Houdini’s Box

Part 9

By: Girl Bard


Please see Part 1 for disclaimer.

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




June 27, 2000


"Grace?" I rap quietly on the door. She doesn't answer, but I hear Bean moving around. She probably really has to go to the bathroom.

"Hey Grace?" I ask again through the door of my spare bedroom where she locked herself last night. Not that I blame her. I guess if I woke up in the middle of the night and she was gone, only to come back hours later covered in mud I'd be pissed and confused too.

I tried to talk to her last night after I showered, but she wouldn't answer me. I left her alone, hoping that after she cooled down she would talk to me. No luck as of yet.

Bean woofs through the door and I make the decision to open it, despite Grace's lack of response. I swing the door open and the little dog bolts out, heading for the front door. Grace is on the floor, covered with a thin blanket, soundly asleep. Her delicate face displays her anguish, her soft lips formed in a frown and a heavy creased line on her forehead.

Taking care not to wake her, I slip on my shoes and take the dog outside. I glance out the front door of the apartment first, and seeing nothing strange, I step outside. After last night my guard it up, and that's how I want it. Bean does her business and I start back up the steps of the apartment, pausing to check the area once again.

Grace is still sleeping when I get inside, and I enter the spare bedroom once again.

"Grace." I say again, sitting down on the floor beside her sleeping form. I should probably just let her sleep, God knows she didn't get any last night while waiting up for me, but I can't stand to have her here upset with me.

For once in my life, I want to talk about a problem instead of just pushing it away. Grace brings that out in me. She didn't at first, I tried as hard as I could to push her away and ignore my problems and the past, and now I don't want to do that.

I want to be as honest with her as I can. She deserves that. She's given me too much of herself to be left out of my life, regardless of how afraid I am to tell her. I have to trust that she loves me and won't leave me just because of my past problems.

I know her better than that. There isn't a more honest and compassionate person alive than my Grace. I need to be honest with her in return.

"Grace." I attempt to rouse her again, and she turns slightly onto her side, pulling the sparse blanket further around her shoulders. "Gracie, wake up." I tell her, my tone more demanding as I gently shake her shoulder.

She bolts awake, her eyes wide with fear as she gasps.

"It's just me." I soothe, opening my arms to hold her. She resists and looks around the room, disoriented.

"Jaden, what are you doing?" She asks, her tone even and low. I believe this is her angry tone, but I'm not sure because I've hardly heard it.

"I want to talk to you, about last night." I tell her, folding my hands uncomfortably in my lap.

She shakes her head slightly, the edges of her mouth turning in a frown. "Okay. Let me wake up first?"

"Sure." I answer, leaving the room in order to give her privacy. I sit on the couch, listening to her patter around the room. Bean jumps up on my lap, her wiggling presence comforting me.

Grace enters the bathroom, closing the door behind her and turning the shower on. Wow, she must really want to stall this conversation if she rather shower than talk. She seems to be okay with showering, but she always has to work up to it. This morning it must seem like the lesser of all evils.

That sucks, that I have hurt her so badly that I'm the most evil.

I sigh, scratching Bean's squirming body. This dog never sits still, always poking around and exploring. She is cute, and her personality infectious.

Just like Grace.

I sit with Bean, studying the rolling water outside. It looks like it will be a nice day, outside the breeze is strong, but the sun will be in full force soon. I don't have to go into work until later this afternoon, to do more research.

And then sometime soon, after the captain and I have found what we need to find, I'll go undercover.

I shudder at the thought. I'm not scared to do it, although I've spent the last few years on the mounted force, I still have my instincts and training required for such an assignment.

What scares me is that I'll be out all night and not here to protect Grace.

I'm going to see if the captain will allow someone to stand watch. Not that I'd trust anyone on the force with Grace, but if there is a patrol car parked on the street, say, checking for speeders, it should keep all of Aron's hired help away.

But then that brings up the sticky subject of telling the captain why someone needs to keep watch.

I sigh again, not wanting to have to deal with any of this.

The shower shuts off and I clear my throat in anticipation. A few minutes later Grace comes out of the bathroom, her short hair wet and dripping. She takes her towel from around her torso and dries her hair, giving me an ample view of her naked body.

Well, she can't be that mad at me, right? Unless she's trying to torture me by giving me one last glance at her gorgeous body before telling me to fuck off.

She enters the bathroom again, and comes back completely towel-less. Her clean nude form walks towards me, and I can't help but be aroused by her body.

