She really had enjoyed herself at dinner.
So much so that she ignored her common sense nipping at her consciousness, telling her that the snow was coming down too hard and she needed to get going before it got too bad to get home.
By the time everyone started putting in their money toward the bill, the ground was covered in a few inches of snow and the temperature was dropping quickly, making the wet pavement icy beneath it’s new, white blanket.
Two of her female co-workers walked her to her car, the three of them holding each other up, and sent her on her way, yelling promises that she would go slow and carefully.
And she did. But all the caution in the world couldn’t have prepared her for the patch of black ice on I-39 that sent her gliding too far to the right and right into the guardrail. Luckily, her speed was low and the impact was almost graceful. No airbag, no whiplash…just her and her Altima, angled off the road in the snow.
She put the car in reverse and slowly tried to back up. The car moved a few inches, but she could feel, instinctively, the way it unevenly bumped it’s way back that there was a problem with the tire.
She sighed, pulled her coat tightly around herself and got out. She could see no damage to the side of the car that was facing the road, and so she walked around to the other side, steadying herself with one hand on the car.
There was no apparent damage, so she stooped down to inspect the tires and found that the front, right tire was, in fact, flat. She looked at the flat for a minute or two, willing it to inflate on its own, but when that didn’t happen, she opened the passenger door, crawled across the seat and popped the trunk latch. She backed out, moved to the trunk and pulled out the jack and the tire iron.
She was grateful to be close enough to a streetlamp, that she wasn’t working in total darkness, as she bent down and began the tedious work of loosening the lug nuts.
When she finished with the loosening, she put the jack in position and began to pump the car up, a fraction of an inch at a time. Headlights swooped across her field of vision and she felt herself grow both relieved and nervous at the same time. She was all alone on a fairly deserted highway. This was the first car that had passed since she had run off the road, and she felt defenseless. She kept her head down and kept working.
A car door slammed and the icy snow crunched under heavy feet as the driver of the other car approached.
“Need a hand?” a deep, gravelly male voice asked.
Her hands stilled.
Immediately she began to tremble. She let go of the jack and instinctively pulled her coat and scarf tighter around her body and head.
“I said, do you need a hand?” he asked again.
Clearly she needed help. And yet this…this was the last person in the world she would ever want to meet again, much less ask for help. Yet, she was fairly certain he couldn’t see her face, as bundled as she was, and so she decided to do whatever she could to get out of the situation as quickly as possible.
“Where’s your spare? In the trunk?” The man didn’t even wait for an answer…just walked to the trunk, lifted the lid, and pulled out the dougnut.
His footsteps crunched back to her and he said, “Move back…I got this.”
She obeyed, sliding out of his way, and moving to stand beside him as he knelt next to her car and began to shimmy the old tire off of the axle.
She watched his glove hands grip the tire and she knew that on the back of his left hand would be a small scar…maybe almost completely faded by know…but still there, in the shape of her teeth.
She had been coming home late from work, that night.
She was cursing herself for walking that day when she had known that she would have to work late to meet her deadline, and so she walked as quickly as possible, down dark, deserted streets.
She had thought there was the possibility of someone following her…the hairs on the back of her neck were standing at attention, but every time she turned around, she saw no one and nothing out of the ordinary.
She kept walking.
When she reached her building, she punched in her access code and quickly ran up the one flight to her floor. It wasn’t until she was at her door, pulling out her keys that she realized she hadn’t heard the building door latch behind her.
It was her last thought before he was on her.
He came up from behind, one hand strong around her mouth, the other holding her around the waist.
“Open the door. Do it now and don’t make a sound.”
She almost dropped the keys twice in her attempt to put key to lock, but she managed to get it done, despite her state of terror.
When she turned the handle, he shoved her inside, and she stumbled to the floor.
“Get up,” he growled, and she scrambled to her feet, desperate to do anything he asked so that he wouldn’t hurt her. “Move,” he said, and she walked backward down the hallway, toward the kitchen.
As they entered the kitchen, her eyes noticed the knife on the counter at the same time as his. They both went for it, but he was bigger, stronger…faster.
From there, everything that happened was a blur of sounds and smells.
The odors of sweat and beer and cigarettes.
And the knife.
Right up against her neck, daring her to struggle…to try to get away.
At one point, he reached across her with his left hand, and her survival instincts kicked in and she leaned her head forward and clamped down, hard, with her teeth.
He swore and backhanded her, pushing the knife harder into her flesh.
“Do. Not. Move.” he growled.
And she did not move again.
When he was done, he left her on the kitchen floor, shrugged back into his clothes, putting his finger to his lips, whispering “Our secret…or I’ll be back.”
She had never told a soul, and he had never been back.
She knew, in her heart, that this meeting in the snow was all a horrifying coincidence, and yet, she couldn’t help but think that it was a punishment for beginning to enjoy life a bit. Her first night out since the attack, years before, and he arrives?
She stood, watching him begin to tighten the nuts on the spare and her anxiety began to rise.
He would soon be finished, and then what? There was no one passing by. Nothing to stop him from shoving her in the back of her car and hurting her, once again.
The snow was falling faster and harder, yet she could see that he had set aside the tire iron as he began to pump the jack.
Without much planning, she reached down, picked up the tool and raised it above her head. He noticed the shift in her body weight and turned his head, his eyes widening in recognition as he saw her face, for the first time.
As he moved to block her movements, his glove caught on the edge of the jack, leaving him unable to protect himself. She swung and iron connected with flesh with a crack in the quiet night air.
Soundlessly, he fell over, into the snow, unmoving.
She stood, stock still, unsure what to do next.
She stared at him, holding her breath, and it wasn’t until she realized that no puffs of breath were visible in the cold, night air that she exhaled.
With that thought, her brain began to work again, and she began to make swift, calculated moves, feeling as though it were the first time her mind was clear in years.
She looked at the blood on the tire iron and leaned down and wiped it off with the edge of the man’s coat, making sure to get rid of all visible traces.
Quickly and decisively, she pushed the body under the guardrail, rolling him into the ravine below. She picked up her tools and put them in the trunk. She moved back, got the flat tire and put that, too, in the trunk.
The snow was falling so fast, now, that she noticed that her tracks were getting covered almost as soon as she stepped out of them. Still, she kicked around the snow where he had lay and where she had pushed him under the rail until she was satisfied that no one could look at this spot and figure out what had happened. She could no longer see the body, as it had fallen too far, and was, most likely, already covered with a light dusting of snow.
She walked around to the drivers side, got in and turned over the engine.
It started immediately, and she slowly backed up, turned the wheels, and then carefully made her way home.
The whistling tea kettle broke her from her reverie and she stood, stretching her limbs.
She poured the water into her tea cup, pulled out her bagel from the toaster, sat at the table, and began to eat.
When she was finished, she walked to the bedroom, pulled back the covers, climbed in and almost instantly fell asleep.
And as she slept, she smiled.