“Honey? I really need to get to work, okay?”
“I know, Mom. Sorry. I just really needed to talk to you. I know I’m supposed to be all grown up now that I’m in college, but sometimes, I just need my mom.”
Her mom felt a lump growing in her throat so she swallowed hard to make it go away.
“I’m glad you do, Megan. I miss you so much, and I love when you call. I just don’t have a lot of time right now.”
“Oh, sure. I knew you were getting ready for work. I just needed to say ‘hi’. I’ll call you later, okay?”
“It’s always okay, honey. You know that, right?”
“Of course I do, Mom,” her 19-year old daughter replied.
“Okay. Well, have a wonderful day!” her mom told her, feeling horrible for not being able to spend more time on the phone.
“How could I not, right? I mean I’ve got organic chemistry and calculus today, so it’s pretty much gotta be a wonderful day,” he daughter quipped.
Her mother laughed then said in a more serious tone, “Your father would be so proud of you.”
There was a brief moment of silence before Megan said, “I know he would, Mom, but thank you for saying that. I just miss him so much, you know?”
“Yes. Yes, I know,” her mom said quietly.
There was another pause before she said, “Okay. I really, really have to get to work.”
“Mom?” Megan said before the call ended. “Please tell me you’re not still walking to work. Please?”
The long pause told Megan all she needed to know.
“Mom, if something happens to you…,” her daughter said, the emotion welling up in her voice.
“It won’t,” her mother replied, knowing she couldn’t possibly know that. “I’ll be careful. I always am.”
“That’s what Dad always said. But sometimes being careful isn’t enough.”
“I know. Bye, honey,” her mom said not wanting to get into it again and no longer as concerned about not talking to her daughter if meant talking about that.
Nicole Benson was 43 years old and a practicing psychologist. She and her late husband, Jeremy, had loved running together almost as much as they enjoyed making love, and both of them had dearly loved the intimacy they’d shared for sixteen years.
One of their favorite routes took them past the upscale building where she worked in downtown Seattle via a rather seedy neighborhood in Seattle’s Central District which had grown worse over the last ten years due to the influx of drugs and the crime that followed. Because of that, it had been given the nickname ‘the war zone’.
That route was one of the few things she had left that made her feel like he was still alive and somehow almost with her. She wasn’t delusional and knew that wasn’t true, but the connection she felt whenever she walked through the place where he’d been killed was so strong, she couldn’t give it up…no matter the risk.
And because she was fully grounded in reality, she was fully aware of the risks. She knew because he’d been killed there just over three years ago when he went for a run without her because she wasn’t feeling well. It was her ‘time of the month’ and the worst day of her period, and although that rarely kept her sidelined, it was particularly bad that morning, and she just couldn’t work through the cramping even after having taken some Ibuprofen.
So Jeremy had suited up and went out alone. She felt terrible at not having gotten up to hug him or kiss him when he told her he’d back within an hour. She’d just lain in bed and quietly told him, “Okay. Have fun.”
It was several hours later before she knew, but when he didn’t return after an hour, his stated runtime, she began to worry. However, she knew he might have felt particularly good and extended the run without bothering to call her because she needed to rest.
When a second hour passed, she began to panic. After another thirty minutes, she forced herself out of bed and got dressed. She grabbed her keys and started driving around thinking she might somehow find him alongside the road with a sprained ankle or the like. He rarely took his phone because he didn’t like having to deal with the rectangular-shaped object that was uncomfortable no matter how he carried it, but he’d taken it with him that morning, so her concerns ran wild knowing he could have called were that the case.
Two hours later, she was at wits end, and when she finally gave up looking and pulled into her driveway, her blood ran cold when she noticed there was a police detective waiting for her.
He introduced himself as Detective Walden, and Nicole tentatively said, “Hello.”
When he asked if she was Mrs. Jeremy Benson, her knees went weak, and when the detective said, “Ma’am, I’m sorry to have to inform you that your husband…” they buckled.
Nicole fell to the ground and began sobbing. She only partially heard him let her know there’d been a shooting at the end of one of the streets they ran on in ‘the war zone’. It had still been dark out that December morning, and there wasn’t a functional street light for well over two hundred illegal bahis yards in either direction. It was one of the darkest and scariest places either of them had ever been, and yet they were both trusting souls who truly believed that as long as they minded their own business, no one would take the time to bother them.
