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  Just Breathe chapter 2
By Rakefet Sadan

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Annabel got out of the elevator and headed towards her car. She held her bag so tight, her knuckles were turning white. Her body was frozen as she tried to move faster and get out of the dark parking lot. She paved her way trough the parked cars, frustrated by the long way she had to walk to reach her car. I should have parked outside…she thought, kicking herself for ever thinking about being alone in that parking lot so late at night. A sound of a passing car on the top floor made her jump out of fear and she stood up for a minute just catching her breath. "Come on, Annabel, just a few more steps" she whispered to herself, trying to fight the overwhelming sense of danger. When she finally saw her white car parking to her right, she let out a breath of relief and instantly reached for her keys. Then a sudden sound of footsteps behind her made her freeze in terror. Her heart was pounding wildly as she turned her head and tried to locate the origin of the sound. "Is anybody there?" she asked in a shaky voice but there was no reply. Her words echoed a few times in the quiet hall, then the sound stopped. I have to get out of here…where are those damn keys?…she thought when a man’s voice spoke behind her.
"God, You are beautiful…"

The unfamiliar voice caught her by surprise and she instantly turned around, her eyes filled with fear and anxiety. A strange muscular man was standing behind her with his two hands crossed on his chest and a wicked smile plastered on his face. She couldn’t help but notice his expensive black tailored suit and his black leather briefcase that was placed on the floor between his two legs. Everything about him exhibited money and danger.

"Do I…Do I know you…?" she finally asked in a quiet voice.

"I don’t think so…but I would like to get to know you better".

"No...thank you...Can you please leave? I am in a hurry…" she said quickly and turned towards her car, putting her hands back in her bag, in a desperate try to locate her keys.

"I’m not going anywhere" he said in a firm voice.

She felt a moment of genuine panic when she turned slowly around just to see that he was still standing there in the same position, with the same condescending, infuriating smile on his face. At that moment she realized he was not going to go away.

"All I need is an hour of your time…" he said calmly.

"Oh, please…you are scaring me…please…I need to go now…I need…"

"Shut up!"

His sudden shout echoed in the hall, then a disturbing silence prevailed. She flinched. "I know exactly what you need…" he said and quietly began to walk towards her.

"Oh, please don’t…please…" tears began streaming down her face "Please don’t do…that…I am…oh…please…" she cried when he finally reached her and fiercely held her hands down. Her wrists were burning in pain as she tried to move with no success. He placed his left leg between her legs and pinned her down to the tin of her car . His body was so close to hers that she felt nauseated by the smell of his sweat that was mixed with an expensive perfume.

"Please don’t…oh…god…" she begged "Please don’t… I can’t … I can’t breath…" but he didn’t even look at her.

A hysteric scream came out of her throat.

"Nooooooooo…"

* * *

Jeffrey took a few steps backwards until he bumped into the wooden desk and stopped. His eyes were open wide and his breath was nervous as he tried to comprehend what his eyes have just seen. "It’s Annabel…my sweet beloved Annabel…" he whispered to himself, emphasizing every word. "She is the only one who could draw a painting in such perfect details, with such power and emotion. She is the only one who can paint me as a young child".

A smile spread on his face followed by an overwhelming sense of joy to the mere thought that Annabel may be trying to get in touch with him. He closed his eyes in pain as the image of her face appeared in front of him. Her light brown hair was resting naturally on her shoulders and her hazel eyes were so empty and full of pain just as they were a few days before she left town. He never did found out what was it that drained the life out of her so fiercely and made her run out of town. All he knew was that when he lost her he felt as if his world has collapsed and he couldn’t even enjoy breathing anymore. He tried to look for her with the help of her best friend, Eve, but with no success. A few years later he married Eve and moved to the big city. Somehow, marrying her best friend gave him comfort, as if someone has just given him the permission he sought to talk about Annabel. He hoped that making a new life for himself, a long way from home would help him stop the endless pain he felt with every thought he had of her, but he never stopped wondering why she was so sad and out of reach the days before she left. His new wife understood his pain and he was grateful to her for allowing him to talk about Annabel, but after awhile he could see a sharp pain reflected in her eyes every time he mentioned Annabel’s name and gradually, he stopped talking about her out loud.

