I feel the blood fill my face, then my ears tingle and all I can hear is the ringing. My breathing stops as I glance at Allen. Everything is moving in slow motion as I turn my gaze back to the driver. I cannot move, this is the very thing I was trying to prevent.
“Where are you folks headed?” Our eyes stayed locked in the mirror’s reflection.
“Take us to-”
“Claira’s Corner on Broad St.” I interject, Allen glances at me with a hint of surprise in his eyes. Still the driver’s eyes never broke my gaze. These people don’t know where I am staying, at least I’m hoping. I cannot give them what they want, so I subtly squeeze Allen’s hand.
“What ever the lady says, it’s her birthday today.” Allen says smoothly, “You sure that’s where you want to go Babe?”
The sparkle and calmness in his eyes sends the boost I needed to regain my composure,”yes, I’ve been dying to see their newest winter collection.” Wrapping his arm around me, he meets the driver’s eye.
“To Claira’s Corner driver.” I see Allen’s jaw clench once their eyes break connection. Quickly turning towards the window, his arm tightens around me, pulling me closer than before. I can barely breathe, so I try to focus my sight on the snowfall as it picks up its pace. Casually, Allen checks the street signs to make sure the driver is taking us where we told him. With each turn I panic even more, so I try to close my eyes and exhale. I hold each breath strong in my lungs, like it were my last. With my eyes shut I feel Allen grab my other hand and rub the top of it with his thumb. His reassurance almost makes me tear up, but I know this is when I must not show any weakness.
“Here we are.” I see the driver’s jaw clench in frustration. Quickly Allen glances at me and at the door on my end. I take the hint that we are to exit the cab at the same time, through our own side. As soon as Allen releases me I pull at the door handle and force the door open. I turn to see that Allen is out of the cab as well, so let out my breath. He casually pays the cab and walks around the back to meet me on the sidewalk. Once together he puts his arm around my neck and we stroll into Claira’s Corner.
“What just happened?” Allen asks searching my face for answers.
I spin around checking the cab, “he’s still there, we can’t stay here.” Allen leans to the side and looks out towards the cab, “looks like he is on the phone.”
“Fuck, we need to go now!” I grab him by the wrist and head for the back of the boutique.
“Ma’am you can’t go back there!”
Ignoring the cashier we run towards the back to find an exit. To my surprise I see an ‘exit’ door in the storage room. Allen puts his arm out in front of me and goes to open the door first. Checking that the way is clear he urges me forward. This alley way shows to be our demise, especially when we both catch wind of screeching tires behind us. I start searching the walls for a way out. Finding a broken fire escape ladder hovering to our left, I run and jump as hard as I can to reach the lowest bar. I manged to pull myself up and onto the ladder effortlessly. Once I have myself anchored I look down at Allen who manage to grab the lowest bar and struggling to pull himself up. So much for all those raw muscles. I reach down to grab his hand. Once he realizes the car behind us was practically under him, he grabs my hand with the last bit of force he had. Again, my strength defies my appearance and I pull Allen high enough for him to get his footing. I scale the ladder as fast as I can without looking down. I can hear car doors slam and guys shouting, but I tune them out and focus on clearing the edge of the roof to safety. The ladder does not go high enough to step over the ledge, so I hoist myself up carefully and one by one swing my legs over the ledge. Once I’m on the roof I turn to help Allen who is right behind me. I give him my hand once more while peeking at the circus below us. There are four guys surrounding a black Buick, all staring angrily at me as I help Allen onto the roof. Flashes of my red hair blows across my face in its sad attempt to hide the horror etched on it. Soon enough I hear a laugh, a laugh I know all to well, it pierces the silence.
“Darlin’, you can run all you want, but we will get you sooner or later.”
“Not while I’m around!” Allen shouts back.
I grab his shoulders, swinging him around and push him to the ground in one swift move, “Allen! What are you doing?! Are you mad?!”
“Go ahead and try to protect her Allen, you won’t win either.” I hear that haunting laugh again and fear hits my soul.
“How-, How did he know my name?” Finally my fear is shared and Allen sits confused, almost dazed.
