I shove the box back underneath the bed, and jump back under the covers and listen. A long slow creak and the click of a doorknob. Slow heavy footsteps, coming my way. I hear a hand on the doorknob. He twists it slowly. I bury my face in the pillow pretending to be asleep.
His hands are on my shoulders, oh God, he’s going to choke me again. He shakes me awake.
“Lindsay! Get up! We have to go,” a voice I haven’t heard in awhile, “Come on, get your things. Matt will be back soon.” I open my eyes, surprised to see James, who supposedly “wouldn’t be bothering us anymore.”
James is looking through drawers, trying to figure out what belongs to me. He grabbed a duffel bag from my closet and began throwing t shirts and jeans into it. That’s when I notice. His face is bruised green and purple. His knuckles are raw. His eye is nearly swollen shut.
“What happened to you…” I murmured, pushing myself out of bed, “Did – did Matt do this to you?” I asked, touching his face.
“Really? Matt?” He scoffed as he threw me a pair of Toms, “Yeah right, I could’ve taken him easily. He hired someone, I guess. A couple of someone’s.”
What? This is all so confusing. James grabbed the bag and motioned for me to come out of the room. He looked out the front door, expecting someone to barge in. And we ran out, across the street, and got into his car. He quickly started it and sped down the road.
“I was out at bar two nights ago, having a couple of beers with some buddies. Couple hours went by and I started to feel nauseous. I’d only had a few, but I guess I thought I might be drunk. So I left early. Walked out and there were a couple of guys around my car.
‘What’s it to ya?’
‘Are you James or not?’
Another guy came out from behind my car, swinging a bat back and forth. So I tried to run. But they caught up, it was about four of them I s’pose. I fought back, got one of ‘em square in the nose. But I didn’t stand a chance. Not against four. Not with how I was feeling, all dizzy and lightheaded.
I woke up the next morning with a headache from hell. Asleep in the parking lot, my tires all slashed. Surprised nobody woke me up. No cops or nothin’.”
“James, I’m sorry. I never should’ve-“
“Linds, it’s alright. You didn’t know he was capable of this, I know. That’s why I came here. I had to wait a little bit and watch the house to see when he would leave and how long he’d be gone. We only had a few minutes. He leaves every couple of hours. But you weren’t replying to my texts, so I knew something was up.”
“He took my keys and my phone. He gave me some pills that made me pass out.” My voice started to crack, I got quiet. He held my hand.
We pulled into a Motel 6 about an hour up the interstate. Couldn’t risk Matt somehow finding James’ address and showing up. James wore sunglasses at the front desk and paid cash for a room. We walked in and bolted the lock. He unpacked my things while I peeked out the curtain.
“Linds, calm down. He won’t find us. Not yet anyway.”
I took a hot shower. Used all of the travel sized shampoo. I put on one of James’ t shirts even though he’d grabbed plenty of my own. He decided to run to the front desk to ask for some extra shampoo for us.
I crawled into bed and flipped on the TV, just so I could listen to something besides the shower dripping. Minutes went by. Still no James. I start to worry, stand up and peek out the window. No sign of him.
It’s been five minutes.
My heart starts to race. And he walks through the door.
“Oh, thank God.” I rush into his arms. He looks confused, but he doesn’t say anything. Just hugs me. I finally let go of him and he gets into the shower. I try to imagine Matt’s reaction when he realizes I’m gone. Will he even care? Is he glad to be rid of me? Does he hate himself for losing me? Is he plotting my death? Should I be relieved or afraid? Should I feel guilty for running away from my marriage? Or lucky for making it out alive? Is he alone? Or is she over there? I feel sick to my stomach.
That night was the first good night sleep I’d had in awhile. James and I’d never slept together. Sex, sure. But not sleep. We fell asleep with our legs intertwined, facing each other. But I woke up facing the other direction, his arm draped across my waist – spooning. I loved it. Matt and I hadn’t slept like this in what seemed like years, although it’d only been a few months.
I opened my eyes and stretched my legs out. James pulled me closer.
“I’ll go get some breakfast.”
He threw on a t-shirt and jeans; his hair was kind of tousled. He looked more like a twenty year old than an almost-forty-year old. Very sexy. I watched him walk out of our room and dozed off again.
I woke up to the smell of instant eggs and waffles. James had piled eggs onto one plate and balanced waffles and fruit on another. He held a carton of orange juice out to me.
“Pretty sure I’m not supposed to take the continental breakfast To-Go,” he laughed.
I pulled myself up, and took a swig of orange juice, grateful for breakfast in bed. We shared both plates of food. I hadn’t realized how hungry I’d been. We hardly spoke. All I heard was the sound of chewing. And my own thoughts.
