This is a work in progress I’m writing using prompts from the Red Dress Club. Because of this, passages can be written out of sequence. This is where you can read all of Madison’s (aka Mav’s) Story (as it exists) in chronological order.
“I need you to cancel my 3 o’clock with the Shepards. I’ll be out of the office the rest of the day.” My fingers gripped my purse so hard the tips turned white.
Marcy nodded, her black ponytail bouncing. “Do you want your calls forwarded?”
“No, please just take a message.” I forced a smile, practiced and perfect after years of working in sales.
Marcy grinned back. “Will do. See you tomorrow.”
I hurried out the ornate door of the offices of Exquisite Haus Realty, my heels echoing on the marbled floors of the extravagant entry way. The air warmed as I approached the revolving doors. I merged into my compartment – the stickiness slamming into me – and walked into the afternoon heat.
I displayed none of my discomfort, my work mask fully in place. I slid my fingers into my purse, fumbling for my keys.
They dropped to the ground.
I stopped, bent, and picked them up.
They fell again, my fingers shaking.
A very well-dressed man reached for my keys and handed them to me.
“Th-thank you.” I bit my lip too late, the tiny stutter already loose.
“You are welcome.”
I tilted my head in acknowledgment and moved on before he continued the conversation.
I managed to unlock my car with the remote and slide into the soft exterior.
I twisted the key, the engine roaring to life. I flicked the dials to cool the air, and searched in my purse, pulling out my iPod.
I turned it on, going straight to my playlists.
Clients 1 – Older.
Clients 2 – Yuppie.
Clients 3 – Unknown.
I tapped “Old School” and the moans of ecstasy from White Zombie’s “More Human Than Human” blasted from my car’s speakers.
I turned the volume down and I kicked off my heels, tossing them into the passenger seat. I waited until I hit the interstate and cranked the volume; my body vibrated with the beat.
How many times had I faked an orgasm to this song, stoking the flames in John’s eyes until he transformed my cries into real ones?
Marilyn Manson’s “Sweet Dreams” shuffled into play and I screamed, “Some of them want to use you. Some of them want to get used by you.”
We’d used each other and loved every minute.
I giggled as Adam Sandler’s “Piece of Shit Car” floated to me. The description fit John’s high school junker perfectly. “I can’t see through the windshield, cause it’s got a big fucking crack, and the interior smells real bad, cause my friend puked in the back.”
Guilty. I never touched Goldschläger again.
“Nothing Else Matters” by Metallica was next. I still remembered how to tap the notes out on the piano.
He’d taught me one afternoon, after sneaking into the music practice room to avoid detention.
My grip tightened and my face dampened with tears.
I drove faster as the songs carried me into the suburbs.
Metallica’s “Enter Sandman” – the irony as he sang me to sleep.
Pantera’s “Becoming” – my shoulder dislocated after crowd surfing.
“Under the Bridge” by Red Hot Chili Peppers – his voice stealing the senior talent show.
“Don’t Stop Believing” by Journey – his merciless teasing because I loved the song.
“Thriller” by Michael Jackson – getting busted for pranking our principal on Halloween.
Fields increased as houses vanished, the countryside opening before me. I turned into a state park, the path etched in my memory. The trees barely marked the passage of time since I’d last been here, the six years a tiny blip in their life cycle.
Then it came on: the Jeff Buckley version of “Hallelujah”, replacing the older Cale cover as my favorite.
I barely made it to our old spot before my vision clouded, the tears racing down my cheeks.
“Well there was a time when you let me know
What’s really going on below
But now you never show that to me do you?
But remember when I moved in you
And the holy dove was moving too
And every breath we drew was hallelujah.”
Distance. Pulling away. The end of us.
The call today from his younger brother.
I folded the red and white checkered napkin over and over, the repetitive action calming.
“May I get you anything else?”
Flustered, I dropped it. I stared at the basket of bread sticks in front of me, the dried grease congealed after two hours of sitting untouched.
Where was he?
“Ma’am?” The waiter’s irritation shined through his plastic smile. “May I get you the check?’
“What time do you close?”
“In an hour.”
“I’ll have a house salad then, ranch dressing on the side.”
“Of course.” He left, annoyance radiating from his body.
I sighed, as frustrated as my waiter. I opened my purse, pulling out a postcard with the state capitol on the front. I flipped it over, reading the familiar scrawl for the thousandth time.
“I’m not dead. Meet me tonight at Guido’s Pizzeria. Tell no one.”
My heart raced again.
John wasn’t dead.
The delicious smell of oven baked pizza wafted through the air, bringing back memories of high school.
Our first date at this same table, tucked into a dark back corner.
His laughter as I pretended to give a blow job to a breadstick.
His tongue licking pizza sauce off my fingers.
His hand, pulling me into the narrow alleyway behind Guido’s, my back against the brick wall as his body covered mine.
“Here’s your salad.” A plate thumped onto the table.
I jumped, nearly knocking over my chair, and shoved the postcard back into my purse. “Thank you.”
“Enjoy your… salad.” He flounced away, no longer hiding his contempt.
I stabbed my food and shuffled it around the plate, pretending to eat; “what if” scenarios flew through my mind.
What if by “tonight”, he’d meant 5 PM, not sometime after 6? Three hours and still no sign of him.
What if this was a trick? I hadn’t seen John in over five years, our communication by email or phone only. Why not email me instead of a cryptic postcard?
