by Theresa Pisani

“I love you so much,” my husband told me quietly as he moved farther away from my unclothed body, wrapping himself within the sheets and letting out a muffled sigh. “Goodnight, Sarah.”

I lay there for a few heartbeats while his words echoed in my head tenderly, feeling the cold creep across my flesh now that his aromatic warmth had left my skin. Immediately I yearned for him but I did not want him disturbed. I listened to his breath become slower and deeper, relaxing as he was lulled to sleep and I was left alone in the room. Shivering, I pulled the sheets of our bed up to my chin and turned on to my side, back towards him, sinking into the comforting cotton. For a minute, I let myself close my eyes and I attempted to fall asleep, thinking of our wedding only months before, our seemingly endless lovemaking, his mouth and grazing teeth across my tanned skin as he murmured my name again and again, promising and vowing how much he loved me. I passed through all of our memories, one by one, but my limbs ached for movement. I could not sit still for long even though all I really wanted to do was lay in the haven of the blankets, thinking of him and finally nodding off into a much-needed slumber. It seemed as though I could never sit still.

My bare legs slid down the side of the four-poster bed as I moved away from the mattress and onto the stiff hardwood floor, the still cold attacking me at once. The soft, metrical sound of my feet patting the ground was the only noise breaking the night air as I made my way to the walk-in closet of the bedroom and shut the door quietly behind me so as not to bother my exhausted husband. I clothed my quivering body in seconds, lower half clad in tight black jeans while I searched and rifled through the curtains of fabrics for a top to go with them. Once I picked out something that would do, I slipped on a plain black sweatshirt and then left the closet and the bedroom and my husband, my devoted husband, as he dreamed, far away from this reality.

I tiptoed down the stairs like a burglar in my own house, telling myself I was just grabbing something to eat from the kitchen, or maybe I would make a cup of tea, a habit of mine, as thoughts of my home and life and marriage filled my mind, comforting me. I would only take a few minutes, calm the jitters battering the inside of my skin and then return to bed and the love of my life for a long night’s rest. I smiled at that thought. It sounded so lovely, so perfect. I just had to remember to grab some medication as soon as I finished my drink. That was probably why I was so edgy.

My feet found their way into the kitchen and I perused the polished oak shelves, trying to find the tea bags and a mug. I murmured a song under my breath, my wedding song, my husband’s face filling my mind. My hand gripped the container of tea naturally as, for some reason, I couldn’t remember what I was doing up or why I even wanted anything to drink to begin with. The tune faded from my lips as I dragged myself away from those memories of mine, my favourite memories. I just wanted to get out, I wanted to get out of this place so badly.

Suddenly, I slammed one of the cabinets of the kitchen and spilled the box full of fresh tea bags, the debris raining down on me, and dug the palms of my hands into my eye sockets. Colourful fireworks and stars, a nauseating kaleidoscope. My teeth speared the bottom of my lip, drawing a fleck of blood. The taste nipped my tongue as I lapped it up, metallic and stale, and my stomach rolled as I thought of how much I hated blood. I should go back upstairs. I need to get back to bed. I shouldn’t be up. I should go back to him right now. End this night.

I removed my hands from my eyes, frowning, blinking back my vision and drawing the back of my hand across my lips, leftover blood staining the skin there in a thin streak. I stared at it for a second, transfixed, unconcerned. What was the big deal? It was time to leave this godforsaken place, stop acting like a lovesick imbecile. Muttering to myself, I threw my straightened hair up into a high ponytail to contain the cumbersome strands. Just the way I liked it. I grabbed my car keys sitting atop the kitchen table, sprinted out of the house with not so much as a backward glance. My tiny silver car sat inactive in the driveway, patiently waiting for my inevitable arrival, dimly lit under the misty light of a fledging moon. I wrenched open the door of the vehicle, skidded into the front leather seat, shoved the keys into the ignition, and backed away from the little brick house, leaving its perfectly manicured lawn and tidy white porch, newlywed love, and foolish husband. That was no place for me. I focused all of my attention on the dark road ahead of me as I left the maze of suburban homes and drove onward into the pubescent night, no particular destination in mind. The house always seemed to smother me, morph me, mould me into someone I was not. I couldn’t live a life like that. I was meant to be out, a vagabond, always wandering and searching for a place with something more, a place still waiting for me just out of reach. Anything but structure. Anything but that so-called life. God, I needed to end this. I had to find the way out.

