“Jesus Christ! Scott!” Josh and Riley yelled at the same time as they raced to Scott’s side.
Jim paused in the doorway. She had missed. Jim replayed the moment in his mind and it confirmed what he thought. Jessica could have fired as he came in the door and he would’ve been dead. She had him in her sites … a bullet between the eyes, but she’d missed. On purpose. He’d seen the momentary hesitation in her eyes. A split second decision, and he was alive.
He looked over at Angus, bent over Jessica’s motionless body, pounding away at her with the force of his whole body. There was a sickening thudding sound, much like the sound of a mallet pounding out meat. Then he swung his eyes to Scott’s body on the floor, blood pooling out from it. Josh and Riley working frantically over him.
He was rooted to the spot. What to do? He looked over at Angus again. He was still pounding away. There was no way Jessica was going to survive that. He wondered if he should stop Angus. But it was probably too late already. And besides. How could he justify that? Sure, she’d saved his life .. or so it seemed. But she’d taken Scott’s.
“It’s just his shoulder!” Riley suddenly yelled, a loud laugh escaping him. He fell back onto his haunches, relief evident in his eyes.
“What does that mean?” Josh asked, gawking at Riley from across Scott’s body, where he was kneeling. He held his hands in front of him, blood covering them. Jim noticed that Angus had stopped pummeling Jessica and stood looking at Riley.
“It means, he’s going to be fine. But we have to get him over to Caleb’s, get him some help.”
“What about her?” Jim asked, pointing at Jessica’s lifeless body.
“Is she still alive?” Riley asked.
Angus nodded. He could see her breathing.
Riley exhaled. They were supposed to break her, they were supposed to win. Riley slid his eyes over to Scott. But, she had gone too far now. He got to his feet and picked up the gun that Angus had knocked from Jessica’s hand. His feet felt like they weighed a ton each as he walked to stand over Jessica.
“I guess this couldn’t have ended any other way … “ Riley said cocking the hammer and point the gun at Jessica’s temple.
Jim couldn’t breathe. Part of him wanted to scream at Riley to stop, but another part of him just couldn’t. He wanted to close his eyes so he couldn’t see it … but he seemed to have lost command over all parts of his body. Seconds ticked by and nothing happened.
“Shit,” Riley swore as he uncocked the gun. He looked up at Jim, Josh and then Angus. Surprise evident on his face. “I can’t do it.”
“Give me that!” Angus thundered grabbing the gun from Riley and pressing the nozzle up to Jessica’s temple. This was it. He was going to put an end to all this shit, finally!
But, he wondered, when Jessica was dead who would he take his frustrations out on? Then the scene from a few minutes earlier played out in his head. Something was off.
He replayed the scene as he came in through the back door. His heart was pounding as he saw Scott laying to the side and Jessica pointing the gun at the front door. If he didn’t get to her in time she was going to kill one of the other men. He remembered the fear he felt as he realized that he was not going to get to her before the front door opened and the next victim came in. And it was Jimmy. Jimmy came in, right in Jessica’s sights. And then Jessica missed … on purpose. Yes. He replayed the moment in his mind and he was sure that he hadn’t imagined it.
She had Jimmy in her sights and then she moved her aim and shot wide. Why? Why had she done that? If he killed her, he’d never know. And though she had shot Scott, she had spared Jimmy. Why?
From across the room Angus heard Josh say his name … in a tone that implied that he wasn’t eager to have Jessica die either. Angus had to think … what to do?
Josh stared at the scene before him. He’d muttered Angus’ name, unsure what he wanted to tell him. The shock of Jessica gunning Scott down was wearing off, and he was beginning to think again. This was all happening so fast. Jessica deserved to die for what she did … that was true. But something about it all ending like this just seemed like a cheat. Like they were all being jilted out of something. Josh didn’t know what he was going to say next, how to word his thoughts, but it didn’t seem to matter. Angus hadn’t fired yet and frustration on his face as he stared down at the gun made it pretty clear that Angus was just as unprepared for this as the rest of them.
“Arghhh!!!!” Angus finally growled and threw the gun to the side.
“Jim, Josh?” Riley asked, mystified as to why it was so hard for him and especially Angus, to pull the trigger. Both Jim and Josh shook their heads. “Someone has to stay here with …”
“I will.” Jim said, interrupting Riley.
“Alright. Josh, Angus, help me get Scott to the car.” Riley ordered.
The three of them scooped Scott up and thundered out the door. Jim stood watching the car speed out of the driveway. And then he closed the door. He turned back to where Jessica lay on the floor.
He stood looking at her bloodied face, her broken body, and he felt sorry for her. She tried so hard to get away. He knew that if this were a book or movie, he and the men would be the villains and she would be the luckless heroine who simply couldn’t catch a break.
By all rights, she should have been dead right then. Any one of them should have been able to put the gun to her head and pull the trigger. Jim wasn’t sure if the fact that she was still alive was actually a curse or a blessing for her. Probably only time would tell. He didn’t know where the men would go as a next step with her. The best he could do was clean her up and wait for their return.
He carried her to his room. Laying her on his bed he got a bowl of warm water and a cloth. “You are going to be in some serious pain.” He murmured to her as he began to clean her face. “I hope this is the final straw that gets you in line. It’s time you stopped fighting, and started conforming.”
As he looked down at her bruised and bloodied face, he replayed the moment again. The terrifying moment that he realized she had the drop on him. And then she shot wide.
He would always be indebted to her for that. The only way he could think to repay the debt was to work harder at making her life here better. He wasn’t really sure how much of a repayment that was. He supposed that to really do her the favor she’d done for him, he would have to help her go home. But he couldn’t do that. Just the next best thing. Try to make life bearable for her. He looked her over. Bearable. Somehow, Jessica reminded him of his sister. She hadn’t found life bearable and Jim had missed the signs. He saw a lot of similarities between Jessica and his sister now that he thought about it. Well, what happened to his sister wasn’t going to happen to Jessica. Not if he could help it.
“I promise …” he whispered. “I don’t know how … but somehow I’ll make things better.” He began to hum as he worked. It was the song he knew she liked. He’d play it for her after. Maybe it’d help to bring her around.
Jessica shifted and then froze as pain paralyzed her. She held her breath as she waited for what seemed like forever for the pain to subside. Then she cracked her eyes open. Disappointment overwhelmed her. She wasn’t dead. She wasn’t free and she wasn’t dead. Damn it!
She opened her eyes a little more and saw Jim sitting at the foot of his bed. The way he moved, and the music Jessica finally noticed playing around her told her that he was playing his guitar. He wasn’t paying any attention to her and as she tried once again to move, she knew why. She couldn’t move. Not even her little toe. She was going nowhere.
She must have made a noise of some sort because the music suddenly stopped and Jimmy looked over at her.
“Hey,” he said. She wondered how he could do that … make his eyes look so serious, but his mouth actually smile … kind of. “Don’t try to move.” He said putting his guitar down and shifting closer to her. “Here, do you want a sip of water?” he asked picking up a cup from his side table and holding a straw to her mouth.
Despite herself Jessica was grateful. She took a couple of sips as she tried to assess her condition.
“You’re a mess.” Jim said with a tight laugh. “I’m guessing a fractured jaw, skull. Several broken ribs. I actually wouldn’t be surprised if one or both of your arms were fractured as well.” He shook his head. “It’s as if you were in a car accident.” He shook his head again. “Angus is a force to be reckoned with. But I guess you already know that. Scott is going to be fine.” He added. “Not what you were hoping to hear?” he asked in a sarcastic yet sad tone when Jessica closed her eyes.
“You’re lucky that he’s alive. It seems that we’re not up to killing you, which means you’d be in for a whole lot more hurt instead, had he died. You do understand that right?” he asked moving closer to look her in the eye. “You understand that this …” he waved his hand from the top of her face to the bottom, “is only the beginning. I’m not sure what will happen next.” She couldn’t move a muscle in her face or body, but he could clearly see the terror in her eyes. She knew alright. He exhaled.
“Look. I don’t know how I’m going to do it. But somehow I will. Somehow I will make this less … bad. But you have to help me. Help me to help you. And …” he said with a laugh that sounded less like a laugh and more like a question, “I don’t know how you’re going to do that either. But you have to.”
He sat looking at her and Jessica began to wonder if his face was double jointed or something. He was doing it again. His eyes pierced into hers, somber, serious, commanding, but his mouth twisted into a smile so disarming that you’d think he was relaxed and without a care in the world. He stared at her a moment longer and then moved back.
“So for now,” he said, pausing to look her over from head to toe. “I’m not sure how we’re going to do this. You can’t move or talk … so I can only guess when you need to drink or go to the bathroom. I, ah, well, I asked Riley, Josh and Angus to bring home some diapers. You know, the adult ones. Just to make things easier. But I’m not sure they’ll be looking to make things easier for you. They may just want to drag you back and forth to the bathroom. We’ll see I guess. Anyway. For now I’ll ask every hour or so to see if you have to go. If you do, blink twice. ‘K?”
