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Branden's Night

Margaret Sacks crossed the street quickly, her black heeled boots clacking on the pavement. Car
lights blinded her to the left, and a horn blew one short blast. Apologizing half under her breath,
she grinned and dug in her bag for her palm pilot. Hugging her coat more snugly around her against
the bite in the air the words "2 New Messages" glowed in the dark. She dragged her thin blonde
hair out from under her scarf and read the first message as the street lights receded behind her.
She walked swiftly down the dark patch in the street between the real-estate office where she
assisted, and the bus stop. "5:46 PM Nov 18 "Wht time do u get off today? Im makin dinner. Come
whn u can. love u" Meg checked her watch. She had been dating Branden for almost two years and
they had become engaged just this summer. They had met through work. Since graduation NYU she had
worked for a small real-estate agency and Branden worked as an architect designing minimalist
apartments. He hoped to build his first complex within the next few years. Their grand plan was for
him to build and her to sell once she got her real-estate license. The second message was also from
Branden. "6:23 PM Nov 18 Im makin tht chicken we like, could u pick up some french bread? love
u" Meg smiled to herself looking up to see the bus stop just a few feet ahead of her. One hand was
buried deep in her purse replacing her phone and feeling for her wallet when a dark shape suddenly
loomed at eye level. Too startled to scream Meg stumbled back one step and out of her peripheral
vision she noticed a silver flash, she realized what is was but the word failed to come to mind. A
short stocky man, balding even under his stocking cap laced his fingers in her hair, close to her
scalp, like a lover and wrenched her into a narrow damp alley. The silver thing was held close to
her throat where she felt a scream should have been issuing from. Knife thought Meg, feeling that
this was all very surreal, he has a knife. Shock wore off in a split second and basic self defense
came back to her. She aimed a kick at his groin. A blow he blocked by raising his left leg, his
outer thigh catching the pointed boot toe. Meg swung one small fist landing squarely against his
jaw. As he jerked back, the tip of his knife nicked her throat, a tiny cut that produced a deceiving
amount of blood. Stumbling back, to the street, attempting to yell Meg screamed "Help! Help!
Someone!" Her voice was hoarse and sound seemed to be stuck in her throat. She had gone no more
than a few steps when almost two hundred pounds collided with her lower spine. Her purse crushed
under her, she felt hands grasping at her hair, yanking her up. Both figures clambered up struggling
silently. Kicking, striking. Grunting the man swung Meg around, still holding onto her hair until
she collided with the wall, and all air was forced out of her body. Effectively pinned, his knife
against her now dirt encrusted cheek, their eyes met for the first time. His were red and veined
above bared teeth and badly shaven cheeks. A few inches above his, Megs pale blue eyes showed fear,
thinly veiled by a mixture of desperation and hope. For seconds the only sound was their ragged
breathing. Meg felt a ache radiating through her chest and could not seem to catch her breath to
yell. And then two murmuring, laughing male voices were moving towards them. As Meg opened her mouth
to scream the man in black grasped more firmly her coat lapels and drawing her forward slammed her
head once, decisively against the dingy brick behind her. Darkness seemed to rush into her ears,
filling her eyes as she slid down the wall, still gripping her attacker's wrists as he let her
down gently by the collar of her coat. Emotions sifted around Meg after an immeasurable amount of
time. Unable to focus she knew she was on the ground; it was dark and very cold. A man was there,
there was pain and an overwhelming feeling that he should get up, if only she could. Dimly, slowly,
as if underwater she struggled against him. She heard her own moans of "No!" and then much later
it seemed, she heard sirens.

