Where They Meet is a short story in a set of short stories I’m writing as a “First Draft Collection.” I’m writing them merely for the satisfying act of finishing something. There are a handful of short stories I’ve started over the years, and I am forcing myself to just complete them: beginning, middle, end. All of these stories need heavy rewrites and editing if I am ever to make them actually good. But the “First Draft Collection” is not about being good. It’s about being DONE.
Terry looked at the clock on the dashboard. It was just past noon, and the sun was blazing hotter than the day before. She had been driving on this long stretch of dirt road in the middle of nowhere for god knows how long. Copious drops of sweat were collecting on her temples. There was nothing she wanted more than a cool breeze and an even cooler glass of gin and tonic. She would kill for it. She had been driving for almost three days straight with fewer breaks than she would have liked. But she needed to find the place fast. She needed to get away, to put as many miles as she could between her and what she left.
She felt nervous. Terry had already passed the last landmark she was told to look out for over an hour ago. She should’ve been there by now. She’d definitely passed through enough small towns, maybe even more than the three she was meant to pass through before getting to Diane’s.
Diane was an old friend of Terry’s mother. They had lived just across from each other in the run-down apartment complex Terry’s mother moved into just after having her. Her father had gotten into some trouble here and there, and it got to the point where her mother had enough. “It was all well and good when I had the time to be reckless,” her mother used to tell her, “but that all changed when I found out I was having you.” The story of her mother’s escape wasn’t anything ground-breaking: he wouldn’t clean up his act, and she no longer had the patience. That was that. But it was a good thing that Diane was there right when her mom needed a friend. Terry’s mother was no helpless woman, but, she couldn’t say no to a good friend. Especially one like Diane.
“Like mother, like daughter,” Terry said to herself with a sardonic grin.
Just when her nerves were reaching their limit, Terry saw a worn out, off-white house in the distance. The relief was instant. She could feel her foot pushing down harder on the accelerator. She was nearly there. She would finally be safe – at least, safer than she was a few days ago. Clouds of dust billowed around her old, rusting station wagon as she put the car in park in the front yard. And just as the dust was settling, she could see Diane stepping onto the front porch. Her salt and pepper hair framed her dark, aged skin. She was more robust than the last time Terry saw her, but she still had that same beautiful and captivating smile. Terry barely got the keys out of the ignition before Diane was at her car door, arms open wide to welcome her.
“It’s been too long, Terry-girl!” Diane squealed in a high laugh.
“You’re right about that. What has it been, five years?” Terry said, wrapping her arms around Diane like she would a long-lost teddy bear.
Terry couldn’t help being overwhelmed with happiness and relief. Teary-eyed she managed to blurt out, “I can’t tell you how thankful I am that…”
“Oh, hush,” Diane cut her off, “I know your mama would do the same for my own daughter. I’m just thankful that you and that man didn’t have a kid to mix in the middle of all of this.”
Lunch was running later than usual. Diane helped her up to her room on the third floor. She passed by and briefly met a few of Diane’s other house guests while she was bringing her things in. It seemed like Diane was doing well for herself. Nearly every room she had was filled with someone – a few couples, some families, even a wanderer or two like herself. Even with all of the excitement, Terry felt exhausted. She hadn’t been able to relax from the time she got into her car to the time she got to Diane’s. She couldn’t afford to lose her focus or momentum. And now that she’d gotten to where she needed to be for now, she was ready for a well-deserved rest.
“Go on have a nap now, don’t worry about a thing,” Diane said, coaxing her into her bedroom, “I’ll come and get you when dinner is fixed.” That was all the pressing she needed. Before she heard the door shut, Terry was fast asleep.
Terry woke in a cold sweat. Her hands reached down to touch her round, pregnant belly. The baby gave her stomach a little kick almost as if he knew what she was thinking. She had to get out of there tonight. She was terrified. Almost as terrified as the last dozen times she tried to leave Jessie. This night she felt stronger. She had to get away from him. For herself and for her baby boy who was due any day now. Jessie was sound asleep, snoring like a congested grizzly bear. She could make it.
