Worth the Chase
The craziness of my home each morning is a lot. “Antonio and Emilia, let’s go. You’re going to miss the bus.”
“Coming!” Em answers. She rushes downstairs wearing a mismatched skirt and shirt with boots.
Her outfit is cute but, “Em, cute, but please get a sweater or jacket. Your choice.”
She stomps back upstairs, passing her brother along the way. My son, who claims he’s always hot, is wearing shorts and a T-shirt in the fall.
“Antonio, sweatshirt at least.”
Finally, both are dressed and ready for school. I usher them out the door with breakfast in hand and walk to the end of the driveway.
“I forgot my lunch money,” my son mutters.
I reach into my pocket, pull out five dollars, and hand it to him.
No sooner does he thank me, his bus pulls to a stop. Em waves furiously, but her brother doesn’t bother to reciprocate. Someday he will… I hope. I didn’t like my siblings at his age either. Now is a much different story.
I turn to Em. “What is your fun class today?”
“Library. I’m gonna get a new Junie B book. The next one in the series is due back today.”
Em is my reader. Thankfully, her teachers allow her to read when she finishes her classwork instead of giving her mindless busy work to keep her quiet. She gets lost in books and crafting. About ten minutes later, her bus drives away.
I hurry back into the house, finish packing my bag, and head off to work.
I park alongside the building as my phone chimes with a text. Before I even look, I know who it’s from.
SG: Good morning, Lina. I hope the kids weren’t too crazy.
My heart squeezes. I have never met anyone like Santino. He’s sweet, has a stable career, and is enormously patient. We started spending our lunches together about six months ago. Not only is he younger than me by a decent amount, but he’s gorgeous and a former coworker and friend of my brother Luca. Nothing, not a single iota of my life, should be remotely attractive to him. Yet he continues messaging and joining me for lunch when he can. He has even asked me out on a few occasions. I rebuffed him each time. On top of all those qualities, he was a responding officer on the worst day of my life. Well, it was top three anyway.
I divorced Derrick almost seven years ago. He was unstable, unreliable, and repeatedly let down our children. Every time I felt as if he turned a corner with his parenting, he would make a boneheaded decision and backpedal. The final straw was Thanksgiving Day almost four years ago. It was my turn to have the kids for the holiday. I was putting the finishing touches on an apple crumb pie for dinner when he showed up at my home. The details still make me shiver when I replay them in my mind.
“Lina, they’re my kids. Give them to me. It’s my turn!”
I sent my children into the playroom and approached my shouting ex. I did my damnedest over the years to protect my children from Derrick’s rage. “No, Derrick, it isn’t. It’s an even year. I get Thanksgiving with the kids, and you get Christmas Day.”
“No, I get even years.”
I tried to remain calm, but my history with Derrick reminded me my fear of him was necessary and warranted. “Please stay there. I’ll get the paperwork to show you.”
This was where I made my first misstep of the day. Instead of closing the front door, I simply walked away. Before I could process it, Derrick muscled his way into my home and locked us in. Fear streaked through my veins. Over the course of our marriage, Derrick’s abuse increased in frequency and depravity.
Initially, he slapped me or grabbed my arm, leaving marks that lasted a day or two at most. The frequency escalated but not the severity of my injuries. I successfully hid the abuse from my family, especially my cop brother Luca, until I needed to have my arm reset and lacerations on my face repaired by a plastic surgeon to minimize scarring. That incident was the last straw for me. I pressed charges and filed for divorce the next day. I didn’t believe it could get worse.
“Derrick, please give me a minute and I’ll find the paperwork.” I rushed to the kids and closed them in the playroom.
“I want to spend the holiday with my kids, and you can’t stop me!” he bellowed from the living room.
I can and I will. I hurried to the office and sent a frantic text to Luca.
Me: D here. Furious.
It was all I had time for, but I knew Luca would understand. I located the paperwork and handed it to him. “Here.” I left him in the living room to check on the kids in the playroom. Then I barricaded myself inside with them.
“Who’s here, Momma?” Emilia asked.
“It’s your turn,” Antonio whispered.
“I know. We’ll get through this.” While I reassured them, I reassured myself too.
Derrick banged on the playroom door. “Get out here, Lina!”
I whispered to my kids, “Stay in here and play. I’ll be right back.”
“Don’t go, Momma,” Emilia cried and latched onto my leg.
“Be brave, Em. I’ll be back as soon as I can.”
I threw the door open just as he was about to slam against it again. “What?”
“This is wrong. This isn’t what I agreed to! I want to take my kids today! Do you hear me?” He grabbed my arm and squeezed as tight as when he broke my arm.
“No! It’s all there in black and white with your signature and mine. It has worked for the last two years. Get out of my house!” Probably not the best choice of words considering the court awarded me the house in our divorce.
Rage and fury overtook his body. He grabbed my hair, dragged me into the living room, and threw me into a chair. I braced myself for the seemingly inevitable punch or slap. It didn’t come. Instead, Derrick drew a pistol from the waistband of his jeans and aimed it at me.
“Derrick, don’t do this. Let’s work something out.”
“I see. Now you want to talk. All it took was this gun to make you see things my way. I should’ve gotten one years ago. Nah, you would be dead if that were the case.”