After all, they ran in sweats during the winter and didn’t carry any money or anything of value—with the exception of Nicole’s wedding ring or on days like today, Jeremy’s cell phone.
Nicole was aware she’d somehow ended up back inside the house and that the detective was still talking when she heard him say, “We have no idea who did this or why, but I promise you we’ll run every possible lead to ground until we find out what happened.”
Still in shock, Nicole managed to say, “Thank you, Detective. I’m sure you will.”
She may have even smiled, but couldn’t remember. He asked if there was anything he could do or anyone he could call, but Nicole knew she had to tell Megan herself. Her daughter had gone to Jeremy’s parents’ home out in Auburn, a modest-sized city south of Seattle, for the weekend.
As difficult as it had been to hear the news herself, it paled in comparison to having to tell their daughter who nearly came unglued when she heard.
Unable to drive, she dialed their number and spoke to her father-in-law first, who then handed the phone to Megan who’d screamed and shrieked then turned and began hitting her grandfather on the chest as a way of trying to cope with the worst news of her life. He’d just gently grabbed her hands then wrapped his big arms around his granddaughter and held her until she stopped crying.
That first week was still a blur. Nicole had had to ID his body, a gruesome task that had been almost as bad as telling Megan. Then there was the funeral and the burial, and everything else that went with it; things she’d never even thought of until reality forced her to deal with them.
Jeremy’s parents had been her rock through it all. An only child, Nicole had never known her father, and her mother had died five years early from cervical cancer. Without them, she had no idea how she’d have gotten through it, and even now, she still leaned on them when the memories overwhelmed her.
At the time, she’d never stopped to consider how hard it had been on them, but Jeremy had also been an only child, and Nicole had apologized several times since for being so shortsighted and self-centered. Both of them had assured her they understood and that it had been their privilege to be there for her when she’d needed someone the most.
After hanging up with Megan that morning, she locked her door and headed out. She hadn’t gone three blocks before realizing the place where she’d lived for so many years was now in danger of being absorbed as ‘territory’ by the gangs that controlled the turf just one more block away. There had been a slow, steady creep of infringement as the drug wars escalated and the gang activity increased, especially over the last three years.
Even so, she couldn’t bring herself to move and leave the only place she and her husband had ever lived together. Even more important to her, it was the place where Megan had lived from the day they brought her home from the hospital until the day she left for college just three months ago.
A few minutes later, she entered ‘the war zone’ where graffiti covered virtually every square inch of free surface area on either side of the street. The sun was up so the lack of lighting wasn’t a big deal, and yet she still shuddered against the cold December wind as she kept walking.
It wasn’t uncommon for someone to whistle or cat call, but most mornings, the streets were empty as most of the ‘activity’ took place from dusk to dawn. That’s when the deals went down and gunshots rang out, more and more often as the months went by.
As a mental health professional, Nicole was convinced that anyone, even drug dealers and gang-bangers, could change if given the kind of psychological tools needed to do so. Her in-laws, who loved her dearly, had suggested more than once they considered her a bit too idealistic if not downright pollyannish. Naive or not, Nicole had to retain her faith in humanity because she feared that if she ever lost it, she’d be no different than those who’d killed her husband.
So with all that on her mind, she tried to shift her focus to the day’s events, as she continued on her way to work. She had a new patient scheduled for 9am, and his intake file had intrigued her. His name was Nicholas Abrams, and the similarity of their first names wasn’t lost on her. He was being seen for PTSD or post-traumatic stress disorder. She saw that he was a police officer as well as a former Marine who’d been in combat two different times, and her first question was why he wasn’t using the VA (Veteran’s Administration) rather than a private practitioner like herself. As a police officer, she new health insurance was offered to him, but she had no way of knowing illegal bahis siteleri whether or not he’d rejected it for some odd reason. For whatever reason, he didn’t list having insurance and would be paying out of pocket. It was none of her business, but it had crossed her mind a time or two. She was still debating whether or not to even ask when she arrived at the place where Jeremy had been killed.
