"Where are we going?" I tried and failed to keep my voice from
shaking. We'd been driving for about fifteen minutes and I didn't
have any idea where we were.
Josh didn't answer. He only glanced at me and grinned.
"Josh?" I tried to say more forcefully. It didn't work and I could hear how pitiful I sounded.
"Don't you worry your gorgeous head about it." He answered. "You need to get used to trusting me."
Yeah, like that was ever going to happen.
But he obviously wasn't going to tell me anything. He wanted me to be completely dependent on him.
I sighed and looked out the window at the scenery flashing by, almost too dark to see.
I payed close attention when we entered a rich looking neighborhood. I glanced nervously at Josh. Was this where he lived?
He drove through the maze of expensive looking houses in the development before pulling over and parking behind a long row of parked cars.
The overhead light turned on when he shut off the car, and I squinted from the sudden brightness.
Josh let his eyes linger on my legs before grinning at me. "Ready?"
Definitely not. But I didn't bother to answer him. He didn't care anyway.
"Let's go." He said, turning to get out of the car.
I sighed and unwillingly did what he said. Once on the sidewalk, I held my coat closed against the cold wind and bitterly thought about how much warmer I would have been in Ben's jacket.
Josh came around the car, grabbed my hand, and pulled me down the sidewalk.
I realized after trekking a few houses down from the car, that we were headed for the big brick house on the corner. All the cars seemed to be congregating in that direction. There were people out on the big porch and as we got closer, I started hearing the loud music coming from inside.
We were going to a party.
Well, that was better than what I'd been imagining. I think. I'd never had the desire to go to a party like this where there were probably way too many people getting drunk. But if it meant I didn't have to be alone with Josh, I'd take it.
He pulled me up the manicured walkway and through the open doors to the house. The music was so loud, the walls vibrated and there were people everywhere.
He stopped at a big walk in closet, stashed his coat and then demanded mine too.
Josh looked me up and down, appreciatively, after I reluctantly gave it to him and I uncomfortably looked away.
Josh took care of my coat before latching onto my hand again.
To my dismay, he led me right to where Matt was standing, holding a big red cup of something that I assumed wasn't soda.
"You made it!" Matt yelled over the music, to Josh. And then looking at me, "I still can't believe you pulled-"
Josh punched him in the shoulder, cutting him off.
Nate and Eric joined us, right then, making my little circle of hell complete. They also had big red cups.
"Drink?" Nate shoved his cup at me hastily, almost splashing me. Wouldn't it be nice if I went home smelling like beer?
"No, thanks." I said, glaring at him.
He and Eric both found our little exchange enormously funny.
Wonderful, I thought, rolling my eyes. As if they weren't bad enough, sober.
"Have some." Josh said. "Maybe you'll relax a little."
"No." I said, looking at him.
He raised his eyebrows at my defiance.
"Are you going to make me get drunk, now?" I demanded. "Everything else isn't enough for you?"
Josh shrugged. "Whatever." He said, letting it go. He grabbed the cup for himself and slung his arm around my shoulders.
They all talked for what seemed like a long time. Josh, drink in hand; Matt, sort of drunk; and Nate and Eric, ridiculously drunk. They were occasionally joined by other people who all pretty much ignored me.
I looked around, bored, most of the time. I was glad to be bored, though. Bored was safe.
"Hey, Losers." A tall girl with dark hair threw an arm around Eric. "Getting drunk again, I see." She said. "I hope you're not all driving."
Eric grinned at her. "Already there." He slurred. "And we're staying the night with you, cuz. No driving necessary."
I glanced uneasily at the cup in Josh's hand. He was supposed to be driving later.
The girl made a face from the smell of Eric's breath and pulled away from him.
"Hi." She said, turning her attention to me. "Who are you?"
"You must have seen Lizzie around school." Josh said, to her.
She went to our school? I don't think I'd ever seen her before.
