As Ann crossed the waiting room to exit the building, she stopped to take a deep breath. She could do this. She looked out the window, wanting to delay the inevitable for just a second more before she saw it.
She saw the Monster’s grey sedan pass in the street, or a sedan just like it. She didn’t get a look at the person driving, as the driver had their head turned the opposite direction.
The direction of her apartment. Maybe it was him. Maybe he was here. Maybe he found her much sooner than before. Her stomach turned, her muscles tensed, her chest ached.
She should have left much earlier she chastised herself, dread filling every pore in her body. The Monster cannot find her here. What would he do if he found out she had been kissing another man? The thought ran shivers up her spine.
She watched the vehicle. It turned around near her apartment and headed back in her direction.
She felt her eyes widen and her heart double in speed. She could not let him see her here. She spun around and ran straight for the bathroom. She could think of a plan in there.
In her rush, she ended up running right square into Tucker’s chest. Good Lord what was wrong with her!
He tried to steady her, but she squirmed fighting desperately to get out of his grip, finally escaping into the ladies room.
She was breathing heavily, and she was unsure what to do. She leaned over the sink, her arms spread wide to support her weight as her legs no longer wanted to work.
Much to her dismay, he followed her in.
“What are you doing in here! It’s a ladies room!” she whispered with as much dismay as she could feign.
“It’s my gym. I make the rules. I’ll go in here if I damn well please! Are you going to tell me what the hell is going on?”
Her breathing had become erratic, her thoughts flying through her head. How was she going to get out of here unnoticed? How could she get back to her car? Would she have time to sneak up to her apartment and grab her things before he found her?
She wasn’t going to be able to finish her last day. If it was just her, she would have stayed to fulfill her obligation, damn the consequences to herself. But she involved another person. The more she stuck around, the more likely the Monster was to find her, and Tucker. She couldn’t have that. No, no, no, no, no.
He took her face in his hands and forced her attention. “Ann, I can help, but I need to know what is going on here!”
“You can’t!” is all she could get out. “You can’t! You’ll get hurt. I couldn’t handle that. I thought I couldn’t handle him finding me, but if he finds you, that’s a whole other level. I couldn’t…. I couldn’t… He can’t…. I just won’t let it happen!”
“Jesus, Ann, just trust me! I can handle myself! I survived a war for Heaven’s sake! I can handle some lame bastard that likes to scare nice girls. Just trust me a little here, all right!”
She attempted to slow her breath, to bring it to a rate that would help her think more clearly. She still wiggled out of his grasp, and she started to pace the room. “You don’t get it. You don’t know! You have no idea what I’m up against!”
“You’re 100% correct – because YOU’VE NEVER GIVEN ME THE CHANCE!”
Just then her cell phone rang. This did not happen often, as she did her best to keep her loved ones out of this path of destruction. The number came up as the local police department. She answered it, with Tucker watching her.
“Good evening, Ann, this is Officer Duhauser following up from last week. I have some important news I think you should be aware of.”
“Ann, the attacker from the other night is asking for a plea deal.”
Tucker cut in, “Absolutely not! He needs to pay for what he did!”
Ann continued, “Why would he think he could get such a thing? It’s so cut and dry?”
Officer Duhauser continued, “The attacker said he was paid to commit the assault. He was actually paid to kidnap you, but he failed at that.”
With a lead weight sinking in her stomach she asked, already knowing the answer, “Who paid him to kidnap me?”
Officer Duhauser said carefully, “He doesn’t know. He claims someone with a southern accent. Someone who says you owe him big time. Do you know who he could possibly be talking about?”
She did. She definitely did. And she was certain Officer Duhauser could do nothing about it. Clearing her throat, she noticed Tucker was still watching her intently. “Uhm, can I get back to you?” she said and ended the call.
The heat coming off Tucker was palpable. He was itching to know the whole story. He picked up on things she could normally bluff her way through, and he had probably known something was up far longer than she realized. She slowly turned to face him, and decided that he deserved the truth. She was still leaving. She was certain now that it was the Monster in front of her office, and she could not involve anyone further in this mess. She would tell Tucker what he wanted to know, and then she would leave.
The thought cut her like a knife, made her heart clench, but she knew what she needed to do. She needed for him to be the one to run, because she would always be drawn to him. She needed to offend him to the point that he walked away and never look back.
“You want to know?” she started with unnecessary vehemence. “You want to know so damn bad? Well, maybe I don’t want to taint someone as good as you with the ugliness of this Monster. He follows me everywhere! He can’t get enough of me! Never, not ONCE have I lead him to believe I would ever reciprocate his sick feelings! He is a sick, deranged man who is not used to hearing no. He hates it, he hates it so much it drives him to horrific acts in order to regain control. I hate him! I hate what he’s capable of! And I don’t want to drag you into the middle of it!”