He was looking at her expectantly. Jessica had to think for a minute, working through the haze that fogged her mind, before blinking her eyes twice.
“Good. And one blink will be no. They won’t be back until tomorrow probably. Maybe not even until later. I imagine you’ll want to sleep.” He said.
Jessica blinked once. The pain was constant now that her body realized she was conscious. There was no way she could sleep.
“No?” Jim asked in surprise. “Okay. Well, what to do then?” He looked around his room and then he looked back at Jessica. He seemed to be considering something. “What the hell.” He said with a shrug. “I’ve got a little secret I’m willing to share with you. But I’m counting on you keeping it to yourself.”
He paused and again it took a while for Jessica to realize that he was waiting for a response from her. Jessica exhaled in resignation and then very quickly regretted it.
“I told you, no sudden movements!” he said as Jessica went rigid and she clamped her eyes shut, trying to will the pain away. “So?” he asked when the pain had subsided and she’d relaxed again. “Can I trust you with my secret or not?”
Jessica blinked twice.
“Good!” he said in an animated voice. He suddenly seemed like a kid rather than a man, his face lighting up with joy. He leaned in closer to her, looking around in a conspiratory manner.
“I have a T.V.” he all but whispered in an excited voice. For a second Jessica forgot about the pain.
A T.V? She hadn’t watched television in so long. She suddenly yearned for it.
“Yes,” he said as if her eyes had conveyed the importance of this to him. “A T.V. And I have a really good antennae. I can catch all the really good channels. Do you want me to set it up?”
Jessica blinked twice without hesitation.
Jimmy chuckled. “Okay. But I’m trusting you to keep this quiet. Between you and me only. The clan takes a somewhat dim view of television …”
Jessica blinked twice again.
Jim laughed, loud and long. Finally a response from Jessica that he didn’t have spend hours extracting.
He went to his closet and pulled the small T.V out and set it up on the dresser across from his bed. He turned it on and came to sit next to her on the bed.
“It’s small, but it’s in color. And, I have a DVD player to go along with it. We can rent movies.” He pressed the power button on and then looked down at Jessica who was straining her eyeballs to look over at the television.
“Hmmm.” He said. “You can’t really see it, can you? I can stack these pillows up a little and shift you up onto them … but it’s going to hurt like a son of a bitch. Do you want me to try?”
Jessica blinked twice. Jim grinned from ear to ear and nodded.
“Okay hold on.” He said as he leaned over her and lifted her torso as he tried to push some pillows behind her. Jessica gasped in pain. Stars danced behind her eyes, but she didn’t care. Anything to see that T.V. “Are you okay?” he asked when he finally got her pulled up high enough on the pillows so that she could see the T.V.
Jessica blinked twice.
“Okay. What do you want to watch?” He asked taking his place beside her again and beginning to flip through the channels. “Whoa! Hold on there!” he exclaimed, catching Jessica as her body began to slide to the right. “That would’ve been great …” he muttered, pulling her up again, “falling on the floor, perfect for your head and ribs.” He continued to mutter. But no sooner was Jessica propped up on the pillows again that she began to slide again.
“I don’t think this is going to work.” Jim said and looked her over, seeming to be considering something. “I have an idea. I think it’ll be the only way you’ll be able to stay up to see the T.V. But I’m not sure how you’re going to feel about it. Do you want to hear it?”
“Okay.” He said when Jessica had indicated that she did. “You can lean on me. I’ll hold you up against me.” Jim paused. He could understand why she might say no, but in a strange way he was afraid to hear it. He had no sexual feelings toward Jessica. None at all. But he did want her to like him. At least enough that she wouldn’t be repulsed to be sitting on his lap, in his arms … watching T.V.
“What do you think?” he asked in a careful tone.
Jessica blinked twice. No way was she going to give up the chance to watch T.V. And besides, this was Jim. Had it been any one of the others she wouldn’t have even considered it.
Jessica had never seen his face light up the way it did right then. It was odd that his obvious happiness brought her an ounce of joy.
“Okay … hold on … this is going to hurt.” And as gently as he could, Jim lifted Jessica up to a sitting position. Jessica was blinded by pain … her head pounding. For a moment she thought she was going to pass out, but then Jim had slid behind her, one leg on either side of her, and he leaned her back against his chest. His arms on either side of her, keeping her upright. Jessica wasn’t surprised at how solid he felt. Jim, like the other men, had the most chiseled bodies she had ever seen in her life. Having been only eighteen when kidnapped she had little to compare them to other then the soldiers and police officers who she’d seen working with her parents. But of course, she hadn’t felt their bodies, just seen them. And she was surprised to find that when Jim’s body wasn’t busy restraining her, it was solid yet comfortable.
Jim pressed his face to Jessica’s hair. It was convenient that he couldn’t really help it given the way they were sitting. He wanted so much to protect her. From the men and their anger, but also, ironically, from herself. He wasn’t sure he’d ever get this opportunity again, so he nuzzled in to her hair shamelessly. She didn’t seem to mind. Despite her condition he was certain she’d find a way to tense, or protest. Instead she exhaled, and seemed to relax into him.
“Comedy okay with you?” he asked and leaned forward enough to see her eyelashes flutter twice. He turned it to a re-run of Three’s Company and gently pulled his arms tighter around her.
Jessica watched the T.V. but was incredibly aware of Jim. Not in a concerned or scared way. Nothing about him made her worry that he would be trying anything sexual. She felt like she were home again, cuddling with her dad, or her brothers. She decided right then that no matter what the future brought, no matter what she’d have to do to get away from here, it could not include hurting Jim in any way. She relaxed and focused on the show. It was so funny that she kept trying to laugh, which in turn caused her blinding pain.
“Maybe we should watch something else …” Jim suggested after the fourth or fifth time Jessica tensed with pain. “Drama or something? Something that won’t make you laugh?” But when he leaned around to see her answer, Jessica blinked once.
“Okay, “ he said shaking his head in disbelief. “You really are a glutton for punishment!”
They watched hours of television. Stopping only for Jim to take Jessica to the bathroom. A horribly painful experience that neither one of them wanted to repeat any time soon. Jessica sipped water and snoozed on and off.
Waking from a snooze, she heard Jim swear under his breath and then flick the T.V. off.
“Good, you’re awake. They’re back. I’ve gotta put the T.V. back in the closet. Are you ready?”
They had devised the least painful way for Jim to get out from behind Jessica. It required incredible flexibility on Jim’s part, which Jessica was surprised to find out that he had. He would lean Jessica away from him and then lift his leg over her, sliding off of the bed on the right. He helped Jessica ease down into a prone position and managed to just get the T.V. into the closet when a loud knock thundered on the bedroom door.
“Come in!” Jim called. Jessica closed her eyes. She could hear the door open, the men enter the room, but she had no desire to see them. What were they going to do to her? She was sure it would be as unpleasant as possible.
“How’s Scott?” Jim asked.
“He’ll be okay.” Riley answered. “How’s she?”
“Pretty battered.” Jim said. “I think she’s got fractures pretty much everywhere. She can’t move, much less talk. Are you aiming to punish her for shooting Scott?”
“She’ll be punished alright.” Angus growled.
“But not now and not by us.” Riley added. “Scott gets to decide the punishment and gets first dibs when he comes home.”
“And I get to be next in line.” Angus said.
“I think you’ve done more than your fair share.” Josh said quietly. There was silence from the men. Jessica cracked her eye open a sliver and could see Josh staring at her. Undoubtedly he was mad that he hadn’t had his turn to beat her up.
“I didn’t intend to steal anyone’s thunder.” Angus finally said. “I can wait till everyone gets there’s …”
A shiver went up Jessica’s spine, as Josh rolled his eyes as if Angus was missing the point entirely.
“So you’re going to be able to leave her alone tonight?” Josh asked. “Given it’s your night with her?” Josh was relieved that the men were misinterpreting his meaning. He’d spoken without realizing that he was going to say anything. Apparently he didn’t have the stomach for the kind of torture that they were meting out. It surprised him, and he shuddered to think what the men would do or say if they knew that he considered Jessica’s punishment complete.
“No sweat.” Angus said, “Jimbo says she can’t move. I’ve got a ton of parts to order. I can fill in the forms while she stares at the ceiling all night.”
“I’ll check her over, make sure there’s no serious damage.” Riley said. “She can spend the day on the sofa where we can keep an eye on her.”
“Did you guys bring the diapers?” Jim asked.
“Diapers?” Angus blurted with snort, “You’ve gotta be kidding me. We’ll haul her skinny ass to the bathroom and the more it hurts, the better.”
“It may make her think twice before she tries to shoot any of us again.” Riley added, staring at Jessica, pleased to see understanding in her eyes before she closed them.
