Dead leaves rustled across the patio, rain pattered against the glass. Crescendoing thunder rumbled and rattled the wooden window frames, shaking Megan from her slumber. Lightning illuminated the recesses of the bedroom. A silhouette lurched towards her. His silhouette.
“Richard!” she cried, her heart pounding.
“Don’t scream. It’ll be worse for you,” he said, clamping one gnarled hand over her mouth.
She resisted the urge to sink her teeth into his nicotine stained fingers as he dragged her petite frame out of bed, no match for his bulky 6’2” inch frame. The infusion of familiar aftershave with beery breath gagged her as he pinned her against the door. She wondered how long he had been lurking there.
“Did you think I would let you go? Just like that?” he growled in her ear.
She squeezed her eyes shut, aware of the thumping in her chest.
“Please, Richard,” she said, her instinct to leave him vindicated.
“Shut up!” Yanking her by the shoulder, he spun her around. “Sit.”
Her legs wobbled as she slid down onto the oak floor, eyes agape at the roll of masking tape looped over his wrist. She turned away in protest as he secured the tape across her mouth, then kicked out, catching him in the groin. His face crumpled with pain.
“Bitch,” he hissed. “Want to play dirty, do you?”
She felt the cold, metal cuffs snap around her wrists.
“That’ll teach you. I’ve not decided what I’m going to do to you. Not yet.”
Images of him in her kitchen butchering meat floated through her head. She loathed dealing with raw meat; that was his department. She shuddered at her thoughts, hoping to buy a little time.
Except he thrust the chloroform-soaked handkerchief under her nostrils. She gasped, fighting for air, then – nothing.
Cold concrete pressed against Megan’s cheek. Remnants of cigarette smoke lingered in the stale, musty air, the silence palpable. Confused, she peered into the inky void, eyes straining to make sense of her surroundings. A sliver of light penetrated a tiny gap in the steel door. She lay tethered against the wall. Panic bubbled to the surface as she wrestled her arms attempting to break free, the cuffs shredding her delicate skin.
The clunk of a padlock, the sawing noise of the bolt sliding back, heralded his return. The hinges of the door groaned as Richard shoved it open. He shone a torch into the darkness, enough light for her to make out two polystyrene cups in a cardboard tray, his rucksack slung over one shoulder.
“Megan,” he murmured, shaking his head, “if you promise to be a good girl, I’ll feed you breakfast.” He ripped the tape from her mouth smarting her upper lip, the pain excruciating.
“I promise.” He is not planning on killing me. Not yet. Keep thinking, Megan.
“Extra-strong, one sugar,” he said, “not too hot. Wouldn’t want to burn that pretty mouth, would we.” He tipped the cup until the cappuccino froth met her lips. She slurped two mouthfuls of the creamy liquid, enough to savor the dark roasted beans, before turning her head away.
“Richard, please. Don’t do this. If you ever loved me, think this through.”
“I don’t want to live my life without you, Megan.” he said. “You were – still are – my world.”
“We,” she bit her lip, hesitating, “I, cannot cope with your mood swings.” If only it were that simple, she thought.
“The accident only made it worse,” he said, his voice trailing off.
“That’s no excuse,” she said, knowing he had suffered head injuries.
Richard rummaged in his backpack, and ripped open the plastic covering from a pack of egg and bacon sandwiches.
“Here,” he said, breaking a morsel off, holding it to her lips.
She no longer felt the urge to bite his fingers, only the will to survive.
“Thank you,” she said, “I’m sorry, Richard. Truly.”
“How did it come to this, Megan?” he said, feeding her some more. “You know if I can’t have you, no one can. I’d never share you with another man.”
Megan felt the blood drain from her face, tears trickle down her cheeks.
“Don’t cry,” he said, wiping her tears with the back of his hand. “I need to know.”
“I’ll explain, Richard,” she said, between sobs, “on one condition.”
“You take the handcuffs off.”
Moments became seconds, minutes, yet time seemed to wind down to a standstill. He ran his hands through his thick brown hair as he paced the periphery of the cellar.
She waited, knowing the gamble might backfire, the imaginary tick of the second hand counting down to one critical decision. “You need to know, Richard.”
He slid one hand into his denim pocket, hooking the tiny key with his ring finger.
“Move closer.” She shuffled in his direction, eyes locked with his.
“Thank you,” she said, stroking her wrists encouraging the blood to circulate.
“I love you, Megan.”
She nodded. “I know. There is no other man, Richard,” she lied. “Only you.” She prayed he believed her. If only Henry had braved the storm, driven over to her place. Henry, who had demonstrated in two short months how to love and be loved in return. If.
“I don’t understand, babe.”
“I’m pregnant.” Her words hung in the humid air.
“Pregnant? Really?” he said, “Why didn’t you tell me?”
“Because I wasn’t sure. I wasn’t sure I was, or if it was what you wanted, or if it was what I wanted.” She gazed at him, puzzled by his enigmatic smile.
“Megan,” he said, tears welling in his eyes, sobs suffocating his words, “Megan, oh Megan. What have you done?”
Her mind was ticking like a metronome, reeling from one thought to another. What could she have done?
“I can’t have children,” he hesitated. “Had all the tests. No possibility. None.”
He grasped the handle of the sharpened kitchen knife from his rucksack.
“Richard! No!” she screamed.
A silhouette lurched towards her.