Well, here I am once again jumping into the madness that is writing. After a long hiatus, I realized that I really missed my fandom and decided I should do something about that. So, here I am with another thriller!
Before we get started, I will warn you now that this is a Frank/Nancy pairing...if it's not your cup of whatever beverage you prefer, then you should just turn around now.
Frank and Nancy are twenty-four and engaged while Joe is twenty-three.
This story takes place in River Heights and for the sake of this one, doesn't follow any timelines I have previously established. As usual with my stories, I not only focus on the main characters but the minor ones as well, especially the villain. As I've said before, everyone has a story to tell.
I want to thank my beta, Roswalyn, for being hte best in the world and being so excited when I told her I was going to write another story. :)
I hope you enjoy and let me know what you think!
(P.S.- I know I have another story in progress but I needed to step away from it. I do have hopes for continuing it but it may still take some time!)
Ben Matthews fidgeted nervously in his seat, his fingers toying absently with the small length of thread hanging from the bottom of his jacket. He could feel everyone's eyes on him as they took in the newcomer, whispering amongst themselves about what his story could possibly be. He looked normal enough—light brown hair, hazel eyes, with a slightly athletic build. But then again, so did the others sitting in the circle.
Maybe this was a bad idea. I shouldn't be here doing this. I don't know why I even let my doctor talk me into this.
His eyes darted up to the man sitting across from him, but the encouraging smile Dr. Jonathan Stark flashed him did nothing to alleviate the nervous flutter in his stomach. He wished for what must have been the tenth time since he walked through the door to the local community center that the spotlight could be off of him.
"Now, as you can see, we have a newcomer among us today," Dr. Stark said, his voice commanding the attention of the group. Ben let out a small sigh as the interest turned away from him and focused on the psychologist. "I want you to remember that this is a friendly, judgment-free environment. We're here to support each other and to provide a trusting atmosphere.
"Acrophobia, Nyctophobia, Pyrophobia, Anthropophobia-these are all clinical terms for fears and phobias. Fear is a natural occurrence. Everyone has something that they are afraid of, even me. The important thing is to acknowledge it and overcome it." Dr. Stark's eyes roamed around the circle, seeking each person. "You're here today to take that step forward. You're here because you're ready to release yourself from your fears and take control of your own life. Now, who would like to start?"
The room was silent for a few moments before an older woman with grayish red hair raised her hand and stood up. "My name is Rosa and I'm afraid of the dark…terrified really."
Ben glanced around the room as the rest of the group greeted Rosa as one, questioning himself once again if he actually should be there. After all, how could a group of strangers help him come to terms with his fear? It's not as if they knew him and talking to them could suddenly help him overcome it.
"I know fear usually stems from something that's happened when we were younger but I actually don't have anything to base mine on," Rosa said softly. "For as long as I can remember, I simply never liked being in the dark. I can't even sleep with a nightlight because I only focus on the darkness."
"And how have you let your fear control your life, Rosa?" Stark asked.
"It's controlled every aspect of it. I'm almost fifty years old and I've never had a steady relationship. It's hard to date anyone when you can't even go out at night because you're so afraid." Rosa glanced out the window, swallowing nervously as the late afternoon sun slowly began to fade below the horizon. "Even now, it's taking everything that I have not to run out the door."
"What's stopping you from doing that?"
Rosa took a deep breath, her eyes locking on Stark's. "Because I'm tired of living like this. I'm tired of not having a life because of this stupid fear."
"It's not stupid, Rosa." Stark glanced around the room. "That's the first thing all of you need to realize—your fears are not stupid. They are a part of you, as they are with everyone else. If anyone tells you they're not afraid of anything, then they're simply lying to you. Everyone has something that they're fearful of."
Ben shifted uncomfortably in his chair as Stark's eyes rested on him.
"Would you like to share your fear with us, Ben?"
"I—" The young man hesitated as he noticed everyone staring at him. The spotlight was growing brighter and hotter over him and he knew the only way to get it off of him was to start talking. Taking a deep breath, Ben cleared his throat. "My name is Ben and I have a fear of heights."