Minutes passed and I finally figured out where to go, an idea came to mind. I began to drive faster. Maybe I shouldn’t be so reckless. Why hadn’t I thought of it before? Just up the road from here was the neighbourhood liquor store. Anything would suffice right now. Anything would help me drown out the endless pestering, senseless regret. I was in control now. I pulled into the parking lot of the shop and shut away the nagging voices of my brain. Well, I tried to.

I had no money. I don’t need any money. I entered the liquor store with only my car keys and what I hoped appeared practised insouciance, sliding into my familiar role. Dim fluorescents lighted my way, illuminating the glass on the shelves and the crevasses lining the caving ceiling. My eyes scoured the aisles filled with various drinks and dark bottles, wondering what I wanted. Hell, I could have anything I wanted. Nothing cheap. Nothing that wasn’t worth it. I moved to the back of the store, pretending I knew exactly where I was going, my movements graceful, discreet, softened by the stained, faded cerulean carpeting. I had nothing to worry about. Nothing at all. I was just like everyone else. I could easily look like everyone else. No one noticed me. I just had to focus. I can do this. I do it all the time. This instance was no different. Everything was the same, always the same. The morons around me never noticed what I did.

“Excuse me, miss,” a voice sounded behind me and my silent speech was broken. I whirled around to come face to face with an older man, small wrinkles carved into his hairy face, framed with a tangled blond beard. But his eyes seemed kind, baby blue, and a smile curved his lips. He held out something to me. “I believe you dropped this. I found it just over there.” He motioned with a finger down the aisle I had just walked.

One of my hands closed around the twenty-dollar bill he presented to me. “Did I?” I asked innocently. Talk about a moron.

He nodded. “It’s alright, Miss. We all make mistakes. I didn’t want to just leave it on the ground or take it without finding who it belonged to. That’s not right, you know?” His freckled cheeks ballooned as he smiled at me. The grin, though irksome, comforted me, easing my nerves more than badgering myself did.

“Yes, I understand. Well, thank you very much,” I told him, nodding and turning to leave him behind, ready to continue with my task without needless interruptions.

“Looking for anything in particular?” he asked me.

I stopped and narrowed my eyes at the old man, defences immediately engaged but remaining indifferent. “I’m sorry, do you work here?” There, that didn’t sound too condescending. Based on the way he was dressed, ragged and stonewashed flannel half-tucked into torn blue jeans, he looked as though he had just rolled out of bed. Or off the street.

He frowned and I could tell that I’d upset him. I wasn’t sure if I cared or not. Probably the latter. “No, ma’am. I just thought you could use some help. You seem a little lost in here. Drinking not your thing?”

I shrugged a shoulder. “Not especially. It can become a habit and not an especially healthy one at that. I don’t have any habits.”

“Well, if you need any help, don’t hesitate to ask. I know my way around a liquor store, that’s for damn sure.”

I nodded at him, focused on him. “Alright, thank you for the information.” Then I spun around to leave him behind.

“Hold on, miss. I didn’t get your name.”

I scrutinized him, ready to lie, but he seemed so kind. Ignorant. I decided to be honest. What’s the harm? He deserved it by now, dealing with my arrogance, and I felt kind of bad for acting like a haughty bitch. Kind of. “Reese,” I answered him and sauntered away, not giving him a chance to pepper me with any more questions or force me to suffer through mindless conversation. Jesus Christ, he’d given me money. Not my money.