Branden Mitchell barely heard his phone ringing. He was singing, badly along with some obscure Irish
band playing on his ancient stereo splattered with food form his cooking attempts. The clack of his
kitchen knife only added to the din. He was preparing a salad with his own dressing recipe. A
chicken was baking in the oven, and beers were set at the two places on his tiny folding table. His
apartment boasted one bedroom, one bathroom and one kitchen/living/dining room separated from the
front door by a thin half wall. Everything he owned was second hand and mismatched but together it
worked as a comfortable, easy place. It was a minimalist apartment, but not one he designed. No, he
told himself daily, I design spaces much better than this. Not a day passed without him imagining a
nice apartment, one with real furniture and closets. Of course Meg would be there too. Their
separate rents combined next year when they married would buy them a nicer apartment, but not
necessarily bigger,(this was New York), but better. Once we're established and start making real
money, pay off our student loans he mused. Meg and Branden had met just after college, his
supervisor had struck a deal with the company Meg worked for and they had met at a meeting. They had
that Uber laid back relationship friends teased them for but secretly envied. They never encountered
much drama and were perfectly comfortable with each other. On the outside they looked boring and
simple; privately they teased and fought, and enjoyed the sort of passionate connection that only
comes from knowing you are with some one perfectly matched to you. Lifting his head from the lettuce
he was chopping like a dog scenting an animal, lips still froming the words to the song as it ended
Branden moved towards his phone on a charging stand. Sure enough it was ringing, and pausing his CD
he answered it. Caller ID showed Meg's cell. "Hey, forget about the bread, its late. Just come
over. Don't change first, it's almost rea-'' "This is Officer Clark with the NYPD, who is
this?" A pompous, clipped voice broke in on the other end. Caught off guard, Branden spoke without
considering; "Who the hell are you? How do you have this phone?" "I've identified myself.
Who are you?" The tone, like a robot's, hadn't changed in the slightest. "This is Branden,
Mitchell." "Mr. Mitchell, what is your relationship to Ms. Margaret Sacks?" "She's my
fiance, why? What's wrong?" "There's been an incident. She is being taken to -----
Hospital. You can meet her there. Your name was listed as the emergency contact in her phone."
"Is she hurt? Is she all right?" Branden demanded, angry. The line went dead and already he was
in motion. He turned off the oven, unplugged the radio and pushed the knife back from the edge of
the counter, meticulous even on the verge of panic. In two silent, efficient minutes Branden
shrugged a sweater over his T-Shirt, pulled on a coat and boots, turned off the one light and locked
the door. Only once he was in a taxi did he allow himself to think. Easy he told himself, she's
fine. Don't get all worked up. Carefully he distracted himself then, thinking over some new plans
on his desk at work. Was there a way to connect the bedroom and the balcony? Would the length of the
balcony allow it?.... At the hospital he jogged in the doors, scanning the room, half expecting Meg
to be there waiting for him. At the main desk, a kind thin black woman took in what must have been a
more panicked look than Branden thought he wore and called to him over the shoulder of an elderly
man complaining about his latest medication. "Can I help you sir?" "Yes, um, just got called,
uh, Margaret Sacks?" He strode over to leaning the counter as she turned to the screen. Making a
wild guess the woman looked under ER listings. "Yes, Sacks, third floor, they'll direct you up
there." Branden took the stairs two at a time calling out a thank you over his shoulder. At the
top, two police officers glanced at a photo and then at him. "Mitchell?" one of them asked."
"Yeah?" Branden panted looking them up and down. The man on the phone earlier had identified
himself as a police officer but to actually see police now was shocking, more real. "How'd you
know?' Branden asked, suspicious. "Lucky guess." The taller one said flipping him a small
photo, one of him and Meg on a pier; their trip to Delaware last spring. He recognized it as one
from Meg's wallet. Just then a handsome doctor approached. Almost too congenial, too nice for
Branden's tastes he shook his hand. "Hi, I'm Doctor Gillens. I understand you're Ms. Sacks
closest relative?" "Fiance." Branden said through what felt was lock jaw. He was down to
speaking using the least amount of words possible. His throat constricted with the anxiety he
struggled not to show. "Ms. Sacks is in stable condition. She will be fine. She has a concussion,
a broken rib, and few cuts and she is very bruised." His deep, efficient doctor voice held
sympathy and the slightest of awkward pauses occurred as the young doctor looked at the police
officers. All three, quite unprofessionally, seemed mildly unwilling to tell Branden something.
