Without Any Warning

Rachel winced as she bent to pull the plastic make-up case from the very back of the bathroom closet where it had been sitting since the last cover-up conspiracy. Her back and ribs ached as she lifted the case off the floor and set it upon the vanity counter. Keeping her head down she did her best to avoid eye contact with her own reflection in the mirror as she carefully popped open the latch and began setting the little containers of cover-up, foundation and make-up in a neat row across the counter. She sighed as she realized in anguish, that this occasional practice had become a dreaded routine.
Rachel let her mind drift to a sweeter place and time; a cold winter afternoon, just a few short years ago, when she’d been a struggling college student, studying for finals at the university coffee shop. Fatigued, she had found herself staring through the glass door, daydreaming, when suddenly it opened with a loud groan. Wind and snow blew in through the door, bringing with it a tall handsome stranger, packaged quite attractively in a navy, blue woolen coat, accented with a long, red winter scarf slung around his neck, dancing in the wind behind him. Rachel’s heart had skipped a beat as he rushed through the door. Taking notice of his jet black hair and dancing green eyes she watched his every move as he made his way to the counter where he placed his order and flirted shamelessly with the giggling barista. While waiting for his order, he turned, crossed his arms and leaned casually against the counter, scanning the room inquisitively. It was at that very moment that Duncan’s eyes discovered Rachel’s and changed forever, the direction of her life.
She lifted her head to finally acknowledge the desolate reflection, waiting impatiently for her in the mirror. The face she observed staring back at her demanded respect, recognition and accountability, yet all she felt was disappointment and pity. Her right eye had all but swollen shut during the night despite the icepack she had balanced on her throbbing face while she pretended to sleep. The whole side of her face was painted black and blue and bloated while her front tooth felt loose to the touch. The broken image in the mirror, made it clear that no amount of make-up could conceal the damage he’d inflicted this time and she sighed a heavy sigh as she picked up her cellphone to message her supervisor Katie. It sickened her to think that she would have to call in sick yet another day and probably three. Katie, for the most part, had been pretty understanding, mostly because they had become friends while working together on a daily basis for more than a year. Last month however, after several verbal notices, she’d been forced to issue a written warning and this absence would probably be the final straw. “Oh well,” she thought, “I’ll find another job”, but her heart ached as she set the phone down on the counter.
Sitting in her office, Katie’s iPhone began to vibrate and her heart sank as she read the message from Rachel on the screen. She had felt trapped in this situation, trying to be understanding for her friend yet fulfill her obligations to the company. She watched and comprehended the messy situation between Rachel and her husband Duncan, yet was not comfortable addressing it, mostly because she did not want to force Rachel to confess her embarrassing situation. She had instead, nodded in sympathy while Rachel relayed her feeble stories about falling down the stairs, bumping her head or minor fender benders on the highway. Katie bit her tongue in disgust and anger, knowing that it was not her place, as a supervisor anyway, to pressure Rachel for the details of her private life. In all reality, everyone in the office knew the cold, hard truth and gossiped about her when she left the room, yet no one ever said a word to Rachel. Katie stood up and walked over to the window and stared out over the parking lot trying to ignore the dreadful feeling which had so suddenly enveloped her.
Wandering aimlessly through the house, Rachel thought to herself, perhaps it was time to explore other options and then began laughing out loud at this idea of “options”, knowing that in all reality, she had none. If she left, Duncan would find her, just as he had several times before and proceed to sweet talk her into coming home, again, just as he had every time before. If she stayed, hoping for change, she knew that it was only a matter of time before Duncan had one of his drunken meltdowns, and she would again, end up at this same place, licking her wounds just thankful to be alive. For a moment she entertained the thought of leaving. Even if she could muster up the courage to pack and run, she had absolutely no place to go. Family and friends who had helped her in the past, only to see her go back to this madman, had all but given up on her. They could not understand and were frustrated with Rachel’s intense devotion to this monster that was intent on making her life a living hell. She let out a sigh, accepting the realization that this was the hand she’d been dealt and like it or not, she had no other options left. Looking at her watch, she decided that she’d best get the house cleaned and dinner in the oven before Duncan came home. He’d be in a better mood today, and she limped into the kitchen to get the vase out from under the sink, knowing that he would walk meekly through the door after work with a beautiful bouquet of flowers and an apology just for her.
Suddenly there came a knock on the front door which startled Rachel. Her breath caught in her chest as she stared in stark terror at the door. Shaking her head, she laughed nervously to herself, realizing that Duncan would never knock on his own door. However, this led to the question of who would actually be on her porch at this early hour? Well, whoever it was could not see her in such a state. She walked toward the kitchen hoping the intruder would just go away, at which point, the polite knocking turned into persistent pounding. Annoyed, she made her way back down the hallway to the entryway. Taking a deep breath, she asked hesitantly, “Who is it? Who’s there?”
A faint familiar voice forced its way beneath the heavy oak door. “It’s me…Katie” announced the caller. “Please open the door.” Frustrated and feeling exposed, Rachel panicked, not wanting anyone and especially not her boss to see her like this. “Rachel, I know what’s going on and I want to help.” announced the warm voice. Feeling cornered and defeated, she fumbled with the lock and slowly twisted the doorknob. Katie gasped in alarm at the initial sight of Rachel’s bruised and beaten face. Reaching out she grabbed her hands and then embraced her in a comforting hug. Feeling safe, for the first time in such a long while, Rachel’s eyes welled up with tears and she sobbed violently as they streamed down across the purple bruises on her battered face. They stood there in the doorway for what seemed an eternity and finally, as the sobbing subsided, Katie lifted Rachel’s solemn face, looked her in the eyes and said simply, “let’s get packed.” In contented silence, Rachel grabbed Katie’s hand and stepped out onto the porch and into the summer sunshine, stating simply and securely, “Let’s go. I don’t need a damn thing.”

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