“Why am I using this damn board to talk to you?!” I ask, waving the board in the air.
Using her hand, Susan spells out LOL. I giggle before continuing.
“From what the detective told me, the concierge called security, who went upstairs to the condo. Yelena was lying on the floor where we left her and immediately started talking. That’s when things got interesting.”
Susan motions for the board.
WHERE DOES MY MOM COME INTO PLAY? P.S. I’M THIRSTY.
I pour her a glass of water. She takes a few sips.
She nods. I continue.
“Yelena tells the cops that she had an accomplice that was on her way to the condo to help ‘finish the job’. The cops decided that they would hide in the den and wait for the accomplice. Yelena opens the door for the accomplice. Lo and behold, your mother walks in with a very large handbag.”
Susan takes another sip of water and motions for me to continue. I take a deep breath.
“She comes into the room and asks Yelena where we are. Yelena panics and tells her that we escaped. Your mother gets pissed, telling Yelena that the plan is ruined, and that they have to find us. The officers, who were hiding in the den, walk into the living room, and start questioning your mother.”
BUT WHY WOULD MY MOTHER HELP YELENA? I DON’T UNDERSTAND.
As I read the board, something clicks.
“The officer mentioned that your mother kept saying ‘It wasn’t over’. I don’t understand what she meant by that.”
Susan is frozen. I’m talking quiet as a church mouse, breathing shallow as hell. Before I can say anything, the doctor enters the room.
“Hello ladies. Susan, I will be discharging you in the next half an hour. You can get dressed.”
Excited, Susan raises her arms above her head and wiggles her fingers. Grabbing a bag from the closet, I hand Susan a change of clothes. Once I get her dressed, the nurse enters with a wheelchair. While she get Susan into the wheelchair, the doctor comes in with her discharge papers. After going over her at-home care plan, he wishes us well and leaves. The nurse wheels Susan out of the room, while I leave to get the car.
Meeting them outside, I get Susan into the car, and thank the nurse. Susan motions for the board.
Opening my eyes, I see Ashley. She squeezes my hand and smiles.
“Hey baby. Your mouth has been wired shut, so you’ll have to use your phone and this dry erase board to communicate.”
That would explain the tightness that I felt in my mouth. I take the dry erase board from Ashley and quickly scribble a message.
HOW LONG HAVE I BEEN OUT?
Turning the board around for Ashley to see, she reads the question, and begins to write.
A WEEK AND A HALF.
Wow. I grab the board.
WHY SO LONG? WHAT ABOUT THE BABY? WHAT ABOUT YELENA?
Ashley stands up lays next to me in the bed. I move over. Reading the board, she looks at the doctor.
“Susan, when you fell and landed on your head, your brain was slowly swelling. You were put into a medically induced coma to decrease the swelling.”
He pauses while Ashley grabs a tissue and blots the tears forming in my eyes. The doctor clears his throat before he continues.
“In addition, the bleeding you experienced was caused by a ovarian cyst that ruptured. To sum it up, you and the baby are fine.”
Relief never felt so good. Ashley stands as she walks the staff out. Closing the door behind them, she does a happy dance. I want to laugh so bad but it hurts wayyyy too much. She lies beside me on the bed. I start writing.
WHAT HAPPENED WITH YELENA? WHERE IS SHE?
Ashley laughs so loud it scares me. She finally regains her composure and responds via board.
YELENA WAS ARRESTED…ALONG WITH YOUR MOTHER.
“Move your goddamn legs!!” Susan pleads, delivering a swift kick to my left leg.
“Oww!” I hiss, giving her a nasty side eye.
“You felt that?” Susan asks as a broad smile forms across her face.
I nervously scan the room.
“Can you see her?” Susan asks.
“No, but I can hear her down the hall near the den talking to someone.”
“We should leave,” Susan whispers.
I shake my head in disagreement.
“I need to make sure she can’t chase us down,” I said, reaching under the sofa frame.
“Dad duct taped some razor blades and a knife against the sofa frame. You know, just in case.”
Shocked, Susan blinks.
Freeing the knife from the tape, I cut the zip ties off her wrists. Before she could bring her hands around to the front, I stop her.
“Keep your hands behind your back. I’m going to take care of some business.”
With three razor blades between the fingers of my left hand, I form a fist. Slowly standing up, I walk down the hall, using furniture and the wall to maintain my balance. I open the closet door and slip in. If I time it correctly, when she rounds the corner, I’ll swing the door open and punch her in the face. I can hear her entire conversation in the closet.
