Gabrielle happily whistled a ditty as she flicked bubbles in the dishwater like a two year old. She’d had a wonderful time cleaning her new apartment and couldn’t be more content.
Freedom and independence was heady stuff.
A soft tap at the door stopped her mid-hum as a frown crossed her face, interrupting her good mood. She snatched up a dishtowel when the summons was repeated, this time with a little more urgency.
Cautiously she stood off to the side and peered through the peephole in fear of being observed. Realistically she knew no one could see in from the outside but caution had become her watchword in the last few months as she learned how to be a single woman, living alone. And the visitor was a blatant reminder of her newly obtained status.
It was Tate.
Gabrielle backed away from the door as if it were a snake, coiled to strike. She held her breath, afraid he would detect her presence, and prayed he would give up and leave. When a fist pounded on the door, she knew that probably wasn’t going to happen.
“Come on Gabby, I know you’re in there.” His insistent voice echoed through the cheap apartment door as the thought crossed her mind that hopefully it was stronger than it looked. “Gabby, let me in, please?”
The voice had softened but she recognized the familiar ploy. He would often be sweet and kind in order to play on her emotions then when he had her in his sights, victimize her with fear and intimidation.
But things had changed.
Gabrielle straightened her shoulders as the pleading continued and with a new sense of purpose and confidence, threw open the door to face him down, arms akimbo.
“What? What do you want Tate?” His startled expression was almost comical, mouth agape and hand mid-air, preparing for the next thump.
“Oh, hey,” he said, seemingly at a loss. “Can I come in?”
Gabrielle sighed as she tucked the dishtowel in her back pocket. “What could we possibly have left to talk about?” She blocked the doorway as the chilly November breeze surrounded them, hoping that if she made him stand in the cold, he would just go away.
His eyes pleaded as he glanced past her until she finally moved aside and let him enter.
She didn’t invite him to sit down as manners were the last thing on her mind and soon thick silence surrounded them, broken only by the tick-tick of the cheap clock in the kitchen.
Gabrielle waited impatiently, arms crossed over her chest, attempting to remain calm despite the hammering of her heart while Tate gave the apartment a once-over.
He fidgeted, stalling for time in order to compose himself before finally turning to her. “Look, Gabby, I know I’ve done some stuff wrong.”
At her snort of derision, he rushed on. “But I thought it wouldn’t hurt to ask you one more time to reconsider coming home. I don’t want to live without you. It’s just sometimes I’m under so much pressure at work, I get cranky, then I lose my temper, and…awww, Gabby, don’t you know how much I love you?”
As his voice trailed off, he swooped in to circle her with his arms as she immediately went into “fight or flight”. Born out of years of self-preservation, survival mode insisted she throw up her arms to protect her face and zig-zag out of his reach.
Tate, dumbfounded at her response, felt like an electrical current had jolted him speechless. Understanding soon replaced confusion and his eyes shined with unshed tears.
“All I wanted to do was hug you…” came the tiny whisper.
Gabby was plastered against the wall quivering, face drained of color. Her hoarse breathing filled his ears as a thunder crack of reality penetrated his consciousness: she was terrified.
The words he’d so carefully prepared to entice her died on his lips as he tenderly laid a hand on her arm and gave a gentle squeeze.
Sorrow-filled eyes held her gaze as he hesitated while reaching for the door handle. “I’m sorry, Gabrielle. You’ll never know how much. And I won’t bother you again.”
Victory began to rise up as the door clicked shut and she struggled to calm herself.
It was finally over.
And the clock ticked on.
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