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Bridgett

Summary

Bridgett’s life has always been about survival; survival in the strictest sense of staying alive. But living? She doesn’t have much experience in that department.

 

this is a work of fiction, any similarities to actual persons or events are purely coincidental and not intended

also published on Figment

...1

Bridgett

My wrists were chafing on the unforgiving metal that held them together, chaining me to the wall. The man thrusted above me once more before a look of relief finally spread over his face. The pain in the junction between my legs lessened as he pulled out even as his fist connected with my stomach, causing me to let out a strangled cry and turn on my side, pulling my legs up to cover the sore area. The man only laughed at my pain and spat on me, delivering one final kick to my back before leaving me alone in my cage. I tugged on my wrists, turning my hands to fists and cursing the lack of forgiveness in the cuffs.

The girl behind the bars of my prison looked at me; she was chained just as I was, lying on the floor, arms held above her head and a metal band around her neck to allow for that infernal leather leash. She smiled at me, a sympathetic, false hope smile that tells me she still believed in escape. She told me only the day before about her family, when she asked me about mine I only drew a blank. It had been too long; I could hardly remember their faces or voices. Their names had fled from my memory at least a year ago. The girl beside me? She'd seen hers only a month ago. She was yet to realize the cruelness of her own species.

'Fuck life. Fuck life to hell.' I groaned battling the pain in my stomach, back and groin. Not to mention the crick in my neck. And the headache. And the hunger pains. Let's just say I hurt.

'It'll get better.' The girl (I never bothered to remember her name) told me. Her cheeks were flushed and I could see her trying not to look anywhere but my face. The room was warm so our captors felt comfortable leaving us stripped of our clothes without having us freeze to death. She was obviously not used to it yet.

'Sweetie, you're kind but fuck. Get the delusions out of your head, they're not helping anyone.'

She looked shocked. The flush turning deeper as the surprise wore off and she glared at me. 'Pardon me for having a bit of faith. Some of us believe you know.'

'Believe in what? God? That fucker, if He even exists is probably laughing His bloody head off. If He gave even a quarter of a damn, those pieces of shit would be struck down dead by lightning.'

'He has a plan for us all.'

'Plan for what? To please the sick fucks that locked us up here? To die without any of our pride or dignity left? What plan involves putting us through this?'

'I... I don't know but He has one. Jesus died by crucifixion, stripped of His pride, and His dignity, why should we not die the same way?'

'He chose to die that way didn't He? He didn't fight to live, so why should He live.'

'You don't understand.'

'No. I don't understand, and quite frankly, I don't care. I don't believe in God, I don't believe in Jesus and I don't believe in the right to live, if you don't fight for that right.'

'Then why are you still here?'

'If I weren't fighting, I wouldn't be here.'

'But you are. Because God does care.'

'This is why I don't talk to Catholics.' I muttered this last sentence and turned away from the God loving woman. If God cared, so bloody much I wouldn't be in this situation in the first place. If He gave so much of a damn, those men would never have turned out the way they have. If God was real, if God really does exist, then I don't love Him, and won't love Him. If He exists, then I fear Him more than I do the men who have been raping me almost every day for the past three years. Even more than the bastard who ran his knife in some painfully intricate pattern over my legs and lower back. Scarring me forever, leaving me cursing the day I was born and begging for death to swoop me up and take me away from Hell.

--

'Bridgett, Bridgett. Calm down it's okay. It's okay you're safe. You're safe.'

Lara's voice filtered through the fearful haze that clouded my mind. My dream, the dream of a memory haunted my mind and I felt myself come back into my own body. My breathing was fast, almost hyperventilating and my body shook uncontrollably. I felt a hand stroke my cheek softly as Lara tried to calm me down.

'It’s okay, Hun, it's okay.' She soothed me, and I could feel my breathing slow, sweat dripped down my forehead, my hands clammy. My mouth was dry and my muscles hurt. Soft lips pressed against mine and I relaxed into the kiss. Finally opening my eyes to see Lara gazing into them, her concern for me evident. Guilt filled me for making her worry so.

She pulled away from me, smiling softly. 'You okay?'

I nodded, taking in a deep, slow breath. I gave myself a quick, full body assessment. My breathing was back to normal and I was no longer shaking. Physically I was fine. I didn't dare venture to see how I was mentally. 'I'm fine.'

We were sitting on her bed, the side lamp was on and the alarm clock shone neon green, 2:07 am.

'You sure? You started crying in your sleep. You don't normally do that.'

I had? I lifted a hand to my cheeks and sure enough, they were wet. 'Just –' I took another deep breath. 'Just a bad dream. A bad dream and a stupid Catholic.'

'Catholic?' Lara tilted her head cutely, a small smile playing on the lips she had just kissed me with. 'What. Are you dreaming about God now?'

'He has a plan for us you know. A plan.' I opened my eyes wide and deepened my voice, trying to sound ominous.

Lara just giggled at me. 'Sure, and I know The Muffin Man.'

I grinned, thankful that I had met the wonderful woman beside me. Thankful I hadn't run when she first invited me to her bed, and that I had admitted my feelings towards her. Even more thankful that she'd felt the same way.

'I love you.' I moved closer to her, resting one hand on her thigh and the other on her waist giving her a quick peck on the lips.

'I love you too, now go back to sleep I have to work in the morning.' She returned the affection and lay down pulling the doona up and myself closer to her and tangling our legs together.

I was happy to fall back to sleep, knowing her warm smile would be the first thing I saw in the morning when I woke and not a set of cold, grey bars.

--

'You're a nut case, Kelsie. A real nut case.'

'Why?'

I shook my head, mentally reminding myself that though she was my age physically, Kelsie had the mentality of a seven year old. 'Nothing, Sweetie. How's Darryn?' A seven year old with a sex life.

Kelsie smiled at me, her eyes glazing a little as she thought of her long-term boyfriend. 'He's great. He taught me how to make pancakes yesterday, they're really yummy have you tried them?' The blissful grin on her face was great to see, although she was my age, although she had a child's mentality most of the time, she'd been through about as much shit as I have in her short lifespan.

'Yes, Kelsie I've tried them. Have you had blueberry ones? I can make some if you like, then you can teach Darryn how to.'

'There are blueberry ones too? Can I have one?' Her face lit up at the thought of mixing a new favourite food with an old one and I was happy I brought it up.

'Of course you can. Come on, I'll show you how to make them.' I stood up, beckoning Kelsie into the kitchen with me. It had always, and probably will always, amuse me how Darryn knew more about cooking than I did. I wasn't sure if he knew blueberry pancakes, but it will definitely give Kelsie some pride in showing him how to make them, so long as he goes along with it that is. I know that it's sexist in thinking that a woman typically knows more than a guy about the kitchen and cooking, but jeez, it's true isn't it? Darryn is just about the only guy I know who can actually cook, and Kelsie the only girl who can't.

We spent hours in the kitchen together, every now and then Kelsie would ask me how certain foods tasted nice when mixed together, or why people started eating apples when her friend says God told us not to, and she even eventually asked me what a BJ was.

I answered each of her questions but the apple one. There is no way I was informing her about God myself. It wouldn't be fair on her to give my own crappy opinion on religion, rather than letting her hear all the facts and deciding for herself the believability. I told her to ask Lara instead.

'Are you going to get a job?'

We were sitting back on the couch again, both with a plate of blueberry pancakes. 'Hmm?'

'Darryn says you're going to need to get a job soon. It’s not fair on Lara to live off your savings and her income.'

I grumbled, 'It's not really any of Darryn's business is it?'

'He cares about you.' Sometimes she can be a wise seven year old.

'He's your man Kelsie, not mine. I understand he cares about me and I care about him too, but what I do with my life is none of his concern and it isn't fair for him to send you to tell me that.'

'He didn't send me. He was talking to me last night after we had sex and he said that it isn't fair to Lara for you to be living off of her income.'

I grimaced at the imagery that sentence conjured up of my two best friends going at it. Even worse the idea that I would be in the conversation that followed.

'I'm not living off her income, Kelsie.'

'You're living off someone's income. The savings would have run out by now if you weren't.'

'So whose income are you living off?'

'Darryn's.'

I threw my hands up. 'So it's okay for you to live of Darryn's income but not for me to live off Lara's?'

'I can't get a job.'

'Poppycock.'

'What?'

I stood up, taking my empty plate to the sink. 'There are plenty of jobs you could get if you wanted Kelsie. You could get into, uh, well. I'll have to think about it, but there's heaps you could do. Just learn to read and you'll be set.'

'Then if I can get a job, why can't you?' Kelsie followed me into the kitchen, the confusion on her face familiar and entirely legit. She just didn't get it.

'You know why, Kelsie. You know what I'm like around people.'

'What about computers?'

'What?'

'There was an ad on TV last week that I keep seeing.' She stopped there. I wasn't sure how long it would take but one day I was sure she would realize that people don't get all the information they need from an unrelated sentence.

'What are you talking about?'

'The ad.'

'What ad?'

'About getting an online job. You can make heaps of money.'

I thought about it. An online job would mean having to get a computer and pay for internet. But then it would also mean making money without having to deal with people face to face.

'Do you know how to get one?'

She just shrugged. 'I don't know. Ask Darryn, he'll know. He knows everything.'

I had to smile at her ignorance. It was the kind of sentence a child might say about their favourite parent.

'Sure he does. I'll do that, Kelsie.'

She gave me a pleased grin. 'Good. What time is it?'

I checked the clock, quart past four. 'About time for you to be heading off.' She came over almost every day while Darryn was off at work, but as soon as it got around the time his shift ended, she'd be off like a rocket. Lara wouldn't be home for another couple of hours.

'Okay. Bye Bridgett.' She gave me her dirty plate and left without another word. If she were anyone else I would have scoffed at how rude they were, but this was Kelsie. She had no idea.

--

I was taking a nap when Lara got home. I don't think she had the heart to wake me up so I didn't actually see her until somewhere around seven. I woke up to the oh so yummy smell of burnt pasta.

'Lara?'

'I'm in the kitchen.'

I walked up behind her, grabbing her hips and pulling her into me and away from the failed pasta. 'Hey.'

'Hey. How'd you sleep?' She turned in my arms, putting the wooden spoon on the bench before brushing a strand of hair off my cheek.

'Fine. How was your day?'

She grinned at me, that certain grin she always wore when she had great news. 'First, how was yours? Did Kelsie come over?'

'Mm. Darryn made her pancakes for the first time. He might have cooked himself up some competition.'

Lara giggled, 'Go figure that the best cook we know would do himself over with pancakes.'

'He reckons I should get a job.'

'Darryn does? Was he here?' She turned away from me to clean up her mess. Lara was a great cook, but also a bit of a perfectionist. If she didn't think the food was good enough, she wouldn't serve it and would order take out instead.

'No. I was just their in bed discussion apparently. Kelsie was just relaying the message.'

She made a face at that. 'God, I'm glad it was you and not me.'

I chuckled, leaning closer to give her a peck before pulling her away from the now turned off stove. 'Leave it. Tell me your news.' I dragged her to the couch and sat down. Tugging her so she sat on my lap, her arms around my neck to keep her balance.

'What news?' She played dumb, acting like she knew nothing. Even going as far as to scratch the top of her head like a confused imbecile.

'You know what news. You still haven't told me how your day was.'

She shrugged all nonchalant like. 'Oh, you know, same ol' same ol'. Dealing with co-workers, struggling with customers, arguing with idiots. The usual.'

I could see her trying to hide that smile. 'What happened?' I slipped a hand between her thighs, she was wearing shorts so there was nothing between my fingers and the silky skin of her inner thigh. She shivered.

'Uh, uh. You're not getting it out of me that way.' She pushed my hand away, glaring at me in a mock scolding.

I didn't say anything. Just stroked her leg, enjoying the smoothness of her skin and wishing mine could be the same.

'Bridgett stop it.'

One of my hands moved to her ribs, pressing lightly on that special spot.

'Ah. Bridgett, get off me.' She squealed and laughed, squirming to get out of my hold and away from the hand tickling her side.

'Tell me what happened.' I threatened her with more tickling and she giggled before sighing dramatically.

'Fine. I'll tell you.'

She looked at me, and I looked right on back waiting ever so patiently for her to say it.

'But first you have to catch me.' She was out of my arms before she even finished her sentence and all of a sudden, I was chasing her through the apartment.

'Lara you bitch, get back here.' I was choking on my own laughter and could barely walk straight let alone run.

'Nu uh, you gotta catch me first.' Her voice came from behind me so I spun around to see her duck behind the island bench in the kitchen.

'Oh it's on bitch.'

She popped up like a meerkat, 'It's on, like Donkey Kong.' Before popping back down again. I had to stop, I was laughing too hard.

It took me ten minutes to catch her. Every time I would get close, she would slip out of my arms like a bloody fish.

'Alright girl, tell me what the fuck happened today.' I had both hands on her ribs, holding her down beneath me on the floor and serving as easy reach tickle stations. I was breathing heavily, the short bout of exercise having taken up most of my energy.

'No. Guess.' I could see the laughter dancing in her eyes, and her grin was spread so wide I could see her gums. Her cheeks were flushed and she was breathing almost as heavy as I was. She was looking more than just kissable, I almost wanted to abandon the game and lock her in the room with me.

'You found a hundred bucks?'

She shook her head.

'You found a thousand bucks?'

She sighed wistfully and shook her head.

'You found a thousand dollars?'

She looked confused for a moment before it clicked and she burst out laughing. 'No. I did not find a thousand bucks you moron.'

I grinned and kissed her, unable to resist. 'You found me?'

She smiled softly and touched my cheek. 'Yeah, I found you.'

'I vacuumed.'

'I saw.'

'What are you thinking about?' She had a way off look in her eye, the smile still played on those delicious lips of hers, but I could see she wasn't with me anymore.

'My promotion.' She looked at me and giggled.

I was stunned for a moment before I grinned. 'That's great. Oh wow, Lara I'm so proud of you.' I gave her another kiss, almost like a reward kiss.

