Collared

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Chapter 3

“You’re still not going to tell us what happened?” Sam asked. My friends were helping me move into a new apartment. And by that, I meant they were helping me unpack an entire kitchen I’d gotten from the thrift store. I had to completely start over and although I had one saved, I didn’t want to completely drain my savings. New towels had been a necessity, but I could deal with used kitchen supplies. My new king sized bed and mattress had been the only thing I splurged on. The three of them still shared the house we all used to live in, but I didn’t want to move back in with them even though they’d offered. After everything, I needed privacy.

“It just didn’t work out,” I shrugged, doing my best to keep my emotions under control. “We. weren’t as good of a match as we thought.”

“So you’re going to come to Dynamite with us, right?” Danny asked.

“No,” I said, shaking my head. “I need a break. I don’t want to go looking for a new Dom right now.”

Or ever. But that conversation would have to come later.

“Danny’s got himself a hot date,” Ellie said.

“Oh?” I asked. I didn’t have to fake interest. If one of them found a good Dom, I’d be happy for them. Even if the little voice in the back of my head would nag me and remind me that good Doms didn’t exist.

“Yes, his name is Tom.” I nodded, waiting for him to continue. “He doesn’t want a contract.”

“Oh?” I asked him, confused.

“Yeah,” he continued enthusiastically. “He doesn’t take submissives unless he wants to be in a relationship with them. He’s taken me on two very vanilla dates.”

See. Good Doms still exist. The part of my brain that was desperate to keep me in the lifestyle whispered the words in my mind.

“And this weekend, on Friday, we’re having another date. If that one goes as well as the first two, Saturday we’ll finally do a scene.”

“And if that goes well?” I asked.

“Boyfriends,” he smiled widely at me. “As well as Dom and Sub.”

I wanted to tell him to be careful. That all seemed so quick. Maybe Tom couldn’t be trusted. I was brought back to the memories of those first few months with Eric, the feeling of falling in love. I barely cared that I didn’t seem my friends anymore, hadn’t cared that he’d collared me so quickly, couldn’t care that I was being pulled away and isolated.

“Isn’t that a little quick?” I said the words before I could swallow them down and cursed my brain for betraying me.

“Maybe,” he agreed. “But I’d rather be in an actual relationship with my Dom. All the contractual ones I’ve had haven’t gone anywhere post contract.” He was right. “Besides, you and Master Eric moved so much quicker.”

“And look how that turned out,” I snapped.

“Okay,” Ellie said. “Let’s all take a breath. Should we order pizza?”

“Yeah,” I agreed quickly. “I’ll order and pay. It’s the least I can do for you guys helping me organise my new apartment.”

“Maria’s?” Sam asked.

“Is there any other place to get Chicago deep dish?” I asked. They all laughed at me. Grabbing my phone, I ordered two large pizzas, wings and cheesy garlic bread before giving my credit card info over the phone.

“Why did you get a new phone number?” Sam asked.

“Eric paid for the bill on the other one. They couldn’t separate them so I had to get a new number.” She nodded. “Same with the car.”

“Are you going to buy a new car?” Ellie asked.

“Probably not. The radio station is close by and if it’s too cold or dark, I’ll just take a ride share.”

“You still could have moved back in with us,” Danny offered again.

“I know,” I said. “And I appreciate that, but I’m ready to live on my own.”

What I really meant was that I was ready to not have them be in my business twenty-four seven. It would be hard to hide the scars from them if we were all living under the same roof. The wounds on my back were still scabbed, but they would leave nasty, thick, raised scars on my lower back and on the top of my ass. They’d be visible in a bathing suit or just my underwear. They’d even be visible in a few of the dresses I had. But I’d obviously never be able to wear them again. And the healing wounds on my wrist would be visible whenever I wasn’t in long sleeves.

I wasn’t ready for any of the questions that would come.

“So Danny has a new Dom,” I said, changing subjects and turning the attention away from me. “What about you two?” I asked Sam and Ellie.

“Eh,” Sam said. “I can’t seem to make a real connection. The sex is always great. Doms seriously know what they’re doing,” she said dreamily. “But whenever they ask to renew the contract or move towards something serious with feelings and a relationship outside of the scene, I just feel, nothing.” She let the words hang in the air. “Is there something wrong with me?” She asked.

“No,” we all said at the same time.

“Why don’t I ever want them like they want me?”

“Honestly,” Ellie said. “That hardly a problem. Mine is the opposite. I fall for every damn Dom I have, but they never want to extend the contract. Maybe I’m a bad submissive?”

“Do they say why?” Danny asked her.

“Just that they didn’t feel a real connection,” she said. “They like me; I’m beautiful, blah blah blah, but that they didn’t develop feelings.”

“You’ll find the right one,” I tried to reassure her. I wasn’t sure that the right ones existed.

“You don’t seem very sad about the breakup,” Sam said offhandedly.

Because I wasn’t. I was upset about what he’d done to me. I had nightmares about it every night for the past week and a half, but I wasn’t sad. There was nothing to be sad about. Anger, white-hot rage was the only emotion I felt when I thought about Eric.

