To say that my birthday/engagement party was the celebration I had been missing out on all these years is an understatement! The Brownstone hadn’t seen so much activity, people and laughter since Robert and I were children!
As we circle the room and socialise with some of our closest family and friends, I am overwhelmed with just how comfortable it all seems, everything was falling into place with such ease. Audra runs up to us, champagne glasses in hand,
“Your hands are empty! Nope, not on my watch! Get to drinking!” she giggles to herself.
“Auds, we’re too old to get drunk! I’ll feel it for days at this rate, but yolo!” we clink flutes and down the champagne, like pros, we all laugh.
“I’m sure you ladies have some stories to share, I can’t wait to hear them,” I wink.
“Nope. Sistas before mistas dude, not a word is coming out of my mouth,” Audra exclaims.
“I can’t believe you thought my girl here would cave, even with liquid courage it’s not gonna happen. Anyhow, how are you and Pierre going?” Taryn addresses Audra.
“Urgh, we here to celebrate chicka, I ain’t going there. Pierre is in France and should remain there if I have my way.”
“Ha!, you two are too much for me,” looking over to me, Taryn explains Audra and Pierre’s heated, passionate relationship, one month they’re hot and heavy and the next, they are colder than the ice age. They were in the middle of a cold patch, but Taryn assures me that they will rekindle by the time we get married. As I look over my shoulder at Mother, I realize this is the happiest and most relaxed I have seen her in a while, but I am also struck by her frailty. I excuse myself from the present company and make my way over to Mother, I sneak up behind her and laying a hand on her back, inquire on how she was coping.
“Oh, Jonathan! I am so proud of you! I’m sure you’ve heard me say that, but I wonder if you know just how much you make my heart swell!”
“Mom, don’t start crying. It’s a party! I want to see you happy!,” I kiss her forehead.
“I know…I know. It doesn’t take much these days. It’s a day of celebration, I just can’t help but think of the people missing. Your father would have loved to have seen you and Richard find your matches in partners. I can’t believe so much time has passed, it’s all been a blur,” she looks in the distance, lost in her thoughts, but quickly snaps out of it. “It’s really great to see this place so full of life again, it has needed it,” taking a hold of my hands she says matter of factually, “I’ve been doing a lot of thinking lately, especially after that wretch of a man, Gregory. I’ve decided that I will hold off on selling this place,” she looks up at me and smiles.
“That’s good to hear because I have been thinking that I want to buy it from you. You won’t have to worry about maintaining it, all the care and upkeep. I just want you to enjoy living in it.”
“Oh Jon, don’t be ridiculous, you don’t need to do that, besides I’m not going to sell you The Brownstone, it’s your house as much as it is mine and before you even protest,” she raises a jewelled finger in my direction, “it will be Taryn and your engagement present from me, either way, you are the sole heir of the Pierce estate, you must have anticipated this was coming.” With that, she winks, kisses my hand and strolls off to speak to Phil on the other side of the room.
As I snap out of my stupor, I don’t hesitate in updating my lovely fiancee, on Mother’s announcement, “Guess what future Mrs Jonathan Pierce?,” I whisper in her ear.
“Oh we doing the name change thingy are we?” she sticks her tongue out.
“Yes! But, that’s a topic for another day! How would you feel if I told you, we have a new house?”
“A what?! No! I’d say why wouldn’t you show me it first, in case I didn’t like it?!”
“Well, it’s a good thing I know you’ve already fallen in love with it, now isn’t it?”
“What are you talking about Pierce? Spit it out!”, she playfully hits my arm.
“My mother has just gifted us The Brownstone, as an engagement present.”
“Shut the front door!” Taryn exclaims. “She can’t do that! You…we can’t accept that! Who gifts a house?! Like really…,” she was at a loss for words. “We have to respectfully decline it, Jon. It really is too much,” she flicks a tear away from her eye. “You people have made me cry enough for one night, it’s too much now. Damnit! I was supposed to be the one doing the surprising! It’s your birthday after all!”
I beam down at her, “That may be so, but the best present I could have is you and I have that. Everyone is here to celebrate us and that makes me happy,” I gesture at the room full of the people closest to us, “this really is the best gift ever. I love you so so much, Taryn.” I look down at her and plant a passionate kiss on her waiting lips.
For a minute I forget we’re in a room full of people, it is only us in our bubble; I break our reverie to ask her, “Care to sneak away with me?”