“Do you need me to stick around while you doctor her up?” Angus asked.
“Nope.” Riley replied and Jessica felt the bed dip as Riley sat himself beside her. From below slightly open lids she saw Angus leave.
“Has she been unconscious?” Riley asked.
“She’s been in and out.” Jim answered.
Riley began to feel his way around her head. A few times his hands landed on painful areas and it took all Jessica had to not cry out. His hands always investigated these areas more thoroughly, and not as gently as she suspected could have been possible.
“Her skull is fractured in two places. I’m surprised that her brain hasn’t swollen.” He pried Jessica’s eye open and flashed the light from a small flashlight in it. And then he switched eyes. “She’ll live. She won’t be causing us much trouble for a while. And her head is going to hurt like a son of bitch. We could give her some pain killers to help with that, but we won’t. A little suffering will do her some good. Hey Jessica? When your head feels like it’s going to explode, think about whether you ever want to try shooting one of us again … I’m willing to bet on what the answer will be.” He ended with a laugh. “Let’s put her on the sofa.”
Riley heaved himself from the bed.
“I’ll get her.” Jim said, moving to scoop Jessica into his arms as gently as he could. His mind raced as he took her out to the living room and laid her on the sofa. Riley had followed behind him … Josh had gone ahead of him, and then kept on going outside.
Jim was aware of Riley watching him. He looked over his shoulder but couldn’t read Riley’s expression. Jim squatted next to Jessica, gently arranged her hands on her abdomen, and then exhaled. He didn’t know if he could keep the promise he’d made to Jessica, much less how. There had to be an answer somewhere.
“Are you okay?” Riley asked.
“No. Not really.”
“She won’t do it again.” Riley said moving beside Jim and laying his hand on Jim’s shoulder.
Jim chuckled. “All things being equal Riley, I think she will.”
Riley’s hand fell from Jim’s shoulder.
“You think we should have killed her?”
“No. I’m glad that we didn’t.”
“I don’t get it Jim, you just said …”
“I said ‘all things being equal’”. Jim patted Jessica’s hand and then stood up to face Riley. “I’m kind of hoping for something to change.”
“I wish she’d change too.” Riley agreed.
“Not just her Riley.” Jim said.
Riley nodded. This war was getting tedious. A bit of a more normal life would be nice, he could admit it.
“One day we’ll win Jim. The government and assholes like her parents will all disappear, and life will go on as it had been intended to.”
“Riley … I’m not talking about the war. About government, or people like Jessica’s parents. I’m talking about us. Her, and us.”
Riley slid his eyes to Jessica’s still form and then back to Jim. Jim could tell that Riley had no idea what he was talking about. Completely understandable since Jim wasn’t sure himself.
“Why did you do it Riley?” Jim asked, suddenly disbelieving all of the previous explanations Riley had given for taking Jessica.
“Keep her alive?” Jim said nodding his head to Jessica. “When we attacked her family? We killed everyone else.”
He replayed the scene in his mind. Bodies lying everywhere, and Jessica, young and terrified, gripping a gun in her hands but not firing. Angus had raised his gun to shoot her, but Riley had stopped him. Told Angus to grab her and take her with them.
“I …” Riley began but Jim interrupted him.
“The real reason Riley. The reason that she has been with us for so long. The reason that you’ve been sleeping with her … the reason none of us could kill her today.”
“I don’t …” Riley began but the look on Jim’s face made him realize that playing dumb wouldn’t work. “What the hell … I don’t know what you want me to say Jim. Things were hectic, it was a split second decision …”
“That’s lasted over a year.”
Riley looked down at Jessica.
“We shouldn’t be having this conversation around her.”
“She’s completely out of it.” Jim said, the high pitched nasal whistle coming from Jessica as she snored supporting Jim’s statement. “But if it makes you feel better, let’s go into the kitchen.”
Jim moved into the kitchen. Riley hesitated. He loved Jim like a brother but he didn’t know if he really wanted him digging into his psyche. Eventually he followed him. He was curious about what Jim would uncover with his questions. More and more it felt like Riley was hiding something from himself.
“Enlighten me Jim. It seems to me that you already know the answer to the question. Why don’t you share it with me?”
Jim shook his head. “I can only speak for myself.”
“When we brought Jessica home, I think I felt relieved.”
“Relieved?” Riley repeated. “How in God’s name could you feel relieved?”
“Because we wouldn’t be alone anymore.”
“What the fuck? We were far from alone Jim, Caleb …”
“A bunch of men Riley. I miss your Mom. My Mom, my sister …”
“Jim,” Riley began, but his voice broke. He kept forgetting how much younger Jim was than him. And how much more their families being gone could have impacted him. He cleared his throat. “There are other women in the clan.”
Jim nodded. “But they’re all taken … if they’re old enough. And, we’d have to join the other chapters or at least be much more closely affiliated with them. I kind of like just the five of us … six when Kevin comes home. And Jessica. Well, she’s kind of grown on me.”
Riley was speechless. He started to feel like Jim had somehow gotten inside his head and read his thoughts.
“She may have grown on you Jim, but I don’t think you’re making the same impression on her. She doesn’t want to be here. She’s made the statement loud and clear. With a gun.”
Jim was nodding.
“I know. But you’re really good with the dogs. Maybe the behavior modification you use on them, would work on Jessica.”
Silence hung in the air. After a few minutes Riley opened his mouth to say something … but couldn’t think of what to say, so he gulped air like a fish out of water.
Something he hadn’t thought of. How to break her yes, to manipulate her, no.
“Do you think it would work?” Jim finally asked.
“I don’t know. Maybe. I’d have to think about it. Regardless, she has to survive Scott’s return home. I’m not holding my breath about that.”
Jim nodded. Scott had good cause to out and out shoot her. Jim gnawed on his lip. Another problem to solve.
“I’m glad that you told me this Jim. I’m sorry that you feel so alone.”
“Lonely, not alone. I miss our families. I wish …” Jim’s voice trailed off.
“Me too.” And Riley reached out to clamp his hand on Jim’s shoulder again, and squeeze.
“Go ahead with whatever you have to do outside.” Jim said, forcing a smile. “I’ll keep an eye on sleeping beauty.”
A couple of hours later Jessica was still sleeping on the sofa. Riley was cooking in the kitchen, Jim and Josh were reading in the living room when Angus stomped in.
“Can I have a minute?” Riley asked from the kitchen.
“Yeah, let me get cleaned-up …” Angus said waving his grease covered hands toward his grease covered face.
“Is there any grease left in your car?” Josh asked with a laugh.
“Ha, ha, funny.” Angus grumbled as he moved through to the bathroom.
“May as well come and eat.” Riley said to Jim and Josh, “It’ll take him half an hour to get that crap off.”
“Should we try to feed Jessica?” Jim asked, looking over to where Jessica slept.
“I doubt she could eat right now. We’ll give her some broth later.” Riley answered.
While he ate, Riley reviewed what it had taken him two hours to conclude.
Rather than work with the dogs, as he should have been doing, Riley sat on the grassy hill near the kennels and considered Jim’s suggestion. It was doable. It would be more complicated than with a dog. Not only were dogs by nature, eager to please, but they generally had one owner. One person they felt subservient to. One person that ruled their lives.
Jessica had five … six at some point in the future.
And she was anything but subservient. At the moment.
But with serious behavior modification, she would become so. The trick was that the five of them, Angus, Josh, Jim, Scott and himself, had to be on the same page. Expect the same things, have the same rules.
If Scott didn’t kill Jessica, Riley was pretty sure he could get Jim, Josh and Scott on the same page. He guessed that they were just as interested in having Jessica as part of the clan as he was.
But Angus. He was another story. He’d been hurt bad by Beth and Riley suspected that Angus saw Jessica as a way to strike back at Beth … at women. Riley had come to the conclusion that both wants were compatible and could be achieved via the same method. Now he just had to convince Angus of that. Once he was on board … and Scott had his opportunity to punish Jessica, Riley figured that they could easily have Jessica trained in no time at all. But to be safe, he was giving them six months.
“Where’re Jim and Josh?” Angus asked, dragging a chair out from the table and dropping on to it.
“They ate already … you’ve been in the crapper of over an hour. They’re out doing some chores in the barn.” Riley said sliding a plate of food in front of Angus.
“Thanks.” Angus said and began shoveling the food into his mouth.
“I wanna try something with Jessica.” Riley began. Normally he was more than willing to give credit for good ideas, where credit was due. But to tell Angus that this idea had come from Jim was to guarantee that Angus refused to consider it. For some unknown reason, Angus had a sore spot with Jim. He loved him, that was for sure, but if Jim said black, Angus had to say white. It was a reflex.
“Sure … I can do anything Riley, but I thought we’d promised Scott to let him at her first.”
“We did, and he’ll get first dibs on punishing her. But I was thinking along the lines of trying the opposite approach.”