“For the last time, Ann,” he said through clenched teeth, “I can handle it. I would much rather battle a monster with you than be apart from you, even for a second. Just give me a chance!”
“Well, then I’ll give you a few reasons to just leave me. Right here, right now. One, I am on the run. For the last two and a half years, I have been on the run.” Just saying the words hurt her and she felt the tears sting the back of her eyes.
She pressed on. “I did an interior design job for a rich man in our town. I thought he hired me for my design skills. Apparently I was wrong – he just thought I was pretty and thought he could buy my affections. When he realized that was not possible, he became enraged.”
“I tried to keep him away. I tried rational conversation, I tried going to the police, I tried ignoring him, but he would not have it. I made a terrible mistake and decided to finish my contract with him, to finish the final floors of his new building. I went to meet him, and when I denied his advances, he beat the living shit out of me. He hurt me!” she felt herself nearly shriek.
She became furious as she started in, and it just felt so good to finally be completely honest that the rest just poured out of her mouth, just flowed like a river. He listened intently the entire time.
“I went to the police, and they didn’t believe me. The police chief was the Monster’s brother, and he thought I was just doing it for publicity or to squeeze more money out of him. It was NOT true. To prove it I gave back every single penny he ever gave me for any of the jobs I had ever done for him. That still did not satisfy them, and they still decided not prosecute.”
“He left such creepy messages. He would leave voice mail, never from his own phone so he wouldn’t get caught, but I knew who it was, professing love for me. Ish.” She swallowed vomit back down her throat. “The messages became increasingly violent, and he then threatened to hurt my family if I did not obey. So I left. I decided I could do the job from anywhere and be successful, so I moved one state over. That wasn’t far enough. He found me, and waited for me. When I came home, there he was.” Her voice broke. She wasn’t sure she could finish.
She took a deep breath and rushed to finish. “Ever since, he has followed me to every town I have come to. I try to keep moving to keep the chase more difficult. But each time I fail; he always finds me. He’ll always find me. I’ll always fail.”
And with this the desperation, hurt, anger and fear all boiled up at once in her chest. Her whole body felt intimately every pain. She recalled every broken rib, every bruise, bump, and rip of her skin. She began to feel sick. Her stomach hurt.
Tucker took a few steps, but she stopped him. She couldn’t. Not now. She couldn’t take any grace or any pity. She didn’t deserve any. She made the mistake of trusting that monster, and she alone must deal with the consequences of that. No one’s fault but her own.
Tucker began to speak, “That bastard should never have done those things. Not to you, not to anyone. You don’t deserve it. We’ll figure it out. Together. I promise.”
“Reason number two” she continued. “I am ugly.” He attempted to interrupt, but she was not about to have it. “I really am. Underneath these clothes are scars that will always remind me of how ugly I am and how stupid I can be.”
He tried again to stop her, but she just doubled her efforts to persuade him.
“It’s true.” She stepped out of her shoes, and began to undress. It was best that he knew what he was getting into before he tried to be a knight in shining armor. It wasn’t pretty. She wasn’t the prize he was expecting. Maybe if he saw for himself, he would leave her alone, he would let her go.
She took off her capris, and pulled off her shirt. She turned to show him the scars. “This. This is what you would have to look at if things worked out. These scars are always going to be there. I am always going to be marked by that Monster.”
She felt his gaze over her back, where the scars held strong. They were much more faded than a couple years ago, but they were still there. And the stripes on her ass, the Monster’s attempt to whip her into submission. She felt so dirty just thinking about it. She turned around with fervor. “You see. Now you see why we’ll never work out. You’re always going to see that. Not cute. Not something fantasies are made of. Pure ugly everywhere.”
She started to feel vulnerable and reached down to grab her clothes she had strewn about.
He caught her wrist. Here it is. Here is the rejection that’s going to hurt worse than any of those scars, but maybe be enough to keep him safe. To keep him here when she runs.
“No,” he said, emotion evident in his voice, “Those are scars of a warrior. Someone who never gave up. Someone who fought even when the odds were not in her favor.”
Damn it! She needed that to work. She was out of ideas. He took his shirt off and pointed to various scars across his chest and his back. “These scars are all examples of days I did not give up, either, despite the odds not being in my favor. I don’t like to talk about it either, but it happened. These scars are reminders of that. But because I didn’t give up, I am now living my dream. I want you to live your dream, too. We can do this! Don’t you see?!?”
She was exhausted. There was nothing left. Nothing left to say, to do. How could she argue with this man? But then again, how could she in good conscience involve him in her problem, too, when the outcome could be deadly?
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