Nervous excitement filled my entire body as the following Thursday approached. I was beginning to doubt my ability to hold all of my feelings sealed behind my strict and appropriately haughty, but still always smiling, demeanor, but somehow the days passed by without anyone confronting or correcting me. It was a busy week with elite socializing, and I kept smiling, hugging and kissing my way through any number of people. I could tell that my husband was especially preoccupied, and I guessed that there was something critical going on at work. At one point I also accidently overheard my father-in-law yelling at him, but I couldn't hear enough to be able figure out was going on. I was just happy to be let off easy, without having him take all of his frustrations out on me, one way or the other.
I still had moments of doubt, where my body seized up in absolute panic when I thought about the small bit of subterfuge I was planning, but most of the time I found myself certain of the way that lay ahead. I was hoping that that last piece of the puzzle, how to get my friends away from my husband's vicious claws, would somehow come to me as everything else had almost magically done. I now had two people to turn to for help, and perhaps if I talked to them some more, we could come up with a plan for my friends. Or perhaps the class I was taking would actually give me ideas, as well as mental strength and courage.
I hadn't gone back to visit my neighbor - Edward - and Alfred, the sweet dog, hadn't come to see me again either. And that was just as well, as I was still shaken by what the old man had said and what he had offered.
My spirit was high as I walked towards the beauty parlor, but just as I was about to cross the last bit of road, I was pushed violently out into the traffic, just barely managing to avoid being hit by a car that came to a screeching stop. I managed to stay upright, but had to fight to get my balance back. What in the world?
I turned around to see who had pushed me, but could only see a darkly dressed man some distance away, could it have been him? Or was I mistaken about the push, did I in fact only stumble on my own two feet? I waved the thoughts of someone purposely trying to hurt me away, it was probably just my overwrought mind playing games on me.
When the man who had stopped for me drove away with an annoyed bleep from his horn, I continued walking towards my goal, to get some gloss on my exterior before strengthening my interior; a well-balanced effort indeed.
I was greeted at the door by a smiling Gabriella, who quickly brought me into her room and pushed me down into the chair, excitedly talking about the class I was taking, telling me that she'd make sure I was on time. She looked at my face quickly and nodded to herself before sitting down to take care of my nails. I don't think I had ever seen her move quite as quickly as she removed my nail polish, filed my nails, fixed my cuticles and applied two layers of new polish. She skipped the whole bathe, sooth, moisturize and pamper part of the hand and nail treatment, but that was just fine with me. Whilst the nail polish was drying she even cleaned and moisturized my skin, basically giving me the important parts of my usual treatment in less than half the time.
With a wide smile she opened the door for me and I walked off, her money safely secured in my purse, planning to enjoy every second of the free time she had given me. As my steps took me closer and closer, I bit my lip nervously, worrying about the people I would meet, just then realizing that there might be a chance, although a small one, that I would meet someone I knew.
One of the smiling women from the exhibition was there to meet the small group of people that were the participants of the class and as I scanned the people around me my relief was great as I saw that there was no one there that I knew. I paid the weekly fee and was led into a room painted in warm colors, where a smiling man was waiting for us to get settled on chairs that stood in a semi-circle around him. We were a group of twelve women, and as we introduced ourselves it became obvious that we all had our own set of difficulties to overcome, but that we were all joined in a strong belief that this class would be what we needed to kick start our journey towards a better life.
When it was time for me to introduce myself and list what I expected the class to help me with I struggled with the words, and in the end I found myself describing the high stress levels and the constant tension in my body, telling the class that I needed help with stress relief and relaxation techniques. It was as close as I felt I could go towards describing my life, having not yet dared to tell anyone about it, not my closest friends, nor Gabriella or Edward. Perhaps I would be able to tell someone about it someday, I just wasn't sure how many weeks filled with strengthening exercises that would take, hundreds?
