My head snaps to the right, pain bursting around my eye from her punch. I clench my hands and remind myself that I’m a good man and I don’t hit women.
“Who is she, FC?” Lila shouts. “Who the fuck is Idaline?”
“No one!” I lie. “She’s an old friend who doesn’t matter.”
“You tell old friends you miss them?” she screeches, rearing her fist back again as if I told Idaline I love her. I take steps backward, but she follows me and clocks me in the jaw. God, I hate this woman.
I snatch my phone from her hand, the phone she unlocked herself while I was in the shower because apparently she knows my password, and open my contacts. “Look, I’ll delete her.” I’m only confident in this move because I have Idaline’s number memorized. I delete her contact and our conversation thread while Lila watches. “Happy?”
“No. You can sleep on the couch tonight.” She walks into our room and slams the door behind her.
I sigh, walk into the kitchen, and pour and knock back three shots of tequila before planting my ass on the couch. How is this my life? Why am I still here? I should’ve never come to the western part of North Carolina; I clearly had a better life back East. Yet here I am, living a sucky life, not quite willing to do what it takes to leave this situation. Not quite sure howto leave.
Lila and I met at a concert in Charlotte. We both traveled there to see our favorite band and had seats next to one another. It was a long, fun night of drinking and flirting. I left with her number afterward and even called her the next day to double check she got home okay. For about six months, I talked to her constantly. My phone was always in my hand as she charmed me like a skilled manipulator going after exactly what she wanted.
It took one visit to her home here for her to ask me to move in. She knew I wanted a fresh start and wouldn’t mind moving away, even if it was just four hours from my hometown of Raleigh. She was able to convince me in a week to pack up my things and move.
My family and my friends both warned me not to go. They cited reasons such as how I’d technically only met her twice and how six months of conversing every day wasn’t nearly enough to know if I should live with her. They thought I should visit her more and learn about her more face-to-face before I made such a big move. Obviously, I didn’t listen.
I should have.
I’ve been here almost a year and she’s kicked me out of the apartment at least twice a month. She hits me more times than I can count, too. We have good moments, we do. Those moments and the fact that I have too much pride standing in the door every time I decide I’m packing up and going home keep me here. How am I supposed to tell my parents my girlfriend is abusive? That I’ve been enduring it since a month after I got here? How embarrassing would that be? How disappointed would they be to find out I could leave, yet I haven’t?
At this point, it’s manageable. I don’t know when, or if, I’ll reach a limit and leave, but obviously it’ll have to get worse before I decide to make it better for myself.
My phone rings and as I pick it up to answer, the bedroom door swings open.
“Who’s calling you?” Lila snaps, demanding an answer.
“My mom. Leave me the fuck alone like you promised.”
She glares and returns to the bedroom, slamming the door.
With a sigh, I say, “Hello? What’s up, Mom? You must miss me, that’s the only reason you call.”
“Have you been drinking again, FC?”
There must be something in my voice because my mom can always tell when I’ve had a few shots too many; she hasn’t seen me in a year and she worries I’ve become an alcoholic. If she only knew. “Is that why you called?”
“That means yes, but I’ll ignore that for now. Nana’s birthday is coming up and we’re having a big party. We’d love to have you home and to finally meet Lila. It’s well past time for both a visit and to meet her.”
My heart panics while my brain shouts no repeatedly. However, I say, “I’ll ask Lila.”
“Ask her right now. Aren’t you home?”
Oh, for fuck’s sake, Mom.“Hold on.” I mute the phone, just in case Lila yells things my mother doesn’t need to hear. “Lila!” I shout. “Mom wants me to bring you home for my nana’s birthday. You want to go or not?”
She peers out of the door, now calm and serene. “She wants to meet me?” Lila smiles like I just proposed, something that won’t everhappen. “Yes, of course we’ll go!”
I unmute the phone and tell my mom, “We’ll be there. It’s next weekend, right?”
While I get the details on the party, Lila curls up next to me with a glass of wine as if nothing happened twenty minutes ago. That’s her fourth glass of the evening, so round of applause for not one, but two alcoholics in the apartment. When I hang up with my mom, she rubs her hand over the crotch of my jeans. What fucking sucks about this situation is that my body betrays me every damn time. How my dick can still harden for her not long after being hit is beyond me.
“You know, this would be a wonderful time to propose and surprise your family,” she says sweetly. Have I mentioned she’s been wanting to get married for the last six months?
I give her my standard response. “I’m not ready yet, Lila.”
She removes her hand with a huff. “You’ll have to be ready at some point, babe.”
