Lion Within

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prologue

drop-cap-l EO. THE LION. SOMETIMES I wonder if I am the only one walking around with a lion inside me. I try to suppress it, to bury the lion, to keep it deep, deep down inside me. But it doesn’t seem to matter. It is still there, barely beneath the surface, showing its snarling face at the least provocation.

I see other people walking around without a care in the world. I see people who ignore insults and slights. I see people who ignore it when they see wrong and injustice around them, who are able to turn their backs on neglect and abuse, who seem to go through life with a sort of peace and apathy incomprehensible to me.

Do I feed the lion? I mean, I must, for it to live on and be so strong. I don’t try to. I don’t mean to. I try to starve it out, but it feasts on everything I try to thrust down inside me. Someone cuts me off on the freeway, I swallow the anger and the lion feasts. I find a dog someone has beaten and tied up for three days without food, and I push it down. Try to suppress the rage and the lion feasts and grows. Then something happens at the gym… someone doesn’t put equipment away or one of the kids doesn’t show up for practice or I hear one of them is in trouble, and the lion comes out. He roars, he rages, he is uncontrollable. I say and do things I know I shouldn’t and I will regret later, but it doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter I know it is wrong, because I can’t stop it any more than I could stop a hurricane in its path. It is simply against nature. Can’t be done.

But that’s me, and maybe everybody else doesn’t have a lion inside them. Maybe everybody has a different animal. This one a soft rabbit or puppy. That one a sly ferret. Him a stallion that makes him want to run free. Maybe normal people have quiet, domestic animals, and those of us who rage, who can’t seem to get the beast under control, we’re the ones with lions, tigers, gorillas, or man-eating-sharks.

I know what anger and rage can do to a person. To a family. To friendships and freedom. It isn’t like I want to be this way. But I can’t overcome my own nature. Whether I inherited my lion from Him or whether I learned behavior from Him, it doesn’t really matter. It is a part of who I am. This lion couldn’t be removed even by surgery. They’ve tried all of the drugs. Drugs that made me tired. Drugs that made me foggy. Drugs that gave me hallucinations and let a whole host of other wild animals out. But even though drugs may put the lion to sleep for a while, at the expense of the rest of my self, they can’t remove him. They can’t completely bury him. And one day, after feeding him a steady diet of suppressed rage, he is going to come out again. It is inevitable.

I am Leo. The lion is in me. I am part of him.

chapter-1

drop-cap-lEO WALKED ALONG THE aisle of the parking lot, looking in car windows as he went. It was a hard habit to break. Not because of his past delinquency, when he might have broken into a car to get something that attracted his attention. Or to get back at someone who had angered him. But because of his work. Too many hours spent rescuing poor creatures from overheated cars.

He hated how people would leave their dogs in the car, window cracked slightly, and go into the store ‘just for a minute,’ leaving the animal suffering as the indoor temperatures soared to one hundred and thirty degrees. So many animals died. And how many more that he never knew about; their guilt-ridden owners just quietly burying them in their back yards?

So even now, off duty, Leo couldn’t help but check the cabin of each vehicle he walked past, looking for any animals in distress. It wasn’t as hot as it could be. Cabin temperatures probably wouldn’t be over one hundred, but that was still pretty hot for any critter, especially one who couldn’t sweat.

He glimpsed his reflection in the windows as he walked between the cars. His face was too young. When he was with the after-school kids, people would mistake him for a teenager instead of the coach. Dark hair, cut military short. And even in the hazy reflections, you could still see the scars on his face.

Passing one car, Leo heard a noise. A sort of crying, choking sound. He stopped, frowning, and peered in the window trying to see. A dog? Sounded more like a cat. Which was less usual for people to leave in their cars, but that isn’t to say it was never done.

People were stupid! They should leave their pets at home, where they were safe and comfortable, not bring them to the mall and leave them suffering and dying in the car. Leo looked around. No one was watching him. No one was purposefully heading toward the car. Wherever the owner was, they didn’t see him hanging around their vehicle.

