100 Themes Challenge, Minot Edition: #6
THEME: 6. "Obsession"
STORYLINE: D Is For Damien storyline, Minot spinoff series, Missing Pieces (unwritten novel)
RATING: R (adult language)
WORD COUNT: 3300+ words
SUMMARY: This scene ties in with Scene 2, "Complicated," and more loosely with Scene 4, "Rivalry." Should you not feel like checking those out...Det. Michelle "Mike" Rosedale is a woman obsessed with finding her long-lost brother, Jason. Jason was forcibly kidnapped as the two were walking to or from their bus stop one day out in the country; Michelle, or Mike as her little brother always called her, tried to run after the escape vehicle but of course couldn't keep up. Naturally, it's something difficult for parents to take when their child is kidnapped, but imagine how hard it is for the remaining sibling. Rosedale decides to dedicate her life to finding her brother, and that includes joining the police force, where of course most of her time is taken up with working on active cases but the mysterious fate of little Jason is always in the back of her mind. Well. In theory. In practice, Jason is a little more toward the front of her mind than he should be, and that's what this particular theme, "Obsession," illustrates. BTW, Rosedale, in this scene, is referred to by her first name, Michelle/Mike, seeing as she's still married here. Rosedale was going to be her married name but I liked the name Jason Rosedale, so I guess she takes her maiden name back after...well, just read. (If you really wanna know Jason's fate--check out "Complicated"!)
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Michelle made a face and ground a knuckle into her eye. She had to shake her head a few times just to keep her mind clear enough to focus on the road starting to blur ahead of her. It would hardly do to run off into the ditch at such an hour. She was already dreadfully late; her husband had called her at work, asking when she'd be home, she'd promised she'd be back around...what, two, three hours ago? She had the suspicion he'd planned on making her dinner for whatever reason...if he had, surely it was frigid by now. She sighed.
She really hadn't expected to hear back from the Bismarck Police Department; she'd been trying to get access to their cold cases forever. Finally, she'd managed to get in touch with the right official, and had wheedled with just the right words, and had made just the right point. She made a point to learn what she could about the higher-ups at the various police posts, to learn their weak spots, so she could know just how to approach them and earn the most sympathy. So far, she hadn't had to reveal the information that the name she kept asking for information on, Jason Rosedale, was a name she knew from her childhood, a name whose home she'd also grown up in. If they knew she was pestering them about her brother, they would clam up, insist they had no info, she had no business making anything personal. Things went so much easier pretending he was just another random cold case she'd gotten interested in for one reason or another.
Today, finally, a fax had arrived from Bismarck. She was to expect a special parcel at her home address. From the sound of it, it was a delivery and could be waiting for her even now...but additional information had come in the fax, and she'd spent a little longer than she'd intended looking up more information in the dusty old files she'd grown accustomed to. You never knew when you might come across something new, even among things that were old.
She fought down another yawn as the familiar mailbox came into view, turned, and pulled into the driveway. She kept rubbing at her eyes as she got out and locked up and headed inside. It wasn't until she was in the vestibule that she realized the porch light wasn't on, and the garage light hadn't been on either. The entire house seemed strangely dim. Puzzled, she hung up her jacket and ventured into the house proper, making her way to the kitchen/dining area. She flicked on the light, and the sight of her husband seated at the table startled her so much that she gasped and jumped, one hand shooting up to her chest, the other twitching at her gun.
"Jesus, Ben! You scared the shit out of me!"
"Hot case?" Ben said in a flat voice. He was wearing a T-shirt and pajama bottoms and she understood all too well just what that tone meant; she tried not to grimace, running a hand through her hair.
"Sorry...I know I said I'd be back a lot sooner, but things got crazy..."
"I made us dinner. Two hours ago."
"I know...I'm so sorry. I'll make it up to you, I promise..."
"Got a package in the mail. Had to sign for it." He reached under the table, brought out a parcel, and tossed it onto the table; it slid across a bit before stopping short of the edge. Mike's eyes lit up and she stepped forward a bit more quickly than she knew she should have, but she couldn't help it; she picked the box up and belatedly noticed the address, that of the Bismarck Police Department. For some reason she felt the tiniest cringe flicker across her face. She opened her mouth to offer some sort of explanation, not sure what it would be, when he spoke up again.
