Her mom knew. Sara wasn't sure how she knew, but at Father's Day brunch at their country club the looks her mother gave her spoke volumes.
Her father was at the bar, talking to a few of his golfing friends. Brad, his wife, Amanda, and their son, Brandon, had left a few minutes ago.
"Just tell me one thing, honey" her mother said.
"Okay," Sara said. She was going to ask to meet him, and Sara wasn't ready for that yet. She wasn't sure Erik was ready for that.
"You're being careful."
"I'm not a fool, Sara. One time I call and you're not at home first thing in the morning I can dismiss it. It seems it's every time I call, though."
"I go out, Mom."
"Don't avoid my question, dear."
"Yes," she said finally.
"Oh my God, you want details?"
"No, of course not, but you only have one year left. It's important you finish your schooling. I know how much your choice in degrees mean to you."
Her mom didn't really know. She'd hoped, of course, Sara would choose something brag-worthy. A social worker with a psychology degree was hardly that.
"I'm fine, Mom. Everything's fine."
"Who is he?"
"His name is Erik."
"Is he a student?"
"No," she said simply.
"Okay, none of my business. You've never dated before, a real relationship I just wanted to be sure you were being careful and not thinking with your heart."
"It's taken care of."
"Okay. I hope I can meet him sometime."
"Sometime, I'm sure you will."
"Your father's on his way back so let's talk about something else."
"Like what?" Sara asked.
"What else are you doing with your summer?"
"Nothing really. Reading some things. I'm volunteering at a crisis shelter a couple of days a week."
"Mom," she said. "It's what I want to do."
"I know that. I just wish there was a less dangerous way for you to do it."
"I'm not in any danger. It's a secure facility."
"Secure because they're worried someone's abusive husband, boyfriend, or father is going to come there."
Sara supposed her mother had a point there, but she never felt as though she was in any danger.
"Mom, I'm fine. I have so much time on my hands, I thought you'd be happy I'm doing some community service work."
"Of course, dear."
Sara sighed softly, standing from the table. She kissed her father on the cheek.
"Happy Father's Day, Dad."
"Thank you, sweetheart. I'm glad you could make it. Come by the house sometime this week for dinner since we're missing out on our Sunday dinner tonight."
"I will," she said, glancing at her mom. "Bye Mom."
"Bye, dear. Have a good rest of your day."
She loved her parents, but they just didn't understand her. Of course if she'd been able to tell them about that night with Chris Parker they might understand better. They would have thrown Chris in jail for endangering or something in the process.
She'd told Erik she'd meet him at Bill's after lunch. He was working on a project car, one he'd found at an auction he was going to fix up and sell. He wasn't making money to work on it since it was his car, so it was something he worked on as he could. Sara having plans with her family was a perfect opening for him to work on it all day.
She parked toward the end of the block. She didn't like parking right in front of Bill's. She'd done that once or twice and between getting urinated or thrown up on she'd had to wash her car afterward. She'd learned quickly.
She wasn't sure what to make of her conversation with her mom. She knew she had a boyfriend evidently, knew she was spending nights with him, and therefore having sex with him. Her only concern seemed to be that she was using protection so she was sure to graduate. Never mind she'd have to get pregnant right now for a baby to put a crimp in her graduation plans next May.
Erik glanced at his watch. Sara had said she'd be done with brunch around two o'clock, which would put her here around three. He'd never been with anyone – friends or otherwise – who had brunch. He wasn't even sure what brunch was comprised of. Just one of many aspects of Sara's life he was clueless about, which made him wonder when she'd grow tired of his cluelessness.
Their conversation at her house the night of Memorial Day had confounded him on many levels. He hadn't been certain to that point what she wanted from him. He didn't see a woman like her just casually having sex and sleeping with someone with the frequency they did. It wasn't just the sex he was interested in either. Well, anymore anyway. At first, well, he'd be a liar if he said regular sex by itself was great. He wasn't that much older than her, however, there was definitely a difference in sex drives. She could go all night and go to class the next day without a problem. He wasn’t so lucky like that anymore. He didn't believe in things like sexual peaks because he wanting her and not being able to deliver was never an issue. There were times he just had to choose to sleep instead.
