Kristian found herself in a good mood the next morning, and that was the only explanation she could give for why she did not look more closely at the mail before ripping open envelopes. She was usually so careful, so cautious. She had been taught by experience and long-standing paranoia. And yet this one morning when it mattered, she instead found herself carelessly opening envelopes without looking where they were from, without seeing how they were addressed.
That was why it took her a moment to shake open the letter she came to after the first couple bills and some junkmail. This time it was folded paper, nothing special, quite plain really. It probably came from a printer or photocopier, it felt like that.
She registered all these useless details without thinking, shaking the paper until it unfolded as she dropped the envelope unheeded on the counter and grabbed her coffee with her free hand. About to take a sip, she looked blankly at the page. Nothing registered. She saw scrawled handwriing, black on the stark white, tiny smudges from a hand brushing over damp ink. Something in her simply could not make sense of what she was seeing.
It was the handwriting. She knew it, but her mind could not process it. Instead Kristian's mind blanked out when faced with handwriting she had seen all too often over a span of three years. Handwriting she had hoped never to see again. The restraining order and her disappearance was supposed to have seen to that.
Instead, she was face with his writing. Words on a page that should never have found her, never have made there way to the woman she had become. Somehow it had though. Somehow he had found her, tracked her down, managed to find her address and send her this letter. Foolishly, she had not looked at the envelope. Foolishly, she had opened it.
Her hands were trembling, a fact she noted when the paper started to quiver, making soft noises, and she felt the first drops of coffee splash her hand. With great care she set down the mug, missing the counter and watching as it fell to the floor in seeming slow motion. The smash was loud in the stunned silence that wrapped around her, the coffee splashing her legs and her socks, puddling with broken pieces of ceramic on the tile. She stared at it, not quite making sense of it. Almost seeing a picture there as she stared down at the mess.
A young woman, light brown hair, dark brown eyes, face scrubbed clean, hair perfectly arranged, her dress light and feminine as she stood with her chin down, shoulders hunched. She was leaning away from a man as he very coldly and precisely spoke to her. The words did not matter, she had learned that. There would always be something. It was her cowed silence that he wanted, her bending to his will that he craved. He got it. There was no one left who would try to save her, stand up to him, give her encouragement. They had all been sent away, kept from her. She had let it all happen and then there was no alternative.
The paper rattled loudly as her heart beat in her throat. Slowly, Kristian lifted a hand, fingertips brushing the tangled strands of bright red hair that framed her face, the metal that adorned her eyebrows, her nose, her lip. It helped to steady her, at least enough that she could slowly walk to the table, pull out a chair, and sink into it. Drop the letter on the table, stark white against the scarred, dark wooden surface.
It took a few more moments of staring at the page for words to slowly coalesce out of the jumbled letters. When they did it took a few moments more for her to calm her breathing enough to attempt to read.
I hate that you ran away from me. You should have talked to me if you were unhappy. We could have worked on things. We can work on things. We will. We'll be happy again, you'll see.
I will forgive you. But you will have to prove to me that We will work through this and things will be like they were before. You were happy. You know you were. Everything was perfect. Well, most of the time. But you can work on that. You can do better.
You shouldn't have run so far though, Krissy. And you shouldn't have called the cops. They came to my work. My work, Krissy. In front of everyone they told me about the restraining order, that you would not press kidnapping charges but only if I stayed away from you. Kidnapping? Really, Krissy. I don't know what lie you told them, but it is going to take a whole lot of work to get it all straightened out when you get back. I'm not even sure if it can be straightened out.
You should have known you couldn't hide forever, b*tch. You nearly ruined me, and it took a whole lot of explaining to get this sorted out enough that they understood that as much as you hurt me, I did need to get you back. That it was for your own good, you need me.
I'll be there on the 20th. Don't bother trying to run and hide. I'll find you in the end. You know it only makes it worse when you run from me. I have had a lot of time to think about this, Krissy, and I know what needs to be done.
You had better be there when I show up.
Her hands trembled so hard that she had to clench them in her lap. All the past came back to her, all of it haunting. The times he locked her in the basement with no food for days, the times he tied her to the chair. Dunkings in cold water when she had failed to get her appearance just right, when she had tried on some makeup a friend had given her and forgotten to get it all off.
Worst of all was the feeling, the knowing that she was worthless to anyone but him.
It wasn't true anymore. She knew that. But did it matter? If he found her this time, he would find her again. She should have returned the letter, should have found some way. It was too late now. It was only days away.
He was coming.
As the sun rose overhead, nearby within the darkness and silence someone else waited. Another man who knew where Kristian lived, another man who had searched for and found her. He had been pleased when her friend left in the middle of the night, finishing his vigil until sunlight brought her a measure of safety. Until he knew she had managd to sleep for at least a few hours, the sleep of the comforted. He, too, knew that the 20th was coming, and he knew she would have discovered that meaning. If he had known how it had happened he would have lamented that it had to be so. But it did.