Archive for June, 2011

CHAPTER 15 – AFTERSHOCKS

Posted on: June 28th, 2011 by Madison Lake No Comments
It was strange for Joanie, being back at the office. As she sat down at her desk it occurred to her the last time she had sat there was when she was fantasizing about Peter. Peter Thompson, her old buddy, her old flame, was now pent up in some asylum waiting for a psychological assessment. Pleading insanity would be the best course of action for him to take, Joanie reasoned, but still, it stung her heart thinking of him locked up, possibly for the rest of his life.
While paperwork and post-it notes sat piled on her desk, most of Joanie’s morning was spent daydreaming about Peter. But this time, the daydreams were not the least bit erotic. She went over and over in her mind all the things he had revealed to her that fateful day in her apartment. His strange behaviors, his need to torture, and his ability to push the limits with people but not go all the way, all this fascinated and confused her. How had things gotten so out of control? Thinking back, she should have seen it coming. Peter was right. They had been living a fantasy that, during their lives, never blossomed into a reality. When he hadn’t made more definitive advances toward her, and had married Clarice, Joanie went to New York to try to move on from the emptiness she was left with. He had let her down. But even more recently, when he had become so moody and irrational, she had still been unable to admit that Peter – her Peter – was losing control. What had made this friend of hers become such a monster? And more, what made her want to protect him?
She dug up old memories of them as children and then as teenagers, wondering what she had missed, what she couldn’t see at the time. Sure, Peter had always been a bit odd but so had she. That’s why they got along so well, at least that’s what she thought. Even her parents took him in because he didn’t get on well with his own father, she remembered. Their family home had become Peters home. Now she wondered what more there was to that puzzle, what more had gone on in Peter’s young life. Poor Peter. Yet she couldn’t help feeling distain for all the hurt he had caused not only to her, but to Clarice and her brother, both whom she had completely misjudged. She wondered – hoped – that one day soon she would be able to mend those bridges and start anew. At least, she thought, she had reconnected with Kevin during her last visit home to Charleston when her father had been ill. She wondered how her father and mother would feel when they found out about everything. Surely she couldn’t keep it from them for too much longer. Perhaps they already knew. Word traveled fast, she knew that much.
            “Knock, knock, anybody home?” Hearing a familiar voice brought Joanie abruptly out of her reverie.
            “Hey Ruthie, c’mon on in.” Ruth placed a steaming cup of coffee on Joanie’s desk.
            “Always looking out for me, aren’t you, Ruthie? I still can’t get over the fact that my heroic rescue was all your doing. If you hadn’t gone straight to Jake’s place and alerted him to the fact that something was fishy, as you put it, I may not be here today.”
            “Oh, I think you would have been fine. I mean, Peter is a pretty messed-up guy, but he cared for you Jo Jo. I don’t think he would have actually hurt you. I think it was all just smoke and mirrors.”
            “Maybe you’re right, but smoke and mirrors landed him in the clink. It’s so sad, but I guess it’s for the best. I didn’t realize it before but someone like Peter is best kept off the streets. All I can say is I’m sure glad it’s over. Wow, what a ride these past few months have been.”
            “You’re not kidding. But listen, Jo Jo, unfortunately I didn’t come in here to chat with you over coffee. I’ve got a ton of work waiting for me at my desk.” She eyed Joanie’s pile and continued. “Carlyle wants to see you in the boardroom after work. I have no idea what it’s about so don’t ask. He just wanted me to tell you to get your purdy little arse down there at five sharp. Well, he didn’t exactly say that. I added the purdy little arse bit.” Joanie smiled, despite the nervous feeling in the pit of her stomach.
“Shit. Well, can you at least tell me if he’s in a good mood or not?” Ruth shrugged and looked at her friend sheepishly. “I barely got a chance to talk to him, and he’s been out for most of the day. Meetings. Anyway, don’t worry hon. Carlyle adores you. I’m sure it’s nothing.” Ruth headed out the door. “I’ll see you at lunch, ‘kay?”
Joanie remained at her desk for a moment, trying to compose herself. She couldn’t imagine what this meeting might be about, unless Carlyle was just plain fed-up with all the disruptions she had caused, and all the time-off hours she had incurred. She took a deep breath and attempted to tackle the pile of work in front of her. At least that would make the day go by faster.
She worked solidly for about two hours when the phone rang. “Joanie Scott,” she said into the receiver as she stapled another stack of completed papers together.
“Hi there.”
“Jake, is that you?” There was silence from the other end.
“Hello?” Joanie ventured.
“Hi, yes it’s me, Joan.” He paused, as if formulating the right words to say.
“I’ve wanted to call you for days, since seeing you briefly down at the police station that night, but I just didn’t know what to say, Joanie. I didn’t know if you were ready to hear from me.” Joanie waited, to make sure he was finished before she answered.
“Oh, Jake, of course I’ve wanted to hear from you. I’ve also been waiting. I thought you might need – want – some space after what you’ve been through because of me. God, I feel so awful, so embarrassed.” It seemed like forever before Jake spoke again, but it was with such tenderness. Because Joanie had been so caught up in the world of Peter Thompson, she had forgotten about how sweet and attentive Jake could be.
