The Gift of a SmileMature

        "... Hell do you think this is?" A bottle smashes and breath heavily scented with alcohol puffs angrily in my face. My gag reflex reacts strongly, but I know that getting sick will only make him angrier ... make him yell more  

        "... I pay the bills around here" ... Strong, meaty, disgusting hands grip my upper arms, thrusting me hard against the nearest wall, causing picture frames to fall, smashing on the ground. His hand lifts, preparing to strike.

        " ... you're mine, slut."  A heavy body slips into my bed  ... followed by an unwanted touch, a muffled cry ...

        “Mom!” Why aren’t you here? Why don’t you believe me? “Mom … I need you, please …”

        "Wake up," a familiar voice urged. "Wake up, Cat. You're safe, you're okay. Shhh ... it's alright."  I sat upright in bed, delirious, scared … crying. I couldn't stop my shaking, I couldn't stop thinking ... Vince was sliding in beside me on my bed,  arms lifting me slightly and pulling me closer. His hands smoothed over my hair, my arms, brushing the tears off my face with the pad of a thumb. "You're safe, babe." Vince whispered softly. "I've got you."

        I shook my head, still trying to overcome this seemingly uncontrollable shaking, “Even … even now. He … he still owns me …” I stammered, tears streaming down my face. I hated this, hated the control he still wielded over me, enough to weaken me in this way.

        “No.” Vince cracked the one word out like a whip. “He has never owned you and he never will … you can’t keep thinking like this, Cat, or I’m afraid you’ll never get past it.”

        I pressed myself closer to him, thankful for his presence, “Let’s not talk about this anymore …” I decided. Wiping my eyes, I closed them for the last time tonight and fell asleep, praying for peace of mind.   

 * * *

When I woke up that morning, Vince was gone. The smell of bacon and eggs wafting from the kitchen into my room. I started to smile at that but found that I couldn’t. My mouth stiff and unyielding. Sullen, I threw the covers off my body and got up, heading for the bathroom.

        As I let the water from the shower heat up, I stripped out of my PJs and stood in front of the mirror. What I saw was myself of course … but my green eyes had dark shadows under them and my face looked drawn and tired. Turning my left side to the mirror, I brushed my fingers lightly over my nude hip. On it, there was a scar, circular and small, a burn mark, hardly noticeable now but still there all the same. Made from a drunk, angry man’s cigarette butt on a night worst than most had been in that house.

        The bathroom mirror was clouded by the time I finally pulled myself away from my reflection. Tying my blond hair into a messy knot on top of my head, I stepped under the showerhead. Allowing the spray an attempt at washing away my worries, not truly expecting it to succeed.

        When I emerged from my room, clad in another of Vince’s handpicked outfits, I headed for the kitchen in search of the man himself and breakfast.

        “Thanks for the outfit.” I said once I saw him, seating myself at our relatively small kitchen table. I pulled at the lace hem of the soft lavender colored dress lying across my crossed legs. “Style has never been something you needed guidance in.” I tried my hand at another smile but came up with something that was more liken to a grimace than anything.

        Vince had his back to the counter, his arms crossed and was eyeing me as if he wasn’t buying into my pseudo cheery disposition this morning. As he shouldn’t. He shook his head, turned to the oven, and pulled out our plates, setting them on the table.

        “Thanks,” I said, still not able to give him a smile, so my face stayed blank and passive. A stark difference to the swirling storm that served as my emotions at the moment. Glancing at the clock, I picked up the fork beside my plate and dug in, not willing to be late again. Knowing there would be no Mr. McIntyre to bail me out if I so dared. Vince sat down across from me but didn’t touch his plate. Instead he propped his elbows on the table, rested his chin on top of his hands, watched me.

        After a few minutes of unyielding silence from both of our ends and his just staring at me, I’d finally had enough, “What?” Outstretching my hands to either side of my body, “Say something, don’t just sit there staring at me.”

        Vince shook his head again, “Babe, I could say the same thing about you and will.” He ran his fingers through his thick hair in an obviously frustrated gesture. “Why haven’t you gone to the police? Maybe you could gain some closure through that …”

        “I told you that I don’t want to talk about this.” I got up from the table, taking my cleared plate along with me to the sink. “I meant what I said.” I rinsed the plate off and placed it in the dishwasher. After I toweled my hands off, I leaned down to kiss him on the cheek. Heading toward the door, I called back, “I’ll see you tonight.”

        As I was closing the door behind me I heard Vince say, “Running away from it won’t help anything, baby girl. You have to know that.” I think something inside me did.

 * * *

Hatter had me looking over some manuscripts that afternoon. Running over fixable areas with red marker, penciling in suggestions on the margins and carting them over to his office for further run overs when he was ready. I took calls and answered emails for a few hours, falling into an almost easy routine taking down the messages … but the one message I could never have prepared myself for came around five.

        When I glanced at the caller ID, my heart clenched. I let the caller go to voicemail and though every logical part of myself told me to do otherwise, sat tight to listen to the voicemail.

        “Sweetheart, it’s Mommy,” tears sprung to my eyes immediately at her voice, one I hadn’t heard in over five years. “You need to … you need to come home. Your stepdad, he’s … he’s not well, and he’s been asking for you.” I nearly spilt out of my chair at her mentioning my stepdad. How could she expect me to do anything for that man? How could she even ask? Did she still not believe me, even after all this time? I slapped a hand over my mouth to repress my scream.

        “He might not have long, baby. All that smoking he’s done is finally catching up to him and he wants you here. He needs …”

        I cut the message off with a calm push of a button, when all I wanted to do was hurl the damn thing across the room. How could she? How dare she?  I don’t think I’ve ever been as angry, as pissed, as righteous as I was in that moment.

         Looking over at the clock, I noticed it was past time for me to leave. I pulled off my heels, and slid on my walking shoes, an idea I’d stolen from Mr. McIntyre. Pushing myself to my feet, I wondered where he was, what he was doing … a misplaced and irrelevant thought, I know. Tears brimmed in my eyes as I made my way down to the first floor on the elevator and across the lobby. During the walk home, I felt in all aspects surreal, numb. As if I was looking down on myself as someone else, someone strange to me, took over the wheel of my life.

      I hardly noticed the sleek, black Bentley as it rolled up to the curb beside me. But the window rolling down and the polite, “A moment, Ms. Tate,”  did catch my attention enough to make me pause, as did the tall figure that stepped out of the backseat of the car, gracefully and every bit as dangerous as a panther on the prowl. Someone who I’d hoped, but never really expected myself to see again.

       Mr. McIntyre’s smile was small but warm in its own way as his sapphire eyes lighted on me once again,“You look as if you’re in need of a ride, Ms. Tate and a listening ear. You’re in luck, because I seem to be in possession of both tonight.”

        And you know what’s funny?  As he held his hand out to me in invitation, and I went to him, placing mine in his ... I smiled for the first time that day.

 

The End

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