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When our survival is threatened, we respond in one of two ways. We either run, or we attack. The scientific term for this is Fight or Flight. It's an instinct buried deep within us, that we have no control over.
The last time I had been in this situation, I had not had the chance to choose if I was going to fight or flee. I had been bound and gagged, all of my choices made for me.
As I stood there with the gun pointed to my face, I could feel my muscles tensing to take over. I had to struggle to stave of a sudden bout of nausea, when images from my past started to infiltrate my mind. While my head was telling me to stay put and not anger my attacker, my body had other ideas. I had so much more to live for this time around.
I had a family.
I had love.
Thoughts of what would happen to them if I were gone started flashing through my mind, as I stared into the cold dead eyes of man in front of me. He commanded me to raise my hands higher and I obeyed. The smug smile on his face made my blood boil.
He had smiled just like that after…
The cold steel barrel pressed into the hollow of my throat, and I knew I would not allow him to hurt me again. He reached his other hand to my face, and slid one clammy finger over my cheek.
"We're going to have so much fun together again, Bella."
His touch and his voice, reminded me of why I had needed an escape. Reminded me of why I was broken, why my life would never be the same.
Fight or Flight?
I chose to Fight.
September 1st, 2008
"Bella, you know you don't have to do this."
"Yes, I do. I can't stand it here anymore."
I took the last of my summer clothes out of my closet, and folded them neatly into my luggage. I had about two hours before I needed to be at the airport. The car service would be there in ninety minutes to bring me to JFK.
All I was taking with me to this new life, was two suitcases and a drag along. Everything else would have to be new. Everything else would have to be fresh. I wouldn't take anything that would remind me. I wanted to make new, happy memories.
"If you need a change so much, why don't you just move to Brooklyn?"
"Angela," I only used my best friend's full name because I was frustrated with her. She was making me feel guilty for leaving her, and we'd already had this discussion.
"We've been through this. I don't just need a vacation and this isn't about a change in scenery."
"I know. I'm just going to miss you so much, B."
"Me too, Ange. I'm sorry I'm leaving you, but I have to go. It hurts too much to be here."
It was beginning to be physically painful to be in the city. It was only forty-five minutes away from the place I felt my life had ended. Maybe if there was an entire ocean in between us, I could begin to rebuild my life. Perhaps then, the thousand pound weight would finally be lifted from my chest.
I had made all the arrangements and there was no turning back now. By the time the afternoon rolled in, I would be in another country. It would be the start of my new life.
Hopefully I would finally find peace.
As I stood in line, waiting to hand over my boarding pass, my heart started racing again. I didn't know what to do. I hadn't felt like this when I was saying goodbye to my only friend earlier.
I thought if I could just make it to the other side, I would never have to feel this way again. I'd never feel the nerves or uncertainty. If only I could keep on going, I would never have to look over my shoulder again. Never worry, never fear.
I felt a prick on the back of my neck. I couldn't help but glance uneasily around to make sure… I was in an airport full of people for crying out loud! Nothing was going to happen, I chided myself. Now I was scaring myself half to death, when all I had to do was keep on walking.
If I could just take those final few steps, my life would be forever changed. I would be free, and this incessant paranoia could stop.
I craved the freedom but still I wasn't sure what I would do once I had it. How was I supposed to live? I thought of all the times I'd dreamed of this moment. Of how it would feel once I stepped over the edge, the soft, sweet smelling breeze ruffling my hair and blowing over my face. I thought of what it would feel like to have the sun shining on me. I sighed, and allowed myself one quick memory.
Perhaps I needed a reminder, as painful as it would be. I never liked thinking about it. I preferred to shut it out most of the time, but I needed to remember why I was doing this. I needed to know that I'd made the right choice.
I walked through the messy kitchen, and opened the door to the dark alley behind La Scala. It's the small Italian restaurant where I worked part time. I'd just finished yet another 12 hour shift, and was thinking of soaking my feet in my little portable foot spa I'd splurged on for my birthday.
As I lifted the trash to heave it in the dumpster, something rattled behind me. I rolled my eyes and thought of what the health department would have to say if they ever came around to find there were rats so close to this place. I disposed of the garbage and turned to go punch my time card. Hopefully, I could slip out unnoticed. If no one saw me, then they couldn't ask me to stay late and help clean up after the party of twenty-seven we'd had. My singing feet just couldn't take another two hours. On top of that, I had to be up at nine am for class.