She grinned, her eyes twinkling. 'I was thinking, as a bit of a celebration we go out tomorrow. Order dinner, have a few drinks. Let loose.'

I climbed off her, letting her sit up properly while I tried to find the words to say that wouldn't hurt her. 'Lara, I... That sounds great but...'

She sighed and looked away from me. 'It’s okay Bridge, you don't have to. We can stay here, order take out. We could invite Kelsie and that over and just have fun. Play our music.'

I grimaced, hating that I was holding her back from having fun. 'No. No, we'll go out. Well go out for dinner at some fancy pansy restaurant. We’ll have some drinks and go to a club or bar or whatever. We're going to have fun.' I said it with a finality I wasn't sure she'd ever heard me speak with before. Lara glanced at me, almost shocked.

'Serious?' The grin was returning, that happy, excited grin that I loved.

'Seriously.'

She squealed and pounced, wrapping her arms around my neck and crashing her lips onto mine in a chaste kiss.

'I love you.'

'Love you too Lar.'

...2

Bridgett

'Sold for fifteen.'

I was shuffled away from the prying eyes, my hands tied together in front of me by a coarse rope that rubbed and chafed. I was cold. There was no heating in this giant shed they'd held the auction in and for those without clothes, it was freezing. The man gripping my arm pushed me into a small, makeshift room where a man and woman waited for me. They ignored me as they spoke to the man, asking him questions, my history. Somebody actually cared about my history.

'Look we just need to make sure we spent our money well, that's all.' It was the lady talking, letting the salesman know she was being honest. That she wasn't some cop, trying to break up the so-called 'business' in some under-handed way.

'I understand that, but like I said, you will have to ask the girl. That is if you can get a word out of her.' The salesman released my arm and gave me a small shove towards the man and woman. The woman caught me before I fell and held me softly against her, as though trying to assure me I was safe. I believed she was keeping me from running.

Money was exchanged with more words, most of which I'd heard before. Things like, no refund, cash only, blues catch you you're on your own. Stuff like that. Nothing new. A thin leather collar was placed on my neck, it's tag, metal and cold where it touched my skin. I hated collars with a passion but for the sake of my own well-being, I kept my complaints to myself. I stayed quiet, compliant. Complaisant. Completely obedient.

From the moment I first saw this couple, to the moment I found myself in their cold basement I hated them. It had been what felt like a lifetime in the back of that van that had brought me to my new prison. I had been taken down to the basement, the very cold basement, without having seen my new masters since I left that shed. They hadn't come down the stairs yet.

It was a full night of tugging at an old frayed rope before I saw them again. The woman walked down the stairs all regal looking and frowned when she hit the floor. She looked around, staring at me as if in shock that I was there. As if she hadn't just paid fifteen thousand dollars to own me. She tutted and turned to a white tile on the otherwise cement wall,

'I keep telling those girls to leave the heater on. This room is like a fridge.' She fiddled with the tile a moment longer, muttering under her breath about "those girls".

I stared at her. The entire time she stood by the stairs and fiddled with the tile I stared. Watching her every move. It was when she smiled with satisfaction and turned to me that I flinched. Her smile faded.

'I guess I should introduce myself shouldn't I? My name is Katherine. You can call me Kat.'

--

'So. You really think I should go for it?'

'Yes, of course. Lara you've been working your arse off for this. Don't give it up on my account. I'll get over it, you won't.' I touched her waist, trying to give her all the support I could, which, admittedly, wasn't much.

She smiled at me, pecking me lightly on the lips. 'Okay.' She whispered, 'okay.' A light nod and she was walking into the tall office building where she spends the days pushing papers.

I leaned against the side of the car, nervously scanning my surroundings as I waited for her to come back. It had been a tough two hours of convincing Lara to accept her promotion from writing up reports for her boss, to dealing with customers looking for available job positions. An even tougher three hours of Lara convincing me to come with her. Getting out of the house and facing this level of anxiety was not on my to-do list. I do not deal well with people.

I could have saved myself some stress by just getting into the car and waiting there, but it felt too much like a surrender. Like I didn't have the courage or presence of self to simply lean against a car without giving in to my deeply carved fears. To lean against a car. Outside. Surrounded by strangers. People I don't know. Who might hurt me. People I don't know who might hurt me like-

Lara walked out of the building all smiles until she found me curled into a tight ball on the back seat of the car. The panic had set in and by the time she'd found me, I'd hyperventilated myself into oblivion. The lack of oxygen reaching my brain causing me to lose consciousness.

--

Lara did get the promotion. But she hasn't tried to get me to leave the house again. She asked me how I'd managed to sit in that cafe she met me in without freaking out, and the only answer I could come up with was familiarity. I'd been there before with friends who had kept me from panicking, and I knew the waiters and waitresses. Familiarity kept me from freaking out. That and the fact that the only way for anyone who wanted to hurt me could get to me, was through the glass door with a bell above it.

The sidewalk didn't offer that peace of mind.

Lara told me we would save going out for another time, but only if I agreed to get counselling. I should have been seeing a psychologist from the moment I hit freedom, but I haven't. I've never held shrinks in very high regard. We argued for a while, before I told Lara I would sleep on it, and we could talk about it tomorrow. She agreed to that, and we sat in silence for a while, flicking through channels on the TV.

'What do you think about kids?'

It was the question that normally freaked out guys. "What do you think about kids?" The question they have to answer carefully in case their partner is asking because they're pregnant. If it's a negative response, then normally the guy is screwed. Not in a good way. It was different with us, the only way Lara could be pregnant is if she cheated on me, or got an IVF without consulting me. Which I highly doubted.

'What would you say about adopting?'

I had to think about it. For a long time I had believed that I would never be a mother, and even if I had a child (and that was a huge if), I would have no right over it. It would be taken away and treated as cruelly as I was. I was forced to lose it once. They killed it before it could draw its first breath.

'I haven't thought about it.' I really had no answer for her, I had next to no experience with children, and what experience I did have, came from having siblings when I was twelve. That's a long time between then and now.

'I was thinking about kids. About having them.' There was a far off look on her face. That look people get when they know what they want. What they dream of.

'Yeah?'

'Mm.'

'Kids are a lot of work.'

'No more than you are.'

I looked at her and she turned away, not so fast that I didn't see that cheeky grin though. I just chuckled, not having a response, knowing it was true. 'We can have kids,'

Lara opened her mouth to respond but I cut her off,

'But not right now. Give it a year or two okay?'

She gave a dramatic huff, as though I were asking her to do the dishes instead of postponing motherhood.

'Okay. I'm happy to wait, Bridge.'

'Okay. Good. That's good. You're sure?'

'Of course. Bridgett, I'm not going to force kids on you, and I'm not going to leave you just because you're not ready for children.' She had a hand on my arm, her legs thrown over mine. Using me as a chair basically.

I slipped an arm under her legs and the other behind her back, lifting her with me as I stood up. She shrieked and wrapped her arms around my neck, knowing as well as I did that it wouldn't take much for me to drop her.

'You know,' I adjusted my grip on her as I carried her out of the lounge, 'if I was a guy, I would suggest practicing the making of kids,' Lara giggled, her eyes rolling, 'but, I'm pretty sure we'd need a D involved for that.'

'Oh you think?' She kissed my neck a split second before my grip broke and she fell onto our bed. Swearing when she hit the soft mattress. My reward for the soft and abrupt landing was a playful glare, before being pulled down on top of her.

--

'We should do something.'

'Hmm? Like what?'

I rolled onto my stomach, eyeing off Lara's legs as she read her book, naked as the day she was born. 'Go out somewhere.'

'Hmm. Maybe.'

'We could go to that cafe we met in.'

'Mmhm.'

'Or that theatre you took me to.'

'Mm.'

'I could get a tattoo of a penis.'

'Mmhm.'

I grumbled, 'You're not listening to me are you?'

She didn't respond this time, except with the rustle of paper and a new chapter.

'Lara.'

'What?' She looked up from the page, giving me the cute little frown she gets when I interrupt her reading.

'We should do something.'

'Why? I thought we were going to stay in today.'

'We were.'

'Then why the sudden change?' She reached across me for her bookmark, her skin resting on mine as she searched for the strip of card under the sheet where I'd stashed it earlier. 'Where is it arsehole?'

I gave it to her so she could mark her page and put the book down. 'I just feel like doing something. Getting out of the house.'

'But, Bridge, I've been working all week. I want a pyjama day.'

It’s not exactly a pyjama day if you're not wearing any pyjamas but I didn't bother making the point.

'What if we go to Pancake Place? Go there for breaky, then come back. We can have our pyjama day then.'

She groaned, 'Fine. Since you're so damn insistent.' She got out of bed and walked over to the cupboard, pulling her favourite tracksuit out she said, 'Come on. The faster we get there, the faster I can get naked again.'

...3

Bridgett

I threw my hands up to protect my head and face as his hard as rock appendages rained down on my body, beating my already broken body black and blue. The sneer on his face and the taunts that flew from his mouth covering me in insults and spit had the tears running. Those useless tears that only served to encourage the man.

I could see the whip he loved hung up behind the door and hoped to Hell he wouldn't reach for it. I should never have taken that scrap of bread. Yet if I hadn't he would have found some other excuse to take me down. At least this way I had something in my stomach.

He didn't bother throwing me on the bed before taking me. He never bothered to, at least, give me the luxury of a soft surface beneath my back as he tore apart my body. He believed I didn't deserve it. That I was scum of the Earth. Maybe I didn't, and maybe I am.

It still hurt.

I was the only pet he had, the other girl who'd been here when I arrived had been on deaths door. She had warned me before her life left that only when I grew too weak or sick would I be replaced. Would I be spared.

The man had the decency to at least to leave the sick alone. Even if it was to save himself from getting a cold.

It was two hours after he left me alone before I found the strength to stand. If I didn't finish my chores by dinner the beating would be worse. The whip would come out without a doubt.

I washed the dishes and dusted. The kitchen floor was soon sparkling and the windows were each crystal clear and spotless. I vacuumed, weeded the garden, and did the washing, ready to hang the wet clothes out and bring in the dry after dinner. All this was done in three hours, all before I started on dinner, and all under the supervision of my master. He had nothing better to do other than watch me work. I hated how he watched my every move. How he criticized everything I did but didn't bother to do it himself how he thought it should be done.

That was woman's work. That was my job. It was why he bought me.

I made dinner. Even that was done under the bastard’s supervision. With his constant scrutiny, there was no way I could sneak a scrap to eat. Instead he gave me a single bite of his own food that I had made him. He seemed to take pleasure out of making me beg, making me do whatever he wanted for a single bite of food. He loved that I would do so with no objections. That he hadn't had to do the job of breaking me. That I was already broken.

There have been girls I've met who were new to the life of a slave who tried to help me. To get my mind back. They didn't understand why I would do everything I was told with no objection. Why I would willingly allow a man to strip me of my pride and dignity. What they never understood was that once upon a time I didn't. Once upon a time I fought men as hard as they did, if not harder. Maybe it makes me weak. Maybe it makes me less of a woman. But I found it easier to just do as I was told. Let the men who beat me down do the thinking and just shut my own mind off. Simply rely on my instincts to keep me alive. To cover my head during beatings, to keep my mouth shut when an opportunity for escape presents itself. I was quick to learn that escape was a thing for fairy tales. As was love and tenderness.

They just didn't exist in my world.

--

'I love you.'
I smiled as I felt arms wrap around my neck, 'Love you too Lar, now what do you want?' I shut the lid of the laptop and put it on the couch beside me. I was taking Darryn's advice and looking for a job online that I could do from home.
'Who says I want anything?'
'You did when you told me you love me for no reason.'
'I want a huggle.'
'A huggle?'
'Yup, a cuddly hug. Can I have one?' She was leaning over the back of the couch, arms around my neck and resting on my shoulders. Her face pressed into my neck giving me soft, sweet kisses.

'You're getting one now aren't you?' I had my head tilted slightly to give Lara more room.
'No. You're getting one. I'm just giving.'
'Hmm. Can't say I'm not enjoying it.'

‘Bridgett.’ She whined at me, dragging out my name like a child would their mothers.

‘Lara.’ I mimicked her, moving away from her warm breath on my neck and those lovely kisses. ‘I technically haven’t told you no.’

‘So, that’s a yes?’ She moved around the couch to stand in front of me, quickly straddling me so she could stare me in the eye. Very intensely.

‘Yes, Lar, that’s a yes.’ I wrapped my arms around her gorgeous body, fondling pinching the love handles she was complaining about the other day. She cuddled into me as I held her, pushing her face into my neck and holding me tight. ‘Okay, Lar?’

‘Yeah.’ She sniffed and I realised with a shock that she was crying.

‘Lar?’

She pulled back a little and rubbed her eyes with the ball of her hand, ‘I’m fine sniff just, hormones. I guess.’ She looked at her hands that were resting on her legs around my waist.

‘Lara? Do you want to talk about it?’

 

‘It might help, huh?’

‘Yeah.’

It does too. It had taken me forever to open up to Lara, to tell her why I spazzed out every now and then, why I had that panic attack when she brought out cuffs for the bedroom.  When I finally did, it was like a weight had fallen off my shoulders, it was this relief. As though my problems were no longer entirely mine. It helped that Lara legit cared about me, unlike the shrink they had tried to send me to originally.

‘I don’t know, Bridge. I don’t know what’s wrong with me, one moment I’m fine the next I’m balling my eyes out.’ She sniffled and wiped her nose with her hand, rubbing the goo on her top before continuing, ‘I just, I don’t know. I start thinking these things that I know aren’t true and aren’t going to happen, but my mind tries to make me believe they’re true.’

‘What things?’

‘Bad things.’

I kissed her then, holding her close to me, trying to assuage her fears with the light caresses she had always given me when I was in a bad way. It seemed to work as she relaxed in my grip.

‘My mind keeps telling me I’m going to wake up one day, and that you’ll be gone.’ She whispered slowly, as though the words themselves would make the delusion reality.