Angus froze, fork midway to his mouth and stared at Riley. “Opposite?” he asked.
“Yes. I’m thinking that given that Jessica can’t so much as sneeze right now, it would be a good time to try and brainwash her into capitulating. Maybe we can make her fit in. Here with us.”
“Ahuh. And how is that supposed to work?”
“By giving her rules. Rewarding her when she follows them.”
“And punishing her when she doesn’t …” Angus said, an angry gleam in his eye.
“Yes, consequences of not obeying are needed. It’s behaviour modification Angus. We have to act like she’s ours. And we have to start to make her feel like she belongs here.”
“You’re shittin’ me!” Angus asked in disbelief. He looked around the room as if he expected someone to jump out and yell, ‘April Fools!’.
“I’m not. There’s nothing to it really. While she can’t move, just go about your business. Talk to her about stuff. Stuff other than her family, other than everything she’s done wrong. And we’ll teach her the rules … our expectations. By the time she’s fully mobile again, she should be well on her way to being where we want her to be.”
“You want me to talk to her?!” Angus demanded.
“If you can. But you don’t have to. Just act like she’s supposed to be here. It should be easy given that she can’t move a muscle.”
“All I can promise to do is to ignore her while she’s lying around not trying to escape or kill one of us.” Angus said tossing his fork onto his plate.
“Okay, that’s fine too. Just do your best.”
“I don’t get it Riley.” Angus began, shaking his head. “Jessica practically blows Scott away, almost does the same to Jim. And you know, know, she would have shot all of us if she’d had the chance. We’ve tried breaking her for over a year now and gotten nowhere. What makes you think this will work? And why do you even want to bother?”
“All of that is true.” Riley said. “But wouldn’t it be nice to have a female around. One to which we could do whatever we want?” Riley chose those words carefully. If that didn’t get Angus willing to try, nothing would.
“So … you don’t want to kill her anymore?” Angus asked, stunned.
“No. If it can be avoided, I’d rather not.”
“What if she escapes?”
“Everything has a consequence Angus … escaping calls for the death penalty. But, just remember that shooting Scott called for one too and she’s still alive.”
Angus felt his blood boiling. He shoved his plate away.
“Give me a gun and I will do it this time …” he growled. “I don’t know what was wrong with me Riley, sorry.”
“No, wait …” Riley said reaching to grab Angus’ arm as he pushed himself away from the table. “I wasn’t making a comment about your ability to carry out orders Angus. None of us were able to do it, remember? And I think it’s because we want more from Jessica.”
Angus’ face turned red as he dropped back into his chair.
“If by more you mean using her as our own personal whore … a punching bag and a sex toy, then okay. But anything else, forget it. She’s the enemy Riley. She will always be the enemy …”
Riley stared at Angus.
Change was better in small steps with Angus, Riley knew this. Rather than argue further, he was going to have to let Angus stick with this notion. Punching bag and sex toy. Maybe it would even help keep Jessica in line. If Angus wanted to use her that way so badly, then let him. At least Riley wouldn’t have to.
Riley didn’t trust himself to speak. He was about to use his best friend in a way that was unforgivable. All he could do was nod.
“Fine.” Angus grumbled, shoving his chair back and standing. He clenched his fists as he glared at Riley. He cursed himself for his weakness. The dreams he was having, hugging Jessica at night. It was making him weak. Jessica was dangerous. He couldn’t define it exactly, but she was dangerous in a way that he was certain the other men didn’t realize.
That was okay. Once she was on her feet again, she would try to escape, and when she did, he’d put a bullet in her brain. In the meantime, he would use her to get his frustrations out.
“If she knows what’s good for her she’ll modify her behavior damn fast.” Angus finally said. “But she won’t. Because she doesn’t. And I’ll enjoy every second of it. Thanks Riley.” And he turned and stomped out the front door.
That night Angus kicked his bedroom door shut behind him, moved to his bed and lay Jessica’s lifeless form onto it. He closed the handcuff around her right wrist, covered her with the blanket and stood looking at her battered face.
Unconscious like this Jessica seemed harmless, almost fragile. Angus snorted out a laugh at that thought. About as harmless and fragile as a neutron bomb.
He did have a lot of calls to make. What difference did it really make if he made them with her lying here. She was out of it … it’d be as if she weren’t even here.
Riley had given him the cell phone that they shared. He dialed the number for Caleb’s place. That was where the other half of their cell lived. Their estranged half. Estranged because of her. Caleb had once suggested to Angus that he had a choice about which location he, Angus, sided with. It was funny that Caleb would think that.
For as long as Angus could remember Angus had one simple philosophy. Where Riley went, Angus went. Riley was closer than a brother to Angus. He couldn’t think of life without him. He had no idea how Caleb had drawn the conclusion that Angus would leave him .
Plus, he had had to get away from Beth.
Now he had the best possible scenario. He was still with Riley, got away from Beth, and had Jessica to take his frustrations out on and get right what he’d gotten so wrong with Beth.
He did regret not seeing their old friends more often though. And with this phone call he could kill two birds with one stone. Scott was recuperating at Caleb’s. He could find out how he was doing from Sean while finding out what was wrong with Sean’s car.
Jessica tried to lie still, terrified that Angus would realize that she was awake. Her heart pounded in her chest. What was he going to do to her? She’d awoken when he’d picked her up from the sofa, and without even opening her eyes she knew it was him. He smelled of whiskey and grease, and she could feel the tension in his muscled arms as he clutched her to him like a couple of iron bars. His hands grasped her in the same restraining fashion that he always used when holding her down or forcing her to do what he wanted.
As he’d laid her on his bed, terror gripped her. She couldn’t handle his abuse right then. She was in so much pain that even just his breath across her skin made her want to scream. She didn’t look forward to the rest of the night.
But then he’d stepped away and hadn’t come back. Deciding that knowing where he was and what he was doing was worth the risk of inviting abuse, Jessica opened her eyes to a small slit and spotted him at the foot of the bed. He stood facing the far corner of the room and from that angle she could see his profile and tell that he had a phone to his ear.
He had a phone to his ear. That was so odd. He never did anything in this room with her other than abuse, humiliate and rape her. Now he was talking on a phone?
Jessica could hear the ring tone, and then a woman’s voice said ‘hello’. And Jessica gasped. With that one word, Angus’ whole demeanor changed. His jaw went rigid.
Fear shot through her again as he turned toward her, but Jessica forgot her fear in that second. Angus was not looking at her, he was staring off into the distance, and the look of pain that he had on his face at that moment caused her heart to squeeze as if someone had reached into her chest and crushed her heart with his fist.
His whole face seemed to have convulsed into a silent scream. Jessica heard the woman’s voice on the line again, and she was surprised to realize that Angus needed protection from that voice.
Whoever that woman was, she had done unspeakable things to Angus. Jessica knew that as surely as she knew her own, real, name. Suddenly the agony on Angus’ face mutated. It seemed to waiver for a moment, and then Angus’ face reconstructed itself into the look of hate and loathing that Jessica recognized only too well. Jessica ignored the pain as she pushed her body into the bed, trying as hard as possible to get further from Angus.
“Give me Sean!” Angus ordered, his voice filled with hatred.
Jessica heard the woman’s voice again and watched as Angus’ face grew a dark red.
“I will not talk to you Beth!” he thundered, spitting her name out as if it were bitter in his mouth. “Give me Sean, now!”
Beth. The name reverberated in Jessica’s mind. So that was it. Angus hated Jessica as much as he hated Beth. Angus had nightmares about Beth all the time. He’d start off sounding sad, but then got progressively angrier and angrier. He had called Jessica Beth many times. While beating Jessica … while raping her. She knew that she and Angus had a healthy hate on for one another, but she didn’t fully appreciate the depth with which he hated her, until now.
Jessica had no idea who this Beth woman was, but was happy for her that she had managed to get away from Angus. Jessica wondered if she’d ever get away herself. Well, at least now she knew why Angus looked at her with such disgust all of the time. She wondered what it was about her that made her as hideous to Angus as Beth obviously was.
“Sean!” Angus practically grunted. “What is she doing there?” Jessica could hear a man’s voice on the phone this time. “I don’t ever want to speak to that bitch again! You have call display on your phone, use it!”
Jessica heard the man speak again and Angus seemed to be calming down.
“Yeah,” Angus finally muttered. “maybe I should call back later about your car.”
Angus listened for a few moments and then exhaled. “Okay. Yeah, I got some time. Sorry about that.”
He turned away and went to pull the chair out from under his office desk. Straddling it, he sat facing Jessica. Jessica closed her eyes. He hadn’t noticed her watching him. Thank God!
“So how’s Scott?” Angus asked. “Yeah, I can believe it!” he said after having listened for a moment. “Tell him that he’ll have his rightful chance at her. We’ve saved her for him … he can take as long as he wants. Yeah …”
Jessica’s heart pounded so hard that it hurt. Scott was coming back, and he’d have his revenge. In this condition she wouldn’t stand a chance at fighting back. Oh God! Jimmy was right. Things were going to get much, much, worse.
