I glance sideways at the man driving the big car. He is, as I first thought him to be, a handsome man in his rough, ragged way. His dark hair is in an undercut hairstyle and there are strands on his face constantly, as if he is trying to hide his eyes from the world.
There is a darkness lingering all over him that covers his wishes from me. I can’t read him simply because he doesn’t know what he needs to feel good. Even worse. He doesn’t want to feel good.
And as I study him, he turns to me and looks me straight in the eyes. I swallow and try to keep my face straight. Like I said, he is a handsome man. One that I would see on magazines back then and show it to Iris and we would make crazy stories of how we would meet. None of our stories were as crazy as the one I am living now.
“You OK, Tamie?”
“You keep asking that question,” I am perplexed.
“I keep asking the fucking question cause you haven’t fucking answered it, Tamie. Are you OK?”
OK? What is OK? Is being held for years as a slave OK? Is seeing the man that tortured you being torn to pieces OK? Is being OK with seeing a man die a brutal death OK?
"No" is the right answer, a constant denial of the simple fact that I am alive and taken god knows where with a man that was carrying a gun a while ago. He says that he is taking me to Iris but...
"Tamie, I see that brain of yours working overtime," Wood demands my attention and I need to give it to him to keep him calm. "Let's start with the basics," he says and fusses with his hair. "Are you hungry?"
I am but... They never like it when I ask for something. Is he the same? I can try. If I am not to make any real demands, he will get angry and maybe hit me a few times - not in the face, never in the face - and then I'll know.
“I... I am hungry,” I dare.
Wood smiles a wide smile, shakes his head and looks out the window. Daultrey and Freddie would get angry if I made any requests. They brought me food and they made me work for it. They said it was them providing and I had to do my part. Even mother would protest if I asked for money to buy food.
Work for it... I know what I have to do so I shift on my seat and I get closer to him. He doesn’t seem to notice, he keeps his eyes on the buildings we pass. I control my shivering, I drive my hand down his crotch and I tighten my fingers over his idle cock.
“What the fuck!?”
He swears and for a moment he loses control of the car. I recoil to the far end of my seat and I shut my eyes. I angered him again. He will punish me now, he will not take me to Iris. And maybe he will call that man, that crazy man and Iris will suffer again because of me.
The car swerves and then it stops completely and I let out a whimper. I hear him seethe for a while and hit the steering wheel while I wait for his outburst. Cover your face and your guts, I know exactly what to do in situations like these. Make yourself small and endure.
“Tamie, look at me,” he orders and I comply readily.
His look is menacing and filled with wrath and I can’t tell what I need to do to calm him down. Do I strip down naked? Do I cry and beg for forgiveness? Do I ask to be punished? I have done all these things again and again but this man... He is not like the others.
“Why did you do this, Tamie?”
“I... I asked for food.”
“I asked for food and food comes at a price.”
“Motherfucker,” he hisses through tight teeth.
He closes his eyes and takes in deep breaths. The knuckles of the fingers he has around the wheel turn white but after a while, he relaxes and turns to me calmer.
“Don’t look at me as if I am about to explode, Tamie. I am not going to hurt you. OK?”
“OK,” I nod though I know they all say that they are not going to hurt me only to hurt me in the end.
“You don’t need to do... this for food or anything. You got it?”
“But how will I pay for it?”
“Tamie, you don’t need to pay for anything. I will pay for you.”
“Why would you do that?”
“Cause you are Iris’s sister! Cause she is family and now you are family, too.”
I gape at him like an idiot. I search his eyes and he seems sincere. How did this happen? Is he telling me the truth? Has Iris found a home, a family to care for her and protect her? Is he lying to me to keep me compliant? Yes, that's it. It's a scheme, a lie to keep me calm.
Freddie used drugs to keep the girls compliant but I saw what drugs did to them. I decided it's better to be a good girl on my own and the men that came liked the fact that was wide awake. But this lie Wood - or whatever his name is - is telling me? That is the worst drug. A sliver of hope that I might see Iris again is enough.
The man looks at me and reads my expression. No! I panic. I dropped my facade, I pull myself together and give him a faint, innocent smile. His eyes narrow.
