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Cold Coffee

Horror

FIVE YEARS PAST

“Hey Trudy, come on down and guard the shower for me ok?” Dana asked her roommate.

“Girl, I’m watching tv! Can’t you go on your own just once?” Trudy had grown impatient with these requests, she had to stay and make sure no one went into the shower area when Dana was in there. Dana’s Iowa farm upbringing didn’t prepare her for life in a large dorm with an open shower and bath area. Dana was uncomfortable about being nude in front of others so she showered late at night.

“Trudy, you know how I feel! Please?”

“Dana, look, my show has a few more minutes. Go and get started and I’ll be there after it ends. OK?”

“All right, I guess. You promise?” Dana asked.

“Yes! Now go!” Trudy yelled back.

Dana went to her bed and picked up her shower bag and towel. She shivered, not knowing why. It felt like a cool small breeze blowing over her body. She took her things and left the room.

The hallway was dark thanks to the campus policy of cutting lighting in half during off hours. The effect didn’t help Dana’s nerves. She could barely see the bathroom door at the end of the hall.

She opened the door and switched on the lights. Because they were at half brightness she chose a shower under a light near to the entrance. The showers were open with a ¾ wall blocking the water from coming out onto the main floor. Dana put her bag down on the bench, hung up her robe, grabbed her soap and shampoo and walked to the stall. She got in and turned on the water. The sound in the large tile room seemed louder than usual, but maybe it was her nerves making it seem that way.

Trudy’s show ended and she put on her robe to go down to the bathroom. She was tired of it but understood her roommate’s feelings. She liked Dana. She had a fresh outlook, far different from her other city friends. She stopped at the soda machine to grab a drink, and then she walked down to the bathroom.

Opening the door, Trudy called in, “Hey Dana! I’m here. Do you want me inside with you or wait out here?” She could hear the water running but no answer. “Dana, did you hear me?” Trudy walked inside. “Dang girl, are you deaf? Dana!”

Trudy saw the shower running but no one was in there. Dana’s bag was still on the bench. She ran over to the shower. “DANA!”

When she came around the wall, Trudy saw why Dana wasn’t answering. She was lying on the floor of the shower in a puddle of watery blood. Her throat had been slit. Trudy screamed. Lights came on all over the building. The screaming continued.

On a bench across the small yard between the dorm buildings, a man sat. He smiled as he listened to the screaming. It got louder as more women got their first sight of the body. A gloved hand dropped a picture of Dana on the ground; half of it had been cut away but you could still see an arm draped over her left shoulder. Once he heard the sirens coming, he walked off into the darkness.

PRESENT

He sat at his table waiting for her to show up as he had every Saturday morning. He first spotted her 2 months ago at this coffee shop. Her eyes had drawn his attention. They were dark brown and beautiful. Not the boring, flat brown of so many women. No, these had a depth to them. They had seen life, cried tears of joy and sorrow. There was an intelligence behind them that intrigued him. Today was a day he had been looking forward to—he was going to meet her for the first time.

He saw her coming down the street; she was running a little bit late. He wondered what had held her up. She had her purse and computer bag as usual, plus a shopping bag from the book store down the block. She came into the coffee shop, set her things down at a table, and walked up to the counter. He watched.

She got her usual drink; a tall coffee with hazelnut flavoring. She sat down and looked out the window. Something was different today, she seemed sad or thoughtful. He wondered if he should wait but then decided that whatever her problem was, he would make it better. He walked over to her table.

“Hello and good morning to you. And no, you do not know me. We seem to share a fondness for coffee and for being here on Saturday mornings. I wanted to come over and introduce myself. My name is Brent Kingston.” Brent held out his hand for her to take.

She reached up and took it, smiling. “Hi, I’m Alex. I’ve seen you here too. Would you like to sit down and join me?”

It was everything he hoped for. He went back to his table and retrieved his jacket and bag. He sat across from her so he could look at her.

“I noticed you seemed a bit sad or something today. You had that look on your face when you came in. Is everything all right?”

“Oh yeah, I forgot about my friend’s birthday tomorrow and had to get her a present. I’m glad the bookstore is open this early,” Alex replied.

