“Will do, brother. Will do.” He gives me a nod, his eyes falling on Cohen one more time before pushing off the wall he’s leaning against. He takes a few seconds to pull something from his saddlebag and then walks over to the bed. He drops the keys and a fresh license plate on the bed, meets my eyes one last time, and walks out the door. Words aren’t necessary at this point. He knows my respect for him runs deep, and I know to a man like Braxxon that my thanks aren’t wanted but known.
It is time to take my boy home, get my woman, and pick up the pieces from this fucked up mess.
I don’t waste any time getting the plates switched out and hitting on the road to home. Cohen stirs a few times, and each time ends with his screaming before jolting himself awake. Then when he looks around and sees my face, an instant calm comes over him. Breaks my heart to think about what he’s been through, but I have to consider us somewhat lucky that it isn’t much, much worse.
About five hours into our drive, I call to check in. Izzy says they had to sedate her again when she realized that I wasn’t there. She is hopeful that when she gives her the news that I am on the way back with Cohen that she will be able to regain some sense of reality. Right now, she is too far lost in her grief. It kills to know that she is sitting in a cold hospital room scared, heartbroken, and alone.
When I finally can’t stay awake any longer, I pull over somewhere around the middle of Texas. I’m making good time, but it’s becoming an issue with our safety if I stay awake. Cohen must be in the same boat as me because he only rouses for a few hours before drifting off again.
I check us into a no-name motel for a few hours. Scooping up Cohen and locking the van, we make our way inside. I lock the door and carry him over to the bed, not even bothering to pull back the sheets. Laying down and tucking him close to my body, I close my arms around him, and seconds later, I am out cold.
When I wake up a few hours later, my mind is hazy, and it takes me a few minutes to remember where I am and why I am there. When I don’t feel Cohen immediately, I jolt out of bed in a panic.
Looking around the room, I let out the breath I’m holding when I see him sitting on the end of the bed happily watching TV.
“Cohen,” I say on a long exhale.
“Your face looks funny, Daddy.” And just like that, I am leveled. Dropping to my knees in front of him, I pull him in tight and just hold him, thanking every God I can think of that he is fine. “Your face is making my neck itchy.” He giggles.
“Sorry, little man, hasn’t been any time to take care of all my tickle fingers,” I joke before rubbing my chin on his little neck.
After we finish laughing, I pull him back and take him in head to toe. “You okay? I know it must have been scary. You’re such a brave little man.”
He looks at me for a few minutes, his face getting all scrunched up before relaxing, and like nothing has happened, he smiles. “Silly, I knew you would come. You have super powers, remember?”
Of course, super powers.
“That’s right. I’ll always come.” I run my hand through his hair and give him a kiss on his forehead before climbing to my full height. “Alright, sidekick time. All great superheroes have them. Your job is to help me fly our magical van home as quickly as possible. Think you can handle that?”
He jumps off the bed and starts running around animatedly, telling me how we are going to make it home before SpongeBob is even over.
He lost me at SpongeBob, but I can go with that.
The next fifteen hours of our drive are draining. Cohen is restless, but every time he falls asleep, he wakes back up with a scream. I am starting to worry about what might have happened before I arrived. When I try to talk to him about it, he says that the smelly people made him get in the bathtub, and said if he made any noise, they would hurt his aunt. We don’t talk about it after that, but I make a mental note to ask Izzy for the doctor’s name that helped her after her run-in with her ex-husband.
When we finally cross over the Georgia border, I have been gone for over three days. Three days that I needed to be home. Three days that my woman has been suffering without me.
The last check in from Izzy has left me feeling a lot better. She told me that she is with Melissa at our house and she is dealing much better. She still has moments when she will break down, but for the most part, she seems oddly hyper and very obviously waiting on our return.
It is pushing close to late afternoon when we finally pull into town. I have Maddox and Coop meet me at the town line with my truck so that they can dispose of the van while I get home to Melissa. No fucking way I am risking everything by driving that van right up to the door. I am going to have a hard enough time just explaining how I happen to show up with the child everyone is looking for.
My wheels haven’t even crossed the end of the driveway when I see her. Flying through the front door, she is running as fast as she can across the yard to reach the truck. The second she opened that front door, I stop the truck and get out so when she reached me, crashing into my body with enough force to almost knock me to my knees, I am ready.
I will always be ready.
She doesn’t speak; she just holds me with a bone crushing force. After a minute of her holding on and letting out all her grief, she pulls back and stares into my eyes. I’m sure mine are just as red rimmed and wet as hers. No need to hold it in now. The pressure, stress, worry, and heartbreak from the last few days just roll off me. The adrenaline that I have been running on vanishes the second I hold her in my arms.
