I thought it was a good novel. Even before that day.
We were young, broke, and in love. Mel’s parents hated me. It was a struggle. Not quite a romance but then again not a thriller. But Mel’s wit and charm turned the pages and her beauty sealed the deal. But he was impatient. He wanted more. And so she had no choice but to hear him out.
I’ll never forget her that morning. I’d never seen Mel so nervous. She’d set her sandy brown hair up on her head, and it tickled my cheek as I kissed the arch of her neck and rubbed her shoulders. I’d always loved how her skin felt as it did when her hands found mine. The way she fit into me.
“I’m sure it’s nothing.”
“Nothing for you,” I said, trying for humor and failing.
Mel’s gaze found mine in the mirror. We studied ourselves for a moment before she turned to me. “He wouldn’t…get rid of you. We have to be together, right?”
It was the first time we’d ever broken that wall. Talked about it. But she was going to meet our author, the creator of our world. What was there to say? He’d always been obsessed with Mel.
I took her in, and God, no wonder he was in love with her. She was the muse, and if I’m being honest, he’d gotten carried away. It was cute how her one blemish was a tiny scar on her chin that I loved so much to touch.
So Mel was safe. She wasn’t the problem. It was me, I was fighting to get off the page. Mel knew that, she was fighting for me.
She asked how she looked. I took a step back. Last night we’d smoked a joint on the couch. Mel had looked like such a kid with her feet tucked beneath her, laughing between coughs, gazing at me with those half-stoned hazels. I made jokes, about my childhood. I tried to break out. But Mel kissed me and that was that.
Now, in her wrap dress with full sleeves, she looked anything but childlike. A tight, grayish, honeycomb pattern, the hem riding the wave of her hip down to the knees like it was really enjoying itself. I enjoyed taking it off. Let him wait.
Downstairs, Mel paced, fidgeting with her hands until I cut her off on the coffee. I stood to take a shower and she kissed me full on the lips. Her eyes shining like she knew. But I didn’t. Because up until then I took Mel–and the sun, and every turn of the page for granted.
She wasn’t home that evening. My hands were shaking as I called her phone. A rumble of thunder outside confirmed my suspicions. Mel answered with grotesque giggle.
The slur in that one word was enough to set my heart into gear. “Mel, are you okay?”
“What are you my Dad now?”
“Mel, did you talk to him?”
Click. I turned around and jumped. The kitchen was trashed. Roaches. Bottles. Splotches on the floor. I called her again and the phone went straight to voicemail.
Our bedroom was a single mattress on the floor. Mel’s books, her grandmother’s oval mirror, the mural she’d painted on the wall, everything was gone. Her stash of weed now bags of black gunk. A needle. A tingle scraped up my spine.
The bastard couldn’t take it. He was jealous. Jealous of his own muse. Of us.
I fell into the corner and cried. I moaned and wailed and crumpled in pity. I thought back to all those nights with Mel. I felt her hands on my face. Her leg slung over my waist at night. I heard her moan in my ear and I struggled to get to my feet. My wallowing morphed to wrath. I packed a bag. I punched a wall.
I leaped off the page.
He hadn’t changed her phone number. I logged into ICloud and tracked it downtown to a section of warehouse lofts near the river.
My fists became blocks. I stalked the grounds, feeding off the rage, thankful for my six-foot-three frame as I hunted down the muffled sounds of a party and banged on the door until it nearly fell off the hinges.
My fist slammed into the first kid I saw and an explosion of red hit the walls. The others backed off.
Mel. On the couch. Splayed out with hollowed eyes set deep in bruised sockets. I swallowed down the bile, trembled with rage, that he could do this to her, to get to me, only proved he was desperate.
But that made two of us.
I shoved through the bodies and stomped the little coffee table to the floor. My Mel, in that dress, filthy and torn and riding up her thigh. A homicidal scream ripped out of my gut that sent anyone left in the room packing. Good thing, because I was in the mood to kill.
My fingers traced the marks in her arms. She was a blur in my tears as I scooped her off the couch and lifted her up. She vomited in my chest. She tried to claw my face with jagged fingernails. A line of drool hung from her chin and I stumbled on the way out. Because she was so flimsy, her head lolling back off my arm. She’d lost thirty pounds in a day.
Conflict, huh? Well he was really playing it up with the pen now. The storm outside, the sirens, the fog on the bridge. I shook it off and carried Mel to the car, my head turned upwards as the rain washed us clean.
He stole her from me. Stole the gleam right out of her eyes. And he wasn’t done. But neither was I. He’d have to do better than this if he wanted to stop me.