Authors: Nadia Simonenko
Tags: #college romance, #new adult realistic fiction, #teen romance, #new adult romance, #lost and found, #new adult contemporary romance with sex, #abuse survivors, #rape victim, #dark romance, #New Adult
Lost & Found, Volume 2
by Nadia Simonenko
Published by Nadia Simonenko, 2013.
This is a work of fiction. Similarities to real people, places, or events are entirely coincidental.
First edition. July 15, 2013.
Copyright © 2013 Nadia Simonenko.
Written by Nadia Simonenko.
10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1
To my love... don't ever go where I can't follow you.
Please note that this novel contains heavy subject material and detailed portrayals of domestic violence, child abuse, and sexual assault.
This material is derived from the author's personal experiences and from the accounts of other victims, and the events of this story may act as a traumatic memory trigger to certain readers. Please exercise caution in reading this novel if you believe you are at risk of triggering on any of the above subjects.
I'm sorry that you have to live with those memories.
Sheriff Bill Marino
he phone rings out by the dispatching desk and wakes me up. I try to go back to sleep, but Betty’s shrill, high-pitched voice cuts straight through my grogginess and kills off any chance of it. My dream was just getting to the good part, too. Damn.
“East Hampton Police Department, Montauk Precinct. If this is an emergency, please hang up and dial...”
I groan and sit up straight in my chair, yanking my feet off the desk before Betty chews me out again. You’d think she was my mother and not just the police dispatcher. Even though my badge tells me I outrank her, it sure ain’t bothered telling her about that.
“Hey Bill? Todd Maxwell’s on the line for you,” she says, poking her head into my office. She’s done her hair up in a tight bun today, and if she had a yardstick, she’d be the spitting image of my old math teacher from high school. The resemblance is downright chilling. Some of the boys at poker night wonder why the two of us ain’t gotten together yet, what with neither of us being married and all, and that’s why right there. I ain’t dating my math teacher.
“Transfer him over to my office,” I tell her, and I hit the button to put him on speakerphone.
I don’t know why Todd’s calling me, but I ain’t looking forward to talking to him. We’ve got a bit of a history together and none of it’s good.
“G’morning, Todd. What can I do for you?”
The line is deathly silent.
“You sure you transferred him?” I whisper, staring uncomfortably at Betty. She nods back at me.
Just as I reach out to disconnect the call, he finally breaks the silence.
“Bill? You there? I’ve got a problem.”
“Jesus Christ,” I whisper, revulsion bubbling up inside me at the sound of his voice. Is he drunk already? It’s not even ten in the morning yet. I haven’t heard him like this in years. Not since...
“You okay, kid? Anything you need to tell me about?” I ask the thin, blond-haired teenager as we stand in the kitchen. The boy’s father, Todd, leans against the counter and crosses his arms. I wish he’d go away so I could talk to the boy in private, but I have no authority to kick him out—not with his son being a minor and all.
“I’m okay,” he mumbles back to me.
He stuffs his hands into his pockets and tries not to look at me. His gaze drifts to his father, but he quickly averts his eyes and stares back down at the linoleum. Then, he looks up at me and in one quick glance tells me everything I need to know.
He’s lying to me. His eyes are wide and dark with fear, and it isn’t me that he’s afraid of. He’s lying to me because he’s terrified of what’ll happen to him if he tells me the truth.
“What’s your name again, kid?” I ask as gently as I can. I’m not good with kids and especially not with teenagers. I always come off like I’m about to chew them out, even when I’m not.
“Owen Maxwell, sir.”
Todd’s slurred voice yanks me seven years forward in time and I hit the button to start recording his call. I’m starting to get a terrible feeling in my stomach.
“...Bill? You there?”
I’m here,” I answer cautiously. “What’s going on?”
“I... I need an ambulance.”
Betty darts out of my office and back to the dispatching desk. She doesn’t need me to tell her how to do her job, and she’s on the radio to the hospital in a flash.
“Todd, what did you do?” I ask quietly, bracing myself for the answer. Please, let me be wrong. Don’t let this happen all over again.