What if he was really dead?
I shuddered. He damn well better be alive. I would not mourn him twice in a week.
My cell phone danced on the table. I peeked at the caller ID and guilt washed over me as Danny’s name appeared.
I slid my finger across the screen to answer. “Hi honey.” My voice wavered and I cleared my throat. “What’s up?”
“Me. I’m naked and waiting for you. Where the hell are you?”
I bit my lip. “You didn’t get my text?”
“No, I fucking didn’t get any damn text. What fucking emergency could have possibly happened to make you late after I just spent two weeks working in Hong Kong?”
I cringed as the lie rolled off my tongue. “I texted you hours ago. Amanda’s dad is in the hospital and she needs moral support. I won’t be back until late.” Or in an hour if John failed to show.
“Fuck. Is he dying?”
“The details are sketchy and the doctors aren’t talking. It’s why Amanda is a basket case.”
“Yeah. I’m so sorry.” My gut twisted and I silently cursed John for putting me in this position.
“I’ll try to wait up for you. If I’m asleep, you know how to wake me up.”
“Thanks for understanding. I’ll make it up to you.”
“I’m counting on it, babe. See you later.”
“Bye.” I disconnected the call, shoved my salad away, and smacked my forehead onto the table.
I’d ditched hot sex with my boyfriend for being stood up by a dead ex-boyfriend’s cryptic postcard.
What the hell?
I raised my head and reached into my purse again, ignoring the postcard and selecting two twenties to toss onto the table. I stood and hurried out the door.
A wall of humidity hit me as I strode from the brightly lit entrance into the path of a broken streetlight. I sped up, passing our alleyway, blinking away the bombarding memories.
I removed my keys and a warm hand covered my mouth as an arm lifted my torso – my body pulled tight into another’s. Panicked, I struggled, trying to kick my attacker or gouge their eyes.
My keys clattered to the sidewalk as we disappeared into the alley.
My captor’s arm was steel around my stomach, trapping both of my arms at my side. “Easy. I’m not going to hurt you.”
I wanted to laugh through my fear at the clichéd line.
If you’re overpowered, the best way to escape is to fake surrender. Make them believe they’ve won. John’s words echoed from a lesson taught long ago.
I ceased my kicks, pretending the words soothed me. The kidnapper dragged me deeper into the darkness and I counted to ten, forcing my racing heart to calm and my muscles to relax.
I imagined my body a wet noodle.
Be patient. Their guard will drop.
The arms slackened almost imperceptibly.
Attack. Quickly. Without hesitation. The eye, the nose, or the groin.
I thrust my head backwards with as much force as I could muster, hoping to break the nose.
It thudded somewhere on the shoulder, missing the face completely.
Laughter, dark and deep, echoed. “Your aim still sucks.”
“We’re going to have to work on that, Mav.” The arms released me and spun me around.
Black clothing covered all but his head, and he blended perfectly into the alleyway. The whites of his eyes floated in the black, the only part lacking camouflage.
“What, no hug for the dead guy?”
The words snapped my paralysis as I channeled my frustrations, fears, and anger into my right arm. My palm collided with his face, the loud smack sending reverberations through the alley.
His silhouette twisted with the ricochet before facing me again. “So a kiss is out of the question?”
“You asshole!” I exploded, my fingers clenched as I pounded his chest and abdomen, seeking a weak spot. “I thought you were dead!”
He winced but stood silent as my fists flew, my hands already aching from the blows.
“I went to your funeral! I cried for you!”
“I’m sorry, Mav.”
His pet name opened an old wound. “My name is Madison. Not Mav.”
“You’ll always be Mav to me.”
“I should shove your cryptic postcard down your throat. I’m supposed to b-be having s-s-sex right now.” My words transformed into sobs as my energy died.
“I can fix that problem.”
“Don’t try to make me laugh. I’m pissed at you.”
“I wasn’t joking. I have very fond memories of this alleyway.”
The cool brick pressed into my exposed back. My skirt twisted around my waist as my legs wrapped around his, the delicious smells of Guido’s traveling out the back door.
The same smells danced in the air, the night teasing us. “I wouldn’t mind revisiting a few.” He leaned closer. “I’ve missed you, Mav.”
His lips were hot against mine, consuming my protest.
I savored his familiar taste for moment, drinking in my youth before jerking my knee up.
He shifted at the last moment and I barely grazed him, earning me a string of curses as he stumbled away instead of dropping to the ground as planned. “Jesus, Mav! What the hell!”
“I have a life, John. A boyfriend. I’m happy. I don’t hear from you except for phone calls and emails for five years. Five damn years. You cannot just swoop in here and have me dropping my pants five minutes after kidnapping me off the damn street!”
“Mav, I -”
“You decided to end us. You left me here. Then you get into a car wreck and die. I go to your funeral and say good-bye forever. Forever! A week later your damn postcard shows up and I drop everything because I think you might be in serious trouble. I lie to my boyfriend because you said tell no one, and then you stand me up! I label myself all kinds of idiot and leave, only to have you scare the hell out of me by kidnapping me!”
“Look, I di-”
“Tell me what the fuck is going on, John.” The cloak of night brought the courage I needed.
“I never sent you a postcard.”
“That isn’t possible. I have it right here.” I fumbled for my purse, wondering why every light in the alleyway refused to work.
My purse vanished from my hands.
“Dammit, John! You can’t just-” I stopped as his shadow tossed something into the dumpster. “What did you just do?”
