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I wound up in, literally, a one-horse town in North Carolina. A town I’d never heard of whose biggest achievement had been opening a Walmart about 6 months ago. There was a Community College, a psychiatric hospital and, shockingly, about 4 different prisons surrounding the tiny town. Within the first few months, as I waited tables at a diner, I met the mayor, a few of the council-people and an assemblyman. That is how small the town was. Everyone knew everyone, everyone’s family had lived there for generations, and there really was only one good diner. I just happen to be lucky enough to be working at said diner. I was renting a room from an elderly woman who has having trouble making ends meet with her pension check. I was glad to help out. In fact, I started doing her grocery shopping, picking up her many prescriptions and cooking two nights a week for us. Life was quiet, there were not many places a thug could hide if they were looking for me…and there was no chance of bumping into Taegan Elba Marie Gonzalez. No chance in hell.
I will say that as a plus-sized black woman, there was no lack of interested parties. The few single men in town, and a few of the married men, went gaga for my soft caramel skin, my amber colored eyes, the dimples in my cheeks and the generous curves hidden beneath my blue and white waitress uniform. But for the first three months, I wasn’t interested in dating. I only wanted to spend time with one person, and she was not available. After that? I don’t know…I realized I was a little lonely. And I was hoping that perhaps a distraction would help with…well, help with…you know. And so I dated. Really nice guys who were intrigued by a relatively attractive stranger. Men who typically wanted more than just the casual fling I was interested in. How odd, right? Usually it’s the woman that wants a serious relationship, a pledge, a commitment. But not me. My heart was already imprisoned. It wasn’t available for anyone else. I’m not sure it ever would be.
What I liked about Bridgewater, North Carolina was the simplicity. I didn’t have to think about what I’d done. I didn’t have to worry about an impending trial. I didn’t have to think about putting anyone at risk. The Netas weren’t interested in anyone here. And I’d read in one of the local papers, a newspaper that was much better than I would have imagined, Dylan and Jimmy had been released since the D.A. no longer had a case without their star witness. I had quite a bit of guilt about that, but I believed it was for the best. Tae and her family would resolve their issues with the other Netas and she would be able to move on with her life. And as long as I kept my head down, they would not look for me. I was no longer a problem they, or she, had to solve. I was a nobody. They would forget I ever existed…right? I mean…it made sense to me.
And so my only job was to figure out what I wanted to do with the rest of my life. It certainly wasn’t waiting tables in a tiny town, no matter how nice the people were here. I was thinking I would move to Santa Fe. The city was far enough way, and big enough, to hide me. Perhaps I could return to teaching. I wouldn’t be able to list my last job, since I’d left them in a lurch (no positive letters of recommendations would be forthcoming), but I think I had the qualifications and experience to find a part-time teaching job. And I knew there were at least two universities within driving distance from Santa Fe with Social Work graduate and undergraduate programs. I might be able to piece together enough work that would allow me to live modestly. And I still had some of Dylan’s money. Enough for a used car as well as first and last month’s rent on an apartment. I didn’t really like the idea of returning to such a dry, brownish-red part of the country…but what options did I have? I could not stay in the Northeast. It just wouldn’t be smart.
But I didn’t do any of that right away…it was a plan, but a plan that I wasn’t sure when I would put in place. See, in Santa Fe, there would be no news about Tae. In North Carolina…well, I was close enough to New York that if something major happened with her, or her family, I could read about it. Like when her Grandfather was indicted, but then the charges were dropped because they couldn’t find anyone to testify against him. And like when someone sprayed a restaurant with semi-automatic weapons while Tae and her Grandfather were inside. It took two days before they reported that no one had been killed. And it took a lot of willpower, on my part, not to rush to New York…but I didn’t. I mean…she wouldn’t have welcomed me anyway.
And meanwhile, I’d met Gerry. Gerald Moore. He was 15 years my senior, divorced, no kids, and a correction officer at one of the local prisons. Gerry was solid. Solid milk chocolate brown, solid muscle that stood 6’4″ tall…a solid guy all around. Honest, not pushy, ready to marry for the second time and settle down. I was honest with him, telling him I wasn’t ready for a serious commitment and I wasn’t sure I wanted kids. He was disappointed, but still interested. I’m pretty canlı bahis şirketleri sure he thought he would be able to change my mind. And it was nice having someone who was interested in me. Not because I was doing them any favors, or because my name was clean so they could use me to hide their assets. And not because I needed to be rescued. He just wanted to spend time with me and get to know me…and I appreciated that.