“Why the sad face for a birthday party?” Brent asked.

“Well, my ex-boyfriend will be there with his new girlfriend. She’s quite pretty, popular and the opposite of me. It’s depressing; we were together for 2 years. I, well, I really thought he might have been the one.” Alex looked down at her cup, raised it to her mouth and drank. There were tears in her eyes but they didn’t fall. She blinked them back and looked out the window. Brent thought what a wonderful day this was going to be. She was ready for him. He smiled.

***

The following Friday evening, Alex was getting ready for her first date with Brent. He had asked her out as they walked to her car last Saturday. She nervously said yes. Now here it was, date night. She didn’t know what to wear; it had been a long time since she had a first date. Brent was a handsome man and she felt a powerful attraction to him.

As she stood looking at the clothes in her closet, the phone rang. Alex walked over and saw it was Brent calling. A moment of worry flittered in Alex’s mind that he was calling to cancel. She sometimes thought that he was too good for her. Her self-esteem had taken a bad hit from her last boyfriend.

“Hello!” said Alex. She tried to keep her voice calm.

“Hey, it’s Brent. Are you ready for our first date?”

“Oh yeah, I’m trying to decide what to wear.” Alex was relieved, the date was still on. She took a deep breath and relaxed a little.

“Well, let me help you. I like women who wear dresses or skirts. Pants should only be worn for garden work or business meetings. They have no place in dating. Do you have a nice dress?” Brent sounded firm but caring.

“Yes, I have a really pretty dark green one. I can wear that.”

“Good. That will be a nice color on you. Do you ever wear your hair up? I like that too. Have some curls hanging loose.”

“Sure. I can do that. Are you still picking me up in an hour?”

“Yes, I’ll be there in an hour. I’ll call when I’m a few minutes away. See you then!” Brent tried to sound upbeat. He hung up. This was a critical time, he had to be patient.

Alex hung up the phone and went to get the dress out of the closet. She smiled and hummed to herself. She liked a man who knew what he wanted. He wanted her to look pretty. He knew what colors would be nice on her. For the first time in her life, she felt desired. It was going to be a wonderful night.

***

Alex sat in the restaurant waiting for her friend Sarah. They tried to have lunch together every few weeks. "Big girls lunch" they called it because it involved alcoholic drinks, lots of food, and laughing. She had so much to tell her. She looked up and saw Sarah weaving through the tables coming towards her.

“Oh my god, Alex! You look wonderful! You’re wearing new clothes and a totally different style! And your hair! I love the color!” Sarah sat down and looked at Alex. She had never seen her friend look so good.

“Sarah, I have so much to tell you! I’ve met someone. He’s....well....he’s amazing and we’re having the best time!” Alex was gushing now.

“OK. Let’s order some drinks and we can start talking. I want to hear all about this miracle worker who has managed what I could not.” Sarah smiled. She wondered who the heck this guy was.

Between drinks and some appetizers, Alex told Sarah about Brent. Now the main course was on the table. As they ate, Sarah asked Alex something that had been bugging her; “So, Brent. He has been watching you every Saturday for a few months and one day he gets up the nerve to talk to you. Then you have your first date a week later. Now you are dating steady. He has completely changed your wardrobe and your hair color. And you’re ok with that?”

“Oh Sarah, you make it sound all creepy when it’s nothing like that! You know I have no sense of style. My clothes were a mess! He’s helped me to find what my real style is. And the hair color, I was such a boring brown before. Now it’s got shine, and depth! It’s cut in a much better style for me. I thought you would love it! You’ve been bugging me for a long time to do something about it.” Alex sounded perplexed. She wanted Sarah to like these changes, and to like Brent.

“Yeah, I do like them! I never thought you would listen to a guy like that. But he seems to know what he’s doing, you do look great. I’m sorry; I didn’t mean to make it sound creepy. I guess I’m surprised that’s all. You didn’t mention anything about these changes,” Sarah said.

“I wanted it to be a surprise. It goes to show that sometimes miracles do happen. I’m planning a dinner party next week and I want you and Greg to come. Brent will be there and you can meet him.”

“Absolutely! I want to meet him! Let me know if you want me to bring anything.”