Yes. I’m telling you I have everything under control. How far away are you? An hour?! *sighs*I can wait until then. They’re okay. Well, Susan has a broken jaw. I used brass knuckles. I could have used bare hands but I wanted her to hurt. I’ve got to go. See you when you get here.
I hear her heavy-footed ass walking back up the hallway, towards the living room. I lean against the door, ready. As soon as I see her approach, I swing the door wide, hitting her in the face. Blood rushes from her nose as she falls backwards. With my razor-bladed hand, I punch her in the jaw.
“How’s that broken nose and jaw combo working out for you?”
Not giving her a chance to respond, I stand Susan up, and we run towards the door. As I reach the doorknob, Susan stops.
“Wait!” she screams.
“There’s no time to wait!”
Susan runs back to the sofa, grabs the knife and takes off down the hall. Following her, I see her crouch down beside Yelena, stabbing her in the legs. Through clenched teeth, Yelena screams in pain.
“Stop it Susan! We need to go!!”
Stabbing Yelena one last time in the thigh, she leaves the knife in. I grab her arm and rush out the door. As we get on the elevator, Susan doubles over, holding her stomach.
Sweat beads form on Susan’s head.
“Something is wrong with the baby!”
Panicking, I look down. A trail of blood is slowly running down her leg.
My right eye slowly opens, but the left eye is still shut. How did I end up on the floor? The room is dark. My head is banging and there’s something metallic-tasting in my mouth. I spit. It’s blood. Less than five feet away is Ashley. She’s not moving. I try to reach for her, but my arms are bound behind me. What the hell is going on?
“I see someone is awake. How’s that broken jaw working out for you?”
Chills dance on my spine as I crawl across the floor. I manage to sit upright against the sofa. Turning my head towards the window, I see Yelena.
“How…how did you get in here?” I ask, moaning in pain.
Yelena squats down next to me. There’s less than 5 inches between our faces. If only my hands were free.
“Since you asked so nicely, I’ll start from the beginning. I walked into the lobby and told the very helpful concierge that I was surprising the two of you. He not only escorted me up, but he was kind enough to let me in. You had your back turned to me, which made the surprise even better. You never saw it coming,” she explains as she relentlessly pokes my severely swollen jaw.
A piece of my jawbone is pressing against my cheek.
“I fucking hate you,” I mutter.
“The feeling is mutual,” she responds, standing up.
I feel a series of flutters in my stomach. The baby is moving.
I turn my head towards the door. Ashley is slowly crawly towards me. I scoot to meet her halfway, but after about five scoots, Yelena pushes her brass-knuckled fist into my jaw. I can feel a tooth bouncing around in my mouth as I scream in pain. Yelena laughs.
“I bet you regret sound proofing this condo. Nobody can hear you two.”
Yelena walks over to Ashley, grabs her arms and drags her across the room. She props her up against the sofa . I grab her hand and squeeze it.
“I can’t feel my legs,” she whispers.
Why is it taking my mother so long to respond to this text?! It would be my luck that in my moment of crisis, my mother is off fixing someone else’s fuck up. A chilly gust of wind dances around me. I pull the jacket’s hood over my head as my phone vibrates. Finally, my mother responds.
I told Susan about the tumor.
Oh. My. Damn. Heat rises from the pit of my stomach. After taking some very deep breaths, I call my mother. The phone barely rings once before she picks up.
“Now before you start screaming…”
I’m so livid I throw manners to the wind.
“WHY THE HELL WOULD YOU TELL HER?!?!?! YOU PROMISED ME!!!”
Silence. I’m pretty sure Mom is carefully crafting her next sentence.
“Susan called me to express concern over your recent change in behavior. She’s worried about you, but you’re too busy forcing me to keep promises to give a shit!”
I hate when she’s right.
“I’m sorry Mom. I’ll talk to you later. I need to check on Susan.”
“Okay sweetie. I love you.”
“Love you too.”
I place my phone in my pocket and go back into the building. It feels like it’s taking forever for the elevator to come down. Good grief. On the way to the 22nd floor, I check my work email. All good feedback about the video game. With a smile on my face, I get off the elevator, walk down the hall, and insert the key into the lock.
Pushing the door open, I see Susan down on the ground. She isn’t moving and a small pool of blood is next to her. As I rush to her aid, I feel a sharp blow to my head and I fall down. I reach for Susan’s hand before everything fades to black.
Something’s up with Ashley. She’s been anxious for weeks. If I ask her a question and she happens to answer, her responses are snappy. Otherwise, she just ignores my question altogether. Thinking it was work-related stress, I let it slide. The video game has gone into production and she ought to be much more relaxed.
Not the case.
