The Cost Of Her Jewels

     Growing up, Natasha’s parents seemingly had an average marriage. She was used to her father’s disappearance from the house for days at a time. Loud noises coming from her parents’ bedroom some nights seemed normal because things between them looked fine the next morning. Recollections of childhood events were foggy, making it easier to ignore reality. If her mother was unhappy she hid it well. As Natasha got older, she realized there were challenges in her parents’ relationship. They refused admission of instability, choosing to stay together for the sake of family. Her mother was a traditional wife, unable to accept anything that threatened the family’s well-being. Over the course of several years, the father withdrew from family activities. Last-minute cancellations became more frequent, as did excuses. She kept hoping for change until he missed her high school graduation ceremony. It was the last time he called to offer an excuse; she stopped taking his calls after that day and hadn’t heard from him since. Emotional baggage carried well into adulthood. Natasha dealt with it the best way she knew how, like everything else: pushing it down. She loved him with all his faults. Giving preference to internalizing the hurt she was experiencing at the time, she saved it in a place where no one could see the agony brought by his departure.

     Those who loved Natasha described her as sweet, good-natured and determined. She always saw the good in people—sometimes to the point of ignoring serious character flaws. She didn’t believe when people exposed themselves for who they really were. She preferred to focus on a potential of who they could be eventually. It was admirable yet naïve, getting her into trouble when overlooking the dangers of trusting too much. She was a fighter hustling to make things happen and early on in her adult life she decided to carve her own path to success. She was recruited by one of the most reputable firms on Wall Street almost immediately after attending Wharton School of Business. It was an offer she couldn’t refuse with a generous compensation package. The new banker on the block had a leg up to an affluent life. Humble beginnings inspired her to work harder than the rest. She never made excuses or allowed barriers distancing her from her goals. Dedicating any free time to the job that would help her rise to the next level was always a priority. Natasha perceived that she had all the time she needed, until she woke up on her 35th birthday bewildered at the life she had created for herself. She thought about it and discovered her perceptions weren’t quite true. Unfortunately, months of overtime turned into years at the office with no personal life. Placing career ahead of starting a family set her back. Time was getting away without experiencing life, love, heartbreak or any connection, and now her biological clock was ticking. Recently reuniting with girlfriends celebrating weddings and births, conversations at the gatherings forced her to examine life to figure out what she truly wanted. Reality was unfolding like a movie while she stood frozen in time like a still picture. The time had come to make some changes.

     New York City offered plenty of opportunities to mingle in the most upscale of social circles. There were no problems meeting eligible men in town. The only barrier between her and romance was time. Up to now, investing in anything other than work took energy. That was until a Wednesday night in June. One phone call changed everything. It rang several times before answering.

     “What’s up Adrianna?” Natasha said, answering the phone. “Girl, so good to hear from you! I know it’s been a while” I barely have time for anything other than work these days. I’m afraid of becoming the lady who lived down the street from our first apartment in the city – the one with the half-dozen cats!”

     “Hi love. Things are good. Doing what I can to stay sane. Work is work. I’d rather be happy, life’s too short for all that!” Adrianna said, expressing what Natasha had recently started to realize about her life. “Don’t worry I’d visit you even with all the cats!”

     “So, what’s new and exciting?”

     “Well, have a favor to ask.” Adrianna paused. “Can you join Ray and me for dinner with a client tonight at 7pm? We’ll go to Tutto IL Giorno—your favorite restaurant to help entice you. I know what you’ll say – DON’T! The guy’s name is Matt Clay. He is handsome, intelligent, driven like you. Does quite well for himself too! It’s a win-win… Now you have to come! See you there!” Adrianna said before giving her friend a chance to decline.

     “Hmmm – if he’s such a great catch then why isn’t he taken? What’s wrong with him? Lots of fish in the sea but I’m waiting for a great white shark! This Clay guy is probably a guppy. Besides, I have so much reading to catch up on, tonight.” Natasha thought it over for a second. “Ugh, I’ll do it – you owe me big time, though!”

