Sade usually didn’t mind walking alone at night. Home wasn’t far from work and she felt relatively safe, the neighbourhood’s barking dogs and passing traffic keeping her company.
But things were changing.
Disappearances. More and more there were stories of women disappearing from the streets of Cologne. She tried to convince herself that it was probably just the media fearmongering again, but it was a fear that was hard to shake. It was an itch at the back of her neck that kept compelling her to look over her shoulder.
She did it again—discovering nothing but the streetlights and the shadows. Sade pulled her cardigan more tightly around her as she picked up her pace, her heels clunking heavily against the footpath. It was cool. The street was empty. But there were lights on in the homes on either side of her, which gave her comfort, silhouettes moving within. From out of the distance came the sound of the tram screeching on its tracks.
If she had more money, she could have gotten a taxi. If she had a decent job she could have had more money. Go figure.
She was almost home anyway, her heart quickening at the thought of sitting down in her comfy couch with a glass of cheap wine, the T.V blaring. It felt warm and safe in her mind. Warm and safe and wonderful. Until tomorrow, when she had to do this all over again.
More prickling at the back of her neck. She turned—and paused. A shadow. A figure. A flash of light against a belt buckle. Sucking in a breath, she turned away, swinging her bag around so she could clutch it tightly to her chest. The sound of footsteps. She could kick off her heels if she had to. She was tall with long legs and a natural sprinter. He’d have to be fit to catch her.
The footsteps continued. Her breath came out in a light mist. Her heart was racing. She stopped herself from looking over her shoulder again. Don’t give him reason …
She turned the next corner with relief. Now she was on her street, her red door bold and bright. She reached into her purse for her keys. A second figure stepped out from the shadows to her left. Sade stopped in her tracks, heart skipping a beat. Then she saw who it was.
‘Oh, it’s you.’
‘What’s wrong?’ Leo said, eyes shining against the nearby streetlight almost as brightly as his hair. ‘You look nervous.’
Sade looked over her shoulder but the figure was gone. She sighed as she turned back. ‘Yeah … you could say that.’
She climbed the steps to her door, feeling better now that she wasn’t alone. The keys rattled in her hand as she unlocked it. She froze. Leo was standing behind her like a wall, quiet and very still.
‘But what are you doing here? How—how do you even know where I live?’
He didn’t answer.
The realisation struck too late. Her eyes widened. She flung herself through the door. She was fumbling it shut but Leo jammed it open with his foot. Everything happened in slow motion. He shoved open the door with a strength that was shocking. Sade tumbled backwards, bag and one of her shoes flying as she fell to the floor with a heavy thud. She might have hit her head. Everything went dark for a moment, then brightened again with sharp intensity.
She was in no pain—strangely—but it was hard to move. What the hell just happened? She heard the door click shut. Then Leo was standing over her. No. He towered over her. He looked annoyed. Angry. Maybe even furious. His shoulders were bunched tightly around his neck. Leo. She’d only gone on three dates with him. Clearly, it had been a mistake. A friend of a friend of a friend.
Sade managed to sit up. Still no pain but there was a heaviness to her head and a stiffness to her back that was worrying. Her arms were trembling as she struggled to push herself backwards away from him, Leo watching her with those eerily intense eyes.
‘Why didn’t you answer my calls? It’s rude, you know.’
Sade didn’t say anything, continuing to push herself backwards. As though it would do anything, As though she could get away. She felt something wet under her palm. She lifted her hand and saw red. Her hand shook as she reached behind her head to find more blood.
‘I’m hurt,’ she gasped. ‘You hurt me.’
The strength in her arms suddenly gave way and she dropped onto her back again. Leo stood over her. Sade hadn’t realised how big he truly was until that moment. He was tall. His shoulders were so broad they stretched his shirt. And his hands were massive.
‘I could have made you a good boyfriend. I could have made you happy. But you didn’t give me a chance. None of you give me a chance!’
Sade’s protests stuck in her throat as he grabbed her shirt and yanked her to her feet with that shocking strength. Her knees buckled. She was clawing uselessly at his chest as he hoisted her into his arms. His footsteps were heavy as they thudded up the stairs. Sade tried clawing onto his arms but she had no strength. She’d really hurt her head. The ceiling spun. Her stomach did a sickening little tumble. It took all her effort not to puke.
He crossed the landing. Some strength gathered in Sade’s limbs and she swung out a fist. Leo pulled his head back and she missed. By that time he’d entered her room. How he even knew which room was her bedroom was horrifying. Had he been watching her?
‘Please … please … I’m sorry. I’m sorry!’
