Annabelle is visited by a man she used to create memories with. He can’t let go, and might just let her secret slip if she doesn’t give him what he wants.
Don’t dig under the freesia.
A Shadow from the Past
by Gabriel Merithew
The shadow appeared outside the window at half-past seven. The sun, scared away by the sinister December chill, had long since retreated behind the hills, leaving the neighborhood of Somerset in thick and lonely darkness. Little Joey screamed at the sight of the towering shadow, but upon its illumination under the porch-lamp moments later, it was merely a man. Angus answered the door after the second ring. Usually, it was unbecoming for the man of the house to leave the table mid-meal, but the visitor seemed persistent and there had been an empty silence around the table anyway that Angus had been all too happy to break.
The two men spoke in polite tones at the door and it wasn’t long before the stranger was ushered in kindly and made to sit down at the table. A plate and two sizes of silver fork were delivered to his placemat a moment later by Little Joey, still a bit pink in the face. But the stranger had thanked him kindly, then looked up and thanked the rest of his hosts in similarly warm tones. Annabelle could only smile and pretend that all was well as her husband asked their guest how he knew her. “So you were at the university with my Annabelle? To my recollection, she never did mention a ‘Thomas’.”
“Uh, yes. Annabelle and I had several classes together.” Thomas spoke nervously as he loaded up his plate with a sizable dollop of mashed potatoes just to have something to do with his hands.
“One or two classes.” Annabelle corrected, still sporting her most convincing smile that she could never quite get to reach her eyes. “It is so great to s…”
“A Cambridge man!” Angus interrupted, seemingly unaware that his wife had spoken at all. “Very nice. Very nice. I’m an Oxford man myself, but I’m not prejudiced. No sir.”
After an undignified pause that Thomas justified by shoveling mashed potatoes into his mouth, he spoke again but this time chose his words more carefully. “I am sorry to interrupt your evening at such short notice. I had no plans to visit tonight, but I found myself in the area and remembered Annabelle lived here. If I remember correctly, this had been your parent’s house back in the day, Annabelle? Anyway, I thought it was worth a look. I enjoy reconnecting with old… friends.”
“Yes, well it is nice to see you again.” Annabelle continued smiling, her cheeks beginning to ache with the deliberate effort. A light glistening of sweat was beginning to appear on her brow.
The meal passed at a torturously slow rate. The ornate clock high on the wall behind Thomas’s high-backed chair seemed to taunt Annabelle, and she glanced up at it often, willing the hands to just move a bit faster. Angus was the only one who seemed even remotely comfortable in this hostile setting. Though, granted, he could be comfortable just about anywhere. He managed to keep the conversation lively by interrogating Thomas on his schooling, never bothering to try and include Annabelle who began to inadvertently exchange tiny glances across the table at Thomas. But when the men had retreated into the parlor, Angus nearly pushing Thomas along in front of him while he kindly protested, Annabelle and Little Joey were left to deal with the disheartening aftermath of the meal. It wasn’t the mess that disheartened Annabelle however, she left Little Joey alone and without a word moved quietly down the hall towards the parlor. Her heart was pounding violently in her chest. She didn’t know what Thomas wanted, but simply learning he was still alive had thrust her into a state of danger she’d been dreading ever since leaving the university.
Annabelle sat on the edge of her black leather sofa in the room that shared a wall with the parlor, holding a book open in front of her but not taking in a word. She was listening for any signal that would warrant her to cause a loud and immediate interruption of the two men’s conversation. From the clinks of crystal glasses and the trickles of scotch being poured, she knew that much was being drunk, but as usual, the consumption must’ve been dominated by her husband, who continued to dodge polite requests from Thomas that the conversation be over. It wasn’t until Thomas insisted in a falsely good-natured voice that he have a private word with Annabelle that Angus fell silent as if remembering that it wasn’t just the two of them in the house. After a moment, he regained his pompous composure, agreed heartily to the terms, and swept from the room to fetch Annabelle who had already darted from her eavesdropping nook and was now walking calmly towards her husband from the direction of the kitchen.
“Annabelle! Your old friend Thomas would like a word with you.” It was as if Angus was under the impression that his wife wasn’t aware of their guest, but he was also beginning to slur his words. “He’s in the parlor, my dear.”
Annabelle flashed her fake smile briefly at her husband as she passed, but she avoided his gaze.
