“Matt,” she yelled running down the stairs. “Matt” she called again coming into Ian’s room. “Come quick,” she implored him.
Looking at his brother Matt asked “what happened?”
“Don’t ask questions just come,” she insisted without looking at Ian “please it’s your dad.”
Exchanging a worried glance with Ian he moved towards the door “where is he?”
“Upstairs first door to the right” she told him turning to follow.
“Celia,” Ian’s voice stopped her “is he ok?”
“He will be” she said staring at the far wall.
“Look at me,” Ian pleaded.
“No,” she screamed turning her back to him.
He stared in silence at her hunched back “am I that disgusting that you can’t even look at me?” he asked as she moved towards the door.
Hesitating in the doorway she wanted to tell him it had nothing to do with how he looked. That is had everything to do with how guilty she felt. She couldn’t look into his eyes without seeing his love for shining back at her. She didn’t deserve it. Turing she forced herself to look at him “yes Ian that’s exactly right. You’re a hideous monster. I can’t stand to look at you. You disgust me.” he saw the light in his eyes die and go out. Saw the weight of her words settle around him like a heavy blanket, smothering him. She regretted the words even as she said them. Wanted to take them back, beg for forgiveness but she knew it had to be done. She had to rip his heart out to set him free.
Coming out of his room she came face to face with Matt. The murderous look he was giving her she knew he had overheard what she had said. “Dad has a broken foot” he told her his voice stilted. He gave her a hard stony stare “I don’t suppose you’ll tell me how it happened.”
Shrugging nonchalantly “he stuck it where it didn’t belong.” She rolled her eyes “he should have known better.”
Mouth gaping Matt was at a loss for words. He simply watched her walk out the front door and drive away. Where she was going he could have cared less but it left him with a problem. Grabbing his phone he got through to Payson. “Honey can you drop everything and come over here?”
Hearing the stress and unusual plea in his voice she asked “what’s wrong? Is Ian alright?”
“I don’t honestly know,” he said looking into his room. Ian’s head was in his hands, shoulders shaking “he’s crying.”
“Did Celia sign the divorce papers?” she asked.
“Ugh that woman is a menace,” Matt spat into the phone “dad went to give her the papers and she slammed the door on his bad foot…”
“Oh no is he alright?” he asked in concern.
“He’s in a lot of pain. I think it’s broken. Of course he’s refusing to go to the hospital. He doesn’t want to leave Ian alone with Celia.” He ran a hand through his hair “I thought he was being ridiculous. But now I think he has every reason to be concerned.” He fell silent breathing into the phone. Observing the volatile relationship between his brother and Celia had left him with very little desire to ever get married. Not to mention his bad luck in the relationship department. He sometimes wondered if he was dreaming when he met Payson. A tiny part of him wondered when she’d turn and he see a different side of her.
“Matt,” her voice in his ear started him “I’m not her…”
“I know,” he said so low he was sure she had to strain to hear him.
“Haven’t I always been upfront with you? I’ve never played games or pretended to be anything other then what I am. Why would I change now?”
He snorted into the phone reassured by her words. “I know and that’s why I love you.”
“Damn right you do,” she said “now what do you need me to do.”
Once Matt convinced Gene to leave Payson stuck her head into Ian’s room. Her arms ached to pull the slightly older man into her arms and hold him. How could Celia rip his heart out like she had? Shaking her head she started to turn when Ian called out to her. Stopping she turned to find him looking at her in a mixture of fear, hope, despair and anger in his eyes. “Do you think I’m hideous?” he asked his words choppy as if he was afraid she’d agree with his assessment.
Dropping to her knees in front of him she took his hands in hers. She saw he scars and the newly healed burns. She had no doubt he had similar markings elsewhere on his body. Although the scars would fade with time they would remain as a permanent reminder. She knew how self-conscious Matt was about his scars and how difficult it was for him to bare himself in front of her. She reached up to stroke his face, his violet eyes apprehensive “no you’re not hideous,” she told him.
Turning his face away he mumbled “you’re just saying that…”
Her heart was breaking for the man he was versus the man he had become. “No I’m not. I’ve never lied to you, have I?” The only response she received was a slight shake of the shorn head. “Alright then, why would I lie to you now?”
