JUST AFTER NINE O’CLOCK, WHEN IT SEEMED AS IF HE’D BEEN GONE FOREVER, THERE WAS A BANG AT THE FRONT DOOR. She jumped out of her seat on hearing her name called; pulling her hand through her long hair, wondering... shaking from tip to toe.
‘It’s Blake, let me in. Come on Donna – what’s going on?’
There was no spy-hole, so she had to put the door on the latch, having undone the deadbolts.
It was Blake. She could have cried, but didn’t want him to see how hysterical she was, so she looked to the ground and let him in without a word.
‘What’s with all the locks?’ he asked with an odd look on his face.
‘I... I just thought... you were him… that man... ’ She sniffed back the tears that threatened.
‘Come on love – get a grip. There’s no way he’d find out where you live. He doesn’t even know your name, so it’s impossible. One or both of us has to go out sometime. You can’t stop in the flat forever, and if you won’t come with me, what other choice do I have?’ He put down the plastic bag that smelt of fried chicken and chips.
She shrugged her shoulders.
‘Sorry I took so long - I needed a bit of fresh air. Being stuck in this flat all day is doing my head in.’
When he sat down she smelt the faint aroma of sweet cider on his breath. ‘Was getting some fresh air, via the pub?’
‘I just had a small one.’
‘I bet you did.’
‘I’ve got plenty of chicken and chips if you want some.’
‘All right, but I’m still not very hungry.’
She sat by him, and as he opened the paper, he allowed her to take a few of the greasy salt laden chips, that were normally delicious. Tonight however, to her, they tasted bland and soggy.
Blake was ravenous. He finished his tea in no time at all, and even took back a few of the chips Donna left.
She didn’t want to talk, was still unnerved, so they watched television in relative silence.
‘Look Donna, sorry I flew off the handle at you earlier on. I was acting like an idiot again.’
‘It doesn’t matter,’ she said morosely.
‘But it does to me. I know I need to control my temper better, after what you’ve been through. I should’ve realised you can’t help how you are right now. I’m trying so hard, and when I can’t make any difference, I get frustrated. I didn’t mean to hurt you - you’ve been hurt enough already, haven’t you? But this rape thing is affecting me too. This is hard to cope with, isn’t it love?’
‘Hard for you to cope with. Well how the hell do you think it is for me? You’re just cheesed off because you can’t have sex – that’s what this is all about, isn’t it?’ she shouted at him.
‘No, that’s not true. It’s the everyday things, like holding your hand, touching you, kissing you and so on. I find it hard to take when I’ve done nothing wrong. What happened to you was horrible, but I’m not the same as him – and never will be.’
‘Well, most other men are. They all want to get inside my knickers. And deep down, you’re the same. So what happens if this goes on for weeks or maybe even months? You’ll get a little bit frustrated - won’t you Blake? Because sex is always on your mind. What then? Going to rape me as well, are you? Or will you go elsewhere for your carnal pleasures.’
‘Donna, you’re going way over the top here. I’m not like that. No matter how long it takes, I’ll never lay a finger on you without your consent – I promise. Nor would I look at another woman,’ he boasted as if he really meant it.
A likely story, she thought. She pulled a sour face; convinced he hadn’t the strength of character to carry this through. But she prayed he would.
They both sat there for a time, not speaking much. Donna felt restless. So she got up saying she was going to bed and went to the spare room as before. As soon as she got into bed, Blake came up to the doorway, with that same feeling-sorry-for-himself expression on his face.
‘Night then, Donna.’ He stood there, obviously wanting her to change her mind.
His plight did have an effect on her. She felt for him, longed to make it up to him, even though it was impossible right now, and said, ‘Listen; is there any chance of you getting a few days off in the next couple of weeks? We could go away for a break, spend a little time together. What do you think?’ She was thinking out aloud.
‘I’d love to, but how can I? I’ve already got the rest of this week off, but it’s pandemonium at our place. How about in a few weeks’ time when things have quietened down a bit? Or will you be back at work by then?’
‘I haven’t got a clue. I’ve never been raped before, so I’ve no idea how long it takes to get over these things.’
‘What about the engagement meal we’d planned. Why don’t we rearrange it?’
Donna felt tense again. ‘For God’s sake Blake, stop pressurising me. I can’t get my head straight right now.’
‘Sorry, you’re right of course. Best leave it for now then – ok?’
‘I think about what happened to me all the time. I can’t get it out of my mind.’
‘I wish there was something I could do to help, but I can’t – can I?’
