No matter how often she tells herself it won't happen, the first thing Jenn sees in the mirror is a duck. She relaxes her pursed lips and tries to smile like a normal person. That was fine, but very quickly she finds herself making the kissy face again. She's not entirely sure why. Perhaps it was because it had been way too long since she had last kissed a man? A strand of hair hangs down the middle of her face. She blows it to the side as she ponders the question. How long had it been anyway? Three? Maybe four years now?
The realization is enough to wrinkle her brow. A moment of panic sets in. She relaxes her face and begins gently massaging her forehead. She has to be very careful. She was at the age now where wrinkles started to be permanent.
A small mountain of clothing is scattered on the bed behind her. Top after top is brought before the woman in the mirror. Each top is then matched against bottom after bottom. Like an archeologist searching for lost clues to a lost treasure, Jenn digs through the pile to find the exact right match for the occasion.
Fortune favours her and a top is selected, quickly followed by a bottom. She knows she possesses a total of three shoes that will accent that exact wardrobe combination. All three shoes are tried. Then tried again. Then tried again. The stilettos. For some reason, always the stilettos.
She runs a hand down her leg. The shoes were open toe, meaning she couldn't wear hosiery. Yes, still smooth. Naked legs would work for tonight.
She looks in the mirror again and scowls at the dirty blond rats nest atop her head. She says a silent prayer to the Universe that her worst enemy will lay down its arms and surrender. She pulls. She straightens. She teases. She spritzes. She pulls some more. Catastrophic failure. She starts over. She opts for tried and true. Limited success. Secret weapon time. Special occasion hair band. Catastrophic failure again. She re-washes the rats nest. Blow dry. Pony Tail. Perfect.
Jenn opens her big box of beauty. One of the preselected earrings taunts her from atop the pile. Apparently, there had been a fight, and the matching pair had stormed off somewhere. "Oh come on…" she whines. Digging through the shiny things is taking too long. Jenn makes a little volcano in Clothing Mountain and dumps the jewellery box. "There you are!" she exclaims and attaches the other dangling trinket to her ear. Her favorite necklace droops down into the dark recesses of her no-man's land.
She takes a deep breath and sits down in front of her dear friends - the ones that dutifully hide all the flaws and the years her face has endured. Colonel Primer leads the charge. She's flanked by her two Majors, Foundation and Concealer. Captain Bronzer and Lieutenant Blush finish off the last of the heavy lifting. Now the specialists make their way to the front of the table. Eyebrows are shaped and filled. Eyes are shadowed and lined. Mascara works its dark magic. Powder sets it in stone.
Jenn stands and slowly turns in front of the grand mirror. The large reflective surface is kind tonight, much to Jenn's relief. She smiles. The curves are present, and everything is holding together nicely.
A tiny voice speaks through her door. "Mommy? Can't I come?" The door pushes open a little and a pair of soft blue eyes stare up at her.
She ruffles her son's hair a little. "No. Mommy is meeting a grown-up friend. There wouldn't be anyone for you to play with."
"You could play with me," he persists.
"I play with you all day."
"No you don't."
She stoops down and hugs him. "Ben is coming over to watch you. You like Ben, remember?"
"No I don't," he pouts.
The doorbell rings. "Just a minute," Jenn calls out.
She turns her attention back to her son. "Now look, Dex, you be a good boy. I want to hear good things when I come home tonight. Understand?"
The little boy continues to stick his lip out, but nods his head.
"That's my little man," she says with a smile. She begins kissing his cheeks until he giggles.
The doorbell rings again. "Coming, coming."
Ben enters and smiles down at the little blond boy. "Hiya Dex," he says and holds the palm of his hand down toward him. A smile crosses Dex's face as he enthusiastically gives the large man his very best high five.
Jenn smiles and ruffles his wispy blond hair again. "Bed by seven. Remember. Both of you," she says and shoots Ben a look.
The man holds up his hands in surrender and smiles. "Last time was an accident. He couldn't go to bed without seeing if the coyote really was going to catch the roadrunner that time."
She narrows her eyes and shakes her head. The grin on her face negates any real impact though.
"You wanna play cars?" Dex asks?
"Yes. Yes I do," Ben nods.
"I got a new one from the burger place!" The little boy scampers into the next room.
Jenn meets Ben's eyes. "Seven," she repeats.
"Yes ma'am," he grins.
Jenn holds up her hand. A taxi comes to a stop and she enters. "The Empress Hotel, please," she says.
The taxi driver performs his task well. Fifteen minutes later, she tosses him a couple dollars and begins up the steps toward the front entrance. A stately looking doorman bows at her approach. "Miss Moxie," he state in an official tone. "You're expected."
"I know," she says with a little smile.
Two large men in business suites and dark glasses flank her as she walks down the lavishly decorated halls of the most expensive hotel in town.
Two more men in similar attire open the door to the state room at the end of the hall as she approaches. A slender man in an expensive looking navy suite sits casually in chair facing her. His grinning face is propped up by one hand, his elbow resting on one arm of the chair. His leg is flopped over the other.
"Hello, gorgeous," he purrs.
Jenn sighs and rolls her eyes. "Comfortable, are we, Mr. Dodger?"
"Richard," he whines in mock disappointment. He leaps from the chair with a smile. "Call me Richard."
"Mr. Dodger will be fine," she insists.
"Oh you!" he says and gives her a little slap on the behind.
Jenn stops and turns to the slender man with a disapproving look.
