***This story was my submission to the words and brushes international competition. It’s a wonderful artist collaboration project where authors choose paintings and create a story based on that that work of art.
I stood there without moving, just staring at it for what felt like hours. I couldn’t believe my luck. A note card with the words see you at 8 scrawled neatly in ink stared back at me.The card was laying on top of a rose and the most beautiful yellow dress I had ever seen. It looked like something out of a fairy tale. He always said yellow was his favorite color on me. “You look like a summer day” he had whispered in my ear on our first date. I had worn my favorite yellow sundress and worn my auburn curls down around my face. He took me in his arms and we danced right there on my front lawn. Remembering the times when he was sweet made my stomach turn.
He had found me. After running for a whole year the bastard had found me, broken into my home and planted this disgustingly sweet threat. How terribly romantic of him to show up on the one year anniversary of my disappearance. One year since he beat me bloody and I ran away.
It had been in all the local papers back in our little South Carolina town. I had gone missing late one night after we had been out with friends. The police had found emails from an unrequited male admirer of mine who had grown increasingly frustrated with my rejection of his advances.
Do you know how easy it is to fake your own kidnapping? All you have to do is set up two seperate email addresses on two different servers and then come up with a torrid affair and BAM, motive and intent. The police had also found a broken window and blood on the carpet that suggested foul play. The blood had matched my DNA of course and they put two and two together and came to the conclusion that my online lover had taken me for himself. What the police didn’t know, and what my husband had been too embarrassed to admit, was that my blood was on the carpet because he had used my forehead to break the window.
I am sure he had known all along that I wasn’t really kidnapped, but I knew that the emails and the bloody window scene would keep the police around long enough to escape. It had taken six months for me to get everything in order. I figured that was a believable timeline to meet and cultivate a relationship with someone in an online forum for homeopathic remedies for k-9 psoriasis. It was sheer luck that the worst beating he had ever given me coincided with the same night I had chosen to run.
I pried my eyes away from the foreboding note disguised as a romantic notion and made my way to the bathroom. I didn’t bother checking the rest of my tiny house to see if he was still here, hiding somewhere waiting for the right moment to strike. He was as dramatic as he was lethal, and he wanted a production.
I turned the knob on the clawfoot tub and let the water begin to flood it. This beautiful porcelain tub was the reason I picked this house. It reminded me of the one we had in my childhood home. Baths were always comforting to me. I would take a bath whenever I was sad or ill and I would come out feeling refreshed and recharged. It was an escape. I would take a bath after my husband would beat me. I’d watch the blood mix with the water as it cleaned me and made me new again.
When enough water had filled the tub I undressed and tied my hair up on top of my head. I stepped in slowly, easing myself down into the steaming water. I loved the feeling of being enveloped by liquid heat. As if it seared away my old skin to give way to a new outer shell. Tonight this bath would serve as my baptismal. I would enter the water still a scared girl waiting to be hunted down, and emerge a woman ready to face her demons.
I always knew he would come. It was because of that knowledge that I had only slept two hours at a time in the last year. I had left him, lied to him, but worst of all I had outsmarted him. As I laid in the still water, that night ran through my head like one of those made for television movies. We had been invited out with friends that evening. We were in the middle of quite a long good spell of about three weeks. Work was good so his stress level was low.
Thomas and Jeanine were decent friends of ours. I was never really allowed to speak to thomas alone, and Jeanine and I didn’t have any shared interest other than trying to keep our husbands happy. She was not aware, or she chose not to be aware that my life depended on keeping mine happy. I went along on these little double dates full of small talk and mindless drabble because it made him happy. I went to ensure my survival.
It was memorial day weekend, which in our small southern town meant parades and carnivals. The main streets were barricaded off for the town’s residents to dance and celebrate in the streets with blue grass music and bar-b-que. The Evening was warm but the summer humidity had not hit yet so it wasn’t unbearable. We had just finished sharing a meal and walked down to a big pavilion where people were dancing. It was a perfect depiction of americana. Everything was all red white and blue with some denim thrown in for good measure.
