Laura Holland awakes in the middle of the night to see a stranger standing in her bedroom doorway. She manages to defend herself from the would-be rapist, though he threatens to return as he retreats. Traumatized with recurring nightmares, Laura seeks therapy and is exposed to a unique treatment called EMDR. She also seeks self-protection—buying a gun against the wishes of her husband. When Laura learns she could have gone to prison had she shot her fleeing assailant, she decides to write a hypothetical legal case using the details of that night. She enlists the help of a criminal defense lawyer, Thomas Bennett, who proves to be well versed in the justice system but has an uncanny resemblance to her attacker. As the two work together to develop the story, Laura’s discomfort escalates, particularly when Thomas seems to know more about that night than he should. Reality and fiction soon merge as her real life drama begins to mirror the fiction she’s trying to create.
Thursday July 6th
Run. Run faster. As much as I strained my legs to move, they were immobile, like I was waist deep in quicksand.
Why can’t I move?
I tried to scream for help but my mouth was full, like it was stuffed with cotton—no sound would escape.
I felt something clutching my shoulder. No, it was someone. He was pushing me forward and then yanking me back. I tried to jerk away but he had a tight grip, like a vice.
I have to break free.
The tugging got harder, more forceful. He was calling my name—over and over. He knew my name.
I jolted awake—my husband’s hand still on my shoulder.
“Honey, wake up. You’re having another bad dream.”
Slowly, I turned over in bed and looked at him—his dark brown eyes were fixated on me. I could see them clearly as the light from the bathroom brightened our bedroom.
For a month now, we had slept with this light on.
I could see the small wrinkle on his forehead. I loved that wrinkle though wished he didn’t have good reason to be so concerned. I was enduring the nightmares, but he had to deal with my tossing and mumbling in terror.
I remember when we first met—ten years ago in chemistry lab at Georgia Tech. He had walked up to me with those warm eyes and a charming, confident smile and asked, “Want to be partners?”
Two years later he took me to Stone Mountain Park, rented a small rowboat and, in the moonlight, he pulled out a diamond ring and asked me again, “Want to be partners?”
Life had seemed just about perfect.
We looked at each other for a moment. Then he propped himself up on his elbow and said softly, “Laura, I feel so helpless. I know it’s only been a month, but…”
“What?” I asked.
“It’s just as bad as that first night. After it happened. Look, I want to make you feel safe again, but I don’t know how.”
He rubbed his eyes and looked away. I waited, staring at him.
What isn’t he saying?
“I know you don’t want to see a therapist, but seeing someone doesn’t mean you’re crazy. Therapists don’t treat just crazy people. They help people who have been through traumas and you have. Hell, no
one even has to know.”
He paused for a second.
“Don’t be mad at me, but yesterday I made an appointment for you. I was going to talk to you about it in the morning if you had another bad dream. I found a woman who is downtown by my office. She’s been practicing for about twenty years, got her doctorate from Emory and comes with really good patient reviews.”
He looked for my reaction and continued. “I made the appointment for you at 4:00 so we can go to dinner afterward. You know what you always say. You’ll try anything once, right?”
“I told you I don’t want to see a psychiatrist,” I pushed back. “I just need more time. I’ll bounce back. You know I almost came in the house on my own today. Besides, if I see a psychiatrist, on every job application I complete in the future, I’ll have to check the ‘Yes’ box when they ask if I’ve had mental health treatment.”
“Jesus. No you don’t. You’re too innocent sometimes.”
He gently tapped me on the nose.
“You can check the box ‘No.’ Besides, if that’s the only thing stopping you, I think you should give it a try. Her name is Barbara Cole. I’ll take you to Houston’s afterward,” he added.
I ignored the bribe. “But what can she do that you can’t? All she’ll do is listen and you do that for me already. Psychiatrists are for people who don’t have friends or husbands to talk to.”
Chris shook his head.
“Please? Do it for me.”
The tone in his voice was different—more helpless than normal.
Chris had been so understanding, so comforting this past month, especially considering I had been waking him every night. How could I refuse his request?
I sighed. “Okay,” I relented. “I’ll go.”
About the Author
Liz Lazarus is an engineer, career business woman, private pilot, and consultant – nothing that necessarily says author. But this book literally kept nagging her to write it, so she finally relented. Loosely based on personal experience and a series of ‘what if’ questions, FREE OF MALICE traces the after effects of a foiled attack; a woman healing, and grappling with the legal system to acknowledge her right to self-defense. Liz is a native Georgian, born in Valdosta and now living in Atlanta with her fiancé, Richard, and their very spoiled orange tabby named Buckwheat.