He looked in the window again. He couldn’t see any animal, but there was definitely a noise inside. Maybe a litter of puppies? It didn’t sound like an adult dog. He wasn’t sure it sounded like a cat, either. It was muffled like there was something pulled over top. An animal in the trunk? Owners usually at least pretended to themselves they were kind to their furry babies. Leo’s chest was tight, his breathing getting faster.

How could someone do something so stupid and thoughtless?

Leo focused on a gym bag tucked between the back seat and the front passenger seat. Listening carefully, he was sure that was the direction the noise was coming from. Who would stow an animal in a gym bag in the back seat?

Leo looked around the parking lot again. Still no one interested in what he was doing. Still no one caring that he was looking in their car. No one else heard or cared about the noise.

He didn’t bother calling the police or fire department. His anger peaked without even hearing their response. ‘We don’t break into cars.’ ‘We don’t provide that service.’ ‘You’ll have to do what you think is best, we can’t be involved.’

No one wanted to get involved.

The emergency services were overworked and didn’t need stupid animal calls.

And they certainly didn’t want to have to take responsibility for breaking into someone’s car.

Leo took a breath, and without stopping to think about it—which might make him stop and not take action—he slammed his elbow into the front passenger window. It took a couple of bone-bruising blows before it shattered. He was always too hesitant, hit a window too lightly the first time around. Glass was less fragile than it looked and car windows were designed to withstand a certain amount of impact in a crash.

Leo reached in and unlocked the front door. He opened it and then unlocked the back door and opened it. He delicately lifted the gym bag from where it had been jammed. He didn’t want to hurt the puppies. Leo set the bag on the back seat and carefully unzipped the zipper, then grasped the flannel blankets and pushed them to the side.

“Aaah!” The startled exclamation left his mouth before he could check it.

Expecting a litter of puppies, he was totally unprepared for what he saw. It was something he couldn’t have imagined or braced himself for. A baby. Not puppies, a human baby. Discarded in a gym bag and stowed in the back seat of the hot car like a pair of dirty sneakers. What kind of creep would do such a thing?

Was it a kidnapping?

An unprepared mother who had the baby in a washroom somewhere and didn’t know what to do? It was so mind boggling he couldn’t take in the sight at first.

A baby. In a gym bag. In the back seat of a car.

He looked into the back seat. No baby car seat. This wasn’t someone who was used to transporting a baby.

After a few deep breaths, Leo forced himself to really look at the baby. Evaluate it.

This was no premature newborn delivered in a toilet. He wasn’t an expert on babies, but it was too clean, its face and head too round, to be a newborn. But it was still tiny and very young. The heavy, dark hair around its head, looked out of place like someone had tried to glue a wig or toupee on it. Open, gulping mouth, eyes squinted closed in a cry.

Its cries were quiet. Thin, choking sobs. Not a screamer, this one. How long had it been in the car? He touched its skin. Very warm to the touch. Too warm? How could he tell? It certainly seemed that way. Its skin was dry, not sweaty.

If it had been a dog, he would have checked to see if its nose was dry and how badly it was panting.

He unswaddled the baby from the flannel blankets into the cooler air. The sobs hitched for a moment and then started up again.

“Shhh, it’s okay,” he comforted the best he could. Wondering if it really was okay. Now he really did have a medical emergency on his hand. Now it was time to call nine-one-one.

What kind of idiot left a baby in a car?

“What are you doing?” a strident female voice interrupted his thoughts. “Get away from my car! What are you doing?”

Leo looked around. A young woman. Blond, with pretty, delicate features. Coming toward him too fast; any young woman by herself should know better than to approach some man who was breaking into her car, but she didn’t seem to be afraid. She was scowling at him.

“What are you doing?” she repeated. She took in the broken passenger window, the glass on the pavement and on the seat. “Did you break my window? Who do you think you are? Get out of here before I call the police!”