My husband had asked Jeanine to dance, I am pretty positive they were having an affair but I could never ask him about that of course. He looked so happy twirling her around the asphalt dance floor. Her blonde hair like lightning under the street light. I sat with Thomas making idle small talk to pass the time as our spouses entertained each other. Apparently Thomas was fine with his wife dancing with another man. “I’ve got two left feet,” he had said watching Jeanine and my husband. “She loves to dance, though. Whatever puts a smile on her face.”
I knew something was wrong when we began to walk back to our car. My husband’s hand had started on the small of my back, gently guiding me to the car. To most people this would seem like a gentlemanly gesture. A signal that you are a couple. For my husband, it was a sign of dominance. As we got closer to the car his hand moved up my back to the base of my neck where he squeezed. He opened the car door and launched me forward into the passenger seat. I told myself to remain calm, it would all be over soon. I reminded myself that in a few hours there would be a woman in a pickup truck waiting in an abandoned parking lot waiting for me to meet her so she could take me across the state line to meet another woman who would help me get to the next woman in the web.
“You’re sleeping with Thomas aren’t you?” he almost whispered after he got into the car. Sometimes whispers are more terrifying than a shout.
“Of course not,” I answered, but I knew my words were futile. His hand came swinging across the seat and the back of his palm collided with my face with unrelenting force.
“Don’t lie to me!” he said as he started the car and headed for our house. When we got there the interrogation began. By interrogation I mean he shouted and slapped me around while I stayed silent because he would always contort the things I would say. I never knew what would set him off, so I just stopped saying anything at all. I just let him go until he was done. He stopped once my head hit the glass. He wanted to punish me, not kill me. After that of course, he was sweet as pie.
The water in my bath had gone cold. I had gotten lost in the memories of that night and lost track of time. I sat up and craned my neck so I could see the clock on my bedside table. The glowing red numbers told me it was 6:52. I needed to finish getting ready. I sat at my vanity with my makeup brushes laid out like surgical tools. First a little blush to seem youthful and lively. Then eyeshadow and mascara for a bit of mystery. Finally, lipstick in the brightest red I could find in order to keep his attention on the words that I needed to say.
I unpinned my hair and it fell in soft curls around my shoulders. When I looked in the mirror I could just make out the girl from our first date hiding behind the fine lines and dark circles under my eyes. She was there, but she was tired. Tired of running and tired of hiding. Most of all she wanted to live again. I may have run away six months ago on that breezy summer night, but I haven’t been free for a very long time.
At 7:55 I slipped on the yellow dress. It fit like a glove. The full skirt fell to my knees and the bodice had a sweetheart neckline, which complimented my figure nicely. I checked the clock one last time, 7:58.The last thing I put on was my old opal ring, the one he had given me on our first anniversary. It was huge and beautiful and I hated that I loved it. I jumped when the doorbell rang. I loved the wind chime doorbell on this house, but tonight it was more ominous than usual. Like church bells before a funeral procession.
I walked slowly to the door, there was no need to hurry. Once he was inside my house it would all be over fairly quickly. I took a deep breath before I opened the door, I honestly had no idea what to say to him. When I finally opened the door he was standing there smiling. He looked like he had aged twenty years since the last time I saw him, but I’ll be damned if my stomach didn’t flip at the sight of him. He was always ruggedly handsome.
“Rebecca,” he breathed. He was holding a bouquet of red roses, like the one he left on my bed.
“Did you let him into the house?” Officer Rankin’s voice brought me back into the present. The harsh florescent lights above us flickered slightly. The room was freezing and I pulled the scratchy blanket they had given me tighter around my arms.
“Yes, I let him in. I really saw no other option.”
“What happened next, “ Rankin asked. She had an authoritative demeanor, but her eyes were soft. I was glad she was the one that responded to my 911 call.
“He came in and we sat on the couch and just caught up for awhile. He wanted to know where I had been and what I had been up to. He was very sweet at first,” I said, making sure to blink back my tears. I didn’t want to completely fall to pieces yet. I’ve seen a lot of movies and television programs where the female who has been in distress just completely loses it and cries buckets of tears. I’ve always thought that the actresses that try to hold back their tears to show strength are more believable. I needed them to believe me.
