She knew before she opened her eyes. The dream she’d been having betrayed the situation; every time she’d dreamed of that house there was a sliver of comfort because she knew she wasn’t really there anymore. There would be only a brief moment of panic before one of her senses reminded her that she was safe. The gentle shifting of her brother’s black lab or the smell of the fresh lilies she bought from the boys at Wealthy at Charles now that she was back in GR; and later, much later, and only very briefly, the placid rhythmic breathing of Deke as he slumbered below her. He was the only twenty-five year old she knew that still had a bunk bed. He said it made him feel like he was perpetually at summer camp, and that it reminded him to spend his days and treat all the people in his life like they’d be gone by the end of the week. That was how he looked at her from the moment they met—like she was fleeting, like he knew she was only temporary. He touched her face as if she was made of a cloud that would disappear between his fingers, and when he spoke to her it seemed he was afraid his breath might blow her away. That was how he did everything—tentatively, but with immense meaning. She had really hoped it would last. But the lack of salvation from the dream was the last straw, the final piece of evidence that this was an empty wish.
She dreamed she was back in that house, standing before the kitchen sink, washing grapes. They were heavy in her hands, swollen and pushing against the thin skin that contained them. Renton was at the table, opening his bag of tobacco so he could roll a cigarette. He was shirtless as usual; his muscled chest was darkly tanned. They were both shiny from sweat; the heat was almost unbearable. And then Jeremy came in, lugging a box fan he’d gotten on sale. He set it on the kitchen table. When he turned it on, Renton’s small heap of tobacco particles stayed glued to the spot, but her newly de-vined grapes flew off her plate and across the room like feathers caught in a windstorm. That’s when she began to panic in real time, not because of anything that had happened, but because she had taken a deep breath and she’d smelled his musky scent of motor oil and Skin Bracer. The fear pulsed through her body. She arched her back and it was their bed—well, what used to be their bed; she hadn’t slept in it for over a year but she knew for a fact that’s what was underneath her. She didn’t want to open her eyes, but she forced herself to.
Morbid relief washed over her when she saw Jeremy sitting next to the bed in a folding chair. His elbows rested on his knees, making his thick, muscular physique look rounded and stout. He was looking at her with deep concern (for him, anyway) and so she started to cry.
“Hey, hey,” he said, slightly alarmed, “hey, don’t cry. You’re okay. I know it’s hot as hell, but I brought you a fan and I’ve got some water here if you’re thirsty.”
She tried to swallow and realized how dry her throat was. He lifted the glass to her lips and she downed it.
“Where is he?” she asked.
“He’ll be back.”
That old familiar evasiveness in which they were all so well versed.
“Any kind of timeline?”
“Sooner rather than later.”
She nodded and dropped the subject. There was nothing more for her to say. A few minutes of silence passed between them until finally he blurted out, “Why’d you have to go, Maya? It wasn’t all that bad, was it? I mean, you had me and Rent, it wasn’t like you were totally alone. I can’t figure out why you did it! It’s just so fucked up… he was so fucked up when you left—”
“Jeremy,” she said softly. “Are you sure he’d want you saying that to me?”
He looked away, out the window. And then suddenly he was jumping on the bed and wrapping his arms around her. She felt like she was being crushed and tried to pull away, but he just held her tighter. “You can’t do shit like this,” he was saying. His thigh parted her legs and she felt a bulge pressing into her. “You can’t just go away, not after what we’ve been through together.” He was grinding himself into her, and his hand slipped over the side of her breast. “I love you, girl, but you couldn’t have thought he’d just let you leave! Not after what you’ve seen—”
“What the fuck, Jeremy!”
He let her go and she struggled to catch her breath. Renton stood in the doorway, eyes wide and expression incredulous. His faded jeans hung low on his sinewy frame and he was barefoot and bare-chested. A cigarette jutted out from his mouth. He pushed his thick blond hair out of his eyes. “What the hell do you think you’re doing?”