The bags were hidden in a heap of old junk at the end of her road. It had been there for months untouched and unseen. The only person who knew her bags were there was Jeff. He was the one who would be waiting there for her, ready to drive her to the bus station the second she pulled her bags out of the trash heap. He was the only one she could trust, the only one who never looked away or pretended they didn’t know what was going on when she had a fresh black eye.
Terry had a slight feeling Jessie knew she was up to something, but thank god for once his underestimation of her worked out to her benefit. Never in a million years would he ever think she had the nerve to leave him flat out, especially with a baby on the way. But she had had enough. The drinking, gambling and hitting had all finally gotten to her. He was a menace she had to escape. She couldn’t bear her son growing up at the mercy of his father’s antics or, even worse, growing up to be just like him.
She slowly raised herself up and slipped her feet into her shoes as quietly as she could. As she got up from the bed, it creaked awfully. She paused in horror. Jessie turned on the bed and was now facing where she was standing. All he had to do was open his eyes. She prayed harder in that moment than she ever had, holding her breath for fear that even something as small as exhaling would wake him up. He started mumbling, and she thought it was all over until she heard the sound of his snoring again. She could relax. He wasn’t going to wake up.
Slowly, for what seemed like eternity, she took one careful step at a time towards the door. Jessie’s back was now to her. She was almost home free. All she had to do was turn the knob, shut the door quietly and get the hell out of that house. She took one small glance back towards him to make sure he was still asleep. He wasn’t snoring anymore, but he still hadn’t woken up. She reached for the doorknob, and just as she had it in her hand ready to turn and ready to accept freedom at last, she heard a sigh from the bed and froze.
“Well hell, girl, try as you might to be quiet, you still woke me up,” Jessie grumbled, half-asleep.
“I was just going to get some water. Want some?” Terry lied smoothly.
“Look you already woke me once. I don’t want you waking me again when you got to get up to take a piss,” he retorted. “Just get back in the damn bed and get some water in the morning.”
“I’m really thirsty, Jessie,” she said in a whisper, a hint of a plea in her voice.
“Don’t make me tell you again,” he challenged.
She tried to hold back her tears, but they rolled down her face as she realized her freedom wasn’t happening tonight. She crept slowly back to bed, just as quietly as she left since Jessie was already irritated she had woken him up. She didn’t want any fights tonight. It’s going to be okay, she thought. You’ll try again tomorrow and the next day and the day after that until you’ve finally done it. But the determination she had couldn’t stop her from feeling defeated tonight. One day she knew she would get away. And when she did she would run as far and for as long as she needed to be away from him for good. She rubbed her stomach to soothe her baby after she got back into bed. She felt like he wanted to get away as much as she did. They would, soon enough.
“Don’t know why you’re so worked up about the water,” he grumbled, seeing her tears. “God, you pregnant women are just a mess. Can’t wait for that thing to get out of you, so you can start being normal again.”
Terry woke with a start. Her hands were still on her stomach, only now there was no roundness, no little feet kicking on the inside. It felt so real, the dream. It was like Jessie was really there, his shining personality and all. She was still trying to wrap her mind around what had just happened, when a gentle knock came at the door.
“Hey, Terry, you ready for some food?” Diane asked quietly, cracking the door slightly.
“Yeah…” was all she could mumble in response.
“I’m fine. Just had one of those dreams, you know? Sometimes they feel so real.”
As she sat down at the table, she could see that it was nearly full with the people she met while moving in. They all seemed happy and settled enough. They smiled politely and asked her a few, unobtrusive questions while waiting for all of the food to come out. Mostly, they kept to themselves, not wanting to make her feel too uncomfortable on her first day. Diane came in with the chicken. It smelled absolutely heavenly. It was just what Terry needed, something to make her feel right at home. Everyone was starting to pass dishes around and put food on their plates, when another person came into the dining room in a rush.
“Sorry I’m late,” was all he said as he took the only seat left, next to Terry.
She couldn’t help but stare. Not because she was taken aback by his beauty but because she felt like she had seen him before. She definitely hadn’t met him on her way in earlier in the day, but she did know him. It was some time before he noticed her staring, but when he did, she was embarrassed at how mystified she must have looked staring at him for so long.
“How’s it going?” he said, holding out his hand. “My name’s-“
“Jeff,” she said instantly, the moment she touched his hand, cutting him off.
“How’d you know that? Have we met before?” he asked, looking a little uneasy.