‘You can stop losing your temper, Blake, and try to be patient with me for once in your life.’
‘I’m sorry,’ he sighed, shaking his head.
He left then, looking as despondent as before, wanting it seemed, to put all the wrongs right. She imagined he went back to their king-size bed, which she’d previously loved to share with him. The single bed was cold, and she used to like to cuddle up close to him. But no matter how much she wanted to, she could no longer do that, not after that madman had virtually destroyed everything she had.
There was no way Donna could go back to work in her present state. Instead she and Blake spent the rest of the week in the company of counsellors, doctors and police - each an ordeal in itself. As expected, her suggestion of going away with Blake slipped by, without anything else being said or done. Donna was hurt, but thought it was pointless anyway, with their relationship almost buckling under the strain. And at present, she preferred to stay indoors. It was bad enough people staring at her when she supposedly looked beautiful. Now she looked ugly it was ten times worse.
The situation with Blake remained tense too. Although he accepted her conditions, Donna remembered how important the physical part of their relationship was to him. Sooner or later, it would get to him.
When he went back to work the next week, she visited her parents, to avoid being left on her own. It was either that or nothing. She was never comfortable in their company as it reminded her of her unhappy childhood, but she had nowhere else to go.
The week after Blake returned to work, late on the Friday afternoon, the phone rang. Donna picked it up without thinking about who it might be.
’Hi Donna, Dave Wallace here. Sorry to bother you at a time like this – ’he began.
Donna’s heart stopped for a split second, her face began to burn. This was just the person she didn’t want to speak to.
‘I wondered how you’re feeling right now?’
‘Er... I’m still not very well. I get anxious over every little thing even though I’m on tablets to calm me down. And I can’t go out on my own without being frightened to death.’
‘That’s understandable, after what you’ve been through. Anyway, would you mind if I popped round to see you sometime next week? I’d like to discuss a few things; maybe draw up a plan of action to get you back to work. Of course, if you’re not up to it at present, that’s not a problem. We could review your situation again in two weeks’ time, if you like. What do you think?’
She’d have to let him come at some stage, although the thought of seeing him sickened her. But she wanted to get it over with, and then she could forget about it.
‘Well… come if you want. My face should have almost healed by then – hopefully.’
‘That’s wonderful, Donna. Glad to hear you’re taking the first step. In my experience that’s always the hardest part, but once you have, everything will seem that little bit easier. Look forward to seeing you,’ he said, in a relieved tone of voice. They then arranged a time for him to come and visit.
As soon as she put the phone down she began to tremble. Was she doing the right thing, in allowing him to see her on his own? What if he started acting like that madman? What if he tried it on with her too? There’d be no escape. But he wasn’t like that. Ok, so he probably fancied her, but surely he wouldn’t do anything to her.
When Blake came home from work that night she asked him what he thought she should do.
‘Well, that’s a good question. He’ll try to get you to go back to work even if you’re not ready yet. So don’t let him bully you. If you’ve got a doctor’s note, there’s nothing he can do.’
‘I know. They want me back, that’s obvious. If he tries to persuade me, I’ll say I’m not well enough yet. After all I’m not indispensable.’
‘Quite true. You’ll have to go eventually, but go back too soon, and you’ll end up in a worse state than you are now. It’s your call, but whatever you decide, I’ll back you.’
She smiled at him for that, relieved at his support.
During the rest of the week, Donna couldn’t get the meeting with Dave Wallace off her mind. Normally a fair man, but with a reputation for getting things done, he was very astute and clever. If he could find a way to persuade her to go back, he would, she thought.
She didn’t want him to come. If he asked her any questions, how truthful should she be? She wasn’t sure.
When the day came, she woke early and was eating her breakfast before Blake got up. If only he could be there at the flat with her, but that wasn’t possible. She’d be on her own, and although she might have asked her mum and dad, they never wanted her work at Bluethorn and would only cause trouble for her.
Dave was her boss; he’d only do what was in his best interests. She could face him, she said to herself during the day. This was purely an informal meeting after all. Nothing to be concerned over. Dave would be nice to her – he had to be; and everything would pass off amicably.
If her parents were easier to talk to, she’d have confided in them about Dave and lots of other things. But they never listened to her and had always tried to exploit her. She’d coped with that and having plenty of men lust after her. After all none of them had ever harmed her physically. Only her attacker had taken this to an extreme. Unfortunately that was all it had needed to turn her life upside down.
When the buzz of the bell finally came, she almost jumped ten feet in the air. Dithering like a dog, she answered the intercom.
