We drive for about an hour, before parking in the driveway of a columned mansion. We pass through the gates, and I stare at the large estate. I don’t get how these people have so much money.
“Stay in the car,” Judah tells me, “I’m serious.”
He pops his door open and walks off to the front doors, before I can glance at him. I don’t know where we are, so I can’t disappear. I scan the landscape covered in snow and spot other expensive cars parked nearby. I frown, wondering what Judah is even doing.
He stays inside for a long time. Slowly, vapours of my breath are more and more visible.
Unfortunately, he has turned the car off, so I suffer in the cold. I zip up my coat to the top and slowly pop my door loose, slipping out. Standing up, I rub my hands together.
I close the door and look at the old gatekeeper far away. He sits in his booth, snoring. My boots sink down into the snow. I curl my toes, regretting not having thicker socks on. The whiteness of the snow and the grey skies hurt my eyes.
Who lives here? I ask myself. First, a prison, now a mansion—strange is what this is. I jog over to the gatekeeper and knock on the glass.
Startled from his snoring slumber, he looks at me. I ask for the time and he shows me that it’s ten after two.
I groan. I’ve been sitting here alone for over four hours. Plus, I don’t have my phone on me. And Judah’s phone is in the car.
I walk up to the door. I lift the door knocker and hit it several times. Rosalie, what are you doing? Judah said to stay in the car.
An old man dressed in a butler’s suit answers. Feeling off, I stutter.
“C-can you please, uh, call Judah for me?” I ask.
As if he didn’t hear a word I said, the butler steps to the side and invites me in. I take a step in and he closes the door, walking away. I give him a strange look, but then see a pair of Victoria Secret type girls sway down the curved stairs. They wear nothing but see-through lingerie. There are more of them appearing down the hall, walking every which way.
I stare at the gigantic modern chandeliers running down the foyer. The floors are too shiny, and the furniture is detailed with gold and silver.
I turn the corner and find a large room. My eyes shock me. Two naked women entertain a set of sophisticated looking men’s fantasies, using unmentionable items on each other. I back away, wishing I hadn’t seen or heard it. The best way I can describe it is that it’s live porn. I just shut my eyes and try to think of happy things.
Suddenly, my back hits something hard, like a wall. I turn around, and my eyes find a tall man with finely combed hair and a black suit, though the buttons of his shirt aren’t buttoned.
“Can I help you?” he asks me.
I quickly shake my head. He looks past me at the live porn show behind. He then glances at my winter getup, and figures that I’m not part of what’s happening.
“How’d you get in here?”
“Uh,” I voice and point my finger at the door. “The-the butler...”
He then politely smiles. Before he can get any ideas, I speak clearly.
“I’m looking for Judah,” I tell the new stranger in a clear tone.
I’d hate to think that Judah is busy... somewhere. But the gentleman frowns.
“Judah?” he asks, “How do you know him?”
I feel like giving him details might get me into trouble.
“I just need to see him,” I stand up straight.
The gentleman tilts his head to the side and looks me over with sly eyes.
“This way,” he motions.
I carefully follow him up the stairs. I should have listened and stayed in the car. But then my fingers would have fallen off from frostbite. I’m currently appreciating the heated house.
There are many closed doors. I make sure to be cautious. Some are slightly open, revealing sexual activities occurring behind them. I try to look forward.
Finally, we enter a fancy office space, where Judah sits across another sketchy looking businessman. What they could be discussing for over four hours, I don’t know.
The gentleman behind me grabs the back of my neck, making me wince. I try to fight him off, but I have no luck.
“Judah,” he calls. Judah turns and sees me. He looks ticked off at the sight of me not sitting in the car. “Do you mind if I use this one?”
I squirm under his grip. Judah stands to his feet, annoyed.
“Get your hands off her.”
The gentleman raises his brows, seeming fascinated.
“Oh. So she is yours?” he asks.
I don’t know what’s going on.
“Yeah,” Judah confirms, angrily. “Touch her and I’ll kill you.”
The smug gentleman lets me free. Just as fast, Judah pulls me out the office.
“Get back in the car,” is all he tells me.
“But what’s taking so long? It’s freezing in there,” I hiss back.
“I’ll be there in a minute,” he says more calmly.
He sends me off and walks back into the office. The bad gentleman rudely stares at me with a smirk drawn on his face. I sigh, irritated by all this. I turn around and walk away, but the gentleman’s voice rings in my ears.
“I didn’t know that Judah has a new toy.”
I quicken my pace, before I run into more trouble.
