Ivy watched Jake scan his phone’s photos through blurry vision. Earlier, she had been bawling in fear as he took pictures of her in distress.
I’m going to die, she thought. I’m going to die wearing gray sweatpants and an ugly T-shirt.
It really didn’t matter. She didn’t want to die. She didn’t understand how she missed the signs that Jake was crazy. He seemed so kind and sweet. So did the serial killer Ted Bundy.
Jake smiled as he looked at one of his pictures and held up the phone for her to see, “It’s beautiful, isn’t it? Like something out of Glamour Shots. Fear looks good on everyone.”
Ivy couldn’t speak. Her mouth was gagged. She could feel tears staining her cheeks.
“Are you surprised by all of this, Ivy?” Jake asked. When she didn’t respond he became angry and pulled her hair, “Nod yes or no.”
Ivy quickly nodded.
“I’m not sure why. We met at a graveyard. How else did you expect this relationship to end?” He began laughing at his own question. Ivy just shuddered.
“Do you want to know why I’m doing this? Do you?” He sat on the bed and held the gun in one hand and his phone in the other, “It has nothing to do with you. It’s too bad actually. I kind of liked you. Kind of.”
Ivy was watching his hand with the gun. Her body tensed each time he waved his the weapon around. Her wrists and legs were beginning to turn numb from being tied up.
“I guess this means we’re breaking up. Well I want to let you know that it’s not you. You’re not the reason we’re ending this. It’s because of your friend Britney.”
Britney? Ivy didn’t understand. Did Jake know Britney?
“I can see by your surprised expression that you’re wondering how I know Britney. I know her very well. She’s the woman that ruined not one but two of my relationships. It’s that show of hers…it gives her too much power over women. It’s like she’s brainwashing them to think I’m some kind of jealous monster. I’m not a monster Ivy! I’m not!”
Ivy found that hard to believe as she stared at his wild eyes. How could anyone have so much hate in them?
“The thing is…if I want to get her to do what I say…I have to go through someone she knows. Someone she cares about. And it’s so much easier to tie down a woman than a man. So whether you like it or not, you’re going to help me Ivy. You’re going to help me ruin her career and her life.”
The next day, Dr. Britney Chong was rummaging through her purse when she heard her phone dinging, alerting her of a message. She ignored it.
A few minutes later, Chase walked into their office and greeted her, “Hey Britney, are you ready for today’s show?”
“Of course I’m ready. What better topic could we possibly discuss?”
“I can think of a few,” Chase said looking suggestively at her legs.
Britney chuckled, “Keep it in your pants Dr. Clooney.”
He laughed in response and she smiled.
“So when we bring up men in abusive relationships, what stance do you want to take?” Chase asked.
“I think we should both take the same stance- that it’s an ongoing serious problem that needs more attention. Is there an alternative stance?”
Chase smiled, “Sounds good to me. Alright, I’ll see you in the studio.”
Britney watched Chase walk out of their shared office and smiled. A few minutes later, her phone dinged again. This time she picked it up.
It was a photo message. She allowed it to download and gasped. It was a picture of her friend Ivy, gagged and tied up, a gun to her temple.
The second message read, “Do you value your friend’s life? Reply yes or no.”
Britney quickly swiped her finger over the keys, “Yes.”
Her phone dinged a second time.
“Keep your phone with you and listen to my instructions.”
Another ding filled the air and she gulped in fear before looking at the text.
“I’ll be listening.”
Britney started to panic. She wanted to call the police. It was the only choice she had. She was about to dial 911 when a new message populated on her screen.
“Call the cops and she dies.”
She felt her knees buckle beneath her and she struggled to breath. He was back. Her stalker was back.
Ten Minutes Later, a shaky Britney sat behind the microphone she normally used when doing the show. Her phone was on silent but placed in front of her.
She heard Chase speak, “Okay listeners. Today we’re talking about abusive relationships and before you think we’re covering the same old thing…I want to tell you that this time we’re focusing on abused men. That’s right you heard me. Abused men.”
Chase looked at Britney who was quiet. He gave her a confused look as she didn’t reply and continued, “It’s a well hidden secret that there are many men that are actually victims of abuse in their relationships. So tonight I’m calling out for all these men to be brave and give us a call. You will stay anonymous. We’re here to help. Isn’t that right Britney?”