“To save my feelings,” he mumbled unable to bring himself to look at her “Celia said I made her sick. She was supposed to love me in sickness and in health. For better or worse.” A choking sound escaped his lips as he tried and failed to keep the sobs buried inside him “she lied when she promised that. She said I disgusted her,” his hands reached up scratching at the livid scar on his face.
“Ian,” Payson cried prying his hands from his face “she’s wrong. Celia’s wrong. You’re not hideous.” She pulled the man into her arms rubbing his back as he sobbed on her shoulder. She couldn’t think of a time where she wanted to hurt someone as much as she wanted to hurt Celia at that moment. What had possessed her to tell a vulnerable, depressed individual they were hideous? Her husband no less. Someone she was supposed to love and cherish. Payson didn’t understand. It was almost as if…that had to be it she thought. Celia was deliberately destroying whatever feelings Ian may still have for her. Whether she meant to or not she was also destroying the man he was in the process.
Kara sat alone in the dark on the hard cold floor of the closet in her room. She had long since stopped crying. John hated to hear her crying. Banishing her to her room. She liked her room. It was the only place she could be alone. The room itself was stark and drab. An old rickety bed that rattled when she moved. The mattress smelled musty and old like it had sat outside in the rain.
She didn’t have any toys to play with and the only books available were the ones she brought home from the school library. The only time she was allowed out of her room was when she had to be in school. She remembered the days when she used to hate school. Now it had become her one true safe place, her haven. It was the only place where she felt like herself. The only place she could see and talk to her sister.
She wanted to go home. John kept telling her they didn’t want her. This was her home now. That he was her dad. It finally sank in, John may have been her dad because of some random contribution of DNA it was Ian who was her daddy. She missed him. She missed her daddy more than she could say. She wished with all her heart she had never met John. Why had she thought John would be better when Ian had always wanted her. Loved her. Had always been there for her.
Why had she pushed him away? Why hadn’t she hugged him that day before he left to put out the fire? If she had maybe he wouldn’t have been hurt. Not for the first time she wiped away tears wondering how her daddy was was. Hoping he was alright. Wishing she could see him again. Loud screaming from down stairs startled Kara from her thoughts. She moved closed to the heat duct on the floor making sure to avoid the creaky floor boards. Another reason why she spent so much time in her closet it was quieter in there. Pressing her ear to the opening her eyes widened in surprise.
Celia didn’t know where she was going when she stormed from the house. Her hateful words echoed in her head. She turned the car’s radio up hoping the noise would cancel out the endless loop her mind was on repeating that painful conversation with Ian. Seeing the unmistakable pain he was in ver he awful words. Whoever said words can’t hurt you lied. They hurt maybe worse then being physically beaten.
Stopping the car she wiped tears from her face. Feeling caged and hemmed in she got out and paced up and down the road. When she had calmed somewhat she stared at the house she had parked in front of. Without thinking twice she approached the house determined to right one wrong. Pounding on the door she screamed “John I know your in there.”
The door swung open and she came face to face with an irate blond haired man “what the do you want?”
“I want my daughter” she said walking past him into the house. She gasped taking in the filth and stench of the house her daughter was living in.
“You can’t have her,” he snarled “she’s mine.”
“She’s my daughter too,” scrunching her face in disgust “this is unacceptable.”
Shrugging “not my fault the kid is lazy and refuses to do as she’s told.”
“She’s a little girl not your slave,” she shouted “I should never have let you take her. She deserves better than this.”
“Well too bad this is what she gets” he laughed in her face his disdain for her showing through his facade of wanting his kid. Picking up a bottle he downed the contents. Tossing it across the room where it shattered against the wall. The room fell silent, the only noise coming from the TV. Pointing at the screen John announced “they’ll never find the arsonist.”
The look in his eyes sent a shiver of fear down her spine “what are you saying?” she asked backing towards to the door.
“They’re not even looking in the right places,” he told her with a nasty grin “I’m that good.”
