"Jesus Christ, Dawn, what the fuck is this?" Chris said as he shot up from his chair, knife in hand.
I stopped scrubbing the dishes and wiped my wet hands on the front of my jeans. I knew it was going to bleach my new denim, but I didn’t care.
He stomped into the kitchen, his work boots slamming against the tile. He never took his shoes off, almost as if he was always ready to leave. He had bathed in cologne, and it’s all I could smell – spicy earth musk as he intruded my personal space.
His jaw flexed as he slowly chewed the London broil I made for dinner. His hot breath licked the side of my face, hands flexing in agitation. For a moment, I didn’t see him angry. There was a slight smirk of his lips, weather-cracked and swollen. The craziness of his strawberry blond hair encircled him like a halo, not a satanic crown. The growth of his beard extended long enough for me to run my fingers through and grip as I kissed his lips.
Then my illusion shattered.
"This meat isn't fucking cooked," he bellowed. "I see blood oozing out of it. Are you trying to fucking kill me?" He spit the chunk of partly chewed beef onto the white tiled floor, blood splattered into tiny droplets that encircled the hunk of meat.
"I-I'm sure I cooked it," I said. "Maybe your mouth is bleeding?"
He cocked his head back and spit a glob of red sputum onto the floor. I cringed as he yelled, "I'm sure the problem isn't me, it's your fucking cooking."
His blue eyes were wild with rage. "You're slipping up, Dawn. This isn't the first fucking time.”
I slowly shook my head from side to side. He wheeled backward and slammed his boots as he paced. Nothing he did was graceful or quiet.
“The other day I saw you talking to a guy in the store. You knew I was there; we were shopping together for fuck's sake!"
I parted my lips to speak, but was quickly silenced when Chris slammed his fist onto the counter, the impression marble rattling under the force. "He was hot, wasn't he? You wanted to bang him, he must be better fucking than I am?"
I sauntered to his side and lay my hand against his shoulder blade. He clenched his fists and slowly shook his head from side to side as if my touch jumbled his thoughts. "His name is Kyle? No, Bryan? I can't remember for the life of me."
"Chris, we were just talking. I didn't think he was attractive, he has nothing on you," I smiled as I said it, attempting to lighten the tension. I wanted to vomit. "His name is Benjamin Night, Chris."
"Ben, that's it!" He shook off my hold on his arm and grabbed my face between his hands and squeezed until I yelped.
"He sounds like a fag to me; you like that don't you? Here, I'll go and fuck a few guys and maybe you'll like me better, huh?" he yelled and flung his arm in the air.
I cringed and grabbed both of his shoulders, placing my entire body in front of his. "I love you, Chris, you know that.”
He grabbed my forearms and shoved me off of him; I fell back against the edge of the counter. Before I had time to recover, I heard the crunch of bone before I felt the pain. His fist flung against the side of my face, a spray of blood painting the white tile.
I bit back the urge to scream, my head throbbing with the strain. Instead, I brought a hand to my broken cheekbone and felt around the tender skin. My groping limb struck torn flesh and I pulled back instinctively, my finger coated with blood.
"I bet that's what you told the last guy before you fucked him," he spat. Blood lined his lower lip, and he looked terrifying in his red flannel – a prince of hell.
Tears sprung to my eyes, "Chris, I would never..." I reached out to him, but my hands grabbed only the air that hung between us. I moaned as my jaw contracted and white specks of light littered my vision.
All I could hear was his footfalls moving away from me as he barreled toward the dining room and flung the collection of plates and silverware off the table, glass shattering into thousands of little pieces. Salad greens tumbled to the wooden floor; slices of London broil and green beans cluttered the surface of the dining room.
He stopped abruptly and turned around, his eyes burning as he said a few words that flung my world into a state of chaos: "I’ve never loved you.”
I'm not sure what surged through my mind at that moment, pain or confusion?
I hastily stood up and ran after him, ignoring the pain as tiny shards of glass impaled themselves into the soles of my feet. When I reached the door, I flung it open, the wooden frame snapped in response to the sudden pressure. I tumbled onto the rotting wooden porch and collapsed to my knees. A cloud of dust swelled behind the fading vista of his black pickup truck.
I blinked past the hot tears that blurred my vision and wiped them away as they collected at the base of my upper lip. I brought my trembling hand to the nape of my neck and held it there, longing for the touch of a lover whose embrace once soothed my aching body.
My physical pain forgotten; a new spasm of heartache reverberated within my chest, playing ping pong with my heart.
I eyed the bottle of vodka ardently, the liquor enticing me from within its translucent walls. I cupped the bottle against my chest and ran the tips of my fingers along the smooth lip.
I'm better than this.
I closed my eyes and flashes of the beryl-blue irises that once charmed me flicked past. His robust voice seemed to whisper in my ears.
Reluctantly, I brought the bottle to my mouth and parted my lips, the cool liquid grazing my tongue. I tilted my head backwards and swallowed. The liquor scalded my throat as its callous limbs lacerated my esophagus.
