Authors: Abigail Snow
As soon as she heard the door slam, Matilda jumped to her feet and ran to the door, turning the deadbolt behind him so that there was no way he could get back in. Then, she stumbled towards the bathroom, making straight for the shower. It was a beautiful shower, with a wide head and a powerful stream of water which felt like you were immersing yourself in a waterfall. She fumbled with the dials until the water coming out was scalding hot to touch and the steam was thick and heavy in the little shower stall. Shedding her clothing, she climbed in, flinching as the water burned her skin.
She stood under the spray, gasping, trying to wash away all memory of the last twenty minutes. Grabbing her loofah, she lathered it with sweet, cherry-scented soap and scrubbed hard at her skin until it was angry and red.
She relished the burn on her skin as she scrubbed it repeatedly. Anything felt better than Colin’s foul fingers, his damp, fetid breath. She renewed her efforts until her nostrils couldn’t detect even a hint of him. Once she was finished, she dropped the
loofah and simply stood there, letting the hot water envelop her, hammering down on her neck and shoulders.
She watched the water droplets on her
lobster red skin with a strange fascination. She felt broken and disjointed, as if all her emotions had somehow leaked out and washed down the drain with the soap suds. The memory of Damian coming to her apartment, of Colin threatening her, trying to seduce her, were all distant, disassociated from her. It felt as if they had happened to someone else
as if she had just watched a particularly traumatizing movie.
Looking at her hands, she could see the purple bruises already blossoming on her wrists from where he had grabbed
her. It had really happened, so why couldn’t she feel it?
She must be in shock, she realized, and accepted the fact easily, her emotions not currently accepting new input. Well, that was the best time to think this through logically.
But she couldn’t. Her mind was too dazed. All she could think was that no matter what, she had to talk to Damian. Somehow, that would make it all better. Just being with him, away from Colin, would make the whole problem go away.
It must have been at least an hour before she finally turned off the shower and stepped into a warm flannel bathrobe. Her skin was wrinkled and red from the water and heat, and the entire bathroom was a whirl of steam. She cracked the window to allow the steam to escape, and padded to her bedroom, where she got out a notepad and pen.
She wanted to cushion her mind from all the terror and unhappiness which had touched it over the past few weeks. She wanted to be alone with Damian, in a safe, comforting embrace where nothing bad could touch her.
Taking a deep breath, she wrote a title in the notepad, forming the letters carefully, then looking at them, inspecting their appropriateness:
The First Time I Met Damian
She nodded in satisfaction, and let the memories of
that first night envelope her
how she had felt, Damian’s face, the things they had talked about. She let it pour from her pen onto the creamy white paper, barricading her mind from anything unpleasant or upsetting. She wrote and wrote, reliving the happiness and excitement.
Even though he wasn’t there, she let Damian protect her from all fear and harm.
Matilda went into work the next day pale and resolute
, wearing concealing clothes to cover the bruises Colin had left all over her body. She had spent the previous evening wallowing in memories of her brief, beautiful time with Damian, but as soon as she had closed her eyes, darkness had descended and she had been bombarded by the truth.
Everything inside her felt irreparably broken, but somewhere within her she had found a small amount of determination. She knew that she had to be strong and not depend on anyone else.
After talking to the guards in her building and reassuring herself that no charges had been brought up against Damian, she had left for work as usual, trying to keep her face free from the troubles eating away at her on the inside.
She thought about the letter in her purse. She had woken up early that morning after very little sleep and thought hard about what exactly to write. The words were difficult and it took her a while to find exactly the right ones. The contents of the letter were like a cold, hard rock which had settled in her heart, but she knew that she had made the right choice.
the letter read,
I’m sorry about what happened last night. I never wanted to hurt you or get you into trouble. Being with you has been like coming alive. I’ve cherished every minute of our time together, but it was never anything more than a dream.
I know that you said you’d try to find a way to see me, but I want you to give up on it. I can’t be together with someone like you. I’m not as strong as you think I am and it would never work out between us.
Good luck on your travels and stay safe. Your friend,
She had read and reread the words so many times that she could recite them out loud. She hated the feeling of weakness and finality which accompanied the letter, but she also knew that there was no other way. It was too dangerous to see him again. She didn’t know what Colin might do, but she knew that the only way to keep him away from her was to stay away from Damian. Maybe then he might not be so driven to try and force himself on her. She might be able to play along for a little while, say that if he gave her more time maybe there was a future for them.
