Like Water For Chocolate Baby

When she surfaced to consciousness, the first thing that registered was the smell. There was something singularly unpleasant about the sterility of a hospital, and, being in and out of hospitals because of her older sister over the years, she would never forget the stench.

Then came the sounds—the beeping, the hissing—overlaid by the poignant silence. She could hear no one in the room with her, and with that realization came a disbelief that made her lift her heavy lids.

The light was dim in the room thankfully, the drapes drawn to block the light. She tried to gauge the time but could not figure out how long she had been unconscious. She found a clock nearby that told her it wasten twenty-two, but she could not discern whether it was day or night.

Somewhere in the room someone shifted. Gretchen tried to move toward the sound but she found the movement painful. The person loomed in her view, a blur until she blinked the moisture from her eyes. Claudia-Michelle.

Claudia-Michelle smiled gently, curly hair falling in a shiny cascade around her pale face. That smile wavered after a few moments as her dark aqua eyes dampened. She brushed an errant strand of hair from her little sister’s bandaged forehead.

“I was hoping you’d wake up,” she said softly. “How are you, hermanita?”

“Better than I deserve,” she responded raspily. “Where is everybody?”

Claudia-Michelle shifted and sat on the edge of her bed. “Well,” she began, “after Nicole pretty much told it like it was, it turned into a bad episode of Maury Povich. Then the scans came back and revealed you had no brain damage, and Mo and I sent everyone home. They were acting like maniacs.” Claudia-Michelle paused. “We agreed on the only person that could stay.”

Gretchen frowned. “Who?”

Claudia-Michelle turned and gestured at a sleeping figure in an armchair. “The only one who really matters, Gretchen.”

Gretchen’s breath caught in her throat once she realized who it was. Emotion welled up in her eyes and spilled over onto her cheeks. Eyes on him, she idly placed a hand on her stomach without completely understanding why. A small smile curved Claudia-Michelle’s lips at the movement.

“I love him, Claudia,” Gretchen murmured. “It didn’t hit me until…” She thought of what had happened to her and swallowed the nausea that came with the recollection. “I don’t want to lose him.”

Claudia-Michelle stared at Gretchen, gaze grim. “Then you have to tell the truth. You have to tell us what happened.” When Gretchen looked away, Claudia-Michelle added, “Mick will take your statement, whenever you’re ready.”

Gretchen found herself looking at Henry again. He already knew about the affair she had had withOrlando, and she had promised that she would never sleep with him again. She had tried to keep that promise. Henry—and the world—needed to know that. It wasn’t that much of a leap then to think of the baby that grew inside of her. The reason for everything.

Gretchen turned back to Claudia-Michelle, resolve in her eyes. “I want to talk to him now.”

*           *           *

A few minutes later, Detective Michael O’Lara walked into his sister-in-law’s room, armed with a digital camcorder. Gretchen tried not to be intimidated by Mick’s stern countenance. She understood that he had to put familiarity away for this. If there was even a whiff of doubt, justice would not be served. She would be called a liar, Mick a fool.

Once everything was set up, Mick glanced at Henry sleeping across the room. “Maybe we should—”

Gretchen shook her head and ignored the hot stab of pain. “He stays. I want him here while I do this.”

“All right.” Mick started the camcorder then pulled up a seat next to Gretchen’s bed. After reciting the salient details—the date and time, his and her identities, and the reason why they were there—Mick asked her, “Gretchen, what happened on the afternoon of February ninth?”

“I was at home when I was visited by my brother-in-law, Orlando Bloom,” Gretchen responded. “He had not called beforehand so I had not been expecting him.”

“Did you have any plans for the day?”

“Nothing concrete,” Gretchen admitted. “I had plans to visit my sister Claudia-Michelle and her husband Josh, but we didn’t have a set time. I told her I would probably be there before dinnertime.”

“Did Mr. Bloom state a reason for his visit?”

Gretchen remembered Orlando’s urgency to talk to her, to confess to feelings she didn’t share with him anymore. “He had wanted to discuss our relationship.”

“What was the nature of your relationship with Mr. Bloom?”

Gretchen sucked in a breath, trying to steel herself against the shame. She couldn’t completely stop the nausea from building up in the pit of her stomach. “Mr. Bloom and I had been having an affair. We had… It was consummated on the night before he married my sister. We have not been intimate since, though Mr. Bloom’s actions indicated he had expected that things would continue in that manner despite his being married to my sister.”

She continued, and Mick didn’t interrupt. “I had been avoiding him for a few weeks because I had begun seeing someone…else.” Her eyes rested upon Henry for a fleeting moment. He was still sleeping. “I really didn’t want to have to tell him, but I had to.”

“During this surprise visit?”

“I had been dropping hints whenever I saw him, but yes, I elaborated during this visit. Especially since…” She pursed her lips together to hold in the tears. “I had just found out…I am pregnant…” Because she felt like it needed to be said, she added, “By the guy I’m seeing now.”

“Did you tell Mr. Bloom this?”

Gretchen shook her head. “I didn’t tell him I was pregnant. I didn’t think it was any of his business. But I did tell him I had moved on from what he and I had.”

When her eyes clouded and she looked down at her clasped hands, Mick broke protocol and placed a hand on her wrist. “We can stop.”

“No.” Gretchen jerked out of her stupor. “I…need to tell it. They need to know.”

In a monotone voice, Gretchen recounted what had happened between her and Orlando after she had told him she had feelings for someone else. What she did not know was that during her narrative, Henry had come out of his slumber. He looked around sleepily for a moment and found that Gretchen was awake. He opened his mouth to speak to her when it dawned on him. The cadence of her voice, the camera recording her statement of the event. And the tears that soaked her face.

