This story contains sensitive content

Trigger warning: domestic abuse

She wasn’t sure if she wanted him to get home before she left. Could three years of dating ever outweigh a death threat? Emily loved Carter when he wasn’t mean, and he loved her when she followed his rules. To put her last bag in the car, she had to repeat to herself, “He threatened to kill me. He threatened to kill me. He threatened to kill me.” With every physical piece she needed to move on, she drove away. All she left behind was a letter for him, that she rewrote six times. Whenever a car passed, her heart rate quickened. At every stop sign and red light, she looked for his car in the traffic. By the time she got to her sister’s, she was nearly hyperventilating.

Carter would arrive home and see her things gone in an hour. She took the spare key her sister gave her, grabbed her duffel bag of toiletries and extra clothes, and entered her new home. After walking in, she saw the couch made into a bed, dressed in sheets and a few throw blankets. When she got a glimpse of the Oreos on the counter, she remembered Carter eating them for dessert every night. She relived the day he helped her sister put together a bookcase. The day he cleaned their windows. The roses he bought her for her birthday. If she left now, she could get back in time to make it look like she never left.

“Emily?” She jumped at the sound of her name but relaxed when she recognized Elle’s voice.

“I’m in here,” Elle croaked, her dry throat taking center stage. Her sister followed her voice from the garage to the front room.

“Hey there.” Her new roommate hugged her, and Emily could only muster a pat on her back. “Do you need anything? A drink? Food? Do you want to sit down?” Emily looked down at her feet and her locked knees. Once she made it inside, she didn’t move.

“Just water for now. Thanks”

“No problem.” Elle made her way to the kitchen. “Feel free to get comfy. Mi casa es tu casa now.” She returned with a full glass. “Here you go.”

“Thanks.” Emily found a chair to sit in, avoiding her makeshift bed.

“I’m sorry I couldn’t get you a bed. You can sleep with me if you want, but it might be a bit tight.”

“I’m okay.” They both sat there. Elle waited for Emily’s next request, while Emily wished her sister would quit acting like an overbearing babysitter.

Just then, Emily’s phone ran. With a pounding chest, she took the device out of her purse and saw Carter’s name. She showed the screen to her sister and asked, “What do I do?”

“Ignore it.”

“But he probably wants answers.”

“Did you leave him a note like you said you would?”


“He can get his answers from there.”

With each ring, Emily inhaled. By the time the phone stopped buzzing, her shoulders were up to her ears. Then, she could release. After two more calls and twenty text messages, her sister asked if she would be okay with silencing her phone. She wasn’t about to watch a movie; she was cutting off ties with the man she loved. With her finger on the button and ready to press, she mumbled to herself, “He threatened to kill me. He threatened to kill me. He threatened to kill me.”

Click. Click. Click.

She placed her phone screen down on the end table eight feet away from her and returned to the chair.

“Do you want to watch a movie or something?”


“Do you want me to undo your bed or just cover it with a blanket or something?”

“A blanket’s fine.”

The two young women sat down. They hadn’t seen each other for five months. Before Carter, they had lunch every weekend. Despite growing up together, they had to relearn each other.

“What are you doing tomorrow?” Elle asked.

“Just working.”

“Cool. I’ll be home around six. I have therapy after work.” She scrolled through the movie options. “What are you feeling? Action? Comedy?”

“Do you like therapy?” Emily asked, unable to focus on anything else since the t-word was uttered.

“Yeah, most of the time. Some sessions are tough, but I think it’s worth it.” Emily nodded and said nothing else about it. With a nudge of the arm, Elle added, “Maybe you should go, or at least consider it.”

“Maybe.” She imagined Carter finding her therapist’s office, stalking her, and burning the place down.

“Should we just watch TV instead?” Emily’s voice cut through her trance.

“That’s fine.”


It was Emily’s third time trying to make it to her first therapy session. For her initial attempt, she chickened out and fabricated an excuse. She was “sick.” Second time around, Carter left a gift at her sister’s place. Emily thought this was a bad omen and didn’t leave the house for five days. All leading up to her current try. She made it to the therapist’s parking lot, further than ever before. After scanning the surrounding vehicles for Carter’s sedan and finding nothing, she opened the car door and took the most direct path to the office.

With the door shut behind her, she exhaled and admired the new space. Oil diffuser. Natural light. White noise playlist of wind and rain. Emily tried her best to take cue from her surroundings. She counted three seconds while breathing in and three seconds breathing out. Despite her pounding chest and clammy hands, she made her way to the front desk. In spite of her head spinning with thoughts to leave, she introduced herself to the receptionist. “Hi, I’m checking in for an appointment.”

“What’s your name?”

“Emily Kaminski.”

While proceeding through the conversation, Emily worried if the others waiting and sitting behind her could hear her voice. With the receptionist’s permission to take a seat, Emily sat an equal distance from the other patients. She wondered what they were here for. While her leg shook with the energy of a puppy getting ready to go for a walk, she questioned how bad her trauma was. Before she could scold herself for comparing herself to strangers, she heard her name called. A woman who resembled her mother greeted her. While walking across the lobby, she imagined she looked like a baby deer learning to walk. Afterall, this would be her rebirth.

June 17, 2022 01:59

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