And so I dated Gerry. And I read books. And I watched television. And I read the paper. And that was my life. For eight months, that was my life…and it was okay. A little boring, but certainly better than pounds of uncut cocaine, violent, coked-up boyfriends, witness protection and dangerously attractive former New Jersey State Troopers.
“You almost ready Vic?”
I was staring in the mirror, finishing with my make-up. I liked the dress I’d ordered online. It was a rich, cranberry that hugged my shapely hips, emphasized my breasts and showed a little of my curvy thigh. I had pulled my hair back into a tight bun and was coloring my lips with a shade that matched the dress. I had already wiggled into seamed, sheer stockings and slipped on three-inch heels. I looked good and I felt good.
It was our three-month anniversary and Gerry was driving us to a larger, neighboring city so we could have a “nice” dinner. His words. I really hadn’t taken the time to explore any of the neighboring areas, so I wasn’t familiar with the restaurant or the larger city. I didn’t really care. I also really didn’t care that he had been acting a little weird lately. A little withdrawn…a little cooler toward me. It was odd, and I’d meant to talk to him about it…but today, he’d shown up with a dozen white roses (he said he didn’t want to pressure me with red roses) and the sweetest charm bracelet. He’d only chosen three charms, a pair of handcuffs (he smiled, promising that was the only symbol of a correctional institution he would ever give to me), a star (he said I was his shining star in what had been a pretty bleak, dark life) and an infinity symbol. Again, he assured me that he wasn’t trying to pressure me, but he wanted us to be together forever and he wanted me to know that. He then handed me a small booklet of their other charms and said he had pre-paid, so I could pick out three more over dinner. It was a kind, thoughtful gift. It should not have weighed a ton when he fastened it on my wrist…but it did. Not literally, figuratively. And I thought about that as I finished my make-up and paused a moment to stare at myself in the mirror. What the hell was I doing?
“Uh, yea, give me a few,” I finally called out to him.
It wasn’t fair. It just wasn’t fair. She probably never even thought about me. She’d probably moved on with her life. But as I stared down at that bracelet, I could only think of Tae. I’m not sure why. No, that was not true. I didn’t want to celebrate my three-month anniversary with Gerry. He was sweet, and attractive, and generous…but he wasn’t Tae. I wanted her to give me a bracelet. I wanted to spend that night laughing as I sat across from her at a “nice” dinner. I wanted to feel her lips against mine as she kissed me goodnight. I wanted to drag her into my small apartment and surrender to the spell she’d cast over me. I wanted her hands on me, her lips on my body, her body pressed against mine…
And it wasn’t getting any easier after eight months. Wasn’t it supposed to be getting better? Wasn’t it supposed to be getting easier? But it wasn’t. I still thought about her all the time. I still worried about how she was doing. I still longed for the feel of her. And it just wasn’t fair. It wasn’t fair to me…and it wasn’t fair to Gerry.
I sighed again, finishing up and then turning off the light. It might not be fair, but it’s all I had at the moment. Gerry was all I had at the moment. And that would have to be enough for now…right?
It was a nice restaurant. Very nice. The appetizer, a clam dish, was quite delicious and the starter salad was fresh and crisp with an excellent dressing. Even the wine Gerry had selected was wonderful, complementing the clam dish nicely. Gerry had turned up the charm and had me laughing and relaxing in no time. He really was a good guy.
They had just set our entrées in front of us, refilling our wine glasses, when Gerry asked me a question that almost made me choke.
“So Vic…everyone has a secret. What are you hiding?”
The fork, with the stuffed flounder, had been on its way to my mouth when I returned it to the plate and just looked at him.
“What makes you think I’m hiding anything?” I asked, probably a bit defensively.
He shrugged, diving into his lasagna.
