“Beck yelled at him. I can’t remember the last time she swore,” I told Mark after he’d gotten me onto the couch. They’d asked what happened and I ended up unloading everything on them in one breath while they stared in horror. And then they helped me inside. Mark patted me on the head, then toyed with the ends of my hair while looking concerned. It was comforting in a way I hadn’t felt in a while.
“Does it still hurt?” he asked, referring to my cheek.
I shrugged. “Stings. Maybe I’ll get another black eye. Who knows.” He didn’t hit me hard enough for that, though.
“If she got it on camera, maybe you could… I don’t know, contact someone?” Zeke offered.
“Like the police? Like hell that’d solve anything,” I said, though they had a point.
“We’re just worried…” Mark trailed off, then took a seat beside me and placed his hand on my knee. “Please tell us you aren’t going back.”
I swallowed. I’d told my husband no, a couple times, even. And I was a bit proud of myself for that. I wonder if I hadn’t seen Mark and Zeke… Would I have just agreed without a fight? He would be happier if I returned. Then he wouldn’t come looking for me anymore. Wouldn’t need to kick me around if I listened for once. The dull ache of my face reminded me what awaited me if I disobeyed. If I was bad. But I really did like being with my friends.
“I told him I wanted to stay with you both…” I said slowly. “If that’s alright.” I kept the part of him checking in on me in a week to myself. I could deal with that when it happened… And I didn’t want to worry about it now.
“Fuck yes it is!” Zeke grinned. “If he dares set foot on my property I’ll kick his stupid ass.”
I gave a smile of approval. Noncommittal, though. If they started a fight… I still hoped he wouldn’t get hurt, because it would just be another reason to get mad, but at the same time, I hoped Zeke would deck him. I felt like I wanted to deck him after everything. Mark also gave a grunt of agreement, so he would too.
We all chatted for a bit, which helped. By the end I was laughing and smiling a bit, my shoulders lighter than they had been these past couple weeks. Then Mark took me to their guest room. It looked… homey. They’d themed it for fishing. I think most people would find the mounted fish, the patterned bedspread, all the fishing supplies (line, rod, lures… everything) obnoxious or overwhelming, or just gaudy. I thought they were cute. It suited them.
The comforter was a deep blue with a variety of fish swimming across it. Soft lines swirled around them, indicating the flow of the current. The fish were many different colors, creating a gentle rainbow of dancing creatures. I sat down on the edge and sunk into it, quickly engulfed by the plush guts of the comforter. I peeled it back slightly to look at the sheets underneath. They were white with little blue anchors, the same shade as above. The pillows matched as well, but were accompanied by a stuffed fish.
I wondered which of them decorated the room. Zeke had said it was also his house… But it seemed more a Mark thing to do. He was always wearing interesting prints in high school.
“Everything look alright?” Mark asked.
“Yeah,” I said, flopping onto my back. “Feels nice. It’s cool.”
“I’ll tell Zeke. He kind of hates it,” Mark rolled his eyes. “He says it clashes.”
“The colors go good together, though. I like the fish.”
“That’s what I said! He just has no taste.”
I chuckled and nodded, then rolled onto my side. I wondered what my husband would think of this room. Shit, probably. Everything in his condo was either black or white. Sometimes they all blended together, looking like one boring mass of nothingness. It was always clean, like I was living in a hospital. And when I wasn’t clean like that, he’d get mad at me. I thought it was something small, just an insignificant speck for him to care about. Nothing was small to him.
But I liked this place. He didn’t have to have a say about it.
“I want to sleep,” I said, yawning.
“Alright. Just let us know if you need anything. Our room’s at the end of the hall. And if we aren’t there, check the kitchen.”
I gave a short nod and curled up, trying to escape into the comfort of the blankets.
Mark left without another word, the door slipping shut behind him. I heard some mumbled words in the hallway, then a soft reply. A door down the hall jostled open, creaked shut. Then, silence.