Those first two hours passed really quickly and after the introductions and general description of what was to come in the next few weeks, we only had time for one short relaxation and breathing exercise. Still, I felt both calmer and stronger as I walked out of there, as well as stuck in thoughts about when and where to use the exercise we'd been taught, perhaps when I took my daily walk in the garden?
I was torn from my thoughts by someone tugging at my purse before I was pushed hard from behind. I screamed and fought to stay upright, but another even harder push sent me flying into the street, still clutching my purse, but not much helped by that, since it wouldn't precisely protect me from the cars that were flowing down the street. I closed my eyes and braced myself for impact, when I was suddenly yanked hard by my clothes back onto the sidewalk. I took a deep breath and opened my eyes to absolutely nothing. I turned around and saw a police officer running after a darkly dressed man, guessing that I had found both my assailant and my savior.
My breath and ability to think came back to me all at once and I sat down hard on the sidewalk, probably bruising my butt in the process, but not really capable of caring about that. One push into the street could be accidental, but two? My ability to breathe left me again as my body went into instant panic mode, was somebody trying to kill me? I wrapped my arms around myself as my body went from frozen solid to shaking uncontrollably. There was only one person that had any interest in me dying, wasn't there? I turned my face to the side quickly and proceeded in being violently sick, on the sidewalk, in the middle of the day, in the city I had lived in all my life.
"Are you ok, miss?" a deep voice asked me as I dried my face on a corner of my expensive jacket.
"No, I suspect I'm not..." I mumbled before I looked up to see a tall, dark shape looking down at me; the police officer had returned.
I looked behind the tall, dark-haired man and although I wasn't surprised he hadn't caught the bad guy, I can't say I wasn't disappointed. Perhaps if he had been caught I could have gotten some answers?
Two strong hands took a hold of my arms and pulled me upright in one fast movement, giving me no time to react with either surprise or fear. I stared at the man in front of me and saw him running his eyes over me quickly, probably in an attempt to see if I was injured. His eyes were a warm, golden-brown tone, that somehow grew increasingly colder as he took in my appearance.
"You know, you have to be careful, there are thieves everywhere. And if you walk around in designer clothes and jewelry, you're bound to be targeted, no matter what time of day. This time you were lucky, but the next time..." he said, his generous mouth tightening around the almost angry words that were pouring out of him.
"You better get your pretty self back into the limousine where you came from!" he continued before turning around to walk away.
I'm not sure what made me reach out and grab his arm, but when he stopped and turned back towards me there was something about the way he looked at me that spurred my anger.
"You have no idea what you're talking about," I whispered "you judge simply by what you see, but you know nothing about me, absolutely nothing!"
I let him go and walked away, angry tears running down my face. The flow of tears was still going strong as I walked back into Gabriella's office and even though I told her about the way I had been pushed into the street, I didn't tell her about the police officer, I just didn't know how to explain my explosive reaction to his behavior.
With the help of some vodka and a cold, wet towel I was able to pull myself together enough to tell Gabriella I'd be back next week, before straightening my clothes and walking out of the beauty parlor, intent on making it home on time. I forced myself to think of nothing except taking step after step towards our house, walking being my preferred choice of traveling the short distance I needed to go.
As I opened the door to my home I wondered if my husband would be surprised to see me that afternoon. I took a deep breath, straightened my back and closed the heavy door to my prison, intent on letting no signs of what had happened show on my face or in my actions.
- - - - -
I spent a nervous week, waiting anxiously for my husband to confront me about my secret activities. Every time I left the house I also waited for something more to happen and kept glancing over my shoulder every time I went near a street. By the time Thursday came rolling along again I was a tense, nervous wreck, in deep need of some relaxation and I didn't hesitate more than a few seconds before I left Gabriella's office.
Week two had us lying comfortably on mats on the floor of the classroom as we were guided into a meditative state and then walked through a house with different-colored chambers. Some of my rooms were empty, some had things in them and many of them made me feel slightly sick to my stomach. When we were asked if we wanted to share anything from our first meditation experience I shook my head and stared down at the floor as the other women started describing what they had seen.