‘I’m here Lar, I’m not going anywhere.’ I smiled to her, not knowing what else to tell her, what else I could tell her.

It was all just impossible. Not long ago, and pretty much every day it would be Lara comforting me after the delusions in my own mind came to front and forced a physical reaction. This, me trying to offer Lara a form of comforting goodness, just did not happen. And yet.

‘I know. I love you Bridgett.’

‘Love you too, Lar, do you want to go to bed?’

‘Mm. Not really. Are you comfortable?’ She shifted her weight, rocking a little on my legs before leaning back into me, her face pressed into my neck.

‘I’m fine as long as you are.’ I didn’t mention my full bladder that I was starting to realise as she moved.

She sighed happily, her warm breath tickling the skin beneath my jaw and her muscles releasing their tension as I ran my fingers over her back, trying to work out the kinks. Lara always praised me on my natural skills as a masseuse. Seemed it was the only thing I was really good at without trying. She had suggested me making it a business, but that involved touching and talking to people who weren’t Lara or Kelsie or any of the others. People I didn’t know.

I don’t think I could do that.

We sat like that for another few minutes before Lara sat up, somehow pressing on my bladder harder than she had before.

‘I love you Bridge.’

‘Love you too, Lar. You’re okay now?’

‘Yeah. My uh, my parents want to meet you. I’ve been putting it off these last few months but they keep bringing up how long I’ve been with you, and they’re starting to think you don’t exist.’ She swiped the last of her tears away and pressed lightly on the redness around her eyes.

I didn’t know how to answer that, meeting Lara’s parents wasn’t at the top of my to do. ‘I’ll um, I’ll think about it. Can we make it at that café, if we do?’

‘Sure. I’ll post that to Ma, see what she thinks.’

‘Great. Now get off.’

‘What?’

‘Off, unless you want me to piss on you, get off.’

She laughed and stood up, pushing me lightly as I catapulted out of the chair and charged for the bathroom.

--

‘Okay, so I think I have it. You are looking for an online job because I told Kelsie you need one and Kelsie passed the message on, Lara wants you to meet her parents but you don’t know if you want to ­–‘

‘Can. I don’t know if I can.’

‘Whatever, you had an attack the other day, but you’re over that. Am I missing anything?’

‘No. I think you got it.’

‘Good.’ He grabbed a handful of chips from the bowl, crunching on them as he rolled his thoughts through his mind. Sifting through what he wanted to discuss.

‘Why don’t you think you can meet them?’

‘Who?’

‘Lara’s parents.’

I went to answer but choked, giving the impression of a drowning fish. ‘Uh,’ I looked away from him watching the clock for a moment, wishing Lara would hurry up and get home. She’d gone to buy some tuna for dinner. She was being a little lazy tonight or lazy in her mind anyway, and making tuna and rice. She hadn’t expected to be out of tuna. ‘I don’t know Darryn, why can’t I meet anyone new.’ I reminded him. The man had been a psychology minor in college, which was why I talked to him about the stuff going on with me. He, most of the time, could easily explain away the reasons I do things, or would know instantly how to fix some mental disruption I was experiencing.

I’d asked him plenty of times why he never did a psychology major and pursued a career into counselling, but his answer had always been that the people surrounding him gave enough psychological curiosities that he didn’t need more from strangers. His opinion of that had only grown firmer when he met Kelsie, the rest of us and me.

‘I don’t think you are worried about meeting them.’

‘Really? So how do you explain the panic attacks I get every time I have to meet someone new?’

‘I think, I think the anxiety is from the fact that you are worried about another attack. You are more concerned about panicking, than you are about actually meeting them.’

I hate to admit that he actually made sense. I didn’t say anything though, knowing he would continue.

‘If you stop thinking about it, if you tell yourself, make yourself believe you will be okay, then I think you will. You will be fine, if you let yourself be fine.’

‘It’s not as easy as that, Darryn.’

‘I know. I get that, but it’s the best I got. You want something better, pay someone for this shit.’ He stood up then and walked away, heading down the hall in the direction of the bathroom.

He wasn’t angry at me, just frustrated. It wasn’t exactly fair of me to dump all my problems on him, but I trusted him. I could tell him more than I would any money driven shrink with some fancy certificate on the wall. But it wasn’t right.

Lara came back an hour later, Kelsie tagging along with her munching on a Kinder Surprise. She threw the toy inside to me, knowing I loved them. They were one of the only things I could remember about my childhood. Every Friday I would go shopping with a woman, and she would buy me a Kinder Surprise, I would put the toy together and the woman would put it in a little box filled with the treats. I had collected them. I’m sure that woman was my mother, but I can’t know for certain.

‘Dazza.’ I watched as Kelsie wrapped her arms around Darryn, the blissful smile on her face and the small, playful nip she gave his neck. For as long as I’d known her, she’d always had this obsession with biting. Nobody knows what happened to Kelsie, not really, but one theory had been that for the longest of whiles, either she, or her captor had believed they were a vampire.

It certainly explained the neck biting.

Darryn hugged Kelsie back just as tight. It was cute really. He depended on her as much as she did him. Probably helps that he likes being bitten more than most.

Lara dropped the bags in the kitchen and I stood up to go to her, gripping those love handles she hated so much and nuzzling her shoulder, happy to have her back in my arms.

‘About your parents...’

...4

Bridgett

‘Help me.’

I shut my eyes to the girls whimpering. Wishing it were possible to shut my ears as well. She had been crying for help for the last three hours. Unceasingly. Annoyingly.

She thought I had a choice in being here. She thought I could get her out.

‘Please. You have to help me.’

I didn’t have to do anything but survive. Getting her out would not assist in surviving. It would do the opposite.

‘Please. Please, he listens to you, I saw, you have to help me.’ I couldn’t see her with my eyes closed, but I knew the tears were going, dripping off her chin. She was shaking all over and the bruise he’d given her earlier was turning green.

‘I don’t have to do anything.’ My voice sounded cold, even to my own ears. How many times had I cried for help and gotten none? Why should she get help, so early in the start of her death when I’ve lasted this long and received none? ‘I don’t have to do anything.’

She only cried harder. Any louder and he would come in, would blame me for the state she was in. I had to shut her up.

‘You need to be quiet.’

Because hysterical people always listened to harsh orders.

‘Please. Shut up.’

She ignored me.

‘If you don’t want to die, if you don’t want to kill me, I suggest you shut the fuck up.’

That did the trick. It was probably more shock than anything though that had her shutting up and staring at me wide eyed.

‘I was starting to wonder if you could talk at all.’ She whispered after a moment of composing herself, brushing her hand over her cheeks and collecting the tears. Kind of stupid. She heard me talking earlier when he caught me dropping that ceramic plate. She watched him beat me for it too. She couldn’t exactly do anything with her hands tied though.

‘I can talk.’ I just choose not to.

‘What does he want with me?’

I ignored her. Silently studying the cage she was stuck in, the chain that kept her attached to the wall by her ankle. The bars were melded to the floor and ceiling, too close together to squeeze through, and even if I did manage to pick the lock, if I knew how, I would still have the chain to deal with. Even if all this was possible, it would take too long. He would come check on us before I could even open the door.

‘Can you tell me your name at least?’

No. I couldn’t. Ever since I’d been taken I’d spoken my name only once, and that was under threat of a knife. Since then, if asked, I would take the punishment before I let filth speak a name from my life before. The only thing I owned.

‘Please?’

‘No.’

‘I’m Lillian, if that helps.’

‘It doesn’t. But you’ll learn to keep your name to yourself.’

‘Is that why you won’t tell me?’

She was doing what I had done in my first few weeks, talking to who-ever I could. Trying to use conversation as a way to distract myself from what was happening. I couldn’t fault her on it, it works for a little while.

‘If you want me to go through the list of why I won’t tell you, we’ll be here for weeks.’

‘I have all the time in the world don’t I?’

‘I wouldn’t be so sure of that. Now shut up, if he hears you we’re both dead. Then you won’t have any time anywhere.’

She obliged. Thankfully, because only minutes later he was barging through the door and hauling me to my feet, demanding his clothes to be washed and his suit ironed while he showered. I could see in his eyes the contemplation of taking me into the shower with him. Against all odds he decided against it.

I went to leave the room to do as I was told,

‘You can’t keep me here. It’s not right.’

I stopped short, shutting my eyes and wishing she had not just said that. The moment the creak of the cage door reached my ears I was gone. Ironing his clothes to the sound of screaming, cursing, banging and thumps.

I handed his perfectly ironed suit to him as he dried himself from his shower, keeping my eyes downcast and my body relaxed. He hated seeing me tense, hated seeing fear. Yet got off on submission. He grasped my chin, forcing my gaze to meet his.

‘How did I get so lucky to find a prize like you?’

I didn’t answer, recognizing his rhetorical question, and he soon let me go. I returned to the room and met the sight of the girl, Lillian, broken and bloody on the floor of her cage. Her ankle definitely broken as it bent awkwardly in the grip of the chain. She wasn’t dead though, I could hear her breath wheezing through the blood bubbling in her mouth.

I swallowed, hating the helplessness of the situation and turned my back on the sight. Lying down on my small mattress, and attempting to fall asleep. Banishing the broken image from my mind.

--

‘You okay?’

‘Hm?’ I looked over at Lara as she drove, ‘What?’

‘You seem lost in thought, not having second thoughts are you?’ She glanced over at me, a nervous smile gracing her face.

‘No. No, I’m just thinking. I told you, I want to meet them.’

‘Thinking about what?’

She was chewing on her lip, looking everywhere, and not just in the general checking her surroundings way, but in an anxious, uneasy way. It hit me suddenly that she was just as nervous about this meeting as I was.

‘Just… stuff I shouldn’t be. Sure I’m the one you should be worried about?’

‘What do you mean?’

‘Sweetie, you’re sweating all over the leather, you get out of the car and there will be a pool of sweat left on the seat.’

‘Lovely image.’

‘Are you okay?’ I reached across the console, touching her lightly on the shoulder, not wanting to disrupt her driving, but still wanting her to know I was there for her.

‘Yeah, I’m just worried.’

‘About what?’

‘You. Them. That this isn’t a good idea.’

‘You’re worried I’ll freak out.’

‘Don’t put words in my mouth, Bridge.’

‘No, that’s what you meant. You’re worried because you know I tend to panic when I meet new people, but that’s not going to happen this time, Lara, I’ll be fine, you’ll be fine, and everything will go smoothly.’

She looked doubtful, ‘sigh Okay, if you say so. Just, please. If you do feel like you’re going to freak, make an excuse, and go to the bathroom, please. I’ve dated nut jobs before and I don’t want Ma thinking I’ve regressed and have gone back to dating them. Especially after Laura.’

I nodded, feeling a little hurt that she didn’t trust me, but knowing it made sense. ‘Okay. I’ll try, Lar.’

Laura was Lara’s high-school sweet heart, they were together three years and everyone thought they were happy and going to be together forever. They didn’t know that from the first six months Lara had been hiding the bruises under her clothes. To this day, she doesn’t know why she stayed so long. My guess is that she had the same mentality I had about escaping. It’s not an easy thing to do when you know that person is only going to come after you and make it worse.

‘Thank you.’

We pulled up outside Mad Café, and climbed out of the car. Lara wringing her hands and me trying to fight down the anxiety that was suddenly bubbling up inside me. Being outside doesn’t help. I should have gotten Lara to have them come to our place, but then if it went wrong it would have gone wrong in the place I lay my head, and that would have been worse than this.

There weren’t many people inside, which soothed my nerves a little, and it was easy to figure out who we were looking for. Lara had told me her parents looked more like grandparents than anything, they’d been in their forty’s when they had her, and now, twenty-four years later, they were looking pretty good for over sixty.

‘Ma, Pa, it’s good to see you.’ Lara walked over to the couple and embraced them with a huge smile on her face, all traces of nervousness seemingly gone.

‘You too, Hun, now stand back and let me get a good look at you, it’s been too long.’ Lara’s mother, Joy, I think her name was, either that or Hope, one of those kind of names, held her hands on Lara’s shoulders, sweeping her gaze, pinching the love handles lightly. ‘Look at you, finally putting some weight on. You better not start dieting again.’

‘No, Ma, Bridgett won’t let me.’

That comment effectively brought that gaze over to me. I swallowed thickly, somehow managing a small smile. ‘Hi.’

‘Oh, aren’t you cute. Come over here, we don’t bite. Well, unless you do.’

I chuckled quietly, nervously, stepping close enough for her to grab my chin and look me in the eye. I almost undid with that move, but somehow, somehow kept myself together.

‘I’m, uh, I’m Bridgett.’

She smiled, letting me go. ‘I think I like this one.’

I saw Lara breathe a sigh of relief, smiling lightly.

‘Um, thanks?’

I noticed her father hadn’t said a word, he was just looking at me. I couldn’t figure out what the look on his face was, but it definitely wasn’t inviting.

‘So how did you two meet?’

We sat down, sliding into the booth with almost perfect coordination. Lara first, then me.

‘We met here, Ma, I came in for a cup of coffee after work and Bridgett was just sitting there, looking all a lonesome.’ She looked at me, probably remembering the part of that story we were definitely not going to tell them.

‘I’d been waiting for friends I was supposed to meet, Kelsie wanted to show me the tattoo she wanted.’

‘Tattoo? Since when does Kelsie like tattoos?’

‘She saw one on TV and decided she wanted one. Thank God Darryn talked her out of it, the one she wanted would have haunted her for the rest of her life. It was this, lion, dragon hybrid thing with vampire fangs. Hideous.’

‘That’s why you two were here, but how did you meet? Anyone can be in a café at the same time yet pass each other right on by. Happens every day as a matter of fact.’

‘Ma, have some patience we’re getting to that. I’m still reeling from the fact that Kelsie, our little Kelsie wanted a tattoo. Why did I not know this?’

‘You never asked. And by the way, “our little Kelsie” has a killer right hook, do not piss her off’

‘Well, poo to you too. Anyway, I saw Bridge and she looked really lonely, and kind of nervous, so I figured I would make someone’s day by talking to them and just being nice.’ I snorted then, Lara ignored me, ‘How was I supposed to know she would freak out?’

