Read an Excerpt
“Bring me a beer, will you?” Mark calls out to me.
I roll my eyes, turn around in midstride, and head back to the refrigerator. I open it up, grab a Bud, and bump the door closed with my hip before starting back to the living room.
“And the Doritos,” he says. “I’ve got the munchies.”
Another eye roll and I turn back around. Snatch the half--eaten bag of Doritos off the counter and head into the living room. As I round the couch, I toss the bag at him, catching him square in the chest. As he grabs his snackage, I hand him his beer. He takes it without even looking over at me, his eyes glued to the TV. One of those cheesy entertainment shows doing a piece on a movie star, athlete, or maybe a reality--show contestant just out of rehab and hawking their new bestselling book on how you can overcome addiction.
I plop onto the couch beside him, lean forward, and grab the large book off my coffee table.
“Are you going to study or just watch TV?” I ask as I open the text and flip to chapter 22.
“Watch TV,” Mark says, his mouth full of Doritos and the air still sweetly perfumed from the bong he’d been smoking.
Mark’s cute and all. We met several months ago at Golden Gate University, as both of us were starting in the MA Counseling Psychology program and there was an instant attraction, but the four--year age difference wears thin sometimes.
It took me a while to get my bachelor’s degree. To say I was fucked in the head for quite a long time would be an understatement, what with my issues and all, plus a few psych hospitalizations. Add on my mom dying of an aneurysm three years ago, and I was the ripe age of twenty--five when I finally finished my bachelor’s and started my master’s last fall. I’m not exactly ancient now at twenty--six, but compared to Mark’s twenty--two years, the differences in our priorities are glaring. Partying is still a big part of his life, and he doesn’t take studying as seriously as I did. I clearly don’t take smoking pot as seriously as he does.
But no biggie, really. I don’t have enough of an emotional connection to care if he flunks. He’s been good for a few laughs, and while sex with him is mediocre at best, he doesn’t bother me too much. As with any man that I’ve been sexually involved with over the years, there is a mutually beneficial exchange. I let them use my body to get off, and they in turn make me feel as if I’m worthy to let them get off. It’s this whole fucked--up, twisted reasoning I have in my head that no amount of psychological counseling has been able to straighten out so far. Our “friends with benefits” deal works out for the most part, except when he comes over, gets high, and then has Dorito breath. He sure as shit isn’t getting any tonight the way things are going.
Just as well. I have to study for a big test tomorrow and I intend to pass it with flying colors, regardless if Mark does the same. It’s the end of my first year in the master’s course and I’m halfway there. It’s a goal I can’t sacrifice.
I suck on the tiny ring pierced straight through the middle of my lower lip. A gift to myself when I got accepted into the program. It joins the matching two rings in my left eyebrow, and will hopefully be joined by a bridge piercing when I can muster up enough extra shifts at the diner to pay for it. Facial piercings have been my newest addiction; the sweet agony of metal punching through flesh feels oh so good to me. I was forced to move to the front of my face after both ears ran out of room.
Mark sets the Doritos on the couch next to him and wipes his orange fingers on his jeans. He takes a swallow of beer and places his left hand on my thigh. Leaning his head onto my shoulder, he says, “Want to fool around?”
I give a mighty shrug and dislodge him. “Not now.”
“But I’m horny,” he says with a whine.
“You’re always horny,” I say as I try to concentrate on the first line of the chapter.
“You usually are too,” he points out, hand moving up my thigh.
I roll my eyes, because that’s not exactly true. I just accommodate whenever he’s horny.
My gaze slides across the TV, past it, then notices something vaguely familiar before snapping right back to the screen.
A good--looking man who looks recognizable is being interviewed on TV. Charcoal--gray tailored suit, white dress shirt, and a pale blue tie. He flashes dimples in his grin as he talks to the reporter.
“. . . the success of The Sugar Bowl has surpassed all of our expectations,” he says with a twinkling eye. “It shows the world that there’s a lot of room in our society for unconventional relationships.”
The reporter, if she can be called that since this is an entertainment “news” channel, uncrosses and recrosses long, sexy legs in a short skirt. She tries to look hard--hitting when she leans forward in her chair, exposing more cleavage from a low--cut blouse, and asks, “But what about those opponents that say what you’re doing is nothing more than prostitution?”
The man gives a charming laugh, picks at some imaginary lint on his leg, which is crossed in a dapper fashion over the other. “There is absolutely no money exchanged for sexual services. The Sugar Bowl does nothing more than charge a fee to our Sugar Daddies so they can join the website and make connections. None of the arrangements made thereafter are for sex; it’s merely for companionship.”
“But sex does occur,” the reporter says silkily.
“Of course sex occurs,” he admits with a languid smile. “People have sex. It makes the world go ’round.”
The camera fades to black and then rolls to footage of a beach. It looks tropical in nature, as the water is crystal clear with a tinge of pale blue, and the sand is pristine white. The reporter’s voice comes over the shot and says, “Jonathon Townsend is never shy to talk about sex, and by the looks of things, he gets plenty from the abundant supply of Sugar Babies that flock to his company daily.”
The camera zooms in on a couple frolicking in the ocean. It’s the man who was just being interviewed, wearing a pair of well--fit swim trunks on his muscular frame. A beautiful young woman with long blond hair wraps her arms around his neck as his hands go to her ass. As they kiss, the reporter’s voice says, “It’s rumored that Jonathon Townsend, or JT to his close personal friends, made an estimated eighteen million dollars last year in earnings from The Sugar Bowl, which certainly makes him more attractive than his already fine physique he recently showcased as he cavorted in the Maldives with his newest flame. With the service having over five million subscribers and still climbing at an astronomical rate, it’s clear that JT’s star is still on the rise.”