‘Hello, Dave Wallace here. I’ve come for our meeting. Is that ok?’
‘Hi Dave, I’ll let you in.’ She hoped he wouldn’t notice how anxious she was.
As he stood in front of the door, she saw he was just his normal self; plump, early thirties, wearing a pinstriped suit. His ginger hair swept back failing to conceal his impending baldness. Small intrusive brown eyes observed her. When he spoke, Donna could see his brilliant white false front tooth, which he’d once told her he’d had fitted after an accident playing rugby.
‘Hello Donna,’ he said with a static smile on his face.
‘Come in Dave.’
He followed her to the living room, where they sat at opposite ends of the settee. He declined her offer of a drink – it seemed he wanted to get on with matters at hand.
‘So how are you?’
‘Oh, you know. As well as can be expected, I suppose.’
‘I see you still have a little bruising around your eyes. That guy must have given you one hell of a beating.’
‘He did.’ A sudden self-consciousness came over her, and she touched around her eyes with her fingers.
‘I imagine you’ve seen your doctor recently?’
‘I have. He’s told me it’ll take a while for me to get well again.’
‘Obviously. You’re on medication?’
‘Yes, I’m on anti-depressants to help calm me down. But that’s only taking the edge off my anxiety.’
‘You might need to be on a higher dose.’
‘I’m on the highest dose already. But they take a few weeks to get in your system – so I’m told.’
‘So how often are you seeing your doctor?’
‘Once a week, but I expect he’ll reduce that once I start to get better.’ She watched him take notes of the conversation they were having and wondered exactly what he was writing down.
‘So you’ve no idea when you’re likely to be back at work? You must understand I’m not trying to push you in any way. However, it’s company policy to encourage employees to come back as soon as they are able. In fact we’ll give you all the support you need. So how do you feel about that?’
‘How do you think I feel?’ Donna’s anger rose within her ready to bubble over like an active volcano. ‘You haven’t got a clue have you? I’ve been through hell. I suppose you know he raped me as well as beating me black and blue. You think about how horrific and terrifying that is – if you can.’
He winced with shock, then said, ‘I can’t and I’m sorry. And no, I wasn’t aware he’d raped you. But no matter what happened, I’m sure you have the strength of character to make a full recovery. You mustn’t let this one incident destroy your life –’
‘Just go Dave? I can see you’re the same as all men.’
‘Donna, for God’s sake –’
‘Leave me alone.’
‘All right, I’ll talk to you at a later date, when you’re in a better frame of mind.’ And with that a blotchy redness rose up into his face.
‘Yes, I think you better had.’
Coughing uncomfortably, and getting up from his seat he said ‘Please send in your doctor’s notes promptly, it will make things a little easier. I’ll ring you in a few weeks to see how you are. Ok?’
‘Take care of yourself Donna, we’d really love to see you back. It would be tragic if you couldn’t return to work - but please understand there’s no pressure on you whatsoever.’
‘At the moment the idea of coming back and facing everyone at work fills me with dread.’
‘I feel so sorry for you. But I assure you we’re all thinking about you, and personally I look forward to seeing you soon. You’re a very intelligent girl – in my opinion there’s no limit to how far you can go with Bluethorn. Don’t you forget that. I’ll be in touch,’ he said with a hint of a smile.
She nodded as he left the room.
As soon as he’d gone, Donna began to weep; quietly at first, then louder and louder until it became a hideous wail. There was a glass of pop on the coffee table, which she picked up and smashed against the wall in despair. She pushed the table over, then began throwing anything she could find, and pulled over all the furniture, before finally slowly sinking down onto her knees, sobbing like a baby. Lying on the carpet with her arms about her head she closed her eyes, wanting all the pain and humiliation to go away. But it wouldn’t.
She came to her senses when she heard the sound of the front door opening and Blake calling her name. When he came in, his eyes fixed on her with concern.
‘Donna, what’s wrong?’ he asked her softly.
She shook her head, turned away from him.
‘What’s happened now? The flat looks like a bomb’s hit it? And why are you lying on the floor, for God’s sake?’
‘I... I just freaked out. Don’t know what came over me, but I couldn’t stop myself.’
‘Because… because Dave my boss was here… And I couldn’t cope. I panicked and let it slip about being raped – I thought he knew already. And now he’s had it confirmed, they’ll all be gossiping about it. There’s no way can I go back there now.’
‘He won’t tell them anything, love - honestly. He’d get the sack if he did. What you told him was strictly confidential.’