Now, he was standing in his office, staring at the paintings, trying to collect his thoughts together as vivid memories flooded his mind. He was too confused to arrange a logical line of thinking. All he could think about was the details of the last days before Annabel left. He knew that something was terribly wrong when he didn’t see her at school for over a week. He tried so many times to call her and once he even waited for four hours in the torrent rain crying her name out, but she never appeared in the window. When her mother finally opened the door for him, she just mumbled something about Annabel being sick and locked the door behind her before he even had a chance to explain how important it was for him to see her.

Jeffrey stood back and took a deep breath. He thought of Annabel’s final good-bye letter that was placed in his mailbox one morning. It was so unlike her to do something so cold, so distant. Something must have been very wrong. He moved forward, placed his right hand in his pocket, and took out a small golden key, then quickly opened the first drawer of his desk. A small maroon box was placed in the back of the drawer. His hands shivered for a moment when he touched the box. This is all I have left of Annabel…he thought as he tried to open the box and stop his lips from shaking at the same time. He took out a few photos, held them in his hands and gently placed them back in the drawer without even a glance. The pain of having to look at those photos and having to remember the moments he had with Annabel was almost unbearable. "I don’t have to look at this to remember her", He mumbled. "I remember every moment, every detail, every scent".

He took another deep breath and begun to search for the letter she wrote to him before she left. Here it is… he pulled out a small paper that was folded in small pieces and slowly opened it and straightened it back again. "Oh, my god" he cried, "It’s the poem I wrote for Annabel. I never got to read it to her…I have to read it to her. I promised I would" He quickly promised to himself, then folded the paper back again and placed in his pocket. Almost without a thought he placed his hands back in the drawer, to search again for the letter. A moment later he found it, folded among other papers and photos. He opened the envelope and tears slowly begun to shed from his eyes as he read the typed words.

Dearest Jeffrey,
I hope that you are not too angry with me to read these words. I need you to know that I love you dearly but I really must leave town as soon as possible. I can’t even try to explain my reasons for running away like this. I am begging you to forgive me and to go on with your life. Somewhere down the path of life you will find a better love. You will find a girl, who will love you, as you should be loved. She will give you everything I can never give you and in time, you will forget about me. Don’t feel guilty when that happens, I welcome that. I want you to be happy. I want you to love again. Please don’t try to look for me. It will only break both of our hearts. Just be strong and let me go…
With all my heart, Annabel.

He folded the letter and placed in back in the box, then locked the drawer behind it. His body and mind were heavy and he closed his eyes in pain. "I just have to find her…" he repeated to himself, over and over again. "I have to…"

* * *

Annabel opened up her eyes and jumped to a sitting position as she sent a terrified look around the room. A sigh of relief escaped her lips as she realized she was safe in her own room.

"Oh, my god…it was just a dream…a nightmare" she cried and pulled her woolen blanket up to her chin trying to take cover like a frightened child. With her free hand she reached for her dresser and turned on the light in her small night lamp. The tears kept streaming down her face mixing with the cold sweat of fear that was still running down her chicks as a sign to the dreadful nightmare she just had. She took a deep breath and forced herself to get out of bed. A quick glance to the antique clock that was constantly ticking on the wall, showed her that it was already morning. She stood up and swiftly opened the blinds, desperately wanting the sunlight to come in and take her fear away. The morning light calmed her down. She took another deep breath and headed toward the shower.

* * *

Jeffrey stood back, straightens his shirt and wiped the tears off his cheeks, then reached for the first painting and touched the canvas with a shaky hand. It was so smooth, so vivid. It took him long minutes to be able to think clearly again. He took one step back and looked at the paintings carefully. Two small letters on the right corner of each painting caught his eyes and he leaned down and blinked. The letters that were written in black ink were so smeared on the canvas that he could barely make them out. It must be her name or her initials…he thought and leaned forward to take a closer look when the letters appeared in front of his eyes – A.D.

"Oh my god…it can’t be…" he whispered to himself in shock and instantly stood back up. Rapidly he turned around and reached for the phone. He was so shaken up he could barely dial the numbers properly.

"Yes, Mr.McNeill" a woman’s voice answered.

"I need your help" He shouted "Now!"

 
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