One evening about six months after Gene’s surgery to repair the damage to his ankle he was busy browsing the web. He was looking for ideas to spice up his performances. Something that appeared to be complicated but would let him put most of the impact on his good foot. He was determined to not let his injury keep him from doing what he loved. Unfortunately his determination was a source of contention between him and Aimee. She just didn’t understand why he refused to be wrapped in cotton and coddled. Why couldn’t she understand that he had to do this?
“Gene, honey it’s getting late….” Aimee started only to stop as Gene glared at her.
“I know what time it is. I’m not a child,” he groused at her.
“I didn’t say you were,” she said turning petulant “you’re the one who complains the next day when you don’t get enough sleep.”
“You know I don’t sleep,” he mumbled.
“Maybe you would if you’d talk to me,” Aimee complained “you never tell me anything. Only Jean Paul … I’m tired of you shutting me out.” She turned away wiping at her eyes.
Staring at the computer screen Gene barely registered the image in front of him of a red-haired young woman as he abruptly stood up. “Can’t you give it a rest Aimee. How many times do I have to tell you I don’t remember?”
“Oh that’s convenient,” she said “what do you talk about for hours with Jean Paul?”
“If I didn’t know better I’d say you were jealous?” Gene scowled at her.
“Maybe I am,” she turned to look at Gene “why can’t you talk to me? Help me understand what you went through. Don’t shut me out. Give me a chance to be here for you. I’m not the same self-absorbed girl I used to be. Why can’t you see that?”
Shaking Gene looked away mumbling “I would if I could but it’s still a jumbled up mess inside my head…”
“Fine whatever I’m going to bed,” Aimee shouted turning her back on him.
“Dammit Aimee…” Gene shouted after her hands buried in his hair. “I talk to Jean Paul because I’m scared. I’m scared all the damn time. I need something to be the same … I need to feel like I’m in control of something in my life.” Shaking his head “Aimee please….I….”
Stopping at the door to the bedroom Aimee looked at Gene. On impulse she ran over to him and wrapped her arms around him “all I’m asking from you is not to be shut out. I know you went through something awful. Something no one ever should have too. I’m sorry for pushing but I … I don’t know what else to do. You never talk to me and it hurts and I’m scared too.”
Moving around to face her he leaned into her embrace, breathing in her scent while his heart raced “please don’t leave me….”
Pulling back she stroked his face “who said anything about leaving? Gene …. I love you. I want to be here for you if you’ll let me. It feels you’ve been doing all you can to push me away. I’m frustrated with the situation not you. I’ll never leave you.” She felt him shiver and watched the moisture in his eyes build as tears formed and traveled down his cheeks. Pulling him close she held him as he cried. It was as heart wrenching as it was frightening holding him in her arms knowing that this time she was the one who needed to be strong. She needed to be his support, his pillar and all she felt was how inadequate she was for the role.
Sniffling Gene mumbled “I’ve been seeing Jean Paul because it feels like he’s the only thing keeping me from falling apart. I’m tired of being scared. All I want is to be numb …. to block all this out. All I want to do is drink but I know once I start I won’t quit…..”
Aimee’s first thought was to ask if he had been drinking but realized that would be the worst thing she could do. She was ashamed to even think it. She knew Gene hadn’t drunk anything since that night on Sim Star Idol when he faced elimination for the first time. If he felt she doubted him it could be what tipped him over the edge. She knew Gene had learned better ways to cope with difficult situations, things she had tried to imitate. He wasn’t drinking she was sure of it. “Gene if you need to focus on your career I’ll help you. Just tell me how. I’ll support you anyway I can. Just don’t shut me out.”
Nodding he tried to smile “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean too. It just felt like you were pushing me to tell you things I couldn’t. Things I can’t remember. Things I don’t want to remember. It’s like I’m standing at the edge of an abyss and any moment I’m going to fall into it. I’m afraid If I fall I’ll never get back up again.” Looking at Aimee he whispered “don’t let me fall.
“I’ve got you,” Aimee squeezed him tight “I won’t let you fall. I promise.” She held him tight mumbling reassurances that she wouldn’t let him fall. Why was he so afraid of this hypothetical abyss? It had to mean something….OMG…had he literally fallen into one wherever he had been kept? Had his abductor somehow used the fear of falling as away of controlling him? Her own fear knifed through her as she wondered at the strength Gene had to survive what he had. She had no reason to be jealous of the time he spent with Jean Paul if it meant he was helping Gene. She knew she was being unreasonable, she could see that now. She had been putting too much pressure on him “Gene I love,” she said those three simple words but never before had she felt how true they were. She would do whatever it took to help him feel whole again. “Let’s go to bed,” she urged “it’s late.”
Nodding Gene released his grip on her as she turned towards the bedroom door. Aimee glanced at the computer monitor, the image catching her eye “were you reading this?” she asked in shock.