It was interesting she didn’t just call the police. But she didn’t take him on tooth and nail either, for which he supposed he should be thankful.

“Is this your baby?” Leo demanded, showing her the infant.

Her eyes widened in shock and he was reassured that she had no idea where the baby had come from.

Maybe this wasn’t her car?

Maybe she had stolen it without knowing what was in the bag in the back seat?

Maybe her boyfriend had stolen it and she had borrowed it without knowing what he was up to? Her eyes went to the gym bag on the back seat in confusion.

“That’s my bag,” she said. “What are you doing with my bag? Did you do this?”

“Lady,” Leo growled. “There was a baby smothering to death in this car. Why don’t you tell me what’s going on here, instead of making accusations?”

Her brows drawing down in puzzlement, she looked back at him, and then looked back at her car, the broken window, and the gym bag. She slumped, the anger leaving her face, replaced with defeat and sadness.

“That’s my baby,” she said.

It completely threw Leo for a loop, as he had decided by now it wasn’t her baby and she had no idea there was a baby in the back seat.

“What happened here? This doesn’t make any sense.”

She took the baby out of his arms and Leo let her. She leaned against the car, looking exhausted. She ran a finger down the baby’s cheek.

“Are you okay, Juleen?” she whispered. “What happened to you? How did you get in that bag in my car?”

The woman rocked the baby, calming her, whispering softly to her. Leo just watched in stunned amazement, the adrenaline starting to drain away.

“So what happened?” he asked. “Where did you leave the baby? Who was supposed to be looking after her?”

“I don’t know,” she looked totally spaced out and Leo wondered what she was on. She must be high as a kite. “Did you put her there?” she accused.

“No, I saved her! I took her out of the car. You know she could have died in there?”

“Yes. I know. Thank you. I don’t know how this happened. I don’t know what I would have done if you hadn’t found her.”

Leo shook his head. “Who was supposed to be looking after the baby?” he repeated, trying to get to the bottom of the mystery.

“No one. Just me.”

“No one? Well, how did she get in the bag? Did you put her there?”

She looked at the bag vaguely. “I don’t know. I guess I must have. I don’t remember.”

“You don’t remember?” Leo repeated, his voice rising.

He wanted to grab her and shake some sense into her.

“You were shopping, and you forgot you put your baby in a bag and left her in the car? Where’s your baby seat?”

His fists clenched and he tried to maintain control of himself.

“What the hell were you thinking?”

There were tears in the corners of her eyes. “I don’t know. I can’t remember anything that happened before I came here. I don’t remember.”

“Where is your baby seat?”

“I don’t have one.”

“Well then, how are you supposed to get around with her in the car? You need a baby seat!”

“Yes,” she agreed. She looked toward the Wal-Mart. “I should go get one. Maybe that’s why I came here. I couldn’t remember when I got into the store what I was supposed to be getting.”

“Holy crap!” he blew up. “Should I call an ambulance for you or something? Are you having a stroke or are you always this stupid?”

“I—I’ve been having kind of a tough time lately.” She rocked Juleen, humming very quietly. “Will you help me find one?”

“A car seat?”

She nodded. Leo looked at her, looked at the store, and looked at the baby.

He certainly couldn’t leave her to fend for herself right now. If he could keep an eye on her and the baby for a while, he could better evaluate what he should do. Whether he should call an ambulance, or the police, or Child Services.

“Yeah, I’ll help you,” he agreed in a more subdued tone. He shut the door of the car. He just left the gym bag on the seat and the glass all over. She didn’t seem to notice. She just turned around and headed back toward the store. Leo followed her.

“So what’s your name?” he asked, falling into step beside her.

“Elizabeth,” she said. “Hi.”

“Hi. I’m Leo.”

“You can call me Lizzie,” Elizabeth told him.

“Okay. Lizzie. So how old is Juleen?”

She stared at him without comprehension.

“Your baby. How old is your baby?” Leo pointed to her.

