“You threw it all away. After what you did to me . . .” My hands trembled and my legs felt weak. I staggered against the wall for support. My body burned and my skin prickled. I could feel my heart beating rapidly. I wanted to shout, cry, push, shove, and throw my hands up in defeat all at the same. It was a strangely familiar feeling. Like I had sunk back into an old routine I’d learned to break.
And then I realized: after two years, we were arguing again.
“It was out of line, I know. I won’t do it again, I promise. I’ve been working on myself these years we’ve been apart.” He smiled in frustration. “You’ve got to listen to me.”
How many times had he made promises before? He’d always broken them. He wouldn’t take his meds. He wouldn’t see his therapist. I’d wanted to believe in him time and time again. A part of me even wanted to believe him now. That he’d finally changed for better. But instinct won out. “No, Marty. No.”
“Please, Kristen,” he said softly. He pulled his hand out from behind his back. Surprised, I took a step back. In his hand was a bouquet of blue flowers. “I brought you these. Bluebonnets, your favorite.”
I was shocked. He’d remembered an offhand comment I’d made when we had visited the botanical gardens while we were still dating. He’d asked me which flower was my favorite and I’d said the bluebonnet because it reminded me of Texas and the color matched his stunning blue eyes.
My heart stopped in my chest. The anger, frustration, fear—all of it disappeared for a moment.
He stepped forward and extended his open palm through the narrow opening of the door. I could’ve shut the door before, but now if I tried it would mean shutting it on his hand.
“I’ll never hurt you again,” he said softly.
His fingers nearly touching my hand at my necklace, I became painfully aware of my pinky throbbing. I didn’t know what to do. It was happening all over again. The helplessness. The frustration. The desire to please. The hope that things would be different this time. The fear that they wouldn’t be.
Then his fingers touched my hand. The next moment happened too quick for me to process. When my brain caught up, I saw Marty toppling across the floor. A short but muscular body in a striped polo had tackled him to the ground scattering blue flowers across the hallway.
“Bernie!” I screamed, recognizing his orange tan.
Where did he come from? What the hell was he doing? What was going on?
“Get off me!” Marty cried as he struggled to free himself from Bernie’s bearhug from behind.
The two men rolled across the dusty hallway carpet, wrestling for dominance, kicking the ground, kicking the wall, crushing flowers in their wake. Bernie slid his bearhug high and managed to wrap his arm around Marty’s neck for a chokehold. Marty grasped at Bernie’s arm trying to pry it away but the arm was too strong and muscular; within moments, Marty’s face became red from lack of circulation.
Growling and gritting his teeth, Marty pushed himself off the floor with Bernie still on his back hovering a foot off the ground. Marty threw his back against the wall, slamming Bernie so hard it felt like the whole apartment building shook. It was enough to loosen Bernie’s grip and Marty took advantage of the opportunity. He adjusted his chin and bit down on Bernie’s forearm causing Bernie to release the hold. Marty staggered away but not before kicking Bernie in the face, making him reel backward.
“You f**king moron, messing with me,” Marty cried, gasping for air. He faltered on his feet fighting against dizziness to regain his balance while Bernie leaned against the wall recovering from the damage he’d taken, spitting out blue petals from his mouth—and a tooth—in the process.
A tall man with long, toned arms swiftly moved behind Marty like a ninja and grabbed one of his arms and pulled it behind his back while twisting his wrist. It was professional, like something a police officer would do. How did Kurt know how to do that?
I unlatched the chain on the door and rushed into the hallway—not caring about how I looked.
“Stand back, Kristen.” Kurt yelled. “We’re not going to let him hurt you. We’re here to protect you.” Kurt pushed Marty down onto the ground and Bernie jumped on top of Marty’s back to hold him still with his weight.
“W-what?” I stammered. I had no idea what was going on. It was all happening too fast.
“Kristen, I wasn’t going to hurt you!” Marty shouted from his face-down position pinned beneath Bernie.
“He wasn’t going to do anything,” I cried.
“It’s our job—” Kurt tightened Marty’s arm behind his back, making him yelp. “To protect you.”
I shook my head in disbelief, frantically trying to grasp the situation. “I don’t understand.”
“Please. Get back inside the apartment Ms. Daley,” said Bernie whose nose and mouth were bleeding from Marty’s kick.
“Why? How did you know my last name?”
I was about to ask more questions when I heard footsteps bounding up the stairwell. Had somebody in one of the other apartments heard the commotion and reported it? Was it the police?
An imposing figure in elegant dress clothes appeared at the top of the stairs. His breathing was fast and his dark eyes were fierce.
Vincent. He looked as if he had come straight from the restaurant where I left him.
Noticing me along with the commotion nearby, a grave look swept over his features. He dashed down the hallway toward us, his black loafers thumping like hooves against the dingy carpet.
“Vincent!” I cried. I was surprised by the relief I felt at seeing him.
Vincent stopped in front of us, his face marred with concern. He gently gripped my shoulders. “Kristen, are you all right? Are you hurt in any way?” His usual composure in dangerous situations was gone.
“I-I’m fine, Vincent. But it’s crazy. There’s a fight . . . I don’t know what to do. I’m scared.” Everything was happening so fast, I couldn’t form the proper words to explain. Even if I could, he wouldn’t believe me. How could I explain that Marty had shown up unexpectedly with flowers and then my seriously muscular neighbor who likes Lady Gaga tackled him thinking he was going to hurt me? Even I’d have trouble believing me.
I was glad Vincent was here now though. Once again, I became aware of how Vincent made me feel safe. He’d put an end to this drama.
Vincent turned his gaze to Marty being held on the ground. Marty was still struggling, cursing. Vincent’s jaw became tight and his eyes a blazing inferno. “You think you can use fear to control her? I’ll show you fear.” Vincent clenched his hands. “Bring him to his knees,” he said.