Hey, folks, this is a preview of Scarred for Life, so it's just the first three chapters. Scarred for Life has been published by Desert Palm Press. If you're interested in reading the whole thing, you can follow a link to purchase it on my profile.
AN EARLY SPRING IMPLIED the year had promise. The beauty brought on by the bright greens of the grass and leaves, the clear blue sky, the cheerful songs of all types of birds, and the caress of the breeze made it seem like everything was fine in the world. Nothing could ever go wrong.
The neighborhood kept up that façade. Well-kept, two-story houses lined the spotless streets. If fences made good neighbors, everyone around must get along rather well since a fence, gate, or dense hedge neatly separated the homes. Each house had a vibrant, verdant lawn, as if no one dared to mess up the perfect picture by having a piece of grass out of place. Sculptured shrubs and colorful flowerbeds with roses, tulips, daises, petunias, and orchids almost made the lawns seem like works of art.
Would everything be so sweet if people knew a former predator roamed their fair streets? If they knew a wolf prowled about their picturesque little neighborhood? If they knew the Great Dane lingered outside their doors and could pick up their daughters? Well, could, but more than likely wouldn't. Dane shook those thoughts away and continued down the street, a noticeable limp in her stride. 'Quaint' came to mind for the place. It seemed like some place comfortable, and even held the possibility of being real. She hadn't had the opportunity to spend time in many 'real' places, but she'd bet the neighborhood was just as phony as any other environment she had ever had the displeasure of walking through.
Dull eyes glanced at each house. Dane liked to think that each held a happy family doing the right thing, but that was just a dream—the last shred of human hope held in her withered, tired heart. Each house, each individual, probably had more secrets than most would fathom. Some of those secrets were quite benign; any healthy life racked up a few mild secrets. But, others…others could mean jail sentences, children taken away, property lost, excommunication, and exile from the community.
It was possible that somewhere in all of those prim yards, tidy driveways, and immaculate houses, there was a family that was generally all right. A family filled with people who truly cared for each other, and others, and tried to do the right thing. Law of averages. Not that she cared.
Children played on the other side of the street. They looked like they were about eight to ten years old. A girl jumped rope, a few boys threw around a baseball, and a couple of kids circled around on bikes. Dane chuckled; she thought children didn't do that anymore, but apparently she was wrong. It was nice to see kids playing outside on their block, almost like a television show.
Youthful eyes stared at her as she came through. She suspected she might have had the word "outsider" branded to her forehead, or they just knew that she didn't belong. It seemed like the type of little neighborhood where everyone knew everyone else, at least in passing. Of course, no one knew her. A newcomer, she stood out and carried herself in a manner that she doubted was fit for this place.
The ratty, rusted bike she pushed screamed its condition every inch of the way. She had a backpack with one strap broken and duct tape covering the bottom, as well as a hole on the side. She held a worn guitar case in one hand. It couldn't help that she had two barbell piercings in her left eyebrow. She wore an atrocious pair of jean shorts that ended just below her knees. Some puffed-up scars poked out from underneath the right cuff while light scars cut across both legs. A chain dangling from her pocket to her belt loop chimed as it hit against her slim thigh, which caught the kids' attention for a second.
Having become an expert in ignoring people and shutting out the world, Dane pressed on, small jolts of pain shooting through her knee as she did so. She crossed a street and noted the sign telling her that she was now on 23rd Street. She went into the pocket of her baggy shorts and pulled out a wrinkled sheet of yellow paper, which read '23rd and Jordan Ave. 23-07.' She scratched her head with the hand that held the paper, mussing her wild mop of hair. Replacing the paper into her pocket, she pushed her bike onto 23rd Street, and scanned for the house in the fading daylight.
The home she sought was several houses down. A doppelganger of those around it, but painted a striking crimson. The short, rich lawn was divided by a walkway leading up to a clean, long porch. Her gaze lingered on a tree on the left side of the lawn, thinking about how she would've loved to climb the lengthy, thick branches as a child. She quickly rid herself of that thought, knowing it'd take her to morose, nightmarish places.
Dropping her bike at the bottom of the steps, she scaled the low stairs to the porch. Glancing at the two windows flanking the door, she saw no light shown through them. Still, she knocked. When no one answered, she presumed no one was there or she wasn't wanted. Either way, she couldn't get in the house.
