She would never really know why she had looked back upon boarding the bus from university. Yes, she had been happy there, but she had also suffered. She had left with a respectable degree and a command of herself that combined to make her highly desirable. She already had more than one job offer, something she knew she was lucky to have. She was also more than a little relieved to finally step out from the icy shadow of her past. Though she had risen from the ashes of her former relationship and rebuilt herself in a way that would impress even a mythical phoenix, she still felt the presence of her former lover like a knot of cramped anxiety behind her navel. Now that she never would face him again, the knot dissolved, allowing her to settle back into the bus seat a little more than she would have done.
It was like the touch of a ghost, an imagined whisper in her ear that made her turn to watch the buildings disappear. Perhaps she had heard her name outside. She saw him clutch the pole of the bus stop for support, his eyes searching for her. A white hot bolt seemed to lodge itself into her stomach, making her gasp as the bus forced the eye contact to break. She could almost see the thin cotton of her t-shirt vibrate with the force of her heartbeat as she turned back to fact the front of the bus again. A sliver of regret pierced her chest. She had hoped to repair the situation between them to allow closure, but she had lacked the time and the inclination following her final exams, too tied up in the dizzying whirlwind of ceremony and ritual that surrounded her leaving. It had been by chance that she had found him the night before, taking a different route to the accommodation that she had rented for the year. She had treated him, the only difference between her manner with him and a stranger being that she still had a key to his apartment. She would not have known a stranger’s address. His was a second home to her own.
It was her own home that her thoughts turned to now. She reached into the pocket of her loose jeans and felt a sickening drop in her chest. Her phone was gone. The image of the small black mobile hovered in her mind and she realised that it must have fallen as she had boarded the bus. Quietly, she cursed her stupidity, thinking already of the inconvenience. It was only until she had returned home, settling down after a quiet family meal with a well-thumbed novel, that the thought of his note crossed her mind.
Again, that shard of regret twisted in her chest, but she shrugged it off. She convinced herself that the ‘clean break’ would be good for both of them. She firmly placed her mind onto other matters, such as her upcoming job and new apartment. A few weeks later, she was settled, all thoughts of the past a fleeting nightmare, shadows chased away by the brilliance of her new life. The specters of her past, the people that had blighted her life before, did not even enter as an ominous cool breeze; such was the complete happiness that she found engulfing her new life. That chapter was closed, replaced with a new life that healed the festering scars of the past to silver lines that barely glimmered in the light of the total change she found in herself. Gone was the ghost of the pain, gone were the lingering thoughts of him that had plagued her like a thorn, gone were her half-formed thoughts that she had made a mistake letting that love go. She decided that this was the best way, that she had made a clean start with this new, dazzling life that filled her with contentment. She wanted for nothing, though she did not have much. She was happy, a stark contrast to the intense life of emotions she had led under the ruins of his failure.
She barely thought of that time now, when so much had collapsed underneath her. She had been as happy as this, because of him. He had filled a hole she had been unaware of, lending her the strength to survive other personal blows. She had struggled, finding that she would rather bury problems than face them, as many who care too deeply do. It was not a matter of pride for her. Then the fights, vicious, leaving searing wounds, these fights had hurt both of them. Words that still haunted her subconscious had been launched, designed to wound deeply and doing so successfully. They always found themselves together at the end though. No matter the scores of tears that they refused to shed, the end always found them holding the other. Each was the other’s strength and it was that they always remembered eventually. He had kept her above that fragile sugar-glass barrier between normality and the dark world of depression that she had been plunged into after one-too-many blows.
Absently, she traced a fine silver-white line that crossed the delicate skin of her inner wrist, disrupting the blue veins that traced their paths there. She would never be able to forget entirely as the time had left its self-inflicted marks all over her body. She faced herself in the dim light of the bathroom mirror, automatically tuning out the music that vibrated the air in her chest. Solemn, storm blue eyes returned her gaze, following the sweep of her vibrant hair as it cascaded over one shoulder, covering one side of her chest. In the reflection, she saw her friend appear from a nearby cubicle. Instantly, the melancholy left her eyes and a true smile lit her face. Turning on the tap, she shook the thoughts from her mind as they talked over the noises of the club early in the evening. That chapter was over.