“It had been coming for a while, I think,” I offered instead. “I already had time to grieve the relationship before we called it quits.”

“So it’s time for a new Dom,” Danny said, wiggling his eyebrows at me.

“Not right now,” I said. I was saved from any further interrogation by the sound of the doorbell buzzing.

“Delivery from Maria’s,” the voice sounded through the intercom.

“Thanks!” I buzzed them in and grabbed some bills from my wallet for the tip.

It took less than thirty minutes for every single piece of pizza, wings, and bread to be devoured by the four of us.

“Do you guys want to have a sleepover?” I asked.

“Yes!” Sam shouted.

“Only if we can all share the bed,” Danny said.

“Obviously.” Was a king-size bed too small for four people? Probably, but we used to have group sleepovers all the time. “And we can go to the diner for breakfast in the morning.”

Danny and Ellie raided my kitchen, taking out all the snacks I’d just bought from the grocery store while Sam pulled the blankets and pillows off of my bed for us to use on the couch. The four of us cuddled up in front of my TV. “What do you want to watch?” Danny asked while flipping through the movies available to stream.

“Something sexy,” Ellie said.

“Something stupid,” Sam countered.

“I don’t care,” I said. Anything that would keep my brain from reliving the trauma from last week.

I’d gotten good at keeping the pain and terror from bubbling back up inside me. But it was easier when I was surrounded by them. That was why I asked them to stay the night. If they were there, I wouldn’t cut, couldn’t even if I wanted to. And I didn’t want to cut. I had to. It was a compulsion. Whenever the memories of what Eric did to me came on too strong, I cut my wrist, sometimes more than once. The pain of the cut, the sting and burning pain brought relief.

“If we watch fifty shades of grey, it’ll be sexy and stupid,” Danny offered, making us all burst into fits of giggles, but when the giggles stopped, the fear came back.

“No, we’re not watching that,” I said. I didn’t want to watch anything that had anything to do with the lifestyle.

“You pick then,” he said.

“What about The Spy who Dumped Me?” I asked.

“Okay,” they all agreed.

After we watched the movie, we refilled our drinks and snacks before Danny picked Walk of Shame for our next movie.

When that one was over, it was nearing one am and we were all exhausted.

I double checked that all the windows and doors were locked, thankful none of them said anything about the next habit. Carrying our massive amounts of pillows and blankets back to my bedroom, we all settled in. Sam was spooning behind me while I faced Danny, who was being spooned by Ellie.

“Love you,” I said to all of them.

They each murmured or mumbled their own love yous before we all drifted to sleep.

~~~~~

“Are you feeling better?” My boss, Crystal, asked. I’d called out sick for two straight weeks, feigning a severe case of the flu.

Crystal was the director of the radio station. She was also single handedly the reason that their weekday morning show “Come on Chicago,” was such a success.

“Much,” I said.

“You haven’t been sick in the two years you’ve worked here,” she said. Crystal was an amazing boss. She had cornrow style braids in her hair that swept up into a ponytail, with the rest of the long braids cascading down to her middle back. She wore glasses and had deep-set, brown eyes that were constantly assessing. She’d worked at the radio station for years. The place would simply fall apart without her.

“I haven’t been sick in two years,” she said. “I guess maybe that was why it maybe hit me so hard. But you survived without me,” I told her.

“Barely,” she said. “Barely. Which is why I’m going to tell you about a position opening up. It would be a huge step forward in your career. It’s the vice-director role.”

“Jim is leaving?” I asked.

“He is. He got a job in Akron as a station director. It’s a smaller station, and he won’t be taking a raise, but it’s a good stepping lock. Especially since I’m never leaving this place.”

“Do you actually think I have a shot?” I asked her.

“Human resources and I are the ones making the final decision. And I’m telling you to apply. What does that sound like to you?”

“I’ll have my application handed in to Human Resources at the end of the day.”

“Good. Come on, we’re going to be late to the meeting.”

I sat in the meeting listening to Stone and Rylan talk about their morning show. Their topics of discussion all had to be approved by Crystal. Thankfully, she wasn’t one to shy away from touchy subjects. Things got extremely political on air between the top forty hits that were played. Thankfully, our radio station had a rule that songs could only be repeated three times in a twenty-four-hour period. Which meant that the top forty wasn’t the only music played. And I loved it. I hated when the radio station only repeated the same twelve songs.

One time in college, we’d taken a road trip from Chicago all the way to Miami for spring break. We heard the same ten songs almost constantly. If we hadn’t been driving, we could have made a drinking game out of it.

“Ratings are holding steady,” Crystal said. “But I’d still like to see them climb,” she said. “Does anyone have any ideas for a new segment?”

Silence. Metaphorical crickets chirping.

“We could do a sex segment,” I said.

“We’ve done those,” Stone said, quick to reject my idea.

“Do you have anything specific in mind?” Crystal asked.

“A BDSM segment,” I said tentatively. I wasn’t out as a submissive at work, but it sure seemed. like I was about to be.

“Pitch me a few headliners.”

“Debunking the role of abuse within the community and why BDSM is inherently feminist.” Was it crazy to be talking about the lack of abuse in the BDSM community when less than two weeks ago I’d been assaulted by my Dom? Maybe, but that could happen in a vanilla relationship. Abusive partners weren’t exclusive to Doms. “Fact vs. Fiction, debunking the Fifty Shades of Frey myths.” She nodded, encouraging me to go on. “Female Dominants, and how they fight the patriarchy from within the club.”

“I love it.” She said.

As soon as she said that, Stone was right back on board. Douche.

“I do too,” Rylan agreed, her fiery red hair swaying while she bobbed her head in agreement. “We need to find someone in the lifestyle to interview.”

“I can probably help with that,” I said. Several eyes nearly budged out of their heads while they all took me in.

“My, my Abigail,” Crystal said. If she was an elderly southern lady, she’d be clutching her pearls. “The rest of you are dismissed. Stone and Rylan, when the segment is ready, we’ll give you an interview schedule and talking points.” Eyes still followed me even as the bodies walked out of the room. “So?” Crystal said. “You’re a submissive?”

“I am,” I said, without shame. “I was. I don’t know. I’m taking a break.”

“Well, I know someone in that world, too. My son, in fact.”

“I would never tell my parents. You must be very close,” I said.

“It was an accident,” she said. “You see, one of my friends was getting divorced, and she wanted to finally release the sexual side of her that had been repressed for so many years. She dragged me and two of our other friends to one of those kink club things,” she said. “There my son was standing, shirtless, with a scantily clad woman holding on to him.”

“He must have been horrified,” I said, laughing lightly.

“He was,” she agreed. “But so was I.” She shook her head. “In any case, we don’t speak about it, and if I can convince him to speak on this segment, then I absolutely would not be able to hear any of it. You’d have to take the lead.”

“That would be fine,” I told her.

“Do you have friends who would be willing to speak too?”

“I’m sure. But they have jobs and families, so names would need to be kept confidential,” I told her.

“Absolutely. I agree. If my son chooses to speak, then his name won’t be mentioned either, nor my relationship to him.”

“Of course,” I agreed.

“We have segments blocked out three months in advance, so let’s start booking interviews and gathering research.”

With those words, she collected her belongings and stood, effectively ending the meeting.