I made my way down another one of the aisles, different aisle, desperate to hurry now, hoping the old man’s eyes would leave me so I could continue without any issues. My own eyes darted each way and, determining nobody was watching me, I quickly stuck out my hand, fingers grabbing the closest bottle of bourbon and shoved the drink into the large front pocket of my sweatshirt without looking at the label. Small in size, it wouldn’t be obvious in my pocket. Heck, I still had plenty of room. No one is looking. Take another. I snatched up a second bottle of the same drink and smiled in content, feeling much more relaxed than before. I decided to mosey around the store one last time, grinning and greeting the few people I passed, particularly the man who had gifted me that cash, before leaving without getting caught, snickering. I never got caught.

Back in the car, I started it up again and drove out of the near-deserted parking lot, not completely sure where I would go now with the drinks in my possession. But I had left the house for a reason, right? All I knew was that I couldn’t go back. Oh, I hated going back there and having the life sucked out of me. I wanted to be alone and to drink. Sink into blissful seclusion and enjoy every damn second of it. All by myself. My hands tightened on the steering wheel, my foot pressed harder onto the accelerator. What would happen if I kept going, kept on driving, if I barrelled into someone else, if I allowed the car to drive into some building? Would I die? Was I ready to die? No, I didn’t think so. Not today, not on this night. But I did agree that I was ready to drink. So I did.

Time passed by as I drove on. Sipping at the bourbon, focusing on not spilling it all over my lap. The drink scalded my insides as it slipped down the back of my throat. I ignored the burn, my thoughts enveloping me. All I could do was think, drink, ponder death. Maybe it would be best to stop, just pull over somewhere. What was the point of my insignificant life? Was this the life I wanted to live? I was so small, so minor. Maybe I should end it all, right here and now. Maybe I should change. Maybe I should return the drinks and turn myself in. Maybe it wasn’t my fault I was such a mistake. Yeah, I should probably pull over. Maybe I should slam on the brakes right now. Would that be disastrous? Would someone ram into me, kill me? Maybe … maybe…

“What the fuck am I doing?” I wondered aloud, letting the bourbon rest between my legs. I couldn’t drink and drive! What was wrong with me? What was I thinking?

Cursing myself, I decided to turn the car around, a new destination fresh in mind. Trent’s apartment wasn’t far from here and I’d be there in only a few minutes. He would understand because he always did, or he seemed to.

About ten minutes later, still without drinking anymore and somehow avoiding any cops or accidents, I pulled into the lot of the large apartment complex down the road. Soft yellow lights illuminated the windows of the few inhabitants up at this hour, splashes of gold lighting the black parking lot. Parked and stationary, I threw off the heavy sweatshirt cloaking my body, exposing my revealing top, deep cleavage exposed thanks to the push-up bra I had put on back at that house. My hand dug into my hair to let it down from that stupid ponytail, wild waves caused by the tight up-do cascading across my bare shoulders comfortably, soft ripples of shiny black ribbon. Ah, I looked so better with my hair down. I peered into the rearview mirror of the car, glowering at my makeup-less face. I leaned across the front seat and opened the glove compartment to reveal a miniature collection of cosmetics. Articulately, as if I was painting a masterpiece, I went to work on my sallow face, darkening my eyes with dusky shadow powders, lengthening my lashes, dusting bronzer across my cheekbones and lining my full lips in crimson lipstick. Once I was up to my own standards and decided I looked as desirable as I felt, I was ready to see him. Bourbon bottles in hand, I opened the door of the car and fluffed my hair one last time, captivated for a second by my reflection in the car’s shiny exterior, and walked to the outside stairs of the complex to the second floor. I took a deep breath and, hoping he would like what he saw, opened the door quietly; he always kept it unlocked for me. I flipped on the light and stepped over the threshold.

“Hayden? Is that you?” I heard him call at once, the light giving him a notice of my arrival.

“Yeah, it’s me,” I replied, shutting the door behind me, locking it.

