The blade poked my lower back and my body jerked, then stiffened. I waited for the owner of the knife to say something. I gasped when the knife poked a little deeper. I wondered if I had been cut yet. I imagined the blood I would later find, if I lived. 'What do you want?' I said.
The knife was removed and then a voice said, 'Turn around.'
I turned and felt a sickness in my stomach that rose to my throat. I vomitted beside the tree, its thick leaves sheltering us from the rain. When I felt able to speak again, I looked into the eyes of the woman before me and said, 'I thought you were dead!'
'Well,' she said, twisting the knife in her hand. 'Here I am.'
'I'm late for work,' I said, turning to leave.
'You're not going anywhere!' She swung the knife up to my throat and shoved me against the tree. Her dark eyes were inches from mine and I could smell that sick lavender scent she always wore. I felt like I was going to be sick again, when she said, 'You'll take him back, you understand me, girl?'
'He cheated on me,' I said. I could feel the point of the knife on my voicebox. 'He hit me. I'll never take him back.'
She released me and stabbed the knife into the tree, right next to my face. When she struggled to pull it out, I ran. Out of the park, across the bridge and into Andrew's Diner. 'You're late,' said Andrew, throwing an apron at me.
'Sorry,' I said, trying hard to breathe. The air in there was so stuffy. I picked up my pen and pad and started taking orders. 'What can I get you?' I asked the patron at table twelve.
The big hands that brought the menu down revealed a horryfying face. It was my ex-boyfriend. He smiled at me like an evil little child out of a horror movie.
'Marry me,' he said.
The pen shook in my hand. Stay calm, I told myself. 'I'm sorry, Steven,' I said. 'But it wouldn't work.'
He shook his head. 'I've changed, my sweet Charlene.'
I did not smile back, doubting every word that fell out of his mouth; remembering all the torture I had endured while living with this awful man. He touched my arm and I flinched. 'I've missed you,' he said. 'I love you and I want you back in my life.'
'Your mother threatened me,' I said. 'With a knife.' I crossed my arms.
'I'll put a stop to her threats if you take me back.'
I laughed. 'Why are you being such a coward? Why are you letting your mother do all the dirty work while you just sit here and sweet-talk me?'
Steven picked up the salt shaker and turned it upside down. His face was getting read. He stared at the salt as he shook it out onto the table. I began tapping my pen. 'Steven ...'
'Charlene,' said Andrew. 'Stop flirting and start working.'
I rolled my eyes and turned to go, but Steven caught my hand. He blew the salt so that it spread like a freakstorm. Then he stood up, and still holding my hand, he said, 'I was released from prison this morning, on good behaviour.' He kissed the side of my neck, and I felt his unshaven face brush up to my ear. Instead of pulling away, he stayed there and whispered his final words. 'I'm going to stay good for a little while, and let you think things through. But after that, if you don't succumb to Mother's threats, I'm coming to get you.'
He went to the men's room and left me trembling, with tears in my eyes and anger in my heart.
'Charlene,' Andrew yelled.
I ripped off my apron and shoved it in his face. 'I quit,' I said.
Then I ran.