“Son, I was askin’ you how you know this young lady?” His voice was gravelly, but it comforted me just a bit.
“She was… uh… she is my girlfriend—”
I trailed off at that last word. Was she? Or was she keeping secrets from me. I wasn’t mad, just worried about her. I had no room in me to be actually mad, but I did have a ton of questions.
“Well, son… what was your name again?”
“Joshua, sir. Call me Josh.” I could hear my voice wavering. I was anxious to know what was going on.
At the sound of my name, I saw Gayle move ever so slightly. It was so slight that the officer didn’t even notice. My heart skipped a beat, and then it was pounding in my chest all over again.
“Well, Josh, Gayle has been askin’ for you. At first, I was confused and thought she was delusional ‘cause of the meds, but the other officers told me that they’d spoken with you earlier tonight. She’s sedated right now, but she might come-to soon. I wanna hear what she has to say ‘cause she only wants to talk to you.”
I sat down in the faded, worn leather chair next to her bed and put my hand on hers. This was the first time I was seeing her in person. My initial rush of relief to see her alive had left me shaking and feeling oddly cold. I had thought she was dead.
I thought of the pictures. I thought I had been looking at her corpse.
“Um, sir… do you know who did this to her?” I asked this quietly, almost scared of the answer.
“… no, we don’t. Like I said, she didn’t want to say anythin’ to us. By the time we found her, he was long gone. He left her for dead.”
I was silent. I was in turmoil, feeling both seething anger at whoever did this and suffocating anxiety about whether Gayle would pull through. I glanced at the tangle of tubes that were all around her. She didn’t look good.
Suddenly I saw her eyelids flutter ever so slightly. This time the officer saw it and began to talk, trying to coax her out of her sleep. His gravelly voice must have soothed her as well.
“Hey, honey, your name’s Gayle, right? How’re ya feelin’?” He walked slowly over to the other side of her bed.
Without opening her eyes, she spoke, her voice ragged and barely a whisper, “I’ve felt better. Josh, you here? I thought I heard your voice.”
“Yeah, I am here…” As the last word left my mouth, I started crying. Uncontrollably. Gayle found my hand, her eyes still closed. I wasn’t fully sure why I was crying, but I assumed it was hearing her voice. I had been so scared.
“Josh, it’s okay. I think I’m gonna be okay… everything just hurts…” She trailed off, and I am assuming it was because it just hurt too much to talk. I was still sobbing and trying not to crush her hand.
“Gayle, honey, are ya feelin’ up to tellin’ us what happened?” He did not make eye contact with me. I think he knew if he did, I might cry harder. I felt so defeated, but I tried to quiet down so he could hear her if she answered.
“Y-yeah, I think I can.” She finally opened her eyes, swollen as they were, and looked at me as she began to talk. She paused every so often, resting her throat before going on. The whole time, she never took her eyes off me.
“The guy who attacked me is my ex-boyfriend. EX. Really he wasn’t even my boyfriend… he just acted like he was.” She emphasized this to me. She must have known my fears. “I met him on one of the days when my parents were being stupid. I would go to this coffee shop down the road to hide out until they both passed out drunk. If I stuck around while they fought, they’d start to take it out on me. This guy, Marc, worked at that coffee shop. At the time, I didn’t know how old he was; all I knew was that this smooth-talking guy would sympathize with me and give me free coffee.”
“Do you know the guy’s full name?” The officer asked gently, taking advantage of her pause.
“Yes. Marc Reynolds.”
The officer mumbled this into his walkie, and I assumed he was keeping his officers posted with information.
“Anyway, eventually I started to confide in him. I told him about my parents and how hard they made everything. He offered to let me stay with him if I needed—I didn’t know better!” Again Gayle stared into my eyes as she said this. “I would come and go from his house. Then I found out his age. Josh, he was 27! I thought he was younger than that!”
Her throat gave out and she started to cry. I held her hand as the officer asked one last question.
“Do you have any idea where he might be?”
“No I don’t think… wait. He has a friend that we would go visit together… They are like brothers, and whenever Marc would run into any trouble, that’s where he’d go.” She could not remember the exact address, but she told him what she remembered of the location.
The officer left the room, repeating the information into his walkie as he went. For a moment, everything in the room was still and silent, save for the steady beep of Gayle’s heart monitor. Then, both of us just started sobbing. We couldn’t stop. I was crying out of sheer relief that it seemed like Gayle was going to be okay, and that monster may be caught. She cried, I assume, because of everything that she had been through. We sat like this for a while, neither one of us talking.
