The classified ad read. "Roommate wanted. Female to share expenses. Call 800-555-1212. ad# 2343"
"Hello, Fast Rents, can I help you?"
"I'd like some more info about 2343 please."
The agent asked for her email address and sent over all the information requested. The room that was available was located just outside of town in what once was a very exclusive area. With the new expressway completed, it would take only twenty-five minutes to go back and forth to work. The e-mail also contained a picture of the room which was bright and spacious with a double bed and a large walk-in closet which was to die for, but the French doors opening to a private veranda made her mind up for her.
Zva e-mailed the agent and requested an appointment to see the room in person. The only time the leasing agent had available was three o'clock the next day. She took it even though it meant losing time at work.
The room and location was all that she hoped for and more. She agreed to rent the room and signed the lease that afternoon.
She watched as the woman who took her deposit turned her blue Honda Civic around in the front of the three car garage and left.
Thankfully tomorrow was Saturday. She moved everything she owned in two trips. It would be good to sleep on a bed and not an old classmate's couch in the basement. Even though the couch wasn't very comfortable, she still greatly appreciated her friend letting her stay there. The room that she originally planned on renting prior to her arriving in town was rented to someone else. She still fumed over that one. She signed a six-month lease for the room and headed to the place only to find out they decided at the last-minute to give the room to a relative.
Fresh from the shower she headed for the kitchen. Kitchen privileges would help save her money.
A man was sitting at the counter so comfy eating a sandwich.
"Oh!" she said, surprised to find anyone in the house. The leasing agent led her to believe that the owner was out-of-town for a while, and she wasn't exactly sure when she'd be back.
He looked up and gave her the male once over, smiling.
"Hi, I'm Mark. You must be Sandra's new roommate."
Extending his hand, she took it not quite sure why.
"I'm Zva. I didn't know there was anyone else living here."
"Oh, there isn't."
"Sandra's my sister, and she travels a lot. So I check in every so often to make sure that everything's ok."
That meant that he had a key and could come and go as he pleased. She felt a shiver run up and down her spine. It was then she realized he was eating her food. That ticked her off. It was bad enough that he suddenly appeared out of nowhere, but now he simply helped himself to her food. She held her temper and smiled sweetly instead.
"So, you live near here?"
"In Brentwood two towns east of here," he answered. "Oh, here's my set of keys. I won't be sneaking in on you or anything like that. I will be back next week to repair a small plumbing issue in the basement. So, if you're not going to be here just leave a key under the blue rock out front, and I'll leave them on the table when I'm done. Ok?"
And just like that, he jumped off the kitchen stool, waved, and left. As the rumble of his car's engine faded, Zva berated herself for overreacting and getting herself upset for no reason. *****
"Hello, Fast Rents, can I help you?"
"This is Mark Simpson. Please tell Gale to remove ad.1243. Mrs. Weston has decided not to rent out the second room. However, she is pleased with your choice of a roommate and a check will be forthcoming."
Zva was just getting home when Mark walked out of the front door and pulled it shut. She watched him walk down the steps, and she waved. He saw that she had packages and offered to help her.
"Here, let me help. Give me your key, and I'll unlock the door."
Once he was inside, she felt rude not offering him some kind of refreshment.
Over the course of the next few weeks, Mark started showing up more often always working on something in the basement. Each time he came, he stayed longer and longer. The one thing he did each and every time was to make sure that she realized that he was leaving the keys, but he was always arranging to come back so she would always end up simply leaving the keys under the rock for him.
One day he had just finished mowing the lawn, and they were sitting on the back deck. He sucked down a beer as she sipped on her ice tea.
"Mark, wasn't there a lawn service the first week I moved in. Why are you doing it? May I ask?"
"So I can visit you, why else?" He smiled sweetly at her.
He had been nothing short of the perfect gentleman, but still like the first time they met another cold shiver ran down her spine.
"Next time why don't you bring your girlfriend, and I'll cook dinner?" Zva offered trying to sound casual.
"I never said that I had a girlfriend."
"Stop it! A good-looking guy like you? You have to have a girlfriend."
"You think I'm good-looking?"