Before she could stop herself, Terry said with the utmost certainty, “You were going to drive me to the bus station.”
Jeff wasn’t sure what to make of Terry. After her odd comment about the bus station, he tried his best to keep a composed demeanor. He wasn’t the type of person to judge too harshly, no matter how badly the person in question came off. But she seemed so confident. The look in her eyes was so certain, so absolute when she said his name before he introduced himself. Clearly, it was some kind of coincidence. She must know someone else named Jeff, and he must resemble that other Jeff in some way. She did also looked extremely fatigued and a little anxious. Was this the reason why she thought he was someone else?
But she looked so certain…Jeff thought.
To his relief, he and Terry didn’t talk about the bus station. It looked as if she realized her mistake and eased the tension by dropping conversation all together. They didn’t speak much for the rest of the meal. They only exchanged a few polite comments about the food or asked for dishes to be passed back. Still, he couldn’t help but notice the few furtive glances she shot in his direction. She looked confused, as if with each look she gave him she was trying to recall some distant memory, like a detail from a dream one tries to recall upon waking. Her look never changed – they bore into his features with the same knowing certainty.
He decided to skip the usual social activities after dinner. He wasn’t in the mood to be around anyone because he couldn’t shake the odd feeling Terry gave him from the moment he met her. He started questioning whether or not he was the one making the mistake. Maybe he did know her. Maybe their meeting was one that many people have – brief and forgetful. He wanted some time alone in his room to think long and hard about where and when he could have met her. It would have been some time ago since he had been staying at Diane’s for nearly ten months now.
He looked at his phone first. He read through each name on his contact list to see if a connection could be made there. There were no links to Terry. Of course this would happen just days after deleting contacts from my phone, he thought. Frustrated, he tossed the phone on his bed and collapsed onto the soft, inviting covers. Too much time had elapsed from when he was drifting from place to place to the present. He couldn’t connect her to any of those places.
Jeff was in a store looking at cans of soup. He was tired and restless. He hadn’t been sleeping well from all the late nights he had been spending waiting by the road. He waited all night for the past week for her to show up, but she never did. He was starting to worry about her, but he knew that he couldn’t call to make sure she was okay. That would be too suspicious. And that husband of hers was already starting to suspect something was up. With a baby on the way and an erratic, angry husband the last thing Jeff needed to do was add fuel to the fire. So he would keep waiting and losing sleep until he helped her escape.
Just then, he caught a glimpse of her at the end of canned goods aisle near the front of the store. His first impulse was to catch up with her, make sure she was okay. But they weren’t supposed to be friends in public. She wasn’t allowed friends, especially not male ones. Jessie would never have it. So he walked patiently down the canned good aisle, trying to maintain his composure.
It was lucky they managed to meet in the first place, as Jeff recalled, still walking calmly down the aisle:
His wife was in to see the doctor. For some reason, Amy didn’t want him to come in with her that day. He respectfully complied, found a readable magazine in the waiting room and sat down to wait for Amy to come out. That’s when he first saw Terry, walking in with her husband.
She looked terrified. Like her whole world was balancing on a razor’s edge. Her husband looked angry. Too angry. Like he couldn’t believe he was being dragged to the last place on Earth he ever wanted to come to. She turned to her husband, offering a weak smile of encouragement. As much as Jeff tried to give the couple some semblance of privacy, he didn’t look away until they sat down in the row behind him. Perhaps it was the pure fear in her eyes. It didn’t match all of the other women who were glowing with excitement to start a new chapter of their lives. Perhaps it was the bruises on her arm.
“I’m sure it’s nothing,” she whispered to her husband.
“It better be,” was all he said.
Jeff could feel the tension building behind him. And given the evidence in black and blue on her exposed skin, he knew where it would probably lead if this guy didn’t get the news he wanted. She was sitting so quietly behind Jeff that he almost forgot she was there. It was the husband who couldn’t stop shifting, grunting and expressing his extreme displeasure at being there. Before long, Jeff heard him get up hurriedly and walk towards the exit.
“I’ll be in the car,” he said gruffly, not bothering to even look back in her direction before walking out the door.
