"Love is much like a wild rose, beautiful and calm, but willing to draw blood..."
|"Well fought counselor," a smooth voice whispered in her ear.
Elena Kirmani turned her head slightly to peer at her client. The closeness of his touch made her cringe deep inside. For the past few weeks she had come to keep her unease buried beneath the calm veneer of a trial lawyer. Years of practice helped keep her mask in place for being near the person she despised most. The fact that she was his virtual servant only added another edge to the blades of shame hiding deep within.
"I did what I could, Jonathan. Nothing more."
His smiled spread wider, a dark gleam of malice in his emerald eyes. "Nonsense. I picked you as my defender for a reason, my rose."
Elena fought not to cringe as he lightly touched the back of her hand. Too many memories, too many nightmares. She reminded herself she was a powerful, respected woman with a loving family. No one would take that away from her. No one.
A tiny speck of rain fell on Elena's cheek, bringing a nice brush of coolness to her overheated skin. The night carried an extra edge of darkness unusual for the late autumn evening. Dark clouds bloomed overhead threatening rain, bringing a bitter wind to her senses. Not for the first time did she wish she had grabbed her shawl before stepping out of the party to walk the vast estate grounds, but her sudden urge for air overshadowed any notion of the cold.
The party was still in full swing, the upbeat music carrying over the large compound. It would be no surprise if music was loud enough to reach her small home a mile away. Hanover Manor was the largest house in the county. Just being inside the main house was like walking into a modern palace. With its fine artwork, imported marble tile, and lavish furniture Elena felt entirely out of place.
Her mother had been so proud of her accomplishments, finishing in the top three of her class, that she had spent two weeks meticulously hand sewing her a formal dress for the occasion. It was the finest article of clothing she owned. The dove gray satin felt so foreign against Elena's skin; it made her feel like a completely different person. Such finery wrapped around her body brought her a deep sense of power.
That empowering feeling carried her through the large mansion doors, but it quickly faded an hour into the festivities. At first she and her two best friends, Gaby and Paige, had decided to live the moment to the fullest, dancing and laughing, enjoying the stares from guys who wouldn't even look their way months before because they were designated "brains". The attention was especially flattering from Jonathan, heir to the Hanover family. Genetically gorgeous, valedictorian of their class, and utterly charming, he was the greatest catch any girl could hope for.
There was something about those stares, Elena thought with a shudder, wrapping her arms around herself to protect herself from the chill. Something about having his piercing emerald eyes staring so intently in her direction; it made the hair on the back of her neck stand on end. Becoming uncomfortable, but not wanting to bail out early for fear of being a coward, she had chosen to find solitude among the groomed gardens the mansion had to offer.
"Want some company?"
Elena jumped at the voice behind, turning to see none other than the source of her unease standing close behind her. A blush flooded the dark dark skin of her cheeks. Nervous, she could only nod.
Jonathan walked closer to stand at her side. The lights from the party cast long shadows over his lean frame, making his features appear sharper in the night. His light brown hair was stylishly in disarray, his hands in his pockets as they gazed at the beautiful red roses growing wildly along the terrace wall. Whatever trace of suspicion she had felt earlier was gone now as she experienced his bashful like behavior.
"The party is getting pretty wild," he said, breaking their companionable silence. "I was starting to get stir crazy in there."
"I know what you mean. Parties aren't really my idea of fun."
He chuckled, turning to meet her gaze. "I kinda figured. That's what I like about you. You're so innocent."
She felt his fingers along her temple, brushing strands of her mahogany curls back behind her ear. The contact felt like a touch of electricity. She knew a minute before he leaned in that Jonathan planned to kiss her. The brush of his lips was soft; his taste sweetened by the touch of alcohol on his tongue.
Elena accepted the kiss timidly as this was her first, placing her hands lightly on his upper arms for balance. The loving softness quickly turned to something harder, almost brutal in force. She pulled back as she felt his teeth sink into her lower lip. Her hand flew to the pain only to find a smudge of crimson on her fingertips.
"What is wrong with you?!"
"What?" he replied as his charming smile turned to a sneer. "Don't tell you didn't like it. I know you want a piece of me."
Elena began to tremble. A bubble of anger swelled in her chest as fear coursed through her blood. Without thinking her hand smacked his face, sounding a loud crack through the air. An angry red welt began to form on his cheek.
"You little bitch!"
His fist rammed into her face, the force sending her to the ground. The pain was nothing like she felt before. Eyes widened, her fear escalating, she scrambled quickly to her feet only to feel his shoe collide with her abdomen. Elena fell onto her hands and knees as she gasped for air, her legs feeling like gelatin. Knowing how close he was she clawed at the grass, crawling away as fast as she could.
"That's right, Elena. Try to crawl away."