Sarah and Alex talked about other stuff and finished eating. Sarah was thinking to herself about Brent and his influence on her friend. Somewhere, down deep in her gut, she had a bad feeling about it all.

***

At Alex’s apartment, Sarah and Greg sat on the couch; they were waiting for Brent to show up. He was already 30 minutes late.

“Alex, try calling him again and see how long it will be. We’re all hungry and the food won’t keep much longer,” said Sarah.

“Ok, I’ll call him. He really hates being interrupted while he’s working but I’ll call.” Alex went into the bedroom to call him.

“Brent is making a killer first impression on me!" said Greg.

“I know” said Sarah, “he must think he’s hot stuff. Keeping us waiting; I hate this crap.”

“Does it make you wonder why Alex had to go call him from the bedroom instead from in here?” Greg asked.

“Yes, I hadn’t thought of that.” Sarah was puzzled now.

Alex called Brent on his cell phone. She was nervous; he had yelled at her the other day when she called while he was at work. She wanted to know which side dish to serve for dinner and he blew up at her. He apologized later at dinner. He even brought her a dozen roses. He told her he felt bad about losing his temper like that.

“Hello?” asked Brent.

“Hey honey, it’s me. I was wondering how much longer you would be. Sarah and Greg are hungry and the food is ready.”

“I told you I would be there as soon as I can. Go ahead and eat if you want. If your friends can’t wait, well then, whatever. I’ll grab something from a fast food place on my way home. If it’s too late, I won’t come over. I have to go now. Bye.” He hung up.

Alex held the phone in her hands. Tears were in her eyes. She was afraid she would lose him if she made him angry too often. They had been together for almost 2 months. She already knew she was in love with him. She shook her head, wiped her eyes and went out into the living room.

***

It was two days before Brent called Alex again. Two days of emotional hell for Alex.

“Hello?”

“Hello Alex. It’s Brent.”

“Hi. I’m so glad you called. I was getting worried that you wouldn’t call me back. I’m so sorry about the other night. I was under pressure from Greg and Sarah and felt bad that they were so hungry. I promise I’ll never do that again.” Alex was rambling and trying to show how sorry she was.

“It’s ok; I didn’t make it as clear as I wanted about calling me at work. Only in emergencies will I accept a call. I mean that. If your petty friends cannot understand that, well, that’s not my problem.” Brent tried to keep from yelling at her. If he blew it now, all would be lost.

“I promise Brent. Only in emergencies will I call you at work. I’m really sorry. Can we kiss and make up now?” Alex tried to sound cute over the phone. Brent smiled; he still had her.

***

Sarah invited Alex to dinner for some chick time. Greg was out of town and Brent had a business meeting so both women were free for the evening. They sat in their favorite booth of the little Italian dive they loved.

“Am I ever going to meet Brent or what? It’s been almost four months now and still nothing. Doesn’t he want to meet us?” Sarah was a bit impatient now.

“Sarah, of course he wants to meet you guys. He’s really busy right now. Something big is going on at his job and he’s in the middle of it,” said Alex.

“What does this superman do anyway that keeps him working all the time? Is he a doctor or something like that?”

“No, he works in the financial sector. He’s some sort of computer wizard and he gets called in when there’s mergers and stuff. That’s all he’s told me. He said I would be bored with all the details.” Alex took a sip of her wine.

“Sarah, can I ask you something?”

“Sure. What’s up?”

“How long was it before you and Greg...well...before you had sex?” Alex felt so timid asking.

“Well, I think we were on our sixth date. We got a bit drunk and wound up making out on his couch. We woke the next morning in his bed. Neither of us really remembered any of it.” Sarah laughed. “We decided that morning to have a make-up session but without all the booze! We got together that following weekend and BAM! It was awesome. Why do you ask? Haven’t you and wonder boy done it yet?” Sarah teased.

“I wish you wouldn’t call him that. And no, we haven’t. Brent said he wanted to wait until he was sure of his feelings for me. He was really burned by his last girlfriend so he’s taking more time.” Alex finished her glass of wine and re-filled her glass.

