WARNING: ADULTS ONLY. Readers are strongly cautioned. “Broken” portrays sensitive subject matters including animal abuse, torture, and graphic sexual violence. There is strong language, drug reference and is not suitable for some audiences. Please proceed with caution.
I gazed out the window. Storm clouds blocked the afternoon sun. A gray shadow had fallen over the forest and the wind had picked up.
“Suddenly so quiet?” William asked and a smile pulled my mouth.
“As miserable as sixth grade was, it was the year I met Isaiah,” I said.
“Isaiah?” Williams whispered and I listened to him take up his bag from the floor and shuffle through the contents.
“Yes,” I said before he could find one of my books and pull it from his bag to check the dedication. “That Isaiah. Sweet Isaiah. I remember no other in sixth grade as I remembered Isaiah. He was shy and quiet. He said not a word. His eyes were warm and, thinking back, the day I saw him watching me from across the room, I think that was the moment he fell in love with me.”
I sighed and abandoned the memory.
“You want something to eat?” I asked.
William stretched his arms and checked his watch. “I could eat.”
“Of course you could.” I made my way to the stove and took off the lid then dished some stew into a bowl.
“What is that?” he asked.
“Irish stew,” I said, ladling out a bowl. “I was raised on it.”
I set the bowl in front of him and pulled out a loaf of peasant bread, slid him a bowl of butter, and pulled down a clean mug.
“You’re not eating.” He observed.
“Not when I talk of this, I won’t.”
He stared into his stew.
“Eat,” I said. “I’m too stressed to eat. If I try, I’ll feel sick and throw up.”
He hesitated, but finally wolfed it down as I poured myself a fresh cup of coffee with Baileys.
His bowl was empty when he spoke again. “So, up to this point you had no comfort. No human contact.”
“I had already adapted to living without touch of any kind,” I said. “Don’t get me wrong. I wanted it. I could feel myself wanting it. But I wasn’t getting it. If I wanted physical contact, I sought out my cats. I fought a daily war for my cats. I would come home from school and, at once, go to war.
“I remember the walk from the bus to the front door. It felt like I was walking from a bunker into the jungles of Vietnam armed with nothing, but my determination and good will. My mission was simple. Save the cats. I collected them before Charles could get to them. He’d hunt one down and torture it. I would come to its rescue and he would fight with me.
“There was one fight, I wish I could remember the subject. We wrestled, and it landed me a black eye.”
“He hit you?”
I chuckled. “He punched me.”
William looked stunned.
“Oh, yes,” I nodded. “Yes, he hit me. Would not be the last time either. My face swelled and before Mum and Dad could get home, I had a shiner that fit my face like a mask.”
“What did your parents do?” he asked.
“Nothing,” I said, “I lied and said I fell down the stairs.”
“You lied?” William straightened himself in the chair. “For him? And they bought it?”
“Why did you protect him?”
“Protect him?” I scoffed. “I didn’t protect him.” I rolled my eyes and nodded. “Okay, I protected him. I was scared for him. We kept the ruse going for two weeks. When my aunt asked who hit me, I told her the truth. My mother scolded me for lying.”
“What about him?” I asked.
“Did he get in trouble for hitting you?”
“Oh, no,” I said. “He was a boy. That’s what boys do. That’s what my mother said. I learned the lesson well.”
“That’s what boys do?” William repeated my mother’s words back to me.
“Yes. ‘Boy’s will be boy’s,’ she said. Every man has his breaking point. Every man will hit a woman if he’s pushed hard enough. Even you. You just need to know where it is. No. Charles was never punished for hitting me. He was allowed to. I got more of a reaction out of the boys at school than I did my parents. I went to school the next day with a shiner, and those boys, who saw that someone had smashed their exotic jewel, bombarded me.
‘Who hit you?’
‘Your brother hit you? What’d your parents do?’
‘Your brother hit you and your parents did nothing? If I hit my sister, my parents would beat my ass.’
‘Hey, who hit you?’
‘Your brother did this to you?’
“I wanted to die,” I said to William. “I was mortified. I was confused. Why was it such a big deal?”
“Because men don’t hit girls,” William said.
“They do in my world,” I said. “It’s what they do.”
“No! They don’t!”
I flinched at William’s raised voice and started stupidly across the table. Like so many before him, he was adamant. And, as always, I couldn’t believe him.
“Every man hits,” I said. “Every man has his breaking point. Some just have a higher breaking point than others. I prayed every day that I wouldn’t find it. I still do.”
William seemed to calm himself down and he returned to his paper.
“That event brought Isaiah and I close,” I said. “It opened us up. I’m not sure if he sought out my friendship to protect me…I think he did. I think he saw what my brother did and he felt he could protect me if he were closer.
“Isaiah provoked me. Purposely pushed my buttons. I was quiet, soft spoken, and shy. I was small. Still am.”
“How tall are you?” William asked.