He didn't consider himself boyfriend material. He couldn't even remember the last time he had someone he spent time with steadily. Years. He was always working and, well, he wasn't Mr. Personality so women just didn't flock to him. It seemed important to her, though, that they have those titles between them. She probably saw it as some sort of commitment, but really to him they were just words. Same as the people who cheated on their husbands or wives. You either were going to be monogamous with someone who slept beside you and looked at you as if they thought you were awesome or you weren't. He wasn't the type to stray.
He showered in the small bathroom he had at the garage and dressed in clean clothes he'd brought along. He had no idea what she'd want to do tonight. She hadn't mentioned anything specific so he pulled out his newspaper to look at what movies were playing and when. They didn't go out on many real dates, like movies, so maybe he could surprise her with something different tonight.
An hour had gone by and she still wasn't there. He couldn't imagine brunch going until four o'clock in the afternoon. He didn't know her parents' phone number to call them. She had a cell phone, but she didn't usually turn it on unless she was calling out.
Working on his project car any longer was out of the question since he'd showered and changed. Certainly she couldn't be too much longer. He closed up and locked up, deciding to head to the bar for a drink. She'd know by the door being locked that he wasn't inside. His pickup still in front would tell her he hadn't left. She'd know where to find him.
He frowned a little when he spotted her car parked on the way to Bill's. Maybe she'd just gotten there and gone there first since she was later than she'd mentioned being.
"Hey," Dawson said as he entered Bill's.
"Hey, surprised to see you here on a Sunday," Bill said.
"Sara had Father's Day brunch with her family so I came to work on a car."
He glanced around the bar. Other than a couple of Sunday afternoon regulars watching a Cubs game the place was empty.
"Speaking of Sara. You haven't seen her, have you?" Dawson asked.
"No," Bill said. "Why?"
"Her car's outside, but she didn't come to the garage."
"She hasn't been in here."
"All right, thanks. If you see her."
"I'll holler down the street for you that I found her."
"Thanks," he said, heading outside again. He stopped at her car, felt the hood. It was cool to the touch so she had been there for a while. He scanned the street for any indication of where she might have gone. This was an industrial area, warehouses and businesses like his. Bill's wasn't the only bar around but it was the closest and the only he frequented. There were no stores or anything here she would have gone into.
He spotted her purse then, ran to it and picked it up. Okay, now he was really worried. Even more when he spotted one of her shoes. He'd been with her when she bought them to go with the skirt she'd bought for brunch today. So, he knew they were hers.
He went back to Bill's. "I need help," he said, holding up Sara's shoe and purse.
"What can I do for you?"
"Help me find her."
"This is her shoe and her purse but she's nowhere to be found."
It took the two of them close to an hour to find her. They'd focused on the few abandoned buildings that probably would have appealed to a homeless person to bring her to. He hadn't even thought of what he found as being a possibility.
"Christ," Bill said. "I'll call for an ambulance," he said, quickly leaving the alleyway.
Dawson slid his shirt off and draped it over her so she wasn't exposed. He knew he shouldn't touch anything, including her, but he had to do that much. He noticed blood on her hands and fought the urge to try and clean it off. She had cuts and bruises all over her face and arms. A couple of her nails were broken off right to the fingertip. He normally didn't pay much attention to her fingernails, but she'd painted them (and her toenails) the sexiest red last night so they were fresh on his mind.
An ambulance showed a bit later. They were never very speedy coming to this area. It wasn't exactly a great neighborhood, fights and mishaps happened all of the time.
"I'm riding with you," he told the paramedic once they'd loaded her onto a stretcher.
"Sir, I don't think."
"I'm riding along. I'm here. She's my" he paused with a shake of his head. "She's my girlfriend. I'm going with you and I'm not taking no for an answer."
He nodded his head a little. "You sit out of the way and stay out of my way so I can tend to her on the way to the hospital."
"I understand," he said as she was wheeled into the back of the ambulance.
"Any idea who did this?"
"No," Erik said quickly. He honestly couldn't even imagine. He didn't know everyone in the area. There were a couple of warehouses that changed employees as frequently as he changed shirts. Overall, though, there'd never been a real problem over any other area in the city. It had to be random, though, because he couldn't think of anyone in their right mind who knew Sara and would possibly want to hurt her.
Through some process of good fortune the nurse let him stay in her room versus the waiting room once they'd admitted her and taken her to an operating room. He didn't even want to picture why they needed to operate on her. So, to keep his mind off of what the endless possibilities could be he'd gone through her purse to find her address book and called her parents and her brother. She was going to be here overnight at least, so he had to call them. His dad would want to know if he was in the hospital and he hadn't lived at home in years. As much as he'd like to stay with her all night, he wasn't family so he doubted the hospital would let him.
