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Authors: A.M. Madden

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I open my mouth to speak, and Andrea holds up a hand and says, “Uh…quiet. Naturally, Ella’s mother was very concerned. The idea of letting her daughter grow up and be independent scared her on a good day, but the thought of it happening away from her was far worse. She knew she couldn’t hold her beautiful daughter back from shining. She did give Ella her blessing, but Ella still felt guilty over her decision.”

“Why are you telling me this?” I quickly blurt out while she pauses to take a breath.

“Do not interrupt, please,” she says with a pointed finger. I let out a sarcastic laugh over her ridiculousness, which she chooses to again ignore. “So, where was I? Oh yeah. Ella carried a ton of guilt over leaving her mother behind, even though she knew this was something she had to do. Ella moved into her new dorm, enter Andrea. Andrea was just what that girl needed. Andrea assured her mom that she would watch out for Ella. She also smacked some sense into Ella whenever she’d carry on about her guilt. Andrea was a very smart girl.”

“Why are you speaking in third person?”

Andrea pays no attention to me and continues. “Things were great for Ella and Andrea. They took to college life well, successfully juggling their academic obligations with their kickass social commitments. Ella was finally living and loving it. Mom was happy that her daughter was happy.”

“I need coffee.”

Andrea thankfully takes a few minutes to call over a waitress so we can all finally order the one thing I came here for. As she gives the waitress her order, my mind tries to visualize a young, shy, naïve Ella. I have a hard time conjuring up the image. She’s training to be a fucking Black Belt, for God’s sake.

“Where was I? Oh yeah. So Ella would go home to see her mom whenever she could. Sometimes, Andrea would join her. The town of Mayberry had nothing on the town Ella came from. It had a general store, one diner, and one school. It was like something right out of a movie set.”

Andrea just described my hometown.

The waitress appears with our coffees. As Andrea preps hers, she dives right back into her tirade. “Things were really great for Ella. She was excelling in her studies. Students, male and female alike, would flock to her. She just had this magnetic personality. She graduated with honors, making her mother extremely proud of all her accomplishments. Andrea also nailed it and soon after graduation landed a great job with a prestigious PR firm in New York City.

“Even with her academic accolades, Ella was not able to find a job within her field near home. Andrea tried to convince Ella to come with her, arguing she needed to be in New York to be the success that she was meant to be. Ella stayed in her small town to be with her mother and chose a subpar job in Boston. Ella’s mother wanted her to go, to live, and not hold back. The girl was so pure hearted. She wouldn’t abandon her mother. Her mother decided that they would both move to New York.

“Ella was so excited and scared at the same time. They’d always live in small towns, sheltered and safe. One night, just days before they were due to move, their safe-haven was invaded by the devil himself. A home invasion left Ella battered and beaten beyond recognition. A neighbor scared the intruder away after hearing bloodcurdling screams. Even with Ella’s extensive injuries, she was strong enough to hold her mother in her arms as she died.”

Andrea’s snarky attitude is no longer anywhere to be found.

Mine is gone, too.

“How long ago was that?”

“Right before she came to New York. The house was already sold. Once she was released from the hospital, she had her mother cremated, packed their lives into a few boxes, and showed up at my door.”

“Did they catch the guy?”

“Spoken like a true cop. No. They didn’t have much to go on. He wore a mask and gloves.” Andrea watches me for a few seconds as I process all this information. “Now do you understand why she means so much to me? And you know how I feel about you. So why wouldn’t I selfishly want the two best people I know to be together?”

“Andrea, I feel for Ella. I do. No one should ever have to go through such a horrific event. But I can’t be the solution to your unrealistic need to make things perfect for her. That’s not fair to either of us.”

“He’s right, babe.” Andrea looks over at Rob and smiles warmly. He leans closer to kiss her cheek.

She shrugs. “Yeah, but I still have to try.”

Seriously?

I could kill her. Why can’t she just let me be? His words are still stinging my ears as if I’m some sort of sad-sap-charity case.

Just as I’m getting out of a hot shower, my phone rings with the traitor’s name and picture of her smiling face mocking me.

“What?”

“Why the tone? I thought you weren’t mad?”

“I lied.”

“I predicted that. Open up and let us in.” By the time I throw on a robe, a hard knock comes from my door.

“Us? Oh. My. God! Stop pushing this, Andrea!”

“Relax. It’s just Rob and me. Open up.”

With my phone still in the crook of my neck, I unlock the long line of deadbolts I had installed on my door. Andrea stands waving while Rob looks remorseful. He shrugs an apology, which is all he can do. When Andrea sets her mind to something, nothing will stop her.

