Trigger Warning: Domestic Violence, Gun Violence
It’s not going to be like last time. Violet thought as she squinted through her one good eye and reapplied a different, darker shade of red to her swollen lips.
I’m stronger than my excuses and braver than my fears. She placed both hands on the sink counter and stared at her bruised reflection as she repeated the mantra her sponsor, Damon, had given her last week after she’d broken down in the meeting and spilled her stale coffee all over the church’s new carpet.
Blinking back the tears that flooded her vision, Violet shakily ran a brush through her shoulder-length blonde hair careful to avoid the sensitive spots where Randy had yanked out a handful while being dragged through the condo. She managed to assemble strands around the bald area and clip a barrette. “I can do this,” she whispered to the stranger staring back at her.
She sat on the edge of the king-sized bed Randy insisted on buying even though she knew they couldn’t afford it at the time. She hadn’t said a word when, without asking, Randy charged it to her credit card. The credit card she’d had since she was eighteen and was proud to pay off at the end of each month before the interest accrued. She hadn’t complained or uttered a word when Randy charged bar tabs to her card, hotel stays when she was out of town, or gifts like perfume and lingerie that she never received and that Randy would never wear herself. Violet slipped her feet into her heels and secured the straps around her ankles. She stood and ran her palms down her dress, smoothing the wrinkles and checking for rips at the seams. She turned to the side and glanced into the standing mirror and scoured her profile ensuring the bump on her belly wasn’t obvious.
WEAR R U
Violet heard the text come through and raced to the kitchen, sucking in her breath, tucking in her tummy, and careful to not twist an ankle. These heels were a lot higher than she was used to. They were a gift from Damon. Damon was a mistake. One she’d never make again. And she wanted the baby growing inside her. The baby would give her a new start. A purpose. But Randy couldn’t be a part of their lives. Not anymore.
I’M HERE. BE RIGHT DOWN, She texted back adding a wink emoji instead of punctuation.
She knew Randy. She knew the longer she made her wait, the worse the night would be. She slid her hand into her purse and wrapped her fingers around the cold steel. She felt the blood drain from her face as fear and dread washed over her. She considered leaving the gun behind, but just the contemplation of that choice caused her adrenalin to race through her chest and pound at her heart. It was as if her body, itself, or maybe the fetus, was telling her she needed to do this. This is the only way she’d, well now, they’d be free. Tonight would provide Violet with the perfect opportunity to start over. Pull yourself together. You are brave.
Violet took a deep breath, squared her shoulders, grabbed her long jacket with the faux rabbit fur collar, and locked the front door behind her. As she slowly descended the set of stairs that led to the courtyard, her mind replayed moments of her life with Randy. When they were in high school and Randy would come over for sleepovers, and how she’d make everyone else who was hanging out so uncomfortable, they’d leave. At that time, they were best friends. Just two girls who enjoyed laughing, talking, and getting into mischief. Violet didn’t pay much attention to the fact that Randy wanted her all to herself. In a way, she was flattered. She liked the attention. Both her parents worked long hours and her older brother had gone off to college, so having Randy around felt less lonely. And Randy paid her a lot of attention. Sometimes she felt suffocated, but other times she felt thankful to have someone love her so much.
Later, in nursing school, when Randy was annoyed that Violet was not paying enough attention to their relationship, she bent Violet’s wrist so far that her ligaments were torn, causing Violet to fall behind in the skills labs required for graduation. Then, on their wedding day, when she’d thought it would be funny to squeeze Violet’s face so hard during the cake sharing that she’d left bruises and the tears that streamed down Violet’s throbbing face only ruined the pictures and caused her family and friends to dislike Randy even more. They worried about her. No one could see in Randy what she could. When Randy was happy and in a good place, life with her was wonderful. She took her places, held her hand, was gentle, chivalrous, and even apologetic for any wrongdoings, and would promise to do better. She’d nuzzle her neck, and whisper her favorite line that seemingly excused her behavior, “We’re all works in progress, right, babe?”
“Damn girl, what took you so long?”
Randy’s raspy voice snapped Violet out of her reverie. She put on a painful smile and slid into the front seat of Randy’s pride and joy, her silver 1974 Dodge Challenger. Randy leaned in for a kiss, and though Violet knew it would hurt, she allowed Randy to kiss her busted lips.
“Let’s get a move on. The fireworks start in like 15 minutes. Kristi and Bree are saving us seats.” Randy said while wiping the red lipstick transfer from her mouth.
“Are we at the top in the very back again?” Violet asked hoping the answer would be yes.
“Don’t start your complaining, V. I don’t want to have a night like last night. Do you hear me?” Randy’s voice stayed calm, but the threat was there. It was always there. Riding in like a low tide then rising in an engulfing wave with or without provocation.