“He’s really okay?” She asks, running her small hands over my cheeks, through my beard, and down my chest, as if she is assessing me for injuries of some sort.
“He’s really okay, Beauty. Having trouble sleeping unless he is holding my hand or I’m holding him, but he’s really okay.”
“You?” Her hands are still roaming over my body. When she gets to my hands and sees the damage to my knuckles, she doesn’t ask. She just brings my hands to her lips and starts crying again.
“Melissa, look at me.” I wait until she calms down and brings her eyes up to mine. “I need you to rally it together, pull that strength that I know you have together, and help me. I want to fall apart too, baby, but right now, we need to pull it together for our boy, yeah?”
She takes a few deep breaths and nods her head. She has to visibly collect herself when we start the walk to Cohen’s side of the truck.
“He’s been awake since Mississippi, finally crashed somewhere mid-Alabama, but he’s okay.” We stand there and take him in. Safe and sound.
His lips pucker slightly in his sleep, but every few seconds, they curl up in a smile. His light brown hair is a crazy mess, and his clothes have various food stains over every inch of fabric. But right now, right now, he couldn’t look anymore perfect.
That night, I have to deal with reporting that Cohen is home. It is a damn good thing that I have such a close relationship with almost every cop, detective, and P.I in the area. They don’t ask many questions when I tell them that I am the one who found him. Well, one of them did, but Maddox stepped in, and with a shake of his head, the rookie cop shut his mouth. The child is safe and that is what it all boils down too. I did have one pull me aside as he was leaving to ask if he should still be looking for Susan Wagner and her partner. I don’t say a word, but he would be a fucking idiot to miss the look that I give him.
I brief the guys on what has happened, and let them fill in the blanks.
As I was leaving for Vegas, Maddox started doing what he is best at. He sat down in his room full of computers and searched until he found the trail.
When Mandy had begun to realize that I really was done with her, she became obsessed with breaking up Melissa and me. She had made it her personal mission to find out everything she could about us. It wasn’t hard to see that she had been stalking Melissa for months. When Coop went to her apartment, she had walls and walls of pictures. Some of Melissa, some of me, some of Cohen, but the majority were ones with three of us together. The only difference was that she had put her face over Melissa’s. She had created this whole fantasy life where we were going to live happily ever after with our little boy.
Disgusted doesn’t even come close to how I feel about that. We have all agreed that it is best to mention that to no one.
We still aren’t clear on the how, but she had hooked up with Susan and hired the man we later identified as Bruno Clark to snatch Cohen. They didn’t seem to have a set plan after that, because the trail ended in Vegas.
When I found out just how sick Mandy was, I was glad she was rotting somewhere deep in the bowels of Vegas. I struggled with not knowing for sure what happened to her. In the end, I had to call Braxx. His answer was to leave it be and just know that bitch wouldn’t touch my family again. She was gone and I’m pretty fucking sure it was best I didn’t know where she ended up. Sure bet, it was a living hell on earth.
The first few nights home are rough. We sit down and explain to Cohen that his Nana got her wings, and now she is going to sit in the clouds and watch over him. He handles it as well as a three-year-old can, but later in the day, when he gets tired, he starts asking for Nana again. Melissa has to leave the room because she doesn’t want him to see her breakdown, but I know that’s what is happening.
After another talk about angels and heaven, he seems to understand a little better.
That night, he falls asleep between us.
The next night is a little easier but he still isn’t able to leave our bed.
It isn’t until another week after the funeral that he is finally able to sleep in his own bed.
Melissa is doing better. She has her moments but she usually excuses herself when they happen. A few times, I find her in the shower, or sitting deep in the closet falling into herself, but I am able to talk her around.
Bottom line is that no one in my house is handling the situation well. It isn’t until another week has passed that I remember Izzy’s psychologist. She specializes in grief and PTSD, and has helped both Izzy and myself after I almost lost my life trying to save hers. It doesn’t take any convincing to get Melissa on board. She knows that we aren’t going to heal until we talk to someone, express our loss, our fears, and everything in between.
That is the first day that I see some life come back into her eyes. That is when I know that we will be okay, that we will get past this.
I don’t remember much from the days following my mother’s murder. I remember waking up a few times and seeing Izzy, or one of the guys. I remember crying for Cohen and crying for Greg, but for the most part, the days that followed are blank. I don’t want to remember those days when the pain was so raw I feared it would consume me. I didn’t want to remember the fear that consumed me when I thought I would never see Cohen again, never get to listen to him go on and on about ninjas or wieners. And I don’t want to think about what I felt when I thought I was going to lose Greg too.
I do remember what it felt like when I watched his truck pull into the driveway, and I saw his face and the shadow of my sleeping little man in the backseat. I do remember the head-to-toe reaction that my body had when Greg stepped out of the truck and I fell into his arms.
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