"Josh, I'm a senior. I can't be expected to keep up with your pathetic little circle." She glanced at me again. "Not that you're pathetic." She clarified.
I wasn't sure what to say to her. Not that I really got the opportunity.
She tilted her head to the side. "Actually, you're not Josh's normal brand of skank." She looked at Josh. "How is Stacey, by the way?"
He shrugged. "Don't know." He said. "Haven't talked to her in a while." He took a drink from his cup. "Lizzie's my girlfriend."
She looked surprised. "You're dating this?" She asked. "And you seemed so nice and normal." She looked at me curiously.
"Oh, shut up, Brooke." Josh said annoyed.
She grinned, mischievously. "You know I'm just teasing, Josh." She batted her eyelashes at him.
Josh rolled his eyes and took another drink from his cup.
"Well, I have to go mingle and make sure nothing's being stolen. Again." Brooke said before looking at me. "It was nice to meet you, Lizzie. I'll see you around."
I nodded. Was it accurate to say you met someone, when you didn't say a single word?
"Well, I think that's our cue." Josh said, looking at his watch.
"What?" I asked panicky. We'd been here for a little while, but it couldn't be that late yet.
"I never stay at these things very long." He said. "I usually try to leave before people start throwing up."
"And go where?" I asked with wide eyes.
Josh just smiled at me before he turned to his friends. Matt was gone and Nate and Eric, having been joined by a few other people, were all laughing hysterically about something.
"Oh forget it." Josh said, removing his arm from around me to take my hand again. "They're completely gone."
We went through the house, found our coats, and were back at the car in what seemed like nano seconds. I was in the middle of freaking out when Josh told me to get in.
I didn't move. I just stood on the sidewalk as Josh disappeared into the car.
He started the engine and rolled down the window. "Lizzie, get in." He ordered.
"You were drinking." I accused. "You can't drive."
Josh rolled his eyes. "I'm perfectly sober. I had one drink and I didn't even finish it."
I eyed him nervously. As if I needed another reason not to want to get in his car.
"Do you want me to walk a straight line? Take a breathalyzer?" He asked annoyed. "It takes at least two complete drinks for me to even feel it. Now get in."
I still watched him warily and didn't move.
Josh sighed heavily. "Are you going to walk home?"
I looked around and hugged my coat closed tighter. I probably wouldn't even be able to figure out how to get out of the development, let alone how to get home.
"What do you suggest, then?" He demanded.
"I could drive." I said, quietly. "I know how."
Josh laughed at me. "If I was drunk, maybe I'd fall for that." He said. "Even if you had a license, I wouldn't let you drive my car. Do you know how much this thing costs?"
Too much, was my guess.
"Look," He said, losing patience. "I'm not asking. Get in."
I watched him for a few seconds. He did seem sober, I supposed. That still didn't really make me want to get in the car, though.
Josh let out another loud sigh. "Get in the car, or we're spending the night here." He said, raising an eyebrow, challenging me. "It doesn't matter to me. I assume your parents expect you home tonight, though?"
I looked down. He had a point. I couldn't just stay here. I had to get home somehow.
"Actually," Josh said. "That does sound more appealing."
I looked at him.
"All night..." He trailed off.
That was it. Decision made. I got in the car. There was no way I was staying the night with him.
Josh grinned triumphantly as I clicked my seat belt and felt like I made the wrong choice. Although, I wasn't sure if there was a right choice.
"You seriously need to lighten up." Josh said as he pulled the car out onto the street.
Fat chance! I dug my nails into the seat as he sped down the road.
"Do you have a curfew or something?" Josh asked as he drove, too fast, down the highway.
I wanted to say it was right now, but glancing at the clock on the dashboard told me it was barely 8:30. He'd never believe that.
"Well?" He asked impatiently when I didn't answer right away.
"10:00." I said, hoping he would mistake my nervousness about lying to be my 'uptightness'.
"On a Saturday?" He asked skeptically.
