Summary: Eric Stark meets Jenna O'Connor.
Rating: R, for mention of sex and of drug use.
Disclaimer: 'Bless the Child' is the property of Paramount Pictures and the characters the property of the original author Cathy Cash Spellman. I make no money off this work of fan fiction and no disrespect is intended.
Notes: The movie could be considered fan fiction itself, as it bears little resemblance to the book it's based on, however, I felt it only proper to include Ms. Spellman's name in the disclaimer, since the characters are originally hers.
It's never mentioned in the movie what happened to cause Jenna and Eric to meet. It's mentioned that they haven't known each other long and met at one of the outreach centers. This is my thought on what could have happened and why she seems so afraid of him throughout the movie.
The morning was gray and overcast, perfect for the mood of the man who stood staring out the window. Eric Stark slipped his hands into his pockets and sighed, reluctantly turning from the view of the city. He had work to do. There was a pile of pictures on his desk and he needed to finish going through them. Time was running out. With little over a month left until Easter, he was feeling edgy, antsy, racing towards the prize at the end of the race.
Besides, it would calm some of his critics to see him wed, not that he cared what critics thought of him. The man leading and empowering the youth of today should have a family of his own, they claimed. What did he, a single man, know about children? A lot more than they thought. The children came to him.
Out of the corner of his eye, he glimpsed those shadowed forms that watched over him. Going to his desk, he sat, reaching for the stacks of pictures and thumbing through them. They were all of women. Brunettes, redheads and blonds. Twice he paused at the picture of one thin blond. The third time, he took that one from the stack, laying it flat on the blotter and putting the others aside.
He considered the picture. If she was cleaned up, she'd be a pretty little thing, a fragile beauty. In the scene the camera had captured, she was huddled outside one of the Outreach Centers, face holding a desperation that seemed to leap out at him. It beckoned and Eric smiled his first smile of the morning, a predatory gleam of white teeth.
A long, bony finger, the nail sharp as a talon, jabbed the picture and he glanced up. "Danya." She'd appeared from nowhere, but he was used to her silent sudden appearances.
"The file," she said, eyes burning with a fierce intensity. A thick manila file folder, held closed by a yellow file band, slid across the desk to him, moved by unseen hands. "Read."
He blinked, slid the picture slightly to the left and removed the band, flipping open the file. "Of course."
"You'll be pleased. Very pleased."
With that remark, she drew back. Eric began to read, a sense of rightness settling over him. The name of the blond was Jenna. Jenna O'Connor. She'd been living on the streets for years, one messed up young woman. Her story had been typed up in detail by one of the counselors, her file reading like others he'd read. Drugs and sex. It was always both, children searching for something to give their life meaning. She'd given birth --
Hello. What's this? He glanced up in search of Danya, but she'd gone. Little Jenna had a daughter with the right birthday. How convenient. What a coincidence.
"Stuart." He called to the man outside the door. When he'd appeared, Eric picked up the photo of Jenna O'Connor, holding it out. "Find her. I want to know which center she's at, what her routine is." The man nodded, left the photo and Eric returned to his reading.
Jenna sat in her chair, taking quick, bird-like glances at those around her. She had nowhere to go unless she wanted to spend the night being raped and possibly killed in an alley by those two men that had been following her. She twisted to see out the window. So far, she hadn't seen them today. She dreaded them finding her though.
They'd appeared out of nowhere two days earlier, scarred men with strangely blank eyes, making it clear they were after her alone. Something about them had screamed inhuman, but Jenna had long ago put away the supernatural. Men were evil enough to contemplate. They'd ignored the others making their beds in the alley, heading straight for her and telling her outright what they wanted. They wanted her pain and torture. Death wasn't mentioned, but Jenna assumed that the two wouldn't hesitate to kill her once they were finished with their sick games. The picture they'd painted for her with their words was one she couldn't get out of her mind.
