Fighting

Shut up brain !

She grabs an ice cold green tea from the subzero. It’s 3am now.  Everything dark outside her windows, her reflection in the glass all she can see.  She has become almost unrecognizable in the past year.  Round.  Ugly.  Aged. She turns her back to the outside. Not proud of the new look.  Sipping her green tea and debating turning on all the lights so she wont have to look at herself again.  She’s not scared of the dark.  She’s just scared of the dreams.  The memories.  They haunt her in the daylight just the same as the night.  Her brain is her worst enemy. Replaying it over and over again.  Trying to fix what cannot be fixed.  Trying to understand what she will never comprehend. So many intrusive thoughts.  She knows its the PTSD.  She’s had it for four years now.  Festering in her prefrontal cortex.  A nightmare. One that grips her while she showers, makes dinner, drives her car, takes out the trash, records her patient’s vitals, grocery shops, vacuums the carpet, mows the lawn, talks to the teacher, zips up a coat, writes out a check, changes the sheets on her bed, vomits up her dinner…so intrusive that she screams out sometimes “Shut the fuck up brain!! Oh my god SHUT UP!! I don’t want to think about it anymore! I don’t want to think about it! Stop thinking about it! God dammit STOP THINKING ABOUT IT!” she shouts. Then she cries.  She’s always crying.  Or eating.  Crying and eating.  Trying to stay sane.

The flashbacks subside for a moment but her gut tells her he’s up to something.  She can tell by his texts.  Manufacturing evidence. He’s ready to attack again.  Carefully biding his time until he files his next court case. Abuses her by proxy.  The American court system is his patsy.  His arm – the law.  She’s never going to be rid of him.  Not in this lifetime.  But still she fantasizes about love.  About a handsome man with ocean eyes.  He’d protect her.  Hold her at night.  Stroke her hair while she shivers.  Be her rock when she breaks down.  Sing to her. Make her laugh.  Try to impress her with his stories.  Remind her that life is worth living.

His mere presence would knock her ex off his game.  Force him in to submission.  His intellect…his success…his desire for her proof that she’s not worthless. She’s somebody if she can catch Jared’s eye or better yet, his friendship.  But it’s all just a fantasy really – one Jared refuses to fulfill anymore.  He’s so distant.  No longer a good escape.  And the PTSD is so bad – so intrusive that she cries most days.  In a place thats closed off from the world.  Where she no longer listens to music.  She just exists.  Waiting for the next attack. Praying the next ten years fly by.  Wishing her children’s childhood away so her ties to him will be over quicker. Not going to concerts.  No trips with friends.  Doing nothing because she feels like nothing.  Just a punching bag filled with bad thoughts.

Her friends all abandoned her, in the worst time in her life.  But she can’t really blame them.  There’s only so many times you can say “Oh wow, he’s such an asshole!” before you start questioning her.  And she feels all that.  She knows thats what you’re thinking at the other end of the line.  She must be exaggerating.  She’s stretching the truth….he cant really be doing all the things he has done. He can’t keep getting away with it. But he did, and he does.  And she’s angry at god, but he’s not listening either.  He abandoned her too.  Left her with these thoughts in her brain. Thoughts she doesn’t want to think. Memories she’s forced to relive.  Puzzles she’ll never sort out.  She prays for relief – assumes it will come when her children outgrow her.  When her boys become men. There’d be no way left to hurt her then.

But she dreams nonetheless – of finding the California sun and starting over again.  Pick up where 1992 ended and find herself.  Find peace.  Find Jared.  And for a moment – just one – she’s ok.  Until the next time her brain tells her to duck an imaginary fist.  Until the next time a police officer is at the door.  Until the next time she’s summoned to appear.  Until the next time….and the next time….and the next time….and the next time…and the next time….and the next time….and the next time…and the next time….and the next time….and the next time…and the next time….and the next time….and the next time…and the next time….and the next time….and the next time…and the next time….and the next time….and the next time…and the next time….and the next time….and the next time…and the next time….and the next time….and the next time…and the next time….and the next time….and the next time…and the next time….and the next time….and the next time…and the next time….and the next time….and the next time…and the next time….and the next time….and the next time…and the next time….and the next time….and the next time…and the next time….and the next time….and the next time…and the next time….and the next time….and the next time…and the next time….and the next time….and the next time……and the next time….and the next time….and the next time…and the next time….and the next time….and the next time…and the next time….and the next time….and the next time…and the next time….and the next time….and the next time…and the next time….and the next time….and the next time…and the next time….and the next time….and the next time…and the next time….and the next time….and the next time…and the next time….and the next time….and the next time…and the next time….and the next time….and the next time…and the next time….and the next time….and the next time…and the next time….and the next time….and the next time…and the next time….and the next time….and the next time…and the next time….and the next time….and the next time…and the next time….and the next time….and the next time…and the next time….and the next time….and the next time…and the next time….and the next time….and the next time…and the next time….and the next time….and the next time…and the next time….and the next time….and the next time…and the next time….and the next time….and the next time…and the next time….and the next time….and the next time…and the next time….and the next time….and the next time…and the next time….and the next time….and the next time…

LRRH (10)

Erica and Jared sat side by side on the couch in silence for quite a while.  May busied herself elsewhere in the bungalow.  They listened to her unload the dishwasher and stack the plates in the cupboards.  Arrange the silverware in a drawer.  Then May loaded it back up.  Pots and pans and the cutting board.  Cabinets opened, then closed.  The screen door opened and closed.  May flittered back and forth at the back of the house until eventually she too was quiet.

They could hear the refrigerator humming. The hot water heater kick on then off.  But neither said a word.

Eventually Jared placed his hand on top of Erica’s and said “So now what?”

It was Erica’s turn to say “I don’t know.”  Then “Maybe you should go.  I don’t want to do this with you.”