Peering at the driveway, she noted a luxury black Mercedes sedan parked there. Someone might be back for it. There were stores, restaurants, and takeout places not too far from the house, so the idea of a person walking wasn't farfetched.
Dane was about to sit down on the stairs and wait. She could use a break; her leg screamed for a reprieve. A grumbling noise halted those plans. She glanced around and when she didn't see any angry bears, she gathered the clangor had come from her stomach. Her eyes drifted down to her growling belly, seeing nothing but her torn black shirt.
"All right, monster, I'll feed you. I just need to see how much money I have," she muttered, digging into her pocket. She retrieved her worn leather wallet using the long chain it was connected to. "Hmm…shocking that a moth didn't fly out of this thing. Couldn't even buy a stick of gum right now. Isn't that always the way?"
Snickering, she shook her head and replaced her wallet. Gathering her bike, she proceeded to make her way off of the property. Her stomach voiced its displeasure again, much louder than before. She merely laughed again. "Cry all you want, but it damn sure isn't putting food in you, and it ain't putting no fucking money in my wallet either," she remarked. Her belly grumbled again and she ignored it. She wasn't in the mood to search for a bank right now.
A pair of car doors slamming echoed throughout the quiet neighborhood. The bright moon and a sprinkle of stars, shining down like spotlights, witnessed the loud clicking of high heels that strode up the stone walkway. Nicole's pink-painted, glistening lips twisted and frowned when the sound of the other shoes followed along. Her heels tapped quicker for a few seconds before returning to the original, tense pace. Keys jangled as she freed from the small black handbag. For a moment, she frowned as she noted a twenty that she thought was in the bag was gone, but it was too cold to worry about. The chill made her fumble with her keys a bit. Before they could do their job, they met with gravity and ended up on the wooden porch.
A groan followed the plummet. "Come on, babe, it's cold," Tyler whined. His tall form hunched over, as if that would fight off the cold. A few strands of his combed back, dark brown hair fell into his deep chestnut eyes as he tried to curl into himself. His baby face and rounded jaw were tense. If he knew what he looked like, he probably would have straightened up because he was distorting his handsome, confident image. He wore an expensive white oxford shirt and designer black slacks, not fit for the cool night.
"Yeah, I hadn't noticed that at all, Tyler," Nicole answered, leaning down to pick up the keys.
She could feel Tyler's eyes on her, checking out her ass as her black dress rode up her legs a little more. She rolled her eyes; hard as the gem they were colored after. Recovering her keys, she opened the door and almost shut it before Tyler could come inside. She caught herself before the door slammed into Tyler's perfect nose.
"It was great to go out, wasn't it, Nikki?" Tyler asked, closing the door.
She flinched at the casual use of her nickname. Only her parents called her that. "It was all right," Nicole answered in a flat tone. After seeing a movie she had never wanted to waste her time on and picking up the check at a restaurant she didn't like, Nicole was at least able to check her email at dinner. She'd have a light day at work on Monday for once.
These dates were the norm for them now. When did our dates start becoming what Tyler desired rather than what we'd both enjoy? She dismissed the thought in favor of her craving for a hot shower and to be out of Tyler's presence.
"It was more than all right," Tyler purred, wrapping his arms around Nicole's slim waist and pulling her to his larger form. He nuzzled her neck, breathing deeply on her skin. "You smell so good…" he whispered, placing a gentle kiss to her neck.
"Yeah, well, I'm tired," she replied, tearing away from his embrace.
"Babe," Tyler said, reaching out for her. She escaped his arm length as quickly as she could. He snorted, frowning when he missed her.
"I'm going to take a shower," she informed him and didn't have to look back to know he was fixing his mouth to say something stupid. "And no, you can't join me." Now, she glanced back to make sure he listened to her order.
Tyler's shoulders slumped and he pouted as she retreated upstairs. Nicole showered, dressed in flannel blue pajama bottoms and an old, university t-shirt, and entered her bedroom. Tyler's clothes and her mango-colored comforter were on her otherwise clutter-free floor. She growled and cast incensed eyes on Tyler. He reclined on the queen-sized bed, watching television in his boxers and socks. A few deep breaths kept her from voicing the indignation coursing through her with increasing intensity.
