Rory glared at the computer screen before her. Nothing was coming to her. Not an opening sentence, not an angle, not an idea worth using. Everything she penned last night was garbage. Everything she’d written this morning was worse.
She wanted to slam her head onto her desk, but that wouldn’t solve anything. This wouldn’t be happening if her stupid laptop hasn’t been stolen from work and she’d had to start from scratch. And, worse, she’d left her thumb drive in it – and the thief took that as well.
Her deadline for her next article, one on eating disorders in women over thirty, was due this coming Tuesday, and Maggie was going to kill her if it didn’t take shape, but it seemed the article on Julie had taken everything out of her. Who cares about anorexic women when Julie’s dead? Who cared that it was… she stopped herself. This was useless.
The whole issue, she knew, was that she hated the article on Julie. To her, it was stilted and dry. Julie was ink on paper and nothing more. A few pictures gave her flesh, gave her humanity, but just barely.
Despite her interviews and research, Rory knew something was missing. True, Richard had refused to talk to her, but she certainly had enough material from other sources to make up for him. No, something else was wrong. Something she couldn’t put her finger on. But it was hard to tell if those feelings were about the article or the murder.
I ought to call Cade and bounce a few thoughts off him. But she wouldn’t. She couldn’t. She didn’t want to presume.
Trying to clear her mind, she stared at the bookshelves that lined the wall of her attic office, the one Paul had delegated to be “hers” when they were newlyweds and she was still a lowly reporter at American Faces. She allowed her thoughts to drift and soon found herself thinking about how wonderful it had felt last week to drop three boxes of unused everything off at the Goodwill store. If she had time today, and if Paul wouldn’t get suspicious, she’d pack up and get rid of even more. Who knew she’d feel no compunction discarding “cherished” memories?
Just two weeks to go. In two weeks, while Paul was in Seattle on a business trip, she planned to move out completely. He would come home to divorce papers, a restraining order, and an empty house. All she needed to do was call her lawyer and tell him it was a go. Just two weeks. All these years of saving and scrimping are coming to a close. Two weeks to go, and I’m free. The thought filled her with hope, an emotion she feared was becoming too foreign to her.
This morning wouldn’t be much in terms of productivity. No big deal, she knew. No big deal. Her best writing happened when she was under pressure.
A twenty-four hour deadline isn’t a deadline for you, Cade often remarked. The memory made her smile. She typically accused him of being jealous and told him that his mere presence infected her eyes and cursed her pen and that it was no wonder she was always running late.
Maybe she should write the article with her new pen, give it a test drive, and see if inspiration would come in ink rather than dots on a screen. But first she wanted to get out of the house and clear her head. If she was going to get anything done today she needed to forget Julie, and a jog through South Park sounded ideal.
Paul was in “his” office, working on taxes as usual, and he would be absolutely miserable when he finished. That meant she needed to lay low and stay out of his way. Leaving while he was busy guaranteed her a clean escape, as well as the possibility that he’d be gone when she returned. All she had to do was tell him she was leaving for a bit.
A run will be perfect. I’ll do that and then go to the office to finish the article there. No one will be in today since it’s Saturday.
She knocked on his door and waited for permission to enter. Taking a deep breath after he acknowledged her, she walked in. His home office had expensive bookshelves, a heavy oak desk, top-of-the-line computer, and a luxuriously comfortable sofa. She stood before his desk. “I’m going for a run in South Park,” she said when he finally looked up at her. “Then, I’m going to head to the office for a while.”
“I’ll come with you.”
Two months ago, she would have acquiesced without blinking. Two weeks ago, she would have given a half-hearted denial. Today, she wanted to tell him no. However, common sense won out: she couldn’t stand up to him. He’d know that something was going on. She took the middle of the road and tried to look like a concerned wife. “I don’t see why you need to, Paul. You’re buried in work, and I know how you hate to get behind.”
“I want to make sure you’re safe, baby.”
He ignored the look of disbelief on her face.
Rory’s feet hit the pavement in a steady rhythm. Almost immediately, Paul demanded that she slow down.
She humored him and managed to keep herself under control for a quarter of a mile despite wanting to run, not stroll.
“Slow down, damn it!” She tried again, but apparently not enough to suit him. “Can’t you do anything right? Walk slower!”
Rory stopped abruptly, about to tell him to go back to the car if he was going to be so short with her. A man on roller blades came up from behind and narrowly missed her, swerving just in time.
“Can’t you do anything right?” Paul snapped again, taking her hand and tugging her along. “I thought this would be a nice opportunity to talk about our marriage, but you’re already trying to ruin it.”
Ignoring him, she decided, was her best option.
“Why are you so damn quiet? Normally you’re going on and on about something.”
