I laid, curled in the sheets, with my back to Josh and stared at a spot on the floor as I silently cried.
I was so relieved that it was over.
I wasn't sure how glad I was that I'd asked Ben to help me before, though. On the one hand, I'd known what to expect. Basically anyway. But I hadn't really thought about how completely opposite Ben was from Josh.
Ben was caring and gentle, Josh was selfish and not gentle at all.
While Ben would keep asking if I was ok, I wondered if Josh even remembered that I was a person, most of the time.
But mostly, I knew what it could be like with someone I cared about. With someone who cared about me. I knew what it was like to feel closer to him and loved, afterwards.
And now, I knew what it was like with someone who didn't care about me at all. Someone who didn't care if he hurt me.
All I felt now was used and dirty.
I tensed when I felt Josh's hand on my arm.
"You, Lizzie, are well worth the effort." He said kissing my shoulder and burying his face in my hair.
I wanted to scream at him, not to touch me. He already got what he wanted and now I wanted to be left alone. I certainly didn't want him cuddling up to me.
But I understood the way he was playing this little game of his. It didn't make any difference to him, what I wanted. Either I went along with everything he wanted, or nothing I did would matter. He'd carry out his threat anyway.
So I stayed still until he pulled away again.
"I better get you home." He said, smoothing down my hair. "I don't want you grounded or anything."
I wished that was something I had to worry about. Maybe I could have an excuse to stay away from him sometimes. But I'd never been grounded before. I'd hardly ever been punished at all. I was usually just so afraid of disappointing Mamma and Daddy, I didn't have to be.
But I was sure, he really didn't care if I got in trouble or not, he was only thinking about how it would limit his access to me.
I was more than happy to leave him, though. I sat up, wiped the tears from my face, and started getting dressed.
When Josh stopped the car in front of my house to drop me off, I looked from the door to him, knowing better than to think I could just jump right out.
He smiled, seeming pleased that I was catching on.
"I'll see you later." He said, leaning in to kiss me.
I stiffened, but otherwise didn't move.
When he pulled away and unlocked the doors, I was out of the car as quickly as possible, more than ready to get away from him.
I let out a relieved sigh when I heard the car pull away as I walked to the house.
I stood on the porch for a minute, preparing to act normal. I had no idea what I looked like at this point, but I was sure it wasn't so great. I didn't know what I was going to do about Mamma. Maybe she'd think I was getting 'sick' again...Daddy shouldn't be a problem. He usually wasn't that observant.
When I made myself go inside, I was surprised that the house was pretty dark. Mamma was lying, alone, on the couch with only a small lamp on.
She lifted her head and looked at me when I came in the room.
"Hi, Sweetie." She said, putting her hand to her head and groaning softly.
"Are you alright?" I started to get closer to her before I thought about the advantage I had if I didn't get too close and the room was dark.
"I'm fine." Mamma said, sitting up. "I have a headache. I think I might be getting what you had."
I highly doubted that, since my 'illness' had been due to thinking about Josh and nothing else.
"You should have gone to bed." I said, feeling guilty and glancing at the clock. It was just barely after 10.
She shook her head. "I wanted to make sure you got home ok." She said. "And your dad has to work in the morning, so I told him to go to sleep early." She yawned. "But I think I'll go now." She stood up and stretched.
"Good night." I said.
Mamma paused as she was leaving the room, and looked at me thoughtfully. "You ok?" She asked, tilting her head slightly. "You look a little..." She didn't seem to know how to finish.
Apparently, her headache and the darkened room weren't enough to keep her from noticing whatever my face looked like.
"I'm just tired." I lied, quickly.
She looked at me, curiously for a few more seconds.
"I haven't been sleeping well lately." I said honestly before I lied again. "I think I'm still a little sick."
She nodded, seeming to buy it and yawned again. "Night, Baby." She said as she continued to her room.
She disappeared and I reached over to turn the lamp off. I stared into the darkness for a minute, feeling almost numb.
When I got inside my room, the idea of hopping into bed and going right to sleep was almost laughable. I didn't even want to close my eyes. I knew that when I did, I'd be reliving everything.
Not to mention, I felt utterly disgusting. A shower was definitely at the top of the list, at the moment.
I washed like usual, but didn't feel like it did any good. So, I tried again.
Still, I just felt dirty.
I started really scrubbing and hissed when I ran over a spot on my arm.
I twisted to look at the source of the pain. There was a dark bruise beginning to form like a band around my upper arm, from Josh's hand.
I stared at it for a minute, knowing that it wasn't the only one and probably not the last.
