The Rose Collection (18+)

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09 | enough is enough (A,F)

Stuck in a loveless marriage.

Not exactly the turn I pictured my life taking. But here I sat anyway, in a bar, tossing back shots of rum in the hopes that the burn would distract me from my inner turmoil.

"Get a divorce!" the voice inside my head would shout.

I'd laugh back every time because divorce wasn't an option. No. My husband Michael and I had an image to uphold... or in more realistic terms: Michael had a mother whose ass he had to kiss 24/7. She dictated his life even when she wasn't around.

I'd bet every penny in my bank account that he still let her dress him.

Taking legal action would also be "too much of a hassle." Michael would say. Not to mention the alimony. So, for the last year of our lives we played pretend. Like his tennis trophies, I sat and looked pretty.

"Can I get another one, please?"

The bartender gave me a hesitant nod, brow almost unnoticeably creased in concern. How pathetic I must've looked.

Michael kept me well dressed, so tonight I was a blubbering mess, wiping snot on the frighteningly expensive sleeve of a black Versace sateen mini dress. For the first time I couldn't rely on a public facąde to mask my private despair...

*ring ring*

Speaking of my despair, I scoffed seeing my phone light up with his name, but I answered without a second thought.

"Hello, husband."

"Imani, where the hell are you?"

The voice that once gave me butterflies now made me want to gag. My finger danced in circles around the rim of one of my many empty shot glasses as I contemplated an answer.

"Is that any way to talk to your beloved?"

"Imani."

"I'm out, why does it matter?"

He audibly sighed, and I had to suppress a spiteful laugh. I could picture his face all scrunched up and red.

"It matters because you knew my mother was coming into town to have dinner with us tonight."

From the corner of my eye I saw the bartender return to me with not one, but two more shots. I momentarily covered the speaker of my phone.

"What's your name?" I asked him.

His eyebrows lifted in surprise, but he answered nonetheless.

"I'm Shane."

"Imani, and well, Shane, you are a godsend."

His mouth curved shyly, likely not receiving too many compliments. If that were truly the case, I wouldn't have believed it. He was a man made up of short, blown out hair with tapered sides, cinnamon brown eyes and tattoos.

"Are you on your way home, or will I have to personally bring you back where you belong?"

I frowned, fully forgetting I was on the phone.

"You have no right to speak to me like that, Michael. I'm not your property."

"Oh, but you are, sweetheart. I paid for every inch of that body."

"God! You're insufferable!" I shouted, as my hand came crashing down onto the polished cedar bar I sat at. Several glasses shook beneath my force.

"This is the last time I'll ask. Where are you?"

Gathering my courage and squaring my shoulders I said...

"Go fuck yourself."

*click*

~*~

I don't remember passing out, but I do remember throwing my phone to the floor and destroying it with the chunky heel of my boots. I also remember downing the remaining alcohol in my glass and exploding into a fit of sobs and curses to the world shortly after.

It was as if Michael drove a knife into my gut, and every day I stayed with him was a twist or nudge of the blade deeper in. Soon I'd bleed out, but for the time being I lived out each day in agony. I never thought I'd resent the person I married, but here I was... wishing he'd let me die already.

"Um, excuse me? Miss?"

At the feeling of a hand on my shoulder I awoke in a panic, my hands fisting... sheets?

"I said no, Michael! Don't touch me!"

But when the sleepy, drunk haze clouding my mind began to fade a little, I recognized I wasn't at home, and it wasn't Michael I yelled at. Instead, I was in a bed and Shane stood before me, looking utterly horrified at my outburst.

"I'm sorry, I didn't mean to scare you," he began. "The bar was closing a-and you didn't come in with anyone. I couldn't just leave you in your state on the floor, so I brought you here to my apartment."

His apartment.

"I promise that the only time I touched you was to wake you up just now. If you want me to take you ho-"

"No, please. I don't- I'm not ready to go back yet." I unconsciously scooted away from Shane and the bedroom door, eventually hitting the headboard behind me.

