“What do you want from me? Just let me be, please.”
“I think you know.”
His mouth brushed against my neck and my whole body froze, panic taking over. My focus blurred with the tears that threatened. Couples all around us smiled and danced, but I couldn’t see Blake anywhere. Max and Risa stood beyond the dance floor chatting. They were no help to me now.
He can’t hurt you here. Logic’s voice was quiet and easily overwhelmed by the loud and alarming thoughts reeling through my mind. He’d gotten to me once, despite a circle of friends and a crowd. I could put nothing past him.
“You know, I can still remember everything about that night.”
The only benefit of being so close was that I couldn’t see his face. His face, the terrible sneering smile that was permanently embedded in my memory. I shut my eyes, trying to block everything out, but I remembered it all.
“Was that your first time? Must have been. You were so tight. So scared.”
I fought the urge to heave and I tried to push away when he seized my wrist in a vise-like grip, pulling our bodies even closer with his other arm.
“I love a good fight, but let’s not make a scene at Daddy’s party, shall we?”
“Let me go. Please,” I pleaded. I started trembling uncontrollably. Ghost or man, I had to get away.
The band slowed to the end of the song.
When I thought I might actually scream, Mark finally loosened his hold and released me.
“Until next time, Erica.” He smirked.
I stepped away, relaxing only slightly at the separation. I tried to orient myself on the dance floor. Where was Blake? I needed to get out of here. The music started back up and people began moving around us, talking and laughing. Everything felt like chaos around me.
“Is everything all right?” Daniel came from behind, circling me with Margo by his side.
The reality that Daniel was tied to Mark, this horrible person who’d damn near ruined me for good, was more than I could bear. I turned without answering and left the dance floor, escaping down a hallway that led to the outdoor courtyard.
The courtyard was aglow from the tiny holiday lights wrapped around the trees that lined a brick path. As soon as I stepped outside, I took a deep breath of the night air. I was dizzy, my fingers were tingling, and I knew from experience I was on the verge of hyperventilating. The cool air washed over my skin, which was now covered by a thin sheen of perspiration, a remnant of the past few minutes of sheer panic.
Daniel rushed up to me, his eyes full of concern.
“Are you all right?”
“No.” I shook my head and then thought better of my reaction. Reason was slowly returning to me in Mark’s absence. “Yes, I’m fine. I’m sorry. I just need some air.”
“Here, come this way.” He held me gently around the shoulders and ushered me to an empty corner of the courtyard. We sat down on a wrought iron bench. My whole body felt heavy, sluggish. I was being held together by the dress that had just been pressed indecently close to the man who’d raped me.
I dropped my head in my hands. I hated Mark. Truly, and with every ounce of my being. I’d spent years of my life in fear of him. Never knowing when or how he could come back into my life. Now that he was here, the fear gave way to a potent rage. Before, the only person left to blame for my rape had been myself. I’d been too drunk, too naive. Every scenario brought the events of that night back to my actions and how I could have stopped it all somehow. Those days had ended. Mark was as evil as I’d ever imagined him to be and my anger and all the pain I’d felt after that night, because of that night, belonged to him.
Daniel gently swept a lock of hair behind my ear. “Did Mark say something to you?”
His voice brought me back to the present, and when I looked up he was frowning with evident concern. I closed my eyes, pressing my fingers to my temples. Tears threatened and I suppressed a sob. Something about Daniel, the way he looked at me, made me want more than I ever expected from the father I’d never had.
“Erica.” His voice sharpened.
“I know Mark,” I blurted out, immediately wishing I hadn’t.
“I don’t understand.”
I swallowed hard, trying to hide the emotions that welled as I searched for the right words. I hadn’t thought this out at all. Everything had happened so quickly.
“From college. We met before. I… I don’t know.” I searched his eyes, wishing that somehow he could just know—just understand without me telling him. His face seemed pale and stoic, giving me no indication of what he might be thinking of me.
I wanted the ivy on the courtyard walls to swallow me up and deposit me back into my bedroom, away from these people, everyone who could never understand what I’d been through. Then I heard Blake’s voice, like a light in the darkness. He hurried to join us where we sat.
“Erica. I was looking all over for you.”
Feeling weak, I nodded silently, pulling myself up to stand beside him. Daniel rose with me, steadying me with his hand at my elbow.
“Blake, I don’t think Erica feels well. You should take her home.”
Blake frowned and looked between us.
That quickly, Daniel stepped away, disappearing back into the party.
“Baby, are you all right?”
“Yeah,” I whispered. “Take me home.”
The music was loud, reverberating through the walls of the house. Even from outside the noise was deafening. I couldn’t breathe, I couldn’t think. My limbs moved too slowly, my mind foggy from the alcohol. We’d wandered outside. I didn’t understand why until he shoved me down onto the grass in a dark shadow of the yard. I couldn’t gather the strength to free myself from the weight of his body as he pinned me down. Before I knew it, he was tearing through me like a knife, gritting his teeth as he did it.
I opened my mouth to scream but nothing came out, my voice gone. I was shaking, fighting, blind and voiceless when he called my name.
He knew me. He knew my name.
Blake’s voice invaded the nightmare. My eyes shot open.
“You were dreaming.”
His hands slid down my arms. Every touch hurt.
“No.” I recoiled, struggling to root myself into reality. “Please, no. Don’t touch me, I can’t—”
I pushed myself away, nearly falling off the bed in my urgency to escape beyond his reach. I stumbled into the bathroom, holding myself up by the sink. The person I saw in the mirror was someone I knew, someone I hadn’t seen in a long time. My eyes were tired and dark, my skin flushed from the nightmare. I splashed water on my face, the chill simultaneously cooling me and bringing me back to the present.