It wasn’t true, but she refused to contradict him. “I’m trying to work my way through an article, and I can’t find the right angle,” she finally replied, keeping her eyes on the path before them.
“Jesus, little girl, why don’t you just leave your work at work? Aren’t you done with that Julie thing yet?”
“It came out Wednesday. I left a copy on the breakfast table for you to read yesterday.”
“I’ll read it later.”
Rory started walking again, quickly outdistancing her husband, making him jog to catch up with her. When he did, he grabbed her arm and yanked her around to face him. “We’re taking a walk, Aurora. A simple walk! Can’t you do anything right?” That was the third time he said that today. He paused for a moment, seeing something new in her expression, and changed his approach: “Come on, baby, I didn’t mean it. Really. Look, take your walk. I’ll meet you at the car. We’ll talk then.”
How good to be alone.
Rory, you have to get home earlier. That job doesn’t need you as much as I do. Paul was infinitely jealous of her time, always demanding to know where she was and who she was with. It was because he loved her so much, he'd told her. She had liked that explanation at first. But she didn’t believe it anymore.
It was that same possessiveness that drove Selina away after he came home to find the two of them giggling like schoolgirls. He’d planted himself in the kitchen where Rory was preparing dinner and effectively killed the conversation. At dinner, when he told her that the spaghetti was over-cooked, things went from bad to worse.
It tastes fine to me, Selina had said, looking directly at Paul.
Rory remembered how Paul had smirked and let his eyes wander over her. And what would you know? You probably eat take-out every night since you don’t have a man to take care of you.
When I find a man who’s man enough to marry me, I’ll be happy to settle down.
Right. I know all about you liberal feminists. You won’t marry a man with a spine because he’ll just threaten you with his power.
Do you know any men with spines? From what I can see, most of them are too busy compensating for their… inadequacies, she purred, not bothering to hide her disdain and dropping her eyes to his crotch. Had Rory not been so shocked, she would have laughed out loud.
I’ll be back when you’re gone, Paul said, glaring at Selina as he stalked out of the kitchen, leaving his half-eaten meal at the table. Aurora, don’t wait up for me.
After he’d left, the two argued – Rory denied that anything was amiss, and Selina refused to believe her. This isn’t the Rory Haverly I knew in college. Since when did you give up telling men like that to go to hell?
The answer was when they started hitting her, but she didn’t tell Selina that.
Look, he’ll never let me in this house again, I’m sure of it. Not without you paying the price.
Rory didn’t argue. Instead, she begged Selina to trust her, assured her that things would be fine.
You know what you need to do, Roar. You need to get out.
He didn’t mean to come across like that. I just need time.
Time? He won’t stop, you know. It’s going to get worse.
You let me know when you’re ready to get out, and I’ll do everything I can to help.
Sighing, Rory dragged herself back into the present, hating the way she had let her pride get in the way. At that point, she hadn’t reached bottom. She thought that things would get better and that he didn't mean it. Back then, she had still liked the taste of the words on her tongue, things will get better and he didn’t mean it. They still had meaning to her then, when she was a young bride who actually thought his presents and apologies were sincere. How could those words not have meaning? How could she not believe in fairy tales with happily ever afters? She’d been raised on them. Anything else was failure.
I’ve survived Richard. I’m surviving Julie’s murder. And I’ll survive this divorce. I’ll reconnect with life. I’ll survive. I’m not dead yet. Each step became a syllable. I’m not dead yet, nothing has killed me, nothing has beaten me... Soon, her walk quickened and turned into a run. I’m not dead yet. I have things left to do.
When Rory returned to the car, Paul was sitting in the driver’s seat with the motor running and the air conditioning on high. He was reading the paper. She stretched briefly, then opened the door, and sat in the passenger’s seat. She closed her eyes and laid her head back.
Without a word, he began folding up the paper.
I’m not dead. I have things left to do, she opened her eyes to look out the window. I’m leaving in two weeks. She’d put the deposit down on a pretty little two-bedroom apartment in Mount Lebanon on Friday, and the landlord said it would be ready by the beginning of April.
“So how long have you two been fucking?”
“You and that reporter.”
Her stomach lurched and she couldn’t breathe. He’s dragging Cade into this, she thought, panicked. Anything to give him another excuse to ‘straighten out’ the errant little girl he married. Nothing she did would ever be right, and even when it was, he’d find something new to be wrong. What had she ever been thinking to marry this man? What had possessed her to think even once that she deserved what he gave her? Why had she put up with it? She fought everyone else, why not him?
Two more weeks. Just hold on and then you can get back to living. Two more.
She was going to lose control if she didn’t keep reminding herself that she had so little time left with this man.
