“Close your eyes. Pretend I’m not here.”
The woman shifted her position and lifted her head to flip the pillow to the cool side. Her focus on the white ceiling panels faded as her eyes shut. She folded her hands over her torso and settled. “I can hear you breathing.”
The man cleared his throat. His moist lips smacked when he opened his mouth.
“That’s not helping.” The woman cracked one eye. She wondered why it was so popular, this place, and its promises of miracle cures.
“Let’s begin with a count down from ten. Ten, nine, eight. Breath in from your diaphragm. Five, four, three. Good…” His voice flowed like cold oil. “Now, imagine a calm ocean. The sun is warm and inviting. No wind, no sound but the gentle undulation of the waves.” The man slunk forward in his seat. “Can you see it?”
Under closed lids, the woman rolled her eyes. “I see it.”
The man smiled. “Good.” He laid a metal pen along the spine of his notebook and set it on the arm of his chair. “Now, the sun begins to dim. It’s place in the sky is taken by a great blue orb. It radiates calm. It invites you to peace.”
The woman held her tongue.
“You are alone, but content. Feel your body relax. No sensation. No fear. Only the loving glow of the orb.” The man paused, watching the woman’s breath ease, as his own heartbeat increased. “It reflects off of the water. It is the only object in a great void.” He leaned forward on one knee. “The world is fading, but it’s okay. You are safe. You have no responsibilities, no cares.”
The man shifted forward and perched on the edge of his chair. As he scanned the woman, head to toe, the movement of a clock across the room was the only thing to interrupt the silence. The tone of his voice deepened, his paced slowed. “Embrace this new world. Leave the old behind. Can you do that?”
The woman did not respond.
The man swallowed with a click. “Good.” One hand reached out. A tremor emerged as the tips of his fingers grazed the soft fabric of the woman’s blouse, starting near her belt, and moving up.
The woman’s eyes sprang open and locked onto the man. They changed from soft and green to muddied and swirling like a storm cloud. The man froze.
She spoke in a whisper. “Change of plans, you don’t get your jollies today. Hand back.”
The man sat up straight and rested his hand on his knee.
The woman rose up without averting her attention. She ran a hand over her head and pulled her amber hair to one side. “I’m surprised you were brave enough on day one. Maybe brave isn’t the right word. If you’re this careless, I figured someone would have spoken up before they did. Lucky me…” The woman crossed her legs and smoothed one hand over her knee. “I’m going to give you a little control back. Pick up your book. I want you to write something out for me.”
The man sat, unmoving, his eyes wide.
The woman motioned to the arm of the chair. “Go on.”
The man’s hand shook as he lifted the pen and set the tip down on a blank page. His lower lip pushed away from his bottom teeth. Small dark eyes, below the slicked back widows peak and unkempt eyebrows, watched everywhere but the woman’s face.
“I want dates and names. As much detail as you can remember.” She tilted her head. “I’d say you could check the little leather diary you keep in the hidden compartment at the back of your bottom desk drawer, but I’m sure you’ve read back over it enough to remember what I need.”
After a moment of hesitation, the pen scratched in fits and starts. One page filled, then two. As he started the third, the pace faltered. His eye twitched.
The woman smiled. “You just figured out who told me, didn’t you? She probably made a slight movement, or blinked, but you’re so sure of yourself, even as you’ve become so careless. It’s good. Remember her face. Remember who set this in motion.”
The man’s jaw clenched. His body seized as he fought for control.
The woman drew in a deep breath and refocused her attention.
A small noise escaped the man’s pursed lips. The scratching of the pen started once again, slow at first, but soon became frantic. With four pages filled, the man licked at his lips with the tip of his tongue and set the notepad down beside him.
“Good.” The woman snuck a glance to the large horizontal window along the far wall, and the empty air past it. “You know, it’s such a nice day.” She turned her turbulent eyes back to the man. “Wouldn’t it be nice to get some fresh air?”
The man turned his head. He stood and took slow, uneven steps toward the clear pane of glass. A few paces away, he stopped and stared, before looking back to the woman.
She stretched her arms out along the back of the couch and leaned into it. “You’re smart. Figure it out.”
The man’s eyes homed in on the oversized executive desk in the middle of the room, and the marble carving of an ancient fertility god perched on one corner. He shuffled next to the statue, hefted it in one hand, then spun and threw it at the window. As the glass cascaded down, the man was already running. With his arms raised over his head, he dove through the bare frame. He made no sound, until the dull thud of his body impacted on the concrete walk below. In the distance, someone screamed.
The woman stood and her eyes cleared. She mussed her hair and undid the top two buttons of her blouse. With a deep breath in, she wrenched her lips and cried out. “Oh my God, someone please help!”