Chapter 3

Afterwards, John would remember that thought had gone through his head, that misery still had things to teach him. After Rex and Natalie’s stupid distraction plot, after he rushed back to check on Marcie, admitting only to himself he needed to see Evangeline. After when he had no choice but to accept that Evangeline had been taken away from him by a killer, after realizing Natalie wasn’t playing the game and she had been taken too. Misery was discovering whole new ways to bind John closer and closer and misery called in a favor from horror.

John couldn’t shut his eyes without seeing Evangeline tied to a stake with the flames burning and reaching higher and nearer to her. The desperation, fear and pain in her eyes, he loved her eyes, so wide and all-seeing, and she saw him go to Natalie first and free her; those eyes saw him turn his back on her. And all he could offer her at the hospital afterwards was his professional demeanor, a cop’s closed off face asking for “just the facts, ma’am.” Oh, she hated him now; he knew it, knew it and couldn’t fathom how to begin to change it. So many words he wanted to say to her as the hospital gown seemed to swallow her spirit whole; but it wasn’t the right moment she was too hurt and Evangeline’s mother wouldn’t leave them in peace. And there was still the job to do and a missing person to find.

Standing in the charred ruins of the Love Center’s basketball court John tried to focus on his work. And his work was to find any missed clue to Natalie’s whereabouts, and why the killer was targeting his life now instead of Marcie’s. He never understood how she could move so quietly on those high heels. But he knew her scent and changing from Flowers in Springtime wouldn’t change the basic essence which he always knew was her approaching or having just left.

“You must be doing better or Michael would be following you around with a thermometer. Are you…alright? Should you really be here?”

“I just had to see it; I keep thinking I just awoke from a nightmare but…it was all real. He tried to kill me, to burn us alive. What kind of sick manic thinks of that or follows it from a book? There’s murder but that…” Looking away from the grisly scene Evangeline gazed at John longer than she meant to, the case was taking a serious toll on him and of course a vic was still missing. “I know you’re frantic with worry and the need to find Natalie; I don’t know why I wanted to see this, really, I’ll get out of your way.”

“You’re never in my way,” John rasped, “I’m glad you’re here I need to say something about that night. About saving Natalie first, I know I hurt you, I know…”

“John, leave it alone you did your job. I don’t fault you for that. I said as much at the hospital.”

“I bet your mother doesn’t see it that way. You’re human I know you feel betrayed; but it wasn’t about my caring more about Natalie’s safety than yours.”

“Stop, John, stop it. You’ve always said I’m not like any other woman you’ve ever met and it applies to this. I was there, mom wasn’t, neither was Nora or anyone else. I know you moved to save me first, I saw your eyes you were desperate to get to me.” Pausing Van caught his gaze and held it, squaring her shoulders, “Natalie was literally slumping into the fire, she needed to be saved first and you did your job, you pushed your personal feelings aside and convinced yourself you could and would save us both, and you did. I knew you would.”

“But I didn’t, she’s gone.”

“Missing, not consumed in a fire. You saved us. I was starting to drift in and out as the EMT’s worked on me but I saw you moving to get to me again, saw you reach for my hand before Bo and Viki asked about Natalie. Saw your longing look to stay by my side, I saw it all.”

“Then you know how I feel. Some of what I wanted to say at the hospital.” John’s voice was hopeful as Evangeline leaned her head to the side, then looked down and let her hair cover her expression. He needed to see her eyes, longed to touch her hair and push it back from her face but he cautioned himself to wait, wait for a signal that she would accept this from him, that she wanted his touch too.

Shaking her hair back and looking at John Van gave a little laugh, “Oh, you’re still so clueless. I don’t care who you saved first; I care that we went through this horrific moment together and you still can’t bring yourself to say WHY you won’t let me in. Still no way you’re going to tell me the whole truth, or even a snippet. Nothing, nada. Now I think I want to know the why of it almost more than I wanted the ‘I love you’”

John caught his breath at that and thought “Past tense? She doesn’t want the words anymore? Has she already let go of me, of us and no longer cares to hear I love you from me?”

“Evangeline, we just need some sustained alone time to talk about all this,” he stepped closer to her. “You already know what I’m feeling, you saw, let me show you it’s so much deeper than words.” Before she could react he pulled her close and kissed her deeply putting his life’s story in her mouth and felt her response before she jerked away.

“John! Why did you do that? Van stepped back and put distance between them, “Will you tell me your deepest fears? Didn’t think so. We could fall back into each other’s arms, you sharing a bit more of your life, your past with me, just a bit more and we’d go on for years. Me waiting for more, the full story, or an I love you as a surprise. Convincing myself that your silence about so much of your life isn’t important because we have so much; ‘He can’t say the words but he shows me in every way that he loves me’ I’d tell myself over and over. What would we tell our children about why dad NEVER tells mom that he loves her? What should they make of that and take away into their own relationships? Would you say the words to them, share those parts of your life with them but never with me?”

“No, we’re not going back; making love so completely isn’t enough for me any more. So, John, it’s time for you to start telling people that we’re over, because it’s the truth.”