Jared felt stabbed in the heart but he also very quickly understood he deserved that.  He also had to admit he wanted to leave too.  The wall between them was too high.  She had nothing left to give, no room for a fresh start and he … well he didn’t want to start over.  He loved her and he missed her but that wasn’t enough to let her inside his well insulated heart.

So they joined May on the back deck.  Had a small and safe conversation before Jared walked himself to the ferry.  From the stern he watched Breezy Point disappear and it was then, only there with his back to Manhattan and his eyes on a little girl playing with shells on the sand, that he let himself cry.  Truly cry.  And he pulled his phone from his pocket, scrolled right to Erica’s number and prepared a text message after wiping the tears away with the back of his hand.

The text messages read thus:

I’m a coward.  >send<

And a fool.  >send<

You deserve better than this and I don’t know how to give you everything you deserve without losing too much of myself.  If ever there were someone I could see myself with, it would be you.  It would be you a thousand times over.  But I can’t actually see myself with anyone.   And that is no reflection on you at all.  It’s my crap. Bullshit that has built up inside me for years.  Call it a wall.  Call it stupidity.  Call it being a chicken shit.  But… >send<

Hit send too quick.  Sorry.  Call me a coward (it’s fitting) but I think it’s best if we both move on.  You will find someone that is everything and everyone you’ve ever needed in life.  And he’ll treat you so much better than I ever would or could.  Tell May I’m sorry too.  I’m sorry for it all.  >send<

And he slipped his iphone in to the front pocket of his shirt and he placed both his hands on the railing of the boat and he dipped his head down and let it all go.

And Erica never texted him back.  He checked every 5 minutes for days.  Turned the phone on and off to be sure it was working right.  Sent messages to everyone he knew, got responses immediately.  Confirmed there was no glitch with text messages.  And eventually, a few days later, he stopped thinking about her again.  Put her in the back of his mind and went on about living.  Played on VyRT.  Gave a few tech talk interviews.  And paid no attention to what he’d done, yet again.

Until a Friday, four or five weeks later, when he was reading the World Wide Trending Topics List on twitter and he saw her name again.

The hashtag read thus:

RIPEricaHealey

And Jared flipped the fuck out.

LRRH (9)

Halfway through the walk across the peninsula towards Kennedy’s restaurant, Jared was nearly soaked with perspiration. Not because of the heat or the walk, he was nervous. He stumbled across Huggie Bears, a non-descript convenience store tucked behind several bungalows and beside a set of baseball fields, and slipped inside to grab a bottle of water and his bearings.  He was getting lost on the walkways but he could tell he was at least heading the right direction.  He had time to get lost, the ferry ride is almost an hour.

“How do I get to the Bay from here?” he asked the clerk who rang up his purchase.

“Not more than a kilometer.  You’ll come to the main road after the ball field.  Cross that and head straight a ways.” she answered with a thick Irish brogue.

“Are you from Ireland?” he asked, pointing out the obvious.

“Aren’t we all?” she responded with a wink. “Are you looking for someone?”

“I’m meeting someone at the ferry.”

“That doesn’t come ’til half past.”

“I know.  I don’t want to be late. I need to be there when she arrives.”

“Well you better be going then.” she suggested.

He paid her the $3 and went to step away.

“Do I know you?” she asked.

“I don’t think so.” he said and he walked out of the store back in to the heat of the day.

“I think that was Jaret Leeto!” he heard her shout to someone inside the store.  Great. He thought.  He picked up the pace, crossed Rockaway Blvd and skirted between more bungalows on his way to Kennedy’s.  He recognized this part of the walk, the church was over his shoulder somewhere to his right.  He pulled his hair back in a sloppy bun, it was getting quite long again.  It felt good to feel the air on his neck.  He dabbed his sweat with his shirt collar and readjusted the rest of his clothes.  A vain attempt at making himself presentable for Erica.  When he got to Kennedy’s he saw the pier where the ferry would normally dock.  It was destroyed in the storm.  Up the water a ways was a temporary structure.  Metal.  That’s where he disembarked earlier.  He sat on a bench and retied his laces before watching the ferry grow on the horizon. He could see New York City in the distance.  It was a clear day.

The beach was relatively silent for such a nice day.  He wondered where everyone was.  Maybe at work.  Or home for lunch.  Probably at the ocean side.  He really liked this community.  Even though it was packed with fans.  As the clock ticked towards 12:30, Jared could make out every detail of the ferry but he couldn’t find Erica in the faces of those on the bow.  Just a handful of people.  Not surprising at mid-day.  He stood up when the boat docked and made his way to the temporary pier to greet Erica.  She was one of the last ones off.  And she looked gorgeous.  Sun kissed and windblown.  His heart sank again and he cursed himself.  He really messed up.  Big time.

She was wearing a pair of distressed blue jeans, a white tank top and a soft yellow button up that she left undone.  Lacy sandals and her hair was off her face.  Her makeup was subtle and she was talking with someone as she walked down the plank.  The someone, a man twice her age, was blushing and gushing and Erica was smiling kindly.  But Jared could tell she was uncomfortable.  A fan of hers perhaps?  Or maybe an old pervert.  He couldn’t tell exactly.  Erica noticed Jared then, bid the old man farewell and charged towards Jared.

“Kiss me.” she demanded.  And Jared pulled her in to his arms and did just as she asked.  And it was divine.

“Ok! Ok!” she grumbled as she pulled back from him. “Did he leave?” she asked without looking over her shoulder.

“Who?  Oh.  No.  He’s still there.  Watching.  Should I grab your ass?”  he teased.

