Tara stood frozen in place, her hand on the door knob, her blood turning into a cold river of blueberry Slurpee in her veins. People had been telling her all her life that she was just paranoid. They had told her that there was no reason to spend so much time and energy avoiding sitting by windows in restaurants, or logging the cars that parked in front of her house at night. Once in college, a friend had refused to get in the car with her ever again after she realized that Tara paid less attention to the road than to trying to determine if the cars behind her were following them.
“Tara,” people often said, “you are an accountant with no secrets. Why would anyone be out to get you?” to which she would smile and nod politely, but she knew.
Now she stood frozen with her hand on the knob because it had finally happened. Someone was in her house. It wasn’t likely to be a break-in, because the alarm wasn’t going off. A good assassin or a government goon could have gotten in easily, but not a common criminal. She knew that they were in there because she had seen the curtains move slightly out of the corner of her eye. It wasn’t more of a move than a slight breeze would cause, but she would never have left a window open.
She forced herself to take a long slow breath of the muggy night air, trying to clear her mind. It was buzzing with possible scenarios, but no solutions.
She took a few steps quickly away from the door, making the three paces to the hedge in less than a second, then she ducked around the hedge, hiding herself from the window.
She contemplated calling Sarah as she walked back to her car, noticing that there were a few cars parked on the street that weren’t normally there. She pulled the phone from her pocket and looked at it. An image of Cat Stevens, when that was still his name, looked back at her from behind a guitar, his “Best Of” collection being the last album she had listened to. His face was usually comforting and kind, but in her current mood, even his kind eyes looked sinister and cold. She shivered, swiping the screen to unlock it, then stopped.
She knew exactly what Sarah would say. The same thing she always said. She would tell her to knock it off and go inside. She wouldn’t understand that this time it was really happening, for this wolf had been cried far too many times already. Besides, Sarah had said something about a date earlier when Tara had asked her about her evening plans; she might not pick up anyway. Thinking about it now, though, Tara realized that Sarah had seemed weird and resistant to volunteer information about the date. Sarah loved talking about her love life, had she been lying? Could she be involved?
Tara stopped, about to get in behind the wheel, her eyes running up and down the street, analyzing the intruding cars bathed in the yellow of the streetlights. Colors looked different under yellow lights, but one of them was definitely Sarah’s car.
Tara’s head started to spin and her knees felt weak, suddenly she was fighting to catch her breath and leaned heavily against the car for support. What if Sarah had gotten caught up in something bad? What if her unwillingness to catalog every person she met, tripple lock her door, and encrypt her hard drive with a 32 character passkey had left her vulnerable? What if They had found Sarah as the weak spot in Tara’s defenses and had her tied up in Tara’s living room? What would they do to her if Tara didn’t show?
“Shit,” she said aloud, the sound barely more audible than a breath, as she noticed that another one of the intruding cars was her brother’s new car. He was another weakness.
She stood there for a long time, slowly regaining control of her breath, watching the edge of the hedge. She stayed ready to duck into the car and take off if someone came around into view. Nobody did.
The realization that her best friend and her brother were probably tied up in her living room at gun point terrified her, but melted her resolve to run away. Once she felt comfortable standing on her own, she went to her trunk and pulled out the baseball bat that she kept there, then made her way to the small walkway that led back to her neighbor’s backyard.
It was easy to make her way silently into the back yard, then hop the fence into her own; needing to sneak into her own back yard was a scenario that she had considered regularly. She was well practiced at opening the back door without letting out the squeak that she wouldn’t let the landlord oil away. The back door opened into her small kitchen, only lit by the faint ambient light trickling in through the one small window. The light made long, ghostly shadows and made everything the blacks and grays of a dirty charcoal sketch. She could see something too black to be anything but blood smeared on the counter and choked back a whimper. She touched it, and immediately regretted the decision. It was cold and clung to her finger, making vomit start to push its way up past the high pitched whine that she knew was only barely contained. She swallowed both back with great effort. If the blood was cold, it had been a while since it had been bled; whoever had been bleeding may not have much time. Tara tried not to think about what was on her finger and wiped it on her jeans with a grimace.
She raised her bat to the ready position and moved to the door that stood closed between the kitchen and living room. Pressing her ear to the surface of the door, she listened to the breathing on the other side. There was a bored sounding sigh. They had no idea she was here.
She threw the door open, not intending to waste the small amount of advantage her surprise would give her. She rushed into the room and aimed for the shape of a man silhouetted by the light from the window, probably the one that had tipped her off by moving the curtain. She hit him in the stomach folding him in half over the bat with a loud “Omph!” Before he had even finished crumpling to the ground, she had turned towards the movement she had seen to her left and swung, her favorite lamp exploding into a shower of clay and glass as the bat made contact.
Feeling large arms around her from behind, she tried to bring the butt of the bat into the person’s stomach, but the angle of the swing made it weak and suddenly she was completely restrained, but she refused to give up. She fought and thrashed. Then the lemon juice sensation of bright lights tore through her eyes as someone turned on the light. She couldn’t see at first, it was too bright, and at some point she had started to cry.
“Tara,” said the voice of the man behind her, “stop.”
She knew that voice. She tried to look, but couldn’t turn. Then her eyes came into focus on the ten people standing in her living room with shocked expressions and party hats on. They all stood beneath a hand-made banner that read “Happy B-day Tara!”
Her boss was there, as was her mom, and all of her friends. Sarah stood in the middle holding a chocolate cake and a facial expression of such confused shock that it looked uncomfortable. “Holy shit, Tara…” her mother managed.
“Surprise?” said Sarah slowly.
“I think I need to go to the hospital,” groaned her brother from the ground.