What do you want from me?
I'm staring at him in his chair, the same throne he has reigned from since I was born, smoking a cigarette. He and I have never been able to communicate. We speak the exact same language so well that neither of us can stand to listen to the other.
It's not even an argument. It's a test of wills. Who is stronger, who is more stubborn, who can stay here the longest before breaking this emotionally charged silence?
It's long, it's tortuous, and I'm thinking such awful things I could never repeat them to another human being as long as I live. I'm biting the inside of my lower lip, hard. I can taste the saltiness of my blood and I gnaw a little more, concentrating on the pain. He is focusing now on the television, it's reflected in his eyes, and my god, there's just nothing else in there. He's blank for a while, staring, and I continue to chew another layer of skin off my lower lip.
Finally, he says, "Girl, you are damned lucky I don't throw you out that door. If you were your sisters, or your brother—do you know how many times I threw them out of the house?"
I shrug, typical adolescent defiance. I burn with a hatred for him that my mind can't even fathom. I long to be thrown out—I want freedom, and escape, I want more, always more than I have, and can't have it, and I feel trapped...
My mother is sitting in her chair, her legs folded under her, looking pale and tight-lipped as usual. I catch a glimpse of my reflection in the window, and I see her face in mine and swallow hard.
I am remembering—and I don't want to remember.
"Do you love me?" I asked him.
When he kissed me, I could taste my tear as it slipped between our lips. His mouth pressed harder in answer, and I ran my hands along his back, letting the feeling fill me. His hands were urgent, and he said my name against my mouth, my cheek, my neck, whispering it over and over, lower and lower, down the V of my blouse. He fumbled with the buttons and stopped when it was undone, looking at my bra, rising and falling with my breath. He moved down to lay his head on my stomach, rubbing his cheek against the flesh there, his hands on my waist.
I stroked his hair, and my eyes closed, feeling his lips begin to move upward, his body covering mine.
"Danny," I whispered, my eyes still closed, his lips meeting mine in silent answer. I reached down and touched him through his jeans and he gasped and buried his face in my throat.
He was moving against my hand, running his palm along the flesh above my bra, when my bedroom door flew open. I screamed.
"Get the hell out of my house!"
My father, a hulking figure above me, lifted Danny easily, like he was shaking a naughty kitten. The world went gray and fuzzy, my breath coming hard and fast, my heart rising in my throat, choking me.
What are they doing home? What is he doing here?
When I could see again, Danny was on the floor, my father standing above him.
"Don't," I managed, and my father stopped, looking at me.
"What did you say?" My father was advancing toward me.
Danny was standing again and he was wiping at his bloody nose.
"Leave him alone," I repeated. I knew it even before I said it, that this was it. I rocked back from the blow, feeling the sting on my cheek and a sharp pain in my jaw.
"You little slut," he said, hitting me again.
I was ready this time, shielding my face, and he hit the side of my head. My ear was ringing. I peeked out to see Danny, open-mouthed behind him.
"You're coming with me," Danny said, reaching for me.
My father struck out at him, knocking him into my desk, spilling papers everywhere.
"She's not going anywhere."
"Please go," I whispered. "He'll kill you."
Danny hesitated, his hand still reaching for me. My father lifted me by my hair, pulling me off the bed. I clenched my teeth, willing myself not to scream and getting my knees under me to lessen the pull on my scalp.
"What are you waiting around for? Is this what you want to see?" my father asked, holding me up like a prize, my blouse gaping open. I tried to pull it closed, tears blurring my vision.
"Here it is," he said to Danny, yanking my blouse open. "Is this what you wanted?"
Danny's eyes were burning with a light I had never seen before, his mouth set in a thin line. His hands clenched into fists as I watched. I sobbed, suddenly feeling very cold and exposed.
"No!" I screamed just as Danny bent low and went for him, charging like a bull.
He took my father by surprise, knocking him back onto the bed, but there was really no contest. My father was twice his size and he knocked Danny easily backwards. My father hit him with a closed fist, hard enough to drive him back into the wall.
"That's it, girl," my father said, grabbing me under my arm and pulling me up.
I tugged away and knew it was a mistake.
He shoved me into the dresser and slammed my forehead against the mirror, the glass shattering. The world was black and there were blue and white stars swimming in the darkness. The voices were very far away.
Then there was a fist—in my stomach, my face, my ribs—hard and strong and so fast I couldn't catch my breath.
I ached all over and I looked at Danny, standing by the doorway near my mother, who had her hand on his arm, urging him to go home.
I saw them both through a red haze.
"Go!" I screamed, surprised I could get up enough breath.
He had never hit me like this, this badly, with a closed fist. He wasn't stopping, just going at me, again and again. The pain was worse than anything I'd ever experienced.
"Go, Danny, go!"
His face, getting smaller down the hallway, was the last thing I remembered before I fell into a thrashing red darkness.
The bitter taste of blood is on my tongue, burning in my throat, as I watch him watch me. I know it's in my eyes, this hatred and this fear—I know he can see it when he looks at me, and his eyes cloud over. There is something there, then, something I can almost recognize, but I don't want to.
"Just go to your room," he says. "Stay there."
And I go, skirting past his chair, just out of arms reach, and close my door behind me. I lick my lip, tasting the blood there, sucking at it, feeling the tears well up in my eyes and hating them, too.
I told the police that Danny had been mistaken. Yes, my father had gotten angry, but no, he hadn't hit me. The bruises on my forehead? My black eye? Just an accident—a box fell at the pet store where I work. It's nothing. Nothing.
I look in the mirror across my room, the shattered pieces showing me slivers of my face, but I can see my father's eyes there, still, a burning rage. I quickly sink to the floor so I don't have to see anymore, sobbing silently into my arms.