Another thing that raised my eyebrow was her cell phone. She changed her lock code three weeks ago. Nothing happened three weeks ago…what the hell is she hiding? I check the clock on the wall. Ashley’s been gone for two hours. I send her a text.
Are you coming home tonight?
Instead of waiting for a response, I call the one person who knows what’s going on with Ashley: her mother Renee.
“Hellllloooo!!!!!” Renee sings. She’s so animated.
“Hi Renee,” I respond, trying my best to stifle laughter.
“How are you and my grandbaby?”
“We’re doing well. I’m swollen and hungry.”
“Welcome to pregnancy dear. I was just telling Ashley’s dad that with this upcoming down time, I can finally visit ya’ll.”
“That would be awesome. You know how much I love when you visit…and cook.”
I sigh. Here goes nothing.
“Ashley has been acting really odd lately. I thought it was work-related, but…”
Before I could finish, Renee interrupts.
“Hold on Susan. You need to know that Ashley’s going through some things. I promised her I wouldn’t say anything but I don’t want you to worry.”
Too damn late. My mind starts considering the worst of possibilities.
“Breathe Susan. I need to hear you breathing before I continue.”
Inhaling deeply, I exhale loudly.
“Thank you. Ashley said she has been having these horrible coughing fits for the past month. They keep getting worse. About two weeks ago, she was in a meeting when she started coughing. She went to the bathroom, coughed into a napkin, and saw flecks of blood.”
I start feeling lightheaded. Stay centered Susan, stay centered.
“I knew she was coughing, but she went to the doctor and was on medication. She’s gotten better.”
My chest is heavy.
“The doctor gave her medication for a lung infection, which helped for a bit, but the coughing got worse. She went back to the doctor for X-rays and that’s when they…”
Her voice trails of. Sniffling, she clears her throat.
“…found a tumor on her lung.”
Tears flow down my face. My legs shake and I fall down, my head hitting the floor.
Susan looks so calm holding that gun by her side. It takes a few minutes for me to calm my nerves and gather my thoughts.
“What exactly do you mean by ‘money doesn’t keep crazy away’”?
Susan laughs and walks over to the bookshelf. She carefully puts the gun back in the book and places the book back on the shelf.
“Let’s not play stupid Ashley. You know exactly what I mean. Yelena is not going to just go away. No amount of money is going to keep her away. A bullet on the other hand…”
Oh. My. Damn.
“You can’t possibly be talking about a permanent means to remove Yelena from our lives?”
Susan sits on the chaise lounge and rubs her ankle.
“What part of permanent don’t you understand?” she asks, left eyebrow raised.
“You know what? Your hormones have you on 10 and I need you to bring it down to two and a quarter. You’re pregnant. Sit your ass down somewhere, put your fucking feet up, and chill the fuck out!!”
Storming out of the room, I didn’t hear her respond. At that moment, I had enough of her. If her way of coping with the truth is the handgun edition of Show and Tell, how the hell is she going to deal with motherhood?
“Where are you going?! I know you hear me!!!!”
Feeling an anxiety attack coming on, I grab my jacket from the hall closet, and snatch my keys from the stand next to the front door. The door closes behind me. With hands shaking and breathing erratic, I get on the elevator to the lobby. Opening the lobby door, the cool air dances across my face. Standing against the brick wall, I release the tears. Tears steady flowing, I grab my phone from my pocket and send a text.
I don’t know how much longer I can do this.
The sun greets me with a warm kiss on the cheek. Once again, I’ve fallen asleep on the sofa. The pleasing aroma of bacon and maple syrup fill the air. Praise Sweet Baby Jesus, Ashley’s cooking! Giddy, I get up, shuffling my way to the kitchen.
“Well hello Chef,” I say seductively.
Ashley’s dressed in a hot pink lace slip. I debate on whether I want to attack her or that plate of bacon. The woes of a pregnant woman. Ashley sways her ample hips back and forth.
“I know what you want. Come and get it.”
She didn’t have to tell me twice. Walking up behind Ashley, I wrap my arm around her waist, tickling her stomach. She moans. My fingers trail past her stomach, grabbing two slices of peppered bacon. Ashley turns, spanking me on the ass with her hand.
“Move greedy ass,” she demands, giggling. “Breakfast will be ready in a few.”
Frowning, I stomp over to a bar stool at the counter. Watching Ashley pour the last of the batter into the waffle maker, I realize it’s now or never.
“Did you pay Nick off?”
Silence…until the waffle maker beeped. Ashley seizes the opportunity to avoid answering my question. Placing the hot waffle and a pile of bacon on a plate, she cautiously places the food in front of me. I lightly grab her arm.