“I’m sorry; I won’t call him be any sarcastic names anymore. Waiting for a while, now that’s a new one. Most guys can’t wait to get a chick in the sack. Have you at least kissed him?”

“Yes, we kiss. And we cuddle when we watch movies. We hug too but nothing more. I’m starting to wonder if he doesn’t find me attractive in that way.”

Sarah looked at her friend. She had bad self-esteem issues. She wished that Alex could be stronger but hopefully that would come in time.

“Alex, if Brent didn’t find you attractive, I don’t think he would spend all that money on you. It will happen. That ex of his must have really done a number on him. Wait for the right time.” Sarah took Alex’s hand in hers and looked in her eyes. She tried to will her faith over to her friend. Alex smiled back. She knew Sarah was right.

***

Three days before their six month anniversary, Brent told Alex he was arranging a celebration for the occasion.

“Have you ever been up to Aspen?” Brent asked.

“Yes, but a long time ago. It’s so lovely. Why do you ask?”

“Because my dear, that’s where we will be spending our anniversary weekend. I will make all the arrangements; including a shopping trip for clothes and a hair appointment. You will be the loveliest woman up there.” Brent was very happy with how the relationship was going. She was perfect.

***

The anniversary weekend was very romantic, Alex was overwhelmed. She never thought this would happen to her. She had new clothes and her hair was beautiful. Brent picked her up in a limo and they were off to the airport. Waiting for them was a Cessna plane. Brent told her it was the company’s plane but that he was allowed to use it on weekends. Alex had never flown in a private plane. She felt like a princess.

The first night was perfect. They had a private room in one of the most expensive restaurants in Aspen with a violin player just outside the door, playing softly. Candles were everywhere. The food was beyond anything she had ever tasted. Wine flowed and she became drunk on it and the attention. Brent danced with her around the room and kissed her until she was out of breath. He whispered in her ear that he had waited long enough. Her knees went weak with anticipation.

Finally, they made love. Alex had never been loved like that before. He knew her body better than she did. He taught her about his. They loved until the horizon began to show light. As they fell asleep, Brent looked out the window at the sunrise. She was now his. Forever.

***

Over the next several months, Alex found herself busy with Brent‘s life. She ran errands for him, bought groceries, and cleaned his apartment. Her own life was far less important. Her friends had taken a back seat to the love of her life. She hadn’t talked with Sarah since their last dinner date.

One morning Sarah showed up at Alex’s apartment. She was more than worried and determined to talk to her friend today.

She heard Alex grind her coffee and knocked on the door. After a moment, Alex opened it and said, “Hey! Good morning! What are you doing here?”

“We need to talk. Now.” Sarah was firm, anger was under the surface but she held that back.

“Come in, please.” Alex was perplexed by the tone in her friend’s voice.

Sarah sat on the couch and looked at Alex. She looked different; thinner, even a bit gaunt. Her hair was still nice. But there was something in her face that bothered her.

“Alex, sit down. I want to ask you some questions.”

“Do you want some coffee or tea?” Alex asked.

“No. Sit down please.” Alex sat opposite her.

“All right. Let me say I’m doing this because I care about you and we are friends. Why haven’t I heard from you in several months? I still haven’t met Brent; I don’t even know his last name. Where have you been? I’ve left messages for you but no return calls. And you look like you have lost too much weight. What the hell is going on?” Now the anger crept into her voice.

“Sarah, I’m fine!” Alex grasped Sarah’s hands. “I’m sorry I haven’t called you. I’ve been so busy between work and getting Brent’s apartment ready. We’re moving in together! I’m helping him to re-arrange things and all. I’m so excited!” Alex talked fast and her eyes glowed.

“Oh, I see. I never expected you to go that far with someone I haven’t met yet. I worry about you honey!” Sarah was more concerned than ever; she didn’t even know where Brent lived. If Alex moved without giving her that information, she might lose her completely.

“I know you do and I appreciate it so much! But I’m in love. And Brent loves me too. He told me on our six month anniversary. We made love that weekend and it was simply amazing! It was like he knew me! I mean, I didn’t have to tell him anything, I would think it and then he did it.” Sarah could see that Alex might already be too far gone.