“Come on.” His warm hand gripped my forearm, dragging me toward the opposite end of the alleyway.
I yanked my arm away. “No. I want my purse. It was a gift.”
The hand returned, tighter this time. “Sorry, Mav.”
I dug the soles of my sneakers into the pavement as he pulled me again, my heels finally catching on a crack. Instead of stopping my movement, my upper body pitched forward as the ground threatened my face.
I flew into the air. The wind whooshed from my lungs as my stomach landed on something hard: John’s shoulder.
My body jiggled as he jogged – an unwieldy sack of potatoes.
“Put. Me. Down.” Each word exhaled like a grunt.
“In a minute.”
“Now. Or. I’ll. Scream.”
“I never slept with Elizabeth.”
“What?” We left the alleyway behind Guido’s and moved into another one across the street.
“Elizabeth Forsberg, senior year. You broke every damn window in my car because you thought I slept with her. I never did.”
My stomach twisted.
The wave of nausea breaking over me as I discovered them in his steamed up junker. Puking in one of the huge planters framing the school’s sidewalk. The flood of tears as I fled, stopping only to empty my stomach again. The dry heaves each time their embrace played in my mind.
The metal bat cool in my sweaty hands. Powered by betrayal, my fury rained upon the only outlet for my rage. The difficulty of knocking out the safety glass. The satisfaction as the back window shattered.
Running as the house’s lights flicked on.
“I saw you in the rear-view mirror. I kissed her to make you jealous.”
“Gonna. Be. Sick.”
The jarring motion ceased immediately as he lifted me off his shoulders and set me down. I turned away a split second before I emptied the few bites of salad onto the littered ground.
His hands caressed my neck, pulling my hair away from my face.
Bent over a toilet as he protected my hair.
“Someone can’t hold her liquor.”
Letting him believe the lie.
I whirled and knocked his hands away, praying my pyrotechnics were over even as my stomach danced. “Why would you bring up something from eight years ago?”
“It kept you from screaming for help.”
Stunned, I stared at him – my first good look in five years.
Even in the brighter alley, he blended into the shadows. His black leather jacket matched the rest of his clothing, out of place in the summer heat. A new scar graced his chin. His blue eyes were serious, free of the teasing I expected, with a few new lines creased around them. Power radiated from every muscle, like a jungle cat ready to spring.
Everything else heartbreakingly familiar.
“I need you to come with me.” He reached for me with his right hand. “Please Mav.”
The plea paired with my curiosity and obliterated any common sense. My hand met his and we raced to the end of the alley.
A motorcycle waited there, hiding between the buildings. He handed me a helmet as he straddled the bike. “Put it on.” The engine roared to life.
“John… what the hell is going on?” My voice shouted over the loud muffler.
“I received an email on an old account this morning, telling me to be here tonight.”
Lightning raced toward us, the echoing boom several seconds behind.
My death hold around John’s waist tightened. “Get me the hell off this bike!”
“Almost there.” He weaved through the city streets, veering through the occasional alleyway.
“I used to live here, John. You’ve been driving in circles for thirty minutes. Stop this damn thing or I’m jumping off!”
“Two blocks, Mav.”
“Hurry.” I inhaled the leather of his jacket, my body clenched around his.
Wind in my hair, flying over the open road.
Waiting for the straightway to creep my hands beneath his T-shirt, tracing the lines of his six pack before moving them lower.
The bright crackle arced above my head, the simultaneous boom so close it reverberated over the rumble of the motorcycle.
The heavens opened seconds later, drenching us.
Too late, we pulled into a driveway, the rickety garage opening before us as we sped into it, my body forced into his as he braked too quickly.
“Wait here.” He vanished before I could argue.
Thunder shook the walls, the wind roared, and rain slammed the roof and windows.
I climbed off the bike, my legs shaky, barely able to hold me. I stumbled to the tool bench, curling into a tiny ball beneath it.
I needed my pills. Now.
He found me there. Minutes, maybe hours later.
“Mav?” His voice was soft, gentle. “I’m here now. We can go inside.”
He didn’t wait for a response and cradled me in his arms, jogging between the garage and house as rain pelted us.
I held on for dear life, as lightning lit the air around me, paired with another crash.
“I have you, Mav. It’s ok. Hold on.”
“My pills.” I finally choked the words out.
A muttered curse answered me. “All I have is your license, cash, and credit cards.”
I trembled as another boom vibrated the room, my heart threatening to explode.
The kitchen. Harsh fluorescent light. Cupboards slammed. Glasses clinked.
The scent of an old friend, begging me.
The familiar taste of Uncle Jack on my lips, coughing as it ran down my throat, leaving a trail of fire.
The vise in my throat lessened and I gulped with greed. “More.”
He set me down, releasing me. “Sorry, Mav. Your stomach is empty. Anymore and you’ll be over the toilet all night. I’ll get a bath ready. Will you be okay for a minute?”
I lied and he left.
I quickly poured another shot, the sloshing noise so loud, I was certain he would hear.
I tossed it back, the fire slightly less. I poured another.
I walked up to the front, facing the dozen people in front of me.
I rubbed the new shiny chip in my hand.
“My name is Madison and I’m an alcoholic. It’s been two years since I had my last drink.”
The thunder echoed again and I tossed the shot back, already feeling the wooziness slide over me.
I poured a fourth drink, half of it spilling on the table as the bottle disappeared from my hand.