She'd run, certain they'd catch her and bring her down, but they hadn't. She'd found herself once more outside the New Dawn outreach center. Twice, she'd gone in there in the past few weeks, more for warmth and for the meal they gave her if she'd talk to a counselor about her life than for actual help. A means to an end. She'd studied the building as she'd once studied a cathedral, seeing it as her only refuge. Jenna had walked through the doors for a third time and now waited for the counselor assigned to her to call her in.
Sometimes, she yearned to return to Maggie, but the thought of listening to another sisterly lecture about how she'd screwed up her life stalled her every time. She knew she was a screw-up, she didn't need Maggie pointing it out in that self-righteous way of hers. In fact, she didn't need Maggie at all. Big sister Maggie, always trying to run baby Jenna's life. Maybe if the age difference between them hadn't been so great they'd have gotten along better. Maggie was already grown-up when Jenna was born. In many ways, Maggie behaved more like a mother to her....
"Jenna O'Connor?" A pleasant masculine voice asked and she glanced up, gulping. Eric Stark himself stood before her, in black pants and a black sweater, smiling pleasantly.
She nodded, afraid to speak. She'd never met a celebrity before. One hand raised, brushing against her tangled, dirty hair, her gaze falling from his. The story of her life. She always looked a wreck when she wished she didn't. Nothing ever went well for her. Bad luck Jenna. That should be her nickname.
"Marilyn had a crisis at home and I told her I'd cover for her." He crouched down. "Do you still want to talk?" His voice was honey smooth, strong. He cared. This man cared. "I'll understand if you want to wait for Marilyn to return."
Jenna looked over her shoulder, back out the window. If she declined to talk, she really shouldn't take up space here. These chairs were for those going to the counselors, not those with nowhere to go. A movement outside the glass caught her attention. Her eyes widened. The two men were there, coming to the glass, looking in, their eyes spotting her. She turned back to Eric Stark. "Um...I'd still like to talk."
He leaned a little to one side, looking out the window. "They looking for you?"
Should she admit it? Would he make her leave if he thought someone was looking for her? "No! No. I...I just want to talk." She twisted her fingers in her oversized, stained shirt.
Eric transferred his gaze back to hers. "You're sure?"
Another pleasant smile as he stood and held out his hand. "Well then, let's go back."
Jenna bit her lip, still twisting her fingers in the cloth. Her hands were filthy and his were so clean.
"I'll wash, Jenna. Come on, you look hungry. We'll find you someplace to clean up a little, have a meal and we'll have a chat. Does that sound good?"
She nodded. It sounded very good. Slowly, she reached out and set her hand in his.
This girl was too easy to manipulate. Within five minutes, she trusted him. He waited while she showered and changed into the sweat suit with the New Dawn logo on it, listening to the shadowed guardians in the room behind him. They whispered approval of this course of action with their gravelly voices.
He almost couldn't wait for later, anticipation already tightening in his belly. Jenna O'Connor was perfect. She was chosen.
She stepped into the room in sock feet, her old clothes in the garbage sack in her hand. He'd chosen one of the smaller counseling rooms for their talk, a nice intimate setting. "I hope you don't mind if I join you for lunch?" He'd ordered sandwiches and soup delivered, a simple meal that would fill her belly and give her energy for what he planned for later.
"I don't mind." Her voice was hesitant and she hunched in her chair as the food was brought in. Once the meal was laid out, Jenna stared at it, then lifted the thick sandwich and took a bite. Bliss played upon her delicate features and she took another bite as soon as the first was swallowed. Eric took his time with his own food, watching her gulp down the meal. She was starving, and not only for food.
He could see the longing in her eyes, the wanting of something more. The meal concluded, he brought out her file, flipping it open and looking at it as though he hadn't spent a full day memorizing the contents. "Was there something in particular you wanted to talk about today?"
She drew her feet up onto the chair, wrapped her arms about her legs. "Do you spend much time in these centers?" She asked, not looking at him.
"Yes. People need my help. I make time to visit each center, speak with those who come in. I have to stay connected. I can't do my job if I hide away in an office."
"I'm a connection."
