Warning: This work has been rated 16+ for violence and mature content.
In such a cruel world it would be easy for a woman to become hard. To grow teeth and talons. To spit venom to protect herself. It would be so easy to become the very monster that broke her. It is much harder to know the ugliness of the world and still choose to see the beautiful, harder still to be soft when that very vulnerability got you hurt. So become hard. Grow a tougher skin if that is what you need to feel safe, what you need to survive.
But, my dear, please hear me when I say this. Do not let this event keep you from being the kind person you were before the pain of the world broke you. Be kind. Let yourself be soft with those you trust, so to the point that they marvel at your strength. And if anyone ever forgets the pain from which that kindness came from, or mistakes your softness for weakness, then you awaken that ugly demon borne of agony within and you and you show them what hell looks like when it wears face of a gentle woman. For it takes far more courage to be soft, to be vulnerable - in essence to be human - than it does to become a monster made of stone.
For at the end of the day they can take your body, but they can never take your power from you.
The orange glow of the lamplight barely stretches into the alleyway, making the passage dark as pitch. As she crosses the threshold of light Lexi becomes nothing more than a shadow, enveloped by the darkness. There is a comfort that comes from that dark, that comes with knowing she cannot be seen, but also a fear of what may be lurking in the shadows.
Mist rolls off the damp ground. Puddles form in the cracks of the asphalt and water flows like a river down the gutters from a rain that has refused to cease for the last day. Lexi holds her umbrella low, hiding her features. Her converse are soaked through, the canvas material having provided little protection from the water. She can hear them squelch every time she takes a step. As she continues her foot lands in a puddle and the water splashes up onto her already drenched legs. Lexi swears under her breath. The cold is beginning to set in so she hugs her arms tighter around herself in an effort to hold in the heat.
As Lexi plunges into the black of the alley, she peeks over her shoulder again. Nothing. She forces herself to release the breath she’s been holding since the grocery store and continues on her way. She moves from alley to alley, zig-zagging through the streets, keeping out of the light, and checking that the way is clear at every corner. As she approaches her final destination she feels herself become more cautious. This is the most dangerous part, they had told her. This moment just before safety, is where people slip up. She pauses before the end of the last alleyway and checks that the street before her is clear of all persons. She checks for shadows waiting in the lobby and then glances behind her to make sure her phantom pursuer is simply a figment of her imagination.
After she has checked, checked again, and checked a third time for safety she hurries across the road and into the rundown apartment building. Lexi hustles up a flight of stairs and to her unmarked door. It takes two tries to get her key in the door because of her shaking hands, though she can’t tell whether the tremors are from the cold that has seeped into her bones or from the fright that caused her to hurry home. As soon as the door opens she rushes in, quickly closes it behind her, flips the lock, slides the two deadbolts home and hooks the chain for good measure. Lexi leans her forehead against the door as she takes three grounding breaths and tells herself that she is safe. She glides into her kitchen, flicking on the lightswitch, and dumping her groceries on the table. The light flickers twice and then off with a clap of thunder. She huffs, pulling out her phone and using the light to find the matches in her kitchen drawer. Lexi lights a few candles before she takes out her phone again and shoots off a text, ‘Call me when you get a chance. I think I saw him today.' Once her living room is passably lit she pads into her room, plugs in her phone and shucks off her damp clothes. She leaves them in a heep on the floor and pulls on some sweats, relishing the feeling of their dryness and warmth.
Lexi snags a pack of smokes from her dresser and goes to sit on the window sill in her living room. She slides open the window and lights her cigarette, enjoying the burn of the smoke as she takes a drag. The pitter-patter of rain on the fire escape lulls her into calm as she gazes at the cloudy night sky. Lightning flashes, dancing across the sky, cutting a violent line through the clouds. She wonders why the most beautiful things are also usually the most dangerous. The sudden blare of her ringtone breaks the quiet and pulls her from her reprieve. She blots up from her perch, quickly putting out her smoke and dashes to her room to grab her phone. ‘Sargent García’ fills the screen and Lexi quickly answers.
“Hey Lex,” a gruff yet feminine voice on the other line starts, “So you saw him?”
“Ya,” Lexi replies, “or at least I think so. I was at the grocery store paying. I panicked and ran home.”
“You sure it was him?” Sargent García asks.
“Pretty sure. I weaved through the streets like you said just in case he followed me, but...” Lexi falters.
“What?” she asked
“I just… I wish this would end Mona. I mean I moved because of this guy and when I tried to get help you guys couldn't do anything but give me some evasive techniques. It’s not fair. I’m tired of being scared to live.” Lexi mumbled.
“I know. I’m sorry. The system is what it is though. The police, we, can’t do anything about stalkers until a physical threat is made. It’s so wrong to me but I can’t help procedure,” García says.
“I know, I know. Don’t apologize, it’s not your fault. You’ve been there for me anyway,” Lexi smiles despite herself. She’s glad she managed to make a friend from the only cop that was kind to her in this shitty situation.
“Ya well, us girls gotta stick together right? How about I swing by and check on you when I get off? I can be there in like an hour and a half,” García offers.