Upon entering the parlor and locking eyes for the first time with her old lover, the room seemed to grow cold and a dreadful chill sent shivers down Annabelle’s spine. Her false smile had vanished completely. “What are you doing here, Thomas?”
Thomas stared at her from his chair, his legs crossed and arms spread wide on the plush armrests. In one hand he held a nearly full scotch and in the other a Cuban cigar that wasn’t yet lit. Annabelle couldn’t imagine why he looked so peaceful all of a sudden and was caught off guard when she saw a slight smile raise the corners of his mouth.
“I miss you, Annabelle.” He said simply, still looking her directly in the eye. And the way he said it suggested an honesty that was both unexpected and completely terrifying.
Annabelle glanced behind her to ensure that neither her husband nor son was standing in the doorway. No one was there, but she moved quickly over to the door and shut it anyway, leaving her alone with him for the first time in years. “Why are you here?” She repeated, her tone poorly disguising the urgent edge to her voice. “You shouldn’t be here.”
“Do you remember…” Said Thomas, extricating himself from his armchair and turning his back on Annabelle to look out the window into the night. “How great we were together?”
“What did you do Thomas?” Annabelle said quietly.
Thomas turned and looked at her once more. His smile widened and his voice dripped with honey. “You know why I’m here, don’t you?”
“You didn’t tell anyone!” It was more of a statement than a question, and Annabelle wanted nothing more than to believe it.
“No… Not yet anyway.”
“I thought we ended it on good terms and now you’re showing up at my home? It’s been five years, Tom. Five years! You’re out of your fucking mind!”
“Maybe,” Thomas said softly. “Love makes us do silly things sometimes, doesn’t it?”
“Love? What do you mean, love!” Rage began to bubble up in Annabelle’s chest, but she kept her voice low for fear of being heard by anyone who might have been standing outside. “We never ever loved each other! You lusted after me and I fucked you out of pity! Pity!… And I regret it.”
Thomas’s smile vanished in an instant and he flew across the room, stopping only when he was inches from Annabelle, staring down at her, his face reddening. “You love me! You just don’t know it yet.”
And then as immediately as he’d snapped, Thomas relaxed completely and the same sly smile crept back onto his face.
“I’m going to go down into town,” He said calmly, turning his back to her once more and meandering back across the room, taking in the mahogany bookshelves laden with a diverse collection of expensive works. “And I’m going to take an evening stroll with a local Bobby down to the Somerset Greenhouse.”
But Thomas continued, unfazed. “And maybe we’ll pick those lovely freesia… Maybe all of them… and see what lies beneath.”
“But!” Thomas raised his voice and held up a finger. His sinister smile reflected ominously in the window. “If you would simply admit that you love me…”
“You promised!” Annabelle hissed at him, her fists clenched tightly at her sides. She would have to talk him down quickly before things got even more out of hand. “As did I! And by God, I’ve kept my promise! You would surrender?! After keeping our secret for so long?!”
“There is no need for promises to be broken this evening,” Thomas spoke slowly and deliberately as if his words were light taps on the trigger of a gun he did not yet wish to fire. “I’m going to leave now. If you wish to avoid a life in prison, I suggest you admit the truth… We’d be happy together, you know. I can make you happy. Come with me… Come with me tonight.”
His voice trailed off. He continued to stand there holding his scotch that was now a little less full, not by consumption but likely due to his momentary loss of control.
Annabelle realized that she was breathing quite hard and grinding her teeth. But she didn’t have to force herself to regain control. Numbness was taking over.
Once in the presence of Angus and Little Joey again, Thomas seemed to revert to the nervous and apologetic man he’d been during dinner. The falsely cheerful goodbyes lasted much too long, but eventually, Thomas walked briskly out the front door and it closed behind him.
Angus retreated back to the parlor for another scotch before bedtime and Little Joey returned contentedly to a colorful pile of toys on the living room floor. And Annabelle stood there, staring at the door. Not daring to move and terrified of what it would mean if she did. After an eternity, she took a deep breath, turned around, and walked calmly to the kitchen. She’d made her mind up and there was no going back now. It was the only way.
From the kitchen counter, she picked up a sizable bread knife and slid it carefully into her shirt sleeve. Without looking back, without another glance at her husband and son, she walked purposefully out the front door and was enveloped by the night.