“My darling Joanie, don’t ever feel embarrassed around me – ever. As I mentioned in one of our earlier conversations, we still have so much to learn about each other. After all, we practically just met. I hope it’s not too late to pick up where we left off and see where it takes us.” Joanie smiled, revealing her happiness over the phone line to Jake with a relieved sigh.
“No, Jake, it’s not too late. I only wish we could have avoided this whole mess, but I guess it’s kind of fast-tracked our ‘getting to know each other better’.” He laughed.
“So, when can I see you?” Joanie asked with an eagerness she didn’t try to conceal.
“I’m out of town on business for a couple of days, but that will give you time to relax a little after your horrific ordeal, get things sorted out, and then, hopefully we’ll both be more available.” Slightly disappointed at Jake’s less than eager reply, Joanie slumped down in her chair. But, she admitted, he wasn’t putting her off, just their getting together. Besides, he was a busy man. She had to be reasonable.
“Of course, Jake, I understand,” she said, hiding her disappointment as best she could. “Why don’t you give me a call when you get back into town and we’ll go from there.”
“I’ll do better than that. I’ll call you from Phoenix. We don’t have to wait to be together to talk, do we?”
“Of course not,” she said, grinning from ear to ear. I look forward to it.” She hung up, sat up at her desk and, after taking a moment to absorb this encouraging news, resumed her work.
Five o’clock arrived in no time. Joanie shut down her computer, stacked the small amount of paperwork left to finish, and gathered her things. She felt good, despite the fact that she was about to have a meeting with her boss, in the boardroom to boot. That always meant something serious but Joanie dismissed the thought. She was nervous enough about the meeting. Although she and Carlyle were friends, and she was well aware he liked her, he was still her boss. He could be heavy handed if he wanted to be, Joanie knew that all too well. Having pushed the limits at work a good deal lately, she suspected it was about time she paid the price. Carlyle had been more than patient.
However, she had gotten a lot of work done today, which was a huge load off her shoulders. Somehow it made the impending meeting easier to swallow knowing she could boast about her accomplishments, if not simply tell him she was almost caught up. Surely he would take that into consideration.
Joanie walked slowly down the empty hall. Everyone had gone home, which she thought odd, as it was only five. The boardroom was dark as she entered. When she flipped on the light-switch she was hit by a loud, shrill chorus.
SURPRISE!
The room was filled with balloons, streamers and people. The entire office was there, along with Joanie’s own personal design team, Allan, Sara and Brandy. And there in the middle of the crowd, standing between Ruth and Carlyle, was Jake. Unable to contain her overwhelming emotions, Joanie burst into tears. Carlyle approached her and put a fatherly arm around his protégé.
“Now, now, Ms. Scott. This is no time for tears. It’s time for laughter and merriment. Lord knows you’ve been through enough to cry away the rest of your days. But instead we’re turning a new leaf, alright? There, there now.” He gave her a long, heartfelt hug, then pulled away and faced the crowd of people.
“Ladies and Gentlemen, we all know why we’re here this evening, but I’m afraid our friend and colleague doesn’t. Shall we let her in on our little secret?” A resounding yes reverberated throughout the room.
“As we all know, our very own Joanie Scott, who has been with Design International for almost five years, just won two prestigious design awards, one for Creativity in Fashion Design, and the other, Most Accomplished New Designer.” There was a round of applause. Joanie blushed, leaned in to Carlyle and said, “Please, Thomas, stop. This is so embarrassing.”
“Sorry, hon,” he whispered back. “You’re going to have to suck it up.” Then he announced, “The team and I decided it was time for a little office gathering, to commemorate your individual success that, as we all know, is also our success, which brings me to the point.” Ruth suddenly appeared at Joanie’s side with a large bouquet of peonies and a card, signed by, what looked like, the entire state of New York.
“So, Joanie, we have gathered here today to celebrate your new partnership with Design International, and to commemorate your being the youngest partner ever to be instated in the history of DI.” He momentarily paused. “All of us here at DI voted unanimously in favor.” Then in an aside, Carlyle whispered, “We’ll talk particulars another time.”
Carlyle turned and gave Joanie a big kiss on each cheek, seeming anxious to move on. “Congratulations dear.” Before she had time to react to this incredible news, Carlyle faced the gathering again.
“Let’s par-tay!”
stay tuned…    Chapter 16 – and the final chapter, will be posted next Tuesday, July 5th. 

CHAPTER 14 – TURN OF EVENTS

Posted on: June 21st, 2011 by Madison Lake No Comments

            Joanie stood stock-still, watching the handle turn. Then it stopped, and the irritating jimmying of the door began again. But he hadn’t gotten in – not yet anyway. In the corner of the bathroom, she spied her heavy clothes hamper, which she slid over and shoved up against the door. Next she piled books and magazines from her bathroom reading supply on top of the hamper. Towels and facecloths were jammed in the crack at the base of the door. None of this would keep him out for long but it was all she had, and she thought it might buy her some time.
