Of course, I couldn’t tell my friends, “Glenn doesn’t want me to spend time with you,” because that made it sound so unseemly and controlling. So when I retreated from those relationships, my friends thought it was my choice. I was one of those women who can’t maintain friendships after they get into a relationship. I was a Cosmo cautionary tale, in more ways than one.
As time went on, a lot of Glenn’s problems became my problems. We’d committed to each other, moved in together. It seemed petty and shortsighted to leave my fiancé because he was a little needy. His demands grew so incrementally that I didn’t see how unreasonable they were becoming. If I loved him, I’d dress a bit more feminine, keep my hair long, cook the things he liked, enjoy staying home on the weekends the way he did. If I loved him, I would keep my personal cell phone on me at all times, even though it was against hospital policy. I would ignore the “accidents” I seemed to have whenever Glenn was angry with me, like tripping over his feet after an argument about rent and smacking my head against the coffee table. I would pass up the big white wedding debacle and get married on a beach in the Caribbean, which is what we did, one not-so-special weekend when I came home to find Glenn holding the plane tickets. I was the proverbial frog in the pot of slowly boiling water, dying by degrees.
And then, there were the family “issues.” I was an only child, a late-in-life miracle for my lovely, rational parents. We’d shared a close, slightly unorthodox relationship, as my parents tended to treat me more like a small adult colleague than a child. I’d been disappointed that Glenn wasn’t interested in spending time with them. My parents didn’t like him, he claimed. My father made him feel as if he was being interrogated for the entire visit, and my mother was too clingy with me. He caused huge fights right before we were supposed to go to family events, so that either we would skip them, or I would end up fighting off tears for most of the night, sparking tension and uncomfortable questions from my parents. It ended up being easier to tell my mother that we had other plans or that I was working. While he was mollified by my efforts to “focus on us,” he grumbled that he didn’t understand why I wanted to go see my parents so often anyway.
I tried to tell myself it would take time for Glenn to warm to my parents. But then Mom was diagnosed with advanced pancreatic cancer about two years after our wedding and passed away within six months. Dad never quite recovered from the shock, passing in his sleep a year later. I would always regret missing those last Christmases and birthdays with them. And while I couldn’t blame Glenn for my failure to protect my time with my parents, I could blame him for expecting me to bounce back from their deaths as if they were just an inconvenience.
At first, I stayed because I was afraid to admit, even to myself, that my marriage was such a mistake. I didn’t love Glenn. He’d strangled any love I’d felt for him with his insecurities and his manipulations. But I was a successful doctor, on my way up the ladder at a major Nashville medical center. Marriages that lasted less than one presidential term were not supposed to happen to women like me. I was ashamed and embarrassed and every other word that expressed world-shaking regret. When Glenn started talking about having children of our own, instead of going all warm and tender at the idea of starting a family, I panicked. I knew I couldn’t be tied to him in that way for the rest of my life. So I made a clean break.
With my parents gone and my friendships damaged, nothing prevented me from moving across the country. I didn’t have enough evidence for a restraining order, so I elected just to disappear. I used computers at the public library to find a new job at a hospital in Tampa and used what was left of my inheritance to set up an apartment there. I filed divorce papers and moved out before Glenn could make it home from a late-night department meeting. I used my own name to start my new life but thought I was being smart by listing a post-office box on bills and accounts. I hoped Glenn would just move on, get bored, find someone else.
As usual, I’d underestimated him. He hacked into my e-mail accounts, no matter how many times I changed the address or password. I had to change my credit-card information and post-office box three times after he managed to buy some nice Jet Skis, a flat-screen TV, and a bass boat on my dime. When I complained to police in our hometown, he told them it was simply a predivorce credit spat and that we were working through it in family court. With me in another state, they were all too happy to let me fend for myself.