“Oh.” She looked down at the baby in her arms. “Just a few days. I don’t remember the date… what day is it today?”

“Thursday.”

“Oh,” she nodded, “okay.”

Inside the store, she looked around. “So… what was I here for?” she asked.

“A baby seat. For the car.”

“Right,” she nodded and seemed to take hold of this thought more firmly now. “A baby seat. For Juleen.”

They walked toward the baby department.

“Are you on any medication?” Leo guessed.

She nodded vaguely. “Yeah.”

“Are you having memory problems a lot? Because you should probably have your doctor change it. You can’t be forgetting you even have a baby. That’s not good.”

An understatement, but he wasn’t sure how to reach her. Surely she understood something was wrong!

“I’ll talk to my doctor,” she agreed. “Once I get settled.”

“Oh? Are you new in town? Just moved to a new place?”

“Yeah. I’ve been overseas.”

“Overseas. Someplace they don’t have baby seats?” Leo asked with a bit of a laugh.

“Iraq,” she said. “They don’t.”

“Oh. What were you doing there? Are you… a reporter?” He tried to think of what profession this flaky young blond might have that would take her to Iraq so close to her baby’s birth. It didn’t make sense.

“No. A soldier. I am—I was—in the army.”

Leo looked at her face to see if she was joking. Her? This petite, air-headed blond bombshell? But she seemed to be completely serious. The two of them stood and looked silently at the baby seats on display.

“You were in the army,” Leo repeated after a few minutes of silence, browsing over the baffling assortment of seats. “Right up until the baby was born? I wouldn’t think… was your husband in the army? Was he in the army, and you were there with him?”

“No. I was a soldier.”

“But, you can’t serve in the army while you’re pregnant.”

“No, of course not,” Elizabeth agreed.

Leo stared at her, baffled. Of course not. But she had.

“How about this one?” Elizabeth suggested, pointing to a frothy pink seat. Leo shrugged, looking it over.

“It says newborn,” he agreed, “so I guess that should work.”

“Yeah. I like that one.”

He picked up a box. “Okay. You’ll get that one,” he agreed. “Now what else do you need? Do you have all of the clothes and diapers and blankets and supplies you need? Formula and bottles?”

“Yes, they bought me a bunch of stuff,” she agreed vaguely. “I think I’ve got everything now. I just needed to get a car seat.”

“Okay. Let’s go check out, then.”

Leo half-guided, half-followed Elizabeth to the checkouts and watched her make her way through the line. Amazingly, she managed to pay for the car seat without any apparent difficulty. He went with her to the car and immediately inserted himself into the situation, ripping open the cardboard box and glancing at instructions that looked as detailed as engineering blueprints. He set the seat on the back bench of the car, in the middle and used the seatbelt to strap it in.

“There,” he said. “I guess that’s it, then.”

“Thank you for your help,” she said sweetly. She bent over to put Juleen into the car seat.

“Umm… do you want to go for a coffee or something?” Leo suggested. He felt the need to keep an eye on her for a little while longer, to see if she managed to take care of Juleen without forgetting her on the restroom counter or something. “Can I buy you something to eat? Juleen still looks pretty warm. We should probably sit where it is air conditioned and make sure she gets rehydrated.” Elizabeth was nodding. “You should feed her,” Leo said firmly. “Are you—you know—breastfeeding?”

“Oh, yes,” she agreed.

“Good,” said Leo, having noted she didn’t have a bottle or diaper bag. “And that’s okay? With you on medication?”

“Yeah, they changed my meds all around, to find stuff that’s supposed to be safe for nursing. But it takes time to find combinations and doses that will work… figure out the side effects…”

Side effects like forgetting your baby in the car?

“Should we take this bag, then, so you have a blanket to cover you up?”

She consented to him taking the gym bag with them, back into the mall. Leo lingered by the car for a moment, wondering just how smart it was to leave the car with its broken window and brand new baby seat in the parking lot. But he shrugged and escorted the mother and baby back into the mall, leaving the car as it was.