She’d forgotten about Angus momentarily but then she heard something so alien that she turned her head to look at him without thinking about the consequences. Pain shot through her, and Angus saw her move. He continued to laugh into the phone as he got up and moved toward her. It was true, he was laughing. Not a cruel, sneering laugh, but a real laugh and for a moment he almost looked like a normal human being.
“… this weekend?” he was saying into the phone as he stopped by the bed. Jessica shut her eyes hoping that he hadn’t noticed that they’d been open. “I didn’t know there was a rally this weekend. Mechanic? Really?” his voice faded as he moved away from the bed. Jessica couldn’t breathe. She didn’t believe for a moment that he was going to leave her alone until Scott got back. Maybe she’d be lucky and he’d stay on the phone for the whole night.
“Okay, sure I’m in.” Angus was saying. “I’ll meet you at 9?”
Angus hung up but didn’t come back to the bed.
Jessica forced herself to relax. It hurt too much to be so tense. This was going to be a long night. She squeezed her eyes shut and hoped that she’d fall to sleep so the morning could come sooner. Fully aware that it was wishful thinking, she hoped Angus stayed away from her all night.
The next morning Jim waited with great trepidation for Angus to bring Jessica to the living room. He was afraid to see what state she was in. He had little confidence in Angus’ ability to leave her alone. Especially given the fact that Riley told him how reluctant Angus had been to follow the plan.
But finally Angus emerged, carrying Jessica, and he laid her, onto the sofa.
“How’d it go?” Riley asked.
“Piece of cake. Especially after speaking with Sean and finding out how anxious Scott is to get his get a hold of her. I couldn’t disappoint him, now could I?” Angus snickered as he moved away from the sofa and into the kitchen.
Jim moved closer and peered down at Jessica. Her cheeks seemed a little red but other than that he couldn’t detect any damage.
“Oh, and I’ve taken her for her morning shit. It was real fun watching her try to squeeze that out.”
Jessica squeezed her eyes closed tight and her cheeks flamed red.
Well that explained the blushing.
“Consider yourself lucky,” Jimmy murmured to Jessica when Angus and Riley were out of hearing range, “he could have done a lot worse.”
“Did you say something?” Josh asked.
“Yeah, just reminding Jessica that she was lucky that all she got from Angus was an embarrassing moment on the toilet.”
“No kidding.” Josh said and both moved away from the sofa.
Jessica exhaled. She really didn’t need Jimmy to remind her of that.
She could barely believe that Angus had left her alone all night. But she knew why. She knew that when Scott got back, things would get much, much, worse. The best she could do, was hope that she would have enough strength back by then to at least try and defend herself.
And then of course once he was through with her, Angus would take over. And she’d be unable to defend against him. And then there were the others. But she worried less about them. None of them seemed to get as much pleasure from punishing her as Angus did. Despite the fear that overwhelmed her, Jessica drifted off to sleep.
She awoke to the sound of an electric drill. Opening her eyes she saw Josh and Riley working on something on the wall near the front door.
“Wakey, wakey …” Angus said from behind her. Pain pulsed through her as she jumped in surprise. “See that …” Angus continued in a low growl near her ear. His hot breath rolled across her cheek and his hand appeared before her to point at Riley and Josh. Just then the door opened and Jim came in carrying a rifle in each hand.
“That is your doing. No more hand guns on us so you can’t be tempted to try and kill us again. But those rifles are right there, easy for us to get should we need them. And you’re not to so much as look at them. ‘Cause if you do … you’re mine. Got it?”
A shiver ran down Jessica’s spine. She couldn’t see Angus, but she could imagine his expression just from the tone of his voice.
“I said, ‘Got it?’ I expect an answer!” he growled.
“Hey, Angus!” Jim said moving forward when Angus looked like he was about to lose it. “She still can’t move, remember?”
“Oh I don’t know Jim … I think she can handle a simple “yes” or “no” answer.” Angus said, grasping Jessica by her hair and turning her face toward him. Angus was behind her so she could just catch a glimpse of him from the corner of her eye. “How ‘bout it Princess? Do you understand that if you even blink in the direction of those guns I will become your worst nightmare? Worse than anything that’s happened to you so far? Worse than anything that Scott is going to do to you when he gets home? Worse than anything the punishment that still awaits you from each and every one of us? Do … you … understand?”
Jim stood watching Jessica, same as Riley and Josh. He willed her to reply. Despite the fact that he wanted to nurture a truce with her … this was important. The rifles were going to be right there. Locked up, but there. And it was vital that Jessica not entertain any ideas about using them. Especially if he was going to be able to enact the next part of his plan. Getting her off the harness. The thought came to him earlier that morning. He’d been successful in getting the men to go along with the plan to train Jessica. The next step was to get them to take her off the leash. He was positive that with that little act of kindness they could go miles toward making peace with Jessica. But in order for that to work, she had to prove that she could listen … and be trusted to stay away from the rifles.
“God damn it, you’re making it really hard for me to keep my promise to Scott. You give me a fucking answer right now or your face and my fist are going to get re-acquainted sooner than expected!”
“Yes,” Jessica managed to whisper. But Angus didn’t hear her. Pain shot through her as he pushed her into a sitting position.
“Wait!” Jim yelled and surprised even himself with the pleading tone in his voice. “I mean … hold on a minute …” he said glancing at Riley, Josh and then Angus’ put out expressions. “She replied. Say it again Jessica.”
“Yes,” Jessica whispered. Thankful to Jim for interceding.
Angus scowled at Jim. “Yes what?” he demanded.
Jim groaned. Angus was going to find a way to inflict violence one way or another.
“She understands Angus!” Jim said in exasperation.
Anger flashed across Angus’ face. Dropping Jessica back on to the sofa, Angus sprung to his feet and advanced on Jim.
“What the hell was that?” he demanded.
Jim took an involuntary step back.
“She answered you.” He muttered. For a moment he wavered, fearful of the potential violence that Angus could inflict on him, but was immediately ashamed of himself. Jessica lived through that violence all the time. If she could do it, so could he.
“You little shit …” Angus growled grabbing Jim’s shirt collar and pulling him toward him. Jim’s mind froze. He still clutched a rifle in each hand and was unable to determine how he could defend himself with his hands full.
“Angus!” Riley said, and stepped between Angus and Jim, forcing Angus to let go of Jim’s shirt.
“Did you hear what he said?” Angus demanded. Jim moved back, surprised that things had come to this. He wasn’t sure how it had happened, and he could see by the look on Josh’s face that he was just as stunned. Riley turned from Angus to Jim and he looked pissed.
Jim raised his hands in surrender. “I’m sorry.” He said. “I really didn’t mean it the way it came out. Accept my apology …” he said handing a rifle to Riley and then sticking his freed hand out to Angus.
Angus and Riley stared at his hand. Jim stared at Angus. He and Angus had their differences of opinion in the past, about stupid stuff. But it had never come to near blows like this. Jim didn’t want any bad blood between him and Angus. Not just for his sake, but Jessica’s also. If Jim planned to help her as he’d vowed, he’d need to keep on Angus’ good side.
It seemed like forever before Angus took Jim’s hand.
“Watch your tone … “ he grumbled as he clutched Jim’s hand in a firm grip.
“Right, sorry.” Jim replied.
Angus let his hand drop and turned back to the sofa. Riley took his place, moving his face within inches of Jim’s. “What the hell was that?”
“She’s answered Riley.”
“I’ve got enough work refereeing your petty arguments with Angus, Jim … don’t start picking more serious fights. Got it?”
Jim nodded and had to bite his tongue as Angus pulled Jessica up by the scruff of her shirt.
“I can hardly wait until Scott gets back. Once he gives the go ahead, you and I are going to party little girl, and it won’t be anything you’ll forget too soon!” Angus shoved Jessica back onto the sofa and then stomped out the front door.
Christ, when Scott came home Angus was going to go on a rampage. There was only one thing Jim could do … talk to Scott.
“Let’s finish this up.” Riley said, wishing Jim and Angus could just learn to get along.
“Hey, I’ve got some errands to run later.” Jim said. “Do you need anything from town? I’ll be stopping at Caleb’s too.”
“Yeah, I need a few things.” Josh said.
“Riley?” Jim asked.
“No, I’m fine.”
It was Riley’s night with Jessica that night, Jim thought to himself. Josh’s the next night, and his, the next. Hopefully that gave Jessica three nights of peace. He wasn’t sure what he was going to say to Scott about Jessica. What could he, in good conscience, say to a man whom she’d almost killed? Well, he’d have to think of something or else Jessica was going to end up dead whether Angus did it intentionally or not.
Jim had been gone all day. And Jessica had spent the whole day sleeping on the sofa.