My breath clogged in my throat, as I turned to see a dark shadow coming towards me. I hadn't heard the door open behind me while I was there. Someone had been in the alley? RUN, I screamed to myself. But as I opened my mouth to let out my practiced piercing scream, something dark passed over my eyes and I felt a cloth cover my mouth. My hands flew up to try and remove the damp material, but I fought to no avail. I tried to scream anyway, but the sound came out muffled.
No one would be able to hear me, I though in panic.
As I inhaled my nostrils burned and I knew whatever the cloth was damp with, I should not be breathing it in. I struggled with the strong arms that suddenly surrounded me. My lungs ached for fresh air and my constant movement caused me to use up my oxygen supply quickly, but I still fought.
I had no choice but to breathe in the contaminated air when my lungs were finally empty. I continued to struggle with the arms that were stronger than my own, as the dim light coming from the street lamp went black.
When I woke again, the light was almost blinding. I had to quickly close my eyes for fear they might fall out of my head. I opened them millimeter by millimeter, and adjusted to the small room. The constant beeping of a machine next to me was what I used to time my breaths, and try to calm down.
Every inch of my body was screaming and I was past being frightened. The room was not at all familiar to me. It seemed sterile.
Was I in a hospital? It seemed eerie almost. What had happened to me? Just as I was working up a full blown panic attack, a tall, slender nurse who looked like sunshine walked in and told me it was okay.
How could it possibly be okay?
I was in a strange place, with people I didn't know, and no memory of what had happened to me. As I opened my mouth to ask what the hell was going on, another striking woman walked in with a grim set to her mouth and asked the nurse if I was conscious.
She didn't even look at me.
If she had, she would have seen my wide opened frightened eyes. She would have seen my chest heaving up and down, as my breathing got more and more erratic. There were dozens of questions swirling around in my head. Where was I? How did I get there? What happened to me? The nurse interrupted my internal hysterics as she answered the woman's question.
"Detective Malory, she's just come around." I could tell by the tone of her voice, the nurse was annoyed. "I don't think she's ready yet."
"Well the sooner we speak to her, the better it will be," the detective responded in a clipped tone. "We're going to need her help to find the bastards who did this."
Why was there a detective there? The beeping increased from the machine next to me, as my heart started pounding furiously in my chest. Nothing good could come from this, I realized. The police were involved? What had I done?
"What happened to me?" I asked, in barely more than a whisper. I couldn't make my voice sound strong and brave. My father Charlie, always told me no matter how down I was, no matter how bad the situation, to ALWAYS put on a brave face.
"I'm so sorry, Bella," The sunny nurse began. She continued to speak in hushed tones. It was like she felt if she spoke quietly, her words would hurt less. As if whispering would stop the walls from crumbling around me.
The quiet did not help.
My eyes filled in horror and pain, as I listened to the beautiful woman tell me what had happened to me. This stuff only happens in movies, I thought vaguely somewhere in the back of my mind.
It wasn't me.
She wasn't talking about me. I refused to believe her and started screaming for them to get the fuck out of my room. As my tears spilled over, the detective walked up to me despite the venom I was spewing. She stopped by the bed, and told me she was going to catch the bastard who put me where I was.
For some reason, despite my pain, I believed her.
I was nudged by the woman behind me, indicating it was my turn. We were about to board the plane.
This time, there wasn't a single doubt in my mind. I deliberately put a smile on my face. I would be brave just like my dad. Always. I purposefully marched forward, and handed the man whose badge said his name was John my boarding pass. A new beginning, I thought, as I walked to the stairs leading into the cabin of the 747. I did not look back, only forward and thought of what I would do first once I landed.
The flight to Martinique from New York was going to take about five hours, so I made sure I brought my copy of Persuasion. Even though I knew I had it on my iPod, I made sure to bring the hard copy with me. I was thankful there appeared to be no one assigned to the seat next to me.
As the plane started to taxi to the runway, I quickly took advantage and took the window seat. I loved flying (except for one part). I looked out the tiny window and prepared to enjoy lift off. I even enjoyed they way my ears would pop. Everyone else seemed to complain about it. But to me, it signified that I was on another plane of existence. We were no longer on the same level as everyone else.
