Rise From the Fall
What I write and release to the world can tend to have an edge of darkness to it. Sometimes, it’s just dark, period.
That can weigh on you as you write. Skids took a couple of years to write because it took me to places I didn’t want to go to. But it was needed.
In between those darker items, I write things that are a bit lighter. Don’t get me wrong, there is always an edge to it. We write what we know. I lived a lot of my life on the fringe. It’s what I know best.
This attempt has been fun and took some unexpected turns. At its core, I wanted to combine things that are most important to me: music, family, love, redemption, and faith in various forms.
My hope is to have this finished in the next couple of months. Putting it here helps ensure that.
I won’t get into the plot here. I’m just going to give the opening chapter.
You might be asking why I’m not putting the plot here. It’s because I haven’t finished it. It already went places I didn’t expect, so I don’t know what will change from what I think to what I actually write.
This is the raw, unedited version. Please, be understanding of that if you read through it.
I wasn’t expecting it when she walked back into my life.
Like most days I was in the south corner chair of the local Starbucks. I liked this chair and almost always came early enough to be sure to get it. On the few instances it was taken unexpectedly I had a backup, but this was my preferred seat.
It gave me a vantage point to see the front door, the back door through the employee area of the store, the bathrooms and was next to the front window so I could see the parking lot. It also had a partial solid corner to my back, that was important.
I saw her as she made her way up the stairs. As soon as her heel hit the first step I was back in that moment where it had ended.
We’d been living together for about a month and admittedly we moved too quickly with that decision having only dated five months, but it was done. The night started out normal enough; she got home from work, I made dinner and after finishing we cleaned up, brought our bottle of wine and sat on the couch. She reached over, grabbed the remote and turned the television on. I often wondered where things would be if she had turned on music like we normally did instead of the movie that started the fight.
The movie had Angelina Jolie in it but with blonde hair, not dissimilar from Shannon’s though I liked Shannon’s more. It was thick, wavy and felt good to run your fingers through. Not even thinking about it I said “She looks better with dark hair.”
I looked back down at the email on my phone and then her legs moved from on top of my lap, the air seemed to drop 20 degrees and I looked over in enough time to see the tear running down her cheek and the hand flying towards my face.
I pulled my head back against the couch and her hand whipped by in a blur but the other hand caught me square on the nose and my eyes teared up. Instinctively I put up my right arm to block the next blow, rolled away from her and jumped up off the couch.
I looked at her wondering what the hell was going on when she moved faster than I’d ever seen her move and lunged at me. All the while calling me a series of cuss words I hadn’t heard put together since my time with the Teams.
I caught her in mid lunge, grabbed her left arm, side stepped with it and twisted her body into mine and put her in a bear hug. I thought this would calm her down but it seemed to piss her off more.
I managed to get the words “What the hell did…” out before her teeth sank into my shoulder. I felt the pressure but wasn’t too worried because the sweatshirt I had on was thick. A little pain I could deal with. She must have figured that out because she let go of that bite and went for my neck. I spun her away from me when I felt blood start to run down my collarbone and she fell to the floor in a heap of beauty, pain and tears.
I reached up touching the scar from where her teeth had torn into my flesh.
Her voice brought me out of the memory, “I wondered if you’d be here.”
She was as beautiful as ever. Her hair up but still long enough to fall over her shoulders all while exposing the smooth skin of her long neck, a light touch of green eyeshadow framed her sapphire blue eyes and light red lipstick accentuated her lips. She took a step closer and I inhaled my favorite perfume; Escape. She’d prepared herself in all my favorite ways. I couldn’t imagine it was a coincidence.
“Been here almost every morning for four years. Not hard to figure I’d be here.”
“You weren’t here yesterday.” She replied. Her voice as melodic as I remembered. Sometimes I thought it was my mind playing up the things I thought I loved in her. But it wasn’t.
“Yesterday was one of the almosts.”
“I’m going to get a drink,” she said and then hesitated “then can we talk for a few?”
“Free country and a free chair.” I answered while nodding to the empty seat across from me.
She set the larger of her two bags on the chair then went and ordered her usual Peppermint Mocha Latte.
I watched out of the corner of my eye as she placed her order and the Barista, Courtney, looked over at me looking for an answer to the same question I had. Why is she here?