“Can we come in or do you want to chat in the doorway like animals?”

“Of course the kind of animals that can speak.” I move aside to let them in. She heads right for my kitchen, and a few minutes later returns with a beer for Rob and wine for us.

“I’m not sorry,” she says as she hands me my glass.

I mutter, “You’re such a pain in the ass.”

She kicks off her shoes and settles on my couch beside Rob. “Sometimes things that turn out to be the best thing to ever happen need to be forced to happen in the first place. Sometimes fate needs a tiny kick with the pointy toe of a boot. If this one,” she motions at Rob, “hadn’t pushed his way into my life the way he did, I would never have found the happiness and the bliss that I have being with him. Would I have met someone else? Absolutely. Look at me. But I can’t imagine not having him in my life now that he’s there. Do you understand what I’m saying?”

“No.”

“I am speaking English.”

“Andrea, the difference is Rob pursued you, and you let him. Do you understand what
I’m
saying?” I ask with sarcasm dripping from every word.

She rolls her eyes. “Not the same thing. I said sometimes fate needs help. I’m the help that your fate needs. Your fate is a lazy slacker.” She sips her wine with a smile. “I’ve thought long and hard over this. You and I were meant to meet and become the best of friends. You were meant to love me and accept all my quirks. You can’t argue with that.”

“No I can’t. That’s the only reason I’m allowing you to sit here, right now.”

“Like you had a choice,” she laughs mockingly. “Anyway, sometimes fate doesn’t take a direct path. Sometimes you need to meet one person who will lead you to another and then another to get to the end result. You were meant to meet me, who then introduced you to Rob, who led you to Ben. I wasn’t exaggerating when I said you two were so similar. I told him your story…” My mouth drops at her admission. “I’m only following your lead.” She has the nerve to turn the tables on me.

She’s right. I truly believe that part of the healing process is to not lock it away and let it fester. However, the fact that
she told him
bothers me.

“Andrea.”

“Yes, I told him your story and I’m glad I did.” She raises her eyebrows, challenging me to scold her. “I will tell you that he has also had a painful past. I don’t know exact details, but I know enough to know his walls are as high and as thick as yours. You and Ben were both sitting in your sorry existences waiting for me to guide fate over your big fat stone walls.” I’m left speechless, which gives her a false sense of victory. “You’re welcome.”

“You’re exhausting.” I turn to ask Rob, “Can you please jump in here?” He slowly shakes his head while sipping his beer. “Coward.”

“I have to go home and sleep with her. You’re on your own.”

“He’s a smart man,” Andrea says with a shrug. “Ella, my beautiful friend. Here’s the good news. I’m not going to meddle any longer. I’ve done my job. I’ve given your fate the kick in its ass it needed. I’ve solved the case of your missing soul mate.”

“You’re hanging around cops too much,” I interrupt.

She levels me with a glare.

“Thank you for not meddling any longer. He’s a nice guy. I’m sure whomever he ends up with will some day make him very happy. He is
not
my soul mate.”

She openly laughs at me. “Oh, my sweet friend. You think you’ll be able to derail fate? You silly, silly girl.” She drains her glass and stands. “Come on, babe. Let’s go.” Rob drains his beer, kisses my cheek, and follows his girlfriend out of my apartment. At the door, she stops and adds, “Oh, and I gave him your number. Love you, bitch.” After another kiss on my cheek, she makes a very hasty exit.

She is so dead.

I don’t believe in fate. I can’t believe that I was meant to be here in a strange city, literally alone in life. I can’t believe my mother was supposed to be brutally murdered. I can’t believe I was meant to survive that night. If that demon hadn’t been scared away by someone barging through my front door, he would have succeeded in killing me as well.

Andrea is a naïve hopeless romantic. I love her dearly, but she’s so delusional with her belief in happy ever after that she’s bordering on psychotic. She lives in a fantasyland among her rainbows and unicorns.

The panic attacks that take hold without warning have been my secret, silent hell. In the past year since my mother’s murder I’ve had six. In the scheme of things they haven’t frequently happened, but I’ve had enough of them to cause me to experience a flood of anxiety whenever I step out my apartment door. I never know what will trigger them. So far, there hasn’t been a pattern or a cut and dried reason as to why they occur. The first time it happened was in the shower a week after arriving. Andrea was at Rob’s. I called 911. It was that scary, that real. I was released with the diagnosis of a panic attack. I was given the name of a therapist, a prescription for an anti-anxiety drug, and sent on my way. I never told Andrea any of it happened. It was the first time I purposefully withheld anything from her. She would have dragged me to that shrink in a heartbeat. I ignored the instructions that the ER sent me home with. The medication they prescribed is highly addictive. Therapy is not something I’d ever be comfortable doing. Instead, I read up on panic attacks, post-traumatic stress disorder, and treatment courses for each. I decided on self-help strategies. I would handle this on my own.

