, God," I muttered, mentally preparing myself. Damn Alyssa, are you freaking serious!
"I will never be ashamed of you. Not after what I lived through," Cece said, rocking the baby close to her chest. "But I know about the drugs and the sex. You let people hurt you because it felt good; it made you feel like you were worth something."
I nodded. Her level of empathy and understanding nearly drive me to tears.
Cece squeezed my hand again, confirming our connection. "If I win Miss Colorado, I want to speak out about mental health in the military. I mean, the way things are; it's such a stigma to ask for help, but if soldiers can't ask for help without risking a medical discharge the only thing left is to get fucked up."
"Wow, just wow." I cupped my hand over my mouth as my soul tried to determine whether to laugh or cry.
"Dad, you're my best friend.” Cece looked at me with sadness in her eyes. “You have the right to know, the cancer is in your brain. From what I overheard, you were having seizures and something about a blood infection. The medical team back in Mississippi didn't think you were going to wake up much less survive the flight to Colorado. But mom and I agreed, we weren't going to leave you behind."
The statement was a little odd. "You and Mom?" Even after I whored myself across the country?
"Neither of us could ever leave you."
“Does that include this little guy?”
"Of course, it does, right Greg?" Cece asked, tickling the baby's cheeks. "We love Daddy so much! We could never leave him to die in America's taint. And why is Mississippi America’s taint?"
Greg giggled happily.
"Because Florida looks like America's cock?" I asked.
"Among many reasons," Cece said with a smirk. “I told you Greg would inherit your twisted humor. Anyway, let's grab some food. A local place opened a few days ago, at the BX- they have the best nacho chili fries."
"God, I missed the base-exchange."
"Why? It's just a mall."
"Have you been to the outside world? Malls are vanishing faster than biscuits at a hometown buffet."
"Now I want fried chicken."
"There's a chicken place? How do people here pass their fitness tests?"
Cece laughed. “The malls are for dependents. Actual military personnel have to eat the ‘nutritionally diverse’ crap at the mess halls.”
“As usual, you are wise beyond your years.”
Cece offered to push me in the wheelchair so I could have some time to hold the baby, but he seemed happier in his sister's arms. We ate a quick lunch of nuggets and fries, before returning home to give Greg a bottle.
The last thing I remembered was drifting off to sleep, with the baby on my chest. I awoke to a dark, empty living room. the air was cold, dry. All around I could hear static. But the noise was not from the tv or even the landline phones. “Hello?”
I got up, making my way towards the bedroom, fully prepared to track down the sound. that was when I heard Leo.
He was sitting on the sofa where I had just been, with his rainbow wings wrapped around his shoulders. "You need to check your daughter’s laptop," he said while picking at a single shimmery feather. His fidgeting appeared to be the source of the static-like noise.
"Ok, sure." I walked to the closed laptop. "I don't see why you can't just talk to me."
"Oh, we'll have plenty to talk about."
I opened the laptop and clicked on the main internet browser. There was an urgent news article out of Mississippi. A man by the name Jason Valdez, age nineteen was missing. The teen was serving a six-year sentence for sexual assault, as part of a deal made with the prosecutor. But apparently even that was too much for him because he was snuck out of jail. This was accomplished by switching places with a volunteer from his grandfather's congregation. The imposter was found hours later, when SHE refused to take a shower. "Well, that’s some really twisted shit."
"Yeah, tell me about it," Leo said with a groan. “I guess that’s Mississippi for you; all Hispanic teenagers look the same.”
I scrolled down to look at the mug shot, curious to see if the article would include an image of the person that he managed to trade places with. It did not. But I could see how my daughter fell in love with this Jason guy. The boy was an athlete, valedictorian, and model. He had feminine features, the way a male model would; with high cheekbones and deep-set eyes. He was also the only child of the late Carlos Ramone Valdez, a locally famous agent of the cartel. “So, Jason’s mafia connected preacher grandfather broke him out of prison?"
"That's what it says, anyway." Leo crossed his arms, as he looked out into the distance. "Marcellei 'Marksman' Valdez is apparently someone with friends in low places."
"This Jason guy is on his way here?" I asked. I could feel my blood pressure rising.
"Maybe." Leo shrugged.
"Really, Leo? This isn't a fucking game! This is my family!" I was full on screaming like a deranged drill sergeant.