I looked at Courtney and shrugged my shoulders. She scowled and turned from Shannon as she was trying to give her a tip. Shannon put the money on the counter and stepped into the line waiting for their drinks.
I could tell she was uncomfortable. This place was like a second home for me and most of the staff and I were close acquaintances if not friends. And they knew how things had ended with Shannon.
As she waited for her drink I went back to that night.
She was on the floor crying and I was standing there dumbfounded trying to figure out why I was bleeding and she was crying. I slowly walked towards her and knelt down.
“Um, what just happened?” I asked her.
“You said she was prettier than me,” she said between sobs.
I looked at her confused and then turned towards the TV where the blonde haired Angelina was climbing out a window.
I put my hand on her shoulder hoping she’d look at me. “No, I didn’t.”
She pushed my hand away, began to stand and turn away from me. “Well it’s what you meant. Go find her if that’s what you want. You’re as bad as he was. Asshole.”
She stomped down the hall and closed the door to the bedroom. I could hear her crying as I stood outside of it. The “He” was her ex. A guy I learned had abused her regularly and was now in prison for beating one of the women he cheated on her with. She’d spent a week in the hospital, he got 3 years in prison.
When she went into that place where he was on her mind there wasn’t anything I could do. I’d tried before and it never worked. So instead of trying to do it again I decided I’d let her cry herself to sleep then when she had I’d get into the bed with her, she’d apologize, I’d tell her it was okay and the next morning it would be like it hadn’t happened.
I walked away from the bedroom door, went in and turned off the TV then made my way to the bedroom that acted as my office but was more of a store room for things she’d collected over the years but didn’t have a place to put.
I turned on my laptop, opened the email I had been reading when the latest episode hit, opened the attachment and hit the print button.
The printer beeped at me letting me know it was out of paper. I went to the closet and pulled down a box of paper I had stored there and a bundle of letters came down with it.
I looked down at the letters and saw what was clearly a man’s handwriting. I was about to put them back up in the closet, feeling like I was about to intrude on a private moment I wasn’t invited to, when I saw the letter on top was dated five days ago and started off with “To the woman of my dreams.”
I knew before I opened the letter that he had written it. I skimmed through the promises of how he changed, and he couldn’t wait for them to be together. Then he asked Shannon if she had left me yet or was going to keep my money around till he was closer to being released. He would understand if she did. “How nice of him,” I thought.
I set the letter down and even though I knew I shouldn’t I looked through the rest. They were full of professions of love, describing how he had changed and would never hurt her again, how he couldn’t live without her.
After skimming through the 28 letters I noticed they started a month after she and I had started dating.
I’d seen her writing letters but she always said it was to a friend. Seeing the responses he had to obvious questions she asked it was more than a friend answering so I assumed it was more than a friend asking.
I got up off the floor I hadn’t realized I was sitting on and went to the bedroom. I stopped outside it and heard her breathing evenly so I opened the door slowly.
“I’m sorry,” she said through the darkness.
It was like a punch to the gut as I stretched out on the bed. I had intended to confront her but hearing her voice made me decide to let her get at least a good night sleep before this all came out.
She rolled and put her head on my chest. Her breathing evened out again and after an hour I rolled her gently to her side and sat up. My eyes had never closed so they were well adjusted to the darkness. Looking around the room I took inventory of what I had in there. Clothes, shoes, a few books, headphones and a tablet. It was over, I knew that, so I decided to let it go without the fight that would be coming.
I stood then moved around as the Army had taught me, quiet but with purpose. Most days I walked louder than was natural for me because I found most people were disturbed when they couldn’t hear the person walking in front of, beside or behind them. That night was different.
I packed the things I wanted into a single suitcase, put my laptop in my back pack, dropped the letters on the pillow my head would normally be resting on, grabbed my guitar and walked out the door locking it behind me then sliding the key under the door.
She came back and took the seat across from me after setting her bag down beside it. She sat in silence as I looked her over. She was dressed in a blue Armani skirt that stopped just above her knees, a black Tom Ford belt accented the skirt and the Armani emerald green, sleeveless top she had tucked into it, small silver hoop earrings matched the silver chain around her neck that I’d bought her in Mexico and then finished with a pair of open toed Bruno Magli shoes with three inch heels. Everything she was wearing I had bought her.