"No." He shut the file. "You're a young woman who's searching for something more than what she has. There's no shame in admitting that. Tell me about yourself."
"Marilyn...." She stared at the folder.
"I don't want to read Marilyn's words. I want to hear yours. I want to hear your story from your own lips."
He could see the indecision on her face and then the spark of full trust, her outer layer peeled away, leaving her vulnerable and open. She began to speak, narrating her sad story. Same old, same old. Drugs and sex.
"I never really liked it, but everyone was doing it."
For a young woman who was at the bottom of the barrel, it was amusing that she blushed when the subject of sex came up. She seemed so embarrassed to even mention the word in front of him. He was delighted to embarrass her further by returning to the subject. "What didn't you like about sex?"
She glanced up from her perusal of the table top. "Everything." The soda can was tapped on the table. "The grabbing, the groping, the sweat. The consequences. He didn't care I was pregnant, told me to get rid of it."
"You didn't though?" He tendered the statement as a question.
"No. I got clean long enough to have her. Cody. I didn't know what to do then. I mean, he certainly didn't want me around, and how could I take care of a baby, so I took her to my sister." The tale was continued, years more of the same thing, looking for love and finding sex instead, wanting to escape so returning to the drugs. Gradually, she came around to the reason she'd come in to the center. "They had the strangest look on their faces, like they weren't all there or something." She rested her cheek on her raised knees. "I only came in here to get away from them."
"I see. Well, I don't care why you came in, Jenna. I don't care about your past. What I do care about is your future and what I know you can make of it. You see, you have to take responsibility for your life."
She listened, and when he suggested she go with him to a safe place for the night, she didn't even bat an eyelash. Trusting. Stupidly trusting. She was, however, suitably wary as the car dropped them off, her eyes reflecting her concern at the neighborhood. He took her inside and up in the elevator. Once in the apartment, her reservations about the neighborhood dropped away.
Eric watched her walk around the living room, exploring, understanding of where he'd taken her growing.
"This isn't a shelter. I...I thought you were taking me to a shelter."
"You're perfectly safe here, Jenna. No one could get in here without my consent. Those men won't bother you." Going to the sideboard, he poured liquid into two glasses. "Drink?"
She bit her lip, then nodded. "Sure."
He took the glasses to the couch, steered her there and they sat together, drinking their drinks. She sipped hers slowly, almost like a lady would. The drink didn't last forever though and he produced the syringe he'd stashed earlier in the day, holding it up, waiting for her to notice it. Jenna paused in the act of setting her glass on the table, eyes going wide. Confusion lit her gaze and she shook her head as though asking what he intended to do with that.
"You want this, don't pretend that you don't. I'll give it to you if you'll have sex with me." He let it sink in, that proposition, before continuing. "You're wondering why you. You're wondering if this is some game of sorts. Let me assure you, Jenna, this is no game. I want use of your body and will give you this drug as payment. It's good stuff too." He dangled the syringe from his fingers. "You can refuse. You can say no and leave. No one would believe you if you tried to tell though and I mean no one. I mean, who would believe a junkie whore over me? I'm a respected author. I help hundreds, no millions of people all over find their inner strength. You'd be one of jealous ones. Possibly paid off by one of my critics to try and discredit me."
She was wavering, her gaze flitting from him to the syringe and back again. The glass she still held slipped from her fingers, landing on the floor with a thud.
"Now, I'm not going to hurt you, sweetheart."
Her fingers stretched out along the couch cushion towards him.
"You said you don't like sex, but who have you been having it with? Junkies like yourself. The scum of the earth." Now her attention fixed on him. "They won't give you love. They won't even give you acceptance." Setting the syringe out of her reach, Eric moved closer, cupping her face with one hand, bending to nibble at her lips. She was tense, resisting, and he slipped his hand around to the back of her neck, forcing her to remain where she was. "I accept you. I accept you as you are, flawed and weak."
Her hands came up, resting on his chest. Not pushing, just resting, as though she was undecided as to whether or not she should give a show of resistance. Eric returned his mouth to hers, kissing, seducing, waiting, always waiting for that tiny relaxation that would announce her surrender. Oh, he had plans. Give her tenderness, give her love, then give her the fix and let the games begin.
