Chapter 98: Banging on a Drum

Given the circumstances, the university gave me no problems when I wanted to withdraw mid-semester. The circumstances being, of course, that I was stalked by reporters from every major news or sports publication or television network, as well as by a psychotic… someone. It had calmed down slightly a week after the arrests had been made public—the arrests of James Allan Marshall and Sean Michael Hillander. Marshall was the one who took me, and Hillander…

Sean Michael Hillander, age 23, was facing life in prison for kidnapping, aggravated assault, and attempted murder. Colby, Dalton, and Daxton all got significant pleasure from thinking of how popular he would be in prison. It would have been a nice thought, if I didn't know he wouldn't last long enough to suffer enough to make it okay with me. See, I'd heard some things, read some things, and… Colby's football numbers had suffered, and games were not played well, and Daxton had lost a huge fight, and Dalton had played terribly, and…

And gamblers had some significant pull in prison, and they were pissed and well, really, when you're already in prison for life, how much do you really care if you get in trouble or killing someone else? It sort of didn't make sense, but there had been a report, an opinion really, that had been published in an online sports blog-type service. The author's premise was that I was the direct cause of losses in money gambled on games played by Dalton and Colby and fights with Daxton. He used actual numbers of potential money losses, which is literally never done in real news, and he used statistically-analysed data linking their "bad" games with events in the Fisher Bradley saga. It was impressive, really. So, Sean Hillander would be lucky to make the 25 year mark.

But the biggest problem for me was that neither Hillander nor Marshall had been able, or willing, to tell the police where the third guy was. And, for me personally, that was… terrible. Scary. Horrifying. Debilitating. Maybe I should have been thankful that the two men responsible for trying to kill me were going to prison, but… the rest was worse. The parts that still gave me nightmares—those weren't done by either of the men who'd been caught.

The good news, I guess, was that the "other" stuff had stopped. No more stalker flowers, no more letters or threats or breaking into our house. Of course, we'd moved out of the condo. I'd been worried that we'd have trouble selling it, with everything that had happened, but it turns out, people are assholes. We sold it within a week to a "fan" who thought it would be worth more money after Colby was drafted.

The draft.

We'd gotten caught up in… well, in the fucked-up-ness of our life. And the NFL draft came quicker than expected. The calls from reporters got more persistent, and they were trying every angle they could find about it. Colby was on the page of multiple magazines and several home pages. I was dreading the attention, but when we got to New York, it actually felt okay. It was ordered chaos, but even as I was constantly with Colby, the attention was focused solely on his abilities as a football player.

And he was happy.

So I was happy.

For that week, life was the way it used to be, before I became the focus of a group of crazies, before my dog was murdered, before I feel apart. For that week, I was exquisitely happy to be with the man of my dreams, watching him bask in the glory that he'd worked so hard for.

Then when he was drafted, he surprisingly went second, not first. Almost everyone was stunned, but he was just so happy to be given the chance to get paid to play the game he loved. And San Diego… well, it's a beautiful place to live, that's for sure.

"You look so happy." It came out as a sigh, a contented lazy satisfied sigh.

Colby's head lolled toward me, his face a permanent (ish) smile. "I am happy. This day ranks in the top 5 best days of my life, hands down. And this…" He motioned between us with his hand. "I've missed this. So much."

"I'm sorry, I—"

"No, stop. Don't. Don't apologize. It wasn't meant to be an attack. I'm not disappointed or unhappy with you in any way Fish. I'm in love with you. And our real life has turned into an awful cross between a horror movie and a Law&Order marathon. But here, right now, somehow we've managed to leave all that shit at the door, and I wish we could just stay here like this forever." His hand was tracing mindless patterns on my thigh and I shivered. He smirked.

"I love you."

He smiled his perfect movie-star smile, but his smile faded a bit and he wrinkled his forehead. It would have been adorable, if I wasn't afraid of what he was about to say. "I love you too Fisher. With my whole heart. But about San Diego…"

"Are you disappointed? I know you were expecting to go to Dallas."

"No, I'm not disappointed at all. Dallas would have been good for us, for a lot of reasons, but I'll get more play time in San Diego. I could start. I'll probably start. But I was talking about San Diego itself."

"What about it?"

"It's pretty far away. From home, I mean." He was staring intently at me, gauging my reaction. It took me a moment.

"I'd pack my shit today and tell everyone with a text." And I would, in a heartbeat. "In fact, with that ridiculous bonus you're getting, I'd be willing to leave all my shit and let you just buy me a whole new life." I hadn't meant to sound so melancholy.

"Come'ere Fish." He opened his arms to me and I squirmed around from being laying perpendicular with my legs across his to cuddle into his side. "This is a good thing for us, I think."

