I stirred from my stupor. My only light continued to come from under the door. A creak came from upstairs; the squeak of the hardwood being crossed. That must have been what jarred me into thinking, unfortunately. A door opened and I heard him descend the stairs. I whimpered and an ache that wasn't quite going away flared in my backside. I had no idea how much time had passed since he'd last abused me. I didn't know what day it was.
Not-Larry opened the door and stood in the doorway while I squinted. “Belcher would kick himself if he'd known what you would do. If he wasn't such a turd I'd send him that video, just as a thank you. Maybe I will. I'm feeling generous, you know? A couple grand from some old dude will do that.” He snorted out a laugh. “Actually, I don't care who the cash comes from. He had so many nice things to say about you. Want to hear some?”
I let out a heavy, defeated breath and rolled my head away.
“Oh, come on, beautiful!” he said before forcing my face back in his direction and grinning down at me. “He said your ass was perfect. Isn't that nice? He went on and on about your feet, but fuck that, right? He even liked your cock.” He pressed a finger to the side of his nose. “He was a little disappointed you didn't get up for him. But you know what, beautiful? He paid up. You know, since all you've gotten lately is some liquid protein down your throat....” He left the comment hanging out there and when I made no response he chuckled at his own joke.
“Glad you finally know your place. Since I can't be sure of how much nutritional value you get out of protein in your ass, I guess I could be nice and give you a little food. What do you think, huh?”
My stomach tightened in hunger at the thought of food. He brought me out to use the toilet and then watched me shower. As I washed I fought the hopelessness that was slowly drowning me. There was no way to tell how long I'd been in this basement, days at the least. I'd had no food and only the water I sipped was while in the shower as it cascaded over me. If he saw that I wasn't going to be compliant he'd follow through with Carson's threat – get me hooked on a drug and whore me out. He was already doing the pimping. Maybe I should just get the drugs so I could go numb and forget.
Tristan would be so disappointed in me. The thought, the knowledge, seared through me and awoke some bit of defiance in my soul. I had to make a move now. If I were alone I could try to twist the chain until it became fatigued, especially since it was light chain. I dried off and he approached me with a mocking smile, stun gun in hand. He was replaying our encounter prior to the old man. I knew his intent was to break what spirit I had left, and then a plan formed. A horrible, brutal plan.
“Oh, you're even more beautiful on your knees,” he said with a sigh and pulled his member out. He moved toward my face, shuffling slightly and engorged with anticipation. I opened my mouth, repulsed at the feel...and bit as hard as I could.
Blood burst across my tongue and I felt as if I would throw up, but I held on doggedly and ground my teeth as Not-Larry screamed and hit me anywhere he could reach. Blows rained down on my head, back and shoulders. He started to fall back and I pulled away from his painful punches, spitting out saliva and blood. I continued to spit and retch at the blood on my tongue, the taste in my mouth and the smell in my nostrils. I dry heaved as he writhed, screaming and with blood all over his crotch, staining his boxers.
“Oh my God, you fucking little slut I'll kill you!” he screamed.
With a rush of adrenaline and fear I searched for the stun gun. Heart pounding I hunted frantically and spotted the two-pronged weapon a short distance from one of his thrashing feet. I skittered over and picked it up with trembling fingers as he raged and rolled to his side in an attempt to get up. Turning toward him I was consumed with rage and humiliation. I shuffled a few feet over, but jumped back as he lunged at me.
I was slow and clumsy. Weak, even, from the lack of food. My thoughts slowed and fear spiked through me at the realization. If I didn't end this soon, it might be the end of me. He lunged at me, crying out in pain and anger and I tried to side-stop, but he caught one of my ankles and I tumbled to the floor. His grip was like steel. I screamed in fear that he'd caught me and flailed at him, kicking him on the head and shoulders. He reached blindly and got a grip on my other leg and my fear ratcheted up higher. He was using my body to scale upward. With a surge of adrenaline I bucked, my knee smashing into his face and his grip faltered as he cried out.
