You smell the scent.
It’s happened before. The first time, when you and your wife Claire cut through the cosmetics department at the mall, your heartbeat soared with such trepidation that you clutched at your chest, startling her. Another time, alone in line at a coffee shop near your house, it came up behind you like a wind on a blustery day. Both times you experienced the same physical sensation – the fleeting but intense pounding of the muscle that signaled life – but it ended as soon as it began, when your mistaken assumption quickly (and with much relief) became apparent.
Those other times, no touch came on the heels of the scent. Neither the girl at the cosmetics counter nor the woman who stood behind you in line at the coffee shop knew you intimately enough to touch you.
This time is different. It happens so fast. So fast that your brain doesn’t have time to think, “Someone wearing the same cologne must have just walked the same path I’m about to walk.” No time to reassure yourself, “It’s nothing more than a scent.”
It’s late. Almost midnight. You’ve just left the law library at the university, a spot you now frequent to escape the incessant demands at your office. You don’t resent the demands or the people who make them, but you appreciate the solitude you find at the vacant library, hidden from sight between the stacks. Most students and lawyers do all of their research online now.
At this time of night, you could have stayed at your office and experienced the same quiet. It’s a government office; come five o’clock, your attorneys and staff would have been long gone except, possibly, the newest assistant prosecutor, Briana. She has her first trial the next day, a simple assault and battery, and she’s nervous about it. You stopped by her office on the way out and ended up staying another hour just to let her talk about the case. This helps your attorneys, to talk it out, to pick your brain for ideas.
But you have another case on your mind, one that mesmerized the city when the crime first occurred two months before and will turn into a full blown circus once the imminent arrest is made. A husband murdered, his wife the prime suspect. On the surface, it sounds like so many other domestic murder cases, but your instincts told you something about this one was different. Perhaps it was the fact that the man was the victim, the woman the presumed perpetrator. Perhaps it was the manner in which the murderer had disposed of the body, or maybe, even, it was simply the pictures of the couple in their younger, happier days, but something made you decide it would be irresponsible not to handle it yourself. This decision didn’t sit well with some of the more experienced prosecutors, who hoped for their moment in the spotlight.
So while the office would have been quiet, you’ve learned that your mind isn’t so accommodating, not when surrounded by the files and memos and post-it notes that clutter your desk. For better or worse, you’ve come to require the large, clean mahogany table at the law library.
You walk across campus and enter the pedestrian tunnel that will take you to the other side of Forsyth Avenue, where you parked your car. Your footsteps become louder in the tunnel; your eyes glance at the blue light above the emergency phone attached to the tunnel wall, but other than the simple recognition of its existence, you don’t think twice about it. You’re not thinking at all, really, and it’s nice, the respite from the noise in your head.
If a hand unexpectedly reached out of the dark and touched you at midnight on a deserted college campus, your first response would probably be fear. Your first instinct would be one of two – fight or flight. But not when the hand touching you has already left its mark. Not when, in the split second before you feel the touch and hear the voice, you smell the scent that has the power to weaken your knees and make any protective
No, in this case, your response is altogether different. It’s still instinctive, but it’s not the response that will save your life.
“Jack, it’s me,” comes a voice from the past, barely a whisper, its owner unseen, but known.
You’re left with only one response. Just one.
You turn, and without a beat, you submit.
Julie Compton is the internationally published author of two novels, Tell No Lies and Rescuing Olivia. An attorney by profession, she gave up law to pursue writing full-time when her family moved from Philadelphia to Florida in 2003. She now lives near Orlando, where she is writing Keep No Secrets, a sequel to Tell No Lies. Learn more at www.julie-compton.com. This excerpt appears in the latest PS Books title, Prompted, an anthology of work from Alison Hicks’ Greater Philadelphia Wordshop Studio that explores the human condition via poetry, personal essays, and fiction.