I used to believe people were inherently good, if only at their core. I saw the brokenness of the homeless. The, if only he caught a break. . . I respected the overachiever in the football star, hoping for Daddy’s approval even though he knew he’d never get it. I saw the heart of the sinner. The souls of lovers. The shattered dreams of an abandoned child. I saw good in evil. Spirit in the unholy. The complexities of love, marriage, life. Hell, I welcomed the challenge. I had hopes and dreams and affirmations. I did.
And then, that all changed. My views shattered. Or maybe, my eyes finally opened.
That’s what Niko would say. Though now, devastation also fills his eyes. He no longer looks at me as his optimistic wife who loves life. I miss our blissful marriage. I miss our baby. I miss my blindfold. Oh, how I wish I could put it back on. Most of all, I miss. . . me.
Now, I’m just trying to survive. And so, I go through life on autopilot.
Clutching a load of laundry I hobbled down the stairs. A white-hot pain shot to my right knee and folded me in half. The basket of clothes tumbled down the stairs– socks, T-shirts, jeans, shorts and Niko’s sheriff’s uniform strewn about the living room floor.
I fell back against the stairs. Twined my arms around the railing and stared at the white lines on my forearms left by the knife. The thick scar on my neck tugged at the skin as I straightened. Even after three long years and hours and hours of counseling, one small reminder– the sight of my scars– made me relive that night over again. I still could not get past what that man did to me.
The phone startled me when it rang.
I didn’t want to answer, but when you’re married to the Sheriff that isn’t an option. I raised the receiver to my ear. “Hello?”
“Who’s this?” a man queried, his voice fuzzy as if he were disguising it.
“Who’s this? You called me.”
“I think I have the wrong number.”
A dial tone sounded.
That was weird. I loaded the clothes back in the basket and then turned to walk down the hall when the phone rang again. I’d had it with this guy. I darted over and answered with a firm, “Hello.”
The same voice said, “Sheriff Quintano, please.”
“Didn’t you just call here?”
“Sheriff Quintano, please.”
“He’s not home. He’s at work. Who is this?”
The line went dead.
“Jerk!” I slammed the handset in its cradle. Again I picked up the laundry basket and headed down the hall. A sudden chill sheathed my arms in goosebumps as I realized I had just announced I was alone in the house.
As if I had willed it the cordless phone’s musical trill resonated down the hall. Ruger and Colt jolted to their paws and took notice. I winced, not wanting to answer. Once it rang a third time I hurried over, hissed, “I told you he’s not home. What do you want from me? Why are you calling back?”
“Do you want to live forever?”
A cold sweat broke across my back as my heart slammed against my rib cage. “What’d you say?” I prayed I hadn’t heard him correctly, tried to convince myself this could not be happening again.
He repeated, “Do you want to live forever?”
He found me. How did he find me? I’d been so careful. I hadn’t left a forwarding address. Our phone number was not listed in the book. The neighbors had all asked where we were moving to and I’d been careful not to tell any of them. All I said was north, and left it at that. I’d done everything right. Everything I could think of to make us fade into obscurity. And yet, he called.
As if it was on fire I dropped the handset into its cradle, disconnected from the past.
Sprinting from room to room, I closed and secured all the windows and checked the locks on the front and back doors. Bolted upstairs and pressed my foot on the security bar in the sliders. Colt and Ruger watched me zip around the house not knowing what was wrong. Ruger finally laid his head down on his paws and went to sleep while Colt bound over and stayed on my heels.
I had just returned to the kitchen table when the phone rang again. My gaze locked on the handset. And I froze. Colt’s face ping-ponged between me and the phone as he put the pieces together in his mind. He then trotted over and knocked the receiver off its cradle, gently clasped it in his lips and carried it over to me. I knew he was only trying to help, using his training to aid me, but at that moment that was the last thing I wanted him to do.
Slowly I raised the handset. Didn’t speak, just listened to someone breathe on the other end of the line. I slapped my hand over my mouth and held back screams. I refused to give this man the satisfaction of knowing he was terrifying me. But I also couldn’t hang up. His breath held me hostage. My fingers lost feeling around the handset, knuckles white from lack of blood flow. I was in his command, unable to move.
He echoed, “Do you want to live forever?”
I gaped left, then right. He could be outside my home hiding in the bushes. If I didn’t respond he might come inside. He could have stalked me for days, weeks, months. Maybe he’s always been here. In the shadows, just out of reach. Watching. Waiting. Planning.
Why, oh, why was this happening again?
Razor-sharp pains shot to my right knee, ribs, arms and stomach as though I was reliving the ordeal. “What do you want?” I cringed, awaiting his response.
He laughed a demonic bellow.
I wish Niko had killed him that night. I wish his guts had splattered all over my living room walls, dousing me in his death. I wish I saw him take his last breath and his evil soul plummet to hell. Then maybe I could finally breathe again. How he survived still baffled me.