Shelly winced at the clang of the metal door closing and locking behind her. She was trapped in a tiny space before the second huge metal door was buzzed open and she swallowed, hating that feeling of confinement. She wondered how long she had to do this. How long she had to visit this Godforsaken place. A minimum security prison in upstate New York. Who would have ever thought she'd be making her way to this nightmare of a place every Saturday?
But how could she not? She didn't know her brother had been selling drugs...well, maybe she had known. He'd paid for her undergraduate schooling as well as her PhD in Psychology after all. It was because of him she was working at the research institute today. And she never wanted for anything. But she'd convinced herself that her brother was simply money 'smart.' She was living off the interest of the money he'd socked away for her. She lived in a spacious one bedroom in an apartment complex in Morningside Heights, drove a fully equipped Lexus, and happily worked as a lab rat for very little money, all because her big brother was money smart.
So how could she refuse his request to visit him every week and bring him a "package?" She didn't know how he had managed to wind up in a minimum security prison considering the charges against him, and she didn't know how much it cost him for the correction officers to look the other way when she handed him the "package," but he had made all the arrangements and assured her she wouldn't have any problems. And she trusted him with her life.
A female guard did the required pat down this time and put her purse on the belt to scan it. Of course they would see the package, as they'd seen for the past 6 months, but she was only a little nervous now. The first time? She'd broken into a cold sweat. Every muscle in her body had tensed and she was expecting a swarm of DEA agents to arrest her at any moment. Instead, they had cleared her and in a few minutes she was waiting for her brother in a large room with rows and rows of rectangular tables. This time was no different and soon she was sitting, looking around at the bare, pale green walls and tattered furniture, waiting for Mylo.
Mylo Thomas. Her big brother. He was 10 years older than she. He'd been a basketball star in college. They'd retired his jersey, number 47. She'd kept a scrapbook of the many articles about him. He knew he wasn't good enough for the pros, but he'd considered traveling oversees to play for a few years. He told her it was a good way to see the world. Shelly had hoped to go with him. But all of that had faded away after the "incident" in junior high school. She'd been in the 8th grade, only 12 years old. She was an attractive girl, or so everyone told her. Average height, average weight, with flawless milk chocolate skin, thick dark lashes, silky black hair, typically parted into braids and decorated with a number of different colored bows, and large round eyes with pupils the color of onyx. No one knew where she and Mylo had picked up eyes so dark. They'd never appeared in the family before. And yet she and Mylo had the same eyes...they seemed destined to be connected from birth.
She'd stayed behind at school to rehearse for a play with her drama teacher. Mylo was a little late picking her up and the school was pretty much empty. She waited in the auditorium with her teacher. Mylo didn't want her to wait for him alone on the front steps. She thought she'd be safe. Mylo told her she'd be safe. So she was unsuspecting when her teacher called her backstage. Totally clueless when he grabbed her, pushed her against a wall, and lifted her jumper to shove his hands into her panties. He hurt her, jamming his fingers in and out, his nails scrapping the walls of her flesh, his thick glasses blocking her vision from all else. She whimpered, struggled, tried to evade his brutal touch, but he was much stronger, determined, cruel. She didn't know she was crying until the salty tears wet her lips. It hurt. He had his other hand on her budding breast, pinching it mercilessly. Where was Mylo? Where was Mylo? The question kept running through her head.
She heard his voice, opened her mouth to scream, but her teacher clamped a hand over it. She tasted blood as he ground his hand against her lips.
"Bear, you here?"
She didn't know where she got the strength to think clearly, but she bit the hand covering her mouth, gulped in air, and screamed. She heard his heavy footsteps, could hear him vault onto the stage. Her teacher was frozen with fear. He was one of the few male teachers at the inner-city junior high school, but he was no match for Mylo. Where he was wire thin, Mylo was well developed and muscular. Where he stood only 5 feet 8, Mylo stood 6 feet 4. Where he had very soft, almost feminine hands, Mylo had hands that could easily palm a basketball. Where he had gone to an exclusive prep school and an ivy league college, Mylo had been born and raised on the streets of the inner-city and had clawed his way out. Mr. Reid was in for a rude awakening.
