It’s the first Friday of the month. Time for another fiction installment. (Links for this and all Fiction Features can be found on the Freebies page.)
This short story is the result of my experimenting with all the senses, not just sight (as most of us default to). Hope you enjoy it.
I know three things when I wake up. One, I’m not in my own bed. Two, I’m not in my own clothes. And three, I have been drugged. I can only come up with two explanations for my current situation. I am sick or injured and am in the hospital. Tragic, but acceptable. And given that I feel like crap, it is entirely possible. The second reason would be that I have been dosed and abused. That’s far less palatable an option, and isn’t going to go well for somebody, hopefully somebody other than me, once I get on my feet. Question is, who will it go badly for? No way am I opening my eyes and giving away my position until I have more information. If I have to get the drop on somebody, I want the upper hand. My dad taught me the basics of defense before he died. Stealth was lesson one.
I lie still in the strange bed, trying to take in my surroundings without anyone knowing I’m awake. Blankets cover me up to my shoulders, so I can safely move my fingers if I don’t make large movements. Sliding my fingers along the sheets, I try to analyze the quality of the linens. They aren’t the four hundred thread-count I like, but they are soft. Definitely aren’t the hard industrial thread-count I expect of an institution needing to bleach its sheets daily. My fingers touch something wet, and I instantly recoil my hand. Wetness doesn’t bode well.
Angling my head just to the left, I breathe long and slow through my nose… I don’t smell any antiseptic, disinfectant, or air freshener. Probably not a medical facility. I smell the subtle scent of a man’s cologne in the bed and realize these are definitely not hospital sheets. Uh-oh… cologne in the sheets? It’s a nice smell, musky… reminds me of something or someone, but I can’t place what or who. Fear creeps up my spine, an icefloe spreading through my body. Trying to get my wits about me, I take a second, deeper sniff and I get whiffs of whiskey, rum and gin. It kind of warms me. Weird. Unfortunately, at this point I can definitely rule out hospitals and medical facilities. I’m screwed.
No conversation going on around me. Hmm. That doesn’t mean I’m alone. Straining, I hear soft music coming from what must be another room, but I can’t quite make out what’s playing. Perhaps there are people in there. Or a single person. My best bet for escape is a single person. But how to tell?
At some point I’m going to have to open my eyes, at least a crack, and take a peek. But I’d rather not do that unless I’m alone. Of course, I won’t know for certain that I’m alone unless I look. I listen again for sounds in the room…
“How long are you going to lie there pretending you’re still out cold?”
Busted. When I open my eyes, my gaze is locked with the man’s who is sitting next to the bed. The large, burly man. A yard away.
I yank up the sheet as far as I can and scramble to sit. Ugh. My stomach lurches and my head reels at even that small movement, but I’m more concerned with the beast at my bedside than I am with my hangover. “Who are you? Where am I?”
He ignores me, but his face clouds. I don’t know why, but I feel sorry for yelling at him. Then I immediately shrug it off. Why should he feel bad, and why should I care if he does?
He asks me, “Can I get you anything? A drink? Toast?”
Even my hair hurts. I think I might be sick. Why isn’t he climbing all over me? Oh, right. He probably already did that. Saliva wells in my mouth and I try to swallow it past the lump in my throat. “What are you going to do to me?” I whisper.
He sighs and stands up. “Probably should start with juice and dry toast. I’ll be right back.” He leaves through the only door toward what I assume is the main part of his apartment. I’d have to go through him to get out, and I’m not doing that in a t-shirt and nothing else. At least, not yet. Not while I’m queasy and confused. I need my strength, then I’m so out of there, or I’ll die trying. I try to rub my temples, but just touching my head hurts it. My fingers probe my forehead gingerly. Man, he must have done quite a number on me. There’s a huge lump there. No wonder I’m addle-brained and nauseated. I’m probably concussed.
I look around the room. Of course there’s no phone. Why did people stop getting land lines? God, am I really in a t-shirt and nothing else? Dropping the covers, I look at myself. The soft cotton of a too large Pillsbury Doughboy tee is the only thing covering me. Despite the seriousness of my predicament, I laugh a little. I love Poppin’ Fresh. I vaguely remember laughing over a shirt just like that on a rack at the Galleria. Who was I there with? I can’t remember. I definitely have a concussion. When I see him approach, I pull the covers back up.
