[This is a total rewrite of a story I wrote way back in 2009. I rediscovered it recently on my computer and saw it could use some work. In the end, very little of what I originally wrote remains, just the basic concept. Even the names of the characters have been changed, to protect the innocent.]
The faintest spray of light streamed from between the cracks in the boards that had been nailed to the window. Those were new. As the day was waning, the light grew sharper, piercing its way into a room where the stale shadows gobbled it up.
It had been three days now. Eddie always took pride in his reputation as a very patient man. He hadn’t had this kind of opportunity to show his patience in quite some time. Natalia hadn’t said a word in three days. It all started when she didn’t show up for their lunch date. After waiting, he’d gone over to her house. She had let him in, sat down on the sofa in the living room — a sofa he could have sworn used to be closer to the window — and cried, but said nothing. He’d tried to console her for about fifteen minutes, but he had to get back to work. Every evening since then, he had visited her, but he couldn’t tell if she was getting any closer to telling him what happened.
The sofa had definitely been moved — there were faint scuff marks on the ashen carpet. And the window seemed to be the one area of the room her eyes avoided — that, and Eddie’s face. So that was a clue. On his second visit he had taken a look at the window from the outside. Someone had trampled the azaleas she’d planted years ago. It looked like someone had walked up to the window and looked in, but there wasn’t any evidence of a break-in. Eddie wasn’t sure how to broach the subject.
There were no signs of injury on Natalia either, at least not physical injury. She seemed happy to have his company, but it didn’t feel like she was making progress. It was beginning to frustrate him.
When Natalia let him in, Eddie walked quietly to the now boarded-up window. The job had been methodical and skillful; all the boards were level. The cracks between them, then, were intentional. Eddie sighed. “I see this is the way you chose to tell me what the problem is.” He tried to put a slight hint of laughter into his voice to take the edge off the comment, but the frustration came through.
Natalia, seated, was looking at the floor. “Thank you for spending all this time with me. It’s helped me, it really has.”
At this, he turned around and took his usual seat in a chair across the room. At last, a development. “Why’d you board up the window, Nat?”
“It’s just temporary. I don’t feel safe right now.”
“Is somebody bothering you? Call the police.”
“No, it’s not that bad. Honestly, I wouldn’t know what to say to them any more than I know what to say to you.”
“Hey, whatever it is, you can tell me about it. I want to listen. Why else would I keep coming here?”
“I know that.” She paused and brushed away a tear. “It’s how to say it that I’ve been wrestling with. Because it sounds like such a small thing.” Another pause, a fidget, her body seeking a comfortable perch from which to tell the story. “I was sitting by the window, the night before we were going to have lunch, and suddenly I turned around and there was someone looking at me. Our faces were less than a foot apart, and we just looked at each other for what must have been only a few seconds. Then he ran off.”
“May I sit with you?” Eddie asked. She nodded. He went over and sat beside her, putting his arm over her shoulder, squeezing her hand, kissing her hair. “That would have scared me, too, okay? You have nothing to be ashamed of, nothing at all. But, Nat, look at me.” She didn’t. “Are you sure that’s it? You haven’t gotten any phone calls, letters, anything threatening at all?”
“Nothing. It was just this one time, out of nowhere. And really, nothing happened. It was just — it triggered something, you know? I haven’t been able to get it out of my mind.”
She blinked the tears away as he slowly caressed her thin cheek. “You need to see somebody about this. Someone you trust. Locking yourself up isn’t the answer.”
“You’re right. I know that. I just can’t stand windows right now. I need to see if I can get over it by myself.”
“I wouldn’t want you to be afraid of windows, Nat. People go crazy without them. But I see what you mean. Windows are very vulnerable things. They let you see outside, but they also let people see inside, to your own private place. Normally, we can control that, but I guess not always, huh? Am I helping you at all?”
She nodded again.
“So if you need this time to shut the world out for awhile, that’s fine, but don’t let it go too long. We need you out there. It hasn’t been as happy a place without you.”
At this, she smiled for the first time. “Thank you, Eddie, really. But it’s not quite as simple as that. I can’t look at a window right now without seeing those eyes on the other side. It was night, so I didn’t really see a face, just a pair of eyes. Do you know what that’s like? And they just looked so evil, it was like there wasn’t a soul behind them. I felt completely exposed.”
“Oh, Nat, I’m so sorry. If that rat ever gets anywhere near you again, you call me right away, and I’ll kick his ass personally.”
“I know you will.”
“Do you want me to keep coming over?”
“You don’t have to. But I’ve appreciated it. I know I haven’t been the best company the last few days.”
“Never mind that. Get some rest, and I’ll see you tomorrow.” He got up and headed for the door.
When he turned around to say goodbye, they made eye contact.
She ran into her bedroom and slammed the door.