"Got another package." He pulled out a much smaller box now, and pushed it across the table toward her.
Mike paused and frowned, perplexed; she hadn't been expecting anything else. "Who's it from?" she asked in genuine curiosity, picking it up and pulling off the decorative paper to reveal a velvet box.
"Me," Ben said, just as she opened it and saw the emerald tennis bracelet inside.
Her hand flew to her mouth, stifling the cry that almost came out. The first thought that had flitted through her head was, how beautiful it was, what a wonderful gift, she didn't deserve it, what was the occasion--? Only then she did remember the occasion, and her heart, which had briefly shot up into her throat, seemed to plummet, until she could have sworn it sank through the floor and deep into the earth.
"Happy anniversary," Ben said in that same flat voice.
"Oh my God." Mike put her hand over her eyes, not bothering to fight down the grimace now. "Ben...I'm so sorry. I can't believe I...I just--"
"I know, I know, there's no excuse for it! I'm just so sorry. I'll make it up to you, I swear--just--let me--"
"Explain?" Before she could stop him, he'd reached out and grasped the parcel, pulling it back toward him. "I get the feeling all the explanation's in here, am I right?"
Mike made a swipe for the package, nearly dropping the bracelet. "Ben! Give it back--"
"Aren't you going to open it? Here--let me help." He picked up a pair of scissors from the table and tore into the envelope. Mike felt a flare of mixed anger, indignation, and guilt surge up in her chest but bit her tongue; her husband ripped open the package, dug inside, fished out several folders full of papers.
"It's just work stuff!" Mike snapped. "Seriously, Ben, I said I'm sorry, you don't have to start--"
"I just want to see what it is that's so important you forgot our fucking anniversary," Ben said, and she fell silent, unused to hearing him swear like that. It was true, they'd had their arguments--they'd had plenty of arguments, she suddenly realized, especially lately, had that been all they'd been doing, arguing?--with another sinking in her stomach she realized just how tense the past week or so had been, how much trouble he must have gone to to get them to move past that, how much tonight was supposed to have meant, and just how badly she'd blown it.
She was too late to stop Ben from flipping open one of the folders and saying, "'Jason Rosedale.'" Then she gasped and flinched back; he'd slammed the folder down on the table so hard the scissors skittered and fell to the floor. "Dammit, Mike!"
Mike flushed, automatically stooping to retrieve the scissors, an excuse to shoot back up and grab the folder. Its pages went askew; she caught a brief glimpse of the photo of a young boy, all green eyes and smiles, before she clapped it shut herself and took a step back to safety. She hugged the folder to her chest, humiliated, angry.
"What you said a few weeks ago, Mike, was that you were going to move past this shit and start living your own life. Our life!" He lifted his head to meet her eyes, his own dark, his lip nearly curling back. "It's been three years now, Mike. Three years we've been married, and this is all you can ever think of anymore! I really tried to understand it at first, you know that? Your kid brother goes missing. I understand how that wears on you. I won't pretend I know what it feels like, not even remotely. But I understand. But this? This--obsession?"
"It's not an obsession!" Mike snapped. This time the flare of indignation felt more like hurt--how could he talk to her like this? "You say you understand so much, well, just put yourself in my shoes. What do you expect me to do, just give up on him? He's my brother. They took him. Took him. He's still out there somewhere. If I just keep--"
"Are you so sure of that?" Ben interrupted. "How many years has it been, Mike? You're a cop, you know these things. Just what the chances are for a kid who's been missing so long. You're running in circles. You're not even finding anything new. What do you think you're going to read in these folders, honestly? You really think the Bismarck cops have anything new for you? How about South Dakota, you try them out yet? How about Minnesota? How about Hawaii? How about overseas? Just when does it ever stop?"
