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For The Strength of Youth

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Submitted by Steven ODell on 8 July 2007 - 11:48pm.

Chapter 5

Having gotten the number from her the night before, Ron called Denise at work about ten thirty the next day. “I’ve made an appointment for you to see the business manager of the savings and loan next to the restaurant. And I will pick you up. You can eat lunch on the way. Is that alright?” She consented readily; anxious to put a quick end to the torment she was receiving from Ted.

The surveillance tape was terribly inconclusive. Her car had been parked at the furthest limit of the camera’s view. There was indeed someone moving about, as though vandalizing tires, but he seemed to be wearing a hooded sweatshirt. His face was always out of view in one way or another, making it impossible to identify him.

“He walks like Ted. He has the same build. It could be him, but I can’t tell for sure.” She looked extremely discouraged. “I’d hoped we had him, but he’s too careful. He covered himself well.” With that, she turned away in total frustration.

Ron thanked the man for his help and turned to follow Denise, who was just angry enough to forget her manners and walk out without another word. Once outside she vented, “I can’t believe it! He is supposed to be out of my life and he is still managing to mess it all up!” She had her clenched fists to her forehead in exasperation and was pacing back and forth in a mild rage.

Ron was resolute. He felt that the police could not effectively help in this matter, being too bound by the constraints of their oaths to obey the law. He could respect them for that. He could admire them, even, but he could not count on them to stop Ted. Every fiber of his being told him that Ted was not fool enough to allow himself to so easily be caught or implicated. “Let me handle this. All I need from you is some information.”

Ted was sitting in his car, getting ready to leave his home. He started the car and looked up from the ignition to see standing directly in front of him the man who had so badly humiliated him. For the briefest of moments he wanted obey the urge to slam the car into drive and do his worst, but he fought it and overcame only by a hairs breadth. Control, he reminded himself. Stay cool and control the situation. He emerged from the car slowly, looking about to see if they were alone. “Did you come back to finish the job?” His sarcasm was obvious.

Ron was unshaken. “I’ve come to ask you politely, man to man, to leave Denise alone. Let her get on with her life. That’s all she wants. It’s not an unreasonable request.”

Ted chuckled and extended his open palms in both directions. “What do you want from me? She left me and that’s that. She has her life.” He sobered suddenly, “She chose what she wants. Let her live with it.” His words were menacing and there was in them a thinly veiled threat that Ron could not miss.

“I’m not joking. You leave her alone.” Ron fairly spat the words, stared meaningfully into Ted’s eyes for a sufficiently long time to convey the sincerity of his message and then turned to go to his car. Ted quickly jumped into his own. He felt this could be a formidable opponent and he sensed Ron was there to stay. But he, too, would not go away so easily. “So be it”, he said softly, glaring for a brief moment before he gunned the engine and surged forward with tires squealing, forcing Ron to jump aside to avoid injury.

This would not be as easy as Ron had expected. Though he inwardly hoped this was a last-ditch attempt to show defiance, his instincts told him that Ted was a genuine threat, played for keeps and he would have to be on his toes if he wanted to protect Denise.

A few days went by without incident—nothing out of the ordinary. Perhaps Ted had gotten the message after all and decided to use some common sense in the matter. Denise had by now relaxed enough to feel at ease again and joke with Ron, who had come over the last two nights to spend time with her.

“Okay, this is a computer joke, see? Two fonts walk into a bar. The bartender says to them, ‘Get out! We don't serve your ‘type’ here.’”

“That is truly awful,” Ron told her as he winced visibly. “I had no idea you were so warped.” He grinned and shook his head in mock disdain as he said it. Feigning upset at his remark, Denise asked, “I suppose you can do better?”

“Pfeh! With my eyes closed.”

She couldn’t help but laugh at the sheer silliness of the comment. “Okay, Mister Smarty Pants. Your turn. Impress me.”

“Alright. Do you know why there is no Disneyland in China?”

“…No…Why?” Her hesitation was evident. She was not entirely sure she wanted to hear the answer, but curiosity is a powerful urge.

“Because nobody is tall enough for the good rides.”

She hit him gently on the chest with the palms of both hands, pushing him away, laughing all the while. “And you thought mine was bad? That one was the worst joke of all time. How do you live with yourself?”

Her smile and laughter were such a delight to him that he would gladly have told stupid jokes and riddles all night. They told one bad joke after another until Denise recited a particularly silly poem and ended by throwing her arms upward in a flamboyant and victorious ‘ta-da’ to an imaginary audience. There was only Ron here as her fan, but that was all she wanted. He laughed approvingly and applauded. This was the happiest she had seen him and it was the happiest he had seen her, as well.

Her mood swung suddenly, growing sober and deliberate. She looked straight into his eyes with warmth that seemed to heat the room. Her gaze said more silently than she could ever express in words. He felt the muscles in his chest tighten with the anxiety of an inexperienced schoolboy as he sat frozen in rapt and anxious attention and watching her slow approach, wondering that he had ever been so shy and backward as to almost let this precious pearl slip through his fingers. Thank God for Barbara having pushed them together.

