Paradise Falls: Chapter 5
- Paradise Falls: Prologue
- Paradise Falls: Chapter 1
- Paradise Falls: Chapter 2
- Paradise Falls: Chapter 3
- Paradise Falls: Chapter 4
- Paradise Falls: Chapter 5
- Paradise Falls: Chapter 6
- Paradise Falls: Chapter 7
- Paradise Falls: Chapter 8
- Paradise Falls: Chapter 9
- Paradise Falls: Chapter 10
- Paradise Falls: Chapter 11
- Paradise Falls: Chapter 12
- Paradise Falls: Chapter 13
- Paradise Falls: Chapter 14
- Paradise Falls: Chapter 15
- Paradise Falls: Chapter 16
- Paradise Falls: Chapter 17
- Paradise Falls: Chapter 18 (future)
Esme stared out at the water from her poolside lounge chair. She remembered loving the wicker seating when she found The Paradise online, but now the rigid weave dug into her thighs. She sensed Marcus’s eyes boring into her from a few chairs away and refused to look at him, her grip tightened on the arms, knuckles turning white, and her gut to stone.
A deep rumble quickened Esme’s pulse, and she searched for threatening clouds. One dark patch blotted the skies to her right, claiming the source of the sound. A passing squall? Or the beginnings of a hurricane? The ocean had barely a ripple. Still and serene, the mirror surface reflected the sun and amplified the light as it shone in rebellion against the thunderhead rolling in. Esme looked down at her exposed stomach below her hot pink swimsuit top and wondered if she’d put enough sunscreen on the kids…
She glanced over at Isabella in the wagon next to her, who shoved sliced grapes into her mouth like it was a race. “Slow down, querida,” she chided gently, pulling another fistful of fruit from her baby girl’s pudgy fist. Why do people want to rush through life so fast? She wondered with descending gloom. Even from birth?
Kids wanted to get older as soon as possible. Adults couldn’t wait for their next new house or job. Esme fought to ignore the boiling acid in her stomach. She hadn’t been able to choke down a single bite of breakfast — only a cup of coffee — which didn’t help her indigestion.
Why had she dashed through her existence to this point? She’d kept everyone fed, clothed, and busy with activities? Threw elaborate birthday parties. Why do any of it? Nobody sees me, she thought. He’s never seen me.
She was done sprinting through her days to keep everyone else happy. Life would be different now. One way or another.
“She’s starting to fuss,” Marcus murmured.
Startled from her resentful thoughts, Esme glanced at Isabella again. She rubbed her eyes and let loose a few pitiful cries.
“Do you want me to take her up?”
Esme ignored the question and searched the poolside for Sofia. She spotted her daughter in her turquoise bikini, sunbathing across the pool from them.
“Sofia!” Esme called. “Sof!”
Sofia didn’t move a muscle.
“Sofia!” shouted Esme, drawing the attention of a few nearby swimmers. She saw her daughter’s head lift and an eye squint open.
“Can you take the baby inside for me, please, and put her down for a nap?”
“No!” Sofia plopped her head down and shut her eyes. Esme’s felt her chest contract in anger.
“I can do—,” Marcus tried.
“No thank you,” Esme said tightly. “I’d better get used to doing it myself, right? Oh, wait. I already have been doing everything myself.” She threw her insulated water bottle into the wagon with the baby and pulled a towel around her waist.
“Matty?” she called to her son, popping Cheeze-Its on a chair nearby. “Want to come upstairs with us, mijo?”
“Yeah,” he said, hopping up.
Esme blinked away surprise and smiled at him. Matty tossed the crackers into the wagon and grabbed the handle. Esme draped an arm on his shoulders and squeezed as they made their way inside together.
Marcus sat glued to his lounge chair. He couldn’t focus on the novel he brought. Didn’t want to swim. He doubted he would enjoy a single minute of this “vacation.” Why did I tell her about the separation idea now? He groaned to himself. Esme’s reaction to the suggestion had surprised him. He had expected her to fight, to yell, maybe to resort to violence, to express her feelings.
“I don’t know what else to do,” he mumbled to himself. He’d been talking himself out of this for the past six months. Marcus couldn’t take many more moments of emasculation. He thought he might be clinically depressed, but he didn’t dare mention that to Esme. It would represent another burden she’d have to shoulder for him. Or so she’d think.
His thoughts drifted to that day last summer. The day. He and his partner, Reg, had been called out to bring in a possible drug overdose. He hated OD cases. The victims were often young, with the strange early aging that emanated from young bodies exposed to heroin and meth. Emaciated and gaunt, drug abusers were often missing quite a few teeth and large chunks of hair.
He remembered releasing a heavy sigh as Reg flipped on their vehicle’s light and siren. They arrived at the house, and Marcus shook his head. One of these. The house was in a spacious cul-de-sac in an affluent neighborhood. The three-car garage doors were raised, displaying pristine vehicles and the columns bordering the front entry stood two stories high.
Reg helped him pull the stretcher out of the back of the ambulance. “I hate these,” he muttered to his partner under his breath. Marcus nodded. He knew Reg didn’t need a reply. So many misinformed people thought drug abuse only affected the poor and marginalized. Unfortunately, bored or miserable rich people often turned to the same destructive vices as anyone else.