Britney was startled at the sound of her name but she recovered quickly, “Right. We’re here to listen to your side of the story.”
Britney looked up to see Mack signaling them that there was a caller on the line. Chase answered, “Welcome to Heart-breakers. We’re glad you called.”
“Hello my name is Jake,” the caller answered.
“Jake, we don’t use real names,” Britney said in a low voice.
“That’s right. Sorry about that. Hmmm in that case, I want the name Healing Bruises.”
Britney took a deep breath. The name Healing Bruises sounded familiar but she couldn’t remember where she had heard it before. She had so many callers, it was hard to remember their nicknames.
“It’s an interesting choice but we’ll go with it. Do you mind sharing your story with us, Bruises?” Chase asked.
“The main woman in my life is very controlling. She doesn’t let me have a relationship with anyone else. She always seems to sabotage it,” Jake answered.
“Is this woman your girlfriend?” Chase asked.
“Sort of. We’re very much connected,” Jake answered.
“Today we’re talking about men who suffer from abuse. Is this what you’re undergoing Bruises?” Britney asked.
She heard the caller laugh, “There are all types of abuse. There’s physical but wouldn’t you agree that mental abuse is just as bad…if not worse? It can leave a scar so deep that perhaps nothing can heal it. Can fill it.”
“Would you feel comfortable telling us what you’ve been through?” Britney asked.
“Of course,” Jake answered. “My woman is selfish. She only cares about herself. She always tells everyone that I’m in the wrong and makes me feel like crap. She steps on my ego.”
A message silently flashed on Britney’ phone, “Tell him to get over it.”
Britney stared at the message, torn about what she should do.
“DO IT!” a new message demanded.
Britney cleared her throat, “Umm bruises…I think that you should just…get over it.”
“What?” Chase asked, surprised.
Britney steeled herself to continue on, “I said…you should get over it. Get a backbone. This woman will never respect you if you don’t respect yourself. Ladies am I right?”
The caller responded, “Are you saying I’m a wimp?”
Another message flashed on her phone, “Tell him yes.”
Chase answered for her, “Not at all. Don’t misunderstand Dr. Chong. What she meant to say-”
“Yes,” Britney interrupted. “Yes. I’m saying you’re being a wimp. Not in a physical sense but emotionally. You should stand up to your girlfriend or this will be a problem that never gets resolved.”
“I can’t believe you just insulted me,” the caller cried in indignation.
“She didn’t mean it as an insult but as a way to get you to stand up for yourself. To motivate you,” Chase defended her.
“Take it how you want,” Britney answered. She was angry at the situation she was being forced in. She was also scared. She looked up to see Mack gesturing wildly for her to be quiet. As a new message flashed on her screen, she knew it was going to be a long night.
After the Radio Show, Mack had his hands fisted at his hips, “What were you thinking Britney? Do you know how many complaints we’re going to get now because of you? We probably lost listeners because of the stunt you just pulled. What possessed you to tell a caller that he was a wimp?”
Britney tried to seem unconcerned and shrugged, “It could’ve been worse. I could’ve said worse.”
“Worse than telling a caller he was a wimp for being abused by his girlfriend? I don’t think so.”
“I’m sorry Mack,” she said quietly.
“Sorry? You’re sorry?” Mack went from being upset to sounding regretful, “Yeah so am I. Let’s just hope the listeners aren’t demanding your pink slip after tonight.”
Mack walked away and Britney glanced at Chase who was staring at her.
“What is it?”
“Are you okay?” Chase asked her.
His concern was almost enough to break her. Almost.
“I’m fine. Listen, I have to get home. I’ll see you tomorrow okay?”
She didn’t wait for him to answer, she just walked away. It was probably for the best to stop their relationship before it really got started. She didn’t know who this stalker was but she had a feeling that he was going to ruin a lot more than her radio show and she didn’t want Chase involved.
“Britney are you sleeping? Britney can you hear me? Britney?” a soft whisper of a voice drifted in and out of her subconscious.
A different voice, more familiar and distinct, cried out to her “Britney! Britney, please help me. Don’t let me die!”
The whispering voice returned, “You can save her Britney. All you have to do is…kill yourself. Die Britney! Don’t you care about your friend?”
The woman’s voice echoed the whisperer’s question, “Don’t you care about me?”
