With one swift, strong arm, he caught her around the waist as she tried to run.
His hand grabbed hold of her hip and with a forceful pull, spun her, locking her body against his. He raised his hand – she flinched. He froze, silent, his hand held mid-air as he waited for her eyes to meet his. She kept her head bowed, eyes to the floor.
She didn’t move. His hand continued on its intended path, fingers lifting a long strand of hair that rested against her cheek. Her eyes stayed low, shifting toward the movement of his hand. He tucked the strand behind her ear, then placed his fingertip underneath her chin. He didn’t lift her face, but waited for her to do so willingly. She did. He smiled.
“I told you that I didn’t want to hurt you any more. Don’t you believe me?”
He loosened his hand from on her hip, sliding it up to gently press his palm against the small of her back. His slight release gave her room to step back from him, room to take a breath.
“Why should I believe you?” She asked quietly, lowering her eyes once again. She was careful to keep her tone of voice from accusing, from antagonizing.
He scratched at the five o’ clock shadow that crept across his cheeks, regarding her thoughtfully. He finally shrugged with a sigh.
“Because I’m no longer a child, Alexis. I’ve grown up since you saw me last. I’m a man now, and no longer interested in childish games. I promise!”
She looked up at him, wanting to believe the sincerity in his eyes. She bit her lip, still feeling so small and young in his presence.
“I’m not afraid of the dark anymore, you know.”
He laughed, bringing a timid smile to her face.
“Well I hope not! You’re a little too old to still be afraid of the dark. Of ghosts and goblins and things that go ‘bump’ in the night.”
His smile began to fade as he sighed once again, looking her up and down with a curious eye.
“You’ve grown up too, Alexis. No more quiet, spindly little girl whose face is nothing but eyes.” He thought a moment. “What was it I used to call you?”
She hesitated, looking down at the floor. She remembered well. “Little ugliness.”
He smiled. “Ah yes, little ugliness. Well, all I can say in my defense is that from ugly little caterpillars grow big, glorious butterflies. So…am I forgiven?”
She slowly looked up at him, opening her mouth to speak, but his face halted her. His eyes were suddenly changed, and the look they bore was one she knew well. She’d seen it often, when he anticipated victory - a checkmate against his brother, a riding competition with his friend. But Alexis didn’t understand the meaning of that look now, given to her. She nodded her answer of forgiveness, squirming against the heat of his palm on her back.
“Good. I’m glad we can start over, as grown-ups.”
He smiled on her with warm eyes, as he moved his free hand to the back of her neck, pulling her head forward. He bent down and laid a kiss on the top of her head. She bit her lip again at this unexpected show of tenderness from a man who’d been a most un-tender child.
“I don’t want to hurt you any more,” he repeated. Another soft kiss met her forehead, as he playfully blew her bangs away from her eyes. It tickled her, making her giggle.
“I just want to make you feel good,” he murmured, as a third kiss touched down gently on her mouth.
A buried chill of fear re-surfaced, crawling up her spine as she stood unmoving, unprepared for this new grown-up game he wanted to play. She felt the sweat from his palm as it seeped through the sheer fabric of her dress, dampening her skin beneath. It was cold. Again, a chill rose up in her.
Again, his mouth was on hers. The tip of his wet tongue began pushing, insistent, prying her lips apart. She pulled away with a jolt. The expression his face now held was one she didn’t recognize.
“Are you ready for me to make you feel good?”
The hand on the small of her back moved downward, fingers spreading, griping her backside and pulling her tightly into him. The hand on her neck tightened in tandem, strengthening its pressure.
“You’re no longer a child, Alexis. And this is nothing to be afraid of. Unlike being shut away in a small, dark closet. I’m sure you’ll agree with me, once you just let go…” he whispered into her ear.
His fingers slid up from her neck to her scalp, grabbing a fistful of hair and gently pulling her head back. Her face forced upward, he again claimed the sweet softness of her young mouth. She whimpered against him, unable to move within his grasp, unable to pull away from his eager lips crushing hers. She felt her knees buckle as he pushed his hips into her, making sure she felt the truth of his intentions…her first such knowledge of the grown-up world of men.
Her reflexes jerked her back, her teeth catching his lip, as their mouths finally broke apart. Stunned, he felt the tiny cut with his finger, smiling strangely at the spot of blood she’d drawn. He tilted his head, his strange grin moving from the blood to Alexis’s flushed and trembling face.
“Alright…but fair’s fair, Alexis.”
This time, the raised hand swung sharply across her face.
“I said I didn’t WANT to hurt you. But if that’s the way YOU want it…”
His hand touched her throat, whispering down her chest to the ruffled neckline of her dress. He watched a brief moment, as her rapid breaths made the ruffle rise and fall under his fingers. Without a word, he grasped the cotton, and with one quick motion the delicate ruffle ripped apart.
She struggled to pull away, her adolescent strength no match for his adult force, as he swung her around and pushed her toward the balcony. As her hips met the metal railing, she grabbed hold of it, sure that he would fling her over the side. His hand twisted around another fistful of hair. Pushing her head down, he bent her forward over the wrought iron bar – the only thing that separated her body from the tiled ground below.
The blood rushed into her head, making her dizzy. His words were a blur.
“Don’t WHAT, Alexis? Are you saying ‘no’ to me?”
“No…nothing…please, I’m sorry…”
She felt a stinging in her head as he pulled her back upright with the fingers wound tightly through her hair. The room was spinning as he turned her to face him, taking her face in his hands. She was breathless, afraid she would faint.
“There. That’s better.” He bent down to place one more soft kiss on her cheek, on the angry red print his hand had made. His hands slid down to her wrists, his fingers wrapping around them.
“Now…are you ready for me to make you feel good?”
He began to slowly step backward, leading her past the balcony toward the suite of rooms that were his. Her face was all panic, eyes darting everywhere for signs of other life…for someone to help her. He read her mind.
“No need to be shy, butterfly. It’s just you and me, thanks to Sunday service…and the nasty little headache that kept you at home.” The victory was not quite his, yet it shone triumphant in his eyes.
Alexis watched his as his mouth keep moving, but his words quickly began to melt into a hum inside her head. She no longer felt his hands around her wrists, no longer felt herself walking with him. His face seemed to travel farther and farther away from her view, as if he was moving and she stood still. She looked down, her mind now a blank, the glint of colored tiles peering up at her from between the balcony’s iron bars. She turned her head, gazing at the downward curve of the tiled staircase as he led her by the edge. Her legs stopped, her eyes transfixed by something. He tugged impatiently on her wrists, unable to move her, unable to elicit any response with his angry words.
With all that she had, she broke free of him with a single, grown-up word.
Her body pulled away from him, toward the beckoning downward curve. Before he could speak, before he could move...Alexis had let herself go.
Her face and palms lay flat against the cold, rough surface. She opened her eyes to the darkness that they had grown to expect. She was alone. Her hand moved across the floor, searching for her place in the room. Her fingers touched upon metal…the leg of the cot. She had fallen. Her dream had given her strength to move, but left her drained at its end.
She didn’t care. She would lie there forever. The cool stone beneath her was a welcome contrast to the growing warmth within her. She took it in, grateful for just a fleeting sense of calm. But soon, the dominos began to fall, as her leg was hit with a cramp. Her hand moved toward the pain, trying to rub it away as the needle marks on her arm began their familiar demand that her fingernails attend to them. She closed her eyes against this too quick and sudden surge of remembrance that, yet again, she was caught in someone else’s trap.
“No…” Her voice was ragged in the quiet darkness.