Taking a tentative step toward the edge of the bed, he lowered himself onto it. When he looked me in the eye I already knew what he was going to ask.

"I couldn't help but overhear you on the phone earlier. If you don't mind me asking, is this Michael guy the reason you don't wanna go home?"

I sighed, hugging my knees as I tucked them under my chin. "He's the biggest reason of many."

"How long have you been... together?"

At the question, I rubbed my wedding ring with my index finger until I decided it wasn't fit for my hand anymore. I took it off, setting it on the bedside table adorned with an antique lamp.

"Six years."

He let out a low whistle. "I hope you weren't unhappy for six years. That's time."

"Oh no, I was disgustingly in love with Michael once upon a time."

I fell silent, remembering how quickly he proposed. He told me he never wanted to get married and that I was the woman who changed everything for him. He was right. I changed his life when I walked down the aisle and sealed a business deal for the company he was inheriting. Only then, I didn't know. My husband would've done well in Hollywood.

"So, what changed over the course of six years?" Shane asked, snapping me out of my thoughts.

That was an easy one.

"His priorities. He didn't marry me for love, but I was the last one to find that out."

"I'm sorry."

"And I'm a dumb blind bat who falls in love too fast."

Anyone else?

"That's not right... I mean, things like that will never make sense to me. Marriage is- I wouldn't even stay with a girl if I couldn't picture a future with her, let alone put a ring on her finger. Whether it secured me a job or a better car that is against my morality."

He was already a better man than the one I spent the better part of my life with.

"Well, good thing Michael was already rich before me. Still, that wasn't enough for him. He wanted it all."

"For that bastard's sake, don't say his name again. I don't like him and I've never even met him."

A laugh made its way up my throat, but I choked it down looking at Shane's very humorless expression.

"He's never... hit you, has he?"

"Goodness no. He's a complete asshole, sure, but he's not abusive."

Shane looked at me again, and if I read his face correctly he was growing irritated. I don't know why though.

"Are you sure, Imani?"

I furrowed my brow in response.

"Do you remember waking up a little while ago?"

He moved completely onto the bed now, folding his legs beneath him.

"You yelled at me when I tapped your shoulder because you thought I was him. I'd hate to assume, but that doesn't seem like a reaction fit for a guy that isn't abusive in some way."

Sucking in a shaky breath, I tried to find a way to explain, but every excuse that popped into my head painted the man in a bad light. I couldn't even understand why I tried to find an excuse.

Perhaps I didn't want to accept reality for what it was.

"Okay... maybe he didn't always ask or wait for permission to touch me."

"To touch you or have sex with you?"

"Would you cool it with the first degree?! He's my husband!"

Shane pinned me with a fierce gaze that had me clamping my mouth shut.

"Husband or not, Imani, if he's touching you without your consent that's assault. If he's-"

He shook his head, disgust plain on his features.

"- having sex with you without your consent that is rape. Not a label in the world can change that fact."

For the third time tonight I lost my grip entirely. Tears fell before I had the chance to try to stop them, not that my efforts would have helped. Nothing would ease my years of pain.

"Will you let me hold you?"

It was a simple, whispered request, but I heard it and it caught my heart in a way that it certainly wouldn't have for most. He genuinely wanted to make me feel better and that made me cry harder.

With a weak nod I leaned into his open arms. Warm. Safe. Cared for. Things I only dreamed of feeling with Michael, I felt in heaps with Shane. He held me, cooing into my ear until my uncontrollable howling eased into faint cries, and ultimately, soft snoring as I drifted off.

~*~

When I woke up again, I was still tucked in Shane's arms. My head moved in time with the slow rise and fall of his chest as he was asleep beneath me. Careful not to wake him, I steadied myself on a forearm and took a peek at him. He looked so peaceful... so calm yet so serious all at once.

Part of me envied him. Before tonight I wouldn't be able to tell you about the last night I peaceful sleep I had.

"Mmm."

