Ben led Rachel upstairs to her room, the front window of her room faced, his bedroom window across the street. He pulled back the quilt as she turned off the lamp on the nightstand. She slid off the robe underneath, a long, grey, silk slipcovered her body. Ben turned the light back on, and she looked at him surprised. The light showed the deeply colored bruises on her upper back and arms. Rachel tried to cover the bruises on her arms, ashamed. Ben ran his fingertips over the bruise on her left shoulder blade.
“Ben.” She whispered.
He lent down and kissed the bruise, and then the one next to it, kissing every visible bruise he could see. She turned around and faced him, running her hand over his cheek.
“You are so beautiful Rachel. This is the last time you will ever have marks on your body like this.”
He leaned in and kissed her mouth, her kiss reaching into his chest and warming his heart.
He pulled away gently and grabbed the blankets pulling them further back as she took the prompt and climbed in. He pulled the blankets up over her. He reached over and switched off the lamp. Rachel reached out for him.
Ben slid off his shoes and his dress shirt. He made sure to lock his gun in his holster and he hung it high on one of the posters on the bed, where Luke could never reach it. The boy would literally have to climb on top of Ben’s head, yet it was close enough for Ben to use if needed. He slid into the bed next to Rachel. He pulled her close as he draped his arm over her. She didn’t want to lay on her side but, laid on her back next to him. She held onto his arm wrapped across her torso. He wanted to ask her about Rhett, about the abuse, Rhett’s past. Ben knew Rhett was involved somehow in the Southside Strangler case, he could feel it in his gut. Ben had learned that there was no such thing as a coincidence in his line of work.
Ben woke to the sound of a lawnmower, he opened his eyes, the morning light poured into the bedroom. He looked over at the bed where Rachel had slept and it was empty. He looked up to see his gun where he had left it and breathed a sigh of relief that Luke had left it alone. His phone chirped, letting him know there was a message. It was the Captain.
“Ben this is Cap. I need to see you in my office first thing this morning. We have to talk about last night with Mr. Lawson. 9:30 See you then.”
“Shit,” Ben said under his breath. He knew what was coming, he was going to be pulled off of the case if Rhett was a real suspect. He sat up, still feeling tired from the night before, and sore. He grabbed his shirt off of the end of the bed, he’d go home and freshen up before going in to meet the captain.
He came downstairs to the noise of another woman’s voice. He walked into the kitchen where Rachel’s sister sat, heavily pregnant, as Rachel scrambled eggs.
“So you must be the white knight and my hero. Hi, I am Becky. I am Rachel’s little sister.”
“Good morning.” Rachel turned towards Ben.
“Good morning. Nice to meet you, Becky. Where are the boys?”
“Luke is playing with Alex, Becky’s youngest on the back porch. Tommy and Evan are still asleep. Why?”
“I was just wondering. Hey, I have to go in this morning. I’m sorry, the Captain called. But we have to talk when I get back.”
“Are you in trouble for last night?” There was concern in Rachel’s voice.
“I don’t know, it doesn’t matter, it was worth it. Will you be home later to talk?”
Ben put a hand up to wave goodbye to Becky as he walked out of the kitchen and into the dining room. He heard Rachel coming up behind him.
“I’ll walk you out.” She said, with a concerned look on her face.
Ben and Rachel stepped out onto the front porch. In the sunlight, Ben could see the faintest outline of a bruise on her cheek. He reached up and slid his thumb across it, and she winced in pain.
“Sorry.” He said not meaning to hurt her.
“Ben, I just wanted to thank you for last night. About later, it’s okay, I get it. This is a lot, I get it if you don’t want to do this after all. I don’t want you to risk your career.”
Ben pulled Rachel in close to him, wrapping his arms around her tightly and kissed her with everything he had in him. She pulled away breaking the seal of the kiss first, after taking a long fill first.
“Whoah, what was that for?” She asked wiping her lip, sounding embarrassed.
“None of this is too much to be with you. I see guys like Rhett everyday. You are worth it Rachel, you are so worth it.”
“I thought when you said you wanted to talk later…”
“I wanted to talk later about the next steps to putting an end to this. There will be no next time, this was the last time he will ever hurt you or the boys. I will be back around 11:30, let’s talk when I get back. I should get back here before he has made bail. If he gets back here before I do, do not under any circumstances answer the door or let him in. Call me or the police before you think you need to. I will be back as quickly as I can.”
Ben crossed the street where he had parked his car the night before. He opened the door to get in when he heard Rachel.
“Are you sure?” She yelled.
“Sure of what?”
“I’m worth it?”
“Never been more sure in my life.”
Ben watched a big smile spread across Rachel’s face and it felt wonderful that he had put it there, especially after the night before. He put his phone in the cup holder and went to shift the car into gear when he saw Rachel next to his window. He rolled it down and she leant in and kissed him.