All I did today was sleep. Except for the moment I saw my husband. But then I slept on their porch after that. And then I was awake to chat a while, but it wasn’t that long. So despite being awake for maybe three hours today, I still wanted to sleep. I just wanted to drift off into a dream. I wanted to think of something soft and happy.
In the end the dreams always turned into nightmares, at least the sleeps right after my husband hurts me. As if my brain needs to linger a bit on it and figure out why he doesn’t love me the way he’s supposed to. I turned over in bed. There was no real way to stop it, but I didn’t want one of those. He couldn’t get me here.
I wanted to dream about this bed. I knew when I closed my eyes I’d be back in his home. I’d be in his bed. Maybe he’d just be using me, sleeping with me, and the dream would be alright. Those were our happiest moments. Or maybe I’d dream of when we met, where I was ignorant and happy to be in his strong arms. The time when those arms brought me comfort wasn’t very long. Not long enough.
I did fall asleep again, eventually. I had to think a little bit about him more before I was too tired to move. I used up all my energy contemplating what happened, where everything managed to go wrong. It was all the little things again. All the frogs, all the mistakes, always piling into a supernova of anger. Because I wasn’t perfect enough.
I could have been perfect, maybe.
That’s what I dreamt about.
In my dream we weren’t in the city anymore. He sold the condo and bought a house in the woods that looked like my sister’s. It was a little run down when we got it. It was one story with a long porch out front. A few shingles on the roof were cracked, broken. and had been torn off. The siding begged for new paint. So did the windows. There was a fence around the property that was once white, but was stained with mud and wear. Some parts looked ready to crumble.
Inside was nice. The floors were sturdy, smelled recently waxed and cleaned. A light lemon. Some furniture was left behind. None of it was black or white. Neither were the walls. Each was its own soft color, except the bedroom, which was a brilliant green like the forest leaves. The kitchen was a little small, but it was cozy. So was the fireplace in the living room. It burned wood like a fireplace was supposed to. I knew we’d use it in the winter to stave off the cold drafts. Thankfully there was still room for us to decorate. Every wall was empty, waiting for us to put up some pictures or a painting or two. Maybe we’d even put up a drawing of mine.
We set up chairs on the porch. Two Adirondacks. Solid wood stained a deep brown with a tinge of red. I’d always dreamed of owning one. He let me pick out the cushions, so they didn’t match. Light blue and dark blue. We had to strip the chairs every time it rained, just in case.
Life was peaceful out there. There was no hustle and bustle of the city to bother us. Sometimes a bird would flutter down or we’d catch a glimpse of a groundhog. I stayed home and learned to cook and worked in the yard. Sometimes I worked part time in town, but really only when someone needed a bit of extra help. They’d get me to stock shelves or clean floors. Things I was good at. If I worked, I’d come home and sleep a while. And every so often our friends would swing by and we’d sit in the yard, or the porch, or the living room and laugh until we couldn’t any longer.
When my husband got home from work he would kiss me. Every time he would kiss me slow and long. He’d take my hand in his and give it a squeeze, then he’d hold me tight until I begged him to let me go cook dinner. He’d trail in after me and watch from the breakfast table, a large smile plastered across his face. He had a dreamy look in his pretty green eyes. They stared at me like I was the only thing in the world.
We’d always eat together. It was our little tradition in our little home. When we finished, he’d always hold my hand across the table and stroke his thumb over my skin. He’d smile at me. It would reach his eyes and show his teeth. Then he’d help me up and spin me around before collecting me into his arms. I was too heavy to carry across the house, so he led me by the hand to our room and made love.
I dreamt of him loving me. It was the stroke of his thumb across the back of my hand when he held it. It was the kiss he pressed to my cheeks and my temples. It was the hushed way he spoke to me when we were in bed. It was the chores I hated that he sacrificed his time to do. It was him dragging me outside on nice days to laugh in the sun. It was him calling me over to watch the rain together, see how it cleansed the earth. It was how we curled around each other at night, encased in each other’s warmth.
It was how he never raised his voice, even if I made a mistake.
I was crying when I woke up.