Max didn’t know if it was the pain or the screams that brought him back to consciousness. He opened his eyes, finding he was unable to see out of the right side. Blood ran across his face in warm rivulets to drip onto the ceiling of his car. He was upside down. The screams, those horrible bone chilling screams kicked him into action. He placed one hand beneath him to keep his head from slamming into the thinly padded ceiling then reached up and unbuckled himself. He fell, feeling pain slicing through his entire body. His vision swam for a moment then became steady once again. He dragged himself out of his car, pulling himself to his feet. Those screams reverberated through the night, loud even over the pouring rain.
“Hold on, I’m coming.” He yelled. He remembered the car that had passed him had had and old woman and a young girl inside. He made it to the other car, grabbed the side which was crushed inward. The old woman was dead, but the girl in the back seat was crying and screaming. “Hush now sweetie, I’m here.”
She cried harder when she saw him and he knew he must look terrible. He reached inside and pulled her restraint loose then lifted her out. He carried her to the side of the road and sat down, leaning against the guardrail and holding her close. The rain soaked their clothes, making them both shiver. She cried and cried and he comforted her as best as he could. He didn’t know how long they had been setting there, but an ambulance pulled up, followed by police cars and fire trucks. The paramedics came running to them and he let them take the girl from his arms. He was so relieved he finally let himself slip into unconsciousness.
Penelope glared angrily at Leonard, her hands on her hips as she listened to him complain about Molly. “I’m not getting rid of her so stop.” She said.
“She’s just a cat Penny. I’m tired of her scratching me.” He replied, his hands balled into fists at his sides.
“Then stop coming over. She obviously doesn’t like you.”
“Are you breaking up with me? Because I won’t let that happen.”
“Oh really and what are you going to do exactly?”
“Fuck you Penny.”
“Get out right now.” He growled and snatched up his sweater then stomped to the front door.
“This is not over Penny.” He ripped the door open then slammed it shut behind him.
She was so frustrated she wanted to throw something. Instead she put a fresh canvas on her easel and painted. It was therapeutic and instantly calmed her. Molly meowed and rubbed up against her leg. “Don’t worry kitty, no one is making me get rid of you.” She said softly and Molly jumped onto her lap.
Max woke with a groan and his heart gave a panicked stutter. He tried to set up and felt a hand press gently on his left shoulder. He opened his eyes, but could only see out of the left one. There was a man in a white coat standing over him. It took him a second to realize it was a doctor. “The girl?” He asked.
“She’s fine Mr. Tulfer, but you were seriously injured. Your right eye no longer functions, your skull was fractured, and four of your ribs are broken. The paramedics said when they found you that you had the girl in your arms. Did you walk to her car?”
“Yes, she was screaming.”
“You shouldn’t have been able to go anywhere. We’re going to keep you for a couple of days to make sure you’re okay then we’ll let you go home. Your wife should be here in the morning. She said she was away on business. Until then try and sleep. If you need anything there is a button on a cord next to your left hand.”
“Thank you.” The doctor left, switching off the lights. Max stared up at the ceiling until he was too tired to stay awake.
Penelope flopped down on her bed and Molly jumped up next to her and curled up in a ball. She didn’t understand Leonard’s hate for the loveable ball of fur and had even told him that the more negative he acted toward her, the more aggressive she would become. She hissed every time he walked through the door and after that he would glare at her all night. She scratched Molly’s head then turned onto her side and closed her eyes. It was almost three in the morning and she had nearly finished a painting in her frustration. She drifted off into sleep with one arm draped over Molly.
“Max, wake up.” The familiar voice pulled him out of his nightmare. His one good eye focused on the face of his wife, Chloe. “What the fuck happened?” She asked angrily.
“A semi took out my car and another car.”
“Of course it did. How much longer are you going to be in here?”
“The doctor said a couple of days.”
She sighed, frustrated. “Fine, whatever. I won’t be able to pick you up, I have work I have to make up because of this.”
Max felt himself choke up at her lack of sympathy. She rolled her eyes. “I’ll see you at home then.” She left him there alone and he turned slowly onto his side, crying into his pillow. A nurse came by an hour later and frowned when she saw how depressed he looked.
“You okay sweetie?” She asked.
“Yeah, just hungry and thirsty.” He lied.
“Would you like me to order you something off of our menu? It might take some time to adjust to seeing out of just one eye.”
