Authors: Dee Henderson
“How long before they fix it?” She tried to keep her words level and steady. She had spent years learning the control, but this was beyond something she could control.
“It may take a few minutes, but they will find the circuit breaker and the elevator will be moving again.”
Sounds amplified in the closed space as he moved. He set down his briefcase? She couldn’t remember if there was a phone in the elevator panel or not. How could she have ridden in these elevators for three months and not looked for something so simple?
“No phone, and what I think is the emergency pull button seems to have no effect.”
Sara took deep breaths, trying to slow down her heart rate. Neither her cellular phone nor her signaling beeper would work inside this elevator.
“You’re very quiet,” he said eventually.
“I want out of here,” she replied slowly to hide the fact her teeth were trying to chatter.
“There’s nothing to be afraid of.”
She wanted to reply, “You’ve never been locked in a pitch-black root cellar and left to die before,” but the memories and the panic were already overwhelming her. Her coping skills were failing when she needed them most. Her hand clenched in the darkness, nails digging into her palm. She could do this. She had no choice. It was only darkness.
“Consider it from my viewpoint. I’m stuck in the dark with a beautiful woman. There could be worse fates.”
She barely heard him.
Lord, why tonight? Please, not this
. The darkness was so bad she could feel the nausea building.
“Sorry, I didn’t mean any offense with that remark.”
She couldn’t have answered if she wanted to. One thought held her focus fast—surviving. The moment she needed clarity, her mind was determined to retreat into the past instead. A cold sweat froze her hands. Not here. Not with someone else present. To suffer through a flashback when her brother Dave was around was difficult enough. To do it with a stranger would be horrible.
Adam didn’t understand the silence. The lady had apparently frozen in one position. “Maybe it would help if we introduced ourselves. I’m Adam Black. And you are … ?”
Silence. Then a quiet, “Sara.”
“Hi, Sara.” He reached out a hand wondering why she was so tense. No nervous laughter, no chatter, just frozen stiffness. “Listen, since it looks like this might actually take some time, why don’t we try sitting down.” His hand touched hers.
She jerked back and he flinched. Her hand was like ice. This lady was not tense, she was terrified.
He instantly reviewed what he had with him. Nothing of much use. His sports coat was in his car, his team jacket still upstairs in his office. What had she been wearing when she stepped into the elevator? An elegant blue-and-white dress that had caught his attention immediately, but there had been more…a raincoat over her arm.
First get her warm, then get her calm.
“Sara, it will be okay. Sit down; let’s get you warm.” He touched her hand again, grasping it in his so he could turn her toward him. Cold. Stiff.
“I’m…afraid of the dark.”
He had to peel her fingers away from her briefcase handle. “You’re safe, Sara. The elevator is not going to fall or anything like that. The lights will come back on soon.”
He could feel her fighting hysteria. The tremors coming through her hands were growing stronger. He didn’t have to be able to see her to know she was heading for deep shock. “You’re safe. I’m not going anywhere. And I’m no threat to you,” he added, wondering what would make a grown woman petrified of the dark. The possibilities that came to mind all made him feel sick.
“I know that too.”
He carefully guided her down to sit with her back leaning against the elevator wall. He spread her coat out over her and was thankful when she took over and did most of it herself, tucking it around her shoulders, burying her hands into the soft warmth of the fabric.
He couldn’t prevent a smile. “Don’t have much practice lying, do you?”
“It sounds better than admitting I’m about to throw up across your shoes.” There was almost the sound of an answering smile in her reply.
He sat down carefully, close enough so he could reach her if necessary but far enough away so she hopefully wouldn’t feel any more cornered than she already did.
“Try leaning your head back and taking a few deep breaths.”
“How long has it been?” she asked a few moments later.
“Maybe four, five minutes.”
Adam desperately wished for matches, a lighter, anything to break this blackness for her. “We’ll pass the time talking about something, and the time will go by in an instant. You’ll see. What would you like to talk about first; do you have a preference?”
“Sara. Come on, work with me here.”
He was reaching out to shake her shoulder when she suddenly said through teeth that were obviously chattering, “Sports. Why did you retire?”
Adam didn’t talk about the details of that decision with many people, but under the present circumstances, she could have asked him practically anything and he wouldn’t have minded.
“Did you see the Super Bowl we won?”
“Of course. Half this town hated you for months afterward.”
He didn’t have to wonder if that was a smile.
“I liked the feeling of winning. But I was tired. Too tired to do it again. It wasn’t just the physical exhaustion of those last games, but the emotional drain of carrying the expectations of so many people. So I decided it was time to let the next guy in line have a chance.”
