This is Not Chapter 13.
Hayden stepped a bit in front of me and extended his arm as if creating an imaginary forcefield between my stepfather and me. For some reason, I felt like that forcefield was real, and I felt wholly protected with Hayden around to guard me, even if I was still feeling a little unsure of his intentions. I hold him by the arm and he lets me without question.
"Ellie, Sweetheart," Carl said, taking brave steps over to me. "Your Grandma tells us you ran off with some strange guy to Paris, and of course you can see we've been just worried sick about you. Who is this bozo?"
I got shivers down my spine at his voice, and I look up at Hayden. His eyes are narrowed, and I'm inwardly praying for him to speak up so I don't have to. He doesn't disappoint.
"Sir, I'm not a stranger, I'm Elle's boyfriend."
Carl seemed surprised at this, but I noticed my mom only looked fearful. She always looked afraid. Afraid of speaking up for me, afraid of upsetting Carl. If she ever felt sorry for me, or that she knew what was happening was wrong, she never showed it to me. Now was no exception. Her only focus was on her husband.
"That so?" Carl sneered, his face going suddenly serious. "Well, I'm her father and I say you need to go back where you came from, pal, unless you want another shiner there to match the one you already got."
I felt Hayden's arm tense. I look down and realize he's balling up his hand into a fist. I stroke it to try and relax him.
"Carl," my Gramma spoke up. "I've had dinner with Hayden, he's a nice boy…"
"Eleanor, stay out of this," Carl ordered.
"No, I won't!" Gramma countered, and my heart warmed at her loyalty. "You left her to me and I get to speak on her behalf too!"
Carl ignored her and turned towards my mother.
"Maggie, get Eleanor inside while I have a talk to our daughter."
"I won't go!" Gramma insisted, even stomping her foot a bit.
"ELEANOR!" Carl yelled, getting into my grandmother's face. "Ellie's father is dead, which means you have no blood relation to Maggie or myself, which means I won't have any qualms about knocking some sense into you, old bird, do you understand me? Now get your ass back in-"
"Don't talk to her like that!" Hayden commanded with authority.
"Hayden, I'm alright," Gramma put up a hand reassuringly. "But you should take Ellie and leave."
Hayden and my grandmother shared a split second look like they were having a conversation with their eyes. Carl started to step up towards Hayden, looking like he was sizing him up to fight him. Hayden's feet shifted, as if he was planting them into the ground better, and he lifted his chin up valiantly.
"Hayden, huh? You a pretty boy, ain't ya?" Carl scoffed at him. "You think you have some right to my daughter? You put your dirty hands on her yet?"
Hayden said nothing, just glared defiantly. Carl stepped up closer.
"You snuggle up to her, treat her real nice, tell her everything's alright… Now you think you get to talk to me?"
I was I got a disgusted feeling in my gut by what seemed to be shocked jealousy from Carl, as if he hadn't expected to ever have to contend with a boyfriend and didn't like the idea of someone else touching me. I felt another cold chill in my bones, and my throat seized tighter. As if someone was touching his toy he wasn't expecting to have to share.
"I said… Did get your nasty stink all up on my daughter yet? Huh? Have you?"
I couldn't stop Hayden's fist from clenching now, and my own hands shook through rattling nerves.
"I'll bet you never seen a fistfight in your life, have ya, Pretty Boy?"
"No one's been stupid enough to try," Hayden retorted. Carl gave a chuckle, but I could tell it was a nervous one, and for good reason. Hayden was a head taller than him, and obviously worked out on a regular basis, while Carl sported a beer gut and saggy arms. He must've known there was no contest, because he directed his attention to me next.
"Ellie, get over here," he commanded. "Come on, I ain't playing, get over here."
I cowered a bit behind Hayden, and Hayden grabbed my hand with his bravely.
"Elle, we should get going," Hayden whispered.
"Ellie!" Carl was shouting now. "Get over here right now!"
"She's not going anywhere with you!" Hayden shouted right back, then turned me around and herded me towards his roommate's Lamborghini, his hand furiously digging through his pocket for his keys. As he was distracted, Carl suddenly tried to pull me back by the arm, causing me to yell out in surprise and fear. I didn't even see Hayden move, but he was on him in a flash, hoisting his fists around his shirt collar in a split second's time, his knuckles white and shaking in rage. I heard my mom gasp. Carl's feet were barely on the floor, and I could almost see the angry adrenaline flowing through Hayden's veins, as if he was trying to hold back everything inside of himself from beating the man to a pulp.
"You…" Hayden growled, in a deep guttural tone I had never heard on him before. He shook Carl once for emphasis. "You don't touch her. You are very lucky, sir, that I don't feel like going back to jail today… You are very lucky, SIR, that she hasn't pressed charges on you yet and sent your sorry ass to prison too... But your days are numbered, you son of a bitch… Mark… My… Words… They are numbered."
Hayden shoved Carl away from himself in disgust, then steered me back towards the car again and didn't look back. I did. I just hoped my grandmother was going to be okay.
Hayden drove aggressively, and the Lamborghini roared in his ferocity. It made it rather tough for me to calm down from the situation we were just in, as I held the door rails for support.
"We're going to the police station, Elle," Hayden informed me, and I could see him trying to navigate a map on his phone's GPS. I lowered his hand, shaking my head.
"No, Hayden, please, don't," I argued, and he looked at me like I grew two more heads.
"Why not?! You need to press charges against that creep, Elle!"
"No, I don't want to!"
"But why?!" he shouted back. "Why are you going to let him get away with what he did to you?"
I saw him continue typing on his phone. I grabbed his phone away from him.
