After we ate, we drove for hours, in silence. I look out the window most of the time, drinking the outside world that I almost forgot. Now and then I feel his gaze on me, as if he is checking up on me. But not like the guards did back with Freddie. He cares. I can tell he cares though I never had that feeling in my life.
No one cared for me. My mother sure didn’t care for me nor Iris. She only cared about her next fix. Iris loved me but she was too young to care for me. I was her mother and father and sister. And then... No one cared if I was well. No one cared if I was cold or hungry or in pain. No one cared if I was thinking of killing myself over and over. But he? He does. For some reason he does.
I lean back on my seat and while I watch the sky change into the colors of the sunset, my eyes grow weary. After all these years, I feel that sweet fatigue take over me, one that isn’t tense because of the fear that a man will come in and take me for his pleasure.
I jump up at his voice. I feel safe around him but it’s been so long since I last felt safe.
“It’s OK, Tamie,” he reassures me for the millionth time.
I glance to him as he drives and I take him all in again. When he gave me the phone to look at the photos, I caught my eyes drift to him in the pictures. There were times when he didn’t know the photo was taken, sitting somewhere in the background. And that’s when he looked so forlorn, sad, unhappy. Yet when he was facing the camera, he had that big smile on his face.
I look at him once more as he is focusing on the road. He has that same look on his face, that dark, haunted look that reminds me... Reminds me of my look when I let the mask on my face drop.
Then he turns to me and something changes. A smile blooms on his face and his eyes light up. This side of him I haven’t seen. Not in the times he doesn’t know I am looking, not when he is fake-smiling at the camera. It’s a real smile, one that makes his breathtaking face, well... take my breath away.
“Are you tired, Tamie?”
It’s been years since I admitted that simple thing to someone. That I was tired. There was never room for personal time. No being tired when I had to stay up, to fend off the strangers our mother brought back to our filthy house. No being tired when Daultrey was dragging me to my knees to plow into me. No being tired when Freddie demanded my presence for his clients.
“I am fine,” I plaster a fake smile on my face and pretend to look chipper.
“Tamie,” he warns me.
I still can’t get used to this, to being free, to speak my mind, to tell what I feel and what I need. But after thinking about how I felt when I cried in his arms, I sigh and turn to him once more.
“I am tired,” I say softly.
“We can stop for a shut-eye,” Wood pulls over and looks at me. “Is that OK with you?”
“What would you like to do?” I ask.
That question always pleased the men around me. They loved how I gave them control, how I relinquished my freedom to them. But I never did really lose control. I was always alert, always manipulating them, always vigilant to keep my sanity, who I am and what my goal was.
But I want to please Wood cause he bought me things and fed me. And I want to keep him pleased so he will take me to Iris. I don’t want to displease him but seeing his eyebrows furrow I fear I did just that.
“I want you to stop being scared of me, Tamie. How about that?”
I drink his appearance in. Of all the men I have met, he is one of the most scary-looking apart from Rage. His sheer bulk, the muscles that seem lethal, the deadly look in his eyes. Fear is what he is made to impose on others. But If I am being honest, I don’t fear him.
I open my mouth to say something but his phone rings and he puts it against his ear.
“Brother,” he talks into the phone. “Yeah, we good,” he glances at me. “I got her.”
Who is he talking to? His brother? Another man? Is he lying to me? Fear grips me and I glance at the door. Locked. Behind the window, endless fields but now I got shoes and I can make a run for it.
“I don’t need an escort. It will draw more attention. Rage stayed behind to take care of things as you ordered. I guess he will ride straight back to Iris,” Wood continues.
My sister’s name makes me turn to him. He seems relaxed and nods as the other person tells him something.
“No, brother. Tamie is tired so we are making a stop and we’ll be back tomorrow,” Wood says. “Yes, man. I’ll make sure.”
Make sure of what? Maybe make sure that I am compliant, quiet till I reach my new prison. I feel hurt in my gut. I trusted Wood, I cried in his arms, I believed in him. His betrayal will sting the most.
“Tamie?” Wood turns to me still holding the phone. “You want Iris to know that you are coming or you want to surprise her?”
My jaw drops at his question, with his thick voice and without a hint that he is lying. I am confused and I retreat further away from him. Am I being played by a real pro? I feel it in me that he really cares but do the others that he is taking me to care for me? Am I to be tossed as a sex toy once more?
My thoughts must be showing on my face and I am not fast enough to hide them. I try to muster my doll mask but Wood frowns once more and talks into the phone.
“No, man. Tell Iris nothing. She’ll figure it out once we are there. I’ll call tomorrow when we hit the road.”
That’s all Wood says and hangs up. Then angrily he pulls away and drives fuming, his nostrils flaring. He takes one deep breath and shuts his eyes for a moment but says nothing and I keep as far away from him as I can.
When he spots a motel on the road, he turns and parks but doesn’t make a move to get out of the car. He is still holding the wheel and his knuckles have gone white. I angered him. He asked a question and I offered no reply and now he is angry with me. My punishment is due.
Will he hit me? Shout at me? Insult me? Threaten me? I have been dealt the same treatment over and over again. All men are the same, they all want to take without punishment, grab without asking and hurt without guilt. I just thought that he was different, that he truly cares. But I was a fool to let my guard down. So I am standing still, looking out the window, preparing myself to hide to my happy place.
“I am not lying to you, Tamie. I am taking you back to your sister. I will not hurt you. I will protect you from any harm,” he says looking out the window too.
I gasp in the stillness of the car as his voice reaches me. It’s soft and low. And hurt. He sounds hurt and disappointed not with me but with himself.
“Do you understand me, Tamie?”
When I say nothing, he turns to me and takes me all in and for some bizarre reason I feel hot under his look. I want to believe him so much.
“Talk to me, kitten,” his look softens and his voice drops a few octaves.
That makes me shiver for a completely different reason. His voice, his look, the warmth and strength that radiates off him is dazzling me. And I need to stay sharp, eyes wide open. I need to be free and get to Iris, make sure she is OK. And this man is my key for the time being.
“You will...” I try to keep him like this, soft, nice. “You will take me to my sister,” I plaster a smile on my face. “You will not hurt me. You will protect me.”
If he only knew how many times I have heard those things over and over again. Empty promises, filled with threat. That has been my life for the past years but I am here. I am alive. I survived and I will make sure my sister is happy and safe even if it’s the last thing I do.
“Look at me, kitten,” Wood demands softly and I comply.
And for a few moments he simply studies me. His dark, deep eyes drill into mine, into my soul and the emotion in them is terrifying. And warm. One thing hasn’t changed in my thoughts about him. He is handsome and that thick beard makes me want to bury my fingers in it.
“Get your things,” suddenly he coughs and gets out of the car.
I get my things and I go round to his side of the car. He is leaning against it with a dark look in his eyes and smokes a cigarette.
“Let’s go,” he walks away in wide strides leaving me behind, not even looking if I am following.
What is troubling that man? I think and then follow him.