Everything in her beige-colored bedroom was immaculate by design. Items on the polished mahogany vanity, dresser, and nightstand had been put in place with precision. On the vanity, perfume and nail polish had been perfectly aligned along with a few framed family pictures. There was also a picture of Tyler had been placed there by the man himself. A calendar and a few neatly stacked books rested on top of the dresser. An entertainment center with a fifty-inch, wall-mounted LED-lit, HD television and DVD player faced the bed. A window on the same wall off centered the television.
Nicole thought about how Tyler always littered her house in some way. He discarded his clothing on the floor, abandoned his magazines everywhere, and left his dishes wherever he ate, which was never at a table. She didn't care how he lived at his apartment, but it bothered her how he lived at her home. She decried his behavior often, but her words seemed to go through one ear and out the other. A repugnant habit of his that she had hoped he'd outgrow.
"I guess you're staying the night," she said. A vein throbbed at the side of her head. He doesn't even bother to ask anymore.
"Yeah, I thought it would be a nice end to a nice evening," he replied, attempting a smirk.
Once upon a time, she had thought it was sexy. She frowned and pushed down bile as it rose in her throat. "Well, I'm tired."
Tyler missed the hint, because he leaned over to her side as soon as she lay down. Reaching out, he caressed her thigh. She shuddered.
"I just said I'm tired." She removed his adventurous hand.
"Baby, you're trembling for me," he whispered, kissing her cheek and trying to turn her around to him. Saving him the trouble, she faced him. He smiled with a smoldering look burning in his eyes.
"I don't want to." She shoved him squarely in the chest, knocking him to the other side of the bed.
"Babe…" His eyes wide with disbelief, glancing down at himself making sure everything was intact.
He was probably wondering what the hell was wrong with her, especially since she had never denied him before. She could read him like a book. Unfortunately, he couldn't do the same.
"I said I was tired and I don't want to," she repeated with a tight grimace.
"I thought you were just playing hard to get. The night was so nice. I thought we'd cap it off. I want to make you feel good, baby," Tyler replied, reaching over to run his fingers up and down her arm. She moved out of his range, close to falling out of bed to escape him now.
Her head throbbed. "I'm tired, far from in the mood, and I have work to get to in the morning," she stated. I'm not sure how much longer I'm going to have the patience for this… for him.
"It's Sunday tomorrow," he pointed out. In other words, he thought she should spend her time with him instead of working.
She growled. "I had to bring work home."
"Oh. But, I thought you had easy cases," he said with a deprecating shrug. He often admonished her, saying she let too many people take advantage of her at work, which slowed her down. He also made it a point to reprimand her for being inefficient, because she always brought work home, which took time away from him.
Nicole balled up her hands into fists, but counted to ten deliberately in her head. Why does he always have to say such incredibly ignorant things? He's well aware that sometimes I have to take work home with me just like he does. We have similar jobs, after all. But then again, he probably wasn't interrupted as often as she was when working. She just couldn't see people going to him for help or him giving help if people did request it. He was too selfish for that.
"I don't have time for this. I'm going to sleep. Make sure you pick your clothes up off the floor," she said, turning her back to him.
Tyler grunted. He never picked up his offending clothes. She'd get them when she woke up. She always did.
The honeymoon period was definitely over. It probably ended after she allowed Tyler to move in that things commenced to turn rancid, him and their relationship. About three months ago, a fire had damaged his apartment. Nicole offered him a place to stay. Even after his apartment was repaired, it seemed like he never moved out and things between them seemed to shift much more noticeably then.
Once he moved in, she learned about habits of his that clashed with her lifestyle, but she continued to see him. She thought maybe they just needed to adjust to each other because they were closer. Quite the erroneous presupposition. He was becoming a constant headache, like a bullet right through the temple.
There were lights on upstairs and a familiar, two-door, red Porsche settled in front of the house. Dane knocked hard. Mumbled curse words informed her that the rap reached its designated target like a missile. The door was ripped open.
