Authors: D.J. Palmer
Nina held her hand over her mouth to stifle the gasp rising from her throat. She sat on the edge of the neatly made bed, the diary splayed open on one leg, and began to turn the pages.
From the very first entries, it was evident that Allison Fitch, Simon's first wife, was an abused woman. Nina read page after page of her pain, angst, fear, hope, and self-doubt, feeling the burn of guilt for violating the confessions of a woman in crisis, yet unable to resist the imperative to push ahead.
She realized Simon must have carefully selected passages from the diary to mislead the police into thinking Emma had been depressed to the point of suicide. In reality, they had been the words of another woman. The entries made no note of the date or year. It would have been easy for him to photocopy passages that weren't particularly incriminating and glue them into a blank book to support his assertion that Emma was depressed, countering Hugh's claims of abuse.
She read on.
Well, I screwed up another plan. Got the date wrong. My mistake, but I'm always messing up something, aren't I? Simon's right. I'm a total screw up. Anyway, I cleaned the kitchen to try and make it up to him, but didn't do it to his standards, so once again I'm a failure. Guess I'll try harder.
Hugh's words came back to Nina:
Does he make you question things?
Nina recalled the countless times Simon had accused her of failing to remember something and thought:
Not things, people; he makes the women in his life doubt themselves.
These were Allison's private thoughts, and for a moment Nina struggled to wrap her mind around the fact that Simon read them to himself in bed like it was
Her breath caught, all color draining from her vision, after reading one particularly illuminating passage.
I get what I have to do. I have to leave him. Yes, yes, yes, I've said it before. Heard it a thousand times, too. But it's not easy. I don't have any money. He's taken it all. I don't even have access to the bank account. I didn't understand what I was signing. He made it seem like it was important, but when I asked ONE simple question, he snapped at me and asked if I trusted him. So I signed it and when I went to take out money that's when I found out I wasn't on the account anymore. I don't have any credit cards, and all the tips I make I give to Simon to pay the bills. God, I wish he NEVER came to the restaurant that night. I wish I never left with him. More than anything, I wish that I never met Simon Fitch!
Nina realized Simon had told her another lie. He and Allison weren't college sweethearts. She'd been a waitress or something, maybe down on her luck when he met her. She was probably young and without the means to support herself. It would have made it easier for him to take control of her life. Nina wondered how long they'd dated before the abuse started.
Some of what Allison shared in her diary revealed a more volatile side to Simon than Nina had seen. Intuition told her his methods hadn't changed with the years, but he had refined his technique considerably.
I got home from the bar and Simon was already in a nasty mood. He looked at his watch and said I should have been home 13 minutes ago. 13
minutes! Like he had timed it. I told him the buses were running late. He told me I should have called and I said, yeah I should have, but I said it really sarcastically. I didn't think it was a big deal, but he got up off the chair and came at me fast. He grabbed my hair and yanked my head back so hard I cried out in pain, and told me to watch how I spoke to him. But he didn't hit me, so it's no big deal. It was just words. Words don't leave marks or bruises.
It wasn't all a living nightmare. Earlier passages attested to Simon's sweetness, his charm, how much he truly loved her. It was clear for the first time in her life that Allison felt adored and treasured. It must have been intoxicating to a young woman with little life experience. It had been for an older woman; Nina knew. Allison wrote about a moonlight stroll on the lakeshore, dancing to music of wind and waves, and Nina felt sick remembering how Simon had courted her.
I think what he loves most about me is my sense of style, how I'm not like all the other girls. I've got such a thing for the 60s and 70s, the fashion, the way women wore their hair. Simon loves my new haircut. He said I looked like a movie star. He thought I was so creative. I showed him the magazine where I got the idea from and he said I was more beautiful than the model.
Was it possible the magazine Allison referenced was the same issue of
Simon had shown herâthe one Nina had used to model her hairstyle? She had never checked the date on the cover, so it could have come from another decade; it could have belonged to Allison.
Nina spent too much time on the bed, flipping pages, reading passage after passage, forgetting for a moment she had broken into Simon's home. She began to skim the pages, taking in what she could as quickly as possible, aware it was not in her best interests to linger, but unable to pull herself away. Certain entries stuck out like a lighthouse beacon sending its danger warning.
I told Simon I didn't feel like he was paying enough attention to me and he snapped and said I was being too sensitive. He says I'm always nagging him about this or that. All of a sudden I'm defending myself when I was trying to talk about my feelings. I guess I just have to do better. It's my fault. I know he hates it when I criticize him. His father criticized him constantly so it's hard for him to hear. I'll be more careful next time. And he's right. I am too sensitive.