And still, I didn’t realize how bad things could get. I’d made the mistake of staying in contact with old friends. They’d been so convinced by my “perfectly happy wife” act that most of them were shocked by the sudden shift. One well-meaning (read: ill-informed and utterly without boundaries) college friend gave Glenn my address, thinking I’d given up on the marriage too quickly and should give him another chance. Having followed me through the lobby of my building and through my front door, he walked right into my new apartment and broke my jaw.
I didn’t know that it was possible to hurt that badly. I could barely crawl to a sitting position as Glenn ranted and raved over me.
After Glenn let me know how much I had hurt him, he told me to wait in the bedroom while he went to fix himself a drink. He was so convinced that I would do it, he just walked out of the room, leaving me right next to a phone, and never even considered that I would use it to call for help. That chapped my butt much later, when I was in my analyze every moment so I can better blame myself phase. He was so sure of his “shock and awe” campaign. He was so sure I would just cower on the carpet. It never occurred to him to take the phone with him.
It wasn’t the first “accident” I’d had around Glenn, but it was the first that I couldn’t treat myself afterward. I called 911, and Glenn—to my shock—stuck around. The paramedics—to Glenn’s shock—didn’t accept his assertion that a fully dressed woman with dry hair fell getting out of the shower, so he was arrested on assault charges. I was a patient in my own hospital for two days, treated to pitying looks from my coworkers as I recovered from a broken jaw, several broken fingers, and internal injuries.
I knew what would happen when he was released. I’d had him arrested. To Glenn, that was unforgivable. When I went to file a restraining order, I found that he had called some online-gaming friend and given him some sob story to convince him to post bail. Glenn skipped town, without regard for his friend’s bail collateral. And when I tried to file the restraining order, I found out that Glenn had been fired from the hospital months before and moved out of our apartment. Other than his birthdate, I had no information with which to file the order, which would make it difficult to serve and enforce. If I wanted to keep this new life I’d started and continue the divorce proceedings, I would have to stay put. Although I couldn’t find a trace of where Glenn might have disappeared to, he would know exactly where I was. And he could come back anytime he wanted. And even if I moved somewhere new and started over, if I wanted to practice medicine, it would be impossible to hide. Hospitals and private practices expected their doctors to post profiles on their Web sites, appear in ads, and have some public presence. Trying to make myself invisible would mean the end of my medical career. Walking away from the divorce proceedings would stall them, giving credence to Glenn’s claims of my mental instability and “cruelty.” But it had to be done.
I’d learned my lesson. I checked myself out of the hospital against doctors’ orders and ran. I sold everything I had, which wasn’t much after Glenn’s playing Russian roulette with my credit rating. I bought fake IDs and a junker car and drove in jagged lines across the country, until anyone Glenn used to find me would be so confused they wouldn’t know where I was heading. I figured Alaska was as far as I could go without having to switch citizenships.
Most people try to use abandonment as a reason to dissolve a marriage. Glenn had used it as a reason to stall the divorce decree, stating that I should be present for the decision. He used the fact that I couldn’t return home to keep me tied to him.
And now, all these years later, Glenn was looking for me again. And I was running. Again.
How long was I going to live this strange, untethered half life? Would I be an eighty-year-old woman working under an assumed name in a bowling alley in Saskatoon, dreading that day my geriatric ex wobbled up to my door on his walker? Would I ever have a home again? Would I ever have a family? I was lucky to have escaped my marriage without a child. At this point in my life, a child, particularly Glenn’s child, would be a liability, a beautiful burden I couldn’t protect or move without worry. But the idea of never having one of my own put a cold, insistent pressure on my heart. I’d delivered so many children to the valley werewolves. Then again, having a baby would mean trusting someone enough to let him see me naked, perhaps even telling him my real name. If I had to wait until I was eighty to do that, it was going to be disappointing on several levels.
Shaking off those depressing thoughts, I shuffled into the bathroom, whacking my ankle against the bed frame. I showered in the surprisingly clean bathtub, hoping the hot water would help unwind the muscles in my back and neck.