I hear the car doors slam. I wait to hear the car speed off before I let go of my breath. The minute I do tears well up and I begin to cry tears of terror. My hands begin to shake and my knees buckle under and I fall to the ground. I feel so numb from what just happened, but oddly enough my skin prickles all over. As I continue to cry my body pours sweat, making my red strands stick to my cheeks. My hands won’t stop shaking, my heart pounds into my ears. I can’t hear anything, not even my cries, then my vision begins to fade.
“Sara! Sara! Please wake up. We have to go!”
I can feel Allen shaking me, trying to get me to come to. I feel the cold air before I start to see where I am. The roof! We are still up here. I try to stand up but my legs wobble like a new-born deer. Allen holds me steady and once I’m back on my feet he runs towards the opposite side of the roof to check for a way down.
“Sara, let’s go! There’s another ladder over here.” He gestures at me to hurry up.
Once I get to the ledge I can see how far off the ladder is. There’s this fear that I never had before, it blooms in my chest so quickly that it hurts.
“I’ll go first, then follow after me, Okay?” Looking into my eyes I see his concern, and it makes me worry more. All I can do is nod, anything else I would have started crying again.
Slowly Allen swings over his right leg and searches for the building’s trim with his foot. Once he finds it, he lowers himself down and steps even lower towards the ladder.
“All right Sara, swing your leg over and put it on that ledge. I’m right here for you.”
I don’t think about it and straddle the ledge. Pausing for a minute to gather myself before I step down. Puffs of my breath surround my face, the wind pricks at my nose and cheeks. I close my eyes, take a deep breath and let it out slowly then make my descent. Before I know it Allen is already waiting for me on the ground. I try to hurry but the bars of the ladder have started to ice up and the last thing I want to do is fall. Towards the last few bars, I can feel my skin sticking to the ice, leaving me no choice but to peel my hands off of them. As soon as my feet touch the ground Allen grabs my hand and leads me towards the road. Before we step onto the sidewalk he turns around to face me and starts tucking my hair back behind my ears and pulls up my hood. With deft fingers he undoes my scarf from my neck and carefully places it around the lower half of my face.
“As much as I hate to hide you, that red hair isn’t helping us.” He cups my face and gently squeezes it so my cheeks bunch up. The warmth of his hands and smile brings my heart a solemn love that I have never known. Releasing me he pulls up his hood and leads me onto the sidewalk. Pulling me into him, we walk close and quietly towards a park. Halfway through this park I can see the sign for “Oliver Townhomes”. The snow kept its pace of falling, so it has made it a small challenge to be on foot.
“Do you trust me?”
I stare at Allen looking for an explanation, but all I get is fear and concern. With out a second thought I pull my scarf down and blurt out, “With my life.” My words were returned with a sad, half smile.
“Head for my place, take the key, lock yourself in there until I make it back,” he places the key in my coat’s pocket, “those guys, whoever they are will be looking for a pair, you need to head out alone.”
“Where will you be? How will I know it’s you when you come back?” I can hear the panic in my voice now.
“I promise you, I will come back to you.” Before I can react he grabs my face and greets my lips with a tender, yet powerful kiss. I inhale with surprise, but close my eyes as I welcome the feel of his lips. As he pulls my face away from his I can see the longing in his eyes.
“Head that way,” pointing his head in the direction behind me,”it’s the longest route, but it will take you to a gate. Punch in 37809, get to my place and lock yourself there until I return.”
With that Allen turned to his left, leaving me not knowing how to react. I shook my head and put my scarf back over my mouth. I march through the south side of the park reciting ‘37809′, ‘37809’, over and over in my head. Focus Sam, don’t you go and get all panicky and faint again. Gah! I’m such an idiot. You have been through worse times, why all of a sudden you act all freaked out when a few men chase you down. A poor attempt at chasing, I should add. It does not take long before I’m upset at myself for being ridiculous. Ten minutes later I can see the gate Allen told me about. I break into a small run, careful to not slip in the snow. Once I reached the gate, I punch in the code with the back of my tall finger. Using the small bend of my knuckles to press the buttons. A habit I picked up so I don’t leave any fingerprints behind.
I pushed open the gate and ran to find Allen’s apartment. Trying to keep my thoughts from taking a turn down memory lane, I tried to wrap my mind around the kiss. It happened so fast, yet it lasted the perfect amount of time. His lips were warm despite how cold it was outside. My heart leaped a bit thinking about how his hands felt holding my face. I can’t help but hate him for it! I can’t believe after fighting off all these men, trying my damnedest to keep them from violating me. You would think men would disgust me, but I don’t know why Allen does not. I want to believe he cares about me, but I cannot let my guard down. Then again, he seems so different. If he really does care, I will not let him get hurt.
