Things between Nicole and her boyfriend, Kyle started to get shaky after their seventh month of living together. That was when Kyle's criticisms of her lost their constructiveness. Instead of her forgetting about one of the dishes, she'd left the entire kitchen a mess. Instead of her not getting gas the day before, she was always leaving everything for the last minute. When she improved in those areas, Kyle found other little things to add to the list.
"This is how it starts with you." He said one night after getting home. "If I don't stop it now, it's just going to get worse."
During the eighth month, Kyle started leaving hand-written lists around the apartment before he left. Nicole's new responsibility became finding and following the instructions on those lists so that everything he wanted would be done after she came back from school, and before he got back from work. Nicole didn't see much point in them since the listed things were what she already did anyways, but when she brought it up, Kyle just gave her a disinterested look.
"I'm telling you this because you need to hear it," He replied. "I don't want this place half-cleaned when I get here. I won't accept it."
One Friday during the ninth month, Nicole got too sick to go to school. She stayed in bed with a high fever, a sore throat, and a tight chest. When Kyle came home, he found his lists where he'd left them and Nicole sitting on the bathroom floor with the shower running. With a frustrated sigh, he turned the water off and pulled her up off the floor. Dragging her to the kitchen, he shoved her toward the sink.
"You think you can leave this place a mess just cause you got a cold?!" Kyle screamed. "Clean this up!"
Nicole kept her back to him as she looked down at the bowl and spoon she'd used earlier to have soup. She washed the dishes in silence while Kyle went back into the bedroom, slamming the door behind him. That night, hours later, she sat on the couch in the living room, holding her cellphone and thinking about what she wanted to do. Her right knee had banged against the cabinet's door handle and was starting to sting. Her throat was still sore and her chest had loosened a little, but she still felt feverish.
She wanted to hurt Kyle. She thought about taking one of the knives she'd cleaned at least a dozen times out from the kitchen and holding it to his throat. Living together wasn't supposed to be like this. He hadn't cared about how sick she'd been. Or about the lessons she'd missed at school, and the job interview she'd had to cancel. Instead, his focus was on the so-called mess she'd left. Unlocking her cellphone, she called one of her emergency contacts.
"Alex's Cleaning Company, this is Oscar."
"Hi Oscar," Nicole replied with a raspy voice. "My name's Nicole Young, and I have a mess that needs cleaning."
The next morning, Kyle was woken by the smells of smoked sausage and fresh biscuits. He showered, got dressed, and walked into the kitchen to find a plate of food sitting on the table. Nicole was at the kitchen sink, still in her night clothes and drawing fresh dish water. She turned to face him as he sat down, but didn't say anything.
Kyle eyed his food suspiciously at first.
"You're not gonna eat?" He asked.
"I'm still not doing well." She said. Her voice was losing some of the raspiness, but it was still noticeable. "I'll clean up, and then get some more rest."
Liking what he heard, Kyle started eating.
"If you'd done that before, there wouldn't have been a problem last night."
Nicole just nodded and went back to washing the dishes.
Two hours after Kyle left, Nicole's cellphone rang.
"May I speak to Nicole Young?" A female voice asked.
"This is she."
"This is Lily with Alex's Cleaning Company. I'm just calling to confirm your morning clean-up appointment with us. Is eleven a.m. still an available time for you?"
"Good to hear," Lily said. "We'll be there shortly, and I'd like to thank you for choosing us for your needs."
By ten forty-five, Nicole had everything she needed packed in a duffel bag. At ten fifty, there was a knock on the door.
When Kyle came home that evening, the kitchen light didn't come on, and the apartment was too quiet. Taking out his cell phone, he turned on his flashlight and looked around. The couch in the living room was gone. So was the television.
"What the fuck?" Kyle muttered.
He moved to the bedroom, and found it empty of furniture as well. No bed, no dresser, even the closet was completely empty. It was the same story with the bathroom. All the cabinets had been cleaned out, and the rugs were gone. There wasn't even any toilet paper left on the holder. Kyle walked back into the kitchen in a daze. He opened the refrigerator and all the cabinets above and beneath the counter tops. Empty.
"What the fuck is going on?"
That was when he noticed the papers in the sink. Holding them in front of his phone, he recognized his own handwriting. All the lists he'd made for Nicole had been dated and stapled together in chronological order. Written on the back of the stack in capital letters were four words.
CLEAN ENOUGH FOR YOU?
Suddenly, a strong pair of hands grabbed Kyle from behind. His phone fell to the floor as his legs were swept out from under him, and a thick arm put him in a sleeper hold. Kyle lost consciousness in a matter of seconds.
Kyle's first realization when he came to was that there was tape over his mouth and around his eyes. His arms were taped behind his back to a metal chair, and his muffled grunts as he struggled to free himself were met with silence at first. Then, the hairs on the back of his neck rose.
"Hi Kyle," a male voice greeted casually. "My name's Oscar."
Kyle heard footsteps approach him then stop. A gloved hand brushed against his cheek and the tape over his mouth was slowly pulled off.
"What the fuck is this?!" Kyle immediately demanded. "Who the fuck are you?!"
"You need to work on listening better," the voice replied. "I just told you my name."
"You can't do this. You break into my place? Steal my stuff? Kidnap me like some kind of animal? I have rights, asshole."
"So does Nicole. You forgot that."
"What's she got to do with this?" Kyle asked. "Where is she?"
"She's where she wants to be," Oscar answered. "And right now, that's away from you. She told us everything, Kyle. You've been a problem for her for months now. Crossed a line last night too. That's unacceptable."
The punch to Kyle's stomach felt like a being hit by a kettle bell. Spit flew from his mouth, and the momentum carried him to the floor with the chair. Immediately, he was picked back up, struggling to catch his breath as he tried to explain himself.
"I...didn't...hurt her." He gasped between coughs.
"But you still put your hands on her, Kyle." Oscar countered. "She wasn't threatening your well-being, but you got physical anyway. That's how things like that start. When you shoved her towards the sink, she hit her knee against the cabinet door. How long before you start shoving her into other things? Or shoving your fist into her ribs?"
Another punch slammed into Kyle's nose. Again, he and the chair were knocked to the floor, then immediately picked back up. As blood started to flow, Kyle's head was forced back and the tape was reapplied.
"Listen to me Kyle," Oscar explained. "It's an easy thing to understand. Right now, you're the mess. We clean messes like you with permanent solutions."
Kyle froze as his mind raced. Permanent?
"You told Nicole," Oscar continued, "that if you didn't stop things now, it was just going to get worse. Consider this our preventive measures against you on her behalf. You two are finished, Kyle. When we're done here, you're going to stay away from her. If you don't, things will get a lot worse for you."
On Monday, Kyle woke up in his own bed to a silent, but fully-furnished apartment. Everything that had been gone on Saturday was back in it's place as if it had never been removed. But when Kyle went to shower and took off his shirt, he knew better than to question what had happened. His nose was broken, his stomach hurt like hell, and his stack of lists were waiting for him on the kitchen table like an ominous warning.
CLEAN ENOUGH FOR YOU?