Now she lay, very awake, on Riley’s bed, listening to him talking on the phone. Despite the constant pain her body was in, Jessica was restless. She’d rested as much as she could and now she felt incredibly alert. She felt adrenaline pumping as she worried more and more about Scott’s return.
She realized now that for some unknown reason Scott had always been the unlucky victim of her escape attempts. The realization caught her off guard. How had that happened? How was it that every real opportunity she’d had to escape came with Scott?
He’d always punished her with a brutality that was mostly only ever borne out by Angus, but somehow he still ended up being in the position to make her feel like she could get away. Of the five men, Scott was the only one who Jessica had had two opportunities to kill. She was certain that there would be no future opportunities.
Jessica pushed the thought from her mind. Any thought of Scott made Jessica feel like she would hyperventilate. She desperately wanted a distraction. She had tuned Riley out, but she managed to catch a word that made Jessica focus on his conversation again.
Puppies. She was sure she’d heard Riley say, “puppies”. She had to have been imagining it. What would a bully like Riley have to do with puppies. But then she’d heard it again causing her to involuntarily look over at Riley.
“… that’s right …” Riley said into the phone, pausing when he saw Jessica look over.
Jessica shifted her gaze back to the ceiling and worked hard at calming her heart. It thudded against her chest and for a moment she thought he wouldn’t continue his conversation. But then she heard what sounded like a sigh, before he said, “there should be a litter around that time. I keep the bitches on a six to nine month cycle. No … no it can’t be earlier.” Jessica’s breath caught. It was that tone. The hardness of it, the coldness. Riley used that tone on her constantly and usually following closely behind that tone came pain. Pain from Riley, but also pain from the others. She knew now why he terrified her so much. He was the leader. He gave the orders. And when she angered him, she earned pain from all of the men.
“ Listen,” Riley continued, “if you’re looking for a puppy mill you’ve come to the wrong place. The dogs need at least a six month break between puppies. If you can’t wait, please feel free to go elsewhere …”
Jessica thought over Riley’s words. It struck her as odd that Riley had an ounce of humanity in him. But then, perhaps it wasn’t that surprising. Regardless of the physical pain that Riley inflicted on her, he never touched her sexually. Unlike Angus and Josh. That had to count for something. But still he terrified her. Without thinking Jessica looked toward Riley again. Her heart caught in her throat. He no longer had the phone, he was just sitting, staring at her with an expression that Jessica didn’t care to decipher. She snapped her eyes back to the ceiling. God she was a coward. Unless provoked into such anger that Jessica prayed that she could shoot daggers with her eyes, she couldn’t bear to look any of them in the eye.
She wished that she could be even the least bit menacing. Scare them as much as they scared her. But she couldn’t do it. She squeezed her eyes shut. The words, ‘Please leave me alone …. Please leave me alone …” repeated in her mind.
Riley watched Jessica squeeze her eyes shut. He didn’t know why, but he managed to be surprised each time Jessica reacted to him with such disgust. Brainwashing, an interesting idea of Jim’s. But he was fresh out of chatter with which to warm Jessica up to him and he felt like any further attention that he could pay to her would only end in the opposite effect. All he felt like doing was forcing her to be what he wanted. Forcing her to obey him. Forcing her to like him. And she was in no physical condition for that.
Instead, he’d have to content himself with looking at her and daydreaming. He didn’t allow himself the luxury of it often, mostly because it seemed futile and a waste of energy, but he had nothing better to do now.
What would it be like if Jessica actually liked him? Maybe even loved him? Like his mother had loved his father? She would want to come to him. Want his attention. Want him to touch her … want him to make love to her. That creepy, old pervert feeling came over him again. Despite being over eighteen she had the young innocent look and personality. He hoped to eventually see her as mate material.
Maybe, since they seemed unable to kill her, it could eventually happen. But, before any of that could happen, Scott would be home, and there would be punishment to mete out.
Riley looked down at his hands. He knew he’d have to do it. By shooting Scott, Jessica had guaranteed a beating from every one of them. Maybe she wouldn’t survive that. But she had survived every other beating they’d given her. Riley balled his hands into fists. He wondered how Angus could stand to hit her with his hands … fists. Riley used a belt. It somehow seemed less savage, less personal. Asses were meant to be whipped. Lord knew he’d had his whipped enough times by his father. But punching, slapping. He shook his head. None of the other men seemed to use their fists … just Angus.
Riley opened and closed his hands. He felt his resolve falter. Now that he’d considered alternative scenarios with Jessica, other than the one he’d had in mind up until a few days ago, one that ended with a bullet in Jessica’s brain, he had less of a desire to hurt her and more of a desire to control her.
And then he pictured Angus’ angry face glaring down at Jessica. Riley realized that it would be easy to let Angus be the bad guy. Let Angus mete out the justice that Riley knew needed to be administered to Jessica.
“I’m an asshole,” Riley muttered to himself. No, he couldn’t, wouldn’t take the easy way out. He’d be just as dedicated to punishing Jessica as the others.
And there was no way around it. Scott would demand retribution and based on principle alone, Riley had to pay it. But then afterwards. What could be done then?
Riley closed his eyes and tried to imagine what Jessica’s smile would look like. He’d never seen her smile. He imagined that it would be beautiful. Well. If things ever got there. If she survived the next few days, and ever got to the point that there was a chance that she’d want them … him, he knew what had to be done. He was an expert at dog training, and the key to dog training was repetition. And reward. If a dog repeated a behavior and was rewarded for it enough … it would learn. If the opportunity ever presented itself, that’s what they’d have to do. Train her.
Riley smiled as he imagined Jessica walking beside him, holding his hand. Moving into his embrace. Smiling, laughing, loving. And then he saw her move to Jim, then Josh, Scott, Angus. Kissing them, loving them.
And he felt relief when the jealousy that had begun to grow, disappeared. He was as happy for the other men as he was for himself. Would the others react the same way?
A gentle snoring brought Riley out of his thoughts. He looked over at Jessica. She’d fallen to sleep, her face tilting toward him. When she slept she looked like an angel.
Riley considered going to bed too, but knew it wouldn’t be long before her nightmares began. Maybe if he got her through the first few bouts she’d settle down for the night. He settled back in the chair and went back to day dreaming.
The next morning Jessica was on the sofa, back leaning against the arm of the sofa. She was tired. Her nightmares caused extra fatigue in her current physical condition. She was so tired that she didn’t bother with the usual stand-off about eating.
She accepted about five forkfuls of egg that Jim fed her before refusing to open her mouth again. Jim exhaled as if her not eating was actually hurting him somehow. Jessica almost laughed at that. She felt like telling him that if he really wanted to do her a favor, he’d give her five or six cups of coffee.
Jessica closed her eyes as she imagined the look on his face if she did request the coffee. She snickered at the thought and opened her eyes to find Jim watching her. His head cocked to the side, uncertainty in his expression. Jessica looked down. She had to be really tired to make such a stupid mistake. There was absolutely nothing funny here … nothing.
“Did she just laugh?” Josh’s voice asked from Jessica’s right. Jessica’s groaned. Darn it. Had they all seen it? Riley and Angus too? She was afraid to look around.
“I think so,” Jim replied. Jessica waited for the tirade that was sure to come from Angus and/or Riley, but nothing came. Josh took Jessica’s chin and turned her face toward him. Jessica felt relief rush over her as it appeared that neither Riley nor Angus were around.
“What’s so funny Jessica?” Josh asked and moved his face around to keep it in her line of sight as she lowered her eyes. “I could sure use a good laugh.”
Jessica looked at Josh and was surprised to see that he seemed to genuinely want to know. She detected no hint of anger or sarcasm in his voice or demeanor. Jessica tried to look away again, but again Josh moved with her line of vision.
“How ‘bout you tell me your joke and I’ll tell you one of mine?” he asked. He held his breath when it looked like Jessica might actually be considering it. After several seconds of silence Jim came into view behind Josh’s shoulder.
“Josh tells a really good joke Jessica. I think you’d really find it funny …”
Jessica wavered. For a moment, Jessica wanted nothing more than something hilarious to laugh at. But then the front door opened and Riley came in.
“What’s going on?” he asked his voice reflecting the panic he felt at seeing Josh and Jim huddled around Jessica like they were. And in that moment Jessica’s expression transformed from one of cautious optimism to pure fear.
Josh and Jim looked at one another, deflated. Jessica had been on the verge of telling them her joke … she’d been that close, they were sure of it. And now the moment was gone.
“Guys! What the hell happened!” Riley demanded when they did not reply.
“Nothing, everything’s fine.” Jim replied, unable to hide the disappointment he felt.
“Sure sounds like it,” Riley said, his voice thick with sarcasm. He eyed Jessica who sat, eyes downcast, and then Jim with the plate full of eggs.
“She’s not eating again?” Riley demanded.