Finally, I get to Allen’s apartment. I fish for the key in my pocket and open the door. I quickly get inside and turn to close and lock the door. I press my back against the red door and slowly slide down to the floor. I let out a big sigh and stare out into space. Memories of that haunting laugh flood my head. I’m so overwhelmed with different feelings that my eyes began to fill with tears. Michael’s laugh began to haunt me when he would come to visit my room. I was restrained to the bed with leather straps binding my arms and ankles. The blind fold was meant to hide my emotions, but the tears constantly streamed down my face no matter what time of day. Michael would walk into the room smelling of cigarettes and musty, old clothes. I could hear when he would open his knife with a click and a swish. Then I would hear the subtle clicks as he tried ignite his lighter. His laughter was all I could remember before I passed out from the burns the knife left. My ribs are forever scarred from this torture, one of many scars. I remember when I became conscience I would hear voices of other men arguing with Michael over what he had done to me.
“Are you stupid! How are we going to sell her with those welts?”
Another man would chime in. You could hear the fear in his voice as it quivered, “Mr & Mrs. H are not going to be happy about this, not at all.”
I could hear when they all would grab Michael and shove him out of my room. I would always try to stay silent, like I was asleep so I could absorb every word. I knew one day I would get out of there and everything I could remember would help me stay out of there. Shaking my head away from these thoughts, I use the sleeves from my black coat to wipe my tears. I make no effort to get up off the floor, and I eventually fall asleep against the door.
*Knock Knock Knock*
The soft knocking wakes me. I quickly assess where I am and I realize I am still sleeping on the floor with my back against the door.
*Knock Knock Knock*
I’m on my feet by these knocks and I’m looking through the peep hole. Allen! I see him sweaty and out of breath. I open the door as fast as I can.
“Quickly, close the door and lock it.” He blows past me and stands in the center of the living room as I lock the door and turn towards him.
“After I left you in the park, as crazy as this may sound, I went back to the alley where those guys showed up.” Allen made his way to the kitchen to get a glass of water. He still seemed very out of breath and sweat was still streaming down his face.
“Are you out of your mind!” Everything I know that could have gone wrong crosses my mind. I’m just in a ball of nerves so I walk over to the counter and hold on to the corner.
“Look, let me explain, I went there to see if I could find the guys.””
That’s the last straw, I just lose my temper. “Do you have any idea what those guys are capable of? Do you have any idea what they did to me!” My hands begin to shake and I can feel my face turning red. Right as I am about to completely lose it, Allen grabs my arms to steady them and looks deep into my eyes.
“Stop, listen to me. By some luck, there was a small diner away from the alley where those four guys were at.” He never let me go and never broke our gaze. “I snuck into the diner and they never saw me, I sat at the far corner and they just kept talking to each other like I was never there.” Allen took my hand and led me over to the couch and gestured for me to sit down. He sat next to me, he shifted towards me leaving our knees to touch.
“About twenty minutes later, that cab driver showed up. As soon as he came through the door, all four of them turned around and asked ‘any sight of her’. He just shook his head and sat down with them.” With every word Allen said I could feel my mouth dry up and my heart leap into my throat.
“All they kept saying was how hard it was to find you in the first place. They only got lucky when he was the cab to show up at the Denny’s. They never even knew you were here!”
“Great! I’m the one who just handed myself to them!” I cannot take this, I just hide my face in my hands.
“They did also mention that they were only here to pick up the last of their shipment and had to leave before the week was over.”
“Wait, what?” I lift my head out of my hands, revealing the tears that had started to pour out.
“Sara, what are they talking about?”
“Allen, I can’t trust you enough to tell you.”
“What! Are you serious?” Standing straight up, his nostrils flared and cheeks redden. “After everything I’ve done? You still can’t trust me!”
“Allen, please don’t-”
“Don’t what? Get upset?” Throwing his hands up in defeat, he gives me his back. “What do I have to do to prove to you I’m the only one you can trust?”
Suddenly it just dawns on me, he’s hiding something. I wait for him to turn and face me, then I look him dead in the eyes.
“Tell me why it took you five hours to come back.”