“No.  But do something.  He’s a creeper.”  Jared took her bag off her shoulder and grabbed her hand and they turned around together and headed back towards Roosevelt Walk hand in hand at a brisk pace.  “I can’t get a moment’s peace since The Circle came out.” She said and Jared knew what she meant.  The Circle was her latest film, based on a best-selling book by Dave Eggers.  Jared had to be honest, it was a very good movie that was quite popular. Even Jared saw it and he never goes to the movies.  But he went to that. Opening weekend.  Telling himself something about still being supportive even if from a distance.  A great distance.

“You were great in that.”  he said softly.  Erica released Jared’s hand then.

“Too great apparently.  Now everyone thinks I’m an open book now.”

“You were a quite convincing Mae Holland.”

“Thanks.”  Erica put her hands out to take bag her bag from Jared and he shook his head.

“I’ll carry it.” he suggested.  Erica relented and stuffed her hands in to her pockets instead. The bag was cumbersome and heavy anyway.

“So, Mr. Leto.  Why the fuck are you at my Grandmother’s again?”

He stopped walking “I told you.”

“Yeah, but I don’t believe you.”

“Why would I lie about that?”

“Because that’s what you do!” she nearly shouted.  The tension he spent a year avoiding sucked the sun right out of the day.  Immediately.

“I don’t….I don’t lie.” he said drawing out the last word like he couldn’t even say it let alone do it.

“You lied our entire relationship!”

Erica started walking again and Jared had to follow.

“I didn’t lie about anything.”

“You said you loved me!”

“I did!” he sighed “I do!”

“Could have fooled me!” she said and she wiped below her left eye where a tear had fallen.  Jared wasn’t expecting this.  He’s not entirely sure what he did expect, but certainly not this.  Jared felt terrible.  As he should.

“I didn’t lie.  I got scared.”

“Nice excuse.” she said.

“I did.  I can’t do … love.  I told you that.  I warned you!”

“So this is my fault?”

“No.  It’s me. I’m all fucked in the head.  I never wanted to hurt you.  Please believe that.  I made a big mistake.  HUGE mistake.  And I’m so sorry I hurt you.” He put the bag down and pulled her in to his arms.  She was really crying now.  Streaks of tears coated her delicate face.  “I’m so sorry.” he whispered in to her hair.  He held her tight and she caught her breath.

“I don’t know what to say to you.” she said when she finally pulled away. “You broke my heart.”

“I know.”

She slapped his chest “You’re such an asshole!”

“I know.”

“I don’t want to get back together with you.  I hope that’s not why you’re here.” she stated.

He hadn’t thought about getting back together with her at all.  He missed her.  That was true. But he was still deathly afraid of all she represented.  An anchor.  Someone to answer to. He doesn’t want that.  Ever.  No matter what the price.

“I told you why I’m here.  And it had nothing to do with you at all until I saw your picture on the wall.”

“Well you know what my Gran says about coincidences?”

—–

“There are none.” May said after she sat the two of them down on the couch in her front room.  Erica with a glass of chilled ginger-ale and Jared with a cup of ice water.  “The Lord doesn’t do coincidences.”

Erica and Jared sat side by side on the sofa, a cushion between them, like two bad teenagers caught in the act.  Or two school kids caught with hands in the cookie jar.  They were being scolded.  And like good kids who only dabbled with the bad, they were respectfully listening to her lecture them both.

“Gran…”

“Don’t Granny me Erica Healy.”

Jared stayed silent.  Probably the smartest move he’d made in a year.

“Gran, It’s over between Jared and I.  We’re ok.  We’ll stay …friends.  But we’re not dating again.”

“You shouldn’t run away from love. Either of you.”

“I’m not running.” Jared said softly.

The ladies both looked at Jared simultaneously. But neither of them acknowledged what he said.  Which was good for him, that statement could have ignited a firestorm.

“It took your father twenty one years and three children with some harlot who wasn’t even good enough to marry to realize he only loved your Mother.” May said sharply.  Erica tried to stop May from telling her parents tragic ‘love’ story but May kept on talking right over her “Twenty-one years!  Just think about all the time he wasted.  And you’re an only child because of that mistake!  An only child in an Irish family.  It’s unheard of!”

“I’m not an only child.  I have two brothers and a sister.”

“They do not count.”

“They do to me.  Can we change the subject?  Please?”

“No.”

“We’re not Momma and Daddy Grandma.  This is different.”

“No it isn’t! He’s the love of your life! You said so yourself.  Or do you not remember last year?  Crying on my front porch step about this boy?”  Erica was turning two shades of beet red and Jared was looking at the floor now, guilty.

“And you.” she said slapping Jared’s kneecap.  “I can see everything I need to know about what went on between the two of you in those blue eyes of yours.  Snap out of it! And get over yourself!”

“I’m not…”

“I wont let this happen again.  And frankly, you don’t have twenty-one years to screw around with like Phil.”

“Grandma, I love you, but this is crossing a line.”

May sat down in her barcalounger and crossed her ankles as she smoothed down her church dress.  Jared thought about the company then.  When had they all left?  His stomach growled quietly when he thought about all the vegetables he had cut up.

“I need to freshen up, and you two need to talk.  Really talk.”  May said and she left the room.

“I’m sorry.” Erica said apologizing the moment May was out of earshot for her Grandmother’s intrusion in to their sticky situation. “I don’t know what has gotten in to her.”

Jared stayed quiet for a while.  Looking at the floor.  Turning his shoe over and over and grinding the tip in to the carpet.

“Are you ok?” Erica asked after a few minutes.

Jared looked up.  His nose was red and his eyes were filled with tears.  Erica softened and this time pulled him in to her arms.  Jared laced his arms around hers as she held him from the side.  “I’m such an idiot.” he said.

“I know.”