"It stops when I find him, you inconsiderate asshole!" Mike cringed again; for a second she couldn't believe she'd actually said that out loud, but the look on her husband's face, the open disbelief, made it clear she had. "Ben--I don't mean that. Honestly. It's just--he's my brother." She opened her eyes, attempting to plead with him, thinking in the back of her mind that that was what others had always commented on, how alike her and her brother's eyes were. "What do you expect me to do? Just give up on him? You weren't there. You didn't see the--the look on his face when they--" She had to stop, swallow hard, her throat suddenly hurt so much. "I couldn't help him. Not back then. I have to help him now. I know the chances are--but I have to do every little thing I can. It'll kill me if I don't do every single thing I can. I can't just stop looking for him. You have to understand, Ben. I can't give up on him."
"And so, what?" Ben said quietly in response. "That's the most important thing in your life now? It always will be?"
"I didn't say that, Ben, don't twist my words like you always try to do about this! You can't hold it against me that they took my brother! You can't expect that to not be one of the most important things to me."
"I don't know, Mike. You're the one who forgot what today is. That we've even been together three years, and I really did try to be patient at first, but three years in, we're exactly where we started." He shifted in his chair. "You made me a promise. You made this marriage a promise. You said you would start to focus more on us. I understand he's your brother, that you love him and always will. But you were supposed to love me, too. At least, that's what I thought..."
"Of course I do, Ben," Mike said, hating the twinge of desperation that entered her voice; something about this conversation, the words being used, was beginning to fill her with a vague dread and she didn't know why. "You can't possibly think..."
"What I think doesn't seem to matter much. It's what you do. It's more important for you to keep calling around, to keep requesting all these dusty files from all these precincts, for you to stay God knows how late at work just so you might find something you've already looked at God knows how many times. You're running in circles, Mike. And I tried, I really did, but I can't keep running in circles after you." He paused, then looked down at the table, at the empty velvet box. He pulled it toward him and fiddled with the lid.
"I really hoped that someday, maybe, the two of us might start a family of our own. I really did. We would've made great parents, I know it."
"Ben." Mike's voice came out in barely more than a whisper. The dread had crept up into her heart, was squeezing it painfully hard. "We still can. I want a family too. I mean it, I swear."
"I believe you." He peered up at her; she noticed for the first time just how weary he looked. There wasn't even anger in his eyes anymore, and that made her take pause. "The thing is," he murmured, "you already have one. Jason," he clarified, when she must have frowned at him in confusion. "You have Jason," he repeated himself, a twinge of spite reentering his voice. "And it looks like, at least at this point in time, he's the only family you can handle, the only family you have room for."
"That's not true--"
"Isn't it?" He pushed the rest of the file folders toward her. "Take a good hard look at the past three years, Mike, and tell me, honestly tell me, how much of that time you've spent thinking about a family, our family, versus how much you've spent thinking about him."
"Damn it, Ben, that's not fair!" She slapped the folder onto the table, trying hard not to shake. "Don't turn this into some kind of competition!"
"I didn't have to. It's obvious who won from the start. We never stood a chance, we just never realized that until now."
Mike opened her mouth to retort, but nothing came out; all her words fled her. Ben peered at her again, and the remaining anger departed from his eyes, leaving him looking exhausted; he put his hand to his eyes to rub at them much as she had earlier.
"Mike...I'm done fooling myself. I'm done with us fooling ourselves. It's obvious this is something that just isn't going to happen. And there's nothing I can do about that, and I'm tired of waiting for you to quit chasing after shadows and come back home. I'm tired of being the only one willing to put the effort into this."
"That's not true," Mike insisted, her voice faint, soft.
"It is. I won't sit here and insult you, Mike. You're persistent. You never stop trying. I liked that about you, I guess I thought that would apply to this too, but the thing is, you only have room to try that hard at one thing. As long as you don't know where he is, that's what you're going to keep trying at. That's the only thing in your life you have any room for." He pushed his chair back from the table and stood, rubbing at his eyes again. "The dinner's in the fridge," he said. "I won't keep you up. I know you need your sleep."
"You can keep the bracelet. For whatever it's worth."
Mike furrowed her brow, her confusion returning. She stood numbly and watched as he reached into the basket on the kitchen counter and fished out his car keys, then turned for the porch vestibule. He took down his jacket from where it was hanging beside hers.