My eyes stung with tears as I continued to scrub at my skin until it was bright red.
Knowing it wasn't doing any good, I slumped down against the wall, threw the wash cloth and started sobbing.
A simple shower wasn't going to fix this because the dirt I was feeling wasn't on the outside.
How was I supposed to live like this? How was I supposed to look at Mamma and Daddy and act like everything was fine?
And this was only the first time. I knew there would be many more.
I stayed there, crying into my hands, for a long time and was grateful that everyone else was asleep.
After I managed to pull myself out of the shower and back to my room, I sat on my bed, hugged my knees to my chest, and tried to block out the images I didn't want to see.
There wasn't much chance of me sleeping, but I shut off the light anyway, in case someone got up and wondered why it was on so late.
After a while, I laid down and stared into the darkness, trying not to think. I cried on and off, all night and zoned in and out of consciousness. It was really just as if my brain was shutting down for a while. I didn't actually sleep.
In the morning, I stayed in bed, having absolutely no motivation to move. It was sort of a bonus that I'd be able to play up the whole being sick thing. It might keep Mamma from wondering about me too much. At least for a while.
I'm not sure what time it was when Mamma poked her head into my room. I didn't care enough to find out.
"How are you feeling?" She asked, once she saw that I was awake.
Before I could respond, I yawned - with zero sleep, I was pretty tired.
Mamma smiled, apparently taking my yawn to mean that I'd gotten rest.
"It's almost lunchtime," She said. "But if you feel like breakfast instead, I saved you some pancakes and sausage, just in case."
The idea of eating anything, right now, wasn't at all pleasant, let alone something as heavy as that. But I did promise Anna I would eat.
I might not be able to control much else right now, but I wouldn't break that promise.
I sighed and sat up. "Thanks, Mamma." Food was food and I wasn't going to want anything. No point in her making anything else.
She smiled and I expected her to leave then, but she didn't. It looked like there was something else she wanted to say. I watched her, waiting.
"What's Ben doing today?" She asked, out of nowhere.
I looked down, feeling like I had the wind knocked out of me. "I'm not sure."
When I looked back at her, she looked pensive. "I was just thinking, maybe he'd let your brother come watch him for a little bit. He's been so...upset lately." She said. "And he was so happy with Ben."
Him and me both! But I knew that a session of fixing cars with Ben wasn't really going to make Louis feel any better.
"I don't know." I said. "I'm sure he would, but I think he's been kind of busy lately."
She nodded, accepting my lie and letting it go.
"I'll have your food ready in a little bit." She said before she left me alone again.
I stared at the floor, miserably. Of all the things Mamma could have asked about, she picked Ben.
Thinking about him when I was already feeling so wretched about last night, only made me feel more dirty and like I'd completely betrayed him.
Sure, we'd both known it was going to happen. But it felt like a huge difference between just knowing it was coming and looking back, actually having gone through with it.
I wished I did know what he was doing today, though. I wished, so badly, that I was part of whatever he had planned.
I gasped when I realized that I could be. If he was home, anyway. This was my opportunity to sneak away and see him! Josh didn't say anything about today. He wouldn't have any idea.
I stumbled out of bed, my lack of sleep making me clumsy, and quickly got dressed.
It was 11:30 when I glanced at the clock and I felt so stupid for wasting so much time moping this morning when I could have been with him.
If I'd thought ahead a little bit, I could have planned this. But I'd been so focused on yesterday as the end of everything, I hadn't even considered today.
I raced to the kitchen and quickly ate the food, Mamma had ready for me. Surprisingly, I didn't feel sick from eating. Once I started, I realized I was actually hungry.
"Feeling better?" Mamma smiled when she noticed me shoving the food down. I was trying to eat as fast as possible so I could leave.
I put the fork down, deciding I was done. "Yeah." I said. "Actually, I think I'm gonna go for a walk."
After taking care of my dishes, I went back to my room for my coat and headed for the front door.
I froze with my hand on the doorknob, realizing what I was doing.
How could I go to Ben now? After what I'd done? I stood there for a minute, debating. I thought about resisting and not going to see him. It was too painful to even think about completely, now that I knew it was an option.
I looked at my hand on the door and saw the bracelet. He did say I could always come to him. He knew what to expect if I did.
I pulled the door open and ran down the steps, not wanting to focus on it anymore. I didn't want to think about all the reasons why I shouldn't go to him. I needed him right now.
I raced down the sidewalk, forcing myself not to run, and felt so relieved when I reached his house.
I rushed up the steps and rang the doorbell, anxious to see him.