I jumped up from my position on the floor when the class ended, but was stopped from running out of there by the calm voice of Josh, my teacher.
"Rose," he said "could you stay for a little while?"
I nodded and stood waiting as the room emptied, one excited woman lingering to tell our teacher something with happily waving arms. Josh nodded, smiled and gave her a small hug before saying "see you next Thursday" and sending her on her way. I had already noticed that smiling, touching and hugging seemed to be a natural part of the way Josh communicated with everyone around him and I was hoping he was perceptive enough to see that that wasn't really a good way of approaching me.
I took half a step backwards as he came walking up to me and a quick frown covered his open face before he stopped a few steps away.
"Rose," he said softly "I couldn't help noticing that something made you uncomfortable during the meditation today. And I wanted to tell you that if you feel you need it, you can always talk to me about it. After all, I'm here to help!"
I looked at the sincere expression on his face, thinking that he probably meant it. I took a closer look at him, trying to measure if I could trust him or not. He wasn't the most attractive man I had ever met, with his slightly crooked nose - that seemed to have been broken at least once, his short but shaggy blonde hair and his slightly below average height, but he had wide, strong shoulders and there was something charming about the way he was always smiling happily. But in the sum of everything that was Josh, it was his soft, soothing voice that made me trust him almost enough to tell him about my scary rooms.
"I... I don't think..." I started saying with a shake of my head.
"That's ok," he quickly replied "I'm not going to push you into sharing anything right now, but I want you to know that I'm here for you! If you feel you want to talk about it later on, just grab a hold of me after class!"
With a smile and wave, he let me go and I walked slowly out of there. Suddenly the world was just full of good, caring people. As I scurried back to Gabriella - still looking over my shoulder and all around me on the way back to her - I thought about the way my life had turned just a little bit better, even despite the possibility of someone potentially trying to kill me.
- - - - -
Weeks passed with no further back-pushing, street-stumbling incidents and I started feeling slightly safer. I didn't stop looking over my shoulder and I kept searching for some sign that my husband wanted to be rid of me; but I really couldn't tell between the quickly snapped instructions and the standard criticism that was always bordering on ridicule. But perhaps the fact that I was getting older was enough of a reason?
If it had been difficult to mask the thoughts running through my mind before, the storm of feelings I was now fighting all the time made it nearly impossible. I jumped between feelings of sadness, pain and anger and feelings of happiness, friendship and love. And all of those sentiments were intense and somehow frightening, because I wasn't used to sensing basically anything, except the deep fear that was still my constant companion.
With the weeks passing, a few Thursdays had come and gone and I now had several techniques for breathing and relaxing that I tried to practice every day when I took my walk in the garden. And perhaps I could thank those calm moments for keeping my temper at least visibly at bay.
I met Alfred a couple of more times, but I didn't walk him home and when I started back towards my house he thankfully didn't follow me, but stopped and turned before he could be seen. I kept walking, shaking my head with astonishment at the intelligence of animals. Did he feel the tension in me increasing as I kept walking or could he perhaps smell the scent of pure evil seeping through the walls of the house?
Since I didn't see Alfred home I didn't get a chance to meet Edward, but I was going to pay him a visit on a day I felt strong enough to really talk to him. And the wild storm of feelings that were tearing through me right then made me feel weaker, not stronger. I kept promising myself that I would pay him a visit in just a few days, but a few days became a week and a week became two and after three weeks I felt shakier than ever.
Gabriella kept talking, laughing and pushing me towards a brighter future and when I met her I felt oddly comforted. She had a caring, almost mothering, attitude and I could easily imagine what it would feel like to be brought up by her. I laughed at her and called her my mother hen and she waved me off towards my class with a "sassy girl" comment and a big smile.