Leo looked at me, but only briefly. "Well, I guess it's a good thing he can't get on base and even if he could there's no way to find Cece's exact location."
"But he knows she's in Colorado?"
"Only because Cece happens to be listed on a very public website about an upcoming event that will be taking place in a very public auditorium."
I gripped my head. This was bad. "That piece of info took things from shitty to nightmarish really quick."
"Yup." Leo leaned back, crowing his arms over his chest. "Choices will have to be made."
Choices? I felt angry, but more than that I felt afraid. What the fuck was I supposed to do? I hobbled to a nearby wall and did the only thing I could; I slammed my fist into the hard surface over and over. "Wake up! Wake up! Wake up!"
I awoke with a jolt, sitting up like I had just been electrocuted. "Oh, dear God!"
Marni had been in the kitchen and rushed to my side. "Adam, what’s wrong?” She pressed her hand to my forehead. “Are you in pain?"
Looking outside the window, it was now dark. Apparently, I had been asleep for hours. "I'm fine." I went straight to Cece's laptop to find the date and location of the pageant. According to the website, the event was in January, at a mall in Denver. That was how long I had to make a plan, to protect the people I love, all while surviving chemo. I needed to draw from my strength; past present and future, to be the father they deserved.
This was going to require some divine intervention.
Chapter 8: Death
I was awoken by the sensation of coughing up blood. It was my third week of chemo in Colorado and the pain was once again becoming unbearable. I used to wonder why people, when diagnosed with a terminal illness, would often skip treatment and simply try to make the most of what time they had left. That felt like such a cowardly way to die. But now, in that moment, I could see the appeal. Chemo was not medicine. it was killing my cancer at the same rate that my cancer was killing me.
I pressed the nurse call button. "Hello, is anyone there?"
I could hear a static reply on the other end. The high-pitched sound sent a wave of pain down my body. Oh, fuck me.
I knew the room was constantly monitored, even when I was the only patient scheduled that hour. "Can I please have some water," I asked with desperation. I needed something more than water. Please I need someone, anyone.
“Hey, Adam,” whispered the small, red-haired nurse. She was on the younger side, not much older than Cece.
“Um, I don’t think we’ve met.” I attempted to extend my hand to her but I could barely lift its weight.
“Oh, sorry! It’s my first week. I’m Lia.” She looked and acted like a stereotypical preschool teacher, like the type of person who grew up with horses and always wanted to be a veterinarian. She placed her soft hand to my face, tracing a finger down my jaw. "Poor, baby you’re running a very high fever,” she said in a manner of utmost sincerity. “I'm going to pause the chemo to start you on some fluids and then ask the floor doctor what she wants to do."
“Thank you.” The very idea caused a wave of peace.
“Thank me when I make you all better,” she said before kissing my forehead.
There was something about her, and I could only smile.
In a matter of minutes, the nurse returned to start a course of saline into my PICC line. As Lia finished, she pressed her lips to my ear. “All done. You’ve been such a good boy.”
As I felt the cool liquid, a beautiful, sensual calmness washed over my very soul. Or maybe it was the fact that I was sporting a noticeable erection. "Is my wife here?"
“Yes, your wife and daughter are in the waiting room with your son. Your little boy is so precious.”
I felt her hold my hand, lacing her fingers through mine. Her hands were so small, soft, and gentle. Oh God. Her hands felt like Cece’s.
I closed my eyes, hoping to will the situation away. It worked.
When I awoke, the light in the room was different. I could see a female doctor speaking to Marni. They’re standing at the foot of my bed, speaking as if I wasn’t even present. "Mrs. Severgine, your husband is displaying symptoms of infection, it may be best for him to take a break from chemo for a while."
"How long is a while?" Marni asked. She briefly glanced in my direction, without turning her head.
The doctor cleared her throat, as if trying to assert dominance. “Long enough for his body to recover, and regain some strength."
I knew she was full of shit. My throat and lungs were on fire, my mind was slowing going to shit, and whenever I tried to sit up, I felt like my stomach was going to rupture in all possible directions. There would be no regaining strength. I already knew the game plan; there would be no more government-sponsored chemo, and I would be moved to a hospice ward to die. “Marni, please.”
My wife nodded. But there was a lump in her throat. “The chemo has been helping with the discomfort. He’s been able to sleep through the night.” She covered his mouth, as the fear in her eyes shone through. No matter how much she believed in me, I was going sleep for a long, long time. "Can you at least give him something for the pain."
