When I get in the living room, I glance in the kitchen to see Emma sitting at the table eating a bowl of cereal, Ellie on the couch with her head in her hands and Austin pacing back and forth in front of her.
“What’s going on?”
Austin turns at the sound of my voice and Ellie looks up from her spot on the couch. I make my way over to him and reach for his hands, but he quickly slides them into the front pockets of his jeans. “I just got a call from Mark at the police department in New York. The department in Bowling Green, Kentucky found William and they have him in custody.”
My mouth drops open in shock. “His parents live in Bowling Green. What happens now? Did he confess to everything?”
I can’t believe they found him and actually brought him in. Part of me wondered if he had so many connections in New York that he’d go back there and nothing would ever come of it. He’s been paying off the city of New York for so long that at this point, I wouldn’t put it past them to let everything slide.
“I don’t know. All I know is that they put a BOLO out for him and a cop pulled him over just outside of the city and brought him in,” Austin explains.
“Wait, how were they able to do a ‘be on the look-out’? I thought you said charges needed to be filed against him or something for them to be able to do that?” I ask in confusion.
Ellie scoffs from over on the couch and I look around Austin to see her stand up and cross her arms in front of her. “Yeah, Austin, why don’t you tell her how the cops were able to bring him in?”
Austin squeezes his hands into fists at his sides and clenches his jaw.
“Why don’t you clue her in to the fact that you violated her trust,” Ellie adds.
I look back and forth between the two of them and decide to go with Austin. Ellie is staring at him like she might rip his head off and I feel like I might get a straighter answer out of him.
“Austin, what is she talking about?”
I take a step closer to him and he takes a step back. He’s putting distance between us and it’s starting to make me nervous. I’m happy William is in custody, but I’m scared about what will happen next. I just want his arms around me, reassuring me that everything will be okay.
“I told Ellie about something this morning while you were still asleep. I wanted her help convincing you it was the right thing to do, but obviously she’s changed her mind,” Austin tells me, shooting an angry look over his shoulder at Ellie.
“Oh, please! You weren’t thinking about anything but yourself. You just wanted to be the hero so you could move on to something bigger and better,” Ellie accuses.
Austin turns around to face her. “You know what? I’ve had just about enough of-”
“Will you both cut it out?” I interrupt. “Tell me what the hell is going on!” I shout.
“This ought to be good,” Ellie mutters.
“Ellie, can you take Emma back to the bedroom please?” I ask her.
She looks at me in irritation like I just told her to run over a cat. “You’ve got to be kidding me!”
“Please, Ellie. Just for a few minutes,” I beg.
I raise my eyebrows at her and plead with her silently to understand. I need Austin to talk to me and he’s not going to be comfortable doing that with Ellie in the room since she’s obviously angry with him about something.
After a few seconds, Ellie huffs angrily, throwing her hands up in irritation. “Fine. Whatever.”
She marches into the kitchen and scoops Emma up in her arms, grabbing the bowl of cereal and carrying them both down the hall towards the room.
When we’re finally alone, I try again. “Okay, she’s gone so you have no one bitching at you. Now tell me what she was talking about and why she’s so pissed.”
Austin doesn’t show any kind of emotion as he stands in front of me. No cocky smile, no softness in his face… nothing. It’s like he’s put a shield over his face to keep me out. “You’re right, the police couldn’t bring William in just because we suspected him of stalking you. They needed proof of criminal activity.”
I stare at him in confusion for a few minutes until it clicks into place. Proof of criminal activity. There’s only one thing that would pass for that – my file.
“Oh my God, you gave it to them?”
Austin doesn’t say anything, he just continues to stand here staring at me.
“That was my personal information, you had no right to share it with anyone!” I shout angrily.
I know I’m being irrational, but I can’t help it. It was hard enough for me to show those things to him, and now God knows how many other people will see them. William is a very big deal in New York; the police aren’t going to be able to keep it quiet for long. Soon, everyone will see those pictures: my parents, Brady… everyone I’ve ever known will see just everything I let William do to me for so many years.
“How did you even get it, did you go back to Brady’s place since we got here?” I demand.
He shakes his head and finally speaks. “I took it when you were packing up Emma before we came here.”
He says it so casually, like he didn’t completely violate my privacy and my trust by taking that file and giving it to someone else. I turn away from him, not wanting to look at his face, so cold and business-like.
“You can’t be mad about this Gwen, it had to be done to make sure he stays locked up for a long time, and there was no other way.”
I whirl back around angrily. “How about talking with me about it first? This isn’t something you just take upon yourself because you think you’re doing the right thing. This is my life, my past and now it’s going to be broadcast all over the place for everyone to see. Oh, my God, Emma could see it! Did you even think about that when you handed it over?”
At the mention of Emma he winces, but it doesn’t stop him from trying to plead his case. “Gwen, this is my job, you know that. I do whatever is necessary to get it done, even if that means pissing a few people off.”
His words are like a punch right to my heart. I’m just “people” now to him. Maybe that’s what I’ve been all along.
“Well, lucky for you it looks like the job is finished and you can be on your way to help out more people.”
His face remains like a piece of stone – no emotion or reaction at all. “You knew this was going to happen from the very beginning. You knew I would be gone as soon as this was finished. I’m not the type of guy who stays in one place long or has a family.”
“God dammit, I am so sick and tired of you always going back to that! You’re not the type of guy who’s a father, you’re not the type of guy who’s a husband… did it ever occur to you that you are EXACTLY that type of person, but you’re too fucking scared to admit it? I’ve seen the way you are with Emma, I’ve felt the way you are with me. How can you not see it?”
Austin scoffs and shakes his head at me. “You don’t understand.”
