Each man has a breaking point, no matter how strong his spirit. Somewhere, deep inside him, there is a flaw that only the fickle cruelty of fate can find.
Eric shot up upon realizing the phone wasn’t ringing in his dream, but in reality and on his nightstand. His anxiety grew when he saw the caller ID. It was Caitlin, his daughter.
“Cait, baby, what is it?” Eric was wide awake right away, trying to keep his voice steady and calm, suppressing the instant bad feeling and worry.
“Daddy, you gotta come – mommy has a knife! A big one! Daddy please come fast. Mr. Teddy is really scared. I am not, but he is and he wants you to come here bad!”
“WHAT!? Where are you!?”
“My room, with Mr. Teddy. I locked the door – daddy!”
“Ok, baby girl! You stay put. Do not leave the room. I will be right over!”
Alarmed Eric jumped into the first clothing he could find and sprinted out the door.
This time he didn’t bother with being respectful by knocking on the front door, pulled out his set of keys, it took him two tries to control his shaky hands enough to unlock the door, burst in, but saw nobody, the house was dark, so he ran straight to his daughter’s room, who unlocked and jumped into his arms, as he thanked all the powers there be for protecting her.
“Daddy, mommy made me an ouwee. Look, here. But I was brave, like you daddy, and I didn’t even cry.”
“My brave little angel!” Eric had a hard time controlling his voice from sounding shaky.
She stretched out her little hand and there was a small bright red scratch where something sharp had barely broken the skin, but luckily not cut deep and it didn’t bleed.
Eric’s jaw clenched tight, fuming on the inside, but he forced a smile and kissed the intact skin to the side, blew on it, talking gently and calming to Caitlin.
His heart was hurting thinking about anyone hurting his beautiful, innocent child, worst of all her own mother, and instead of her being here calming the child down she was nowhere to be found, while his daughter was scared enough to call him and lock herself in her room. Smart little scared baby.
“Okay, sweetie, can you stay in your room a little longer, while daddy goes to talk to mommy? She probably just had a really bad, scary dream. Okay?”
“Am I going to have scars like you now?”
“Oh no, baby, you will be just as perfect as before. And mommy didn’t mean to, you must understand that, just a silly misunderstanding. You just wait here and I will be right back. Mommy is probably very, very sad because she accidentally scratched you. I will be back in no time, promise.”
“I want to go to grandma and grandpa’s with you! I don’t want to stay here anymore. Mr. Teddy wants to go too!”
“All right, sure. Pack a few things, your school stuff and what to wear tomorrow and you and Mr. Teddy wait here for me. I will be right back.”
“Can I bring my new coloring book? And my new crayons?”
“Sure. Bring all you like, as long as we both can carry it, all right. Just stay in your room until I get you.” he smiled at her as she already went to work.
Eric left, shutting the door quietly but with shaking hand, his smile faded, while his heart began to beat at an almost normal rate again and he finally could breathe, then he made his way upstairs. He found Charlotte cowering and sobbing on the floor in the bedroom, her face reddened and eyes swollen from lots of crying.
“I am sorry. So sorry. Is she okay?” her voice was barey intelligible between, more uncontrollable sobbing.
“She is fine, all things considered. Shaken up, but resillient. What the hell happened?”
“She crawled into bed with me while I was asleep and it triggered something. I didn’t mean to frighten her. I am so sorry.” more sobbing.
“Can you explain to me why you have a knife in the bedroom when there are children in this house?! You cut our little girl, luckily just a scratch, but are you clear how that could have gone? Cait could be in the hospital now – or the city morgue! Have you lost your mind?!”
“I know … I know. I am sorry, so very sorry … But we are here alone. I needed to be able to protect Cait and me.” Charlee pleaded, her voice sounding unlike hers from more sobbing and crying.