Not a bad tactic I thought to myself as I looked back down at my laptop. I read the same line four times, not able to hold my concentration.
“Why weren’t you here yesterday?” she asked trying to break the awkward silence between us.
“Same reason I wasn’t here the last five days, I was gone.”
She took in my detached tone and settled back in her seat. “Where’d you go?”
I closed the laptop and set it on the table beside me and picked up my drink. “Nashville,” I answered while staring at her.
She shifted in her seat uncomfortable with the attention suddenly. I could see the team behind the counter huddled together, whispering and looking at us. I could also see the men in the store trying to casually look at Shannon but failing not to stare so I turned and looked each of them in the eye until they looked away.
She seemed to notice this and smiled. “You go there to write?”
“It’s what I do. What do you need, Shannon?” The question was tinged with more anger than I realized I was holding onto but seeing her here, in my place, was bringing out emotions that I’d done my best to push back.
She let the anger roll past her, took a sip of her coffee and looked at me for a count of 10 before speaking. “I wanted to say thank you for your help.”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” I lied.
She crossed her legs and began to wrap a loose strand of hair around her finger. “So you’re saying it wasn’t you?”
“Why don’t you tell me what you’re talking about and then I can tell you.”
“Four months ago, parking lot at the Rio. We were leaving Voodoo, he was drunk and hit me, I was knocked out then he was on the ground knocked out, bleeding with a dislocated shoulder and the cops were there right after to arrest him.”
The night she was talking about wasn’t a full four months ago but a week shy.
I was at my new house in Henderson, a suburb of Las Vegas, Nevada, when I got a text from her friend, Jamie.
Jamie: Mark I know I shouldn’t tell you but we’re at Voodoo and Shannon’s BF is drunk as hell and I know it’s gonna get bad. She needs your help.
Me: Not my problem, Jamie. Call the cops.
Jamie: Mark please. It’s not the first time since he got out but he’s worse now.
I didn’t reply because I was already on my feet changing into clothes that would let me blend into what those in the club would be wearing.
I pulled into the self-parking lot at the Rio. I parked 15 spaces away from Shannon’s car. I pulled my hat down so the cameras couldn’t make me out and made my way inside the Casino. I was walking past the shops when I heard a man yelling at someone to mind their own business then I saw Jamie come flying past a pillar and land hard against the railing.
I ducked into one the shops, took out a burner phone, called the cops and described the now out of prison boyfriend, the car they’d be near by the time the cops got here, Shannon and added in I saw the man take a knife out of his pocket. The last part was a lie but they didn’t need to know that. It’d be there when they arrived.
I hit end on the call, took out the sim card, tossed it in the trash can nearest me and the phone in the next trash can I saw. I’d help but I didn’t need to be involved when the cops got there.
Jamie was following them yelling that she was going to call the cops. She pulled out her phone and the boyfriend rushed at her, took the phone and threw it against the wall where it shattered. Jamie took off in the opposite direction probably looking for a security guard. That was best, I didn’t need anyone seeing me that could identify me.
I followed them to the parking garage and had a hard time not acting while he was pushing then dragging Shannon with him. When they got to the car I knew it would get worse but I had to let it begin, if she didn’t have a noticeable bruise the cops wouldn’t be able to do anything without her pressing charges. If she had a bruise they could get the video and put him back in prison.
As they got to the car Shannon started to push back like I knew she would. Her submissive side had limits and I knew he was reaching them. When he cocked his arm back and made a fist I had to wait even though it went against everything I stood for. A second later his fist connected with her cheek and she fell.
I moved up behind him when he reached back to prepare for the second hit. I grabbed his wrist, kicked his right leg behind the knee and pushed him forward toward the car while pulling the wrist back. The snapping sound of his shoulder being dislocated followed by the scream let me know he wouldn’t hit her with that arm again, his head hitting the car and the moan as he fell to the ground let me know he wouldn’t hit her again that night.
Shannon was unconscious from the blow. I checked and she was breathing and had a strong pulse. I took the knife from my pocket, wiped it down, threw it on the ground next to him then walked quickly to my car, pulled out and went out of the parking lot and was turning onto Flamingo when I saw two police cars turn into the self-parking garage. The police blotter would later verify they’d arrested the boyfriend and later that month he was back in prison for parole violation.
