When my brain finally registers the scent, fear takes ahold of me like a pair of shackles around my ankles. I jerk to a stop in the doorway of the living room expecting to see a monster straight out of my nightmares standing right in front of me. When I see nothing but the empty room, hope blossoms in my chest. Maybe it’s not what I think it is. The front door is standing wide-open, shards of split wood sticking out from the doorframe where it was kicked in. Twenty or so feet to freedom, to fresh air that will clear the fuzziness from my head and the exhaustion I suddenly feel. The fumes filling the room are starting to blur my vision, making the ground look like it’s tilting at an awkward angle and the walls look like they’re melting. I want to close my eyes to stop the room from spinning. My whole body feels weightless, and I have to fight the urge to curl up on the soft carpet at my feet and fall asleep.
A small voice inside my head starts to scream, shaking me out of the chemical high.
RUN, Finnley. RUN!
I force my feet to move, taking a few slow steps towards the door. I can see the railings of the front porch, the green grass of the yard, the sidewalk at the curb and a car parked across the street. I can make it. In just a few seconds I’ll be out there where I can breathe again. I can run to the neighbor’s house and call Collin.
The thought of Collin gives me the strength I need to run. I need to get to him.
My feet stumble as the room continues to sway but I keep going. Just a little bit further and Collin will be there. He’ll make all of this go away.
I’m sure I look like I’m drunk, tripping and veering from side to side as I hustle to freedom, but I don’t care. I need to get out of this house.
I’m almost there. I can feel a soft breeze blow through the door and a smile lights up my face as I pause to breathe in the fresh air.
I shouldn’t have stopped. I should have kept going.
Two feet from freedom and a body steps out from the kitchen doorway, blocking my escape. The fist comes towards my face so fast I don’t have time to block it or brace myself.
Pain explodes through my cheek, radiating up to my temple until I see nothing but blackness as I feel my body falling.
Down it goes until it lands on the soft carpet.
The pain in my face and head swallows all of my thoughts and I let the darkness wash over me.
THE SMELL HITS my consciousness first. Something about it tickles my senses and reminds me that it’s wrong. It shouldn’t be here and I shouldn’t still be breathing it, but I can’t remember why.
As I blink my eyes into focus, a stabbing pain on the right side of my face has me slowly dragging my arm across the carpet and up to my cheek, cupping my face in my hand to try and stop the hurt. I can feel my heart beat thumping through the pain in my cheek and each pulse magnifies the ache and brings tears to my eyes.
I move my hand away from my face and press my palms flat against the ground, pushing myself up to my knees. As soon as I’m upright, the pain in my head and on the side of my face intensifies and I whimper.
“Wakey, wakey, Sunshine.”
The chipper voice has me jerking my head towards its sound, the blast of pain shooting up to my head making me instantly regret that quick movement.
Everything comes rushing back to me in a flash of memories. The day outside the fire station, the car following me everywhere I went, the texts, the threats, the restraining order, the unusual silence from him since I filed the restraining order and me stupidly racing down the stairs after my bath hoping the noise I heard was Collin. I should have known his silence didn’t mean he’d conceded and would leave me alone. I should have known he was only letting his anger fester, giving himself time to build up to the grand finale.
Standing by the front door, next to the boxes of his things, is the man responsible for the pain in my face and the deadly scent permeating the air around me. When I see the four empty red cans tossed onto their sides by the boxes, the wetness soaking against my legs finally registers.
I watch in horror as Jordan reaches into his back pocket and pulls out a small square of cardboard. My eyes sting with the smell of gas in the air and the tears burning behind my lids as I slowly start to crawl backwards.
Jordan’s eyes are bloodshot and his face is flushed and I know he must be high on something. There’s no other logical explanation for what he’s doing right now.
“Did you think you were just going to pack my shit up and put me out of your life? Move on with another man? He can’t f**king have you! Do you hear me, Finn? HE CAN’T FUCKING HAVE YOU!” Jordan screams.
He punctuates his threat with the swipe of a match against the striker of the matchbook he holds in his shaky hands.
I’m so filled with fear that I can’t even find my voice to plead with him to stop. His thumb and forefinger hold the lit match out from the side of his body and the only sound I can make is another whimper.
“Do you have any idea the number of women I’ve f**ked behind your back over the years? You were so trusting and gullible it was pathetic,” he spits out. “All those women who f**ked ten times better than you and you’re the one I want. Now I’m the pathetic one and it makes me SICK!”
I can’t stop the tremors from wracking my body but I continue to inch myself further away from him, across the carpet. This isn’t happening. It’s all a dream. It can’t end like this, not when I’ve finally found what I’ve been looking for and I haven’t even had a chance to tell him exactly what he means to me; what he’s always meant to me.