Chapter 16

-16-

She remembered the few short weeks before…how she had stared at the phone, silent and still. Something was wrong. She remembered the agony of laying in that bed and watching days pass again and the silence scraped at her insides.

He had called it “Keep away.” It was a term frequently used when he had hit that point beyond his last possible nerve. “Keep away.” He had always said it as if she had intentionally planned the seperations…had planned the illness and operations and rule…THEIR rules. Their rules that THEY thought were keeping her safe.

The rules didn’t keep her safe though…loneliness is debilitating. The stress of disappointing him had its way of making her worse, not better.

Losing him was killing her.

She remembered staring at the phone in her hand once more…imploring it to make a sound. Please Aslan, call. Phone. Text. Please Aslan. You promised you wouldn’t leave me this time! Please!! But the phone remained silent…silent in stubborn objection.

She remembered not wanting to think what his silence meant. Not really. And she remembered wiping the rehab center pamphlets off the table before her and fighting the tears that were broached the rims of her eyes.

He had to go to Atlanta. Zach needed surgery. He would be gone a few days, and when he returned to Rochester, she vowed that SHE would be there waiting for them!

She remembered that day…that decision, and how she looked at the phone one more time. She knew what she had to do…she had to get to him. She had to prove to him that he was more that just words…he WAS everything she wanted and she wasn’t afraid to do whatever it took…and with that she swallowed hard, because she knew precisely the only possible way she could return.

She remembers the struggles…Lifting the light-weight cover, she slowly rotating her legs over the sides of the bed. Bracing herself and clenching the mattress. The precarious way she lowered her pale legs downward towards the floor.  She remembered the physical hesitation…how she paused and looked toward the door that day. It seemed to far away but she needed to make it to the door. She remembered closing her eyes and willed her left leg to move, and how it slowly it skidded forward then began to shake and buckle. And how she desperate she grabbed for the nearest object, only to have it roll away from her grasp causing her to instantly fall to her knees. She remembered how she turned her upper body again…determined…and clenched the mattress again, she pulled herself up again.

She could easily retrace the second and third takes that day, and how she finally made it to the pay phone in the lobby…and how she wouldn’t let her head think of the day she waited fruitlessly in the lobby for him (a miscommunication she had told herselfand continued to tell herself…stifling the horrid inner voices that snarled that the circumstances were otherwise and she had been sent proof). She remembered shaking the doubts repeatedly from her mind. She remembered promising herself that if she just ended the “Keep away,” she and Aslan would be happy forever.

And she remembered the ice cold voice on the other end of the telephone line. Domineering, venomous voice spewing demands and lies in her ear and coiling around her neck. Just the sound of Paul froze her heart…she was motionless, barely breathing…but she knew dealing with HIM was the only way.

She remember her mission…how she needed to prove to Aslan that he was worth risking everything in the world.

Distantly she heard a buzzing noise and Melissa snapped back to the present. Those memories made her. Stepping back into the lion’s cage was a scary position to be in, but the decision had been made. Paul’s lawyer, Mr. Pirrello, an older man with gray-white hair and a sneering smile had seen to her release, and had personally come to Albany to drive her back.

The buzzing sound appeared again. Surveying her surroundings, Melissa was once again forced to negotiate the here-and-now. He had left. She was still in the disgusting furnitureless apartment on the upper floor, with the broken windows, holes and graffiti on the walls.

And she was running the ultimate risk if she did not wipe away the remnants of the previous hour.

On the window sill lay her phone; its screen still bright from a recent message. She moved quickly as she could toward it. Was it Aslan? Did he have a change of heart? Maybe he had been joking all along…

The screen showed “Mr. Pirate” with an emblem of an envelope with paperclip. He sent a picture?

Quickly she opened the message…her heart fluttering in a bubbling mix of expectation and hope. It was a picture of her…pink sweater top, looking away in self-conscious embarrassment. She remembered tugging at the sleeves of the sweater in attempts of hiding her scars. She remembered his light laughter, poking fun at her shyness…how she had been the one to pick him up and how [at that moment] she was acting shy, inexperienced and vulnerable.

She was embarrassed. He had been allowed to see the squalor that she was forced to live in. She had wanted him to scoop her up and take him back to his Park Ave apartment. She had wanted him to be unafraid to carry her in, perhaps in front of Adam and all others, and proclaim that she was the one.

She had obviously fed her expectations on one too many dumb romances. She closed the message, disappointed. Instantly a second one appeared in the que and her smile rebounded.

Clicking on the second paper-clipped message she was treated with his face…smiling, though a bit blurry from too much alcohol…one arm outstretched to navigate the self-portrait on his phone, the other casually wrapped about her shoulder…though she seemed further back and almost off-screen in an almost spectator-to-the-picture role.

That picture said it all: he was bigger than life and proud of it.

And with that realization, she once again felt her heart grow towards him again…soft and sweet and hopelessly, still in love.  She felt the warm, sweet wonder of it all as she continued marveling at this picture.

It didn’t matter how he had chose to play his exit minutes earlier. She had come back for him…

Suddenly, in mid-reverie, she heard the unmistakable sound of footsteps on the stairs outside her door. Footsteps.

Why hadn’t she taken that shower immediately after Aslan had left?

As the footsteps closed in, Melissa had only enough time to drop to the floorboards beside the closet. She clawed at the end and pried one edge up. Quickly she jammed the phone in the small opening and fitted the boards in place once more just as the footsteps landed outside her door.

No time, she scanned the tiny apartment once more. “No tell-tale evidence, please,” she prayed. And with that the door burst open and upon first glance, Paul KNEW something was askew.

First flew the accusations, then came the fists, and at last he found the electrical cord. He forced her to undress in front of his friends. Shivering in terror, salted-iron taste of blood in her mouth and leaning against a wall for support, Melissa prayed silently in her head that he would never know. Paul only had suspicion, but that was all he needed to kill her. It was the only those times when he had suspected that there was another man that he wanted her dead. Up to that point, he could always be satiated with humiliating and torturing her…making her his submissive for fun.

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