“Come back home, I will be waiting for you.”
Ben walked into the station, still in the clothes from the day before, and stubble on his chin. Marty was waiting for him.
“Whoah, nice nose job. Lawson really did try to rearrange your face last night.” Marty jabbed.
“Please tell me the fucker hasn’t made bail.”
“No way, with his record, and assault of a police officer, a snowball’s chance in hell. I have more news though. Duke showed up this morning.”
“Half buried in the dump on 97th. Pretty ugly too, let’s just say not all of him is there.”
Ben walked towards the door as Marty put his hand out to stop him.
“You know what you are walking into, right?”
“Yeah, is it official?”
“Lawson may be a piece of shit, but he is a connected piece of shit.”
Ben knew it was coming.
“Go in, take your punishment like a good boy and for what it is worth, I would have done the same damn thing. Hopefully, you’ll get the girl though.”
“Yeah, I think I will.”
“Hey before I walk into this, you have got to look further into Rhett, he’s connected in this, I know it in my gut. I want to go back and talk to Rachel later, we didn’t get a chance last night. I did see his hands though, no burn marks.”
“Got to examine them real close, I see.” Marty joked. “You got it. I will look into him, this guy won’t have any secrets when I am done with him.”
“Thanks. Keep me in the loop if you can?”
Ben walked out of the station forty-five minutes later off of the case, for now. With Rhett possibly being a real suspect, Ben couldn’t be anywhere near the case. Leave for a couple of days the Captain called it, but nothing official. Ben took the leave, he wanted to be around for Rachel. Ben pulled up in front of Rachel’s driveway, where Rhett’s Mercedes still sat in the driveway. He made sure to let the Captain know the car was still parked in the driveway before he left the station as well.
Ben walked in the front door, announcing his arrival.
“Hello? Anybody home?” He knew they were, the front door was open.
Rachel came down the stairs, a smile on her face at seeing him.
“You are done early. You didn’t get fired did you?”
“No. I took some time off.”
She looked at him sceptically.
“That sounds a lot like fired to me.” her tone was sarcastic.
“I was practically promoted, but I am taking a few days off. It happens from time to time. Where are the boys?”
“They went home with Becky. I didn’t want them here if Rhett came to get the car himself.”
“Good call. I’ll be here.”
Rachel yawned. “I’m so sorry about all of this.”
“I’m not. Rachel, stop apologizing for his mistakes. It is time this stops, you deserve so much more, so do your boys.”
“He doesn’t like me moving on, even though we have been divorced for three years now.”
“It’s about possession with guys like that, it’s not love, it’s control.”
“You are right.”
“Did you tell him about us last night?”
“No, Tommy did. I know he didn’t mean anything by it. How was he to know how Rhett would react? I wasn’t expecting him. He just walked in like he still lived here. Tommy said, joking around, “mom has a new boyfriend.” He meant it as a joke, and Rhett went nuts. I told the boys to go up to Tommy’s room and put on a movie. They fled from the table leaving their half-eaten dinners, I didn’t want them to see that. The kids didn’t make it out of the kitchen before he started this time. This has got to stop. I don’t want my boys to see that. They aren’t babies anymore. It isn’t so easy to hide it anymore. How did you find the boys?”
“They were outside, along the side of the house. I came to peek in the backdoor when I didn’t see you. I knew something was not right. Every light in your house was on at almost 11 pm on a weeknight and your van was parked in the driveway. My gut said you were here. I just wanted to make sure you are okay. I spotted the boys as I came around the side of the house.”
“They were so scared. When I divorced, I petitioned for sole custody but Rhett’s family hired expensive lawyers, even with the documented abuse, he still got joint custody. He told me afterwards that if I wanted to keep the boys, I needed to stay single, that was the deal, that I would always be his.”
“ I know that is crazy.”
“No, he said you would always be his? Were those his exact words?”
“I don’t know, something like that. Why?”
“I need to ask you some questions about Rhett? Has he always been violent?”
“No, he wasn’t when we first met. He was Prince Charming when we first met. He came from a good family, and we were crazy about each other.”
“When did the abuse start?”
“After Tommy was born. He has always had a temper. The first time he ever hit me, I had Tommy in my arms. A lot changed in our marriage around then. I went to his mother and showed her the bruises. She told me that sometimes that is a price that is paid for such a charmed life and to not upset him, that it would pass. I was dumb enough to believe her. I kept it from everyone, even Becky. He would apologize each time promising it would never happen again, but it just got worse and worse..”
“I hate to ask you this, but has he ever been violent in the bedroom, when you were together.”
“Ben I don’t want to talk about that.”
“I’m sorry, there is a reason aside from us that I am asking, I promise.”
