Houdini's Box

Part 10

By: Girl Bard

Please see Part 1 for disclaimer.

Many thanks to everyone who mailed me feedback! Keep it coming!

Author's Note: I apologize for more than a week in between posts. A huge pet peeve of mine is when I start to read an unfinished story and the author doesn't update regularly. I have tried to keep the length in between posts no longer than a week, but unexplainable technical difficulties deleted Part 10 from my computer and I had to do a complete re-write.

I apologize again for any inconveniences.

Now, on with the story.



June 27, 2000

I finish washing the few dishes we used for lunch. The apartment is silent other than the gently running water and I'm comforted by the rhythmic and calming sound. Bean is asleep on the couch, exhausted from her morning at the beach. I am equally tired, but more from emotional strain rather than physical.

I never realized how much Jaden has gone through in her life. When she said she had things in her past she needed to tell me, I guess I never expected them to be that bad. My entire being aches for the child that Jaden was, and for the woman that she is now.

Turning off the water, I dry my hands on the thin towel and leave the dishes to dry. I amble over to the couch, gently pushing Bean over to make room for myself. I lay down, eager to relax and rest before Jaden comes home and finished telling me her tale.

She was so emotionally devastated after talking to me this morning. She broke down crying and seemed to have a mild panic attack of some kind. It was so scary, not only because it's so rare that she lets herself feel any emotion, but because I had to be the strong one.

I'm not used to that, in our young relationship it's been Jaden who has constantly been there for me and allowed me to lean on her for support. Now it is my turn and I will do everything in my power to help Jaden in whatever way I can.

After talking at the beach, Jaden had to leave for work. I was concerned to see her go in that frame of mind, she seemed so dazed and out of it until we left the beach. The minute we returned to the apartment, she was her old self, and I was again surprised at her ability to hide her emotions.

"Turn your brain off." I order myself out loud as I shut my eyes, feeling Bean stir at my words. I don't want to lie here and think of Jaden all day. Worrying will get me nowhere. I am sure that she is fine, and she's a big girl who can take care of herself. But I am madly in love with her, and can't help but worry that's she upset about our discussion this morning.

I know I didn't force her into telling me anything of her past. She's wanted to speak to me about her past for ages now, and it just has never been the right time. Now is the right time, because I can't stand to have things like last night happen again.

I was so terrified, waking up alone to find Jaden gone. I honestly thought that she was having an affair until I saw her come into the apartment, covered from head to toe in mud, dripping from the rain. If she had slunk in wearing nothing but a trench coat and lingerie, than I guess I could suspect she was getting it on hot and heavy with someone behind my back.

But she had classic stakeout clothes on, complete with her gun. For some reason it didn't quell my fears that she wasn't having an affair, but hiding something from me about her job. I just want her to be open and honest with me. I don't know why that is so hard for her to do, but it is something I need from her.

We've made no promises in our relationship. She is free to do whatever she pleases, but I love her too much to sit back and ignore what is going on around me. I doubt that I would have been thrilled if she would have told me; "Grace, I have to sneak out of the house after you go to sleep tonight." But at least when I woke up to find her gone I would have not been scared out of my wits.

I know she loves me. I can see it in her eyes. The very same eyes that are so guarded about everything, I can see through them to the vulnerable soul that Jaden has so cleverly been able to hide from others. I just have to trust her and understand that she thinks she's doing what is in my best interests.

I just wish she could do the same and trust me as well.

Sighing, I force myself to try and get some sleep. I was a nervous wreck last night, and only got a few hours of fitful sleep after seeing that Jaden made it home safely. I was too angry to speak to her last night; I think that I would have said some really hurtful things that I would never be able to take back. So instead of making myself speak to her like a rational adult, I was childish and shut myself in the spare bedroom. At least we didn't get in a fight and were able to talk this morning.

It means so much to me that she was able to tell me a little of her past. I know how difficult it is for her, and as much as I am worried that she isn't okay emotionally, I still am thankful that she was able to speak to me honestly.

A sudden white-hot streak of anger and hatred flares through me unchecked. How dare Aron put his hands on her. How dare he hit her and rape her. I can't ever imagine Jaden in that situation. She always seems so strong, so invincible. I wish things had been easier for her.

