It had taken many months, but finally her friends had got her to go to a party with them, this party. She had actually felt good about going, almost whole again while getting herself ready. The hint of excitement, dressing up, and wondering what the evening would bring, friendship, excitement or even romance.

When Jan picked her up, she let out a whistle, like a building site worker at her appearance. "Wow Sue, you look good, if I were that way inclined I'd chat you up myself. The rest of us women stand no chance tonight, you'll have the pick of the men."

"Pick of the men." There had been a time when that was all she desired. She had been able to have whatever she wanted. Then she met Rick.

For some reason she knew from the first time she saw him, that he was all she wanted. Something electric had passed between them that first eye contact.

After that it was like her world had been hit by a whirlwind, becoming lovers, and moving in together before she even knew what was going on. From that first moment her feet never seemed to touch the ground. Her life, her world revolved around Rick.

Slowly she'd lost contact with her friends, cutting herself off from everything that was not about Rick and their world.

Now thinking back, she knew something inside tried to tell her something was wrong, yet the voice was lost in the beating of her heart whenever she looked into Rick's eyes. Even the first time he'd hit her after she had been out for a meal with an old friend. She blamed herself, the voice tried to make her hear, but she turned a deaf ear to it's warning. His apologies and promises that it would never happen again, drowned the words of warning from her inner voice.

The second and third time he'd hit her, again the voice tried, and again she turned a deaf ear. Hiding in excuses, avoiding friends who might ask questions. She blamed herself, trying any way she could to keep his love for her.

Months past, he had become more and more violent, until finally she had found herself battered and bruised in a hospital bed. Jan had been the one friend who would not sit and wait; who had found her in the hospital. She told Sue in words that can only come through the strength of special friendship, exactly what she had got into.

Jan had been there through all the months of recovering, of realizing who she was, and learning to live again.

Now tonight - one step nearer facing reality.

The party was all she'd hoped it would be, full of fun and laughter. She looked at Jan immersed in the man she was dancing with, and said a silent prayer of thanks for having a friend like her.

A hand touched her shoulder, a feeling of excitement, mixed with a cocktail of fear ran through her, she knew that touch. Looking up her eyes met the Ricks hypnotic gaze.

"Hi love, didn't expect to see you here."

Didn't expect what? Was she meant to never show her face again?
She went to pull away, but he grabbed her hand, making her wince, waking her inner voice.

"Please love, please. Let me speak." Rick pleaded drowning the voice. "I know I was wrong, very wrong, you've a perfect right to hate me. But I've changed. I've been to anger management classes. I realize your life must have been terrible with me, and how I was. But love I've changed. Please, please I am so sorry for all I've done."

Something in his eyes, the way he looked at her drowned the inner voice. The evening went by, and she once more found herself under his spell. Jan caught her in the bathroom one time.
"Are you mad?" she had asked, grabbing Sue's arm.
"No, it's all right, I know what I'm doing, honestly Jan, he has changed, he's been to therapy, he has changed."
Jan made it clear what she thought of him, making some very hurtful remarks about leopards and spots. For a moment Sue actually thought about leaving the party, the inner voice echoing in her ears. That, however, was lost with the first touch of Rick's lips on hers.

Towards the end of the evening Jan looked round for Sue but could not find her. With a sigh she guessed that Sue had left with Rick hoping deep in her heart she was wrong.

In the morning she was just about to phone Sue to make sure she was all right and apologize for the harsh words she had said, when the headline in the local paper announced.

"Naked Woman found strangled on beach."

This time, no friends or inner voice had been able to save Sue.

Barry Eva 2005