The mans fingers traced my upper back, trailing over smooth skin that had been marred by gashes no more than hours ago.
His touch, feathery, still managed to pull me out of my stupor and wake me out of a dead sleep. I slowly blinked my eyes open, still dopey from the drugs that were wearing off. I hadn’t moved from my position; still lying flat on my stomach, my arms tucked beneath my head. I felt so comfortable that I probably wouldn’t have moved without the supervision of the man, anyway.
The man...it was hard to picture him with a name. Referring to him as Zacharias too often made me feel like I had enough respect for him to properly address him. I didn’t respect him—I feared him. They were two very different things. You can respect someone so significantly that you fear them, but you can’t force someone to revere you through fear.
They say you grow into your name, and I was starting to believe it. I wouldn’t deny that I had been curious as to what his name was, but I wasn’t desperate enough to plead for him to tell it to me. When he told me, it almost felt like it was worth the wait. His name didn’t disappoint me; not that it would’ve mattered if it did or not. I just wished his name didn’t belong to him. I didn’t think he deserved such a fine name.
“You’re so beautiful,” he told me, voice husky from his sleeplessness. “Even in sleep.”
I furrowed my brows. “Have you been watching me all night?”
“Yes,” he answered truthfully, and I cringed. It was as unsettling as it was creepy, knowing that he had stayed up all night just to watch over my unconscious body. It made me want to never close my eyes again, just so I always knew when I was being ogled. “I never get bored of looking at you. You’re perfect.”
“What time is it?” I asked, changing the subject.
“It’s still early. You slept for seven hours.”
I nodded and moved to sit up, only to bring life to the acute soreness that spread through my whole body. I let out something that resembled a squeak, only to collapse back onto the bed again as I smashed my face into the pillow, groaning. I had completely disregarded that I would feel the whiplash when I woke up.
And it didn’t leave me off with only a warning. It tarried even after I stilled my body and tried to relax it again. I hadn’t thought that the accident was anything minor or trivial, but I realized the true extent of it from the pain in my body. I felt like I had been ganged up on by a group of mixed martial artists who all took turns in kicking the shit out of me, only walking away after they were satisfied I wouldn’t be able to move. Because I couldn’t move without regretting it.
The man discontinued tracing my upper back and exhaled loudly, as if he was frustrated that I was in pain. “In two to three weeks your whiplash should be more manageable. Until then, it’s going to be a challenge to maneuver yourself around. That’s why I said you’ll have to be reliant on me.”
“I don’t have to rely on you.” I snapped, voice muffled from the pillow. I disputed him like it would erase the fact that he, patently, wasn’t incorrect.
“There’s no shame in needing me,” he said, a smugness in his voice because he knew he had one-upped me. “It’s only permanent, of course.”
I said nothing but gritted my teeth as I kept my face hidden away from him. If I could’ve moved my arm freely I would’ve slapped the cockiness right off of his face. I could envision his cheeky smirk and it made me nothing if not incensed.
“I’m going to go run you a bath.” He said, and I felt him stand up off of the bed; the mattress springing back into place. He walked out of the bedroom and into the bathroom, turning on the water for the bathtub.
When he came back into the bedroom, he walked around to the side of the bed he claimed as mine. He instructed me to roll over onto my back, reassuring me that I was fully healed—not that I thought I wasn’t. I was beginning to learn the swing of things; what he perceived as normal, and what was normal.
I could hardly move, my body throbbing in protest. I ached too badly to try and want to move. I could say, with nothing but honesty, that I just wanted to lay down and take it. But I knew it wasn’t an option. I had told the man I didn’t need him, and as much as I knew it would’ve been easier, I was going to hold true to my word.
Taking a few deep breaths like I was about to go into labour, I rolled onto my back and suppressed a few shrieks when it felt like my body was tearing more muscles and tendons. It nearly drained me of all of my energy, making the process of standing up harder than it should’ve been.
“Edie—” he began, but I cut him off.
“I can do it.” I barked, sounding like an angsty teen. Despite my juvenile outburst, he was courteous enough to step to the side to allow me more room to stand like the independent woman I claimed I was.
Straining my body and clenching my teeth tightly together, I forced my legs over the end of the bed and stiffly scooted my body forward until the tips of my toes touched the cold floor. A chill shot through my calves and I was too sore to tense them up. I started to worry that I’d have to use the man for support to hoist the rest of myself up.