‘And who could prove it was him? They’ll say they don’t know where it came from and that I egged that monster on. When I’m better, I have to get another job,’ she insisted, looking jittery once more.
Blake held out his hand to help her up, but she didn’t take it.
‘Come on, don’t be like this. Something weird is happening to you – you need to get this checked out. Anyway we’d better start clearing up this mess.’
She moved towards the window, looked out and shuddered again. ‘That’s the same as me, a complete mess.’ She laughed, waving her arms about, turning her mascara streaked face back to him.
‘Don’t say that,’ Blake sighed looking sad.
‘Why not, it’s the truth? All because of that vile man - dirty, filthy stinking animal - putting his hands all over me. I can’t stand it anymore.’
‘But that was only one man. It doesn’t mean every man’s the same as him. There are lots of good men about, and only a few bad ones. The same goes with women, there’s good and bad.’
What did he know? It wasn’t the same for him.
‘Yes, well even the bad women don’t go around attacking and raping folks. I’m sick of men ogling me, making suggestive remarks. I’ve had enough, I’m a human being after all, not a piece of meat,’ she ranted, as her whole miserable life came spilling out.
Blake looked calm; Donna wondered how long before he lost control.
‘You’re very special – you should be flattered by all the attention you get. Millions of women would give anything to be like you.’
‘Oh sure they would. Well, I don’t want to look like me. I want to be ordinary, the same as everyone else. And you’re like all the others. You only want me for sex.’ She pointed a finger at him accusingly.
‘I don’t love honestly. If that was true, I’m not doing very well out of it, am I? How long have we been going together now? Four years, is it? I seem to remember we waited over a year before we slept together. And we’re getting engaged. Supposed to be getting married in a year or two as well – so how can you accuse me of that?’
Donna mumbled at him under her breath. It didn’t matter what he said, she couldn’t stop thinking as she did.
‘I’m not arguing about this any longer. I’m going to get this flat back to normal, and if you had any sense, you’d help me,’ he said.
Her eyes were brimming full of tears again. She walked over to the spare room, went in and slammed the door shut behind her.
She lay on her back on the top of the bed, feeling so depressed, as if she had nothing to live for in the future. All that remained was more misery and pain. Everything she’d achieved so far meant nothing. Her Mathematics degree, her Statistical Analyst job, her family, friends and most especially Blake, were meaningless to her now. She wanted none of it, but couldn’t work out what could take its place – if anything.
Blake was moving about in the living room, by the sound of it, doing the vacuuming. After about half an hour, silence descended on the flat. How long before he disturbed her again, she wondered? Within minutes he knocked lightly on the door before entering.
Donna glanced at his exasperated figure.
‘Well, I’ve done the best I can, but there are a few broken things that can’t be mended. Come out now if you want.’
She looked up at him. ‘Any reason why I should?’
‘Yes, there’s every reason. Mainly because I’ve spent a lot of time and effort clearing up what you’ve trashed. I hope you’ve got your frustrations out of your system or else it’s going to cost us a small fortune.’
She got up, and walked soulfully into the living room, which he had so meticulously cleaned up. She stood still for a few seconds, realising all the trouble he’d gone to. Then looked into Blake’s harassed eyes.
‘I’m so sorry,’ she blubbered.
When he walked over to her, she went surprisingly into his arms, sobbing her poor little heart out, grateful this time to have his strong arms wrapped around her. But before long in a panic she pulled herself free from him again.
‘All right?’ His eyes widened with shock.
‘What am I going to do Blake? Please tell me.’
‘I don’t know. Try to get over this, I suppose – they say time is usually a good healer – don’t they? You mustn’t let that fruitcake get to you – he’s done enough damage already – you want to let him ruin the rest of your life as well?’
‘I’m not sure I can get over it.’ She was shaking. ‘The harder I try the worse I get.’
‘Go and see your doctor again, perhaps this time he’ll put you in touch with a psychiatrist, or some help group for rape victims. Pick up the phone – it’s not that difficult is it?’
‘He gave me tablets the last time. They’re useless.’
‘Come on, these pills can be really effective if you give them a chance. Don’t forget, you’ve only been taking them for a week or two.’
‘I’m not relying on pills for the rest of my life, and I don’t intend discussing what happened with a group of strangers. Before long the whole world will know. Thanks but no thanks. You’re a real help, Blake, a proper Dear Deirdre aren’t you?’ She glared at him, then strode off back to her room, leaving Blake probably wondering what she’d turned into.
She lay back on her bed, eyes closed, worrying over how she’d ever get herself well again. It was going to be a long painful process – that was for sure.