Jeff couldn’t help himself. He got up for water and used that as an excuse to take a new seat next to her. He sat there quietly for some time, getting her comfortable with his presence. After a while, their eyes met, and she offered him that same, weak smile. Her eyes were hopeful for some type of kindness. He took that opportunity to introduce himself.
“My wife Amy is in with the doctor right now. She didn’t want me in there today. You know how touchy spouses can get when a baby is on the way,” he said lightly with a wink, “but you forget those little things when the baby arrives, don’t you?”
“I wish that were true for everyone,” she said, tears brimming.
“I’m sure he’ll come around. He’s just scared is all,” he encouraged.
“Let’s hope so…What’s your name?” she asked.
“Terry,” she answered, shaking his hand.
And now here he was, almost nine months later, trying as best he could to help this woman get away. They had kept their friendship a secret from the time they met at the doctor’s until now. The only person that knew about their relationship was Amy, and she wanted Terry to get away just as badly as he did. They even thought to have her stay with them, but Terry protested. Jessie was too violent, and she couldn’t bring that kind of trouble to their house, especially since they had a three-year old girl and a new baby to take care of.
By some stroke of luck, Terry and Jeff ended up in the same check out aisle. They exchanged a quick glance and left it at that. The next lady in line was waiting for her items to be scanned and bagged as he watched her walk slowly out of the store. He couldn’t help himself. Finally acting on his first impulse at seeing her, he left his cart and ran to the exit.
“I’ll be right back, Caroline, just forgot my wallet,” he called back to the lady at the register.
“Sure thing, Jeff,” she answered languidly.
He caught up to her. She looked at him anxiously. He was clearly breaking the rules. For some reason, he didn’t seem to care. They stood there awkwardly, waiting for the other to do something. It was some time before anyone broke the silence.
“What do you want, Jeff?” she asked.
“Just wanted to make sure everything was okay,” he replied.
“I’m fine,” she answered quickly, looking from side to side.
“I’ll be waiting every day until you can get out. I won’t give up,” he stated.
“Thank you. It’ll happen soon enough, but you really gotta go now.”
“Yeah, sorry. I just needed you to know that,” he said.
“I do. But I can’t be seen with you. People talk,” she said flatly, turning to walk away.
He watched her hastily walking towards the bus stop and wished it was safe to offer her a ride home. He wished her everything and anything good. She deserved kindness in her life, just like everybody else. It pained him that she had been deprived of that for so long. Finally, he had to walk back to the store. He was already causing trouble with the stunt he just pulled. He promised himself he would never do that again, risk her chance to get away. Her freedom was too important.
Jeff hadn’t realized he’d fallen asleep. He grabbed his phone to check the time. Ten-thirty. He could hear the mumbled voices of the usual late-night crowd. There was some talk show playing on the television. They were laughing and chattering quietly in between dialogues since most people would be asleep by now.
Terry, he thought, knowingly.
It was several days before Terry saw Jeff. She felt like he was avoiding her, keeping his distance, and she didn’t know why. Everything else was working out normally for her. A few acquaintances had turned into new friendships, but none of the people she met had the same effect on her as Jeff had that first night. They were like magnets being pulled towards each other. Only she wasn’t sure if he felt the same way. She knew they were meant to meet there at Diane’s. The question that she hadn’t had answered yet was why. I’ve got to confront him, she thought.
Diane could only report that he’d been gone since the morning:
“Don’t know where he’d need to get off to that early,” said Diane in her half-concerned, half-chiding way. “It’s not like he’s got a job!”
Though Diane looked at Terry curiously when answering her pressing questions about him – his background, how long he’d been staying at Diane’s – she held those concerns in, knowing that Terry wouldn’t cause any real trouble. After talking a while about him in the kitchen, Terry felt strangely tired and let out a huge yawn.
“You’re sleepy again, Terry,” teased Diane. “You must’ve slept ten hours last night. Waking you for breakfast was like trying to raise you from the dead.”
“I don’t know why I’m so tired these days,” she replied.
“Well, go on now. You’ve been through enough to deserve a little rest.”
Terry trudged up the steps to her little room. Though she was exhausted, her mind was still racing with thoughts of Jeff. There had to be some way for them to talk again. She had things on her mind she needed to work out. And he was the key to figuring out the cause for her odd, life-like dreams. She felt confident that she would figure it out soon enough as she climbed into bed. The instant her head hit the pillow, she was sound asleep.