“I need you here, Mav.”
I lurched into his arms, draping my arms around his neck again. “Oh, I’m here, baby.”
“That hit fast. Let’s get you cleaned up before you pass out.”
The arms again, and I burrowed my head into his neck, smelling the rain mingled with…him. I wondered if he tasted the same.
I licked his neck, the saltiness bursting on my tongue as my body caught fire.
I needed him.
He put me down next to an ancient claw footed bathtub. “Can you undress yourself?”
“Hell, you can’t even stand straight. Arms up.”
“Make me forget. Please.”
His hands and mouth covered my body, my moans drowning out the rolling thunder.
My wet shirt made a sucking sound as he peeled it from my skin.
I tumbled to the floor and he struggled to pull off my soaked jeans.
My lacy bra followed, joining the puddle on the tile.
I hoisted myself up using the tub, clad in only my panties.
“Make me forget, John.”
I was naked.
My hair and body still damp, wet sheets twisted around my torso.
Black. The room was layered with it. Not even the glow of an alarm clock.
Silence. The storm long gone.
“I don’t recommend turning on the light.” John’s voice whispered mere inches from my ear.
The tickle of it scared me and I nearly fell off the bed. “Jesus, don’t do that!” A thousand needles pierced my skull at the movement. “Oh God.”
“I wouldn’t move either.”
“Now you tell me.” I lowered my voice to match his. Every part of my body wanted to die.
“Will you be okay if I leave the room for a few minutes?”
“I’ve been fine for five years. A few minutes are nothing.”
A sigh escaped as the bed shifted the tiniest bit. I sensed him move across the room, his footfalls undetectable.
Wrapped in his arms, our skin sticking as summer spilled through the window.
I traced the lines of his arm. “I want to stay here forever. With you.”
“Bed? Or were you thinking bigger, like the entire state?”
“Both. I never want to move again.”
He chuckled. “I think your dad might notice.”
“He told me to marry you.”
The arms left me. “What?”
I rolled to face him. “He said I should get pregnant so you’d marry me.”
“You mean my trust fund?” He crawled out of bed, giving me the full view of his naked body. “I don’t receive it until I’m twenty-one. A long time to watch a squalling brat.”
“I don’t want kids. You know I just want your body.” I teased him, trying to elicit a smile.
“I’m leaving, Mav. When I get it. I’m gone.”
I shoved the disappointment away. “I know. I only want right now. Fuck the future.”
He slid his jeans back on, forgoing the underwear. “Don’t you want anything? To see the world? Have a career? Move out of your dad’s house?”
“I wouldn’t mind a replay of ten minutes ago….”
“I’m serious, Mav. What’s your dream?”
“A bottle of tequila, some limes, and an ice cube?”
“That’s what you want to do with your life? Alcohol?” He climbed back onto my bed. “You’re better than that, Mav.” He fingered a stray lock of my hair, before tucking it behind my ear.
“Here.” A warm hand found mine with uncanny precision, pressing a few pills into it.
“What are they?”
I slowly sat up, not caring about the sheet sliding off my torso. I swallowed them, their dryness leaving a bitter taste.
His fingers found mine again, wrapping them around a cup. “Water.”
I gulped it down.
“Easy. You don’t want to be sick again. I have some crackers for you too.”
A rustling noise, his hands again guiding mine to the prize.
I nibbled on a cracker.
“How much, Mav?”
“Huh?” My stomach gurgled, this time in ravenous hunger. I popped the rest of the cracker in my mouth and grabbed another.
“The whiskey. One shot would not have had you curled up in a fetal position all night.”
He leaned in, greeting me with a hot kiss. “Damn, Mav. You taste like a bar. I thought you were going to wait for me.”
“It’s been a while.” How many shots? Two? Three? Four? I couldn’t remember.
“Define a while.”
“Two years, nine months, twenty-one days and… twelve hours…give or take?”
“Aw hell. AA?”
“Yeah.” Crumbs stuck to my chest, as I continued eating.
“Fuck, Mav! Why didn’t you tell me?”
“You never asked. I wanted to tell you in person, but -”
“Forgive me.” Hot lips covered mine.
I dropped the crackers.
This was absolutely the last time I’d let him do this.
His thumbs caressed my cheek as he stole my breath with a simple kiss, his passion sweeping me away.
I reached for him, wrapping my naked body around him so his skin met mine.
The blades of grass tried to poke through the thin blanket – the stars, moon, and flickering fire casting shadows over us.
“Not yet.” His magic fingers knew just where to touch me.
“Please.” I tried to reach him and return the favor.
His body naked, blanketing mine in the cool fall night.
I didn’t know this was good-bye.
My fingers brushed something rough on his left shoulder. Without even thinking I explored the foreign texture.
“Dammit, Mav!” He shoved my hands away and disappeared.
It took several seconds to clear my desire laden brain.
“Was that… a bandage?”
“Yeah.” The voice traveled from across the room.
“It doesn’t matter.”
I stood, pulling the sheet from the bed and wrapping it around my body. “I think it does. You insisted I come with you. It’s about time you tell me what is going on.”
“The less you know the better.” His shadow peeled back a corner of the curtain, peering outside. A faint glow sneaked through the gap, illuminating half of his body.
I dug my manicure into my palms, fighting the past – the urge to hold him.
Instead, I circled behind him, my eyes seeking the answers.