"Like what you see?" She asks, her voice quiet.

"I love it." I respond, tearing my eyes away from her swaying breasts to look at her face.

She's crying. I close my eyes slightly and curse myself before forcing myself to look at her again.

Tears run abundantly down her soft face, her eyes a green circle swimming in the depth of her tears.

"Shhh." I tell her, pulling her down to me on the couch. She complies, her body going limp in my embrace. "I'm so sorry sweetheart, I'm so sorry." I whisper to her again and again, hoping that it will sink in and she'll understand.

She doesn't say anything, just continues to murmur and whimper softly in my arms. Her head rests on my shoulder and I feel the flood of her tears dampening my t-shirt. I run my hands up and down the small of her bare back, relishing the feel of her skin.

Finally, she ceases her crying and sits up awkwardly, her breasts resting against mine. "Don't you find me attractive?" She asks, biting her bottom lip as she always does when nervous.

I look at her, astonished. "Of course I do! You're the most beautiful person I've ever known." I tell her, taking her face in my hands. "How could you think that I don't find you attractive?"

She shrugs slightly. "You were gone last night. I thought you were, well, you know." She finishes, somewhat uncomfortably.

I have no idea what she's talking about. "Huh?" I ask, my brows knit in confusion.

Grace looks at me expectantly, waiting for me to realize what she's saying.

"For goodness sakes, Jaden, I thought you were sleeping with someone."

I laugh at the absurdity of the situation, and a slightly pissed-off look registers on Grace's face.

"Sweetheart, I would never, ever, ever, sneak out on you to sleep with someone else. I've been with enough people to know that what I have with you is real and important." Grace looks at me skeptically.

"Grace, I love you. I don't want anyone else but you." My voice breaks, and my lower lip trembles. "Please believe that no matter what I do or what I say, that you will believe that I love you more than anything." I feel my eyes start to water and I rush through my next sentence. "I know that I haven't been completely honest with you, and I promise that I will tell you everything. I've just been scared that what I have to tell you will make you hate me."

She wipes her tears away with her hand and looks beseechingly into my eyes. "You know that I could never hate you. Jaden, it just hurts me that you can't be honest with me. It makes me feel like I'm not important to you and that you don't care for me."

"That's not true!" I tell her and she nods.

"I know that in here." She says, tapping her head. "But not in here." She finishes, placing her hand on her heart. "Rationally I understand that you do things because you think it's the right thing to do, that I need to be protected. I know you try to do the best for me. But don't you understand that I need to decide what is best for me?" She questions, and I nod my head in understanding.

"I don't need a mother, Jaden. I have one who tries to tell me what to do. I know that isn't what you're doing, but I don't want that to be an aspect of our relationship. I want a friend, someone who confides in me things that she needs to talk about, and trusts me enough to decide what is best for me."

Grace looks at me, her sweet face filled with love. I lean forward and kiss her, my lips explaining to her exactly how I feel.

"I promise, I'll tell you everything." I offer as I break the kiss. "I'll trust you to make your own decisions based on what I've told you, okay?" Grace nods, breaking into a bright smile. "Tell you what, let’s get some breakfast first, okay?"

I stand up, pulling Grace’s nude form with me. She steps away, looking at me skeptically.

"You’re stalling." She says simply, folding her arms across her breasts. I know she’s right.

"Yes, I am." I answer honestly. "But I’m also starving and I know you must be too." This makes her grin, and she nods her head in agreement. "So let’s have a nice relaxing breakfast and take the mutt to the beach."

"Yeah!" Grace agrees, her pretty eyes sparkling with excitement. She’s wanted to take Bean to the beach since she moved in, and today will be the perfect day. The sun is out and it looks like the wind is dying down.

Grace heads to get dressed and I survey the contents of the fridge. "You like omelets?" I yell to her.

"Of course." She answers enthusiastically. I pull a bunch of stuff out and place it on the counter, waiting for her. I hope she knows how to make them, I sure as hell don’t.

I don’t have to wait long. She comes down the hall, looking cute in her tank top and cutoff denim shorts. Well, maybe cute isn’t the right word; hot would be more like it.

Growling under my breath I make my way over to her and wrap my arms around her waist. She smiles and returns my hug. I sniff her neck loudly, humming in approval of her strawberry-scented skin. She giggles and struggles in vain as I gently tickle her ribs and stomach.

