Ellie pushed open the heavy, gilded door and exited out into the rain.  It wasn’t so much rain as drizzle and she could feel the cool water sprinkle her forehead and gather into a drip that puddled between her eyebrows as she struggled with her umbrella.  Merrick Road was still bustling -- the BMWs of wealthy locals mixing with the bitchin’ Camaros of young kids out cruising. 

The date with John had been okay, but she’d known by the appetizer course that this would be the first and last.  They were sharing bruschetta and, reaching simultaneously for a piece of toast, their hands had brushed.  That’s when she saw it: 

A living room with an old fashioned, powder blue couch as the centerpiece, faced by stately arm chairs in a floral print and a spindly table supporting one of those clear glass lamps that are filled with seashells.   A china cabinet, ornate and overpowering, but obviously not expensive, like a symbol of the greater but unachieved ambitions of its owner, stood against the far wall. John had a belt in his hand, raised above his head ready to strike.  Spittle glistened off his lips as he yelled.  She couldn’t hear what he was saying, she never could, but she could see the words his mouth formed, “Stupid bitch!” 

A dark haired woman who appeared to be in her early twenties cowered on the other side of the coffee table from John, bracing herself against the arm of the couch with one hand as she held the other arm up to protect her face. She looked terrified, sad and tired all at the same time.  This was not the first time this has happened.  John brought the belt down on the side of her belly.  

The vision left suddenly and she realized that John was asking what she did for a living.  He was speaking while chewing, which annoyed her, but the way he held his hand, half-hiding his full lips and square chin in an attempt to be polite, was strongly sexual.  There was no doubt that he was a very attractive man and if she’d not witnessed his cruelty, she might have pursued a relationship purely on his physical charisma.  But she knew that inside this well manicured and seemingly gentle man was a monster.  The visions didn’t come reliably, but she’d learned to trust them.  

Not wanting to get into the details, she’d been vague when John asked if she’d like to get together again, politely thanked him for dinner and left.  She was so happy to have her daughter.  It was always easier to leave a date early when you could use the excuse of having to pay a sitter.  And let’s face it, few guys try to talk you into an after dinner drink at your place when they’re faced with conversation with an eight year old. She’d give it a day and then text him that she wasn’t interested.  She hated to do it by text, but she didn’t want to hear his voice again.  

She turned off of Merrick Road onto her block. Raindrops fell diagonally in the muddled, yellow light of the streetlamps.  Here and there, people were settling down to watch late night TV. She parked and unlocked the front door.  Her sitter, Dawn, the daughter of a neighbor, stood up quickly from the couch and reached for her jacket. Even with her attempts to cut dinner short, John had wanted to talk at length about himself and she knew she was later than usual.  
“Dawn, I’m sorry.  Here’s an extra $10 for your time.”

“Thanks Ms. Garofalo, no problem.”

She closed the door behind Dawn, retreated to her bedroom for a shower and went to sleep.

Her iPhone sounded the wake up bell at 6:00 am.  Why had she had so much wine with dinner?  She’d just needed to numb herself to what she’d seen, she reasoned.  

One by one, she lowered her feet off the bed, feeling the slight dampness of the morning chill climb up her toes and race up her legs. She hated mornings. It made no sense to her why the day had to start at 8:30 and you were expected to wear makeup. The two things just didn’t work together for her.  

After fighting traffic on the Southern State Parkway, she settled into her cubicle, hanging her umbrella and coat by the window.  Work was dull, but she was good at her job and well respected, and the days generally seemed to go quickly.  She finished a last, lukewarm, sip of coffee and sent the document she was editing off to print.  In the copy room, her coworker Susan was stacking and stapling a set of presentations for a meeting.  

“Hey Susan,” Ellie said, swiping her badge against the machine to activate its controls.  

“Hey! Don’t use that machine, it’s driving me crazy. The toner is running out and smudging everything.”

“Thanks Susan.”

“So.... How was the date last night?” Susan asked, with big, bright eyes and a little giggle, like she was twelve.

“He was handsome and everything, but I just...didn’t like his personality,” Susan replied.

“What was it? Was he a narcissist?”

“Kind of.”

“Ugh, I hate that! Well, why don’t you finally give in and go out with my friend Rob?  He’s  not the most amazingly handsome guy in the world, but he’s not ugly and he’s got a really good personality - I promise. I wouldn’t set you up with someone horrible.  I’ve known Rob for years. He was a really good friend in college.”