I slipped from beneath him, and with a shaking hand, placed the prongs on the side of his head and squeezed the trigger. Electricity launched into him and he jerked, flopping away from me. He'd hit the wall and, seeing red, I placed it on his temple again and squeezed the trigger. Tears ran down my face and snot dripped from my nose. I was screaming incoherently and I kept pulling the trigger.
My mind raced through images. Tris screaming at his parents and I pulled the trigger. The horror of realizing I'd been drugged and I pulled the trigger. The despair of waking to find myself raped and chained like a slave and I pulled the trigger. And I pulled the trigger. And I pulled the trigger.
The charger depleted eventually, I have no idea when. I kept pressing it to his temple anyway. His body twitched from the confusing input of the electrical charge after the electricity from the stun gun had left his system. His body continued to bleed and I moved to the far side of the room, unable to stop crying yet wanting to be away from him. My stomach hurt. My heart ached. My head pounded. I sat down hard and looked at his still form. His body wasn't moving save for the shallow, halting breath he drew. I wrapped my arms around my shins and rocked back and forth, crying and dropping snot on myself.
I know my mind broke for a time. I should have run upstairs and locked him in the basement. I should have gone for food or water. I should have wrapped the chain around his throat and pulled until his shallow breaths ceased. Instead I squatted and rocked myself, feeling miserable and afraid and aggravating my already sore ass. I was dragged from my misery at the sight of Not-Larry's foot moving. His fingers twitched and fear spiked in me. I crossed the room, exhausted and sore, and dragged him into the room he'd locked me in.
I reached into his pocket and removed the keys. “Hey,” he said in a thick voice and made a weak grab for my hand. I screamed in fear and withdrew quickly, slamming the door and locking it with the key.
“Hey!” he called, louder. Stronger. “Oh. Oh you fucker.” He groaned and I heard the sound of him moving unsteadily. “Oh, my fucking cock. What did you...do to my head? You miserable slut. I'm going to kill you.”
The doorknob twitched and I jumped, but my feet were locked to the floor as I stared in terror. The knob twitched from side to side and a heavy blow hit the door.
“You open this now, slut. You do it now and I won't kill you. I promise,” he said in an unsteady yet menacing tone and grunted in pain.
I backed up slowly until I bumped into the wall. I watched the door as the knob wiggled and the room echoed with the sound of him hitting the door. Eventually the blows to the door slowed and I heard him land heavily on the bed. He groaned and made more threats and complained about the damage done to his dick. Then, amazingly, he began to cry. He started to plead for aspirin or something stronger he said he had stashed.
At last my legs, which had been shaking from adrenaline and lack of fuel, gave out. I slid down the wall and stared at the door. I should find food. I should leave but I sat and wondered what the point would be. There was a part of me that was broken, that he had broken. I had nothing to go back to. I should open the door and let him sell me. Or maybe I should go find his stash and take myself out of this hell.
It barely registered when I heard the door open upstairs. There were several people's footsteps and panic flared in me. He'd said more were coming. Hadn't he? Or had he only planned to sell me to others? I couldn't remember! What if it were a group come to trade me, use me one after the other? I started to shake.
“No. No, no, no,” I murmured in a panic. Shaking I crawled to the stun gun and put it to my skull and pulled the trigger. Nothing happened and I cried harder, feeling hysteria build as the footsteps filled the house. I pulled the trigger over and over, willing it to kill me. The door to the basement opened and I whimpered. Then I screamed at whomever it was to stay away. I dropped the stun gun and wrapped my arms around my shins again and rocked myself tightly. Several sets of shoes were coming down the stairs. My mind gibbered. My stomach ached. My head hurt beyond all reason. I closed my eyes and missed Tris.
“Son. Son can you hear me?”
“Stay away,” I whimpered. I chanced a quick look in the direction I'd heard them in. “No more. No more. I don't want to.”
A man squatted down several feet from me. “Take it easy, son. My name is Detective Patrick O'Malley. I'm a policeman. Son, are you Ehren Robertson?”