     They busted out in laughter as she caved in to her best friend’s invitation, like Adrianna knew she would. Hurrying to get ready, she rushed out of the office after their chat. Natasha didn’t have a checklist for the perfect mate, as most modern women did. She barely had any dating experiencing, which offered no point of reference. It would be a clean slate for whoever was ready to take her on as a challenge.

     She arrived at the restaurant few minutes after 7:00pm, finding the group in a sea of people by the packed bar. A brief introduction was made before the unknown guest pulled out a seat for her; occupying the space beside him. They locked eyes, a spark instantly igniting. Intensity in his dark stare shook Natasha to the core. She didn’t let anyone see the little girl inside jump for joy at the vision of the man in front of her. She thanked Mr. Clay in a soft whisper, reciprocating his courtesy. Meanwhile, all she wanted to do was scream “He is all that and a tall drink of water!” but she kept comments to herself. The mutual attraction was undeniable. Adrianna smiled as she watched her friend’s admiration for the Adonis at the table. His olive skin and salt-n-pepper hair accompanied by a chiseled physique got Natasha’s attention. His presence exuded confidence that could be seen by everyone in the room. Conversation at the table remained light and fun, and the banter between them was delightful. The back and forth remarks shared were sizzling whether listening or participating.  Anyone could see there was more to come from those two. Also, it was the first time business did not dominate dialogue. She was relieved to take off the professional mask, fully enjoying his company. She didn’t want the night to end. Dinner went into the wee hours despite everyone having to work the next day.

     Ray and Adrianna said their goodbyes and exited the restaurant. They quickly hopped in an Uber leaving their friends to share a private moment before parting ways.

     Mr. Clay: It was a pleasure to meet you, Natasha. I hope you do me the honor of a proper date, next time.

     “Great meeting you, Mr. Clay,” Natasha said in a coy, yet playful tone. “Thank you for a lovely evening. I must say, you are an enigma.”

     “Mr. Clay? I admit, I like the way you say my name with such formality. So, you think I’m an enigma? I guess we’ll have to go out again. It might help you figure out the pieces of the puzzle that is me.” Mr. Clay smiled.

     “That remains to be seen. You’re welcome to call my office to ask for a proper date – if you can find my number.” She thought her sassy response would create a reaction but it wasn’t the one she imagined.

     He put her in a taxi but not before a gentle peck on the cheek. She didn’t know what to make of the moment. Her uncertainty about how to read him added to her fascination. It had been some time since her last date but gauging interest was never an issue – until now. The flirtatious interactions lead her to think he would pursue. Patiently, she’d wait for him to make the first move.

     A week on the fast track filled with deadlines didn’t allow time for distractions, but she was unable to concentrate on any task that week. Losing focus was such a surprise for her. He was taking a bit too much mindspace, which was disconcerting. Five days had gone by since their meeting and no word from him yet. Her anxiety to speak with him again was stronger than her willpower. The intrigue was powerful, creating a thrill not felt before and stirring up feelings she had not allowed herself to feel. This vulnerability felt unfamiliar. She no longer wanted loneliness filling up her nights. So she had to be proactive – initiate contact. Make the first move! She gave into her ego and called Adrianna to get Mr. Clay’s number from Ray. It seemed like an easier way to gain control of the situation instead of sitting on the sidelines, waiting for a phone to ring.

     Natasha sat in her office on Thursday afternoon, strategizing about when to call his office. As she pondered this, a call came through to her line. She picked up after the second ring to a man’s voice, it was Mr. Clay!

     “How are you, pretty face? Did you think of me this week?” The only thing going through her head in that moment was, “Why did take this long to call? Hard to believe you are that busy!” The seconds it took to respond to his hello felt like minutes. She didn’t want him assuming the call dropped off.

     Carefully, she tried to craft a response but all she could muster up was “Hello! Mr. Clay, I’m well and you? I started to think your resourcefulness had limits, hindering you from finding my number.”