‘Oh hush, you surprised me that’s all.’

‘You freaked out, Bridge, admit it.’

‘Nope.’

‘You did. Bridgett freaked out and it took her friends arriving in time to keep her from running from me all together.’

‘You were the first stranger I’d met in yonks. I’m sorry you sat with a freak.’

I could see Lara’s mum watching us with amusement, her father however still had that stony expression.

‘You’re not a freak, Bridge, you’re just weird.’

‘After I freaked out and my friends calmed me down, they explained a little to Lara about my, ah, condition, I suppose you can call it. I’m not all that comfortable around new people. But she stuck around long enough for me to want to talk to her again and we swapped numbers. It was when you left, Lar, that Kelsie brought out that tattoo design.’

‘Condition?’ This was Lara’s father, his voice was gruff, and he certainly did not sound happy his daughter was dating a whack job.

‘Leave it, Pa, Bridge has been through some stuff that’s all. It took a lot of courage to agree to meet you guys.’

‘What stuff?’

‘Pa, leave it, please.’

‘What. Stuff.’

Joy, definitely Joy, nudged her husband with one of those looks that say, “Don’t”, the man ignored her.

‘What. Stuff. I will not allow my daughter to date someone who is dangerous for her. Now tell me, what is it that has you so fucked up?’

‘Pa.’

‘Wilfred.’

Both women spoke at the same time, scolding the man who was glaring at me. I couldn’t swallow, my chest was tight.

‘I’m sorry, I have to go to the bathroom.’ I stood up, ignoring Lara’s calls for me, and charged for the public bathroom. The tears escaped the moment the door was closed behind me, and I tried to banish the fear that had me choked. I’d be lying if I said it was easy doing. Or that I succeeded.

‘Dammit.’ I had promised Lara I wouldn’t freak out. ‘Dammit.’ I had done my best. ‘God, fucking dammit.’ I was doing fine until her father opened his bloody mouth. I pushed into an open stall and sat on the toilet lid, holding my head and trying to stop the tears.

A toilet flushed and it dawned on me that I was in a public bathroom, public being the key word.

‘Are you okay?’

I looked up to see a woman standing beside the open stall door, looking at me with concern etched on her face. A door creaked and Lara was suddenly beside her.

‘Bridgett, I’m so sorry, I don’t know what’s wrong with him,’ She noticed the woman and spared her a quick grin, ‘hi. Are you okay? Ma’s made him go for a walk to cool down, he feels terrible, he didn’t think you’d get upset.’

‘I’m fine.’ I managed to croak, ‘Just. It wasn’t what he said.’

That was the first time, really, that I had run from a person who scared me. A situation I will happily run from, but a person, no less a male, I would stay. The penalty had always been too great and too beat in to run.

‘He did look pretty scary then, yeah. He wouldn’t hurt you though, he’s just worried about me.’

‘I know. I know, nobody’s going to hurt me. Nobody’s going to hurt me, just, that look he gave me, I couldn’t­ –’ I choked on a sob, trying and failing to hold it back. I hadn’t noticed when, but I realised the woman had left.

‘Shh, it’s okay.’ Lara came up to kneel beside me, hugging me to her chest and stroking my hair, laying small kisses on my forehead.

The door creaked again and Joy was suddenly there as well. ‘You okay, Hun?’

I couldn’t answer, so Lara did for me, ‘She’ll be fine, Ma.’

The older woman nodded, ‘If you want Wilfred to leave, Bridgett, you just say so. Nobody will think less of you, especially if it took so much just to meet us.’

I got the feeling Lara had explained at least the gist of what happened.

‘I told them about your anxiety with meeting new people, and a little of what happened to you. You don’t mind, do you?’

I shook my head no. I didn’t mind. If I was going to spend the rest of my life with the woman beside me, her parents were going to know about my past eventually. Besides, not like what happened to me was my fault. Though I certainly thought it was for the longest of whiles.

‘I’m sorry about my husband. He is just looking out for Lara, you know. I’m sure your parents would do the same.’

It seemed that those two were very good at hitting sore points.

‘Ma, Bridgett doesn’t know her parents.’

‘Oh. Oh, Hun, I’m sorry I didn’t know.’

‘It’s okay. It took me forever to tell Lara. We had a giant argument about meeting my parents before I finally told Lara that if she met them, I’d be meeting them at the same time.’

‘Then the argument turned to Bridgett meeting you guys. Oh, good times.’ Lara said, a little sarcastically and with a grin on her face.

I stood up, pulling Lara to her feet with me. I walked over to the taps and splashed some water on my face, rubbing the redness around my eyes crying always seemed to cause. ‘I’m okay now. Have we ordered coffees yet?’

‘No. Come on, we can get you your weak arse white baby style cappuccino while the rest of us grown women have the good stuff.’

I laughed as Lara pulled me out of the bathroom and back towards the table, Wilfred wasn’t there, but I knew I’d have to face him again sooner or later.

‘I’ll order our coffees, Ma, you still have the full strength black with two sugars yeah?’

‘Yes dear, though it has always astounded me how you remember that but not my birthday.’

Lara just gave her a cheeky grin and skipped away to the counter.

‘What was it like?’

‘Hm?’

‘What was it like, finding out your daughter was gay?’ I looked at Joy, my head slightly tilted.

‘Oh, well it was shocking. Lara had never really given off any of the signs I’d thought you had to look out for. She wasn’t sporty, wasn’t really much of a boy, and she had an even number of guy friends to girlfriends.’

‘You know it’s different for everyone right?’

‘Oh I know that now, smarty-pants, I had just been going by what my friends had told me to look out for.’

‘Where had they gotten the advice from?’

‘Oh, some magazine that’s no longer printing.’

‘Who takes advice from a magazine? Even I know better than that.’

‘Okay, so where do you get advice from, little miss know it all?’

‘Darryn.’

She paused for a moment and frowned, smoothing out a few of her wrinkles while creating more. ‘Darryn? He’s a friend of yours?’

‘Yeah. He’s Kelsie’s fiancé, he did a psychology minor in college. He’s like my go to for everything, really. It’s no wonder Kelsie thinks he knows everything.’

‘So, who is this Kelsie? You’ve mentioned her a few times now.’

‘Oh, Kelsie’s one of the first friends I ever had, she’s like this ignorant, innocent little six year old, stuffed into the body of a twenty three year old woman. She’s always asking questions, the why’s, the what ifs, the how comes. It’s tiring. You can’t help but love her.’

Joy smiled, ‘She sounds like a handful. With a friend like her, who needs kids?’

I laughed, ‘That’s what I said when Lara asked about having kids.’

It was a millisecond after I said that I realised I shouldn’t have.

‘Lara wants kids? I’m going to be a grandmother?’

‘Um. Yeah, I shouldn’t have said that. Don’t let Lara know I told you that yeah?’

‘Of course, but answer one question for me.’

‘Sure.’

‘What did you say when she asked about kids?’

‘I told her in a few years maybe. When I’m not so fucked in the head.’

‘At least you didn’t outright say no.’

‘Who said no to what?’ Lara handed out the drinks, pushing me over so she could slide into the booth.

‘Oh, I said no to a slice, your mum wanted to buy one for me.’

‘Oh. If you want one –’

‘No, I’m fine Lar.’ I kissed her cheek, forgetting for that millisecond that her mother was sitting just across from us. But when I looked to see what her reaction was, she was smiling lightly.

The bell above the café door rang, and we ignored it like we had been the past half hour. Next moment a bubbly face was pulling Lara back out of the booth and shoving her boobs in my face.

‘God Sam, get off me.’

‘Bridgett. I haven’t seen you in yonks, how are you? Is that your girlfriend? Where have you been? I told you to call me. Have you been crying? You look like you’ve been crying.’

‘Sam, stop. Get off me.’

She pouted and obliged, standing up beside Lara, who looked at her as if she was some strange alien speaking in another language.

‘Lara, this is Sam, I’ve told you about her, yeah? Sam, this is Lara, yes, she is my girlfriend, so I would appreciate you not scaring her off.’

‘Scare her off, I don’t scare anyone off.’

‘You’re creepily hyper on a good day, Sam, today you’re a nut case. What about that poor kid, Millie? You had her running down the road screaming her head off.’

‘All I did was say hi.’

‘You appeared out of nowhere and screamed “hi” in her ear. She was skittish enough with normal people.’

‘Because you’re so normal.’

I grumbled at that and pulled Lara back into her spot beside me, needing her close to me. ‘I’m more normal than you, Sam.’

‘Hey, I don’t scream in my sleep at least, I dream of puppies and unicorns while you dream of blood and death and rape. Yuck.’ She stuck her tongue out disgusted, as though she hadn’t just dished out my own terrible truth to me.

‘Sam, whatever your name is, piss off.’

I wasn’t the only one Sam had pissed off with that comment. Lara had her protective instincts going, she’d moved forward a little blocking Sam’s view of me just enough to be noticeable. I smiled, protective Lara was cute.

‘Excuse me, who the hell are you to talk to me that way?’

‘Sam, leave them alone, hi Bridgett, walk away.’ Another woman, another friend of mine, Kip walked up to the table, grabbing Sam’s arms.

‘Hey, Kip. Sam hasn’t taken her tablets today has she?’

‘No. I was fighting with her all morning to take them, I’m fighting a losing battle here.’ She smiled at me, nodded to Lara and Joy then walked off, dragging a fuming Sam with her.

‘Okay.’ Lara turned to look at me, lifting a brow.

‘Lara, the crazy bitch was Sam. The other one was Kip. I never introduced you to them because the last I knew they both never left the house. They’re apparently over that now.’

‘Right. I’m assuming they’ve been through crap too?’

‘Sweetie, everyone I knew before you has been through crap.’

‘Darryn hasn’t.’

‘Since he met Kelsie he has.’

‘Point.’

I smiled, taking my victory. Joy was sitting quietly, just watching while she sipped her coffee. I wasn’t sure where Wilfred had gone, or when he’d be back, but truthfully, I wasn’t sure I’d do very well with having him back.

‘Well, I should find Wilfred. We should do this again, it was great meeting you, Bridgett, I apologise for my husband.

‘Oh, that’s fine. It was lovely meeting you too.’

We all gave our goodbyes and well wishes, and soon Lara and I were back in the car.

‘That did not go as planned.’

‘You planned it?’

‘You know what I mean.’ Lara started the car, quickly pulling out of the park. ‘I’m really sorry about Pa, I knew he would have something to say, he’s over protective, but I didn’t think he would… I wouldn’t have asked you to come if I’d known he would…’ She sighed.

‘It’s fine, Lar. It shouldn’t have bothered me, I knew he was just trying to protect you.’

‘But still. I told them you were a bit skittish, I told them not to be too hard on you.’

‘You told them?’

‘Just so it would go smoother. I figured if they knew beforehand that you didn’t do well with confrontation they would ease up a little with the whole, interrogation, stay away from my daughter shit.’

‘I s’pose. Didn’t really work though.’

‘No.’

We drove in silence for a little after that, just comfortable quiet.

‘Are you sure you’re okay, Bridgett? You didn’t freak as bad as I thought you had when you left but you did seem pretty shaken.’

‘I’m fine. I don’t know about your dad, he’s probably really nice under that protective shit he’s got going, but your mum was good. I liked her.’

‘No more than you like me, I hope.’ Lara joked, or at least… No. She was joking. There was that cheeky grin on her face, and the sly peek from the corner of her eye as she drove. Sometimes my mind astounds me with its stupidity.

‘Oh, no. Definitely more than I like you, there’s just something about older women you know? And going for a mother after having her daughter? Please, that could never be a wasted opportunity.’

Lara laughed, ‘You fucking slut.’

I chuckled along with her. Glad the day was over with, for the most part, and ready for the sun to set. I couldn’t wait to climb into bed tonight with the gorgeous woman beside me.

...5

Bridgett

I gagged on the member being shoved in my mouth, wishing I had the courage to bite down, but knowing I would only end up the way the last girl had who’d tried it. Becoming more than a punching bag and sex doll, was not on my to do.

My jaw was hurting already from the rough treatment it had received not even an hour ago, being punched hard thanks to being ‘too tight’. I hadn’t been aware that was a problem for men. I had bruises up and down my legs and arms and decorating my belly and back thanks to the stupid back talk I treated the bastard men with.

It could be worse. They only took my body once, and the man who had had been beaten just as bad as he’d beaten me. They’d wanted me to stay a virgin. I’d fetch a higher price as a virgin apparently, whatever that means. Speaking of which, I hadn’t been aware it could hurt that much. Every time I moved my legs, or lower body, or anything, pain would flare up like gunpowder set on fire. It was so much worse than period pain. I had thought periods were the worst pain you could get other than childbirth for the “down there” region. Yeah, no. I was wrong.

The longer the man took, the more I allowed my mind to wander. Anything to take my mind off what was happening. To take my mind off the pain in my throat, my tongue and jaw. Hell, even my teeth hurt.

I thought about my family, what my parents would be doing, whether my sister knew I was gone. Of course she would, twins always know when the other is in trouble. Don’t they? My friends probably won’t notice. I don’t even know why I call them friends. They hate me. Think I’m weird, that I want to do bad things to them just because I told them I think magic is real and that I can do magic.

I’ve realised since then I can’t.

It was when the man before, in and above me didn’t drop dead that I realised my spells weren’t real. The Latin I’d been memorising and the ingredients I’d been collecting, worked just as well as, “abracadabra”. In that they didn’t. Maybe I’d watched too many Disney movies, was too big a fan of Charmed and Sabrina the Teenage Witch. Or maybe it was just because I owned a black cat, and that was why my spells didn’t work. Either way. They didn’t. And I was stuck in the recreation of Hell.

If Heaven exists, these men will land in Hell. If reincarnation is the way it goes, then they will be reborn as fleas. Quick to grow, torture a poor soul, and just as quick to die. Hopefully in the most painful way possible.