His weight was lifted from her and she heard a grunt as the man hit the floor. Mylo was on him and she saw a flurry of punches and kicks. The man whimpered for a while, but then he was silent. When he was absolutely still, so still it made Shelly nervous, Mylo suddenly shut down his fury and turned to her.
"Pooh Bear, you all right?"
It was a name he'd call her from birth. He claimed she looked all soft and cuddly, just like Winne the Pooh, when she was born. But she didn't smile at the term of endearment this time. She stood, silent, trembling, crying. He gathered her into his arms as he made the phone call. They waited for the police. She watched as they arrested her teacher. The rest of that night was a fuzzy memory. She remembered the hospital, poking, prodding, people invading her private spaces. She remembered them giving her something that tasted like cough syrup. And then she woke up the next morning in her own bed.
She stopped talking for three months. She heard Mylo often fighting with her parents about sending her to a therapist. Finally he arranged for it himself against their wishes. She figured he must have started selling drugs around that time. His plans to travel oversees were never discussed again. And his job in an accounting firm, she realized much later, could not have paid for one of the top child psychologists in New York City. So he had to have another source of income. Perhaps that was the reason her parents cut him out of their lives. And she wasn't sure how she'd come to live with him, but suddenly he was her legal guardian and she saw her parents on holidays. Of course, she didn't figure any of this out until she was graduating from her private prep school and on her way to New York University. Honestly, she thought her parents had been disappointed that she'd let that teacher molest her and didn't want her anymore. Even her psychologist had not been able to erase that thought from her head. Needless to say, she wasn't close to her parents anymore and spoke with them infrequently.
When she returned from graduate school, she finally asked Mylo about the money. He was still at the same accounting firm. There was no way he could afford the trips to South Africa, Brazil, Rome, Japan, Sydney. He took a month long trip to some new part of the world every year and usually took his woman of the week with him. He wore $3,000 suits, $500 shoes, a huge diamond stud in his ear and a thick platinum bracelet on his wrist. He drove a maxed out Lincoln Navigator and owned three motorcycles, a BMW and a Jaguar. He'd bought and renovated a brownstone in Harlem and the interior had been featured in some decorating magazine. There was no way he could live that way on $45,000 a year. And she didn't need a graduate degree to figure that out.
He avoided the question, changed the subject, and then finally told her the less she knew the better. Instead, he asked about her love life, or the lack thereof. How could she tell him she never wanted another man to touch her? She'd tried to work through that in therapy, but to no avail. Her therapist told her she'd dive into romance when she was ready. And she was content with her work for now.
Then Mylo was arrested. Serious drug charges that his team of lawyers managed to plead down. They couldn't confiscate his assets because everything was in her name, and they could find no connection between them other than blood. He had thought of everything...other than the fact that she needed him. Needed to lean on him, needed his strength, needed his support. And now he'd left her all alone, except for a 30 minute visit every Saturday.
She brushed a strand of silky black hair from her cheek as she waited, glancing at the cameras in the room. She wondered how he was doing in here. Was he safe? She'd heard about rape in prison, was he in danger? God she missed him. She heard the door across the room buzz and watched as a correction officer escorted him in. She smiled, stood, and flew into his arms. Her smile deepened just a bit as he buried his face into her hair and inhaled deeply, his huge arms embracing her tightly. Technically they weren't allowed to hug like this, but as always they had the room to themselves. She swallowed back tears and held on for just a moment longer before he set her down.
"Hey Pooh Bear." He looked down at her, brushing another strand of silky black hair from her cheek.
She looked up into a face that looked remarkably like her own and swallowed the sadness that was trapped in her throat.
"Hey Mylo. You okay?"
He chuckled, "yea, I'm okay. You?"
"Working hard as usual. That idiot you have living in your Brownstone hit Jimmy up for another five grand."
"Yea, he told me. She's about to be evicted, don't worry."
She held onto his hand tightly as they sat, "how do you meet women in here anyway? Every time I stop by there to check on things there seems to be a new woman around."
His grin widened, "hey, a man has needs. So do women, but we'll have to wait for some man to melt that ice around your heart," he teased.