He appeared in the hallway, frame bulky and muscular and all I could think of doing was running my hands all over him and losing myself in his mammoth body. He came toward me and I thought he would kiss me or tell me how great I looked. I wanted his hands on me, touching me and stroking and squeezing. Instead, he simply took the bottles from me and hurried further into the apartment. I followed him into the kitchen, simmering, pissed as hell.

“Aren’t you forgetting something?” I asked, propping myself against the counter and pouting, watching him as he busied himself with preparing the drinks. I tried not to pose but I couldn’t help it. I wanted him to look at me, admire me cocking my hips to the side and arching my back.

“Huh?” He hardly spared me a glance.

I tightened my knuckles, long nails digging into the flesh of my palm, leaving irritating, stinging marks. Didn’t he realize everything I’d risked? God, he was such a prick. I hated him so goddamn much. But he was so sexy and I wanted him. And it sure as hell seemed like he wanted me most of the time. “Look, Trent—”

“Here,” he said, thrusting a small glass of bourbon toward me, some of its auburn contents spilling onto the granite countertop. “Drink and shut up.”

I furrowed my brow at him but did not reply as my fingers curled around the rim of the glass. Instead of drinking the stolen alcohol, I watched him intently, the way he closed his eyes and downed his own glass, setting it back onto the counter with a sharp click. There was no way to return it now. It was free for him and that’s all that mattered, the ungrateful sack of shit.

“Not bad, Hayden,” he told me. He grabbed the bottle again and poured himself another glass. Now he was smiling, now he seemed satisfied, indulging in this habit of his. Habits were so damn stupid.

“Always a treat to have you over,” he went on, moving toward me, his hand grabbing and encircling my wrist. I looked down at his short, stubby fingers for a moment, noticing his nails were bitten down to the quick, before peering back up at him. He was staring at me in that way of his, the look that told me he wanted me maybe as much as I wanted him. Passion or something resembling such an emotion flared in his olive eyes, a lovely colour against the almond-coloured complexion of his finely-structured face, high cheekbones jutting out, chin strong and squared. He really was beautiful and I couldn’t believe I was with him. Well, kind of with him.

The hand that was not trapping my wrist rose up to cup the side of my face gently as if I was made of crystal. I pressed my cheek into his rough palm before pulling him toward me, lips meeting one another in fevered desire. His were soft and hot against my own and I loved them, loved how they fit. He moaned into my mouth and deepened the kiss, tongue sliding along the bottom of my lip as I wrapped my arms around his thick neck securely. He picked me up lightly into his arms and took me to the nearby leather couch, dropping me there and using his huge body to cover me. His hands were everywhere and I reciprocated eagerly, peeling away his shirt and pants as he did the same to me, skin burning and searing against skin. God, he was so damn perfect! I felt so alive, so filled to the brim with need and yearning so potent, it stole my breath away.

“Stay still,” he ordered me, and I obeyed him and watched his every movement. He was so handsome, so eloquent. And then I felt him inside me and I liked him a lot. He was such a gorgeous human being. I felt him all over, his fingers digging into the small of my back, his teeth impaling the thin skin of my neck. It hurt so damn much but I was able to mask my cry of pain into a moan of pleasure. I knew that he liked that. I knew he didn’t want me to whine about it. I took it without weakness, just the way he liked it. I liked him so much. It was better than being anywhere else even though he hurt me a lot and I couldn’t stop that. But maybe he loved me like maybe I could love him and maybe I could ignore the pain because he really made me feel good and I really—

“What are you doing? Who are you?” I shrieked at the young man. My fists punched his bare chest. “Get off! Get off of me! You’re hurting me!”

He pulled away from me at once, anger and confusion creasing his face. “What? Hayden, what the hell are you talking about?”

But I was pulling my skimpy clothes back on, shoving the strange man away from me, tears streaming down my face as I tried to comb back the wildness of my hair into the simple, straighter style I preferred. I jumped off of the coach and scrambled to the door. “I’m not Hayden… I’m not Hayden… My name is Sarah,” I whispered as I somehow found the strength to run from him as he yelled again and again behind me.

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