Soon they were settled at the food fair, each with a cup of coffee and a cookie. Juleen was making eager sucking noises under the blanket. Leo tried again to figure out Elizabeth and the situation she was in.

“So where’s the father?” he asked.

“What father?”

“Juleen’s father. Is he back in Iraq or here?”

“In Iraq, I guess,” she said with a shrug.

Leo shook his head, frowning. “So was he someone you met in the army?” he persisted. “I didn’t think you were allowed to… what do they say? Fraternize?”

“Yeah, they have strict rules about that kind of thing. You can’t get together with a commanding officer, or with someone else in your squadron. And you’re not supposed to… you’re really not supposed to hang with the locals, either. They don’t want soldiers getting pregnant or picking up some disease, or getting a local pregnant if it’s a man.”

“So how did it happen, then? Were you pregnant before you shipped out?”

“I’m not sure.”

“Well, how long ago did you ship out?”

“About nine months.”

Leo nodded slowly. “I guess that could be a problem, then. She’s pretty small. Was she premature?”

“She was under five pounds. But her lungs were okay. They kept her warm but they didn’t have to put her on a ventilator. Then we came back here.”

“And you’ve just been here for a few days?”

She nodded in agreement.

“And you don’t know whether the baby’s father was someone here or someone in the army?”

“No,” she agreed.

“Okay…”

She didn’t seem bothered by him poking his nose in what was definitely none of his business. His queries about her sex life seemed to have no effect on her. But then, how much of what he was saying was just going straight over her head? He didn’t know what the IQ requirements were to join the army, but she seemed to be a little bit dim, to be kind.

“Why didn’t they send you home before Juleen was born?” Leo asked with brows drawn down. Was this all just a big lie? He couldn’t imagine her tottering around on the front lines in Iraq, her baby belly sticking out, and the army not sending her home. She had to have been home longer than she was letting on.

“Well… no one knew until she was born,” Elizabeth explained.

“No one knew?” Leo demanded, his voice rising again. “How did you manage to hide that?”

“Well, some people really don’t show.” At Leo’s look of disbelief, she leaned forward, seeming for the first time to enjoy his consternation and really appreciate how flummoxed he was by the whole scenario. “I hid it really well. I did have to wear a bigger uniform, but I thought I was just putting on weight because of the mess. A lot of soldiers do, you know. It’s like the ‘freshman fifteen.’ Lots of people gain weight. So I just got bigger clothes and tried to watch what I was eating so I wouldn’t get any heavier,” she smiled. “No one knew. Not even me.”

“How could you not know?”

“Well, I was on the pill so I wasn’t getting my period anyway. I just put on weight… you know, got back aches, sore feet, that kind of thing. What soldier doesn’t get sore feet?”

“So when did you figure it out? Why didn’t you tell someone?”

Elizabeth raised her eyebrows, laughing.

“I was in the trenches. Started getting these horrible, ripping pains in my belly. At first I thought I’d caught shrapnel, but there was no wound. Then I thought, maybe food poisoning or chemical warfare. Maybe I had appendicitis. I was doubled up, couldn’t move, and was screaming in pain. Nobody knew what was going on. They took me in a truck with some of the wounded, back to the hospital tent. That’s when they examined me and told me I was in labor. I couldn’t believe it. It didn’t make any sense at all. They gave me a stethoscope and let me listen to the baby’s heart.” Elizabeth beamed. “That was the most amazing experience. Can you imagine finding out you have a little person growing inside of you? A whole new life, in your own body that you knew nothing about?”

“And then having her make an appearance ten minutes later?” Leo said dryly.

“Oh no, it was a lot longer than that. I was in labor for… hours… days… I don’t know how long. And then she came out and they put her in my arms.” Elizabeth shook her head in amazement, eyes sparkling. “I love the idea of being a mommy.”