She was blissfully unaware of her guardian, watching her every move as an unseen force, benevolent to her, danger to anyone who meant her harm. She had discovered a new vitality, which bathed everyone close to her, as she settled into the new life of her job, new friends which surrounded her as a comforting and protective shield from the harsher aspects of life that usually plagues graduates such as her. Tonight, she seemed lit by an inner fire as she weaved through the swelling crowds, an ethereal beauty, catching many approving looks as she burned with life. She laughed freely, danced with friends and strangers alike, leaving all with a sense that they had been touched by an angel.
One man was particularly taken with this feeling. He spent a long time with her, winning her confidence, both unaware of the wrath of their audience. He danced with her, bought her drinks and talked a long time with her, drawing laughter and appreciative smiles from the object of his attention and a silent, deadly fury from her guardian. Both males leaned in, the brush of lips eliciting opposite reactions in both. Above, idle onlookers might have felt the safety barrier vibrate violently as it was viciously struck in anger, but would not have seen the white face of purest fury and loathing that watched the couple.
She pulled away after the briefest contact, instinct flaring, suddenly uncomfortable. She apologized gently, saying that this was not her. His arms had pulled her too close to his body and she was overwhelmed by the pungent smell of his aftershave. She felt the smell coat the back of her throat, turning it dry. Unease curled in the pit of her stomach as he attempted to kiss her again. She turned away this time, to the pleasure of her audience. The kiss landed on her neck and moved lower, the hands finding their way to her waistband.
She stood up abruptly, firmly making it clear that his time with her was over, that a line had been crossed. He followed her as she walked swiftly away, searching for her friends, weaving deftly through the crowds. Reaching a corner, he caught her wrist and in a move that demonstrated hidden strength and speed, slammed her suddenly against the wall. Her surprised cry of pain was swallowed into the music before even she heard it. The lips were at her neck again, leaving her skin crawling and burning in disgust as he used his superior brute force to keep her there. White-hot panic spread through her in a poisonous surge, turning her into pure instinct. Through the thin fabric of her top, she felt the narrow, hard lines that marked the edge of his shirt and the plastic rounds of his buttons too-far apart. His bare chest was coated in a thin film of sweat that leeched through to her back. Her stomach churned as he pressed his hips against her. The solid metal of the button to his jeans was too far across her back and she felt his granite erection against the soft skin at the base of her back. As he shifted his grip to fumble at her waistband again, she lashed out swiftly, using the momentary release to send him sprawling to the sticky carpet, his hoarse shout of pain drowned under the sounds of the club in full swing.
Instantly, she sprinted away, putting as many people between herself and her over-admiring acquaintance, finally sitting next to a brawny bouncer that gave her a sense of security. Swiftly, she contacted her friends and was soon leaving with them, the man nowhere to be seen. It was only once she was alone within the safety of her own walls that she allowed herself to inspect the bruises on her arms and to finally allow the tears of shock and fear to fall. She pulled the clothes from her body, slowly at first, but gaining steadily more frantic as she made her way swiftly to her small bathroom, flicking on the shower to its hottest, most powerful setting. The last of her clothes were thrown viciously away, sliding along the tiles with a sigh that was lost under the rush of water, stopping in a heap at the border between this room and the narrow hall separating it from the next. Steam had begun to cloud the mirror as she stepped under the scalding torrent.
Her hands unconsciously tensed into claws as she scrubbed viciously at her skin, the heat of the water already bringing an angry flush to its normally pale surface. She washed every surface meticulously, multiple times, as though suffering from a panicked obsession to be clean. She scrubbed until her skin was raw and both her tears and energy were spent. Eventually, she stepped out, wrapping herself tightly in towels as she collected her clothes, moving robotically until she was sat, in her most modest sleepwear, curled in the furthest corner of her bed from the door, her knees wedged tightly against her chest. Her hair was slightly darker in some places, still damp from her shower, her skin still slightly flushed. Her arms were folded tightly against her torso, as though holding it together. Her eyes, usually expressive, were blank, glassy.
She remained that way as the shadows in her room gave way to a greyish light that illuminated the clean colours of her rooms. A memory fluttered at the edges of her fractured thoughts of sitting in a smaller room, in a similar position. A man had been the cause of that too. Her lower stomach knotted as she remembered the way his arms had cradled her. No man had touched her like that since. It was that tender, kind human contact she now craved as a balm to her current state of mind. A single, scalding tear cooled on her cheek as it occurred to her that he would never hold her like that again. Sleep was a long time coming to the young woman with the troubled storm blue eyes.