The incessant scraping of metal on metal was getting to her, so she went to the vanity and turned on the tap, flipping the light switch as she passed. The light didn’t go on. She could have sworn she had just changed the bulb, but dismissed the thought as there were more important things to worry about at the moment. Between the running water and the hard object being jammed into the door lock, there was enough noise to muffle any sound she might make, which is what she wanted. Still, she walked quietly over to the small window, opened it slowly without letting it creak, hoisted herself up onto the sill and leaned her head out to look around. Yes, it was a long way down, but there were pipes and outcroppings to her left and right. Perhaps if she could squeeze through the frame and climb onto the narrow ledge below, she’d at least be able to call for help. Even if people thought she was a jumper, any attention was better than none. 
As Joanie leaned further out the window she heard something buzzing. She couldn’t identify what it was or where it was coming from. There was no machinery being operated down below. In fact the street, usually bustling with people, was sadly, empty. But then she remembered it was Sunday, all shops and offices were closed. Craning her head, she listened more intently. Maybe Peter had found some sort of power tool to use on the door? She eased down from her perch and tiptoed back over to the door, but as she passed, she realized the sound was coming from the cupboard below the vanity. Completely miffed, she turned the water off so she could hear better, opened the cupboard and looked inside. The noise stopped. She closed the doors, thinking it might start up again, but nothing. Just as she was about to walk away, she noticed a faint glow coming from a crack between the two doors. Curious now, she opened the vanity again and sure enough, she saw a bluish light coming from behind the Pine Sol and Mr. Clean. Then it faded and went out completely. Down on all fours, she reached into the back of the cupboard space, felt around until her hand landed on something hard, smooth and warm. She grabbed it and pulled it out.
“Oh my god,” Joanie whispered, as she looked at the iPhone in her hands – her iPhone. “How the heck…” But before she could put all the pieces of the puzzle together, the handle to the bathroom door began to jiggle frantically, as if suddenly there was an urgent need for Peter to get in. Quickly, as there was no time to waste, Joanie punched in phone, then recents, and there on the screen was Jake’s name and number four times. She smiled. The door started to creak and crack as Peter began to make headway into the room. She had only seconds. Without missing a beat, Joanie pressed Jake’s name, set the phone back in its place, and put a roll of toilet paper in front of it to block out the glow. Just as she closed the vanity doors and managed to burrow into a corner of the bathtub, the bathroom door came crashing open.
“Well, well, well, what have we here?” Peter brushed his hands together removing splinters and dirt, and sauntered over to the tub. The door hung halfway off its upper hinge, the lower hinge dangled like a loose tooth from the door jamb. Books and magazines lay strewn across the floor.
“Listen, Peter, I had no choice. You made me do this.” She paused for breath. “I tried to reason with you but…”
“Tried? You call that trying? And just when we were enjoying a little one-on-one lip action.” He winked. Somewhat charged up with the success of victory, Peter had a fresh glean in his eyes, although he still looked pale and wan. Joanie could smell the stench of his unwashed body. Under normal circumstances, the male scent would have turned her on. This just made her stomach churn.
“So, what am I going to do with my little Jo Jo, huh?” Peter paced around in the small space, clearly enjoying himself, while Joanie shivered with fear curled up in the corner of the tub. Then he turned briskly to her.
“Out.”
“What?” Joanie asked, confused.
“You heard me. Out. Get out of the tub.” Slowly, Joanie rose and climbed out. Peter was quick to grab her by the arm, to ensure she didn’t flee.
“Ouch, Peter, you’re hurting me. Why are you being like this? What have I done to you to deserve this treatment?”
“Hmmm, let me see…do you want me to start with that time when we were kids and you didn’t include me in the game of kick the can? ‘Peter, Peter, dog-shit eater…’ Sound familiar? I know, I know, that was before we ‘liked’ each other. So, how ‘bout this one: ‘Why’d ya leave, Joanie Scott? Why’d ya forsake us all, leave Charleston – leave me – and move to New York?’ Huh? Can you answer me that?”
Shock and disbelief ran through her bones, but she sat mute.
“That’s what I thought. You can’t answer because you have no guts. C’mon, let’s get out of this stuffy bathroom.” He pulled on her arm again but she resisted, wanting to keep him talking beside the vanity a little longer.
“Oh, Peter, please,” she said loudly, emphasizing his name. “You’re only looking at the worst of the worst. We had good times, you and me. Such good times.” She waited to see if he’d say anything, then continued. “Kids are mean, Peter. You think I didn’t get my fair share when I was young? They called me four-eyes because I wore glasses, and kids used to refer to me as a boy because I didn’t wear a bra till I was fourteen. Don’t you think that was hard? Well it was.”
“I don’t care what you felt, Jo Jo. No one knows what I’ve felt – not then and not now.” He yanked her arm, dragging her over the debris and into the hallway. She cried out, loudly enough she hoped, for the iPhone to register her voice.