     He chuckled at the witty response, proceeding to ask her out to dinner that night. She didn’t want to seem too eager or available. She held back a response until he threw in a comment about having to travel to London the following week for business. Consequently, he told her he would have a car pick her up at the office around 7pm for their date.

     The car took her to a cozy restaurant on the east side of town. The New York scene was usually busy Thursday nights. This restaurant had plenty of privacy for them to have quiet conversation. She was happy to see he was already waiting when she arrived. Noticeably nervous, he held her hand when greeting her at the table. His large, warm hands brought a sense of comfort after coming in from the cold outside and a long day at the office. She collected herself long enough to admire the restaurant’s rustic and warm décor. It was a beautiful setting, hard to ignore the details. Dim lighting came from the antique copper sconce light fixtures, promoting a romantic ambience. They sat at a table in front of an exposed red brick wall, completing the inviting atmosphere. The waiter poured a tasting from a bottle of 1995 Antinori Tignanello. Mr. Clay nodded in satisfaction nodding for the waiter to go ahead with their wine. Everything seemed perfect about him. They engaged in long talks about career, life and family. It was going well until he began to show discomfort when asked about his father. This struck Natasha’s curiosity but she didn’t want to pry. Besides, living in the moment was much more fun right now. They shared an appreciation for similar interests in music, movies and books, giving them a lot to talk about. Stories of his extensive travels around the globe gave her a peek into all the things he had lived. He brought a different perspective of the world and people which she found very attractive. Mr. Clay was witty, successful and sophisticated without being arrogant. She liked how the evening was going but wondering when they’d order their meals. She hadn’t had anything to eat since lunch. Not thinking it would be rude to ask she called this to his attention. She asked him if it was possible for them to order as she was famished. To her surprise he had placed an order for both of them which took her by surprise. It was presumptuous of him to place her order without asking what she wanted. They were on their first date.  Being that they just met he didn’t know if there were allergies to worry about or if she had preferences His insistence that she’d be happy with anything on the menu because the food was incredible was an imposition that made her slightly uncomfortable, but she obliged. Gentleman with manners, he excused himself from the table to check on their food. She noticed the waiter’s dismay as he approached him about dinner. . Mr. Clay had been gone several minutes. It felt a bit rude but she patiently waited for her food and his return to the table. Meanwhile, she checked work emails to ensure nothing had come up while at dinner. He rushed back to the table and grabbed her phone playfully. Seeing her upset by his action, he quickly returned the phone to her with an expression on his face full of regret. He sat down but not before planting a kiss on her forehead with an apology that melted her.

     “I didn’t mean to upset you pretty face, I’m sorry. I was being frisky didn’t realize I was going too far. Forgive me?” Knowing that at times she could be overly sensitive she let it go. The rest of the night made up for the awkward moment.

     Busy schedules made dating challenging, but months into their relationship they found ways to spend quality time together. He was juggling a heavy travel schedule and work dinners while she was rearranging her life to suit his availability. He could always find the right words to get her to do whatever he desired. She was just happy to see him. A demanding career in the financial industry didn’t leave him with much free time. He dedicated pockets of his schedule to taking her on romantic rendezvous showing her what it was like the one-percent. An overnight trip to Puerto Rico on the company jet was one of the many romantic gestures that he pulled out of his bag of tricks. Spending the night on a Caribbean Island and returning the next morning with a team of people dedicated to fulfill your every whim. Their dates were wonderful, making her feel more special each time. Brilliantly, he planned the most romantic rendezvous to the smallest detail. The relationship was easy, no thinking involved because he always took care of things. Her only qualm was that all her time was committed to being with him, leaving no time for self or others. It was a difficult aspect of their relationship and made her feel like her world revolved around him and work. It was the price she paid for being with him.

