The drive was beautiful and once they got to the coast they headed south. The little hotel was on a high bluff overlooking the ocean. David had gotten a kitchenette suite, with view of the ocean, a fire place and a huge master bedroom with a big Jacuzzi bathtub in the bathroom. There was a window by the tub so you could soak and look out over the sea.
To Monica’s surprise he insisted on carrying her in over the threshold again. When she looked at him in surprise, he smiled and muttered something about how little she was and easy to pick up.
They went to a little grocery store and picked up some things to cook for dinners. Monica warned, “I am not much of a cook. Mostly cold cereal, canned food and frozen dinners.”
David laughed, “Didn’t Junie teach you anything?”
“She taught me how to bake bread. But to tell you the truth, Junie doesn’t let other people do much in her kitchen. She just likes you to watch and eat. And they ate so much organic, um… vegetable type stuff.” Monica wrinkled her nose up a little, “I mean I like salads but they ate squash and eggplant type stuff.”
David laughed, “Well, I will do the cooking and I tend toward pretty simple stuff. I usually make beans and tortillas with almost everything I cook. Do you like spicy food?”
Monica blinked and shook her head. “Not much. I like Mexican food, but not if it is too hot.”
“Okay, I will bring down the heat a few notches then. One thing you will need to learn how to cook is grits. I can’t bring a girl home to meet the family that can’t cook grits. They will think I have totally lost my mind.”
“What are grits?”
“Oh good lord, girl, you have a lot to learn!” But his words were accompanied with a big grin and a hug. “I did not marry you for your cooking. But let’s not worry about cooking today. Let’s plan on eating out tonight and then we can start playing house tomorrow morning. I will give you your first lesson in cooking grits in the morning.”
They put their groceries away and even though there was a light rain falling Monica begged to go down to the beach. They worked their way down a long steep series of switch backing stairs to a rocky beach. The sky was low and a steady wind blew a fine misty rain against their faces. They walked huddled closely together as they walked, David’s arm wrapped possessively around her shoulders and her arm tight around his waist. The ocean waves crashed and roared, making conversation difficult and they found themselves communicating with gestures, touches and looks more than words.
Monica was damp and shivering when they got back to their hotel room and she hung her wet coat up to dry and bent over to take off her shoes. She pushed her wet hair back out of her face and her voice quaked with her shaking, “I guess it was a little silly to go down and get soaked first thing.”
David’s hands on her were warm and strong as he propelled her into the bathroom. “There is no avoiding getting wet in this part of the world. Take a warm bath.” He started the bath filling. Monica nervously raised her hands to buttons on her blouse and then turned her back on him as she slipped it from her shoulders. She looked up saw his reflection in the mirror. He was looking down at her, frozen for a second and then to her surprise, she saw him blush and look away.
Somehow his reticence emboldened her and she turned to face him, standing in her wet jeans and a small white brassiere. She looked down at her body, frowning a little, she had gained a little weight but she was still painfully thin and the scars running up her belly and chest seemed to pull at her eyes. Long white lines tracing vertical paths that ran up her body, over her breasts, some reaching up as high as her throat, the tracks of the knife were a permanent reminder of assault. She knew that the scars continued lower, running down her legs. All the scars converged on her sex. The man who had assaulted her, she hardly ever thought his name out loud in her head, had not ever had sex with her, instead using his knife as some kind of surrogate penis to rape her. It had taken almost a year of surgeries and recovery to find some semblance of normalcy.
Monica shuddered and shook her head trying to clear away the memories that were making her feel cold and numb again. Wordlessly she held out her hands to David, pleading with her eyes to be held, for his touch to push these images from her head but he seemed frozen and then mumbled something about giving her some privacy, and backed out of the bathroom.
Mechanically, Monica poured some foaming bath oil into the bathtub and stripped off the rest of the way and carefully not looking at her body, climbed in, grateful for the bubbles that hid her scars from her own eyes.
She carefully wrapped a towel around her body when she went to change into dry clothes but David was not in the bedroom. He was sitting in the living room working on his laptop computer, when she came out. He looked up and smiled, “All warm?”
Monica nodded and tried to meet his smile but somehow the lightness that had started their day had evaporated and once more she found her lips quivering as they tried to hold the smile. She turned and looked out the big window at the rain and gray ocean waves, letting the smile falter and fade as she hid her face from him, “What are you working on?”
“Just a couple of things, checking my email and getting started on one of those reports that I need to file to wrap up this whole case and put it to bed.” His voice was distracted.
“Don’t let me bother you. I will go watch TV in the bedroom.” Somehow Monica felt like hiding, there was a growing sense of loss and failure as she could not recapture the giddy silly mood that had set the tone for the first part of the day. She curled up on the big king sized bed and turned on the television, searching around until she found an old Perry Mason rerun and let her mind go numb.
She was startled when she felt him shaking her awake. His hand was on her ankle and she jerked and screamed, fighting for a second until he released her and then scrambling away from him. She huddled there for a second, shuddering and gasping, blinking at him like she didn’t quite recognize him. David had stepped back and was speaking softly but for some reason she could not quite hear his words, somehow they were just the same as the muffled comments and questions that the man had spoken as he had hurt her.