She grabbed the menu and asked him if a turkey sandwich and juice would be okay. He just nodded and she picked up the phone and called for him. “It’ll be up in a little bit. Would it be okay if I check your stitches and ribs?” He nodded again and she took the bandage off his face. “I think we can keep the bandage off, but don’t scratch okay.”
“I won’t, I promise.” She smiled and lifted his hospital gown. She checked his ribs and he winced as her fingers moved over his side.
“I’m sure the doctor will let you go home tomorrow, but you have to be really careful. No lifting of any sort.”
“I understand.” She smiled and left just as his lunch was being brought in. He ate slowly, not really hungry, but knowing he needed to eat.
Penelope woke around noon and stretched before getting out of bed. She got up and walked into the kitchen, freezing when she saw the vase of roses. She grabbed the card and rolled her eyes when she saw a cute little message and then Leonard’s name. She threw the flowers and card away then dumped the water out of the vase. She refused to take him back. He was a controlling, egotistical, ass who liked to make fun of her art and belittle her cat. She refused to put up with it anymore. She put on a pot of coffee and examined the painting she had started. It was beautiful for something that had been started in anger, but she wasn’t surprised. When she painted it was like every worry slipped away and a quiet calm descended over her. She sat down on her stool and picked up her brush, deciding to finish it to show at the gallery that night.
She painted until the coffee was ready then made her a cup and sat down to watch TV. She found an episode of Leverage and allowed herself to get lost in it. Her phone rang a few minutes later and she jumped up, sighing when she saw the name. She picked it up and answered. “What do you want?” She asked.
“Did you see the flowers?”
“Yes and I want my key back.”
“Come on Penny, I’m sorry.”
“Give me my key back and any copies you thought of making or I will call the cops. I mean it Leonard.” She hung up before he could argue with her. She was never letting him in her home again.
Max called the nurse when he had to use the bathroom and she helped him into a wheel chair. She pushed him into the bathroom and helped him onto the toilet then left to give him some privacy. He relieved himself then called for her. She helped him up and he caught a glimpse of his face as he sat back down in the wheel chair. Stitches covered his face, holding deep cuts from glass closed and it was swollen and bruised. He looked terrible and now understood why the little girl had been so afraid. The nurse took him back to bed and he thanked her as she left. He switched on the TV for noise alone. He was uninterested in what was on. Night time came and another nurse came in to check him. She smiled at him, but her pity only made him feel worse.
Penelope pulled on a knee length red dress and did her hair and makeup. She slipped her glasses on and collected the paintings she would be showing. She made sure Molly had enough food and water then left, locking her door. She knocked on her neighbor’s door and the forty something with a teenaged son answered. “Hey, I just wanted to let you know that I broke up with Leonard and he’s supposed to be bringing my keys by. Could you tell him I said to just leave the keys if he stops by and not go inside?”
“Sure, I heard you two arguing. Pretty bad huh?”
“He tried to make me get rid of Molly because she doesn’t like him. So I told him to screw off.”
“I never liked him anyway. I’ll keep my ears open.”
“Thank you.” She headed out, excited for a night of selling paintings.
Max woke with a loud scream of terror, his heart beating out a fearful rhythm. He was covered in sweat, his hospital gown sticking to him. He heard footsteps and the room light was switched on. It was a nurse and she had a concerned look on her face. “Are you alright?” She asked.
“Yes, just a nightmare. I think I need a shower.”
“Standing and sitting for long periods might be hard on you.”
“Please, I won’t take long.”
“Alright, let me ask your doctor.”
She left and he lay there with his heart trying to beat its way out of his chest. She came back and helped him out of bed and into a wheel chair. She got the water started for him then wheeled him in and helped him out of his gown then onto the bench. “Thank you.” He said and she stepped out. He let himself cry once she was gone, letting all the terror flow out of him. The accident had done more than just hurt his body, it had hurt his mind too.
Penelope chatted happily with anyone who was interested in her art. She loved that it brought others so much joy. She got the sudden feeling she was being watched and looked around her. She didn’t see anyone looking her way, but the feeling did not disappear. She went back to talking to a young man who was interested in the one she had done the night she made Leonard leave. He said he could feel her emotion in it and really wanted to hang it in his office at work. She told him to buy it before someone else got the same idea and he hurried away which brought a smile to her face. The night seemed to zoom by and midnight was upon her before she even knew it. She yawned sleepily and thanked everyone for coming as the gallery began to shut down and the patrons filtered out. All of her paintings had sold and the gallery owner promised to mail her check in the morning. She headed home with a happy grin on her face, ready to get out of her heels and into bed. When she got back to her apartment she was stopped by her neighbor who handed gave her keys to her.