Jeremy had slumped back into his chair, more irritated than ashamed.
“It wasn’t what it looked like,” she said, and was surprised that she felt the need to protect him.
“I fucking know that, Maya. But he’s lucky that I was the one who walked in.” He tossed the butt out the window and pulled two more from his pack, lit them and passed one to her.
“I don’t smoke anymore.”
He stared at her, unblinking, until she took the cigarette from him. “The hell you don’t. I watched you wait until your brother went to work and then go out in to the porch and suck down two or three. And you sure chain-smoked while you lived with that Deke kid.”
Her stomach sank.
“Don’t act so shocked.”
“I’m not shocked, I’m just…sad.”
“Yeah, well.” He glanced over at her, moved his head down and up. Her hair was disheveled and there was a smudge of dirt on her cheek. The mark was a perfect contrast to her fair skin and flawless beauty. But he couldn’t let her, or Jeremy, know that. “You look like hell.”
“You fucking kidnapped me. I’m assuming you knocked me out, and I had already been drinking. Can I take a shower?”
“You’re asking the wrong guy.”
She laid back down.
“It’ll be cool, Maya,” said Jeremy, “just tell Henry you’re sorry and that you didn’t mean it.”
“Even if that were true, it wouldn’t fix anything,” she replied.
“Well,” said Renton, exhaling a thin stream of smoke and leaning in towards her, “you better fucking figure out how to fake it, and fast.”
She tossed her cigarette in the water glass. It sizzled in the few remaining drops but stayed half-lit. “This is bullshit—I was good…I-I was doing all right. I was working at Saint’s and they loved me. Now I’m fucked, I’m as good as fired. It just isn’t fair! Why now, why now, after all this time?”
Renton was staring her in the eyes. “It would have been easy to bring you back the day you left. I think he wants to break you in again.”
A dark voice entered the conversation, “How incredibly simple.”
Renton snapped his head up, eyes wide. “I didn’t mean—”
“I know what you meant, and I’m sure that’s what your mind perceives to be the case. But you know how I hate to be supposed about.”
“I’m sorry, I’ll go finish…” his voice trailed off as he exited.
Jeremy had stood. “Do you need me for anything?”
“No, we’ll be all right.”
He scurried out of the room, and she thought, not for the first time, how amusing it was watching a man of Jeremy’s size cater to anyone smaller than himself. But Henry Slate had a cultish charisma that paid homage to the great leaders of mankind. Physically he was formidable, and his menacing stature was surpassed only by his intellect and manipulative prowess. His dark hair was careless, and his blue eyes were striking.
Henry looked at her. She had propped herself up on her elbows, but under his gaze she felt physically weakened, and her body was pulled into the bed. He walked to the side of the bed and stood over her, his eyes roaming slowly down her body, absorbing every detail, every curve, every place he had ever kissed or pinched or licked or scratched or caressed or burned. The thin cotton dress left little to the imagination, although he had seen her nude many times and had committed to memory her full breasts, tight stomach, round ass, delicious thighs.
She could feel his eyes, like tiny hands, exploring her, as if seeing her for the first time, but knowing exactly where to go. He reached out and ran his thumb across her lips as he cupped her chin in his hand.
“Sweet Maya,” he whispered, his tone both reverent and mocking. “Why have you forsaken me?”
Her lips parted to reply, but the only sound that escaped was a soft moan.
“You thought you could find something better outside these walls?”
She closed her eyes, but his grip tightened. She opened them and looked directly at him, so he relaxed.
“For the first time I’m at a sort of crossroads. I don’t know what I want to do first—beat you or make love to you. I’ve considered combining the two; it wouldn’t be the first time, would it? It’s futile to ask, but what do you think?”
It was dangerous not to answer his question directly, but she took that risk. “What will it matter? Are you going to hold me prisoner here again? Force me to choose between bondage and death? I know that because you have taken such pains to bring me here, in this way, that you’ll kill me if I try to leave again.”