~~~~~

After work most days, I walked home, letting the chilly Illinois fall wind brush over my cheeks, making them flushed. I enjoyed it after spending the majority of my day inside. It had been a month since we had decided on the BDSM segment. And the station was buzzing about it. I was buzzing too, but my body buzzed in a different way.

Everywhere I went, I was on high alert. I’d never been one of those women who always kept track of her surroundings, take in every potential threat to me, but I was now. Except it wasn’t the random men of all colours, ethnicities, social class and backgrounds that had me on edge. It was Eric. I hadn’t heard from him. And I was so thankful for that, but it had me on edge. My friends wouldn’t give him my new cell number. The only way he would be able to find me was to follow me home from work. That’s why after work was when I felt the most vulnerable. I was smart, or I tried to be. I took a different route home every day. Sometimes I took a ride share, sometimes I walked, and if I was having an especially paranoid day, I’d take the L a few stations up and then back, constantly looking over my shoulder.

It had been six weeks since the assault, six weeks since my entire life had fallen apart. And I’d gotten so good at the facade. I was great at work, climbing the ladder. My BDSM segment idea had landed me the role of assistant station manager. It was like being vice president or vice director. And I was thriving in the role.

But at home, when I was all alone, that was when things got bad.

The cuts on my wrists weren’t even fully healed before I had the urge to cut again. In the beginning, I could wait until the evidence was almost gone before digging a razor into my skin again, but now it was an almost daily occurrence.

I searched the internet for ways to hide it from my colleagues and friends.

I knew I had a problem.

I didn’t try to deny that to myself, just to everyone else around me. Thankfully, it was fall and long sleeves were acceptable attire, making sure nobody would ask any questions or think anything of it.

It was a nightly ritual now. Every day I’d get home from work, make dinner, and sit on the couch, praying the urge wouldn’t come, but it always did.

And when it got too strong, so strong that I couldn’t fight it anymore, I’d walk to the bathroom.

Looking at myself in the mirror, I’d try to talk myself out of it, try to tell myself that I wasn’t the things Eric had called me. I wasn’t a whore. I wasn’t a slut. I wasn’t a bitch.

But the logic never overpowered the feelings. Not last night or the night before and not as I stood in the bathroom, razor ready and in my hand. Looking down at the inside of my left wrist, I saw too many scars, no place to cut. Shoving my joggers down, I lifted my leg onto the counter and trailed a cut along the uppermost part of my inner thigh. The pain brought pleasure, making tears spring in my eyes, and a noise of satisfaction escaped me. After that noise, there was a voice of despair, a realisation of what I’d just done again. What I couldn’t stop myself from doing.

Another cut, deeper this time, more blood.

More pain and more vindication in the amount of control I had in my life.

More pain.

But it still wasn’t anything like the pain of what he’d done to me.

He took everything from me.

And I could never get it back, never get back the part of me that had been my most true self.

Which was why with each cut, I let myself be pulled further and further into the darkness.

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