And then what? I hadn't really thought about that part until just now. All I'd been thinking about was actually getting to be with him. But I was going to have to say something. I was going to have to explain.
And suddenly I wished I'd made a different choice when I left the house. I wanted to see him so badly, but I was appalled at actually having to tell him what I'd done.
Before I could worry about it any more the door opened to reveal Ben.
I looked up at him, ashamed. I bit my lip as tears came to my eyes. I couldn't say anything.
Ben watched me and I saw understanding flash across his face. I looked away before I could see anything else. Before I could see the disgust he had to feel, knowing.
I'd been insane to come here, now. I was about to turn away and leave when Ben pulled me into his arms.
I was surprised and so incredibly relieved. He knew and he wasn't completely disgusted with me. He was hugging me.
I leaned into him and started sobbing again.
He brought me into the house and pulled me down onto the couch, keeping his arm around me.
I curled into him and let myself cry until I had no tears left.
I'm not sure how long we stayed on the couch, wrapped around each other. I'd stopped crying a while ago and was just leaning on Ben, listening to his heart as he stroked my hair. We hadn't spoken yet.
I sat up, wanting to see his face. He watched me, concerned.
"Hi." I said, lamely.
"Hi." He answered. "You look tired."
"Didn't sleep much." I admitted.
His eyes tightened. "Maybe you should try now." He suggested.
I shook my head. "I don't want to sleep. I want to spend time with you."
"You can still-"
"While I'm conscious." I interrupted him.
He smiled. "What do you want to do?"
I thought for a second. "What were you doing before I got here?"
"I was trying to work on my car."
I looked at him, curiously. "Trying?"
"I was sort of distracted." He said.
I glanced down before meeting his eyes again. "Let's go do that, then. I can watch."
"Won't it be boring for you?" He asked, skeptically.
I shook my head. "I want to see what you do."
"Alright." He shrugged and led me through the house to the garage.
"Tell me if you get bored and want to do something else." He said as I sat down on the bench seat that he'd removed from the car.
"I won't." I smiled. I didn't care what we were doing as long as I was with him.
He smiled at me before he went to work.
"Louis would be jealous if he knew I was here." I said, thinking of what Mamma said earlier. Maybe it would be a good idea if he still came over by Ben sometimes.
"He can come over whenever he wants to." Ben said, not looking up from what he was doing.
"Really?" It was a really nice offer to let a kid come over anytime to basically get in the way.
Ben looked at me. "I was gonna ask for today, but I wasn't sure if it was ok...for you."
Oh. I looked down. "Yeah, it's fine." I said looking back at him. "I think it might be good for him. He's been pretty upset lately."
"He knows about...everything?" Ben asked after a few seconds.
"He knows enough." I confirmed.
He watched me for another minute, and didn't seem to know what to say. I don't think he wanted to think about Josh any more than I did.
"So where did you learn all this stuff?" I gestured at the car, changing the subject.
Ben looked grateful for the distraction and started talking.
I watched as he continued working. I didn't know anything about cars, but he looked like he really knew what he was doing.
He kept talking and I started feeling human again. I shifted and got more comfortable on the seat, actually beginning to relax.
I jolted awake and was confused for a second.
"I should be a teacher if I'm that boring." Ben joked.
I was curled up against his side on the couch. I realized that I must have fallen asleep in the garage.
I yawned. "I'm sorry." I said. "It wasn't you. I told you I didn't sleep much."
"It's ok." Ben said, kissing the top of my head. "I'm glad you got some rest."
"How long was I out?" I asked, annoyed with myself for wasting my time with him. Again.
"A few hours." He said. "It was kind of cold in the garage, so I brought you in here."
I must have been really out of it, not to even feel it.
"We can do something else now." I said sitting up. "I promise not to fall asleep."
He smiled. "Ok, I wanna show you something."
Ben led me down the hall to a room I hadn't seen before. We went inside and he turned on the light.
I looked around, wide-eyed at the hundreds and hundreds of books lining the walls of the cozy little room. I was in heaven.
"How come you never showed me this before?" I asked.
He shrugged. "It's not really that exciting, but I like to come in here to relax."
"Ben." I said with an 'oh come on' tone. He knew I loved books.
I went to the first shelf and started scanning the titles. They were mostly classics and all looked old, maybe even some first editions.
"They were my grandfather's." Ben said. "Mom doesn't read all that much. I guess she doesn't have alot of time for it. But she loves this room. I think it's more sentimental than anything else."
I nodded and started reaching for a book. I stopped and looked at him. "Can I?" Maybe his mom wouldn't like me touching anything. Especially since they all looked so old.