The always caring and smiling Josh kept gently trying to coax me into participating more actively in our group activities and he made sure to ask if I needed someone to talk to on several occasions. He had also started touching me as he did with all the rest of the group, shaking my hand as I came and went, patting my shoulder in encouragement and putting a soft hand on my back to help guide me in the simple yoga program that he was trying to teach us.
It was almost as if he knew that I needed to be gently eased into the world of human touch, and for every time he softly greeted or encouraged me or actively showed his concern I grew less and less tense, until finally one day the only thing I felt at his touch was warmth and deep appreciation. I looked up at him with tears filling my eyes and he nodded, seeming to understand what had just happened. After that moment he even gave me the occasional warm hug, and I sucked up all of his kindness and caring and put it in the brittle treasure chest of happiness that I was building in the center of that new, living me.
With my newfound ability to appreciate human closeness came other feelings, forgotten for a long time, feelings that scared me even more. The way a short hug from Josh created bubbles of joy in my stomach and the way an encouraging smile and a softly squeezed shoulder would send tingles of electricity down through my arm and up through my chest. And for every time I met him I would grow more aware of a new and purely physical interest in him. The fact that I hadn't thought him attractive from the beginning was a complete mystery to me; he may not be tall, dark and handsome, but he was warm, giving and extremely charming, inner qualities that were easier for me to appreciate than the outer qualities that I was surrounded by on a daily basis.
The first, tender threads of infatuation were winding themselves around my heart and it was a shy, mumbling, blushing thirty-one-year-old that wandered into the classroom to listen to the wisdoms of the person who was responsible for all of those warm, tingly feelings. It was in equal amounts awkward and exciting, scary and lovely. I knew better than to actively show my attraction, but perhaps Josh was perceptive enough to recognize the signs anyway, because he seemed to pull back slightly, and I took that as a sign of his absolute integrity; that getting involved with one of his students was against his deeply set moral rules.
And of course that made me like him just that little bit more. And I started thinking about him in the most awkward of times, spinning romantic fantasies about him and me that my usual, a whole lot darker thoughts had difficulties brushing away. My distrustful and cynical side had to fight hard to keep me from throwing myself at Josh, as I went through stage upon stage of some sort of super-hormonal teenage infatuation.
I thought about the t-shirt Mary had once given Sarah - with the text "you have to be realistic" printed in block letters on it. I was beginning to think she should have given that t-shirt to me. If things continued like this, I would soon be even more of a hopeless romantic than Sarah. My own special Mary-t-shirt with the simple "in the lie of the beholder" print, I still hadn't quite gotten, but then again Mary wasn't always the easiest person to understand. Nevertheless, I kept that t-shirt well-hidden in my underwear-drawer, and pulled it out when I needed some comfort, because it reminded me of my friends and that I loved them all so very, very much.
I met up with my friends on our regular wine and whine time, but their caring questions and thoughtful expressions almost had me crying, every time. Until Mary had us hysterically laughing at one crazy story or another, leaving me free to breathe and think and love them in silence.
There was no way to hide my inner turmoil from Mary's sharp eyes and she called me at least once a week to talk for a little while, or rather - to check up on me, as she tended to do with all of us when she felt something wasn't quite right. How she had managed to miss my miserable gray days I didn't know, but perhaps I hadn't sent out any signals she could read in my zombie existence.
All of the hours I had spent thinking of some way to protect my friends hadn't produced any workable solutions. Besides finding a powerful ally, the idea of removing some of the family's power, somehow, was the only thing I could think of. And I didn't know how that could be achieved, or where to start.
And without a high protective wall between my husband and my friends, no matter how much support from my new-found network of friendly helpers, I wouldn't even try to get away.
- - - - -
Perhaps it wasn't strange that I wasn't fully concentrated on staying on my toes around my husband. It was rare that he was home in the middle of the day on a workday and perhaps I had started letting my mask slip a little in the daytime. I'm not sure if it was something I did - a smile at the wrong time or some other sign of happiness - or just something that hadn't gone his way lately, but I still ended up suffering from a blow to the back of my head that had my ears ringing before he left the house with angry steps. I walked unsteadily into the garden and aimed for my hidden corner, wiping silent tears from my cheeks.
