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Collared(11)
Nicole Williams

Sometimes I have to remind myself of that, but most days I’m content with the mundane schedule. Today’s different though, at least a little. Instead of moving toward the kitchen because it’s 12:20 and lunch is to be on the table at twelve thirty, I find myself lingering beside the couch. An emotion flares inside my chest, one that starts out small as a seed then blossoms into something so large I feel like it’s going to break me open.

I had a lot of these days at first, but they’ve decreased in frequency and intensity. This one’s different though. As intense as any I’ve had—maybe more than any of them. Of course the dream’s to blame for that. The dream of him.

I can still see his face that last night, the way the dark shadowed half of his face and the moon illuminated the other half. The way he looked at me like I was everything. The way he smiled like we shared a whole lifetime of secrets.

God, those dreams are painful. Too painful. Part of me wishes they’d go away so I wouldn’t have to feel as if my ribs are being cracked from something growing inside my chest. Another part never wants to stop dreaming about him because that’s all I had left of him—dreams.

It’s a poor substitute for the real thing, but it’s a better alternative than losing him totally.

As I move toward the kitchen, my legs feel weaker with every step, almost like the muscles have atrophied. There’s probably some truth to that. My legs aren’t nearly as strong as they used to be. Neither is the rest of my body. That’s part of his plan of course. The weaker I am, the stronger he is. The frailer I become, the more powerful he grows.

I try to shove all of those thoughts away before I make it into the kitchen. They don’t do me any good, but they could do me harm. That girl, that life—that boy—they’re all gone. Another life.

This is my life.

It’s not a bad one. It could be worse. At first, it was, but now . . . it’s not too bad. He told me that so many times at first it started to cycle through my mind involuntarily. Somewhere along the way, I adopted the same belief. This life isn’t so bad.

And when the dreams remind me of the life I had, I convince myself that it’s nothing more than a dream. I’m more convincing now than I used to be.

I flip on the overhead kitchen light, and sterile florescent light floods the room. It’s too bright, but at least I’m allowed to turn on lights whenever I want to. I feel like I lived in the dark for years. The kind of dark that was so disorienting I lost my sense of what was up and what was down. My eyesight had paid a price. Being stuck in that kind of dark for however long I was messed with my long-distance vision. I probably have the eyesight of an eighty-year-old now.

That’s okay though because now I can turn on the light whenever I want. I sleep with the light on too.

I try to ignore the framed photos hanging on the wall behind the small dining table, but I’m never successful. As I reach for the white loaf of bread in the cupboard, I find myself staring at those two photos. I move to the old tan fridge to grab the pack of bologna and bottle of yellow mustard, still staring at those photos. I’ve made this bologna sandwich so many times I can do it and still keep staring at that wall.

Behind the glass of those brass frames are the faces of two girls. Well, one girl if you ask him. I guess most people would look at the two girls and believe they were the same, one photo taken a few years before the other. Hell, there have been days I’ve convinced myself of that to see if it makes things easier. Sometimes it does, at least for a while—until another one of those dreams shatters that feigned reality.

The younger girl has the same light brown hair that lightens in the sun that I have. The same green-blue, wide-set eyes. She even has the same bone structure. That girl is smiling, the kind that’s real because it hits her eyes. It’s clearly a school picture with one of those swirly bluish backgrounds. She’s wearing a lavender shirt and a matching headband.

The older girl in the photo a few inches to the right is wearing the same kind of shirt and matching headband. Her hair’s draped in front of her shoulders, the same as in the other photo. The same background, the same hair, eyes, and face . . . the only thing that’s different is the smile.

The older girl is smiling, but it doesn’t hit her eyes. In fact, that girl’s eyes look dead, like whatever lights used to burn behind them had been blown out like a birthday candle.

I force myself to look away because I have the urge to throw the chipped white plate I’m making the bologna sandwich on at the photo of the older girl in the hopes that the frame will shatter. The girl in that picture’s broken—it seems unfair that the photo of her would tell a different story.

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