His body had been dragged off after being shot three times when he evidently ran by just as a huge deal was going down. Nicole would probably never know the exact details, but Detective Walden later informed her the police believed he’d said something to the group of young men as he got close. Knowing Jeremy, it was probably nothing more than, “Good morning!” or maybe, “Excuse me, guys!” as he tried to go around them.
She’d been told that the only person who’d ever talked to the detectives said he believed at least one of those young men thought Jeremy was a cop. Even though that made no sense to her, Nicole had no other alternative but to believe that’s what happened. This quasi-informant said someone reacted immediately and pulled a gun shooting Jeremy twice in the chest and once in the head when the shooter and another gang member jumped in front of him to shield the exchange of drugs for money.
It was over in seconds. To her, it was a brutal, violent, senseless death. But to them, it was nothing more than the elimination of a potentially dangerous ‘detail’ they couldn’t risk not taking care of. And just like that, his life had been snuffed out, while the lives of those who’d loved him had been forever altered.
She moved quickly through that fateful place, the area Detective Walden had called ‘the dark end of the street’ and within another three blocks, she reentered civilization and in one more block, was in an entirely different world unsullied by gangs and violence.
She took the elevator to the third floor then headed down the hall to her office where her administrative assistant cheerfully greeted her the way she did every day.
“Good morning, Dr. Benson!”
“Hi, Kathy. How are you today?”
“Wonderful! And you?” the older woman asked just as cheerfully.
“Great,” Nicole said, not wanting to get into an actual discussion in which she’d have to explain the many things that had once again crossed her mind on her way to work.
“Well, your 9 o’clock is in Room 1,” Kathy told her.
Nicole looked at her watch and it was only 8:45.
“How long has he been here?”
“Oh, he was waiting for me when I opened up at 8:30,” was the reply. “I let him in and had him fill out the standard forms, and I have to say, he’s…very handsome!”
“Oh,” was all Nicole said.
“He has the most gorgeous-but-sad eyes I’ve ever seen,” Kathy said as she continued bubbling away. “And he’s tall and he’s, well…you’ll see.”
“All right. Let me get settled and I’ll be with him by nine.”
Nicole opened her office door, sat down at her desk, and turned on her computer. As it booted up, she poured herself a cup of coffee Kathy always had ready, then opened the file on this young man with the ‘amazing eyes.’
She hadn’t met him yet, as he’d only made an appointment and done so on line. She still didn’t have much information on him even after reviewing the forms Kathy had had him fill out.
She did note he was 27 years old, and that he, too, had a daughter. His was only four years old, and Nicole smiled when she thought back on how precious and sweet Megan had been at that age. She quickly reviewed everything else she could find then sat there and sipped her coffee until exactly 9am.
She popped a couple of Tic-Tacs in her mouth to kill the mocha flavor she so dearly loved but others often found offensive, picked up the file, then walked across the hall to Room 1 and tapped on the door.
She opened it, then almost as cheerfully as her assistant said, “Good morning!”
She closed the door, walked over to him, and extended her hand, “Hi. I’m Doctor Benson.”
Her patient stood up, smiled back at her, then said, “It’s a pleasure to meet you, Doctor Benson. I’m Nick Abrams.”
Within a second or two, Nicole realized that everything Kathy had told her was true—and then some. She was 5’7″ and in the heels she’d changed into once she got to work, she was 5’10” and he was still a good 2-3 inches taller than her.
But it was those eyes that really caught her off guard in spite of the early warning. They were indeed ‘sad’ but they were also captivating to the point of being mesmerizing. His smile was nearly as gorgeous as his thick, dark hair, but it was the eyes she found simply amazing.
“Please have a seat,” she said as she tried not to stare.
She opened his chart, but before she could say another word, he spoke.
“I had no idea you were so beautiful,” he said, in a friendly, rich, baritone voice accompanied by that incredible smile of his.
Nicole still got complimented fairly often, canlı bahis siteleri but at 43, she no longer felt beautiful or anything close to it, and the compliment seemed particularly nice because it had been offered so sincerely.
