Disclaimer: this piece contains some scenes of abuse
She didn’t hear him approach.
He pressed his nose into the curve where her neck joined her shoulder and she paused, leaning over her jewelry box in search of her earrings.
“New perfume,” he murmured against her skin, his breath warm against her neck. His arms surrounded her, fingers gripping the counter.
“Yes,” she said with a shiver.
“You don’t like the perfume I bought you?” His hands tightened on the granite counter as his lips slid across the top of her shoulder.
“No, I love it,” she said breathlessly. “This was on sale and I thought…”
Charles’ hands moved up to her shoulders and she looked up, her eyes meeting his in the mirror. She could feel his fingers digging into her skin through her dress.
“I’ll take it off, just let me get a wash cloth,” she tried to stand from the stool at the vanity but his hands kept her from rising.
“No. We’ll be late.”
She found the earrings and carefully put them on. She leaned towards the mirror to apply her lipstick. Not too much; he always noticed when she wore too much. She smoothed her dress and looked in the mirror. It clung tightly to her size 4 frame. The sleeves covered her arms. She adjusted her new Rolex, bringing her wrist to her nose. She could barely make out the floral scent. She slipped into her shoes and hurried out of the room. He was in the study when he heard the hurried click of her heels across the wood floors. She paused in the doorway, silhouetted.
It was dark and she heard the clink as he set down his empty glass. She could smell scotch; the faint light from the hallway glinted off a crystal decanter. A wedding gift. He picked up his jacket from the back of the chair and pulled it over his broad shoulders. He stood silently as she reached up to adjust his bow tie, breathing in the scent of scotch and his cologne. His hands came up to grasp her shoulders and his fingers slid along her arms they came to her elbows. She kept her eyes on his tie. His fingers tightened and she could feel the pressure of his thumbs against the thin flesh of her inner arms.
“This is an important night. You know that.”
“Yes, I’m so proud of you, baby.”
“Don’t embarrass me, now.”
“No. No, I won’t.” She said.
He waited until she looked up at him before her released her arms. He smiled and kissed her forehead.
“No. You won’t.”
The clink of silver cutlery stilled as the chairman coughed into the microphone. He droned on about leadership, loyalty. and hard work. When he announced the award, Charles stood; she rose and kissed his cheek, careful not to leave a mark. She watched him shake hands and accept pats on the back with an easy smile. She watched the other women’s eyes rake him. He took the flight of steps in three short bounds. He shook the chairman’s hand, flashing his perfect teeth.
She kept her eyes on him for the entire ten minutes, in case he looked her way. He never did. She jumped as a hand touched her shoulder. She turned to the woman, the wife of one of her husband’s colleagues.
“He’s a wonderful speaker, Virginia,” the older woman said. “You must be very proud.”
She smiled and nodded as the loud burst of applause indicated the end of his speech. He returned to the chair at her side.
The ride home was silent. Upstairs. she slipped quickly out of her heels, feeling the ache in her legs. She stretched her arms behind her head to undo her dress and let it slide to the floor. The thick carpet in the bedroom muffled his footsteps.
“What is this?” his voice made her jump.
She turned, hands clasped to her chest in surprise and took a step back.
His eyes took in the black lace lingerie she wore and his scowl deepened. His eyes were dark, his lips twisted. She looked at what he held: a black velvet box with a silver ribbon. She had forgotten it.
“It’s for you,” the words came out a whisper. She tried to still her quaking knees; her dress tangled around her bare feet.
“Open it.” He threw the box to her.
She fumbled to catch it. With shaking hands she pulled the ribbon free. She opened the box and turned it towards him. It was a pocket watch, over fifty years old, made of heavy silver. In the deafening silence she could hear it tick. He picked it up and opened it.
“All my love, Virginia,” he read aloud.
He looked up at her and smiled suddenly.
“Who is this for?” he threw the box and it hit the closet door with a thump. The watch was gripped tightly in his hand.
“For you,” she gasped. “I wanted to do something special.”
“Something special,” he mimicked. “I saw all those men staring at you. What were you thinking wearing a dress like that around people I work with?”
“I thought you liked this dress, I’m sorry. I won’t wear it again, Charles,” the words tumbled from her numb lips.
She smelled the cloying scent of scotch on his breath and saw the blurred eyes. The hand holding the watch lifted and collided with her cheek. She felt her feet leave the ground before the mirror stopped her flight. The cracks rippled outward from where her head made impact, strands of hair clinging, broken shards of glass tinkling on the counter. She slid to the ground; glass bit into her legs. Warm blood ran down her bare back and chest. She looked up. He never hit her in the face. She heard glass crunch beneath his feet as he took a step forward. The watch dropped to the tile. The crystal face fractured but the hands continued to tick.