My skin tightens and the hair on my arms stands on edge. The fingers on my right hand involuntarily seek my left wrist, rubbing lightly over the tiny, half--inch scar there that seems to throb in acknowledgment of something, but I’m not sure what.
My eyes are glued to the TV as I watch the man and woman kissing passionately, clearly not worried that they are on public display. Then he releases his hold on her, turns toward the camera with a smile on his face, and I see his torso.
Phoenix with flames at the wings and tail.
Stretched in flight up his left rib cage.
A shudder seizes my body and a surge of nausea hits me hard. I swallow against it as I lurch off the couch, awkwardly stumbling around the coffee table toward the TV. The camera zooms in closer on the couple, and as if the man known as Jonathon Townsend knows he’s being watched, he looks right into the lens and grins, close enough that I can see his brown eyes.
Brown eyes. What I think might be filled with apology, but no . . . that’s malice. Evil, taunting malice.
“Damn, baby . . . sorry . . . looks like we left some spunk in your hair,” he says with a jeering laugh.
I cry out, stumble backward, and the coffee table catches the backs of my knees, causing me to fall down hard on it. My right hand grips my left wrist, the scar now shrieking in agony.
“Sela . . . you okay?” Mark says, his voice sounding like it’s stuffed into a drum and sealed tight because the blood is rushing through my head with such force it’s blocking other noise.
“Get out,” I whisper, choking on the words because my throat is so dry.
“What?” I hear him rise from the couch, see his legs rounding the coffee table in my periphery.
I raise my head, look at him, and rasp, “Get out.”
“You want me to leave? Right now?”
Red--hot rage swells up within me and I screech at him as I lunge upward from the table, my fists balled up in fury, “Get out. Get out. Get out.”
Mark jerks backward from me, his eyes round with surprise for just a moment before they harden. He reaches down, grabs his backpack off the floor, and mutters, “Crazy bitch.”
I don’t even look at him again as he walks out of my small apartment.
My hands come to my temples and pull at my hair, fisting hard and jerking. I pace back and forth in front of the TV, my eyes cutting to it periodically, but they’ve moved on to another juicy story.
Vivid flashes of scenes spark in my brain. Scenarios I’ve seen before in nightmares but thought they were nothing but nightmares.
My wrists pinned to the mattress.
Searing pain as I’m fucked in the ass.
Red phoenix on a wrist.
“Think she’ll suck my dick?”
“All of it.”
I bend over at the waist, my stomach cramping violently, then a flood of vomit shoots out of my mouth. I hurl loudly, groaning as wave after wave of nausea and pain are expelled from my body. Beer and the turkey sandwich I’d eaten twenty minutes ago splatter loudly on my worn brown carpet. Tears flood my vision, drip in rivers onto the pile of vomit as I start to dry heave.
Dropping to my knees, I heave and gag, my hands coming to rest at the sides of the gelatinous pile of grief soaking into my carpet. My nose starts running freely now, snot adding to the vile mixture.
I suck in air, deep into my lungs, and will my heart to stop its mad beating of terror. The urge to slice into my healed scar overwhelms me, terrifies me so badly I start sobbing. That is something I cannot do again. Those days are over.
Minutes pass by as I stay on my hands and knees, hunched over the sickness on my floor. My breathing starts to calm down, my heart rate slowly falls back into the range of normal. I lift a hand, drag the back of it over my snotty nose, then wipe it on my jeans. Clumsily, I push myself up off the floor and consider the ramifications of what I just saw.
Of what I just remembered.
My rapist. One of them at least.
Good--looking golden boy sitting on some type of empire and vacationing in the Maldives.
Does he even remember what he did to me?
“Swallow it. All of it.”
A flash of furious indignation boils my blood and I go dizzy for a moment, realizing that while my life fell apart following that night, his only got better and better. He walked on my back . . . a straight path to success. Took my innocence in more ways than one, and told me he made all my fantasies come true.
Something black and oily starts to fill my chest. Permeates my entire being. A dark shadowing so viscous, it starts to cloud my vision and I think momentarily I might be going blind.
Hatred. White hot and boiling my insides painfully.
A sickly pervasive need to cut myself, which causes more shame and humiliation.
“. . . looks like we left some spunk in your hair.”
I swallow against the vomit rising up within me again. I had thought I was past all this shit. Figured I’d finally gotten my life together, and while I may not have made ultimate peace with what happened, because apparently I just can’t forgive myself for my part in all of it, I was moving on. I was learning to get through the nightmares and, even though I abhor intimacy, I was at least giving sex a try so I could feel somewhat normal.
And that fucker . . . he’s taken all of that away from me. All my little baby steps of progress and the slight amount of strength I’ve been able to muster to continue living life to some extent. All within the blink of an eye, Jonathon Townsend has taken that all away from me, and while my wrist may not be bleeding at this very moment, I feel like I’m back at square one.
How can I possibly overcome this?
What could I possibly do to make this better for me?
How in the fuck do I stop hurting?
And then it comes to me immediately.
Almost too easy.
Just one word, very simple and yet so very right.
It flashes over and over again; sharp electrical pulses burning themselves into my brain. I know, without a doubt, there’s only one thing that will make this right for me.
I’m going to make Jonathon Townsend pay for what he did to me.