He dropped her to her feet and closed the door behind him, locking it. As though anyone would come to help. She lived alone. She didn’t know her neighbours.
Sade staggered as her knees buckled. She clutched at her head, her vision turning black. Her knees cracked against the floor as she fell. ’My head hurts. So bad. I need to go to the hospital. Leo, please, I need to go to the hospital!’
‘You should have been nicer to me.’
He went over to the bed and pulled back her blanket. Sade stared at the door, willing herself to move. With a cry, she managed to haul herself to her feet—but Leo was there, grabbing her arms and tugging her towards the bed. He shoved her onto it. Sade flopped back, her head slamming against the wall. A gurgle rose up her throat as her vision swam.
She might have dreamed but it was hard to know anything, it was hard to think anything, with the way her head was throbbing. The ceiling soon came into focus. It was dark, moonlight pouring in through her window. Sade winced at the savage pounding in her head. She reached behind to touch it. It was no longer wet but she could feel dried blood. Then she reached for her mouth. She scrabbled at the tape fastened over her lips.
‘I have something for you.’
Sade jerked upright, only to fall back down again with a muffled gasp as the pain in her head ricocheted through her body. A dark figure moved. The moonlight gleamed against Leo’s eyes and something in his hand. A glass of water.
‘I’ll turn your light on.’
Sade pulled away as he switched on her bedside lamp. He was smiling, holding out the glass and some tablets in his big palm. Sade stared. Her pulse was pounding in her temples. She could feel her heartbeat thudding through her body.
Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ.
Sade suddenly thought about her mother, missing her so deeply it was a pain in her chest. She hadn’t thought about her so viscerally for years. But she needed her now. More than any time in her thirty-five years. The tears rose in her throat. She tried to swallow them down but they leaked down her cheeks.
‘Don’t cry.’ He held out the tablets. ‘This is for your head. I found them in your drawer in the kitchen.’
Sade reached for her gag.
‘Oh, of course! Stupid me.’
He put her glass and tablets onto the table. Sade pulled back as he reached over with his big hands.
‘Do you want me to take it off or not?’
Sade forced herself to keep still. It was hard to breathe. It felt like she was being smothered. There was not nearly enough air coming through her nose. And she was panicking. She clawed her fingers into the sheets. She looked down, unable to look him in the eyes as he slowly peeled away the tape.
The moment it was gone, Sade took a breath but Leo slapped a hand around her mouth before she could scream. Shoving her into the bed, he crawled on top of her, straddling her, his face a furious red, teeth gritted, eyes narrowed and wild looking.
‘Keep quiet!’ he hissed. ‘What the hell is wrong with you!’
Screaming behind his hand, Sade thrashed around her head. She thrashed around her body. But he pushed his entire weight against her until she could hardly breathe. It was making her head scream with pain. She whipped up her arm and managed to drag her nails across his face.
He didn’t like that.
His blue eyes blazed. Something heavy slammed into her face. Fire burned through her cheek. It took her several moments before she realised what had happened. She hadn’t even seen his hand come down. She stared at the ceiling in a daze as the pain raced down her neck and into the back of her head, adding to her stabbing headache. Leo was breathing heavily. The feel of his body, his size and power, seemed to fill the room.
‘Try to scream again and I’ll hurt you,’ he said. ’I’ll really hurt you.’
All Sade could do was focus on her breathing. She tried to hold the tears back but they were rolling down her cheeks. The sobs caught in her throat.
‘There’s no need to cry, Sade. There really isn’t.’ Gently, he took her chin, turning her face. ‘I’m sorry, but if you simply do what I say, we can get along.’ He smiled. ’We could get along real well. Here.’ He got out of the bed and picked up the pills. He held out the glass again.
Sade sat up. Leo lowered the glass as she staggered from the bed. The glass shattered upon the floor as she charged him with a scream. Even as the tears flowed, even as the pain thudded through her body, sapping her strength.
But there was more pain—too much pain. Her screaming muffled to grunts and gasps and pleading. She tasted blood. More fire burned through her cheeks. Through her eyes and nose and guts. It was everywhere. There was so much of it that her body couldn’t differentiate it. All she knew were Leo’s fists and shoes and wild eyes and that she was on the floor curled into a ball.
He was saying things. She could feel blood on her face. It was pouring into her mouth, making her choke and gasp for air. Each ragged breath was like a pin scratching against her throat. She couldn’t seem to get enough in.
Leo soon stopped his attack, though it was several moments before she realised. He was crouched beside her, using her box of tissues to gently wipe the blood and tears from her face.
‘I told you,’ he said quietly. ‘I told you.’
Sade shut her eyes.