Before they reached the door, it opened and a petite middle-aged woman in a black tracksuit ran out, crying. “Please!” she yelled, “Hurry!”
They picked up their pace as much as they could. “We’re coming ma’am. Where is he?” Dispatch had already told them he was in a second-floor bedroom, but he knew the victim’s families often needed to help somehow.
“Upstairs,” she sobbed. Her cheeks were smeared with black eye makeup. Her dark curly hair was coming loose from a ponytail, falling around her face and neck.
Marcus adjusted the equipment on his shoulder as he and Reg hoisted the stretcher over the threshold. He breathed a sigh of relief when he saw the steps rising just in front of him. No weird corners to maneuver on this level, at least.
They set the stretcher at the foot of the stairs and hustled up, pausing at the top.
“Which way, ma’am?” Reg asked.
“To the left! First room!” she called out behind them.
They moved as a unit, entering the small, dark bedroom. Marcus saw a man lying on the floor on his left side, his legs tangled, one arm behind him, the other curled in front of his chest as if holding him up. His dull-gray face rested in a puddle of pale, frothy vomit.
He heard the woman whimper in the doorway.
“How old is he?” Marcus asked her.
“16,” she cried.
Marcus shot Reg a surprised glance, his partner meeting his look with raised eyebrows. This “boy” looked to be at least 20, with a tall, stocky frame. He weighed at least 250 pounds.
Marcus felt for a pulse and noted a strong push against his fingertips. Good. His patient’s chest rose and fell with steady breaths.
“What’s his name?” asked Reg.
“Tyler,” said the woman, calmer now.
“Tyler?” Marcus shouted, shaking his shoulder. “Tyler, can you hear me?” Nothing. Marcus pushed his knuckles over the kid’s sternum, hard. No response.
“Let’s go get the stretcher,” said Reg. Marcus nodded. He and his partner grunted and sweated as they wrestled the stretcher up to the landing. By the time they got the man-sized kid out of the doorway and on the slim mattress, they were both panting and sweat streamed down their faces.
Marcus strapped Tyler’s legs down, then moved to the hips while Reg secured his shoulders.
“Ready?” asked Reg between breaths, viewing the staircase with tired eyes.
Marcus nodded. “I’ll take bottom.”
He stepped down a few steps to find his footing and helped Reg swivel the end of the stretcher toward him. Another step down guided the stretcher gently over the lip of the top step. Marcus felt the full brunt of 250-odd pounds against his core, and all his muscles strained to keep him steady.
“Next step!” he called out and prepared to move while Reg held onto the top of the stretcher. Just then, Tyler screamed.
He writhed on the stretcher and strained at the belts. Marcus held onto the bottom of the stretcher with a hand, gripped the staircase guardrail, and held tight, veins popping.
“Tyler!” cried his mother.
“Tyler!” yelled Reg. “We’re here to help you, son! Stop moving!”
Tyler either didn’t or couldn’t listen. He kept on squirming and bucking, and Marcus watched with growing concern as the kid seemed to shimmy lower on the stretcher, ankles now dangling over the edge.
“He’s sliding off, Reg!” he yelled, panic lacing his voice.
The flailing continued, and Tyler soon had his arms free, with the shoulder strap now stuck under his chin, threatening to choke him. He grappled at his neck, pulling at the ligature. In one motion, he freed his neck and chin and slid further down the stretcher.
Tyler’s legs now flung freely and windmilled out of control. Marcus took a step away to avoid them, but he could hear Reg’s yells over the kid’s screams. Reg couldn’t hold it by himself much longer. Tyler seemed to calm down all of a sudden, his lower limbs draped loosely over the edge of the stretcher, ragged sobs tearing from his chest.
Marcus stepped forward to grab a molded handhold on the frame, but just as he reached for it, Tyler reared both legs back, and with a guttural scream, kicked Marcus in the chest. Hard. Marcus felt his feet leave the stairs and watched the ceiling, wall, then floor come into view, one after the other in a terrifying slide show. His body hit the hardwood landing and heard a snap. Then his consciousness faded to black.
Marcus’s mind snapped to the present, and he shuddered involuntarily. The next thing he remembered was waking up in agony. He had broken his left femur and two bones in his lower back. After three surgeries and months of physical therapy, he could walk without a walker or a cane. But he still had a lot of pain. He worked so hard to get where he was, but the pain still persisted, to his frustration.
Esme stayed at his bedside, loving and understanding, full of promises that she would stay by his side and help him. After months of single-parenting and driving him around to all his appointments, though, her tearful worry gradually turned into exhausted resentment. Marcus felt a familiar heaviness settle into his chest. Those months were terrible. He watched her struggle, but could not do anything about it. Watched her look at him with compassion, then pity, then fatigue, and finally bitterness.
Shouts pulled him fully out of his bad memories. He saw two teenage boys rough housing in the water. He frowned. They must be new; he hadn’t seen them before. He glanced across the pool at Sofia, who had chosen a seat as far away as possible. She was looking to the side and smiling.
The crease between his brows deepened as he followed her gaze and saw another young man looking over at her, hand raised in greeting. The loud ones in front of him moved more quietly toward the third kid, setting up some kind of dunking prank. His daughter, who hadn’t noticed, now sat up and smiled at the guy on the stairs.
Marcus rubbed his eyes. This is not what he needed today.