"Nervous, still, Katrina?" Gavin's voice was very near her ear. She jumped, her breath catching in her throat.
"Let me do it for you."
She quickly relinquished her keys and took a step sideways and back to avoid bumping into him. He was standing entirely too close to her. Her heart thundered in her breast so loudly, it was a wonder he didn’t hear it. Actually, it was a wonder the whole neighborhood hadn’t heard it pounding away.
Gavin put the key in the lock, but it wouldn't budge. He fiddled with it, finally jiggling it just right. The key turned, unlocking the door. He removed the key and handed the key chain back to her, his body blocking her way into the house.
"Does it always take that long to open your door?" he enquired.
"Most of the time. Once in a while it works right away."
"Why don't you get it fixed? It's just loose inside the lock."
"I…well….umm.…" She swallowed hard, unable to look him in the face.
"I know. It takes money. Am I right?" Did Katrina simply imagine the touch of sarcasm in his softly spoken words? She wasn't sure, so she answered his question with her silence.
"Am I right?" His question prodded her uncomfortably.
Why couldn't he just let it go? Why didn't he just leave her be?
"Well?" He pressed her with his one worded question.
"Yes," she answered, barely making any noise with her answer.
"And you have none. Right?" A hard edge entered the sound.
"I…right." Her voice came out, this time in a whisper. She wondered if the tiny bit in her savings account counted as having money…she doubted it.
Gavin turned, opened the door for her and stood aside while she entered. Going into the hall, she switched on the living room lights, looking nervously around. Satisfied there was no one about, she looked at Gavin to thank him for the evening and to apologize for her becoming ill.
Her words stuck in her throat at the strange look she saw on his face.
"Do you always check the house to see if someone is here, Katrina?" His voice was soft, questioning, sounding full of concern more than anything else.
Frightened with the remembering, she licked her lips nervously and just nodded.
"Who are you afraid of, Katrina? Has someone been threatening you recently?"
Katrina tried to answer him, but her tongue seemed to be stuck to the roof of her mouth. She shrugged her shoulders, her hands in front of her, palms up. She looked beyond him into the kitchen. He followed her gaze, then looked back at her.
"You're still nervous, aren’t you? Do you usually check all the rooms?" The look on his face demanded an answer, but the words wouldn’t come. Miserably, Katrina nodded.
"I'll check them for you." Gavin closed the front door and went into the kitchen, turning on the light. She heard him check the back door's lock. His footsteps sounded in the hall as he checked the closet and the small half-bathroom intended for guests, and then went through the other door into her bedroom, checking there and in the bathroom which was off the bedroom.
Coming back into the living room once more, he asked, "Is that all the rooms, or is there a basement or an attic that needs checking as well?" There was a tinge of sarcasm in his voice that hadn't been there when he began the search for her.
Katrina looked at the floor. She knew it was a stupid thing to do, but after…after…she swallowed hard. It was still hard to think of that night and the memories which still haunted her.
"That's all. Thank you." She didn't look up. She was very unhappy, but she was always afraid to come into the house without checking to make sure she was alone anymore. It had been six years since…since…once again her thoughts shied away from that terrible night. She made a dismissive gesture with her hand, still studying the floor with great interest.
Gavin came and took her by the hand. He led her to the couch and bade her to sit. She obeyed him without conscious thought, still keeping her eyes lowered. He knelt before her to bring his face on a level with hers. She felt his gaze on her face a long time before she relented and raised her eyes to his. The force of his gaze trapped her eyes, and Katrina found she could not look away.
Finally, he gently said, "Someone hurt you, didn't they?" Katrina nodded, grimacing with the pain the memory brought back.
"Was someone in your house when you came home one night?" Again she nodded, finally able to drop her gaze.
"Was it someone you knew?" he persisted.
Her eyes flew to his face and her fear must have shown in her own face because once again concern marked his features. Slowly she nodded, barely moving her head.
"Was it Charleston?" She slowly shook her head no, as images from the past sped toward her, surrounding her as she once again relived the last few days in the cottage.
Katrina opened the door as she came home from work at the little diner. She was tired after the long shift, and was looking forward to a good night’s rest. The house was dark—which meant Charleston was gone, and she’d be able to shower and go right to bed. As she entered the living room, she saw a darker, human-shaped shadow sitting on the couch. She flipped on the light. It was Robert. He'd been drinking heavily, because the very air in the room was filled with the smell of his liquor.
“Where’s Charleston?” she asked. He had to be somewhere near, Robert and Charleston were rarely far apart.
Robert laughed, but it was an ugly sound...almost a bark, or a growl. “Where’s Charleston?” he mimicked her in a high voice. “Where’s Charleston?” he said again as he stalked across the room, stopping inches away, towering over her.
“I’ll tell you where your precious Charleston is.” His voice was suddenly cruel and full of anger. “He’s with Louise.”
“With Louise?” That didn’t make any sense; Louise was Robert’s wife.
“Your precious Charleston has stolen my woman!”
Katrina backed away from Robert, dread building inside her. “But…then…what are you doing…here?”
“I’ve come for justice. Charleston gets Louise, and I get you. Fair’s fair, after all.” He grabbed her shoulders, pulling her toward him for a kiss. She screamed.
Katrina fought his hands, but his grip on her shoulders was too firm.