“Sounds like he got what he deserved, Shannon. You should choose who you date more wisely.”
She sighed deeply and I could tell the last statement hurt her a little. “Jamie told me she texted you that night.”
“Oh, that night,” I tried to fake remembering something I had almost forgotten. “I told her to call the cops. Sounds like she did. I’m glad.”
She took another drink of her coffee and looked at me without talking for what felt like 10 minutes. “He broke her phone when she tried. Cops said the call came from a prepaid cell a few minutes before he ever hit me. When they looked at the cameras they couldn’t see the man that stopped him because he was wearing a hat and seemed to know how to avoid cameras. They said he obviously knew what he was doing.”
“Sounds like someone saw what was going on and did what they could to help. If he didn’t stick around there’s probably a reason. Just be thankful.”
“I am thankful, that’s why I’m here,” she said.
“Don’t thank me. I was home alone.”
She let out a breath and leaned forward. “I’m not going to force you to admit it was you. I saw the video. I know it was, you know I know it was and that’s good enough. I’m here to say thank you and ask a question.”
I looked away, not able to hold her stare any longer. “Well you said thanks so what’s the question?”
She sat back in her chair, comfortable again. “Jake Landry’s coming to town.”
Looking back at her I said, “That’s a statement not a question but yes, I know. He is a friend of mine after all.”
“I know that. I got tickets and want to take you to the show. Will you go with me?”
“I got tickets but thanks. Take Jamie, she likes him.”
“You got tickets that are far away from the stage. You always do.” She said knowingly.
“I go –“
“You go for the music, not to have your friends make a big deal of you being there. I know. But you wrote his last 4 singles and each have gone top 10 and the last song was number 1. It’s his first headlining tour and you should be where he can see you support him. And I want to take you is that so bad?”
“Jake doesn’t need my support. He’s where he wants to be and doing what he wants to do. It’s not like I won’t see him, he’s staying at my house. Besides, if you didn’t remember, you and I aren’t together anymore. You chose that guy over us.”
“Jason,” she added quietly.
“I know his damn name, Shannon. Kinda hard to forget. So what you think we can go back to where we were now that he’s back inside? It doesn’t work that way.” I put my laptop in my backpack, the same one I had when she and I parted ways and began to stand.
“Mark, please. Don’t leave.” She asked. The break in her voice made me look down at her. Tears were cutting paths down her face outlined by the mascara they were running through.
“I have to be the world’s biggest idiot,” I mumbled as I pulled out a handkerchief and handed it to her as I sat back down.
I sat watching her compose herself and resisted the urge to go to her and take her in my arms. I was still in love with her. I wouldn’t tell her that but It wasn’t something you could just turn off and it had only been 8 months since we split. And I don’t love easy. I guess its even harder for me to fall out of it.
“Sorry about that,” she said as she handed the handkerchief back to me. “You’re still the only man I know that carries one of those.”
“I hear that a lot. So what’s really going on, Shannon? I can’t believe you came here thinking I’d just be open to going out to a show or sitting here catching up like we’re old friends who haven’t seen each other in a while.”
She took a deep breath, exhaled slowly and matched my stare. “We were friends weren’t we?”
I didn’t mean to but I rolled my eyes as I sat back in my chair. “We were friends and more until I learned that you’d spent months cheating on me with a prick who’d kill you without a second thought. I loved you. I opened myself up to you like I hadn’t done with anyone else and you chose to take it and use me. When that happened you weren’t anything to me anymore.”
More tears formed in her eyes and I instantly regretted the last part of what I’d said. It wasn’t true but I was still mad and hurt. I took the handkerchief back out and gave it to her.
“Nothing happened with him while I was with you.” She tried to argue while dabbing her eyes.
A stifled laugh came out of me. I could feel my stare turning cold and my mind turning my emotions off. It was a byproduct of my past life that I didn’t like but happened, nonetheless. “You know when you and Jamie graduated nursing school and you two talked about never having a ‘girl’s getaway’, so I bought you guys tickets and got you a suite to the resort in Cabo?”
“Of course I do; it was one of the nicest things anyone has ever done for me. And for Jamie.”