I blinked through my tears and dared to look up. There were several men in the room, all of them wearing a police uniform except the detective, who wore a suit. Was this a cruel joke to finish breaking me? Some freaky prison rape kind of thing?
“Son, are you Ehren? Can you speak?” he asked in a gentle, sonorous tone. He sounded like someone in charge and I nodded slowly.
“I'm Ehren,” I croaked.
He smiled. A gentle, dependable smile.“Son, I'm so glad we found you. You have some very, very worried folks looking for you.”
I shook my head. “Can't. Can't go back. Broken. Broken,” I spluttered and broke down crying again. I screamed when he placed a hand on my shoulder and skittered backward and slammed painfully into the wall.
He spoke in a soothing tone and I calmed when someone wrapped my shoulders in a blanket. Things passed in fits and starts as my ability to stay in the present flickered in and out. I pulled the blanket tightly around me, willing it to protect me. Wishing it could. Wishing it smelled like Tris. For some unknown time I went deep inside myself, searching for that peace only he ever gave me. To my despair, it eluded me. Perhaps I didn't deserve peace.
“This one is locked, Detective.”
I looked up to see the officer standing in front of what had been my cell. I glanced down and looked around until I saw the key I'd dropped. I pointed to the key and the detective followed with his eyes.
“What's behind that door, Ehren?” he asked without moving toward the key.
I looked at him and shook harder. “Not-Larry. He's not gentle, not kind.”
“Detective? I think these might belong to that young man,” an officer in uniform said as he emerged from the other room. He had my clothes in a wad in his hand and brought them toward me.
“Those things belong to you, son?” the detective asked.
Whimpering I nodded. Beginning to trust that they were here to help me I waited nervously as one uniformed officer brought a pair of pliers over and released my ankle from the chain. I was handed one item at a time and pulled on underwear, jeans and a hoodie. My shoes were not to be found. I still felt exposed and wrapped he blanket around myself. The detective stood slowly and walked over to pick up the key. Handing it to the uniformed officer he instructed him to open the second door. I let out a low moan in response.
The detective approached me slowly and turned to stand between the door and me. He nodded and the police burst into the room. Not-Larry yelled incoherently. The detective placed a hand on my shoulder and led me upstairs.
An ambulance waited for me outside. Detective O'Mally rode with me and he asked me questions in a gentle, calm voice. I nodded or shook my head most of the time.
I was admitted at the hospital and placed in a private room after a horrible examination. I'd had to put on the hospital gown and they poked me everywhere. Rape kit they said. Later I huddled in the bed. Even with the sheets I felt exposed. I slept fitfully, jarring awake and looking about me in terror for Not-Larry. A nurse came in and said she'd give me something so I could sleep with no dreams. She was as good as her word.
When I opened my eyes next the room was in shadows. I blinked and rubbed my eyes. Looking to my right I saw the sun was just past setting. A policeman sat in a chair in the corner, flipping through a magazine. He looked up and smiled.
“How are you, buddy?” he asked.
I swallowed. “Thirsty. Hungry. Have to pee.”
“Just the necessities, then,” he said as he stood and tossed he magazine on the chair. “The nurse said you'd be a little wobbly because of the sedative they gave you to sleep. Let me get a nurse to help you to the lavatory and I'll get someone moving on some grub, okay?”
I nodded at him tiredly. He left and I looked back out the window, my mind lost in a fog. A nurse came in a few minutes later and helped me get out of bed. I was stiff and sore all over and shuffled more than walked to the bathroom. My business completed I looked in the mirror and cringed. I didn't know who that was looking back at me. Dark, puffy crescents under my eyes were noticeable and made me look deranged. I wasn't sure, with my broken expression, how I could ever deal with people again. Not wanting to look anymore I shuffled back to the door and the nurse helped me back into bed. An orderly came in with a bland meal and a pitcher of water.