Then she forced herself to wake up, consciously pushing away the flashback like she had learned to do so many months ago. She forced herself to take one deep slow breath and then another, looking around the room, and then stopping and drinking in David standing there looking concerned and trying to reassure her. Finally she could hear his words, his soft southern drawl, and she held out her hands to him. Her voice still vibrated with the echoes of the terror that rebounded around inside her, “Hold me. I need to feel your arms around me.”
David nodded and carefully sat on the edge of the bed and gathered her into his arms. Monica wrapped her arms around him and held tightly until all the shudders of fear finally went away. She swallowed and forced her voice to sound light and cheerful, “Next time don’t grab my foot like that. It was too much like the way the rope felt.”
“Are you okay?”
“I will be. I haven’t had a flash back like that in a while.”
His voice was soft, “I’m sorry. I just wanted to wake you up so we could go to dinner.”
“It’s okay.” She wiped the last of the tears from her face. “What time is it?”
“Oh my, I bet you are starved.”
“I had a beer. It took some of the edge off. But I am hungry.”
Monica extricated herself from his embrace and scooted off the bed and hurried into the bathroom. She quickly peed and pulled a hairbrush through her hair. Her hair had dried while she slept and stubbornly refused to lay flat and she kept running water on the brush trying to tame it and make it lay down. Finally she made an exasperated sound and went out to pull on her dry pair of shoes. She tried to joke, “I slept on my hair and I can’t do a thing with it.”
David’s voice was soft and gentle, “You look fine. There is a little sea food restaurant not far back on the road. It looked pretty informal.”
Monica nervously ran her hand over her damp hair, feeling it trembling a little, and fought the impulse to beg not to go. She shrugged, telling herself that her nerves were just a side product of the flashback. It always had taken the adrenaline a while to fade completely away. She still was a little disoriented from taking such a long nap and then waking so abruptly. She pulled on her still damp jacket and shivered when the cold fabric touched her hand. As they walked to the Cadillac, the wind was howling and she could hear the crash of the surf far below. It had stopped raining and she could see the crescent moon peek briefly through a tear in the clouds but it was gone before she could point it out to David.
There weren’t a lot of people in the restaurant and David asked for a table close to the fire place rather than the windows. Monica ordered a shrimp cocktail and a bowl of clam chowder and David got a bowl of Cioppino, with a side order of fried oysters. He asked for a bottle of hot sauce and seemed pleased that they had a variety to choose from. When he ordered a beer, on impulse Monica ordered a glass of Chardonnay. The waitress looked at her skeptically and asked for ID. Monica blushed and dug out her old driver’s license. David was looking bemused and when she shot him an embarrassed look, he chuckled, “Oh they are so going to call me a cradle robber aren’t they? My wife gets carded when she orders wine.”
Monica grumbled, “It happens all the time.”
The waitress served David’s oysters when she brought Monica’s shrimp cocktail. He offered her one to try but Monica took one bite and made a face at the texture. She forced herself to swallow the one bite and discretely put the uneaten portion back on his plate. David picked up the half eaten oyster and shook some hot sauce onto it and popped it into his mouth. “Didn’t like it?”
“Not really. It was kind of mushy inside.”
“They taste good though.”
“Then why do you drown them in hot sauce?”
David grinned and spoke with a full mouth, “You got me there.”
Monica’s clam chowder was good and she watched in amusement as David added a generous amount of hot sauce to his Cioppino. The restaurant kept their bread basket filled with hot crusty French bread and Monica used it to dip up her soup. She sipped her wine and found that she could feel the effects of the alcohol easing some of her tension.
After dinner David asked cautiously, “Do you very often have flash backs?”
Monica paused and shook her head. “No, that was the first one in a couple of months. I used to get them all the time. It seemed like little things would trigger them, a sound or a smell, the pain from my surgeries, being restrained, the smell of blood, or having blankets over my face.” She swallowed the last sip of wine from her glass and looked into it. “My therapist taught me how to breathe and look around at where I was really, to force myself to realize that my mind was playing tricks on me. It still takes a while to get my body to calm down after my mind realizes everything is okay.” She shrugged and looked up at him apologetically, “I’m sorry I screamed at you.”
“That did sort of take me off guard.”
“It was nice to have you hold me while my body calmed down.” She looked up warningly, “But don’t touch me until I ask for it. If I am still in it, it would just make it worse. First my head has to wake up. One time my Mom decided to try and shake me and it was horrible.”
“What does help?”
“Talking doesn’t help, for some reason I can’t hear then, but make sure that the lights are on. I use my eyes more than the rest of my senses. For some reason, it’s all hearing, sensation, and smell. It’s looking around at where I really am and who you really are that is the biggest help.”
David watched her toying with her empty wine glass, “Do you want another glass of wine, or maybe something else to drink?”
“No thank you. I am not much of a drinker. It doesn’t take much to make me a little tipsy.”
David grinned and arched an eyebrow, “Really, Pretty Girl?”
