My bruises had faded but were still there. My side, a pain that had existed for a while, still flared if I moved in the wrong way. But I’d gained some weight, the poke of my hipbones less pronounced, the line of my veins less noticeable on my arms.
This day felt like it was time: day five. I shook with excitement when he entered. Stayed silent during his examination, the drag and poke of his pen over my nudity. Bit back a hundred questions as he nodded silently.
“Good.” He tilted a head to the box, one he had carried in with him, a box I had snuck glances at for the last ten minutes. “New clothes are in the box.” He stepped back and nodded permission at me.
I knelt carefully before the box, opening it slowly, savoring the moment. I passed the test. I was getting new clothes. I’d worn, since the day I arrived, the same three pairs of black scrubs, hand-washed occasionally with my shampoo in the shower. I’d imagined a hundred times what had been in that present that I’d kicked through the bars. Something pretty to wear? There were days, during this servitude, that I would’ve cried over a new outfit. And to think that now, along with freedom, I was getting something new. I bent back the lid and pulled out a few thin plastic packages. A pair of sweatpants, pink. A white long-sleeved T-shirt, the material soft and thin. Socks, still in the package. A cheap pair of tennis shoes, a tag on their laces indicating a size too big for me. I blinked at the small pile, my chest tight, tears welling. New clothes, never been worn. Never been bled on, ripped, or ordered off. I wiped at my eyes and carried the pile to my bed. Turned away from him as I dressed. I wanted to thank him. Was more grateful, right then, than I’d ever been my entire life. Grateful, prior to that moment, was a word misused a thousand times. I finished dressing and turned to kneel before him, clasping my hands together, my eyes down. It was the tenth time I’d assumed the subservient position since the day I cracked. The day I crunched onto his cock and didn’t let go. The day that turned that cell into a battlefield and painted the walls with my stubborn blood.
“Look at me, Kitten.”
I lifted my chin and looked into his eyes. Cold eyes. I learned, long ago, the danger that lay in those eyes, the eyes of a psychopath, one who has no trace of human compassion in his veins.
“I am going to give you one final gift before you leave. Are you listening to me, Kitten?”
Kitten. I hid the wince and nodded. I was listening. I was hanging onto every freaking word. Somewhere, in the threads of those clothes, in the open hang of the gate, there was a catch. One that he would tell me. He wouldn’t miss the opportunity for reaction recordkeeping.
“You, right now, are the perfect slave. You are listening, you are responding, you are clean and subservient. You are a slave that will be rewarded, time and time again, for your good behavior. You will lead a happy, healthy life in that role.” In his swallow, his preparation for the next sentence, I tried to understand. Where he was going, what he was saying. I couldn’t figure it out, couldn’t connect the dots. “If you revert to the girl you were a week ago, the fighter — you will live a short life of pain and unhappiness. I believe, in that pretty head of yours, that you are a smart woman. Use that intelligence and choose the right path.” He smiled and I searched his eyes, a new tightness in my chest, one that had nothing to fucking do with new pink sweatpants.
“What are you saying? I thought you were letting me go?”
“Oh, I am. I’m done with you Kitten, just as I said. I’m going to let you go to a new home. One with a more experienced Master than I. But you’re not listening, Kitten.” He reached forward, gripping my chin and holding it in place. It was an empty action, my eyes were already stuck on him. “I’m letting you pick your home. Your behavior tomorrow night will determine your place. You see, there are two types of women who will be sold. Those trained, and those untrained. The untrained women are whored out, sold to prostitution rings or purchased by sadists looking for entertainment. The trained women are treasured, put up in stables nicer than my home and spoiled rotten. I’ll be buying a trained girl, one who will actually be helpful in my research. I know that you can play the part, Kitten. Be the good little slave long enough to get a good home. Then, who knows? Maybe you’ll be smart enough to stay that way. Maybe seeing both worlds will give you the push to submit that I never could.”
I am ashamed to say, with his hand hard on my chin, that I cried. Right there, big crocodile tears pouring down my cheeks, I blubbered like a weak child. Begged him to let me go. Promised him that I would never tell anyone, that I would pay him anything. I cried and gripped his forearms and reached for the buckle of his pants. Offered up my body, my thoughts, everything in exchange for freedom.
I twisted away when I felt the prick of the needle. A familiar feeling... like the night that he took me. This time, instead of falling into his arms, I fell back, onto the cardboard box, his face hovering above me before my world went black.
I was negotiating with all of the wrong things. He didn’t want anything more to do with me. He wanted a new slave.
It’s easy, with Brett, to forget. About the two drug mules who disappeared, about the false identity, about my suspicions. It’s easy to forget when his smile made my heart swoon. When he wrapped his arms around me and I couldn’t help but laugh. I should have stayed in Quincy. I didn’t realize that my resolve had no chance in his presence.
He hung an arm around my shoulders as we walked from the plane. I glanced around the airport, at the lines of planes hitched to the concrete, the lot’s lights illuminating the row against the black night sky. Tuesday, I had enlisted Jena. Didn’t give her details, just told her Brett’s real name and had her sit down with me, show me the sites she uses when she snoops. The woman can’t parallel park, but she’s lethal in investigation when given the proper tools. I didn’t want to give her the proper tools, didn’t want to share my suspicions with the largest mouth in Gadsden County. So she snooped, I watched, and within fifteen minutes, the Internet revealed that Betschart Yachts owned two planes. One, the Navajo Chieftain that we’d always used. The other? A Citation jet, one that could seat twelve and make the jaunt from Quincy to Puerto Vallarta in forty-five minutes. Our flight had taken almost two hours.
“So... maybe he’s cheap. It’s cheaper to fly the Chieftain, right?”
Jena slow-blinked at me in response across the kitchen table.