A glare on his dark skin, the white reflected what little light the window let in. The gauze and tape covered most of his left upper back and shoulder.
A chill filled me. “That looks pretty serious.”
His silence echoed in the room.
“Enough? Fine. Be an ass. But don’t make me witness it. I’m outta here.” I stormed from the room, nearly running into the bedroom door in my haste.
Ten seconds later the futility of my actions hit me as I realized I only had a sheet and no clue where my clothes hid. I flicked on a hall light and winced, the lurking headache creeping behind my eyes.
My hangover was not helping.
I needed a drink.
I tripped on the sheet as I found the kitchen, turning its light on. The bottle of Jack still sat on the counter, ready and waiting.
“I’m sorry.” He spoke from behind.
I closed my eyes, my nails imprinting half moons into my palms. “For what? Leaving me? Coming back? Being an asshole?” I couldn’t hide the bitterness.
“About the Jack. I didn’t know, Mav.”
“I know. My bad, right?” I eyes watered and I cursed his ability to reduce me to a hormonal teenager again.
“Mav…” He pulled my hair loose from the sheet.
“Just.. stop.. okay?” I blinked back the tears. “I wish…”
“I’d stayed dead?”
The word “yes” raced to the tip of my tongue, riding my pain, but refused to go any further. My lips held it prisoner, refusing to let it escape.
“For what then?”
I wish you’d never left.
I wish I’d forgotten to pick up the mail yesterday.
I wish I didn’t crave a shot of whiskey.
“I wish you’d tell me what happened to your damn shoulder and what the hell is going on.”
His eyes searched my face for… something.
“Your clothes are in the dryer. Get dressed. Then we’ll talk.”
“Tell me now, or I put on my clothes and leave. What happened to your shoulder?”
“I stepped in front of a bullet.” Sorrow filled his face. “It didn’t matter.”
“I don’t understand.”
“She believed I’d keep her safe. She was wrong.”
“She?” Did I even want to know? I gazed at bottle. Surely just one shot wouldn’t hurt.
“Yeah.” He moved between me and the bottle, blocking my view. “I lived. She didn’t.”
The jealous beast within silenced as my relief sickened me. Someone was dead. She was dead.
He had wanted to die for her.
I ran as fast as the sheet allowed to the bathroom, flashes of earlier that evening slamming into me as I kneeled.
It wasn’t supposed to happen this way.
I sacrificed me, shoving my insecurities and fears behind a mask, along with the entangled dreams.
I had to. The mask filtered emotion. Without the hope, the joy, and the fear, I gained the one thing I craved.
It paired with the a desire too strong to hide: revenge.
I stopped drinking.
I molded my mask into blasé perfection.
I threw myself into work.
I waited for my wish to come true.
For the call.
I’d invite him over for drinks and don my sexy black dress.
His jaw would drop. At me. At my life.
Perfect without him.
He’d beg for forgiveness.
Danny would walk in, greeting me with his customary deep kiss.
And I’d see John’s heart shatter.
Instead he had wanted to die. For her.
His hands pulled my hair away, keeping it safe.
Like a million times before.
History repeating itself.
It melted the mask and stole my control.
“No.” My voice was hollow, bouncing off the bowl.
I whirled around, welcoming the pain as my hair yanked from his hands. “No! I won’t do this again!”
“This?” Confusion filled his face.
“This. You. Us.” I knew how our story ended.
“Good idea.” He rocked back on his heels, standing up and moving away.
His easy capitulation surprised me, knifing the hopeful teenager within who dreamed of happy endings. “You agree?”
“You’ve made it clear I have no say in the matter.” His voice was nonchalant, contradicting the biting words.
My anger wavered, lacking the fuel to burn. “Okay then. If you could just get my clothes and drive me back to my car, I’ll be out of your life for good.” I tried to match his tone.
“I’m sorry, Mav.”
“Yeah.” I slid the remnants of my mask into place; I hid the agony.
I flushed the toilet and waited.
He didn’t budge from the doorway.
“You can’t leave.”
My laugh was shrill. “Of course I can.”
He shook his head. “It isn’t safe.”
“I’ll be fine.” I lied.
“I can’t take the chance. Someone used you as bait. If they did it once, they’ll do it again.”
“Bait?” Little sleep and even less food took their toll and I struggled to follow his chain of thought.
“The postcard and the email. They were either a test or a trap. Now they know I’m alive.”
“What do you mean “they know”? You stood me up and then kidnapped me into the alley.”
“You were bugged. They heard us.”
Shock flooded me. “What kind of shit did you step into?”
“The deep classified kind. And now they know I’m willing to break my cover for you. It’s why you can’t leave.”
Panic edged out the flare of warmth at his words. “I can’t stay here.”
“We won’t. We’ll have to switch locations.”
“John, I have a life! A job. A home.”
“I’m sorry, Mav.”
The regret vanished from his face, transforming into something unreadable. “I know.”
“I’m not giving up my life for you.”
“That’s what I’m trying to prevent.”
The true meaning of his words hit me. “You think someone will try to kill me?” I couldn’t hide the incredulous tone. “Why?”
“Because you matter to me.”
BETWEEN THE PROMPTS POST – Non TRDC – Third Degree
His face hid in the dark, the only light shining from the hallway behind him. His silhouette cast mine in shadow, shielding my reaction.
The five words rendered me speechless as a myriad of emotions seeped through the holes in my shield.