Meet JoLynn Baker 10 (end)

“This is like so weird because I like totally love you so much and oh my god when I came out here I was like there’s no fucking way I’m going to run in to him but I figured why not try. Right? So I watched Artifact like 40 times … like over and over and over trying to figure out where the hell your like secret spot was and I’m like looking for clues in every frame…crazy right…hah-hah… then I came out here – well a few times because I wasn’t sure where exactly to go but that gate, man that gate gave it away!  You know that one scene where you and Tomo are doing the ‘pooh shammi’ thing….that happened right here! Oh my god.”

And Jared felt like puking vile bile all over this kid. And the kid kept puking out his rainbows and unicorn glitter all over Jared. And the moment became so goddamn uncomfortable that Jared had no choice but to take control.  So he asked the kid “Hey Kid?”

“Yeah, man? What? I can’t believe you’re talking to me!”

“Remember how the pushyami works?”

“Yeah, you um …”

“The short version: find a rock, meditate over the rock whats troubling you then toss it in to the abyss and let go of whatever is weighing you down.”

“Far-out.”

“Yeah, so you wanna try it?”

“Of course man, of course.”  So the kid searched the ground for a perfect rock.  Nice and round.  Smooth.  No edges.  And he smiled at Jared and presented the rock before him inside his open palm for approval.

Jared nodded. “Good one.  Ok now come over here by the edge.  Watch your step, ok?”

“Whoah ok.”

“Now close your eyes and think about whatever it is that’s troubling you, then give that rock a whirl and let it go…ok on the count of three….one…two” and Jared pushed that little fucker right off the side of the cliff.

“Whoopsie” Jared said and he went back to the boulder, picked up his trail mix, popped an almond on his tongue and sighed the sigh of a contented man once more.

Meet JoLynn Baker 6

“Shut the fuck up.” Jared growled.

An incredulous JoLynn stuttered back “What did you say to me?”

“I said ….” and he paused as he pulled his pants up “Shut.The.Fuck.Up.”

The atmosphere in JoLynn’s bedroom went from hot-like-the-sun to cold-like-a-coffin.  Six feet under.  In an instant. JoLynn rolled over and grabbed Jared’s flannel shirt from beside her on the bed and held it across her body to cover her nakedness.  His words and her nakedness made her feel very vulnerable.

“That’s not funny Jared.” she said.

He replied curtly “It’s not meant to be.”

JoLynn’s eyes widened.  She was shocked by his response. “Ew!” she exclaimed trying to make light of a very awkward exchange.  She tucked her knees under her chin and burrowed underneath the flannel.  Jared grabbed the shirt she was hiding under and tugged it quickly. It pulled out of her hand easily exposing her nakedness to him once again. JoLynn quickly covered her breasts with her hands and folded her legs over to cover her pubis. “Stop it!” JoLynn commanded.  This wasn’t just awkward now, it was weird and bordering on scary.

“No.”

Jared nibbled on his bottom lip and rocked back and forth on his heels as looked JoLynn over.  He was assessing his options, JoLynn was trying to figure him out. Selfish sex puts Jared in a mood.  Yes, that mood.  He asked himself the same questions he always does when he’s feeling a bit needy: Is he ready to give her up?  She can be kind of fun.  Likes to hike. Has a so/so sense of humor. Though not lately.  To be honest, lately, she’s not even fun to fuck anymore.  Yeah. He’s ready to give her up.  Will she be easy to get rid of when he’s done with her?  That might pose a challenge but obstacles like this are half the fun.  Help build the rush.  He ran through his other questions – the ones that helped him decide to be a good Jared or a very very bad Jared and quickly made up his mind.  Easily made up his mind.  He was almost giddy.  Show time.

He slapped the bottom of her foot.  “What’d you do that for?” she asked.

Mopey JoLynn … wah wah wah … JoLynn.  Such a weak bitch.  He’s not sure why he wanted her all to himself in the first place.  She’s too needy without Grady.  Useless.  And Jesus Christ will she ever shut the fuck up about “her loss?” If Jared hadn’t have killed him, he’d have offed himself by now for fuck sake.  Dude hated life. Jared did him a favor.  Time to move on.  He was weak too.  Too easy.  Wah Wah Wah.  I don’t wanna die.  I’ll do anything.  Wahhh.  You do want to die you stupid fuck.  

JoLynn was officially creeped out so she hopped out of bed, moved quickly along the wall and tried to dash in to her dressing closet so she could grab some clothing but Jared zipped to her side and pushed her forcefully in to the sheetrock without warning. JoLynn yelped. Jared felt a rush of adrenaline pass through him, like the seconds before he would climb on stage.  The audience chanting.  Il Fortuna blaring loudly through the speakers.  Anticipation. He savored it, like gravy on his lips.  The prelude is half the fun.  All those moments leading up to the show.  Mmmm.  He could feel himself getting hard again.  God, he loved this.  Like an addiction.

JoLynn was naked and she was shaking when he whispered “I think I’m sick JoLynn.” directly in to her face. His lips inches from hers.  His eyes were shifty.  JoLynn told herself he’s not going to hurt her.  She just needs to talk to him. Tell him he’s scaring her.  He clearly doesn’t know how he sounds or how what he’s doing is coming across. He’s not like this.  There’s something wrong with him. Maybe he’s high?  JoLynn is misunderstanding something.  He wouldn’t be trying to scare her, he likes her, doesn’t he?  Something is most definitely wrong.  She could feel his heart beat between them.  Fast.

She talked herself out of the fear.  Sort of.  Her mind was running a mile a minute, but she didn’t say much to Jared. Even as he tied her hands together with the arms of his flannel. She wasn’t sure if what she would say would set him off further.  The fear was back. Paralyzing. Overly-compliant fear.  Tears fell from her eyes but she told herself she’s going to be ok as long as she did what he said.  Her nipples were hard and she felt ashamed of her weakness as Jared tied her arms behind her back.  Why wasn’t she fighting back?  She has to fight back.

