tagRomanceThe Family Man

The Family Man


Author's note: I have had a story in my head for years and have written the first few chapters of it many times. I always end up putting it aside to write small ones like the one you find here. I still lack the confidence to tackle such a challenging tale. No matter, I have a pile of other stories started that need to be finished. One of these days, I'll have to learn to work on one project at a time.

The Family Man

Chapter 1

The door jerked on its hinges, light igniting along the seams at every pound of the asshole's fist. I picked up the baseball bat I had left near the door. I tightened my hands around its neck to stop them from shaking. Jake was going to kill me this time.

"I've called the police, Jake," I shouted.

"Bitch," Jake yelled. The pounding stopped for a moment as he added some slurred indecipherable insult. Then the assault renewed with extra vigor. He was more drunk than usual. My arms started shaking.

"Stop it, Daddy," Maria shouted from the other side of the room. I turned, too late to hide the bat. There were tears running down her cheeks, mirroring my own. She was so confused; ten years was not enough life to understand what was going on.

"Sneak out the back and run to Mrs. Cummings' house," I whispered to her. In a moment the door would give out, and I knew Jake wouldn't hold back. I should have bought a gun. "Go," I said again, waving her toward the kitchen. Her lips were quivering as she slowly stepped back. Oh God, she knew what was going to happen. "Now," I shouted, probably the last word she'd ever hear from her mother. Maria turned and ran into the kitchen, a second later the back door quietly closed.

The crackling sound of the frame giving out caused me to raise the bat higher. The house shook as he stopped pounding and began to throw himself bodily at the door. I took a step back and steadied myself. It was him or me. There was no one else, and I was done running. As long as I hit with the first swing, there was hope. If I missed, well, I just couldn't miss.

The frame splintered near the dead bolt, and I sucked in my last breath. One more hit and Jake would be in the house. The restraining order was useless. The bat jerked in my hands, my body thinking it could time the first strike with Jake's previous pattern of body slams. Instead, I heard the shuffling of feet beyond the door and steadied the bat anew. There was a solid thump against the garage wall that jutted out and framed the right side of the porch. Maybe he was too drunk. Maybe the police would get here in time.

A moment later I heard a car start up and accelerate. I ran to the window pulled the curtain aside and saw Jake's shiny new black Charger speeding down the road. A deep breath, then I lowered the bat. My arms were shaking so much, I began to cry. Not for what could have happened, but for what he was doing to me. The fear was eating me alive.

The soft sound of a distant siren broke into my moment of weakness. Jake must have heard it coming, and maybe fear took a bite out of him as well. I took a couple more solid breaths and replaced the bat against the entryway table. I wiped my eyes with the back of my hand, then grabbed a Kleenex and cleaned up the smeared mascara in the front hall mirror. My eyes were bloodshot and weak. They needed to be stronger. I needed to be stronger.

"It took you long enough," I said when I opened the door as the officer approached. "He heard your siren and left." I pointed down the road as if that would help the cop.

"Are you alright, ma'am?" The young officer asked. He looked like a tall fifteen-year-old. Military haircut on top of a face that was meant to have its cheeks pinched.

"No," I replied, "look at my damn door. Another second and someone would have been dead." I knew there was too much anger in my voice, but the adrenaline was still flowing. "He's drunk as hell and will hopefully drive off a cliff. Maybe nature will take care of what you can't." The officer stopped coming forward, and I could see the color leave his face. He wasn't used to failure, probably a stellar student and the perfect soldier.

"Ma'am, we can't be everywhere all the time." He was having trouble with where to put his hands. Just a kid with a man's duty. The wrong person to be yelling at.

"No. No, you can't," I sighed. I stood away from the entrance and made room for the officer to enter. At least his presence would allow the fear to fade for a moment. Jake wouldn't come back while the police car was out front. "I'm sorry, what's your name?"

"Officer Richard Sampson, ma'am."

"Thank you for coming, Richard."

"I'll call it in, and maybe we can locate him quickly," Richard said as he examined the door frame.

"He'll just deny it as always," I said, resigned to the fact that I'd have to end it eventually. "A few hours in jail before his lawyer shows up will just make him angrier. A bottle of bravery later and he's right back at it."