She blushed and hated herself for saying it, knowing that he saw it to.
"Let's see tall, thick dark brown hair, sharp brown eyes, and muscular. It's quite obvious that you're good-looking?"
"Dinner for four?" He asked.
"No." She answered rather quickly, too quickly. Calmer she added. "Dinner for you and a guest, I love to cook."
"You're on. When?"
"Well, how is next Friday evening at around 7:00?"
"Great! My friend Rose is flying into town." Then he was gone.
The week flew by, and Zva was now getting excited about the dinner arrangements. She made sure that everything was cooked to perfection, and she really got into it.
It was Friday evening, and she just finished the table settings. Sandra had some expensive china, and it looked beautiful next to her own European lead crystal and the fresh cut flowers in the Japanese vase. The lasagna was in the oven and the fresh bread ready to pop in next to it when they arrived. The wine was on the counter and the beer was cold in case Mark preferred that. All that remained to get ready was herself.
The pink sweater fit like a glove, and the slacks she chose had style, but still were comfortable to move around in. One more clip in her hair and the phone rang. She glanced at the clock. It was 6:30.
"Hello, Zva, it's Mark. I'm so sorry, but Rose's plane was delayed in Dallas. The flight was rescheduled, and she won't be in until around midnight. I was really looking forward to the three of us getting to know each other better. Lasagna is my favorite meal. Now I guess it's bologna sandwiches for me tonight after all."
She ignored it when that cold chill did its thing along her spine.
"Don't be silly. It's all ready. Come on over."
"Are you sure?"
"Of course. See you in a few."
She heard the car in the driveway and headed to the door, opening it before he could knock. If she had been interested, man he looked delicious. He wore a suit but no tie, and his shirt was unbuttoned showing just a hint of masculine chest hair. She had to stop herself from nuzzling up to him when she caught the scent of his cologne.
It was slow going at first. However, by the time the meal was well under way they were laughing and enjoying each other's company.
"Why no foursome tonight? You're not bad looking yourself, you know?"
"Thank you. It's personal, and I rather not talk about it. Ok?"
"No, it's not OK."
It was the way he said it, rough and demanding. She popped her head up, trying to decide if she needed to be afraid. All she saw was his soft brown eyes filled with concern, and the smile that made you want to smile back at him each and every time.
"Rose is one lucky woman," she thought.
Then she listened as he teased and coerced her to tell all.
There were no tears this time. No self-pity because she finally moved past that. It took years, and it had been rough emotionally.
"Steve and I planned the most perfect wedding, a future filled with happiness was just around the corner. Everyone was arriving. Everyone was laughing and joking, but the groom was late. The groom never showed. They found him and he could not say why he did not show, but they all knew. There would be no ramifications for his actions. She had to identify the body he had no family left. A delivery truck ran a red light. He died instantly they told her.
"Finally five years later, when I thought I was ready, I dated this jerk from my office and he tries to rape me in the car on our very first date."
"Man that's rough, I'm so sorry." He offered.
"Oh, wait it gets better." Smiling she said. "I can laugh now but then," a deep sigh. "I go to my tenth year class reunion and this guy I meet there and I start seeing each other. We dated about two-weeks, and I'm real shy and real skittish, so I'm holding back the sex. I mean, I figure Zva your thirty-two it's time to give it up, right? So, I plan this romantic dinner and buy sexy lingerie, the whole nine yards. Hey it's my first time and I'm nervous. The door-bell rings and who do you think is there? His wife, that's who."
"Oh, Zva, Zva honey." He's laughing, she's laughing. Then he adds. "It's the wife classic part that's funny, not the way men seem to keep betraying you. I'm sorry I laughed, That must have hurt you real deep." He put down his glass and stood.
"It's getting to be near mid-night, and I need to get Rose."
Zva sat in the dark for two hours before getting ready for bed.
She never met Rose and wondered what type of person she was. Even though Mark did not talk much about her, she found herself feeling a hint of jealousy.
She watched Mark as he lugged stuff downstairs into the basement. Apparently the little plumbing issue turned into a major one, and she found him there so often in fact that he no longer played the 'leave the key game.' Sometimes they'd talk and other times he simply ignored her.