Tears dropped quickly from her eyes and slid down her chin and across her breast.  JoLynn wanted so badly to cover herself.  She couldn’t believe how quickly being naked with him had changed from something so special to something so horrifying. Those lips, the ones cursing at her, were just all over every inch of her exposed skin and she loved every single one of those kisses before this, whatever the hell this is, started happening.  When he was still acting like the man she was falling in love with.  Now those same lips are spitting venom.  And she’s helpless.  Not even ten minutes have passed since they finished making love and now … this. What’s wrong with him?!?  She decided to fight back.  It’s now or never.  She filled her lungs with oxygen and screamed “Let me go!”  as she brought her knee up to his groin.

Jared didn’t react though a wave of pain shot through him.  He fed off it immediately and bit down hard on her breast.  JoLynn tried to head-butt him but it did no good.  He felt no pain and he didn’t release his grip on her shoulders.  His teeth broke through the soft skin of her breast.  In an instant, she was bleeding and purple.

“Oh?  You want me to stop?” he asked with a trickle of her blood on his lip.

“Stop!”

“Beg.”

“Please Jared … ” she cried “Stop.  You’re hurting me.”

“Why are you shouting at me?”

“I want you to…”

He cut her off mid-sentence “You want me to sing you a song?  What do you want to hear…tell me…I’ll play anything you wish….” he laughed as he recited lines from his live show.

JoLynn said nothing.  Every hair on her arms was standing up.  Goosebumps filed in to position on her flesh.

Jared kept rambling.  Running his fingers across her forehead as he spoke “Beg for your favorite song – or beg for your life.  Same – Same.” he tilted his head slightly to study her reactions closer.  “Demon? Where did my angel go?”  Jared scratched his beard and slapped JoLynn.  “Do you still like me JoLynn?”

“This isn’t funny Jared!” she cried “Why would you want to hurt me?  What are you even saying??”

Jared laughed again. A menacing chuckle. “It really is the same shit. Isn’t it? Twenty thousand whores begging me for more …or just one….begging.  All the same.  Didn’t think anything could feel as good as a night on stage …it’s so hard to be off stage.. how am I supposed to deal…to deal…with the other 22 hours in the day…You can’t! Nobody can.  We’ve all gone insane… but not me, no JoLynn … baby” he whispered in her ear “I think I found the answer.  This right here…” he ran his thumb across the bruised bite mark on her breast “might actually be better that all that. It’s incredible.  I wish you could feel what I’m feeling right now.”

JoLynn cried harder as the reality of what he was saying sunk in.  Then he slapped her hard across her mouth.  “You really should learn when to SHUT THE FUCK UP!”

“Stop it!” she shouted as he scratched at her skin and banged her head against the wall.

“I thought you liked it rough!”

“No! It’s too much!” she cried.

“Thats too bad.” he said before he brought his knee up in to her stomach. She cried out as he kneed her again, she fell to the floor, doubled over in pain and he kicked her twice in the ribcage. Urine pooled beneath her on the hard-wood floors.

“You’re going to kill me!”

“Bingo!”

Big Trouble (13)

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“Call him!” Damien demanded.

“He wont answer.  I told you we broke up!”

“Give me the goddamn phone!” He growled as he snatched the phone out of my hand.  One hand was still around my throat holding me up against a brick wall down an alley by Dunkin Donuts, the other was assessing the apps on my phone.

“Whats the goddamn passcode?”

“I don’t know Damien! I can’t think straight. You’re scaring me!”

“Whats the GODDAMN PASSCODE?” he bitch slapped me.

“12-26”

“What’s his name?” I refused to tell you. “What’s his goddamn name?”  He slapped my face then punched me until my jaw felt disaligned.

“I’m never going to tell you!”

“Then I’ll just figure it out myself.  Lets see who you’ve been sending dirty text messages to this week.”  Damien Joseph rifled through my phone with ease like he had done this a hundred times before.  Knowing him, maybe he has.  “Ooh! No. Even better! Let’s Facetime your boyfriend!” Damien snorted.

“Don’t Damien! He’s not my boyfriend!” I cried “You’re just going to embarrass us both.  He doesn’t care about me.  You’re right.  He just used me.  And now he’s gone.  Please don’t call him.” I pleaded and I begged but that just fueled him further.

“We’ll ask him about all that when we see him face-to-face in just a few….” I tried to wrest my phone from his grip but he was like an animal.  Stupid human strength.  Out of control.  “Facetime is such a convenient little app, don’t you think?”

He pressed a button to connect with you and I prayed with the whole of my soul that you were on stage or on a plane or in the middle of nowhere … anywhere but a location with a cell signal.

“Beth?” you questioned when our two iPhones connected “I can’t see you. Are you ok?”

“She’s just fine Jerry.” Damien appeared on the little screen in your phone.  You gasped and I cringed.  I didn’t want this to happen.  I’ve given up everything I have ever wanted since I was eighteen years old to avoid a moment like this for fucks sake.  But, here we were.  The three of us.  Damien Joseph and I in an alley in Baltimore, you on a smart phone in Herzegovina.

“Where’s Beth?  Put Beth on the phone!” You demanded when you saw his face instead of mine.

“You want to see Beth? She’s right here somewhere.  Beth?  Oh, Bethy Beth Beth.  Your honeybunny wants to talk to you.” Damien taunted before putting the phone in front of my face so you could see me bruised and bleeding and held by the neck.

“I’m fine.” I tried to say calmly, then I screamed at you. “Hang up the phone Jared!”

You flipped the fuck out when you saw my face.  Shouted and cursed  at Damien and he laughed maniacally at you helplessly ranting and threatening him through the phone.

“Oh yeah? Call the police.” Damien offered a few times “They’re not going to do a goddamn thing Big Timer.  Never have.  Never will.”