Unfortunately, she knows now, having witnessed an attack firsthand. She freaked out, of course. It took me a while to convince her I’m handling it.

I’ve come a long way in a year. Where my only memories of my mother that came to mind were of that awful night, I now remember all the great times we’ve shared. All the things she taught me to appreciate in this world. Passing a bakery now sparks memories of her love for cinnamon buns. The sound of rain reminds me of grilled cheese and tomato soup lunches. Freshly fallen snow reminds me of the homemade hot chocolate she would make me as a treat. I can remember now without pain. But something is still causing my anxiety.

My last attack happened while shopping for a birthday gift a week ago. As I stood at the fragrance counter in
Macy’s
, the pain that ripped through my chest, the sweat that broke out on my forehead and neck, the shards of ice that settled in the pit of my stomach were all familiar symptoms. I breathed through it, chanting over and over in my head,
I’m not dying. I’m not having a heart attack. I’ll be fine
.

There’s no guarantee that my self-healing methods will help. Of course, I worry daily that time will come when another takes hold. The unknown is causing as much anxiety as the actual attack, but I’m determined to heal myself.

Part of my self-healing is breaking down the events that occurred that horrific night. I can’t continue to be lost in my hell. Forcing myself to remember tiny details of that night, trying to find a reason for my attacks and the trigger that sometimes starts them. It’s plausible that there isn’t one sole trigger, or that I’ll never figure it out. Since my attacks are so sporadic, I’ve also forced myself to document where I was when each one occurred, what I saw, smelled, and heard just before it happened. Thinking back on that night and analyzing each attack I’ve had has been a difficult exercise for so many reasons. I try not to think about them for too long. It exhausts me and drains me emotionally.

Once I get into bed, I lay awake, reflecting on the reality of my life. Peter comes to mind as he sometimes does when I’m lying alone in my bed. I’m okay being alone. I worry about no one but myself. I can focus on me and only me. However, I’ll be the first to admit I do miss the regular sex. I’m horny as fuck. These past few days I’ve been in rare form. I saw a couple kissing in my lobby earlier today, and it put me into a chronic state of sexual frustration. Regardless of the loss of a healthy sex life, the thoughts of starting a new relationship hold no appeal for me.

My cellphone rings, and I quickly snatch it off my bedside table so I can tell her off. “Andrea, you’re seriously a pain in my ass.”

A masculine chuckle comes over the phone, causing me to sit up.

Oh my God
!

Feigning ignorance, I ask, “Who is this?”

“It’s Ben. I’m sorry to call so late. And, yes. Barbie can most definitely be a pain in the ass. I was waiting for her green light.” That bitch probably texted him right outside my door.

A sigh escapes, which he no doubt hears. “Green light for what?”

“To apologize. I’m sorry about earlier. It has nothing to do with you. We’re starting a new case, and I’m really…”

“Stop. Ben, there is no need for you to explain yourself. I’m not looking for a relationship. I’ve told her that so many times.”

There’s a short pause before he says, “Okay. I’m glad we’re both still on the same page. I thought since you came with her earlier that you had changed your mind.”

“I was literally dragged out of my apartment.”

He chuckles again, and this time it irritates me. “She dragged you there. Got it.” His comment and condescending tone downright piss me off. Who the fuck does this jerk think he is?

“Is that all you wanted?” My annoyance is clear over the phone. He’s getting to me, and he now knows it. I just showed my hand. I wouldn’t doubt he’s sitting on his side of this call smirking victory.

“Yep, that’s it. Have a great night, Ella. Sweet dreams.” His voice is as smooth as silk. He hangs up before I can respond. My blood simmers as I sit staring at the phone. The worst part, my sexual frustration has just hit a new height. I can feel my breasts and girly bits pulsing with need.

After turning over and punching my pillow a few times, the unmistakable ache that being horny creates has taken over my nerve endings. I feel like I’ve been plugged into an electrical outlet. Knowing my body well, I will not be able to fall asleep until I rectify it. I reach into my nightstand for my substitute boyfriend with Ben Stone hijacking my thoughts.

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