He knew things had been tense, of course.

How could he not? It would take an idiot to miss that, and Jake was no idiot. He’d been working long hours; Allie’s days hadn’t been all that much longer, but this was the season for them to be hectic, even crazy; and yet things had piled on so much that between the two of them they’d barely been able to make ends meet. He’d been short, she’d been shrill; afterwards, they’d always made up, told each other that things would be better once life settled down, but it was so draining that things just hadn’t settled down.

That sort of strain would wear on anyone, and they were both only human. They’d tried to compensate, to keep some gentle contact between each other, though neither of them had often been in the mood for anything intimate and only very rarely had those urges been lined up together. Still, Jake had tried – tried, when her fingers drifted over him, to summon some of that passion that had first brought them together, even when all he wanted to do was roll over and sleep. It hadn’t made for his best performance, of course, but he wanted to show he was willing to work to make this stay together.

Her job had settled for some weeks now, but his had kept going, bouncing between shifts so much it was sometimes hard to keep track of what day it was, never mind what time. And every time he’d stomped off to work with the last words of an argument following him out the door, or turned away from her touch, or missed something she said, the guilt had twisted his stomach into a knot. He’d apologized, and tried to do little things to make up for those times, but of course she was frustrated that it kept going on; so was he. Twice now he’d thought there was an end in sight, only for it to turn out to be the eye of a storm.

But now, finally, everything had come together. A four-day weekend, a big bonus in the bank, a return to regular hours – they’d got through it, at long last. On the way home from work, he stopped at two stores – the florist he left for last; before that, he picked up something more intimate – and from one to the other, he got on the phone to Vicky’s and reserved a table for two. A dinner out at a nice, classy restaurant – that was what they needed. Let someone else do the domestic work for once.

So, with two dozen roses carefully balanced in the crook of one arm and the afternoon’s other treasures tucked into his satchel, he made his way up two flights to their floor, fifth door on the left to their apartment, and let himself in.

“Oh, honey?” he called, turning to lock the door behind him. “I’ve got good news today – and a surprise I think you’ll just love.”

He was answered by silence – thick, horrifying silence.



She wasn’t in the kitchen. Nor was she taking a nap in the bedroom. She definitely wasn’t in the living room. Nor was the TV they’d got just before things went sour, subject of many arguments since. Nor the computer. In fact, a number of small things were gone.

What there was, was a paper on the coffee table. Don’t even try calling. -Allie

Numb, Jake sank onto the couch, hardly noticing the thorns jabbing into his palm.