It seemed to be the way I was going. And what had I done wrong? What, stolen a few toys off my sister over the years? I did steal that muffin, but I was hungry, and Mum would have said yes if my twin wasn’t such a bitch and got us in trouble. I guess I killed lots of ants, but there’s nothing wrong with that is there? Why do I deserve this kind of death when the bad guys get a needle?

‘Ah, yeah. Fucking hell babe.’

My mouth was suddenly empty and I had to take a moment to get my jaw working again to close it.

‘Oy fuck head, we got a good seller here.’

‘Too bad Red took the bitches V card, though I don’t blame him. For a kid with tiny tits, it’s fuckin’ hot.’

‘Will still fucking sell for a good buck though.’

‘Oh, fucking true that.’

It. I was an it to them. Not a she. Not a her. Just an it. A thing.

I was nothing.

I was also naked and shivering from the cold. My legs were all bloody both from my period and the ra– I can’t even think the word without choking.

It wasn’t the loss of my innocence I mourned, or the loss of my virginity, which I hadn’t planned on keeping much longer anyway, but the loss of my family. My sister. They wouldn’t get to say good-bye and, I never did. They told me to stay away from him. Said he was bad news, but I climbed out my window and snuck over to his house anyway, right where these goons were waiting.

The bastard I had figured myself in love with after a week had betrayed my easy trust, and taken everything. He’d told me he loved me. He told me I was beautiful, that even though he loved my boobs, he couldn’t wait for them to grow bigger. I guess he wasn’t lying with the last one, he really didn’t wait for them to grow.

I almost wish they won’t now. Maybe I won’t be so appealing to the men hurting me if I wasn’t big chested. My mum is though, and so is Nanna. I was doomed to being big chested. My sister hadn’t even begun to grow hers yet, she reckons it’s because either they’ll be heaps smaller than mine, or because they’re going to grow in one big hit and be huge.

I just wish guys didn’t like them so much. Why else would they like me?

--

‘Hey, we need to go bra shopping, all I have left is the sexy stuff, and that’s not exactly supportive.’

I lit up at Lara’s proposal. The opportunity to see my girl in the sexy stuff was something I would have to be dying to miss. That or blind. Although, even if I was dying, I’d make her come to my deathbed and guilt her into stripping for me.

Hmm. There’s a nice image, Lara stripping.

‘You’re asking me to come with, yeah?’

‘Course I am, if I didn’t you’d pout for a week and deny me. You pouting and denying is like the combination from hell. I’d run out of batteries by the second day.’

I chuckled, ‘Oh don’t worry, I’ll make sure they run out the first night.’

‘Bitch.’

‘You love me.’

She sighed dramatically, ‘Sadly. And it shall forever be the death of me.’ A small smile graced itself upon her luscious lips and she giggled.

‘We going now?’

‘Are you crazy? I need to get dressed first.’

‘Into the sexy stuff yeah?

‘Bridgett, I love you, I know you want to see me in black and lace but, Hun, it ain’t happening. I’m going to get fitted, and I’m not doing that in lace.’

‘Wait, you’re not going to that expensive place are you?’

‘Well why the hell not? At least their sizes make sense, go to Big W and everything is either two sizes above what it says or ten sizes under.’

‘Point. But why not Target, or K-Mart?’

‘Same deal and crappy styles. I may not be going for looks but I still want to feel hot okay. I can’t do that in lingerie that makes me look five.’

‘Nothing can make you look five. I’ve seen you naked.’

‘You’re aware how creepy that sounds right?’

‘As soon as it left my mouth.’

Lara smirked at me, pulling the shirt she’d worn to bed over her head and searching for clothes to wear for the day in only her knickers. Pity her back was turned to me, would have been a very nice view from the front.

‘Bridgett, quit perving on me.’

‘I ain’t doing nothing.’ I lied, making a half-assed attempt to sound innocent.

‘Should I be glad for that, or insulted?’

You should feel flattered I can’t take my eyes off you.’

‘Because you’re a perv.’

‘Because you’re beautiful.’ I walked up behind her and held her, my hands resting just below her naked breasts.

‘Cheesy.’

‘You love it.’

‘Love what? You? Or the fact that you’re cheesy?’

‘Both. You love both, and you know what?’

‘What?’

‘I love you too.’ I turned her around, kissing her soundly on the lips.

She hummed and moved her hands to run her fingers through my hair, playing with the long strands. That reminds me, I need a haircut.

‘I need to get dressed.’ She murmured against my lips, though not doing anything to show she really wanted to stop, instead pulling me closer to her. I ignored the half-hearted protest and back up, taking her with me to the bed.

--

‘Okay, I need a shower now.’

‘We could take one together.’ I suggested, pressing my breasts into her arms and throwing my leg over her.

‘That is not happening. I swear, you have the libido of a guy.’ She shoved me off her and rolled out of bed, moving quickly towards our en-suite in all her naked glory.

I just hummed, rolling onto my side, perfectly content to lay a while longer. I fell asleep before Lara was finished in the shower and woke to her leaning over me, a long line of spit hanging between our faces.

‘Oh, gross.’

She laughed and sucked her saliva back up.

‘Lara, I swear to all that is holy, that was not fucking funny.’

‘Oh, I don’t know. Seemed pretty funny to me.’ She giggled, kissing me lightly on the cheek as I sat up.

‘Don’t touch me you sicko.’

‘D’aww, is itty, bitty Bridgey widgey upswet? D’aww, poor wittle itty bitty Bridgey widgey.’ Baby talk. Oh how I despised it.

‘I’ll give you, itty bitty in a minute.’

‘Why not now?’

‘I can’t be stuffed now.’

‘I know something that’ll stuff you.’ She grinned slyly, pulling me off the bed and shoving me toward the closet. ‘But, instead I’m going to leave you to make yourself presentable. Otherwise no bra modelling will be happening today.’

‘Tomorrow?’

‘Ever.’

‘Bitch.’ I muttered under my breath, smiling as I did. I knew she was lying. It was an empty threat. Lara loved modelling for me too much to stop.

She eventually conned me into dressing and leaving with her.

Bras n’ Things. The lord of all relatively cheap bra shops. Thank God we weren’t going to that expensive place. I’m not even the one who earns the moolah and I’m worried about spending limits.

‘How about this one?’ Lara pushed the curtain aside and stepped out of the small cubicle wearing a matching set of blue.

‘Hm, you found a matching set?’

‘For a good price too, amazing isn’t it?’

‘How much cheaper would it be to grab the bra and find a five dollar pair of undies?’

‘Yeah, a  hell of a lot cheaper.’

‘Why don’t we do that then?’

‘You know what, this sucks. Guys don’t have to deal with this shit. Well, unless they’re fat.’

‘It looks fine, Lara, just maybe not that one.’ I ignored the comment probably every female has thought at least fifty thousand times in their life.

‘Fine.’ She huffed and turned back into the cubicle. Matching sets do look hot, but they’re so unreasonably priced. Men wonder why women spend so much, it’s because everything that only the women need and use cost so damn much. It’d be cheaper being a guy.

‘That one’s nice.’

She was dressed in a simple white bra with pink and blue polka dots, matched with the green knickers she’d thrown on that morning.

‘You think?’

‘Yeah. You’re last white bra has turned more grey than white.’

‘Mm. Yeah, get this one.’

The curtain hid her from my sight again and I soon had the polka dot bra flying over. I caught it and dropped it beside me in the “yes” pile. There were two so far out of two hours of trying on bras. Too many to count in the “no” pile.

I still had to buy a few myself.

‘Done?’ I asked after another hour of trying bras on. There was a total of five bras in the “yes” pile.

‘Yup. Do you need any?’

‘I’m just going to try this one on.’ I replied, holding up a nice red piece.

‘Kay. You don’t need any more?’

‘No.’

She shrugged and gathered up her chosen bras, taking them to the register. She was back in time with her purchases to see if the bra I’d chosen suited me.

‘Yes. I like it.’

‘Feels good. Good to go?’

‘Yup, soon as you are.’ She said, gesturing with her bag hand towards the door.

‘I’ll be out in a moment.’

 I’ve wondered why I’m so comfortable in underwear places. Maybe it’s because they’re normally populated be the female variety, maybe it’s because everyone else normally seems embarrassed. If it’s the younger generation that is. It could be that nobody pays any attention to me when I’m in the store. Whatever it is, I’m glad it exists.

We arrived back home to find Sam leaning against the front door, a bored expression turning sarcastic the moment she saw us.

‘Took you two long enough to get here. I’ve been standing here for three hours now.

‘The fuck were you waiting three hours for?’ I asked,

‘You two.’

‘Cause that isn’t obvious.’ Lara rolled her eyes and shoved past Sam opening the door one-handed with ease.

‘Don’t have to be rude about it. My legs are killing me.’

‘Nobody told you to stand, Sam.’

‘Nobody told me to sit either, Ropey.’

‘What have I told you about calling me that?’

‘I don’t know. To not to?’

‘Exactly.’ I grumbled under my breath and pulled Sam inside. She’d only throw a hissy fit if I didn’t.

‘What’s wrong with Ropey anyway?’

‘You know exactly why, Sam.’

‘Cause Katherine came up with it?’

‘Yes and no. Can you drop it now, please?’

‘Why?’

‘Because I said so.’

‘But why?’

‘Sam, shut the hell up before I make you.’ Lara dropped the bags on the couch and turned to face the woman, arms crossed. ‘Why is it any of your business anyway?’

‘You never used to hate the name.’ She ignored her, continuing to ask me about the nickname.

‘Sam, no more. Please. Where’s Kip?’

‘Out.’

‘Out where?’

‘I dunno. Out.’

I groaned. Wishing, not for the first time, that friends like Sam were the minority. Sadly, almost all my friends from before Lara are stuffed in the head. It’s not easy to tell that Sam’s been through crap, or Kip for that matter. They both had their own ways of hiding it and dealing with it, Sam became overly hyper and annoying. Deliberately pushing everyone’s buttons. What the psychology in that is, I have got no idea. Kip became slightly OCD, about everything. She has a need to know where something is, why it’s there, what someone’s doing. I think that has to do with the lack of control she had growing up and through her teens.

I’m not sure what my coping mechanism is. Maybe it’s the freaking out every-time I hit a situation that makes me uncomfortable, or the way I treat Lara like she’ll disappear in a second.

I don’t know. Darryn would know. He’s the psych minor.

‘Sam, can you please tell me, in your inside voice,’ she had been speaking at an almost yell, ‘where you think Kip might be.’

‘I dunno.’

‘Would she be at the supermarket?’

‘Dunno.’

‘Hairdressers?’

‘Dunno.’

‘Friend’s house?’

‘Kissing.’

‘What?’

‘She kissed a boy. She might be kissing.’

I blinked. That was news to me. From what I could remember, the last time Kip had met a guy she’d fainted. Not in a good way either, in the “too much fear” way. I hadn’t exactly reacted too well myself the first time I’d met the guy, but I’d known him well enough to at least breathe normal around him by the time Kip met him.

‘Do you know who?’

‘Who, who?’

‘Who the boy is?’

‘What boy?’ She was grinning now, that sarcastic grin she gets when she’s planning on riling you up and knows she’s going to succeed. Only a mite different to her, “I just pulled a prank on you” grin.

Yes, she has a prank grin. If I knew anyone else who pulls pranks, I’m sure they’d have one as well.

‘What are you here for, Sam?’

‘Stuff.’

‘What stuff?’

‘Just stuff. I miss you.’ She looked down and away from me,

‘I miss you too, Sam. You knew where I was though, you could have visited anytime.’

‘Don’t tell her that.’ Lara whined behind me, quiet enough so Sam didn’t hear her.

‘I couldn’t though. I was… too scared.’

I nodded. I knew the feeling.

‘What about Kip?’

‘She wanted to stay home. Look after me. After the police finished worrying about us, we just stayed home and watched telly.’

‘So, what actually happened?’ Lara spoke up, some of her annoyance gone.

‘I don’t know. I don’t like to think about it.’

‘Well, who’s Katherine?’

...6

Bridgett

 

I threw up again, what little food I’d eaten that day was now on the tiles before me. A splash of green and brown, wet and disgusting. Dangerous. I cleaned it up, holding back the rest of my urges to chuck. Even if I did, I doubted there’d be any more food to lose, I’d only eaten a few spare scraps in the week. He’d kill me if he found the mess.

This had been going on for days now. The throwing up, the queasiness. The pains down there that felt different to normal. He was going to be back soon. I could see that blasted whip hanging on the back of the kitchen door. He’d moved it, giving me that sadistic grin as he had, just knowing he would need it for the next time I broke a plate.

I was making very sure that no plate was being broken. So far I was safe, but if he saw the tiles before I mopped them, that false sense of safety would develop into pain, fear and just… I had to mop before he got back.

It didn’t do much good, the moment he found me in the bathroom, bent over the tub trying to clean it, I threw up again. Making this horrible retching sound. I don’t even know where the food I was throwing up had come from. I hadn’t eaten nearly that much.

He didn’t punish me like I expected, instead he gave me the first soft touch I’d received in years and held my hair back as I retched into the bath tub. He was humming sounds that would have been soothing if my nerves weren’t so shot, and stroking the back of my neck softly. When I finished, he picked me up, still being gentle, and lay me down on his bed, whispering something about medicine for my stomach and water. I don’t know what scared me the most, that whip of his, or him being this kind.

Anger I could deal with, pain I could deal with, screaming I could deal with and orders I could deal with. But this kindness, this tenderness I hadn’t felt in years? I could not deal with. I burst into tears, and he wiped them away

It was a few weeks before my stomach settled, and he allowed me out of the bed I’d had all to myself during the sick spell. I didn’t know where he’d been sleeping, but it wasn’t in his bed  with me, and for that I was grateful.

He handed me a small, plastic blue stick and told me to take it. I had no idea what it was, or what he was talking about and very hesitantly, very quietly asked him, so he pointed at one end, and told me to pee on it.