“That would be great. And bring wine! Oh and lightbulbs too!” Lexi commands.
García laughs on the other end. “Fine,” she promises, “see you then.”
“See yaaaaa,” Lexi chimes. The call ends and Lexi flits out to the kitchen to unpack her groceries, feeling a little lighter than she had before. She spies the window she was smoking out of still open and rushes to shut it from the rain dripping inside. As she turns back toward the kitchen she freezes.
Lightning flashes outside the window behind her, illuminating the watery footprints on the ground and the towering man they lead to. Tightness windes in her chest as fear boils over, pumping through her veins. Lexi recognizes him, he’s the same man she saw at the store. The same one she moved to escape the attentions of. There’s something wild in his eyes. The frenzied look of a starved shark that’s cornered its prey.
Lexi wills herself to move. To run or scream. To do anything other then stand there. But it’s like time is slowed. All she can hear is her increasingly rapid breaths and the beating of the rain outside. Lightning flashes again and he takes a step toward her. Time snaps back into place and she’s running for her room before she even knows she’s moving. Lexi can hear his heavy footfalls behind her but refuses to look back as she slams the door closed behind her, throwing her weight against it as she flips the lock. Immediately after there’s a slam against the door. The doorknob jiggles violently and a growl erupts from the other side. Lexi backs away as an assault of pounding and thuds rattles the door on its hinges.
Lexi grabs her phone off the bed dialling for García. Before the call connects the door bursts open and she screams as she is knocked to the ground. The phone escapes her grasp sliding under the bed. Harsh hands fall on her body ripping at her clothes and she feels herself freeze again.
Everything goes numb and all she can do is stare at the place where her phone landed, just out of reach, as tears pour from her eyes. The phone rings out with an accompaniment of whimpers.
Ramona García saunters up the steps of the decrepit apartment building, plastic bag of wine and lightbulbs swinging on her arm. She’d missed a call from Lexi earlier, but she’d been away from her phone at work. Besides, she tells herself as she double checks her messages, if its been important she would have texted me too. She cringes at the smell of mildew that began its assault on her nostrils as soon as she entered the lobby. She hates this place. The building is barely livable and in a shitty neighborhood. But she’s at least glad that Lexi’s safer here.
She remembers first meeting Lexi. Skin golden as if it had been kissed by the sun, long silky chestnut hair and striking green eyes filled with worry. She was at the station, speaking to Mona’s partner Ambrose. Ambrose is a pick. He never cared much for having a female partner and did not give a shit that this girl was terrified and needed help. Mona caught herself up on the case quickly. Someone had been leaving her notes under her apartment door. No stamps, she noted as she fliped one over, so they weren't mailed. They weren’t explicitly menacing or violent but certainly indicated that he had been following her. Mona offered to buy the girl a coffee and talk her through what she should do. It started out like that. Coffees and concerns, but soon their coffee dates were just them sharing their days with each other. Ramona didn't have many friends and she figured Lexi didn't either, but soon they felt like they had each other. Ramona had been the one to suggest she move. Somewhere between coffee and packing up cardboard boxes her feelings about the girl had gotten more complicated. She still wasn’t sure what she felt. She only knew that every time Lexi called or texted her, she couldn’t help the smile that tugged at the corners of her mouth.
Mona shakes the memories from her mind, a smile playing at her lips. She makes it to the first floor landing and every muscle in her body goes rigid the second she sees the door hanging open. She feels herself going for the gun still strapped to her hip as her mind races as to why it would be open. Lexi never keeps the door open. She silently sets her plastic bag outside the door.
Every sense of hers is on high alert as she enters the apartment. Mona notes that the lights are out and pulls the flashlight from her belt. There’s a trail of watery footprints coming from the window. Too big to be Lexi’s. Mona stomach plummets, nausea and dread setting in. She clears the living room and kitchen quickly, heart sinking in the silence. She moves toward the bedroom. The frame of the door is broken, wood splintered around the lock. She can hear the blood pounding in her ears as she crosses the threshold of the door. The room, at first glance, looks as empty and still as the rest of the apartment, but something in the energy of the place is off. The mess of clothes on the floor is mixed with a few nicknacks that fell off the dresser. A picture frame sits in a pile of shattered glass, winking at her in the light of her flashlight. Around the other side of the bed, she spies the top of a chestnut head.
Mona slowly makes her way around the edge of the bed and as her eyes land on Lexi, huddled in the corner between the bed and the wall, her breath hitches and she can feel her heart breaking. Lexi’s legs, tucked to her chest, are peppered with bleeding scratches. The glass. Her arms, a warzone of bruises, clutch her legs tightly as she stares toward Mona. Lexi’s eyes are on her but seem unfocused, like she’s looking through her. Mona reholsters her gun and moves toward her, hands outstretched, ready to help her friend up. Lexi’s eyes snap back into focus immediately, terror seeping into the corners, as she flinches away. What few pieces of Mona’s shattered heart remained turn to dust at that flinch. She pulls her hands back and slowly kneels in front of her. “It’s ok Lex, it’s me,” she soothes. Lexi looks at Mona, perhaps for the first time, and tears pool and spill from her eyes once their gazes meet. “I’m gonna call an ambulance ok?” Lexi dips her head in what may be a nod so Mona takes out her phone and opens up her calls. The red text of her most recent missed call gleams on the screen before she dials. At the sight of that red Mona swears justice, or even vengeance, to every god that will hear her plea.