“You got tired.”
“I got tired.”
“I bet you were tired the season before when you lost the Super Bowl to the Vikings.”
He chuckled. “I was.”
“Your retirement had nothing to do with being tired.” She sounded quite certain about it. Her voice was also growing steadier. “You won that Super Bowl ring to prove you were capable of winning it; then you retired because the challenge was gone. You didn’t play another season because you would have been bored, not tired.”
“You sound quite certain about that theory.”
“Maybe because I know I’m right. You’re like your father. ‘Do It Once—Right—Then Move On.’ Wasn’t that the motto he lived his life by?”
Adam’s shoulder muscles tensed. “Where did you hear that?”
“You had it inscribed on his tombstone,” was the gentle reply. “Sorry, I didn’t mean to touch a nerve.”
Adam didn’t answer. When and why had this lady been to the cemetery where his father was buried? It was outside the city quite a distance, and it was an old cemetery where most plots had been bought ahead for several generations. That inscription had not been added until almost a month after the burial.
She was a reporter. The realization settled like a rock in his gut. She had executed this meeting perfectly. Setting up this “chance” encounter, paying off a building maintenance worker to throw a switch for her, giving him every reason to believe he was going to be playing the hero by keeping her calm while the lights were out. He had been buying the entire scenario, hook, line, and sinker.
“I like the quote and the philosophy of life it contains.”
“Sara, could we cut the facade? What do you want? You’re a writer, aren’t you?”
Silence met his anger.
“What kind of writer would you like me to admit to being?” The ice in her voice was unmistakable.
“Just signal for this elevator to start moving again, and I’ll consider not throttling you.”
“You think I caused this?”
“Not going to try denying you’re a writer?”
“I don’t have much practice lying,” she replied tersely, echoing his earlier words.
“Great. Then I would say we are at an impasse, wouldn’t you?” He waited for a response but didn’t get one. “When you get tired of sitting in the dark, just signal your cohorts that we are done talking, and we’ll go our separate ways. Until then, I have nothing else to say to you.”
“That’s fine with me.”
And with that, there was nothing between them but a long, cold silence.
ara hated feeling afraid. And she was afraid. Every memory in her past was coming alive. Trust that God was still there, in control, had withered under the pressing weight of the darkness. Trust and faith were easy words until the pressure came; living them was hard. She was going to shatter like crystal. Terror was in control. She couldn’t stop the panic. She was looking into ink-black nothingness and she couldn’t handle the closed place.
Lord, turn the lights back on. Please. I can’t relive those days again, not here, not in this small place.
Think about something else.
She had been doing that while Adam talked and it helped. But now he was silent, angry, and that emotion resonated with fears so deeply buried that Sara could not put words to their source. She scrambled to think of something safe.
The children’s book due to her publisher next month. Beautiful drawings. A baby sea horse exploring its world. The story focused on the basics of how to make friends. The idea had just been there as she sat doodling on her art pad one Saturday morning—the first four sketches and the entire story line had come in twenty minutes. She already loved the book. It would inspire thousands of children to learn about the sea.
Nausea suddenly overwhelmed her. She hunched forward, curling in on herself, stifling any sound. She would never finish the book. The truth hit her like a brick. It had been a story she had told to her sister Kim.
The flashbacks were beginning, and there was nothing she could do to stop them.
The cellar had a dirt floor. It made Sara shiver because she knew there were spiders here.
“Sara, I’m c-cold,” Kim said.
Sara tried but she couldn’t reach her sister. The ropes kept them apart by only eight inches, but it might as well have been a mile. “I know, Kimmy. We just have to pretend it’s warm; that helps a lot. They will bring us blankets when they bring the peanut butter sandwiches tonight.”
Sara wasn’t courageous, wasn’t brave…but in the last twenty-four hours she had slipped into that role. She was the oldest, if only by a matter of minutes, and Dave would expect her to look after their sister. She wished her brother were here, wished she could be afraid and let him be the brave one, but she didn’t know what had happened to him. He had been shoved away from them as they were yanked into the van.
“Why hasn’t Dad come yet?”
Because he doesn’t love us.
“He’s coming, Kimmy.”
“But why did those men grab us? I don’t understand. I want out of here. It’s dark and I’m cold.”
“Be brave, Kimmy. Dad will come get us. You’ll see.”
Sitting stuck between floors in a pitch-black elevator was not Adam’s idea of a fun way to spend an evening.
He was tired. Hungry. Annoyed. He could use two aspirins and a long ride on his motorcycle to let the wind shake the cobwebs from his mind.