She wasn't the first woman he'd taken from an outreach center. No, he occasionally liked to feel the power rush from their helplessness, though she was the first he'd brought into his home. She was special, or rather, her daughter was. Well, he suspected she was. He didn't know for sure yet. He had reason to believe that this girl Cody was the one he'd been looking for.
Jenna kissed him back, her hands curling in his sweater, and he drew away slightly. "Is that a yes?"
She nodded, a flash of pain on her face.
"Delightful." Standing, he pulled her up, leading her back towards the bedroom. She resisted and he tugged harder, not needing to look back to know what she wanted. "After. We'll get you all set up after, sweetheart."
She stopped resisting.
He wasn't a nice man.
Well, she thought, he was nicer than most men she knew. It depended on the definition of that one little word. He'd given her a place to clean up, clean clothes to wear, food to eat and a place to sleep that was out of the elements. He'd made her comfortable. She blinked, a tear trekking down her cheek and onto the sumptuous Egyptian cotton wrapped pillow. Her lower lip trembled and she dug her teeth into it to make it stop.
Who would have guessed? He seemed so nice, his smile genuine, that concern in his eyes real. His words were sweet, voice caring. No one could have guessed, not in a million years, that he wasn't what he appeared to be.
The bed dipped behind her and Jenna stiffened, waiting for the touch of his hands upon her. She should have stayed at the center, should have refused to come with him. But....she'd trusted him. She'd had no reason not to. Everyone there liked him. Everyone there trusted him. He'd gained her trust with those little things. The smiles that intimated that he understood her, that he cared. The words saying as much. His gaze drawing her in. She'd believed him. He was a nice man then.
She was lifted to a sitting position, rested back against Eric's bare chest. Deceivingly gentle kisses were pressed along her neck and shoulder, his fingers stroking tender caresses along her arm, pausing along the track marks there. Jenna shivered, a tiny, fevered moan slipping from her lips, her fingers fluttering against her naked thighs. She curled them to keep from reaching back and pushing at him. The feel of his naked flesh against hers was faintly repulsive, but she didn't dare shove him away. Doing so would infuriate him.
He'd had her, coaxed her to his home with promises of safety, his eyes so kind.... He'd given her a drink, waited until she'd drained the glass of every last sip, then point blank offered her a fix in return for sex, producing a syringe out of thin air as though by magic. He'd dangled it before her, waited for the offer to sink in, for the addict inside her to grab at that syringe he held loosely in his hand.
She'd been clean for only a short while, caught in the vicious cycle of a user. The syringe had beckoned to her, forbidden fruit that she craved. His offer, his proposition, made her wary. Just a little glimmer of self-preservation left inside her body. Was he really making that offer to her? Her immediate thought had been a resounding no, but then he repeated it, so reasonably. Think about it, Jenna. Why did Eric Stark need to bribe a junkie whore with a fix to get sex? He probably had women constantly throwing themselves in front of him on the floor and spreading their legs. What did he need with her?
I'm not a junkie whore, she'd thought, her mind disputing that immediately. Yes you are. Suck it up and let him do what he wants.
He'd countered any protestations she might have uttered with a well thought out speech on how no one would believe the word of a junkie whore over that of a respected author and self-help guru. Junkie whore. How did he know her thoughts? How did he know she was afraid that she was only just that: a junkie whore, worth nothing to anyone? That needle would carry her away from her troubles. She wouldn't have to worry anymore. And thus, he'd seduced her, playing upon her weaknesses --
An open jeweler's box was brought into her line of sight, Jenna shifting her attention to it. The object inside was a necklace, exquisite with jewels, gleaming softly in the low lighting. She stared at it, feeling his fingers at her breast now. His lips touched her temple. A wave of nausea crashed over her, the full weight of what she'd let him do to her the past two days heavy upon her shoulders.
"I've another proposition for you, Jenna."