I fell forward, crashing onto my knees against the beige carpet and slid onto my stomach. Tears stung my eyes as I coughed, the ethereal contents taking me off guard.
The heat subsided and a warm pulse took its place. I gulped down more vodka, each time the burn brought pleasure and not pain. The liquor went down smoother, and each time I felt less heartache. The room spun a blur of brown, blue, and white.
I sluggishly pulled myself forward, my nails clawing the carpet. I heard the swish of the screen door, the pounding of boots on tile and a disgruntled sigh; I reached for the bottle that lay a few inches from my outstretched hand, my fingers brushing the glass.
A dark figure obstructed the light that was filtering through a windowpane and gazed down at me. I slowly craned my neck upward, but before I could catch a glimpse of the statuesque man, I felt his hands slide under my back and he lifted me onto his shoulder.
I awoke to the vexatious buzz of my alarm clock. With a quick jerk, I rolled onto my side and switched it to off. There was a click and then silence.
I stumbled to the bathroom, leaning heavily on the edge of the vanity sink, the cool marble chilling my feverish skin. I glanced into the mirror. Damn.
Tussles of black hair piled atop my head and matted with vomit draped down my face and neck, blotched with red. I delicately ran my fingers under my swollen eye and along my fractured cheekbone, blood vessels scattered along my sclera like a maze.
I grimaced as I touched the skin, stretched and swollen. Flesh, hot with infection had begun to turn magenta. I probed the wound, my fingerprints leaving white impressions on the tender skin.
Closing my eyes, I sighed, my pulse throbbing in my temples. My thoughts swam to what I did last night, but nothing came bubbling to the surface. I looked back to my bed and gasped, "Chris."
I clutched my chest, my reflection receding in the mirror as I stumbled backwards. A deep ache held my heart within its cold grip. How could I let this happen?
The thump of my feet, heavy against wood resonated throughout the house, echoing against the walls and ceiling. My entire body trembled with the effort as I painstakingly made my way down the stairs.
I gripped the rail tighter as the edges of my vision faded to black, the hard oak under my hand unperturbed by the sudden surge of weight. I closed my eyes and expelled a large breath of air, lowering my body to the next step.
Without any warning my knees gave away from underneath me. Looking forward, I could see nothing but darkness as my body propelled forward. I began to lose all feeling in my extremities, tingling as if sharp needles were digging through my skin and piercing through muscle to the bone. The last thing I heard was the dull thwack as my forehead made contact with the blunt edge of the oak step.
"Oh, darling," a soft voice cooed, a southern drawl evident despite the mellow tone. Supple fingertips ran through the hair at the base of my scalp, the delicate touch raising gooseflesh along the length of my aching body.
I tried to open my eyes, but it felt as if I was attempting to lift the world. Longing to sleep, I drifted off, a sudden wave of ease washing over me.
"No, she's not well, doc," a mellifluous accent cooed, speaking on a phone. I imagined the round face that belonged to the voice; thick blonde hair, besmirched with strands of champagne and honey pinned up in braids and curls.
A quick shuffle of paper, and then the gentle hum of agreement. "Yup…yes…okay, I'll see you then," a click and then silence.
Annabelle rounded the corner, her vibrant pink stilettos clacking against the wooden floor. A hoydenish squeal escaped her plush ruby-colored lips. "Dawn, –thank the Lord– you're awake!"
I cringed as her blatant voice echoed, ringing the inside of my ears. My discomfort must've been obvious because she rushed to my side. A wave of ambrosial perfume enveloped me as she settled onto her knees at my side, brushing my hair with her fingers.
"Sweetheart, I called the second I seen Chris leave. Boy, he was mad, ran off in a hurry he did," Annabelle crunched up her nose as in malevolent regard. "I told you that boy is nothing but trouble. I swear, if I see that face of his again I'm going punch him, you’re darn tootin'."
"Oh, honey, look at your face." Her lower lip fell in a pout. "That good-for-nothing uppity varmint do this to you?"
Her silken hands gingerly touched my bruised cheekbone; I shivered against her bleak caress and nodded feebly. Her chin jerked upward, "Speak of the devil."
Annabelle's plump body vaulted upward as if propelled by springs. I swallowed hard past a lump that formed in my throat. My head swirled in thought, not here, not now.
"You will not speak to me in such a manner, Chris," commanded Annabelle from inside the foyer, her once soft tone disintegrating with impatience. A hasty mumble responded to her hostile intonation.
A quick movement, the precipitated clack of heels, and the inevitable slap of fist to flesh; I cringed as Annabelle howled and I cradled my own wound in remembrance.
Get up, oh please, get up. I urged my feeble body to move, but my limbs were unresponsive as opposed to my mind, reeling with anxiety. I shook my head in an attempt to rid of the sound as he bustled into the living room, his Timberland boots beating against the wood floor.
I smelled him before I could see him.