“I didn’t mean to!” he blubbers back to me. “I just... it went all wrong on me and I got angry and...”
No, this can’t be happening. Not again. Please don’t tell me he went and did this again—not after the DA refused to prosecute him the first time.
Samantha’s wide, gray eyes stare blankly off into the distance as she lies crumpled at the bottom of the stairs. The way the girl’s neck is bent reminds me of my sister’s old rag-doll back when she was a kid. I feel like I’m going to throw up.
I spin Todd around and force him to stare down at his daughter’s lifeless body. His face is pale, and as I hold him by the shoulder, I can feel him shaking.
“Look what you did, Todd,” I whisper in his ear. “You can’t take this one back. Apologizing ain’t gonna cut it anymore.”
“Todd – answer me,” I demand, raising my voice this time. “What did you do?”
Todd breaks down and starts crying. He babbles incomprehensibly into the receiver, and between his drunken slurring and the sobbing, I can’t make out a word he’s saying anymore. Someone’s hurt, but that’s all I can get out of him in his current state.
“Who’s hurt, Todd? Who’s the ambulance for?” I ask him. “Todd, I need you to calm down and tell me what happened.”
The line goes silent again.
“Ambulance is dispatched to 25 Farrington,” calls Betty from the other room. “Eight minutes.”
“Todd!” I shout. “Answer the goddamned question!”
Betty gasps at my outburst from her desk. I know it sounds unprofessional from out there, but if she knew Todd like I do, she’d understand.
“It’s Sharon,” Todd answers weakly. “She’s hurt real bad, Bill.”
This time it’s his wife. He didn’t learn a goddamned thing and now it’s happened again.
Todd buries his head in his arms as I glare at him from across the table at the coffee shop. Anyone else, I’d be having this conversation through metal bars. Todd isn’t going to need that, though. Not after the price he’s just paid. I take a sip of my coffee and keep on glaring.
“Todd... I know what you did. You want to know why I ain’t locking your ass up for this?” I ask, poking him sharply in the shoulder. I don’t care if it hurt. In fact, I hope it did.
“Why?” he whispers back. Some tough ex-military guy he is—he’ll beat his family to death but he doesn’t even have the guts to look up at me now that he’s been caught.
“Because you’re never going to forget it,” I hiss at him. “Your baby girl is gonna stare up at you in your dreams until the day you die, and there ain’t nothing worse I could do to you than that.”
I snap out of my thoughts as a rage builds up inside me. What an idiot I was. I knew it wasn’t an accident, but I believed losing his daughter was enough to change him—that I didn’t need to tear the rest of his family apart to teach him a lesson. I was wrong. I should’ve fought the court battle, dealt with that asshole district attorney who loves Todd so much, and tried to throw his ass in jail seven years ago. That poor son of his... I’ve failed him twice now.
“An ambulance is on its way, Todd. You stay right there. I’m coming over.”
“Bring a bag with you when you come, Bill.”
Todd’s voice is quiet and shaky, but somewhere behind it, I can’t help but feel like there’s a hint of something else. I can’t tell if it’s resignation or resolution, but what I do know is that I’ve never heard him sound like that before. I brush the feeling off and grab my coat.
A bag? What does that stupid drunk need a bag for?
” I think as I head to the door.
Suddenly, the dots all connect in my head and I turn and race back to the phone in a panic.
“No, Todd! Don’t do—“
The gunshot is so loud that it almost blows out the speaker.
All I can do now is listen in horrified silence as Todd’s body hits the floor. The ambulance will get to Todd’s house soon, and it’ll all be in the coroner’s hands from there. I missed my chance to clean this mess up seven years ago.
I slam my fist hard against the desk, knocking over a picture and rattling the thin walls of my office. I should hand in my goddamned badge right now. If I’d done my job seven years ago, this would never have happened. I couldn’t save his little girl, but at least Todd would be rotting in jail and that poor boy of his would still have a mother.
Where’d that boy run off to these days, anyway? I haven’t seen him in years. He must’ve run for it first chance he had.
“Betty?” I call out to the lobby. “When you’re done out there, I need you to pull up some records on the Maxwell family for me.”
