By: Aria Cage

“Wait,” I call, taking a step and forget the coffee table is there and stumble. Charlie calls out for me to stop, but it was too late. I brace myself on my hands and feel the searing heat in my shoulder making me hiss and fall back to the sofa, panting.

Charlie’s by my side, lifting my shirt, checking my wound. “You’re damn lucky,” she hisses.

“I doubt that,” I say into her hair, breathing her in.

Charlie breathes against my neck as she leans closer, her cheek touches mine, and instead of a kiss that my heart raps for, she whispers in my ear. “Please. I will come by tomorrow. Just stay, rest, and say no more.” Then, just like that, she turns and is back at Paul’s side.

Paul wears a satisfied smirk, hands over a paper bag to Nona, then places a possessive hand on Charlie’s back. I want to punch him so much, it scares me.

“The instructions for his medication are in there with his personal artifacts. Make sure he takes them so he doesn’t have to return to the hospital. He should see his practitioner in a few days, though, and change his dressing twice a day for the first three days. Then just once a day should be sufficient.”

“Thank you,” Nona says, without true feeling, while I stare at the one woman I have ever loved walk out the door with the biggest chump I’ve ever met.

“Thanks, Nona,” Charlie says, and kisses her cheek before being ushered out the front door and out of my sight.

Nona watches them depart before closing the front door. She then heads my way with concern etched into every wrinkle. “I don’t like that man,” she declares.

“Neither do I, Nona. Neither do I. I’m worried about her.”

“I’m more worried about you.” She sits on the coffee table where Charlie sat, and I sigh and flop back into the old, soft sofa I’d spent many a night on.

“There’s nothing to worry about, Nona. I’m fine. Just see what drugs I unquestionably need, and I will heal in no time. I think I need to sleep for a week, though. I’m so damn tired.”

“I’m not talking about your body, Son. I’m talking about your heart.”

I nod, because I knew what she meant. “Yeah well, it’s way too late for my heart.” I gave that to her long ago.

I’M SILENT ALL THE way home, but worse than that, Paul is silent, and silence means nothing good.

I hate when he’s like this. Normally not by my doing. I go out of my way to assure it’s never from me, but tonight got out of hand in many ways. Paul will want answers, and if he doesn’t get them, I will be punished. It’s as simple as that.

I need to change his mood before we get home; I have to please him before it’s too late. I reach across the center console and touch his tight leg; it flinches under my touch and he moves away from me. I pull away swiftly and wring my hands.

“I’m sorry, Paul.”

He tightens his grip on the wheel, and I wish I could have driven myself home instead of leaving my car at Nona’s. I tried to implore sense, but he was adamant that he would send someone for it in the morning. I don’t like not having my car, my freedom, but I wasn’t going to argue with him. I already stepped over that line when I defended Nate.

“Paul. Will you please speak to me?”

He looks at me, his face stone. “You embarrassed me tonight.” He then turns back to the road and me to my fear. That was all I was going to get for now. Paul has closed off to me, and for good reason. I shouldn’t have embarrassed him. I’m supposed to be quiet and do what I’m told. They are easy rules to obey for a safe life. He loves me; he loves me a lot. Paul just shows it differently. We all do.

Daddy loved me; Nate loved me; both completely different to the other, and I them. I miss my father even though he hurt me. I miss Nate, but I refuse to continue hurting him, and now I hurt Paul. My life is like a hurt locker, filled to the brim with the anguish I cause.

We pull up to Paul’s. He says it’s our home, but nothing in there is mine. I brought my belongings, but most remain in boxes in the shed. I don’t mind, but it will never be home. The garage door opens, and we pull in slowly and meticulously, just like Paul. My body is shaking; it aches against the spasm as I keep a keen eye on Paul’s hands. I know what’s to come. I just don’t know when. That is a different kind of punishment.

The garage door closes behind the car, and I cringe when he moves. But he opens his door and steps from the car, slamming the door behind him. Something in me wants me to stay in the car. Something deeper wants me to grab the spare set of keys from my bag and ram through the garage door back to Nona, back to Nate.

What I do, is get out of the car and follow the stream of light that shines from the utility room. He isn’t there waiting for me. He isn’t in the living room either, and as I approach the hall, I see his office door is closed, only allowing a sliver of light to shine from underneath.

My body sags in a sigh as I head for the bathroom and shut the door quietly behind me. I don’t lock it, because he doesn’t like that, and I’d rather not tempt fate.

I don’t look in the mirror; I hate myself enough right now. I’m disgusting, and I’m a whore. I wanted Nate to touch me tonight. I want to love his body like an animal, like an adult would with little regard to rules. I’m so sick of rules even though they keep me safe. I’m so sick of hating myself, but that never stops. I strip and turn the water to the shower on, not caring that it’s too hot. The scalding water is a relief to my inner pain. I welcome the external version. I need the punishing Paul will grace me with.

Under the scalding water, I wash the day away, and only stop to think about what I’m doing to my body when my nipples peak and I am panting against the pull in my belly. With soapy hands, I run them over the mounds of my body and back into the folds of my heat where my clit is stinging with need. I’m slippery, and it has nothing to do with soap and everything to do with imagining Nate’s fingers working me. I’m about to come, when a cold gush of air rushes across my wet, puckered skin. It’s then swiftly followed by a hard slap to the side of my head, careering me into the tiled wall. I see stars. I see blood droplets run with the water down the white tiles, mixing into the drain.

“Who are you thinking about when you do that, Charlotte?”

I’m shaking and bleeding, and too scared to utter a word even though silence is just as bad.

“Are you thinking about him? Your fucking foster brother? That’s repulsive! Vile!”