She opened her eyes and could only see darkness around her and could only hear the sound of rushing wind. Truck lights illuminated the small road before her. She could feel its power beneath her feet, speeding forward. Her baby kicked around in her belly, seeming almost in the same kind of rush as the car, racing away in the night. She was reaching freedom. She was finally escaping Jessie.
She looked to her left to see Jeff, trying to stay awake at the wheel. He looked absolutely exhausted, but thrilled. He smiled grimly at her, determination in his eyes.
“We’re almost there, Terry. You won’t miss the bus,” he reassured her.
Tears welled up in his eyes as he said this. She was going to miss him and Amy. But she had to do it for the baby. She needed to get away from Jessie at any cost, even at the cost of lost friendships. This was the last time she would see him. She never got to say goodbye to Amy or the kids.
“Please, Jeff, you have to know how thankful I am to you and Amy-”
“Don’t even say it. We were happy to help you,” he cut her off. “Here’s the address of Amy’s friend who’ll pick you up at the last bus stop. There’re some other things in there for you,” he said, handing Terry a large, yellow envelope.
She opened it to look at the address. There was a letter from Amy, some drawings from their baby girl, Lila and a stack of money. She was shocked. Tears streamed down her face when she realized the gravity of this final gesture. She had left everything behind to get her and the baby out of Jessie’s house. She knew she was leaving with nothing to her name and hadn’t figured out how she was going to support herself and the baby when she finally got away. The money that they had given her would give her the leg up she needed to start a new life.
“I don’t know what to say, Jeff,” she mumbled, tears still falling, unable to even look up at him.
“We wanted to do this. You and your baby deserve a happy life, and Amy and I would do anything to help you have it,” he said.
As he said this, they reached the bus stop. From there it was a blur of quick, furtive movements in the dark to get her safely on the bus. There were no witnesses on board, much to their relief. Even the bus driver wasn’t a regular. There would be no trace of where she had gone off to. She would disappear into thin air. It would be the talk of the town for months, maybe even longer. There would be no knowledge of the link Jeff, Amy and Terry shared in the vanishing act.
She watched Jeff in the distance as the bus drove further and further away. It was only until the darkness of night filled the space between them that she breathed a sigh of relief.
“Thank you,” she whispered. She knew they would all sleep more peacefully now.
Terry woke to a soft but persistent knock on the door. She was dumbfounded to see Jeff standing in front of her when she opened the door. He looked at her in a way that made her feel like he finally felt the same magnetic force she did, drawing them together. He knew.
“You’re pregnant, you know,” he stated simply.
“That’s a crazy thing to say,” she replied.
But even after saying that to him, she knew he was right. She was only a few days late, but it felt different this time. She’d been blaming it on the anxiety she was feeling the past few weeks leading up to her leaving Jessie. Suddenly, it all made sense. Why she was dreaming so vividly, why she was sleeping so heavily, why she was feeling so ill in the mornings. Her hands instinctively went to her abdomen, but there was no kick. Not yet.
“What’s going to happen now?” she asked, fear in her eyes.
“I haven’t the slightest clue,” Jeff replied. “But I’m not going anywhere.”
“There’s a reason,” Jeff said definitively, dropping his spoon into a finished bowl of oatmeal.
Terry and Jeff had spent days trying to fit the puzzle pieces together. They met constantly to discuss anything that could link them together. Though she had been dreaming vividly every night, her new dreams gave no new insights. Neither did Jeff’s.
“Something happened back then, after I left Jessie. I just don’t know what,” she mused, spinning her spoon around her unfinished bowl of food.
“We need to know where it went wrong last time and not make the mistake we did back then,” he said.
“But we won’t know what that mistake was until one or both of us dreams again,” she sighed in frustration as Diane came in from the kitchen, looking sullen.
“You okay, Diane?” asked Jeff.
“I can’t shake this weird feeling I’ve been having all day,” she responded distractedly, almost talking to herself. Terry looked worried.
“I’ll be okay,” Diane assured, “I just get this way sometimes. It’s a mom thing,” she said, winking.