I have to find Owen. I need to clean up my mess.
watch in agony as the clock ticks slowly toward 4:00. The first day back from spring break is always the hardest and today is no exception. I prop my head up and try not to fall asleep again as the professor babbles on and on. I couldn’t care less about enzyme kinetics today; my thoughts are off in the woods above the west campus gorge, waiting to see Owen.
In my mind, he’s leaning against a tree and waiting for me with that gorgeous smile on his face. I haven’t seen him since Saturday and it feels like it’s been forever. I stare desperately at the clock and beg its hands to spin faster as excitement builds up inside me. I can’t wait to see him!
The corner of my mouth turns up as I imagine his arms around me, and before I know it, I’m all smiles. The professor draws out a long enzyme activation pattern on the whiteboard and I zone out again. I already know all this—I’ve been doing it in lab since my sophomore year. Can we either do something interesting or end class already?
3:58 PM. Ugh... move, clock!
“Okay class, your homework is on the website. Welcome back, and I’ll see you all on Wednesday,” finishes the professor, and I leap up and race for the door along with thirty other students.
Not long ago, I’d have been terrified to be packed into a crowd like this, jostling and bumping into everyone as I make my way toward the exit. I used to sit and pretend that I was getting started on my homework while the rest of the class emptied out of the room just so I wouldn’t have to be near anyone. I’d wait for everyone else to leave and then sneak out afterward. It’s still nerve-wracking to feel so many people crowded around me and I don’t exactly like it, but at least I can breathe now. I don’t feel like I’m in danger of suffocating anymore.
When did things start to change?
” I wonder as I float out the classroom door in a sea of backpacks.
I interrupt my thoughts to apologize as I accidentally step on a boy’s foot, and then I break free from the crowd and race down the stairs and out into the blinding sunlight. It’s a beautiful spring day and it’s finally warm enough for me to ditch my coat. It’ll get cold again soon enough, knowing Ithaca, so I’m going to enjoy the good weather while it lasts. I shove the overstuffed coat into my backpack and start the long walk away from campus. The spring breeze feels wonderful on my skin. It’s so nice not to feel like everyone’s staring at me.
when things started to change. It was when my feelings for Owen overpowered my fear of letting anyone come close to me. My mind flits back to the incredible night after we first danced together, and I blush as my smile grows wider. I’m lying in Owen’s embrace on the couch and I can feel the warmth of his body against mine. I close my eyes and keep on smiling.
What a difference a little time and a lot of love can make.
I follow behind the long line of students making their way back to central campus, but before long, I cut away from the crowd, cross the road, and head down a wide, wooden staircase into the woods. The dirt path is still soft from melted snow and the trees are bare apart from the occasional secretive green bud—a hint of spring among the dying days of winter—but soon my favorite path home will be leafy and beautiful again. Soon, I’ll be looking up at the sunlight filtering through the bright green leaves and smiling like I haven’t a care in the world. The woods have always been one of my favorite places in Ithaca—a place where I could be alone, safe, and happy—but now I can hardly wait to share them with Owen.
The trees give way to concrete at the south bridge out to the bars, restaurants and apartments just south of campus. Students pack like sardines into the crowded bagel place on the corner, milling, laughing and shouting to each other. Owen and I don’t care for the “Collegetown” scene; it’s too chaotic and noisy for us. We’re meeting back in the woods on the other side of Collegetown, at the top of the gorge staircase.
My roommate Tina waves to me as she dodges through the crowd, her blond ponytail bobbing along behind her. She’s not heading toward the bars as I might have expected her to, but instead up toward campus. She’s also inexplicably wearing a black skirt and white blouse. She looks very professional but, apart from the ponytail, completely unlike the Tina I know.
“Hi Maria!” she shouts over the din of the crowd with a huge, excited smile on her face.
I wave back to her and wait for her to catch up to me.
“Are you lost? The beer’s all back that way,” I tease, and she sticks her tongue out at me.
“Umm... hello? My interview?” she answers, waving a black leather portfolio at me. “Vet school, remember?”
“Oh. Sorry, I forgot all about it.”