Gasping she turned and ran for the door. In her haste she tripped over several cans concealed under tarps. She tried to scramble to her feet only to feel him grab her from behind “where do you think you’re going?” he growled in her ear.
Scooting away from the heating duct Kara covered her ears. That man was going to hurt her mom, maybe even hill her. He already hurt her daddy. He was the arsonist everyone was looking for. It was discussed in one of her classes after a classmates lost her mom from her injuries she received from fighting the fire. The same fire that her daddy was hurt in. Kara had been so scared that would happy to her daddy too. That he’d die before she could tell him how sorry she was. Tell him how much she loved him.
She hadn’t known John was the arsonist then. She hadn’t known what an arsonist was until the teacher told her it was someone who starts fires on purpose and sometimes those fires hurt people. John was a bad man. He admitted to being the arsonist. She heard him say it. Mommy knew he was arsonist. He hurt her friends mom. He hurt her daddy. He was going to hurt her mommy.
Standing up she cautiously moved towards the window. It was the only way out. She had no other choice if she hoped to get help. To stop John from hurting anyone else. She pried open the window gasping as she looked down at the ground. Leaning on the wall shaking she wondered if she could really climb out. What if she fell? What if John caught her? She was just a little girl. An image of her daddy flashed in her mind. Dressed in his fireman hat and gear. He was a hero. She was his daughter. She could do this. She’d make him proud of her. Taking a deep breath she climbed out the window. She felt the cool breeze tug at her clothes making her wish she had put on a jacket.
She didn’t know how long it took her to climb down from her second story window before her feet touched the ground but it seemed like forever. She was so relieved she let out a small cry. Slapping a hand to her mouth she listened to the silence of the night hoping John hadn’t heard her. When her heart rate slowed she moved away from the house, running as fast as she could towards the nearest neighbor along the road. She knew where she was going. She passed the house everyday on her way to school.
Payson looked up when Matt came into the room. “How is your dad?” she asked switching the TV off.
“Irritable” Matt said sitting down beside her on the couch “how’s Ian?”
Leaning into him she sighed “I got him calmed down but it’s going to take him a while to recover.”
“I could strangle that woman,” Matt exploded “I wish they never got back together. He’d have been better off without her.”
“Shh you don’t mean that” she said grabbing his arm “what she said was deplorable. I don’t blame for never trusting her again. Just try to understand what your brother is going through.”
He blinked in disbelief “you think he’ll take her back don’t you?”
“If given a chance yeah I do” she gave him the honest answer.
He frowned “he’s an idiot if he does,” he growled.
Shaking her head “can’t you see that Celia is pushing him away. She’s doing everything she can to make him hate her. It’s not what she wants.”
“How can you say that?” Matt asked “everything I’ve seen and heard….she’s just a horrible person.”
Reaching over she stroked his cheek “all you see is the hurt she’s causing your family, to your brother, to the kids and your dad. It seems like it never ending.” Lightly kissing his lips she continued “but Ian continues to hold tight to his belief that she loves him. I believe she does. Enough to wan to give him a chance to find someone else. What she hasn’t considered is the impact of her actions on him. She should just tell him what she’s feeling instead of running away.”
Snorting in derision Matt wrapped his arms around her “she’s good at running away. When will she learn running isn’t the answer?”
“I don’t know. It’s hard to change how people react to things.” She looked into his eyes “I hope if I ever go off the deep end that you’ll be obstinate enough to believe I still love you.”
“Baby you’re my rock” Matt rolled her over on the couch capturing her soft lips with his “I may be the one losing his mind instead. Will you still love me?”
“Quit talking nonsense and kiss me,” she demanded.
“I like it when you get forceful,” he said obeying her command bringing his mouth down on hers deepening it as their hands started to explore and pull at each others clothes. A loud knock on the front door had both of them jumping scrambling to straighten rumbled half removed clothing.
Glancing at the clock Matt wondered who would be knocking at this time of night. Opening the door his heart plummeting when he came face to face with two officers standing impatiently on the porch. “Ccccan I help you?” he stammered while his brain was scrambling to figure out what could have happened.
“Are you Mr Bennett? Ian Bennett?” one of the officers asked.