“Alex, you told me once that you wouldn’t move in with a guy unless you had a ring on your finger and it was at least three to six months from the wedding date. What happened to that?”

“I know, I know! But I didn’t expect Brent! He’s everything I have ever wanted in a man. We’re so good together. I wish you would be more excited for me Sarah.” Alex felt let down by her friend. Brent was right, she was jealous. Alex didn’t want to believe that but here it was.

“I am happy for you. I have never wanted anything less than for you to be happy. You’re as close to me as a sister. We watch out for each other right? I want you to be safe too.” Sarah didn’t know what to do. Time was running out.

“I’m fine. And I’ll arrange a meeting for you and Brent to meet. I’ll tell him it’s important to me and he’ll do it. I promise.”

Sarah left after another 20 minutes. Alex had to be somewhere and still needed to get dressed. Wondering what she should do next, Sarah called Greg for advice. She didn’t know that this was the last time she would see or hear from Alex in quite a while.

***

Sarah was in church. She wasn’t a regular but she found herself here because she needed to be somewhere; anywhere but home. She lit one of the prayer candles by the altar. Not knowing what to do, she simply whispered, “For Alex.”

It had been six months since she had contact with her friend. Sarah had tried calling her numerous times after that last visit. Emails went unanswered then she got a bounce back saying that Alex’s account had been closed. She had gone to see her and found the apartment manager cleaning out the place. All of her things were gone; there was some trash on the floor and a stack of papers on the kitchen counter. Sarah looked at the papers. Alex’s photos, address book, and some letters. All contact was gone. Sarah grabbed the stack, held it to her chest and wept.

She had hired a private detective but no trace was found. Her credit cards had been paid off and then cancelled. All bills were paid off and cancelled. There was no updated driver’s license; the only address in their system was the old one. Alex had disappeared. Her parents had been frantic; they stayed in touch with Sarah. Each hoped that they would hear from her someday and tell the others.

***

When Sarah got home, she found a note on her door. Opening it, she found it was from a police officer. Heart pounding, she raced inside and called the circled number.

“Hello, Sergeant Erikson speaking.”

“Hi, I’m Sarah Jackson. I found a note on my door with this phone number on it.” Sarah tried to keep her voice steady.

“Yes, Miss Jackson! I’m so glad you called me back. Would you be able to come to my office this afternoon? I need to talk to you about someone you might know. Alex Kingston, formally Alex Litten. Wasn’t she a friend of yours?”

“Oh my god! Yes, she was...I mean is! Oh my god, is she, is she dead?” Sarah was on the edge of panic now.

“Please Miss Jackson, calm down, she’s alive. Can you come down here? I would rather talk to you face to face. I think you’ll understand when you hear what I have to say. Can you drive or should I send a car for you?” The Sergeant was worried that she was too upset to drive.

“I’m ok. Let me take a deep breath.” Sarah sat down and tried to calm herself.

“All right. I can drive, thank you. Give me the address and I’ll be there as soon as I can.” Sarah wrote the address down.

“One more thing Miss Jackson, do you have her parents' contact information?”

“Yes, I do.”

“Can you bring that as well?”

“Of course. Should I call them before I leave?”

“No. Let me talk to you first and then we can decide how to contact them. You’ll understand. I’ll see you soon. Bye.”

Sarah dropped the phone on the floor. She was shaking. Alex was alive. But the cop was being so weird about it. What the hell had happened to her? Why was Sarah the only person the cops were talking to? She thought of calling Greg but decided not to take the time. He was coming over later and had his own key. She left a note for him and got ready to go talk to the police.

Sarah was shown into the Sergeant's office and she took a seat. She was told that he was running a quick errand and would be right back.

Sergeant Erikson walked in about five minutes later. “I’m so sorry to keep you waiting. I had to run to a different floor for a report. Do you need anything? Coffee, tea, some water?”

“Actually, some water would be good. I’m nervous and upset.” Sarah tried to keep from crying.

“Will do.” He picked up his phone and called his assistant. “Carol, can you bring us some ice water and glasses please? I appreciate it. Thanks.”

He sat down behind his desk. Picking up a folder, he looked at it then at Sarah. He was visibly concerned and that made Sarah more anxious. Her mouth had gone dry.

