Sure, the scar running down the side of my face is horrifying, but I think it's the change in my personality after what I went through that caused it is what's truly horrible. I've become distant, distrustful, draining, and pretty much devoid of all emotions except for the terror I feel every night when I close my eyes and relive it. If I'm being honest with myself, I feel absolute terror during daylight hours, too ... jumping, sweating, and panicking, at every knock at the door and nearby car door slam.
My family doesn't care about my moods or my face, they're all just glad that I'm still alive. My best friend since preschool claims that even with a permanent reminder of a moment gone terribly wrong, I'm still hotter than she is. Of course, she's totally full of crap. And in no way do I believe her, but I love her to death for lying. I've never been overly concerned about my appearance, but having the option to either enhance or ignore what I'd been blessed and cursed with, had been reassuring.
There's nothing I can do with my looks now. I could play up my large brown eyes, dye my hair platinum blond, or add bright red lipstick to my fuller than average lips, and all anyone will see is the jagged mark dividing my cheek in two. The plastic surgeon who'd been in the ER that day did what he could. And though I know it's healed better than it could have, I'm still self-conscious. And worse than that, I'm still freaked out that something like this could happen to me again.
'Isolated incidents' do happen, but as the name suggests they are isolated, yet that knowledge doesn't stop the loss of sleep or the knotted-up stomach that I've been experiencing every day since I opened my front door and became the star of a real life nightmare. The attack was vicious and unprovoked in my opinion, but in Barry's warped mind I was to blame. Seconds before I felt the knife slice into my skin, he screamed that if I didn't want him, he'd make damn fucking sure no one would ever want me again. And he succeeded in more ways than one.
Even if a guy could look past my disfigurement and try to get to know the woman behind it, he won't like who he finds. My safeguards have all been put into place, and not even a tank can break through them. I learned the hard way that having someone love me only winds up hurting them or me. At least I have one thing going for me. I'm a full partner in a software company that I helped create, so I can still support myself while I essentially hide out.
My partner in crime, as well as in business, is due to arrive any time now. Knowing that though, didn't stop my jump at his knock, or the rush of adrenaline that followed, telling me to get as far from the door as I possibly could. I've added two new deadbolts to each of my doors, and had my cousin install a peephole in the front one. Those wouldn't have prevented my injury, since I considered Barry a friend and would've let him in once I saw it was him standing there, but the extra safety measures made me feel a little more in control.
I looked through the peephole and saw a face as familiar to me as my own used to be. I was ninety-nine percent sure that this man would cut his legs off before he'd hurt me in any capacity, so I unlocked the door and opened it. As he routinely does, he gave me a friendly kiss on the cheek. He always chooses the scarred one to smack his lips against, and it never fails to make me feel nauseous and feel loved. He doesn't care how I look as long as I pull my weight when it comes to work, which I hate to admit ... isn't as much as it should be lately.
When he raised himself back up to his full six-foot-two-inch height, he smiled at the mixed emotions skittering across my face. His grin is always genuine, his eyes are darker than mine, and his slightly overgrown hair is a few shades lighter than my jet black mop. I used to pull it back into a ponytail so it would stay out of my way as I raced from one thing to the next during the day, but now I leave it down as sort of a barrier between my messed up face and the world that has to look at it.
"Not that I don't like you feeding me and all," he said, making sure my door was locked before coming further into the house, "but when are you going to get your ass back to your office during operating hours?"
"Our current arrangement is working just fine. In fact, I get more done when I'm alone."
"Bullshit. In that cute little head of yours ticks a brain quicker and more efficient than all of ours put together. Our employees work better when you're there electrifying the place."
I shot him a 'yeah, right' look. "Who's the one full of bullshit now?"
"Still you," he told me over his shoulder, as he headed to the kitchen for whatever I'd made this morning.
Today's menu consisted of homemade cinnamon rolls topped with a vanilla/bourbon glaze. I needed something to keep my mind occupied on nights I can't sleep, and I found out that I'm pretty good at baking as long as there's a recipe on hand to consult. But, like with everything else I've made, once whatever it is has gone from pan to plate, I never want to eat it. So Benji - the human garbage disposal - showing up here gets my counters clean in no time.
"Help yourself," I said, watching him cram half a roll into his mouth before I'd managed to get out the second word.
He stopped chewing only long enough to answer me. "I plan to."
My heart started beating fast again at the look he gave me. "Umm ... where are the papers you needed me to sign?" I asked, suddenly not trusting him or myself.
He's a friend and also a lifesaver when it came to keeping our company afloat after what happened, but that's where it ended. He hadn't shown any interest in developing something personal between us when I was normal, it would be dumb to think he'd want me now.