Intrigue and mischief dance their way across her eyes as she glees with delight, we run up the stairs to the East Wing. We burst through my room, I aptly lock the door and instantly spin her around, her back is to my chest. I begin planting kisses down the back of her neck and cradle her head with my hands. Her body writhes with delight and surrender, she becomes softer and softer after each kiss, like putty. I had been waiting for this moment all evening, her two-piece lace outfit was made for her body, but I was made to undress it. I slowly begin to unzip the back of her lacy top, letting my finger trace and linger on the grooves of her back. She was intoxicating; I inhale the sweet smell of her hair- coconut and hibiscus and dive my fingers through her hair- I loved it all. Taryn does a little kick and her jewelled heels slide across the room, within minutes, we are both undressed and sprawled on my four-poster bed. At this stage, I know her body well, but I am sure not to let any part of her go unserviced, I can tell she is enjoying all of it. Ignited, we move as one, focused on each touch, taste, and feeling. As we climax, our bodies hit the bed in united force, heavily sighing and covered in sweat, but completely satiated.
“Fuck Taryn. How will I ever get enough of you!?”
“Jonathan, you flatter me. You’re not supposed to get enough of me. You are an incredible person and you don’t give yourself enough credit. I just love how much you love me. It makes me…a better person. For a long time, I never thought I was lovable. I always put a guard up and after my crazy ex, it sort of reaffirmed that to me. Then I met you…and I just wanted to be around you. I wanted to talk to you. You make me feel safe.” She plants a kiss me on my chest.
“I can’t wait to spend the rest of our lives together. I wanted to be with you from the moment I set my eyes on you– it never wavered. You are it for me– forever.”
She cradles my head in her hands and looks me in with her eyes, “Forever. Dr Jonathan Pierce.”
Forever. Forever. Forever. The words replayed in my head.
Returning home to our new normal, proved to be tougher than we had anticipated. The clinic was much quieter without Greg, many of his patients had chosen to change practices after the scandal of Greg’s embezzlement hit the news waves; the mood was just not the same anymore. For me, stepping into the clinic changed, not only because I was now commuting with Taryn, but because it now held a lot of feelings of hurt and betrayal. The accent wall, made up of driftwood, reminded me of the disagreement we’d had about its installation. Greg wanted to have it painted, but I insisted on leaving it weathered and natural, not that I had much decor experience, but I had picked this trinket of information on the television show, Brother’s Design. The floor reminded me of when the contractor dropped the box of the tiles and left us behind schedule for two weeks. Instead of the clinic being my solace or allowing me to focus on patients, it now brought me sadness and melancholy. Greg and I were wrapped up in a legal battle, which left me wondering if it was really worth it because Lord knows I wasn’t fighting him to recoup the money. It left me thinking about simply giving up the fight, he’d already used the money, what was the legal battle for? Pride? To save face? I didn’t like the feelings of anger and resentment it was leaving me. Things with Leelah weren’t much better, after setting boundaries, she then decided we had overstepped and no longer wanted us to look after Oliver, despite her clearly being overwhelmed. Her feelings of rejection ran deep and she wasn’t willing to seek help for what looked like post-partum depression. Luckily for Oliver, his grandmother was there to pick up the pieces, but for Taryn and I; it became evident that we needed a fresh start. We spent three months living in somewhat of a haze, trudging from the office, home to meals out and the courthouse, life settling into somewhat of a routine, but our thoughts on making a change didn’t cement until months later when her ex-boyfriend showed up at the clinic.
I had already been given the details on their “relationship” and all the reasons why I didn’t like him, but Taryn hadn’t given me the details on what he looked like, but for whatever reason, that Thursday afternoon when I walked into the lobby- I instantly knew it was him. Standing commandingly in the front entrance, dressed in a light purple dress shirt, navy blue trousers, and a light brown trench coat– I couldn’t fault him, he was very well dressed. If you didn’t know better you would even say he was striking, with his pale blue eyes and light blonde hair. I catch a glimpse of him as I cross the hall, on my way to retrieve a patient file, I quickly beeline to Taryn’s office at the back of the clinic, knock and enter her office. She was busily typing away on her computer, I almost feel guilty to ruin her focus with such distressing news.
She looks up, “Hey sweetie, just finishing up this report for St. Alban’s. Is everything alright?”, she asks distractedly.