"Welcome, Ben," the group said. Some were smiling at him, while others acted bored with the entire thing.
"I'm engaged to be married in a couple of months and I promised my fiancée that I would go skydiving with her on our honeymoon. She knows that I don't particularly like heights, but she doesn't know how deep the fear actually goes."
"Why don't you tell the room what happened to you when you were younger, Ben," Stark said.
Ben nodded. "When I was ten years old, my parents took me to an amusement park. I wanted to go on the Ferris wheel because I had never been on one before and all my friends were talking about it, saying how much fun it was to get to the top and see everything for miles away.
"All of a sudden, the wheel lurched just when my dad and I were getting to the top. I guess I wasn't sitting in the chair right because I felt myself sliding out and saw my dad grabbing for me. He managed to grab my arm just before I could fall out and plummet to the ground."
A series of gasps and murmurs went up among the group but Ben ignored them as he continued to talk. It actually felt good that he was sharing his experience with others, even if they were complete strangers. "I remember looking down and seeing my mom screaming and pointing up at me. My dad had a hard time holding onto me because I was freaking out and struggling, trying to get back up into the car. It seemed like forever before he was finally able to pull me up into his arms."
"How did that experience change you, Ben?" Stark asked.
"I can't even go up a small flight of stairs without having a panic attack. My apartment is on the first level because I can't even put my foot up on the stairs without freezing." He flashed a small smile. "My fiancée has been trying to help me and I can tell she's getting frustrated. I'm afraid if I don't get help and overcome my fear, she may decide to leave me. If she does that, then I have nothing…she's everything to me and I don't want to lose her."
"And that's why you're here," Stark said, pushing his glasses up on his nose. He leaned back in his chair, crossing his legs. "I wanted to start this group as a way for all of you to cope and to have a strong support system. I wanted you to see that you all were not alone, that there are others here who are struggling with fears. They may not be the same fears you have, but they have them and they are just as debilitating."
Leaning back in his chair, Ben let out a small sigh, glad that he was finished speaking. Maybe this group therapy wouldn't be such a bad thing, after all. He was willing to do anything to get past his fear so he could have a life with Sara.
"Well, I think that will do it for tonight," Stark said, gathering up his belongings before standing up. "We'll meet back here next week at the same time. Rosa, if you'll wait, I'll be more than happy to accompany you to your car."
Scooping up his jacket, Ben slipped it on before taking his keys out of his jeans pocket.
"Hey, Ben…a few of us were going to head to Al's if you wanted to join us," a young man with shaggy red hair said.
Ben shook his head. "Thanks, but Sara is waiting at home for me. I promised to take her out to the movies tonight."
"Okay…well, maybe next time."
"Yeah, sounds good." With a wave, Ben pushed the door open, the cool air instantly closing in around him. Pulling his jacket tighter around him, he braced himself against the wind as he walked towards his car. He'd had to park a block or so away because of a wedding reception that was happening in one of the other rooms and there had been no parking spots available.
There wasn't much activity around River Heights as he quickly made his way to his car. Not that there was ever anything really happening in town, but it seemed eerily quiet to him, especially given it was a Friday night. Seeing his car, he picked up his pace, wanting nothing more than to hop inside and turn the heat on full blast. A chill was cutting through him and he wasn't sure it was entirely due to the weather.
It was almost as if he was being watched.
Great…now you're starting to get paranoid. Why don't you just add that to the list of problems you already have, Ben?
Pressing the button on his remote, he heard the doors click as they unlocked. Reaching for the door handle, he only caught a glimpse of a dark shadow in his window before he felt someone grab him and something sharp pricking his neck. The keys fell from his grip and clattered to the pavement, his hands going up to immediately struggle against his captor.
His eyes darted around the dark street, seeking out anyone who could possibly help or call the police. He couldn't even see the assailant's face in the window, his face concealed by the shadow of the hood on his jacket. Ben felt himself growing weaker, realizing too late that he had been drugged.
Slowly, the world closed in on him until there was nothing but darkness.