“She ate fine.” Jim said getting up and going to the kitchen, dropping the plate into the sink.
“Right …” Riley said, looking to Josh for confirmation that his guess was right.
“No, really …” Josh said, sitting back on the sofa and glancing over at Jessica. “She ate. Jim and I were just …” Josh faltered unable to come up with a plausible explanation for why they were huddled over her the way they had been.
“She had an eyelash in her eye.” Jim jumped in. “She couldn’t get it out. There was a lot of blinking … eye watering …” he added when Riley looked at him like he had two heads.
“And she let you get it out?”
“’Let’ is not a really accurate term. She’s not really in a position to argue.” Jim said.
“Okay.” Riley said. He shrugged and seemed satisfied with the explanation. “I gotta go into town. Jim, can you come with me?”
“Yeah. Sure.” Jim looked at Jessica again. He was glad Josh had been here too, to validate the fact that she had actually made a sound that at least somewhat resembled a laugh. Had he been alone, he would have been unsure. That was all interesting. Very interesting.
As he followed Riley out the door, he wondered what would happen when Scott returned.
He had gone to Caleb’s and done his best to explain to Scott what they were doing with Jessica … the brainwashing attempt. In hopes that Scott would consider doing the same thing and perhaps go easier on her when he returned. But Scott hadn’t said much. Just squinted at Jim as he spoke, as if he were speaking a foreign language that Scott was trying to interpret. In truth, Scott was very much within his rights to even go so far as to kill Jessica when he returned. That thought stopped Jim in his tracks. None of them, not, Riley, Angus, Josh nor he himself were able to actually pull the trigger on Jessica, but Scott might very well be able to. And might very well do it.
‘Shit!’ Jim swore to himself and looked back at the house.
“Are you coming?” Riley called from the car window. He was already in the driver’s seat, car running.
Jim got in the car.
“What’s wrong with you?” Riley asked while backing out of the driveway.
“What if Scott decides to kill her?”
Riley had stopped to change gears but now sat looking at Jim with a blank expression.
“He might. Not much we can do about that.” Riley said.
“I went to see him yesterday. To try and explain what we are doing.”
“Jim …” Riley interrupted in a tone that made it clear he was not impressed.
“Just so he knew … so he could think it over a little before he came home.”
“I bet he appreciated that.”
Jim stared out of the windshield as Riley sped down the roadway.
After a few minutes of silence Riley glanced over at Jim.
“So? What did he say?”
“Nothing. Just kept staring at me.”
“Probably trying to figure out what planet you came from.” Riley said with a laugh. “I know how he feels.”
“Ha, ha.” Jim replied, in no mood for joking around.
“Look. He’d be within his rights.”
“I know …” Jim said, the dejection in his tone clearly reflecting his mood.
Riley did a double take. He looked back and forth from the road and Jim a few times, surprised by how much Jim was affected. Then he realized that all of his own daydreaming about Jessica and the future would be down the tubes too.
“If it makes you feel any better, I’m not thrilled about it either. But to be fair, if Jessica had shot me I’d probably kill her. And I swear to you Jim, if she ever succeeds in escaping, I’ll hunt her down and this time I won’t hesitate to pull the trigger.”
“Yeah. I think that’s the worse part. I would too. We all would. So why should Scott be any different? It’s too bad, because I can sense changes coming Riley. I think we’re close to things getting a lot better with Jessica. I’m sure you’ve considered the possibilities … if we can … can get her to like it here.”
“I don’t know how likely that is Jim.” Riley said, thinking about the previous night. “Last night, Jessica was having nightmare after nightmare. She barely slept.”
“That’s why she looked so wrecked this morning.” Jim said. And then he forced a laugh. “Well I guess that means she’s healing. Physically anyway. When she was with me she was so out of it she didn’t dream. She was practically unconscious.”
“I guess we shouldn’t get our hopes up too much.” Riley said.
This time Jim was taken by surprise. He glanced at Riley and couldn’t help but smile. Despite the façade Riley put on, Riley had hopes too. Now if Scott refrained from killing her, maybe things could get better.
“Maybe we should just make sure that there are no loaded guns around when Scott comes home.” Jim suggested.
“Sure. We can do that. It may actually go further toward saving Scott’s life than Jessica’s. He seems to have a knack for being a sitting duck when Jessica is involved.”
“When do you think he’ll be home?” Jim asked.
Riley shrugged. “Could be tomorrow, could be a month. Whenever Caleb feels comfortable enough to let him go, and when Scott feels good enough to come home.”
Jim nodded. So there was no real timeline. There had to be a way to calm Scott down. But how?
Later that night, Josh was pacing at the foot of his bed. Jessica lay on the bed, looking at the ceiling with a steadfast stare. Josh paused to look at her for a moment and then paced again. He was excited. He’d been excited all day. Finally he had Jessica to himself but for once sex with her was not an option. Her physical state made it nearly impossible, and without the option, Josh’s libido went into neutral without any problem.
So, as far as letting her recover, that was one problem gone.
The second problem had been coming up with something to do with her instead of sex. Jim had said to talk to her about something, and Josh had been unable to think of anything to fit the bill. And then this morning the answer was provided for him, by Jessica herself. She’d laughed.
Kind of. In a strangled, garbled, distant cousin of a laugh way, she’d laughed. And then he knew that his favorite past time would probably be ideal for trying to find some common ground with her.
Comic books. He had tons of them. And whenever he had the night to himself, he’d spend his time reading them. Or sketching. He liked to draw. But there was no way in hell he was showing her his drawings. They were far too personal … private.
So now the question was, which comic would she like him to read to her. He grabbed the stack from his bedside table and climbed onto the bed beside Jessica.
Jessica tensed. And it hurt. So Josh was going to go ahead and violate her. Now and later. She had expected that from Angus, more than Josh, but if she had to pick one of them as a preferred rapist to live up to her expectations, it was Josh. It didn’t keep her stomach from turning as he settled down on the bed next to her and pressed up against her.
“What do you prefer?” he asked, “Green Lantern, Spiderman, Batman, Archie? I’ve got Wolverine too … somewhere in here.” He waved a handful of magazines in front of Jessica while searching through another pile that lay next to him on the bed.
Jessica blinked. Her body was so rigid, preparing for his advance that she could barely turn her head to look at the pages waving in front of her.
“Here it is …” he finally said and added another magazine to the assortment in his right hand. Switching hands he turned up against her, propped his head on his bent arm and looked back and forth between Jessica and the magazines. “So, which one do you want me to read to you?” He asked in an almost playful manner.
Despite the voice in her head that kept telling her to look away from him, not to encourage him, Jessica couldn’t. Josh’s huge, muscled body, and severely etched face seemed in congruence with the boyish way that he asked the question, and looked at her in anticipation of an answer. Normally she wouldn’t give one. Wouldn’t even acknowledge his presence, but something about him reminded her of her brother right then.
Marcus had the same kind of … innocence about him when he’d been excited about something. The wrongness about finding any resemblance between her sweet, sweet brother, and this monster didn’t elude Jessica, but right then she wanted nothing more than to be reminded of him.
Jessica loved comics also, and it wasn’t unusual for Marcus and her to read them together. She wasn’t sure why Josh suddenly decided to do this. Right now she didn’t care.
She was interested. Josh could tell. There was an expression on her face that he’d never seen before. She licked her lips and looked like she wanted to say something, but just couldn’t get it out.
“How ‘bout I hold up one a magazine at a time and you nod when you see the one you want me to read? ‘K, Green Lantern.” Josh paused and then read the name of each magazine one after another. When it got to Wolverine Jessica nodded.
“Really?” Josh said in surprise. “I would’ve guessed you to be an Archie girl.” He shook his head as he put the other magazines onto his side table.
The fact was, that Jessica was an Archie girl. But right now, here in this place, the last thing she wanted to hear about were girls and guys flirting and dating. Some good violence … good versus evil, where good won every once in a while, sounded much more appealing.
Josh settled back down beside her, opened the magazine so she could see the pictures, and began to read.
They read one comic after another. On and on.
Josh would pepper his reading with comments and observations of his own. And without thinking, Jessica would respond with a grunted acknowledgement or exaggerated eye rolling. She didn’t seem to take notice, but Josh did. This had to be hands down one of the best nights he’d ever had. With Jessica, but also in his recent past. They were like old friends just hanging out.
It wasn’t until Jessica yawned that Josh looked at his watch.
“Christ, it’s 3 in the morning. I guess we should get some sleep.”
“Hmmm.” Jessica replied, but she was sorry it was time to stop. This had been a pleasant break. As pleasant as the time she and Jim had spent, Jim playing his guitar, and then them watching TV together.
Josh put the magazine away, pulled the blankets over them, turned out the light and without giving it much thought, brushed his lips over her forehead. “Good night.” He mumbled as he drifted off to sleep.
