Some kisses bring delight, others disaster.
Once dawn gave way to morning, Mel built up the courage to reenter the bedroom. She pushed open the door enough to peer inside. The rumpled bed. The nightstand with a half-full glass of water. The night light still switched on. Everything as it should be.
But everything wasn’t as it should be. Just when she thought she’d put that terrifying experience behind her, it had come at her again last night, and she’d slept on the couch, shivering. Even with the heat turned up, the chills never stopped.
She hated to call Abagail, but her best friend was the only one who’d listen and not freak out.
Abigail must have run after Mel’s call because she barged into the kitchen within three minutes of hanging up, and she lived half a block away.
“That was… not a call I… wanted this morning.” Abigail panted, out of breath. “I thought this had stopped.”
“I know. Sorry. I didn’t have anyone else—”
“Don’t be sorry.” Abigail took her hand and held it tightly. “I’m making some coffee, then you’re telling me everything.”
With the steamy mugs in front of them, Abigail began. She tried to choose her words so that nothing sounded exaggerated or outright stupid. Yet her first start was both. And she shook her head, “Let me try that again.”
She needed to recall the nightmare in the right way. No, it hadn’t been a nightmare. But if it had really happened, the events of last night wouldn’t come in jumbled dream-like snatches or have blank spaces.
Mel straightened her back and clasped her hands around her coffee mug. “It was a little after midnight. I’d been reading. Nothing scary. A cozy mystery. When my eyes wouldn’t stay open anymore, I turned off the light, but with the full moon, the bedroom didn’t go dark. I decided to pull down the shades, or I’d never sleep.”
Abigail nodded encouragement.
“I went to the window and…” Her heart drummed inside her chest and she stood too quickly, knocking the edge of the table and sloshing their coffee onto the cloth. “Oh, God. I can’t…I—”
Abigail wrapped her in her arms and held her. “I think we should call the doctor.”
“No!” Mel wrenched free. “I can’t do that.”
“He helped before.”
“It was terrible.” The locked doors. The silence except for her sessions with the psychiatrist. The gauzy drug-induced days.
Abigail led her back to the table. “Sit. Talk to me.”
Mel took a breath then released it. “He was there, outside the window. Then he was in the room, and it was the same as that night.”
“Did he attack you?”
Mel closed her eyes, but that only made the image of the man more vivid. It was better to stare into Abigail’s eyes, focus on the friendship they held.
“Yes, but this time I grabbed the lamp and I hit him. Hard. Again and again.”
“So you drove him off.”
“No.” Mel swallowed the bile that came into her throat. “I killed him.”
Abigail took her hand and walked her into the bedroom. “Mel, look.”
“I know there’s no body. But last night there was.”
“Honey, I know you believe that. And I understand why. You’re out to change what happened two years ago, but you can’t in real life, so you try to do it in your dreams. Drake’s gone, Mel. His killer’s in prison.”
Abigail had been with her from the time Drake was been shot, through her repeated calls to 911, and her psychotic meltdown.
“Come and spend tonight with us. Then as much as I hate saying this, I think you have to move. It’s this house. That bedroom.”
Mel nodded. “I know.”
Early that evening, Mel packed an overnight bag. She’d agreed to take Abigail up on her offer and stay with her. She needed sleep before she made any decisions about selling and moving. Bundled in her heavy sweater, she stepped outside into the moonlit night. The stark shadows from trees and bushes stretched across the sidewalk.
She’d passed her driveway when the crackle of dry leaves underfoot brought her to a halt. She froze, then with dread pumping blood into every part of her, she turned to look back. A shadow stretched toward her, nearly touching her toes. As it advanced, it crept up her legs and across her chest until it blotted out everything.
She cringed when it spoke.
“You led me on, then when all I asked for was one kiss, you refused.”
Fear lodged in her throat, shut down her ability to move. She could’t scream for help. She couldn’t run. This time it wasn’t a nightmare. This time he was inches from her. She was sure of it.
“I wouldn’t have hurt you. I wouldn’t have killed Drake, but he had a gun. It was your fault it happened.”
It had been a flirtation. Yes, she’d encouraged him, but then said no. Her marriage was too important to risk. He’d refused to leave. Drake came home from his meeting and found her struggling in his embrace. The fight. The gunshot, and the blood. Those memories stalked her and refused to let her find peace. She’d made a stupid mistake and she’d paid for it again and again. She was so tired. Let whatever this was facing her, engulf and end her. Please.
Abigail’s voice was suddenly in her head saying what she’d been saying for two years. No means no, Mel. Don’t forget that.
Mel finally found her voice, tentative as it sounded. “But I said no.” The shadow slid back. She’d made it retreat if only small distance.
You will regret forever, Abigail had said so often, but you must forgive yourself or you’ll never be free of him.
Then for the first time since that night, the words she’d been able to say came with the force of conviction. “It wasn’t my fault!”
The shadow melted into nothing, and the moonlight came down around her, clear and bright.
I like to explore mistakes by one person that ripple out into the lives of many and linger to haunt those that make the mistakes. Poor Mel. Riddled with guilt, she’s alone. Her husband’s dead. She can’t erase the part she played in what happened that night. And I have a hard time believing this will be the last of her nightmares/visitations.