“What part of ′stay in the car’ didn’t you understand?”
He’s fuming. I feel it.
“It’s not my fault. I told you I was getting cold... and you were gone for so long,” I mumble, hating him for scolding me.
“So I guess that’s my fault?” he hits the steering wheel.
His loud voice makes me stiffen up. I stare at my knees. I want to ask badly about that place, but I know he won’t explain. I’m not a fan of his ‘business partners’, as he calls it. But I can’t stop thinking about how the stranger referred to me as... Judah’s toy. New toy. Meaning he had other ones before. My self-esteem isn’t that low to accept that.
“Why’d that guy call me your new toy?” I say out loud, “Because that’s not what I am.”
Judah goes on, as if he doesn’t hear me. He turns the car to the curb. I decide to repeat myself.
“Did you hear me? I’m not your toy!” I say louder.
“Shut up,” he glares at me, “Go inside.”
I’m taken aback. He walks out and heads to his front door. I begin to feel frustrated. I’m forced to quickly catch up to him, before he gets more upset.
“I tried tolerating all this stuff you do and all these people you know. But I’m starting to get sick of it.”
His actions become rougher. He slams the keys against the counter and throws his leather jacket over the chair’s armrest. I stand still, afraid.
“I-I’m going home...” I murmur under my breath.
“No, you’re not,” he says firmly.
I’ve never witnessed him this pissed. But I tell myself that I’m allowed to be just as angry. Why should I put up with this?
“But—” I croak.
“I said no!” he shouts.
“You don’t get to decide!” I suddenly scream.
I must’ve popped a vein, because my head starts aching. But before I can blink or even take a breath, Judah grabs both my arms and slams me against the wall. He stares hard in my eyes, with his brows lowering in anger.
“We,” he says strictly, “Are not doing this.”
My body stands like a statue, bracing in Judah’s compressing grip. The sheer volume of pain that pierces my back brings tears to my eyes.
Really realizing how strong he is and how easy it is for him to break me in half... how much damage he can do... I start to freak out in my head.
A few heavy tears escape and roll down my cheeks. I’m positive that something is fractured. I breathe out a shaky ‘ow’. I’m too scared to move.
Judah releases his hands and takes a step back. I couldn’t see his face change, because I was ready to fall over. My legs shake.
Judah’s expression looks shocked and regretful. His mouth hangs open.
“God. Shit, Rose... I didn’t—” Judah utters, breathlessly.
“Ow,” I cry out.
“I’m sorry—I’m so sorry, Rose. I—” he stresses.
I shut my eyes, not able to cope. I think I need space. I need air, and maybe a doctor.
I wince, feeling Judah’s fingers wiping away my tears. There’s no way for me to drown out his voice.
He whispers, “No, Rose, I’m sorry.”
“Don’t touch me,” I say lowly.
Immediately, Judah draws back his hands. I watch him clench his jaw. He looks away.
Without looking back, I rush out of there. I walk through the door and into the snow with faulty legs. If I thought it was cold before, I was wrong.
“You should have called me!”
I spend a therapeutic day in Mara’s dorm room. We sit together and eat a bunch of junk from the vending machine downstairs.
“I know,” I sigh, after explaining to my best friend pretty much everything.
“I would shove my fist up his—”
I cut her off, “He isn’t a bad person, though. He just has a hard time controlling his anger.”
She looks me up and down, “You’re defending him now? You ranted for 10 hours how terrible he is.”
I shake my head, “You don’t get it.”
I put the ring chips on the tip of my fingers, before eating them. I don’t really want to talk about Judah. Though, I’m deeply worried about leaving him, since he doesn’t deal with that well.
“Then tell me something,” Mara clicks her soda can open. “Do you love him?”
“I... I don’t know,” I whine, as if she asked me an algebra problem.
“Well, what about him being in a gang?”
“He’s not just in the mafia,” I make my fingers in air quotes, returning to my ranting mood. “Mara. He’s a freaking leader, which makes things complicated. And there are so many things he’s not telling me.”
“Maybe it’s best if you know less,” Mara nods, “That’s if you’re leaving him for good... Are you?”
I take a minute to think about it. Truthfully, I already miss him. How can I possibly leave him forever, when my heart hurts at the thought?
“I don’t think I can,” I mumble, feeling blue.
“I... think you should take a break. A long one at least,” Mara advises, opening another candy bar, “After what he did.”
I had shown her the large bruise covering my back, since she had to help me ice it for two days.
“He didn’t do it on purpose,” I say.
She turns into an ogre and puffs air, “He hit you!”
