The fear was causing every neuron in her body to fire at once. The panic threatened to overtake her as she forced her spine straight. This time, it would be different. This time, she would protect herself. This time, she wouldn’t be the victim.
Maybe she felt a change in the barometric pressure or maybe it was intuition…she didn’t know. She lowered herself onto the floor and attempted to slow the rhythm of her heart.
It wasn’t that she heard him kick down the door, but rather she felt his anger shake the house. He had come back for her. The rhythm of her heart seemed to beat in time with her dogs’ constant barking. They could feel her terror.
She was tucked in the small space between the bed and the wall. She willed her breathing to slow down, to focus. Her hands were slippery. In the moment, she couldn’t tell if it was from adrenaline or from the tears running down her face.
She could hear his footsteps coming down the hall.
This was it.
He rounded the corner and came into view. His shirt was torn, exposing a six-inch scar just below his collarbone. She remembered tearing into his flesh when he had attacked her. The bitter taste of his blood covered her face. That had been the only reason she had survived.
The scar reminded her why she would survive now.
She pulled the trigger.
* * *
Elizabeth Drew stared at the desk in front of her. It was steel. She pulled back and looked at the bolts that fastened it to the ground.
She remembered the way he had looked at her on that first day. He had smiled, and it was just a smile. It was the look afterward that should have warned her. His eyes were dark and, although he was smiling, it was as if his eyes betrayed him. They were darker and colder. They were the eyes of someone hiding a secret.
Yet she ignored his eyes and welcomed the smile. When he had come up to her and introduced himself, she was caught off guard. He was not good looking in the traditional sense. His teeth were slightly crooked, and his skin was hard from working outdoors. Yet there was something that was appealing. Or at the very least intriguing. Yes, this guy seemed different. His hands were rugged and he kept them shoved in his pockets whenever he spoke.
Tim was his name.
A woman in her forties entered the room. Elizabeth watched her carefully. She had dark hair cut just below her chin. Her shoulders were rigid, and she had the same desolate expression that Elizabeth knew so well.
“Can I get you anything to drink?” She asked.
Elizabeth shook her head, “I’m fine.”
The woman pulled out a tape recorder.
“Elizabeth, I’m Sergeant Parker and this session is being recorded. Will you please start at the beginning?”
* * *
Tim had insisted that he knew her from somewhere. Although she was positive she had never encountered him, she was flattered. It was nice to be wanted.
He showered her with affection. Every day, he showed up with gifts. Coffee, chocolate, and flowers. Soon he was waiting for her after all of her classes. He would wait outside, staring in the window, watching her. At first, Elizabeth was charmed. He was the first man to ever actively pursue her.
Elizabeth paused and made eye contact with Sergeant Parker. “Would it be possible to get some water?” she asked.
The detective nodded, but she didn’t move from her chair. Elizabeth knew that someone on the other side of the glass would be bringing her drink.
It was September 20th. Elizabeth remembered the date because she always scheduled her hair appointments on the twentieth of each month. It was easier to remember. She had smiled at her hairstylist as she shook her newly darkened locks across her shoulders. She loved it.
Elizabeth had been smiling when he burst into the salon and headed straight toward them. “What did you do?” He demanded sharply.
Elizabeth was taken aback as she watched Tim belittle her hairstylist. Elizabeth grabbed at his hand, trying to calm him down. “What is your problem?” She yelled, struggling to get her voice loud enough so that he would hear her.
He turned and slapped her across the mouth.
It happened so quickly Elizabeth had not been able to register it.
* * *
A plainclothes officer placed a bottle of water directly in front of her before stepping out of the room. Elizabeth unscrewed the cap and brought it to her lips. Her hands were shaking so badly that some water dripped down her chin. Her eyes met the detective’s and she continued.
* * *
He was apologetic.
In the car, Elizabeth had placed as much space between them as she could. His apology was rushed and laced with anger as he weaved around cars. Elizabeth was not crying, but he was. His tears scared her more than his temper because it seemed like there was something inside of him that he could not control.
She knew his behavior was not acceptable. She remembered thinking if she could just get to her parents’ house everything would be okay. Her dad would protect her.
And he would have, if he had known. But Elizabeth didn’t tell her father in fear he would be angry with her for dating someone so much older. Elizabeth thought she could handle Tim on her own. She stopped seeing him and refused his phone calls and emails. She had thought that it was over. That her life would go back to normal.
He continued to send gifts and wait outside of her classes. Campus security escorted her to and from class, and even though she didn’t see him, she knew he was still there. Watching her from a distance with his dark and empty eyes.
The text messages began a week later.
One night he would demand to know whom she was talking to at the store. The following day he would text her, letting her know his relief that she had gotten home safely. The messages started including photos. Photos of her in class. Photos of her in the car. Photos of her in her home. Changing.
His behavior became more frightening.
He would park his car across from hers in the parking lot. He wouldn’t attempt to talk to her, but he would follow her.
Elizabeth remembered arriving at her car and finding the little black box wedged between her windshield wipers. Her heart was hammering as she clicked it open. There was a silver band. Inside the words “till death do us part” were inscribed.
Elizabeth dropped the box as if she had been stung.
The police couldn’t help unless he made physical contact. They urged her to keep a journal detailing her experience. Someday, you might have enough for a restraining order, they said.
* * *
There was a deep sadness in the way the Sergeant looked at her that Elizabeth hated. Yet, she understood. She had spent the better part of the last ten years feeling that same sadness within her. Yet at this moment, she wished for nothing more than to disappear.
Sergeant Parker drew in a deep breath and Elizabeth knew what she would ask.
Elizabeth recounted, in disturbing detail that night in January.
Elizabeth’s entire body was rigid as she finished, except her hands. They were trembling in her lap.
Both women looked at each other, their expressions mirroring the fear that Elizabeth had experienced on that night. On so many levels, Elizabeth just wanted to go home. It had been ten years, and she wanted nothing more than to move on and put him behind her.
It had been eight years since she had testified in court.
* * *
The prosecuting attorney had urged the jury to judge the man before them, not as a human, but as a predator. Elizabeth had refused to look at him. Police officers flanked her on both sides. She had been able to feel the heat from his stare.
She had swallowed hard and tried to push it from her thoughts. Instead she stared at her hands folded in her lap, willing herself to stay still. Her pinky twitched, and she curled her hands into fists. She flicked her eyes up and caught his.
They were still dark, still empty.
Instead of looking away, she held his stare. Memories flooded back to her in rapid succession.
She couldn’t look away. He had stolen everything from her. Her innocence, her happiness, her life. The rage she felt somehow calmed her nerves. It was as if accepting the anger allowed her to move on.
When the jury sentenced him to the next five years in prison…that was when he had finally exploded. His scream was more animalistic than human. From the defense table, he lunged at her, his eyes wild with anger. “I’ll kill you!” he screamed. He had continued to yell at her, even as the officers hauled him away.
* * *
For five years she had felt safe. Although the differences did not go unnoticed. She no longer made eye contact with strangers. She varied her routine so no one could trace her daily habits. She went to three different gyms. She was careful not to reveal any intimate details about her life. She seldom welcomed new friends into her home, preferring to be alone. Yet she was stronger. She trusted her instincts.
Over time, she began to feel at ease. Or at least, at ease with the decisions she had made. She would not be the victim.
When her dogs began barking that night, she knew he had come back for her. Elizabeth rolled from her bed and wedged herself between the wall and bed frame. She dug between the mattresses and felt the cold steel between her fingers.
Closing her eyes, she waited.
This time, she would protect herself.