Traveling down this road is too much. I know where it ends. The little bumps and crevices and rusty toys left on the road are our fights. The frustration, lies, hurt, anger. Those stupid toys. Our car rolls smoothly over a toy car just now; I only notice it because my eyes are stone-cold, set on the road in front. But we rolled over like it was nothing. Kept going. In hindsight, it was nothing more than a stupid toy. So why can’t he see that?
He’ll take me home, I want to think. He’s left you on the road before. That was different, and I know it. He had to urgently pick up a friend. Plus, it was only a thirty-minute walk home.
The heat rises to my chest, and before I know it, I’ve instinctively reached over to find his hand. It’s too late to take back now. I find it and his hand wraps around mine. I watch my fingers go white as his grip tightens. Almost as white as the bits of fluffy jasmine rice clinging to the underside of my nails. He didn’t like dinner tonight, so he’d rushed me out the door. With fingers gripping my shoulders and yanking me. I wanted to go home quick, anyway. I wish the moon wasn’t that horrid blood-red color. It’s too much. Because it reminds me of the time he pushed me down the stairs and my knee poured out that very same red. Red reminds me of the mosquitos in Africa. Vile insects.
We’re slowing. Please not again.
I keep the urgency out of my voice as I say, “Babe? Do you need something?”
He doesn’t reply, doesn’t look at me. One hand on the wheel, one gripping mine far too tightly. I let out a yelp when he squeezes my hand, hard. “Wh-what’s wrong?”
“Sit back,” he says quietly, dangerous. I hadn’t even realized my seat belt was pulled at the max. I sit back as he told me to. My heart shouldn’t be pounding, it’s just him. His hand drops mine. I pull it quickly into my lap as blood rushes to it.
The houses on either side of the road are dwindling as he proceeds, streetlights going with them like stars, receding their luck. I feel unsafe without them.
The roads are almost pitch-black; the miniature street lights not even emitting enough light to see five feet in front. I want to tell him to turn on his high beam, but I decide not to. I’m scared. I don’t want to distract him from driving, that could end badly.
He jerks the car to a stop, both our heads being yanked forward by an invisible force. He climbs out of the car, slamming it behind him. Oddly enough, the car is peaceful now, its frame my protector against the outside world. But all too soon, he’s at my side and he pulls my car door, and takes me outside in one swift motion. I don’t bother resisting - his bulging muscles my jailor. I’m slammed against the car door and I don’t make any noise save for a soft exhale. His eyes warn me to shut up.
He brings his face to my ear and softly whispers, “Stop seeing everyone else, and you can have this,” he motions between us. “Annabelle, and the rest of the group, your mother and sister. You need to stop disappearing on me.”
I swallow disgust and anger and fear. Fear is puked back into my mouth. My voice wavers. “Babe, I just got back yesterday! I’ll be here for a while now, I promise.”
He moved us to a differemt state than my home town, so I occasionally go back there to visit family and friends. He hadn’t wanted me to go, but once I let my mom speak to him, he acquesiced.
He smiles, canines razor-sharp. “Very good. And you can’t call them. How else are we supposed to get alone time, huh?”
What?! No way. How could he restrict me from calling my mother when dad just passed? “Wh-what do you mean? I only call them for an hour, tops, a day. Mom needs me, come on, you know that. I don’t undersderstand where this is all coming from.”
“No more of that pumpkin. I need you.” His tongue licks his lips as if thinking about me as a literal pumpkin. He’s mad. Utterly bonkers, mad-hatter-type crazy. But I love him. What about mom? I love her too. Maybe even more. And she needs me more than anyone right now.
I know how this story goes and ends. Crazy to think I’m in the situation they give during health class, advising us of all the reg flags to watch out for. But they failed to mention how love is a rosy curtain before your eyes, and it keeps everything bad away from your sight, but it can’t possibly keep your heart free from them. Your heart blackens and smolders, but your eyes are infatuated; noticing a fire is slowly eating you up is an impossibility. Until something like this happens. I’m realizing.
I’m sick and tired of pretending. Of constantly gasping for air from the chokers of fear. Of always being perched at the edge of the seat, waiting to either be pushed off to concrete ground or to be pushed inward, to safety. My body cannot depend on someone’s mood. When he’s happy, I can no longer be loved, when mad, I can no longer be scarred. I am not his pillow he can scream at, punching bag, favorite pencil he abuses then throws away. These thoughts aren’t strangers, only this time I allow them entry into my ahead, approving of each. This is my voice. I will not listen to the other any longer.
There are tears in my eyes. As much as I hate to admit it, he’s been a big part of my life. It will be hard no matter what. Trusting another will be tougher. Staying away, even worse. “Babe, I-I can’t. I just can’t. Mom needs me. Badly.”
His eyes, moments ago filled with tenderness and love instantly turns cold and hard. “What’re you talking about?” he says harshly. “Get in the damn car.” All pretense down, this is who he is. His meaty hands go to my shoulders but I pull free.
Maybe it’s the shock, but he hasn’t lunged for me yet. It’s now or never, and I know that. I dash to a nearby tree, heart in my mouth, and keep running into the darkness, allowing it to cushion my emotions and store my tears.
He yells for me, strings of curse words reminding me of the pearl necklace he once bought me. Tears start flowing and I hesitate. Maybe I should go back, I know he’ll love me for returning. But he’d broken the necklace, tore it right from my neck. The pearls had fallen gracefully, but the sound of pearls falling is a strange one, something that shouldn’t be heard. Pearls are for sight. I would be punished for leaving. I can’t go back now. I force my legs to pump faster beneath me, my one destination: home.