A suitcase by the front door. A quiet set of footsteps creeping down the stairs. A battered pair of Converse, and the soft ticking of a clock... silence in the house, dawn barely breaking.
Time to leave.
Sarah pushed her phone into her pocket and reached for her coat, which was draped across the top of the case. She pulled it on, hands shaking.
Upstairs, a floorboard creaked.
Time to leave.
Sarah picked up the car keys from the little bowl on the table near the door, wincing at the sound.
She placed a hand on the doorhandle and took a breath.
"Where are you going?" The voice was deafening in the morning silence. Sarah looked down, frozen in place. "I asked you a question, Sarah. Where are you going?" More silence. Sarah couldn't move. "Don't make me ask you a third time."
"Leaving?" Loud footsteps on the stairs. Sarah's grip tightened on the handle. She took in a breath as a hand closed around her shoulder. "Where to, love?"
"I... I don't..."
"You might as well tell me. I'll find you again, and again..." The hand gripped tighter. "And again. I'll always find you. You're mine."
"Ryan, please just let me go..."
"No. There's no need for you to leave. No need for you to go anywhere. You didn't even give me a chance to talk about it with you. You always do this. You always run away -"
"I'm sick of constantly being afraid, Ryan!" Sarah turned. "Constantly afraid of saying the wrong thing - but no matter what I say or do -" She was cut off by a slap, sharp and hard. It sent her to the side, her head hitting the wall. She yelped, then clamped a hand over her mouth.
"And I'm sick of you constantly talking back when you've no place." Ryan stepped toe to toe with her, eyes hard. "At least let me talk about it with you."
"I caught you cheating, Ryan. I saw her texts on your phone." Sarah straightened herself up. She didn't know what had changed in her, but she couldn't face another day under the clutches of that monster. "I saw the texts and I know you went to meet her the other day, when you were supposed to be with your mum."
"But I did go and see my mum."
"And then you went out with her after." Sarah licked her lip, which was now bleeding. "I've overlooked so much -"
"And I've overlooked so much with you! How many times have I come in from work and had to wait for dinner to be ready?! Or my shirts to be ironed for work?! Or my fucking house to be clean?!" He put his hand on the wall behind her head, still in her personal space. "Swings and roundabouts really, isn't it?"
"Not - not at all!" Sarah spluttered. "It really isn't!"
"I think it is." Ryan's voice was a low growl. "So stop this messing around, unpack your shit, and come back to bed."
Sarah thought for a second. A little voice in her head niggled at her.
Time to go, and stay gone.
Ryan would kill her, she knew. Ryan would take her and break her down as he had done for years. He'd destroy her self confidence, her love for herself, her self-esteem. He'd pick apart each and every single relationship she had at the seams, and then he'd blame her for them breaking down. He'd hurt her, control her, manipulate her... he'd done so for the past ten years, making her question and double-guess and doubt every last little thought that went through her head. Every decision she made was filled with doubt and confusion. She wanted nothing more than to be the girl she was before she'd fell in love with Ryan. Before he'd lured her in with his eyes, his smile, his charming laugh, his ability to make every woman in the room melt... and he'd picked her - how could she say no to that? How could she feel anything other than the most special girl in the world? She'd fallen for him hook, line and sinker... and then, he'd started his work. He'd methodically, and with surgical precision, picked her apart at the seams and blamed her for not being strong enough to handle anything. Blamed her when she'd questioned him. Blamed her when she'd asked why her life suddenly nose-dived... always blamed her.
"No." The defiance in her voice was barely there, but it was enough to make Ryan smirk.
"No?" he laughed, shaking his head. "I didn't ask you to. I told you to."
"And I s-said no."
"And I didn't give you a fucking choice!" Ryan spat, wrapping his fingers around her throat.
Sarah mustered her courage, pushing him back. She picked up the heavy elephant statue from the window sill to her side, and smashed him across the face with it. As he staggered backwards, head bleeding, eyes crossing, she grabbed her suitcase and opened the front door.
Without a second glance back, Sarah hurried down the garden path and out towards her freedom. Car in gear, she pulled away.
Ryan lay there on the floor, bleeding heavily from his head. The elephant lay beside him, a gift from his mother from her safari holiday in Kenya. Sarah had loved elephants. It seemed only fitting that the thing Sarah loved the most would undoubtedly kill him.
No-one knew how Ryan had managed to end up on the floor, the elephant statue beside him. There was no forced entry, no sign of a struggle... and yet, Ryan was dead. He'd bled out from a head wound, and a passer-by had seen the open door and a body slumped across the way. The news made the headlines, but they ruled it simply as an unfortunate accident, especially after Sarah had said she'd left him safe and well. A small lie, but she'd saved her own life.
And besides, what was it Ryan had said to her? Swings and roundabouts?