“No, babe, I’m hoping to sit at the top. The view is closer and people aren’t bumping into us from behind.” Violet gently slid her hand on Randy’s knee and kneaded at her with her long fingernails. Violet knew how much Randy liked it when Violet touched her without having to be asked. And she had painted her nails a fiery red to match her dress and lipstick. Also, the color Randy preferred.
“Good.” Randy reached over and slid her hand between Violet’s thighs and squeezed a little too hard.
They drove the rest of the way in silence. Randy nodded her head to the classic rock music blaring from the speakers while Violet drowned in her thoughts. The fireworks show was being held at the top of Mount Baldy. The same crowd gathered every single year. The same men hosted the show. The same women brought the booze and fire extinguishers. This would be Randy and Violet’s sixth year going as a married couple. Damon and his wife, Jessica, would be there as well. They always bring their children, twin boys, whom the village adores and wrangles for Damon and Jessica once the couple starts drinking. And though it is highly discouraged, no one said you can’t drink just because you are in a Violence Anonymous support group. Randy would kill her if she knew Violet was attending these meetings and disclosing personal information. And would probably chop her up and boil her meat off the bones if she ever found out that Damon was her sponsor, her confidante, and her sometimes lover.
Children were running through the car park near the campground where the stadium-like seating had been assembled over the years. When the group first started hosting this New Year’s Eve event fifteen years earlier, a child had gone missing. After several weeks, the search and rescue were forced to give up. And even though the community continued to search for the little boy, his body was never recovered. So, several people decided that in order to keep the children and families safe, they would build a colosseum-type arena where, once the sun went down, families, especially the children, were expected to remain throughout the evening’s events.
Robert’s disappearance affected Randy profusely. Robert was Randy’s younger brother.
The first few years after he went missing, Violet noticed Randy retreat into herself. It was as if she blamed herself for Robert’s disappearance. She was barely sixteen when the incident happened and was in no way responsible, but it was soon thereafter that Randy’s controlling behavior became even more pronounced. Violet believed that over time her grief might subside and things would go back to the way they were. Randy was always the one in charge of their relationship, but after Robert, it was like she needed to know where Violet was every moment of every day or she’d lose it on whoever was around. Or worse save it for when she and Randy were alone.
“All right, all right. Everyone head to the stands. We’re gonna get going any minute now.” Damon shouted into the karaoke machine mic. He then looked directly at Randy and added, “make sure you know where your children are. Keep them safe tonight.”
Violet felt her bones scream as Randy squeezed her hand like she was cracking a nut. Violet knew better than to yelp, but the gasp escaped her mouth before she could stop it. Randy squeezed even harder and through gritted teeth said, “I hate that guy.”
“Randy, please.” Violet whimpered and tugged at Randy’s hand.
Once released from Randy’s death-like grip, she reached for her purse and held it close to her belly under her coat. The night air was too cold to be standing at the top of a mountain in heels and a dress. Everyone else was in boots, jeans, flannels, hats, and mittens. But Randy insisted she dress up each year. That she, “look like a lady and not a dyke.”
The first firework was launched and it exploded in the night sky before it rained back down like diamonds. Randy placed her arm protectively over Violet’s shoulder. Violet reached into her handbag and fingered the gun. It felt frozen in her palm. The two were standing practically at the highest point in the makeshift stadium. An elderly couple who might have been one of the pioneers of this yearly event was the nearest and they were still a ways off. Violet scanned the crowd and saw that no one else would be close enough to hear the gunshot if she times it correctly.
Randy kissed the top of Violet’s head when the pink and white heart-shaped firework decorated the sky above them. All she’d ever known was Randy. Randy was her second skin. She closed her palm tightly around the trigger and aimed the gun through her purse and coat at Randy’s heart, or what she thought might be Randy’s heart. Randy pulled her closer and nuzzled into her neck.
“I love you, Babe,” Randy whispered between fireworks explosions.
Mixed emotions flooded Violet. Part of her had loved Randy. Randy just needed more love and attention than others. But the other part of her felt trapped by Randy’s boa-constrictor-like personality.
“Say you love me,” Randy demanded. Her voice was jovial, but the threat was always there. The threat that if Violet didn’t obey, didn’t respond, and didn’t reciprocate in the way Randy expected then there’d be hell to pay later as Randy worked through her feelings.
It was now or never. This was her chance. The fireworks were exploding with wild abandon. The night sky was ablaze with color and smoke. Shouts of glee filled the air and no one was paying attention to what was happening at the back of the stadium.
With the mountain embracing her, the moonlight encouraging her, and freedom beckoning her, Violet turned her body into Randy’s so that they were chest to chest. She lifted her mouth to hers. With one hand caressing her baby bump, she whispered “I love you,” and pulled the trigger.