“When did he get violent?” the other officer asked. I think his name is Franklin. I didn’t really pay attention to him. Rankin was on my side already, I could feel it. She kept shaking her head when I told her how John, my husband, would beat me, how I had to run to survive. There had been a sort of solidarity built between us during my tale. That’s what it was after all, a tale. I wasn’t lying, my husband did beat me and he did come after me tonight, but that was not the whole truth. I couldn’t tell them the truth.
“He asked me to go back to South Carolina with him,” I said, adding just enough shakiness to my voice. “He asked if I missed our life together, and I guess I didn’t give him the answer he wanted,” I finished with a whisper, touching my bruised cheek. It really hurt more and more as I spoke. I’ll never be able to look at a candle holder again without my face hurting. Whacking myself in the face and giving myself some scratches was a small price to pay.
“John came at me with a knife when I said I was better off on my own. I ran into the kitchen where I keep my pistol,” Now this was the perfect time to turn on the water works. I Let the tears fall down my face. There were so many that they rolled down my cheeks until they spilled out onto my yellow dress leaving dark wet spots.
“I didn’t want to shoot him, and I told him that, but he kept coming for me!” I shouted hysterically. Poor officer Rankin could barely contain herself. I could see it in the way she looked at me.She pitied me and that was was fine. I needed her pity in this moment. She probably wouldn’t pity me as much if she knew I had planned to kill my husband the moment I saw that disgusting note he left on my bed. I knew he wouldn’t stop coming for me. I knew I would never have peace.
“I was so terrified that he would kill me! I didn’t want to die!” Now for my finale I crumple into the shape of a helpless woman with my head in my hands as I sob with abandon. Sobbing comes easily. It’s a form of rejoicing, a cathartic act. It was finally over, my tormentor was gone.
“Thank you Ma’am, I can see this was difficult for you,” officer Franklin says with a gruff voice. What a wonderful observation captain obvious. I look at him with a blank expression and nod.
“ It sounds like you were acting in self defense,” Officer Rankin added as she patted my hand.
There it was. All my planning had worked after all. What’s the old saying? If at first you don’t succeed…? Plan A was to run, and that worked for a little while, but I always knew it wouldn’t last. So that meant I had to move on to plane B.I had the pistol in my hand when I opened the door and told him to keep his mouth shut and have a seat on the couch. I wanted to tell him that I planned all of this. That I duped him and made him look like an idiot and once he was gone I would tell everyone what he did to me. I was going to smear his name from Carolina to California.
“Well how about this turn of events?” He said with a sly smile. Even with a gun on him he was a sarcastic son of a bitch. “You probably think you’re pretty clever don’t you?” His laughter at me filled my living room and hit me harder than any blow he had ever delt. I couldn’t help myself, I backhanded him as hard as I could. My opal ring left a nice dent in his cheek. When that didn’t stop his laughter I pistol whipped him
“You’ll be sorry for that,” He said with a menacing smile as he rose slowly from the couch. My confidence was wavering as the pistol shook in my hands. I backed into the kitchen keeping the gun pointed at him.
“Stop! Don’t come any closer!” I screamed.
He laughed again and that’s all it took. I squeezed the trigger and fired three shots. John went down and I stood in my kitchen for a moment catching my breath. I slowly walked over to where he was splayed out on the floor and looked down at him. I wanted the image of him helpless and limp seared into my brain. I could see that he was still breathing so I nudged him with the toe of my shoe. He reached a hand out at me and made an aimless swipe in my direction.
“No sir”, I chided as I stepped back out of his reach. “I don’t want blood on my pretty dress.” I said with a smile. I aimed the gun down at him as if I were shooting minnows in a barrel and fired.
Officer Rankin walked me out of the interrogation room and sat me down in a somewhat comfortable chair in the lobby of the police station.
“So what now?” I croaked, looking at her through bloodshot eyes.
“We’ll get you to the hospital to clean up your wounds and then you can go home and put all this behind you,” she answered with a kind expression as she patted my shoulder. I unwrapped the blanket and handed it to her.
“That really is a beautiful yellow dress,” she said as I stood and brushed off my skirt.
“Thank you,” I said with a sweet smile. Yellow had always been my color.