(This story is part of a continuing series, An Assault in Venice. Part 1 starts here.)

We were both afraid to close our eyes. In darkness, I was visited by nightmares while Jeanette felt desperately alone. The night after the surgery, she lay awake listening to the hospital noises. Finally, she decided it was time for her to get up. She didn’t want to make trouble for the nurses so she hoisted herself out of bed, clung to the rail and shuffled across the floor. Then she stopped, halted by the image of someone looking back at her from the mirror, someone with a bruised and beaten face. She searched her own eyes but couldn’t find herself in her reflection.

After four nights of sleeping on a rolled out blanket in the Eartha Kitt room at Rob and Amy’s, I was eager to go home. Jeanette’s brother David came with me and stayed in my guest room to serve as protector. Despite the comfort of my bed, I still lay awake and wondered how I’d manage on my own. Fear is a powerful and insidious force.

Jeanette was released from the hospital and moved into protective custody at Mary’s house. With her jaw wired shut, she started eating through a syringe until we perfected the art of making shakes and mashing food. Karen stayed with her but she would soon have to return to work, so another friend spearheaded the effort to provide around-the-clock care for Jeanette. An elaborate schedule of rotating friends was laid out—when one would leave, another would arrive.

My neighbor Amy decided she’d feel better if we got a dog, and she found one pictured on a notice at the café down the street. She called the number and arranged a meeting. I was out on patrol with Cagney when Michael showed up with his dog Gus. Michael had just moved from the east coast to study yoga at a teaching center on the beach. When he ran out of money, he moved into an ashram nearby but the group home didn’t allow dogs. Amy thought the arrangement would be perfect—she and Rob could take Gus on a temporary basis. She was excited about the prospect, more excited than the event seemed to merit. That’s when she revealed that Michael was an extraordinarily handsome young man. “I can totally see you with him,” she said.

Oddly enough, Michael came by to drop off Gus on Valentine’s Day. And he was extraordinarily handsome—dark hair, blue eyes, chiseled physique, beautiful teeth. I’d long since tired of putting effort into looking for a man; I needed it to be organic. I kept saying, “I’m not going to kill myself in search of Mr. Right but I’ll be happy to open the door when he arrives.” It just so happened that Michael came a-knockin’. I’d made plans to go out to dinner that night with my friend Lauren and, as coincidence would have it, we’d gotten reservations days before at a restaurant called Michael’s. There couldn’t have been a better a setup: distressed, vulnerable woman who’s afraid to be alone meets handsome, penniless drifter in need of a home. It was a match made for bad television. It could also, I told myself, be the beautiful silver lining to an otherwise dark tale.

On the same day that David left, Michael came by for a visit. He said he was curious about how we were getting along with his dog. We sat in the yard and threw a ball for Gus, and he casually asked me if I received flowers from my sweetheart on Valentine’s Day. I knew he was fishing. When I told him I didn’t have a sweetheart, he feigned surprise. “I can’t believe you’re not married,” he told me. Then he did something no man has ever done with me before. He stood in front of me, point blank, and told me he was attracted to me. I was charmed by his bold declaration.

That night, all alone in my house, I regretted not asking Michael to stay. I did fall asleep but when I awakened at 3 AM having to pee, I was too afraid to go downstairs and relieve myself. Instead, I curled into a ball and waited for sunlight to comfort me.

…go to Part 12