She knocked on the door with a quiet yet fervent panic. If Ryan had been in the bedroom instead of the living room, he probably would have missed her.
He sat up, hoping the unexpected visitor would realize this was not the apartment they were looking for and go away. It'd been two days since he'd left the apartment. In his state, he had no strength to even open the door. But it came again, the rapid while subdued knocking.
Ryan groaned as he rolled off of the couch and shuffled to the old door's peep hole. There was a woman standing there. Her hair was messy and her cheek was marked a bright red. She looked up and down the hallway before knocking again.
Without any further investigation, Ryan knew she was in trouble. He reached for the doorknob but paused. Did he want to invite trouble into his home? He turned and looked at the small, cluttered and downright dirty apartment behind him. He caught his reflection in a small, cloudy mirror that hung alone on the opposite side of the room. His five o'clock shadow was reaching damn near nine thirty. The hair on his head matched the frantic state of whomever this was at his door. He was a mess, a mess with nothing to lose.
He swung the door open but she was gone. Taking a hesitant step out, he looked to his right and spotted her, hand raised to his next door neighbor's door. Mr. Jenkins was a crotchety old man, never liked to be disturbed.
"You alright?" Ryan asked her.
She was startled but took no time to hesitate. As quickly as possible, she moved away from Mr. Jenkins' door and made her way inside of Ryan's apartment. He moved quickly to the side to make room for her in his space.
"Are you alright?" he asked again.
"Please, close the door," Jessica whispered.
"Please, lock it."
He obliged again, without hesitation.
Jessica uncrossed her trembling arms and moved towards the peep hole, practically pushing Ryan out of the way. Her eye searching the hallway frantically as far as it could reach. She didn't see him. He hadn't found her.
Jessica's heartbeat slowed just a tad. It was close to steady but not quite there.
"Thank you," she whispered in a quiet fright. She couldn't look at Ryan. She was scared and ashamed. All she could say was, "Thank you."
"Is someone after you?" Ryan asked. "Should I call the police?"
"Please, no police. The police won't help me."
"What do you mean? Why not?"
"He's one of them."
Ryan's eyes widened. He searched his apartment for answers and found nothing.
"I'm sorry. I shouldn't have come here. I just..I just ran. I'll go. I'm sorry."
Jessica made a move for the door but Ryan stopped her, holding her hand in his own. She pulled away instantly.
He eyed her face.
"Did he do that to you?"
Jessica lowered her head in shame.
"Come, move away from the door."
"He's going to come looking for me."
"I'll keep you safe. Don't worry about him," Ryan assured with unrecognizable confidence.
"You can't protect me. I shouldn't have come here. What am I doing? I have to go apologize."
"Stop it," Ryan said with a strength that startled not only Jessica.
"You can't leave now," he continued, "We both know what will happen if you do."
She shuddered at the thought.
"Please, come sit."
Barely able to lift her eyes to meet his strong gaze, Jessica took a seat on the couch.
"Would you like something to eat or drink?"
"No, thank you."
"It's really no trouble. I was going to make soup."
"Alright, soup then."
As instantly as the first knock that night, there was another, only this one wasn't a quiet panic but a forceful rage. Loud and belligerent, it did not cease.
Jessica jumped up from the couch, panicked tears rushing down her face. Before she could crumble, Ryan was by her side. He put one hand around her waist, leaned in close and whispered securely in her ear, "I've got you."
His touch made her feel petrified and protected all at once.
"Go into the bedroom," he whispered again.
Without a word, she went.
Ryan moved towards the door, heart suddenly racing, as Jessica moved out of sight.
The knocking grew in volume. Ryan opened the door, just wanting the noise to stop.
"Where is she?" he asked straight away, clearly drunk and disheveled.
"I'm sorry?" Ryan asked, fixating his best poker face across his deceitful facade.
"My wife, is she here? I thought I saw her come this way."
"Sorry, man. It's only me here, don't get many visitors."
The man stared at Ryan. Ryan stared back, unwavering in the face while the pace of his heart tripled, matching the pace of the heartbeat he could almost hear coming from his occupied bedroom.
The man stared for one moment more before speaking.
"Thanks anyway," he said, suspiciously.
"No problem," Ryan replied, shortly.
He closed the door, his hand remaining on the knob.
Ryan held his breath.
Jessica held hers.
Ryan peaked out the peep hole to an empty hallway.
Slowly, he locked the door, put the deadbolt in place and backed away.
He moved to his bedroom where he found her seated on the corner of his bed.
He sat beside her, careful not to startle her. She wept.
Ryan put his hand around Jessica's shoulders.
Again, she felt oddly petrified and simultaneously protected.
"You're safe," he said. "You're safe now."