She began to cry, sobs wracking her body, her gaze lowering to the bruises and red marks he'd left on her skin. His teeth had bit, breaking the skin occasionally, and his fingers had pinched, but nowhere that might show. Her clothes would hide most of the marks rather well. She couldn't bear to see those marks of her own stupidity, turning her head, catching their reflections in the large mirror across from the bed. What was that shadowed thing she saw? It looked like a sort of creature beside the bed, wings spread out.... "No!"
Raising a thin hand, she shoved the case and his hand, scrambling away, tripping on the sheets and falling heavily to the ground on her hands and knees. Those sheets twisted about her limbs and she couldn't get herself free, caught as a fly in amber. The spider to the fly. Eric Stark to Jenna O'Connor. He had her.
With the air of a man possessing infinite patience, he got up off the bed and came to her, leaning down and grabbing a handful of her hair. She whimpered, clutching at him as he dragged her to a standing position. She was slapped, not hard enough to leave a mark, but hard enough to hurt.
"None of that. Your tears mean nothing to me, so you might as well stop them."
It took all of her remaining will to stop crying. Making Eric angry was not something she really wanted to do again. Once was enough. She stared at him, fear coating her skin. She felt so dirty wherever he touched, both inside and out, so filthy that she didn't think she'd ever come clean again.
"Now, you're going to listen and without any of those laughable hysterics. Yes? Nod your head like a good girl."
She nodded, mostly because his hand still gripped her hair, forcing her head to nod.
"I need a family. A wife, a daughter. You, my little whore, are going to give me that family. We're going to take that child you had six years ago and be one happy family. I'll give you the life you've been craving since you were old enough to think of such things."
Cody? Why did he want Cody? The thought surfaced and quickly slipped away. She clenched her jaw to keep from crying out as he dragged her back to the bed and shoved her onto it.
"Think about it, Jenna. Just think. Security. Jewels, clothes. The houses and cars. Anything you want can be yours. I'm offering you what women all over the world would kill to have. Your every desire can be fulfilled."
Anything. Her mind touched upon all the things she'd wanted and never had. A home of her own. Money to spend. A family straight out of the fifties, with mom and dad and child. She wouldn't have to think about Maggie anymore, her perfect sister with the perfect life. She'd have the perfect life. She'd have it all, not Maggie.
Eric knelt, that false expression of caring on his handsome face. She knew it was false, knew it wasn't true, that he didn't really care. "She never understood you, did she?"
No, Maggie hadn't understood her. She'd never even tried. All she'd given Jenna over the years were lectures, when what Jenna wanted was love. Understanding.
"She never will understand you." Stretching an arm out, he opened the drawer in the nightstand, pulling out an elastic band, the sort used in doctor's offices when drawing blood. He raised her arm, wrapped that band and tightened it. "I, on the other hand, understand completely. You just want a little love. Some affection. Loneliness is such pain."
She watched him prepare the drug, a numbness settling over her. He did understand, even though his concern wasn't real. She knew he'd gone through as many horrible things as she had. She'd watched that short documentary on him in the lounge with the other people waiting to see counselors. He knew about the search for acceptance and love. Didn't he? The needle came close to her arm. Anything could be hers. All she had to do was.... What? Marry him? Was that all? Go before a judge and be able to spend his money on whatever she wanted. Take Cody back from Maggie. Have her own life, glamorous, free.
"Please." She didn't recognize her voice as her own. Despair joined the fear and she imagined herself sliding deeper and deeper into a muddy, stinking pit. That shadowed form she'd glimpsed in the mirror was behind Eric now, becoming clearer, definitely not a figment of her imagination. She could smell rotten eggs, hear the squeaks of rats in the corners of the room. She was never going to be clean again, was she? And she had no one but herself to blame.
I'm losing me. I'm losing my will --
His. The connotations implied in that word were fear inspiring, but did the fear of him, of what she knew he could do to her, outweigh the benefits she saw?
No. They didn't outweigh the benefits. Jenna closed her eyes. "I'll do it."