“No sir,” Matt shook his head “he’s asleep. Is it important?”
“I’m afraid so” the older man said stepping into the house.
Matt moved to block him “he’s not well. Can’t this wait until morning?”
The officers shook their heads in unison “we’re sorry but it’s important.”
Nodding acceptance Matt led the men to Ian’s room. He smiled at Payson for her foresight to wake Ian while he dealt with the officers. The men exchanged stunned glances that Matt understood to mean they weren’t prepared for Ian’s condition. “My brother was one of the injured firemen.” They nodded accepting the new information and their manner changed.
“We apologize for intruding” they began.
Ian waved off their well wished looking small and frail among the larger more fit men crowded into his room. “How can I help you?” he asked confused why they were there.
“Well sir,” the younger officer began giving his partner a sideways glance before continuing “we regret to inform you that your wife has been taken to hospital….”
“Was she in an accident?” Ian asked leaning forward.
“No sir” the officer continued looking towards his partner in an obvious attempt to have him take over.
Taking the hint the older man continued “she was assaulted by John Lewis.”
Ian laid his head in his hands feeling light headed and dizzy. “What about my daughter?” he asked “is she alright?”
The officer opened his mouth to speak when the shrill cry of a little girl filled the house “daddy” she cried flinging herself into his arms “I’m so sorry daddy” she cried as his arms wrapped around her “I love you and missed you. Please please forgive me.”
A man with glasses came racing into the room squirming under the combined glares of the officers. “I tried to keep her in the care. When she woke and saw where she was I couldn’t stop her. I’m sorry.”
Matt stood to the side watching father and daughter reunite after months of separation. Hearing Kara’s please for forgiveness brought fresh tears to his eyes. His anger boiled over for the person responsible for all of this. He felt Payson slip her arms around him.
Looking up she whispered “the officers want to talk to us.” Nodding he followed them from the room. They gathered in the kitchen around the table. Matt asked “why was Celia at John’s?”
“According to the little girl she was there for her, to take her home.” The older officer stated “why did Mr Lewis have the little girl?”
“Long story short he’s Kara’s biological father. He sued for custody when Ian was in the hospital in a coma. John won and took Kara to live with him,” Matt explained.
The officer’s lips thinned “whoever the judge was should be shot. The conditions of that house were deplorable.” The man hesitated before continuing “according to the little girl he’s the arsonist responsible for setting the fire that injured your brother and several other firemen the resulted in the death of two others.”
“Is he in custody?” Matt asked “is my brother and daughter in any danger?”
“They could be” the younger officer stated “John was able to allude arrest. We have an all points bulletin out for his arrest…”
“Daddy” Kara said looking up at him fingers lightly touching his cheek “I’m sorry for thinking John could be better than you. He never loved me. He only wanted me because it would hurt you.”
“It’s ok baby” he murmured “it’s not your fault.”
“You don’t hate me?” she asked fingering his scar “I would if I were you.”
“I could never hate you,” he kissed her cheek “you were lost and confused. I wanted to hold you and tell you everything would be ok but I didn’t get the chance.”
“I know I’m sorry,” she held his face in her small hands “John did that to you.” She caressed this scarred face “I was too busy feeling sorry for myself I couldn’t see it was hurting you. Katrina tole me that mama never told you what she told me. All the time I was mad at you I should have been mad at her. I’m sorry.” She gently kissed his cheek.
Ian wanted to tell her not to touch him. Not to inspect the damage to his face. When she kissed him he flinched unable to take it anymore. “Don’t” he cried turning his face away.
“What’s wrong daddy?” she asked confusion thick in her voice.
Sighing Ian turned back to face her “I’m sorry baby doll. I just don’t like being looked at anymore.”
Frowning “why?” she asked.
“I’m hideous…a…a…monster” he stammered. Her laughter in response to his statement shocked him.
“Don’t be silly daddy” she put her arms around his neck “you look different but your no monster. Whoever gave you that idea?”
“I don’t know baby doll but I feel better now.” He squeezed her tight. It felt good to feel her snuggled into him like he could protect her from anything. It was time he realized to stop feeling sorry for himself his kids needed him.