"What? Do you know what fucking time it is?" Tyler stood in the doorway in his orange boxers, white V-neck t-shirt, and socks. His hair went out in several directions. "Dane? What the hell are you doing here?" he snapped, brown eyes focused on her. He inclined his chin while regarding her, looking down his nose.
She rolled her eyes. "No, Tyler, I don't know what time it is, but then again, I was always skeptical that you could tell time." Don't insult the person you need to ask for a favor, idiot. She ignored her thoughts; she'd insult whomever she damn well pleased. She detested requesting a favor, despised the people that she needed to ask, and needed to lash out in some way. Maybe she'd be turned away and it'd be a turning point of some kind for her. "I need a place to drop for a couple of days." She tugged at the one good strap on her book bag.
Tyler's hand on the door shook. She waited for him to slam the door, but he didn't. She waited for his scurrilous tongue to lambaste her. It also didn't. He was just like everyone else. The wheels in his head probably turned, considering how his aunt, her mother, would react if it ever got back to her that he turned Dane away. Such bullshit. Her mother didn't give a damn if people turned her away. After all, her mother had turned her back on her the day she was born. Maybe her family hedged its bets by taking her in; it didn't seem to perturb her mother when they accommodated her, so just in case that meant something, they continued to do it. Somehow, she doubted it'd ever pay off for them.
"How the hell did you even find me?" he asked with a sneer.
She shrugged. "Your mom gave me this address. Nice little neighborhood, but not what I'd expect of you." She watched as something flashed in his eyes, which she wasn't sure of. He seemed angry, but she wasn't exactly sure what this new anger was for. Again, she waited for the door to be slammed. Again, she was shocked.
"A couple of days, but that's it." Tyler stepped out of the way to let her enter.
She shrugged as she stepped in. "That's all I need."
"Good." He closed the door behind her. Chocolate eyes continued to glower heatedly at her. "You stay in the den over there. Don't come out until you're leaving, don't eat any of the food, don't touch anything, and make sure I don't have to see you anymore."
"Wow, such hospitality," she murmured, peering into the dark room he offered her to stay in. She couldn't see that far in, but it didn't appear capacious.
"I could just leave you on the streets, you bum," he pointed out gruffly.
No one usually went beyond two days in keeping her. She never went beyond that long in staying. She rolled her eyes and marched off into the room, swallowed whole by the blackness and peace. Tyler rolled his eyes, too, and marched back upstairs.
Nicole awoke to something poking her in the back. She groaned in disgust and moved away, only to find the nuisance following her. It was joined by a questing hand, roughly rubbing against her abdomen. She attempted to escape both, but they pursued her until she fell out of bed.
"Dammit," she muttered, stroking the top of her head, putting her hand through her wild, long hair, pushing the dark auburn locks out of her eyes.
"Nikki, what are you doing?" Tyler asked, peeking over the side of the bed.
"No, please, don't try to help me up," she said as she climbed to her feet, straightening her clothes along the way.
"Come on back to bed. Let's have a little bit of fun." He smirked.
"I've got work to do. I told you that."
"It's Sunday, babe. You don't need to get to it right away. Besides, your parents own the firm. You know they'll cut you a break."
"That's not the point," she growled. And they wouldn't cut me a break. He should know that. Her parents were more stringent with her because they knew her accomplishments and capabilities. Giving them anything less than expected was an affront to them that they would call her on.
Tyler gave her a rather frivolous wave. "Yeah, yeah, yeah. You can do it later. Come on back to bed. We can start the morning off right and then you can make breakfast."
"And then we'll go back to bed?" Her face twisting to a cartoon version of herself and her hair going off in every direction probably didn't help her appear serious.
"Brilliant idea. So, come on, back to bed," he said, lifting up the blanket.
A guttural noise escaped Nicole. She glared at him. Tyler was either deaf or insane, because he continued smiling. He didn't take her seriously, which only made her gaze more strident. He reached out for her. Nicole's lip curled as she stepped away. She accepted culpability for their turbulent relationship. She offered him an abundance of leeway, because, at first, she assumed his slips were just little mistakes. It didn't occur to her that he was so inconsiderate of others. Supplying him with so much rope just suffocated her. Disgusted her. It was her fault for assuming he had something in him worth salvaging.