Branden now stood, hands on his hips in the masculine posture of someone trying to understand. The
completely bald officer spoke; "She was found in an alley near the office I which she works. She
was beaten and raped." Outwardly Branden licked his lips, nervously, and breathed shallowly
through his mouth, grimacing, thinking. He ducked his head, hands still on hips to watch his boots
shuffle from side to side as snow melted off them onto the white linoleum. Inwardly his chest ached,
like when you attempt to push every last molecule of air from your lungs, that tug that comes at the
end. Inwardly he had a hard time focusing. After a moment he looked up again to let his eyes,
blinking rapidly, shift to a vending machine and a trash can to one side. He jerked one knee
rhythmically. "Can I see her?" he asked finally. "You can sit by her but she's a little out
of it. We had to give her a mild sedative at the scene; she was in a fair amount of pain and
distress." "Jesus Christ!" Branden suddenly exclaimed. He drew his hands up to lace his
fingers behind his head and pace away from the three sympathetic men. "Mother of God!" he said
again, softer. When Branden Mitchell was upset, angry, surprised his Irish habits surfaced. Born in
New York to Irish parents he had always been urged to act as American as possible, to fit in, but
the old habits picked up from his parents died hard. Usually no one could guess his heritage; his
hair was only a pale red mixed with gold. And his thin lanky form was no paler than anyone else. His
eyes were light brown, and now damp. "Oh! Tell me my baby is alright!" a woman's voice carried
across the room, from the stairwell. Meg's parents hurried forward. Meg's mother's face was
lined and anxious below her generic "mom" haircut, but she smiled sadly when she saw her lanky
soon-to-be son-in-law. She kissed Branden soundly on both cheeks and patted his arm fondly as he
stooped awkwardly to embrace her. Meg's father moved his lips in the shape of a smile and nodded
once to Branden before turning to look expectantly at the doctor and officers. Behind his glasses he
eyes narrowed the slightest bit, prepared for anything. His shiny head reflected the lights above.
As grim news was delivered once again, Branden felt that he could not stand to hear it again, and
right on cue the sympathetic nurse appeared to lead him to a small room on the corner of a hallway,
a door on one wall and a large window with tightly closed blinds on the other. Meg lay in a hospital
gown, wires, tubes and needles attached. Her thin hair had dirt in it still, and traces of died
blood that had not been completely sponged off showed at the hair like cut on her neck. As he
silently pulled one of the ugly, square hospital chairs up to her bed Branden stared at the gown
slightly perturbed. Someone else had undressed her and put her in that. What had she been wearing
when she met him for breakfast this morning? It seemed so ridiculous to him, now, that he couldn't
remember. That white sweater that had made her look like a winter fairy to him with her pale skin
and bright blue eyes? That black skirt that hid her toned legs? That purple dress that made him want
to stroke the length of her? Perhaps those annoying black boots? He did remember that she had
dripped coffee on her chin and that she had eaten some of his bagel, biting in the exact same spot
he had a moment before. Carefully he looked at her face. Sleeping she looked tired and worn. She
never normally looked like that. She was always smiling and energetic. He wondered when the next
time she would smile would be. With a rising sickly horror Branden noticed the bruises blooming,
even now, on her neck and cheek bone. Carefully, feeling he somehow had the right, he threw the
blankets off one side of her, on his feet now. One side of her gown has hitched up a little to allow
access to the bandage around her ribcage. Across her hip, her leg, her upper arm, like camouflage it
was purple. When Mr. and Mrs. Sacks entered the room, the blankets had been ever so carefully
replaced and Branden sat brooding on what had been done to the person he would have taken it all
for. Her parents hovered over her, Mrs. Sack slightly hysterical. Time ticked by and the doctor was
back. Words like "normal behavior" and therapy, and "rape kit" floated like balloons that
had slipped in a breeze. Everything was sharp, but covered in fog. Mr. Sacks had just put his am
around his wife to lead her away from the bed when Meg opened her eyes.