She punched him in the arm, bending to remove the package from her purse. He stashed it beneath his chair and out of her view.
"Mylo, you told me never to look in the package so I don't, but I know what it is. What if you get caught? You'll have to stay in here even longer."
"Bear, I took care of it. You know what I do now, and when you do what I do you have to serve some time. I'm okay in here. Things are running smoothly. I'm a good boy and I'll be out soon."
She nodded. Two years. He'd been sentenced to two years. Two years without him around. Jesus.
He asked her questions about work, about her friends, about her life. She asked him about his women, his friends, life in prison. And then the door buzzed and an officer appeared to escort him back to his cell. She forced herself to ignore the squeeze around her heart. She wouldn't see him until next week. Fuck.
She held on a little longer when he hugged her. He promised to call her on Wednesday night, as always, and then he was gone. She sat at the table for a few minutes longer and then sighed. She stood to make her way out of the metal nightmare.
It was Wednesday night and she'd put in a number of extra hours to finish up a survey she'd been working on for weeks. She glanced at her watch, wincing at the time. Nine already? She hated to leave so late in the evening. The parking lot would be deserted and large deserted spaces, unsurprisingly, made her nervous. She shut down her computer, locked up the office and stepped onto the elevator. When the doors opened into the garage, there were hardly any cars remaining, just as she suspected. She took a deep breath, rubbed her suddenly sweaty palms on her jeans, tugged on her tee shirt nervously, and then removed a can of mace from her purse. She began to walk toward her parked car quickly. She had arrived late this morning, after working late last night, and so her car was pretty far from the elevators. She hated the sound of her own footsteps echoing in the garage. Her hands were trembling and she was suddenly angry at Mylo once again. Typically she would call him and he would talk to her until she reached the car. But now, she was on her own.
She froze when she saw the very large, dark-skinned man standing beside her car. She didn't recognize him. None of Mylo's people were supposed to meet her tonight, and typically they displayed a white and black bandana so she knew they were with Mylo. Her breath caught in her chest and she was tempted to run back toward the elevators when the man spotted her. He held up his hands, his voice hesitant, as if speaking to a frightened child.
"Shelly Thomas, right?"
She nodded, then cursed herself for doing so. "I don't know you. What do you want?" She demanded with more attitude than she felt.
He removed an envelope from his back pocket and laid it on the hood of her Lexus. She watched him back away and then drive off in a navy blue car. She stood still for another minute and then made her way to the car. She grabbed the envelope, unlocked the doors and then re-locked them once she was behind the wheel. She took a long, deep breath and decided to wait until she was home before she opened the envelope.
The good thing about leaving the lab so late was that she avoided New York City's rush hour. A drive that typically took 30 minutes often took over an hour when she left at six. Her heart was still pounding and her hands still sweaty when she rode the elevator from the underground parking garage to the tenth floor of her apartment building. She extracted a key and then locked the door once inside. She took another deep breath, trying to calm herself. It was only 9:45, she had over an hour before Mylo's call. She hurried to a freezer and removed a bottle of vodka, pouring herself a hefty dose. She had downed most of it when she finally remembered the envelope. She retrieved it and tore it open.
Tell your brother to stop dealing inside
or the next time he sees you will be in
A brief note. Straight. To the point. She felt her knees give out. Jesus.
She didn't wait for the first ring to finish before snatching up the receiver. She screamed "yes" at the recorded voice long before it asked her if she wanted to accept the collect call. She didn't realize she was sobbing his name. It took a pretty loud bark from him to quiet her down. He talked to her, calmly, soothingly, trying to get her to breathe deeply. It took a few minutes and she glanced at the clock on her kitchen wall, annoyed that she had wasted any of their time together. She told him about the note, but couldn't remember any details about the man who left it for her other than he was dark-skinned and huge. She could hear the concern in his voice although he tried to mask it. They spoke for over an hour. Usually he was only allowed 30 minutes with her. She was relieved that he arranged to stay on the phone. When he said he had to go, she didn't stop the sobs the rose from her chest.
"Pooh Bear, don't cry. I'll take care of it."