Rachel’s demeanor changed. She had gone from calm to agitated.
“Ben, please don’t ask me about that, please.”
“It is important.”
“Ben, I can’t. I just can’t talk about that.”
Ben took a deep breath.
“Do you think he could be violent with other women in the bedroom?”
“What kind of question is that? Ben I don’t want to talk about this anymore.” Rachel stood up and walked out of the living room.
Ben had struck a nerve. He got up and walked into the kitchen. Rachel’s back was to the door as she looked out of the window over the sink. A car door slammed outside and she jumped.
“He’s here to get his car.”
“I will deal with this. When he leaves we are going to file a restraining order for you and the boys and you are going to have to press charges.”
Ben walked out of the kitchen and onto the front porch. An older man who looked like Rhett stood on the first step. It had to be his father, Ben thought.
“Can I help you, Sir?”
“I am looking for Rachel, I am her father-in-law.”
“She isn’t in. Is there something I can help you with?”
“Ah, you must be the cop that worked my son over last night.”
“Is there something I can help you with Mr. Lawson?” Ben said cutting him off.
“No, I just came by to get my son’s car and to say hello to Rachel and my grandsons.”
“I will be sure to tell them you stopped by.”
Mr. Lawson Sr. looked at Ben with a look that could be lethal. Rhett may have been an uptight shit that liked to knock his ex-wife around but there was something about Lawson Sr. that Ben knew was dangerous. He could feel it radiate off of the man. Mr. Lawson walked over to Rhett’s car and got into it as the car that had dropped him off pulled away. Another Mercedes with tinted out windows. His dad pulled out of the driveway and peeled away down the street, barely stopping at the stop sign at the end of the block.
Ben turned around and walked back into the house. Rachel stood at the top of the stairs and watched Ben come back in.
“If you think Rhett is scary, Andrew is terrifying. He normally doesn’t come over. It cannot have been good that he was here.”
“I was here, he is not above the law.”
“Ben they are going to try and take the boys away from me.”
“Come on, we are going to go file those protection orders right now. I had them drawn up before I left, all you have to do is sign them.”
“If I sign them Ben, they are going to take the boys, I know it.”
“Not with Rhett’s record, no way a judge will take your boys out of your house and put them with Rhett.”
“No, you don’t understand.”
“Rachel, help me understand. You can trust me.”
“When I had Rhett served with papers, I didn’t give a warning. I took the boys out of town. Becky and her husband came with me. Rhett called me and made all sorts of threats. I turned my phone off and tried to go on with the weekend for the boys. I don’t know how they found me, but Andrew turned up at the cabin we rented in Wisconsin. I mean we were on a lake in the middle of nowhere. He told me that if I didn’t go home and make things right with Rhett, that I would never see the boys again. Jack, Becky’s husband got in the middle of it, and Andrew backed off when he realized I wasn’t there alone.
I went home and stayed with Becky and Jack for about a week, while I worked with my lawyer. I had an order of protection put in place. Andrew came to see me and told me that If I kept the boys from Rhett, I would spend the rest of my life in prison. That he would plant drugs in my car, my classroom and the house. I would be looked at as an unfit mother, he would find drug dealers to say I had traded sex for drugs. I was terrified. I told my lawyer, she had pictures of the bruises and the police reports. She told me to drop the order to keep the peace, and just play nice until the divorce was final.”
“What? What kind of attorney advices that?”
“One that my ex-Father- in- law pays off. Ben, I am terrified that they are going to take the boys. Rhett doesn’t really want them, he only wants them because he knows I won’t let them go. I mean, don’t get me wrong, he loves them, but he isn’t interested in raising them.”
“That will not happen. Come on, let’s go get all of this document. Believe me, Andrew Lawson’s power only goes so far.”
“Are you so sure of that? Because you are risking my boys if you are wrong.”
“I would never put your sons harm’s way.”
Ben held grabbed her hand gently.
“Documentation is key to all of this, trust me. I won’t let anything happen to you or the boys.”
“Ben, can I think about it? I don’t want to be pushed into this.”
“I’m not meaning to push. I’m sorry. I just know this is how this works. I am trying to help you and the boys.”
“Ben stop, please just stop.” She took a deep breath. “I need to lay down for a while, I am exhausted. I cannot think straight.” She turned to walk up the stairs and Ben followed her. She stopped and turned around. “ I would like to be alone, please.”
Ben tried not to look hurt. He was only trying to help her.
Rachel turned around and walked upstairs. Ben suddenly felt like he didn’t belong in the house anymore. He locked all of the doors and then went across the street to his house. Felix was waiting for him at the door, meowing for food as Ben walked in.
“Sorry man, let me get you some food.” Ben bent down to pet the cat.