A hand grabbed a fistful of hair, flipping her onto her back, her new dress tearing in the process. The weight of Jonathan's body felt like a car pinning her down. She fought against his restraint, scratching his skin, his face. But the more she fought him, the more he used his strength against her. Soon, there was nothing she could do, but go limp.
Consciousness came and went as he forced himself inside her body. Suddenly, she was floating in the wind storm above everything, no longer feeling the violation. She watched with a cold heart and cold eyes. It was as if it was happening to someone else.
Someone in the distance called her name. Elena looked back into the dark clouds of the storm, away from the pain that ensued below. She faded to the background. The pain couldn't torment her there.
The courtroom was nearly packed to the brim with people, noise rising as more speculated on the verdict. Reporters crowded themselves like sardines in the corners and outside the doorway for what was being called the biggest trial of the decade. Elena had no doubt it would be front page news in the morning paper.
A hush fell over the room as the judge and twelve-member jury reentered the room. Everyone stood in respect for the honorable judge. Elena waited anxiously, holding the edge of the table in a white knuckle grip.
A piece of lined paper passed from the lead juror to the bailiff, straight to the judge. He read the paper, nodding with the judgment, before handing the paper back. The whole process was nerve wrecking. If Jonathan was found guilty, she would lose everything she loved. If he was found innocent, her conscience would consume her.
"How does the jury find?"
"We find the defendant, Jonathan Hanover, not guilty."
The room exploded with excitement as Elena felt her stomach drop to the floor. She was safe from his power, from his blackmail. Yet, she had fought the system to let a monster free.
His wife and daughters greeted him from behind the bench with heartfelt hugs. He was the picture of innocence, the perfect image of a humble, wrongfully accused politician. The press snapped pictures like crazy. Bile rose up her throat.
"My rose," Jonathan said as he turned and gently embraced her. She wanted to scream. "You've always had the touch."
Before he could brush her hair away from her face, a burly hand gripped his upper arm and forcibly grabbed at his wrists.
"What the -," he yelled as a detective placed him in handcuffs. "What is the meaning of this?"
"You're under arrest on three counts of extortion, two counts of tax evasion, and the soliciting a minor."
Jonathan turned on her, his beautifully sculpted face filled with rage. "You! You did this."
Elena, black briefcase in hand, stepped into his comfort zone, staring him straight in the eye for the first time in over two decades. He was nothing now, just a man finally facing his judgment.
He couldn't hurt her anymore.
She leaned forward and whispered in his ear. "It's your turn to crawl now, you son of a bitch."
The fresh scent of cinnamon greeted Elena as she walked through the front door of her home. A heavy burden had been lifted off her shoulders, allowing her to breathe for the first time in months.
Loud footsteps came barreling down the staircase two at a time. Elena was just toeing off her black pumps when the sight of her eldest son came into view. His t-shirt proudly proclaimed him a student of Yale, his tattered jeans still keeping him in the stage where he hadn't quite given up on his high school days. The sight of her boy made her heart jump, the warm feeling only family could give filling her being.
Gideon enveloped her in a bone-crunching embrace, the smell of fresh cotton filling her senses. This was the first time she had seen him since fall semester had begun and it was good to have him home, safe. She bone tired from the ordeal, but inside a sense of peace bloomed.
"What are you doing here? I wasn't expecting you for another two weeks."
He smiled as he pulled away from their hug, his lopsided smile reminding her of when he was a little boy. "Dad gave me a buzz this morning and said you were acting weird. Since I don't have exams for another week and Marie's trapped in London, I figured I come home and cheer you up."
Elena laughed. "What you really came for is my cooking."
Gideon chuckled, his emerald eyes dancing with mirth. "Maybe..."
"Well, if you're extra nice to me, I might make some peach cobbler for dinner." Gideon whooped, jumping in the air. "Only if you're good though."
"Congrats on the trail, by the way," Gideon said as he followed her into the kitchen. "Although the way things ended up for Hanover must have made the win bittersweet."
Elena, grabbing the ingredients from the pantry, froze at the mention of Jonathan. She waited for the shame to flood her like a broken dam. Surprisingly, it never came, leaving only contentment. The torment, she realized, was finally gone.
"No," she replied. "He's getting exactly what he deserved."
Gideon snorted. "Damn, Mom."
Elena looked at her boy across the cooking island and realized not for the first time how much of a man he was becoming. There was a new sparkle to his gaze. They were filled with his usual happiness, a hint of mischievousness riding close to the surface. Those eyes, so much like his father's, were absence of cold calculation - of cruelty.
There wasn't an ounce of Jonathan Hanover in her son.
That, she thought, was the final stroke of justice.
Entry for "The Balance of Chaos Contest"
Light Quote/Dark Picture
Word Count: 1972