She lowered herself easily onto his lap and slowly leaned forward, gently placing her lips upon his. She saw that he closed his eyes and heard him let out an involuntary whimper. She, too, closed her eyes and they kissed for the first time. A long, perfect kiss that made time and space disappear altogether. Such a kiss as she was sure had never been equaled since the world began. A kiss that, for its perfection, even the very heavens must take notice of. When they again opened their eyes, what had been a sunset was now complete darkness, except for a streetlight that graced the window from afar.

Shocking as it was, she guessed they must have kissed for at least half an hour. Truly time had ceased for them, in their own little private corner of the universe. Ron could not help but tell her, “I wish it could last forever, Denise. I think I’m falling in love with you.” She looked like an angel in the half-darkened room. As long as he could see her, even in the subdued light, he was satisfied. He gazed into her eyes as though he wanted to fall in and willingly drown, just that he might be a part of her forever.

His arms were about her and she felt safe and warm. She stroked his cheek and kissed his forehead lovingly. “And I have a confession to make—I think I love you, too.”

They kissed again for a moment before Denise rose hesitantly to draw the shade and turn on a soft light. She never got to do so, for she recoiled and screamed in horror, running to Ron’s arms in a panic as he sprang from the couch to hold her. She was positively trembling and he calmed her as best he could, seeing over her shoulder that there was something hanging in the window—something that had frightened her badly. “Stay here, Denise.” He motioned for her to sit on the sofa while he investigated.

What Ron found in the dim glow of the streetlight surprised even him. Hung from a nail and string, shoved in the frame between the windowpanes, was a dead cat. Something was written on the window in what appeared to be felt marker. He could just make out the words, ‘Die, Denise. Die!’ There was little doubt in his mind who had done this.

“He must have been watching us kiss, Ron. Ugh! I hate him. I-hate-him!” She bit off each word and spat it angrily.

“I am beginning to see your point of view, dear”. He had never called her that before today, but it felt right and she came to him and cuddled in tighter than before, into the safety of his arms and the close privacy of the darkened room.

Ron thought, this time Ted has gone too far—he has stepped over the line and threatened someone I care about—and I won’t tolerate it. He will pay for this, without fail. But Ron also knew he had to go through the motions and contact the authorities, regardless of the result. When Denise was sufficiently calmed to sit alone for a moment, Ron phoned the police, giving them the details over the phone and waiting until they arrived to investigate and get a full report.

“Denise, this will be over soon. There is no way that he can continue to harass you like this and not be held accountable for it. I know some people who will help. Let me handle it.”

She was not trembling anymore, but her body language spoke volumes about her feelings. Fear was the dominant emotion for her right now. Fear and depression. She sat on the edge of the sofa with a pillow clutched tightly to her chest, her upper body folded over onto her lap. She rocked up and down slowly. This was like a reversion to the fetal position seen in some trauma victims, Ron thought to himself. The girl was in shock and near the breaking point. She had to get away soon or she would snap. He sent her gently, but firmly to her bed as soon as they had answered everything the police wanted from them.

Before leaving, the officer in charge drew Ron aside, taking care not to be overheard and volunteered, “Sir, I can’t tell you what to do or not to do, but if I were in your position, I would take her on a long trip and get away from it all. She looks extremely stressed to me. I’ve seen this before and I’m guessing she won’t take much more of this until she’ll be in need of professional help. It’s your decision, of course, but I feel obligated to tell you.”

“Yes, I believe you may be right about that”, Ron agreed, thanking the officer sincerely and he escorted them all to the door when they had fully concluded their investigation at the scene. He had to admit, he did not have much confidence that anything would result from it, but he had done his duty to inform them and the incident would be officially recorded before it disappeared into oblivion.

Ron stayed the night on the sofa, in order to ensure Denise’ safety and in the morning he followed her to work and escorted her into the building, making certain she was safe. She had valiantly insisted that she must go to work and get on with her life, not letting anything change her behavior. She had put on a brave face that was not entirely convincing. Ron had tried to talk her out of it, but she would have no part of it, so he had gracefully given in and let her have her way. He hoped that she knew what she was doing.

As it turned out, she did not. Her daily routine gave her far too much time for her mind to wander and it always came back to the same thing. Denise had been frightened deeply and she could not just forget it like it never happened. The result was inevitable and predictable. She began to sob; softly at first and then it accelerated rapidly. Her hands shook, then her whole body shuddered with each gasping breath and cry. She had been traumatized and it was no use denying it.

“Miss Payton…oh, my word…” There was no consoling her in this state, though her boss, Mr. Jorgenson, tried worthily to do so.

As she persistently refused any professional medical care, he called Barbara, who in turn called on Ron to accompany her and Denise was soon on her way home, to take a much-needed leave of absence. Mr. Jorgenson had told her it was the slow season. Another employee was about to return from her vacation and they would manage somehow until that time.

Denise looked weakened and emotionally withdrawn as she sat in Ron’s car. “Where can we go?” she asked tiredly. “I need to get away,” speaking almost to no one in particular as she stared out the windshield into space.

“I know just the place,” Ron answered resolutely and pulled the shift lever into drive, a look of unshakable determination in his eyes as he first drove Barbara home and then to gather some of Denise’s things.

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