"I'm going to prescribe some Fentanyl."
"No!" I shouted with what little strength I had. I knew what Fentanyl meant; I would lose consciousness; I would lose time.
The doctor sighed. “Another option would be cannabis to treat your nausea and muscle pain, but we'd first have to get your fever under control while monitoring your heart. unfortunately, your liver and kidney function will continue to deteriorate."
I knew what she meant. I couldn't hold down solid food; all my internal shit was shutting down. But there was one thought that forced its way to the front of my brain. "W-What about…”
“About what? Mr. Severgine?” she asked in an almost mocking tone.
“My eyes,” I regretted the question the moment the words exited my mouth.
The doctor looked at her chart. "Um, there is nothing in your chart that would indicate that as a concern."
If she was going to treat me like a mentally handicapped freak, I had to go all in. “AM- I- going- to- go- blind?"
“At this moment in time, I have no reason to believe the cancer will effect your vision.”
You believe that the cancer which started in my brain will not affect my eyes? "Can I still attend physical therapy for my leg?" You fucking sorry excuse for a human being.
"I would recommend a home care nurse."
"That won’t be necessary. Our daughter is well versed in pain therapy," Marni said as calmly as she could muster.
"I'll send the nurse in with something to help calm the fever.”
Checkmate; I was fucked. No sooner had she spoke, when a sharp pain struck my chest causing my lungs to slam shut.
"He's Code blue!" shouted everyone and no one.
Alarms blared as the world went dark.
I awoke in the intensive care unit. Every muscle in my chest was burning, until my body remembered that was on a steady flow of oxygen. Breathe, just breathe. My efforts were made easier when I saw my daughter by my side.
"Hi, Dad,” Cece said in an emotional whisper. “Mom's outside with the baby."
I tried to speak but no words came out. Upon swallowing I could feel the reason why; there was a breathing tube down my throat. It was all I could do not to cry.
"You coded three times,” she said, blinking tears from her eyes. “I was so afraid. I just can't imagine a world with you.”
Well, you're going to have to kiddo.
“But I know I’m going to have to.”
I could feel my daughter massaging my leg with gentle pressure.
“Mom says you ask about blindness?"
I reached for my daughter's hand. "I-" I started to draw the letter on her palm. "I w-a-s a-f-r-a-i-d."
"You were afraid?”
I spelled out 'D-A-N-C-E', while twirling my fingers. I was afraid I wouldn't get to see you dance one last time.
Cece cupped her hand over her mouth. She took a few breaths, to calm her mind and heart, before returning her hand to mine. “In heaven, we'll all have perfect wings and I'll dance with you every day.”
Over the next few days, I became strong enough to go home. By that I mean I could make it twenty-four hours without going into cardiac arrest. I was assigned a hospice care nurse who would check in once a day, while I spent my waking hours in a wheelchair. I would never walk again. Not that I could even if wanted to.
The pain in my back was intense. It came in two forms; the agonizing spasms in my remaining leg and violent, stabbing migraines. On one of my worse days, Cece stayed by my side.
Her massages were the only thing keeping me sane.
"I'm skipping the pageant," Cece said as she adjusted my leg.
"You can't,” I said with a comical groan.
"And why is that?” she asked with a sweet smile.
"Because I really want to go to Denver. and you can't deny a dying man's last wish."
“Ok.” Cece kissed my cheek. “For you.”
It wasn’t a hard decision; everything was all paid for, from travel costs to gowns and costumes. But, unfortunately, the pageant directors saw an opportunity and Cece became known as the military princess with the dying father. She was one of the few contestants interviewed on the local news.
The media was sent to our hotel room. For a painfully-awkward two hours I sat in bed, as Cece administered pain therapy to my leg. Off-camera, I consumed excessive amounts of cannabis in the form of surgery fruit-flavored candies. I’m sure I looked half dead in most of the footage.
"How's the cyst on your leg?” Cece asked, sitting by my side in her pageant dress. It was a short, but conservative tank-dress intended for the preliminary competition.
"Please let your mother take care of it." We were staying at a hotel room paid for by Cece's sponsors. Ideally, she was supposed to stay in a different hotel, rooming with a fellow contestant, but that wasn’t part of the deal. She refused to leave my side, much to the cringe of the pageant directors.