“This stops now!” You shouted.

“Look at her Movie Man… I think she’s crying.” he chortled and scanned the phone camera up and down my body “See me choking your precious babygirl? Want me to stop?”

You screamed for him to stop.

“Ok. I’ll take my hand off her neck.” Damien removed his hand from my neck and I gasped for air over and over.  Then he ran his hand down my body.  His hip holding me in check.  My hands were free but I knew better than to engage. It would be over soon, I was more devastated that you had to witness this than the fact that it was happening at all.   “See this?  You like that better?  Like it when I touch her pussy?”

“Damien?” I begged “Don’t…please?”

“Shut up!  You’re done talking … you fucking no good dirty cunt.  I should kill you for this!”  I started trembling again.  He was insane.  Worse than I had ever seen him.

“Hey Jerry…?”  Damien looked back in the phone screen to make sure you were paying attention then directed the camera back on me and he grabbed me viciously “Do you wear a rubber when you fuck her?  You don’t need to, you know.  This cunt is worthless.  Can’t have kids Jerry.  No babies for you.  She’s useless! A useless dirty whore Jerry.” I closed my eyes and prayed for it to be over soon.  “You dump your cum inside her all you want.  Aint gotta worry about child support with her.  I know you Hollywood types worry about that kinda thing.  Big money.  But not with her.  That why you like coming by late at night Jerry?  Isn’t it?  Aint gotta worry ’bout this whore trapping you.  No.  You listening to me Jared … Leto?  You like spilling your disease inside this dirty cunt?”  Damien humped my leg and grabbed my breast.

Then …

With the back of his wrist he hit me hard across the jaw.  Blood spurt from my mouth and his hand returned to my throat. He cackled then said “Whoopsie.  Did I do that?” All the while holding the phone up so you could see what he was doing to me.  I started to check out of my body.  The skin on my face felt seared and raw.  Blood was pouring out of the cuts his knuckles were leaving behind.  You saw all of this.

“What’s she do to you with that mouth Jerry?”  He ran his dirty fingers across my lips.  I clawed at his skin but it didn’t phase him. “She suck you off? Lickie licke eh?”  With the phone itself he hit me again.  Hard.  Right on my mouth.  Then his hand returned to my neck angrier than it had been before.   “I taught her all those moves Jerry.  Every last one.”

At this point, I was barely breathing. Damien Joseph’s words started to fade away.  I could feel his hands like hot pokers burning every inch of my womanhood while he taunted you.  He was going to kill me this time.  I could feel it happening.  But first he would rape me. And he was going to make you watch. This I knew for sure.

Somewhere in the distance, I was floating above the whole event now.  Not a victim just a spectator.  My body was ready to give way.  As Damien Joseph ripped off my top I could hear your distinct voice begging him for mercy and then … nothing.

Keeper at the zoo (12)

You wouldn’t let me get away that easily.  Before your plane took off you called me and talked me down off the ledge.  I apologized and promised to stay at the hotel until I was sure Damien Joseph left town. I swore I’d call you the second our meeting ended, if it ever happened.  Damien was laying low.  Hadn’t heard a peep from him for days though I left a post-it on my door each day asking him to meet me at the Dunkin Donuts over on Liberty Heights Avenue.

“How’s Ukraine?” I asked you late one night your time, early afternoon mine.

“Sad.”

“Sad?  I thought you’d have a lot more to say than that. A revolution in action and all you’ve got to say is ‘sad’?”

Something didn’t sound right in your voice.  I couldn’t tell if you were exhausted or angry about something. “Not sure what to tell you Beth.  I’m sorry. I walked around a little in Kiev.  Didn’t see enough though, the kids wouldn’t back off.”

“You hate that don’t you?”

“Somedays.”

“And others?”  I put the phone to my opposite ear.

“If they’re not there … I’ve done something wrong but I’m free.”

“The zoo closes permanently if there’s no spectators so be careful how much you wish for privacy.” I warned.

“But if I were an animal in a zoo, I could fling my poo at them when they get too close.” you teased.

I laughed.  Our conversation was strained.  Talking about zoos while dancing around the elephant in the room.

I tried to sway the conversation in a different direction.  Bring a little flirt back in to the mix.  “I’m going to wear a sexy zoo keeper outfit for you next time I see you.”

“Training whip?”

“Yeah.”

You sighed and it broke my heart.  “I miss you.”

“I miss you too.”

“I wish you would stop being so goddamn stubborn and come out here.  You don’t have to do backstage or any of that crap.  I know you don’t want that.  But we could at least be together.”

“I have a job.”

“I would take care of you.”

“That’s not who I am.  I don’t want to be taken care of by anyone.”

“Yeah.  That’s going to end up being our biggest problem.”

“Why?  Because my life is so fucked up?  I clearly need a handler?” I poured the glass of iced tea I was drinking down the sink and tossed the cup in recklessly after.

“No. Knock it off.  Not that.”

I snarled at you “Then what?”

“I want to be with you.  I miss you.  Who knows, maybe you’ll find somewhere better than Baltimore out here.”

“I’m not worth all that Jared.”

“Why are you so hardheaded?”

“I’m a realist.  What we have works this way.  When you start throwing in airplanes and champagnes, it’ll die because that’s not real life.”

“It’s my life.”

“It wont be forever.”

“Ouch.”

“I’m just being real.  Lets not mess this up with fantasy.”

“You drive me insane.”

“Yeah but you love me anyway.”

“That’s because I’m a fool!”

“Aw, you love me?” I snarked fully expecting you to laugh me off.

“Yeah, I do.”  you declared very softly through the phone.