I ate slowly, as the nurse had admonished, and sipped the water. My stomach gurgled and was still sore, but the food felt filling if tasteless. My door opened and a man in a suit whom I didn't recognize came in. The man accompanying him, however, I did recognize. Beth's uncle, a policeman named Jackson Hastings. I'd gotten on well with him and liked him from the start because of his last name. Hastings was the last name of Hercule Poirot's sidekick and we'd joked sometimes about that. He didn't look like he wanted to joke, now.
“Hi, Ehren,” the man in the suit said. He opened a wallet and showed me a badge with a picture ID. “My name is Harold Gentry and I'm from the FBI. I'd like to ask you a few questions. Do you think you can give it a try?”
I rubbed the outside of my nose. “Okay.”
He pulled out a small notebook. “Officer Hastings will witness this. If at any time you don't want to speak anymore, you let us know. I'm entirely conscious of how difficult this discussion may be for you. Now, can you tell me how you came to be in the house you were found in?”
I glanced at Hastings, who adopted a compassionate expression. I looked toward the window, finding it easier to not look them in their faces.
“I planned to run away. I felt like it was the best choice for me. Coach Belcher...when I used to live on the street, he was a customer, sometimes.”
“The Coach you mean?” the agent clarified.
“Yeah.” I raised a hand and rubbed my forehead and then over one side of my face. “He has a thing for feet. He'd pay me to get in his car and let him rub my feet and stuff until he got off.” I closed my eyes. “I thought he was pretty harmless.”
“Mr. Robertson, why did you see Coach Belcher as part of your plan to run away?”
“Money,” I said softly. “Just enough to travel and keep me in food and water until I found a place to crash. But then he told me he knew a guy and I could make a good bit of money. It seemed like a good opportunity, especially if they guy was like Belcher.”
“That would be Donald Foley? The man you've identified as your captor?”
“Yeah,” I said softly. “Not-Larry. He, uh, filmed me. It was okay, I thought. We'd negotiated and I thought I was coming out of it okay. But he'd drugged my water. He locked me in that room and...raped me. A few times. He, uh, got this guy. This guy paid. Paid Not-Larry to....”
“Take your time,” Agent Gentry said. “I know this isn't easy, Mr. Robertson.”
“The guy paid to rape me,” I said with tears running down my face. With a trembling voice I described the fight with Not-Larry and how he came to be locked in the cell. The man said he only needed my statement and that I shouldn't worry about anyone touching me again. They had already arrested the old man who'd flown in to rape me. They'd also caught another man who had come looking for me. He'd already put down a deposit, according to Not-Larry's computer.
“So, you have him?” I asked. “Not-Larry? He can't get out?”
“Yes,” Agent Gentry replied. “His real name is Donald Foley. He was recording everything that occurred in the basement.” The agent glanced at Hastings and then back to me. “He was selling the video. The transactions are being traced. We've encountered some of this...person's...criminal work before, but we couldn't find the source.”
I looked away. “Hes done this before?”
“Yes,” Agent Gentry said. “I'm afraid so. We are going through his computers and looking for leads on other victims. We have a lot of financial transactions to comb through. He's not going to get away with this, Mr. Robertson.” He cleared his throat. “That was very brave, what you did. I know you have a long road ahead, but if it helps...you didn't just save yourself. You saved any kid he'd have gotten his hands on next. Maybe we can even help ones he's victimized already.”
Finally the FBI man left and only Hastings stayed behind. I looked away from him, out at the arc lights in the parking lot.
“What now?” I asked.
He sighed lightly. “I expect the first thing is you'll be mothered to death. I expect there to be therapy. I expect some people will be very angry that you chose to run away rather than face a difficult situation.” He moved into my field of vision. “I expect people will be relieved and then hurt. I expect your ordeal will break hearts. I expect you to stand tall and face all of this, knowing you have people.
“I'll be quite honest with you, Ehren,” he said with a small shake of his head. “Even before this evil...” his mouth twisted and then he spat, “bastard got his hands on you, yours was a sad story. I think most folks would have written you off way before this. It's hard, you know, for a kid like you to recover and become a member of society. You've just made it a whole lot harder on yourself.”
