Scars & Souvenirs

five

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“I’m sorry, but there’s nothing we can do.” The officer barely manages to actually appear apologetic, but Max knows it’s a load of crap. He just wants her out of his precinct. “There’s been no threats to your life.”

“He is stalking me. He has been for years. Why is this not important?”

“There’s no proof that you’re being stalked. Yes, you have emails, but ma’am, this is most likely just a prank. Our hands are tied. Whoever you think is stalking you, if it’s even happening, we can’t do anything unless he does something.”

“So I’m expected to just, what, live in fear and hope he never decides to hunt me down and kill me?”

The cop’s patience runs out - he rolls his eyes, repeats that he can’t do anything, and turns away from her. Max stares in shock at his retreating back, but he doesn’t pay any more attention to her. She swallows thickly, ducking her head under the weight of his fellow cops staring at her, and leaves the building.

They aren’t going to be any help.

Psych lied to you. Max chews on the inside of her lip as she bustles to her car, eyes burning with impending tears. She wishes desperately that Lassiter and Juliet were real instead of characters on a television show. Maybe then this could all end, and she could start healing.

But they’re not. They’re fake and unable to help. She manages to slide into the driver’s seat before all control is stripped from her, peeled away on a knife’s edge to reveal the ugliness she’s carried with her for the last two years. All Max wants is a reprieve from the sleepless nights and terror and the threat that hangs ever constant over her head. It’s been twenty-five months since she left Ann Arbor behind, but Gabriel has never remained in the past where he belongs.

By the time she gets back to the flat, her phone has vibrated seventeen times, each ding striking fear further into her heart. She doesn’t want to open any of the emails. She knows exactly who they’re from and why, but the little red number on the Mail icon taunts her. It reminds her that she isn’t as free as she’d hoped and hasn’t been since that hot August night. It exists as evidence that the most dangerous she ever made came with disastrous consequences.

Max’s breath stutters as she reads each word of each message. None of them are overtly threatening - he’s too smart for that. They are the same as they’ve been for the past month, but she knows Gabriel. She knows what he means with the “compliments” and promises of forgiving her for this discretion. Max aches to change the past. To run far, far away before she could get herself into this mess. But she can’t. She made the mistake, and now she has to pay the price of that misstep.

Choking on the bile creeping up her throat, Max logs out of the account. Obviously she can’t trust the cops to do anything, so she has to continue relying on the same skills and patterns to keep herself safe. One phone call to Hank, and it’s done. M Mollis no longer exists in the employee database. She stares at the screen, vision blurring as tears finally spill over.

Welcome, Alaina Dodson!

Max hates herself for this, for having to become someone new - again - no matter how well she knows it’s for the best. M Mollis existed too long in Hank’s employment records. Maybe Alaina can have more success in staying unfound for more than four months. Hank understood when Max called him, because of course he did, but she could hear the unasked questions in his voice. It hurts, oddly enough, that she can’t tell him the truth.

Dear Mom and Dad,

It’s happening again. Gabriel found me once more. This time, it only took a month. The emails started about almost 2 weeks ago. God, I wish you two were here. I wish you could help me. That you could make him go the Hell away permanently. That you could’ve talked me out of making the worst decision of my entire life five years ago.

But you’re not. You can’t. And you tried. I know that. You tried so hard, but I didn’t listen. I’m so sorry. I was so damn stubborn and thought I knew everything. And now I’ve lost my freedom, my life, my identity... Worst of all, I lost you. This isn’t fair, and I wish so much I could have you back. But you two are gone. All because I was so prideful and obstinate.

I almost want him to find me. To kill me. To end all of this. Because I can’t keep doing this. I’m falling apart, and I know it’s going to end with him winning. I don’t want to die - I have so much I could’ve lived for, so much in my future that I could have looked forward to. But if it means I’m free again... I don’t think I’d stop him.

Max adds this latest letter to the file with the rest then sits back on the couch. It’s been a month since the emails first started, and the days have passed with little to no improvement. All of her time was split between editing and rearranging the furniture in the flat. Anything to give her some illusion of safety, of protection from a danger she hoped was long gone. She ended up putting everything back where it was when she finished the first time.

Sleep has become a nonexistent thing. More often than not, Max has managed to doze off for an hour at a time before jerking back to consciousness, panicking and biting back screams from the memories that scar her. Even after a thorough check that the locks were done up, it has still been nearly impossible to fall back asleep.

Max curls up on the sofa late on the twelfth of September. This isn’t sustainable, she knows it. Barely eating and sleeping is taking a massive toll on her; her weight fell by the end of the second week, and she’s taken to wearing sweaters even without the air-con going. Fearing for her life has really destroyed any sense of excitement she felt towards her birthday. Twenty-four, and on the run. How she would prefer to be running from the cops, not a - not Gabriel.

The hardest part of the entire situation isn’t the loss of her home and parents. Or even the fear of when Gabriel will find her. Or even the fact that it is a forgone conclusion that she will not make it out of this alive.

It’s the fact that Dolly tries so hard to engage Max, to initiate conversation and forge a connection of some sort. The landlady has allowed Max to spend hours upon hours with Sugar, but Max can see that it hurts Dolly’s feelings when Max keeps herself guarded. That Max won’t let her in seems to... not really offend the other woman, so much as make her try harder. Max is only thankful that Dolly isn’t pushy or aggressive in her attempts.

The man across the way hasn’t said more than a quick greeting whenever they pass each other in the corridor, on the stairs, and the fact he sticks to the boundaries that Max set in the beginning is comforting. She may be lonely, but making friends isn’t why she’s here. She can’t remember the last person she befriended, so it certainly isn’t going to be the man who could turn out to be another unnecessary danger, no matter how tempting it may be for her to get lost in his eyes.

Max shivers and tugs the blanket more securely around her body. The television is playing some late-night infomercial, gaudy jewellery on display as the host sings praises of its value and beauty. Even through the screen, Max can tell it’s all made to look better by strategic camerawork and lighting. It’s all fake. Cheaply-made. As false as the sense of security she’s operated under since she was twenty-one and slipping away in the black of night.

She doesn’t know when she started crying, when the tears won against her pride, but she makes no move to stop them.