That conversation had gone real well.
"Hi, um, is this Mrs. Anderson?"
'Yes, this is.'
"My name is Erik Dawson. I'm a friend of your daughter, Sara."
'I'm familiar with your name, Erik.' She was? Sara hadn't told him that her parents knew anything about him. 'Can I help you with something?'
"Uh, yeah, Sara's down here at Mercy Medical. I think you should probably come down.'
'Is she all right?'
"The doctor hasn't really told me anything. She's in surgery at the moment, that's all I know."
"It's really probably best you let the doctor tell you what happened. He'll give you more information than he'd give me anyway."
'Was she with you when this happened?'
"No, ma'am, she was coming to see me, but I wasn't with her, no."
'All right, we'll be right there.'
He'd hung up and called her brother. He couldn't remember him from that night. One of the boys had red hair. He only remembered that because John had talked about the kids a couple of times after that night and mentioned the redhead's question about how he'd lost his hand.
The conversation with her brother went about as well. Erik left out his last name in that phone call. He wasn't sure if Brad knew about him and he didn't want the kid to think Erik had anything to do with what happened to her.
The doctor hadn't offered him much information, not surprisingly since they weren't married or related. For all the doctor knew he had done this to her. He had mentioned plastic surgery for a couple of the cuts on her face, but he suspected the surgery she was going through now had nothing to do with her face. Erik would never have thought of plastic surgery versus just regular stitches, but he supposed on a pretty woman's face like Sara's scars weren't desirable things.
Her parents arrived. He heard them in the hall and left her room before there was that awkward moment of meeting them in an empty hospital room. They were talking to a nurse so he doubted they'd even noticed he came out of her room.
He pushed the button for the elevator, figured he could go down to the gift shop to buy her some flowers or something. People got flowers when they were in the hospital. The doors opened and he waited for the people getting off to step out before going in.
"Yeah?" he turned toward the voice.
"It is you. I wasn't sure. You're the one who called me?"
"You're her brother, Brad, right? Yeah, I called you."
"What are you doing here?"
"I rode with her here in the ambulance."
"What was she doing there anyway?"
He sighed. "Coming to see me."
"You?" Brad asked.
"Yes," he said. "Your parents are over there," Erik gestured in the direction of Sara's room. He stepped into the elevator then.
"Where are you going?"
"Downstairs for a while, figured I'd let the doctor talk to your parents without me hanging around."
"Okay," he said, though he sounded as if he wanted to say more.
"I'll see you later."
"You're coming back?"
"Well, yeah, unless they kick me out or something."
He frowned but let Erik go and walked in the direction of his parents.
He wasn't hungry, couldn't eat anyway. He couldn't find anything at the gift shop that suited such an occasion. Get well soon seemed kind of inappropriate to him given the circumstances. He got some change from a receptionist and walked to a bank of pay phones.
He called Bill to ask him to be sure Sara's car was locked and that there was nothing else of hers laying around outside. He had no idea what all she kept in her purse, but he'd seen her wallet and keys were in there when looking for her address book.
'Hey, Erik,' Bill said.
'You know, I was thinking on it after you left in the ambulance.'
"Thinking on what?"
'If I'd seen anything out of the ordinary. It was pretty slow being Father's Day and all.'
"And?" Erik demanded
'I didn't. Not really anyway. Listen, it might be nothing.'
"Let me determine if it's nothing, Bill."
'Donnie was here earlier and he was pretty plastered when he left.'
"Donnie?" No way was Bill suggesting Donnie had done this. Sure, Donnie drank too much, but he wouldn't do that to a friend. And while he and Donnie weren't best friends or anything beyond bowling nights they'd always gotten along.
'Yeah, you know this was the first Father's Day since his ex-wife put a restraining order out on him. He can't see his kids.'
"Oh," Erik said. "I didn't know that. They're divorced?" How had he missed that? He had no idea beyond the fact he wasn't the type to sit around and gossip. Hell, he wasn't even sure how old Donnie's kids were. He had heard the rumors about Donnie smacking his wife around more than once, but Erik wasn't even sure those rumors were true.
'Yes, for a while now. So he was drowning his sorrows.'
"His own fault if you ask me for hitting a woman."