I would have given anything to have been in your arms in that moment or even be on my way to your arms like you were requesting but I just couldn’t do it.  I told you that I wouldn’t let Damien Joseph run me out of town, even if the running was to be with you. But that’s not really what was happening inside my head.  The man I loved just declared to me that he was in love too and I was too afraid to leave town and join him lest Damien Joseph follow me there.  He was already winning and the game had just begun.  But you were safe.  As long as you stayed far far away from me, you always would be.

 

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Picture Perfect (11)

“I’m quitting the band!” You declared as you pulled up your pants. “Fuck ‘em.”  You leaned over and smacked my lips with yours before slipping in to a shoe. “Would you date a guy on the unemployment line?”

I was laying on the edge of the bed wrapped up in a sheet we had soiled beyond comprehension over the last twenty-four hours. Your visit was rapidly coming to an end. Neither of us was ready for goodbye.  But you were getting ready to go just the same.

“I’ll take care of you.” I teased back. “Be your sugar momma.”

You pinched my chin. “You’d take real good care of me, wouldn’t you?”

“You bet your fine ass, I would.”

“Don’t doubt it for a second. Where’s my other shoe?”

“By the door.” I advised.

You walked the few steps around the corner to the foyer and grabbed your shoe before announcing “Hey, you got mail.” You came back to the bed with a plain manila envelope in your hand. It was oversized and unaddressed. “Here ya go my dear.”

“For me?” I asked, assuming this was your doing. Eagerly, I took the envelope from your hand, undid the clasp on the back, peeked inside and saw several large photographs. My heart sunk when I absorbed the subject of the first photo.  I had zero interest in seeing what the rest of the pictures were of.  It was instantly obvious to me who had taken them, it was definitely not you.

How the hell did he get in my building?  Not once, but twice!  Maybe more? Considering the timing, I immediately assumed you were in the photographs too but I didn’t want to tarnish the last 24 hours with Damien Joseph’s vantage point so I didn’t examine the photographs further.

“What ya got there?” you asked as you buttoned your shirt.

“Nothing.” I said and I threw the envelope on my end table like it was junk mail.

“Doesn’t look like nothing.” You said and you picked up the envelope innocently.

“Don’t!” I shouted.

You looked at me like I slapped you. It immediately felt disgusting to have a secret between us.”Never mind.  No. Go ahead.”  I gave you permission to open the envelope with a wave of my hand and assured you “I can explain.”

You opened the envelope and asked “Explain what?” as you slid out five large black and white photographs of you and I taken from inside my building last night. They looked like the photographer had been standing on the stairs inside my building when you arrived.

“What the fuck?” You asked. “You can explain this?” You tossed the envelope on the bed beside me. The pictures fanned out. There was another of us at dinner at Red Emma’s. One taken from across the street of just our heads as we cuddled with our books on the bench beneath my picture window. The rest were of your arrival in the vestibule.

My empty stomach churned. 
I couldn’t believe I was breaking the promise I had made to myself already.
“I have a stalker.” I confessed.

“A what?”

“Stalker … A crazy ex-boyfriend?”

“Oh that’s cute.  Are you kidding me?”

“From a real long time ago Jared. Like from when I was a kid.”

“Sure.”

“He is!”

“Why don’t I know about this guy? I thought you barely dated anyone growing up.”

“I didn’t and he’s why … After him, I couldn’t trust anyone again.  I keep expecting them to go ape-shit on me.” You sifted through the pictures again with a pained look on your face.

“I thought you trusted me?” you asked.

“I do!”

I climbed off the bed with the sheet still around me and crawled in to your arms. “You’re the only guy I’ve ever really trusted Jared. You need to understand that.”

You draped your arms loosely around me.  I slid mine around your waist.

“So what does he want? Money? Tell him to fuck off, I don’t do payoffs.”

“It has nothing to do with you.”

“Yeah right.”

“It doesn’t. He probably doesn’t even know who you are. He’s a hillbilly-redneck-white-trash loser living in a condemned-trailer waste of oxygen freak-of-fucking-nature that likes to come around every so often and ruin my GODDAMN LIFE!” I shouted.  My cool evaporated and I lost my shit, rapidly.

“Calm down.”

“I am so sick of this!” I screamed and I paced my minuscule apartment wrapped in a sheet.

“We’ll call the police.” You decided. “Get a restraining order against him and he’ll have to leave you alone.”

“Wont do any good.”

“Why’s that?”

“He walks right through them.”

You looked astonished.  “Then you have him arrested.”

“That makes things worse.”

“You can’t just do nothing!”

“Yes I can. I have to.”

“Bullshit. I’m not just going to stand here and let him…”

“You don’t understand Jared. This isn’t the first time he’s done something creepy like this. He’s crazy.”

You pointed your thumb at the photos spread across my bed. “You can say that again. Fuck.”  You pulled your hand through your hair and exhaled loudly.

“He just needs reassurance that I’m not with anyone else and he’ll leave me alone. Maybe I’ll tell him we broke up. He’ll believe me. And it’ll be over with.”

“No fucking way are you doing that!”

“No you don’t understand … He wont hurt me if I talk to him.”

Your eyes bugged out of your head and you clenched your fists “You think he’s going to hurt you?”

I said nothing.

You stepped forward and put your hand out to me “Has he hurt you before?”

I looked down at the ground.

“Jesus.” You shook your head and began pacing as well.

I put my hand on your wrist  and said as calmly and as reassuringly as I could muster “I know it sounds crazy. But please understand. I’ve been living with this for a long time. I know how to play the game. Ok?”

“No. No games. You’re getting on a goddamn plane and going to my house in L.A. until I come back. Then we’ll figure out what to do with him.” You pull out your phone and start typing messages. Responses start flowing back in as quick as you send them.

“Jared? I’m not going to L.A., I’ll lose my job.”