“Edie, stop doing this to yourself,” he said, exasperated. He stepped back in front of me and held out his hands so I could grab them and use him to lift myself up. How much simpler it would’ve been to give in and let him help me, but my pride was far too fragile. One more helping hand from him and it would disintegrate completely. “You need my aid.”
Fuelled by my own desire to prove him wrong, I pushed myself into a sitting position—not without wanting to collapse back into place, though. I didn’t, however, but it took me at least twenty seconds to fully get up into a standing position. I was stiff as a board, fixed in place by the jolts of pain that lapsed through my body.
But I had done this without his help. The reward outweighed the consequence.
“Wasn’t so bad.” I insisted, taking a wooden step to the side as I eased myself to face forward. Truthfully, it was that bad; so bad that I was momentarily tricked into thinking that I had suddenly gotten rheumatic arthritis. I was tempted to just take the stupid anesthetic just to end the pain.
But no, if I was going to sleep it was going to be on my own terms; not on his. So I gritted and suffered through it with the man hot on my heels, herding me forward like I was a farm animal who needed that prodding. It was, in fact, humiliating walking in front of him with my wooden steps and my obvious agony.
When we were in the bathroom, I expected it to be like every other time where he would lock me inside while he went off and did his own thing. I didn’t think that despite my injuries he’d take away my get out of jail free card. Instead, however, he locked himself inside of the bathroom with me and blocked the pathway to the door with his hulking body—not that I would’ve been able to make a quick break for it anyway.
I couldn’t crane my neck to face him so I had to turn my whole body. The water running from behind me was irritatingly loud, and I was once again brought back to the time when I was forced to be in here to wash him. I had a feeling the roles were going to be reversed this time.
He solidified that statement when he said, “you can argue and complain all you want, but I know you’re unable to wash yourself. You can hardly move, Edie. Your rebukes will fall onto deaf ears.”
“Well your deaf ears better listen to me,” I retaliated, seething something fierce. “I’d rather drown in this bathtub than reduce myself to getting washed by you.”
“You always pull this shit, Edie, then you end up eventually doing what you were fighting against in the first place,” he ran a hand down his tired face, annoyed by my antics. “Just spare yourself the heartache. You don’t have to argue with me on every little thing.”
“There’s a fine line between locking me in a room, and locking me in a room with you. I refuse to get naked in front of you, and I especially refuse to give you the chance to belittle me.”
“Belittle? You think I’m doing this to belittle you?” He let out a harsh laugh as he stepped forward, taking my chin in between his fingers; careful to not sharply reposition my neck. “I’m doing this to help you. Why deny yourself help?”
“Because the last person I need help from is you,” I sneered. “You got me into this mess in the first place. You caused this. You caused all of this! You can’t expect me to want help from you when all you’ve done is ruin me. You hear that? You’ve ruined me!”
“You’ve ruined yourself. You ran, you stole my truck, and you tried to get away from me. You know what that is, Edie? That’s karma. That’s the moon punishing you for controverting our bond. If you were to just accept it, bad things would stop happening to you.”
"You’re the bad thing that has happened to me. You are my karma for every bad deed I’ve done in my life. I’ve paid ten fold since being here, Zacharias, don’t you worry. But I’m stupid because I will never learn, and you can count on that.”
He dropped my chin and pinched the bridge of his nose, letting out a sigh as if to calm himself down. I was breathing heavily, my hands balled into fists as I challenged him. Standing there in front of him, face to face, I had never felt such a consuming ire. It blackened my logic and emboldened my sharp tongue.
The longer I stood there, the more I relived last night and the more aggravated I became. To be so close...only to go back farther than I had been before. I felt more hopeless and helpless now than I had when I had first gotten here, only because I still had a few chances to hit a home run. But I had blown out all of my strikes. I felt like I had no chances left. Probability was, I probably didn’t.
“You will learn, whether it be today or a year from now, that I am not the embodiment of karma.” He promised me.
His eyes held such a vehemence that I struggled to breathe. He pressed himself closer against me, his warmth radiating onto me as he maintained eye contact; arms reaching around my back. My body taut, his hands continued to rip open the slit in the fabric he had made hours earlier. By instinct I moved to step back, but he held me in place.