'I couldn't agree more, but you know he's had his eye on Sara since the first time she came in here. He was not too pleased she left with you. He hasn't let anyone forget it either.'
"I've never heard him say anything."
'Well, of course he wouldn't to you or when you are here, but I've heard it. Others have, too.'
Erik shook his head, trying to picture it. "You don't think he'd really do that, do you? I mean, Jesus, that's taking being spiteful about getting rejected a little far, don't you think?"
'I really don't know what he's capable of, Erik. I used to not think so, but I've heard some stories since she filed for divorce that make me wonder if I ever knew him.'
"Huh," Erik said.
'Now I'm telling you this because maybe you can steer the police in his direction. I'm not telling you this so you can take things into your own hands. I know how you and John are about handling things, but you won't do her any good in jail, especially if I'm wrong in my thinking.'
"He's going to suspect you told me."
'Probably. So I lose a customer. If he actually did do this I don't want him here anyway.'
His next call was to his old friend John Pruitt who drove the wrecker for him. It was a great way to get business; people were always having car problems on the expressways around here. Sara's babysitter wasn't the only person driving without a spare tire.
'Pruitt,' he answered. He was on-duty so had his cell phone on him at all times.
"John, it's Dawson. I was hoping you could bring my pickup over to Mercer for me."
'Everything all right?'
'I can do that. Are you in the condition to drive home?'
"I'm not the patient."
'Oh," John said.
John hadn't been at all in favor of Erik's involvement with Sara at first. He was slowly warming up to the idea of them being in a relationship now that it was clear that Erik wasn't just using her for a regular piece of ass. Even though she was twenty-one now, John still seemed to have a protective streak for her.
'I see. Is she all right?'
"I'm not sure. She was in surgery when I came downstairs. Her parents and brother are up there waiting for the doctor."
'And you're talking to me?'
"Yes, I talked to her brother briefly, but they don't even know me. Figured it was best for me to stay out of the way for now."
'You ask me, you seeming to avoid them at a time like this is not a way to win over your girlfriend's parents."
"I'd thought of that."
'I'll bring your pickup truck, but you should go let them know you're not a bad guy. What room is she in?'
'I'll drop off my extra set of keys at the nurse's station when I bring it.'
'What are friends for?'
He stopped at the cafeteria and bought a cup of coffee. He was in no hurry to go back upstairs and meet her parents. No matter what John said he doubted meeting them under these circumstances would make a good impression. They'd forever look at him and think of this day in conjunction with meeting him. And while it'd only been a few months, Erik knew barring her deciding she wanted out of his life he wasn't walking away from her anytime soon. He wasn't stupid, didn't need to be beaten over the head to know when a good thing practically landed in his lap and was handed to him.
"There you are," Brad said, taking a seat across from him. "I thought you were coming back."
"I just had some phone calls to make. I rode here in the ambulance with her so am having a friend bring my pickup over here. You know him, John."
"I could've given you a lift home."
"I appreciate that, but it's way out of your way from Oak Park and I don't plan on leaving until they kick me out."
"Well, it's not like coming down here wasn't already out of the way. Boy does coming here bring back memories of the night we met you. I still don't know how we made it out alive."
"She told me about the night. I had no idea, of course. You all were very lucky I'd say."
"Luck or God, something, was on our side."
"Is she out of surgery? The doctor said something about plastic surgery on a couple of the deeper cuts to her face, I'm not sure if they were going to do that all at once or not."
"Yes, she's out, and of course, my parents will do whatever needs to be done. We're very grateful you found her."
"If she called when she was leaving brunch I would've known to look for her. I just thought your Father's Day thing was running long."
"No one thinks this is your fault, Mr. Dawson."
"Erik. I think you can call me Erik now."
"Right, sure. No one blames you. My mom wants to meet you."
"Maybe some other time."
"Because I don't think meeting me and from this day forward associating me with this day will be a very good thing for me."
"Oh. How did you find her?"
"I searched for her. I saw her purse on the ground near her car, knew she had to be around there somewhere."
"No, not today. I mean, I'm glad you did. Find her today, I mean. Who knows how long she would've been sitting out there if you hadn't. I meant how did you find her at all?"
"I didn't find her. Hell, you give me way more credit than that if you think I even remembered your names after that night let alone how to find any of you. I certainly didn't watch you guys leave that night and think 'Gee, I'll look that girl up once she's legal, I'll bet she'll be a real looker.' She was just a sweet kid."