"I said no!" I asserted.
"Elle, give me back my phone!"
"Eyes on the road, please!"
"Elle, gimme my phone!"
"Not until you drive me back to your house."
"ELLE!" Hayden screamed, then banged his fist on his steering wheel. He turned suddenly in a screeching swerve to the side curb, jerking to a halt, and let it idle in park. He took a deep breath to calm himself. His hands were white knuckled again, and we were both panting through the excitement. He looked at me with squinting eyes as if searching me for answers.
"What, are you afraid of him? Because I can protect you, there are PEOPLE that can protect you, you know that, right?"
"No… Yes- but that's not the reason," I replied softly.
"Then what's the reason?"
"I just don't want to."
"That's not… it's not a reason."
"Yes, it is."
Hayden sighed and put his forehead on the top of the leather steering wheel, closing his eyes. I looked at him and frowned.
"Look… I don't want to explain myself to some strange police officer what happened to me, just to have him direct me to another police officer who will ask me to repeat everything I just said to the first one, only to make me spend money I don't have to lawyer up and then repeat everything again to said lawyer, who will then make me face Carl in court before a judge and his skeezy defense lawyer who will ask me all sorts of questions to make me sound like I'm making the whole thing up, only to have to recount the horrors one more time in front of a dozen more strangers to convince them of the terrible truth, on the off-chance that they may believe me and send Carl to jail, only to have him emerge in seven or so years later looking for revenge on me, or better yet him winning the case because it's only my word against his and wreaking his wrath on me a hell of a lot sooner, when I am just as happy to not say it out loud in the first place and admitting to everyone and myself that these horrible things ever happened to me. I just don't want to say it out loud in the first place."
I took a deep breath after that long run-on sentence. Hayden turned to look at me, head still on the steering wheel.
"That doesn't sound very healthy," he pointed out.
"My therapist says I have to handle things my way, in my own time, including this," I countered.
Hayden sat upright again gave out a huffy, audibly disgruntled sigh, his disagreement obvious but he knew he wasn't going to get anywhere today. He shifted the car back into 'drive' and made his way back onto the road. He grabbed my hand, and put it to his cheek, as if it was a soft blanket that was comforting him.
"It's a good thing we're going to Paris," Hayden sighed. "Now I need a vacation."
"Hayden…" I started, and I saw him frown again, putting my hand back down, as if already knowing where this was heading. "I just… I still need time to digest all of this... all of what you told me before."
Hayden nodded and focused hard on the road ahead.
We drove in silence for many blocks.
"Do you not want to go back to my place?" he asked considerately. "I can put you up in a hotel if you need to be alone."
I looked at him, and I looked close. I had a moment where I just knew in my heart that I could trust Hayden, and that it was my paranoid, unhinged brain that was telling me to leave it all behind at the first sign of trouble. I wasn't ready for a relationship of this kind… to be with a real person with flaws, when I had so many to sort through of my own. My mind's eye of Hayden, however unfair perspective, was attracted to his perfection, his togetherness, how easy it was to like him. I was disillusioned to see that he was a human being living in a human world, and that I would need to see him on the same mortal realm as myself. That he had been a victim of upbringing and circumstance just like myself.
It just wasn't something I was ready to come to terms with. However, being alone in a hotel tonight didn't seem appealing either. For some reason I also had it in my brain that I might be tracked down by Carl and I didn't want to be alone if that somehow happened.
"I'd like to stay with you," I decided. "But don't be offended if I want the couch today."
"Seems like a fair deal," Hayden agreed.
After the terrible day that Hayden and I had, we had a surprisingly wonderful night. We shared a bottle of Pinot Grigio and I watched him make alfredo sauce from scratch. After he found out I hadn't seen Atonement before, he insisted I watch it with him. I think watching other people fighting onscreen (as I'm sure he greatly wished he could have been able to against my stepfather earlier), was a calming outlet for him. Jared came home near the middle and watched it with us until it was over and time for bed.
Hayden gave me a down blanket and some soft pillows for the couch, even making it up with sheets to feign a real bed out of it. He stayed with me for a few minutes after I laid down, he sat on the floor closeby and held my hand, which was something that was started to be normal for me and not something I had to think twice about, which was a pleasant realization. I was making progress whether I could track it or not.
He put his temple on the arm of the couch, and we faced each other with fond smiles as he stroked my jawline and chin. All was quiet, and finally calm. I giggled, feeling guilty for the thousandth time for the bruise under his right eye.
"I'm sorry again for this," I moaned, gesturing to it.
"Yeah, my make-up lady is going to love it," he chuckled.
"Thank you for standing up for me today."
"Always." He scooted closer to me, and I felt his hand pressed against the small of my back to pull me towards himself. "I'm not what they say I am, and I have to hold onto that in myself before I can expect other people to, and I know that. I just hope you know how much I genuinely care about you."
I bit my lip at this, and leaned over to kiss him.
"I'm finally beginning to."
"Are we okay?" he asked sincerely.
"Are you okay?"
"I'm still a little upset, but not at you."
"I know. Me too."
"But you know what I think?"
"I think that we are like two army comrades that came out of the trenches together. I think that relationships are the strongest when you have gone through some trial by fire. I think we are two very resilient people, Elle, and I am proud of what we have."
I looked at him with the utmost of gratefulness, knowing these were the sweetest words I had ever heard someone say.
"I needed to hear that," I admitted. "Thank you for saying it."
He looked at me, searching my eyes as if expecting me to say something else.
"Goodnight, Hayden," I tried, but it didn't seem to be what he was hoping for. He replied the same and compliantly turned out the light.