"You'll do what?"
"I'll marry you."
"You'll bring me a family?"
"Yes." Hot tears fell from her eyes, the needle jabbing into her skin. Heaven in liquid form.
"Good girl." He fairly purred the words.
Jenna kept her eyes closed, unwilling to look and see the hard gleam of satisfaction in his eyes, eyes at times as blank as those of the men she'd run into his center to escape from. She felt him lay her back, arrange her on the bed, felt him touching her, taking his pleasure upon her, but what did she care now? In this state, she didn't give a damn what he did to her.
Nor did she care that he wasn't a nice man.
Jenna basked in the sun, doing so only because Eric wanted her to. She ate when he wanted her to, dressed how he wanted her to and did everything he wanted. In exchange, she was given free reign with a bank account set up for her use. Thousands of dollars to spend. Of course, she had to deal with Stuart driving her to the stores and with an escort of Eric's choosing. Nothing too taxing.
He gave her a daily 'treat', as long as she didn't anger him in any way. At night, after everyone had left them alone, he'd review the day, fingers touching her face or lips traveling her body. If she'd been good, he'd bring out nirvana. If she'd displeased, he denied her. In the past month, Jenna had gotten very good at walking the line before him, of being the obedient little wife on his arm. She found she could predict his moods. A good mood was often more volatile than a bad one.
"Not too much sun, honey."
Behind her sunglasses, Jenna closed her eyes briefly. He only called her that when someone was near that needed to be impressed.
She sat up, glancing in the direction of his voice. Ahh, a reporter. He was giving an interview, one of those rare occasions. "I was just getting ready to go in." Jenna forced cheer into her voice and a sunny smile upon her lips, giving the performance of a carefree, rich mans wife. She left the chair, padded over to the table and bent, giving Eric a kiss. He pulled her onto his lap, and Jenna blocked out most of the conversation, her mind registering only what she needed to respond to. Newly married, blah, blah, blah. Love at first sight. So happy.
When the reporter had gone, she removed her arm from his shoulders. "I need a shower."
No explanation, nothing. His whim. A shower would have to wait. Sweat was drying, sticky on her skin, but he said no shower, so she'd have to endure it. Sometimes he told her no just so he could watch her squirm.
"We're leaving tomorrow. Your daughter is waiting. The sooner we claim her, the better."
What was the hurry? Jenna wasn't sure she wanted to know. There were lots of things she wished she didn't know already, so why add to them? He turned her face towards him, removed the sunglasses and tossed them onto the table top. "You will obey me."
"Of course." Her voice trembled the slightest bit, his eyes narrowing.
"I'm pleased with how you reacted just now, with my press agent."
Not a reporter after all, but another employee of the great Eric Stark. A test?
"I think you're ready to face your sister. She has no power, Jenna. Remember that."
"What if she fights us about Cody?" He'd held up his end of the proposition. Jenna was going to hold up hers. He'd have a family.
He gave a snort of laughter. "Let her try. A single woman versus the birth mother, who has cleaned up her act and married a respected man? She'll have no leg to stand on. You never gave her legal custody. Cody is your daughter." He twined his fingers in hers. "Our daughter. We go in, ask her to be sensible and if she decides to put up a fuss, we take what is ours. She had no right to keep you from your child."
He made it sound reasonable, this plan to ambush Maggie in her apartment. He made it sound like Maggie was holding Cody hostage and they were only bringing a little girl home. He made it...right for her.
He was good at that.
Maggie O'Connor was blond and very much like her sister in looks. She, however, wasn't going to be manipulated in any way. Eric studied her as the child Cody slowly opened the presents he and Jenna had brought.
He could see why Jenna disliked her sister so much. Maggie had a confidence in herself that Jenna didn't, and likely would never, possess. Maggie was what Jenna wanted to be and had struggled all her life to try and be, only to fail. He blinked. Taking Cody was not the feat Jenna had thought it to be. He doubted Maggie would put up too much of a fuss. And if she did. Oh well. She couldn't touch him.
This was going to be too easy.