I sat down and stared unseeingly in front of me, once again collecting the small shards of my frightened self to try to piece myself together. I heard a well-known "wroof" and looked down at a worried-looking dog. He didn't approach me, but sat a few feet away, looking at me and tilting his head slightly to the left as if wondering what had happened this time.
I heard steps coming down the gravel path and worriedly stood up, wondering who was coming my way, hoping that it wasn't my husband.
"Rose," his angry voice called out for me "I wasn't finished with you yet!"
All my senses were screaming for me to get away, but I started walking quickly towards him, to prevent him from seeing Alfred. I had gotten about half way to him, when a golden-haired shape ran past me, heading for my husband. The always so sweet Alfred had now been replaced by an angry, barking dog, fur standing on end and teeth bared in a vicious-looking grin. My husband's quick steps came to a full stop as he stared first at the dog, then at me, then back at the dog. The grim look on his face made my body start to tremble, but when he tried to approach me he was stopped by an angrily barking dog.
"I don't know whose dog this is," he said "but you and that person, and most of all that dog, will all be sorry!"
Once again, shock sent me falling, this time to my knees as I covered my pale face with shaking fingers. I should have known that I couldn't keep Alfred a secret, I should have made sure that Edward kept him safely at home. Why hadn't I gone to Edward and told him about my husband, why hadn't I tried harder to protect them both?
A wet nose pressed to the side of my neck made me look up at poor, dear Alfred. Poor Alfred, poor Edward.
I slowly stood up and walked towards my neighbor's house, followed by a now happily panting dog. I stared down at the ground, not capable of looking at my beautiful surroundings. My steps were heavy as I walked around the corner of the house, straight into a solid form that wrapped its arms tightly around me. A small scream managed to slip out through my tight lips before I froze in absolute terror.
"Rose," a warm voice told me "it's me, Edward. I realize I shouldn't have hugged you, but sometimes I don't think before I react. I'm not going to let you go right now, because I think you're either in shock or that you're having a bad panic attack, but when you feel up to it, we'll go indoors and drink some warm tea."
I'm not sure how many minutes it took for me to unlock my tight jaws and start breathing slowly and steadily, calm breaths to slow my pulse and soften my tensed up muscles. Edward kept talking softly, switching between soothing nonsense-words and telling short stories about Alfred's adventures as a small puppy. I concentrated on breathing and listening until finally the last piece of tension left my body and I leaned into Edwards warm embrace and put my face on his shoulder.
"I'm sorry," I whispered "I'm not having a very good day today."
"I'm sorry I scared you," he whispered back "I didn't mean to make your day even worse. Do you think you can walk those few steps into the house now?"
I straightened up, nodded and walked on weak legs towards the house, pulling myself mostly by the power of my will up the few steps to and through the open front door. I sat down on the chair in the kitchen, where I had been sitting smiling happily just a few weeks ago. I looked up and saw Edward walk in carrying two thick-looking blankets. Before long he had me securely wrapped up in two layers of colorful, comfortable fleece and I soon felt warm and strangely safe.
Edward started making tea in silence and I once again looked at the wall in front of me. All the paintings, pictures and small knick-knacks made me wish I had met his wife. She seemed to have been a bright and cheerful kind of a person, who walked through life spreading happiness.
"When did your wife pass away?" I asked, raising my voice slightly to penetrate the sound of the boiling water.
"Sally died three years ago," he answered, busying himself with the tea pot "in a freak car accident, as she was driving home from the hospital where she was volunteering. She liked to keep busy and she wanted to help people. She didn't' really need to work, since she came from old money, but she loved being able to help in any way she could."