     The weekend was around the corner when she received an unusual text from him. He asked her to pack an overnight bag and wait for further instructions later that evening. She didn’t know what to make of the message but followed through on request to grab some clothes. Six months of dating now, she didn’t fear for her safety despite her issues with controlling behavior. . She felt safe enough to go along with the intriguing mystery game. Hours dragged while waiting for his next message. Finally, she heard back from him around 8 o’clock, telling her to come downstairs with her things. He showed up in a rental to surprise her with a drive up to his condo in Vermont. She jumped into the SUV excited to see him and threw her body against his to kiss him hello but felt a chill. The tense look on his face was intimidating and discouraged her from initiating any conversation that would interrupt his thoughts. Concern made her ask if there was something wrong. Is it possible she’d done something to upset him?

     He was short with her unlike any other time. Obviously irritated by the question but briefly responded, “Natasha, can we please not talk right now? The fund lost $20 million in redemptions today. Do you have any idea how much money that is – can you understand why I’m not in the mood for nonsense?” The five hour trip was spent in uncomfortable silence.

     The next day she woke up to breakfast in bed and ski lift tickets. He got out of bed early to surprise her with French crepes and cappuccino. The flowers on the nightstand were just as much of a surprise. A note expressed a heartfelt apology for the previous night. It was good enough to excuse the bad moment, not allowing it to ruin their trip. No harm had been done; obviously he was feeling terrible about his words. The ski weekend was magical, helping her to forgive his odd behavior for now. Instinctively, she knew something was off-kilter. She was certainly not deserving of his nastiness but things had been going well. Everyone is entitled to a stressful day, she thought.

     Months zoomed by without her seeing her friends. Juggling a career and new relationship was still all-consuming. Finally, she decided there was much-needed girl time to be had with her circle. They met for Sunday brunch at BG Restaurant and had an afternoon tea together at Bergdorf, followed by shopping. It was just what the doctor ordered. Natasha, the queen of the hour, was the last one to arrive. Everyone was glad to see her. It had been some time which summoned a list of questions. She was glowing, they couldn’t recall a time she looked this happy.

     Adrianna was the first to ask, “So, is it serious – is he the one. Are you in love?” Dreamy as he is, Natasha thought she needed some time to find out his back story. On paper, he looked perfect, almost too good to true. He was kind, generous to a fault during their time together. All her needs were being met except wanting to know about his childhood. He spoke highly of his mother. Without question, she had been a strong influence in his life. When asked about his father he remained reserved. The distress displayed anytime the subject of his father came up, worried her at times. One night at dinner, she asked about him and noticed uneasiness. His jaw stiffened producing an unwilling sinister grin, which made her to never again ask that question. She didn’t want a repeat of that night. There was so much good in him she wanted people to know but she could never share the reservations she had about their relationship.

     The girls were pleased about the new love in her life. Hopes were high that she would be next in line to get hitched. All her friends had already taken a walk down the aisle. They were excited to see how the story unfolded for Natasha and Mr. Clay.

     The first year courtship was a love fest full of adventure. His business was doing well and she was thriving at work. Good days were rolling in plenty of cash at the fund. Everything was falling into place for them until he received word of a bad trade. One of his guys made a bad call that caused the firm to lose more money than it could afford. Natasha did not hear from him all day. He called with an eerie tone in his voice that left her concerned. It was similar to the sound of his voice that night in the car on way up to Vermont last year. He shared details about the day and expressed his wish to see her. She didn’t think it was a good night for a visit but could not disappoint. Following their call, she rushed over to his place hoping to comfort him. A short Uber ride later, Natasha was at his door. He opened it, looking disheveled and barely saying hello when she walked into the apartment. He did an about-face and walked towards the bar with a scotch glass in hand. This unusual demeanor alarmed her.

     They’d been having months of blissful moments. She had to say something to try to make him feel better. “Babe, I know you’re upset. What can I do for you? You will make the money back in no time!” At this, he rushed towards her, shoving her body against the wall.

