It takes everything in me not to jerk back from his touch. He won’t like it and I won’t like whatever his response might be. Sometimes he can be nice, but other times his temper has no control. The fine line of his moods always keeps my anxiety high.
“Morning, Uncle Harry,” I respond. The hand on my shoulder slides over to my neck where he rubs small circles.
“Your skin is so soft. I’ve never felt anything like it before.”
“Thank you,” I force myself to say. I never know how to respond to the things that feel too intimate for an uncle to say to his niece.
“I wonder if you’re like that everywhere,” he says, sounding a little out of breath. It’s so low I’m sure he’s talking to himself and not me.
I clench my hands that are resting in my lap, knowing his behavior and words are wrong. I swallow the bile that wants to rise in my throat and wonder how I’m going to eat my food.
“It’s your birthday,” he says as he takes a seat at the end of the table.
I nod in disappointment because I’d hoped he forgotten. I look at the man I’ve been living with for the past year. He’s isolated me from the world as much as possible since my father died and I had to move from New York to California.
He reaches out, resting his hand on the table palm up and I know he wants me to take it. I reluctantly release my clenched fingers in my lap to do what he wants. He closes his hand around mine in a tight hold and I try to mask my cringe.
“Things are going to change. It’s time for you to step into your role.”
“What do you mean?” I ask as I try to voice what I’d like to do now that I’m eighteen. “I’d still like to go to college after I’m finished with my last year.”
I was forced to homeschool for a few weeks when I got to California, but the state told my uncle that couldn’t continue. They said I had to be put back into high school since my father had specifically said so in his will and I only had a few classes left in order to finish. There was no need to homeschool at this point, but my uncle kept protesting it. He didn’t have as much power as he thought he did and money didn’t buy it.
At the end of the day, a judge had the final say.
I’m happy with the decision to be in school but not with starting a new school halfway through my senior year. At least I get out of this house for a couple days a week since I’m only part time.
“We’ve talked about this, Nora. If you want to continue your education after you graduate, then you can do it online.” He takes a bite of his breakfast. “When you’re not busy working for me.” He glances over at me and I’m pretty sure my face is completely blank. “I think it’s time you earn your keep around here.” His eyes roam over me and I’m instantly creeped out again.
As if he actually needs me to earn my keep. When my father died I was almost seventeen. He left me everything, but it was decided by my uncle that I would get monthly checks from my inheritance. The trust is set that way until I’m twenty-three or married. I have no idea what my father would have wanted for me. Maybe he would have wanted me to be some trophy wife like so many of the other women I saw with him over the years. But he could have wanted me to go to college and get an education like he did. Our relationship was never deep and he was beyond a workaholic. I guess he’d want me to go to college because of how he put me in private school and made that stipulation in his will.
If it was up to me, I would be out of here, leaving all this behind. I want to start a new life of my own away from here. The isolation of the last year has left me without knowing where to begin. Anyone I knew before lives across the country and hasn’t spoken to me since I left. My uncle cut off my phone and took my laptop. He told me it would be good for me to start fresh. I’m in a penthouse prison and could be easily forgotten after I’m done with school.
“You’ll be my assistant.”
“But you have Sasha,” I remind him. I try and stay as far away as I can from both of them. The idea of working with him makes me think I would be forever imprisoned.
“Trust me. I’ll have a use for you, too.” The air in my lungs freezes for a moment. “Hurry up and eat. I’ll take you with me to the office today.”