“It wasn’t your fault, Monica. It was a stupid accident.”
“No, it wasn’t. Stop defending me. She committed suicide because she was getting cut out. You know it, and I know it.”
“No, you don’t,” he said with a pointed finger and raised voice. “You have two possible scenarios, and you believe the one that makes you responsible? Sorry, no. You want to get beat up during sex, that’s fine, but this emotional masochism is bullshit.”
“She committed suicide whether I take responsibility or not,” I yelled back.
“No. She. Didn’t.” Darren ground his teeth. If I took responsibility, he’d have to as well. For not babysitting, for not watching more closely, for not counting her meds. It could go on and on in ever-expanding circles of self-blame.
“Fine,” I said. “It was a freak accident. I’m still sorry.”
Agreeing on everything and nothing, we looked through the envelopes as if we were doing more than touching what she’d touched so we could commune with our memories.
“I can take it all back to my place,” he said. “Clear out this room. You need a new roommate.”
I hadn’t given that a moment’s thought. I’d paid bills like a robot. Since they always came out of my checking account anyway, it didn’t feel like anything had changed. But that account wouldn’t make it another month without help.
I realized I didn’t want the room cleaned. I didn’t want anyone else living there. No one else was family. I didn’t want a stitch removed until I was good and ready, which I wasn’t yet. “How much are you paying for that place around the corner?”
“Not too much. Why? You want to move in?”
“Live here. With me.”
“Here? In this room?”
“You can have my room. Or the living room. I can clean out the garage.” It seemed like the most sensible thing in the world. We would stay together, which I wanted so much a knife of anxiety went through my chest.
He sorted through files as if he didn’t want to look at me. “What would your new boyfriend say?”
“I don’t care.”
“I don’t have to ask permission to live my life, Darren.”
“It’s not permission. It’s courtesy. Seriously.” He glanced at me. “You and I were intimate, in case you forgot. Guys have a problem with stuff like that. Trust me. I’d like to move in, but not at the expense of whatever you have with him. Not that I understand it.”
“Fine.” I held my hand out, realizing too late my wrists were black and blue from straining against plastic bags tied to my kitchen cabinets.
“Jesus, Monica,” he whispered.
Before I could even think about it, I hid them behind my back. Stupid. I was the cause of my own shame. “It’s not a big deal.”
He held out his hands. “Can I see?”
“Please? I won’t give you a hard time.” When I didn’t move, he said, “Promise.”
I put my hands in his. He turned my hands over, assessing the damage. I couldn’t look at him. I knew what was on his face and what was in his head. It wouldn’t be too far off from the truth. Me, naked on the floor. Knees up. Hands tied, straining. Add whatever darkness lay in Darren’s imagination, and I’m getting choked, slapped, fisted… whatever act he decided was too sick to perform, too deranged to even think about, had a shape and a voice and they looked and sounded like me.
“Do we have a problem?” I asked.
He let go of my hands. “It’s not a problem for me if it’s not for you.”
“Sure? No. But close enough.”
I put my arms around his shoulders and held on for dear life. He rocked me back and forth and gave me a big, hard kiss on the cheek. I heard another knock on the door and pulled away to go answer. I checked out the window and saw a rock-solid woman in her fifties carrying a beat-up leather case.
“Hi,” I said when I opened the door. “You must be the locksmith.”
“Sure am. Benita’s the name.”
I let her in. “Okay, well, this deadbolt isn’t set in right, so if you could fix that.”
She fiddled with the lock. “Uh, I was told to replace all the locks with Kleigs.”
My face hardened. I couldn’t afford Kleigs, naturally, but I’d agreed. “I have three doors. Back, front, and side.”
“Done. Checking the windows, too.”
Was there any use arguing? She was just doing her job.
“Fine. I’m going to work. You don’t need me here, do you?”
“Nope, just your key. I’ll leave it and the new ones in a box in the front. Code’s 987. All you need to know.” She handed me her card, and I saw her eyes widen when she saw my wrists.
I thanked her and ran back to my room. I caught sight of my wrists as I put rings on. That wouldn’t work. I looked as though I’d been in a hostage situation. I put bracelets on to cover the bruises. I needed a more solid pair that didn’t slide around so much. Whenever I lifted a tray, the bracelets would slip and reveal my weekend’s activities.
Which was exactly what happened. I’d been at work thirty minutes when Debbie noticed. She flicked the bracelets, then looked at me when I got back to the service bar.
“How are you doing?” she asked. I knew exactly what she meant.
“Very well, thank you.” I was pretty sure I blushed as I put empty glasses in the bus tray. She smiled at me then disappeared downstairs.
I serviced some tables, threw snide comments back and forth with Robert, and wore a ridiculous smile that was probably the exact opposite of the customer service smile I usually used. Debbie caught me on a bathroom run and handed me a black velvet bag with a drawstring.
“Put these on.” She took off as if she had more important things to do than explain.
When I got to the bathroom, I opened the bag. Inside were two bracelets that were more like metal cuffs in hammered silver. Two inches wide, with red stones set into them, they looked heavy but weren’t. When I put them on, they stayed put as I moved my arm.
“Well, there’s a hint I can take,” I said to Debbie when I saw her.
“I can’t have customers thinking we tie you up in the basement.”
“Are you happy?” She indicated the bracelets, but I knew she meant the bruises underneath them. “This is good for you?”