“I needed to see your face, but we might have a problem,” I try not to worry her, but I know this will, in fact, do just that. I take a deep breath, “I think your ex is in the clinic…Christian is here”. I slowly look at her, “What do you want me to do?”
Taryn’s body freezes, panic starts to rise in her eyes, “What?! No…no…Jon. Oh. My God, he found me. Holy shit– he is really unleashed.”
I race over to her and wrap my arms around her, “Baby, breathe. Breathe. I’ll call the police. I’ll notify Joy so she’s aware, but also so it doesn’t allow him to come back here. If I leave you here, will you be alright?,” I kiss her head.
Her breathing begins to slow, but I can tell she’s in shock.
“Taryn, is there something about him you’re not telling me?”
“I…I…Jon…I can’t see him again…I can’t,” her eyes are glazed over as if she was replaying a memory.
I shake her softly, bringing her back into the room, “Taryn, it’ll be fine. I’ll sort it. Breathe, lock the door behind me and don’t open it until I say a code word. What would you like it to be?”
“Brownstone. Make the code word Brownstone. Jon, I’m really scared, I can’t really think straight. I just can’t believe he found me…I thought I did everything right…”.
I quickly pick up the receiver, pass on instructions to Joy, asking her to join me in Taryn’s office. I instruct them to lock the door and call the police. I knew I could trust Joy to be alert in a crisis, giving Taryn a lingering kiss- I step out of the room and instantly hear the door lock. Good job Joy. I take a deep breath and attempt to be as distant and stoic as possible.
As I enter the lobby, he stands up, ” Mr Fraser is it? How can I help?,” I ask and extend my hand, attempting to distract and diffuse him with pleasantries.
“Yes, Christian,” he adjusts his trench and takes my hand.
“Shall we head to my office? Can I offer you a drink? Coffee? Tea? What’s your fancy?” guiding him into my office and closing the door behind me.
“Sure I’ll take a coffee. Black.”
“No problem, I’ll page my receptionist to get that for us,” I pick up the receiver and place a fake call to Joy requesting our drinks.
“Ok then, Mr Fraser- Christian. How can I help you? Are you in need of a physician? Looking for a job?,” I sit back in my chair in order to appear relaxed, the truth was, I was assessing him. From what Taryn has chosen to divulge about him, I had created an image of an entirely different looking Christian, with him walking into my office under different circumstances, it would be remiss to say that his presence didn’t bother me. His shoulders were square set, with perfectly chiselled features and piercing, focused blue eyes.
“Actually Dr Pierce, I’m here to see if you can help me. I believe we have an acquaintance- Dr Taryn Franklin-Dorough. I need your help to talk to her and I know you can make that happen.”
“I’m not sure I follow. You came to meet me in order for me to organize a meeting with a fellow doctor? I’m not sure why you need me…you can simply try looking her up in the directory…”
“Well, Dr Pierce,” he intertwines his fingers, “I know you probably believe me to be ignorant, but I am aware that you know her. You are actually intimate. So before you lay claim to simply being a fellow doctor, I know you’re her boss and I also know you’re boning my girlfriend.” He says the last bit with a smirk on his face.
“Mr Fraser, I am really sorry, but I didn’t take time out of my schedule to be interrupted over interpersonal issues. You have to understand that I cannot comment on my employees’ relationships outside of the office. Your relationship with your ex is really not of my concern, now if you’ll excuse me, I have patients I need to tend to.” I begin to rise.
He doesn’t take the hint and remains seated, this time crossing his legs, “Naa, I don’t think you fully understand where I’m coming from. I know she’s in this building, she hasn’t left. I was hoping she would take a lunch break so I could speak to her. Talk some sense into her. This morning, you both came out of a car, you held hands as you walked to the building, you– Dr Pierce held the door open for her and you kissed just before entering the office. Do you normally kiss all your employees like that? So, you just let me know where Taryn is and I’ll be out of your beautifully coifed hair.”
“So what you’re saying is, that you have been camped outside of my office building for the past 5 hours in the hopes you could ambush her?”
“Ambush. Charm. Talk sense. You use whatever term you’d like, but she needs to be with me. We were good together. We’re actually perfect for each other.”
“Well, if she’s ignoring you, it’s doubtful she feels the same. So maybe it’s time to close that chapter and move along.”