“Charlotte, there has not been a recorded break-in in about a decade in Brindleton Bay! This is reckless and dangerous with children in the home! My cousin Bryan is a former athlete, buff and strong and lives right next door, you can look into their kitchen from the bedroom window! If you suspect something, call him over and then me!”
“Eric, please don’t be mad at me. Please – I need you, please.” she begged.
“Stop it, Charlee, get a hold of yourself! You have hurt our baby girl, her guardian angel must have worked overtime, it’s just a tiny scratch, but you could have cut off her finger or hand or cut her arm wide open, or worse! I cannot even think about any of this, but I cannot sell this to myself as just an accident! It’s not. You need more help, Charlee, more than I can give. I want you to go see Dr. Holton as soon as she can get you in and I want you to tell her everything. No, I will go with you and tell her everything. This is insane and dangerous. Until then, Cait is staying with me.”
“Charlee, do you not see that it’s for the better?! Don’t look at me like I am trying to be mean. You know I am right. That little girl is frightened right now. I may be able to downplay it enough that she’ll forget it, but I am not risking a repeat. I’m here for you, but this makes two people in our family now that you have injured. Me and her. I just cannot risk leaving her here right now.”
“Eric, I don’t want to be all alone. I won’t have knives in the bedroom anymore, I swear. Please.”
“Charlotte, stop it! Stop all of this nonsense now! I understand. I do! But right now, I am taking Cait with me. We’ll see what Dr. Holton says tomorrow – well, today really – but for now Caitlin needs a change of scenery to feel safe. I am not saying this will be permanent. All right? And you need sleep, uninterrupted sleep.”
“Please do not hate me, Eric. I could not bear it.”
“Charlee, nobody hates you. I get it. But I need to think of our children and their safety. You are an excellent mother, but you are not fully in control right now.”
“Can you hold me, please? Only for a moment?”
She nestled into his embrace, he held her until her tears seized.
“Let’s stick you into bed, try to sleep, and tomorrow we’ll start fixing this.”
Eric tucked her in, then grabbed his daughter and went to the Beach House. His son was fast asleep so he put the little girl in his bed, waited till she fell asleep, then went downstairs to write his parents a note about both kids staying here temporarily.
He also knew there was no way he could sleep now, so he grabbed a beer from the fridge and went onto the patio. The crisp, cool, salty ocean air had often helped him think more clearly in the past.
He had lied to Charlee.
Deliberately, to keep her from becoming hysterical.
He was not convinced everything would be okay, and he certainly was not convinced that he would feel comfortable leaving her alone with their daughter again anytime soon.
Normally he would have taken Cait to the Beach House, then returned to Charlee to comfort her, but not this time.
Not because he felt she needed rest, as he told her, another lie, but because he now felt resentful towards her, a feeling he didn’t want to allow and kept trying to muffle.
It was one thing to hit him over the head with a big, heavy book when they were getting physical, but attacking a helpless child – their own child – had hurt him on a whole new level.
By the time dawn broke the velvety blue darkness of the night sky he still had not come to any conclusions. Only more questions, doubts, worries.
Due to the severity of the issue, Charlee’s psychologist Dr. Holton had worked her in right away and even agreed that Eric’s presence would be helpful.
Then they were sitting in the office again.
The mood was tense, uncomfortable.
“All right, so what exactly happened last night?”
“Our little daughter, Caitlin, had a nightmare and climbed into my bed, I was fast asleep and it startled me, so I … frightened her. A lot.”
“With a meat cleaver!” Eric growled, instantly angry.
“Eric, please. Let Charlee tell the story.”
“No, Dr. Holton, I feel like that is an essential part of the problem. She is downplaying the severity of what happened, and maybe has done so all along. I have every compassion in the world for getting startled by a child at night, our boy has done it to me a bunch of times, so badly that I almost needed a diaper change, but I never hurt him, not even when he woke me by holding a spider in my face that he caught on the bathroom wall! But the knife is the part that I am having the problem with. A knife has no business laying around anywhere where there are young children, but least of all in a household where someone knows they have mental issues. That is me the husband, the father and the cop now!”
