“Thanks for coming to my party!” her friend blurted out before she could even say hello. “Not! You’d better have a good excuse! My friend, Dennis, was very disappointed that he didn’t get to meet you. So spill! Where were you? What did you do? With whom?”
“I’m sorry,” she began almost inaudibly, clearing her throat. “Excuse me . . . I’m sorry. I came down with the flu and decided to stay in. I just didn’t feel well enough to go out. I should have called you, but I took some over-the-counter medicine and fell sound asleep.”
When she awoke on New Year’s Day, she was confused. She was lying on her side and as soon as she opened her eyes, her temples began throbbing. She quickly squeezed her eyes shut as she rolled over onto her back.
“Oh, I drank too much wine . . . ” she groaned softly. “Why did I do that?”
As she lay there with her eyes closed, he said, “You can blame me.”
They never went to the party that New Year’s Eve.
“Better late than never” he had toasted. As she gazed expectantly into his soft brown eyes, she found no answers to all of the questions running through her mind. Rather, she was met with the same bemused expression with which she was so familiar: The look that gave way to more questions, but seemed never to yield any answers. Perhaps tonight would be different, the start of a new chapter in their lives.
She was almost dressed for the party when she heard the knock on her apartment door. She would have ignored it, but figured it was her neighbor who had also invited her to a party that evening.
“He must have forgotten something,” she mumbled to herself as she shuffled to the front door, attempting to zip up her dress at the same time.
“Hey, perfect timing! Can you zip me up?” she yelled lightly as she threw the door open.
“Sure, I can do that,” was the response — but not from her neighbor.
She fell into bed, completely exhausted, and immediately crashed into a deep, but uneasy sleep. She tossed and turned as images, voices, memories and fears jumbled together into a series of nonsensical but disturbing dreams. When she awoke several hours later, she felt as though she hadn’t slept at all.
She knew what time it was before she opened her eyes and looked at the alarm clock on the nightstand beside her bed. On nights like this, she always awoke at precisely the same time.
“Dennis, nothing is going to happen to you,” she said lightly but unconvincingly as she attempted to pull her hands free from his. “Really . . . I don’t think we need to have this conversation right now, do we?” She pursed her lips in a tight, disingenuous grin as she nodded slightly toward her son.
“Yes, I do,” he said sternly, both his grip upon her hands and expression resolved and firm. “I think this is the perfect time to have this conversation so that if, God forbid, something were to happen to me — or you — there would be no question about what action should be taken.”