He comes back with toast and juice and puts the tray down on the bed. Sitting back on his chair, he says, “Eat. You must feel dreadful.”
“Like you care.”
He merely raises an eyebrow at me.
“What’d you put on the toast?”
“Nothing. Dry first. Maybe you can have something else, if you hold this down.”
“No, I mean… never mind.” If he drugged me last night, surely he isn’t beyond doing it again. I don’t touch the food.
He watches me for a minute, then he picks up the toast and bites it, and takes a sip of the juice. “See. Perfectly safe. You need to eat. Flush your system. You’ll feel better.”
I would likely feel better if I eat, but why the sudden change of heart? The toast looks really appealing, as only dry toast can to someone with a churning stomach. It was nice of him to cut it into small triangles. My mother used to do that. One small bite and my throat is rubbed raw. I wash the crumbs down with a sip of juice. The flavor explodes on my tongue. Liquid sunshine, yet cool and tart. Quenched, I nibble on more toast and study my captor, and he offers me a soft smile while I chew. He looks really familiar to me, but concentrating hurts my head. The familiarity is probably because he stalked and drugged me and dragged me to his place to have his way with me. But that smile… those eyes…
Am I already slipping into Stockholm Syndrome over a wedge of toast? Get a grip.
I point a toast triangle at him. “You still haven’t said what you’re going to do with me.”
“What makes you think I’m going to do anything with you?”
“Isn’t that how these things usually work? You abduct someone and then you either ransom them or kill them? Just so you know, I don’t have any family, so you picked the wrong girl if you’re looking for a large pay out. And I don’t plan on dying without putting up one hell of a fight.” Laying my cards on the table is either brave or stupid. It’s probably stupid, but I’m tired, sick and scared, and I just want to know where I stand.
“What is it, exactly, you think happened?” He leans forward and rests his arms on his knees. I should probably be concerned about him crowding in on my space, but it really doesn’t faze me at this point. What more can he do to me that he hasn’t already done, other than the obvious?
I put the toast down. Just that little bit of food has me raring to go. It’s high noon, and my trigger finger is itchy. “You drugged me, took me wherever we are, raped me who knows how many times and now I want to know what’s next.”
He runs his hand through his hair and then stands up and paces. A pillow falls off the chair and onto the floor with a soft thud. “God, Anna.”
“So you know my name.”
“Of course I do. Look, I’m trying to be patient here, but I can’t listen to much more of this. I can’t watch you look at me this way.”
“Then call the cops. I’ll look at them this way. I’ll talk to them like this.”
“Damn it, Anna.” He kicks the pillow across the room. “I’m going out to the living room. Finish your food, get dressed. Come out when you’re ready.”
“Dressed in what? You took my clothes.”
He yanks open the door of an armoire on his way out to the living room.
What am I supposed to do with that? Root through his things until I find sweats and a tee that fit? Or, God forbid, he’s a serial rapist and there are tons of women’s outfits in there.
The toast and the juice aren’t going to happen at this point. I creep over to the armoire and peer inside. It’s impossible, but I recognize two shelves of the clothes. I know them because they are mine. Did he steal everything I own? Is he planning on keeping me forever? Confused, I grab the first things I see and dress, then I step into the living room. It’s silent now, but for the clatter of him bustling around the kitchen.
This is my chance. I tiptoe toward the door when my gaze lands on a framed photo on a table. It’s the man, and he has his arms around a woman. He is smiling and looking down at her with an unmistakable look of love and adoration on his face.
That’s not so surprising. Even psychopaths can love. What shocks me is the woman smiling back at him with the same look of happiness and wonder.
I drop to the floor with the frame still in my hands.
He didn’t abduct me. He cares for me. Apparently I care for him.
Something happened to me and I have all my memories but of him.
He came to the living room when he heard me hit the floor. “Anna? Are you okay?”
“I know you.” It wasn’t a question.
“I love you.”
His voice is hoarse, but he answers. “Yes.”
I shake my head. “I lost you. Just you.”
“It’s called selective amnesia. The doctor says that can happen, sometimes just as a fluke, sometimes as your brain’s way of protecting itself from bad memories. This is the most lucid you’ve been in two days. I just called Doc again. He’s on his way over.”
“I’m not supposed to tell you.”