"The courts take this very seriously." He pulled on the doorframe where the deadbolt inserts, testing what little was left of its strength. Some of the wood broke off in his hand. "And this is attempted breaking and entering."

"I can't spend any more days in court," I said. "I'm out of time-off at work and haven't received a child support payment in over a year."

Richard ignored my words and pulled out his notepad. I rolled my eyes as I began reciting the information he needed to bring Jake in. The make, model, and license number of the car he bought with Maria's support payments. His last known address and a description. I waited until the officer was done before I asked him the question I ask all of them.

"If he comes into my home, I can kill him, right?"

"I hope it doesn't come to that, ma'am," Richard said, closing his notebook. His face had aged as his confidence had returned. Still a child to my thirty-two-year-old eyes.

"But I'd be within my rights."

"If your life is threatened, you may take lethal action." It was the same answer I had received every time I asked. I was hoping it would evoke more action on their part. I really didn't want to kill Jake, but the thought of his hands around my throat kept the idea alive. Jake had serious control issues. I had serious anti-Jake issues. Those competing points of view would collide horribly one day.

"Where can I buy a gun?" I asked, trying to emphasize the dire situation to him. He didn't bat an eye.

"Dormer's, on Broadway. Tony is a friend of mine and gives lessons to first time owners for free," Richard said looking straight at me. I was silent, surprised that he'd have an answer to my question. "I'd recommend the lessons. Safety is mostly common sense, but there are some extra things to consider when there are children in the house."

"I don't want to buy a gun," I admitted.

"And I can't promise we can get here in time," Richard continued. He was aging before my eyes. "Some guys only respect force, and the law isn't always quick enough."

I stared at him for a moment, his statement running through my mind. Inside, I was shaking. Outside, I had crossed my arms under my chest. In response to my queries, he was telling me to protect myself. I would either end up killing my daughter's father or dying myself.

"Tony," I said.

"A nice guy, he won't take advantage of you," Richard said. Mrs. Cummings was bringing Maria up the front walk. I could see the tears still flowing from my daughter's eyes. She ran past the officer and into my arms. I hugged her close, trying to fill her with a strength I didn't have.

"Tony," I repeated.

"I'll let him know you're stopping by," Richard said. "I'll be out front for a few hours and another car will take my place later tonight."

"Thank you," I said, welcoming a good night's sleep. Maria would join me in bed tonight. She never could sleep alone after her father came to visit.

Chapter 2

"Is daddy coming over today?" Maria asked. It was her soft voice, the one she uses when she's scared but unwilling to admit it. It had been a long night with her waking up every few hours. In turn, she would wake me and move closer. She was a little heater, making the night uncomfortably warm.

"I don't think so, honey," I said, putting a plate of pancakes in front of Maria. Blueberry pancakes were her favorite. She liked them small, no bigger than a fist, so she could claim she ate a lot. That morning, she needed a favorite, and I needed to deliver one.

Maria smiled at the pancakes and grabbed the syrup. She always poured it on the edge of her plate like it was ketchup for fries, enjoyed mixing the cake and syrup one bite at a time. She pushed some of her curly brown hair behind her ear and went to work. It was a pleasure watching her eat. Our life was far from perfect, but that moment was perfect.


"Do we have any apple?" Maria asked.

By luck, we did. I filled a couple of small glasses then sat down with my favorite person in the world. Since we had both awoken early, it was a leisurely breakfast.

"Mom, I forgot to do my math homework," Maria said with concern. Fourth grade had brought with it an emphasis on fractions which she was struggling with.

"I'll tell Miss. Pritchard. I'm sure she'll give you an extra day," I said, then watched her go back to her pancakes. At least Jake could be used as a homework excuse. A small blessing with all the pain he dished out.

I had taken a cut in pay to be a school nurse. ICU was my passion, but Jake had seen fit to ruin even that. I had to be near my daughter at all times, and as her school nurse, I was her ride both ways. There were no night shifts or twelve hours days. Of course, there was no overtime either. We weren't struggling to eat, but we were living paycheck to paycheck. Without child support, vacations, movies, and dinners out were off the agenda. Blueberry pancakes were the best I could do.

"Maybe, if you get your homework done early tonight, we can pop some popcorn and watch a movie," I said, trying to separate her even farther from last night.