In the hall she passed the home phone, grabbed the receiver and pressed on, but there was no dial tone. Then it hit her; the bathroom light, the phone. Joanie quickly scanned the room and realized no lights were on. The usual glow from the digital clocks on the stove and microwave were non-existent. The only light in the apartment was the late afternoon sun that passed through the south-facing windows. Holy shit, she thought. She was on lock-down in her own home.
“No free phone call in this prison, sweet thang.” Peter let loose a dangerous cackle. “Now, get on that bed. NOW!” Joanie did as she was told. Flopping onto her bed, she shimmied up to the headboard and leaned back. Peter took a long coil of rope from his jacket pocket, cut it in two with his pocketknife, went over to the bedpost and proceeded to tie Joanie’s wrists, one at a time, to each post. Gripped with fear, Joanie let her head fall to her chest in defeat. She didn’t even try to fight anymore. What was the point? As her wrists were cinched tight, she was at his mercy. She knew he could do anything he wanted to her now. She was as vulnerable as she could possibly be. Eyes closed, she gave herself up to her fate, her only hope being that maybe Jake, or someone else, heard her cries. Next, Peter cut two more pieces of rope from another coil.
“Spread your legs,” he demanded. Joanie stiffened.
“Peter…Peter, please, please don’t do this. I…I’m not wearing…”
“Wearing any undies? Has that ever stopped you before?”
“Peter!”
“Spread ‘em.” Again, Joanie lowered her eyes but not before catching a glimpse of Peter staring directly between her legs. He grabbed one foot and, more gently than she expected, attached it with rope to a baluster at the foot of the bed. He opened the top drawer of her bureau and removed a pair of black stockings. Fearing the worst, Joanie shut her eyes, but Peter simply placed the soft nylon under the rope to protect the skin of her ankle. He did the same with the other foot. When he finished, he stood back to assess his handy-work, a sinister expression on his face. But to Joanie’s amazement, rather than molest her, Peter grabbed a blanket and nonchalantly tossed it across her lower body. She didn’t know whether he did it to keep himself from being tempted by her exposed crotch or whether he was being protective, but she was relieved and grateful for the gesture. More surprising still, was that Peter walked over to the loveseat he had earlier fallen asleep on, and sat down. He pulled a packet of Marlboro’s from his shirt pocket, tapped one out and lit it. She watched him inhale deeply, like he was savoring a delicious dessert.
“Surprised, Jo Jo? I’ve smoked for years now, but you wouldn’t know that, now would you? There’s so much about me you don’t know.”
“I’m sorry Peter. I truly am,” Joanie said, a quiver in her voice. Peter took another drag.
“Me too, Jo Jo.” He fell quiet then, and when he spoke next, Joanie thought she detected regret in his tone.
“You know, Jo Jo, we really had something, didn’t we? I mean, you and me, we could have moved mountains, we could have changed the world – or at least Charleston. That would have been enough.” He chuckled.
“So what happened, Peter?”
“Hmmm, that’s one loaded question, sweet-pea, but coming from my true heart, it wasn’t your fault. I’m only blaming you now because I love you so damn much, ya know?” Joanie noticed beads of sweat accumulating on his brow again, and that same wild look had returned. He sucked long and hard on his filter tip and looked her straight in the eye. She winced.
“I wanted you so bad, Jo Jo. Always did…always will. Funny thing is, even when you teased me, I wanted you more. It kinda felt like love to me, ‘cause you know, I didn’t really ever know what love felt like – till you that is.”
“So, why did you marry Clarice if you loved me so much?”
“Oh, her? I never loved her, and she didn’t love me. I married her because…” He let his voice drop off. “Because Kevin loved her, so I wanted to prove that I could get her. And I did. Big whoop, right? Because Kev got her in the end anyway.” Peter let the burnt out cigarette fall onto the hardwood floor. He butted it out with the tip of his boot. Joanie ignored it.
“Kev and I always competed. Oh yeah, we were best friends alright, but that’s what best friends do, they compete. I will admit that I took it too far that time, but I kinda liked it. I felt so powerful, so in control. It felt like I had won, that is until Clarice and I were married and then the sky really fell.” He pulled out another smoke and lit-up. His hair was damp and greasy looking, his eyes held that hollow look that had earlier haunted her. He jiggled his left foot up and down nervously, inhaling before he could even exhale the stale smoke he had taken in. Then he stood up, walked over to the end of the bed and sat down. Bound by crude lashes, Joanie’s bare feet were stretched out in front of him. He picked one up and, butt dangling from his mouth, began to caress it. Stroking each toe first, he then rubbed his filthy hands up and down her arch. She watched him, unmoved. He spat the butt onto the floor and left it smoldering, then bent over, put her big toe in his mouth and suckled it like a baby. Joanie remained stone still, even though she was scared to death. When he finished he looked up at her.
“You know, Jo Jo, as much as I always wanted you, and you always wanted me, I knew it would never work. Did you know that?” Joanie shook her head.
