Chapter 17

"So, what's the story?" Paul immediately asked when Andrew returned to the living room after seeing Monica to bed.

"What story?" He responded innocently enough, wanting to know what they both thought they knew. Andrew's only loyalty was to Monica and he did not want to say too much; only what he felt they needed to know.

"Andrew, I have known you for over ten years and today is the first time you have ever brought a girl here which tells me she means something to you, but yet you confessed to me for only knowing her for six weeks. That says a lot." Steve's eyes narrowed as he looked at his friend.

Andrew conceded and nodded his head, "You're right. I have not known her very long but in some aspects, I feel as if I have known her forever."

"She is very guarded when she speaks," Paul mused. Though he felt curious, he also felt protective after talking to Monica all evening.

"Okay, I am only going to tell you two what you need to know as she is staying with you," He began hesitantly, "I know some very specific things which I cannot divulge but I can only say that she has endured unimaginable horrors at the hands of a very abusive individual." The other two men grew silent, waiting for him to continue, "She left her life in Virginia to flee from an abusive boyfriend that she gave five years of her life to. She originally thought she could change him and after that she became afraid to leave him. She finally put a plan into place over a year ago to leave and to move as far away as she could and she accomplished that, but Chad has not given up on finding her. Just tonight on the ferry she told me he had submitted a missing persons report and she is terrified that it will show up on social media, even here."

"You know, " Paul remarked after a moment of silence, 'that I could beat the shit out of him."

"I hear you, friend, as could I," Andrew replied, keeping his voice steady, "But that is not what she needs. She sometimes has night terrors which can only be described at PTSD. They are very significant and very difficult for her. They make her feel weak and afraid and there is no clear answer as to how to respond to them. You just have to take her cues," He shook his head, wondering how he could possibly stay away all weekend. Maybe he didn't have to, "I would like to come back tomorrow after work but I don't want Monica to think I am smothering her."

"It seems to me," Paul began after a brief moment of silence, "that she is growing to trust you after not being able to trust too many people and I think your being here would not be a bad thing. I know that Steve and I would be able to handle her PTSD, but it would not go as well if you were here."

"Seems to me that she is growing to trust you explicitly and that is far from a bad thing," Steve added, "and we would be able to handle any nightmares that came her way, but you know more about her past, and her fears and her insecurities."

"I do," He admitted to his friends, "But Chad controlled her and knew her every move and I don't want to come across as just another person who feels like he always has to know she is alright."

"I don't think someone who needs to know that she alright is the same as someone who wants to control her," Paul stated pointedly as he looked at his friend.

"I know," Andrew sighed and starred at the wine glasses on the table, thinking about the night she had been more than amorous thanks to Adam's beverages of choice. He knew she had deep feelings for him and those feelings were very much mutual but they both had to proceed slowly, "We'll see. Oh and Paul...don't expect her to talk much once she is in public. She's afraid of her accent being overheard."

"How is that going to work as a kayak tour guide?"

"She was working on an American accent the whole way here but I don't think she will feel confident enough to use it around the two of you." He knew that Paul was the early bird and Steve preferred to sleep in if he could as as the couple had no other guests on a Thursday night, he knew Paul would be the one up in the morning, "What does the weekend's guest count look like?"

"Only one room is taken," Steve replied, "It's the end of the season so reservations are slowing down."

"Let me know if that changes though I will gladly pay for both of our rooms."

"There's no need for that," Paul quickly interjected, "You are both family and we always have room for family."

Andrew was then reminded of just how blessed he was. The four of them, Adam included had all been in college together but the friendships had surpassed graduation, though their lives had all taken different roads, they were still intertwined and supporting each other, "Thank you both for that. I suppose I should head to bed as well as I want to be on the 6:00 ferry."

"Will you be back tomorrow night?" Paul was very intent on his question. He needed to know just how much responsibility he would have though he did not mind any of it. He liked the little young Irish woman immensely and would have no issue looking after her.

"I'll text you," Andrew promised before he rose to his feet, "Good night and again, thank you."

XX

Monica awoke the next morning with a start, at first unsure of where she was before the details of the following evening came to her. She was at Steve and Paul's home and Andrew had taken the ferry back to Seattle to hold his classes that day. The latter part of her thoughts left her feeling slightly disappointed but she was also excited about another day on the water with her mentor. Climbing out of bed, she quickly showered and towel dried her now shoulder length hair, at least seeing it has a simplification to her current morning regime and dressed in jeans and a tee-shirt with her "Friday Harbor Kayak Tours" vest. Her sneakers and a hat completed her ensemble and she was soon scurrying down the stairs, hoping for coffee.

But more than coffee filled her senses as she could immediately detect the smell of blueberry pancakes coming from the kitchen. God, they were her favorite and she pushed the swinging door open to find Paul dishing some of the cakes onto a plate.

"Hey, Monica! Good morning!"

His happiness seemed contagious as she grinned back at him, "Good morning to you too. Are those for me? They smell divine."

"As a matter of fact, they are," He met her eyes warmly as handed her a plate, "The coffee and mugs are over there on the counter. Help yourself."

She laid her plate on the table but could not resist pouring syrup over them and taking a bite before she moved to fill her coffee mug, "Mmmmm. Paul, the pancakes are wonderful. They are my favorite."

