My breathing became rapid. For a moment I thought I was going to hyperventilate.
"Easy, hon, easy," he said.
The fact that he had called me "hon" should have infuriated me, but I was busy trying to keep my heart rate slower than that of a hummingbird's.
He got off the sofa and went toward me. He placed gentle but firm hands on my shoulders.
"Calm down. You won't be hurt. In fact, this," he said, motioning to my bound and gagged form, "is the safest spot for you right now."
That last comment irked me.
Oh, how I hate it when men tell women that stuff is for our own good!
It's so patronizing and arrogant.
So I looked up at him sharply, shook some hair from my eyes (I'm auburn with a light complexion and green eyes) and narrowed them once again.
I caught myself growling at him.
My anger caused him to remove his hands from my shoulders as if they had suddenly become hot as burning coals.
He took a step back.
Hell hath no fury
I was following his story, but to me it still didn't explain why I had to be taped to a chair with my mouth plugged and sealed.
I was waiting for him to get to that part. I'd have asked him, but, you know.
Actually, I think I did ask him.
It came out, "Wumm ewm imm amm ewwm eh iem umm?"
Translated: Why do I have to be tied up?
Like I said, not much of a vocabulary.
Travis looked at me and this time it was his turn to cock his head in puzzlement. The man had no idea what I had just said.
So I repeated, after sighing and rolling my eyes.
"Wumm ewm imm amm ewwm eh iem umm?"
It wasn't any more intelligible the second time, believe me.
"Look, you may as well not try to talk, Lauren. I can't make anything out."
I jerked at my bonds, stomped my feet, balled my hands into fists and thrust my chest out.
That wasn't supposed to be words-just a scream of frustration and anger.
I sighed, slumped back into the chair, and again tossed hair from my eyes with a shake of my head.
"We're going to be setting up some equipment in here this evening, so I thought it would be best if you stayed out of our hair-and quiet."
Ahh, finally he gets around to explaining his liberal application of duct tape all over my body.
But wait-did he say "we" and "our"?
My mind caught up with my ears and I started bouncing and jiggling in the chair again.
Meaning, did you just say "we" and "our"?
"Relax," Travis said, which isn't a good thing to say to a bound and gagged woman in her own home, who was placed in that predicament by a MAN SHE WAS DATING!
I cursed and swore at him like a trucker. I carried on for several seconds, swearing in my head but of course it all came out like gibberish.
Another reason Travis had gagged me.
To his credit, he let me carry on, let me vent, until I tired myself out and slumped back once again. He didn't try to cut me off or tell me to shut it.
In fact, he said, "Are you finished?"
He said it as if he was referring to a plate of food before me-very prim and courteous.
I thought for a moment, sighed, and then slowly nodded my head. Yes, I was finished-for now.
"OK. Your anger is understandable."
It then struck me-something about Travis which I didn't find annoying until now: his ability to under-react and remain calm and cool. Some women might find that reassuring and comforting. I, on the other hand, found it maddening as hell-that he could have done this to me and acted as if it was no big deal.
But it made sense, as I thought about it.
Travis was a hired gun, so to speak. And those types aren't given to hysterics or over-reacting or dramatics.
Frankly, his calm, together demeanor was probably part of why he was so good at what he did that people actually paid him-and no small fee, I would imagine-to do it.
Who wants to hire a hit man who acts like Don Knotts?
I looked at the clock on one of the end tables: 7:22 p.m.
Travis had come over around 5:00. He was carrying a bag of groceries. He kissed me, put the stuff away, and we made small talk about our respective days.
I remembered showing him a new pair of earrings I had bought for myself, and I also remembered telling him that the bathroom sink was slow and could he plunge it for me, like a sweetheart?
My pleasure, he said.
It was probably around 5:45 when he poured us some wine-after he unplugged the sink and chopped up some onion and celery, no doubt to perpetuate the ruse of making me dinner.
I don't remember much after taking those few sips.
So I was probably unconscious for about an hour-plenty of time for him to duct tape me to the chair and gag me with the efficiency of a Boy Scout.
The gag was annoying, by the way.
It's not that I'm such a chatterbox-though like any girl I have my moments of verbal onslaught-but it meant that I couldn't speak at all, and I wasn't down with that.
You don't realize all that you say in a normal setting, until you can't say anything.