My intent turns serious as my hands slow, caressing her most intimate of places. She moans, throws her head back, and spreads her legs wider to allow my hand easier access. I chuckle as I kiss her neck, constantly surprised at how much she loves to be physical.

Meeting her lips with mine I taste her cinnamon-flavored mouth. I love that toothpaste she uses. Our tongues collide and she moans deeper as my hand deftly undoes her button fly shorts. I slide them down her hips and she kicks them off from around her ankles. Growing more insistent, I lift the bottom of her tank top and she breaks our kiss to remove it.

Her face is flushed, her eyes are a dark, and she’s practically panting. She is stunning, and she is mine. I am so lucky.

I strip her of her bra and too-cute Miss Piggy underwear. I need to feel her skin and I ease her onto the floor. She hisses in protest when her heated skin meets the cool tile floor, but she doesn’t move, instead urgently pulls me to her.

I undress faster than I thought possible and lower my body onto hers. Her eyes are wide and I plant a soft kiss on her parted lips. I know she’s still hurting over what Scott did to her; she hasn’t even begun to heal yet. It’s still hard for her to trust, but I will do whatever it takes to show her that I would never hurt her.

Smiling reassuringly, her hands run up and down my back as she moves her hips into mine. I kiss her again, my hand traveling down her body to find her wet and ready for my touch. She gasps when I stroke her and I whimper into her ear. She feels so good as I slide my fingers into her heavenly wetness.

I place one arm under her head to cradle it from the hard floor as I continue to devour her lips and stroke her, alternating between fast and slow movements. It doesn’t take long until I can feel her getting close, her muscles tensing and her breathing becoming erratic.

Suddenly she shudders under me and her thighs squeeze my hand between them as she comes. Making deep, guttural grunts, she comes down from her high. Her body goes limp and she pulls me down on top of her completely, burying her face in my neck.

I tell her words of love in her ear, expressing emotion normally so difficult for me to speak of. Holding her like this makes me feel like she is so tiny, every instinct tells me to worship her and protect her.

We lie here, on the kitchen floor, clinging to each other so strongly that nothing would be able to part us. I’m suddenly not afraid to tell her of my past; in fact, I’m almost looking forward to it. I think it will be a huge weight off of my shoulders.

My past, and now my present have been hanging over our heads. Will she hate me when she finds out? What will she think about what happened with Aron? Can she forgive me for what happened to Jonah? And most importantly, what will she do when I tell her of the assignment I’m on and the possible dangers to not only myself, but to her as well?

Embracing her here, right now, I believe that we are so strongly connected that nothing could change our feelings for each other. I’ve never felt like this before, and I’ve never let anyone get close enough to even worry about it. But Grace is so close to me, in ways that I never thought I’d be close to anyone. I love her, and I can’t imagine my life without her.

What if she had never moved here? What if the night I went to the bar, she wasn’t working? What if I let my fear take over and after meeting her the first time, I just never went back. It would have been so easy, to just walk away from her, thinking she was just a cute little waitress and not fall for her.

But I did fall for her, and I fell hard. And if I had the chance to do it over, I’d fall willingly again.

"It’s okay Jaden." Grace says, her voice muffled by my neck. "Why are you crying sweetheart?"

I lift my head, surprised. There are indeed tears streaming down my face, and Grace reaches up to wipe them from my cheeks. Her face is tear-stained also, but from my tears, not hers.

"I just love you, that’s all." I answer, slowly getting to my feet. I extend a hand down to Grace, helping her stand.

"I love you too." She responds, hugging me tightly. We stand in contented silence for a few minutes, enjoying the feel of each other.

"I’m so hungry." Grace finally states, blushing at her admission. I kiss the top of her cute nose and smile at her.

"Me too." We dress quickly. "What do you want on your omelet?" I ask, taking plates down from the cupboard.

"Mushrooms, cheese, and bacon." She answers, a wicked gleam in her eye. "You cooking?"

I shake my head. "I don’t know how." I tell her sadly. "I can chop stuff though." I want to at least appear to be useful.

"I’ll show you. It’s easy." She says, and then orders me to chop the ingredients. I do, carefully avoiding cutting my skin with the knife. Mushrooms are really hard to chop. Grace browns the bacon in a pan and constructs the omelet in another pan. She shows me how to add the ingredients and get the cheese to melt just right.

I toast some bread and pour a glass of juice, retrieving a Coke from the fridge for Grace. I don’t know how she can drink that stuff as much as she does; it’s like battery acid. She puts the food on our plates and we eat, enjoying each other’s company. Everything tastes delicious.