Deciding not to let him ruin her morning any more than he had, she walked to the bathroom in the master bedroom, clicking on the light. It illumined the small bathroom, showing off the clean cream-colored tiles of the walls and mahogany cabinets. She stepped over to the sink. A medicine cabinet hung above it. Its mirror opened on the left and right side, reflecting different angles when she used it to do her hair. Staring into the mirror, disheartened green eyes looked back at her. She grabbed her toothbrush from the porcelain holder, covered it with minty toothpaste for sensitive teeth, and brushed.
"Who was at the door last night?" Nicole asked, her toothbrush hanging from her lip. With the question asked, she continued on brushing her teeth.
"Oh. What did he want? Is everything all right?" It was strange for his cousin to come by in the middle of the night without calling first, but there could've been an emergency.
"Everything's fine. The bum just needed a place to stay for a couple of days. I put her in the den."
Water continued to run, but the scraping of the toothbrush ceased. Somewhere in the distance, there was the sound of a camel's spine shattering. For a brief moment, everything spun and then shattered in front of her before the world put itself back together. It now appeared different, her perception changed in an instant. Her thoughts shifted and then she balanced. Nicole emerged from the bathroom to gape at Tyler. There wasn't even a hint of anger in her gaze, just sheer and genuine disbelief at the gall of the man.
"You're letting your cousin stay in my den?" Her head throbbed. She had a revelation, including divine light that allowed her to see everything so clearly. It wasn't a pretty sight, but the truth about their relationship never was. She could no longer tolerate him.
"What's wrong? It's just for a couple of days." He shrugged.
"What's wrong is this is my house. You don't live here, so you don't just let your damn family crash in my damn den." Nicole stomped her foot.
"I live here, too."
Dumbstruck by his audacity, she curled her hands into fists, causing her nails to bite into her palms. "No, you don't. This is my damn house. You have an apartment downtown and that's where you live and that's where you should've put your cousin. You're so damn egocentric. You never take into consideration anything I want or how I feel. Lately, it's just always been about you and I've just been putting up with it."
"Nikki, it's—" Tyler tried to butt in.
"No, I'm talking. When we started out, it was nothing like this, but, gradually, we began having problems. I expected that. No relationship is without troubles, after all. Truly, I thought we'd be able to work through it, but it doesn't seem like that now. I thought we were worth working on, fighting for, but obviously you don't feel the same way."
Tyler blanched and made a choking sound. "We are worth fighting for. I pull my weight."
She took a step toward him, pointing a powerful, threatening finger at him. "No, you don't and stop interrupting me. The more I back off, the more you push and take advantage. In the end, I just end up more and more exasperated with you. You don't support me, and you never try to help out. Sometimes, I can't stand to look at you. Other times, it comes through that you think of me as a toy or a trophy. You don't respect me. You just pretended you did to get me to go out with you. Now that you have me, you think it's smooth sailings and you don't have to try anymore. You think I should just go along with everything you fucking suggest. I'm not a fucking doormat, and I will not let you walk all over me anymore."
Tyler blinked hard, astounded. "Walk all over you?"
"Yes!" Her voice boomed and she powered on, almost roaring as she spoke. "It's always about you now. When we first started dating, you always asked me where I wanted to go or what I wanted to do, but that never happens anymore. Whenever we go out, it's where you want to go and what you want to do. You never ask me. When was the last time you put me first? When was the last time you put my needs ahead of yours? When was the last time you even did something for me?"
"I just bought you flowers."
"I'm not talking about when you send me millions of flowers at work, which you know I utterly loathe. I mean real romance that you know I'll appreciate. When was the last time you looked at me and saw more than just a pretty piece of ass that can cook and look good on your arm? Now, you might not even think that, but that's how I feel right now. That's how you make me feel." Her chest heaved as her breath came in pants and her neck tensed, giving her a mild headache.
"I detest almost everything we do together now and I don't think you even care. I don't think you care about anything I do. I opened my house to you when your apartment was destroyed in that fire and you took advantage of that. You desecrated my house then and, even though you don't live here, you continue that repulsive behavior. You don't even care about how I keep house. You bring your dirty clothes over here and wait for me to do your damn laundry. You eat my food like a boorish pig, never a word of thanks when I prepare meals for you and leave all of the dishes for me. You don't even bother to take the garbage out when you're here. It would be easier to train a dog to do more than you do around the house." The screaming felt quite good, but underneath it all, Nicole still felt like such an idiot.