Tina was so excited when she got the interview invitation. She never expected that anyone would actually want her after graduation, and instead she was offered a chance to get into Cornell’s veterinary school—one of the best in the country—and pursue what she
wants to do with her life.
“Good luck,” I whisper in her ear, and I grab her and hug her tightly. I mean it, too. She’s like a sister to me—a tiny, belligerent older sister who loved me and who took care of me for the last four years when I couldn’t take care of myself. She deserves to have things go her way.
“Hey, don’t wrinkle the suit,” she giggles as she hugs me back, and then she waves goodbye and continues on her way to campus with a huge grin plastered on her face.
I smile after her, cross the street and cut down the alley between two apartment complexes and back into the woods. The trees close in around me and block out the chaotic noise of the bars as I follow along the edge of the gorge.
A waist-high safety rope runs along the edge of the gorge and I touch each of its cold, black wrought-iron posts as I pass them. The university administration wants to build ugly chain-link fences along all the gorges, but they’re still caught in legal battles with the city of Ithaca and the National Park Service. Cornell says it’s to stop jumpers—we have a long history of student suicides—but I still hope they lose the fight. The campus is too pretty for fences, and a fence isn’t going to hold back despair anyway.
I’ve been there. You need help to get past depression, not just a fence to block you from ending it.
My heart skips a beat as I finally see Owen up ahead. He’s leaning against the tree with his arms crossed just as I imagined he would be, watching me with a smile as I come closer. He looks like he hasn’t combed his scruffy blond hair in a week, but somehow he makes disheveled look gorgeous.
His gray eyes were bright and happy as I come closer, and he pushes off the tree and starts to close the distance between us. My slow, casual walk quickens as if matching my heartbeat, and before I know what’s happening, I’m running to him.
I leap up into his arms and he catches me, pulling me in as my momentum carries me around him in a spin. His arms are strong and warm as he holds me, and I joyfully press my cheek to his. It hasn’t even been two days, but I still missed him as if I hadn’t seen him in months.
His smile melts my heart and full books of emotion pass silently between us as we embrace. There’s plenty of time for words later, but right now, what I want is to kiss him. I lean in and brush my lips lightly against his, inviting him to join me, and he gladly accepts and presses his lips to mine with a passion that steals my breath.
Owen caresses my cheek with his good hand as he pulls me close. I don’t know if it’s my imagination, but as his chest presses against mine, I think I feel his heart pounding, He’s holding me so tightly that I can barely breathe and I don’t care one bit. My legs start to tremble as our kiss runs deeper and deeper. God, I love him. I don’t know how we ended up together, but I’m so glad we did. Being with him is everything I never knew I wanted.
We finally break away from the kiss and gasp for air as we cling to each other. My heart races and I almost feel lightheaded as indescribably beautiful feelings course through my body. Owen nuzzles my cheek as I lay my head on his shoulder. A heavenly euphoria settles in my mind, telling me that everything is going to be okay now. This is how my life should be. No more fears, no more nightmares, just Owen and me.
His love is all I need to grow.
“Hi sweetie,” I whisper, still weak-kneed from the kiss and leaning into him for support. It’s definitely his heartbeat I’m feeling; I know it is.
He runs his fingers softly through my hair and kisses me once more before quietly answering.
“Hi Maria. I missed you.”
So few words and yet so much meaning. I could stand here in his arms forever, savoring his warmth.
“I missed you too,” I whisper back, taking his hand in mine and squeezing it gently.
He adjusts the sleeve of his coat to cover his cast, and then hand in hand, we start down the steep, crumbling stone staircase into the gorge. The stairway winds back and forth down to the bottom, and I shiver as the waterfall’s cold mist chills my skin. Owen pulls me close to him to keep me warm as we pass through the mist, and then I stop on the other side to pull my coat out of my backpack.
“Are you ready for the career fair?” he asks after a long silence. It starts in two days and he knows I’ve been worrying about it.
“I’m as ready as I’m going to be, I think,” I answer, staring up at the single, fluffy white cloud floating in the clear blue above us.
