At precisely seven o’clock, the intercom sounds, and I press the button allowing access to the inner building. I cross the room to unlock the latches on the front door, leaving it slightly ajar.
Dashing back into my bedroom, I grab my clutch, phone and lip gloss. Quickly, I apply a light spray of my favorite perfume. When I return to the lounge, the front door is closed but the room is empty.
The picture on the wall is now hanging straight.
My heart gallops irregularly in my chest as I realize I didn’t check that it was Eric before I pressed the button.
Could Blake be here?
Breathe. In … out … in … out. I order myself to calm. The horror of my marriage with Blake returns in a single, sickening rush. What will he do when he finds me?
“Hello?” I call out, but my voice is raspy, barely a whisper.
I desperately hope for Eric’s easygoing greeting to ring out, but there is nothing but silence. My blood runs cold, and I can’t breathe.
My mobile slips from my shaking fingers. The thud as it hits the floor startles me out of shock, and I bend down to retrieve my phone. My lifeline.
Gripping my bag tightly, I estimate there are ten steps to the door. Silently I take the first few steps. On my fifth step, a shadow moves to my left, and I bolt the last distance and fling the door open with enough force that it bounces off the wall. I run to the elevator instead of the stairs, hoping it will be faster.
I jab frantically at the button. The screen indicates it has just left the ground floor.
It’s not going to arrive in time. I bounce up and down on the spot. Do I have time to take the stairs?
I’ll have to run past my front door to get there. Can I even run down the stairs in these shoes? I won’t have time to take them off; they have tiny buckles. Irrational thoughts flood through my mind, and I imagine myself stumbling and falling down the stairwell, only to land in a crumpled heap at the bottom.
Hurry up, damn it. The elevator has reached the second floor. There are six more to go.
Perhaps I should take the stairs?
“Ivy.” The voice permeates the fog of panic in my mind. It doesn’t sound like a sword being drawn out of a scabbard, sending cold shivers down my spine. It sounds soothing, like a cup of warm chocolate. The voice is calling for Ivy, not Sarah.
My mind blanks, and slowly, I turn towards the voice. The elevator rings, signaling its arrival. I can escape now. I look at Eric’s concerned face and realize there is no need to run. He puts a bottle of wine and a glass down on the ground just inside my apartment door and stands in front of me, grasping my shoulders.
“Ivy, are you okay? What is it?”
I realize how I must appear, like a wild animal that has just been through the throes of a chase from a predator. Eric pulls me to him in a powerful crush.
“Jesus, you are shaking like a leaf.” He runs a hand up and down my back, and I can hear his heartbeat, strong, calm, and reassuring through his chest.
Relief that Eric is here and not Blake, hits me with a powerful rush. Pulling away, I try to stand, but my knees wobble then buckle beneath me. When I hit the cold floor, I start to cry from the reminder that this is still far from over.
I still live with extreme fear that Blake will find me. And of what will happen when he does.
Strong arms lift me and through my sobs, and I hear the door shut. Finally, I begin to quiet enough to hear his soft, soothing words murmuring against my hair.
As my strength begins to return, I wriggle out of his arms. “Did you straighten that picture?” I demand.
Eric shrugs. “It was crooked.”
“Well, don’t … just don’t touch my things, all right?”
“Okay.” His face falls, and I immediately feel bad. He can’t possibly know that every day for years I lived with Blake’s obsessive compulsion to have things absolutely straight, and ordered the way he wanted it, right down to the cutlery in the drawer and the type of food we kept in the fridge.
I glance uneasily over to the vertical strip on the kitchen blind, and a shiver rolls down my spine. I still think I would have noticed it at some point before tonight. I have been living here for months now.
I can’t shake an instinctual feeling that he has been here, and it’s what caused my apparent over-reaction tonight. No matter how hard I try I can’t dislodge the thick and heavy sense of foreboding that has settled over me.
“Can you tell me what put that look of terror on your face and caused you to run for your life just now?”
My eyes take in the bottle of wine and empty glass on the floor. I realize Eric probably went straight to the kitchen when he arrived, casually straightening the picture on his way past. I cringe at how I must appear to him.
“You thought it was him. You thought he found you.” It wasn’t a question, but I nod anyway, not trusting myself to speak past the constriction in my throat.
“And the picture, straightening it is something he would do.”
Once again, I nod yes, and tears roll silently and unchecked down my cheeks.
“Oh Eric, I am so sorry.” A huge sob escapes, resounding loudly in the small room. I look away as embarrassment heats my cheeks.
“Sweet Jesus, what has that bastard done to you?”