I correct her, “He didn’t hit me. He pushed me.”
Mara frowns and waves her hand around, searching for words.
“Same difference! He put his hands on you and that’s a big fat no-no! No matter how sexy, sweet, or romantic he is—that’s a no-no!”
I lose my appetite and pitch my chip bag away. Tears brim in my eyes. I bring my knee up and rest my chin on it. I don’t think I can go another day without Judah.
“We just had a stupid fight,” I say.
Mara reaches to hug me, before I have another crying fit. Why do I feel like crap? I rub my eyes and slouch my shoulders.
“You’re bound to have fights with your boyfriend. But if he really cares about you, he’ll let you win them,” Mara turns into a relationship guru or something.
My academic advisor told me to take intensive courses to catch up. She made an exception for me and registered me in some online classes, since I was still in satisfactory standing.
On my way back to my dorm, I dial my parents. I have to ease their minds and prove to them that I’m still alive. I’ve been gone from my normal life for so long that everything feels awkward.
“Rosalie! Is that you?!”
“Yes, mom. Hi,” I say through my phone.
“Where have you been? Do you know how many times I called? I was so worried! Why weren’t you picking up your phone? Are you alright? Are you okay? I was about to buy a ticket to fly over there! Why haven’t you answered any of my calls?”
“Mom. I’m fine. I had lost my phone and I just found it,” I lie.
She bites the bait for a second, but then says, “There are public phones around! You could have at least called!”
“I’ve been super busy,” I say, lifeless.
“Are you wearing proper clothes? It’s winter now, you know. It’s not summer anymore. Make sure you dress warm and double up! Drink lots of soup. Don’t eat garbage.”
She goes on the whole time it takes me to get to my dorm. I turn the knob and walk in my empty room.
Then dad’s voice comes in the background.
“Are you coming home for Christmas time?”
My steps become slower. My phone does a beep sound, which means someone else is calling. I stare at the screen.
“Um, yeah. I’ll talk to you later. Bye.”
I quickly tap for the other line.
It’s quiet for a moment.
“How are you?” he asks.
“I’m fine,” I say.
“Could I... come by?”
I look at the floor, feeling conflicted. I could say no, and force myself to stay in this miserable situation. But I do wish to see him. I wish for things between us to go back to how they were.
“Yes,” I answer.
It’s quiet again. I don’t hear his voice. My feet walk me around the room. I picture him smoking.
“See you,” he says.
In a long hour, there’s a knock on my door. I get up from my bed and close my textbooks.
I pull the door open and meet Judah, gasping. I have to cover my mouth. He doesn’t look like Judah. He looks disheveled. He has dark circles under his eyes. Three-day’s old stubble sits along his chin and jaw. The tip of his nose is a little red from the cold. I open the door wider, letting him inside.
I couldn’t believe how tired he looked. He probably hasn’t slept. He didn’t eat—I’m sure.
I blink, trying to take it in, though I feel like my heart just ripped.
Did he torture himself? If so, for how long? Is he hurting?
“I’m... I’m glad you came,” I say, looking away from his icy grey eyes.
He stays silent and enters my room. His hands are in his pockets. I watch him distantly.
“Are you okay?” I worry.
Judah nods his head, though he’s staring at a wall.
Did I make him like this? I can’t begin to imagine what he’s done the moment I set foot out of his house. Did he break things? Did he punch more holes in the walls? Did he starve himself? Did he stay up every night just to beat himself up? God, I don’t know. I don’t know what to say. I pray that he’ll meet me in the middle.
“I missed you,” Judah says, which makes me swallow hard in my dry throat.
“I missed you, too,” I say, pulling my sleeves down.
He still won’t look me in the eyes, like he’s ashamed of himself or something. I know he’s sorry. I just need him to come back to me.
My eyes can’t help but stare at him. Why would he miss me? He could easily find some other girl to replace me. I try to figure out why he’s here.
“Um,” I sigh, “Do you want to sleep over?”
Judah shakes his head and says, “I was just staying for a minute.”
“Why can’t you... stay?”
He finally looks me in the eyes. He doesn’t answer me, though. I hate it when he’s not himself.
I tell him, “I want you to stay.”
He frowns and looks away again. I get frustrated that he finds everything else in my room more interesting than me.
“Rose,” he calls me.
I stretch my arms and embrace him.
My head presses onto his chest, listening to his heartbeat. His heavy breaths land on the top of my head. I don’t think I was ever angry with him from the start. I was just worried about him.
Judah’s arms make their way around me, holding me close.
“I’m leaving the country.”