“I don’t know Susan. I’m getting really tired of the whole dating thing.  It’s exhausting.  Do you realize that I haven’t been on one date in months that was better than sitting on my couch alone with a tub of popcorn, watching a movie?  Do you know how boring or annoying someone has to be to ruin a nice dinner? Pretty annoying.”

“Geez Ellie, have you ever thought that it might be you?” Susan said, cracking a sarcastic smile.

“Fuck you!” Ellie squealed, laughing. “Ok, how bad can he be?”

She’d gone out with Rob to a fun little Mexican place, followed by a show at The Paramount in Huntington.  They’d seen Blondie, and she was impressed to find out that he’d taken the time to ask Susan about the types of things she liked.  Spicy food and Debbie Harry were on the list.  She’d not seen any bad visions during the date and returned home feeling elated from the laughs and generally easy conversation they’d enjoyed.  It hadn’t felt like a first date and Ellie had always believed that when something felt right, it generally was.

Three weeks later, the two had progressed from another “formal” date to several evenings of just hanging out in Ellie’s home, watching movies with Samantha and then making out after Ellie put her to bed.  Tonight they had watched Hook, one of Samantha’s favorites, and Rob had laughed and played Peter Pan and Captain Hook with her on the living room rug.  Ellie had sat back, quietly watching and thinking.  It all seemed so perfect and she said a quiet prayer that with Rob, she had found “forever”.  Most of all, she prayed for a new father figure for Samantha. She needed it so much.

That night they made love quietly and then snuggled for an hour in a thick, down comforter before Rob kissed her and let himself out to head home.
Sunday, their one month anniversary, Ellie met Rob at the same restaurant they’d gone to for their first date. She’d bought a new dress and had her hair and makeup done professionally. She fought her natural pessimistic desire to label the entire thing as silly. A 38 year old mother, celebrating a one month anniversary?  Over margaritas?  It made her feel young and naive again, but she remembered that this was how she’d felt when she first met Samantha’s father and even up until his final weeks, before the cancer had taken him.  “This isn’t silly,” she thought.  “This is love.”

After dinner, Rob invited her back to his place.  He had never even suggested his apartment before, but she’d contributed it to his trust issues. He’d been very open that he had been hurt badly in the past and that it took him a long time to feel comfortable with anyone.  She felt honored that he was letting her in.  

His apartment was decorated how she had expected.  Clean lines, tasteful and masculine, like him.  The door opened to an entryway with a beautiful stained glass lamp that emitted a soft, romantic glow and spread hues of red and green against the wall. Past it was a cozy den, with a sofa of rich cherry wood and pillows that reminded Ellie of a cabin in Maine she’d once stayed in with her parents when she was a girl.  
Rob made each of them a martini and they sat closely together, sipping their drinks and chatting.  

“Rob, thank you for a great evening. And, happy anniversary.”  She blushed from her discomfort. “I can’t believe I’m saying that. I can’t believe that I found someone like you.”

“Me either,” Rob said, brushing her ear with his lips so that she could feel the exhale of his words. “It’s strange, but I feel like I’ve known you forever, and now I want to have you forever.”  Kissing her, he slid her back onto the couch and began removing her shirt and bra. She slid his shirt up over his head and grabbed his hair, pulling him down on top of her. 

Ellie opened her eyes and realized she’d fallen asleep.  “Hello?” she called, her voice weak and scratchy.  

“Hey beautiful.” She heard Rob’s voice behind her and turned over. 

“How long was I out?”

“Just a few minutes.  I’m not surprised you’re tired - the sex was incredible.”  He smiled.   “Why don’t you just stay over?”

“I don’t know.  I’d love to, but I need to get home to Samantha.”

“What if I told you that I’d already called Dawn and offered to pay her $100 to stay and watch Samantha for the night?”  His grin stretched from ear to ear and his eyes sparkled at her with excitement. 

“I don’t know Rob. I want to make sure she’s OK.”

“She is, don’t worry. I promise. Dawn said she was already sleeping and that she’d locked everything up for the night, so everyone was safe.”

“OK, I’ll stay.”  She was a little worried, but at the same time, she felt free. For the first time in a long time, she was giving herself something she really wanted. And Rob seemed to care as much about her daughter as she did. Everything would be fine.