All I am is a failure. I can't do anything right. Can't fold his shirts right. Can't cook a good meal. I'm not adventurous enough in bed. I feel like I'm constantly saying sorry. And when I tell him how he hurt my feelings, he just says I misunderstood him. I don't know what to think. But I think he's probably right.
Okay, that was a first. He hit me. And it hurt. Really, really hurt. But in fairness I did call him a son of a bitch. That's because I wanted to go out with Heather and Marie and he wouldn't give me any money, and I wasn't about to ask them for cash. He said we were running low and couldn't afford a night out, but I worked for that money. It's mine! Right? Anyway, he punched me. Closed fist and all. And afterwards he was so so apologetic. He actually threw up, he was that upset! He was crying, crying, crying, telling me how sorry he was, begging me not to leave him, that he didn't mean for it to happen. He gave me two hundred dollars and told me to go out and have the best time ever. Said don't worry about him and that he'd be fine. But I couldn't go out, not with him so upset. He's never lost his temper like that before. Something must really be bothering him. Anyway, I didn't think I had enough makeup to cover up the mark, so I stayed home. We ended up having a good night watching a movie, but he wouldn't go to bed until I promised I forgave him. So I did.
We are working so hard on the relationship. I think it's making a real difference. We're not in therapy, not yet anyway. Simon says we can't afford it. But we're talking a lot and he really wants to change. I know it. We're going to get through this. Together. I love him and he loves me. And that's what matters. He's had such a hard life. I mean both his parents died not that long ago. It's traumatic. Even though his father was
really abusive to him and his mother, it's still really hard. He's going through a lot. I'm really hopeful for our future and I know I can help him change. I just know it!
I don't see my friends anymore. Simon hates them. All of them. He says he doesn't trust them. Calls them a bunch of phonies. I told him he's wrong, but he's so sure of it that he said it's either them or him. Like what I am supposed to do with that? Leave? Move out? And go live where? I have no money. None. And we're working so hard on us, too. I'll give it some time. I know we can figure this out. And then I'll ask Marie if she called me a bitch behind my back like Simon said she did.
Simon's been horrible lately. I think he yells at me just to see me cry. It's like I do nothing around here. I cook. I clean. I work. I contribute! I am important, but he makes me feel so insignificant sometimes. I feel like I'm constantly walking on eggshells. He says I'm always upset about something and that's why my friends don't like me anymore. Maybe he's right. Before Simon came along I was nothing, and without him I'll be nothing again.
I've stopped cooking because Simon's being so mean to me, which is really pissing him off. But he's always upset with me about something, isn't he? I'm perpetually subpar in his eyes. Any chance he gets, he'll point out how other wives treat their husbands, but not me. I'm not a good wife at all. It's hard to take these constant comparisons, but I guess the verbal slaps are preferable to the other kind.
Simon hit me again and I told him that was it. I was going to leave him. He said if I did that he'd kill me. He said it quickly, too, like he had planned it out already. I don't know what to do. Honestly, I'm really scared. He's been in this black mood for the longest time. I feel too ashamed and embarrassed to go back home. I mean, I ran away. My parents haven't heard from me in years. I'll never live it down! No, I have to figure this out on my own. It's my fault. I'm doing it. I'm triggering his behavior. So if I'm responsible, I can fix it.
Nina passed through episodes of more heartache and abuse. Allison fell short of Simon's expectations time and time again. The beatings did not end.
I'm a week out of the hospital. I can walk fine. The leg will heal. Everyone believed Simon, like I knew they would. I'm clumsy enough to have fallen down the stairs. If only they knew. But I can't tell my friends. I can't tell anyone because I'm afraid. He'll kill me if I try to leave him. I know he will. I should kill him first. I should stab him in his sleep, a knife right through his cold, beating heart. But you can't do it, can you, Allison? Because you are weak and pathetic, just like he says you are.
Allison even repeated something in her diary that made Nina shiver with grim reminders of the last words Simon had spoken to her:
Like Simon says, there is a right way and wrong way to be, for everything and everyone.
As Nina neared the final entries, things seemed to take a turn for the better. That's when Allison got pregnant.
I can't believe it. I'm going to be a mother. Maybe this will change everything. Maybe a baby is all that we've been missing. God, I pray that's so. Please. Please make it so. I'm so excited but nervous, too. I can't wait to tell Simon. He'll be overjoyed.
And from what Nina read, he was overjoyed, at least for a time. But Simon could not control his nature. He'd yell and scream when the house was in disorder. He'd badger and berate, but at least the beatings seemed to stop. There were no entries detailing any physical abuse during her pregnancy. But there were plenty of allusions to emotional isolation and loneliness.