My mind is jumping all over the place; I'm so tired that I can't even keep the same train of thought. I snuggle down further yet into the couch, determined to nap. I concentrate on my breathing, forcing myself to take deep and even breaths while I picture a scene of serenity, Jaden and I riding Studley and Lucy in the woods. A smile breaks out on my face as I focus so intently on my scene that I can smell the damp sweat of the horses and hear their steady hooves clop on the dirt path.



I sigh and get up from the couch, disturbing Bean once again. I don't miss the look of outrage that she gives me as I answer the phone.


"Grace?" My sister's voice questions.

"Lydia! Hey, how are you? Goddess, I miss you so much." My words race out, I am so thrilled to be talking to my baby sister.

"I'm fine, I miss you too. A lot." Lydia answers, her voice strained.

"What's the matter?" I ask, concerned by her tone.

"Listen, mom's on a rampage. She ransacked my room and found Jaden's number. I wanted to warn you. She's been crazy Grace, saying she's going to call the police on you and everything."

"Fuck." I say, that single word conveying every emotion. A huge ball of worry forms in my gut. "Lydia, she's not hurting you, is she?" I can't stand to think of my mother hitting Lydia like she used to hit me.

"Nah, since you left I'm the poster child. She's been spoiling me rotten."

I sigh in relief. "Thank Goddess." I murmur to myself.

"Dad's still a loser though, he never wants to be here and when he is he doesn't talk." Lydia's voice conveys her disgust of my father, and I can't help but wonder when she'll realize that the last thing he wants is to be bothered by his wife and children. I wonder why he even married and decided to have kids anyway.

"Yeah, well, some things never change." I tell her, wishing I could give her a hug.

"Herc is so cute though! You should see him!" Lydia tells me, changing the subject. She rattles on and on about my Uncle Rick's puppy from hell, and I chuckle and outright laugh when hearing his new adventures.

"I wish I could see him. He sounds great."

"Yeah, well you'll see him sometime, right?" Lydia asks, and I know that she's asking when I'm going to be able to visit. I wish I knew what to tell her.

"I hope so, sis." I manage to say. She doesn't answer, and I hope she can understand why I've made the choices I have.

"As long as you're happy. That's all I care about. Everything else can suck it." Lydia responds, in her usual matter-of-fact way.

I laugh, now that is the baby sister that I love.

"Listen, Jana, I have to go. I'll see you in school tomorrow." Lydia suddenly blurts out before hanging up the phone.

I put the phone back in its cradle, looking at it curiously. My mother must have come into Lydia's bedroom, and Lydia intelligently tried to pretend that she was talking to her friend from school. A nice plan, but not one that my mother will buy. She'll probably hit redial on the phone and…


Yep, I knew it. I don't answer and let Jaden's machine pick up instead. After a few rings Jaden's voice demands, "Leave a message," to which my mother promptly obeys.

"Listen young lady, just because I haven't spoken to you doesn't mean I am going to roll over and disappear."

Oh, how I wish. Funny, but my mother's grating voice is exactly like I remember it. Have I only really been gone a week or so?

"You are coming back here and getting married. Do you hear me? You're lucky that Mr. and Mrs. Spencer still want you after this little fiasco you pulled. And that officer that you sent over to their house beat Scott so horribly that the Spencers are threatening to sue. You better get back here immediately, or you will be in…"

Beep. I smile devilishly as the machine cuts her off.


Ring. I sigh and look at the phone with disdain. As expected, my mother has called back to finish her rambling message.

I can't take this. Who knows how many times she's going to call and fill Jaden's machine with her insane ramblings. I have to get out of here, just to clear my head.

"Bean!" I call and my little dog jumps down from the couch and allows me to clip on her collar and leash. I grab my keys and my wallet and head out the door, eager to leave the annoying voice of my mother behind.

I decide to walk with Bean down to the shopping center, needing a few things from the drugstore. As much as I try to clear my mind and focus nothing on the gorgeous day and my prancing dog, I can't help but think about what my mother spoke about.

What did she mean when she said I sent an officer over to beat Scott? I didn't even call the police, as much as I would have loved too. It just would have been my word against Scott's, and though I really hate myself for not pressing charges, it just wasn't something I was strong enough to do at the time. So there was certainly not an officer of the law over there because of me, unless…

Oh. Jaden.