"Ben...?" Mike said again, her confusion growing. Then--"Where are you going?" she asked, the twinge of irritation in her voice not quite masking the fear underneath it.
"To a motel. Whatever's most convenient. Like I said, I won't keep you."
"What are you talking about--? A motel? Is this some kind of stupid stunt? What, you're pissed off so you want me to chase after you or something--?"
"No." He turned and met her eyes, and she could tell from the look he gave her and from the simple tone of his voice that he was being sincere. "Because that'd be childish, and I'm past all that childish shit by now. I'll be contacting a lawyer in the morning. You don't have to worry, I'll have him draw up all the paperwork and I won't contest anything. Everything we came into this marriage with, we leave with. The house, yours; I'll find my own place. No muss, no fuss."
"Ben...!" She meant it to come out as an exclamation, a reproof, but it was barely a whisper; she could hardly hear her own voice. She wanted to reach out and grab his arm but could barely move, either. "What are you talking about...?"
"I know you're not stupid, Mike." He stared at her for a moment, then turned away once more, zipping up his jacket. "As soon as the paperwork's done I'll sign it and pass it along. I'll come get the rest of my stuff while you're gone so I don't get in your way. I'll be out of your hair within the week."
"Ben..." She hated that she could only keep repeating herself; he halted in the doorway, one hand on the knob, and she managed a shaky step forward and grasped at the doorjamb. Her heart crowded into her throat, making it almost impossible to talk.
"Ben. Don't do this. Please. You're the only person I've got."
She didn't recognize her own voice, it shook so badly, sounded so pathetic. Her husband hesitated, and she still couldn't quite convince herself he meant it--how could he, how could he throw away three years, just like that?--but rather than turn to her once more, his grip on the doorknob tightened and he lowered his head slightly.
"You have Jason. He's kept you going this long, he'll keep you going after I'm gone."
"Ben, don't! Look--" She took faint hope when he did so, glancing back at her, and she hurried to the table to scoop up the files. "Look," she said, and though she felt something stab through her heart when she did it, and saw a pair of childish, panicked green eyes disappear into a strange car which sped off down a dusty road, she dumped the files, folders and papers and all, into the trash bin and slammed down the lid. "Look," she said a third time, desperate to break through the neutral look on his face. "There. It's all gone. No more of it. You're right, this was stupid of me. I'll move on. I'll make this work. Just, please, don't go. Please."
Ben stared at the garbage bin for a moment or so in silence. He pushed himself away from the door and came toward her; Mike sucked in a breath, her heart beating a little faster, but he halted before he could reach her, and reached for the trash lid instead. He opened it and stooped over, digging inside, pulling the file folders back out; he put the lid back on, and passed the folders back to her. She took hold of them without even thinking, feeling something loosen its hold on her heart just slightly; it must have shown on her face, for Ben seemed to see something there, and he took a step back once more.
"You can't even fool yourself with that, Mike. As long as you're alive, and as long as you don't know for sure, this is what you're married to. We've known it all along. We were just too stupid to realize until now." He turned away. "I'll drop off the papers when I get them. Get to bed, get some sleep. I don't want you driving off the road or anything."
"Ben..." Mike said a last time, her voice cracking, her vision of him blurring.
She heard rather than saw the door open. "G'night, Mike." The door closed.
Mike let out her breath, and it felt like her chest caved in. For a few seconds she didn't dare draw in another breath lest she miss hearing him trying the knob, wanting back in, maybe he figured she'd learned her lesson now. Only she made the mistake of clasping the files tighter; the feel of the smooth manila folders against her fingers drew her back to her senses, and she sucked in a breath, and her lungs filled back up, and her heart felt like it had broken but it was still beating, and what was worst was that the first thought she had wasn't of running out after him, but of heading back to the table, opening up the folders and looking within them.
Her fingers clenched; even as she tried to tell herself he was wrong, she knew he was right. Somehow, it felt more important to browse the files for information she most likely already had, than to chase after him, plead with him to stop, plead for it to not be over. And that realization, that he was second place and that was all anything else would ever be, was second place, was what hurt the most.