"Yeah, well Mom's taking forever. The store is just down the street. In the time it's taken her to find a first aid kit, I could have made a knife out of a shaving razor."
"You are not cutting my leg with a prison shank." I knew she crafty, so I wouldn't have put it past her to simply wait until I fell unconscious to do the deed.
The open sore was in a most awkward place. On my upper thigh, there was a brand. A scar from a lifetime ago, or at least that’s what I like to I tell myself. It was the mark of my sexual submission, my loyalty to the people who filled my mind body and soul with free drugs. The symbol had been lost to time. I think it was a shield or some twisted reimagining of military stripes. It was not for my benefit; it was to prove my worth. All I knew was I now had a festering sore cutting through the damaged flesh and scar tissue.
The door opened and Marni returned. "I bought a craft knife and bandages." She dumped out a plastic bag containing an Exacto knife, rubbing alcohol and at least five rolls of bandages.
I politely asked Cece to leave the room. She knew I was bleeding, and from where I was bleeding, but thankfully she had the kind heart and social intelligence to spare me a moment of humiliation. But I still didn’t want to be fully conscious when she saw my naked cock and slave-brand. Reclined on the bed, with my dick out, I made myself as mentally ready as I could. best case scenario; it would bleed out enough to relive the pain. I leaned my head back, not wanting to look at what she was about to do. I felt a cut. There was a great deal of moisture. I could feel my muscle throbbing, burning. I didn’t think the situation could get any worse, and then I heard a knock at the door.
"Hi, Cece!” shouted a male voice.
My daughter looked through the door. "Get the fuck away from me!"
“Cece, please just open the door!” the voice asked frantically.
Cece looked at me with a questioning glance. “What do I do?”
“Is that Jason?”
“Open the door.”
She nodded with a sense of confidence. My daughter knew why I said what I did— we could trap him.
"Cece, please hear me out," said the male voice, he seemed on the verge of tears.
"Fine Jason, I'll hear you out.” Cece opened the door to the sight of a tall, muscular teen. “Why are you not in prison?"
"I left. I found God and I left."
What the fuck kind of answer was that? I couldn’t see his face, but judging by his build, I figured I could take him.
Cece seemed more annoyed than frightened. "And you came here?"
"Yes, I came to you. I was meant to come back for you. I never meant to hurt you. we’re the same, you and me."
Cece scoffed and turned away, "How?"
I knew what he meant; Jason was Hispanic, and that couldn't have been easy to live with, in Mississippi. Still, I gripped the knife by the blade. The craft-knife was in my wife's hand, still cutting into my bleeding thigh. "What do I do?" I asked out loud.
“What?” Marni gave me a look. I knew, if it was up to her we would have called the police before doing anything stupid.
The world froze, as the color from the scene slipped away like a photo. "Jamie stood over Cece, placing his hand upon her shoulder.
All while Leo stood at my side. "I can't tell you what to do. I can only tell you what I would do."
"Dear Lord, guide my hand, guide my soul." I would like to say I didn't remember what happened next but Jamie would not let me forget.
“I can’t believe you did that! You stabbed that kid with the same knife your wife used to cut open your balls!"
I apparently used my tiny weapon to cut open Jason’s neck, a fact that Jamie found hysterical. I awoke in a hospital bed, my body secured in what could only be described as a straightjacket. “All this for stabbing a kid with an exacto blade?”
"And your dick was just hanging out when the cops got there, omg! It was hilarious!"
In the bed next to mine was Jason. The kid had a trac in his neck, and his eye was swollen shut. Seeing the damage to his prefect face, I kind of hoped the mutilation was my doing. But knowing Marni I wouldn't put it past her to get a swing in. He started to cough, and wheeze, struggling for breath as he spoke, "A-Are you awake, sir?"
What the fuck? "What's it to you?"
"I know your heart is too weak for chemo."
I couldn't tell if that was a question or a statement. "What?"
"My dad," Jason said in a breath, it was clearly painful, forcing the words to form. Although I could not fully see his neck injury, I could hear the blood bubbling in his wound. "It was the same for him before he passed."
"I was nine when he passed of bone cancer. It was one of the reasons why Cece and I became best friends." His voice was cracking at the word, 'friends', making him sound younger than his nineteen years.
I wasn’t buying it. "What kind of person gang rapes his best friend?"
"Can I tell you the truth? Not even my lawyer wanted to know the truth."