I held eye contact the whole time, feeling that as long as I did his eyes wouldn’t wander to see the rest of my body. I may have been stupid and hardheaded, but there were times where I knew I had to admit defeat. I had admitted it when my whole body began to tremble, eyes burning as they held back tears. I knew then that I would never experience something so humiliating as I did that night.
“Don’t do this,” I pleaded, voice no louder than a whisper. “Spare me some of my dignity.”
“Don’t look away from me,” he ordered as his fingers found the thin straps that hung loosely on my shoulders. “I will not look where you don’t want me to look.”
I would have appreciated it if he didn’t look at me at all. The longer we maintained eye contact, the more I wanted my lids to fall shut. But I’d rather perpetuate awkwardness instead of prompting him to look at my denuding body. It became more of a test of will, however, when I watched as his eyes faded to black.
He slowly draped the straps over my arms, allowing the dress to reveal my bare upper body and fall to the floor around my feet. Incorporeal cold air hit my skin, causing goosebumps to erupt on my arms while the hairs on my nape stood erect. Wincing, I crossed my arms over my chest despite the promise he wouldn’t look at them.
He knelt down onto one knee, eyes still holding mine with an ominous reluctance. His hands grabbed onto the waistband of the boxers, gripping them so tightly his knuckles turned ivory. His face was level with my midsection, contact never breaking even as he pressed his lips against my skin. I shifted stiffly on my feet, hoping he’d take a hint and stop doing whatever he was doing.
I broke first, losing the battle of eye contact with him. I couldn’t turn to look away from him, however, but I closed my eyes and pursed my mouth and pretended it was good enough. His lips kissed a soft, featherlight trail down the line of my stomach as he slid the boxers off of my legs, leaving me completely susceptible.
“You feel perfect.” He breathed out.
Water steamed in the room, making it seem tropically muggy; but yet I still felt so cold. His hands were warm as he rested them on my bare hips, fingers digging into me as I whimpered. I felt like I was being assaulted as much as I was being taken advantage of. It wasn’t like I had my usual, flexible motor functions and I knew he was utilizing it to use it in his favour.
“That’s enough,” I whined, shivering. “I don’t want this.”
He stood up quickly, looming over me as he grew to his full height. Feeling like I had poked the bear, I hesitantly opened my eyes and turned my head up to face him. His eyes were angry but the rest of his face revealed that he felt kicked down by my continuous rejection. The more I denied him, the shorter his fuse became. I knew it was only a matter of time before he detonated.
Stoically, he leant around me and shut off the water, a quietude consuming the room when he stood back in place. The occasional dripping of water like rain against pavement disrupted the tense peace, making the room feel much more frigid.
The man swept me up into his arms, placing them under my knees and back as he lifted me into the air and set me down in the water. I yelped, mostly from surprise, but partially from my body being jostled around when I was unprepared. The water, thankfully, was warm; very warm like a hot tub. The sporadic water, interrupted by me, flooded over the edge and splattered onto the floor.
I cautiously pulled my knees to my chest, hiding my private areas as best as I could. I hated being naked in front of my kidnapper—someone who was unreadable and unpredictable at best. I stared at the intermittently stirring water, unable to meet his ravenous eyes that stared at me the same way a hawk stalked for prey.
My teeth clattered despite the fact that I was beginning to heat up. A chill still seeped into me, like the marrow in my bones had been replaced by icy water. I curled into myself, wishing the man would just disappear into thin air. It could’ve taken me a couple hours, but I’d have rather washed myself instead of letting him take the task upon himself.
It took me all I had in me to not cry as he brushed a wet curl from my shoulder and said, “it’s alright, Edie.”
Because truly, it wasn’t. None of it was alright. As he leant over me to grab the shampoo, I mewled like a wounded animal and clenched my eyes shut tightly. I tried to block out the feeling of his hands as he tried to clean me, only to make me feel grungier than I had before.
But if anything, in my attempt to block him out, he smouldered more vividly to the point that he seemed to linger in my very essence.
He wrapped me in a towel and led me into the bedroom, leaving me alone as he cleaned up the bathroom. In fear of not being able to stand up again after sitting down I stood in place beside the side of the bed that he slept on, looking down at the blankets. My hair dripped water droplets onto the floor, my body cooling to room temperature. I couldn’t tell if I was warm or not.