Until five minutes ago, Sara was exactly the kind of lady he would have enjoyed getting to know. But trustworthy and honest were nonnegotiables on his list.
Why did fame have to come at such a high price? It came with so many positives but also many negatives. Tonight was just another reminder of why he couldn’t take someone at face value.
He let the hurt linger because it was late and he was in a bad mood. He was getting tired of women with agendas coming through his life. It was like walking through a minefield.
For years it hadn’t been such a big deal. He’d had his career and that had been his sole focus. The situation was different now.
His dad had been right. More than anything else, it was time for a wife and family. He had spent his football career traveling practically every weekend, living like a nomad. He had more of a routine established when he stayed at a hotel than he did in his own home. It was time to settle down for good, sink some roots.
The idea of getting married was an attractive one. Being asked to share the newspaper over breakfast, having someone meet him at the door when he got home and say, “Hi, Adam, welcome home.” He wanted that person in his life.
He had paid a steep price to make a future marriage important in his life. It had been a wonderful yet incredibly lonely twelve years playing professional football because his guard had to be up all the time. The ribbing from his teammates had been intense.
But now that he was retired, the situation was different. He wasn’t traveling constantly. He had the luxury of being able to settle down.
The red folder and its list of qualifications for the ideal wife had been a way to keep his father amused and focused on something other than the pain while he lay there in the hospital bed. But there was also a great deal of truth to that list of fifteen items the two of them had put together.
There was no woman in his current circle of friends who qualified. The best candidates didn’t think they had a chance, so they didn’t come forward. He would find her. He just had to start seriously looking.
Adam smiled. His interfering sister would love to see that list.
“Kimmy, are you awake?” Sara rubbed her tears on the torn sleeve of her dress.
There was movement in the darkness across the small room. “I’m awake.” The voice was tired and scared and hoarse from crying.
“I want you to have my blue hair ribbons.” Sara could feel the drooping satin brushing her cheek.
“But those are your favorites.”
“I know. That’s why I want you to have them.”
There was silence between the twins. It was a significant gift. The ribbons had come from Dave.
“Thanks. I’ll treasure them. Is there any more water left? I’m so thirsty. “
The men had left one plastic water bottle between the girls, and if they were careful, they could roll it to each other. Sara had not drunk any even though she said she had. She knew what Kimmy didn’t. The two men were not coming back.
Kimmy had to be okay when their dad found them.
The silence was chilling. It was a disquieting sensation that made Adam nervous.
She didn’t answer him.
He focused his attention on what he could hear from her side of the elevator. He realized what had been steady breathing twenty minutes ago had turned ragged.
“Sara, are you okay?”
She still didn’t answer him.
He reached over. His hand touched her shoulder and strands of her hair. She jerked away so violently, he heard her head pop against the elevator wall.
He grasped her face with both hands. Her forehead was soaked with sweat.
Lord, what happened? What have I caused?
He pushed aside the coat.
Her hands were clenched in tight fists.
“Sara,” he snapped at her, with the same volume and force he used on the playing field to call a play. She came out of the stupor.
“Turn on the lights. Please.” It was a whispered, broken plea—and in a voice such as he had never heard before. Woman. Child. Pleading. Resigned.
It broke his heart.
“I can’t, Sara.” He wished he could.
He felt the fear engulf her again, felt her sliding back into that place she had been hiding and was helpless to prevent it.
God, give me some ideas here. What do I do?
“Talk to me, Sara. What can I do to help?”
No answer. He tucked the coat back around her, keeping her hands in his. The muscles in her clenched hands were beginning to spasm in cramps. He gently worked them straight, rubbing warmth back into them.
He sat as close as he could, wrapping his arm around her. Apologies for what he had accused her of would come later when they were out of this crisis. Right now, he was seriously afraid she was going to pass out. The remorse cut deep. If he hadn’t made such an angry accusation, hadn’t stopped their conversation, all of this might have been avoided.
God, calm her down. I’m not equipped to deal with this.
“Did you grow up in Chicago, Sara?”
He shook her to get an answer.
He could barely hear her.
“I bet it was London, then, given your accent,” he teased, in any mood but one to tease.
“Lots of places. Texas mostly,” she whispered.
Tremors began shaking her frame. Nothing he tried could subdue them.
“Was Texas a nice time in your life?”
“Then shut your eyes and forget this place and think about Texas. What was nice about it?”
She subtly relaxed. “Frank taught me to draw.”
“Are you any good?”
“Did you learn to ride?”
