They were chatting in the cafe as they always did on Wednesdays when Serena unconsciously stretched her fingers and Jane reached out to grab her wrist. Her friend winced and Jane let go, uncovering a series of bruises decorating the inside of her arm.
‘Serena!’ Jane gasped ‘he hasn’t been hurting you, has he?’
Serena faulted, eyes wide, teeth biting into her lip. She withdrew the hand and turned her head towards the door.
‘Oh, he makes me mad,’ she choked out, tears collecting in the corners of her eyes. She flicked them away and Jane’s worried expression came back into view.
‘Serena, you need to leave him.’
‘I can’t,’ she whimpered, shaking her head.
‘Serena, look at what he’s done.’
‘Keep your voice down. Please.’
Jane released a heavy sigh ‘for now, Serena. But I’m always here and there’s help out there. Please Serena, I don’t want to be laying flowers over your coffin because he’s-’
‘Don’t,’ Serena murmured, dropping her head.
‘Bloody hell, what happened to you?’ Ian glanced up as Stephen made his way to the bar.
The man’s face was a mess of purple splodges and his eye swollen detestably.
‘She hit me with a frying pan, didn’t she!’ he exclaimed and Ian shook his head.
‘I swear to God, I wouldn’t wanna be married to you. What did you do this time? Having a pint?’
‘Yeah, if you’re offering.’
Ian passed the glass along the bar and Stephen took a long sip, closing his eyes. He needed this one.
‘Did you see the match?’ Ian tapped his arm ‘we did well, didn’t we?’
‘Sure did,’ he grinned, pretending he couldn’t feel the pain in his ribs.
They were good at the kiss and make up thing, Serena and Stephen, the two S’s, through thick and thin. It had been a whole year and he still loved it when she came home and pressed those lips to his.
Tonight was one of those nights. Cool water on a burn, a back rub after along day. She lay on his chest, rubbing absent-minded circles across his heart.
‘I love you.’
‘I love you too.’
Serena was standing across from him, besides the kettle.
‘I told them you tried to break my arm, horrid man.’
‘All I did was push your wrist away.’
‘Well what are these then?’ she rolled up her sleeve, revealing the delicate bruising on her wrist. ‘You tried to hurt me!’
He said nothing but his face contorted in frustration.
‘Don't just stand there. Look!’ she raised her wrist again but he kept his eyes to the floor.
Serena tutted loudly and turned to boil the kettle.
‘What’s your emergency?’
‘Ambulance, I need an ambulance, I’ve been hurt….my girlfriend, she….bleeding-’
‘Stay on the line sir, where are you?’
They saw the man with blood on his shirt and a woman sitting at the table and they rushed to help her, pushing the man aside. A bruise was already forming on her cheek, and they stood her up, asking questions she didn’t answer. The man whimpered, mouth open but they looked at him with resentment as they led her towards the ambulance.
A kindly woman came to talk to her at the hospital.
‘Serena, we can help you. That’s what we’re here for – we want to help you, please, what’s happened? Would you like to make a statement? I know it was only a bruise Serena but I’ve dealt with so many women where it started with a bruise and ended with battery –’
She refused to press charges.
Back at the flat, the man carefully wiped away the blood from his torso, mindful of the unhealed burn across his ribs.
Stephen had just ended a call to his mum. She didn’t believe a word he was saying.
It was the neighbours who called the police in the end. A bedraggled woman was seen outside the flats, sitting on the steps, blood on her face and she was smoking, blowing clouds into the morning sky.
Stephen was discovered inside, lying in the bathroom, the contents of the first aid kit scattered across the floor.
He wasn’t breathing and they couldn’t resuscitate.
Later they discovered he had been stabbed five times, a rib was broken and there were numerous burns across his body.
Serena cried in court, pleaded guilty and told them stories of all those times he had beaten her to the floor and left her for dead.
‘He was a horrid man,’ she said, licking her lips ‘a horrid man.’
And the jury looked at one another, unsure what of what to say.