“Reading what?” Gene asked moving to see what she was concerned about. Quickly Aimee changed the page to something else to keep Gene from seeing the picture of his abductor. Looking at the screen Gene chuckled “why would that interest me?” Shaking his head as he watched the short video of playful puppies. “Must have been a bad search” he walked away unaware how Aimee was looking at him.
Shutting the computer down she wondered if Gene had seen the article that had been up before she had changed it. If the image of his stalker sent shivers through her, how was it going to effect him? Maybe she should mention it to Jean Paul. Shutting the lights off she followed Gene into the bedroom.
Tossing in his sleep Gene moaned as he shrank into a corner as the red-haired girl approached with hands open wide, laughing. Flinching from her touch he cried out in pain as she twisted his already swollen ankle. “That should fix you. You’ll never get away from me now.”
“Please no more. I promise I won’t try to get away.” Screaming he woke with a jerk, drenched in sweat. Shivering he allowed Aimee to wrap her arms around him.
“Can you tell me what your nightmare was about?” she asked “you don’t have to but it might help.”
Shaking he quelled the urge to run from her touch. He knew it was ridiculous to think Aimee would ever hurt him but whenever he dreamed about the stalker girl his skin crawled remembering her delight as she abused his ankle. Swallowing several times before answering he leaned his head onto Aimee’s shoulder breathing in her scent. Ridding his senses of the dank, musky tomb he told her about how the stalker girl would systematically twist his ankle taunting him how he’d never walk again. He’d be her prisoner forever.
Listening to his deep husky voice halting over the painful memories she wanted to cry. She wanted to take his pain, his fears and make them hers. She wanted to hurt and destroy them like she would the enemy in some of her video games. Instead she held him tight until he fell asleep. Kissing his cheek she hoped he’d have peaceful dreams for the rest of the night. She moved carefully from the bed so as not to disturb him as she went to check on the boys. She had heard one of them crying earlier while comforting Gene.
Going into the nursery she sighed with relief that Ian was asleep but Matthew was staring wide-eyed up at her. “What’s the matter little man?” she asked as she picked him up. She hoped he would go right back to sleep “you’re going to look just like your daddy.” Matt stared up at her with his large pink eyes. Smiling down at him Aimee laughed “you’d be a carbon copy if it weren’t for those gorgeous pink eyes. Sorry kiddo you’ve got your mama’s eyes.” Matt’s eyes started to droop as Aimee continued to talk soothingly to him. The months that Gene had been gone had helped Aimee to take her role of being a mother seriously. She had been all these kids had and she had been determined to be there for them. Her mother had been wonderful but after a few weeks Aimee convinced to her to go home. Home to her step-kids who needed her while William was away caring for Gene.
Michael had been a huge help but Aimee had to convince him that he needed to be a kid while he still could. She felt that was what Gene would have wanted. She had grown as a person and she finally understood she could be both a mom and a video commentator all it took was balance and commitment. It didn’t have to be one or the other like she felt it had to be. She had found her balance and then Gene came home and everything changed.
She had expected him to be the same and he wasn’t. He had been sullen, nervous, jumping at everything. Insisting the light be left on when he went to sleep, repeatedly checking that doors were locked. An obsession with needing to know where everyone was and at any given moment. Constantly pushing himself to use his bad ankle despite the obvious pain it caused. Now she realized it was his need to control what he could in a sea of chaos. She hoped that now he had started to open up things would start to improve.
Matthew finally fell back to sleep. After putting him in his crib Aimee went back to the bedroom. Sighing in relief as Gene seemed to be sleeping peacefully. Turning the light off she slipped in beside him.
He could feel the cold rough ground as he was dragged across the tomb floor by his bad ankle. It was so dark. He hated the dark always had since he was a little kid and Casey had locked him in their bedroom closet for hours. Tight confined spaces were bad enough but in the dark they became deep cavernous tombs. He lay motionless when she had stopped dragging him across the floor. He could feel rough hands lifting him up. He could feel a rush of could air flowing over him from somewhere below him.
A light was flashing giving him a glimpse of a deep abyss that he was teetering on the edge of. The air rushing from the bottom was cold and clammy. The dreaded voice, her voice whispering his ear “don’t fall,” all the while she was nudging him closer to the edge. It always ended the same. The final push. The final taunt “this is where you die.” The head long plunge in the dark abyss. The horrifying jerk of the rope taut around his bad ankle as the line came to its end. The relief that his descent into hell was stopped. The fear and dread of doing this over and over again until he passed out from a combination of fear and pain. The fear that one time there wouldn’t be the sudden jerk saving him from plunging to the bottom….
A strangled cry escaped his lips as he fought his way to wakefulness. Blinking his eyes he moaned “so dark, it’s so dark.” Squeezing his eyes shut he struggled from beneath the blankets falling from the bed. He screamed as he imagined it was the abyss he was falling into and this time there’d be nothing to stop him from falling to the bottom.