I nodded and closed my eyes. “I wish I were dead.”
“Don't say that,” he said softly and took my hand. “Don't ever say that. It'll be hard, but you have people. People who love you, despite your damage. You broke a few hearts, kid. But your moms are full of hell and they aren't letting you destroy yourself.”
I opened my eyes, wet now. “I thought it'd be better if I left.”
“For who? You? Why?”
“Tris,” I whispered. “I lost him.”
“You mean that pain in the ass kid that's been calling your moms?”
“Why do you keep calling them that?” I asked, not daring to hope that Tris was asking after me.
He leaned in close and said, “Because you've done things, Ehren. Things that only a parent could suffer through and still love you. They're earning that title, kid.”
I looked away. “They must be so angry.”
“On the warpath,” he said in agreement. “But don't be fooled. They love you something fierce.”
The silence of the room embraced us. Dimly the sound of the hospital at work could be heard – nurses shoes squeaking on the linoleum floor. The ring of a telephone and the garbled sound of a distant TV.
The door banged open and both Hastings and I looked over at the noise. Emily and Beth swarmed me from either side, grabbing onto me and pulling me toward each of them. I can't explain why, but I started crying again. Emily kissed my forehead and stroked my hair with tears standing in her eyes. Beth held one of my hands between hers and pressed my fingers to her lips. I'd never been touched like that and they weren't in the habit of doing so. It was a shock, but I felt...safe. Cared for. Maybe even loved. It was overwhelming.
It took a long time for things to settle down – me, Beth and Emily. They fussed over me, constantly touching me and placing the occasional light kiss on my head. We didn't say much, but I could see, now, how much I'd hurt them. How had I not thought they'd be okay if I disappeared? How could I have been so colossally stupid and selfish?
Finally I worked up the courage to say something. With my stomach sore and with the muscles in my abdomen clenched tight I wet my lips and reached for some hidden inner strength.
“Beth? Emily? I'm....I'm sorry. I'm so sorry I did this to you.”
Beth pulled my hand to her lips again and then held the back of my hand to her cheek. “We knew you'd be tough, Ehren. We didn't expect this, maybe, but we knew this wouldn't be a walk in the park.”
Emily stroked my hair and whispered, “We love you, Ehren. Somehow I hope you can learn to trust us and come to us when you're desperate and hurting. When I think of what you went through....”
I shuddered. “It's my own fault.”
Beth shook her head. “Running away is your fault. Getting held captive and being...being...god, I can't say it.” She covered her mouth and tears filled her eyes. She gasped a breath and said, “He made the choice to hurt you, Ehren. That wasn't your fault.”
“Ehren, sweetheart, why? Why did you run away?” Emily asked with pain in her voice.
I sighed. “When I first went to Piper for help, I was pretty independent. But after living at the Malones and...” I blinked back even more tears and swallowed hard. “I never thought someone would love me or that I could love them back. I'd never even thought about it. I didn't know what that felt like. I fell for Tristan so hard. I would do anything for him, anything to keep him loving me. But I screwed that up, too.” I looked down at the covers, keeping my eyes away from them. “I know you are probably mad I ran away because I lost Tris. It's not that you guys didn't mean anything it was just.....”
“Ehren, we know how all consuming love can be. Especially first love. But, baby, why do you feel like you lost Tris?” Emily asked and I looked up into her face, meeting her gaze.
“I went to try and work things out with his parents. It...I couldn't. I told him I'd do anything for him and I couldn't make peace with them. There was shouting and...and...he has to be so angry with me. I can't come between he and his parents. He'll choose his family every time. And Piper, too, since she wouldn't come get me in the morning anymore.” I looked at her despondently. “Their parents said I was a danger to their kids.”
I tangled my fingers in my lap. “No disrespect, honestly. I don't really know when it happened but...he's my center and now I'm just...lost.”
