The screams were constantly echoing through her head. Cindy wished she could remove them from her brain, but they were always there. She even went to a heavy metal concert, but the screams just seemed to echo along with the hard beat. She wondered if they would make her go crazy. Or maybe she’d already lost her sanity and that’s why they were her constant companions. Either way, she couldn’t go on like this. She had to think of something, and fast. The one thing that changed over the last month was that they were getting louder. Ever so slowly, one small decibel at a time, the volume was increasing.
Pulled from her miserable thoughts, she stopped mid-stride and looked up at a young man who looked familiar but she couldn’t place him. “Yes,” she answered hesitantly.
He pushed his large hand through a head of thick black hair. “It’s been a long time.” He smiled, showing off slightly crooked white teeth that didn’t detract from his handsomeness. “You probably don’t remember me, do you?”
She studied his blue-gray eyes framed by long dark lashes. His skin was a healthy tan and his face clean-shaved. His jaw was square and well defined. Again, she thought he looked familiar. “I’m sorry. I know your face, but your name isn’t coming to me.” Smiling apologetically, she lifted one shoulder in a shrug.
He waved off her apology. “Like I said, it’s been a while. We had anatomy at the university. We worked the cadavers together.”
Listening through the haze of screams filling her ears, she smiled warmly. “That’s right! I knew I recognized you, Charlie.” She moved aside when several pedestrians walked by and he followed. Leaning against the brick building to her right, she asked, “So have you moved out here to Chicago or are you just visiting?”
Glancing down, he gave a half smile that did something to her insides. She thought her stomach might have actually fluttered. “I’m trying to move out here, but things are in limbo at the moment.”
Brows drawing together, she took in his expensive business suit. “Are you interviewing for a job then?”
His eyes crinkled at the corners as if he were indulging in a private joke. “Something like that.” He held his hand out. “Can I buy you a cup of coffee?”
Licking her lips, Cindy contemplated whether that was a good idea. Her life was getting hectic lately. One more mishap at work, and she’d be fired.
As if he sensed her hesitation, Charlie winked. “I promise I won’t cross any lines.”
“No, I wasn’t thinking that at all,” she rushed to say.
“Really?” He mocked disappointment. “Uh-oh. You see me as one of those nice guys, don’t you?”
Laughter escaped her lips, and Cindy realized she hadn’t so much as giggled in over four weeks. Without further contemplation, she nodded. “Where were you thinking?”
He held out his arm for her to take. Amused at his old fashioned gesture, she reached out and clasped his proffered arm.
“I know this great place just a block from here,” Charlie said.
But Cindy couldn’t hear him. As soon as her fingers had touched him, the screams crescendoed to the point of pain within her eardrums. Cindy couldn’t take a step, could barely see through the pain from hearing those terrorized voices taking over her head.
“Are you alright?”
Charlie’s tenor voice broke through and, suddenly, she could hear him with perfect clarity. In fact, the screams had retreated to barely a whisper.
Breathing out the tension from her shoulders, Cindy gave a dazzling smile. “Great,” she said. “Let’s go to that coffee house you mentioned.”
His eyes warmed, and Charlie gave a smug smile. “I’ll bet you’ll love this place.” And they began walking.