“Shut up. This has gone on far too long.  You’re going to do what I tell you to do.” you said and then you put your hand over your mouth to stop yourself from speaking.

I sighed and walked over to the window. Damien Joseph was out there somewhere. Plotting. Planning. Getting ready. The end of what me and Jared were building is nigh.

You pulled me away from the window and in to your arms again. “I didn’t mean that like that.”

“I know.” I sniffed.

“All I meant was, you can’t stay here. We already know he can get in to your building.  It’s not safe.”

“I’ll stay at work tonight and I’ll leave a note on my door for him to meet me somewhere in the middle of the day tomorrow. A very public place. And I’ll talk to him.”

“I want to be there.”

“You can’t!”

“This dude is crazy and you’re trying to reason with him.”

“I’ve done it before.”

“Didn’t work, he’s back.”

“It’s been a long time since he last came around.”

“How long?”

“Over a year.”

“A year! That’s nothing!” you paused “Wait…is he the reason you moved?”

I looked back at the floor. While I appreciated your concern and understood where you were coming from, I really wanted you to mind your own business, get on your goddamn plane and let me deal with Damien Joseph all by myself. If the cops can’t get Damien to behave, you sure as hell weren’t going to be able to either.

You getting involved would mean two lives ruined. Mine is already in the shitter, yours can’t follow suit. Especially not now. You’re on top of the world, that Oscar has put opportunities at your feet that will never come back around. You’re not giving them up for some chick you met on twitter and a redneck with a meth habit from Townsend!

It really is better to handle this my way but I didn’t have the proper words to convince you I was right. So instead I yelled at you. Insulted you. Cursed you and ran you out of my home. It was easier this way. Painful. But easier. I couldn’t let Damien Joseph any where near you. And if losing you was what it took to keep you safe, I was willing to do it. Damien would kill you if he got his hands on you. Of that I was sure.

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After words (4)

“Oh God!” I blurted out. 

Then I shouted “Max! Wait!” and I looked to you and back at Max who was exiting swiftly.  I fixed my dress, put my hand on my heart and begged him to stop and listen to me.  My words fell across his retreating back as I shuffled shoeless after him. “I have to explain Max…Please let me explain?”  

“No need.” Max said as he turned around quickly with a snarl on his lips “I know a star fucker when I see one.”

“Ouch.” You jeered from somewhere behind where Max and I stood.

“Yeah ouch.” Max mimicked “Congratulations on the Oscar win Jared.” he said to you over my shoulder.

You didn’t know what to say or do so you simply nodded.

“…and con-gradu-fucking-lations for fucking my date in the middle of the Art Museum. Great year for you dude. Jesus Christ!” and then Max stormed out of the gallery leaving me behind with my jaw on the floor and my pride in a cleaning bucket nearby.

Tears started rolling down my cheeks.  I’m not that kind of girl!  I’m not!  

You noticed my tears and it made you uncomfortable.

“Beth …”

I put my hands up to my face and started to cry pretty hard.  My back shook and my knees felt weak.  I was ashamed and embarrassed and felt ridiculously alone.  No one could understand this roller coaster of emotions.  I was just at the summit in the arms of a man that whisked me around the dance floor and promised me tomorrow and I left him to plummet into another lost year with a former lover who left me behind without looking back.  You.

“Listen … Beth?  I don’t know who that dude is or was to you but …”  you walked closer to me and put your hand on my shoulder. “But whoever he is.  He has no couth.  Don’t … let him get under your skin.  Who cares what he said?  It’s not that big of a deal.”

“I’m not a star fucker Jared.”  

“I know you’re not.” you counseled me then brought me in for a platonic side hug. 

“This is so bad.” I declared as I wiped my tears from my eyes. “I work with him.”

“Oh shit.”

“Yeah.  Oh shit.” I groaned. 

“No. I mean…shit! Shit!” Then you got angry.  And it took a moment before I realized you weren’t angry about the embarrassment that would inevitably befall me when I returned to work the next day. You were worried about yourself.  Worried that this little trist of yours would be on Buzzfeed before sun up.  That angered me more than I ever thought possible. 

“Oh, fuck off!” I said and I forced myself out of your embrace and slipped my heels back on.  You were surprised by that but nonplussed just the same.  

I started to leave again.   

“Don’t follow him.” You warned. 

“I have to. He drove me here.” 

“I’ll call you a car.”  

“Of course you’d say that.”  

“What exactly do you want from me Beth?” 

“Not a fucking thing.” I said and this time I made it to the stairs before you caught up with me. 

“Don’t do that.” You called out after me.

“What?” 

“Pretend that you don’t want me here.” 

“You can’t just come in to my life when you feel like it and ruin everything!” I pouted. 

“I didn’t ruin anything and you know that.” You sighed.  “You wanted me just as much as I wanted you tonight. Mark or Max or whatever his name is was not on your mind for the last year.  I was.  And we had some catching up to do.”  You smiled sweetly.  The devil inside you lay dormant for a moment.

I had nothing to say back to you.  You were right.  But I didn’t want you to know that.  How did you know that?

I cried out “I haven’t thought about you a single time.  Not once!”

“Bullshit.”

I almost stomped my foot while swearing “I haven’t.”  

“Well I’ve been thinking about you.” You said kindly as you moved in closer to me and tucked a strand of my hair behind my ear gently.  

That line of yours would have been great if I believed you.  I smiled anyway.  Can’t help but wish it were true.

I laughed. “Now that’s what I call bullshit.”   

“You’re a mess.” You said as you slid your tuxedo jacket over my shoulders once again.

“Yeah.  I know.” I agreed.

“What am I going to do with you?”   

“You’re going to call me a cab.” 

“Alright we’ll get a cab.” You agreed.   

“We?”  

“Yeah.  I’m not letting you go … yet.” 

“Yet?” 

“Yet.”

 

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