Because she still ran, her one relief from the non-stop stress and grief that had haunted her for nearly the entire first two years after Jeremy’s death, her body was still in very good condition. She was more critical when it came to her face even though it showed no visible signs of someone over 40. Her skin was still tight and free of even a hint of wrinkles, and that included her eyes, the place that usually gave away a woman’s age before anything else. Perhaps she was just too self-critical, but she’d never describe herself as ‘beautiful’ anymore, but were she forced to do so, she might be willing to say she could be considered ‘attractive’. Not gorgeous, by any means, by maybe…attractive.
Her shoulder-length hair was almost always worn up at work, and this day was no exception. Even so, she had no way of knowing her new patient found it as attractive as her very-pretty face and her obviously well-toned body. He wasn’t a flirt by any means, he just found himself unable to keep from saying what he’d said and didn’t regret doing so.
His comment surprised her to the point she hadn’t responded some 3-4 seconds later as she sat there trying to make sense of it.
She kind of shook her head slightly, smiled again, then said, “Oh. Well, thank you. That’s very kind of you to say.”
“I know this is a professional relationship. I was just so surprised when you walked in that I had to mention that. I hope it came across the way I meant it.”
He smiled again then added, “I’m not sure what it was that I was expecting, but it definitely wasn’t…”
He used both hands in a way that indicated he was referring to her as a ‘package deal’ and finished his comment with, “This,” as his hands helped her make the connection.
Nicole had been flirted with at work before by male patients, and were she to be honest, it had happened for as long as she’d been practicing. It didn’t happen very often anymore, but it did still occasionally take place.
She paid no attention to it the entire time she was married, as Jeremy was her whole life. After his death, she’d had no interest in dating, and especially not one of her patients, so she’d ignored it then, too.
So why had his comment made her feel like she didn’t know what to say when saying things was how she made her living?
Only then did she see the gold band on his left hand, and that was enough to snap her back to the cold reality of trying to help him in whatever way he needed.
“So…what brings you in, Nick?” she asked assuming she could use his first name.
He didn’t object and replied, “I uh…I can’t get the image of my wife’s death out of my head.”
His reply shocked her even more than his kind compliment or his very surprising appearance.
“Nick, I’m so very sorry,” she said immediately with total sincerity. “Do you feel like telling me what happened? If not, we can start somewhere else and move toward that later on.”
“No. It’s okay,” he told her. “I just don’t want anyone at work knowing I’m here. Well, no one besides the person who gave me your name, anyway.”
Her forms told her he was a cop, but she asked where he worked anyway.
“I’m a City of Seattle police officer,” he told her.
“And if you use your insurance…” she said as the ‘light came on’.
“Okay. But as a veteran, can’t you use the VA?” she asked now thinking that might be an option.
He smiled again then told her, “Ironically, I make too much money.”
“Oh, I wasn’t aware that mattered,” she replied.
“If you’re wounded in combat, you’re in a higher category for treatment. I wasn’t, so I’m way down the priority list. I am eligible, but only if I earn about $15,000 less per year than I currently make. So as it is, that isn’t an option for me.”
“I had no idea,” Nicole told her. “Okay. So if you’re ready to talk about it, please tell me as much as you’re comfortable sharing.”
Nick leaned back, exhaled loudly then said, “We were driving home from dinner just over two years ago this month, and I wanted to save some time and cut through a part of town my wife didn’t care for. Our daughter, who’d just turned two, was in the back in her car seat, and even then I didn’t think much about it. After all, I’m a cop who always carries a weapon, and I was a Marine, so just driving through someplace is no big deal, right?”
Nicole didn’t answer, she just sat there and waited for him to continue.
“Anyway, I turned into the Central District just a few blocks from here when we both heard a loud, ‘Pop! Pop!’ My wife, Cindy, asked me if that was a gunshot, and I calmly said, ‘Yeah, but it was just a pistol. No need to worry, right?”
“And?” Nicole finally said.
“And a few seconds later, three rounds hit our car. I didn’t even know Cindy had been shot for a couple of seconds after that.”
“Nick. I’m so sorry,” Nicole said again.
Without acknowledging her comment, Nick said, “That’s because the round that killed her came from directly in front of us.”