(From Chapter Four)
“You remember me.” It was confirmation that he acknowledged her response, not a question. “You know—it took me some time to figure out who I was.”
Slowly, she turned to face him.
“Why am I here?”
Her soft, broken voice startled him. At that moment, he knew that this would no longer be a one-way conversation. With that, he reached for the remote and turned off the TV, giving her his undivided attention.
“I…” She paused for several beats before finishing. “I’ve never done anything to you. Why am I being held hostage? I have three children at home.”
“Three kids?” His questioning voice was as soft as it could be coming from a man of his intimidating build. He pushed out a laugh. “Of course, you have more than one. You are fine as hell. Always have been. I’m sure that dude of yours plunges deep inside of your warmth, then falls asleep in it every night. Hell, I would too if I were him.”
Bernadette turned granite at his vulgar words. He realized her change in posture right away and tried speaking over the words that hung in the air like an anvil. He needed her to ease up or else she would shut down again.
“Your kids. Are they good kids? All on the honor roll?”
She responded by turning her back to him, which urged him to press on.
“I’m sure they went to the best schools. Probably private. What about your husband? Is he cookie-cutter rich like most of your friends were?” Bernadette remained silent and still. Richard smirked. “What does he do for a living, anyway?”
At this point, he knew there was nothing he could say or do to reengage her. He decided to give her a few moments of peace as he cleaned up after himself, tossing out the remains of his dinner and wiping down the coffee table. When he resurfaced from the kitchen, he brought with him a thick slice of pound cake and a glass of milk. Taking his regular seat, he faced Bernadette’s back. He knew she hadn’t fallen asleep by the way she lay still. Richard took a bite of his cake and swallowed it with milk before attempting to speak to her again.
“Back at QCHS, I was the nerdy kid with thick glasses—loud yellow corduroy pants from Sears, and dusty ass Keds. The cool dudes wore Sean John and Jordans. They always capped on my gear when they saw me. I was the low hanging fruit. To be honest, I was more hurt by the females, even though they were just as shitty to me as the guys were. Throughout that entire time, I just tried to tune it all out. I remained hyper-focused on my studies, taking all AP classes. I essentially stayed off the radar, until that day when I had the audacity to sit at the cool kids’ table.”
Bernadette stirred, then stilled for a few before turning over to view the man speaking to her.
“That was how I became the official school punching bag.”
Richard and his kidnapped guest studied each other in total silence for several moments. It was difficult for Bernadette to see this man as a victim. Meanwhile, it was doubly hard for Richard not to see past this woman’s charmed, privileged life. More than anything, he wanted her to understand what it was like being him all those years ago.
Even though her eyes remained on him, her expression was void, giving Richard no indication of her thoughts concerning anything he had said to her. He’d expected fear, anger, disgust. If not for him, at least for herself and her current situation. He saw nothing in her beautiful brown caramel face but a blank slate. The longer she stared at him, the more naked he felt. It made him uneasy.
“Last call for the bathroom.” He stood with his now empty napkin and glass with streaks of what remained of the milk. When he came back from the kitchen, he placed a brass bell, like you’d find at a hotel front desk, at the foot of the chaise lounge.
“Granted, you are free to wiggle up to your feet and hop around if you get bored, but I’m pretty sure you’ll be unable to lower those shorts to use the bathroom. So, if you don’t need to go now, just slam down on that bell until I come out. I’ll be glad to see you over to the bathroom.”
She turned her head away from him, letting him know that she didn’t need his help.
“Alright,” he announced. “I’m off to bed. Sweet dreams, Bernadette.”
All the lights went out except for the faint one in the kitchen. And for another night, Bernadette cried herself to sleep.