A deep groan escaped from Shane's lips as his head lolled slightly. Still dormant, he pulled me back to his chest almost possessively. Our faces were inches apart now, making my previously calm heart speed up. I wasn't scared- well, at least not for the reason most would think.

I wasn't scared because we were this close. I was scared because I didn't mind being this close... if anything I wondered what it would be like if he had pressed me this close while he was awake. All it'd take is a tilt of my head for our mouths to meet.

But I'm not a cheater.

No matter how miserable I was with Michael I didn't have the heart to step out on him. Though I'm not too sure he'd care if I did.

I took a deep breath and slid from underneath his arm, putting good distance between us. For a few minutes I sat on the edge of the bed, assessing my state. My dress clung to my skin and not in the way I'd like. I was clammy all over, not to mention my face was tight and stained with salty tears.

Peering through the ajar door of the bedroom, I saw a bathroom across the hall. The shower was calling my name and I hoped my host didn't mind me using it.

A few minutes later...

Underneath the hot spray of the shower head, I stood with my eyes closed and let the water run over my body, loosening my tense muscles and washing away the sour day I've had. It's exactly what I needed.

However, my mind soon drifted back to Michael and what he might be doing. Who he might have called to find me. But I didn't care, I wasn't going anywhere near him, at least not until I really had to. I planned to stay with my sister and I was going to call her as soon as I finished cleaning up.

"Imani?"

At the sound of my name outside, my heart picked up once again. I shut off the shower and stepped out, grabbing a towel off the steel rack.

"Come in."

Shane slowly entered the space with a black dress shirt in hand. It was similar to the one he wore during his shift at the bar.

"I figured you'd find your way here sooner or later," he said, a hint of a smile on his lips.

"Normally I wouldn't make myself at home, but I really didn't want to wake you up."

Setting the shirt on the rim of the sink, he shook his head dismissively.

"No worries, I appreciate it. Been working until I hear birds chirping this past week, but that's what 24 hour bar life is sometimes."

He cleared his throat. "When I heard the shower running I realized your dress might not be so comfortable to put back on. I brought you a shirt of mine, and I can look for some sweatpants... or you can just wear a pair of my boxers."

I surprised myself when I laughed, but Shane joined me.

"We haven't even been on a date yet and you're offering me your intimates," I said, praying my cheeks didn't heat too badly.

"What can I say? I feel inclined to take care of you."

His eyes held a playful spark, but hearing the reverence in his voice made me shiver.

"Thank you, Shane. I uh- I should get changed."

"Of course, don't let me stop you."

Like a child, he covered his eyes with his hands. A fit of giggles overtook me when he split his fingers apart, peeking through them. There was no denying this side of him made him even more attractive.

"Get out, you goof."

It was then that he finally let me see a real smile, teeth bared and face lit up like a star, illuminating the dark skies of my world.

Keeping myself from kissing that man suddenly became a million times harder.

~*~

Back in the bedroom I found Shane more comfortably dressed and as relaxed as ever. He beckoned me to the dresser where he stood.

"These are brand new. You seem like a classy dame, but I feel there's a wild streak, so you can choose between the sleek black boxers or the taco ones."

What to do with this man.

"Hm... gimme the tacos."

That earned me another smile, this one a cheesy grin.

"Excellent choice."

I slipped them on right there, letting the band snap on the skin of my waist.

"Oh, and not that I don't enjoy your company, but do you have a place to go from here? Just wanna make sure you're safe."

"Yes, thank you. I am going to stay with my sister... but I'll need a phone to call her."

"Right, I had to sweep Samsung chunks into the trash. You've got some strength."

"Nah, I've got some pent up aggression that's all."

I watched Shane's eyes go to the digital clock on his bedside table. "It's almost 4 am, pretty late for dinner, but I know this awesome taco place that's open 24 hours."

My lips quirked slightly. "I can't lie and say that the boxers didn't stir my appetite with their delicious print."

"Whaddaya say then?"

"Gimme the tacos."
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