Now he's telling me I have to quit my job. He says the stress is bad for the baby. I don't know what to believe anymore, but I still gave them my notice.
A group of people from the bar got together for a good-bye party and gave me some money so I could buy things for the baby because I wasn't having a baby shower. Simon said those were bad luck. I wouldn't give the money to Simon to put in the account, so he hit me in the stomach. He hit the baby! That decided it. I'm going to get a job, a secret job that pays me very well. But it has to be something I can do without him finding out, so I can't go back to the bar. All I need is just enough money to get away, and then I'll start my new life with a new name.
I'm so done being afraid. I'm going to get money and then I'm going to leave him for good.
The baby changes everything.
That was the final entry. Those were Allison's last words.
Nina's heart sank. She looked at Allison's picture again, hoping, praying she got away. But perhaps not. Maybe Simon had found out she was going to leave him. Had he killed her? What happened to the baby? The diary answered none of those questions.
Closing the small book, Nina rose from the bed as a gnawing fear took root. She knew better than most how difficult it could be to leave an abusive relationship. But even with all her training, she had fallen into a similar trap. Now she'd done it again, staying inside Simon's orbit, in his home, far longer than prudent.
School was still in session, she had that going for her, and the alarm had been disabled so Simon would have no reason to suspect anything amiss. Then again, he might have noticed his keys missing, and that could trigger him to check the house.
Her mounting anxiety went full bloom as she processed the dire reality of the situation. Nina understood it now: she was the carbon copy replacement of Allison, who'd left Simon heartbroken, or was dead and buried by his hand. Simon had used Nina to try to overcome the deep-rooted sense of rejection he had harbored ever since Allison had taken with her Simon's child and vanished, never to be seen or heard from again.
How long had he lusted for me?
Nina wondered. Probably from that first day when they had met at the D.A.R.E. meeting almost seven
years ago. The timeline gave her new insight into a terrifying possibility: When had Emma died? Soon after that meeting? Nina calculated the dates in her head. Yes, it was around that time, she decided. It was possibleâeven probable, given what she'd learnedâthat when Simon met Nina he decided to substitute one version of AllisonâEmmaâwith a near-perfect replica. There was no doubt in Nina's mind that a side-by-side comparison of a recent picture of herself and one of Allison Fitch as a forty-something-year-old woman, would look as close to identical as different DNA would allow. Nina now saw herself as Simon saw her: his chance to fix the past, to bring Allison back to him.
Maybe Simon had killed Emma because two near look-a-likes would have been confusing for him. Or perhaps he had wanted Emma's money and a fresh start. Nina couldn't say.
Hard as it was, she tried to put herself in Simon's twisted brain. With Emma out of the picture, what had he done next? He'd bided his time, hadn't he? Like a patient hunter lying in wait, planning his attack, for years, perhaps. Thinking, always thinking, how he could ingratiate himself with Nina, waiting for that perfect opportunity to strike. And then the opportunity presented itself when Glen disappeared, leaving her and the children vulnerable, giving Simon the chance he needed to make his move.
Heaven help me.
The onslaught of revelations left Nina dazed, so instead of making a hasty exit as she'd intended, she wandered down the hall in something of a trance, leaving the diary on top of the comforter where she had found it, making sure to smooth out the indentation of her body. She briefly contemplated taking the book, to use it as irrefutable evidence of what Simon really was, but didn't want him coming after her to get it back. Simon Fitch was more dangerous than she'd ever imagined, and now she not only feared for her life, but for the lives of her children as well.
At the end of the hall was the door that led to the basement. Nina
had never wandered through the house when she was there with Simon, but once he had shown her his cellar. Remarkably clean and ordered, it had stayed in her memory. She noted now how the door was tightly sealed at the top, bottom, and sides. A thought prickled at her. Daisy could be down there.
You'd have heard her barking,
Nina told herself.
Maybe. Or maybe not. Maybe the door is sealed so sound can't escape. Or maybe she's down there dead. Maybe he killed my dog.
Every fiber in her body told her to leave, to get out of that house right away, but she couldn't go, not without checking first. She didn't want to stay in this house a second longer, but she had to know.
Setting her hand on the brass doorknob, Nina gave it a twist. It turned in her grasp. She pulled hard to open the door. It was stiff at first, but the seal eventually gave way. She looked down the hall toward the front door, scared that Simon might appear. But the house was as empty and still as when she'd arrived.
The open cellar door revealed a steep stairwell. The room below was impenetrably dark. Not a trace of light anywhere.
She peered into the blackness, heart hammering in her chest. She was feeling around the top of the stairs for a light switch when she heard a bark.