Of course. I'm sure that she went over there after Lydia called her and kicked the crap out of Scott. As much as that thought pleases a part of me, another part is horrified that she actually beat Scott. I can't see her doing that, regardless of how angry she was. Hopefully she just went there to talk some sense into him, and my mother is lying. It wouldn't be the first time.


We reach the shopping plaza quickly, and I head into Walgreen's. I scoop Bean up in my arms, hoping no one cares if I bring her in with me. The store is pretty deserted, so I quickly grab a shopping basket and hook it over one arm, holding the solid 9lbs of Bean with my other arm.

I head down a few isles; grabbing some mundane things I need like shower gel and lotion. I head to the pet isle, choosing a plastic wrapped doggie bone that Bean smells eagerly. I remember that I need some new pens for my journal so I selectively choose a few that will be comfortable to write with and add them to my basket. Mulling over the rest of the list in my head, I head for the candy isle, wanting to get Jaden some of those disgusting toasted coconut things that she loves. I add a package of Dots and Jaden's prized candy to my basket.

"I think that's it, Miss Dog." I tell Bean, who is being a very good girl and lying very still in my arms. I head up the aisle towards the register, only to find it blocked by a large and powerfully built man.

"Excuse me." I tell him politely, waiting for him to move so I can squeeze by.

"Sure." He answers, glancing at me while moving out of my way. He does a double take, looking at Bean and then at me. "Hey, isn't that Jaden's dog?" He asks, smiling at me.

He looks vaguely familiar, but I don't know anyone from Massachusetts yet, so I realize that I couldn't possibly know him.

"Um, no she's my dog." I answer uncertain to how he knows Jaden or Bean.

"Oh, okay. I just could swear that this is the same dog that Jaden runs with in the morning." He smiles politely, stepping back to allow me to pass.

I feel very foolish, and very rude. "I'm sorry, I didn't mean to be rude." I tell the man and return his smile. "I'm Grace, and I just moved in with Jaden, and yes, this is the dog that she runs with in the mornings."

"Hi Grace, I'm Ronnie. Welcome to the neighborhood!" He answers politely, holding out his hand. I struggle to shake it and he helps me by taking my basket. "Let me give you a hand."

"Thanks." I tell him, grateful for the help. "It's a beautiful neighborhood." I respond, knowing now why he looks so familiar. I've probably seen him around the apartment.

"So, where did you move from Grace?" Ronnie asks conversationally.

"Ohio actually. Jaden was nice enough to let me stay with her." I answer.

"Yeah, she's great." Ronnie responds, smiling. He seems really nice but there's something about him I really don't like. I glance up to the register, seeing no one in line.

"Well, it was nice to meet you." I tell him, holding my hand out to take my basket back. "I better get going."

"I got it." He answers, walking up to the register and setting my basket down. I thank him while struggling to hold Bean and take money out of my wallet to pay for my things. "Here, I'll take her." Ronnie offers, wrapping his large hands around Bean. She turns and growls at him, showing him her little white teeth. Before I can scold her she snaps, narrowly missing his skin.

"Bean!" I admonish, stepping back to avoid any further strikes against Ronnie. Bean doesn't listen to me and continues to growl at him.

"It's okay, I just scared her." Ronnie offers, still smiling. His eyes are set and angry, and I can't help but think how evil he looks.

"I'm really sorry." I tell him again, hoping he isn't angry.

"No problem. Make sure that you tell Jaden that Ronnie said hello, okay? Nice to meet you." He finishes, turning and leaving the store.

I turn my attention back to the cashier. "I'm so sorry, I don't know what has gotten into her." I apologize, surprised when the cashier chuckles.

"I don't blame her, a little thing like that getting angry about a big oaf like him wanting to grab her. Besides, there's something about him that isn't right." The cashier soothes me while taking my money.

"Yeah, that's what I thought too. He lives around here, but I've never met him before." I tell her.

The cashier eyes me skeptically. "If he lived around here, I'd have seen him by now. I've worked here 10 years. I wouldn't forget someone like him."