I wondered if he’d maybe gone mad.

I did what he said anyway, and he took the stick away from me when I had, and told me to wash the dishes. It was maybe an hour later, when I was finished wiping down the kitchen counters and just starting on dusting the light fixtures that he came up to me.

I wasn’t able to make much sense of what he was saying, but I heard the word abortion, and instantly knew what was going on.

I was pregnant. There was a life inside of me. There was a life, a baby inside of me, and he was going to kill it.

That was the last time I ever told a man “no”.

I wrapped my arms around my stomach and just looked at him, shaking my head and whispering no. No. No, you cannot kill my baby. No, I can’t be pregnant. No, this isn’t happening. No.

No. It’s a powerful word if you know how to use it. I had no idea how to use it, but I could still wield its power.

I told him no, in a definite, you won’t talk me out of it, voice.

I had no idea how to use the power of no. But he knew the power of yes, and he knew how to use it.

The whip. His fists. His feet. Everything, came out to play.

But he didn’t rape me.

Not this time.

I woke up on grass, beneath a mocking blue sky, a strange man kneeling between my legs with what looked like a rusty knife. I was completely naked. The moment I started to move, panicking, hands held me down and a gag was stuffed into my mouth. They didn’t have the decency to knock me out again. Instead, he let me go through all the pain of having a knife shoved up through my parts and fished around. I begged silently for darkness, for unconsciousness to take over and release me from the pain but. It never came.

I bled for a month after that. Every miniscule movement one huge explosion of pain that out did anything they’d ever done to me. I suddenly found myself with a newfound respect for the women back in the day who I had been told at some point, would willingly go through backyard abortions with a coat hanger. It was a bitter, bloody and pain soaked respect, but respect nonetheless.

I was useless to him after that. When I healed enough to stand he sold me. He didn’t want someone who limped with every step she took and screamed like a banshee with every touch he gave her. He had preferred it when I had been quiet as he took me.

I met the new girl briefly, and cried when I saw how young she looked. I hoped for her sake, that she couldn’t have children, and that if something could go right for her. That it would be her death. Quick, smooth and painless.

Death was so much better than the alternative.

--

‘Off. Off, now, Lara.’ I gasped, shoving her off of me as I fought for breath.

‘Bridge, God are you okay?’

I rolled onto my side, curling into the foetal position and counted my breaths, trying to slow my heart rate and stop the images in my head.

‘God, oh God, oh God, oh God, oh God, oh God, fucking hell, please.’  I whimpered, struggling to control myself.

I could feel Lara touching my back, hear her voice but couldn’t make out the words. I was rocking, struggling for air and unable to find any.

‘Bridgett, breathe, please Sweetie, you’re okay. It’s okay, I’m sorry. Please come back to me, Bridge, come back.’ He forehead was resting on my shoulder as I rocked, ‘C’mon, Baby, you’re okay. Just breathe okay? Just breathe, it’s okay. It’s okay.’

‘God, oh God.’ I continued to whimper, barely hearing Lara’s pleas.

She’d been kissing me, hands roaming when it hit me. That image of one of the men, the one with the spider tattoo on his cheek. I saw him touching me, taunting me, and I broke like a thousand times before.

It was Lara but all I could see was Spider Cheek. All I could feel was his greasy hands touching me.

Lara’s touch, her special touch I had come to love had suddenly warped into my nightmare.

It took longer than usual to slow my breathing and see Lara again instead of that tattoo. It was my first attack in ages.

‘Bridgett? Come on, Sweetie, answer me, please? Bridgett, please. You’re okay, it’s okay.’

‘Lara.’ I whispered, rubbing my wrists where I’d dug my nails in. ‘I’m okay.’

‘Thank God, Bridgett. I’m sorry, tell me what I did, I won’t do it again, I swear.’

I managed to roll onto my back and shake my head at her. ‘No. You did nothing wrong, I promise.’

‘You’re sure?’ She had that scared-worried look on her face that I hated. The look she gets when I have an episode and she doesn’t know what to do to make it better.

‘I’m sure, I just. Flashback. I had a flashback that’s all, it was nothing you did, just crappy timing.’

‘You’re sure? I won’t be upset, I promise.’

‘I’m sure, Lar. It wasn’t you.’

She nodded, looking uncertain. ‘Okay. If you’re sure.’

‘I am.’

She nodded again, hesitantly touching my shoulder before pulling me into a tight hug. I hugged her back, gripping on like she would disappear if I didn’t. The flashes of memory still swam in my mind, but not to the point I would think it was real again. I was safe.

‘C’mon. We can watch TV or something, I can go back to looking for that job online.’

‘Sounds good.’ She helped me stand, my legs were shaking and felt like jello as always happened after an attack.

Neither of us bothered dressing, we weren’t expecting anyone anytime soon and it was so much more comfortable in our own skin than clothes, so why not?

‘You don’t need a job if you don’t want one, Bridge.’

I had the laptop sitting on my lap, the JobSearcher site up. ‘I know that, but, it’s not a matter of need. I feel like I’m just mooching off you, Lara, and you mean so much more to me than that. I want to be able to support myself, and if this is the only way I can do it, then so be it.’

‘You didn’t feel like that before Darryn mentioned it.’ She didn’t look at me as she said it and I realised a little slowly that she was… agitated.

‘I didn’t feel like that, because. Well, just because. I shouldn’t be mooching off you, it’s not fair, regardless of whether it took Darryn mentioning it to realise or not, it isn’t.’

‘I don’t mind you mooching though, Bridge. I want to support you.’

‘You don’t want me to support myself you mean.’

‘I just… Stop putting words in my mouth, that’s not what I said.’

‘You implied it.’

‘Bridget.’ She sighed my name, exasperated. ‘It’s not that, I just. I care about you. I want to look after you, and… I just…’ She sighed again. Not able to find the words.

‘You don’t think I’ll let you look after me if I do it myself?’

‘Kind of.’ She looked over to me, the insecurity shining in her eyes. ‘I just… I’m so used to you needing me, I guess.’

‘I’m still going to need you, Lara. Getting a job won’t change that.’

‘It will. You won’t need me as much.’

‘It’s not about the money if that’s what you’re thinking.’

‘What?’

‘I don’t need you for your money, so having my own isn’t going to stop me needing you. I need you. Not money, not the house, nothing but you.’

‘Really?’

‘Really.’

She moved closer to me, placing the laptop onto the floor before pulling me into her arms. ‘Sometimes it feels like I need you more.’

I smiled and hugged her back. ‘There’s nothing wrong with that.’

--

‘So, you never did tell me who Katherine is.’

We were drying the dishes, Lara drying and I was putting away. She’d told me it was the setup she and her pa had when they washed and dried the dishes together.

‘I, kind of don’t want to talk about her.’

‘Why not? Was she like those guys or…?’

‘No. The complete opposite actually. She saved me really. Bought me and then set about fixing me.’

‘Bought you?’

‘Yeah. She made it her mission in life to spend her money, which she had mountains of by the way, on buying girls from that place. I don’t see why she didn’t just have it shut down, but.’

‘What did she do?’

‘Helped me. She introduced me to Sam, who actually helped a lot, believe it or not. She kind of brought me out of my shell and threw a ping pong at me every time I tried to do any chores.’

‘A ping pong?’

‘Yup. Discouragement more effective than words but didn’t hurt.’

Lara smiled and shook her head, pulling the plug in the sink, she’d never heard any of this, pretty much as far as I’d let her know until now, I could have been perfectly normal the day I became free.

‘I remember the first day I saw Kelsie.’

‘Yeah? What was that like?’

‘She tried to bite me. I’d been there for maybe six months when I met her. Katherine had taken her in as a favour to a friend who actually had been Kelsie’s captor. The person who’d had Kelsie had disappeared and Kelsie was half starved by the time Kat brought her back. I think it was the next door neighbour that found her first though.

Kelsie was… I don’t know how to explain it. She was scared, but not scared of everything. Do you know what I mean? Like that kitten seeing grass for the first time. She was really interested in everything but too scared to go near anything.’

I finished drying the dishes and Lara pulled me over to the couch,

‘What happened?’ She urged me to continue, thirsty for the past.

‘I don’t know what happened to her before she came –’

‘No, I know that, what happened when she arrived?’

‘Oh, well Kat dumped her on Sam and another girl to look after, and she went off to do something. That’s how I met her, I was trying to find Sam so I could ask her something and the moment Kelsie saw me she just kind of jumped on me and bit my neck. I have no idea what she was trying to do. I don’t think she was trying to hurt me though, she acted afterwards like it was the most natural thing in the world to try to eat someone.’

Lara giggled at that, the memories of my time with Kat weren’t great ones, like most of them, so I was doing what I could to make it seem at least a little humorous. Have to say, I think I did a pretty good job of it, I was starting to see the funny side as I spoke.

‘Sam introduced me to her, she had a bite mark on her neck too. I think Kelsie did, but it was really faded. Anyway, it ended up Sam and I looking after Kelsie, the other girl never really got along with Sam and I never made the effort to talk to anyone at that point if I wasn’t comfortable with them.’

‘Fair enough considering what you’d been through.’

‘Thanks. I remember us trying to stop Kelsie’s biting. She would try to bite us at least once an hour, and one day Sam got fed up and bit her back. You should have seen it, Lara. She looked like she was going to explode with ecstasy. So Sam’s plan really backfired. I think it was when Kelsie bit a new girl that she stopped. The new girl freaked massively and smacked Kelsie in the face. I don’t think Kelsie had been hit in her life up until that point, so she just kind of stood there awkwardly staring. Then the tears welled up and she ran off crying. That new girl was Kip.’

‘Oh, wow. The girl from the café?’

‘Mmhm. Kip is not someone you want to get on the wrong side of.’ I winced the moment I said that, remembering, ‘The moment Kip recognised me for the first time, she got so angry, so pissed at me, I don’t know what she would have done if I hadn’t hugged her the moment I realised who she was as well. Instead she broke down crying in my arms asking me why. Why I’d let him hit her, why I’d turned my back on her. She kept asking until I was in tears as well, and we both just sobbed in each other’s arms in the corner.

We did become friends after that, but not before Kip exacted her revenge, turning her back on me when I sliced my finger open by accident while cutting the onion for dinner. It had been my turn to cook. She had begged forgiveness afterwards when I was all patched up, and it never occurred to either of us that I had never apologised myself.’

‘You turned your back on her? When?’ Lara pulled my hand into hers, probably recognizing the way I had tensed.

‘We were both bought by the same man. She said something stupid so he beat her and I just left her to her punishment and did my chores. When I returned, she was all bloody and broken and pathetic, and I… and I just…’ I hung my head in shame of what I did, pulling my hand out of Lara’s warm grip and wrapped it around my body. ‘I just lay down on my bed, and turned away. I ignored her cries, her wails. Her every scream of pain. I just ignored her. I’m no better than the man who beat her.’

‘Hey.’ I felt Lara pull me into her, wrapping me up tightly in her arms and pulling me up against her body. ‘Don’t you dare say that. You are nothing like him, do you hear me? Nothing like him. You didn’t hurt her, you didn’t take her away from her home. You were trying to protect yourself, and that’s okay.’

‘It’s not. I could have done something.’

‘Like what? Bridgett, you couldn’t have done anything without being hurt yourself. You did nothing wrong.’

I looked away, not wanting to argue but wanting to tell her she was wrong. I could have done something. Anything. But I did nothing.

‘I’m going to go have a nap.’ I stood up and left the room, leaving Lara on the couch.

...7

Bridgett

‘I love you.’

‘I love you too. You’re the most beautiful girl I’ve ever met, did you know that?’

‘No. Really? Am I really?’

‘Yeah, you’re like sunshine.’

‘Lollipops and rainbows?’

‘You are obsessed with that song.’

‘I love it. It has to be the best song in the world.’

‘Sing it for me.’ He always loved to hear me sing. He always told me I was the best singer he’d ever met even though everyone else told me I can’t sing.

‘I don’t know, I thought you were going to show me what love is.’

‘I am, but I want you to sing for me.’

‘Now?’

‘Now.’

‘But we were going to make love. Don’t you want to?’

‘I do. I really do, but I want you to be comfortable, otherwise it might hurt because it’s your first time.’

‘Okay. Sunshine, lollipops and rainbows everywhere, it’s wonderful is what I feel when we’re together.’

‘Good.’ He kissed me then and I kissed back, matching his pace easily and trying to go quicker but he slowed me down. ‘There’s no need to rush, Babe. We have all night.’

‘Mum might realise I’m gone.’

‘Not your twin?’

‘No. She hates me right now.’

‘You could cast a spell to make her like you again.’ He teased me,

‘No. Spells don’t work like that, they affect physicality not mentality. Besides, I hate her too right now. She thinks I’m an idiot for loving you.’

‘Are you?’

‘No way.’

We kissed again and he pushed his tongue into my mouth. He gripped the back of my neck to bring me closer, hurting me a little but not enough to make me complain. His other hand was on my still growing boobs, squeezing, pulling, pinching. It felt good. My hands were everywhere, his face, his neck, his chest and creeping down towards that place I wanted to touch but didn’t dare.

He pushed me and I fell onto his bed, still holding onto him so he fell with me. We kept kissing and touching, I was anxious to go all the way, whether it was because I was trying to get back at my parents or not didn’t matter. It was what I wanted and he was going to give it to me.

It didn’t happen. He stopped the moment I pushed my hand down his pants, and climbed off me.

‘No, Babe. I can’t.’

‘But–’

‘No.’

My face crumpled, my confidence shot. I sniffed, curled up into myself. ‘Oh.’

I expected him to comfort me, make me feel better like he always did but he left. Leaving me alone in his room. I heard a door, the front door, and got scared that he was leaving the house so stood up, but before I could leave the room two men slammed the door open and grabbed me.

I saw him as I was dragged away, and he just stood there smirking.

A wad of cash in his hand.

--

‘Hey, Lara.’

‘Hmm?’

‘I think I found a job.’

‘Yeah? What is it?’