Meg opened her eyes to the piercing sounds of her parent's whispers, and saw their worried faces
hanging above hers. This abrupt return to light and relative comfort was disconcerting. Pain
radiated through her body and Meg blinked confusedly, struggling for a split second to remember
where and why she was where she was. "Oh baby! I love you! I'm here." Her mother's damp, red
face creased to break into fresh tears. Mrs. Sacks smiled half sobbing, half laughing with relief.
Mr. Sacks gripped his wife's shoulder attempting to control his own quavering lip as his eyes
watered. Meg's eyes flicked up and to the left to see the shape that had just stood up, several
feet away, reserved and unassuming. Meg felt listless, and her face was blank, mouth slightly open
as her parents attempted to talk to her and hug her. As the figure to her left moved forward for the
first time since gaining consciousness a few minutes before she felt something. An emotion. It
surged in her chest and in a moment of emotional agony she unconsciously arched her back focusing on
the ceiling a watery groan of anger and pain scratching the back of her throat. Her toes curled and
her hands balled into fists as she fought the overwhelming desire to scream, to cry, to slip into
sleep and pretend this never had happened. A second, deep, uncontrollable groan escaped her clenched
teeth. The heart monitor next to her began beeping frantically. A short nurse with tightly curled
brown hair pinned back moved efficiently into the room taking stock of the horrified parents and
pained looking boyfriend, and the now, very awake, patient. She moved to adjust the array of buttons
and tubes that seemed to grow like a garden next to Meg. In a soothing, professional voice she spoke
to Meg who was twisting in the sheets. "A little dizziness, nausea, is normal. Can you see okay?
Do you have any spots or dimness? You might have a concussion. Please calm down, slow your breathing
the doctor will be in shor-" The doctor entered, calmly ordering the nurse about as he took a seat
near the bed. "Ms. Sacks, I am Doctor Gillens. Breathe normally and relax, you don't want to
hurt yourself." Meg slowly collapsed down on the bed and closed her eyes attempting to get a grip
on herself. After a moment of complete silence she pulled on the oxygen tube to her nose. "I
don't need this!" She flung into the side "Ms. Sacks, are you nauseous? Do you know who these
people are?" "Yes" Meg fairly whispered, her throat was raw and she cleared it gingerly.
"Yes, I know who they are, and I know who I am. Do you want my birthday?" She was almost
sarcastic. "Good, how do you feel?" Awkwardly, after a pause she answered him. "Sore." "No
black spots in your vision? No doubles" "No." "Right. Well, there are some police officers
who would like to speak to you as soon as possible. Are you ready?" "Yes." Meg responded with
more confidence than she felt. The smart young doctor stood. Pressed his lips in a fromal smile and
nodding at the room at large before leaving. Mr. and Mrs. Sacks blew kisses and murmured quietly
that they would be back soon. As Tate and Clark strode in looking ready to get down to it they
glanced at Branden who stood resolutely by the headboard. "Does he intend to stay?" "No."
Meg answered for, refusing to make eye contact with Branden. The police looked from her to him,
Branden was watching his feet, one hand now protectively on the headboard. "Out Branden. Now!"
She spoke with a venom she didn't know she was possible of, and folded her arms across her chest.
He would never hear the details. She didn't want him to. She knew it would hurt him more. As her
eyes watered he leaned down silently to give her one careful, flat kiss on the cheek to which she
didn't respond.

In the waiting room he sagged into a chair under the too bright fluorescents. This was obviously a
separate area of the hospital, smaller, more enclosed he observed. Branden felt like a brick had
been deposited into his stomach and he bent double. His girlfriend, the woman who would be his wife
had been hit. Someone had swung with the intent to cause her pain. And then he, who ever that son of
a bitch was, had forced her to do what should have been an act of love, what had been saved. He had
touched her in those places, forcing his way. She should have been caressed, and treated with
respect. He had desecrated her in Branden's eyes. A bitter anger burned in the back of Branden's
mouth, a fury and a sense of something stolen having been stolen from both him and Meg. In the
distance he heard the doctor speaking with Meg's parents again. "It will be easy to test for a
pregnancy or STD's. Until the rape, she was a virgin." This infromation somehow, inexplicably
made it worse. Branden didn't hear Barb or Alex Sack's reaction. Lurching forward he leaned both
elbows on his knees and massaged his face in his hands, remembering a discussion only months before.