"I was just wondering. I mean, the two of you. I never saw that happening. So you like ran into each other somewhere? Did she need her car fixed or something?"
"She found me near the garage one night."
"She what? Alone?"
"Yeah," he shrugged, taking a sip of his coffee. Brad had gotten himself a bottle of pop. He opened it and took a sip. "I don't know why."
"She always liked you."
"I'm glad. I mean, I'm glad I didn't ruin her dreams of Thor and what he was like."
"Are you serious about her?"
"As serious as I can be about someone I've been seeing exclusively for months now."
"Do you love her?"
"That's between Sara and me now, don't you think?"
"I'm asking for a reason, man."
"If you'd asked me in April if I thought it was possible I could I would have said no, but yes, I love her. And please don't give me some speech about how she's too young for me. Or that you're rich and I'm far from rich."
"I wasn't going to. Sara is one of the smartest and most down to earth people I know. She never dated in high school. I mean, she had dates but she was never one of those date around types. Since the night we met you, she's had her eye on getting her degrees and helping people. She's never strayed from that goal and she wouldn't let things like guys or partying stand in her way."
"I know. I mean, she's told me. I can't tell you how bad I feel that she's now among the people she wants to try and help. I'm still trying to work out how I fit into her life. I can't help but wonder once she's done with school and lands a good job. Well, I'm not so sure the novelty of someone like me won't wear off, but I'm not going anywhere if that's what you're asking. I had never thought about marriage and kids. I have a house so space isn't an issue; I just never considered that type of life for me."
"And you are now?"
"The idea has crossed my mind that I'd enjoy spending every day of my life with her, yeah."
He was quiet after that, taking a sip of his pop making Erik wonder what her brother was getting at.
"I'm not using her or anything. I treat her decent."
"I probably shouldn't tell you this. My mom would get mad at me."
"Tell me what?"
"The doctor," he paused. "Well, he said there was quite a bit of tearing and stuff. You know," Brad said, blushing. "Internally."
He cleared his throat. "Well, he said it was possible there'd be scarring."
"He's unable to say how bad it could be."
"What are you saying, Brad?"
Brad exhaled sharply. "She may not be able to get pregnant."
"He sort of implied it could be very difficult if the scarring was bad enough, yeah."
"Why would your mom get mad at you for telling me that?"
"Because it's kind of personal, don't you think?"
"Well, sure, but I'm involved with her. Can't get much more personal than that."
"And that wouldn't bother you?"
"Bother me? Well, of course it'd bother me, but not for the reason you think. It'd bother me because it's bad enough she went through this but to have to be reminded for the rest of her life that it happened won't be enjoyable I'm sure."
"He said might. I mean, he doesn't know. I don't know how it works. He's also going to have a nurse give her that pill."
"Yeah, you know that morning after pill."
He cleared his throat again. "I suppose before he gives her that pill and she finds out later she can't have kids I should ask you if there's the chance she could already be pregnant."
"As sure as I can be. Wouldn't the doctor check for that before administering it? To see if she is and how far along she'd be?"
"I can ask him to."
"So that's why you came down here?"
"Yes. I asked the nurse to hold off giving it to her until I could find you."
"As far as I know she's not, and it probably wouldn't have survived this anyway so go ahead and give it to her."
"She doesn't need to be violated any more than she already has been with another exam."
"The nurse said they could do an ultrasound to see."
He shook his head again. "No, just give her the pill. She needs to worry about healing not about a baby if there even is one, which I'm almost certain there isn't."
"All right. You can come up, you know."
"And meet your parents? I'm sure your dad will love me. I can just imagine what he's envisioned for Sara all these years and I'm not it."
"She likes you."
"How do you know?"
"Because my mom told me she mentioned you at the club today."
"Yes, she asked me if I knew you, assuming I guess I might have met you."
"She wouldn't have mentioned you if she wasn't serious about you."
"I'll meet them sometime I'm sure, Brad. Can you step back and look at this from where I'm sitting. Would you want your wife's parents to look at you, remembering something awful that happened to her every time they saw you?"
"Tell your mom you couldn't find me or something," he shrugged. "Some other time, at least when she's conscious and able to make the decision to have me meet them."
"All right," he sighed softly.
Story ©Susan Falk/APCKRFAN/PhantomRoses.com