I wrung my hands nervously, knowing that if I told Riley about the mace and taser I’d have to tell her about Marty, too. But she deserved to hear the truth, especially if there was a chance that she’d have to deal with him again. “I remember you had mace when we were in Cape Town and Vincent just bought me some. I was wondering if you could show me how to use it?”
“Mace?” she asked as she set her mug down and turned to me. “Is this about your ex?”
“Yes. I haven’t heard from him since the day he stopped by, but I just wanted to be prepared.”
“Prepared for what, Kristen? You still haven’t told me what happened with him.”
I hesitated, but the idea of finally revealing my past to Riley brought with it a sense of relief. “I met Marty in a business finance class,” I began. “I was a Junior and he was a Senior. We flirted a little but it wasn’t until he was my TA the following year that we really hit it off.”
“Your TA, huh?” she teased. “Ms. Harvard Grad sleeping with the teacher, I almost don’t believe it.”
I shot her a wry side glance, but I had to admit that Riley knew how to make a difficult situation bearable.
“He was only a year older than me,” I said. “Not to mention gorgeous, smart, and completely charming. All of the girls in my class had a crush on him.” My stomach churned at the thought of Marty at the beginning of our relationship—the romantic dates, the small but sweet gestures, the intimate conversations. That version of him seemed so distant from the guy he turned into.
“So why exactly are you afraid of him? You practically fled the apartment the other night.”
“Things were great between us for the first few months. He seemed like a catch. But when the pressures of post-college life started getting to him he became jealous and possessive.” I swallowed a hard lump as I recalled the scathing names he called me, the minor but frightening ways he would grab me when I challenged him.
“I know that’s not healthy,” Riley said, cocking her eyebrow. “But it doesn’t exactly make him dangerous. What aren’t you telling me?”
I sighed and looked Riley in the eye, preparing to admit to her what I’d been hiding for so long. “Marty has borderline personality disorder, but I didn’t discover that until a year into our relationship. He could turn from charming to vicious in a matter of seconds. He would call me names if he thought I was flirting with another guy, sometimes he’d get aggressive—”
Riley threw the blanket from her shoulders, seemingly agitated. “Aggressive? Are you saying he hit you, Kristen?”
“No, he never hit me. But . . .” I held up my crooked pinky finger.
She reached for my hand frantically and squeezed it gently with her own. “Oh my god, Kristen. Why didn’t you tell someone?”
“He comes from a powerful family. I couldn’t tell anyone about it. Not even the police. So I left . . . changed my address, found a new job, and hoped he’d move on. But somehow he’s found me, and I’m not sure what he wants.”
“Well now I feel like a complete jerk for pushing you to date, I had no idea you were dealing with this.”
I smiled at Riley’s concern, feeling I had made the right decision by telling her. “How could you have known?”
She looked up at me and twisted her mouth as if she had something she wanted to say but was afraid to say it.
“You can ask me anything, Riley. It’s fine.”
“How did you deal with it? It must have been scary . . . being with someone who could turn on you at any second.”
Silence settled over us as I considered her question. Had I dealt with it? I’d been pretty much avoiding the thought of Marty since I left Boston and even now, with the possibility of him in my city, I was still trying to push the memory of my relationship with him from my mind.
“For a long time I tried to act like it wasn’t a big deal, like maybe it was a phase. But after the pinky incident I left as fast as I could and I guess I haven’t really dealt with it, not until now.”
“Have you told Vincent?”
“Yeah, and then he hauled me out to the middle of nowhere to buy me mace and a taser.”
“A taser?” Her eyebrows shot up. “You’ll definitely have to show me that.”
“Don’t you think it’s overkill?”
A seriousness settled over Riley’s face as she scooted closer to me. “This guy could come back, Vincent just wants you to be safe. And so do I.”
“Then maybe he shouldn’t have jetted off to Brazil.” I felt my cheeks grow hot with embarrassment as I realized how childish I sounded.
“Isn’t he just going for business?”
“Cape Town was business, too, but you saw him at the bar . . . women flock to him.” I tried not to picture bikini clad models latching onto Vincent’s arm and feeding him drinks all night.
“But Vincent doesn’t flock to other women. Kristen, the guy bought you a taser.”
I laughed as my hand instinctively wandered to the necklace he’d put on me earlier that day. Riley was right. I’d never seen Vincent so attentive or concerned as he was when we were at the army surplus store—it felt good to be with someone who cared about my safety instead of threatening it.
“Will you show me how to use this?” I said, eyeing the necklace between my fingers.
“That’s the mace?”
“He got you one, too.” I walked over to the dining room table and pulled the extra mace cartridges from the bag as well as the necklace we had picked out for Riley, a star shaped pendant dangling from the end.
“This is definitely more convenient than that bulky brick I’ve been carrying around in my purse!” she said as I handed her the necklace.
We left the living room and stepped out onto the balcony so we wouldn’t chance inhaling the spray. After Riley showed me how to insert the cartridge and where to press in order to set it off, we practiced shooting mace at a potted plant. After a dozen or so attempts, we both felt confident in our accuracy and quickdraw. We also felt sorry for the plant.
Although the practice was a much needed tension reliever, I couldn’t believe I was in this position again, only this time I was actually preparing for Marty’s possible attack instead of ignoring it.
“Are you okay?” Riley asked, seemingly sensing my unease.
“I just can’t believe this is happening.” I looked out over the balcony at the glinting lights of the city in the distance, wondering if Marty was still out there.