“Lex, please. Please call me back… I know… no. I have no clue what you’re feeling right now, but… I want to. Look, I get that you don’t want to talk about it,” Lexi can hear Mona sigh, “If you come by the station, though, you can help us catch him. Please just… please think about it.” The message cuts out.
Lexi stares at her phone. A crack formed in her walls with that message. Before she can talk herself out of it, she deletes the message from her phone, promptly taking another swig from a bottle of brown liquid. Lexi glances at her bedroom door, and takes another swig. The alcohol fills the cracks like cement, fortfing the walls she’s erected in her chest. She sets the bottle within easy reach on the floor and curls up on the couch. She stares at the shadows on the ceiling. Expecting another sleepless night, she swears she feels the couch dip next to her as anxiety come to keep her company.
An unending pounding at the door wakes Lexi from a fitful sleep. Her heart shoots into her throat. For a moment she can feel herself freeze again. All she can think of is a different day and a different door. This is it, she thinks, He’s come to finish me off. No one has come by her apartment in weeks. She can’t even remember the last time that she checked her phone. The fear expands in her chest like a balloon, on the verge of popping.
“Lex!” Mona calls from the other side of the door, “I know you’re in there!”
Lexi feels the balloon quickly deflate and sags against the couch in relief. Annoyance prickles at her spine quickly. She doesn’t want to see her. She thought she’d made that clear. “Go away,” she moans as she raises from her place on the couch and starts collecting the empty bottles around the room.
“Lex please. I just want to help.” Mona says, her voice sounding suddenly small from the hallway. That’s the last straw for her. Anger flashes in Lexi’s eyes, white hot and blinding. She storms toward the door, rage roiling off her in almost palpable waves. She throws the door open with such force Mona takes a step back.
“You want to help? Really? Now? If you really wanted to help you should have picked up when I actually needed you,” Venom drips from every word she spits. She watches as Mona’s face falls. For a moment Lexi feels a twinge of regret at her words but she shoves that down and buries it in the graveyard of her other emotions.
“Lexi… I’m so sorry didn’t pick up that night.” Mona takes a step toward her. She reaches up and gently brushes away tears that Lexi hadn’t even realized had started flowing. “Please. Please don’t shut me out.” A sob bubbles from Lexi’s chest and she can’t help sagging a bit into Mona’s grasp as the other woman’s arms circle around her.
“I’m so sorry” she sobs, “I don’t know how to do this anymore.”
“Do what?” Mona asks softly.
“Live.” she replies simply. They stay for a while like that, wrapped up in each other's embrace in the doorway of Lexi’s apartment.
“Lex,” Mona starts breaking the embrace. She hesitates a moment before continuing, “I think I got him. He’s down at the station. You just need to ID him and then we can get a subpoena for DNA.” Lexi’s breath hitches as she stumbles back from Mona’s grasp. Her mind reels a thousand kilometers a minute. Every instinct she’s ever had screams at her to run. To flee. To hop a bus or take a plane and disappear into some far off cave in Greece. But she looks at the hope, the fortitude of the woman in front of her. Lexi lets a little of her light leak through the cracks of her heart. Just enough to give her the strength to stand on solid legs and say ‘enough.’
“Number five please step forward,” An officer says into the mic. A man with familiar cruel blue eyes steps forward. Lexi sucks in a breath and her panicked eyes find Mona’s as they stand on opposite side of the one way glass as the man.
She nods, “That’s him.”
“Deep breath first. In. Out. You are not there. You are here. Be here with me. You are safe. Just be here.” Officer Lexi Gorganus smiles softly and gives the woman’s hand a light squeeze. The constant din of hospital noise buzzes around them outside of the privacy curtains of the exam room.
“I want you to know that I know how you feel. I have been where you are. I know that you must be feeling a mix of things. Can you walk me through what happened?” She asks. She listens intently to the woman’s story. A dull pain pulses in her chest as she fills out the report and prods for specific details. This is the hardest part for her. Listening to stories that are all too familiar. Stories so drenched in pain, which often conjure memories she had once tired to block.
Lexi takes a deep breath in through her nose as the woman finishes with her last detail and she offers the her a kind smile. “You will get through this,” she promises, “take your time. It won’t get easier all at once, but if you lean on those that are there for you, they’ll help you share the weight.”
Lexi finishes her report and exits the hospital. She feels off, her resolve shaken by seeing someone who must have looked just like she had. She sucks in the cold night air outside, and stares up at the twinkling night sky. Despite the difficult parts of her job she couldn't help the pride that swelled in her chest when she knew she was helping others. Perhaps her curse was more of a blessing.