Anger filled him as he stopped to listen.

“And then he tore away…my underwear and…” She paused to stifle a sob. “I hit and pushed at him repeatedly but he wouldn’t stop. He held down my hands and…” She swiped at her streaming nose with the back of her hand, determined to tell it to the end. “When he was finished, when he released my hands, I pushed him away and tried to leave the room. He told me I couldn’t leave and started to come after me.

“The last thing before waking up here I remember was being pulled down, losing my balance and hitting the doorframe.” She raised her eyes to him. “And that’s what happened.”

After officially ending the interview for the video, Mick stood and switched off the camcorder. Gretchen succumbed to the torrent of tears she had been holding inside. Mick watched as Henry rose from his chair and embraced Gretchen. He understood the look of fury in Henry’s eyes. If he’d had a mirror, he’d see it mirrored in his own. But, being a cop, he better understood the need to suppress it.

So he took himself and the camera outside. And waited.

It took thirty minutes before Henry exited the room. When the door settled into its frame, Mick stood up straight to face the red-eyed man before him.

They stared at each other. After a beat, Mick said, “I hope you’re not planning to cause any harm to anyone on Gretchen’s behalf. Because that would be really stupid, Cavill.”

Henry took an angry step forward. “That woman in there is carrying my child and that sonofabitch fucking raped her. He raped her, O’Lara. You heard her. You heard her recount every moment of that miserable incident and you don’t think I won’t have Bloom’s life for this?”

“Hey,” said a voice from behind Henry.

Henry stepped away from Mick and turned around. He found Nicole Smith there, her right eyebrow cocked, arms crossed over her chest.

He glared at her. “What the fuck do you want?”

She whipped out and walloped him hard. He stumbled into Mick who set him upright. Down the hall, a couple of nurses watched in rapt interest. Before he could launch himself at Nicole, she said, “Why don’t we take a little walk down to the cafeteria before a certain one of us catches a beatdown?” She looked at Mick. “Please?”

Not able to counter her politeness, Mick pushed Henry toward the elevator. Nicole followed placidly.

*           *           *

After securing a table in the corner of the cafeteria, Nicole dashed off for drinks. She returned with coffee for the guys and orange soda for herself. She nodded at Henry’s mumbled thank you before taking her seat across from them. She took a sip of orange soda and sighed contentedly.

“That’s the good shit. Now. Since we are all civilized and everything,” Nicole began, “I think you’d better tell Henry what you can about the case against…Gretchen’s attacker.”

Mick gulped down coffee then snorted. “And you actually think I’m gonna do what with you around?”

“Excuse me?”

“You’re a civilian, not to mention you’re a notorious gossip. This is a sensitive case.”

“And you think I’m gonna go running off to tell all my girls and shit so they can call up OK Magazine or something and start blabbing about Gretchen and this situation?”

Pause. “Uh yeah.”

Nicole narrowed her eyes at him. Without looking at Henry, she asked, “Henry, who was the one who told you Gretchen was pregnant?”

Somber but not completely free of his fury, Henry frowned into his coffee. “You were.”

She shifted to look at him. She waited until he gazed up and latched her with his eyes. “And why do you think I did that?” When Henry didn’t answer, she went on. “Let me tell you why. Because I am an observer. Not to mention, I am not stupid. I know how protective Gretchen’s family is of her and anything that has to do with her. Michael,” she said succinctly, having him squirm a bit at the use of his full first name, “would you have told Henry here anything about Gretchen if you had not witnessed that little outburst back there in the hallway?”

Mick looked away, saying nothing.

“Mm-hmm,” Nicole said with some triumph. “Exactly what I figured.” She turned back to Henry. “Like I told you earlier, the initial examination on Gretchen revealed that she had been sexually assaulted. I’m sure you noticed the bruises on her wrists.” Henry nodded silently, but a flash of something alighted his eyes for a moment. “Along with that evidence, they also…found semen.”

That hovered in the air for a long moment. Henry peered at Mick. “Is this true?”

Mick passed Nicole an irritated glance, but she met it with a serene look as usual. Grudgingly, he replied, “Yeah.”

“So then,” Nicole said. “Let me lay this down in terms you’ll understand, Henry.” She leaned forward, gaze intense. “If you march out of here right now—and let’s say you do find that motherfucker. And you kick his raping ass. But knowing you—and just a hunch here y’all—you’ll probably kill him. And what will that solve, hmm? He’s gone. He doesn’t have to suffer for what he did to Gretchen because he’s dead. But you will. You will spend the rest of your life in prison if you make good on that intent to killOrlando. Gretchen will suffer. That baby she’s carrying will suffer. Why? Because you acted on your anger and therefore ripped yourself away from them.”

Nicole leaned back, letting the words reverberate.

“I can’t do nothing, Nicole,” Henry said quietly. “I have to do something.”

Nicole chuckled tiredly. “Hell, you’ve got the clearest part of all, man. Just be there for her. That’s it. Let them”—she jerked a thumb at Mick—“get justice. They will.” She leveled a heavy gaze on Mick. “They better.”

Before Mick had a chance to address that last comment, quick footsteps caught their attention. Moira-Selene, hair loose and flying, came running to them. Mick sat up, alert. She stopped at Mick’s chair, panting with exertion.

“Baby, what’s the matter?” Mick inquired.

Moira-Selene inhaled deeply and managed, “Danie’s in labor.”

 back home – next

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