I grabbed the last one, a life preserver in a stormy sea.
“I matter to you?” I tried to keep my tone even, in control.
I laughed again, bitterness creeping in. “Wow, I hate to see what happens to people you don’t care about.” The anger’s energy strengthened my façade.
He stepped towards me. “Mav, I-”
“No, you don’t get to do this. You don’t get to try to make this better. Right now you’re going to answer my questions or I am gone. I don’t care if I have to walk out of here wearing only this sheet. Do you understand?”
Again, his lack of argument surprised me. “Well, okay then.”
“Don’t Mav me. I’m asking the one asking the questions. I don’t want to hear a single word from you that isn’t an honest answer. Got it?
The silhouette shrugged. “No problem.”
I eyed him warily. “Why are you agreeing so easily?” The John I’d known was a fighter. He didn’t capitulate without reason.
“Because I won’t let you walk out the door.”
“What the hell is that supposed to mean?” My volume rose with each word.
“You aren’t leaving. So I either play your game and convince you to stay and play nice, or you end up in restraints until I think it’s safe for you to go.
“Are you fucking kidding me?” Fear escaped into my words. To be trapped. No control.
I gulped, my bravado vanishing. “You’re an asshole.”
He shrugged again, unconcerned. “You wanted honesty. Don’t ask for what you can’t handle.”
“Is that a question or a command?”
I bit my tongue. He wanted me to take the bait. I took a deep breath, reigning in my frustration. “Why won’t you let me go?”
“I told you, they’d use you to get to me.”
“Well, who the hell are “they”?”
“I’m not sure.”
“You’re blaming “them” for everything and you don’t even know who “they” are? What the fuck, John?”
“I’m tracking down leads, or was, until I met up with you.” He crossed his arms. “It’s going to be a bit more complicated now, since they know I’m alive.”
“Why me? I’m an ancient ex-girlfriend you haven’t seen in over five years. Why not your brother or your parents?”
“I haven’t spoken with them since the day I left.”
“Now I know you’re lying.”
“Why would I lie about this?”
“I don’t know, but you still talked to Nathan. He even mentioned it in your…” I stopped.
“Eulogy.” Was it just a week ago I’d sat at his funeral, clutching Amanda’s hand so hard I’d left marks?
“I don’t know what my brother said, but if it mentioned us speaking, it was a ploy to hide our estrangement and his wish for my inheritance.”
“That doesn’t make sense.”
“Appearances are important to him. It makes perfect sense.”
Something didn’t click right. “But if everyone thinks you’re on good terms, wouldn’t whoever is after you target your family instead?” My eyes had adjusted, and I just barely made out the tensing of his jaw and the clenched fists. I’d hit a nerve.
“No, I’m right. It means I’m not in danger. I can go back to my life!”
“No, Mav. You can’t.”
“Why the hell not? I’m a nobody.”
He shook his head. “You still don’t get it.”
“Then explain it to me.”
“They didn’t use my family as bait. They used you, Mav. Maybe they took a wild guess, maybe they were close enough they knew I’d never seek out my family. They played a hunch and know it worked.”
“So, because I drew the unlucky straw and read a stupid postcard I have to go on the run with you?”
He was closer, his movement performed without detection. Nearly within reach. “No, it’s my fault. Even if you hadn’t shown up, you’d be in danger.”
“Why? Now that they know you’re alive, why wouldn’t they just switch and go after your family?”
“Because I fucked up, alright! I knew better than to fall for this shit and I fucking did it anyway. They know you’re my weakness because I broke the number one fucking rule!” His shouts echoed off the tile, his body so close I could feel the heat radiating off his skin.
I swallowed hard. “What’s the number one rule?”
This time he had the bitter laugh. “If you fake your death, you need to stay dead, not meet up with people from your past.”
The back of my knees bumped the toilet as I tried to increase our distance. “Why would you d-do that?”
His thumb traced my jaw, following it back to my ear. He tucked a loose piece of hair behind it and I shivered. “I had to. In case the email was true.”
I bit my lip again, this time trying to stop my jaw from trembling as his thumb traveled down my neck. “Wh-what did it say?”
He leaned even closer and whispered into my ear. “I’m in danger. I need you.”
His lips were inches from mine.
His thumbs traced hollows where my neck met my shoulder, my pulse racing beneath.
I broke his gaze, focusing on the bandage. “H-how…?” My free hand rose and I traced the outlying edges.
His muscles flexed beneath my finger tips. “I already told you.”
“No, you didn’t. Tell me.”
He tensed. “There was a party. Very high profile. Senators. Judges. CEOs. I was undercover for my employer as an investor.”
He sighed. “I’m a consultant of sorts.”
“Espionage. Companies hire me to test for security weaknesses. I also freelance on other… jobs. The party was one of those. My employer’s daughter, Tina, was my cover. I was her date.”
Unable to stop, my fingers branched out from the bandage, traveling the lines of his torso. “And?” How little I knew of the life he’d led.
“I was supposed to meet with a buyer. They either didn’t show, or decided not to approach me.”
My thumb discovered a rough ridge of skin on his abdomen, a scar about an inch long. I stroked it, wondering its origin. If it had come close to killing him. “Then what?”
“We were one of the last to leave. I escorted her to our car and -” He stopped, shaking.
The nausea returned, knowing what came next. I placed my hand over his heart, the thud reassuring me he’d lived. “You tried to save her.”