“My ex-wife had really bad credit, which she failed to tell me about before I married her. In fact, I’m still paying off some of her debt. But that taught me a lesson. So now, when I’m interested in a woman, I do a little digging. I couldn’t find much about you on the Internet. So, I had a friend of mine at the police station run your name. You seem canlı kaçak iddaa to only have existed for about two years…”
I was staring at him now, totally dumbfounded. He’d done a background check on me? Really? And of course he hadn’t found anything. I was using the name from the witness protection program, not my real name. They’d warned me that the name would hold up against a rudimentary check, but not a “real” background check. But I hardly thought I had to worry about that in this tiny little town.
I used the napkin to wipe my mouth and took a hefty drink from my wine glass. I was torn between telling him my story and demanding he take me home. I wasn’t sure if I was relieved or outraged. Maybe both. And for the life of me I could not remember what the marshals told me I was supposed to say if this ever happened…
“How long have you known?” I asked instead, stalling.
“A couple of weeks.” He’d really spent some time digging. And that would also explain why he’d been a little distant lately. “And it’s odd, you showed up here, right around the time that an APB was put out for a missing material witness…one the fits your description to a tee.”
More shocking news. They’d put out an APB for me? I guess it was stupid to assume they would be perfectly fine letting me leave the program. But I was still having trouble processing the fact that this was happening.
“But it wasn’t the APB that really caught my attention. It was the fact that the Netas in New York were offering to pay quite a lot of money for this same witness. I mean…it’s amazing, the things you hear in prison. It’s better than The New York Times.”
And that is when my heart, literally, stopped. Just for a moment. Had he really just mentioned the Netas and my name in the same sentence? Was this a joke? A horrible, sick joke? A moment of silence passed…and then I realized that I needed to leave. To get away from this man that I’d assumed was sweet just because he appeared to be. I ripped his bracelet off my arm and tossed it onto the table in front of him.
“I’m sorry, I have to go—”
But he grabbed my wrist, brutally.
“Sit down Vic.”
It wasn’t a question and he continued squeezing until I did as he demanded. I knew I would have a bruise there later. I watched as he continued with his meal. He ate in silence until he looked over as if he’d just realized I wasn’t eating.
“I’ve had the flounder before, it’s fantastic. You should eat something before they get here.”
This could not be happening. It’s the refrain that kept repeating in my head. This could not be happening. It just could not. I didn’t try the flounder, but I did finish the wine in my glass, filling it up again all the way to the top and downing that just as quickly. He was giving me to the Netas? How much money had they offered him? And what the hell was I supposed to do now?
“Gerry, you have no idea what you’re—”
“Doing? I think I do. You saw something, or know something, or did something you shouldn’t have and now they want to kill you. I get it. But $250,000 is a lot of money Vic. And if I didn’t turn you over, and somehow they found out, that would mean I was their new target.”
I shook my head, “but how would they find out? I mean, they don’t know I’m even here,” I rationalized, trying to give him an out.
“Ah, but I had to ask around the prison to find out who to contact. So, some of them suspect I found you. And even if we don’t have any actual Netas in the prison, we have some people who are affiliated…and it’s not worth risking my life, you know?”
I just stared at him, trying to figure out what I needed to say to make him change his mind, trying to figure out what I could offer him, when suddenly he looked over my shoulder and something, or someone, caught his eye. He stood suddenly, holding out his hand.
“Hey, what’s up? Here she is, as promised.”
And that was it. I was going to die…tonight. If he turned me over to the Netas, when he turned me over to the Netas, they would kill me. I closed my eyes, wishing this away, praying for some type of deity to intervene on my behalf. Anything. Please, anything…
But nothing happened. I kept my eyes closed, even as I heard something drop on the table, probably a bag of money, and then I heard the chair across from me scrape against the floor as my knight in shining armor took whatever was on the table and left. Left me sitting at that table in the “nice” restaurant, my executioner standing directly behind me. My eyes were still closed as the person walked around me and took Gerry’s now vacant seat. My heart was racing, my breaths clogged up in my throat. I didn’t want to die. I didn’t want to die…
“What the fuck Vicky?”
And the tears I’d been holding back, the tears of fear, of horror, of dread…and now of relief, started to trail down my cheeks. I opened my eyes, slowly, still scared my ears had deceived me. But I knew that voice. Had memorized it. Had used it to lull me to sleep at night. That voice was a part of me. I knew when it was concerned, when it was joking, canlı kaçak bahis when it was aroused…and when it was pissed, like now.