“Mental issues? You think I am crazy? Really, Eric?!” Charlee piped up not in her usual sweet and calm ways.
“Well, you surely didn’t exactly behave in a manner that would be considered normal last night, now, wouldn’t you agree?”
“Eric, clearly you are upset, which is understandable, but please stop.” Dr. Holton interfered.
“Stop? No. I am here to put some meat on those bones. I do not know what she talks about when she is here and it’s probably none of my business, but I have a feeling there is a lot of essential stuff left out rendering all this a big waste of money. There has been little progress in the now 6+ months she has been coming here and I do not mean to sound like an in-compassionate prick, but what about our children? What about me? I feel like I got rolled over by the train carrying this shitshow a long ways back and the only thing left of me is pieces of me stuck to the wheels! I am not Superman, I do not have superhuman, unlimited strength! I don’t mind all eyes on Charlee, I get it, she needs help bad, but there is only so much bullshit I can dish up for our kids to not realize this is bad. Our son asked me the other day if we were divorced and then I had the hardest time explaining to him in kid’s terms how we are not because in a kid’s mind there is no difference really. Mommy and daddy don’t live together anymore, each got one kid and occasionally we all visit. Might as well be divorced, right?”
“Eric, a child questions the world, that is normal and would happen with other hard to explain things if you lived together …”
“Yeah, if – but we don’t, now, do we? And at this point I am not sure if we ever will again. I do not understand any of what’s going on. I tried, believe you me, I tried, but I don’t have unlimited strength either. I am trying to be understanding and strong and patient, but where is the progress?! It feels an awful lot like regress to me when my wife tries to go Jack the Ripper on our baby girl just days after slamming some epic coffee table tome in my face that I saw stars and not much else for a while. You do realize I am a law enforcement officer and domestic violence victim is not a confidence instilling look for me.”
Dr. Holton was able to talk Eric down, but he remained quiet as he drove Charlotte back home, declined the coffee invite, instead went home to the Beach House.
Eventually, after a cool down period, Eric allowed dinners together at the Beach House, inviting Charlee, but he still didn’t trust her alone with their kids.
Then one late afternoon sitting at work he came to the conclusion that everyone deserved a fair chance, left work early, went by a flower shop, and was going to surprise Charlee by taking her to her favorite restaurant – the one where he once proposed to her – for a nice dinner together.
And maybe they would get into the right mood again, if she offered intimacy again, he would not stop her, if only to see if there was actual progress. Maybe they could move back together, even if the only thing that happened in the parental bedroom was sleeping next to each other. He’d at least bring it up to Charlee again and see how she felt. Maybe the separation was what was currently stifling the progress. Maybe if they lived together again, things would become normal again faster. Or at all. Either way, he had to do something, and now. So this was what he came up with, hoping it would render anything positive.
A bouquet of flowers in hand he went straight to the Gallery.
She wasn’t on the showroom floor when he entered, nor was anyone else, the Gallery was empty, as so often, so he hurried up the stairs to the second level, an anticipatory smile on his face.
That smile first froze, then vanished as the flowers fell from his hands and hit the ground with a muffled sound.
He could not move or avert his eyes from the scene in front of him, a man who had a woman pinned against the wall in an unmistakable position like lovers about to get carried away with passion. The man he recognized as Charlee’s employee, the woman was Charlee and she was not struggling, just stood there and allowed it, allowed the man to lean in closer and closer for what would be a kiss, sending a tingly feeling of anger down Eric’s spine.
At that moment they noticed him, the couple sprayed apart, for a moment that felt like hours or even days they all stared at each other, surprised, shocked and in awe, nobody spoke. Eric was the first able to move again and he was already on his way down the stairs again when Charlee unfroze.
“Eric, wait! It is not what it looks like … ERIC!” was the last thing he heard as he was running away.