     “Shut your mouth!” His rage was unbelievable. She painfully listened to his insulting words. “Natasha, you have no idea what it takes to stay in the game. You think it’s easy to make this type of money? You enjoy the lifestyle it offers without any thought to the effort I put in to make all this happen.” It was immediately evident to both that the moment could not be taken back. Despite what happened, she made her eyes show compassion and love. She thought she knew who he was – until now. Her fear was heartbreaking. Feeling regret, he turned and rushed to her side for comfort. His words were convincing “Pretty face, I’m sorry I lost my temper. I don’t know what came over me. I have so much stress at work. You are the only thing that keeps me going. I’d never hurt you. I love you.” He won that night, the love and loyalty she felt for him overpowered her desire to run.

     “I love you too. I know you have a lot of pressure. I wanted to help to not make you angry,” she whispered. He pulled her closer to him. His scent was sexy, drawing her in closer despite trepidation. He wrapped his hands around her. Unable to get away from his passion, she instead gave into it, making her tremble. Their moments together fueled life into her body. She wasn’t ready to give up on their love story.

     It had been an emotional and exhausting night with Mr. Clay. The next morning, she woke up in his bed shocked by the time. Lateness was one of her boss’ pet peeves. Something he did not need to worry about because he was his own boss. She rushed out of the room in panic, shouting, “Babe, why didn’t wake me up? You had time to make this amazing breakfast and couldn’t think to get me out of bed? I have to get to work. My boss will kill me!” He assured her everything was fine. He sent an email to her boss from her phone letting him know she wouldn’t be in due to illness. Natasha was not accustomed to missing work, lying even less. Her patience was running thin. Taking the liberty to grab her phone and email her job was unacceptable but after the night they had, starting another argument would be exhausting. He insisted she sit down for breakfast, enjoy their time together as they now both had day off.

     Shortly after, the doorbell rang and a gentleman in a suit was let into their place. Mr. Clay greeted him with a warm handshake as if they knew each other well. They all sat at the table, the gentlemen placed an attaché case with a black leather box that had the initials HW on it. The man excused himself momentarily to allow the couple a few moments alone. She had no idea what was happening and didn’t want to get ahead of herself. She asked “My love, what is going on here?” On bended knee he opened the box in front of her. The Harry Winston display box contained The One-Cushion Cut Micro pave ring. She screamed, “Babe? What are you saying?” He let out a sigh before she let him get a word in edgewise. In a calm and sincere tone he took a deep breath before then said, “Pretty face, you make my life better. You give me something I’ve never felt before, serenity. I’ve never loved anyone until you. Would you do me the honor of making me feel this way, every day for the rest of my life? I’d be luckiest man. Say, yes.” He placed the stunning ring on her finger before she could say a word. Emotions ran high that day, calls to everyone announcing the engagement. It was all a blur erasing any bad moments taking place before he asked her to marry him. Now to plan the joyous occasion!

     Preparations were on the way for the adored couple. They spent the last 6 months happily in sync at home and work. Business continued to remain lucrative, helping him feel at ease. She was busy working towards a promotion. Planning their wedding was all she talked about to friends, family and anyone that would listen!  Finally the details were coming together with little time to think about reality. In the blink of an eye the big day was hours away. A couple of nights prior to the wedding, Mr. Clay insisted on taking his fiancée out for one more dinner as an unmarried woman. Her mother was in the city from Connecticut but encouraged her daughter to celebrate a romantic dinner with the dashing groom-to-be. A car was waiting to meet her love. He had a private room set up at their favorite restaurant. She entered the space decorated in white candles, white linens and dozens of long stem red roses. There he was sitting at table with dinner set for two and champagne on ice. Ecstatic to see him, she rushed to greet him. They shared a great meal flirting every minute spent together. Afterwards, they returned to his place, which was the usual practice. The cozy ambience helped to complete the perfect date night. It had been a while since she last saw him in a cranky mood. There was so much good fortune allowing her the confidence to finally ask about his father. Besides, she was marrying in less than two days. It was only fair asking to know more about his family.