Be the little submissive he wants. Don’t argue with him. Don’t give him cause today. Don’t make him hit you today.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about.” With little effort, her voice was meek and frightened. She had learned that particular act very well, which frightened her even more. In just a few years, it had become increasingly easier to obey, to shrink back into herself and live on auto-pilot. More and more, she avoided people. Particularly strangers. Or she put on her professional face, the one that kept everyone at arm’s length.
“Don’t lie to me, Aurora.”
“I’m not. I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“I’m talking about this, you cheating bitch.” He shoved the folded newspaper in front of her face, and she saw an American Faces advertisement – featuring a candid picture taken at the JBI meeting months ago. The caption said something about how American Faces reporters, and it named both Rory and Cade specifically, were involved in the community. Rory, notebook in hand, was talking to Mrs. Henderson and writing down whatever the woman was saying. That wasn’t the problem. The problem was Cade, sitting to her left, whose full attention was trained on her.
What could she say? She bit her lip and looked at her hands, folded neatly on her lap.
“Why don’t you say something, you little slut? It’s too obvious, if you ask me. His eyes are all over you, but I’m sure you know that. Don’t you? Probably wore that top so he could check out those perky little tits of yours that night. That’s what I think.”
The chilling fear she’d first felt was slowly being replaced with rage. She hated being called names. She hated Cade being blamed. She’d had enough.
Two weeks... but the words came out regardless.
“I think that you’re looking for something to fight about,” she snapped, unable to stop herself . She wasn’t going to back down and allow him to accuse her of cheating on him with Cade. Before he could reply, she continued, her voice was as level and as cold as his. “If you want a fight, Paul, I’ll give you a fight. You’ve been cheating on me for God only knows how long. You’ve slept with one woman after another. This last one has gone on for at least six months. I know all about her: she’s your latest secretary. Some blonde bimbo who can’t do anything right in the office but is a wonder in the sack. You have a nice little apartment on Polish Hill where you keep these women until you’re finished with them. There. You have your fight. Now leave me alone.”
Her refusal to be cowed infuriated him. “You’d be wise to think things over and apologize, girl. You’re mine. No one else’s. You’re just a skinny little hack writer. You can’t get a real job, and you’ll never find another man to support you no matter how hard you look. We’re done talking now, and I want you to think about this very, very carefully. When we get home, you need to think about just how you’ll convince me to forgive you.”
Rory opened her mouth to protest then closed it. What have I done? He’s going to beat the hell out of me when we get home, she watched his hands, gripping the the steering wheel, and remembered that her cell phone was at home.
She touched her neck and swallowed, wondering what it would take to “convince” him to forgive her.
She was out of the car the moment they pulled into the driveway. Before he even fully stopped, she had the door open and racing up the front lawn in an effort to gain some distance. She made it into the kitchen and grabbed her cell phone from the charger on the counter before he caught her.
“Planning to call someone?” He snarled, grabbing her arms and shaking her. She heard her phone hit the floor, heard the crack of plastic as he brought his foot down.
“Paul, don’t… you’re hurting me…”
“You wanted to call someone to save you, didn’t you?”
Rory closed her eyes and swallowed, then nodded.
“When are you going to get it? No one is coming to save you. Ever.” Red eyed, she looked up at him. His face filled with rage, staring down at her. He was trying to decide just how much to hurt her this time. How many marks to leave and which ones. How much to unleash and how much to restrain. “You’re mine until I decide otherwise, do you understand? You’re mine.”
Until he killed her, she realized. Until he decided that he wanted someone younger and more pliant and less threatening.
“Who are you, Aurora?”
She looked up at him, frightened by how clear her mind was. She was becoming too successful for him. She didn’t need him like she used to.
“Well? Tell me! Who are you?” He squeezed her arms until she cried out. “Tell me, Aurora. I’d really like to know.”
“Your wife.” The words burned, scalded her. She hated them. Hated the sound they made.
He pulled her close, his face inches from hers, “then tell me, Aurora, why do you keep making me remind you?”
“Because,” she whispered. “I despise you.”
The neighborhood knew nothing of Paul DeLuca’s volatile side. No one was the wiser today, either. The only indication that anything was amiss in the DeLuca household today was the way that the blinds on the kitchen door were smashed flat against the window for an instant, then released to dance wildly before they were smashed flat again. Over and over.
Twenty minutes later, Paul walked out of the front door, waved to the elderly Mr. Tartanowski across the street, got in his car, and drove off. He would stay at his girlfriend’s until Rory calmed down and until he could find the right gift for her. Something to show her that he hated to have to be so tough on her.
The divorce papers and a restraining order were served at his office two days later.