"You think I am bullshitting you?"
"No," I broaden my smile. "You say you are taking me to my sister. I believe you," I lie as best as I can.
He swears under his breath and then reaches for his pocket. Knife? I have tasted a knife on my skin when I refused to whip a girl for someone's pleasure.
“Look,” Wood takes out a phone and shifts through it before handing it to me.
I take a good long look at the photo on the screen. I look back at him in disbelief. He nods. It can't be true. But how I wish it is.
The tears well up in my eyes. Iris! Iris is sitting on that man’s lap, Rage, and has her arms around his neck. There is a big table and there are so many people there smiling, Wood is one of them, raising a beer bottle to the camera. But I focus on her, my little sister. She has a bright, wide smile on her face. She is happy, so happy.
“She is...” I sob. “She is so beautiful and happy.”
“She is,” Wood confirms.
“That’s all I ever wanted for her.”
“She will be complete with you there, Tamie. So, you trust me now?”
Trust? That is too big for me. I trust me. I trust Iris. That is all the trust I have to give.
“OK,” Wood shakes his head. “Not trust. But do you get that I will give you shit and take you to Iris without you having to... give anything back?”
I study him once more. He seems relaxed but also a bit... embarrassed? He can’t be. I have never met a man to be embarrassed taking from me what he wanted. Men are not like that.
“I get it,” I say sincerely.
“Good. Now, steak OK? Cause I would kill for a steak right now.”
“If that is what you want,” I nod.
Wood’s jaw drops and he takes me all in. His look is scorching, intense but for the first time in my life, I don’t want to scream and peel it off me. Then he moves, takes my chin between his finger and his thumb and forces me to look at him. The feel of his rough fingers on me should be making my skin crawl but as I focus on his deep eyes, I feel a different kind of emotion take over. The same unrecognizable emotion I got when I first saw him.
“Do you want a goddamn steak, Tamie?” Wood demands.
At the thought my mouth waters. I would – how did he phrase it? - I would kill for a steak. I relax and nod and that is enough to make his rough, face lose some of its tension. But not all of it.
“Damn right,” he releases me and starts the car. “We need to stop to get you some clothes or at least shoes and then we eat.”
“This or this?” I ask Wood.
We are in a big store and I can tell Wood is not liking this. He looks around agitated and glances at the mirrors to check the area all the time. But as I ask, he turns to me and looks at the two dresses I am holding.
“Tamie,” he warns me.
“No, really, I can’t choose. This or this?”
His face cracks a little side smile and I can feel the women in here swoon without seeing their faces. He is that good-looking. He seriously regards both dresses and then points to the black one.
“But get both. Try on some jeans and t-shirts. And find some biker boots.”
“I’ll get them for you,” he glances at my bare feet as if guessing my size and he vanishes to a corridor.
I panic as soon as his broad back is out of sight and without even thinking, holding the dresses to my chest, I follow him. I know this world. It was the one I used to live in. But now it seems like a distant memory and it scares me. But around him, I feel safe so I need to stay close.
I find him looking at some black leather boots and I stand beside him. He looks down with his eyebrows frowned but all I do is look around at all these people and drift closer to him. Some of the women ogle him openly and then look at me and shrug. Do they think that me and Wood...?
“Try these on,” he hands me a pair. “And...” Wood coughs lightly, “you need... underwear.”
I look up to him and his face is strained as if he is fighting to hold back from something as his eyes roam my body. Underwear. I blush. After years, I blush at having his heated eyes on me and I am aware that I am not wearing any underwear.
I haven’t felt this normally self-aware ever since I was a girl, throwing myself at Daultrey. It was him that demanded I walked around naked underneath. I forgot that normal people don’t walk around like sex slaves.
“Yes, that would be great,” I nod.
Wood puts his hand on my back and gently pushes me to the underwear department but leans against the wall when we reach there.
“And Tamie,” he calls and I turn to look at him, “for the love of God don’t come out showing me panties to choose from. I am only human.”
To this, I break into a smile. I shrug and raise my brow before focusing on my shopping. This is good. Please, god, make it last.