“I’m surprised by you. Weren’t you aware of my freakishness? Didn’t you wonder why we never actually dated or made-out like other teenagers did, why I never pursued you beyond our light, unattainable flirtations? Well, I’ll tell you. It’s because I love you Joanie Scott.” Peter lowered his head as if he was about to cry. For a brief moment, Joanie felt inclined to touch his head, to stroke his dark matted curls, but of course her hands were tied. Still, whatever it was he was going through, he was still like a brother to her, and her heart went out to him. But no sooner did she feel this way than his erratic mood reoccurred. His eyes flashed when he looked at her, his nostrils flared. Although pale and sickly looking, he breathed heavily and tightened his grip on Joanie’s foot. She tried to recoil but the ropes held her fast.
“You’re too good for me, Joanie Scott, too good. Never once did you even guess how fucked-up I was, not then and not now. I am, you know.” Peter shifted uneasily on the bed, jiggled his leg again, and looked around nervously as if searching for something. He was jittery and anxious.
“Ever since I was a little boy I used to dream of ways to torture things. It started with bugs, little beetles, flies, then it evolved into snakes and rats, then…larger animals. I never…killed anything, honest. But I loved to watch them squirm. As I got older, I wanted to get the same satisfaction teasing and torturing people, even those I loved.” He paused thoughtfully. “Poor Clarice. She had no idea what she was getting herself into when she married me. I thought she was so sexy. She was, you know. All the other guys wanted her, especially Kevin. But I got her. At first I really thought we were a match made in heaven. She came across like she was so sexually adventurous – such a free spirit, remember? But she didn’t want to play the way I wanted to play.”
Joanie turned away. Beyond frightened, she braced herself for what was coming. She understood now that Peter was more than a troubled man, he was dangerous, unpredictable. Even though part of her trusted him because she’d known him her entire life, she realized, as he had pointed out, how little she really understood him. Peter lit another cigarette and continued. A smoky haze filled the filtered light coming in through the window. 
“I realized soon enough that Clarice was a big mistake, but it was done. I wasn’t going to divorce her, even though I knew she wanted me to. Maybe that was some of the torture I enjoyed, since I couldn’t do the things I really wanted to do with her. I took away her virginity and took away her hopes of having a family and a happy life. I made her suffer by staying married to her. But eventually she found a way to torture me too, by hooking up with your brother, and my best friend.”
“What do you mean you took away her hopes of having a family? What did you do to her, Peter?”
“Clarice? Oh, I teased her, taunted her sexually, but I never gave in to her. I enjoyed watching her want me, making her squirm, then walking away. I think at first she thought it was a form of foreplay, until she realized my wicked sense of humor was not so funny. Oh, I made her suffer alright.” Peter had a faraway look in his eye that made Joanie shiver.
“Oh, but don’t think I ever hurt her. Oh, no. I never touched her. You see, that was the point. I never, ever touched her. Just like you, Jo Jo.” Joanie looked at him, shocked.
“I know how you fantasized about me. You did it all the time. Do you think you would have had these thoughts about me if I had given in to your fantasies? No way. You fed me. I got off on seeing how much you wanted me, by knowing that when you closed your bedroom door each night, you were envisioning me. You see, I fed you too.”
Joanie shifted uncomfortably on the bed, alarmed at what she was hearing. Somewhere, deep down in her gut however, she knew Peter was right. Her love for him – her fantasies, were based on a young love, an imagined love, that had grown between them since childhood, but it was shallow. What she thought was love was pure lust, which lacked depth and any real knowledge of the other person or his life. When she remembered with embarrassment all the times she had dreamt of him, of them so erotically together, it was exactly as he said it was. It was based entirely on the fact that they were off limits to each other. No one had said they couldn’t be together. In fact, when Peter had married Clarice, everyone who knew them wondered why it hadn’t been Joanie. Somehow all of that just sweetened the pot. What amazed her now was the discovery that he had been doing with her, exactly what she had been doing with him all these years. Oh, there was so much she didn’t know about Peter Thompson, so much she didn’t want to know or ever wanted to find out.
All of a sudden they heard a crash, like the front of the apartment was being smashed down with a wrecking ball. They both jumped. Peter leapt up off the bed, but by the time he turned around to check what the commotion was about, four bullish looking men in uniform stood in the bedroom doorway, guns drawn.
“Police. Stay where you are, and don’t move.” The man in front of the others moved cautiously into the room. He looked squarely at Peter.
“Freeze. Put your hands on your head. Do it! Don’t move.”  He grabbed Peter by the scruff of the neck and threw him onto the floor. Before Peter knew what was happening, a large booted foot landed smack on his back and he was handcuffed. 
…stay tuned…Chapter 15 will be posted next Tuesday, June 27th…
 

           Joanie lifted her head from the warm pillow and looked around. Even with the curtains drawn, the room was bright. Her eyes focused on a dark figure sitting on the love-seat in the corner of her bedroom. Was it Peter? She blinked to clear her vision, not believing what she saw. Shoulders slumped, he looked worn and tired. Hollowed cheeks and the dark circles that framed his eyes made him look emaciated. His hair was a mess. Not the tousled, handsome looking mess she was accustomed to with him, but dirty and un-kept. His skin, once clear and blemish-free, was dry and chafed.