Today, he banged around downstairs until late into the night.
She just arrived home from a movie as she saw him come up the stairs and close the basement door.
"Mark, do you know what time it is?"
"No, I guess I lost track. Can I use my sister's bath to clean up before I go?"
"Sure. Are you hungry? I can fix you something?"
"Great. Anything, thanks," he said as he headed down the hall toward Sandra's room.
They shared the snack and talked some more before Mark looked at the kitchen clock.
"Oh my is that clock right? I better get. I'll be back tomorrow, and if I can get here early enough, I'll be done."
Zva turned and looked up at the clock realizing it said 2:30.
"Mark, you can't drive all the way home at this hour and be back early in the morning. Why don't you just spend the night in Sandra's room? I make a mean breakfast."
"Are you trying to seduce me, Zva?"
"No!" she snapped.
"Easy, girl, I was just teasing. Remember it's me, honey. I understand. OK?" Smiling he added. "I better get going."
No, Mark, I'm sorry. I'd like you to stay, please. It was just an old reflex. Forgive me."
After getting ready for bed, she locked her door and couldn't help it as she moved a chair and forced it under the door-knob. Surprising even herself, she slept well.
Breakfast turned out to be a Southern style feast of eggs, bacon, sausage, gravy, and biscuits.
She giggled as she watched Mark practically lick his plate clean. She liked him and really was trying not to be so edgy around him. She knew he sensed it, but, like the nice gentleman he was, he never mentioned it once to her relief.
Right after he helped clean up the dirty dishes, he headed back into the basement, and she drove to the store for groceries. She noticed that his car was gone when she got back from shopping. As she put her groceries away in the kitchen, that tingle up her spine took her breath away once again.
Chastising herself to stop it, she walked down the hall and stood in front of the basement door. With her right hand she slowly turned the knob, and taking a second breath she pulled. It did not open as she expected. That was when she noticed it also had a deadbolt lock on the door. It was not so noticeably since it was nearer to the top of the door than the center where they usually were located. Reminding herself that it was none of her business, she returned to the kitchen.
*** Snuggled down under the warm blanket Zva finished her report to the corporate office. She hated this part of her job. The squealing was the part that kept her without friends. She infiltrated the office staff and looked for the culprit, the thief. Sadness washed over her remembering Kathy. She liked her, and they did become friends until Zva discovered the person stealing was Kathy's nephew. Kathy had no idea that her nephew was stealing from the company, but she blamed Zva for destroying her family. After that incident she was pretty much alone. No it was safe to say that she was completely by herself. No one would have anything to do with her.
Now this job was about to wrap up. She would be sent to a new branch of the company to investigate. It suited her just fine not having a permanent location. Permanent represented something she still was not ready to face.
She e-mailed her report, turned out the light, and drifted off to sleep.
The noise of the phone woke her.
"Hi, it's Mark. Listen I got to get a few things I stored out of the basement, and I was wondering if you could be a lamb and help me .They are not heavy, but some items are bulky and an extra set of hands would really help."
He set it up for four o'clock Sunday. She told him she'd fix them a bite, and after she hung up, she realized she should have told him to bring RoseRose too. She quickly hit recall and discovered the number was blocked. That seemed odd. Oh well, she moved to the bathroom to get ready for work. This was her last day at Frank's Clothiers and Sons.
When she asked herself just how close Rose and Mark might be, reverting to old tapes of past behavior patterns, she decided it did not matter. She was not going down that road ever again. Her last thought before getting out of the shower was all guys are nice in the beginning.
Mark coming on Sunday gave her something positive to focus on. She threw herself into getting ready. Dinner would be Mexican frijoles, black beans, salsa, and wedding cookies for dessert.
He showed up right on time. He always did to the minute she realized as she smiled opening the door for him.
He had two dozen red roses, and they were for her. The gesture left her speechless.
"I hope you like roses. "
"Mark, they're lovely, thank you."