“Well, today ain’t that day. If we’re going to talk about this shit, you’re going to have to pour me another shot.”
“You’re an asshole, FC.” She stands and walks back to the bedroom, slapping the back of my head on her way.
Before I get too comfy, I switch my phone to silent. The last thing I need is for Idaline to message or call me and Lila roar out of the bedroom again. I smile at the thought of her being jealous of someone neither of us have ever met.
Idaline and I have known each other for twelve years. My middle school wanted us to write to kids at a school in South Carolina, a pen pal of sorts. Idaline was mine. She still is, I guess. We started with letters, then emails, then texts and phone calls. She’s only about an hour away from me now; I know because one night when Lila kicked me out, Idaline called me and I almost asked her if she was ready for us to meet.
We’ve talked about it a lot over the years, but we’ve never made concrete plans to do it. We do send birthday and Christmas gifts; I had to get a separate post office box once I moved here, just for mail from Idaline, because it didn’t take long to realize Lila was the jealous type. She only discovered Idaline in my phone now because I’d forgotten to delete the latest text thread.
Idaline is easily my best friend and my closest confidante. After twelve years of talking nearly every day, it’s no surprise really. But Lila is ruining my friendship with her. I’ve had to be strategic when I talk to Idaline and I’ve talked to her less since moving here. She knows I have a girlfriend, so at least we can both blame it on her. One thing Idaline doesn’t know about is the hell I go through living here. Just like with my family and friends, I don’t talk about my relationship with Lila.
Before I can place my phone on the table again, it lights up with a text from Idaline.
Idaline: Fredrick Clark?
I smile, happiness filling up my soul for the first time today. The feelings I get when she texts, the happiness, the elation, the pure, untainted joy, are something I hope never goes away. One reason Idaline and I connected was because we both have old family names, only I go by FC, the first letters of my first and middle name because I don’t like either of them. Since Idaline doesn’t know anyone who knows me to find out what they could be, it’s one of her life missions to figure out what they may be. I’ve told her she’ll never ever guess it, but she sends about a guess a week.
Me: No for both.
Idaline: Darn it.
I crave to hear her voice, or to videochat with her and see her face, but that’s simply not possible right now.
Me: Can I call you on my lunch break tomorrow?
Idaline: I’m having lunch with my boyfriend. I’m sorry.
She even includes a sad face, which makes me smile. The woman is sweet.
Me:mNo worries. I’m taking my girlfriend home to meet the family this weekend.
Idaline: Oh, that sounds serious. Looking forward to that? And to going home?
Idaline: Totally believe you.
Me: I know you do. Talk to you tomorrow.
She doesn’t believe me, but that’s okay. I wouldn’t believe me either.
~ ~ ~
“You had to hit me this week, didn’t you?” I grumble as Lila attempts to apply makeup on and around my eye to cover the bruise there.
“It was an accident,” she insists, as if she truly believes rearing her fist back and hitting me on purpose was an accident. “If they can still tell, we went to a bar and you got into a fight protecting my honor.”
I almost snort. She can protect her own honor. There’s no way I’d get into a fight over her.
“I am sorry,” she whispers. I almost believe her too. She looks at me with these deep brown eyes, concern etched onto her face, and she softly kisses my forehead in apology. This beautiful woman who had me telling her I loved her wields her fists like weapons whenever I piss her off. Sometimes, I don’t even have to do that much. I can’t reconcile those two women. How are they one person? “There you go. Check it out for yourself, but I think it looks great.”
She moves out of the way and I see my reflection in the mirror. The ugliness of the bruise has disappeared underneath whatever gunk she put on my face.
“Thanks, babe.” And then I kiss her before I can examine the fact that I’m thanking and kissing my girlfriend for covering up a bruise she gave me before we drive out to see my family. No, my life isn’t fucked up at all.
Halfway into our drive, Lila picks up my phone. It takes her two seconds to realize I’ve changed the passcode.
“Why did you change it?”
“What fun would it be if you constantly knew it and didn’t have to figure it out all over again every once in a while? It’s like our little game, babe.” It’s supposed to sound like fun teasing because that’s all I have to give. Our conversations about boundaries were always useless. I thought we should have some, especially since I would never go into her purse or her phone. She doesn’t know the definition of privacy or boundaries. My mail, cell phone, wallet, and anything else she can access are open doors for her to walk through and examine what’s on the other side, according to how she thinks. What choice do I have but to let her do it, too? It’s either allow her or face the consequences, and I don’t need any more of those.
“If you have something to hide, I’ll find it, you know.”