He apparently found my discomfort amusing. I don't really understand his mood or my scattered thoughts. We met through my sister who thought we'd be perfect together. And we were, but as friends and co-owners of a small but successful company. And yeah, we've been known to hang out after hours, and have become pretty close, but we never ventured into relationship territory. I even laughed hysterically when Barry asked me if Benji and I were - or had been - sleeping together. In hindsight, I know I completely missed all the red flags Barry had given me.
"The file's in my car. I figure we can talk about something other than business for a while."
"I'm fine with just discussing work," I told him, since this is usually the start of questions regarding my current mental state.
He took the cup of coffee I'd poured myself before I'd taken the unproductive stroll down bad memory lane, and he popped it into the microwave. He leaned a hip against the counter, and tapped his fingers absently against it until the thing finally beeped. Then he took the steaming cup out and sat down across from me at my kitchen table. He covered my hand with one of his huge ones before speaking again.
"How are you doing?" He asked, using his free hand to pick up the cup and blow on it.
I bit back a laugh. He overheats everything he touches. One time he made a hard boiled egg explode by accident.
"I'm good," I promised him, placing a hand over my heart for dramatic effect.
He pinned me with a determined stare. "That kind of answer won't work with me. Your face was completely white when you opened the door."
"I was born with a vampire's skin tone. I can't help that."
He kept up with the laser beam thing until I started to squirm. "Okay ... so I'm still jumpy. I tell myself it's stupid ... Barry's in jail, no one has been sniffing around me looking for a date so chances of a repeat attack are slim to none, but I can't seem to go back to feeling normal."
He squeezed my hand. "You will once you give yourself permission to go through all the grief stages."
"I got cut. I didn't die."
"That isn't completely true. You lost your peace of mind, your faith in others, and your old life has been tanked ..."
"Thanks a lot."
"Are you saying it's not true?"
I sighed. "No."
He linked our fingers while downing the last of the coffee. The contact felt good if a little foreign. It's been months since I've let someone other than family touch me. And even though he's been initiated into ours, this felt like more than just a brotherly show of support.
I raised my eyes from our joined hands and got caught in another stare. This one wasn't confrontational, though. I licked my lips nervously and he zeroed in on my mouth. I don't know what's going on here today, and there's no freakin' way I'm asking for fear he'll tell me. I don't think I'm ready to be half of a couple. And the possibility of the other half of that couple being my friend and partner had "Danger" written all over it. I'd overlooked all the warning signs with Barry, and I swore I'd never be that idiotic again.
I jerked my hand back and quickly stood, using his/my empty mug as an excuse to put some distance between us. It only worked short term. He also got up and took three steps, ending up right behind me.
"Are you scared of me?" He asked.
"At the moment? A little."
"You have no reason to be. I only want what's best for you, Syd."
"I know. And I appreciate it." I started to relax again. This is the guy I'm familiar with. "I don't know what's gotten into me today."
"You've gone through hell. Being confused about someone's intentions is understandable."
He gave me a friendly smile and bent his head to mine. I suppose he could've just overshot his customary cheek kiss and got my mouth instead, but when he lifted his head only after deepening the kiss slightly, the expression on his face was more smug than apologetic.
"Was that on purpose?" I asked, clearing the throat that had suddenly gone dry.
"Yes. You're a beautiful woman, scar or no scar. And it's time you stop fearing life and start enjoying it again."
"And you kissing me is going to help me do that?"
"That was just the beginning of how I plan on turning your life around ... and curling your toes a little while I'm at it."
My mouth opened and closed three times before he stopped the motion by pressing his lips against mine again. This time, I was an active participant in the event. I'd been too shocked to really respond like I should have to the first one.
"I'll be back for supper," he told me, when he pulled away. "And I'm bringing it with me, so you don't have to lift anything more than your cute butt to open the door for me ... unless you plan on keeping me and everyone else locked out indefinitely."
"You're welcome anytime," I whispered.
"I'm going to hold you to that. I may even spend the night so you can't take back the invite."
I had to choke back a laugh. "You're such a cocky bastard. Just because you don't find me too repulsive to kiss, doesn't mean I'm so grateful for it, I'll immediately jump into bed with you."
"I never thought you'd have sex with me out of gratitude." He leaned in close. "But you won't be able to resist me once I turn on the charm."
"Yep. But you've said that you like that about me."
"Truthfully, I've always debated it."
"You won't tonight," he promised. "I'll be back at six. And just so you can't change your mind, I'll bring the contracts back with me so you'll have to let me in or cost the company a shitload of money."
I felt myself smile, a real honest-to-goodness smile. "You fight dirty."
"I also play for keeps ... and you're about to find that out."
He braved another kiss, probably wondering if I'd try to bite him, and then left me standing there in the kitchen feeling completely dumbfounded. I shook my head in disbelief as I walked to the foyer to lock up behind him. Bad things happen to people everyday. I'm not special in that regard, but to have people like Benji and my family in my life, really brings home just how lucky I am that I hadn't been killed that day, and that I'd been given a second chance to live if only I'd allow myself to.