"She must have been a very special person!" I told him, my experience with rich people and their lives mainly showing a great lack of compassion.
"She was," he continued "this house belonged to her, and she kept it and her arms open to anyone who needed it. She even took me in, with all my bad habits of working too much, singing in the shower and digging holes in the butter."
I smiled at the description of his small character flaws, thinking that a loving home with only those types of tiny annoyances sounded absolutely wonderful. I would give up my soul for some normal, healthy bickering about bad habits.
Edward poured the tea and sat down in front of me, studying my face for a long while before letting out a long sigh and leaning back in his chair.
"I heard Alfred barking and I can't imagine it was you he was barking at. Do you think you can tell me what happened?" he asked with his calm, soft voice.
I nodded and cleared my throat, prepared to tell him as much as possible, to make him understand that he needed to get himself and his dog as far away as possible.
"My husband came looking for me when I was... sitting... in the garden. Alfred was there when he started yelling for me to get back to the house, and when I did as he said, Alfred came running and started barking at my husband. And my husband promised he would hurt both you and Alfred."
"And he probably promised he would hurt you too, didn't he?" Edward muttered, his voice still calm, but with a hint of anger in it.
I nodded, but didn't tell him that that had been a certainty even before the man and dog had met in angry battle.
"So if you go back there now, you probably know what will happen, don't you?" he continued, worry showing in the tense lines of his face.
I nodded again, struggling to take one calm breath after the other.
"Will you then let me help you?" he asked, reaching his hand towards me on the table in front of us.
"I can't pull you into this," I whispered "you have no idea of what he's capable of. If he has promised he will hurt you, he will do so by any means necessary. I don't want to see you, Alfred or anyone else hurt! He doesn't know that Alfred is yours yet, but he will find out and then find the quickest and best way of destroying you. You have to get away from here before that happens!"
"But you will let him hurt you?" he responded "You will go back there to get hurt, god knows how much, rather than letting me find you a safe place?"
"To protect the people I love; I would go back there every time!" I whispered.
"Please tell me about them then, these persons that you love, are they the selfish sort of people that would stand back and see you hurt, for them?" he asked, his voice shaking slightly "Because I don't think you would consider them friends if they were that selfish."
"They don't know anything about it," I whispered back "and I don't want them to know. If they knew they would just try to help, and my husband has promised he will destroy them if I go to them for help or if I try to get away from him in any way."
"He's using your friends then to make you do whatever he wants? And you're just going to let him continue doing that? Do you think any friendship is worth that price?" he asked, his voice heavy with sadness and anger.
"If I didn't believe it was worth it, I wouldn't have stayed even a month. But as it is, I'll have to find a way to protect them before I try to get away." I answered, as strong in my conviction as ever.
Edward shook his head, a sad frown covering his face.
"So why don't you call them now and tell them to run far away, as you've done with me? And then let me take you to a safe place?" he asked softly.
"I'm going back there now to tell my husband that I have never seen that dog before, and you're going to make sure that both you and Alfred are as far away as possible when my husband starts searching for you!" I said as I rose slowly and removed the blankets around me.
I took a deep breath and walked out of there, hoping that he had listened to what I'd been saying, that he would heed my warning.
* * * * *
I had reached out to try to help her, but she wouldn't accept my offered assistance, and in my heart I had already known that she wouldn't. I had tried to make her see that she had to get away, had tried to make her understand that there was no way for her to protect everyone around her, but I had failed.
I had first seen her beauty, admiring the perfect flower from afar. I had then seen her weak and trembling, that same flower shaken by powerful winds. And I had now finally seen her strength, the steel behind her frail appearance, which left the flower standing after a heavy rain.
I knew there wasn't much I could do save her from what was to come, but I had to try. I picked up my phone and called my nephew, hoping that he would have some contacts in the police force that could help save her.
I was going to continue trying until there was nothing more I could do. And then I would still try just a little bit longer.
Apr 23, 2018 in romance