Katie finally pulled back from Cash’s tight embrace, giving him a small smile. He kissed the tip of her nose and gently set her back down on the window seat, before returning to his rocking chair.
“I’ve never really talked about this before,” Katie said, her voice trembling a little. “Not in detail. It might be a little hard for me to get through, so could you just let me talk? I’m afraid if I stop, I won’t want to keep going.”
Cash nodded encouragingly. Katie took in a deep breath, then started.
“After the wedding, we went back to Nashville. I hadn’t lived with Damien before we got married, so I was excited to redecorate the apartment, make it more ours and less just him. When I brought up going furniture shopping, Damien immediately dismissed it. He said it was ridiculous to redo an apartment that was already fully furnished. I didn’t fight him on it. I just figured he was right, why waste money on new stuff when we already have everything? The biggest change he insisted on was that I had to quit my job. I thought that was ridiculous and I told him so.” Katie swallowed hard.
“That was the first time he hit me. I didn’t even see it coming. One second I’m talking about how much I love my job and I want to keep working, the next it felt like my cheek was on fire. I was shocked. I didn’t know what to think, what to say. I started crying and Damien pulled me into a hug, apologizing and saying he’d never do anything like that again.” Katie paused, taking a minute to gather her thoughts.
“I tried to forget about it. He had always been so sweet to me, I just figured he’d had a bad day. Any excuse to convince myself he hadn’t done it on purpose, that it was an accident. I quit my job and figured out pretty quickly Damien wanted a servant, not a wife: someone who cooks, cleans, is always happy, loving and obedient. I didn’t try to cause any trouble and for a few months things went well. I didn’t really like being his servant, but it made him happy, and I had realized if he was happy, I was happy.” She shook her head.
“I didn’t see it, didn’t see that he was conditioning me to need him. I have a goddamn degree in psychology and I didn’t see all the things he was doing. Making sure I was isolated, making sure he was the most important person in my life, making sure I cared more about him than anything else. After those first few months, he started criticizing me. He’d complain about meals or the state of the apartment. He loved insulting me: how I looked, how I dressed, how I was stupid and ugly and useless.”
There was a loud wooden creak, which caused Katie to finally look at Cash. He was gripping the armrests of the rocking chair so hard, his knuckles were turning white. He looked furious. Katie gave him a little smile and waited for his death grip on the armrests to end before she started talking again.
“I started to retreat into myself. I kept coming up with reasons for his behavior: he was stressed or tired or drunk. I had no idea how much he drank before we got married. He basically spent all his time either drinking in bars or drinking at home. And he was a mean drunk. Six months into everything, he hit me again. Then it just started getting more frequent. It started with slaps, then punches.” Katie paused, swallowing hard. She had a stricken look on her face and couldn’t meet Cash’s eyes.
“Then he started with his knives. He came home one night, drunk off his ass, and started screaming that I was an embarrassment to his family. He said... He said I was a useless piece of shit and he never should have married me. Then he grabbed a knife off the counter and slashed my arm with it.”
Katie stopped, choking up at the memory. She was unconsciously tracing a scar on her right arm. Cash had turned pale and wanted more than anything to go to Katie, to comfort her, but he knew this was when she needed physical space from people.
“I needed stitches, but Damien refused to take me to the ER, so I ended up closing it with glue and wrapping a bandage around it. And do you know what he did after he cut me? After I screamed and my blood was dripping onto the floor? He laughed. He just kept laughing, like seeing me bleed was the funniest thing in the world to him. And then he said, ‘Fuck, if I knew it was this easy to shut your mouth, I would have started with knives at the beginning.’ Then he just went to bed.”
Katie paused, squeezing her eyes shut as if to block out the memory. Cash was just in shock.
“Knives became his new favorite toy,” Katie finally continued, her voice hoarse. “He still hit me, but he got some kind of perverse pleasure in watching me bleed. He tried to avoid my face. He knew if we ever needed to show up to a campaign rally, I needed to look presentable. But the rest of my body...” Katie trailed off. “That’s when his sick games changed. He realized watching me bleed turned him on, so he’d cut me, then rape me. Whenever I tried to fight him off, he’d laugh and tell me I belonged to him and he could do whatever he wanted to me.”