A low cackle filled her head followed by, “I guess not.”
A scream shattered all around her. Britney sprang up from her bed, gasping for breath. Her sheets were damp and her body was covered in a sheen of her own sweat. She looked around her and saw that she was sitting up in her bed, alone.
She slowly got out of bed and pulled her sheets off, letting them fall to the floor. She padded to the bathroom and turned on the shower. She refused to go back to sleep covered in her own sweat.
Afterwards, she put on some Mickey Mouse pajamas and sat in front of her laptop. Since she had it cleaned for viruses, she hadn’t downloaded any attachments from any e-mails so it should be okay to use.
She opened her advice column account and began skimming through the messages. It was linked to an IM account that she hardly ever used. She was about to set the notifications to show she was unavailable when a message popped up.
“Dr. Chong? OMG are you really online this late? I have a question for you!”
Since she was up and had nothing better to do, she replied, “It’s pretty late. Why are you still up? I hope it’s not a serious relationship problem that’s making you lose sleep.”
“I’m obsessed with your show. I wanted to know what I should do if my boyfriend is interested in other girls.”
Britney smiled. This was easy territory for her and a change from having to try and solve the problem of her friend being held hostage. She still wasn’t sure if she should contact the police. What if she called the cops and he killed Ivy? She sighed as she typed, “Are you sure he’s interested in other girls?”
“Yes, he’s always trying to spend time with them. I don’t know why if he has me. We met at a Jalisco’s. I love their burritos!”
“Yes, their food is good. As far as your boyfriend, maybe he’s just very social,” Britney offered. She was pretty sure the person on the other end was a teen as their screen name was SchoolSux201.
“If you had a boyfriend and you couldn’t trust him, what would you do?” SchoolSux201 asked.
“I’d probably talk to him about it,” Britney answered with a tapping of her keyboard.
“That’s easier to say than to do.”
Britney smiled and typed, “Yes. It is. I still think you should try. I’m not sure how old you are but no relationship lasts without trust.”
“Thanks Dr. Chong. You’re such a genius! <3<3”
Britney laughed and typed, “I wouldn’t say that. I’ve just been in enough relationships to know better.”
“I just don’t want to be cheated on. I think that’s the worst.”
“I agree.” Dr. Chong laughed. If only her life was this simple. How happy she would be if her biggest problem was that her boyfriend was cheating on her.
“Have you ever had a boy cheat on you?” SchoolSux201 asked.
“I believe it’s a rite of passage for all girls. It’s the only way they learn how to pick a good boyfriend.”
“Wow I can’t believe anyone would cheat on you. I feel like we have so much in common. We both like Jalisco’s. We’ve both been cheated on and we both like Mickey Mouse.”
A moment of silence passed before Britney took in what she just read.
“We both like Mickey Mouse.”
She looked down at her Mickey Mouse pajamas and started shaking. She slammed her laptop shut, causing her to be hidden in complete darkness. She stood up and bumped into some furniture as she grabbed her phone and walked out of the room. She was breathing heavily. She was panicking. It was only 3:30 AM and she was too scared to go back to bed much less go back to her bedroom. She walked to her kitchen and grabbed a butcher knife. She carried it with her to the living room and sat down, her knees up against her stomach. In one hand she carried the knife and in the other she held her phone.
This was how Nicholas found his sister the next morning. She was huddled on the sofa, eyes bloodshot, and her head drooping to one side as she was trying her best not to fall asleep.
“Britney? What’s wrong with you? What are you doing?” her brother asked.
“Nicholas?” she was still in a sleepless stupor.
“What’s wrong Britney?”
“I need you to call Luke. Now.”
“I want him to do a sweep of the house. I think someone is spying on me again.”
“Britney are you joking right now?” Nicholas asked.
Britney almost lost it. She began sobbing and yelling, “Do I look like I’m joking? I want him here now Nicholas! Now!”
“Okay…okay! I’ll call him. Just calm down, alright?”
That morning Luke came over with a case of equipment. He took one look at Britney and whistled. “You’re a sight for sore eyes.”
“Don’t lie Luke. We both know she looks like crap,” Nicholas said.
Britney ignored him, “Luke did Nicholas tell you what I need done?”
“He said you think you have a bug in the house…or that someone was spying on you.”