Terror rushed through me. I only cared about my kids, not myself. “Let’s calm down a bit and talk more.” I was simply buying myself time for Luca to get there. There wasn’t a doubt in my mind he would show up with backup.
“There’s nothing to talk about. You’re going to get my kids, and I’m taking them for the rest of the weekend.”
Hell no! “No, absolutely not!” As I rose from the chair, Derrick pulled the trigger.
Fire ripped through my arm. All I can say is I’m fortunate he was momentarily distracted by a knock on the door. The bullet only grazed me, and I bolted for my children. I shuffled them into the office and locked the three of us in. Moving them was risky, but there are exterior windows in the office rather than only a skylight.
I heard pounding on my front door. “YPD. There has been a report of a disturbance.” A partial truth.
Derrick fired a few shots out my front window, and the responding officers fell back. Luckily for me and my kids, Luca was at the nearby football game with his coworkers, Officer Smithson and Officer Gugliotti.
The next hour crawled by. Between calming myself, sidestepping the questions about my bleeding arm, and attempting to listen, I steeled my resolve and started to plan. I opened the window and threw a few items out to get someone’s attention.
Officer Gugliotti and Officer Smithson rushed to the side of the house.
I lowered Antonio and Emilia out the window to Officer Gugliotti. He escorted them away from the house and to the far side of my neighbor’s yard.
“Lower the weapon and lay on your belly on the ground,” Luca demanded as I slid down the side of my house into Smithson’s strong hands. “Do it now, Derrick! Your leverage is gone.”
“This way.” Smithson escorted me to my children.
I gathered from the report and Luca recounting the timeline to me, Derrick checked the playroom and then paced the living room.
After more calls from Luca, Derrick finally walked out and surrendered, pushing away his weapon. Unbeknownst to them, he had another weapon in an ankle holster. He aimed and fired twice at Luca. Derrick hit the police cruiser with the first shot and buried the second into Luca’s shoulder.
I’m snapped from my thoughts when my coworker knocks on my car window.
“Lina, are you okay?” Judy asks.
I nod and motion for her to step back so I can open the door. “Yes, sorry. I got lost in my thoughts for a moment. I’ll be right in.”
I take a few deep breaths and answer Santino.
Me: Morning. Overall, fairly painless today.
SG: Happy to hear it. Lunch tomorrow?
Me: Yes. Same bench?
SG: I’ll meet you there.
I smile inwardly and head into the bank. I’m the manager of a small, local bank. The banking industry calendar most closely mirrors the school calendar. For the most part, when the kids are off, so am I. I’ve been completely on my own since Derrick invaded our home and shot my brother. Truthfully, Derrick wasn’t ever much help. The closer we get to his parole hearings each year, the more likely Derrick will be released and destroy the delicate balance I’ve created with my children and family.
In the early afternoon, Judy knocks on the doorframe. “Your appointment is here. Shall I show him in?”
“I don’t have an appointment today.”
Judy smiles and leads my father into my office.
“Papa, what are you doing here? Is everyone all right?”
He smiles at me. “Relax, passerotta. Everyone is fine. I was out and thought I would stop by.” It’s nice to be called my childhood nickname, which means “sparrow,” every now and then. I nod, and he takes a seat. “I need your help. I want to take your mother on a trip for our anniversary, but I haven’t any idea where to start.”
“So sweet, Papa. Where do you want to take her?”
His face falls briefly, but he recovers quickly. “I want to recreate our honeymoon and then visit where she dreamed we would honeymoon.”
My parents have been married for almost thirty-seven years. When I was bright-eyed and optimistic, a partnership like theirs is what I was looking for. Derrick bamboozled me into believing he could be that man. Ever since, I haven’t let myself get close to another man—close enough to determine if a happily ever after like my parents is an option for me. A divorced, single mom with two kids and an ex-husband in jail screams “give me a chance.” Yet Santino has been exceedingly patient since we met, and I don’t mean three Thanksgivings ago. I doubt he remembers me from then. If he does, he hasn’t said anything since we started sharing our lunch hours. We reconnected at Luca’s farewell party from the police department.
“Let’s get started.” I don’t recall the details, so I take notes from my father’s recollection.
“We went to Niagara Falls. We stayed for a long weekend in a room with so many windows. I knew it wasn’t what your mother dreamed it would be, but we had responsibilities and couldn’t be away too long.”
“Where did Mama want to go?”
“I can research this for you. What is your budget?”
He twirls his wedding band on his finger. “Whatever it takes.”
“Okay, Papa. When do you want to go?”
“I would like to celebrate our actual anniversary in Italy.”
“I’ll see what I can do and how fast. You want to go this anniversary?” In four months?
“I’ll work on this tonight after practice.”
He stands and rounds my desk. “Thank you, Lina.” He wraps me into a huge hug.
I lean back in my chair and smile after he leaves my office. With a glance at the clock, I clean out my inbox and hustle home to get my son to soccer practice.
I scoop up my kids and rush back out the door without changing my shoes. While Antonio practices, Em tires herself out even more on the playground. Luckily, at the ripe old age of nine, she has limited homework. My son, however, could have upwards of two hours’ worth for when we get home. Then I’ll tackle planning my parents’ anniversary trip.