Page 21 of Tight

I tapped the envelope against my palm and checked out the postmark as I walked up the driveway. Three days earlier. That was what I got for not checking my mail every day. She must have left the nail salon and driven straight home, her fresh nails pulling out a new invite before the polish had even set.

I threw the invite, along with the rest of my mail, on the kitchen counter, fed Miller, and flipped on the bathroom light. Ran a hot bath and lit a candle. Submerged myself in bubbles and dozed a little, contemplating the idea of Brett as a wedding date.

It’d be horrible. Our bridesmaid dresses were coral for God’s sake.

My parents would be there. As would my ex. As would all of the girls. As would my boss. As would almost every other person in Quincy.

It’d put pressure on our relationship. Didn’t all weddings? I’m pretty sure I read that in Cosmo once. “Never Take a Man to a Wedding” … Something like that was the title. The article had had bullet points and everything. Something about how we’d look needy, and they’d feel pressured to flee.

Plus … this was Quincy. Not a five-star resort or a private beach home, or a steak restaurant with candles and champagne. I didn’t even know if our relationship would work in the light of an average day. Brett might be some finery vampire, whose skin might eat away in the presence of polyester, rednecks, and American beer.

By the time the water was cool, my toe thumbing the drain before stepping out, my mind had all but decided. I would, damn the consequences, invite him. Warn him of the perils involved, and let him make his own decision. He was a big boy. And if Chelsea McCrory’s wedding ended up being the demise of our relationship, then it wasn’t built to last anyway.

I dried off, got in pajamas, and found my phone, seeing a new text from him, a photo. I opened up the pic while sticking popcorn in the microwave—my dinner that evening. It took my mind an extra second to process the photo, the cream invitation in his hand identical to my own, just a few feet away on my counter.

Chelsea McCrory. That little witch. She’d sent him his own invite, my name casually beside his own in that damn perfect calligraphy script.

And … just like that, I lost all credit for making my own decision to invite Brett. Just like that I had to call him and explain that I really did want him to come to my best friend’s wedding, which was in two weeks … and I hadn’t made any previous mention of.

My hands tightened on the phone, and I seriously contemplated throwing the damn thing against the wall. Instead, I took a deep breath, collected my thoughts, and called Brett.

“Today’s lesson is about removal of hope. The strongest slaves hold out for an idea of release, of rescue. That makes it infinitely harder for them to adjust to and enjoy life as a slave.” He picked up his pen.

I will never adjust to this. I will never enjoy this.

“Do you have hope, Kitten?”

“No.” Yes.

“Is there someone that you envision rescuing you?”

“No.” Brett.

“I’ve told you about this cell. About the ten pounds of concrete that surround each of your bars. About the fact that, should you somehow escape this cell, that you will still be locked in the basement, a windowless space whose door has four deadbolts. The closest house is a half-mile away. I live alone. Your screams don’t carry past this room. Your hope for escape, or for rescue, should be dead.”

“It is.” Brett will save me. He will look for me. He will find me.

“No...” He stood and walked in a small circle around me, my knees on the hard concrete, my hands on my thighs, my eyes closed. I was so tired. “I don’t believe it is. I believe you still have hope, Kitten.”

I didn’t know what that meant - his belief in my hope - but when he pulled my chin up and I stared into his eyes, I knew that it was bad. I knew I had failed another test.

My hardest day was not the first time I was raped. Or when I spent unknown hours handcuffed in my own defecation. Or when I was whipped. My hardest day was that one, when I lost my teeth. Four of them, molars taken out with a tool that looked like expensive pliers.

And the hardest part wasn’t the pain — it did exist, but he allowed me pills. The hardest part was when I was told the reason, Master stopping on his way out to deliver the news, my captured teeth in a Ziploc bag hanging from his hand. When I was told that it was for when the remains of my body were found.

“I’m sorry, Kitten. Your hope was keeping you too strong, making it too difficult. Later, you’ll understand, you’ll appreciate this.”

I did actually, some time later, appreciate it. Not for the loss of hope, but that he didn’t take a finger or toe to use to stage my death. The teeth hurt, but I wasn’t left with any deformities or outward scars. When I tested a smile at the dusty mirror above the sink, I looked normal. As normal as a girl in a basement cell could look. A girl who had a habitual black eye and split upper lip.

After he pulled my teeth, I struggled, through the haze of medication and pain, to speak, to ask intelligent questions. But he silenced me, laying a firm hand over my sore mouth, his lips coming down to my forehead with a soft press. “It’s only hard for a brief while,” he whispered against my hairline. “The quicker you let go, the better it will be.”

I had stilled, hating the weight of his hand, the heat of his breath, the brush of his lips. Had fallen into the role of dutiful slave, the one who pleased him, the one who limited the level of contact that was needed. I laid still, the fight going out of my features, my muscles falling limp, my questions disappearing, replaced by the simple thought that Iwillneverletgo. A tear leaked down my cheek when I closed my eyes, and I breathed easier when he released my mouth, his lips leaving my forehead in one wet smack, the creak of his shoes heard when he stood. I lay in place, my jaw aching, more tears streaming, and repeated the mantra.

I would never let go.

I loved Brett, and he would keep looking.

I would never let go.

I loved Brett, and he would keep...

The medication took me away.

“So you do want me to come.”

I swallowed a big gulp of Mountain Dew. “Yes. But I want you to understand what you’re getting into.”

“I’ve been to weddings before. I have a tux.”

“God no. Don’t wear a tux.” Yep, a definite disaster. Gargantuan.

He laughed. “Okay. You seem stressed about this.”

“I am. Terrified actually.”

“Then I won’t go.”