“The truth Ashley. I want the truth.”
Defeated, she slumps against the fridge.
“As soon as you told me about that Halloween party, I made a financial arrangement with Nick to keep our secrets.”
She’s fidgeting, which means she’s withholding something. With my fork, I gesture for her to continue. She wipes her forehead with a paper towel.
“Jesus Susan, what else do you need to know?!”
Did she just fucking say that to me?!
“Two can play this game Ashley. Why would Nick tell you to pay Yelena?”
Ashley’s face pales with guilt.
“I…I…,” she stutters, her body shaking, tears rolling down her face.
“STOP BULLSHITTING ME!!!” I scream, throwing the fork in her direction. She ducks, waving her hand.
“Dammit!! Okay! Okay! Yelena and I dated for 18 months before you and I got together. When we got together, I broke up with Yelena.”
I say nothing and continue eating. A couple of minutes of silence should scare her. As I chew the last of my food, I stand up and walk towards the den. Minutes later, Ashley follows me.
“Say something!” she yells, her voice shaky.
Standing in front of the bookshelf, I reach for a vintage-looking dictionary. I open it, taking out my beloved Smith & Wesson M&P .357. Ashley gasps.
“Where…how long…a gun…”
“I inherited it from Uncle Jeff. He always told his nieces to never rely on anyone to protect you. Taught me the art of the take down with one bullet.”
I walk over to her, gun by my side, and brush her hair out of her face with my free hand.
“He also taught me that money doesn’t keep crazy away.”
Video conference is finally over. I quietly do a happy dance, while stretching my aching body. Between Susan’s proposal and the launch of this new video game, I can’t wait for the next couple of months to end. Hopefully, we’ll be able to slow down and prepare for the baby’s arrival. There are classes, shopping trips, and books to read. Just thinking about it all is making me ravenous.
I head into the kitchen to make my specialty: brown sugar ham and white cheddar sandwich on honey wheat bread. Yummy! Happy that I’m feeding the beast, I take generous bites while blindly reaching for my phone on the counter. The phone isn’t there. I guess I left it in the living room. Tiptoeing through the room in search of my phone, I see one phone is on the coffee table. The other is rising and falling on Susan’s stomach.
I grab the phone and walk back to the kitchen. Activating the phone’s home screen, I realize that I have Susan’s phone. I have no idea what we were thinking when we brought identical phones after the coming out fiasco. Way too confusing. I get up and swap Susan’s phone with the one that’s on her stomach. Why it’s there, I have no idea. She probably thought it was her phone.
Walking back into the kitchen, I activate the phone’s home screen. I check my text messages looking for feedback from the meeting. Nothing received from my coworkers, but I notice a recent text from Nick.
Just pay her the money Ashley.
I don’t remember reading this message before. The message came in while I was in my meeting. I didn’t have my phone in the den with me. If I didn’t read it, then it was Susan who read it. Shit, shit, shit!!!!
“Home sweet home!” I announce, dropping my bag and rubbing my belly. After a week in the hospital, I couldn’t wait to sleep in the comfy softness of my own bed. Collapsing on the sofa, Ashley closes the door behind us.
“Have you spoken to your mother since her visit? She appeared to be in a hurry when I showed up,” Ashley asks, her heels clicking on the hardwood floor.
My right eye twitches. She just won’t let it go. To avoid saying something I’ll regret later, I pause before responding.
“No and she’s not going to speak to me until I make things right,” I mumble, rolling my eyes.
“You shouldn’t take this so lightly. I don’t play with Karma.”
Her voice is shaky. Something is bothering her, but I know better than to ask her when she’s so anxious. I stand up and walk over to hug her. She brushes me away. Yeah…something is definitely weighing on her mind.
“When you’re ready to talk about whatever is on your mind, I’ll be on the couch.”
Sitting down with my feet on the ottoman, I reach for my laptop and cell phone from the sofa. Diligently typing away, I’m in the midst of finishing a proposal when my phone vibrates. It’s a text from Yelena. I would block her, but I find her threats quite entertaining.
You’re going to know how it feels 2 b so close 2 having sumthin…just 2 have it b snatched away.
I laugh and continue working. Ashley is in the den, participating in a video conference with her fellow video game programmers. That gives me at least two hours of time to work. Nodding off, I put the laptop and phone on the floor and stretch out across the sofa for a nap.
Ashley’s vibrating phone disrupts my sleep. I get up and grab it from the kitchen counter. It’s a text message…from Nick. Why would Nick text Ashley? Curious, I open the message.
Just pay her the money Ashley.