When the man came back into the room, however, it seemed to raise by ten degrees. The back of my neck piqued and my hands tightened around the towel as if it had the possibility of falling off of my body. I felt like everything in this house was cursed, manipulated to work in his favour even if it was as inanimate as a twig.
He turned on the light, and I had to blink a couple times to readjust to the brightness of the room even though the bathroom light had been a blinding fluorescent and the sun streamed in through the windows. The semidarkness only seemed comforting when I was alone, like the shadows were friendlier than real people; than real things. Zacharias didn’t qualify as people—literally and figuratively.
He rummaged through his drawers before returning to me, putting the clothing of his choice on the bed. There was a pair of black boxers and a black shirt, so I instantly noticed the absence of a pair of sweatpants. I furrowed my brows as he stood beside me, his arm brushing mine.
“Where are the pants?” I questioned, disliking the idea of wearing one less piece of clothing around him—two, actually, including my bra. “And where is my bra?”
“It’s going to be a hot day,” he informed me. “The warmest day we’ve had so far. You’ll get too warm in sweats, and it will pain you to try and take them off yourself.”
“No! I have poor circulation and I get cold easily,” I screeched as I lied, then cleared my throat to calm myself down. “I need sweats, and I need my bra.” They were two very trivial things, sure, but I reasoned that if he ever decided to attack me he’d have to remove four articles of clothing instead of just two.
So credits to him, he grabbed some sweats and headed downstairs to retrieve my bra. It both amazed and discouraged me, knowing that as much as he liked to expose me he was willing to aid my decency as long as it prevented me from lashing out at him. He only helped me because it benefitted himself.
The hot water had loosened up my aching muscles somewhat, so I was able to slip into the boxers and sweats while the man got my bra; but it wasn’t without a lot of hissing through clenched teeth. Once my bottom half was dressed, I wrapped myself back up in the towel just as the man began to climb the stairs; footsteps heavy as if to warn me he was coming.
When he came back inside, there was an unspoken drill that neither of us discussed but both of us knew. I turned my back to him and lifted one arm out at a time as he put my undergarment around me and did it up. And like he was helping to dress a child, he pulled the shirt over my head and ripped the towel off of me. It didn’t matter because I was already covered, but I worried one day he’d do it when I wasn’t.
I put my arms through the sleeves, and meanwhile he had returned to the bathroom to hang the towel back up. Unsure of what to do, I lowered myself onto the bed; back cracking as I laid flat on the mattress, toes still touching the floor. I let out a sigh, creating a countdown in my head so I could approximate the time I wasn’t too sore to move.
The man came back in and shut off of the light but didn’t close the door behind him, so I knew he wasn’t going to be keeping me company for too much longer. It was early morning, so I had a feeling that despite the fact he didn’t sleep a wink he still planned on going to work like he had every morning religiously.
“Are you hungry?” He asked, giving me the option instead of just giving me a plate of food.
“No.” I said, and I genuinely wasn’t. I hadn’t eaten since yesterday morning but I didn’t have an appetite. If I were to eat, chances were I would only emesis. My stomach wasn’t empty but it felt so full; maybe from the chronic disappointment of not being able to escape. I ate self-loathing like it was a meal.
“I don’t want to leave you,” he confessed and walked over so he was hovering above me, his presence that once raised the temperature dropping it. “But I have a job to do. I don’t want to choose my work over you, Edie, I truly don’t, but I’m left with no choice. You won’t fall apart without me, and that makes all the difference.”
“No,” I agreed. “I only fall apart when you’re around.”
He bent over, placing his hands beside my head as he leant down; keeping his face an inch or two from mine. I turned my face to the side, but his rough hand on my cheek turned it back. Eyes wide, I shuddered with great horror as I wondered what he was going to do.
“I’m about to unravel you, now.” He said, before placing his lips over mine.
And pulling away before I had the chance to bite him. He didn’t so much as glance down at me as he walked away, still closing the door behind him because he didn’t yet trust me to be alone despite my inconvenient state. It made me feel good, in a way, because he still had his doubts about how incapable he believed I was.
Because he was aware I still had strength buried within me.