“There was a glint from a roof on the other end of the street. I covered her but -”
I pulled him closer, wrapping my arms around him in a hug. I barely noticed the sheet now exposed one breast – only wanting to hold him. “I know.”
His arms joined the embrace, holding me tight. “The bullet went straight through me, missing everything vital and punctured her lung and an artery. I woke up in the ICU. She didn’t live to see the ambulance.”
I listened, my ear over his heart, the beat music as tears trickled down my cheeks. Why hadn’t it occurred to me his faked death grew from the seed of reality?
“If I hadn’t moved, she might still be alive. The doctor said a quarter of an inch in any direction and I…. wouldn’t have made it.”
“Then you b-both would have died.” I broke down as sobs wracked my body, cleansing any remaining jealousy. “When I heard you were d-dead, I..I..I-”
“I know, Mav. Shhh, don’t cry.” His voice broke as he held me close. “I’m sorry. For everything.”
“I..I…I thought I’d never see y-you again.”
“I’m here. You’re with me now.” His hands rubbed my back, trying to soothe me.
“I…I was s-so mad at you. I…I hated you!”’
“I don’t always like me either, Mav.”
“I…I..I loved you.” The words escaped before I caught them, my emotions caged animals finally released.
“Look at me.”
My gaze lifted, seeking out his.
“I am so fucking sorry.” His cheeks were streaked with tears, but his eyes…
I knew that look.
They said he wanted me naked. Now.
One spark and my body caught fire again.
“Please, Mav.” His hands cupped my face, the gentle caress a surprise. “Please stay with me.”
My sheet loosened even more, my hands too busy exploring the changes time etched on his body, finding another new scar, this time on his lower back. How many more hid? How many times had he come close to death? I swallowed, trying to find the strength to speak. “You aren’t giving me much of choice.”
“They tried to kill me, Mav. Tina was collateral damage. They didn’t care about her. But you…” He tugged the sheet down, his fingers a feather down my sides as more shivers shook me. “I can’t let them hurt you.”
This is wrong. He’ll hurt me again.
I ignored the voice of reason.
I needed to celebrate life.
“Okay.” I stepped out of the sheet, my entire body bared as my skin glowed with the beacon of light from the doorway.
His only answer was a growl as cold tile pressed into my back.
* * * In. Out. In.* * *
I watched him.
In. Out. In. Out. The steady cadence of his breathing sang to me as he slept on his back, arms and legs splayed in every direction, leaving me only a tiny slice of open space.
In. Out. In. Out.
The bandage rose and fell, taunting me. Reminding of what was almost lost.
In. Out. In. Out.
The light creeping beneath the curtains highlighted bruising I’d missed in the dark. Black. Blue. A sickly green. Pockets of it battered everywhere, marring a muscled body that put to shame the one I’d once known.
God, he was beautiful.
How many times had he strolled into class late and escaped penalty with a simple smile?
How many dirty looks shot my way because he dated the school slut?
How often had his gorgeous body sparked doubts on his reasons for choosing me?
How many people had been sucked into his spell with a pleading look and jumped to his bidding?
How many sycophants clung to him hoping to be popular by association?
How many women had surrendered to his heated look?
How many times would I fall for him all over again?
In. Out. In. Out.
Scars. Bandage. Bruises.
His body a canvas of physical harm. Old. New.
Yet he’d carried me on his shoulders, in his arms.
And last night he –
I flushed with the memory.
He’d done things his injuries should have prevented.
I resisted touching the angry skin again, afraid of causing more pain.
Had his beauty ever saved his life?
Was it why I agreed to stay?
I looked away, breaking the spell, and eased off the bed.
Every muscle in my body protested as my empty stomach demanded food.
Clothes, then food.
It took me ten minutes to find the laundry room, hidden in the unfinished basement next to a workshop. By then I’d seen most of the house, discovering it was a traditional 1920’s bungalow. I padded to the kitchen, finally dressed, praying John had some food in the refrigerator.
Uncle Jack greeted me, right where I’d left him.
I closed my eyes, fighting the urge to drink.
“I had my first drink at twelve. Just to see if my dad would notice. He didn’t.”
I’d been the awkward ugly duckling, taunted by others who sensed my weakness. But no one dared bully me now.
“It didn’t become a habit until I was sixteen, when I learned it could numb pain and fear.”
The vodka disguised in Gatorade, always ready in my locker. Yet my liquor cabinet at my apartment was empty.
“It gave me courage to do things. Sex. Break the rules. Not to cower in a closet or the girl’s bathroom at the hint of thunder.”
God, I needed courage right now.
I licked my lips, imagining the taste. I opened my eyes and reached for the bottle.
“I stopped once… for a while.”
I stared at the bottle in my hand as memories of last night flashed.
Against the tiled wall, my legs wrapped around his waist, just like our first time in the alleyway.
Forearms braced against the shower wall while he teased me from behind.
The bed as I begged for more.
One thing missing.
I did the math, the possibility blindingly clear, and walked over to the sink. My hand shook as the contents of the bottle swirled down the drain, the pull to welcome its familiar burn diminished.
Not much. But enough.
I sat at the tiny wooden table, watching John’s back as he carried the breakfast dishes to the sink. I wanted to remove his faded black t-shirt and jeans.
I didn’t dare. His greeting of a smile, not a kiss. Clothed, not naked. Small talk over breakfast.
He wanted distance and it confused the hell out of me.
The silence stretched.