     She approached him as he stood by the bar, ready to pour drinks. She stopped in front of him whispering, “Babe, you are the love of my life. I can’t believe in less than 48 hours, I’ll be Mrs. Clay. I want to know everything about you.” She paused for a moment. “Sometimes, I feel like there are things you don’t want to discuss like your father. Who is he? Why we never talk about him. Your entire family is attending the wedding but you’ve never mentioned him. Why?”

     In that moment, his eyes reflected an intensity and depth she had seen before. He slammed his scotch glass across the room. The shattered pieces scattered everywhere. Before she had a chance to run away, he grabbed and slammed her across the room with the force of turbulent winds. She crashed against a foyer table, just missing a glass vase sitting on the coffee table. She was frozen in pain and astonishment while he blasted her.

     “Natasha, why did you have to ask about that man? He is not a factor in our family’s life, nor will he ever be. Don’t’ ask about him again! You hear me? Why do you have to make me angry? I don’t like feeling this rage. He made me this way – I hate him for it! And I hate what he did to my mother! I will never forgive him.” He broke down in tears, allowing her the chance to flee the apartment. Horrified by his actions she ran down the nearest staircase and didn’t return.

     The silence over the next 36 hours was excruciating. There was no way to rationalize any of it. He was persistently calling every number he could to find her. A wedding gift addressed to her had been delivered earlier that morning. He sent his bride a brilliant Cartier Diamond Tennis Necklace with a card. “Pretty face, I deeply regret what I’ve done to you. I promise to never hurt you again. I’m nothing without you. I will spend the rest of my life honoring you. Please don’t leave me. Marry me. I will be waiting for you at the altar.”  

     Wearing a shade of sadness in her eyes, she stares outside to lush green gardens during a summer afternoon while visualizing the moment they’d exchange “I do’s. As the wedding day approached, anxiety increasingly grew for Natasha. Each detail meticulously arranged, creating the perfect of nuptials taking place the 26th day of August. She chose a hand-beaded, ivory-colored Pnina Tornai bridal gown. A single red rose from an exquisite bouquet, an official wedding photograph and a cake topper completed the preparations. All of these items and more were to be preserved for their keepsake box–a traditional time capsule that would commemorate the day. The bride and groom prepared to take center stage. Onlookers ready to witness the couple profess eternal love and devotion. She planned for everything except the events that had led up to that day.

     She cried incessantly, feeling like the most unlucky woman in love. A wedding that was hours away with no one knowing about the ordeal and everyone expecting it to take place. She suffered in silence, wrestling with the thought of marrying this man or leaving him forever. She knew him as one of the sweetest, most thoughtful human beings she’d ever met. Someone loving, intelligent and giving, but he had a dark side. Many described him as the perfect man but who would be waiting at the altar – Dr. Jekyll or Mr. Hyde? Standing in front of a mirror was a bride in a beautiful gown. On the outside she was flawless, a woman who had everything. But when she looked deep within, past the dress and jewels, all she felt was shame. The red marks beneath the dress had turned into black and blue bruises. In a week or two they’d fade into yellow or green. She knew this from experience. The evidence would eventually disappear, but the emotional and psychological trauma caused by the invisible scars would reach greater depths of her soul than anything else. He branded her a victim, leaving her in a state of vulnerability. The abuse caused her to question who she was with him but worse, who was she without the man she loved.

     Guests were in place at the church. Everyone was wearing a smile as they waited for the bride to walk down the aisle on this beautiful sunny day. Mr. Clay impatiently looked around art all those sitting in the pews. Natasha paused outside waiting for the sounds of a wedding march. She recalled her mother’s sadness and her own the day her father left to never return. Disappointment and heartbreak lived with them for a long time. She never truly recovered from his departure. He left her with a bunch of unanswered questions that her mother refused to answer. She always wondered why they didn’t try harder to the make marriage work. Unwilling to repeat history on that day, Natasha surprisingly walked down the aisle wearing the pain of diamonds on her neck. By dimming her light to spotlight someone else’s, she relinquished her power and self-worth. The colors underneath the dress would fade in time, but the sacrifice made would remain far beyond their wedding day.