            “Peter! What are you doing here? What’s going on?”

            Peter woke with a start. Sitting in the warm silence he had relaxed and unintentionally dozed off. He brushed off his pants, as if that would help revive him, and sat up straight.
            “Hey Jo Jo, I’m here to take care of you, that’s what I’m doing.” He smiled. She looked puzzled.
            “But where’s Ruth?”
            “Oh, Ruthie went home. She was tired and wanted to get some sleep,” Peter lied. Joanie sat up, making sure to cover herself with the blankets. Peter stared at her intently, which made her feel uncomfortable, even in her own home.
            “Peter, really, I’m fine,” Joanie said, avoiding his gaze. “You should go. I have things to do. It must be past noon.” Panic suddenly struck, as she realized she’d slept most of the day away. “Really Peter, I have to get going.”
            “You go right ahead, Jo Jo,” answered Peter, without missing a beat. “I’ll just sit tight and give you a hand if there’s anything you need.”
Joanie sighed. “No, Peter. You don’t seem to understand. What I need is for you to go.”
Peter stood up and walked to the window. He opened the curtains and raised the blinds. Glaring light filled the room. He stood, looking out into nothing. 
            “Not a chance, Jo Jo. I’m here for the long-haul, so you better get used to it.” His eyes didn’t divert from the scene outside.
            “Give me a break, Peter Thompson. This is my house, so don’t go telling me what I had better get used to.” Suddenly, he turned and glared at Joanie, his smile gone. Shivers ran up her spine as she remembered her recent experiences with him. The man she once knew – and loved so well – she no longer knew or understood. It frightened her, and vexed her at the same time. Somehow she felt if she were just able to reach out to him, to talk some sense into him, the old Peter might return. But she also thought that might trigger his moodiness. She had to be cautious, to watch what she said and how she said it. She decided to change course.
            Joanie slid to the edge of the bed and let her feet dangle over the side. The nightgown that Ruth had apparently helped her into was, luckily, not lingerie, so she felt safe around Peter, for the time being. Regardless, she could feel Peter’s eyes on her. Her nipples hardened, and she felt heat rush down her body to her groin. Damn, she thought, why…how does he do this to me? She wondered if it was his look of sexual thirst that aroused her, or whether it stemmed from their long-time veiled love for each other that just wouldn’t seem to go away. Whatever the reason, it perplexed her. Jake was who she desired, who she loved now, although Peter had once been the one. Could it be that her feelings for Peter were still there, even though he had become so frighteningly disturbed? She thought back to the afternoon in the hospital waiting room, then to the incident on the cliffs. The memory made her feel weak. Although he still managed to get her emotionally, even sexually stirred-up, something wasn’t right, but she didn’t have time to think about that now. She went with her gut, stood up and headed straight for the bathroom. Before she reached the door, Peter was in front of her, hand firmly on the door jamb, blocking her way.
            “Not so fast, honey-pie. We haven’t even had a chance to, you know, hang out. Don’t I get a little attention first?” Joanie avoided looking him directly in the eyes, but she did notice beads of perspiration had formed on his forehead and upper lip. It wasn’t that warm in the apartment. She wondered if he was nervous, and if so, why? What was he up to?
            “Peter, let me pass. I have to use the bathroom. I’ve been in bed for a long time. I need to go.”
            “Give me a kiss first. That’s all I ask. It’s a toll for crossing the line.” He chuckled, nervously, she thought. “I’ll let you go after that, promise.” Frustrated, and feeling trapped, Joanie was prepared to give him a quick peck and push past him into the bathroom, but when she looked up, what she saw shocked her. Peter’s face had turned a sickening pallor and he had begun to sweat profusely. His eyes appeared distant and wild, and flitted back and forth between her and the kitchen beyond. Joanie noticed his shoulders trembled slightly but he held fast to the frame of the door. Frantically, Joanie began to formulate a plan. She just had to get past Peter.
            “C’mon, Peter. You don’t want me to wet my pants, do you?” She laughed mischievously. “Seriously, all I want to do is go pee. Then I’ll come out and we can talk. Can you make us a pot of coffee?”
            Breathing rapidly now, Peter looked into the kitchen. He seemed to be assessing the situation, looking for the coffee pot, the kettle. Focusing seemed difficult for him. Joanie began to move into the bathroom but Peter secured his arm across the doorway. She sniggered and playfully tried to push him away, but he held fast to his guarded position.
“Damn you, Peter, let me past.”  Joanie was getting annoyed but kept her anger in check. She wanted to prod him along good-humoredly, to win his trust. Peter leaned down and reached his mouth toward hers. She turned her head but it was too late. He latched onto her mouth with his own and forced her up against the wall. Joanie tried to wiggle free but he was too strong for her. A bitter taste, like poison, came through his mouth to hers, making her reel with repulsion. Sweat rubbed against her cheeks and dripped down her neck. She felt ill. Lately, all she had been doing was trying to escape this man – this man she used to adore. What had happened – what was happening to him?