“Katrina, stop screaming. I’m not going to hurt you.” Gavin’s voice was sharp as he shook her slightly, and with a rush she returned to the present.
She dragged in a shuddering, deep breath. “I’m sorry,” she gasped.
Gavin let go of her, and Katrina slumped against the couch. He moved away from her.
She listened as his footsteps retreated to the kitchen, then returned.
“Here.” He pressed a glass of cool water into her hands. She drank it, holding the glass carefully with two hands, as a child would, afraid her shaking would cause her to drop it.
Gavin sat down on the couch beside her.
“What happened after Robert raped you? Did you call the police and report him?”
Katrina shook her head.
“I fought him, so he beat me up to make me be quiet. Then…right in the middle of everything…Charleston came home.
“He…laughed at Robert, told him Robert had gotten the short end of the deal. Charleston started yelling at me, calling me names. He didn’t care what Robert had done, he said it was my fault. He told me he was hungry, after making love with a real woman, and that I would make him and Robert something to eat, if I knew what was good for me.
“I went into the bedroom and put on a nightgown. Then I lay down on the bed and cried.” The room swam through Katrina’s tears, but she made no move to brush them away, paralyzed by the force of her memories.
“Charleston came in to see what was taking me so long. He got angry and called me more names. He said I’d asked for what I had gotten. Then, he seemed to go a little crazy. He ripped my nightgown off and…”
Another long gasping sob shook Katrina’s frame.
Gavin said, very gently, “You’ll feel better when you get this out of your system, Katrina What happened then?”
“When Charleston was finished with me, he got up and yanked me off the bed. It was then I saw Robert, leaning against the door frame, smiling. He’d been watching. He looked evil.
“Charleston wouldn’t let me get any clothes on. He dragged me into the kitchen, and made me fix a meal for him and Robert.
“They laughed at me, and said terrible things. They compared me with other women they'd shared. They kept grabbing and squeezing me as I moved around the kitchen.
“I couldn’t believe they could be like that, but I didn’t dare argue. After I put their food on the table, I crept back into the bedroom and put on another nightgown. I took my pillow and a blanket and hid in the bathroom, locking the door. I climbed into the tub and lay there, wide awake for hours.
“When they finished eating, they left together, laughing as they passed the bathroom door. I was so scared they’d find me in there, but I prayed they’d just leave, and they did.”
"The bastards!" The words exploded from Gavin's lips.
Startled, Katrina looked up.
"Gavin?" Her voice was shaky. She reached out her hand toward him.
"Yes, Little One?" His voice was soft, comforting, but anger continued to blaze in his eyes. Tenderly, he took her hand, enfolding it into both of his.
"Will it go away? Ever?" She heard her voice waver, and she felt hot tears streaming down her cheeks. Gavin gathered her gently to him, cradling her softly in his arms.
"Someday, sweet Katrina. Someday you will be free of it. Telling it will help make it leave. Hush now. You're safe in my arms. Rest a bit. Let it just fade away."
They were silent a long time. Finally Katrina stirred.
"I…I'm sorry. I've not been good company for you, I'm afraid. I wasted your money, or your boss's money, and spoiled your dinner. Then, I raved on about something that happened so long ago it isn't important anymore. I'm very sorry."
Gavin pulled away a little and looked at her. “One of these days, Katrina Lee McSwayne, you’re going to stop apologizing for all the wrong things.” Gently, he smoothed the hair from the edges of her face. The muscles along his jaw line kept working, as though he were trying to get control of himself. He finally cupped her face in his hands, looking at her carefully.
"Did that happen again? Or anything like it?"
"What happened when Charleston came back home that night?"
"Charleston didn't come home for three or four days. When he did, he didn't speak of it. Robert didn't come with him. By then, I was terrified of Charleston. I must have looked it. He got angry with me because I kept backing up or flinching when he came near me. He…he…" Katrina stopped speaking and licked her lips.
"What did he do then, Katrina?" Gavin gently probed.
"He screamed at me. He called me names. Then he started throwing things around. Glasses, plates, cups. He smashed them against the walls. Then he went to the shelves. He…he took down my little figurines. They were all I had left from Mama. He laughed such a terrible laugh as he deliberately dropped them on the floor and stomped on them." Katrina put her hands over her ears as if to shut out the sounds of Charleston's demonic laughter. She shook her head, aware she was sobbing, but unable to stop.
"He kept laughing. It sounded to me like it was the devil himself laughing. I was terrified. I knew if I said anything or made any sound, he would start beating me. So, I just hid in the corner behind a chair. Charleston kept on smashing things and swearing. He threw pans at the pictures on the wall, breaking their glass. It was awful."
Katrina shuddered again, reliving the events, and feeling the fear again, as fresh and new as if it had all happened yesterday. She was silent for a long while, wrapped once more in her private nightmare of horror.
Katrina finally roused herself and continued speaking softly. "Finally, there was nothing left to smash. Even most of the furniture was broken. He flung out of the house, slamming the door so hard the windows rattled.
"I stayed where I was for a long time. I don't know how long. When…when I was sure he wasn't coming back right away, I got up and locked the door. I knew it wouldn't keep him out if he came back. Not for long, anyway; but I didn't care. I felt safer with it locked.
"I didn't know what to do. I looked at the wreckage he had created. I knew if I was still there when he came back, he would kill me. I don't know how I knew that, I just did.