My fear folds in on itself, and I become diluted with rage. All I can see when I squeeze my eyes shut is my mother crying on our old living room couch; my father forcing himself on top of her. Hatred rips through me and I start screaming.
Ryle tries to muffle my screams with his mouth.
I bite down on his tongue.
His forehead comes crashing down against mine.
In an instant, all the pain fades as a blanket of darkness rolls over my eyes and consumes me.
• • •
I can feel his breath against my ear as he mutters something inaudible. My heart is racing, my whole body is still shaking, my tears are still somehow falling and I’m gasping for air. His words are crashing against my ear, but the pain is throbbing in my head too hard for me to decipher his words.
I try to open my eyes, but it stings. I can feel something trickling into my right eye and I instantly know it’s blood.
His words begin to come into focus.
“Sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m . . .”
His hand is still pressing mine into the mattress and he’s still on top of me. He’s no longer trying to force himself on me.
“Lily, I love you, I’m so sorry.”
His words are full of panic. He’s kissing me, his lips gentle against my cheek and mouth.
He knows what he’s done. He’s Ryle again, and he knows what he’s just done to me. To us. To our future.
I utilize his panic to my advantage. I shake my head and I whisper, “It’s okay, Ryle. It’s okay. You were angry, it’s okay.”
His lips meet mine in a frenzy and the taste of scotch makes me want to puke now. He’s still whispering apologies when the room begins to fade out again.
• • •
My eyes are closed. We’re still on the bed, but he’s no longer fully on top of me. He’s on his side, his arm wrapped tightly over my waist. His head is pressed against my chest. I remain stiff as I assess everything around me.
He isn’t moving, but I can feel his breaths, heavy with sleep. I don’t know if he passed out or if he fell asleep. The last thing I can remember is his mouth on mine, the taste of my own tears.
I lie still for several more minutes. The pain in my head begins to worsen with every minute of consciousness. I close my eyes and try to think.
Where’s my purse?
Where are my keys?
Where is my phone?
It takes me a full five minutes to slide out from under him. I’m too scared to move too much at once, so I do it an inch at a time until I’m able to roll onto the floor. When I can no longer feel his hands on me, an unexpected sob breaks from my chest. I slap my hand over my mouth as I pull myself to my feet and run out of the bedroom.
I find my purse and my phone, but I have no idea where he put my keys. I frantically search the living room and kitchen, but I can barely see anything. When he head-butted me, it must have left a gash on my forehead, because there’s too much blood in my eyes and everything is blurry.
I slide to the floor near the door, growing dizzy. My fingers are shaking so hard, it takes three tries to get the password right on my phone.
When I have the screen up to dial a number, I pause. My first thought is to call Allysa and Marshall, but I can’t. I can’t do that to them right now. She just gave birth to a baby a matter of hours ago. I can’t do this to them.
I could call the police, but my mind can’t even process what all that entails. I don’t want to give a statement. I don’t know that I want to press charges, knowing what this could do to his career. I don’t want Allysa mad at me. I just don’t know. I don’t completely rule out eventually notifying the police. I just don’t have the energy to make that decision right now.
I squeeze the phone and try to think. My mother.
I start to dial her number, but when I think of what this would do to her I start to cry again. I can’t involve her in this mess. She’s been through too much. And Ryle will try to find me. He’ll go to her first. Then Allysa and Marshall. Then to everyone else we know.
I wipe the tears from my eyes and then begin dialing Atlas’s number.
I hate myself more in this moment than I ever have in my entire life.
I hate myself, because the day Ryle found Atlas’s number in my phone, I lied and said I had forgotten it was there.
I hate myself, because the day Atlas placed his number there, I opened it and looked at it.
I hate myself, because deep down inside, I knew there was a chance that I might one day need it. So I memorized it.
His voice is cautious. Inquiring. He doesn’t recognize this number. I immediately start crying when he speaks. I cover my mouth and try to quiet myself.
“Lily?” His voice is much louder now. “Lily, where are you?”
I hate myself, because he knows the tears are mine.
“Atlas,” I whisper. “I need help.”
“Where are you?” he says again. I can hear panic in his voice. I can hear him walking, moving stuff around. I hear a door slam on his end of the phone.
“I’ll text you,” I whisper, too scared to keep speaking. I don’t want Ryle to wake up. I hang up the phone and somehow find the strength to still my hands while I text him my address and the access code for entry. Then I send a second text that says Text me when you get here. Please don’t knock.
I crawl to the kitchen and find my pants, struggling back into them. I find my shirt on the counter. When I’m dressed, I go to the living room. I debate opening the door and meeting Atlas downstairs, but I’m too scared I won’t be able to make it down to the lobby alone. My forehead is still bleeding and I feel too weak to even stand up and wait by the door. I slide to the floor, clenching my phone in my shaky fist and staring at it, waiting for his text.