"I'll take a summery." I wasn't about to let him plead for forgiveness if he was not even willing to take blame. I held my dying daughter in my arms; I had no pity to give or tears to cry. But even I had to admit, his answer was surprising.
"I sold my girlfriend's virginity for a couple grams of meth." He was not proud not was he ashamed.
"Ok," I said with a sigh. "You have my attention."
"I'm a piece of shit with a reserved seat next to Satan." In a raspy whisper, Jason told the story of how he had gotten drunk, high and attempted to barter with the only thing of value he had in his possession; his girlfriend. "My hot, Asian, cheerleader girlfriend…”
“That’s my daughter!”
“My beautiful angel of a girlfriend, who I knew would do anything to save my worthless ass."
That sounded like Cece. but the fact remained; all three attackers left behind DNA. "She told me what you and your friends did to her."
"Not my friends..."
"Fine, the people who apparently had your balls in a vice; would have let them kill my daughter?"
"No, sir, I swear.” Jason started to sob. “I have told you nothing but the truth so I’ll tell you the truth of why my DNA was found in the rape kit.” He paused to gather breath. “They had me go last; to tie her hands and feet while I hurt her. I raped her while one of the other guys was choking her. I made sure to leave her hands free. I knew she had the ability to break out of a car trunk. I figured if she could escape on the way to the dumpsite, she could make a run for it."
"Dumpsite? You were going to leave her for dead?”
"If she was dead when we arrived, I would have killed myself, to be with her.” Jason sounded sincere. “I love her, this was all an epic fuck up.”
"What happened when you made it to the dumpsite with an empty trunk?"
Jason held up his left hand, something I had not noticed before; he was missing three fingers. "One for each payment owed, plus a few more things I gave up voluntarily."
"Wow." I had to admit that gained him a few points in my book.
"Yeah, I wanted her to get as far away as possible." Jason went quiet. "A lot of what happened, what I did, my grandparents and my lawyers told me to just stay silent, so it wouldn't have to go on record."
That made sense; all the pieces were coming together. He came from an honorable family.
"I fucked up really bad. But I’m clean now. I got the help I needed, made my peace with God. I just wanted to see her. I never got to say I was sorry.”
Leo stood at my side. He was stroking my arm. He placed his lips to my ear, "Ask the kid how he knew Cece could break out of a trunk?" With each touch, I felt the restraints loosen.
I needed to have faith in Leo's plan. "How did you know she could free herself?"
"She told me you taught her," Jason said with a nod. "You took her camping, hunting, fishing- when you were in-state, and when you were on deployment you would give her projects."
I hadn't gone on vacation with Cece for years. The thought of it warmed my heart. She loved to talk, learn, just discover the world around her.
"I bet someone like you never fucked up."
I looked to Leo who had now freed my right arm. If I could get out of this bed, I could kill Jason. I still wanted to kill him for what he did. But the fact remained, he was someone’s child. "Your father had a port in his chest?"
"During his last few months of treatment, the doctors said the chemo would kill him but he wanted to keep fighting."
I sat up in bed, enough to turn my body to the side. I needed to get a good look at him, face to face, man to man. At that moment Jason looked genuinely pathetic. He was in fact, just a kid. I wished I could remember what Cece would have wanted. Would she want me to forgive him? Did she forgive him? "So, what now, Son? You're going to get sent back to Mississippi where you're going to do some hard time."
Jason nodded. "I know. I could have gone to Mexico. I was actually supposed to meet up with some guy that my grandparents hired to sneak me out of the country by way of Cuba or Canada. I don't even know. I never planned on going through with it. This was my plan all along. I wanted to see her one last time."
I didn’t know if that was romantic or creepy. I felt my other arm release. I could now get off the bed. I had a choice to make so I was going to make it.
“Can you please take me to see her dance? After that you can do whatever you want to me. I know you’re sick, you have nothing to lose. You can send me straight to hell.”
“How polite of you to assume I’m going to kill you,” I said with my southern charm. “Now I don’t have to feel bad about it.”
The boy gave a sad chuckle. “You never did. I don’t deserve to be alive.”
“Yeah, you don’t. But you are.”
Jason was sobbing.
Oh, my fucking God. "Let's get the fuck out of here."
I had no idea how I would even accomplish such a task. “I want you to apologize. That’s what your best friend, my daughter, deserves.” In truth, what Cece deserved was the chance to be the hero of her own life.
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