     It had been months since the celebration of their nuptials. Her new life had begun without incident. After a day of long meetings at the office, she walked upstairs wearily. The white French doors that lead to her bedroom had been left wide open. A summer breeze and late sunset offered a sense of calm when entering the safe haven. Almost anyone would be elated with the accomplishments surrounding her, but that was far from her truth. A shadow cast over her like a dark cloud creeping into town in advance of a ferocious storm. Well aware that he was due to arrive from his workday shortly after, she took a deep breath, absorbing the world around her, then let out a sigh of relief as she knew she had some time before dinner. The walk-in closet was dressed in all white. An ornate luxurious chandelier hung over the glass top island displaying her most prized possessions. She owned several beautiful pieces varying in size, color and value. Each jewel was his reward to her for her suffering, forgiving his indiscretions. The gifts meant much more to Natasha. They represented the scars of war. Her love for him was stronger than the wounds he imprinted on her soul and flesh. The pain broke her spirit but not the loyalty she felt for the man she loved. She sat in her luxurious closet drenched in tears from feeling overwhelmed by the fear of what tonight would hold for her.

     Each day she woke up wondering if it would be her last. Who would win the battle today: courage or rage? There were two obvious choices, neither of which would give a happy ending. Some might argue that taking your life back is a victory all in itself. Her first choice was to be fearless. Walk away from a life that no longer offered safety. Feeling physically secure with the one you love, isn’t that a basic requirement – a necessity in a relationship? She was a stunning and well-educated woman who was able to provide for herself, so why not leave? If financial security was not an issue at this point in her life, why stay? The chatter had spread all over the quaint but exclusive Connecticut town. Everyone knew what went on in the house on Baywater Drive. The screaming matches followed by sounds of shattered glass behind closed doors, only to then witness a loving display of goodbyes in the next morning as the two went off to work.

     The second choice was rage, acting on years of suppressed emotion that she had let out in alternative ways. Natasha’s Botticelli-esque figure was mesmerizing to the naked eye. She carried her medium stature and strength in beautiful form. She had been taking boxing lessons for years strengthening the core of her mind and body while remaining mild-mannered. Forever poised with grace despite the aggressive sport she practiced, it was hard to imagine she could be anything but a lady. Those that met her could never forget such classic beauty.

     The minutes on the clock that sat at the bedside table seemed to be moving quicker than usual. She could hear the palpitations like a stopwatch in her heart. Would Mr. Clay show up, holding a bottle of her favorite wine with flowers? Or gift her an exquisite piece of jewelry to add to the collection of painful lacerations? She had not heard from him all day, which was usually a sign of a stressful day. He didn’t do well with bad days where he lost money to the market. The Dow Jones was a thermometer indicative of the type of evening to expect. The picturesque sunset was ominous that day, as if the universe knew the inevitable was about to take place. Darkness slowly fell on the windows of 26 Baywater Drive, giving the night a blue hue. She walked over from her closet to the bedroom terrace, blinded by the glare of the spotlights on his car. His arrival was quiet until the turning of the key at the main entrance. She heard his firm footsteps getting closer and closer. Her faith was unwavering as she closed her eyes praying tonight would be different. She was hesitant while taking steps towards the door but swiftly running after hearing a loud “Thump!” The sound outside the bedroom door was deafening. His ear-piercing cry echoed the halls of the home.

     “Natasha, help me! My chest feels tight, I can’t breathe. Call 9-1-1!!” She watched from atop the stairs, as his body collapsed while holding a red Cartier box. Mr. Clay laid motionless mid-staircase; he would not be awarding Natasha her jewel on this night. She never made a phone call that night and never looked back on the choice to save herself.

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