“Yep.” She’s like an award-winning hound dog on the hunt, always finding what’s at the other end of the sniff trail.
We drive the rest of the way in silence, thankfully. My stomach is in knots, wondering how Lila will behave around my family. What if the makeup wears off and they find my black eye? Will Lila’s cover story hold up? Will we be able to not argue in front of them?
Sure, we have our good days, but what if today isn’t one of them?
The party is being held in my parents’ backyard. It seems as if we’re the last to arrive based on all the vehicles in the driveway and in the yard. Lila takes my hand as we walk toward the party. I take a deep breath and send up a prayer.
“He’s here! He’s here! FC!” Mom runs over, shouting and drawing everyone’s attention.
An easy smile lifts my lips and I release Lila’s hand to hug my mom, picking her up and twirling her in a circle. It is so good to see my family after being away for a year. A sudden ache of homesickness rushes over me.
“I’ve missed you too, Mom,” I say as I set her on her feet. “And this is my girlfriend, Lila.”
Mom turns to hug her while my dad and the rest of the family comes to greet us. Nana is the one to usher us over to the table of food and make sure we both fix a plate, but Mom insists we sit next to her.
With amazement, relief, and a touch of familiarity, I watch Lila act like the girl I first met and then spent so much time talking to on the phone. Our relationship transforms into a normal, almost perfect one. The happiness she shows rubs off on me. I find myself doing things I only do on our good days. Her hand is always in mine. I happily accept every kiss she gives me and enjoy her hands touching my body when she laughs or talks about me. I don’t wonder why I’m enjoying it either. And I genuinely smile.
Even her lies seem like the truth to me right now.
“We both work during the day. Oh, me? I work full-time as a receptionist for a medical office.” She works part-time at a convenience store.
“But we spend our evenings together. We only occasionally go out or invite friends over.” I have to take her out to eat once a week and she’ll invite her friends over whenever she wants at whatever time she wants.
“I told FC we should drive my Mercedes, but he insisted on his Jeep. I bought that car all by myself when I was eighteen, you know.” Her parents bought that car for her when she was eighteen.
“I was able to purchase my condo by the time I was twenty-one.” Again, her parents bought that for her.
My nana points at me and curls her finger, wanting me to come over to her. I leave Lila for Nana and bend down so she can whisper in my ear.
“Doesn’t she know bragging is annoying?” she says.
I laugh. “She’s proud of her accomplishments, I guess.”
“Yeah, well, I’ve lived to be eighty. She can shut up any time now, dear.” She pats my hand, done with the conversation and Lila apparently.
I return to my seat, unsure of how to make Lila shut up, because this is one of her personality traits. She likes to be the center of attention. Nana’s birthday or not, this is Lila’s show now. She brags, lies, and charms everyone but Nana. She pulls me back in with all her sweet talk and charm, as if nothing in the past year happened.
“Oh, I love FC a lot,” she tells my mom. “He’s very protective over me, takes care of me, and he’s such a sweet man. You raised him right, that’s for sure.”
I keep thinking about that as we drive home. That and how my mother told me she liked her and feels reassured about my life away from home now. Well, aside from the drinking, which I got a minor lecture on.
“Today was such a good day, babe!” Lila exclaims when we walk into the apartment. “I love your family. They were all so nice!” She wraps her arms around my neck. “Although, I don’t think your nana liked me.” Lila frowns.
“She did,” I lie.
Lila begins to walk backward to the bedroom and I know immediately that she wants sex. Just like that, all the good from today disappears and reality comes crashing back down. I have two options: have sex with her unprotected or insist on a condom and risk getting kicked out of the apartment again. She hates when I wear a condom and has actually kicked me out for refusing to have sex with her without one. She may be in a good enough mood tonight that I can get away with wearing one. She might be on birth control, but every precaution is necessary.
She kisses and seduces me until we’re on the bed, naked, and horny. Just as I lean over to reach for the nightstand drawer, she grabs my arm with a tight grip. Her nails dig into my skin so hard, she could draw blood at any second.
“Not tonight, FC. I want to feel you. Really feel you.”
Damn it. “You haven’t missed a single day of birth control?” I ask.
“No!” she exclaims. Outrage colors her face that I would even ask. “I donotwant a baby, FC.”
“That’s the point of me also wearing a condom, babe.”
She rolls her eyes, grabs my cock, and situates herself above me. “I’ll take that day after pill tomorrow as precaution,” she promises me.
I should know by now that she can’t be trusted, but that thought doesn’t hit me for a couple of weeks.