‘Says here, “an amazing opportunity for all those people wishing to work from home. No experience required, only a willingness to learn, and the ability to follow through with a project. Simply click here to sign up for the free online class to get started.” It’s for web design. All I need to do, is take the free class, pass, and get started on assignments they set for me. Done deal. I don’t have to pay anything, and they pay me for the quality of my work.’

‘So it’s not a set pay?’

‘No. It says the pay ranges from fifty dollars to two hundred depending on the quality. You get fifty regardless of the quality, though I reckon they’d fire anyone whose work never improved enough for more than fifty.’

‘Sounds reasonable. You’re going to take it?’

‘I think so. I’ll set up an extra bank account though for the pay to go into, if I pass the class that is, just in case it’s just an elaborate scam for your bank details.’

‘Smart. I still don’t think you need a job, but I’m happy you’re standing up for yourself and doing what you want.’

‘Thanks, Lara.’ I put the laptop on the coffee table and moved over so I could hug her. Holding her until she pushed me off, complaining it was too hot for touching.

It was, truthfully. The day was very muggy, and even the heat of the laptop was almost too much.

There was a knock on the door and I pulled my dressing gown on to cover my nudity so I could answer it. It was too hot for clothes, and the gown was a summer one. I could see Lara doing the same, but dropping back down onto the couch once she was suitably covered.

‘Bridgett, hey.’

‘Kip. What are you doing here?’

‘Sam told me she came around, I figured it wouldn’t be fair to me if she had you all to yourself.’

‘Ah, you’re jealous then.’

‘No… well… maybe a little.’

‘Come in, I can make you a drink or…?’

‘No, no. I’m fine. Hello, Lara, was it?’

‘Yes. Kip?’

‘Yup. How are you?’

‘Hot.’

‘I’ll say.’ I walked up to her and pecked her lips,

‘You look well, Bridgett.’

‘I am, thanks. Not as bad a scaredy cat as I was. You’re out of the house, so you’re doing much better than I am.’

‘Not necessarily,’

‘What do you mean?’

‘I had an attack the other day, there was an ad on TV about animal cruelty, the moment a cage popped up on screen…’ She made a face, making it pretty easy to assume what had happened.

‘You panicked, huh?’

‘Yeah.’

‘You can’t be doing that bad if you’re out of the house though.’ Lara spoke up, leaning forward a little and either ignoring, or not realising her robe was falling open.

‘Well… no. I suppose not.’

‘Lara…’

‘Don’t be so hard on yourself then. Do you know how long it took for me to get this one to agree to meet my parents? Granted it didn’t go all that well, but that was of no fault of Bridgett’s. Just gotta believe in yourself I reckon.’

‘Lara…’

‘Hush, I’m making a point –‘

‘Can you make that point with your gown done up?’

‘What?’ She looked down, making a mini squeak sound as she grabbed the robe flaps and pulled them closed.

‘You’re so red, Lara.’

She was blushing furiously, looking anywhere but at Kip. ‘Shutup.’ She managed to mutter.

‘It’s okay, Lara. We’re all girls here and I don’t swing your way anyway.’

‘You don’t?’

‘Nope. Hey, not everyone who’s been hurt by guys hate them all. Or gay. I’m one hundred percent straight, dating’s just a little bit harder for me than most hetero girls.’

Lara visibly relaxed, ‘Oh, good. How do you mean?’

‘Well, it takes longer for guys to get me to trust them, that’s all. I mean, considering what happened with my uncle and Bridge told me about her boyfriend –‘

‘Ex.’ I butt in.

‘Sorry, ex-boyfriend. Trusting just isn’t the first item on my to-do.’

‘Figuring out if they’re worth trusting is?’

‘Got it in one.’

I left the two alone for a moment, tuning out the rest of their conversation as I went into the kitchen to make us all cool glasses of water, taking the cordial out of the fridge for whoever might want some. The fridge was cool against my heated skin, so I stayed a moment longer to bask in its freshness.

‘Bridgett?’ Lara called out, turning on her spot on the couch to look at me,

‘Hmm?’

‘Who’s your ex? You never mentioned one to me.’

I didn’t answer for a bit. Stalling by gathering up the full glasses into my hands and carrying them over cautiously to the coffee table. Mumbling something about the cordial for whoever wants it as I did. ‘He’s no one.’

‘Bridge…’

‘Seriously. He isn’t anyone to worry about.’

‘Are you sure? You don’t normally shake like that over no one.’

I hadn’t realised it, but his mention had me shivering, my fingers shaking uncontrollably and my muscles twitching. Tense. Stressed.

‘He’s no one important.’

‘Bridgett?’ Kip put a hand on my shoulder, looking concerned. ‘Are you okay?’

‘Sure. I’m fine.’ I shrugged her hand off and sipped at my drink, draining enough water to fill the cup back up with cordial and not lack taste.

Lara told me I didn’t have to talk about it if I didn’t want to and I accepted that. The conversation flowed into lighter subjects, talking about the cordial flavour to the best plastic container brand. Tupperware was winning over any Kip could spit out, and Lara couldn’t get over how Kip could confuse Keiser, an expensive craft brand, with a plastic container brand.

In Kips defence, who really cares?

The phone rang in the midst of their heated debate so I missed a bit of it while talking to Kelsie, who promised to drop by for dinner with Darryn. She asked what the T of T-Box stood for, and I gave her my guess of Television. Television Box. I could see why they shortened it to T-Box.

Kip gave us the sad news of Millie’s passing. Hit by a car. Irony for the girl who survived seven stab wounds, one of which punctured a lung. The car that hit her punctured a tire on the metal rod she had tripped over while crossing the road.

The funeral was the next week. I promised to attempt to make it.

Kip left a little after Kelsie and Darryn arrived. Both Lara and I were dressed at that point, having gotten tired of the threat of open robes and fleshy bodies around our friends.

Darryn cooked. Kelsie asked questions and Lara worried. About me, about letting the guest do the cooking, about whether or not she should tell Kelsie Santa doesn’t exist for anyone over five. I sat and sulked for no obvious reason.

Everyone left sooner or later. Kelsie before Darryn. She wanted to walk home alone, and know what it feels like to unlock an empty house. She’d never done that before. Darryn only let her because she’d mastered the use of a mobile a month before and had his number on speed dial. She didn’t get the concept of Triple Oh yet, but as long as she had his number.

Lara brought out the bottles when we were alone again. The glass bottles filled with alcohol. Smirnoff. Only one point two standard drinks worth. But that was okay, we didn’t need much more. Lara was a light weight, and I just liked the light feeling.

We played our music loud, danced and sung like idiots. I forgot about my past, my scars and my dead friends. Lara helped. She reminded me of what I have now. A woman I love who loves me back, a soft touch and a warm embrace.

I have love, when before I had none. I have safety, when before I had none. I have friends, when before, friends could have gotten me killed.

I have happiness, when before, it was a myth.

Hope. Love. Kindness. Compassion. The things I have, but didn’t have then.

We slept soundly that night, wrapped up tight in a doona cocoon, a tangle of arms, legs and female body.

--

Hands held my sides, just below my ribs, lips touching mine, my hands touching, searching, loving. Hand in her hair, other on her hip, squeezing. Battle of the tongues, then falling back onto something soft, focusing on her only. Where she touches, the spots she knows I love. Kiss my neck, stroke that muscle, spread my legs. Toes curling as she loves me, voice croaking my love for her and what she does to me.

Returning the favour, then done. Rest, panting, smiles spreading breathlessly over our faces.

‘Love you.’

‘Love you too.’

Cuddle, trying to get closer than is possible. Trying to crawl inside each other.

I sigh happily and hold onto her, laying small kisses wherever I can reach, her arm, her chest, her breast and her neck. ‘You don’t have to go to work today, do you?’

‘Mm, no. Day off.’

‘Good. Lay with me then.’

‘I thought I was?’

I could hear the smile in her voice, and pulled her tighter to me. Relishing that thought, that idea that she might never leave me. That she would be mine forever. And wishing it will be that way for all time. Or the rest of my life at least. Wishing that she will love me for that entirety. With her entirety.

‘I mean it.’

‘Mean what?’

‘That I love you. I really love you.’

...8

Bridgett

The metal of the park bench was cold, even through my jeans. Children played on the playground, yelling, laughing, crying. All innocent. He wanted one. He wanted a child, decided I was too old. Decided he had wasted money buying me, and wanted somebody younger, somebody fresh.

It was weird being outside. After so long of being kept indoors, hidden, it was strange to sit outside, on a park bench surrounded by people. It was scary. I wasn’t a little girl anymore, not the child I was when I was taken. I wasn’t like these kids, all play and no work. Naïve.

I knew what they didn’t. Felt what I could only hope they never would. Saw things I couldn’t un-see. Nothing in life was black and white, but the difference between my eighteen years and their perhaps thirteen, fourteen was such a contrast it might as well have been.

I watched the younger ones. The toddlers and pre-schoolers. Trying to find one he would like.

Soft, delicate, somebody he could train. A screamer, a fighter.

One child, a young boy started crying. He was on the ground and I could only guess he’d been pushed. I could remember being like that. Being that selfish.

I couldn’t be much different now though, I was looking for a child he could torture. Just so he won’t torture me. Selfish. But there’s nothing wrong with not wanting to die. Just the way you go about living.

If that little boy was a girl I would have chosen him.

My gaze wandered over to a small group of girls, dressed in pink and bows and frills, long hair, the sole red head standing out like a sore thumb. She was wearing blue jeans and a green top. Different to her friends. Looked about six.

She seemed bored listening to her friends talk. Looking around, kicking at the ground and dirtying her shoes. She stood out as much as it felt like I did. I felt as if everyone was looking at me, knowing that I was broken. A sad, broken girl with no past to speak of, and no future to look to.

I sat there for hours. Watching that girl, naming her Ariel in my mind, choosing her. Selfishly wanting to have somebody around that reminded me of myself. Preferring to destroy the young girls life, just for the company. Even if I didn’t though, he would just pick somebody out himself, with less care. He would pick some random girl, then probably kill her because she wasn’t right.

The police would search for him.

The idea sparked that tiny hint of hope, that dying ember covered in dust and dirt, that it might be possible for me to have my life back.

Then I remembered what he’d said about having a backup plan when that mate of his had been over. If the police ever went looking for him, he’d kill me, dump my body, then hide away in his little shack out way back until he was in the clear.

Flawed, ineffective and completely unreliable, but it would land me dead. As much as death appealed to me, I wanted to live.

That hope ember darkened, until the low glow disappeared almost completely.

I wondered shortly where the red heads mother was before standing up and moving towards her when she wandered from the group. Alone. Unprotected. An easy taking.

All I needed to do was grab her, then… what? I realised I had no way of taking an unwilling child away from the park without attracting attention. Threaten her, I decided. Tell her to stay quiet or I will hurt her.

I touched the girls shoulder, letting her spin towards me. She smiled, disarming me completely and asked me for my name. I shook my head and put a finger to my lips.

‘Hello, do you like toys?’ I tried a friendly smile, but judging from her frown, I guessed it didn’t look very friendly.

‘Yeah. But Mum says I can’t talk to people I don’t know.’

‘Well then you’re a very smart girl to remember that. But Mum asked me to take you to the store. Will you come with me?’ Somewhere in the back of my mind I knew I was getting this from a movie I’d seen one day. I couldn’t remember what movie, or why I was watching one with people getting kidnapped, but I digress.

‘I don’t know.’

‘C’mon. I won’t hurt you, you only can’t go with people in vans or giving away candy.’

‘It’s called lollies.’

‘Lollies then.’

She looked like she was thinking, scrunching her nose up in what I might have called cute if I wasn’t trying to destroy her life.

‘What toy?’

‘Whatever toy you like.’

‘Really?’

‘Yep. Do you like fairies?’

‘I like Bratz.’

I blinked and tried to pretend I knew what she was talking about. ‘Well then, we’ll get you some Brats then.’

‘Yay.’ She bounced a little and grabbed my arm, trying to pull me in the direction of the shops. I realised with relief that threatening her wouldn’t be necessary. At least not yet. ‘This way.’

‘Okay, but I was thinking the shops that way.’ I pointed back where he lived. I couldn’t see it from the park, but knew the way.

‘Are there shops over there?’

‘Yep. With lots and lots of Brats.’

‘Awesome, let’s go.’ She pulled me again, but this time in the direction I wanted.

 

She was dragging her feet by the time we got there, looking tired.

‘Here we are.’

She looked up, frowning. ‘This isn’t a shop.’

I thought quickly, the neighbours kept to themselves but if she put up a fuss, they were bound to notice something amiss. ‘Yes it is, it just doesn’t look like one.’

‘Why?’

‘Uh, because, uh, only special people know about it and, uh, yeah.’

‘Really?’

‘Yep.’

‘That means I’m special.’

Very special, I thought. ‘Come on, let’s go inside.’

‘Are the Bratz inside?’

‘Yep.’

‘Cool.’

I took her in, closing the door and locking it behind me. No turning back now.

‘It still doesn’t look like a shop.’

I looked at her in time to see him stand behind her. I swallowed thickly, looking up at the man from my crouched position. I had been just about to take her little jacket off.

‘Well done, Slut. I half expected you to just run.’

I froze the moment he said that. I could have. I could have just run.

Instead I pondered over having the police come looking for him. Expecting somebody else to save me when I could have saved myself just now.

‘Who are you?’ The girl spoke up, craning her neck to look up at him.

‘I’m your daddy, little girl. And this is your mummy.’ He gestured to me.

‘No you’re not.’

His eyes narrowed at her, before backhanding her sharply across the face. She fell to the floor with a thump and a scream that cut short. ‘I am your daddy, do you hear me?’ He dropped onto his knees, one leg holding her down on the floor, liking putting too much pressure on her back.

She started to cry. My cheeks felt wet, and I realised I was crying myself.

He only smirked, letting the poor girl get back on her feet, hauling her up when she took too long.

‘Slut, take her to her room. Give her a name.’