"Yeah, he had an interesting look, that's for sure." I agree with the cashier, taking my bag and heading out of the door. I set Bean down, still curious about her unusual behavior and head for the apartment.

It's been a long day, and she was out in the sun all morning at the beach. Maybe she's tired and cranky and didn't want to be held by a stranger. I don't blame her. I'm sure that's it.


Reaching the apartment, I let myself in and leave Jaden's candy on the counter. I know she'll want it when she gets home. I unpack the rest of my purchases, giving Bean her new bone which she delicately takes between her teeth and trots off into Jaden's bedroom. She's probably going into Jaden's dirty laundry basket. That's Bean's new favorite place as of late. I take out one of my new pens and sit down on the couch with my journal. Just as I'm about to write, the phone rings.

I sigh and roll my eyes, certain it's my mother. Who knows how many messages she's left while I was gone.

"Grace?" Jaden's voice asks over the machine. I hurtle over the couch and pick the phone up.

"Yeah!" I answer, grateful that it's her. "How are you?" I ask, still concerned about her.

"I'm fine. Why didn't you answer?" She asks, sounding like she's in a good mood.

"Sorry, my mother has been leaving me nasty messages. Jaden? Did you beat up Scott?" I ask, not wanting to talk about it over the phone but unable to get it out of my mind.

"What?" She answers incredulously. "No! I went over there and spoke with him but I didn't lay a hand on him, well, wait. I pushed him once. But I didn't hurt him."

"Okay." I respond, calmed by her answer. "My mother is such a liar."

Jaden laughs on the other end of the phone, and I'm relieved to have her in such a good mood. "What did you do today?"

"Bean and I took a walk to the shopping center. It was so weird, Jaden, we saw this guy from the neighborhood that knows you and Bean snapped and almost bit him!"

"Really?" Jaden questions. "That doesn't sound like her. Who was it?"

"He said to tell you that Ronnie said hello." I answer.

There is a long pause of silence before Jaden responds.

"Grace, stay where you are. Lock the doors. I'm on my way."

And with that, she hangs up.

What the hell was that about? Could this day get any more confusing? I hang up the phone, wondering if Jaden has a spilt personality. What about that conversation would make her respond with "Lock the doors, I'm on my way?"

I pace in the living room, confused. Jaden freaked out after I told her I spoke with Ronnie. So what about Ronnie made her so upset? I furrow my brow, trying to rationalize her behavior.

Who could Ronnie be? And why would that make her think I'm in danger? I sigh, pausing at the mantle when one of the pictures catches my eye.

That one photo, with the dark-haired man's arm around a young Jaden, why is that so familiar to me now? I study it closer, noting how sick and frail Jaden looks. The man possessively holding her looks downright scary. His bearded face is young, but his eyes are old beyond his years.

His dark eyes, filled with coldness and anger. They are remarkably similar to Ronnie's. As I examine the photo closer, I see other resemblances between this man and Ronnie, they have the same build, are roughly the same height, the only difference being that the man in the photo is younger than Ronnie.

But the resemblance is uncanny. And suddenly, when a clue kicks me in the butt, I realize that Ronnie and the man in the photo are one and the same.

So that's what freaked Jaden out. She has a picture of herself from about 15 years ago with Ronnie. And because the time line is right, I can assume that Ronnie and Aron are one and the same.

   Oh shit. No wonder Jaden was freaked out.

I suddenly get scared and check the front door, finding it locked and secure. I was talking face to face with her person that hurt Jaden. I am so angry and frightened right now, angry that I didn't know who Ronnie really was so I could have made him pay for what he did to Jaden, and frightened because I've never heard Jaden's voice be more scared than just now when she announced she was coming home.

All the lessons my mother drilled into me about never talking to strangers are hitting home right now. I wish I had listened to her.


I check the clock in the kitchen. It's almost 7:00 and Jaden should be here any second. Usually the commute takes her almost an hour, but I know she's driving like a bat out of hell.

Suddenly I hear footsteps coming down the hall. My throat goes dry as I stare at the front door, willing it to open to reveal Jaden. The footsteps get closer and closer and my heart starts racing faster and faster.

Please let it be Jaden. Dear Goddess let it be Jaden.


Part 11: Coming soon! Stay tuned and please email me with feedback!!!

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