“It isn’t pretty; I throw up and fall asleep.”
David chuckled, “I always think you are pretty.”
Monica found herself tensing, rejecting his words, “Then why won’t you look at me?”
David’s eyes looked puzzled and he blinked at her change of tone, “Pretty Girl, I don’t know what you mean. I always like looking at you.”
Monica’s words were soft but her lips were stiff, she looked down at her hands, “Today in the bathroom, you wouldn’t. You were looking at my back and then I turned around and you saw the scars and… and…” She couldn’t finish the sentence.
David looked around the quiet little restaurant and stood up abruptly, “This is not the place to talk about this. Let’s go home.”
She let him help her put her coat on but her body was tense and rigid when he put his arm around her. She did not speak as they drove home. At the hotel David turned on the gas fireplace and then sat on the couch and patted the seat beside him, “Okay, come sit. I deserve a chance to defend myself.”
When she sat looking into the flames, she felt his hands on her shoulders, turning her gently to face him, “Ready to listen?” She nodded and nervously pushed her hair out of her eyes. David gently took her hand in his and then touched her hair himself, idly playing with the fine blond strands. “Pretty girl, you were right I did look away. I ran away like a coward. But I did not see any scars. I was looking at your breasts and thinking about the rest of you. You were looking very good to me, all wet and then you turned around with that look in your eye. I started to feel very much like rushing, a very base part of me wanted to stop being gentle.”
Monica froze and looked at him with startled eyes. “I didn’t realize.”
“Monica, Pretty Girl, when I get those feelings, they make me angry at myself. It is kind of confusing. I want you.” His voice almost broke, “God knows, I want you. But it is a very primitive feeling and I get to thinking I am not much better than the men I have pursued all my life. I start to feel like I could so easily become an animal just like them. A better man would be able to control himself.”
Monica reached up and touched his lips, stilling his words. “David, I know I don’t know much, but I do know you are not like them. You are a good man. There is nothing wrong with your wanting me.” She fought down the urge to giggle, “In fact, I really like to hear that you want me. It helps me feel a lot better. Sometimes when I look at myself all I can see is the scars; the fact you did not even see them is wonderful. I look at my body and all I see is the jigsaw puzzle girl.” She started to gently trace the edge of his lip with her finger, feeling the rough stubble of his whiskers. “And sometimes I feel the animal inside myself as well. It is not bad. It is part of all of us.”
“I am so afraid of hurting you, scaring you.”
“If I get scared, it won’t be you. Today when you woke me up, it wasn’t you. It was just old memories. My therapist said it is my brain's way of trying to figure it out, resolve it. She said a lot happened that I could not deal with then, and it will take a long time for me to sort it all out. And if something hurts I will tell you and we will figure out what to do about it. My doctor seems pretty confident that he has me put together right. He said just go slow and gentle at first.”
Slowly Monica crept into his lap and put her arms around his neck and whispered, “Perhaps you could practice remembering kisses.” She gently pressed her lips to his.
To Monica’s frustration, it seemed like her spirit was willing but her body was not going along for the ride. Her heart did not race, her body felt increasingly wooden and stiff instead of melting gently against his. She found herself analytically analyzing the physical sensations, the way his whiskers scraped against her cheeks, the sound of his breath as it whistled through his nostrils, the flavor of his saliva in her mouth. There was a growing sense of tension, almost claustrophobic and eventually she pulled away with a soft little angry sigh.
His voice was husky, “What is the matter?”
“I don’t know. It just doesn’t feel right.” She could see the disappointment in his eyes, “I’m sorry.”
“Don’t be sorry, Pretty Girl.” He stroked her hair out of her face. “The kisses were nice.”
“I guess I was expecting more, trying to make it happen.”
“Are you sleepy?”
“Let’s crawl into bed and see what is on the television.”
Once they were in the bedroom David looked a little uncertain and then asked, “I think I will take a shower, unless you want to change in the bathroom first?”
Monica shrugged and bit her lip a little nervously, all her boldness gone, “You go ahead.”
After he disappeared behind the closed door she got into her bag and picked up the new lavender silky nightgown. She held it up and then shyly put it back into her bag, getting out the long sleeved, knee-length white cotton one she had worn the night before and pulled it on over one of her new cotton bikini panties. David seemed to take a long time in the shower and she found a channel that was playing back to back M.A.S.H. reruns. She looked up when he came out of the bathroom wearing boxers and a white cotton undershirt.
Monica held up the remote control, “I couldn’t find much to watch. What kind of stuff do you like?”
David slid under the covers and she inhaled the smell of aftershave and soap. “This is fine. I watch news, history, or science programs. I like true crime shows but hate fiction stuff, like CSI or other cop shows.”
Monica shuddered, “I can’t watch CSI shows, too much blood.” She pointed at the television, “M.A.S.H. is almost too gory sometimes.”
“I just get frustrated with how unrealistic they are.”
Monica nodded, “I can’t watch anything too scary. I never could.” She made a funny face, “Even the flying monkeys in the Wizard of Oz scared me when I was little.”