He smiled. "They're books, Lizzie. You're supposed to read them."
I grinned and grabbed the book eagerly.
We got comfortable on the couch under the window with our books. I chose a book of short stories by O Henry, figuring I wouldn't have time to finish anything too long. Ben was in the middle of The Red Badge of Courage.
After, what must have been a few hours, I yawned and stretched. I was so content, leaning against Ben with our books, I could probably live in this room.
"You want to get some dinner?" He asked, checking his watch.
I sighed, disappointed. "I should probably go home." I said. "I only told Mamma I was going for a walk." I felt bad about making them worry lately.
"Ok." Ben said, closing his book. "I'll drive you."
"We can-" I started. "I mean, if you want to, maybe after, we can do something?"
He nodded. "Call me when you want me to come pick you up." He grabbed the notebook that was on the table next to the couch and wrote down his number. "I don't really want you walking out there at night." He tore off the part of the paper with the phone number and handed it to me.
"Ok." I took the paper from him and looked longingly at my book, really wanting to finish it. But I guessed there was always later. Maybe Sundays would be the day I got to spend with Ben.
Of course, I hoped it would be much more than that, but I wasn't sure of anything yet.
Ben took me home and, as usual, I didn't want to leave him. I knew I'd be seeing him again in a few hours, though, so it wasn't as hard this time.
I looked back at him, when I got to the front door, waved, and went inside.
"Oh, Honey," Mamma came over to meet me when I got inside. "I'm so glad you're home. Your dad will be here any minute, and Louis is no help. Do you know what is going on with that boy?" She asked. "I've never seen him so rude before."
I shook my head. "It's Louis, he probably just missed a question on a math test or something." My brother was one of those annoying people who got 100's on everything and freaked out if he got a 98 instead.
"I'm sure he'll be fine in a few days."
"Yeah, maybe." She sighed.
We heard the front door close and Daddy came in to view.
"Ready?" He asked Mamma.
"Yeah." She said grabbing her coat. "Lizzie, we'll be back in a little while, I didn't realize I was almost out of everything to make a decent dinner."
I nodded. Guess I didn't need to rush right home. Looks like dinner wouldn't be for a while. Maybe Ben would want to come over here...
"Oh and your friend's in the kitchen." Mamma added quickly.
"My friend?" I asked, hopefully. Maybe Anna came by again.
She nodded. "Yeah, he's been here for a little while. I wasn't sure what we were going to do about him if you weren't here. I didn't want to just leave him."
I felt my stomach drop and the color drain from my face. It wasn't Anna in the kitchen. And the only 'him' that would be coming by like this was Josh.
"Bye Sweetie. Try and get some rest, you look a little pale." Mamma said as she and Daddy left.
I wanted to beg them not to go or to take me with them, but I was frozen.
"Hi, Lizzie." Josh said from behind me.
I closed my eyes and took a deep breath before turning to look at him. So much for not seeing him today.
"Where were you?" He asked, coming closer.
"I went for a walk." I said right away. I had to remind myself to stay calm. He didn't know anything. He couldn't.
"Mmm." He mused. "That's what your mom said." He stopped in front of me and I flinched when he touched my face. He trailed his fingers down my cheek before lowering his hand and grabbing mine.
"She said you left about six hours ago." He raised his eyebrow.
"I like walking." I said weakly.
"Apparently." He said. "But you must have had somewhere you walked to? Someone you were with?" His tone was silky and I knew from experience, that wasn't good.
I shrugged. "Not really."
"Lizzie, what's it like outside?" He asked.
"Cold." I answered, not really seeing the point of his question.
"That's right." He said like he was talking to a kindergartner. "Now, can you tell me why, after walking around aimlessly in the cold for the last six hours, your skin isn't even slightly cold?"
All I could think was that he knew. I stared at him wide-eyed and didn't answer.
"It seems to make more sense to assume you were actually in a car." He narrowed his eyes. "And since I happen to know you don't have a car, that makes me think you weren't alone."
He definitely knew. I bit my lip and couldn't think of anything to say.
I cringed when he painfully tightened his grip on my hand. "I don't like being lied to, Lizzie. You were with him, weren't you?" He demanded.
He tightened his grasp again when I didn't answer and I whimpered in pain.
"Yes." I said without any volume and dropped my eyes so that I wasn't looking at his face any longer.
Josh released my hand and I stretched it out and rubbed it with the other one.
"I thought we had a deal, Lizzie." He said. "You're supposed to be my girlfriend."
I didn't answer.