Waking with a jerk Aimee raced to Gene’s side of bed tripping over him as he lay crumpled on the floor crying. Reaching up to the bedside table she switched the light on. “Gene, honey what’s wrong?” she asked concerned as he continued to sob. Listening she could make out a few words he was mumbling “dark so dark…please don’t I don’t want to fall…”
Reaching out she touched his shoulder. Gene jerked back crawling away from her “Gene honey it’s me, Aimee….” she said in a low soothing voice. “Honey open your eyes.”
“No, no Aimee can’t be here. Can’t be here. She’ll get hurt. Gotta get away …” he continued to mumble caught up in his nightmare.
Grabbing his hands Aimee demanded “open your eyes Gene. You’re home. You’re safe. She can’t hurt you anymore.” She refused to let go as Gene struggled to free himself from her grasp. “Sweetie open your eyes. The lights are on baby, open your eyes.” She pleaded with him knowing she had triggered this memory. She had forgotten and turned the light off. The light she had thought was silly to keep on when he insisted he couldn’t sleep in the dark. What had that woman done to him? “Gene honey listen to me. You’re home. You’re safe. Take my hand baby.” She held her hand out hoping he would take it.
Gene cowered on the floor, heart racing. His mind screaming this is a trick. It sounded like Aimee. It smelled like Aimee. Squinting he looked, half afraid that he’d see nothing but darkness and the voice would suddenly turn into that woman’s voice. Whimpering he took her hand and felt her draw him close. He shook in relief “Aimee is it really you?”
“Yes baby it’s really me,” she kissed his head “I’m right here. You’re safe.”
“It was so real,” he gasped “I remember … I remember it all. Oh god Aimee it was horrible ….I…” his voice broke unable to continue.
“Shh it’s ok…” Aimee soothed holding him. Feeling his heart beat wildly beneath her hands. “Don’t talk just breathe,” she instructed. They lay like that for a while until she felt some of the tension melt from his body.
“Aimee?” Gene mumbled.
“Yes baby,” she acknowledged him as she stroked his hair.
“I love you,” he mumbled as he snuggled into her arms.
“I love you too sweetie,” she held him tight as she felt him relax. His breathing deepened as he slipped into sleep. Despite the uncomfortable position she was in on the floor, she refused to disturb him. This was probably the first peaceful sleep he’s had since all of this started almost a year ago.
Somehow she managed to fall asleep. She had a kink in her neck as she tried to move. “Morning beautiful” she looked down into the Gene’s deep brown eyes and smiled “morning handsome.”
He reached up and stroked her cheek “will you come with me when I see Jean Paul?”
“If you want me to I will,” she replied not wanting to appear to be pushing him.
Smiling up at her “I want you there. Please come I…I don’t think I can do it on my own anymore.”
“Ok,” she kissed him gently “Gene I love you.”
“I hope you always will” he mumbled sitting up running his hands through is hair.
“What do you mean by that?” Aimee asked fear shooting through her.
Looking down at the floor avoiding eye contact Gene mumbled “I’m such a coward….”
“No you’re not. You’re the strongest ….”
“Aimee please, please stop. I am …” standing he began to walk away head down “I’m nothing but a coward.”
Tears sprang to her eyes as she watched him walk away. She could only hope Jean Paul could help him see himself in a better light. She clenched her hands into fists as she tried to quell the desire to strangle the person who did this to him.
They spent several hours with Jean Paul. He had cleared his schedule after being told Gene had recovered his memory. Looking at Gene thoughtfully “what makes you believe you’re a cowered?”
Shrugging Gene looked away and stared at his image in the mirror across the room from him. I didn’t try to get away. Not once. Not after the first attempt.”
“Could you have gotten away?”
“I don’t know,” Gene said through clenched teeth “if only I had tried …”
“Gene you did what anyone would have done in your position. Stayed put in the hopes someone would eventually find you.” Jean paul saw Gene shake his head agitation evident in his motions. “What if it had been Aimee who had been taken?” Gene jerked up anger flashing in his eyes “would you think she was a coward for doing what you had done? Staying put after someone had systematically twisted and smashed her ankle. Successfully making it impossible for her to walk. Unable to see. Knowing there was an abyss nearby that she could fall into in the dark. The same abyss she had been pushed into time after time only to be jerked to a stop by a rope tied around the same injured foot. That each time she fell and the rope jerked taut around that ankle was making things worse. Would you consider her a coward?”
Shaking his head Gene stared straight ahead “no but…”
“Why is it different for her then for you? What makes you a coward and not her?” Jean Paul asked.
“I don’t know …. it just does,” Gene almost shouted.
“Is it because you were afraid?” Jean Paul asked.
Nodding Gene wiped tears away “yes,” he acknowledged.
“Don’t you think Aimee would have been afraid too? Would you hold that fear against her?” He insisted pushing Gene to reason through his feelings.
Shaking his head “no” he looked up “I know what you’re saying…”
“What am I saying?” Jean Paul asked needing Gene to say it for himself.
“I’m not a coward,” he mumbled.”
“Bingo,” Jean Paul smiled winking at Aimee “we have a winner.”