“I'm going to run down to the car. Anyone want a soda? Ehren?” Beth asked abruptly and wiped her eyes. I shook my head and Emily declined as well. After Beth departed, Hastings in tow, Emily resumed stroking my hair as she sat beside me.
“Beth can't look at me, can she? I was trying to be honest about Tris. Did I just make her angrier?”
“No. I promise. Ehren. You have such a wounded soul.” She sighed and gave me a sad smile. “You talk about losing things, like Tris. But sweetheart, you've found so much. You found a home that welcomes you with love every day. You have a whole group of people that treasure you. You have a boy who is criminally committed to you,” she said and barked out a laugh.
“I don't understand,” I said and she just nodded her head.
“You will. We can talk about that when Beth gets back.”
Letting that go for the moment I let out a breath. “How did you find me?”
“It wasn't simple. We called the phone company and got the tracking turned on in your phone. Even though it was off, the battery was still in it so they could track it. It led to Mr. Belcher's car. Mr. Belcher tried to cover things up, but the school surveillance had caught you jumping into the back of his car. When they questioned him they looked at his phone and found the pictures he took of you.” Her voice had trailed off as she reached the end. She coughed lightly and cleared her throat.
“They weren't bad pictures,” I told her softly, trying to spare her whatever she might have imagined. “He's got a thing for feet. He gave me a foot massage. Felt good.”
“Anyway. Belcher wasn't being very helpful. He got a lawyer.” She paused. “I guess his car has a navigation system in it. Even though he didn't use it to take you to that...creature,” she said and shuddered. She leaned forward and kissed my hair before stroking it back again with her fingers. “I have to keep touching you to prove you're here and that you're okay,” she said in a choked voice.
“I'm sorry, Emily.”
“I know you are, baby. I know. We'll get through this as a family, okay?” she said with difficulty. She sniffed loudly and cleared her throat again. “Anyway, they traced the car to that block. The houses were unoccupied except for that one. And they went in and found you.”
We stayed silent then, with her hand running through my hair and I felt comforted and loved by the gentle, constant touch. I also felt guilty that I should take comfort from Emily, but I was so battered inside that I felt as if the kindness was the only thing keeping me from shattering altogether. I know that son-of-a-bitch Not-Larry had put a lot of cracks in me, maybe broken off pieces of me. I had to hope there was something of me left to put back together or hadn't quite broken. I know, though, that my soul was marked forever by his actions.
Beth reentered the room with a large plastic bag in hand. She took up station beside me, she set the bag down and took my hand between hers once more.
“Ehren, I want you to listen to me carefully, okay?” she said calmly. I nodded and looked at her steadily. “You're an exceptional boy with a gorgeous soul. I know people hurt you in the past, people who were supposed to protect you. You will have to work on that in therapy because you have to understand how that part of your past is hurting your present and endangering your future.”
I nodded slightly, not completely understanding, but vowing to work on it in therapy as she said I should.
“What you just went through...my heart is torn. I love you so much. It's why I'm tough on you and why I push you, Ehren. I look at you and see everything you could be and I want that for you.” She smiled and kissed my fingers again. “I also understand being in love. I am so in love with Emily that sometimes it hurts to think of her not being close to me. It's a mature kind of love. I think that kind of love only comes after being hurt. Having been hurt and lost something let's you understand and appreciate what you have.
“Sweetheart, you've been hurt so, so much. The reason I'm telling you this is that love like that, it doesn't just break. It doesn't just stop happening. I know you think you lost Tris, but the fact is you've found someone that loves you to the point of madness. He's been inconsolable with you missing.” She reached down for the plastic bag and opened it. She pulled out a hoodie and handed it to me.
I stared at the hoodie for a moment, unable to believe – to hope. With trembling fingers I pulled it to my face and inhaled deeply, the scent of the one person in the world that made everything okay filling me with a heady feeling like I was walking on clouds.
I pulled the hoodie back enough to uncover my mouth. “Tris still loves me?”
“Honey, nothing is going to stop that boy.”Next Chapter Previous Chapter