"Maybe we should just forget this whole thing." He said and I looked at him again. "Does your dad have another job lined up?"
I shook my head. "No!" I said, panicky. "I'm sorry. Please don't."
Josh looked at me for a few seconds before he started caressing my face.
"That would be a shame." He said. "Especially after everything you've...invested already." He smiled and I felt sick.
"I can be forgiving." He said after a minute. "Once. That had better be the last time."
I looked away. "It will be." I said as tears filled my eyes. I wished I'd said a better good bye to Ben.
"Good." He said. "Because if you're not serious about our arrangement, there's no reason for me to be."
I nodded, unhappily.
"I mean it, Lizzie. I don't want you anywhere near him. I better not even hear about you talking to any of them. That means those times when you think I don't know about it."
I looked at him.
"Just because I'm not in a certain class with you, doesn't mean I don't know what goes on. You have no idea who I do or do not know."
"So, are you gonna be spying on me all the time, then?" I asked, resentfully.
"Do I need to?" He countered.
I looked away again. I didn't believe for a second that he had spies everywhere. But I guessed he probably had one or two. And I had no idea who or where they would be.
Josh stepped back slightly and dropped his hand.
"Your mom makes good cookies." He said, taking a bite of the cookie I hadn't noticed in his hand.
I stared him, incensed. How dare he come into our home, take advantage of my mother's kindness, eat her cookies, and then threaten us.
"I really think I'm going to have to come over more often." He continued. "I like your mom. She's very...informative." He gave me that look again.
I waited warily for whatever he was getting at.
"Do you know what she told me?" He asked.
I tried to remember everything I'd lied to him, about. The only thing that was coming to mind was where I got my bracelet.
Please don't let it be that, I prayed.
"She said that you don't actually have a curfew." He raised his eyebrows.
So, still not good, but better than what I'd been thinking. I just stared at him, wondering what he was going to say.
He finished his cookie, watching me with that domineering look of his.
"Anything else you'd like to tell me?" He finally said.
I shook my head and prayed that he never found out about the bracelet.
"I hope not." He said. "Because I won't be very happy if I find out you lied about something else."
He stared at me for another minute, probably trying to figure out if I was telling the truth. I made sure my face didn't give anything away. All I allowed to show was my absolute hatred for him.
"I have something for you." He said, brushing off his hands and seeming pleased with himself.
Was he actually delusional enough to think this was a real relationship? That I wanted anything from him?
He reached into his pocket, pulled out a small cell phone, and handed it to me.
I looked at it before I looked back at him, not making any move to take the phone.
"I don't need a phone." I said, flatly.
"Oh, I think you do." He smiled. "I want to be able to get a hold of you when you're 'walking'," He made little air quotes with his fingers. "Or whatever."
In other words, this was his way of keeping me on a leash while he wasn't with me. I glared at him.
"You're supposed to say 'thank you'." He picked up my hand and put the phone in my palm.
"Thank you." I said acidly.
He just grinned.
"So," He said. "Where's your room?"
"Why?" I asked, suddenly very nervous.
He looked at me, amused. "I really wanna take a nap." He said sarcastically. "Why do you think?"
My heart started pounding and my breathing kicked up.
"Besides," He said. "You lied to me. I really think you ought to make it up to me." He smiled.
I shook my head. "My parents-"
"Are gone for at least an hour." Josh cut me off.
"My brother is-"
"Is hiding away in his room, probably until I leave. And anyway, don't you have a lock on your door? We'll just be really quiet."
"But I don't have any-"
Josh stopped me by putting his finger to my lips. He reached into his pocket and showed me a little foil packet and grinned, knowingly at me. "Don't worry. I'm prepared."
I stared at it, dejected and out of excuses.
"Actually," He said, latching on to my hand. "I think I can find it myself."
He pulled me down the hall and found my room right away.
Pushing open my door, he dropped my hand, turned on the light and went to sit on my bed.
I stood just inside the doorway and watched him making himself at home in my room. I felt more violated than ever.
"Close the door." He ordered.
I just stared at him and didn't move.
He raised his eyebrow. "Are you going to take this seriously, or not?" He demanded, reminding me of what he said earlier.
I looked down, gripping the phone in my hand and felt so much hatred. I hated the way I looked. I hated my life. I hated that I had to do this for my family. And I hated him. I hated him so much. More than I ever thought it was possible to hate anyone or anything.
"What's it going to be, Lizzie?" He pushed.
I looked up and glared at him before I put the phone down on the dresser and turned around to close the door.
I took a deep, shaky breath as I clicked the lock.
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