Chapter Fourteen: What's in a Name?
I found Arthur in Cecelia's room. I paused at the door, expecting the worst, but I found him sitting at the side of her bed, leaning his head against the mattress as Cecelia stroked his hair absently. I was momentarily dumbfounded. How could she even touch him, let alone so tenderly, if he was the one who raped her? So it had to be Trenton. And Twitch was just ill-informed about the intactness of Trenton's junk.
He glared up at me through the veil of his red-tipped hair. It made him look more malevolent. "Get out."
"I'm sorry. I didn't mean to upset you."
"You didn't upset me," he huffed, closing his eyes and dropping his forehead against the bed. Cecelia withdrew her hand and turned over on the bed to present her back, effectively ignoring me. Her tiny shorts displayed the entire lower half of her asscheeks, but if Arthur noticed, he didn't look. I felt an almost consuming relief. Clearly, I had it all wrong. He wasn't a rapist. Good. It would make what I was about to do all the easier.
"Then…I'm confused. What was with the outburst?"
"I was finished with my dinner."
I was getting frustrated before he shot me a look that clearly told me to be quiet, before glancing pointedly at Cecelia's back. I fell silent, looking between them. Arthur sighed and rose to his feet. He leaned over Cecelia's curled up form and placed a gentle kiss on her bare shoulder before rubbing her upper arm soothingly as he drew away. Looking down at her, his expression was a mixture of fondness and torment.
"Twitch will be up with your dinner in a few minutes. You have to eat it, okay?"
There was no response, and Arthur laid a hand on her shoulder. "Cecelia. Eat your dinner, or you know what I'll have to do."
Her shudder was visible, and she curled more tightly into herself. Arthur seemed satisfied. As he left, he inclined his head in a way that suggested I follow.
"Why don't you ever call me by my name?" I asked, pausing outside of his room, suddenly needing to know. I heard it more from others than I said it myself, obviously—that old riddle: what belongs to you that other people use more often? But being here, being around Arthur, it was a little disconcerting how seldom I heard my own name. As if the absence of that moniker was starting to make me forget who I was.
He searched my face. "Does it bother you?" Like with most things he said, there was no apology in the question. He wanted to know if it bothered me because he wanted to know, not because he planned to stop if I said that it did.
"Well, I just don't get it. You call Cecelia by her name, and Twitch, and Trenton. But with me, it's always Beautiful, or Honeybear, or Snookums. It's not even that the names are stupid, which I mean, yeah, they are, but. It's just…Muffin, for example. That's something you would call a girl. Or a dog."
"I don't like saying your name."
"Why not? Don't you like it?" Steven was a pretty good name, I thought.
"No," he said, but in a way that said he did like it, and that wasn't the reason. I stared at him until he grinned. "I just don't like thinking of you like that."
"As a boy?" I asked. "Or as a person?"
"That's it. That's exactly it. As a person. As someone who's not mine."
So it was to be purposefully degrading, then. Well. Good to know. "I'm not yours, Arthur."
"Not yet you're not. But I have a bit of an advantage, I should warn you."
"What the hell are you talking about?"
"If you want a name, I can give you one. You can help me choose."
"I don't want to choose a name. I want mine."
"No?" He blinked, and then a crooked grin spread across his face. "No. Hmm."
It was a low murmur, in a register impossibly deep for his honey-smooth voice, like it had touched something dark and raspy inside of him and that thing had answered instead. The particular tilt of his head raised goosebumps on my skin even as my stomach plummeted low. Because his grin was not a happy grin, and his pupils were blown wide.
"My Darling, my Sweet, you didn't let me finish my sentence."
"I said I don't want a nickname." My voice was weak and breathy but I titled my chin up and planted my feet. His eyes dropped to my throat as I swallowed.
"I just want you to know how special you are. So special, it's like you're in my head. I mean, that must be it. If you can answer a question that I don't ask. " He stumbled over the words, the s drawn out, fading indistinctly into the end of the sentence, and I was reminded of his earlier behavior. Still high, then, despite his lucid outburst of anger. I gritted my teeth.
"What are you—" Why couldn't he take this seriously?
But then I found myself pressed against the wall, one of his hands on either side of my head, boxing me in, and I went from annoyed to uneasy again in two seconds flat, because there was a dangerous look in his eyes, somewhere between angry and playful, or both maybe. Whatever it was, there was no mistaking it. This was gut-deep recognition. I should have known this was a bad idea.
He said, "Now, I'll think a question, and you answer it, yes or no."
"I'm not playing games with you, Arthur. This is ridiculous." I reached up to push at his thin arm and found it absolutely unyielding. My hand shook when I drew it back.
"You're not answering me," he said warningly. He stared into my eyes, and I could see that familiar insane glint, but nothing that told me what the right answer was.
"Arthur," I tried quietly.
His face went terrifyingly blank. "Answer the question."
"Um." Fuck it. Anything to make him give me some room. I couldn't concentrate. "Yes?"
He grinned. "Wrong answer."
He kneed me in the stomach. The shock doubled me over more than the pain did. He let me gasp for air, clutching reflexively at the ache, for two seconds before he clutched my shoulder to shove me back against the wall, hard, causing my back to ache worse than my stomach at the unforgiving impact. There were pinpricks of tears in my eyes.