I loved watching the ground get smaller, and loved watching the water appear. It never failed to amaze me, the many colors the ocean held. I took pleasure in trying to make out the waves, and tracing the lines that distinguished the colors against the glass.
When the captain announced that we had reached our cruising altitude of 33,000 feet, I pulled out my favorite novel.
I was sort of in love with this story and I had almost worn out this copy. I would have to visit Barnes & Noble soon to get a new one. Did they even have a Barnes & Noble in Martinique? I would have to order it online if they didn't. I'd read three pages into the book when I realized I needed my music. I put the book page down on the seat next to me, as I had packed my bookmark in my suitcase. I leaned down to get my iPod from my small drag along. I had it in the outer compartment because I knew I wouldn't last on a five hour flight without it. There were two things I couldn't live without. Books and music. I had to have them everywhere I went.
I slipped my in-ear headphones on. I was just preparing to put on the play list of the classical music I loved to listen to as I read, when a tall man walked up to the seat in front of me looking confused. He looked from the seat number on the overhead compartment, to his boarding pass. A little crease appeared between his brows as he took one step back. He looked down and smiled apologetically at me.
Oh. My. God.
My thoughts got all jumbled up. The music and the book I was going to enjoy were both temporarily forgotten. All I could think was wow! He was marvelous. This is what all men should look like.
He was wearing light blue jeans and a white T shirt. Somehow, he still managed to look like a model. His skin was golden, and he filled out the shirt perfectly. Then there was the miracle that was his face. His eyes were a stunning mix of blue and green. Only his nose saved him from being perfect. It was just slightly crooked to the right. He had full sensual lips and thick bronze hair that shook down to his shoulders. It look liked he had a five o'clock shadow even though it was only 11 am.
Stunning I thought again.
"Hi." His smile widened as he took in my face.
I was staring open mouthed at him. There was a faint blush creeping up his neck as I continued to ogle him in awe.
Open your mouth, stupid! He said hello say something!
"Um... I think you're in my seat," he said still smiling. He was getting rose gold now.
"Oh," was my brilliant response. It was my turn to get bright red. "I'm sorry. Here, I'll get out of your way." I hurried to gather my book and iPod, so I could give the delicious man his seat.
"No, that's okay. I'll just sit in this one. I'm guessing you like the window." He said, as he opened the overhead compartment to stuff his backpack inside.
As he lifted the pack to put it in, his shirt lifted with him and revealed the V shaped muscles leading into his jeans. I cleared my throat and look away.
What is wrong with you, Swan? Calm down girl!
He settled in the aisle seat turned to me and smiled again.
"I'm Edward." He casually offered me his hand. I looked at it for a minute before extending my hand in turn. Manners eventually won against the other instincts and when our hands clasped, I felt that spark they always talked of in the books I read and the movies I saw. It jolted right down to my toes. He didn't shake my hand, he just held it.
That's what it was. It was a thick fog around us. He must've felt something too because he was staring at me now and his eyes had changed just the slightest bit. They were just a bit darker.
"I'm Bella." It came out in barely more than a breath
"Is that short for Isabella?" Edward asked.
"No," I smiled. "It's just Bella."
"That's a pretty name. Are you Italian?"
"Thanks. No. I'm not Italian. Sorry I stole your seat. I didn't think it was assigned to anyone after we took off."
"Yeah, I misread the seat number on my boarding pass. I didn't realize either." He was still holding my hand and smiled warmly at me "I Like this seat better."
Don't blush, I thought hopelessly. But it was too late.
I eased my tingling hand out of his and leaned down to pretend to get something out of my drag along. When I came back up, I was composed and ready to deal with those eyes… and that smile.
"So," he said cheerfully.
Oh gosh. What a voice!
"So..." I repeated in the same tone.
"Are you on vacation?"
"Oh, no. I'll be staying in Martinique for a while."
"You're moving down here?" he asked, interested
"For the foreseeable future, yes." I fought against the panic attack that wanted to claw its way to the surface. He studied me and after a moment pursed his lips.
He probably decided I didn't look overly enthused at the prospect of moving to a beautiful, warm, tropical, exotic island.
"Are you okay?" he asked, concerned. My breaths were coming out quick and shallow. I was on the verge of hyperventilating in front of this delicious stranger, and I had to pull myself together.
"Yes…" I barely croaked out
"May I have a bottle of water, please?" Edward asked the tidy flight attendant walking by.