Academically speaking, I’m more than ready. That’s never been the problem. The big question mark for me has always how well I’ll hold up during the interviews. A dark terror flickers to life inside me at the thought of faceless men in suits staring at me, evaluating me, dissecting me like I’m their personal science-fair project, but I quickly shove it aside and focus on Owen instead.
“How about you? Are you going to it?” I ask.
“I’ll try to stop by for a little bit at least,” he replies. “I had my first interview for my grad program during lunch today, and if I get picked for a second round interview, it’s probably going to conflict with the career fair.”
“Ooh! How’d it go?” I ask excitedly. My mind is all over the place today and I forgot about both his and Tina’s interviews.
“It went well enough,” he answers, and then he releases my hand and hops from stone to stone across the ice-cold stream. I follow behind him, going a little more slowly to make sure my textbooks don’t end up in the water, and he catches me on the other side with strong arms and a warm smile before we continue both our walk and the conversation.
“So yeah, it was pretty good,” he continues. “It was just the basic background stuff. Academic goals, talking about my major, my research interests... you know the deal.”
We both drift into silence as we continue along the gray slate path toward our apartment complex, and I wonder if he’s thinking what I’m thinking right now.
What if I get a job offer somewhere far away? What if he doesn’t get into grad school and I do?
I don’t want to be apart from him. Now that I’ve found him, I can’t bear the idea of losing him like that. Even thinking about it hurts me, so I can’t imagine how horrible it’ll feel if it actually happens.
“Don’t worry,” he whispers as if reading my mind. “We’re not going to be apart. I know it.”
“How do you know that?” I ask as we reach the staircase leading out of the gorge and up to the back end of our apartment complex. “Hiding psychic powers from me?”
“I just do,” he whispers, flashing me a smile that makes me want to melt into him. God, I hope he’s right.
The staircase ends at the slanted sidewalk running past my apartment, but as I turn toward my front door, Owen grabs my hand.
“Why don’t you let me make us dinner tonight? You fed me for like two weeks straight. It’s about time I started paying it back.”
I smile at him but shake my head.
“I’d love it, but can you afford to be making me dinner?” I ask. “You’re still paying for that arm, right?”
He looks down at the cast on his right arm and then back up at me, grinning.
“One more week,” he says. “The doctor says I’ve got one week left and then I’m rid of this thing.”
“Doesn’t quite answer my question,” I tell him, winking. He laughs and nods.
“Yes, Maria, I can afford it. Honest.”
“Then I accept,” I whisper. I smile warmly at him and let him reel me back in to his side again, and we continue straight past my apartment and up the stairs to his.
wen’s apartment is cold and empty when we get there, and I toss my backpack onto the dining room table with a thud he waters the plants on the kitchen windowsill. His little window garden isn’t much to look at—mostly scraggly vines and a few pots of wildflowers—but he’s proud of it. He spent most of his life struggling to grow, so seeing his garden thrive must help him feel, somehow, like everything worked out in the end.
“Where’s Craig?” I ask, following Owen up the stairs after he finishes with his plants.
“Oh, probably at office hours right now and then being a total lush later,” he answers, looking back at me over his shoulder. “Tina invited me to come out to Pixel with them, but there’s no way I’m going barhopping on a Monday night.”
I laugh and shake my head. Tina didn’t invite me, but she knows better than to waste the effort on a weeknight. I’m not big on bars in the first place, let alone when I have early classes the next day.
I carefully pinch the neck of an empty beer bottle from Owen’s nightstand between two fingers and toss it into the garbage can while Owen sits down on his bed and starts unpacking his backpack. Professor Meador must’ve given up on waiting for his hand to heal, judging by the ungodly pile of papers he needs to grade. The sun comes out from behind a cloud and shines through the bedroom window, framing Owen in a brilliant square of sunlight as he sits on the bed. The way the sun lights up his face makes him so handsome that it’s almost unbearable.
“So... no Tina or Craig until late tonight?” I ask, sitting down beside him. Something beautiful and intoxicating flickers to life in my mind as I slowly put my arm around his waist. It whispers delicious and terrifying ideas to me, begging me,
me to act on the urges suddenly growing inside me.