Jessica’s eyes were heavy. As they closed, she hoped that it was late enough and that Josh was tired enough that he wouldn’t ruin the night by waking her later to abuse her.
“There you are!” Angus exclaimed the next morning when Josh placed Jessica on the sofa. “We were starting to think she’d murdered you in your sleep!”
“That’s not funny!” Josh said straightening.
“It’s almost noon Josh, what did you expect us to think?” Riley asked.
Jim was observing Jessica and was pleased to see that she not only looked physically better, but something else seemed different too. She looked, relaxed. Despite the fact that she was in the worst physical condition probably since she’d been with them, she was the most relaxed he could ever remember seeing her.
“They’re kidding Josh.” Jim said, “If we’d really thought anything was happening we would’ve broke down your door.”
Angus had been watching Jessica too and seemed to notice the change also.
“Got a good night’s rest, did you?” he asked. For some reason the fact that something Josh did made this kind of a change in Jessica, even as small as it was, ignited an anger within him.
Jessica caught his tone, chanced a glance at him, snapped her head down when she saw him staring at her, and all traces of relaxation were gone.
“As a matter of fact we did!” Josh replied anger growing in him. Angus’ tone alone riled him, but just to see Jessica revert in a moment like that, just like she had when Riley’d walked in the previous day, frustrated him. He caught a glimpse of Jim glaring at Angus, obviously feeling the same frustration that he did.
“Guys …” Riley said, “let’s cool it.”
“I’ve got work to do!” Angus grunted as he kicked back his chair and stomped out the door.
Riley looked after Angus, and then back at Josh and Jim.
“What the hell is up with you guys? You have to stop your arguing!”
“Tell him that!” Josh snapped, “He’s the one always picking the fights!”
“It takes two to fight Josh …” Riley began but then noticed Jessica. She was still sitting with her head lowered, but every once in a while her eyes would flick up. Lord knew what she thought of all this infighting. They shouldn’t be having these kinds of conversations around her. “Forget it for now. We’ll have a meeting about it later.” ‘When Jessica can go in the basement.’ He added to himself.
“Fine. I’ve gotta go take care of the horses.” Josh mumbled.
Riley shook his head as he watched Josh stomp out the door.
“You’ve got her? I’ve got work to do with the dogs.” Riley asked Jim.
“Sure, no prob.” Jim replied. As Riley closed the door behind him, Jim was gratified to see Jessica visibly relax.
“So, are you hungry?” he asked. “Of course not, stupid question.” He added when Jessica gave him the ‘yeah, right.’ Look.
“I don’t suppose you’d care to let me in on what you found so funny yesterday?”
Jessica gave him the same look.
“You know … I did let you in on a secret of mine. A pretty big secret. I trusted you with it. You can trust me with this.”
Jessica paused. Jim had a point.
“It wasn’t that funny.” Jessica whispered. It felt odd to speak.
Jim’s face lit up and he shifted forward in his seat.
Jessica hesitated. And then the sound of a car pulling into the driveway caught Jim’s attention.
“What the …” he said standing up.
Car doors opened.
“We would’ve come to get him.” Although muffled, Riley’s terse voice carried inside.
“He insisted.” Someone else said.
“Fine, you can go now …” Riley replied.
“Let me help you.” Josh said, followed by what sounded like shuffling on the steps to the door.
“Shit …” Jim whispered as he looked at the door.
It wasn’t until Jessica heard Angus say “payback time!” with more enthusiasm than she’d ever heard him say anything that she realized with horror what was going on.
The door swung open and there, hanging on to Josh for support was the confirmation of Jessica’s fear. Scott and Josh paused in the doorway. He looked awful. After a moment of triumph, she’d gotten a little revenge for her family, Jessica realized that this probably meant even more pain for her.
Scott scanned the room and when his eyes fell on Jessica his face contorted. Fear shot through her.
“Take her to my room!” Scott ordered. Jim didn’t move. His mind raced, trying to think of how to stop Scott, to diffuse the situation. But Scott locked his eyes on Jim and ordered, “Now Jim!”
Jim nodded. There wasn’t much he could do to help her now. But by the look of Scott, he wasn’t going to have enough strength to do much to her. Mind you, it didn’t take a lot of strength to pull a trigger. Jim scooped Jessica up into his arms and turned back to watch Scott shuffle into the living room with Josh. Angus and Riley followed. Angus looked like a kid at Christmas.
Scott winced and clutched his chest, where the bandage was wrapped.
“Jesus Christ Scott!” Riley said, “You look like shit. This could have waited a bit longer, till you were stronger.”
“No.” Scott whispered. “No it couldn’t.” and he gave Angus such a withering look that Angus actually recoiled.
“I’m sorry Scott … “ Angus mumbled. “I thought you were dead. I never would have … I would have waited for you if I thought …”
“Just take me to my room.” Scott said to Josh.
As they shuffled forward, Jim realized that he hadn’t moved. He rushed ahead of them, Jessica rigid in his arms. But he was no longer that worried about her. Instead he feared that the payback would actually hurt Scott more than her.
“Cuff her to the bed,” Scott ordered as he and Josh followed Jim and Jessica into the room. Jim did so and then stood watching as Scott dropped on to the other side of the bed beside Jessica and lay down.
“Thanks guys, you can go now.” Scott muttered.
“Are you sure?” Josh asked, “You don’t look so good … “
“I’m sure. Go on.” Neither Jim nor Josh moved.
Scott rolled his head in their direction.
“Really, I’m fine. I’ll call when I need you, ‘k?”
“Behave yourself,” Josh said to Jessica who lay still beside Scott. Only her eyes shifted in Scott’s direction. “Even if he can’t do much to you now, we can … Angus can. So don’t get any ideas.”
Jessica didn’t look suitably scared anymore. She did have something of a relieved look about her until Josh mentioned Angus’ name.
“She’ll be fine.” Scott mumbled, “Just go.”
When the door closed behind Jim and Josh, silence hung in the air.
Jessica could hear Scott’s labored breathing.
“You look like hell.” Scott finally said. “Worse than me even. Get some sleep and we’ll talk after.”
Jessica turned her gaze to the ceiling. Surely he was joking about napping, but within seconds Scott was snoring beside her. Jessica had no issues with that. Closing her eyes she drifted off to sleep.
Jessica awoke to find Scott staring down at her. He’d gotten up, and pulled a chair over to her side of the bed.
“Angus has fists like mallets …” he said, leaning forward to run a finger over the bruises on Jessica’s face. “Does it hurt a lot?”
Jessica let a moment or two of silence go by before giving a slight nod. She couldn’t decipher the expression on Scott’s face. It looked like a strange combination of anger, sadness and shame. A piece of hair had fallen over one of Jessica’s eyes. When Scott reached over to move it, Jessica flinched.
“Relax, I’m just moving the hair out of your eye.” Scott said quietly. He tucked it behind Jessica’s ear and couldn’t help but rub his thumb over her cheek bone, tracing the bruise that covered her cheek, from under her eye to her jaw line.
“I know what you expect me to do … what they expect me to do.” Scott continued. “But I’m not going to.” He locked his gaze with Jessica’s.
Neither one was able to look away. “What you did, you did in self-defense. War is war, and I would have done the same. Well, maybe not exactly the same. I probably would have stuck with the first shot you had. The one that was directly over my heart.”
Jessica blinked. Was she dreaming?
“That’s right.” He said. “I know that you missed on purpose. I know that you missed Jim on purpose. He told me. So the deal is this. I am not going to punish you for this … and neither are any of the other men. I won’t let them. Let’s just pretend this never happened. Fine with you?”
Jessica nodded. She had to be dreaming. This seemed so surreal. Scott’s pale face … he looked like he was about to fall over, and his … forgiveness. There was no other way to word it. He was forgiving her for shooting him. Relief flooded through her, but it was short lived. Angus’ anger riddled face came forward from her memory. Even if Scott forgave her, Angus never would. And Scott would be too weak to stop him from hurting her.
Scott’s gasp interrupted her thoughts. She didn’t think it was possible, but Scott was even paler now. He looked like he’d fall off the chair.
“You need help …” Jessica whispered. Scott looked at her in surprise.
“She speaks …” Scott whispered as he sagged to the right.
“Call for help …” she replied.
“I …” Scott began, “can’t …” and he disappeared from Jessica’s line of sight and a thud confirmed that he’d fallen.
“Scott?” Jessica asked. But there was no response. Jessica looked at the door and hoped that someone had heard the thud and would come through at any moment. Seconds ticked by and no one came.
“Scott … can you hear me?” Jessica tried again. Nothing.
Panic gripped her. He was going to die, she could feel it. He would die, the others would think she killed him somehow, and Angus would take the vengeance he’d wanted. There was only one thing she could do, call for help herself.
Jessica closed her eyes and tried to get herself under control. When she finally had a grip on the panic that threatened to consume her, she tilted her head back and yelled as hard as she could, “Jim!”