The car and competition finally sped away in a cloud of smog and squealing tires. No longer requiring his protection, the girl’s arms released him quickly.
“I’m sorry,” she said in a rush, “but that guy would not leave me alone.” She sounded relieved but still shaken by the incident.
Caleb looked into her eyes, up close this time. They were just as dark, beguiling, and cheerless as he had imagined they would be. He found himself wanting to take her then, to bring her to some secret place where he could explore the depths of those eyes, unlock the mystery they held. But not now, this was not the time or place.
“This is L.A.; danger, intrigue and movie stars. Isn’t that what it says under the Hollywood sign?” He said, trying to lighten the mood.
Confused, the girl shook her head. She was apparently not ready for humor yet. But as she stooped to pick up her backpack she said, “Um…actually, I think it’s – ‘That’s so L.A.’ But it’s not under the Hollywood sign. Nothing’s under the Hollywood sign.”
Caleb suppressed a wide grin. She wasn’t trying to be funny. It was more like she was searching for comfortable ground. “Should I call the police?” he communicated with feigned concern.
Now that the girl felt safer, she appeared to take real notice of him, an unfortunate, yet completely unavoidable moment. “Um...” Her eyes darted back and forth from his eyes, lingering on his mouth a bit too long before they darted to her sneakered feet. “I don’t think that’s necessary. They won’t do anything anyway, creeps like that are all over the place here. Plus,” she added sheepishly, “I didn’t even get his plate.”
She looked at him again, eyes roving his face before biting her lower lip and looking down at the ground. Caleb tried to keep the look of concern on his face when all he really wanted was to smile. So, he thought, the girl found him attractive.
He supposed most women did, even if they realized later, or too late, what the attraction really meant. Still, these sorts of naïve, almost innocent reactions, always amused him. He watched her, this girl, opting to look at the ground while she shuffled from side to side.
As she stood there, looking blissfully unaware that her coy, submissive behavior was sealing her fate, Caleb wanted to kiss her.
He had to remove himself from this situation.
“You’re probably right,” he sighed, flashing an empathizing smile, “the police wouldn’t be worth a damn.”
She nodded slightly, still shifting from foot to foot nervously, even shyly now. “Hey, could you—”
“I guess I should be—” This time he allowed his smile to take over his face.
“Sorry, you first,” she whispered as her face flushed beautifully. Her performance as the cute, shy girl was intoxicating. It was as if there were a sign hanging from her neck that read, ‘I promise, I’ll do whatever you say’.
He should really be going. Right now. Oh, but this was too much fun. He looked up and down the street. People would be coming soon, but not yet.
“No, please, you were saying?” He regarded her jet black hair as she incessantly fiddled with it between her fingers. It was long, wavy and framed her face. The ends curled over the mound of her breasts. Breasts that would fill his palms quite nicely. He put an end to his line of thinking before his body rendered a response.
She looked up at him. The sun in her face, she squinted when she met his eyes. “Oh…um…I know this is weird, considering what just happened…but, I missed my bus and,” flustered she tried to get the words out in a rush, “You seem like a nice guy. I mean, I have projects due today, and I guess I was wondering…Could you give me a ride to school?”
His smile was nothing short of nefarious. And hers so big he could see all of her pretty white teeth. “School? How old are you?” She blushed a deeper shade of pink.
“Eighteen! I’m a senior, you know, graduating this summer.” She smiled up at him. The sun was still in her face and she squinted whenever she made eye contact. “Why?”
“Nothing,” he lied and played upon the naivety of her youth, “you just seem older is all.” Another big smile – even more pretty white teeth.
It was time to put an end to this.
“Listen, I’d love to give you a ride, but I’m meeting a friend of mine just up the street. We usually carpool, and it’s her turn to brave traffic on the 405.” He checked his watch. “And, I’m already running late.” Inside, he felt a wave of satisfaction as her face crumpled. At the word no, at the word her. Not getting what you wanted was always the first lesson.
“Yeah, no, sure—I get it.” She recovered coolly, but still blushed. She gave an unaffected shrug and her gaze moved away from him. “I’ll just ask my mom to take me. No biggie.” Before he had a chance to offer any further condolences, she stepped around him and put her earphones in. “Thanks for helping me out with that guy. See you around.”
As she hurried away, he could faintly hear the music blaring in her ear. He wondered if it was loud enough to drown out her embarrassment.
“See you around,” he whispered.
He waited until she rounded the corner before he walked back to his car, and then he slid behind the wheel while opening his cell phone. Arrangements for his new arrival would have to be made.
I woke with a really bad headache and noticed two things simultaneously: it was dark and I wasn’t alone. Were we moving? Vision hazy, my eyes rolled around, almost out of instinct, to gain a semblance of balance, recognition of something familiar. I was in a van, my body strewn haphazardly across the floor.
Startled, I attempted to move all at once, only to find my movements sluggish and ineffectual. My hands had been tied behind my back, my legs free but decidedly heavy.
Again, I tried to focus my eyes in the dark. Both back windows were heavily tinted, but even in the gloomy darkness I could make out four distinct shapes. Their voices told me they were men. They spoke to each other in a language I didn’t understand. Listening, it was a torrent of fast-speech, clipped tones. Something rich, very foreign…Middle Eastern maybe. Did it matter? My brain said yes, it was information. Then that small comfort slipped away. Seeing the iceberg hadn’t stopped the Titanic from sinking.
