Then I threw my untouched Lean Cuisine into the trash and tried to think.
Maybe there was another explanation. Maybe the girls who disappeared, the ones he was questioned about, were innocent tourists. Had nothing to do with drugs at all. Maybe Brett was lying about his real name and job because he didn’t want me to know about his wealth. Maybe his late night meetings really were with boat buyers, and he acted as both a manufacturer and sales agent. Maybe I was fucking naïve and had fallen in love with a drug-running psychopath.
That night, when Brett called, I didn’t answer.
He called me three more times, then Jena called. Said he’d called her and was worried about me living out there alone. Was worried I was in trouble. I told her to let him know I was safe and had gone to bed with a migraine.
Jena didn’t ask questions, she repeated the instructions and hung up.
He texted me a few minutes later.
I love you. Hope you feel better soon. Please lock your door.
I turned my phone off and crawled into bed. Let Miller get in, the bed creaking under our weight, and hugged him. Worked my mind through every bit of our vacations, finding red flags I had overlooked at every turn. I fell asleep crying.
(adj.) closely-matched competitors
“a tight game”
Everything changed after that cock bite, the moment when I left reason behind and became an animal. Suddenly, I couldn’t hide it anymore — the hate, the disgust, the vile rise of venom that came whenever the man came towards me.
We battled through Phase Two, every lesson a fight, a push of pain against wills. I refused his questions, and he punished. I refused his advances, and he punished. He gave up on rape, my efforts making the act too physical for him to bother with. I’d like to count that as a victory, but I don’t think sex is a motivation of his. Sex was just an item in his notebook to explore, a chapter that needs to be addressed due to its societal importance. He explored, he raped me enough times to ascertain that I - in no way shape or form - was growing attracted or attached to him. The pain... it wasn’t a stimulus either. He dished out the punishment methodically and without relish. Mind you, he wasn’t wincing over it, there wasn’t an empathetic bone in his body when I was on the floor before him screaming. But he didn’t get off on it.
What he liked was the mindfuck.
And, in that battle, he was winning.
I couldn’t let him win. I would fight until the day that I died.
I closed my eyes and curled into a ball, the bones of my ass tender against the springs of the bed. Listened to the man breathe heavily in the opposite corner of the room, heard the scratch of his pen as he recorded the day’s lesson. He really only needed four words. Man: 0. Kitten: 1. I gave him nothing. I took everything. Once he was done writing, he would leave. Stand up and give me a parting shot, something to indicate what fun I could expect the next day. But near the end - for a brief moment during recording – I had a moment of quiet. I released a painful sigh and turned my thoughts to Brett.
“Don’t go,” he lowered his mouth to my neck and kissed the top of my shoulder. “Stay with me forever.”
I pushed against his chest, his hand firm, looped together and pinning me to his chest. I laughed softly, the wind whipping my hair, and burrowed into his chest, his body turning to protect me from the ocean breeze. I hugged him back, looking at the house, the outline impressive against the setting sun, the ocean reflected against the back windows. I do love the house. When I first saw it, I’d been blown away. Now, with half of the surfaces inside corrupted by our actions, I felt some small bit of ownership.
“There’s plenty of rooms...” he whispered in my ear.
I pushed away enough to look up into his face. “We have plenty of time, Brett. The rest of our lives.”
He smiled. “I like that. The rest of our lives. Promise?”
I smirked at him. “Maybe. If you behave.”
“I’ll behave,” he said, pulling me closer. “I promise.”
I should have said yes. Moved in that day and never looked back. Shouldn’t have planned on plenty of time when I’d barely had any.
“I’m done.” The man stood, his chair shoved backward by the motion.
I said nothing, just watched him, my head against the mattress. Waited for whatever barb would come next.
“With everything, I mean. Your training is complete.”
That got my attention. I sat up slowly, the motion causing my stomach to roll. Sitting back, my shoulders against the concrete, I said nothing, just stared at him and waited for more. Inside, amid the pain and the nausea, I felt a flutter - half hope, half dread. Your training is complete. What did that mean?
“Tomorrow, your diet will change. You’ve gotten too thin, you need to put some weight back on. Start bathing again. Return a little to the girl you came here as. In five days, if you have improved, I will release you.” He nodded, an odd jerky motion, and turned, pushing the chair through the open gate.
“You will release me?” My voice was hoarse, the words wobbled on their way out. Screams had stripped my throat; vomiting made the condition worse.
“Let’s see how you look in five days. If you can look normal and speak to me with some semblance of respect, then yes.”
Once through the door, he closed the gate and locked me in. Then, without another word, he left.
I stayed in place, my back against the wall, my hand holding my bruised side, for a long time. Then, with nothing to lose, I crawled to the shower.
It’d been so long. So many notebooks filled with his notes, so many lessons and questions and tests. So much pain and fighting.
Could it really be that easy? Would he really let me go?
I decided the next morning, fresh coffee in my system, dried tears and mascara washed off of my cheeks, to break up with Brett. It had to be done. Anything else would be stupid.
If I confronted him, asked him to explain everything to me, he’d deny it. Without a doubt. No drug kingpin would simply fess up. So he’d lie. And I’d have to either play the fool and believe him, or end it then and alert him to my suspicions. And what if he kills me? Decides that the risk of little ole Riley running around is too great? Or... even worse—what if he adds me to his stable? Replaces my kidney with bags of heroine and lugs me back and forth across the border?
No, confronting him was the wrong move.
So... breaking up. I could do it. Invent some lame girly excuse and let him down easy. Spend the rest of my life wondering what really was going on, and what could have been. Let the first man I’ve ever really loved walk away.