“What should we do…?” James murmured, worried about my reaction, I supposed.
“I’m not sure… I can’t go back home.”
“Right, but we can’t risk him finding you at my place. Don’t you have any family members? What about that one friend?”
“Stacy? He might look for me at her house. The only living family members I have live states away. I’ve always hated that about this place. Once my parents passed…”
“Right, I’m sorry,” he kissed my forehead, “we can stay a few more nights here.”
It hadn’t occurred to me that several days had passed since Stacy and I last spoke. She must be worried about me.
“Could you take me by Stacy’s, though? Just to let her know I’m ok? Her husband’s working out of town, she’s probably bored out of her mind.”
“Sure,” he bit his lip, “but we should wait until tonight. I don’t want to risk someone recognizing us on the road.”
We watched TV in bed all day. Nighttime couldn’t come soon enough. James was paranoid about me going outside because he was worried Matt might have people looking for me.
“I’m serious, Linds. The guy might be broke but he has connections. Look what he did to me!” He pointed to his bruised face.
“I know, I know. I’m sorry,” I crawled into his lap like a child. I grabbed his face and kissed his bruises, one by one.
The sun set at about 8. I was dressed and ready to go by 7:05. I sat peeking out the window like a puppy. We’d ordered pizza for dinner. Better than the sandwiches we had for lunch. I scarfed two slices down and grabbed his keys.
“Not so fast woman,” he shook a finger at me, “you’re not driving.”
“But you don’t know where Stacy lives! I can get us there, don’t worry!” I whined.
He rolled his eyes and followed me out the door.
His seat was pushed all the way back. I never realized how tall he was. He anxiously buckled his seatbelt while I adjusted the driver seat.
The drive back into town seemed so much longer than the drive out. Anxiety set in once I started to recognize the area again. He could be anywhere. At the store, at a bar, at Camille’s. He might even be at Stacy’s, looking for me.
I’m suddenly glad I hadn’t be able to let her know where I was yet. She’s not a very good liar. Should I even tell her? Matt’s dangerous. He could hurt her. She might be better off not knowing. But I should at least let her know I’m safe, right? There’s no telling how many times she’s called and texted my phone.
I’ll just let her know I’m safe. Tell her not to worry. I punch in the code to her gate and roll into her neighborhood. What if she’s not even home? It feels like eternity before her house comes into view. And there’s her BMW. Sitting beautifully in her drive.
I make sure to park a few houses down, just in case. James and I get out of the car and walk up to the front door. I ring the doorbell and wait. I should’ve called first, but I honestly don’t know her number. I haven’t memorized a phone number in years.
I ring the bell again, no answer. I start to get anxious. Minutes go by. I peek into the window next to the front door, hoping to get a glimpse of Stacy, sitting on the couch with a martini in hand. She must have the TV on too loud or something, I think to myself.
“Let’s go around back,” James grabs my hand and pulls me toward the gate leading into Stacy’s backyard. It’s locked.
“I’ll push you over,” he says; clasping his hands, ready to launch me over the fence.
“Why don’t we just wait at the –“
“She’s not answering, Linds,” James snapped, “Now get on my hand so I can push you over. Then let me in.”
“Fine,” I huff, stepping into his palms. I grab the top of the fence and let him push me to the top. I somehow manage to land on my feet, and open the gate for him. Stacy’s backyard is very well lit. I forgot how the back of her house is mostly windows. Her kitchen lights are on, they’re shining onto the pool water. We walk up to her back door, and knock. Nothing.
James grabs the knob and twists. It’s unlocked. My heart sinks. Stacy never leaves her doors unlocked. She’s so paranoid because her husband is always gone. We walk inside.
“Stacy?” James calls.
“Stace! Are you here?”
“Maybe her husband came home. Maybe they’re at dinner.”
Suddenly, I want James to be right. Maybe he surprised her and took her to dinner…
That’s when I see it. A thick lock of long brown hair, just barely poking out from the hallway. I grab James’ arm, and point to it.
I can’t speak. I can’t force anything out of my mouth. I can’t breathe. We walk towards the hallway, keeping an eye on the lock of hair. He steps in front of me, and slowly walks forward. He looks down, and covers his mouth.
He walks back towards me, covering my eyes.
“NO! Let me SEE! What is it?” I push James off of me and run towards the hall. I fall to my knees.
There she is. So beautiful. So dead. A perfect slice across her neck. A pool of blood underneath her head. Her eyes stare back at me. I can’t breathe. I’m sick. I make my way to the bathroom and vomit.