This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, or persons, living or dead, is coincidental.
Copyright © 2013 K. Bromberg
To B, B & C-
May you always follow your dreams.
The path will never be easy and you might have to chase them for years.
There will be obstacles to overcome and criticisms to ignore.
There will be periods of doubt and moments of insecurity.
But you will reach them.
And when you finally touch those dreams,
No matter how old you are or where life has taken you,
Hold on tight—savor that feeling of accomplishment—and never let go.
I sigh into the welcoming silence, grateful for the chance to escape, even if only momentarily, from the mindsuck of meaningless conversations on the other side of the door. For all intents and purposes, the people holding these conversations are technically my guests, but that doesn’t mean I have to like or even be comfortable around them. Fortunately, Dane was sympathetic enough to my need for a reprieve that he let me do this simple chore for him.
The clicking of my high heels is the only other sound coexisting with my categorically scattered thoughts as I navigate the vacant backstage corridors of the old theater that I’ve rented for tonight’s event. I quickly reach the old dressing room and collect the lists that Dane had set down and forgotten in our chaotic, pre-party rush to clean up. As I start to head back toward the festivities, I run over my mental checklist of things left to do before the start of tonight’s highly anticipated date auction. The niggling in the back of my mind tells me that I’m forgetting something. I reflexively reach for my hip where my cell phone with my always-compiled task list habitually rests, but instead, I come up with a handful of the copper-colored silk organza of my cocktail dress.
“Shit,” I mutter to myself as I stop momentarily to try and pinpoint what exactly it is that I’m overlooking. I sag against the wall, the ruched bodice of my dress hindering my need to inhale deeply a sigh of frustration. Even though it looks incredible on, the damn dress should’ve come with a tag warning, ‘breathing optional.’
Think, Rylee, think! With my shoulder blades pressed against the wall, I shift inelegantly back and forth to try and alleviate the pressure on my toes, which are painfully crammed into my four-inch heels.
Auction paddles! I need the auction paddles. I smile widely at my brain’s ability to remember, considering I’ve been so overwhelmed lately with all of the various details as the sole coordinator of tonight’s event. Relieved, I push myself off of the wall and take about ten steps.
And that’s when I hear them.
The flirty, feminine giggle floats through the air, followed by the deep timber of a masculine moan. I freeze instantly, shocked at the audacity of our party’s attendees, when I hear the unmistakable sound of a zipper followed by a breathless but familiar feminine gasp of, “Oh yes!” in the darkened alcove a few feet in front of me. As my eyes adjust to the shadows, I become aware of a man’s black dinner jacket lying carelessly across an old chair shoved askew and a pair of strappy heels haphazardly discarded on the floor beneath it.
Mortification fills me. At the thought of them finding out I’m here. For them in being overheard. At my curiosity in who is actually brave enough to do something like this. At how never in a million years would that be me there in that alcove. You couldn’t pay me enough money to do something like that in public. My thoughts are interrupted when I hear a hiss of breath followed by a masculine, exhaled, “Sweet Jesus!”
I squeeze my eyes shut in a moment of indecision. I really need the auction paddles that sit in the storage closet at the end of the intersecting hallway. Unfortunately the only way to reach that hallway is to walk past the alcove currently being used as Lover’s Lane. I have no choice but to go for it. I send up a silent yet ludicrous prayer, hoping that I can skate unnoticed past their moment of blatant indiscretion.
I scurry forward, keeping my blush-stained face angled to the wall opposite them while I walk on my toes to keep my heels from clicking on the hardwood floor. The last thing I need right now is to draw attention to myself and come face to face with someone I know. I breathe a silent sigh of relief when my clandestine tiptoe is successful, allowing me to make it unscathed to my destination.
I’m still trying to place the woman’s voice when I reach the storage closet. I fumble clumsily with the handle, having to aggressively tug on it before finally yanking it open and flicking on the light. I spot the bag of auction paddles on the far shelf as I walk inside the closet, forgetting in my flustered state to prop the door open. As I grab the handles of the bag, the door at my back slams shut with such force that the cheap shelving units in the closet rattle. Startled at the sound, I whip around to reopen the door and notice that the arm on the self-closing hinge has disconnected.
I immediately drop the bag. The sound of the paddles hitting the concrete floor and spilling out is a cacophony of clatter in the small space. When I reach for the handle, it turns but the door doesn’t budge an inch. Panic licks at my subconscious, but I suppress it as I push again on the door with all of my strength. It does not move. “Shit!” I chastise myself. “Shit, shit, shit!” I mutter loudly before taking a deep breath, shaking my head in frustration. I have so much to do before the auction starts. I don’t have time for this. And of course I don’t have my cell phone to call Dane to get me out of here either.
It’s when I close my eyes in disbelief at yet another ridiculous situation I find myself in that my nemesis makes its move. The long, all-consuming fingers of claustrophobia slowly begin to claw their way up my body and wrap themselves around my throat.
Squeezing. Tormenting. Stifling.
The walls of the small room seem to be gradually sliding closer to each other, closing in on me. Surrounding me. Suffocating me. I struggle to breathe.
My heart beats erratically as I push back the panic rising in my throat. My breath—shallow and rapid—echoes in my ears. Consuming me. Sapping my ability to suppress my haunted memories.
I pound on the door, fear overwhelming the small hold I have left on my control. On reality. A rivulet of sweat trickles down my back. The walls keep moving in on me. The need to escape is the only thing my mind can focus on. I pound on the door again, yelling frantically. Hoping someone roaming these back corridors can hear me.
I lean my back against the wall, close my eyes, and try to catch my breath—it’s not coming quickly enough and dizziness surfaces. Becoming nauseous, I start to slide down the wall and accidentally hit the light switch. I’m submerged in pitch-black darkness. I cry out, frantically searching for the switch with my trembling hands. I flick it on, relieved to have pushed the monsters back into hiding.
But when I look down, blood covers my hands. I blink to try and snap out of my reverie, but I can’t shake it. I’m in a different place. A different time.
All around me, I smell the acrid stench of destruction. Of desperation. Of death.
In my ears, his thready breathing is agonizing. He is gasping. Dying.
I feel the intense, blazing pain that twists so deep in your soul, you fear you’ll never escape it. Even in death. It’s my own screams I hear that shake me out of my reverie, and I’m so disoriented that I’m not sure if they’re from the past or the present.
Get a grip, Rylee! I rub the tears off my cheeks with the backs of my hands and resort to my previous year in therapy to try to keep my claustrophobia at bay. I concentrate on a mark on the wall across from me, try to regulate my breathing, and slowly count. I focus on pushing the walls out. Pushing the unbearable memories away.
I count to ten, gaining a scrap of composure, yet desperation still clings. I know Dane will come looking for me shortly. He knows where I went, but the thought does nothing to alleviate my surmounting panic.
Finally I surrender to my primal need to escape and start pounding on the door with the heels of my hands. Shouting loudly. Cursing sporadically. Begging for someone to hear me and open the door. For someone to save me again.
In my ragged state of mind, seconds feel like minutes and minutes feel like hours. The passage of time is unknown to me, but I feel like I’ve been locked in this ever-shrinking closet forever. Endlessly shouting for help. Feeling defeated, I yell again and rest my forearms on the door in front of me. Bracing my weight on my forearms, I lay my head on them and succumb to my tears. Large, ragged sobs shake violently through me.
And suddenly, I have the feeling of falling.
Falling forward as I stumble into the solid length of man in my path. My arms wrap around a firm torso while my legs lie awkwardly bent behind me. The man instinctively brings his arms up and wraps them around me, catching me, holding my weight and absorbing my impact.
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