"I pick?" Maria asked.

"Sure," I answered, knowing it would be 'Into the Woods.' I had no idea why she liked that strange musical. Maybe it made her feel older to watch a more sophisticated film than her previous cartoons. Jake had made sure I would agree. It was her reward for not hating me and the life I had created for her. Like the pancakes, I needed to spoil her with what gifts I could.

"He came back again?" Cynthia Pritchard asked me quietly. I nodded. "You have to do something Natalie. Everything I read says people like him won't stop." Her hands were on her hips, jutting out her long skirt to the side.

"I'm buying a gun," I whispered so the rest of the school wouldn't hear. To my surprise, Cynthia immediately agreed with my decision. She was always a strong supporter of women's rights, and I think it fit with her idea of independence.

"Maybe just pointing it at him will scare him off once and for all," Cynthia said. I could see she thought I'd have to pull the trigger, but it was kind of her to give me an in-between scenario. Something that didn't make me a killer.

"I have to protect Maria," I said, further justifying the idea in my own mind. The cop was right, I couldn't rely on the police to be there.

"Do you want me to go with you?" Cynthia asked. "I don't know anything about guns. Maybe we could learn together." I smiled at her. I hadn't thought about needing someone to go with me, but it sounded appealing.

"Would you?"

"Of course. It's kind of exciting in a way." Cynthia's face drooped a bit. "I mean, not because of the necessity. I didn't mean..."

"I know what you meant," I said, cutting off her apology. " I've never done anything like this either and could use a friend."

"Done," Cynthia said as the morning bell rang. "Talk with you at lunch." She smiled as I nodded and headed off to my office.

Tony was a big man. At first glance, not someone you would want to meet in a dark alley. After a few minutes of talking with him, you realize that he is exactly who you want to walk through a dark alley with. His smile was disarming and the charming way he spoke broadcast his enormous empathy. The long hair was a little unruly, but I think that was part of his demeanor. He didn't spend a lot of time on himself, preferring to give to others. I almost laughed at the tattooed heart on his bicep, the word 'Mom' written boldly on a ribbon in the center. He was a teddy bear of a man.

"I'm sorry, Mrs. Livingston," Tony said to me, "it's Illinois law. 72 hours is the waiting period for a handgun, and your FOID card will take time as well. I wish I could speed up the process, but I can't."

"Isn't there some sort of exclusion for those who need it?" Cynthia asked.

"Only illegal ones," Tony said. "The state is usually pretty quick with the FOID these days, probably take a week over all."

"A week? What do I do until then?" I asked.

"A rifle or shotgun only has a 24 hour waiting period. But you still need your FOID," Tony said. I could see the exasperation in his eyes. Most likely, I wasn't the first person who need protection quickly.

"I guess we need to get started then," I sighed. "I can barely afford that handgun you showed me, what did you call it?"

"Glock 26."

"I think that fits my hand the best." I looked at Cynthia, and she nodded her agreement. Both of us were completely ignorant, so we shopped like we would for underwear. Whatever was most comfortable.

"I think I can do a little better on the price for a friend of Richard's," Tony said with a smile. I smiled back, truly a teddy bear. For a moment, I felt as if I had a couple of brothers looking out for me. As an only child, it was an unnaturally pleasant feeling. I wished I still had parents to run off too, but an automobile accident had seen fit to make me an orphan when Maria was only three. "I can teach you to shoot and care for the weapon today if you have time."

"Can you?" Cynthia said, loud like an excited child. Tony laughed at her enthusiasm. It isn't every day you get to shoot a gun. I had to admit, after a lifetime of movies, it was exciting.

"The range is downstairs, through the door," Tony said, pointing to the door with a red range sign posted above. "Frank, watch the counter. I'll be an hour or so." A young man, possibly Tony's son, nodded agreement while talking to another customer.

Chapter 3

Martha Cummings was an older retired woman, and I overused her sympathy. She somehow latched onto me, bonding over Jake's abuse. There was nothing she wouldn't do to make sure that Maria was safe and shielded from what was happening, babysitting at a moment's notice and being Maria's safe house when I needed one. Strange, I found her everything I didn't want to become, yet she was the neighbor I desperately needed.