And as I took in the person sitting across from me, I felt my heart start to beat erratically for a different reason. She always seemed so much taller, so much larger than life, whenever I was close to her. Her presence, coupled with her flawless, soft brown skin, the full lips, pinched into a flat, disappointed line, and those hauntingly, beautiful grey eyes…so stormy…so powerful…so very, very angry.
But I could not bring myself to react to her anger. I wasn’t going to die tonight. And she’d come looking for me. Had just paid a quarter of a million dollars for me. I was…confused…but there was also a part of me that was totally thrilled to see her. To take her in, sitting across from me, even as she stared, seemingly waiting for an answer to her gruffly asked question.
When I didn’t respond, she sighed, tossed some bills on the table and stood.
And I did as she demanded without hesitation. I was so happy to see her, no matter how annoyed she was at the moment. This could have been the last day of my life. If he had contacted Jimmy or Marcos, I would be dead. No doubt about it. And so she’d saved my life…again. It seemed something she was destined to do.
I followed her, silently, from the restaurant. She handed a ticket and a large bill to the valet and we waited, in silence, for him to bring her car. I couldn’t see the make and model, but it was a nice car, silver, a sedan, a luxury model. Certainly not the Toyota she’d been driving before. The valet held the door open for me and I slid into the passenger’s seat as Tae made her way around to the driver’s side. Moments later, we were driving away from the restaurant. I wasn’t at all sure where she was taking me.
“I can’t fucking believe you didn’t go back to New Mexico. When they called me…I mean, what the fuck were you thinking? Marcos will fucking kill you on sight, do you not understand that?”
“They don’t have a case without me,” I told her, sharing my logic.
“Yea, but as long as you’re alive, there’s always the possibility of a case. Get it?”
The way she said it…it made sense. Even if I didn’t want it to. They would not rest until I was dead because I would always pose a threat. And they had contacts everywhere. Why hadn’t I thought of that before dating someone with contacts in a damn prison? Jeez, I was an idiot.
“I’m sorry, it made sense at the time,” I said softly, apologetically.
“No. It didn’t.”
It was all she said to me for some time, before she pulled into a parking lot. I realized it was a hotel parking lot, one of the 2-star types. Best Western I think, or something like it. I was starting to worry about how much time we spent at hotels. It was the strangest feeling of déjà vu. She parked and stood from the car, slamming her door. I stood to exit the car more slowly. I could almost see the rage radiating off her.
“I’ve been going nuts trying to find you! What the fuck did you do, just drive until you ran out of gas?!”
She’d raised her voice and I could see her struggling for control. So I didn’t respond. I mean, what would have been the point? I was a fuck-up when it came to this situation…when it came to this woman. It seemed I always would be. She was always trying to help me, save me, rescue me…it was getting tiring. And I was certain she was more tired than I.
When I didn’t say a word, she pounded her fist into the hood of the car, startling me, and then took off for the side entrance to the hotel. I glanced at the hood, wondering for a moment if her hand hurt considering the size of the dent. Then I followed behind her, keeping my distance since I could not recall ever seeing her so angry before. I was still standing a few feet away from her when she opened her hotel room door and motioned for me to enter.
I did, reluctantly, making my way to the windows on the other side of the room to keep a little distance between us. She tossed the key card on the dresser and then went into the bathroom, slamming the door behind her.
I sighed, kicking off my shoes (my feet hurt after the semi-jog from her car to the hotel and up one flight of stairs) and wrapping my arms around myself. I hadn’t thought things through clearly enough…except, I didn’t hear her say anyone else was at risk, just me. And hadn’t that been the point? To keep her family, to keep her, safe? It was too late for me to help her father, but I could protect her.
I stared out of the window, ignoring the typical decorations in the typical hotel room. Two full-sized beds (great…I guess), a dresser, a wardrobe, which I assumed held a television, etc. I didn’t really care. There was a part of me that was so disappointed that I’d not thought everything through. And there was a part of me that was thrilled that clearly my choice had at least kept Tae safe. And finally there was a part of me that was singing, dancing and celebrating the fact that Tae had been looking for me. Had found me. And had come to retrieve me herself. Surely she could have sent someone else to pick me up, but she hadn’t. She hadn’t. She’d come for me herself. And I don’t care how much of a fuck-up I was, nothing could take that away. At least not at the moment.
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