After breakfast, I apply sunscreen to her shoulders and back, paying careful attention to her face. She’s got such fair skin; I’d hate to see her get burned. Taking the dog and her ball, we head down the stairs. I check the yard before we leave, and not noticing anything or anyone strange, I usher Grace and Bean out the back door.

We walk the short distance down the dirt trail that leads to the beach, Bean straining at her lease excitedly. It’s a gorgeous day, warm enough to be out in shorts but cool enough that you’re not sweltering in the sun. Grace is smiling, looking around her with as much excitement as the dog. We reach the stairs, and take off our sandals, leaving them at the top to avoid getting them filled with sand.

Then we let the Bean off her leash, and bound down the concrete stairs together. It’s too early for this beach to be crowded, and because it’s a private beach of the property owners it’s usually very quiet. Dogs are allowed, as long as they are cleaned up after, and it has a nice long stretch of clean sand.

Bean is so cute, she bounded up to the waves boldly only to come scampering back after getting her feet wet. It doesn’t take her long until she’s swimming like a pro, chasing the sticks Grace and I throw in for her. I swear she’s more Labrador than a terrier; I’ve never seen a happier dog than Bean retrieving from the water.

This is really nice. Grace looks relaxed, and we are having a great time. The last thing I want to do is ruin our morning with talk of my past, but I have to tell Grace. Besides, I promised her and I never break my promises.

We play with the dog for a while more, and then I sit on a large rock, motioning for Grace to come sit with me. Bean is perturbed to lose her playmates, but busies herself by chewing on driftwood and digging holes in the sand.

"Thanks Jaden, this is really fun." Grace remarks, taking my hand in hers.

"Yeah, it is." I agree, smiling at her. "I guess we should talk?" I offer nervously. I don’t want her to think that I’ve forgotten about it. She nods her head, cocking it to the side.

"Do you want too? As much as I think we need to do this, I don’t want to push you if you’re not ready."

That’s my Grace, always thinking of me. "No, I can do this." I tell her, preparing myself for the conversation ahead. Grace’s hand is warm in mine and I bring it to my lips, kissing each of her slender fingers.

"My mother moved back in with us when I was 15. I didn’t really even remember her or who she was. I hadn’t spent any real time with her since I was 8 or 9, and she was a complete stranger to me." My voice is shaking, and I can’t believe how hard this is. I always try to forget these memories, to push them away and make believe they don’t bother me.

"I’m so sorry." Grace’s soft voice offers. I squeeze her hand and continue, knowing if I don’t get this all out now, I never will.

"She was a horrible person, a heavy drinker and into drugs. The years in the industry made her care more about partying and having a good time then being sober and present. Honestly, Jonah and I hardly ever saw her, even after she moved in with our grandmother and us. My mother spent most of her time shacking up in Boston and going to clubs." I smile wryly. "She was a big star there, the former model turned soap queen, and she had countless boyfriends."

I glance at Grace, and notice how sad her eyes seem. She tries to smile reassuringly at me, but her lower lip trembles instead.
"You didn’t deserve any of that." She tells me, and I nod my head.

"I know." I respond quietly. "Either did Jonah or my grandmother. They are good people." I state firmly.

"So are you." Grace adds, scooting closer to me.

"Well, that summer my mother decided to move to Detroit with this guy she met. She said he was her "prince charming" and couldn’t live without him. It was really hard, Jonah didn’t want her to leave, and if she did leave he wanted to go with her. He was 17, and confused about what to do with his life. I wanted her to go, I was much happier alone with my brother and grandmother."

I stop and clear my throat before continuing. "My mother didn’t want Jonah to come along. She wanted to disappear again, and leave us for good. My grandmother and Jonah fought constantly about it, and my mother made the decision easier by leaving in the middle of the night. Jonah made plans to go after her, and begged me to come with him."

"How could she just leave you again?" Grace questions, her voice filled with disbelief. I shrug my shoulders; I’ve asked that same question my entire life. A mother is not supposed to leave her children.

"So we left my grandmother a note, and set out in Jonah’s car, driving to Detroit to find our mother. I went along with Jonah just because I was worried for him to go alone. He had such a pure heart, so trusting and innocent. Just like you." I add to Grace, seeing a look of surprise register on her sweet face as she blushes. I love when I make her do that. "So Jonah and I had fun driving to Detroit, he was such a fun person to be around. We made it there and had no idea where to find our mother. Detroit is a big city, and we didn’t where to start." I sigh, remembering Jonah’s determination and refusal to leave the city. "I wanted to go back home, I begged Jonah too. But he wouldn’t. He was convinced that we would find our mother and make her come back."