I struggle for his name to plead with him, but nothing comes to mind. I take his hand. “I can’t even remember your name.” He squeezes my hand back. His fingers are warm, strong in my hand. I don’t know him, but I like the feel of my hand in his. Need it right now. Crave it on a cellular level. Tears well in my eyes and I look up at him.
He sighs. “Tom. My name’s Tom.”
Nothing. Not a glimmer of recognition. Not even a promise of one.“Tom, please. It’s my life. I need to know.”
“Doc said to let you come to it on your own. I shouldn’t have even given you my name.”
“Is that what you’d want if you were me? To have no memories of…” I waved the photo at him.
He kisses my forehead, careful not to hurt me. “Let’s go downstairs. Maybe that’ll jog your memory.”
“Because that’s where it happened.”
He pulls me to my feet and leads me down to a bar, not a new techno nightclub kind of place, but the comfortable kind of pub where you expect people to call your name when you enter. The smell of liquor grows stronger down here, but it smells sweet, not stale, and inviting. I walk up to a black leather stool and perch on it.
Tom smiles. “That’s your stool. You always sit there.”
“I do? How often do I come here?”
“Pretty much every night. I own the place. You usually come and keep me company.”
“So what happened on the night in question?”
“You tell me.”
I think, hard, but my mind just hums with the smell of whiskey and the memory of music long since gone. “All that’s coming to mind is jukebox music.”
“Well, we do play music every night.”
“Only when Doc says it’s okay.”
I pout, but that doesn’t work. Either I don’t pout well or he’s too worried about my recovery to risk it. “Can I have a drink?”
“No. Club soda. With lime.”
He pours it with a flourish, but doesn’t utter a peep. His brows are drawn.
I sip my drink. The bubbles tickle my nose, sting my throat. The lime is a burst of sour that awakens something in me. I’m getting flashes. A leather jacket. A glass of club soda. I can almost hear the music. “Is it really a jukebox, or a band, or do you just have a track you play?”
“Just a track.”
“Can I see the playlist?”
Tom hands me the list. There are about two hundred songs on it. “Are you kidding me?”
“We don’t want folks getting bored. Besides, you picked it out.”
I look through the list and finally say, “Can you play number one-thirty-two? Please Tommy?”
He raises an eyebrow. Under his breath I hear him say, “Tommy.” He doesn’t acknowledge the name, but I assume it means something to him. To me he says, “Sure.”
I see him fiddling with something, then the music starts. “Freebird” blasts through the speakers. Tom turns the volume down, but I don’t see him. I’m back in the bar with the man in the leather jacket.
He’s flirting with me, and Tom is pissed. I tell him not to worry, but he’s watching. Closely. I’m drinking my usual club soda, and leather jacket guy is making all his moves. I’m deflecting politely, then I start to feel fuzzy. Drunk. I lean on leather jacket guy and laugh. He puts his arm around me and starts to take me out of the bar. I don’t really want to go, but I’m going. I’m wasted. On club soda. Huh? Tom grabs me and then there’s chaos. A full-fledged bar fight ensues. I go down with a chair to the temple. I’m not sure who wielded it, but it doesn’t matter. I just want to sleep.
When I look up, the memory recedes and the present comes crashing back. The bar is silent and Doc, Tom’s buddy, has smelling salts under my nose. Tom has me cradled in his lap. I bat the salts away from my face. They’re taking the wonderful bar smell away from me. “Tommy,” I say and reach for his cheek.
“Anna.” He shifts me in his lap and bends down to kiss me. His lips meet mine in a hesitant whisper, but I pull him to me. He’s my Tommy. His musky cologne envelopes us as he wraps me in his embrace. His breath is warm and he tastes of coffee and something I recognize only as him. I hold him tighter and drown the doctor out.
There. There’s home. There’s the Poppin’ Fresh jersey we found on a discount rack, Tom’s apartment, our first date, the picture our friends took of us at the lake, dinners, movies, evenings spent on my bar stool. There are the EMTs and police, Doc at my bedside, and just this morning, Tom holding ice on my head and spilling some in the bed.
“Tommy.” It feels good to say it and know what I’m saying.
Doc says, “She needs a thorough exam. And the police are outside.”
They can do what they want. I’m fine. I’m Anna, and I’m with Tommy. The rest doesn’t matter.