Britney nodded, “I know you probably think I’m crazy but I still want you to check. Can you do that?”
“Of course I can Britney. We’ll start down here. Okay?”
Britney nodded and watched as Luke walked around the house with some small gizmo. He also searched the room for any hidden cameras. When he was done, he shook his head, “There’s nothing here. Should I check upstairs?”
“Yes!” Britney stood up and led him to her bedroom, “Check here first Luke.”
Luke turned on his gadget that was supposed to pick up on any listening devices and he made a strange face.
“What is it?” Britney asked.
“Just a moment.” Luke put his gizmo down and opened his case of tools. He took a chair and stood on it to reach the air conditioning vent. “Do you ever clean back here Britney?”
“Because if you did…you would’ve found this,” Luke said removing the vent and pulling out what looked like a white orb with a camera in the middle. Nicholas stepped forward and held it, “What is this?”
“It’s a baby monitor,” Luke answered.
“This is a baby monitor? Why is it in the vent?” Nicholas asked, still confused.
Britney felt her knees buckling beneath her.
“Aren’t baby monitors one sided?” Nicholas asked.
“Do you not listen when I talk about work?” Luke asked. “This isn’t just an ordinary monitor. It has a camera. This camera can move in any direction. Most importantly…if it’s connected to your internet, then anyone can spy on you, talk to you, hear whatever you say. This is an easy doorway into your home.”
“I don’t believe this,” Britney whispered to herself.
Luke looked at Nicholas who was slightly pale, “Guys, what’s going on here? Why did you have me sweep your house? Is everything okay?”
“It’s fine! Everything’s fine,” Britney stood back up. “Nothing is wrong. She grabbed the white baby monitor and held it in front of her, so that whoever was watching her could get her message directly, “Stop it! I don’t know what your problem is but stop it! Leave me alone! Leave me alone!”
Nicholas and Luke were both stunned. They had never seen the cool and collected Britney become so riled up.
“Britney calm down,” Nicholas stepped towards her but she quickly side-stepped him.
“Calm down? Me? Calm down? Don’t you know that’s the worst thing to say to someone that’s not feeling calm Nicholas?” She held the monitor in her hands and threw it against the wall as hard as she could, causing it to break.
“Let’s see if you keep spying on me now,” Britney was panting.
Luke turned to Nicholas, “I don’t know exactly what’s going on but if this person hacked into your internet, you may want to change your Wi-Fi password.”
Nicholas nodded as he watched Britney. She was standing still, staring at the broken pieces of the monitor.
After Luke was done searching the house, he confirmed that the only monitor found was the one in the vent.
“So where are they watching me from?” Britney asked.
“Their laptop or tablet most likely. All they needed to do was get it in there and hack into your router,” Luke answered. “We should probably call the police now.”
“No!” Britney cried, “No police.”
“How long has this been going on?” Luke asked, startled by her outburst.
“A couple of weeks,” Nicholas answered as Britney had shut down and wasn’t speaking.
“Has she noticed anyone different hanging around?” Luke asked.
“I don’t know. She has tons of fans so it could be anyone couldn’t it?”
“I’m right here boys. Don’t talk about me like I don’t exist,” Britney said in a low monotone voice.
Luke was about to apologize when the doorbell rang.
Nicholas stood up to answer the door. It was a delivery from 1-800-Flowers. “I have a delivery for a Dr. Britney Chong,” the man said at the door.
Nicholas signed and took the delivery.
“That’s different,” Luke said, causing Britney to turn around and gasp. It wasn’t a bouquet of flowers. It was a bouquet of fruit cut up into the shape of flowers.
Nicholas handed the card to Britney who read it. “They’re from Brad.”
“That guy is too smooth. You love these flower fruits, right?” Nicholas asked his sister.
Britney nodded, “Nicholas. Did you tell Brad I liked these?”
Nicholas seemed surprised by her question, “No. Didn’t you tell him?”
Britney shrugged but she couldn’t remember ever telling him that bit of information. She thought back to what Luke had just mentioned.
“Has she noticed anyone different hanging around?”
All of this stalker business began around the same time Brad had come into her life. An uncomfortable feeling started to form in the pit of her stomach. Brad was handsome and sweet. He wouldn’t need to stalk women. They’d come to him willingly. It wasn’t possible. Was it?