“And weigh what? Fifty pounds?”
I smiled. “One fifteen to one twenty depending on the day. I stopped growing that year. I had a passion inside of me and I think Isaiah saw that it was suppressed. He probed and picked my brain. Selected a plethora of topics until he zeroed in on the one that would ignite my spirit and did.”
“What did he say?” William asked.
“He said women were weak.” I sighed. “After my black eye…”
I shook my head, feeling the anger rise.
* * *
After my black eye, things changed. Charles too had learned an invaluable lesson: he could beat me without repercussion. My brother stopped torturing the cats and came after me. He was careful to never hit my face again, but everything else was fair game. He’d come to my room to beat me. Some days he would get a punch, maybe two in before I closed the door on him. He started wearing shoes all the time. I would slam the door as he dropped his foot in the way. Eventually, I stopped opening the door. And he started picking the lock.
Weak? Those beatings aroused a strength in me that I would embrace. There was Isaiah standing over me, smiling, telling me that women were weak while every day I was single-handedly fighting a man’s war.
“You’re weak!” he said. “Your bodies were designed to have babies and so nature softened them and made them pliable because you couldn’t handle it.”
I had a point to prove.
I slapped him.
The five foot eleven mass of Isaiah fell back. The room went silent. I could see my handprint on his left cheek. It burned. Oh, I knew it burned. Tell me I was weak.
He straightened his spine, threw back his shoulders. I threw out my chest and raised my face, bracing for the slap back. Daring him, wanting him to hit me.
Hit me. I thought. Hit me. I’ll show you how weak I am.
He stared at me.
Hit me. Hit me…or kiss me. Oh, please kiss me.
You could cut the sexual tension in that room with a blunt blade.
No one in that room breathed. Eyes shifted from him to me to him. We all waited, not sure if he would hit me or kiss me.
He stepped in, took a deep breath and said, “You’re lucky you’re a girl.”
That slap ignited a series of electrical charges that would never end. That slap became immortalized in our class and was talked about until Graduation Day in ‘98.
“Hey remember when Beth hit Isaiah in sixth grade?”
That slap launched the hopes and dreams of every pubescent female in school.
“Are you guys going out?”
Every year, since the Slap of ’91, someone asked us that question. And we purposely did nothing just to piss them off.
* * *
I listened to William’s sweet chuckle.
“I have very few simple stories to tell. When I have one, I share it.” I smiled and watched the strand of hair fall over his eyes. I had an urge to brush it back.
“You have a warm laugh, did you know?” He stopped chuckling at once and blushed. “It’s wonderful to listen to.”
He looked down at his papers.
I sighed and looked to the window.
“Why do you do that?” he asked.
“Why do you say things like that?”
I shrugged. “My words come easily, but they are sincere.”
“Is that more of your sex charm?” he asked.
“Partly,” I said. “I hate how hard it is for people to offer a compliment while most are quick to offend and trash talk. Gossiping comes too easy for most. But when compliments are extended, people blush and cower. I know too many who are eager to hear an insult where there isn’t one intended and slow to accept a compliment. We are too hesitant to be kind and are too careless with our insults. I hope to change that about this world. And I do my part to change that.”
I sighed and looked back to the forest through the window.
“I love you. You’re beautiful. You’re kind. I like you. These are things we should never hesitate to say.”
“I love you,” William repeated. You don’t think those words should be reserved for…appropriate occasions?”
“No,” I said. “Life is too short to waste on hesitation. Be brave. Be bold. Be blunt. Be kind.”
I stood and took up his empty bowl from the table and William took up his bag and pulled out a fresh supply of paper then settled back in again. I set it in the sink and rested my hands on the counter. I bowed my head and waited.
“You alright?” William asked.
I didn’t move. I knew what part of the story was to come next. I needed a moment.
Are you? I heard Ian say and I looked to the six foot two Nordic prince standing to the right of me in my kitchen. His longsword was unsheathed. The point on the ground. His palms rested lazily on the pommel.
“Must you be in every book I write?” I asked him.
Ian shrugged and flashed that smile he always gives me.
Only a little.
“Elizabeth?” William said.
Ian nodded toward William still seated at the table. He’s worried about you.
“With good reason,” I answered. “I’m standing here talking to a elven prince in my kitchen. Somehow, you keep forgetting that you are a figment of my imagination.”
He smiled. I know that.
I swooned and he knew that too.
“Do you?” I asked him.
You know that, Ian said.
He doesn’t know that.
Go on, Ian said. He’s waiting.
“Miss Lundy?” I heard William’s chair scrape the floor.
“Yes, William,” I said, straightening my back and turning to him with a smile.
I saw him glance behind me where Ian was still standing, and I watched William gaze at the empty void that was Ian.
Outside, the rains had started to fall.
END OF PART I
Broken is scheduled for release in 2015. It will be available in all eBook formats and in Paperback on Amazon.