Martha's steel gray hair was done up in a perm that screamed ancient. She was slightly rotund, and always wore an apron that made me think she was constantly cleaning or cooking. I preferred my auburn hair to hang more naturally and spent time straightening the curls out of it. The idea of looking like a grandmother wasn't appealing in the slightest, though Martha strived for just that. Maybe, she thought of us as the family she never had.

"Thank you so much, Martha," I said, "you're a lifesaver." Maria had spent the evening at her house while I shopped for ways to kill her father.

"Think nothing of it, dear. Us single gals have to stick together," Martha said. I wasn't sure I wanted to lumped into her single gal club, but she was all I had at the moment. "Besides, Maria and I get along wonderfully. We baked some cookies and even got a little homework done." Maria came to the door with her book bag and a clear plastic container with what looked like chocolate chip cookies inside. When she smiled, I could see remnants of other cookies in her teeth.

"Thank you, Mrs. Cummings," Maria said. I was glad I didn't need to remind her to be polite.

"Anytime, dear," Martha responded, caressing the back of Maria's head. We were both 'dears' in her eyes.

A patrol car pulled up in front of our house as we were walking toward it. I was surprised to see Officer Sampson step out and move smartly toward me. I pulled Maria close.

"Evening, Officer," I said brightly for Maria's sake, "on guard again?" I added, hoping it was true.

"No, ma'am," Richard said with a smile that was out of place. He glanced down at Maria, then back to me, "Might I have a word with you?"

"Ah, sure. Let's get Maria inside."

"You want some cookies?" Maria asked with her crumb laden smile.

"Maybe one. I'm on duty after all," Richard replied with a chuckle. While he enjoyed his cookie in the front room, I got Maria started on her math homework in the kitchen. I had to stash the cookies out of reach so she'd actually eat some dinner.

"Good cookie," Richard said when I returned. He was licking his fingers.

"She makes them with my neighbor, Mrs. Cummings. Don't know what I'd do without her babysitting."

"Well, I'm here to give you some good news. Jake turned himself in this morning."

"Turned himself in?" I said surprised. He was smiling at my astonishment.

"He and a friend came into the station, and he confirmed what you told me. He waved his right to a quick bond hearing. Never heard of that before."

"A friend. I thought all his friends were drunks."

"Guess he needed the support. I wasn't there so I can't give you a name, but Jake will be in jail for a few days until the hearing. The desk sergeant told me he was remorseful and thought some time in jail would let him get his head together. Believed he needed time away from the booze."

"That doesn't sound like Jake," I said, not trusting what I heard, "maybe it's some kind of ploy."

"Could be, but I don't understand why he'd want to spend a few days in jail," Richard said. "I think you should enjoy the short reprieve, relax and get a few good nights of sleep."

"He can't get out?"

"He waved his right to a lawyer. At least for now, it looks like he's there to stay," Richard replied, "I'm sure the judge will look favorably on his contrition when he finally does go to court."

"I guess it's good news. Thank you for letting me know," I said.

"You were pretty upset yesterday. I'm glad I could give you some good news," Richard said as he reached for the doorknob, "I've got to get back on patrol." he handed me his card. "Give me a call in a few days, and I'll update you."

"Thanks," I repeated, taking the card.

"Thanks for the cookie," Richard said with a smile and disappeared out the door. I stood there looking at the door, wondering what Jake was up too. He was good at faking remorse in court, but he never turned himself in before. I was missing something. Something that would come back to bite me hard. Booze turned that man into a monster, and I was his chosen prey. I shook my head, again wondering why I thought I loved him once. He did give me Maria, so my hate was diminished by my love for her.

"Daddy is staying with the police for a few days," I told Maria. She looked up from her homework with questions in her eyes. "He went to them."

"Is daddy better?"

"Well, he isn't drinking right now," I said carefully. Lying to her was too difficult, so I have resorted to half-truths.

"Can't they tell him not to drink?"

"He doesn't have to listen, baby. We have to hope that he figures it out himself," I said. Maria nodded. "Tomato soup and toasted cheese for dinner?" Another of her favorite meals.

"Can I make the soup?"

"Sure," I answered, happy to see her lips curl again. It was just Campbells, but adding the water and stirring the pot made her feel important. I let her stall on her homework, and we went to work.

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