This angers him and he jumps to his feet. “I want to see her! Where is she!?!?”, spit flies out of his mouth and his eyes begin to bulge. The calm and well-coiffed demeaner was no longer present.
I take a deep breath to decrease the anger building up inside of me, “Christian. You are going to need to leave. You are overstepping and I won’t be as civil– if I have to ask you again,” as I make my way to my office door, he begins to swing for me, but I see it coming and take a step back. This de-stabilises him and he stumbles to the floor, it allows me to step out in time to lock the office door behind me. Christian lets out a howl that startles even me, I look to the lobby to the three surprised patients and spot police officers making their way to the building. I take the quick steps to the door and greet them, giving them a quick rundown of the situation, I would like him to be removed as calmly and civilly as possible. I request that I be able to take Taryn out of the building before they remove him from the office, they oblige and I quickly knock on Taryn’s office door and gather our things to leave. Giving Joy instructions to close the office once the police leave, I thank her for her help and advise that I will be in touch later.
I escort Taryn out of the building through the back door, lifting her into the car and buckling the seat belt for her– she’s a mess. I can only imagine the thoughts going through her head, but what bothers me is the fact that I can’t pull her out of her thoughts. As we hit the road, I reach out to a few of my contacts in order to have security at our place, I know this will help to make Taryn feel better. Unfortunately, my unease doesn’t weaver, because as we step inside the house, it is instantly obvious someone had already been there. Taryn loses her legs from under her and falls to the floor, I grab her as she nearly hits the ground and I make haste with dialling the police.
“Taryn, Taryn, look at me. Look at me. He’s not here, he’s in custody. Don’t worry. I am here, I’ll protect you.”
For the first time in what seems like hours, she registers my presence and blinks, “Jonathan, he’s violated me again. He found a way to get into my life…my world. It’s been a full year. I thought I had cracked the code to get away from him. But, I failed. Maybe I slipped up. Being with you clouded my judgement…I got sidetracked. I shouldn’t have been in a relationship…”
“No, don’t you dare blame yourself. I won’t have you do that. Not on my watch. We will fix this and he WILL pay for this. I promise you this.”
She lets out a long, defeated sigh, “I don’t know if you fully understand, Jon. He won’t stop. Like ever. He has been stalking me for five years, some of it we were in a relationship, but five whole years. Without breaks. Every time I have a lull, I feel like he’s finally moved on, but– it’s to fuck with my mind. He allows me space, so I let my guard down, I thought I could outsmart him, I can’t. He will never let me go.”
“Oh, he will. I will make sure of that,” as the words leave my mouth, a cruiser pulls up, the officers rush up to the house and ask if we’re alright.
“Yes, we are. We haven’t walked around to assess the damage, I know exactly who did this, he came by our office, we just had him removed.”
The officer pulls out a notepad and says, “Is this individual a Christian Fraser?”
“Yes, it is,” I reply as I rub Taryn’s back.
“Are you alright mam? Will, you need medical treatment?”, the officer enquires.
“Umm…no officer. Sorry, I’m just in shock. I have a restraining order on…on…Christian. He isn’t to be near me. I have a file on him. I don’t know how he found me…I thought I was so careful…”
“Mam…perpetrators will stop at nothing to continue to elicit fear in their victims. Do not blame yourself. He is completely in the wrong here, we will have a look around your house, take any evidence we may need. But take my word at this, whoever did this, will get caught. This is a quiet, close-knit community and we don’t take to kindly to people being done wrong. Especially a doctor at that. I’ll have to ask if there’s anywhere you can spend the night, for your comfort, but also because there may be a few people coming back and forth in your home for forensics- it will be disruptive.”
“Yes, yes, we will book a hotel on the other side of town. That’s fine. Worse case, we will stay with my mother. Here are my contact details. I’ll just grab a bag, some change of clothes and toiletries for us and we’ll be on our way sweetie,” I kiss Taryn’s cheek motioning for the officer to stay with her. I walk towards the stairs and another officer accompanies me upstairs, as I take a step on the landing and begin to make my way around the corner to the hall closet, something catches my eye in our room.
“What…the…,” I open my mouth but the words to do not escape. Our bedroom is beyond ransacked, with every drawer thrown open, clothing lying everywhere, our pillows have been cut apart, our mattress ripped and leaning up against the wall. But the most horrific image was on the wall above the bed was Mabel’s distorted and bloodied body pinned to the wall.