He smiled. “You always take things to extremes. Why don’t you try being flattered that a man would think so much of you that he would go to such great lengths to keep you in his life? You fail to appreciate what I do for you, Maya. Honestly, I don’t know how another man would take it.”
“You don’t want to know, and you intend to make sure you never have to.”
His jaw clenched. “If you’re referring to that boy you’d taken up with, please forgive me if I’m unable to control my laughter. It was really shameful on your part.”
Her eyes welled with tears. “He was kind—”
Henry grabbed the hair on the back of her head. “And that’s the last he’ll ever be mentioned in this house. Jesus Christ, Maya, I should kill you for that alone.”
He released her and she laid back down.
“I don’t like this side of me,” he sighed, and she wondered what he was referring to. It had to be the jealousy, because he loved nothing more than to be violent. “And you’re not really helping.” He walked across the room and closed the door. She braced herself. “I’ll cut you a deal, though.” He took off his shirt. “After today, we don’t have to mention it again. There will be no punishment.”
He slid her dress over her head and marveled at her body. She had gained some weight, but she had been very thin to begin with. Her breasts were a little larger and her hips fuller. He ran his hand across her flat stomach. She shivered and he smiled.
“Good. Look me in the eyes.”
She obeyed and he let his hands wander up her thighs and between her legs. He couldn’t tell if she was wet; they were both sweating heavily, but her nipples were hard and he took this as a good sign. He ran his finger along her slit. Her back arched and her head fell back. He grabbed her hair and pulled her head forward.
“Don’t you dare break eye contact with me, you little slut.”
His thumb pressed against her clit as two of his fingers pushed inside her. She moaned involuntarily. He curled his fingers, sliding them in and out, moving his thumb in a circular motion against her clit, grasping her breast with his left hand. Her hips moved against him. He was pleased to see that she fell very easily back into her old habits; she reached for his belt and gently began to undo it. When they were first dating, she used to claw at him in the throes of passion, but it didn’t take him long to teach her that he was the dominant one. Her part was to ask, not demand.
He pulled his hands away from her body and slid out of his jeans. She watched him as he moved over her, his thick cock jutting out from a forest of dark hair. He pressed the tip of his sex against hers. Her mind wanted to resist, but her body responded to him as it always had. He quickly pushed his head into her and she cried out in pain. Regardless of what he thought, she hadn’t slept with anyone since him, though she supposed he must know that, otherwise he probably would have killed her out of spite.
He felt the resistance, mental and physical, so he slowly pulled out and pushed back in, keeping his face close to hers and refusing to kiss her. She moaned loudly and bit her lower lip; she plunged her hands into her hair. He felt her close to climax and she subconsciously closed her eyes to meet her orgasm. He stopped and wrapped his hands around her throat, taking a good deal of pleasure in watching her eyes open, wrought with panic.
“What did I say? I’d rather there be no confusion as to who’s doing this to you.”
She nodded and he pinned her wrists down on either side of her. He thrust into her violently, in and out in furious succession, and despite how much she may have hated him or feared him, her hips rose to meet him and he came with a vengeance as her sex quivered around him. She was always so good at coming with him.
He rolled off of her and lit a cigarette. After a few drags he plucked it from his mouth and held it to hers. She took a light puff before he took it away.
“If you’d like to take a shower, go ahead.”
“Thanks.” She swung her legs off the bed and walked to the bathroom. She was thinking how pointless it was since she was just going to put her sweaty dress back on, and then she opened the door. The shower curtain was pulled back, and on the ledge sat her shampoo, her conditioner, her razor… she started opening drawers, the ones that used to be her drawers, and there were all her things, exactly where she used to keep them. She turned and half-ran back into the bedroom and flung open the closet door. Her clothes hung, sorted by color, on the right side. The feeling of hopelessness was overwhelming and she couldn’t cry. She heard him chuckling as she walked back into the bathroom.