“Thank you.” She said and headed inside, glad she didn’t have to worry about anymore surprise visits from Leonard.
The next morning Max woke with a splitting headache, but made himself ignore it. He wanted to go home and try to patch things up with Chloe. His doctor came in and gave him a once over before giving him the go ahead to go home. Since he didn’t have any clothes they gave him a sweat shirt and pants which the nurse helped him put on. He was given a bag which contained his wallet, belt, keys and broken phone. He used the phone in his room to call a cab then let the nurse wheel him out of the hospital. She waited with him until the cab got there then helped him in. She made the driver promise to help him into his apartment if he needed it before leaving and Max gave him his address. When they pulled into his complex driveway he paid the driver and told him he didn’t need any help before stepping out and walking slowly up the stairs. He unlocked and pushed open the door and was greeted by his very lovable great dane.
“Down boy, no jumping. I’m hurt.” He said and the dog whined, but dropped obediently down. Chloe wasn’t home so he just got himself a glass of water and sat down in front of the TV. His dog rested his head on his knees and Max scratched behind his ear with one hand while turning the TV on with the other. He let himself get lost in Shark Week as he relaxed.
When Chloe came in Duke didn’t even bother greeting her. The dog didn’t like her and went into their bedroom to lay in his kennel. Chloe sat her purse down and Max got to his feet to greet her and apologize for pushing for a baby once again. The moment her eyes settled on him they filled with disgust. “What did you do to your face?” She asked and he frowned.
“It’ll heal.” He replied and reached for her.
“Don’t touch me.” She grabbed her purse. “I’ll be eating lunch at Mel’s.” She left before he could say more, her harsh words hurting him.
Penelope lounged on her couch with Molly, reading a book about ancient Greece. It had pictures of old buildings that she could draw inspiration from. She had made a good amount of money off the previous night’s sales and it had immediately gone into more supplies and bills so she could continue to do what she loved. She couldn’t wait until she could find someone who appreciated her art as much as she did, someone who would encourage her.
Months passed slowly for Max as Chloe continued her barrage of hurtful words. She finally divorced him and her constant bullying sent him into a depression and after awhile she took away the last thing he had to make him happy, his dog. He had cried hard that night, knowing he was truly alone. Every now and then Chloe would come by just to have sex with him and then bully him again before leaving, ensuring he never got close to anyone for fear of being rejected. He took up photography so he wouldn’t have to deal with large groups of people and only went out at night for the same reason. He couldn’t stand the looks of pity and horror that often came his way.
Penelope sat painting as Molly sat on the window sill of her apartment complex. She could tell the cat was interested in something, but every time she went to the window she didn’t see anything. Molly meowed and Penelope looked her way just as the cat jumped out of the window. Her heart slammed against her chest in fear as she ran to the window and looked out. She became instantly irritated when she saw Molly sitting on a wall meowing up at her.
“Molly, you psycho, stay right there.” She threw on her sweater, pulled on her shoes and hurried downstairs to get her cat before she froze to death.
Max walked quietly down the sidewalk, just enjoying the cool night air. The first scream made him freeze in his tracks. He wasn’t sure he had actually heard it until another followed. He took off at a dead sprint, following the terrified sound until he came to an alleyway where four men had an unconscious woman pinned down. “Hey get the fuck off of her.” He yelled and they all looked up at him.
“Who the fuck are you?” Their leader asked.
“I said get off of her.” They all stood, their leader buckling his pants. They attacked him and he gave them a beating to remember him by, making sure to do extra damage to the man who had been pulling her clothes off. When he had them all unconscious he called the police and gave them his location and explained what had happened. He then went over to the woman and checked to make sure she was okay. He pulled her pants up and lifted her off the cold ground. A cat meowed on the wall above him and jumped down to stand at his feet.
“Is this you momma?” He asked and the cat meowed again. He squatted down and the cat jumped onto her owner’s stomach and curled up. The police arrived and Max quickly explained what had happened. He told them he would take care of the woman, lying that she was a friend of his who had been out searching for her cat. They thanked him and he carried her home, taking her straight to his bed. The cat jumped onto the floor and started exploring the apartment, curious to see if he had anything worth playing with. Max pulled the woman’s shoes off and covered her up, knowing she had to be freezing. He sat down on the edge of the bed, wanting to be there when she woke up so she wouldn’t be afraid.