It was windier than it had been when he'd walked out of the community center, Ben realized as he came to with a start. His head was pounding and his tongue felt thick in his mouth, as if it were stuffed with cotton balls. There was something tight around his wrists and it took a few moments for him to realize that he was standing against something.
Slowly opening his eyes, terror instantly seized him as he saw he was standing on the opposite side of a balcony, his arms stretched on either side on him, tied to the railing. The ground below him swam in and out of focus, his feet nearly falling out from under him as he struggled, desperate to get on the other side of the railing where he could get solid ground beneath him. As it was, he was standing on a surface that couldn't be any bigger than four inches wide.
Okay, take a deep breath, Ben.
Control your fear…don't let it control you.
Peering down, he felt his heart slow down slightly. He had to be at least five stories above the ground.
The real question was how he'd gotten there.
His head jerked around at the sound of a scuffle, like a shoe rubbing against the concrete. The mysterious man from the alleyway stepped out of the shadows, the hood moved away from his head, revealing his face. Even though it was dark, Ben could see shaggy red hair reflected in the moonlight.
"You…you were at…at the meeting," Ben said, his voice shaking.
The man smiled but remained silent.
"Wh…what are you doing?"
"I'm helping you overcome your fears, just like the doctor said we should," the man said. "I'm here to support you, Ben."
"I don't even know your name."
The man shrugged. "It's not important. If it makes you feel any better, you can call me Toby."
"Okay…Toby." Ben swallowed hard, afraid to take his eyes off the other man. "You don't have to do this."
"Of course I do."
"Because I want to set you free," Toby said. He walked over to the railing, peering down at the ground below. "I never understood what the hype was about heights, you know. If you ask me, it's one of the best ways to die."
Ben's eyes widened as he glanced at Toby. "Why do you say that?"
The man gave another careless shrug. "It's quick and nine times out of ten, you die instantly. There's no pain, no suffering. You just go plummeting towards the ground and…" He clapped his hands in front of Ben's face, making him jump. "You're dead."
"Please don't do this, man," Ben begged, not caring how needy it made him sound. He didn't want to die—all he wanted was to go home to Sara. "Please, just let me go."
"I am going to let you go." Pushing away from the rail, he reached behind his jeans and pulled out a large hunting knife. The moonlight glinted off the blade as he held it up in front of Ben's face. "I'm going to give you your freedom, Ben."
Ben let out a sigh, relief flooding through him at his words. The first thing he was going to do was run to the police station and get this freak put behind bars. Then, he was going to go home to Sara and never let her go.
The man put his hand over Ben's, angling the knife so it could cut the ropes around his left wrist. The ropes snapped away as he cut at the last threads, his grip still tight on Ben's hand, holding it against the railing.
"What are you doing?" Ben asked, glancing at the man.
"I told you that I was setting you free."
"Then let go of me and help me over the railing."
Letting out a cold chuckle, the man shook his head before letting go of Ben's hand. Before the young man could react, he felt his legs being kicked out from under him. His mouth opened in a silent scream as he felt himself falling forward before he was jerked to a stop, the ropes around his right wrist stopping him from sailing to the pavement below. Pain tore through him as he heard a pop in his wrist, a scream erupting from his lips.
Turning his body around, his feet dangled as he looked up with wide eyes at the crazed man. "No! Don't do this, please! Help me back up!"
"If I do that, it's not going to help you overcome your fear, Ben."
"I don't care about that!" Ben yelled. "I can live with it! Please, just help me back up! Don't let me die!"
"I'm not letting you die…I'm helping you live." Bringing the knife to the ropes, the man slowly and deliberately began sawing away at the hemp.
"No! Please!" Ben was practically screaming as he tried to pull himself up with his other hand, desperately trying to grab at the railing. He kept screaming until his throat was raw, praying that someone would hear him and help him before it was too late. His body jerked as the ropes slowly unraveled, bringing him closer and closer to inevitable death.
"Embrace your fear, Benjamin. It's the only way you can set yourself free."
With one last flick of his wrist, the man sliced through the last of the ropes, sending Ben plunging towards the ground, his body making a sickening crunch as it collided with the wet pavement.