Hard Case Excerpt

Rose

 

Jail is quieter than I imagined it would be. On TV, it’s chaotic and full of loud mouth inmates and guards shouting at each other.

I haven’t heard any yelling in here. It’s been quiet except for the occasional clanging of cell doors or the clanking of barred gates leading from one section to another as guards move around. The guards are calm and respectful. Occasionally, one of my cell mates speaks, but it’s usually in a mumble or in a quivery voice that makes it obvious she’s trying not to cry. Often, this is at odds with a hard outer shell. So far, I’ve been locked up with a gang banger, prostitute, homeless woman, and drunk driver. Our orange jumpsuits and dingy surroundings aren’t the only things we have in common. We’re all waiting.

Waiting to see what happens next.

At this point, I don’t know what to expect. How can I? I’m a kindergarten teacher. One who married my high school sweetheart. The love of my life.

I’d been living a fairy tale, if not oblivious to the darkness in life, then at least insulated from it.

Until Prince Charming tried to kill me.

 

* * *

 

Josh was my first boyfriend. I still remember the day we met, back in high school on Picture Day. I was a freshman, and he was a junior. He’d been standing around in the cafeteria with a couple of his buddies when I showed up. It had been a chilly morning, so I’d worn a light jacket over my short-sleeve shirt. The photographer asked me to remove the jacket, and I’d stood awkwardly looking for a place to leave it. That was when the guy who’d been standing in front of the stage whistled at me and approached with his hand out. He had short, messy blond hair and a strong, confident voice. “I’ll hold it for you,” he’d offered, reaching for the jacket. I saw the definition in his arms, the way his muscles contoured his skin.

He didn’t look like the freshmen boys in line with my class. He looked like a man by comparison. After my photo, he’d been waiting for me, still holding my jacket.

“Name’s Josh,” he’d said.

“Rose.” I’d blushed as I’d reached for my jacket. “Thank you for holding it.”

“No problem. Hey, I gotta give the boys a ride home today. You wanna tag along?”

We became inseparable from that moment on. Dated all through high school. Dated through college. Got engaged soon after. Had a dream wedding and a fantastic honeymoon. For the first few years, I’d been happy.

Until things went south. And they went south in a big way.

He’d started acting funny a little over a year ago. He’d started staying out late at night and coming home reeking of smoke and alcohol. He became skittish and jittery. My first thought was that he was on drugs, but that didn’t seem right. That didn’t seem like Josh.

Then again, neither did staying out all night and acting like a paranoid junkie.

The money draining from our account didn’t seem right either.

Then one night he came home, shaking and panting like he’d been running from someone. And he had a gun.

“What the hell is that?” I’d asked him.

“It’s a fucking gun, Rose. What does it look like?”

I’d been taken aback by his harsh words. Up to then, he’d always spoken to me with kindness and respect, even when I was questioning his erratic behavior.

“I know it’s a gun, Josh. Why do you have a gun in our home?” I’d spoken softly and slowly, tapping into the endless well of patience I used for my kindergarten students.

Still shaking, shaking so much that the gun was rattling, he’d looked at me with wild, bloodshot eyes. “I’m not going to let them come after you, Rose. They can come after me, but they won’t get you.”

“Who? Who won’t get me?”

But he hadn’t answered. I’d tried to stick by him. I’d begged him to go to therapy with me. It hadn’t mattered. He’d changed. I’d changed. I became angry. Asked more and more questions.

Questions he didn’t like.

The first time he hit me, I checked out of our marriage. That was when I reached my breaking point. I couldn’t take anymore.

The steps I took to file for separation and get him out of the house happened quickly. One night, I heard him at the window, the gun he was holding tapping against the glass. The next night, he begged me to forgive him for striking me. And the night after that, the police escorted him out of the house.

He came back. Over and over. So I filed a restraining order.

I didn’t know who or what he thought was coming after me, but I knew that I was more afraid of him than some invisible boogeyman.

For a while, he stopped coming by, but he still called.

“Rose, don’t let them get you. They’re going to get you. Let me protect you.”

When I stopped answering the phone, he left voicemails.

“I don’t know what I’d do if anything happened to you. I can’t lose you.”

At some point, the frantic paranoia in his voice was replaced with something darker.

“I can’t live without you. I’m afraid something terrible is going to happen.”

“Protecting you is all I live for.”

An eerie calm had come over his voice on his last few calls.

A few times, I thought I saw him walking down our street or hanging around where I worked. The sightings were fleeting. I’d catch him out of the corner of my eye, but when I looked to double check, he was gone.

I changed the locks while all of this was going on. I bought a gun and learned how to use it because I was afraid of what he might do.

I even quit my job, left my kids, because I feared they’d get caught in the cross-fire.

I should have done more.

I should have disappeared. Moved somewhere he’d never find me.

The new locks didn’t keep him out of the house. Nor did the legal separation. Nor did the restraining order.

I guess those things merely delayed the inevitable.

Six months after I left him, he barged into my home, what had been our home, late one night. I’d just settled into bed when I heard the door explode from being kicked open.

“Rose,” he’d called out in a terrified voice. “Rose, where are you?”

I’d grabbed the gun from the drawer in my nightstand. It wasn’t heavy anymore. Terror seized me, and the gun lost all of its menacing weight and became part of my hand.

I should have called the police then, but I didn’t. I don’t know why I didn’t. Instead, I walked to my open bedroom door, holding the gun down and behind my back.

“Rose,” he’d cried in relief from the hallway. “You’re okay.” He’d hurried into the bedroom and pushed me back from the door, closing and locking it. Then, he’d pushed the nightstand in front of it. He’d talked at breakneck speed. “I’m not going to let them get you, Rose. I’m so sorry to have to do this, but this is the only way I know to protect us. They won’t get you.”

He raised the gun and pointed it at my face. I watched the barrel bob in front of my eyes as he shook uncontrollably.

“Don’t,” I whispered. “Please don’t, Josh.”

“I have to. I have to, Rose. It’s the only way.”

Fear. Sadness. Drugs. I didn’t know what gripped him, the former love of my life.

“Give me one last kiss,” he’d whispered suddenly, then leaned toward me.

He kissed my lips softly, and that’s when I knew.

He was going to do it.

He was going to kill me.

Unless I stopped him.

 

* * *

 

“Carter,” a guard says in front of me, and I snap back from the past. That’s my last name, Carter.

Josh’s last name.

“You have a visitor.”

“Who is it?”

“It’s your lawyer.”

“I don’t have a lawyer.”

“You do now.”

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