Even though I want to throttle him, I step closer. “You’re right, I don’t understand, so tell me!”
He just shakes his head at me.
“I have given you EVERYTHING! Every piece of myself that I thought I would never give to another person. Why is it so hard for you to open up to me?!”
My voice is getting louder and louder, but I don’t care. I just want him to hear me and to understand that I want to know every part of him.
He moves away and runs his hands through his hair in frustration before letting them smack down to his thighs.
“Fuck! You want to know about my scars? They’re all on the inside, Gwen. I have no fucking clue what it takes to be the man you and Emma need and it fucking kills me! I had a shitty childhood. The Navy was like a fucking five star resort compared to some of the places I grew up in. The only parents I ever knew shoved me around and treated me like a worthless piece of shit until they got sick of me and sent me on to the next shitty family. Is that what you want to hear?” he shouts angrily.
My heart breaks for him and I want to go to him and wrap my arms around him, but it’s clear he’s shutting me out and he’s already made his decision.
“YES! Is it so hard for you to understand that I want to know you? I want to know what made you the man you are today, the good and the bad. You’ve seen every part of me. You know my fears and my weaknesses – why is it such a bad thing that I want to know yours?”
“Because that’s not who I fucking am! I’m a Navy SEAL, Gwen. I don’t have time for fear and weakness and I can’t make any mistakes or have any distractions. Something like that in my line of work will get me killed.”
And just like that, my heart breaks in two. It’s okay for me to be broken and afraid, but not him.
“Wow, it must be nice to be so fucking perfect,” I throw back. “Lucky for you, this job is over and you can go on with your life. You don’t have to worry about Emma and I ever being a distraction for you.”
He doesn’t say a word to me as I turn away and walk out of the room to begin packing our things.
One hour, eight minutes and twenty-seven seconds.
That’s how long Gwen and Emma have been gone from this house. A little over an hour and it already feels like I haven’t seen them in a year. I never meant to be such a prick to Gwen when I said good-bye. Fuck, that wasn’t even a good-bye, that was a kiss-off. I’m surprised she didn’t flip me the finger as she was walking out the door. I wanted to sit her down and explain to her again my reasons for not being able to stay. I never wanted our last words to be spoken in anger and I never intended to cut her so deep she couldn’t even bring herself to look at me before the door closed behind her and she walked out of my life.
At least Ellie spoke to me before they left. When I suggested driving them to the police station so Gwen could sign the report, she told me to fuck off. I wasn’t about to let them go anywhere alone even if William was behind bars; there was still one loose end that needed to be tied up. Fortunately, or unfortunately depending on how you look at it, Cole called me as the girls were heading towards the door to tell me that Dylan Callahan came back clean. No record for stalking and when Gwen heard me say his name while I was on the phone, I had to come clean about him stopping by her office. If she were a cartoon character, there would have been smoke coming out of her ears. She told me in no uncertain terms that I was an asshole and that Dylan was a friend. They had indeed made plans to see each other for coffee while he was in town.
Right now, I feel like an asshole. I should have never hid the fact that I was planning on using her file to make sure William didn’t get away what he’d done to her. I thought I was protecting her by keeping things from her, but I should have known better. She’s amazing, she’s smart and she’s a fighter. She had every right to be involved in all aspects of the plan to take down the man who terrorized her for most of her adult life.
The timer on my tactical watch goes off, signaling I need to leave if I want to catch my flight. In order for me to get to Virginia by eight tomorrow morning, I need to take a flight to Chicago tonight and then leave at five the following morning for Virginia. Standing in the middle of my living room, I can’t make my feet move. Everywhere I look, I see Gwen or hear Emma. As soon as I walk out this door, it will all be gone – the smiles, the laughs, the kisses… it will all be pushed away into a dark corner of my mind so I don’t have to think about it or wish for something I can’t have. When I walk out that door, it will be like my time with them never existed.
This is what I live for – being called in at the last minute, not knowing what to expect or what kind of danger I’ll be walking into… it’s what I was meant to do. It’s my life and fighting for something important has always made me happy.
So why the fuck am I standing here regretting the decision to go?
I should already have my go-bag in my hand and be out the fucking door leaving a cloud of dust in my wake, but Emma’s words from the previous day echo through my head.
“I love you, Austin. Can you tuck me in to bed every night?”
I never wanted this to happen; I wasn’t supposed to get attached. Stick around long enough to make sure Gwen and Emma were safe and then get the fuck out of here. I never expected sleeping with Gwen would stir up a shit storm of foreign emotions inside of me. I never expected to spend time with a kid and actually enjoy it. What the fuck is wrong with me?
You love them, you asshole.
Oh, fuck no. That’s not it. I like spending time with them, that’s all it is. It made me wish I had a different childhood and could be a different person. Gwen was wrong, I’m not afraid; I just don’t want that kind of life.
It’s complete and total bullshit that I’m actually contemplating calling Captain Risner back and telling him to find someone else. I am not this man. Gwen and Emma have spent enough time turning me inside out and my life upside down. It’s time for me to get the fuck out of here before I do something stupid and completely fuck up my career.
William is in jail where his sorry ass belongs, Dylan isn’t a creepy ass stalker with a twenty-year old obsession and Gwen and Emma are safe now; my job is done.
Grabbing my go-back from the floor by my feet, I toss it over my shoulder, determined to stick with the plan I’ve had all along – leave when the job is finished and don’t look back.
* * *
Of course the fucking flight is delayed. All I want to do is get out of this God forsaken town and now I’m stuck here for who knows how long. At least my connecting flight doesn’t leave until tomorrow morning so I have plenty of time.
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