Cash stood up suddenly, the rocking chair sliding across the wooden floors. He started pacing, a look of murderous rage on his face. Katie wrapped herself tighter in the blanket. She wasn’t scared of Cash, but talking about her past was extremely difficult. She felt like she was giving him access to her deepest, darkest secrets and she wasn’t entirely comfortable with it. After a minute, Cash stopped and kneeled in front of Katie.
“Angel, I...” Cash’s voice trailed off. “God, I’m sorry. I’m so fucking sorry.” Katie reached a hand out and cupped Cash’s cheek. He raised one of his hands and laid it gently over her’s.
“My past isn’t pretty, Cash,” Katie said gently. “I have scars on the inside, ones I’m not sure will ever fully heal. But I’m working on it. I’m working on putting myself back together. I wish I didn’t have to tell you this stuff, but you need to know.” Cash nodded, taking her hand off his cheek and kissing her palm.
“Tell me,” he said. He grabbed the rocking chair and moved it back, sitting down and watching Katie intently.
“We’d been married a little over a year when things...changed. I’d been the dutiful daughter-in-law, showing up when the Crawley’s needed me to, smiling and waving. They didn’t push for me to do any speeches, but the Senator definitely started using my life story to elicit sympathy and manipulate people. I realized they knew about Damien. They were never surprised if I showed up with bruises or cuts, they’d just make sure makeup or my outfit covered everything.” Katie tugged on one of her sleeves, seemingly unaware of what she was doing.
“Before we got married, Damien told me he worked for his family’s business. I didn’t know that meant he would occasionally campaign for his dad and then just live off of his trust fund. His family seemed to want to keep him as far away from the press as possible, nervous that he’d say something when he was drunk. I realized I was completely alone. The Crawley’s had no intention of helping me, of stopping Damien. They just wanted us to behave and then they’d send us away again, waiting until our next summons.” Katie sighed.
“Then Damien gave some impromptu interview to a local reporter in Nashville. He was completely plastered and ended up complaining about his family ‘controlling’ him and I was a stupid, useless cow he never loved. The fallout was awful. The Senator’s team tried to fix things, saying Damien had been misquoted or taken out of context or the journalist just remembered the conversation wrong. People were livid, so the Crawley’s wanted us as far away from Tennessee as possible. They didn’t care where, just away.” Katie started running her finger along the bottom of the window pane.
“Damien picked Chicago. I know he did it on purpose just to hurt me. When we were dating, I’d told him how much I hated Chicago, that I had horrible memories there, that I never wanted to go back. I wasn’t even surprised when he told the family that’s where he wanted to go. The Crawley’s arranged everything. Found a house for us, furnished the place, made sure everything was perfect so they could release a statement saying we needed privacy from the intrusive press. All lies.” Katie took a deep breath before continuing.
“Once Damien knew his family wasn’t close by anymore, he got...creative in the different ways he hurt me. He went to some fetish store and bought a bunch of whips and this bamboo cane that hurt almost as much as getting shot. A few months into that, he broke me. He knew it and I knew it. I stopped fighting him, I stopped trying to reason with him. I just gave up. I believed everything he said about me. How I was this useless idiot, whose only purpose was to let him hurt me. Whenever I ended up in the ER, and it was frequent, despite how much it pissed Damien off that I had to go, I never told anyone he hurt me, no matter how many times they asked. Nurses, social workers, even the police, I just said I was clumsy.” Katie took in a shaky breath.
“We’d travel back to Tennessee for different events, but even his family could see I wasn’t helpful to the Senator anymore. I couldn’t talk to people at fundraisers, I couldn’t smile for photos, I just stood there, my mind almost completely separate from my body. We stopped getting invited to events, which pissed off Damien and he took it out on me. I have trouble remembering a lot of that time. It’s like there are gaps in my memory. Some things I remember with perfect clarity, but most of it is gone.”
Katie burrowed even deeper into the blanket, trying to hold back the flood of emotions threatening to overwhelm her. She wasn’t sure she was ready to revisit the next part of her past, but Cash deserved to know everything. He deserved all of her.