My hands are as far above my head as they can reach, my back intensely arched, and my calf muscles tighten, extending to the footboard. My pumpkin orange painted toes point as they join the stretch. The sun beams through a tight crevice in the drapes, challenging my eyes to regain vision. I squint and strain to open them. Its late afternoon, and I’ve been sleeping for four hours. Sadly, it’s the most uninterrupted sleep my taxing life has allowed in over a week.
The sensation of piercing eyes causes the hair to raise on my forearms. After I finish rubbing the sleep from my face, I glance around intently. No one is here. Weird. I swear I could feel someone’s presence. It must be my nerves. My thick down comforter drops from my shoulders as I sit up for another stretch. It isn’t usually this hot in my room, so I’m glad I was able to sleep through my sweat. My body is clammy. The tank top and shorts that cling to my skin are damp and wrinkled.
I’m supposed to meet Markie for a girl’s night in an hour. I better hurry. I told that weird friend of hers from work that I wasn’t going to make it, but changed my mind after debating all week. The decision is made: I’m going. Markie is one of my closest friends, but she’s changed since Beth died. She’s distanced herself. Now, with everything else going on around her, I’m afraid.
As the water heats, steam fills my shower and escapes through the bathroom door that I usually leave open. I like stepping out of the shower feeling clean and refreshed, not muggy and overheated. I think about Markie’s situation as I rub an oversized purple loofah across my skin. A deliciously scented lather forms on my protruding ribs and bony hips. The stress of all these deaths has taken a serious toll on my appetite. My body is shrinking, I’m beginning to look sickly.
I wonder how I’m supposed to tell Markie that I’ve been sleeping with the one acquaintance that’s off limits. I guess I can’t. Not now anyway, it will have to wait. I should feel worse about it than I do, but he’s convenient, and I’m lonely. He’ll do for now. It must be the guilt of it that’s forcing me to go to this stupid club tonight. Any smart woman would stay away.
My fingers scrub harshly into my scalp. My eyes squint tightly, trying to block the shampoo as it washes away. Before they can fully open, the shower door slides. A shocked gasp rises from my throat, and I force my lids open through a painful soapy haze. The air escapes my lungs in a slow, relieved sigh. I take in the sight of him. He stands naked with a grin, ready to join me.
“What the hell are you doing?” I demand.
“What does it look like?”
“You scared the shit out of me!”
“You’re pretty sexy when you’re startled.”
“I really don’t have time for this.” I snap, “I’m in a hurry.”
He pushes his way in anyway and shuts the door behind him. He stays just out of reach of the spraying showerhead, and watches me wash off. My back tingles and the blood rushes to my skins edge in reaction to his touch. The last of the soap bubbles disappear into the drain at our toes. He picks up my leg at the thigh and presses me forward against the shower wall.
With one hard thrust, he forces himself inside me. It is a lot rougher than his usual tactic. I gasp and press my hands against the wall for balance. He moves violently, but I like it. Strong fingers intertwine through my wet hair at the base of my scalp, then he pulls it, hard. My head jerks back with the powerful tug. A quiet, excited, involuntary squeal escapes my open mouth. His breath is hot on the back of my neck.
“You like it hard, don’t you Joyce?” His voice is lower than I’ve ever heard him speak.
For the first time in my life, I get a thrill from hearing my name. He releases his hold on my hair and shoves me back against the wall. A firm arm presses against my back. I’m unable to move my chest or shoulders, and am forced to take him in on his terms. Just as I’m about to crumble under his strong hold, a menacing whisper echoes in my ear.
“This is going to hurt.”
A shock pools to my center and a chill runs down my spine. It takes every ounce of strength I have to pull away from him. He squeezes my body tightly against his own. Then he loosens his grip, allowing me to turn and face him.
“What are you talking ab…”
A sudden pain consumes my neck, cutting me off mid-question. My voice catches in the center of my throat and is unable to escape. Instinctively, I grab hold of the sharp pulsating pain and squeeze. The fluid filling my hands, and running down my arms is much thicker and hotter than the shower water. Everything is beginning to blur. I look at him, trying to plead with my eyes. I am unable to speak. I lean against the wall, in effort to regain balance. Everything is spinning. I pull my bloodied hands from my neck to take a look. My vision is distorted, but not enough to disable the sight of color. My scarlet fingers spin and blur.
I feel cold. I want to grab him, beg for his help, but I can’t. My body slumps down the wall. My legs become weaker and weaker. What have you done to me? I scramble through the black and red blur, struggling to take a look at his face. For a flash, I see him. His head is tilted to one side and his face is blank. A hint of a smirk forms across his lips. I black out. I can still feel but I can’t see. I pull in breath with short shallow pants. I can hear an awkward gurgle coming out of my throat. My body is ice cold under the hot running water.
My life slowly drains away, yet a sharp digging pain reminds me that I am still alive. One piercing jab after another stings into my ribs, chest and stomach. I try to kick, throw my arms or scream, but cant. I can’t move. It only takes a few more jolts to realize that I’m being stabbed. Over and over the shock spreads across my body. After what seems like a lifetime of torturing pain, it finally fades. A faint sensation is left at my neck. There is something touching my midsection, something inside it. That too melts away until there is nothing left. I don’t feel anything anymore – no pain, no fear. I give up the struggle for breath and let myself go to the darkness.
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