Eventually Gayle broke the silence, once her sobs had died down. “When I found out he was 27, I got mad and told him to stop talking to me. I’m a minor Josh. That’s not normal. But he is so smooth, he convinced me that it was okay. He told me I was close to 18, and I believed him. I think I just wanted somewhere to go.”
I stroked her hand lightly, not wanting to hurt her. She had cuts and bruises everywhere. Really she shouldn’t be able to talk. “How did this happen though. Why did he hurt you?”
“Well, when you and I met, I was still hanging out at his house when my parents were drunk. We weren’t talking like that anymore though. We were just friends. I know it sounds stupid, but I felt like he was the only one I could trust. I thought we had moved on ‘cause he had started seeing someone. She was real nice. But he would get so mad whenever I would message you.”
“Is that why you’d stop messaging me outta nowhere?”
“Yes. I was always able to hide my phone when he’d get off work. But one night he came home early. He snatched my phone from me and read all of our messages. He went nuts. He wouldn’t give me my phone back, and he wouldn’t let me go home.” At this she started crying again. “Josh my parents didn’t even look for me. They didn’t care that I was gone. They don’t even know that I’m here.” She sobbed so hard she couldn’t breathe, so I rubbed her hand and waited patiently, doing everything I could in an attempt to soothe her. When se calmed down a bit more, she continued.
“Marc kept my phone from me for, like, two weeks I think. I can’t remember for sure. But he had enough of you messaging me. He attacked me last night in a blinding rage. He didn’t even speak. Just started hitting me with whatever he could get his hands on. He didn’t care that I was screaming or bleeding. At some point I think he knocked me out cold, ‘cause I don’t remember anything until I woke up here. I thought I was dead ‘cause it was so bright.”
“I hope they catch him. He needs to be arrested. For being a pedophile and for what he did to you.”
“I’m so scared, Josh. What if they don’t find him? What if he’s already gone. He wasn’t home when the cops came; that’s what the officer said. But what if he came back and saw I wasn’t there? And what if he isn’t at his friend’s house?” With each question, Gayle’s voice grew louder and more frantic.
“They’ll catch him, Gayle. They have to. He’s not gonna get away with this.” I tried to sound as convincing as possible.
At some point we must have fallen asleep. I was still in the chair when Gayle and I were awakened by a knock on the door. Gayle didn’t stir at all, and initially I was worried that she hadn’t made it after all. That I had lost possibly my best friend. But I saw her chest rise and fall gently. She was exhausted.
When I turned my attention to the door, I was unsurprised to see the same officer from before. His face was grave.
“Um… sir… is everything okay?” I knew deep down that everything was not okay.
“Uhhh, I’m gonna have to wait for young miss to wake up before I say anythin’.” He heaved a heavy sigh, rubbed his head, and sank into a large chair in a far corner of the room.
Suddenly, everything was muffled, and I felt smothered. Something terrible had happened. What if Marc hadn’t been caught? What if he was on his way here now?
The silence seemed endless, and I had begun sweating. I vaguely remember the officer telling me that I could go and wait with my parents, but honestly I had forgotten about them and was worried about Gayle.
Finally, she woke up, and I could see the officer begin his wind up to whatever he was going to say.
“Hey darlin’ how’re ya feelin’?”
“Good, sir. Did you find him.” Her eyes were large and full of worry.
“Well… yes… caught him…”
“That’s amazing! I feel so much safer n—”
“But I have some terrible news. But before I say it, I need you to be strong for me, Gayle…” He paused, probably to give her a chance to say something in response. When she didn’t, he continued. “You see, when we went to Marc’s friend’s house, he wasn’t there. The friend didn’t want any trouble so he was quick to tell us that Marc had already gone back to his place to look for you, and when he saw you were gone, he went to your parents’ house—”
Sarah gasped, exclaiming, “Please tell me they’re okay! Please…” The tears were already welling in her eyes.
“When we got there, Marc was like a rabid animal. He was holdin’ your parents at gun-point and wouldn’t see reason… he kept tellin’ us to get back or he’d shoot. One of our officers tried to sneak up from behind, but he saw them at the last minute and… I’m so sorry Gayle. We were only seconds too late.” He had tears streaming down his face, but he was remaining calm. Gayle on the other hand didn’t speak. She only sobbed painfully. All I could do was sit in shock. She now had nowhere to go. She had no one. And not even the fact that her attacker had been caught could comfort her.
I did my best to calm her tears, but this was beyond me. I wasn’t sure if Gayle was going to be ok. All I could do was be there for her–as much as possible for a 16-year-old anyway.