“Well it would have been easier if you’d have just gotten drunk then slept with some guy there and came back and told me about it. Don’t get me wrong it would have sucked and I’d have been pissed but we would have had a chance. Instead you carried on an emotional relationship, an affair, with a guy who damn near ruined your life the first time. You were with him in every way possible other than physical. You used me so you wouldn’t be alone until he got out. God knows you aren’t good at alone. So excuse me if my first instinct when you come walking in here making small talk, thanking me for him getting his ass kicked and asking to take me to a concert is to tell you to fuck off.”
She sighed and said “I was kinda surprised that wasn’t the first thing you said when I asked if we could talk.”
“It crossed my mind,” I told her coldly.
She looked out the window and I could tell she was trying to figure out what to say next. “I know what I did wasn’t right but I hadn’t decided to leave you for him. He liked living in his own world but I also know when I started writing him back that it only helped him hold onto that fantasy. And he always had a strange hold on me.”
“You said you loved me,” I growled.
“I did. I do.”
“In my world when you love someone you don’t do those kinds of things. It’s the exact opposite of what you’d do.”
“I know. I’ve learned that, and I shouldn’t have done that. I’m seeing a therapist and it turns out a lot of abuse victims do the same thing. It’s something the abuser counts on. She’s helped me come to terms with a lot of things and with that I want to tell you I’m sorry as well as thanking you. As bad as he was that night I think he may have killed me if he wasn’t stopped.”
I sat in silence as she let this all out.
“I hurt a lot of people when I was with him. They all forgave me for whatever reason but they all also told me how much of an idiot I was for letting you go. I tried to tell them and myself that you walked out. That I didn’t even get a chance to talk to you about it but it isn’t the whole truth.
When I woke up that morning and saw the letters I knew I lost you and you were right. I wouldn’t admit that to anyone else and usually lied to myself but deep down, I knew. It gave me the excuse to take him back after he made parole even though I knew he didn’t change in prison. You can’t rehabilitate someone like that.”
“It sounds like you’ve got a good therapist,” I told her.
“I do, she’s great. I told her I was going to come talk to you.”
“What’d she think of that?” I asked her, honestly curious.
“She warned me that you might not want to talk to me. That it could end up hurting a lot but that it was a good step to take if I wanted to own everything that got me to where I am.”
The awkward silence came back and I knew she was waiting for me to say something. She’d gotten a lot better at silence than she was before.
“Well if it makes any difference I forgave you a while back,” I admitted.
“It makes a huge difference, so, thank you for that,” she said still looking out the window but wiping away the newly formed tear.
“So the concert,” I said in an effort to bring the talk back to something more positive.
She looked at me and I could tell she’d almost forgot about it with everything else she had just told me about. “Yeah, the concert. If you have a girlfriend or something I can give you the tickets but I’d really like it, if you aren’t with someone else, if I could take you,” her eyes weren’t begging but there was a noticeable desperation in them. It was like she needed me to do this more than wanted me to.
“Fine, we can go,” I told her.
She looked at me with a bit of surprise. “So, you aren’t with anyone?”
I looked at my watch then answered, “Nothings stuck. I have a call in an hour so I need to go but the show is tonight and I’m planning on getting there early for sound check so give me a call later and we can figure out logistics.”
She picked up her bags then stood and I did the same. She walked around the table, put her hand on my shoulder, kissed me on the cheek and let her hand linger a bit longer than most people would before saying “Thank you, Mark. I really mean it.”
“No problem. Call me later,” I told her and began walking towards the door. I looked back quickly as I opened the door and she was watching me. She smiled then turned towards the bathroom and walked to them.
I walked to my Jeep cursing myself the entire way. I’d told myself repeatedly if something like this ever happened, I would tell her off and walk away.
Damnit, why couldn’t I be like most of the world that lived in and out of each relationship without worrying what the other person thought. Much less actually loving them.
I put the key in the ignition but couldn’t turn it. I saw her car and wouldn’t be able to leave until she’d gotten into the car safely and pulled away.
A few minutes later she walked out and looked directly at me. She smiled, waved and showed me that she had her keys in her hands like I’d taught her.
She opened her car door, then turned back toward me and looked at me for a long beat. She smiled shyly, got in her car, and backed out of her parking space.
I pulled out behind her like I’d done many times in the past. At Eastern, she turned left while I turned right.
This was going to be a long night.