I shrugged. "My parents are strict, ok?" I tried to sound annoyed, but I just sounded pitiful and like I was asking his permission.
He looked between me and the road a few times, assessing.
"Well then," He finally said, smiling. "I guess we'll have to be quick."
I looked at my hands in my lap and felt like throwing up.
As Josh drove I turned my attention to the road and tried to figure out where we were. I didn't recognize anything. Maybe I would have if it was daytime.
But I knew where we were going.
The scenery changed from buildings and open fields to woods.
After a few minutes of passing nothing but trees, he made another turn onto a nearly hidden little street that wove through the trees, hiding what was beyond.
Before too long, a secluded house came into view. His house.
I don't know if I'd go as far as to call it a mansion, but it was probably the closest thing to it in the area. It was a large, very modern looking building with windows everywhere.
I supposed by most people's standards, it was beautiful. To me, it just looked cold and impersonal.
Josh parked the car in front of the house and didn't waste any time getting out. He came around to my side and opened the door. I looked up at him, towering over me, and didn't want to move.
"Come on, Lizzie." He said.
Knowing I didn't have a choice, I looked back down and took off my seat belt with shaking hands.
Josh grabbed my hand, as soon as I was free of the seat belt, and pulled me out of the car. Shutting the door, he continued to drag me up the walkway and into the house.
He tossed his keys in a dish by the door and grabbed a small stack on envelopes resting next to the dish. He then pulled me through the dimly lit house and up the stairs.
I was absolutely quivering by the time he led me through a door at the end of the hall.
Josh nudged me into the room, ahead of him. It was darker in here than it had been in the hall where there were small lights along the way. The only light offered in this room was the moonlight coming in through the window. It wasn't much.
My eyes hadn't really adjusted to the dark yet and I jumped when I heard him close and lock the door behind him.
I gasped and jumped again when I felt his hand under my chin a few seconds later.
"So jumpy." He chuckled and kissed me softly. "Don't worry. I'll take good care of you."
I watched him with wide eyes, trying to keep my breathing under control.
I was briefly relieved when he dropped his hand and walked across the room.
He turned on a small desk lamp, illuminating the room enough for me to confirm what I already guessed - we were in his bedroom, the very last place in the world I wanted to be.
He took off his coat and laid it over a nearby chair before he started shuffling through the letters he was holding.
He ripped open a letter and read it, interestedly. I hoped he stayed absorbed in whatever he was reading for a good long time. I was frozen, almost afraid to even breathe and draw his attention again.
Unfortunately, it wasn't long before Josh discarded his letter and looked back at me.
He grinned, came over to me, grabbed my free hand - I'd been clutching my purse with the other one, all night - and pulled me further into the room.
I flinched when he picked up my locket.
"New jewelry?" He asked.
I didn't answer. I waited tensely as he read the inscription.
"It's your birthday?" He asked. "Today?"
I nodded stiffly.
He smiled. "Well then, happy birthday." He said before he kissed me.
He pulled back slightly and moved his hands to the collar of my coat, pushing it off my shoulders.
I tried not to hyperventilate as he slipped my coat off the rest of the way and draped it over his own.
His arm brushed my wrist when he went to take my hand again, and he raised my arm to examine the bracelet.
He looked back at me. "Another birthday present?"
Again, I nodded, more nervous than before.
"Who gave you these?" He asked and I was afraid he knew.
There was no way he could know, though. He could only suspect.
"My parents." I said as convincingly as possible.
"They gave you both of them?" He watched my face intently.
Not trusting my voice, I nodded again and hoped he wouldn't know I was lying.
He either couldn't read my face the way most people could, or I was just so nervous already, that no one would have been able to tell that I was lying. Whatever the reason, he believed me.
"They're nice." He said distractedly as he lowered my hand and leaned in to kiss the corner of my mouth.
"Relax." He murmured as he continued kissing his way along my jaw.
