And What Gets Left Out
Sometimes it’s hard to give something up. Especially when you’re totally in LOVE with it. For yeeeears I worked with a prologue to my latest romantic thriller release IN HIS EYES and though I REALLY wanted to keep it in, beta readers, writer friends and eventually my editor all told me … let it go Nina. So I did.
Though it didn’t make it into the book, I’d like to share it with you.
The wooden coffin rested eerily over the wounded earth, the deep hole as hollow as the hearts of the two mourners. The man stared past the spray of wild flowers adorning its lid to his stepmother cowered on the opposite side. The reptilian slit of his eyes and the malevolent smile communicated loathing—and power. The widow’s eyes, puffy and glazed from weariness, watched him with a melancholy sort of understanding. The corner of her mouth lifted in a tremulous smile of acceptance. There were no tears when her husband died, none came now, and none would fall later.
Though the heat rose in currents from the tar road nearby, the young widow shivered. Standing in the shade of the oaks, the minister was the sole witness to the exchange. Reading from the book of Psalms, he faltered only momentarily, but finished the ritual graveside prayers without acknowledging what had passed between them.
Perhaps the minister also imagined how things would unfold.
Her life had not been hers for a very long time—now it belonged to him. She deserved no more love than he doled out to her in meager portions. No one thought she was worthy of anything, least of all her. She believed her life—each wretched day she survived, right up to her last breath—was preordained by this path she’d chosen to walk years ago. The way it would end was also a foregone conclusion.
Just days after the funeral, he sold his father’s house and packed their meager possessions into the old Cadillac. Crisscrossing the country, they stayed in seedy apartments where no one looked them in the eye. It was easier to ignore their pain that way. No one asked any questions, provided the rent was on time each Friday. She had no idea where they were and didn’t really care as long as he kept the needles in the bedside table filled with liquid heaven. He was gone most days and used her in unfathomable ways long hours into the night. He’d learned from the best and added new tricks of his own. But she accepted it all as her lot in life.
Now, he no longer needed her. She’d outlived her usefulness. They both understood that. She’d taken him into her bed only to prolong the inevitable. She didn’t plead or cry out with fear. She was just numb—or perhaps relieved it was going to be finished. Maybe it was the sweet wash of drugs coursing through her veins. Whichever the case, she didn’t care.
From the moment his father had fallen ill, everything had been destined. She may have been four years older, but her stepson had the maturity of a man twice his years and he dominated their relationship in every sense of the word. There hadn’t been any questions when he replaced his father at her side.
During their time together, she accepted his beatings, the verbal and sexual abuse, and the neglect. It was all either of them knew. Somewhere, in the back of her brain, she understood this wasn’t love, but she didn’t know what was. She had no yardstick with which to measure her worth. They’d cut her off from the rest of mankind so long ago, she barely remembered anything existed outside the confines of the world where they held her prisoner. She had no immediate family, so there would be no one to miss her when this was finished. Only he knew she still walked this earth and after it was done, only he would know she no longer did.
On this day he’d roused the woman early. Bathing with her in the communal bathroom of the apartment building, he’d taken great care washing her hair and body. With touches so gentle, he’d acted as if he’d felt something for her. His skilled hands had pleasured her without pain. He’d held off his own need until they were back in their room on the soiled sheets. With a passion neither of them knew existed, he’d made love to her. Whispering into her ear, he’d apologized for all that had been and all that would come.
Mutely, she let him brush the black waves of her hair and masterfully massage lotion over the yellowed bruises his fists had left. She watched him tenderly put the needle into her arm. He held her while the liquid worked its magic on her body and mind, taking her to that blissful place of detachment. He took her again, more urgently, but still with great affection. That’s when she’d known for certain that it was finished. She would not live to see another sunrise, never again feel a gentle breeze caress her skin, nor feel the pain of brutality.
He dressed her and took only a few of his belongings. When they climbed into the car, she didn’t ask where they were going. It didn’t matter. Nothing mattered.
They traveled for hours, waiting for the blackness to cloak them in its secrets. She looked over at him now. In the green glow of the dashboard lights, his rugged features were contorted with grief. Turning from the road, he smiled at her. A heartrending smile filled with regret. Even in her drug induced fog, she could see the tears welling in his eyes.
They stopped somewhere. A city perhaps, but she couldn’t be sure. He’d fed her pills and alcohol for her last meal, so the edges of her reality were blurred. He lifted her from the car, carrying her like an infant into the darkness. He laid her down gently and her body melted into the lumpy surface. The stench curled around her nose and brought bile to her throat, but giving into the retching would displease him, so she swallowed it down. Hiking up her skirt, he removed her panties. He hacked off her hair with the knife he perpetually carried. Plastic rustled as he moved her. He’d laid her with the garbage. How appropriate. The cold sting of his tears fell upon her face as he pressed his lips to hers for the last time.
She wanted to touch him, to tell him she understood, but she couldn’t lift her hand or form the words on her lips. She was tired, so very tired.
His face was a smooth canvas of detachment when he pushed the final needle into her vein. With one last caress of her cheek, he left.
The cold rain continued to fall long after he turned his back on her, long after she slipped into oblivion.