Carol came in with the water and glasses. Pouring one for each of them, she asked if that was all, then she left and closed the door.

“Miss Jackson, can I call you Sarah?”

“Please do.”

“Sarah, can you tell me about the last time you saw Alex Litten?”

Sarah told him about her visit to Alex’s apartment. She voiced her concerns about Brent and the entire relationship. She told him that she had never seen Brent nor had she spoken to him. Sarah stated that she had stayed in contact with Alex’s parents in case one of them heard from her.

“Well, Sarah, I’m certainly glad that you stayed in contact with them. That will help me considerably. Ok, there’s no easy way to say it so I’ll just dive in. Alex Kingston is in the state mental hospital in Pueblo, Colorado. She is awaiting a mental competency hearing. She is accused of murdering her husband, Brent Kingston.”

***

Sarah sat back in her chair, the room was spinning. “Oh my god, oh my god. What the hell happened?” Sarah began crying.

Sergeant Jackson handed her a box of tissues and waited. She had been close to Alex; he hoped it would help answer some of his questions.

After a few minutes, Sarah’s crying stopped. She blew her nose and then looked at the Sergeant. “I’m sorry for losing it like that. Alex and I have known each other since junior high. We were like sisters. When she disappeared, I felt like part of me went missing. I knew Brent was bad news but she wouldn’t hear me. To hear this about her, well, it’s too much.” Sarah took several deep breaths, and then drank some water. “Ok, let’s keep going. I want to hear the rest.”

“Here is what we know: Alex married Brent Kingston soon after you last saw her. They moved to the western slope near Grand Junction. Mr. Kingston was not a computer genius as he told people; he was a superb con artist, gambler, and drug dealer. Alex wasn’t allowed to have a job. He kept her very close to him at all times. After a while, his associates began to suspect that he was abusing her but they never saw any physical evidence. We have been after him for a number of years.”

Sarah was staring at the wall trying to absorb it all. “I couldn’t find her. I hired an investigator. He said she was off the grid. All identifying things were wiped out.” She poured some more water. She wished it was a shot of something strong.

“Yes, that was a trademark of Brent’s women. He took them in and basically deleted them from the system. Sarah, Alex was not his first wife. However, she is the first to survive him.”

Sarah looked at the Sergeant. “What do you mean, survive him?”

“Mr. Kingston was married five times and had a few girlfriends. Alex is the only one still alive.”

***

Sarah was pacing in the Sergeants office. Her head was reeling. “You keep talking, I can’t sit still. Okay?”

“Yes, it’s all right, I do understand. Our department has been trailing him for some time. We would get one or two of his people to feed us information in exchange for protection and no legal action. Brent was an exceptional narcissist and sociopath. He hasn’t cared about anyone since childhood. Money and power were all he cared about. He loved the power he could wield over the women in his life.”

“As we said, Alex was at his side all the time. He made her witness drug exchanges and his gambling operations. He wanted her to be afraid. He even had her take part in some of them. Then he could threaten her with jail time if she tried to leave. Our informants told us she became weaker and quieter with time. One woman who worked in his home told us there was a room in the basement where his women were kept when they disobeyed. No one but Brent had the keys. When we opened it, we found, well...it was a torture chamber. Kingston told people he was into bondage and discipline but what we found was way beyond that. I won’t go into details.”

Sergeant Erickson took a drink of water. Sarah sat down. He continued: “Anyway, about five days ago we got a call from an informant saying he hadn’t been able to reach Brent for two days. That was highly unusual as he was usually reachable for his clients. We contacted our source in the house. She was at home. She told us that Alex had told her to take some time off. She thought it was unusual that it was Alex telling her and asked her about it. Alex said it was because Mr. Kingston was very busy and had asked her to take care of it. They wanted some quiet time together alone. She didn’t know what was going on.”