Like relaxing was even an option at this point! I clenched my hands and squeezed my eyes shut.
I quickly realized that it was a bad idea to close my eyes. I couldn't think about anything but what was happening. Being blind for it seemed even worse, so I opened my eyes and tried to find something to focus on.
The first thing my eyes landed on was the bed, which really didn't help my nerves. I quickly fixed my eyes on the ceiling, figuring that would be the safest spot.
Josh gathered all my hair together and placed it over my shoulder as he lingered by my ear.
My already pounding heart sped up when I felt his hands on my back. He slid his hands upward, stopping when he reached the zipper to my dress.
My hands twitched, wanting so badly to stop him when he started pulling the zipper down. But knowing I couldn't, I clenched them tighter into fists as my eyes filled with tears.
My dress slackened as the back was opened and I couldn't help myself any longer. I grasped the neck of my dress tightly, holding it together.
"Please don't make me do this." I begged.
Josh pulled back to look at my face. "Make you?" He asked, dropping his hands. "Lizzie, I'm not making you do anything. You're here of your own free will. You wanna go? There's the door."
I looked as he gestured to the bedroom door, not daring to believe that he really meant it.
"I'll even drive you home." He offered.
I looked nervously between him and the door a few times. He wouldn't just let me go. It was too simple.
My eyes rested on the door as I thought about walking away. It was so tempting. It would be so easy...
"Of course," He continued after a minute of silence. "If you do go, I'll be very upset."
I looked back at him warily.
"I'd probably have to talk to someone." He said. "Who better than," He paused for effect. "My father?" He raised an eyebrow.
And there it was. The catch. Sure, he might let me leave, but the threat was still the same. I could be free of him, but Daddy would probably be out of the job by the time I got home. He just wouldn't know it until Monday morning.
Biting my lip, I looked at the door again, still so tempted, and thought about what it would mean if I chose to leave right now.
I thought about the way my life has been - and could be again - as opposed to what it was like now.
I thought about how happy and relatively worry-free Mamma and Daddy had been lately. About how proud they were this morning when they gave me my gifts. And then, about how I couldn't remember them being so happy and proud almost ever. How I hadn't seen the brave masks they wore for me and Louis when things got really bad, since Daddy got this job.
I thought about the disappointment and pain they would feel, losing everything suddenly.
I closed my eyes, knowing that I didn't really have a choice at all. Because even if I could go back to that life - and I would, gladly, if it meant I could escape this - I couldn't do that to my family. I couldn't make Mamma and Daddy give up what they worked so hard for, for so long because I was too weak and selfish to do this.
I gasped and opened my eyes as Josh trailed his finger along my arm.
"But if you decide to stay," He said. "We're going to do things my way."
I looked at the floor, hopelessly.
"What's it going to be, Lizzie?" Josh asked, running his thumb over my lower lip.
He wasn't really asking. He knew what my answer was. What it had to be. He was just making it so that I couldn't say he forced me to do anything, later. To make it appear as though I actually had a choice.
Knowing what I had to do, I gripped my dress tighter before I took a deep, shaky breath and forced myself to let go. My arms fell to my sides in defeat as the tears spilled over.
"Good choice." I could hear the smile in his voice as he returned his hands to my back and his lips went to my neck.
"Wait!" I cried, remembering my purse, still in my hand.
"Now what?" He pulled back, annoyed.
With trembling hands, I pulled the box from my purse and held it up.
Josh smirked. "Prepared, aren't you?"
I dropped my eyes to the floor again as he took it from my hands.
He sighed. "But I suppose you're right. We don't want any surprises, do we?"
I continued to stare at the floor and didn't say anything.
He turned and tossed the box onto the small table, next to the bed before returning his hands to my back and picking up where he left off.
I focused on the ceiling and tried to think about anything else.
"Where are we going?" I tried and failed to keep my voice from
shaking. We'd been driving for about fifteen minutes and I didn't
have any idea where we were.