But soon, Joanie began to melt against Peters touch, just as she had always done. His kiss became more urgent and she returned his ardent advances, opening her mouth to freely allow his eager tongue to enter. She gave him access down her flannel pajama top to find her hard nipple, then to cup and fondle her breast. It felt so good, she squirmed. His other hand let go of the door jamb and inch by inch, scanned her body down to find what he was looking for – the wet softness between her legs. Before he pulled the elastic waistband away from her belly to indulge in her sweet moistness, Joanie made her move.
Like a bullet, she tore away from his now relaxed body, darted into the bathroom, slammed the door and locked it. Leaning up against the closed door, she had only seconds to breathe a sigh of relief before the pounding began. Next, she went to the sink to wash her mouth, face and neckline, rubbing herself as if she were exorcising a demon from her body. She didn’t have much time, she knew that, but with all the banging and yelling going on, she felt certain someone would hear and come to her rescue. Just as that thought came to mind, the racket stopped. She heard Peter rustling around in the kitchen, opening and closing drawers and pulling items out of cupboards. Then it got very quiet. Joanie barely moved, waiting, listening, to hear what Peter was going to do next, but there was nothing. Just as she was beginning to think maybe he’d gone, she heard metal against metal and realized he was jimmying the bathroom door. The grating sound made her anxious. She backed away from the door and realized there was no way out. The one tiny window opened scarcely enough to let out steam from the hot shower, or to let fresh air in. Even if she could pry open the window wider, it was four stories down to the ground, with no fire escape.
Her mind raced, trying to find some solution. There had to be a solution. Her phone – where had she left her phone? At this point it was her only hope, but she had no idea where it was. She couldn’t remember getting home last night, let alone where she had left her purse or her phone. It made her think about future emergency situations, if she even had a future. Joanie slumped down against the bathtub in momentary defeat. But retracing her steps from the previous night in her head, Joanie thought she remembered seeing her purse on the side table by the front door. If it was there, her iPhone would certainly be in it. It was always in the little side pocket of her purse. Focusing now on this new discovery, Joanie stood up and began to work on a new plan that would involve accessing her phone to call for help. For a moment she felt a wave of relief, of hope. Then she saw the door handle slowly turn, and she froze.
…stay tuned…Chapter 14 will be posted next Tuesday, June 21st… 
Joanie awoke to birds singing and the bright light of sunshine streaming through the window. She covered her eyes, then slowly opened them and looked around. Things felt familiar to her. It smelled like home, but she had no idea how she got there. Her bed felt safe and warm, and she was happy to be under her own covers. But before she was able to get too comfortable, memories from the previous night began filtering into her head. She closed her eyes again, hoping this would stop the recall, but it didn’t. It only made it worse.
            “Well hello. Look who’s awake.” Joanie jumped, but relaxed when she saw who it was.
            “Oh, Ruthie, I’m so glad you’re here,” Joanie sighed. “What happened? Where is everyone? Where’s Jake?”
            “Which question do you want me to answer first?”
            “Sorry.” Again, Joanie closed her eyes. All she could see was Jake’s face, sullen and stricken with pain. Then the vision faded into an image of Peter looking cocky and pleased with himself. He sneered at her from across the dance floor. She shook her head in an attempt to get rid of this frightful picture, but it wouldn’t go away.
            “Ruthie, please tell me what happened? I remember some things, but not everything. Was it as horrible as I think it was?” Ruth was quiet for a minute. She tucked Joanie’s blankets around her chin, and rubbed her shoulders encouragingly.
            “Oh, Joanie.” Ruth sat back and contemplated where to begin. Just then the apartment buzzer vibrated through the room. Ruth looked at Joanie.
            “Expecting anyone?”
            “No, but it might be Jake. Would you mind?” Joanie nodded toward the door. Ruth stood up, smiled kindly and went to answer it. Joanie rolled over and closed her eyes against the sunlight. She was too tired to think about last night or even about Jake at the moment. Plus she had a screaming headache. She thought about getting up to get some aspirin but could not even muster the energy for that. Within minutes she was fast asleep again.
            “Oh, hello,” Ruth said, once she’d opened the door.
            “Hi. You’re Ruthie, aren’t you?”
            “Ah, yes, that’s right. And you are…?”
            “Peter. Peter Thompson. I’m sure Joanie’s mentioned me,” he said with confidence.
            “So, what are you doing here, Peter Thompson?” Ruth was taking the cautious route. She knew snippets of the Peter saga, enough to put her on her guard. Fortunately for her, she hadn’t stuck around the Grand Ballroom last night, long enough to see the final floor show. Mind you, Carlyle had filled her in with plenty of details – more than she wanted – and had suggested Ruth go over to give Joanie’s place to offer some female TLC.
            “Same as you, I suppose,” answered Peter. “Here to take care of my Jo Jo.” He paused. “I feel slightly responsible.”
            “Ya think?” Ruth glared at him. Peter ignored her, and continued.