They tried all day to piece together the clues in hopes of reaching some kind of revelation. Eventually, they just had to give up and take their minds off of it for a while. They had dinner, and it was off to bed for the both of them. They were mentally exhausted but hopeful that at least one of them would have another dream.
Terry drifted. Objects, lights and sounds were coming into perspective. For a while now, she had managed to keep a part of her conscious-self alert to these flashback dreams. She had learned to take in what she experienced while sleeping and put it to use when she awoke. In this dream, she was walking slowly towards a door, hearing Jessie’s fist banging against it. Anxiety filled her every thought, it permeated her blood like a drug. Jessie found her. She had nowhere to run.
“Thought you could get away from me, didn’t you? Oh, just you wait, Terry…” he bellowed.
Though he threatened her repeatedly, she couldn’t resist going to the door. In the next instant, a woman stepped in, blocking her from reaching it.
“You stand back now, sweetheart,” she reassured her.
The woman, who Terry’s conscious-self realized must be Amy’s friend, walked towards the door and calmly urged Jessie to quiet down. They would all sit down and talk like adults. The banging stopped, but that didn’t sooth her as she stood on the steps, waiting to see what would happen when the door opened. Whatever it was, Terry in the dream and conscious Terry knew it wasn’t going to be good.
Just as her hand was on the doorknob, she jolted awake.
“Where the hell is she?” a man said gruffly.
She couldn’t mistake that voice. It was Jessie. He was outside the front porch yelling at someone. He was also drunk. She knew it from the slurred, languid way he was shouting.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Diane said, “There’s no one here named Terry.”
“That’s her car right there! You think I’m stupid?”
She cursed for not being more careful. She should have parked the car around the back where it couldn’t be seen. Jeff and Diane had been urging her to do that for days, just to be extra careful. The screaming continued.
“I’m gonna see her,” he said obstinately.
“What you’re gonna do is go home. That car doesn’t belong to a Terry – it’s mine.”
She could hear the silence, feel the anxiety she felt in her dream only moments before. She was paralyzed with the fear that Jessie would find her. In a few moments, she heard the door of a car slam and the engine roar as he pushed on the gas and sped away. She breathed a sigh of relief. He was just drunk enough to believe Diane’s lie. But that wouldn’t mean he was gone for good.
Terry was still afraid. Even though she couldn’t hear his car anymore, confirming he was now long gone, she was still shaking with fear. He nearly found her. He was so close getting to her, just like the dream. She heard footsteps coming up the stairs. Then a gentle knock on her door. It was foolish of her to think it was him on the other side, playing a trick on her, but her fear of him and of being found out was too much for her to take in. She waited. Another knock.
“…who is it?” she squeaked.
“Terry, sweetheart, it’s Diane.”
She walked cautiously to the door and cracked it open. Instant relief washed over her as she saw Diane’s smiling face. She opened the door fully and was greeted with a big, motherly hug.
“Everything’s going to be okay. Don’t worry,” Diane said, patting her back, not letting her go.
Diane and Terry sat together for a while, drinking hot cups of tea. They didn’t talk about much. Just a few random conversations to keep her mind off of Jessie. When the tension and anxiety finally wore down, Diane left so Terry could sleep.
“You need anything, just wake me up,” Diane said before closing the door.
It was a dreamless sleep for Terry that night. If she did see anything, it was just the anxiety-ridden scene with the woman about to open the door. She writhed in bed all night, her conscious-self urging the woman to keep the door shut tight. Jessie was trouble. Nothing good could come from letting him in. Nothing good ever came from him.
Terry had trouble waking up that morning. She trudged down to the kitchen for coffee. She threw away the old grounds, cleaned out the pot and started a new one. Everything seemed to be back to normal. She wasn’t sure why no one in the house was stirring. I can’t be up that early, she mused, looking at the clock on the wall. It was eight. Most people would be up by now. She felt a humming around her with all of the silence, but it wasn’t reassuring or natural. It felt like the air before lightning strikes. She noticed something in the distance – a puff of cloud from the dirt road parallel to the kitchen side of the house. Terry thought it must be Jeff, coming back from an early morning ride.
But the car was moving fast, too fast to be him. You could tell whoever was in the car was in a hurry. It was then that she noticed the orange stripe along the side of a black car with tinted windows. Terry dropped her cup of coffee on the kitchen floor, ignoring the sting of hot coffee splashing on her toes. It was him. He was coming back for her.