Tyler scoffed and turned his nose up, apparently insulted by the very idea of doing chores. "Babe, come on, you're just nitpicking and getting a little hysterical. Calm down a little." He forced out a laugh and stepped out of bed, stretching out his arms to embrace her.
"I'm not. I'm so sick of you and how you never take anything about me seriously. I'm not your personal slave, nor am I your whore, and I damn sure am not your bank." That vein in her neck started to throb and she could only hope that it didn't burst while she was on a roll. A hospital trip would certainly take the spark out her of speech.
"Is this about paying for dinner last night?" he asked, taking a step toward her.
"No!" She threw her hands out to keep him at bay. "And don't come near me, you ass. This is about everything. I pay for everything, even bills on your apartment now. Why is that? You work the same job as I do. So why the hell do I pay for everything? I know you're just putting it all away somewhere, you bastard. And why the hell is there money missing from around my house sometimes?"
Tyler sputtered, "You think I'm stealing from you."
"I think you're borrowing without asking and without intent to pay back, which sounds a lot like stealing to me." The stealing issue was so recent that this was the first time that she brought it up.
"Are you fucking insane? I don't need to take a damn thing from you. I've got my investments and I'm making more money than you can imagine. And you know the family I come from." His face hardened and his eyes tried to match the fervor in hers, but couldn't even come close.
"I don't give a damn. I want you out of my house. I want you out of my life."
"Fuck you, you prudish bitch." he roared, picking up his clothing off of the floor. "You'll regret this shit, Nikki." He pointed at her.
Nicole didn't wait for him to get dressed. She shoved him out of the room and downstairs. He was six inches taller than she was, yet he still sprawled ass-over-head out of the front door. Before he could gather himself and say something, she slammed the door in his face.
"Hey, what about my stuff?" He pounded on her door.
She ignored him and rushed back upstairs, leaving the front door unlocked. He'd be able to get his keys. The door opened after a few seconds and he stormed upstairs. He's probably taking the open door as a sign of hope. Idiot. She could hear him outside of the bedroom door as he tried the knob. The door was locked and he lashed out at it.
"Go the fuck away, Tyler. I'm through with you."
"Goddamn it, we've been together for half a year. We need to work this out, Nikki. Be reasonable."
"And stop calling me that. Only my family can call me that."
"Stop being such a fucking bitch."
"Calling me a bitch isn't helping. Get the hell out of my house before I call the police."
Tyler grumbled that five-letter word again while marching down the stairs and out of the house. A yelp and what sounded like a bike hitting the pavement followed the slamming of the door. Nicole went to her window sighed as she watched his car pull off. He's gone.
Shaking her head, she finished her morning ritual, going on to brush her wavy hair. Her auburn mane fell just past her shoulders to the middle of her back when straight, but it always bounced up a little because of her natural waves. She yawned, smiled, and went to make herself some breakfast. For once, the house was quiet enough for her to hear her footsteps on the black, speckled tiles of the kitchen floor. She made herself up a meal and sat at her nook in the kitchen by the window. She settled against the plush back of the short, black bench on the wall with some pancakes, scrambled eggs, and a couple of slices of bacon. A peaceful sigh escaped her as she proceeded to eat and read her morning paper, until a strange voice called out to her.
"Can I have some?"
Nicole spun around, her heart palpitating seeing a stranger standing in her doorway. She was a scruffy looking girl with caramel skin that had a copper undertone to it, giving her a rich complexion. Her thick, obsidian hair was short, barely falling to her long, elegant neck, and there were traces of blond highlights thinly streaking through it. She was tall, lean with grey eyes and two silver bars in her eyebrow. She could've been from the Middle East or Hispanic or even an Aborigine.
"Who are you?" Nicole demanded.
"Oh, sorry." A laugh echoed throughout the kitchen. "I'm Tyler's cousin."
A light breath could've felled Nicole. Tyler left the house and didn't take his cousin with him? Jackass!