"And if something happens to you in there?" She choked out. The thought frightened her more often than she admitted.
"Don't talk like that."
He reassured her a few more times that he would take care of everything and told her he had to go. After the call was disconnected, she curled up on her sofa and sobbed herself to sleep.
Her legs were cramped, her neck achy from sleeping in an awkward position, and her hair was an absolute mess. She glanced at her watch, three-thirty. She usually slept through the night, even when she fell asleep on the sofa in her clothes. She sometimes ended up on her very comfortable, oversized sofa when she was having a bad night. Last night was as bad as it got.
She stood and wondered what had disturbed her sleep when she heard the doorbell again and remembered. Her heart stopped beating for just a second and she froze. Who would be at her door at three-thirty in the morning? She thought of the note, of the huge man beside her car last night, and was more scared than she'd ever been before. She glanced around the apartment for a weapon, cursing herself for refusing to buy a gun when Mylo had mentioned it.
The doorbell rang again but she still couldn't move. Then suddenly she heard a deep, throaty voice call out.
Urso. It meant "bear" in Portuguese. It was as close to the term of endearment as Mylo could get in the language he'd studied before going to Brazil last year. He always had his people use some kind of code with her. Something only they shared so that she knew they were with him.
She made her way to the door as silently as possible and looked through the peephole. The woman on the other side was tall, probably six feet, with long, dark dreadlocks that hung well past her shoulders. Right now the top of them were covered in a black and white bandana. He'd never sent a woman before. Shelly took another moment to look her over. She had a rather plain, dark-chocolate brown face, thin lips, a flat nose with a bump on the bridge, and a square chin. She was wide and flat across the chest and muscular. She wore a black tee shirt, although it was October and quite chilly. Shelly could see her biceps rippling. Her hips were slim but her thighs, encased in form fitting black jeans that flared a bit at the bottoms, were a perfectly sculpted bodybuilder's dream. She looked like she could bench press Shelly's 135 pound, five foot four inch frame easily. But it wasn't her plain face or her huge, muscular frame that caught Shelly's attention. It was her eyes. Partially hidden behind thick, dark lashes were eyes the shocking color of emeralds. Amazingly vibrant eyes set in a very plain dark-skinned face.
She hesitated for just a second more before she slowly undid the locks and, keeping the security chain on, opened the door a crack.
"What do you want?" She demanded.
"Mylo sent me."
"What did you say before?" Shelly asked just to be sure.
She closed the door in the woman's face, took a deep breath and removed the chain. When she opened the door again, she stepped aside so the woman could enter. She kept her back to the woman as she locked the door once again, then turned to her.
"Mylo's never sent a woman with a package. And aren't you early? I don't usually get it until Friday night."
"I'm not delivering. Mylo sent me to keep an eye on you."
Shelly raised a brow, nervously reaching up to comb her fingers through her hair. It was at that moment she realized her hair was dancing a wild dance on her head, having been mashed and matted by her restless sleep on the sofa. She combed her fingers through it self-consciously.
"Keep an eye on me? As in a bodyguard?"
"Something like that."
Shelly bit the inside of her cheek. Mylo was more worried than he'd let on if he'd asked someone to stay with her. She looked the woman over again. She was as tall and impressively built as she seemed on the other side of the door, and could probably hold her own if someone harassed them. Still, the idea of someone following her around for days on end? It didn't feel right. But she knew Mylo wouldn't have sent her unless he was concerned. The least she could do was not give this woman a hard time until she had a chance to speak to Mylo. She glanced around the living room, pointing toward the paisley gold and green sofa.
"Uh, the sofa pulls out. The remotes are over there," she waved at the mahogany coffee table. "There're sheets and a blanket in the bathroom. Oh, and clean towels." She pointed down the short corridor, "that door's the bathroom. Just make yourself comfortable, I need to get some sleep."
The woman didn't say a word, just nodded. Shelly turned and made her way to the bedroom, closing and locking the door behind her. She didn't have a terrace or anything, so the likelihood of someone stealing into her bedroom was slim to none. And she didn't want that woman sneaking around her bedroom while she slept. A fucking bodyguard? Sheesh!