"I had no idea as they are a staple when we have guests, but I will make a mental note of it." He winked in her direction as he placed a few of the blueberry pancakes on his own plate and carried his already full cup of coffee to the table to join her, "Where did you learn to love blueberry pancakes?"

"My father," She admitted after swallowing another bite, "He made them for me as a school girl before I would walk to school. He barely cooked after my mother died but he did make a mean blueberry pancake."

"How old were you when your mother died?" Paul asked carefully. He didn't want to ask her anything that made her uncomfortable but it seemed to be a natural transition.

"8 or 9," Monica replied, taking a long sip from her coffee mug and savoring the flavor of her favorite beverage, " She was the only woman in my life, really. I didn't make friends easily in grade school as I preferred to spend time with the animals on our farm."

"So I assume you had horses?"

She grinned, swallowing another mouthful of pancake, "Horses, goats, pigs, dogs and cats." She responded with a grin, caught up in the memories of her childhood before life had become far too complicated, "I loved riding the horses and caring for the goats and the pigs and the two dogs followed me everywhere."

"So what animals did you bring with you here?" Paul asked curiously, "After having all those animals, I cannot imagine you moving to the states without having pets."

She hesitated for a moment before speaking, "I adopted a kitten from a local shelter when I was in college. Her name was Biscuit because she loved making biscuits in my hair when I was in bed at night. She was a beautiful diluted tortie. I guess you could say she was my first roomie."

"So you still have her then?" Paul smiled as he raised his coffee mug to his lips, enjoying his conversation with her immensely.

Monica was quiet for a moment as she toyed with the rest of the food on her plate, "No. She died and she was only two years old..." Her voice trailed off, debating what else was safe to tell him but fact was, Paul made her feel very safe, "Did Andrew tell you about Chad?"

He froze for a moment and answered very carefully, "Only a little bit. He told us that you had planned your escape from an abusive individual after five years."

She nodded slowly, "I did but that was not the first time. I left after two years and stayed with a friend for a few days but Chad kept threatening her to the point that I went back, because I was afraid for my friend's safety," Monica's voice trailed off for a moment as she saw the memories so clearly in her mind, "I went back and Chad...he snapped Biscuits neck right in front of me as a means of punishment for my leaving..." She furiously blinked back tears and won the battle, "So I vowed to never have another pet again."

Paul was quiet for several moments as he struggled to wrap his mind around the horror of what she had just told him. He had watched as for a moment, Monica had almost broken down and then seemed to regain control of her strength, almost as if she could not bear to relive the grief of those moments, "Monica, that must have been a horrific moment for you and I cannot not even begin to imagine. But you have to know that what happened to Biscuit was not your fault."

"But it was. I'm the one who left. I took her with me when I left and I took her back when I returned. She trusted me as her pet parent and I let her down."

Paul could now see the tears behind those brown eyes and he wondered if Andrew knew this story. He had a feeling that he did not at least in its entirety. He hesitantly reached across the table and covered her hand over his, "You had no way of knowing that Chad would be so cruel as to do that to a beloved pet. Please, do not hold yourself responsible for his lack of emotion in regards to a helpless animal. It is not your fault."

She placed her hand over her mouth as a single tear coursed down her cheek, "I loved that cat..." She managed to say as she looked away to try to hide her tears. This was not the way she had expected the morning to unfold at all, but yet, here she was, revealing things that she'd had no intention of saying.

Paul had to wonder what else Chad could have done to the young woman in front of him, now knowing what Chad was capable of doing, "Monica, I did some research last night as Andrew did tell us that Chad had filed a missing persons report. Do you get a lunch break?"

"Yes, of course," She nodded her head as she wiped at her eyes, "Why do you ask?"

Paul pushed across the table a piece of paper with a phone number on it, "I would like you to call this number today. If you tell them at least enough of your story for them to know that you are voluntarily missing, they can close down that report."

The young woman blinked, trying to take in this life saving information, "Really?"

"Really. I have already texted Andrew to tell him as I have a feeling that was on his priority list this morning."

Her dark eyes widened and she rose from her chair to throw her arms around Paul, "Thank you! Thank you so much!"

"I told you last night that you were now family and though we are definitely not 'The Godfathers' we still can come up with ways to protect our own." He assured her as he hugged her tightly, "We are all here to help, Monica. All you need to do is to ask for what you need and we will figure it out."

She sat down and shook her head, "I'm still trying to understand it all. You all barely know me but yet you have all be so accepting on my words alone."

"Well, it is a bit complicated," Paul grinned as his eyes met hers and he was pleased that there was not trepidation in her dark eyes, "Andrew, for as long as we have known him, has never brought a young lady here. Oh, we knew when he was dating someone but yet, they were not close enough for him to bring her to a few of his oldest friends. When he called this week, I could clearly hear his concern about you in his voice and I could tell how much he cared about you. Let's leave it at that."

Monica smiled, even as she blushed deeply, "I can understand that too as I care about him a lot and I care about what he thinks of me. He always insists, despite every horror story I have told him that he still cares. It's just difficult for me to accept any of it. But yet, I still feel better and safer when he is close by."

"Just focus on that then," Paul encouraged her as he rose from the table to remove both of their plates, "Are you ready to head down to work. I will be your escort."

"That would be lovely,"she smiled again as she followed Paul to the front door, surprised when he pressed a thermos of coffee into her hands silently. Yes, they were already her friends though she had never once asked for them, yet, here they were.