My first instinct was to scream. That’s what you do when you find out your worst nightmare is playing out in front of you. But I clenched my jaw on the impulse. Did I really want them to know I was awake? No.
I am not inherently stupid. I’d seen enough movies, read enough books, and lived in a shitty neighborhood long enough to know that drawing attention to myself was the worst thing I could do – in almost any situation. A voice inside my head yelled sarcastically, “Then why the hell are you here?” I winced.
This was the worst of all my fears, being dragged off by some sick fuck in a van, raped, left for dead. From the first day I realized my body was changing, there had been no shortage of perverts on the streets, telling me exactly what they’d like to do to me, all of me. I’d been careful. I followed all the rules in becoming invisible. I kept my head down, I walked fast, and I dressed sensibly. And still, my nightmare had found me. Again. I could almost hear my mother’s voice in my head asking me what I’d done.
There were four of them. Tears flooded my eyes and a whimper escaped my chest. I couldn’t help it.
Abruptly, conversation around me halted. Though I struggled to not make a single sound or movement, my lungs heaved for breath, rising and falling in the rhythm of my panic. They knew I was awake. My tongue laid heavy and thick inside my mouth. Impulsively, I screamed, “Let me go,” as loud as I could, as though I were dying, because for all I knew I was. I screamed as though someone out there would listen, hear me, and do something. My head throbbed. “Help! Somebody help!”
I thrashed wildly, my legs careening in every direction as one of the men tried to capture them with his hands. As the van rocked, my captors’ Arabic voices grew louder and angrier. Finally, my foot connected solidly with the man’s face. He fell back against the side of the van.
“Help!” I screamed again.
Incensed, the same man came at me again and this time struck me very hard across my left cheek. My consciousness faded away, but not before I acknowledged my body, now inert and at the mercy of four men I didn’t know. Men I never wanted to know.
The next time I came around, rough hands dug into my underarms while another man held my legs. I was being dragged out of the van, into the night air. I must have been out for hours. My head throbbed so hard I couldn’t speak. The left side of my face felt like a soccer ball had smacked it and I could hardly see out of my left eye. Dizzy and with practically no warning, I vomited. They dropped me and I simply rolled onto my side. As I lay there dry heaving, my captors yelled amongst them, meaningless voices, in and out, broken and jarring. My vision flashed, clear then hazy. This continued, one action triggering another. Too weak to resist, I lay my head next to my vomit and passed out again.
Sometime later I regained consciousness, or some state of being, similar to consciousness. I jerked. I felt pain everywhere. My head throbbed, my neck was stiff to the point of searing pain, and worse, when I tried to open my eyes I discovered I couldn’t. There was a blindfold over them.
It came to me in flashes. Screeching tires. Grinding metal. Footsteps. Running. Musk. Dirt. Dark. Vomit. Hostage.
Summoning every ounce of strength and resolve I attempted to lift myself. Why couldn’t I move? My limbs wouldn’t budge. My mind was telling my body to move, but my body wasn’t responding. A new wave of panic rushed through me.
Tears burned behind my closed lids. Fearing the worst, I attempted to remove the blindfold by moving my head. Pain shot down my neck, but my head barely moved. What did they do to me? I stopped trying to move. Just think, I told myself, feel.
I took a mental assessment of my person. My head rest on a pillow, and my entire body lay on something soft, so I was probably on a bed. A shiver ran through me. I still felt clothes against my skin – that was good. Fabric around my wrists, fabric around my ankles, it wasn’t difficult to figure out I was tied to the bed. Oh god! I bit at my lip, holding in my sobs as I acknowledged the fabric of my ankle-length skirt lay high up on my thighs. My legs were open. Had they touched me? Keep it together! Exhaling a deep breath, I stopped the thought before it could grow.
I felt intact, no missing fingers. Mechanically, I focused on here, now. Knowing my faculties were in order, I expelled a small sigh of relief that sounded more like a sob.
That’s when I heard his voice.
“Good. You’re finally awake. I was beginning to think you’d been seriously injured.” My body froze at the sound of a male voice. Suddenly, I had to instruct myself to breathe. The voice was eerily gentle, concerned…familiar? The accent, what I could comprehend over the sound of the ringing in my head was American and yet, there was something off about it.
I should have screamed, afraid as I was, but I just froze. He had been sitting in the room; he had been watching me panic.
After a few moments, my voice trembled, “Who are you?” No response. “Where am I?” My words and voice seemed to be on some sort of delay, almost sluggish, like I was drunk.
Silence. The creak of a chair. Footsteps. My heart hammering in my chest.
“I am your master.” A cold hand pressed against my sweat-slick forehead. Again, a nagging sense of familiarity. But it was stupid. I didn’t know anyone with an accent. “You are where I want you to be.”
“Do I know you?” My voice was raw, stripped of anything but my emotion.
Behind my eyelids the world exploded into violent streams of red; my dark vision drowned in adrenaline. Acid fear ate down my synapses carrying Danger. Danger. Run. Run! to my limbs. My mind howled for every muscle fiber to contract. I willed everything to fight all of the constraints: I twitched.