"Try again," he gently coaxed.
I took a deep breath. He'd hit me. He had really hit me. "Arthur—"
He made a disappointed clicking sound with his tongue. "Wrong answer." This time he drew back his fist and delivered a punch to my right cheek, and even though I saw it coming I couldn't stop it, and I still couldn't believe it, though part of me had expected it all along, ever since the very first moment I met him. I clutched my face, a strangled protest erupting from my throat, struggling now, just to get away, hands against his chest, him an immovable obstacle.
"If at first you don't succeed…" he encouraged with a shrug.
When I tried to break free of the hold he had on one of my shoulders, he just clenched down harder, crowded in closer. The tears broke through their barrier. "No!" I spat desperately.
He frowned in sympathy. "Oh, dear…it doesn't look like you're very good at this game." He kicked me in the shin this time, but before I could bring my leg up to grab onto it as instinct told me to, he stomped on my foot, anchoring my foot to the ground and giving me an excruciating jolt of pain. It was the broken one.
"You're not even thinking of a question!" I accused, my voice thick with agony.
He smiled. "Bingo! Tell him what he's won!" he said in a deepened announcer's voice. Then he leaned in and planted a kiss on my cheek. I stiffened at the gentle warmth of his lips against my skin, so big of a contrast to the echoes of pain that still lingered from where he'd hit me.
He pulled away and smiled, letting his hands drop to his side. "That was fun. Let's play again soon, Kitten."
For one instant it was like I could see into the future. I could see him turning on his heel, strolling away, whistling a merry tune like that, all of that, was nothing. Was just a game. Casual violence, not even worth a second thought. I saw my fist clenching at my side, the grimace on my face through the tears and the blow to his face that snapped his head to the side and knocked him into the wall, face first. One hand kept him from falling.
Wait. No. That last part actually happened.
He leaned against the wall, eyes heavily-lidded as he touched his lips with his fingertips. The smile he directed at me was bloody. "You hit me." It sounded equal parts disbelieving and impressed.
"I did," I said, in exactly the same tone. My hand was still clenched into a fist at my side and I relaxed it to hold out a defensive hand as Arthur came barreling towards me at waist height, aiming to knock me down. I turned at the last second and he rammed into me from behind; there was nowhere to go in the narrow hallway, so I really didn't have a chance.
I hit the ground hard, and couldn't get my hands or knees under me in time. It knocked the breath out of me and left my lungs paralyzed, unable to draw air for so long that I thought I was going to suffocate. I clutched the center of my chest, mouth open but useless.
It felt like dying.
Arthur grabbed my shoulder and rolled me onto my back, dragged my arms above my head to pin them there, one fist drawn high above him to deliver another blow. My lungs finally started up again and I sucked in a shallow, painful breath. I sobbed in relief, and just started to draw another breath when the next punch knocked me unconscious.
It was really soft. And it also hurt a fucking lot. But mostly it was just this languid ache in which I never wanted to move again because this, right here, this was just perfect, thanks.
It was a slow process to drag myself out of it, and when I did, when I opened my eyes, I still didn't want to move, because it was still soft and I still fucking ached all over, and moving would just ruin everything.
I could see a blank white ceiling, not my own. The cracks were different. I knew somehow that the fingers carding through my hair were Arthur's, but my body absolutely rebelled against anything that tensed my muscles.
"I couldn't get you to swallow the Oxycontin without choking." His voice was a low, soft murmur and it was very near my ear. "I have it now, if you sit up."
"Why are you doing this?" I asked. I started to turn my face away, but he was just out of my line of sight, and I didn't want to inadvertently turn to him, so I didn't move at all, just made my plaintive noises to the featureless ceiling.
"I like this." He sighed, and shifted, and the movement was familiar enough to make me realize that we were both lying in a bed. The softness beneath my head was not a pillow; I was lying back against him. "I like closing my eyes and touching things, just feeling them." A thumb brushed across the ridge of my upper lip where it met my skin and I hissed at the sting.
"I meant to me," I whispered, pained. "Why are you doing this to me?"
"Because I love you."
I closed my eyes.
"I'm never going to love you."
"You will." He was utterly certain, the hint of a smile in his voice, full of warmth and pleasure.
After a moment, he brought a finger to my eye. The motion was as painful as a stab. "I told you, you're not allowed to cry," he said. "I asked politely."
I tried to be quiet.
"You can't be in my head," he said after long minutes. "I don't want you there."
My nose was so stuffed up that I had to breathe through my mouth, and each intake of air sent hissing pain across the split in my lip. I was no longer quiet, but I couldn't speak.
"You can't be in yours, either," he added. "It doesn't work. It might seem to, at first, but that's the worst thing, when it stops working."
It sounded very much like advice given from experience, and I was not surprised. I suspected it had stopped working long ago.
"Why won't you be with me?" he asked. " I like you. You may not like me now, but you will. This seems pretty fucking simple, if you ask me."
You're asking why, I wanted to say (would have said, if I were a stupider person). I wet my lips, ignoring the sting. "Nothing's simple with you."
He hummed. "I can be simple. I can be anything you want."
I sighed. "Sure, Arthur. Okay."