            “Joanie told me what a good friend you are to her. I can see why. You’re really sweet to come over here to take care of her, especially after a long work-week and such a late night, not to mention all the hard work and prep for the fashion award night. That was quite the show.” Ruth’s shoulders softened a little, her grip on the door jamb loosened.
            “So, do you always look so fabulous the morning after?” Peter looked her up and down, grinning. Ruth blushed. She had on her old boyfriend’s college t-shirt with University of Texas emblazoned across the front and a pair of sweats from back in her rugby playing days. She felt completely unattractive and couldn’t understand why Peter seemed so mesmerized. Then she realized she wasn’t wearing a bra. However, with her hair in a messy up-do, and remnants of make-up still on her face, she did feel surprisingly sexy, and Peter seemed to really appreciate her natural beauty, something many men just didn’t see. He reached out and brushed a tangle of hair from her eye. She smiled shyly.
            “You must be tired, Ruthie. Listen, why don’t I relieve you? I don’t mind.” Then, as if he just thought of the idea, he said, “I know. We can take shifts. That way we can see each other every time we take over from one another. Kind of like a changing of the guard.” Completely taken in by Peter’s charisma, Ruth considered this, and more. It did make sense and she had to admit she was exhausted. Besides, if she went home now, she could rest, shower and be back later in the evening looking better than ever.
            “Well, if you’re sure, Peter. But Jo Jo is my responsibility. Her friends are very worried about her. She’s been through a lot, what with all the work involved in the show, the pressure of her new stardom, and then there’s her Dad. He’s sick you know?” Ruth walked down the hall and poked her head around the corner into Joanie’s room. All was well. Joanie was still fast asleep. Ruth didn’t dare waken her now, knowing what a night she’d had. Peter would explain everything to her and to Joanie when Joanie woke up. Peter took her by the elbow and slowly led her away from Joanie’s bedroom and down the hallway toward the door.
“She’s real worried about him. And Jake…that’s her new boyfriend. She’s kinda upset about Jake being upset, if you know what I mean. I mean, they’re real tight and all, but Jake is sensitive and Joanie needs to reassure him if she going to hang onto him.” Ruth babbled on, completely oblivious to who she was talking to. Peter pretended not to be interested but he took it all in, like ammunition for the impending battle. 
            Peter grabbed Ruth’s coat from the hall closet as she continued talking. He helped her into it before hanging his own jacket up in its place. The apartment was quiet, except for the hum of rush hour traffic coming through the half open kitchen window and the clock ticking above the stove.    
“Alright, Ruthie. Y’all take care now. Get some rest so you can come on back here and give me a hand, okay?” He winked at her and grinned one of his cheap, schmoozing grins. Ruth soaked it all up like a sponge.
“Y’all call me now, Peter, okay?” Ruth said teasingly, as she stepped out the door. She was grinning from ear to ear. “I’m on call, right?”
“You are on call, Ruthie. You’ll be the first to know of anything out of the ordinary. Now go on home and get some much deserved rest. I only wish we didn’t have to take shifts, that maybe I could be going home with you.” Peter looked Ruth right in the eye. Ruth turned a bright red and hung in the doorway a moment longer. Was he serious? She looked up hopefully, but Peter only smiled. “See you later, Ruthie. I’ll be in touch.”
Once the door closed behind her, Peter got right to work. First he went to the fuse box and unplugged the fuses to the hall and bedroom lights, then the kitchen. Next he cut the telephone wires from the main connection and disconnected the front door buzzer. He peeked into the bedroom from time to time, ensuring Joanie was still fast asleep. He didn’t need trouble. Not now, not later. He went into the kitchen and removed any sharp objects he could find, including all the knives, and hid them in the pantry cupboard under the tablecloths folded neatly on the top shelf. Trying to cover every angle, Peter found Joanie’s purse sitting on the entryway table. Beside it sat her iPhone and car keys. Grabbing them all in one swoop, Peter shoved her purse under the sofa and hid her keys and iPhone under the sink in the bathroom behind the bleach and Mr. Clean. He made sure her keys were tucked well out of view. Rather than risk the annoying jingle he knew the iPhone played when turned off, Peter quickly slid the side button down and set it to silence mode. She’ll never find them in here, he thought. Scanning the room for anything he might have missed, Peter breathed deeply. He felt satisfied he’d covered everything. He walked softly into Joanie’s room to wait. She looked so peaceful laying there, the feather pillow fluffed-up around her head. Peter thought she also looked ravishing with her messy hair, flushed, rosy cheeks, and red lips slightly parted. For a brief moment he considered kissing her but realized that not only would that surprise her, it might cause her to be suspicious of his motives. He had to be careful not to create unnecessary angst or worry with Jo Jo. She was such a sensitive woman, he thought. He had to play his cards right if he was going to secure her love and their ultimate happiness.
Sinking down into the overstuffed armchair in the corner of her bedroom, Peter settled down to wait. It would be a long day, but he had nothing but time for his Jo Jo, nothing but time.
…Stay tuned. Chapter 13 will be posted next Tuesday, June 14th…