She did not know what else to do, so she gave him a peck on the cheek. Only he saw it coming and moved so that her kiss landed smack on his lips. The roses she held between them stopped it from becoming more than a simple kiss. To grab her and plant the type of kiss he wanted would have destroyed them. She felt it and it confused her. Silently, thanking the flowers for their buffering of the kiss and then blushing, she turned and he followed her inside.
Unexpectedly she turned and caught him ogling her. Then she watched as a frown formed on his face.
"Don't ever wear yellow again. It doesn't suit you," he said in the authoritative voice she remembered from the first day they met.
She responded with an uncomfortable giggle, and said. "Thanks for the fashion tip. I'll have to remember that. Do you want to move your stuff before or after we eat? I cooked Mexican and hope you like it."
"I'm game if you are. Let's get it over with now, OK?"
Together they walked down the hall, and he took a key from his pocket and unlocked the door. She listened to the tumbler release with a click and for some reason jumped as if startled. She saw him reach along the right wall for the light switch and heard the click. Nothing happened.
"Oh, man I forgot the last time I was here the bulb blew. There's another switch at the bottom on the left about shoulder height that will turn on the other light . I'll hold this door open and you can turn it on."
Cautiously, Zva felt her way down the steps and slowly edged herself down into the basement.
"What is it that always seems to unnerve people when they enter a dark basement," she said hearing him laugh.
With fingers spread wide she felt for the light switch and clicked the room into lightness. Unbelieving eyes looked toward Mark as he closed the downstairs door and placed a padlock on it.
"Mark!" she repeated. The cold chill again ran up and down her spine.
"Mark, where is the stuff that you want moved?" She said stupidly while he watched, trying to get her to focus on what was in the room.
Large frightened eyes watched as Mark placed the padlock key deep into his pocket and turned towards her. He was smiling, and it was not the one that made you want to smile back at him.
"Mark, I want to go back upstairs now, please. Why did you me bring me down here?"
He walked over and sat in one of the two chairs near the middle of the room. He still had not spoken a word.
"Mark!" She yelled. "What's going on here? Are you going to murder me?"
She began to cry.
"Zva, sit down in this chair."
"I don't want to. I want to leave."
"You're not going anywhere until we have a little talk. Sit!"
The way he said sit scared her. He watched her lose control. She screamed and sobbed unsure of what to say or do to convince him to open the door. Neither worked. Now he listened to her begging and promising things she had no intention of keeping.
"When you're finished with all your tantrums, sit down and we will talk."
After ranting and raving for another twenty minutes, all of her energy was expended, and she finally relented and sat in the chair in front of him.
"That's better. Now if you'll listen, you'll learn the rules."
"Yes, Zva, there are now rules so listen carefully because the rules if followed will make your life here easier."
As she started to stand, he stood up first and yelled at her.
"Sit down and shut up!"
She reluctantly sat down whimpering. He noticed she was trembling, but he did not care.
"Rule number one: no pleases and no begging. Rule two: you will not speak unless given permission. Rule three: do not make me repeat myself. There are more rules but you need to master these first. Oh, and, Zva, when you break a rule you will be punished. Do you understand?"
"Mark, stop this right now. Please unlock the door. You've carried this joke far enough. It's no longer funny."
"This is not a joke! You did not answer me, and you spoke out of turn and you begged. That's four infractions."
She jumped up again and swung at him. He saw it coming and dodged her blow. It took another fifteen minutes for her to return to the chair.
"Sugar, that's twenty-three infractions. Are you done? I believe it will be to your benefit if I commence with your discipline now, so in the future you will understand where you stand."
He rose and headed to a large cabinet. Once there he opened the door and revealed items that scared her. He knew that because when he turned around, she bolted for the door and frantically tried to open it.
"Let me out of here!" she wailed as she sank to her knees.
He slowly walked over to her holding a paddle in his hand.
"No. If you think I going to let you use that on me, you have another thing coming. Now open this door."
A sick smile covered his face which scared her even more. He then clinched his teeth in anger. However, when he spoke, it sounded melodious and sweet.
"Rule number four: you will never demand anything from me or tell me what you will or will not do. So, that's twenty-five infractions. Do you care to made it more?"