"No, I think I want to wait. I mean, I've gone this far..just waiting. I kinda like the idea
of a wedding night first time." She had been wearing pink sweatpants, ankles crossed and knees
tucked under her chin her arms wrapped around them. They sat on her shabby green couch in her
apartment on night. "Why?' he had asked half laughing. "I'm not trying to talk you out of
it, but I'm just curious." She had shrugged happily. "I really don't know. Now don't think
I don't want to, with you I mean!" She was quick to say this, leaning forward, afraid to offend,
one hand on his arm. "But maybe I just feel it's right." They had waited, for her reasons, or
lack of, and now that option had been taken away. Branden watched Mr. and Mrs. Sacks sitting several
chairs down from him. They were angled towards each other, whispering softly, tenderly. Talking
about her, Branden supposed, and me. Officer Tate stood beside the complimentary coffee table in the
back area of the waiting room. He had just emerged with Clark from interviewing Margaret Sacks and
he sighed. This career weighed on him and in his later years he felt this more sharply. He felt he
couldn't think of that girl anymore. He never wanted to look at her or talk to her ever again. He
felt an awkward pity that made him want to avoid her. As he stirred the contents of his Styrofoam
cup he jerked his chin so that Clark looked towards Branden. "That boy is in his own private
hell." Branden was still hunched over as if praying. "Yeah, I don't envy him" replied Tate,
stowing his notepad in a breast pocket. This was putting mildly his sympathy for Branden. He took
the boy in, grey wool sweater, brown sagging pants, snow boots, laced but not tied. Golden hair
above the back of a freckled neck. "She's a sweet girl though. They'll do okay. They'll be
okay." "Hey!" Branden suddenly jogged up to them, eyes dry but reddened. "Will you be able
to catch the bastard?" There was a hopeful, slightly malicious glint in his eyes. "We have a
good amount of evidence. We hope to." Branden nodded attempting to satisfy himself with this. The
sympathy behind their eyes almost made him angry. Meg had a headache now. Ironically she had just
spent the last hour straining to remember the every detail of the one event of her life she would
give almost anything to forget. She pinched her eyes shut against the dark, pain filled memories and
heard the door open. She sensed and knew it was Branden. After what felt like a long time, eyes
still pinched shut, she wondered if he had actually entered the room it was so quiet. Glancing over
her shoulder, while lying curled on her side she saw him sitting in the chair. He fiddled with the
knob on the bedside table. Quickly she rolled back over so her back was to him again. "I want to
kill him." This was said matter of factly. He spoke quietly but the words seemed to carry much
louder than they were actually spoken. Meg smiled in spite of herself. That would be his idea of
comforting someone. Sighing against the conflicting voices of guilt, regret, shame and embarrassment
she said, "No, you don't. You couldn't kill a flea." After a moment, acknowledging
grudgingly that she was right he tried again. "I want to make it all go away. I want to take it
myself." This simple, almost childlike profession caused tears, the first ones she had cried all
day to well up. Everything that had happened seemed to settle on Meg now, a sack of cement. For a
few moments she struggled to hold it in. One shaky sob escaped her lips and suddenly the mattress
sagged as Branden carefully and lightly hauled himself up next to her on the bed. His boots squeaked
as they met, Branden lying on one hip to wrap both arms around her. Meg rolled over to face him,
giving into the sobs that vibrated her whole body. Tucking her head into his chest, against his arm
she felt safe. His comforting smell of Branden against the bleach smell of a hospital was like a
blanket, his warm body a shelter. Branden eased her head onto his neck, his head on her pillow. Her
raw, shaking sobs seemed to echo in the silent room and behind Meg's back Branden choked back his
own, clenching her to him, making it all right for her.





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