The guy hadn’t laid his hands on Tom yet. He was big, drunk and he belittled Tom with every insult in the book. He wanted a fight. Tom had been called a fag, pussy, and a little bitch, all insults that were normally a fatal blow to masculinity. But he hadn’t laid his hands on him yet. “Are you going to do something, fag?” He taunted. Brown eyes glaring from beneath a tattered blue baseball cap, eyes that dared Tom’s own to look away. Inebriated eyes. Tom could take him, he was fairly sure of that. But that old prison philosophy stuck with him, even though he had been out for over a year now. He played it over in his head, the mantra that had pulled him through so many rough situations. If they don’t lay their hands on you or take something from you, then walk away.Tom walked out of the store, trying his best to drown out the berating bellows from behind him. All this simply because the guy had bumped into him at the checkout. He knew that a fight would be pointless, but the guy was intentionally assaulting his ego, which was something that Tom tried not to have most of the time. However he was still a man and part of him wanted nothing more than to pound the shit out of this drunk asshole just for the hell of it. A little voice in the back of his mind reminded him that assault was surely a parole violation.He sat on the curb and stared at the price of gas. Ten dollars hadn’t even amounted to three gallons. His mind still couldn’t comprehend that. The drunk guy walked out of the other door and Tom was relieved to avoid another confrontation, but frustrated about it at the same time. He realized that in some sick way he had sat on the curb hoping for the guy to start with him again.He stood up and drove off down the street, heading for the small apartment he shared with Tara, his girlfriend. He had met Tara at drug and alcohol counseling (a condition of his parole) and had hit it off with her. He could be so open, so honest with her, which was strange for him because he normally didn’t trust anyone beyond himself. She was a recovering heroin addict who had been clean for almost six months. Or so she said. Tom recalled one afternoon when she had borrowed his car and not came home until the next day. She gave him some story that had sounded almost too bizarre to be true. But she promised him she had not shot up. And he believed her. What other choice did he have? No other incidents of the kind had followed and he was dating her, if they didn’t have trust what did they have?He unlocked the door, felt the heat from inside hit him as soon as it swung open. This had been one of the hottest summers on record according to the news. Tom stripped down to his boxers and sat in their tiny living room with the lights off, his mind hoping for a breeze that never came. The clock read 12:15am, she would be home any minute now.Tara counted her tips from the night. She put forty dollars in her pocket and another twenty she hid in her bra, just as she had done every night this week. She waved goodbye to her manager and started to walk home. Tom had offered to pick her up every night, but it was only a five minute walk home and she had told him not to bother. It was so hot, she could feel the heat rising from the pavement. This town was too big for her, she had grown up in a smaller one where everyone knew everyone else. She had agreed reluctantly to move here with Tom because the rent was cheaper and it would be easier for her to find a job.A car drove by and a bunch of guys hollered at her out the window. She barely noticed, her skin was crawling and she wished it would stop. She climbed the stairs to the apartment and started to pull her keys out, but Tom opened the door and scooped her into his arms before she ever got the chance. The apartment was burning hot and all the lights were off. Except for a faint flickering from the living room. He had lit two candles and the flames sent deep, strange shadows dancing on the walls.She threw the forty dollars from her pocket on the table and took her pants off. They laid down in the center of the floor and started kissing. This was still different for her, every other guy she had been with just wanted it when they wanted it. None of them had ever wasted time on kissing. And it wasn’t making out either, just short sweet kisses on her lips, her neck, her eyebrows. She loved him for it.Tom kissed her neck and heard her sigh, felt her body relax. He ran his fingers through her long black hair, lost himself in the glow of her deep blue eyes. Traced his fingers lightly across her chest, but she pushed his hand down farther. And just like that they moved past the kissing. He took her panties off slowly, first one leg, then the other. Ran his fingers over the slightly rough patch where she shaved, lingering for just a moment. He took his boxers off and entered her slowly, feeling his heart melt as he did.She loved the fact that he was so gentle. He pushed so tentatively as if he were afraid that he would hurt her. She came right away, as she always did with him. On most nights she would come twice before he got off once. Her only concern was the money hidden in her bra, she should have done something with it first. But then he picked her legs up and slid in deeper and the thought was lost.They got some pillows and slept together on the living room floor, both of their bodies dripping sweat for most of the night. Still they held each other. Until the first rays of sunlight slipped through the window and the white curtains she had picked out for their apartment. Her skin had started to itch.Day One——Tom awoke from a deep sleep to find himself still sweating and also alone. His hand had instinctively moved to find Tara’s body but she wasn’t there. He pulled himself up from the floor, brushed his blond bangs from his eyes and checked the bathroom. Nothing. She wasn’t in the bedroom either. Something was missing on the counter. His keys. He ran outside to the parking lot in his boxers to confirm with his eyes that his car was gone. It was. Cursing to himself he ran upstairs to check and see if she had left a note. There was nothing, no clue as to where she had went. Her work pants were gone from the couch where she had tossed them the night before. She must have gotten up, thrown them on, and just gone. But where? He thought of her mother, maybe something was wrong. He checked the phone to see if she had called anyone before she left. Still nothing. He called her mom, afraid that he would worry her for nothing, but needing to know if she knew anything. Her mom sounded calm, unsurprised and what she told Tom came as a shock.