“Diane!” she screamed as she heard Jessie’s car screech to a stop in front of the house. “Diane!”
It all happened at once as Terry stood in the hallway, halfway between the foot of the steps and the front door on the first floor, screaming for Diane. She saw Diane to her left, emerging from her room, looking confused, and she saw Jessie opening the front door on her right. Diane forgot to lock it.
“Shit,” muttered Diane as she made quick movements to place herself between Jessie and Terry.
“You lying bitch!” he yelled.
“Terry, stay behind me,” Diane said calmly, her eyes never leaving Jessie.
In the next instant, Terry saw him rush forward. Diane didn’t flinch at all. She planted her feet firmly on the ground and held her hands out in front of her, signaling him to stop. For some reason, he did. Maybe it was the lack of violent expression on Diane’s part, maybe it was him realizing he had never been violent with any woman besides Terry.
“Let me talk to my wife,” he said.
“You gonna talk nice? Or do what you usually do?” Diane implied.
Terry could see the flash of rage in Jessie’s eyes. No one ever talked about his hitting habits to his face. Trying to calm the situation, Terry took a few steps forward. Both Diane and Jessie switched their gazes from each other to her moving frame. Diane gave Terry a pleading look, begging her to stay put. Jessie looked at her angrily.
“Okay, let’s talk,” Terry said, holding her hands up.
Diane didn’t move an inch. There was no way she was going to stand aside and let her walk so calmly and willingly towards this man. She was almost next to Diane when Jessie jerked forward to grab her. Diane unsuccessfully tried to block his lunge forward. He now had his full grip on Terry’s arm, but for some reason he didn’t yank her forward. A look of shock passed over his face, like he was in another place, seeing different things.
Terry was somewhere else too, but she knew she wasn’t dreaming. She was fully aware that she hadn’t fallen asleep or passed out. She was simply watching a scene play out as she stood on the sidelines, taking it all in, almost as if she were watching herself acting on a stage. She was having a waking flashback:
She watched the Terry from her dreams in Diane’s hallway as Jessie lunged forward to grab her. Only this time, Jessie didn’t stop. There was no pausing the moment. She could see Amy’s friend trying to break his hold. She could see Jessie reacting violently in the moment, knocking the woman down to the floor, blood flowing out of her mouth and down her chin.
She watched as the Terry from her dreams, in a terrified rush, turned and flew to the stairs, trying to get away. Jessie wasn’t far behind. He caught her halfway up the stairs. She struggled to break free while he shook her, yelling something at dream-Terry that conscious-Terry couldn’t quite hear. Then suddenly it all made sense, as she watched herself tumbling down the stairs and Jessie screaming in fear as she landed on the floor, unconscious. As this horrifying scene came to a close, conscious-Terry could feel the life inside her belly dying as it must be for the unconscious woman on the floor.
She jolted awake, back to the present, meeting Jessie’s eyes. His hand was still gripped around her wrist, and he still had that faraway look.
“Terry, you okay?” Diane asked, fear in her voice.
“I have to go,” she concluded.
“You don’t have to go anywhere,” Diane said incredulously.
“No, I’ve got to,” she resolved, moving towards Jessie, “I can’t explain it. It’s just for the best.”
She didn’t bother to think about packing her things before leaving. She didn’t want to go anywhere near the stairs. Jessie looked resigned but didn’t loosen his grip on her wrist. They both walked out of the door and got straight into the car without saying a word, leaving Diane in a confused mess in the hallway. She didn’t get to say goodbye to Jeff.
They had been driving for a while and were nearly home. Jessie had been quiet the whole way. Terry feared he was letting his anger build, and he would unleash it on her as soon as they got home. She prayed things would be different. And if they weren’t, she prayed her baby would at least make it through alive.
“How long you been pregnant?” Jessie asked, breaking the silence.
“How did you…” she began.
“I saw something, Terry,” he said. “I can’t understand it, but I can’t stop thinking about it.”
“What did you see?”
“I saw me and you. But it wasn’t really us. I did something awful…” he blurted out, tears welling.
Terry put her hand on Jessie’s, and he didn’t resist her touch as he cried like never before.