"I'll get some wine. Meet you upstairs," Eddie says, giving me a kiss before turning and entering the bar.
This day has been unbelievable. First, I admit on national television not only that I wrote an article under the name of a fake, elderly doctor, but also, that I'm in love with Eddie Alden. Second, I confess my love again to the aforementioned Eddie, who only caught the first half of my live, well-broadcast humiliation before running away. Third, he pulls me into an unbelievable kiss. And now, fourth, we're home and there's the promise of wine and more.
It's the "and more" that has me especially interested. I haven't had "and more" since Ray, but Eddie's different. He's like no other man I've known.
I wasn't looking to fall in love with the office slut, but living with him, day in, day out, showed me a man who was just as confused about love and relationships as I was. Our only difference was how we reacted to rejection. He had one-night stands to avoid relationships and potential hurt. I overanalyzed men and looked to nature to explain why I was always getting dumped.
Neither of us was looking for a relationship, so we dropped our defenses and facades. We got to really know each other, faults and all, and found we had a lot in common.
Usually when I fall in love, there's a standard protocol. Liz is informed, and we analyze every word, every expression, anything that happened when I first met "the one." Then, I try out the sound of my first name with his last, devising all sorts of variations and hyphenations of what my married name will be. Next, the wedding is imagined and a calendar is inspected to determine the perfect date of our nuptials. The number of children and what they will look like follows, with a detailed analysis of which names will be perfect with his last name. Then, it's about time for our first date.
Ok, I'll admit I do take things a little fast and set myself up for big disappointments, but I'm in my thirties and only have so many years left on my biological clock. I've gotten so desperate to fall in love and get married that I attract exactly the wrong kind of guy: one who likes the idea of settling down, but is terrified of commitment when faced with the reality of it.
Now I realize that I've never been in love with a man before. I've been in love with the idea of marriage and commitment. I've been in love with a perfect apartment and a perfect life, but I've never been in love with the man I was planning to include in this vision. With Eddie, I'm not imagining a perfect future; I'm enjoying an imperfect but wonderful present.
All of these thoughts run through my mind as I climb the stairs to our apartment and open the door. When I flick on the lights in the cavernous main room, a chill runs through me. I always get this feeling when Eddie's not here. It's too big, too quiet, there's too many places for someone to hide.
I know, I know. I've seen way too many horror movies. There's no one here. There's never anyone here, and besides, Eddie's just downstairs.
A smile comes back to my face. Eddie and wine. We've never drunk anything but hard liquor together. "Morphine for the pain," Eddie always said in his clumsy way of comforting me while still wallowing in his own loss.
I wonder if Becca understands what she's given up in Eddie. He loves so deeply that he mourned her loss for years. He denied himself any meaningful relationships to remain, in a twisted way, faithful to her. No, I'm sure she doesn't know what she's lost and I'm glad. She deserves any unhappiness she gets for hurting such a wonderful man, and now, I alone receive his attentions.
Speaking of which, I'd better get ready for him. What to wear? What to...
A strong arm wraps around my throat as I walk through the door to my room, and I scream.
"Shut up!" the man behind me orders as he tightens his hold on my throat. "I thought you said they'd be gone all day."
Another man steps out of my closet. He's about my size but at least twice my weight. I think... yes, I've seen him before, in the bar downstairs. I don't know who he is, but I've seen him.
"They don't get off work until at least six and then they always go to the bar first," the chubby man answers. "What are you doing here?"
"Left... early," I croak around the choke-hold.
"What about Alden," the deeper-voiced, bigger man asks, shaking me a little.
"He's right behind me," I answer too quickly.
"Yeah, sure," the taller man replies.
He releases his hold on my throat, grasping my arms instead and spinning me around to face him.
After giving me an appraising look, he says, "You're a thin little thing, but you'll be good for some fun."
I try to pull away from him, but his grip is like steel. I change tactics, planting a high-heeled kick to his groin, and his hands release as he falls to the ground.
"Get... her." he gasps through gritted teeth to his partner, but tubby doesn't move. They're blocking both the door and Eddie's remodeled hole, so the only way out is the window.
I run over there and tug on the old, warped wooden frame, but it only opens an inch. I groan in frustration, putting all of my strength into pulling, but it's too little, too late.
A vise-like hand grabs my arm, and I'm suddenly flying through the air. There's a moment of surreal momentum, and then I slam into the wall opposite the window. With a wet crack, pain blossoms in my side and I wonder if I've broken some ribs.
Before I can even take a breath, I'm airborne again, shooting through the plastic curtain and out into the main room. I land on my back and the pain in my side is almost blinding. I try to catch my breath, but I can't, and the coppery taste of blood flows up from the back of my throat. I try to scream, but it comes out more like a squeak. When I open my eyes, I can see the chubby one sneaking out the front door while the stronger one stalks towards me, rage twisting his face.
I try to get up or at least crawl away, but I can't even sit up or move my right arm away from its protective hold on my side. He grabs and throws me again, and this time, I'm flipping over the couch. I put out my left hand to catch myself, but it gets caught in the cushions while my body keeps flipping over. My wrist bends backwards to meet my arm in an electric surge of pure agony.
It doesn't matter that I can't catch my breath, I still shriek. The ache of my ribs is inconsequential in comparison to this wrenching torture.
Vaguely, I hear my attacker yelling, "Shut up, bitch!" but I can't stop. The pain is everywhere, shooting from my arm through my entire body and overwhelming my senses.
I'm roughly turned onto my back, and huge hands clamp down on my throat, finally silencing my voice.
From movies and TV, I always thought that being choked was just like holding your breath. It's not. There's pressure. Incredible, crushing pressure on my throat, cutting off my airway. It feels like something going to crunch under the assault, and I have to to stop it.
I try kicking up at the body above me, and I make solid contact once before he sits down on my legs and starts banging my head rhythmically against the wooden floor. With each strike, my vision narrows, the edges becoming fuzzy and dark.
My lungs are burning as every cell in my body screams for air. I open and close my mouth like a fish, trying desperately to pull even a wisp of sweet air through my crushed throat. Nothing comes.
I'm going to die.
I don't think about how short my life's been. I don't flash through what I've done and what I should've done better. Instead, I think of Eddie. He'll be the one to find my body. It will hurt him so deeply, but I hope he'll recover. I want him to have happiness in his life. He seemed so relaxed, so right, when I left him downstairs.
Oh no. How long has it been? Will he arrive only to be killed, too?
A new surge of energy flows through me, and I strike blindly up at my killer. I felt my right hand connect, but my blow didn't have any effect. The grip is still tight on my throat and my head is being hit even harder against the floor.
The pain floats away as my vision darkens completely. My last thought is, "I love you, Eddie," and then I surrender to unconsciousness.