Leo analyzed the words. She loved the idea of being a mommy. Not she loved being a mommy. Not she loved Juleen. She loved the idea of being a mommy.

And until she figured out she was a mommy and had responsibilities, there were going to be problems.

He should call Child Services. He couldn’t live with himself if he let her hurt or neglect Juleen. If he saw it in the papers; they had found an infant in a garbage can, in a locked car, or lying rotting in her crib. He just couldn’t let that happen. Someone had to be told.

“So you like being a mom?” he asked.

“Sure. It’s like having my own living doll. What little girl doesn’t wish for a baby of her own?”

“But you’re not a little girl.”

Her face changed, taking on a pout, a six-year-old who’d just been told to give back the kitten she’d been playing with, after having set her mind on taking it home.

“Elizabeth…”

“Lisbet,” she suggested. “I like Lisbet better than Elizabeth.”

He remembered she’d asked him to call her Lizzie earlier. Now she was Lisbet.

“Lisbet,” he obliged, “I’m really worried about you and Juleen. Are you really okay taking care of her?”

“I do just fine,” she insisted, fluttering her eyes at him. “I’m good at being a mommy.”

“You said you were on medication,” Leo said, as Elizabeth took a nibble of her cookie.

She nodded. “Yes. But that doesn’t stop me from being a good mommy.”

“It does if it makes you forget you have her or you put her in a bag in the back seat of your car!”

She rolled her eyes, flushing a little, and shook her head. “Madame used to say I was such a flibbertigibbet,” she acknowledged.

“Who’s Madame?”

“One of my foster moms. She said I was always flitting from one thing to another, losing track of things. I’d leave the laundry in the washer to get mildewed, forget my homework at home or at school, start things and never finish them…”

“But this isn’t a science project. This is a baby. She could have died in that car.”

“But you saved her,” Elizabeth protested. “You’re like a superhero! My superhero. How did you know she was in there?”

It was his turn to flush. He felt his cheeks and ears get hot. “I’m an animal control officer,” he explained. “So I notice when people leave their animals in their cars. I just heard her and I reacted.”

“You’re a dog catcher?” she asked, in not quite the same tone as she had declared him a superhero. Sort of a far-away, thoughtful voice.

“Well, yeah.”

Leo knew it wasn’t a romantic job. Dog catcher. People thought of him as a villain more often than a hero. Taking dogs to the pound where they had to be bailed back out again. Costing people money in fines, telling them how they should take care of their own property. He got a lot of people who thought him the lowest kind of low.

“Well,” she said in a bright tone, “you heard her, and you saved her. So no harm was done. Everything is okay.”

“You’re going to go to your doctor to get a new prescription, right? To get your medication adjusted? Because it’s important. You can’t just forget big things like this.”

“Yeah, I will.”

“Maybe I’d better go with you,” he suggested. “Just to make sure you don’t forget to do it.”

Elizabeth ducked under the blanket for a moment to shift Juleen from one breast to the other. Then she reappeared.

“Can I come with you?” Leo persisted.

“Come with me where?”

“To your doctor!”

“Sure,” she agreed easily.

Leo breathed a sigh of relief. He had been sure she would freak out about him suggesting he see her doctor. About her privacy, and him thinking she was stupid and unreliable. But it was the truth, and she’d better be able to take the truth.

They talked idly then, moving away from the topics of babies and doctors and just moving to general topics. The news, the weather, incidental things about the two of them. Eventually, Elizabeth swallowed the last of her coffee, removed Juleen from her breast, and did up her shirt.

“This was nice,” she said. “Thank you.”

“Sure. So are you ready to go to your doctor’s now?”

She looked at him with a surprised expression for a moment, then seemed to remember, and nodded. “Yeah. I guess we can do that now.”

“What’s your doctor’s name? Where is his office, do you remember?”

“Yeah. Doctor Marvin. He’s down in the valley.”

Leo nodded. “Okay. Let’s go.”

I hope you enjoyed this sample of

Lion Within

By P.D. Workman

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