The idea made her sick, but it wasn’t like she had another option. With the blackmail and the threat of him forcing himself on her, the only thing she could do to protect herself was to play along with him until she came up with a better idea for how to save herself.
Strangely, it wasn’t the fear of Colin which was foremost in her
feeling of misery and helplessness. Instead, it was the thought that her short-lived romance had already come to an end.
She couldn’t believe how fast her feeling that she was the luckiest person in t
he world had turned into this, a situation which made her want to break down and cry. How could fate be so cruel as to introduce her to someone who made her feel the way Damian made her feel, only to take it away again and replace it with betrayal, blackmail and a bleak, desperate future?
She hated herself, because a large part of her wanted to ask Damian for help, ask him to fix the situation for h
er and make everything better
but she couldn’t do it. There was no way that she could be that weak, helpless person. How could he love or even respect her if she depended on him entirely to be saved?
Matilda thought bitterly about how she had used to pride herself on how strong and independent she was. Unlike her sister, she had branched out, broken away from her father’s expectations to chase her dreams. She had travelled alone to a foreign country to discover herself and fulfil her dreams.
She had found her own prince, instead of marrying someone for convenience on her father’s orders.
Now, she felt worse than useless, a weak mockery of a human being. Asking Damian to save her would be the final straw. Even if she was weak and useless, she didn’t want Damian to know just how weak she really was. It was better for him to accept the fact that it simply wouldn’t work out. He didn’t have to know that she h
ad gotten herself into this mess, being abused and blackmailed by the lowest possible form of humanity.
Resolved to end things with Damian, even if it meant giving up the only thing she had ever truly wanted and been happy about, she stepped into the office, hoping to catch Sylvie alone for a few minutes.
She didn’t even have to hope. Sylvie made a beeline for her as soon as she entered the building, alive with curiosity about the mysterious note from the day before and who the tall, dark and smoking stranger she had given it to was.
gotta say, you’ve got great taste in men. He was an absolute muffin,” Sylvie gushed as soon as she caught up with Matilda. “Those long legs just went on forever, and his eyes! My heart hasn’t beat that fast since my wedding day!”
“You saw him?” Matilda was instantly intrigued, glad of any new information and details about Damian. “Did he say anything to you?”
“Well, I don’t mind telling you exactly what happened. I went to the bar you told me about at about 7. I grabbed a bite to eat first, and I thought that it was as good a chance as any to sit and catch my breath, so I ordered a glass of wine and sat down at the bar.
“I noticed a guy sit
ting a few seats down from me
tall, dark and delicious, with a tan which made me weak at the knees and eyes like a thunderstorm. He looked preoccupied, a little dark and moody. Somehow, I just got an inkling about who he was.
“’Say, would you happen to be Matilda’s man?’ I asked him. He looked around at me as if he’d been electrocuted. That boy has it bad for you, hon.”
“What did he say?” Matilda asked breathlessly.
“All sorts that was over my head. He asked if you were OK, why you hadn’t come to meet him. He seemed to think that someone was stopping you.
I told him don’t be so silly
she’s a grown girl who knows her own mind, and she’s been down in the dumps about you all week.”
“Did you give him the note?” Matilda asked.
“Yes, I did,” Sylvie said proudly. “And whatever was in it, it set him right off. His eyes looked like they were on fire and he ran out of the bar as if demons were chasing him. I had to order another glass of wine to calm my nerves. What was that all about, hmm?”
Sylvie gave Matilda a curious look, but Matilda was barely paying any attention. Her mind was racing, replaying the words which Sylvie had spoken to her.
From her description, it sounded as if Damian had gone to the bar every day, waiting for her to show up. He must truly love her, then. Colin’s words really had been nothing more than poisonous lies. It made her heart break, thinking of him sitting and waiting for her. She wanted so badly to tell him the truth
but she just couldn’t.
could I ask you to do me one more favor?” Matilda asked.
but could you trust me with whatever is going on? The curiosity is driving me to distraction. He’s your boyfriend, isn’t he?”
Matilda hesitated. S
he didn’t want this to become gossip, but she guessed that she owed Sylvie that much at least.
“He’s the guy I’ve been seeing for the past few weeks,” she c
onfessed. “I’m crazy about him, but my family doesn’t approve. One of my
my uncles came with me to America and he won’t let me see Damian. I
I’m going to finish with him. I don’t want him waiting around for me anymore.”
“Oh my,” Sylvie said, her eyes sparking with enthusiasm. “That’s awful. Well, I’ll tell you right now that he’s a boy worth keepin
g. He cares deeply for you, hon; that’s not something you should give up no matter what anyone thinks. Besides, they don’t make them with bodies like that too often.”