‘Yes.’ I bowed my head, tilting it to the side slightly, exposing my neck. He liked that I did that.

I’d already decided on a name, so took the sobbing child’s name and tugged, ‘C’mon, Ariel. Let’s go.’

She began to wail and stubbornly stayed put. I panicked slightly, worried her behaviour would land me being punished and tugged harder. When she still stayed where she was, and I spotted him twitching those cruel fingers, my hand swung out and connected with her bottom. Smacking her soundly, trying to ignore the surprised but pleased smirk on his lips, making the spider tattoo look like it was dancing.

The girl gave a shocked gasping sob, but with another smack, this one over her shoulders, she began to cooperate.

‘My name’s not Ariel.’ She protested as I pulled her to the spare room he’d been decorating all week just for her.

‘Yes it is. It is now.’

‘No it’s not.’

I smacked her again, causing her to blub her tears instead of sob. The snot dripping from her nose and making bubbles when she breathed. ‘Your name is Ariel. Now shut-up so I can change you.’

She only whimpered, making another snot bubble.

‘Now look, just do what you’re told okay, and you won’t be hurt. I might even find you a brats thing for you, as a reward for being good.’

The wails were gone and she was left with a red face, wet cheeks, dripping nose and the sniffles.

‘Okay?’

She didn’t answer me, just wrapped her arms around herself, refusing to lift them so I could take her clothes off.

‘Okay?’

She still didn’t answer, I narrowed my eyes and raised my hand threateningly. She flinched, taking the Barbie themed blue dress out of my hands and started to change into it herself.

‘You’re mean.’ I almost missed her quiet mumble,

‘You’d be mean too, if you were me.’

--

‘Bridge.’

‘Yeah?’

‘Can you get the door?’

I looked up from the form I was filling out and listened for a moment, hardly blinking when I heard the knock. ‘Sure.’

I stood up, putting the laptop down and making my way towards the front door, wondering who it would be.

Not Kelsie or Darryn, it was Saturday and they have this thing on every Saturday. Not Sam or Kip, they had promised to visit Monday arvo. Not Lara’s parents, they had promised to call before they visited.

I opened the door, ready to tell whatever salesperson that we weren’t buying anything when I saw who it was. Or, more realistically, saw what I mistook for a mirror momentarily.

‘Bridgett? Bridgett Cohan?’ The mirror spoke.

I blinked, my mouth opening and closing stupidly. ‘Uh.’

‘Bridgett, who’s at the door?’

‘You are Bridgett Cohan… right?’

‘Cohan?’ Lara appeared behind me, questioning the surname, never having heard my full name before in the full year we’d been together.

‘Yea– uh, yes. Yes, I’m Bridgett, um, Cohan.’

‘Oh, wow. Um, do… do you… do you remember me? At all, I mean. Do you…?’ She was frowning, the mirror, frowning, brushing a loose strand of hair behind her ear.

‘I don’t understand at all what’s going on, who are you?’ Lara spoke up behind me,

The mirror reluctantly took her gaze away from me and onto Lara, as though noticing her presence for the first time. ‘My name is Brandy. Brandy Cohan.’

Tears began to well in my eyes as I slowly realised who exactly was standing in front of me. In all the years we’d been apart, I had never thought about the fact that as I grew older, she would too. In my mind’s eye she was still a twelve year old, pissed off because I wouldn’t listen to her about my boyfriend. Here she was. All grown up and absolutely gorgeous.

‘Brandy? Is that… Is that really you?’

‘Yeah.’ She seemed a little awkward, ‘Yeah, God. Bridgett?’

‘Yeah?’ I covered my mouth with my hand, trying to keep the sobs from appearing. It was like losing somebody to death, but the opposite. It was distress, overloading joy, and holy-fuck-this-is-really-happening.

‘Can I hug you?’

She had never asked me permission before. She had never been the type to ask permission but then again, twelve years is a long time. Plenty long enough to change.

I didn’t answer her, just grabbed her by the shoulders and pulled her into me, holding on tight as though she was going to disappear into a cloud of dust any second. She held me just as tight and began to cry. Sniffing and sobbing, pulling back just a little to rub her nose on her sleeve.

‘God, I missed you so fucking much B-Jet. I missed you so fucking much.’ She pulled back completely, her face red and streaked with tears, ‘Don’t you dare do that to me again.’ She punched me in the arm, the way she always did when we were kids. Sloppily and weakly.

‘You still can’t punch for shit.’ I giggled. ‘Come inside, God, we have so much to talk about.’

‘Yes, yes, we do. You can start with introductions maybe?’ She rubbed away her tears, slowly coming back into herself, the hysteria in both of us slowly leaving as the shock wore off.

‘I’m Lara, Bridgett’s girlfriend.’

‘You’re the who to the what now?’

‘She’s my girlfriend, you know, like a boyfriend but female.’

‘Thanks. Good to know your smart-arse-ness is still in place, Bridgett.’

‘I aim to please.’

It was quiet for a bit, Lara muttered something about coffees and walked to the kitchen to give Brandy and I a moment alone.

‘What happened?’

I took her to the couch and motioned for her to sit, when she did I followed suite.

‘What do you mean?’

‘The police said that it was that boy you were seeing, Droy, but they could never prove it. There wasn’t any signs of a struggle, there weren’t any clues other than your jumper to say you’d even been there. It was like you just, up and disappeared.’

I looked away from her, trying to block the memories of that night that she’d brought back. ‘I don’t think… We shouldn’t talk about this. Not yet.’

‘Why?’

‘If she starts talking then she won’t stop, Bridgett doesn’t like reliving it all.’ Lara came up with the coffees, ‘I hope you’re okay with black, we don’t have any milk other than that soy shit. Why do we have that again?’

‘In case Kip comes round wanting a coffee.’

‘Right.’

‘I’m fine with black.’

‘Great.’ Lara sat on the couch beside me, but not between us. ‘So, you two are twins?’

‘Yes.’ We spoke at the same time, eliciting a giggle from both of us.

‘It’s been too long since I’ve done that.’ Brandy said, grinning. ‘Way too long.’

‘Definitely.’ I agreed.

‘Did you come by yourself, Brandy?’

‘Yes, why?’

‘Just wondering, I figured the parents might have come with you.’ Lara said, shrugging her shoulders, looking a little disappointed.

‘No, they uh, they didn’t want to get their hopes up just to have them dashed by some Bridgett look-a-like.’

‘I guess that’s fair enough.’

I frowned, ‘They know you’re here?’

‘Yup. They’re wanting word on whether you’re the real deal or not. Which, I’m sure I can guarantee given both our reactions that you are. Even if you’re suddenly gay.’

Twelve years and she was still comfortable with me to feed not so great news without blinking an eye.

‘I’m not sure if I want them to know.’

‘What? Why?’

‘I’m not their little girl anymore.’

‘I don’t understand?’

‘I’m not… I’m not me. I don’t know what you were expecting when you met me, but it definitely couldn’t have been me. I’m broken, I’m not… I’m not who I used to be.’

‘Bridgett… I wasn’t expecting to find you at all. The whole family has assumed you’re dead. The police marked you down as a cold case. They gave up looking for you and started looking for your body.

I was the only one who kept looking for you. I’ve been looking for you since the police stopped. I don’t know what I was expecting, and maybe I was expecting a twelve year old who thinks magic is real but… I don’t care if you’re different. You are my twin, you’re the only bloody twin I will ever have. Regardless of how much you might have changed, or done, you won’t take that away from me. I just found you, and I’m not going to lose you again.’

I nabbed the tissue box from the coffee table, dabbing my eyes with the soft paper as they began to water again. ‘You always were saying police are useless.’

‘That’s cause they are.’ Brandy grumbled, crossing her arms.

I moved over, pulling her into my arms and hugging her. I couldn’t put it into words how much I missed her. How much I loved her, appreciated her. How much I regretted ignoring her and continuing to see that boy. ‘I’m sorry, Brandy. I’m so fucking sorry.’

‘Bridgett…’

‘I should have listened to you. I should never have gone to see him, I shou–‘

‘Hey, B-Jet stop. You were twelve. We were kids. What else do kids do other than argue and ignore each other? You didn’t know, hell I didn’t know and I hated him right off the bat. You want the truth? The only reason I hated him really, was because he was taking your attention away from me.’

‘Wait, serious?’

‘Yes. I didn’t hate him because I knew how much of a douche he was, I only hated him because I wanted you for myself. I was jealous.’ Brandy looked me right in the eye as she spoke. ‘You were my twin, are my twin, we’d had only each other from the moment we were born and suddenly that was being taken away from me. I loved you. I might never have shown it, or told you, but I did.’

‘I wanted to cast a spell on you.’ I admitted, ‘To make you like me again.’

‘You wanted to… I thought emotion spells don’t work.’

‘Heh, they don’t. I just wished they did.’

‘Spells?’ Lara asked,

‘Yeah. I used to believe I was some kind of Wiccan. Yeah, no. Turns out I’m not.’

‘Serious? I’m dating a magic nut?’

‘No. I used to believe in magic. I don’t anymore.’

‘What convinced you it wasn’t real?’ Brandy asked, ‘Considering how many times I tried telling you, I have to wonder what got through that thick skull of yours.’

My smile faded slightly and I looked away. ‘You… you don’t want to know.’

Brandy frowned, ‘Bridgett…?’

‘Nothing. Nothing.’

‘You’re sure?’

‘Yeah, just memories.’

Brandy stood up, pulling me up with her. ‘C’mon. I wanna celebrate finding you properly. Do you want to go out somewhere? We could hit the cinemas or rent that movie, what was it? Poca… Pocahontas. We used to love that movie.’

I smiled, ‘That sounds great, Brandy.’

Lara smiled and wrapped her arms around me from behind. ‘I can leave you two alone for a few hours if you like, give you some time to get to know each other without me getting in the way.’

‘That sounds good, Lara. Would you? Where’ll you go?’

‘I figure I’ll stop by Bens for a bit. I haven’t seen him for a while so it’ll be nice to catch up.’

‘That’s my fault isn’t it?’

‘What? No, of course not. If I wanted to see him I would have, you’re just more interesting company that’s all.’

I grinned evilly, more than ready to give a good retort when Brandy spoke up,

‘Okay, before my sister says something I don’t need to hear, thankyou… Lara? Was it?’

‘Yes. And of course it’s no problem. If I had a sibling I hadn’t seen in how many years, I would want some time alone with them. Then again, considering my dad’s track record I wouldn’t be surprised if I did have a sibling I don’t know about.’

‘You’re an angel, Lar.’

‘I know.’ She smiled smugly, kissing me on the cheek and sweeping her bag off the floor. ‘You’re right to go out, Bridge?’

‘Yeah. I should be.’ I kissed her back on the lips, giggling at my sisters fake vomit noises.

‘You have my number if you need me, Brandy do you want my number?’

‘Um, sure, I guess.’

Lara rattled her number off to Brandy, ‘Call me if anything happens yeah?’

‘Yes Mother.’

I rolled my eyes at her childish, ‘I haven’t heard you say that in way too long Brand. Way to long.’

‘Heh.’ She grinned at me, ‘There’s a lot we haven’t heard or seen in way too long. Time to change that don’t cha think?’

--

‘Don’t you love this song?’

‘Yeah. It has a good beat, and message too.’

‘The message is always important.’

‘Always.’

We were watching Pocahontas, the scene where John Smith is about to be executed and Pocahontas is running to save him while Prince what’s-his-face is leading his army to the fight the Indians. We never, even as kids, bothered to remember the bad guys name.

Apart from Rasputin. If you don’t know who Rasputin is then you haven’t lived.

Both of us sat on the edge of our seat, waiting for the moment we both loved, the moment Pocahontas threw herself in harm’s way to save the man she loved.

‘I would do that for Lara.’ I smiled as I said it. Knowing whole heartedly that it was true.

‘What?’

‘I would do that for Lara. If she was in trouble, I would risk my life to save her.’

‘Really?’

‘Yeah. I love her, Brandy. I really love her.’

‘How long have you been together for?’

‘A year.’

‘Shit, serious? I thought you guys would have only been together a few months at best.’

‘No, we’ve been together a year or so. Our anniversary was a couple of months ago.’

‘Cool. I just figured since you looked all lovey dovey. Like, new couple, lovey dovey.’

‘No. We’re pretty much always like that.’

‘Really? I was with my ex for three years, not once after the first month of being together did we act like that.’

‘Shit. Serious?’

‘Serious.’

‘Was he just not the affectionate type or…?’

‘Nah, we both aren’t.’

‘Well there’s your answer. Lara’s always been really touchy-feely. I love it, I mean, she had to work me up to returning what she gave, but.’ I shrugged,

‘What do you mean? You were always the type to give hugs.’

I shook my head, ‘Not anymore. Well, I am now, but I wasn’t when I met Lara. I get really bad anxiety when I’m around people who I’m not close to. It’s why Lara hasn’t seen Ben in so long.’

‘Because of your anxiety?’

‘Yeah.’

‘I know it’s a bit of a touchy subject, but can you give me an idea of what happened? Please? The curiosity is eating me up, and I think I deserve to know why I didn’t have my sister for all those years.’

I sighed, ‘I don’t know. I really don’t want to think about it. Can we just… pretend? Pretend we’ve been together this entire time? That I never… went away?’

‘Bridgett, that’s not healthy.’

‘It has to be healthier than reliving it.’

‘Tell me if it was Droy. At least tell me that much.’

I thought it over for a moment. Knowing my sister she would only ask more questions. Considering how many years it’s been… ‘It was him. We… He was going to… He was going to show me what love is.’ I grinned sadly.

‘What love is…? You mean you were going to have sex?’

‘Yeah. Like an idiot I thought he loved me.’ I leant back on the couch, pushing myself into the cushions. ‘I hate myself for believing him. For thinking twelve was old enough for… that.’

‘Shit. Bridgett, why didn’t you tell me any of this? You never told me anything about him, just that I was wrong about him.’

‘You weren’t.’

‘What happened?’

‘He… He sold me.’