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She felt the throbbing before she opened her eyes. She was disoriented and uncomfortable, but the sound of Arnie softly breathing next to her assured her that she was at home. She opened her eyes slowly as she sat up. He was lying on his side, gazing at her, a couple of noisemakers and some confetti streamers strewn about. The bottle of champagne she had bought a few days earlier — nearly empty now — stood upright in silent testament to the previous night.

Nearly every morning, he managed to be in the parking lot at the precise moment she arrived for work. And even though she worked on the third floor of the ten-story building, and he was assigned to the fifth, he not only walked into the building with her; the last few mornings, he had gotten off the elevator on the third floor, walked with her down the hall and opened the door to the office for her before ducking into the nearby stairwell and bounding up the final two floors to his cubicle. The last few nights, she had also encountered him in the lobby and they walked to their cars together.

When she walked into her new apartment for the first time, she burst into tears as a plethora of emotions rushed over her. Alone with Timmy in a city with which she was completely unfamiliar and where the only person with whom she was acquainted was the kind stranger who had met them at the bus depot and escorted them to the housing project, she considered her sparsely furnished new home.

“He’s flirting with you,” Marilyn whispered as she leaned toward her coworker’s side of the long reception counter where they worked side by side each day.

“Stop it. He is not,” she protested through slightly clenched teeth as her gaze again wandered to the intriguing stranger seated on the couch near the door to the interior office suite.

“Oh, yeah, he is,” Marilyn pressed. “He is checking you out.”

She could feel heat radiating from her flushed cheeks and the inside of her mouth had suddenly become dry. If Marilyn only knew, she thought to herself.

It was more like a plaintive howl than a scream. Visceral and primitive, the sound filled the small room and echoed down the hall, but she did not hear it as it emanated from somewhere deep in her soul. It wasn’t until a couple of weeks later that she asked her good friend, as they sat at the dining room table writing “thank you” notes, “Did I scream that night?”

“Well, like I said, I slapped her the first time when she was pregnant with Timmy. She must have been about six months or so along. It just . . . happened. Before I even knew what I was doing, I heard the sound of my hand slapping her cheek.” He sat for a moment, breathed heavily. “I’ll never forget that sound as long as I live. Which, according to the doctors here, won’t be much longer. And brings me to my first question.”


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