"Certainly." She said, with a light French accent.
She was back before 5 heartbeats with the bottle of water, and a small cup of ice. Eager to please the most handsome man on the plane, I guessed.
I didn't like her anymore.
"Here have some water," he offered, as he poured some over the ice and handed it to me.
"Oh. Thank you." I didn't realize how dry my throat had gotten, until the cool water eased the discomfort. I thanked him again
"It's just a little scary." I explained. "I've never been so far from the states." Except when I was first brought into this world.
I laughed at myself.
"Balata ought to be a change." I smiled as I thought of myself trying to cook a meal over an open wood flame, and then chuckled. I didn't notice the huge grin on his face until I turned to him again.
"You're going to be living in Balata 'For the foreseeable future'?" Edward looked like a kid on Christmas morning.
"Yes," I said cautiously "Are you familiar with that town?"
"Yeah. My parents own a few properties there. One is about 5 minutes from the Jardin De Balata"
Well maybe this wouldn't be the only time I would see him. The thought pleased me more than I thought it should.
"That's nice. I saw some pictures. That garden is stunning! I hope I have some time to visit this weekend."
"Hey if you'd like some company, I'm pretty familiar with the area. I could show you around. Here's my number." He pulled out a card from his wallet, wrote a number on the back and handed it to me.
"Thanks. How long will you be staying? Are you on vacation?"
"Oh I'll be living there too… for the foreseeable future." He winked at me.
"Well that's nice. It'll be good to sort off know someone."
Maybe this plane ride wouldn't be so bad.
We sat together and chatted comfortably until the plane started to make it's decent. My heart started to thunder against my ribs as I put the book I'd never gotten to read back in my drag along. I hooked my iPod on my slacks, lifted my hair and wound the headphones under my collar. We both fastened our seatbelts as the sign instructed, and prepared for landing (the only part of flying I didn't like). I clutched the arm rests as we got closer and closer to the ground. I concentrated on breathing in through my nose and out through my mouth. Edward seemed to sense my discomfort and he laid his hand over mine.
"It'll be over soon," he whispered.
I couldn't answer. I just nodded my head and closed my eyes. I concentrated on my breathing and the feel of his hand over mine. Why didn't it freak me out?
By the time we landed, my hand was warm and tingling again. Edward pulled his backpack down and gestured for me to go first.
I walked by him and wondered if he would be looking at my ass.
"So how are you getting to Balata?" he asked from behind me. "Did you rent a car?"
"Oh, no. I was going to take a cab."
"A cab?" he gaped "Have you any idea how much that would cost? Besides how would you tell them where to go?"
"Je sais parle Français."
"Ah bon daccords. Je m'excuse. Well in any case, why don't you ride with me? I have a rental car waiting."
"That's very nice of you, but I wouldn't want to impose. Besides I'm sure you're tired and would like to get home." I could already see myself in a car with him. I imagined he had a spiffy little convertible. I visualized just how my hair would blow in the wind.
"I'm not tired at all, but I would love to get home. Although I'm not sure which home that would be. If you're thinking about the whole don't get into a car with strangers thing, then we could give each other a mini biography right now. Plus you seem a little uneasy about being in a new place alone. Do you even know anyone here?"
"No." I said grudgingly. I was sure I should be saving every penny I had. Putting a deposit on my cottage had taken a real bite out my already frail savings. Then another thought suddenly hit me. What was I going to do for money? I took two deep breaths so I wouldn't start having hysterics.
"Sure. I actually would love a ride." I said, after a little more consideration.
"Great!" He seemed enthused.
We went through customs together and I blushed scarlet when they asked if we were on our Honeymoon. Edward looked at me like he wished it was true.
We navigated through the busy airport and made our way to the parking area where his rental car was waiting. He went to the passenger side first and surprised me by pulling the key out of his pocket and opening my door. No one besides my dad had ever opened a door for me before. He took my luggage and drag along to put them in the trunk. Charmed, I got in the Sedan. No convertible. He shut my door and loaded his luggage with mine. Edward climbed into the driver's seat and started the ignition.
"When did you get the keys to the car?" I asked him, confused.
"Oh, I've had it for a couple of weeks. I was using it before I had to go back to Long Island and give up my apartment. I had to sell the rest of my things." He checked his blind spots and eased out of the lot.
"So Bella, tell me about yourself."
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