“I rode all over the ranch on Golden Glory. Frank gave her to me on my eighth birthday.”
“Sounds like a wonderful gift.”
“It was. But it wasn’t the gift I wanted.”
“What did you want?”
He thought for the longest time she wasn’t going to answer. “My brother back.”
Don’t touch it
. The warning came—intense, forceful, urgent—and Adam stopped his next question before it was asked. He shifted the coat around her.
“What did you do last weekend for the Fourth of July?”
She gave a slight shrug.
Okay, that topic was out of bounds. He racked his brain for easier questions to keep her talking. “Do you live in the city or are you a suburban commuter?”
“Lived there long? Married? Have kids?”
“Yes, no, and no.” Her hands crept up to her face. “How much longer, Adam? I can’t stand this.”
His arm around her tightened.
“It has to be soon. The guards check every floor and every elevator on their rounds, including the parking garages. They are going to restore the power, Sara.”
He tried to keep her talking, but she kept drifting away from him, back into the panic-filled void that seemed to paralyze her.
Adam did what he could, rubbing some warmth into her arms and frozen hands.
“Kimmy, are you still there? Why don’t you answer me?”
Adam heard the whispered desperate words, and the voice sent a chill up his spine. This wasn’t someone just dealing with a stormy night and a dark elevator. Wherever her mind was, it was now scaring both of them.
Lord, please, get us out of here.
Moments later, the elevator began to move down at its normal speed, the lights still off with the exception of floor lights now clicking over the doorway. The elevator stopped at the letter
and the doors slid open. Adam reached up and pulled the emergency stop button.
The parking garage was fully lit, lights on every post and concrete column driving the shadows away. Only a few cars remained in the massive structure.
Adam watched Sara blink against the light coming through the doorway. It was like watching a newborn kitten finally learn how to focus. He could see her processing the nightmare that had just happened, working through it as the light took away the terror. She unfolded her stiff body with care but did not move entirely away from him.
Adam gently brushed her hair back as she looked toward the light. Her hair was wet around the fringes. “You’re welcome.” He wanted to know who Kimmy was, why Sara was so afraid of the dark, and what had happened to her in the past. It was not the time to ask.
God, thanks for intervening.
He suspected Sara wasn’t going to be able to stand, at least not in the high heels she wore, until the shock had faded some more. He blocked her path temporarily as he moved their briefcases aside and got up himself.
“How long were we stuck?”
A calm, polite question. No explanation for what had happened. No relieved chatter now that they were safe. Adam could see the poise returning that had marked her stance before she stepped onto the elevator. She was doing her best to elegantly cover and dismiss what had happened. He glanced at his watch. “Thirty-eight minutes.”
She tucked her feet beneath herself, preparing to rise. Adam stepped to her side, getting a firm hold on her forearms to help her.
She gasped in pain. “My legs are asleep.”
“I thought they might be by now. Stand easy and let me take your weight. The blood will start to circulate again.”
He could tell by the way her breathing changed that she didn’t like the proximity to him. She was nervous in his hold and doing her best to cover that fact. What had happened to make her terrified of the dark? “I’m sorry I assumed you arranged for the elevator to shut down.”
She looked up. “Thank you. I didn’t do it.”
“But you don’t deny being a writer.”
“No, I don’t. I gather you’ve had some problems with them?”
“I’ve had problems with the more unscrupulous members of the press for years.”
“Well, I can promise you, I’m not doing a story on you of any kind.” She eased back a step, and Adam found he missed her weight resting against his hands.
“Whom do you work for?”
“You could say that.”
Her words were obviously selected with care. Adam hesitated and chose not to pursue it. “Why don’t you have a cup of coffee with me at the hotel across the street before you try to drive home? Give yourself a few more minutes before you face the traffic and the bad weather.”
“Adam, I’m fine.”
Lord, I could use some help here. She’s ready to leave and that’s the last thing I want to happen.
Thunder rumbled outside.
“Twenty minutes. It will give the storm time to pass.” He lived only eight blocks away; the rain was not an issue for him.
He could see her hesitate. “Please.”
Sara needed poise now, to act as a shield between her and the questions while she tried to pull her tattered nerves together. She wanted to get out of here. But her vanity didn’t want his last impression to be of a woman who fell apart in the dark. It shouldn’t matter so much, but it did.
Coping meant she dealt with it and kept moving. It was the number one rule she had to live by. To stop would let this experience paralyze her. She needed time to calm down. Time to sort through flashbacks still vivid in her memory. Space to push back that sense of being smothered in the darkness. But before all those things, she had to prove to herself that she was still able to keep moving.