“I refilled your glass.  It’s in the bathroom.  I lit some candles and put out a towel. Why don’t you go take a long hot shower and then come to bed and fall asleep on my chest?”

“That sounds incredible,” she replied.  “I think I will.”


A mist of steam hung in the air right below the ceiling, enveloping Ellie’s body in a mist of warmth as she took off her clothes. The candles were beautiful, four of them dispersed around the room.  For a few minutes, she just stood under the spray of the shower, letting the hot water stream over her head, down her back and trickling off her nipples.  

She slowly washed her hair, massaging her scalp and really enjoying it until she began to laugh, imaging herself as one of the ladies in the old shampoo commercials, washing their hair and moaning suggestively about how good it smelled.  She smiled and thought about Rob waiting for her in the bedroom.  “Why am I taking so long when that’s waiting for me out there?”  She reached for the soap.

Twirling the bar of Ivory around in her hands to lather up, she noticed a short, curly hair on the bar. She’d seen Rob naked enough times to know that there was nothing gross about one of his stray hairs, but there was something about it on the soap that revolted her.  Using her fingernails, she scraped along the edge of the soap to pry it up and held it between two fingers.  And then her eyes glazed over.

A young woman, a blond, was showering.  She massaged soap over her shoulders and chest, foaming it up before letting the water slowly wash it off.  She put one foot up on the corner of the tub to wash her legs. A small noise. It was the doorknob turning.  It stopped and nothing followed.  The blond turned her head, which had swung towards the door at the noise, back towards her leg. The doorknob again. The blond pulled her leg down so that her feet were firmly planted and, leaning towards her right, pulled back the curtain just enough to peek.  From the other direction, the curtain was torn back, curtain rings breaking and flying in all directions, to reveal her naked body now closing up like a clam shell to protect herself.  A man’s hands grabbed the woman and forced her against the wall. A light blue rag was pressed against her mouth. After a few seconds, the woman slumped into a pile at the bottom of the tub, water pouring over her.  The man’s hand reached in and turned off the shower. 

Ellie came back to her senses, breath coming in heaving gasps. “What was that?” she screamed inside her head. Her body was shivering now, despite the heat.  “Who was he?  Why couldn’t I see his face?  It couldn’t have been Rob!  I won’t believe that.”  She knew that her visions were always accurate, but they’d always come from a person’s touch.  Never a piece of clothing or, a hair? How could she be sure it was his?  But, it had to be.  Who else’s could it be? “Stay calm Ellie, stay calm.”

She needed space to think.  She had no proof that the person she’d seen was Rob, but she was in no state to think about cuddling up with him in bed right now.  She would just say that as much as she wanted to stay, she had gotten worried about Samantha in the shower and really wanted to be home with her. She hoped he’d understand.  

Ellie slowly opened the bathroom door. Steam billowed out, distorting her view of the hallway. Down the hall, through the bedroom door, she saw a candle burning on the table.  To her left, she could see the living room that was now dark.  She took a few steps towards it, looking for her clothes, which she’d left on the floor by the coffee table when they’d had sex. They were gone.  He must have taken them back to the bedroom.  “Shit,” she thought. She’d hoped to be able to get dressed first, so that it was easier to quickly excuse herself.  

“Ellie?” Rob called from the bedroom.  “I’m back here!”

“Ok...coming!” she called back.  She walked down the hall, feeling heavier with each footstep. She was suddenly overtaken by fear. If she’d even had a shirt, she might’ve just run to her car, but she was totally naked and the towel he’d left her was too small to cover her entire body.  

Arriving at the bedroom door, she didn’t see Rob. Where was he?  She remembered that the bathroom had a connecting door from his bedroom. He must be in there.  This was her chance.  She found her clothes, folded neatly on a trunk at the end of the bed and put on her panties.  She began explaining, “Rob, I’m really sorry sweetie. I got nervous in the shower and I don’t think I’ll feel better until I’m at home with Samantha....”  She pulled her shirt over her head. Her mind was racing, but she wasn’t thinking of anything other than beating the clock -- getting dressed and to the door, before he could finish whatever he was doing and stop her. 

She began pulling up her jeans, having to force the skinny cut legs up over her calves, and continued “I’m really sorry Rob. I’m sure it sounds silly, but I just think I need to....”

The last thing that Ellie thought was that the damp rag over her mouth was burning her lungs. 


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