It's like not realizing how much you use your thumbs until one of them is bandaged or unavailable.
I didn't know how much I talk until Travis made certain that I couldn't.
Several times I would start to say something, out of sheer habit, only to stop when the first few words all sounded like, "Wummm errmmm imm."
Seriously. Everything I said, regardless of how many syllables, how many consonants or how many vowels, all sounded like "Wummmm errmm imm," or a slight variation thereof.
It got to where Travis didn't even bother trying to understand me-or even acknowledge that I had said anything at all. I couldn't blame him; I was completely speechless-literally.
Then, out of nowhere, Travis asked me to scream.
Cross my heart.
I looked at him like he was insane.
"Seriously, scream," he said, his hands on his hips as he moved toward the front door, which was approximately 12 feet from where I was sitting.
I just looked at him, dumbfounded.
He sighed and gave me a wry grin. "I'm not being mean. I want to hear how loud you are. How far your sounds travel."
I narrowed my eyes for the billionth time.
"Come on, Lauren. I'll just keep bugging you until you do it."
If I wasn't gagged, I might have chuckled incredulously.
The man wanted me to scream, as if my not being able to form words wasn't enough humiliation.
We stared each other down.
Finally, he said, softly, "Please?"
Fine. Travis was right-he'd only keep bugging me. And being bugged wasn't high on my wish list at the moment.
May as well take this opportunity to blow off some steam, I thought, as I took in as much air as I could into my lungs through my nose.
Remembering my vocal training, I let the new supply of oxygen settle into my abdomen for a few seconds, then tried screaming my head off.
My face probably turned red, as I balled my hands into fists, leaned forward, and tried as hard as I could to blow that oxygen out in some semblance of a scream.
But by the time the screamed out air made it past the rolled up sock and slammed into the tape sealing my mouth, it had mostly died.
I stomped my feet, trying to will out sound, but all that came out was a heavily muffled humming sound that had the range of a thrown feather.
Travis was 12 feet away from me and even he strained to hear it. That, plus it only lasted a precious few seconds.
I was light-headed after the effort and slumped into the chair, breathing heavily through my nose. I wasn't prepared for how pathetic that scream sounded. I nearly shed a tear.
Even Travis was impressed.
A pregnant pause after I slumped, he said, "Wow. That wasn't as loud as I thought it would be. And you tried really hard, I could tell."
I nodded, defeated.
"I guess the gag is good enough," he added.
Again I nodded.
Then I picked my head up slowly and looked at him, pleadingly.
My eyes tried to ask him why I needed to be made so quiet.
Again he read my mind.
"One scream could ruin everything," he said.
I might have pointed out that the windows were closed and the a/c was running, but I was 99% shy in my vocabulary, as I mentioned.
Instead, I simply nodded again, not so much in agreement, but as acknowledgement that he wasn't about to ungag me anytime soon.
One scream could ruin anything, was his belief, and as long as he believed that, gagged I would remain-I was certain of that.
And it wasn't like he was exactly pining for stimulating conversation, either. So his incentive to ungag me was practically nil.
Now, I must say, I have a rather nice voice. It's not shrill, it's not grating. I'm a singer. I sound good on the phone. I can do seductive, I can do flirty. I like to think my voice brings most men pleasure.
I'm sure it's brought Travis pleasure, for reasons I won't go into but that you can probably guess.
But Travis had no interest in hearing it-not now or in the foreseeable future. His mission trumped listening to me prattle on.
There was one hope I had, though-and that was nourishment.
Travis would have to feed me and let me drink something, sometime.
I didn't want to let Travis off the hook about this little matter of "we" and "our," however.
That meant that someone else-at least one other person-was going to be showing up at my house.
But it wasn't as if I could just ask him, of course.
Several minutes passed. Travis went to the bathroom, peed, and did something in the kitchen. I heard the electric can opener whirring. Was he proceeding with dinner after all?
I had to know who this other person or other people was/were, who would be invading my home.
When Travis returned to the front room, he gave me a glance-almost like an inspection. Satisfied that I was as trussed as before, he plopped back onto the sofa and crossed his thick arms.
Travis, too, was ex-military and he was a very strong, well-built man. He was 36 years old-nine years older than me-and didn't have an ounce of fat on him. He had black hair speckled with gray and steel blue eyes that were gorgeous and almost hypnotic.