"What?" he asks and tries to look innocent. "I couldn't help myself. You look incredible tonight."
Try as she might, she isn't able to stop a smile from flashing across her face. "Thank you," she says with measured control. "And I'll also thank you to keep your hands to yourself. Forever."
He frowns a little as they walk into the next room together. "You wound me, Jenny. You wound me deep."
"Miss Moxie," she says correcting him and trying to look disinterested.
A twinkle returns to Richard's eye. "I'm serious though. You look like a million bucks tonight. Is it for him? Must be. You never get gussied up for me."
She chooses to ignore the question.
Another large man in a suit with dark glasses stands next to an enormous fireplace set against the far wall.
"Open'er up, Jack," Richard calls and motions to him.
The guard gives a silent nod and pushes a brink on the mantle. The gas fire log sinks into the floor with an audible hiss. A metal plate slides over the resulting hole. The back of the fireplace opens.
"Thank you, Jack," Jenn says with a smile.
A hint of a grin spreads across his otherwise stoic face.
The pair enter a dimly lit stone passage. A gas torch flickers every twenty feet or so.
"Careful here, Jenny. The stairs just kind of come out of…" Richard's foot finds nothing but air and he stumbles forward. Jenn catches him and pulls him back from a nasty fall.
"Miss Moxie," she corrects him again. "And don't worry. I've been down here many times."
"Uh… right. Sorry," he says as he tries to regain his composure.
They carefully make their way to the bottom of the stone staircase, which opens up into a large underground cavern. The lavishness of the hotel has given way to minimalistic metal and rock adorned by the occasional bare electrical bulb.
Another woman approaches the pair. She too is dressed very well.
"Hiya Richie," she purrs with a little smile.
He swallows hard and gives her a little nod. "Susan."
"Hi Sue," Jenn says and manages her best fake smile. She is ignored.
"Call me Suzie, Richie," she says quietly and gives him the doe-eyes.
"Is he ready for me?" Jenn asks, a hint of annoyance in her voice.
"Yeah. How about you go in right now," Sue replies flatly without looking at her.
"Fine." Jenn turns to a panel on the wall and enters her security code.
Sue puts a hand on Richard's shoulder and presses her body into his. "I've got some more paperwork I need your help with," she whispers.
Richard swallows hard again and looks to Jenn.
Jenn feels like she's going to throw up in her mouth. A sense of relief comes over her when the large metallic door beside them slides upward.
"Bye Richie," Jenn mocks in her best valley girl voice and disappears into the next room. She can almost feel Sue bristle as the door slides closed behind her.
Everything is dark except for a single concentrated light in the middle of the room. A man sits hunched over in a chair with his arm tied behind him. He's been beaten repeatedly. Tiny splatters of blood littler the floor in front of him.
"Here for… another… round then…?" he asks and roughly coughs.
Jenn slowly walks toward him, her heart beginning to pound in her ears.
"A woman… this time…? Fine… do your… worst…"
She stops a few feet from him. Her heart feels as though I will burst.
He does his best to raise his head. "What'cha… waiting…" He stops and studies the woman before him. He coughs violently a few more times, then looks back to her. A glimmer of recognition comes to his eyes.
"Je… Jennifer…?" he whispers.
Tears break through and stream down her face. She kneels and places her forehead on his. He feels her nod in answer to his question.
"Is it… really you…?"
She nods again, still too overcome to speak. She begins to quietly sob and caress his face.
A brightness returns to his eyes that he long thought no longer possible. "You… you gotta get… out of here… Jennifer… if they figure out…"
"Shhh," she whispers and places a finger on his busted lips. She does her best to regain her composure. "When I heard what they had brought in, I couldn't believe it. I refused to… until I could see with my own eyes."
"My sweet… Jennifer…" he whispers and enjoys her soft caress.
Time stands still for a moment as husband and wife are secretly reunited.
"How is… Dexter… our son…"
Tears continue to flow freely down her cheeks and she nods again. "He's good. He's so big now. You won't even recognize him."
Smiling hurts his face. He doesn't care. "My… son…!" he croaks.
She runs her fingers gently down his shoulders and chest. "How bad is it? The beating…"
He keeps smiling. "I have… much to… live for… now…I'll be… OK!"
She tenderly presses her lips to his.
"Did you… bring it…?" he asks quietly.
"Not yet. I'm not ready yet," she whispers.
"There's… no time… they may come back… any minute… please…"
She groans within herself and steps back from him.
"Hurry!" he repeats, a look of desperation in his eyes.
Consumed by sadness and pity, she pulls the necklace up and out of her cleavage. A small crystal glimmers in the harsh overhead light.
"I love you… so much… Jennifer," he sputters, almost out of breath.
She looks him over one more time. "I love you two, James," she whimpers. With that, she removes the crystal, and violently smashes it on the ground.
The room fills with thick green smoke. Jenn covers her mouth and nose and backs away into a darkened corner.
The broken man breathes in the smoke as quickly as he can. With each breath, his physical condition improves and his mass increases.
Jenn covers her eyes and sinks to the floor.
The once 'beaten-half-to-death James' stands and easily snaps the restraints that hold him. He laughs loudly in between his deep inhaling.
Loud banging sounds come from the metallic door and voices are heard asking what is going on.
James reaches his full size. The muscular creature known as 'Mercy' arches his back and roars ferociously. "I'M BAAAAAAACK!" A moment later, the metal door easily crumples in his mighty hands. Screams of terror fill the air as Jenn continues to cower.
The monster is lose again.