(The first installment of this story was posted on Nov. 2nd. The second on Nov. 16th.)
Almost every night, he locked her in the sun parlor. It didn’t matter that Elizabeth was the one tapping on the wall, or giggling, or turning the light off and on. She was the oldest and should know better. As soon as he turned off the light, they were both supposed to be quiet and to go to sleep. Mama needed rest, and she couldn’t rest with the least bit of noise. Sandy knew this, and she lay still, never making a sound, but Elizabeth couldn’t be expected to be so quiet. Daddy ought to know that.
He didn’t, though. He didn’t even seem to be able to tell her voice from Elizabeth’s. If he heard anything, even if it was clearly Elizabeth crying because Sandy had pinched her to make her stop giggling, down she’d be taken to the sun parlor, far away from the bedrooms, where she “could stay all night if she wanted to keep making that Godawful racket, disturbing everyone else’s sleep.”
Owen’s office was located in the re-finished basement of his house. It was a fifteen-minute drive from her house. Recently, he’d switched their appointments from Wednesday mornings to Wednesday evenings, believing she was now capable of driving home in the dark. It was pitch black by the time Sandy left his office at 6:30. She immediately labeled the thought that a serial killer was lying down, hiding in the backseat of her car, as “irrational.” The car had been locked the whole time she’d been there. There was no sign of anyone having broken into it. She unlocked the doors and climbed in, forcing herself not to check the back seat before sliding into her seat and sticking the key in the ignition.
Owen had been wonderful tonight. He seemed genuinely proud and happy when she related her previous night’s success in the sun parlor. He had given her a hug. His hugs were few and far between, and she needed to learn to cherish them as signs of his love and affection toward her. She wasn’t to be repulsed by them. Normal, rational people are not repulsed by hugs from those who care for them.
She hadn’t felt the least bit repulsed this time. As a matter of fact, she’d felt something completely different – quite the opposite. She’d wanted his hug to last longer. She’d felt an ache and a longing when he’d let go. She’d balled her hands into fists and had looked at the floor to keep from flinging her arms back around him.
All the way home, she thought of Owen and how he was saving her life. He often helped her imagine a life in which she did more than just go to her receptionist’s job at Dr. Campbell’s from 10:00 – 4:00 everyday and come home every evening to make dinner and watch TV or read a book. He had her moving out of the rambling old farmhouse that had belonged to her great grandparents, a place he said was way too big for a young woman living alone. He had her in a cute little townhouse in town, supping with friends, and even going to movies that didn’t start until 9:00 p.m. With his help, she’d been practicing, imagining this life, although she didn’t tell him she often imagined it while still living in the farmhouse, because Mama and Daddy and Elizabeth wouldn’t understand if she moved into a townhouse.
Tonight, as she followed the curves back to her home, she was practicing the breathing techniques he'd taught her. She tried very hard to imagine going home to a bright little townhouse, having just been to a matinee at the Little Theater with friends. She had loved attending plays on field trips when she was in school and had often imagined she’d enjoy it just as much now she was grown.
When she opened the door to the little townhouse, in her mind, though, she wasn’t alone. Owen was there, and he welcomed her into his arms, giving her a long, lingering hug. He’d made dinner for them, and he lit two candles on the dining room table where they sat and held hands throughout the meal.
Before she knew it, she was turning into the long, gravel driveway that wound for a quarter of a mile before depositing her in front of her house. Were these irrational thoughts she’d been having? Was her imagination running wild in the wrong direction? Was that a large, hunched-over figure that limped its way across the driveway in front of her headlights and headed off into the woods adjacent to her property?
(To be continued.)