“We asked her to go to the house and see if there was a problem. She agreed. She called us back in a panic. Seems someone had broken into the house and killed Mr. Kingston in his office. Alex had been injured and was unconscious. She had called 911 already. We moved. We found the house in a mess. Living room, kitchen, dining room were all wrecked. We found Brent in his office on the floor. He had been stabbed numerous times with a kitchen knife. Alex was found in the hallway. She was covered in blood and had some serious injuries. She went to the hospital. We realized quickly this was not a break-in as all the locks were fine and nothing had been stolen. It had been a fight to the death between Alex and Brent.”

“A full search of the home turned up nothing until we got into the secret room. I believe we found what triggered Alex into the murderous frenzy. We think she had been kept down there for a while, we found several buckets full of urine and feces. She had been chained to the wall. Across from her was a table. On the table were the remains of two cats and some other small animals. We believe Brent killed them in front of her as another way to show her his power. She went off the deep end. Once out of the room, she took her chance. She must have chased him all over the place; things were thrown at each other. She is pretty beat up. I don’t know yet how she overpowered him but she managed to stab him nineteen times.”

Sarah looked at the floor. Her mind was frozen. She couldn’t believe what he was telling her. Alex, her friend and sister, was a murderer. She had been trapped. Tortured. Who knows what else happened to her in that place?

Sarah drank some water. Her voice was raw as she asked, “Why do you need me now? Why tell me this? What can I do?”

Sergeant Erikson was gentle as he spoke. “Sarah, we need you to talk to Alex. She has been in a catatonic state since regaining consciousness. She stares and doesn’t speak. That’s why she’s having the mental health exam. We want to see if she’ll respond to someone friendly from her past. We found you because she had stashed a page of her address book in a drawer. Your name and number were the only things written on it. I want you to see her first before her parents. We’re going to notify them after you and I finish here. I would like you to go to Pueblo now. I’m trying to follow the shrink’s suggestions. Catatonics are very fragile and her parents seeing her might be too much for all of them. Will you go there and try?”

Sarah thought about it. She loved Alex. She was her sister. Of course she would try. “Yes, I will go. Can I call my boyfriend and tell him I need to leave? For a few days?”

“Of course, use my phone right here. I’ll go out and make arrangements for your flight. We’ll get you out on a Cessna so you can be there quicker.”

Sarah called Greg and told him a brief synopsis. He was astonished but understood why she was going. “Honey, I’ll be here for you. Let me know when you’re coming back. I think you’ll need me once you’re back here. Be careful. Tell Alex I love her too. And Sarah, I love you too.”

***

FUTURE

Greg drove to Pueblo; Sarah was in the passenger seat singing a Christmas carol that was playing on the radio. When it ended, she had tears streaming down her face.

“Hey babe!” Greg reached over with his right hand and wiped them from her face. “What’s wrong?”

“Christmas isn’t the same now. I try to keep an upbeat attitude but it’s so hard. I look forward to seeing Alex’s parents but I’m not sure about seeing Alex herself. I love her and feel bad that I hate seeing her like that. I’m so confused!”

Sarah started crying again. Greg held her hand and looked for a rest stop so he could pull over. Once the car was stopped, he turned off the engine.

“Honey, you should never feel bad about your feelings. What happened to Alex was a horrible tragedy that none of us could have foreseen or stopped. You tried to talk her out of going with him but she was stubborn. There was nothing more you could do. She is ill now. Most likely she’ll never see prison. She might be here for the rest of her life. We need to move on. Her mom called the other day. They’re going to decrease their visits to three times a year. Neither of them can face it anymore either. She and her husband want to move on. It’s tearing them to pieces; they’re older and can’t make the long trips. They have made peace with this decision and suggested to me that we do the same. We can still plan to come together, which I think is good, but three times a year will be ok. We all live in the same state and so if anything happens we can be here fast. Think about it.” He hugged Sarah and felt her crying against him. He cried too.

Once at the hospital, they met up with Alex’s parents and headed to the sunroom where Alex was. She was in a wheelchair by the large window. The nurse on duty told them it was her favorite place. It faced south and got the warm sunshine all day. A cup was next to her on the table.

“What’s in that cup? I thought she didn’t drink anything on her own?” asked Sarah.

“Oh that,” replied the nurse, “that’s her coffee with hazelnut cream. She freaks out if she doesn’t have one next to her all day. She doesn’t drink it. She just stares at it.”

THE END