After stepping out of the shower onto an improvised washcloth bath mat, I mopped the water from my skin with the thinnest towel this side of cheesecloth. I carefully sorted through Caleb’s bag, praying I wouldn’t find anything else that would set off my weirdo alarm. The gray boxer shorts swamped me, but they kept me from wandering around a strange motel room bottomless.
I shrugged into an old flannel shirt of his, curled back under the covers for warmth, and buried my face in the sleeve of the shirt. I may have looked like I was wearing the latest in refugee chic, but Caleb’s mossy, spicy smell made me feel . . . safe. As safe as I’d felt in a long time, which, considering how little I knew of him, was disconcerting at best.
I glanced down at the soft, well-worn plaid I was wearing. You will not steal this man’s shirt and shorts, I told myself. There are limits.
I was totally stealing Caleb’s shirt and shorts. I’d never slept more comfortably in my life. No dreams of screaming ex-husbands, confusion, and bruises. No dreams of running down the winding halls of the hospital, looking for coding alarms in a patient room, only to find that battered, flatlining patient was me. I didn’t dream at all, and it was lovely.
I woke up hours later to find Caleb reading through a case file from a plastic mobile drawer I’d seen earlier in the back of the truck. Each file was tagged with its own color-coded label and contained newspaper clippings, police reports, and carefully typed notes. Caleb was sitting on the uncomfortable wooden chair, stretching his long legs against the little wood-laminate dinette table. It would have been more comfortable to sit on the bed, but I appreciated that he gave me the space. He’d taken the time to change into a soft blue-and-gray plaid flannel shirt and jeans. I’d seen men in three-thousand-dollar tailored suits who didn’t make their clothes look that good. The lamp behind his head gave his black hair a bluish corona, as if some dark paper-pushing angel had fallen to earth.
Stupid good-looking, confusing werewolves.
He’d glanced over at me every few seconds, in a pattern that took me a minute or two to pin down. Review a page, check on me, review a page, check on me. It was as if he thought I would jump out of bed and launch myself out the window if he read two pages at a time.
I sat up, blinking blearily at him. “You have very neat files.”
“And you have ink on your back.” He grinned at the outraged expression on my face. “I never would have expected that from a girl like you.”
My cheeks flushed as I pulled at the hem of his shirt, covering the dark shapes dancing up my spine. Somewhere in Indiana, I had started getting tattoos, one star for every place I’d lived for more than a few nights. I’d read somewhere that foster kids do that sort of thing, keeping a list of all the families they’ve lived with. For me, it was a galaxy of tiny stars swirling along the ridges of my spine to remind myself of the number of times I’d managed to start over.
I’m not generally a superstitious person, but all this stuff started happening to me less than a week after I added the thirteenth star for McClusky, Alaska.
“Lucky star, my butt,” I muttered, knowing Caleb probably heard me but not really caring.
“I made some calls to Emerson’s and the motel where you were staying,” he said in a faintly bored tone, without looking up from his files. “Belinda is worried about you, and the state police want you for questioning in connection with the explosion in the parking lot. I told her I was your parole officer. She wasn’t surprised, by the way, figured anyone as quiet as you had to have some sort of past. But other than that, she—and the motel clerk—had nice things to say about you. Hard worker, dependable, honest but cagey.”
My cheeks flushed hot. I supposed I should have expected him to check out my story. He was a sort of semi-private-investigator with a secret supernatural lifestyle. The man had trust issues. Still, the recovering wife inside of me resented the intrusion. I didn’t like people checking up on me. Better not to bring it up. Better to ignore it and distract him with something else, avoid an argument.
“What did Belinda mean by ‘cagey’?” I grumbled to myself. “Just because I didn’t blab all of my personal problems doesn’t mean I’m cagey. I thought we were friends.”
Caleb smirked at me.
“I’m discreet,” I told him.
“Rabbit, I know cagey. And trust me, you’re cagey.”
“Hmph. Where were you while I was in my coma?” I asked, wiping at my face, because I was pretty sure I could feel dried drool patches on my cheeks. That was unfortunate, because Caleb was staring at me. Really hard.