He was quite a hunk, I must admit. That little drink two months ago helped me see that, too.
But now he was just a common criminal, holding a young woman captive in her own home.
We just stared at each other for a few moments.
I couldn't speak so I had to somehow will him to talk more about the additional person or persons who would be showing up.
Travis, so good at reading my mind before, failed miserably this time.
"You're almost out of soap," he said.
I rolled my eyes and turned away, shaking my head in exasperation.
"Just thought you might want to know," he said.
I wasn't sure if he was for real or just trying to get under my skin.
More silence-Travis because he didn't feel like talking, me because I was unable to speak a word.
"We'll be here tonight, for sure, and maybe another night," he said.
Again with the "we" stuff!
But the "we" thing didn't bother me as much this time as this jazz about "another night."
My eyes flew wide open and I shot him a look, aghast.
"Relax. You won't be harmed. I'll see to it."
That failed to soothe me. I started up again with the swearing and the foot stomping and the bouncing in the chair.
Again Travis let me have my little tantrum. He was, as usual, unfazed by it.
Hair was all in my eyes. Normally I'd have simply whisked it away by jutting my bottom lip out and blowing upward. But that was out of the question.
I shook my head several times to clear my eyes of my auburn hair.
I bore my green eyes into his, growling.
For the first time, Travis showed some emotion. He grew a little irritated.
"Look, I have no idea how long this will take. I wish I could give you an exact timetable but I have none."
How dare he get pissy with me!
I shook and rocked in the chair angrily.
"MmMm!! Ummm eww immm!"
He shot back, "Throw a fit all you want. It doesn't change the fact that I don't know, Lauren!"
This time he was less pissy and more plaintive.
I sighed. He was right. It wouldn't change anything.
But who was "we"?
It was just past 8:00 when Travis brought out the product of what he was working on in the kitchen.
It was a cold, three-bean salad and some Italian bread and butter.
He brought it out on a tray-the kind you eat from when you're sick in bed-and placed it on the coffee table. The salad was in a serving bowl and there were two smaller bowls and two forks and two spoons. Also on the tray were two glasses of soda.
I looked at the food and looked at him, quizzingly.
Was he going to ungag me, finally? I'd been silenced, while awake, for a little more than an hour. It seemed like way more.
Travis sat on the couch and looked at me.
Not really, but I wanted the damn gag off, so I nodded vigorously.
He grinned. "You just want the gag off," he said, going back to his mind-reading ways.
I shrugged as if to say, "Well, duh!"
"Obviously, you can't eat while gagged," he said.
I shook my head, in agreement with his negative statement of the obvious.
"There are rules," he said, meaning when it came to my being ungagged.
I sighed, rolled my eyes, and tilted my head in anticipation of these "rules."
"Not one word," he said, and my heart sank. I would have pouted if I could have worked my mouth properly. As it was, I gave a look of disappointment and made a soft groaning sound.
"I'm serious, Lauren. You are not to speak-at all."
I was getting mad again. Why couldn't I speak-at all?
"I know you. You'll start quizzing me and trying to talk me into letting you go and leave and blah, blah, blah."
I wasn't crazy about the "blah blah blah" part but I had to admit he pegged me-I absolutely would have tried all that.
He knew he pegged me. His lips curled into a smirk, which normally I'd have found sexy.
"If you speak," he said, pausing for effect, "the gag goes back on and it may never come off until we leave."
I was, at the same time, shocked, hurt and afraid of what he just said. Shocked that he could be so cruel, hurt that he had betrayed me, and afraid of what he was capable of.
It took every ounce of pride swallowing that I could muster to nod my head in agreement to that ridiculous rule.
Mostly, though, I was hurt.
Travis didn't want me to speak at all, and that hurt me. I always thought he enjoyed talking to me. We had long conversations on the phone, some that would go into the wee hours. He never once discouraged me from talking, even when I'm sure he was tired and would rather have been left alone.
But now the edict was no talking, whatsoever. So being ungagged wasn't going to make a difference in my vocal participation. Because I was certain Travis wasn't bluffing when he said that one word from me would mean eternal gagging.
So it wasn't that there were "rules"-it was that there was a rule.
No talking-by me.