“Where did you learn to cook?’ I asked, hoping to distract myself from the rippling muscles. Washing dishes shouldn’t be sexy.
More half answers.
Was he trying to piss me off?
“Are you mad at me for some reason?” I hated the insecurity creeping into my voice.
“Then what stick is shoved up your ass?”
He stopped, gathering strength before facing me.
Oh, God. He’s giving me the speech. Last night was great. It’s not you, it’s me.
“This.” He pulled phone from his back pocket and set it on the table.
I blinked. “That’s a cell phone.”
“That is the end of the life you led until I figure out what the fuck is going on.”
“I don’t – ”
“Let me finish. This is a burn phone. You will make three calls with it. You will call your boss and say you need a leave of absence and a formal letter will follow. You will call your closest girlfriend and say my death caused you to rethink your life and you’re going away for a while. Have her pack a suitcase for you that you’ll be by to pick up later.”
“She’ll never let – ”
“You’ll make her believe it in ninety seconds. Tell her you got pissed and busted your cell and don’t want to be contacted.”
My mind reeled at what I’d agreed to. “And the third?”
“You break up with your boyfriend.”
* * * Drawing Blood *** (between the prompts)
“You want me to break up with my boyfriend?” I threw the phone at his head, watching in horror as it missed, not even grazing his ear, and the phone bounced off the kitchen window, plopping into the soapy sink.
“Fuck!” I ran to the sink, but John was already there, fishing out the soaked phone. “Did I break it?”
He shook the phone, spraying warm droplets of water onto my skin. “I don’t know.” He flipped the phone open, using his shirt to wipe the buttons. “It wasn’t on but I’m going to give it a chance to dry off before we use it.” He twisted the dial on the oven to 200 degrees. “Hopefully this will do the trick.”
“You’re going to bake it?”
“It’s saved phones more delicate than this one.” He set the phone next to the oven, waiting for it to preheat as he whirled on me. “What the hell were you thinking?”
I swallowed. “I didn’t mean to do that.”
“Throw it at me, or the sink?”
“The sink. My aim sucks.” I forced a smile.
“This isn’t a joke, Mav. I didn’t cook up this scheme to play house with you. I fucked up and I don’t want you to end up dead. Or worse.”
He walked closer, each step designed to grow fear until only inches separated us. “If you’re dead, any power they had is lost. If you’re alive, they can make you beg for death.”
My vision swam even as I tried to convince myself this was a joke. “Why did you order me to break up with Danny? What does he have to do with anything?”
“Leverage, Mav. He can be used against you. Once they realized you’ve pulled a disappearing act, they’ll try to find ways to lure you back. If the ties are cut, they probably won’t bother.”
“Probably? You want me to dump him because he might be safe? What about Amanda, is she in danger?”
“The close friend you told me I had to call.”
He cursed, running his hands through his hair. “Married? Single?”
“What diff – ”
“Just answer the damn questions!”
“Divorced, with a two year daughter.” My gut churned at the thought of putting them in danger.
“Hell.” He paced the kitchen. “Does she have family out of state?”
“Her dad lives in California.”
“When you call her, tell her to visit him for an extended trip.”
I placed my hands on my hips. “And how am I supposed to do that without telling her what is going on?”
“If you want her as safe as possible, you’ll think of something.”
The pressure of the situation slammed into me. “And Danny?”
He shrugged. “The worse the breakup, the less likely he’ll be a target.”
“How do I know you aren’t just fucking with me?”
His eyes blazed. “I don’t fuck around, whether it’s with someone’s life or my girlfriend.”
I stumbled backward, the power of his words a physical blow. “Last night was…” A pile of words rested on my tongue but none fit.
“What, Mav? What was it? An aberration? A good-bye fuck? Or are you hoping to pick up where we left off?” He was vicious, ice coating his tone.
The venom was poison, seeping into my soul, severing the tender truce declared mere hours before. “You asshole! Would that be before or after you stood me up on my twenty-first birthday and breezed out of town without a good-bye?” Each word grew louder.
“Best thing I ever did. Do you even give a fuck about this guy? Do you love him?”
Each sentence was a sword, slicing me open. “How I feel about him is none of your damn business!”
“You made it mine when you decided to jump me.”
“I jumped you? You have not stopped trying to get into my pants since you grabbed me in the alleyway!”
“What diseases do I have to worry about from all the other guys you’ve screwed behind this guy’s back?”
Furious I shoved him, instinctively going for his weakest spot: the injured shoulder. “Go to hell!”
The grimace of pain was the only sign I’d hurt him – his body immobile. “I’m already there.”
“I’ll leave you to burn then.” I stormed to the front door, thankful I’d put on my sneakers earlier. Tears slid down my cheeks as I slid the deadbolt open only to have my wrist grabbed, twisting me around. “Let me go!”
He pinned me against the door, his body a wall, his grip firm. “I can’t. I’m sorry.”
I didn’t bother struggling, knowing I would lose unless I caught him off guard. I poured all of my anger into my gaze. “I hate you.”
He flinched, the movement so fast I might have imagined it. “I still can’t let you go. We’ve been through this.”
I released the tears, rivers of them soaking my cheeks. “Why do you hate me so much?”
He grip softened, the free hand wiping the rivulets away. “I don’t hate you, Mav, only some of the choices you’ve made.”
“What did I ever do to you?
“You killed our baby.”
Continued on: “The Appointment”