I sighed. "I hope so."

We talked a little more about living in San Diego. Then he nibbled on my ear and my neck and words started being less and less important. We stayed in New York for a few more days before going back home, back to the chaos.

What we got back to was a whole other version of hell.

"Now Fisher, don't freak out…" My mom cajoled, her arms up in a way similar to what one would do to a frightened feral animal.

I glanced over at Colby, assuming he'd be as shocked as I was by the presence of so many people in our house. I hadn't seen anyone's car, so they must have hidden them, but for the life of me I couldn't understand why. But clearly Colby expected them. I scowled.

"Don't be mad, baby." He was exhausted from our trip, but I was too baffled to have any concerns for Colby's fatigue.

"What in hell is going on here?" I wasn't mad. I wasn't freaking out. I was… confused. I looked around at the people gathered in our house, and it was like a Who's Who of my life. When my eyes fell on Daxton, my face broke into a huge smile. But his worried expression made the smile fade. "Dax?"

Next to Dax was Beth, who looked very tired and pale. Mom was there. Colby's parents Bruce and Sophie. My Dad was even there. Several of Colby's friends that had become my friends. Dalton. Gavin and…. "Oh God." I gasped and Colby grabbed my shoulders. I mentally shrugged him off, but physically stood frozen. It took a moment for my breath to calm enough for me to speak again. "Get out. Get it out. Get it out! OUT! OUT! OUT!"

"Fisher…" Gavin clearly didn't know what to say, so she stopped and buried her face in the fur of the puppy wriggling in her arms.

"I told you all this was a bad fucking idea! Look at her!" Dalton pushed his way through the group to yank me against him. "It's okay baby. Don't be upset." He crooned in my ear.

"What's going on?" I whispered into his chest and he hugged me tighter.

"What's going on, Sister, is they think you're falling to shit, so they've decided to host an intervention. You were supposed to bring the dip." Beth deadpanned. Mom shot her a dirty look, but it made me smile, a little. I pulled away from Dalton to face the group.

"I'm not falling to shit. I don't need an intervention. Why exactly do you think I'm not okay? Just because a psycho had me kidnapped and raped me repeatedly, then broke into my house and killed my dog while I was fighting with Colby at a baseball game?" Hysteria set in and I didn't even attempt to calm down. "I don't need an intervention. What I need is to be left alone. I need you to get that fucking dog out of my house. I need to take a shower and unpack from our trip... or maybe I just need to pack and fucking move. There's a thought." I paused, actually thinking about the logistics.

"Fisher, honey…"

I glared at my dad and she snapped his mouth shut. "I am going to take a shower. And when I come back, anyone that is still in this house will have to deal with the consequences. I know you all came here because you love me and you think this is what I need, and maybe you're right, but I'm not ready to deal with this or any of you. Now, please… get the fuck out of my house!"

I slammed the bathroom door behind me, after slamming our bedroom door. They were still chattering and from what I could tell from behind 2 doors, they weren't having a pleasant conversation. Fuck 'em. I just couldn't give a fuck about hurting their feelings. And that dog! What the fuck were they thinking!

After taking a very long, very hot shower, I walked into the living room with a scowl, wearing only a towel. I considered going out naked, but I probably would have died of mortification if one of them happened to not take my at my word. I needn't have worried, apparently, because the only person left was Colby.

"I'm sorry." He actually looked really sorry, and I was about to tell him it was okay, til I saw…

"What the fuck is that still doing here?" I pointed at the sleeping puppy curled in Colby's lap.

"Gavin said to tell you, and I quote, 'If she doesn't want the damn dog then she can take it back to the shelter herself!' She seems to think that seeing the conditions there…"

"Well after you take that thing somewhere, can you pick up some Chinese?"

"I'm not taking this puppy anywhere. If you want it gone, then you can take it somewhere." So that was how it was going to be. They thought they'd force me to love it. Fuck them.

"Fine. You want to keep it? Keep it. But it's all on you. You get to take care of it. Feed it, house-break it, walk it, take it to the vet, schedule your fucking life around it. I'm not doing shit for that thing, and I'm not going to help you with it either."

"You're being such a selfish bitch lately." He spoke under his breath, but with fervor. I'm not sure he wanted me to hear it, but he really felt it. A smartass retort sprang to my tongue, but I gritted my teeth and went back to our room, slamming the door behind me.

AN: This story has been a labo of love, for what feels like forever. Some of it is poorly written, and there are things I'd definitely change if I were to try to publish this in any way. But I'm attached to these characters, and I hope you readers enjoy this. Your comments and criticisms and suggestions are always greatly appreciated. Even if I don't go with the ideas you share, it helps me know how I'm doing as a writer. Thanks so much for your time and support!