“I don’t have a choice,” confessed Matilda. “Please, please just deliver the note for me?”
“Well, I’ll do it, since it’s you and you ask so nicely, but I’m telling you
you’re making a mistake.”
“I know,” whispered Matilda, so quietly that Sylvie wouldn’t be able to hear it. She thrust the note in her coworker’s hand and turned away so she wouldn’t see her tears.
“Hon, let me give you back this note for now. If you still feel the same way at the end of the day, I’ll deliver it for you. If not, well, let’s just say that I’m on your side, so I’ll help you out as long as you want.”
“Thanks,” Matilda smiled gratefully.
As soon as Sylvie walked away, she ripped the note in two. She couldn’t do it. She couldn’t drive him away forever. Even if it had to be a secret for now, she had an ally. She could do it. Somehow, as long as Damian would wait for her, she would make it work. Thinking fast, she wrote out a new note:
I want to see you so badly but right now there’s just no way I can manage it. Wait for me, and know that I’ll find a way to see you soon. I love you,
When she gave the new note to Sylvie, the older woman gave her a wide smile and a wink.
“That’s more li
ke it,” she said. “Don’t worry, I’ll see the two of you together if it’s the last thing I do.”
Matilda smiled back, but deep down, she wondered if she would ever be able to feel any kind of happiness or security ever again.
Matilda lay in bed barely sleeping that night. She was still unsure whether or not she had made the right decision to try and find a way to see Damian. She knew that she was taking a huge risk and putting herself in a lot of danger, not only because of the risk of exposing the photos, but also because of what Colin might do to her if he found out that she was disobeying him.
However, she felt more hopeful than she had in the last few days, with the thought that she had someone on her side and a means of communication with Damian. Just the thought of being able to communicate with him made her feel better. It was as if her secret communication was a talisman against harm.
She wondered whether Damian would send her a message back this time. Truthfully, she was a little disappointed that he had not written her a message after she had sent the first note, although the fact that he had tried to get up into her apartment to see her made her smile a
little. It was just like him; impulsive and without any thought about the consequences. It had even been worth the repercussions to be able to physically see him.
She closed her eyes, trying to get to sleep. She wanted the next day to come, eager for any communication from Damian.
She made it to dawn the long way, watching the sky slowly lighten outside her window, sleeplessly impatient to get to work.
Once she entered the building, her eyes carefully made up to hide the dark circles, she immediately spotted Sylvie, who looked just as excited as she felt.
“I saw him!” she told Matilda. “It was like he was waiting for me. The look on his face was exactly like yours. I wish I had a man that devoted to me.”
“Did he say anything?” Matilda asked eagerly.
he wrote you,” Sylvie said gleefully. “I didn’t read it. Here.”
Sylvie handed her a folded piece of paper, and she opened it with shaking fingers. His writing was bold and masculine, and her heart jumped as she caught the fainte
st hint of his enticing scent
or maybe she just imagined it.
Follow your heart, babe. You need to make the choice to be with me. I’ll wait for you, but don’t make me wait too long. I love you,
She read and reread the words over and over, hearing them as if he was speaking them into her ear. It gave her a burst of hope and happiness to know that he was waiting for her.
Just as suddenly as the happiness had come, it
disappeared. Don’t make me wait too long
did that mean that at some point he would give up on her and leave? She couldn’t bear the thought. Now she had two deadlines to work on: Colin’s ultimatum and now Damian’s.
On the one hand, she desperately wanted to be with Damian no matter what the consequ
ences were. Sylvie was right. You only got the chance to be with someone you loved once in a hundred lifetimes, and she didn’t want to give up on the feeling she had when she was with him. She knew that after Damian, she could never go back to England and marry a man her father chose for her, like her sister was doing.
On the other hand, she knew that if she got out of Colin’s grasp, he would show the photos to her family, or worse, send them to the media.
The one idea was bad enough. She couldn’t bear the idea that her family might disown her. If the media found them, though… her entire family would be humiliated and the reputation of the royals would be in tatters. It would be a level of ridicule which would never be forgotten. They’d write about it in history books. She would have nowhere to run to where the consequences of those photos wouldn’t follow her.
She felt like crying when she thought about it, but
she didn’t want to break down
not now and not ever. She had to be strong. Somehow, she had to find her way out of this. She had to find a way to be with Damian and make sure those photos never saw the light of day. But how? She needed advice. And she knew who she needed to ask: the most practical and level-headed person she knew.