"What happened?" Grace asks.

"Jonah got a job as a grocery store bagger and we stayed in a youth hostel. Jonah was working all the time to earn money so we could rent a room, and at night he would walk the streets, trying to get into the clubs to find our mother. He was crazed, Grace, the only thing he could think of was finding her. That left me with nothing to do, all I wanted was to go back home, but I couldn’t leave him. I started hanging around with some of the kids from the hostel, just to kill some time. I figured that once the summer ended, Jonah would take me back home so we could go to school. Jonah was so smart, and was excited for his senior year." I pause, licking my dry lips. "The friends I made, they were awful people. I mean, they were fun, and I was a stupid kid who thought it was cool to be a rebel. They did drugs and I started too, just to fit in."

I sigh, releasing Grace’s hand to rub my watery eyes. "I was an idiot, I had nothing. My brother was obsessed to find a mother that didn’t want us; I was in a strange and smelly city with no one to turn too except these kids who seemed to like me. I didn’t know they were just using me, I thought they were my friends."

"How did they use you?" Grace’s calming voice caresses my ears.

"They started having me do their dirty work, make deliveries and collect money, the things that should have gotten a kid like me killed, and the things that had gotten some of them and their friends killed. I loved it, it was fun to me to be so important."

I laugh sadly at the absurdity of the entire situation. "I was so good at what I did, I managed to evade being caught and intimidate people easily. I was only 15, but I was tall and I didn’t care if I lived or died. I had nothing to lose. And that was my weakness."

"What did Jonah say when he found out?" Grace questions gently.

"He didn’t find out. He was on a mission, and I never saw him. I was earning so much money that I couldn’t wait to go back home and buy my own horse. And then I was introduced to Aron."

"Who?" She asks, and the last thing I want to tell Grace is about this psycho who is now again a factor in my life.

"Aron was important. None of us really knew how much he controlled, but we knew it was a lot. He was only a few years older than all of us, but had seen and done everything. I was so drawn to him, and his power. I felt like he really cared about me, and wanted me to succeed. I felt abandoned by Jonah, and Aron was a substitution. He told me how important and talented I was, and what a great future I had if I just stayed with him. And I trusted him."

Grace doesn’t say anything, and I glance at her face. She looks lost in thought, and so I continue.

"He told me he loved me, and I believed him. I thought I was his girlfriend, and as a teenage who had never had a boyfriend before, I felt so important to have this mysterious and handsome man as my lover. It was great for a while, and towards August when I spoke of going back home it became horrible. Aron was so degrading to me, he beat me up all the time and fucked me whenever he wanted." I feel myself becoming angry and I clench my fists. Out of the corner of my eye I see Grace flinch at this and I take her hand again, using her as a grounding device to keep my anger in control. "He kept me high enough so I wouldn’t leave, and he made it very clear that if I left he would kill me. I was terrified, I couldn’t stand up to him and I desperately wanted to get away and go back home, but I was scared. And I was addicted to every drug he put into my body."

"What happened to Jonah?"

"He finally wised up and realized that my mother was long gone. I don’t think she really was ever in Detroit. He wanted to go back home too, and he apologized for how he had acted and begged for my forgiveness. It wasn’t his fault Grace; he was just a little boy inside who desperately wanted his mother. I told him about Aron and the drugs and he thought it was his own fault. I couldn’t blame him, I was just a kid, but I should have known better."

"Jaden, you were young and Aron took advantage of you. You can’t blame yourself for that."

Her sweet voice makes me want to crawl into her arms and never leave. She is my safe haven in my internal storm, and all I want is to hold her. But I’m almost finished, and what I have to tell her is the most important, because it concerns her.

I open my mouth to continue with the story, but I can’t. The words won’t come out. My hands start to shake as I remember the following events and my throat constricts to the part where I cannot breathe. I shut my eyes, willing my inner turmoil to disappear long enough to say the words, but it won’t.

I stand up, frustrated and scared. "I can’t do this right now Grace. I’m sorry."

She stands, wrapping her body against mine. "Shh, it’s okay. We have time." She murmurs unintelligible sounds and phrases into my neck and I hold her to me, relishing in the feeling of us combined.

Part 10: Coming soon! Stay tuned and please email me with feedback!!!

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