Chapter One of A Ticket to My Past for Hook to Book
|Cashmere-scented candles filled our bedroom, mine and Jessie's, with a soft golden light. I inhaled the heady scent, letting it fill my lungs and calm my nerves. I curled my legs beneath me as I sat on the little brown Ottoman next to our bed. I was counting the strokes as I brushed my hair. "Fifty-seven. Fifty-eight." Mama said it was important to get to one hundred. "Fifty-nine." I always counted out loud. Somehow that kept me focused.
My mind was on Jessie and the night ahead. Cocktails with a few friends. It had been six months or more since we'd seen our friends. Well, my friends, actually. Jessie never warmed up to my childhood friends. Always said he didn't fit in, or they weren't his kind of people. Boring. But Jessie was wrong. They welcomed him, and treated him just fine, like he'd been part of the group all along. "Fifty-nine."
I sighed. But Jessie never fit in. Never even tried. Instead he'd let Jim Beam do all his talking. Insulting mostly. Pretty soon the invitations were only a few, and when we did receive one I found myself making excuses. Too busy. Not feeling well. Prior plans. I think they knew my secret because they said they understood. They accepted my lies. Before long even I accepted my own lies. "Sixty."
But I had no excuses for tonight. Besides, I needed to see my friends. To see one kind face and have one normal conversation. So when I'd asked Jessie to escort me to the party he'd given me an odd, quirky smile. Something very strange. "Sure," he'd told me, "Looking forward to it." I'm not so sure his smile wasn't really a sneer. And if he was looking forward to anything it was the open bar.
The clock on the night-stand told me Jessie would be home soon. I still had a little time to myself. "Please, God", I prayed, "Don't let him be drunk."
When I counted one hundred I laid my brush on our bed and went to the mirror that hung behind our closet door. I gazed at my reflection. Big smoky eyes done in lavender and gray offset my green irises. Chocolate brown locks of shiny hair cascaded down my shoulders and around my face to frame high cheekbones. And just a touch of pink kissed my full lips. Evocative. It was a look Jessie liked. He would call me beautiful. Somehow, I didn't feel beautiful.
I picked a silky black dress from a hanger. Sleeveless, backless, short. Barely enough fabric to cover me on a chilly April evening. But Jessie liked it. Please, God, let everything go well, I prayed silently. I slipped the dress over my head and just as the smooth silk settled on my shoulders an arm came from behind and laid across my chest, snug up against my neck. It was only Jessie, but I was alarmed by the tightness near my throat.
"Hello, Beautiful," he whispered. He placed a soft kiss behind my ear.
"Hey, there," I whispered back. Please, God, don't let him be drunk, I prayed in my head.
"Brought you a little something." His tone was teasing, but not light. It was almost a taunt. Caution sparked in my brain.
He turned me toward him but still held me close. I smiled and met his gaze. His eyes were dull. I knew right away he'd spent his afternoon with a bottle of Jim Beam. I begged God to get me through this night.
From behind his back he brought a single rose and presented it to me with a flourish. It's scent was exotic. It's stem long and slender. Each of it's petals was perfect, and they arranged themselves comfortably on top of each other in one full bloom. Its color was black. Strange, even for Jessie. "For my Midnight Beauty," he said.
I brought the flower to my nose and inhaled its heady perfume. My eyes fixed on the lush petals. Each one shimmered with an icy-blue sparkle. I found myself transfixed by its mysterious beauty. It seemed to draw me in, deeper and ever closer to its center, until finally I was caught in its magic. Only the rose existed for me in those moments. All around I was aware of an icy-blue shimmer that twisted and popped and sparked against a midnight background. Deeper still I went, hypnotized by the mysterious scent that filled my nostrils, my head, my whole body. Even my breath came in strange bursts of blue. Somewhere in my mind I saw my fingers reaching to touch and catch the sparkly mist that swirled around me and through me. It was completely captivating, and I was fixed in its power. I was caught in its spell. A very dark spell. I feared this rose. I feared it would somehow be my undoing.
Jessie startled me back to reality with a slap to the back of my head. I reeled from the blow and the flower tumbled to the floor. Some of its perfect petals scattered across our rug. I stared at him, trying to catch my breath. A twinge of fear caught in my belly. Please, God, don't let this happen.
"You deaf?", Jessie shouted. His tone was biting and cruel. "Chloe!" he shouted again. Spittle hit my cheek.
"Did you say something?" My tone was flat. Emotionless. Almost dead. I'd been through this before.
"Of course I said something!" His face came close to mine. His eyes burned with rage. His breath was hot and raked across my cheek. This time the fear stabbed my soul. I was sure my prayers would go unanswered.
I couldn't speak, so I only stared at Jessie, struggling to hold my ground.
"Or were you just ignoring me, huh, Baby Doll? 'Cause you know I hate to be ignored."
Baby Doll. That was his cue. He was looking for a fight. No, there wouldn't be any cocktails that night. No laughter, and no friends. It would only be the two of us. Me against him, and he had a friend named Jim Beam at his side. I purposely kept silent and still. I hoped I would survive.
The first blow came from his left and landed on the side of my head. A deafening ring assaulted my ears, and I thought I would faint from the pain. Please God, let me live. I tried to pick myself up, but Jessie did it for me. He stood me on my feet and leaned back as if to survey his handiwork. I tried to stand straight. Still I remained silent.
The second blow came from his right and when it landed I was positive it shattered my cheekbone. I felt blood gush down my neck. I dropped to my knees, and then to the floor, but this time without fear. Rage took its place. I was done with this nonsense. Done with my husband. Done with the monster he'd become. But I couldn't fight. I was too broken just then. So I lay still, my eyes closed, hoping he'd give up and leave. Hoping he wouldn't take one final blow to finish the job.
I heard him spit and call me something filthy. Slowly I opened one eye and saw only his boots as he stomped from our bedroom. I didn't move again until I was sure I heard the front door slam. I managed to sit up and as I did my hand brushed a petal of that mysterious rose. I brought it close to my swollen face. The shimmers were no longer icy-blue; instead they were red. Blood red. I knew the next time that monster would kill me for sure.
I wanted out, and I wanted revenge. So I started to plan.