Lily sat at her workstation and blinked her eyes rapidly. Tiredness enveloped her like a thick blanket and made her head heavy on her slim neck. She stared at the screen before her not seeing the display, rather gazing, unfocused in the general direction. The buzz of the office around her sounded as though it were travelling away down a long tunnel, farther and farther and her eyes closed, just for a second. She jumped to a start, and looked around at her colleagues, some deep in concentration and others chatting around the photocopier. Someone bellowed with laughter at a hushed conversation, startling Lily and snapping her back to the present. She glanced at the clock, 14.21. That leaves, Lily challenged herself to perform the calculation in her head, 39 minutes and 2 hours before home time. The thought turned her stomach. Just over 2 and a half hours to go until she bid good evening to all her work colleagues and headed out of the door. Everyone buzzing and keen to shut down their computers, grab their belongings and hurry to the car park. Not wanting to be drawn into chatter, willing the phone to remain silent. Looking forward to rushing home to their families. Lily looked around the room, there was Lee. Recently married to his childhood sweetheart and first baby on the way. She imagined how his evening would unfold, rushing home to his wife to be greeted with kisses and cuddles and a cool beer from the fridge. Dinner is probably already cooking, pie and mash with steamed veg and meaty gravy. After dinner they would tidy the kitchen together, laughter and stolen kisses, before retiring to the sofa to watch some gritty American detective series while he fusses her swollen belly. Over by the office door, Lucy stood chatting with Amelia. Young girls, late teens. Lily imagined they were discussing their plans for the weekend, where they would go out, what they would wear, the benefits of gel vs acrylic nails. They would each have new dresses and painful shoes. They would drink excessively in a mission to ensure they were ‘having fun’. Selfies and photos of cocktails would be taken and shared on social media to prove so to friends and acquaintances. Lily dared to glance at the clock on her computer again. 14.34. She had spent 13 minutes people watching and now had 26 minutes and 2 hours before home time. She looked at her own nails, short and sensible with a clear polish. Her hands were looking dry. She examined the creases and wondered whether her hands were looking old. She grabbed the Baylis & Harding Sweet Mandarin hand cream and squeezed a generous dollop into her hands. She rubbed them together quickly realising that there was too much and she would need to remove some with a paper towel. She continued to rub ensuring that every finger was smothered and the fronts and backs of her hands. She had visions of the phone ringing and it slipping from her grip and launching across the desk. Thankfully the phone did not ring and she was able to moisturise satisfactorily, removing the excess with a subway napkin she found in her draw. She glanced at the clock. 14.41. She decided that she would go and make herself a coffee at 15.30, that would probably take 5 minutes and then she could sip that slowly which might take her up to 15.45 leaving only 1 hour 15 mins until home time. She glanced across at Abdul. He was tapping away on his keyboard, a deep concentration etched across his face. He was scarred with acne and he wore thin metal glasses with thick glass lenses. Occasionally he scrunched up his nose causing the glasses to slip down a little and would then remove one hand from the assault on the keyboard to push them back up. He was deeply involved in his work and oblivious to all and everyone around him. Lily envied his situation. Absorbed and focused with no thought of anything other than the task at hand. It’s not that Lily did not have any work to do. She had plenty of chasing phone calls to make and emails to send. She felt an exhaustion that weighed heavy on her and she had no motivation or energy to do anything useful. She rubbed her eyes with the palms of her hands and was careful not to leave her head in her hands for too long in case the tiredness stole the opportunity to close her eyes again. She looked at the clock 14.52. Home time was creeping ever closer and then the entire office would shut down computers and tuck away their chairs en masse. She gave a huge yawn like a cat, and stretched her arms above her head almost taking out James and his cup of green tea. A muttered apology later, she decided she would have that coffee now. As the afternoon progressed, Lily started to feel her stomach turning over. The clock steadily and unforgivingly ticking closer to 5pm. Like a countdown, to most, for freedom and snatched hours of family time where printing issues and photocopier jams are quickly forgotten and banished until the morning. Lily contemplated what she would like to do when she got home… a nice cold glass of pinot in a hot, bubbly bath scented with some sickly sweet bath bomb. A good book to lose herself in, what bliss. If only she were free to fulfil these little fantasies, but is far from it. HE will be there. Dictating her movements, watching, judging and quite possibly punishing. With every second that ticked by on the clock, she was a second closer to leaving the monotonous but safe environment of her office and beginning the heavy-hearted cycle ride home. Lily had not always been mousey and nervous, she was once a vivacious, bubbly girl with a large circle of friends and a larger group of admirers. She knew that she was attractive and, although not a fan of ‘duck face’ selfies, always had an impressive number of likes and compliments on her profile pictures. She rarely went on social media now. Weary of being force fed posts of happy couples and regular updates on some child’s early years development. Each smiling, happy face that appeared on her wall served as a reminder of the life she had come to accept she would never have. Always on the outside looking in, the faces mocked her in their smugness. They flaunted normality and happiness and everything that would never be hers. No, she didn’t hurt herself by partaking in social media any more, it’s too much like self-harm. As she drained the last of the sweet warm coffee from her mug, she checked the time again. 15.36. In just 24 minutes she would be in the last hour. She pressed send and receive on her emails and found a circular from head office reminding that the online health and safety training had to be completed by the end of the week. This would take approximately an hour, and then it would be almost home time. She should do it, she definitely should do it now and get it out of the way. Her mouse cursor hovered over the link in the email but she didn’t click it. She did not want to be busy and lose the next hour to trip hazards and the correct way to lift heavy objects. She wanted this time to drag. She did not want to go home. Inevitably, the clock reached 16.58 and everybody (with the exception of Abdul) began shutting down their computers and wriggling into jackets. People left in small groups, chatting animatedly and bidding each other good night. Abdul continued tapping away and Lily wondered if he realised the time. She decided to leave him be and made her way slowly out of the office and towards the bike sheds. Fumbling with the irritatingly small key, she managed to unlock her bike and set her handbag in the front basket. As she manoeuvred it out of the bicycle stand, the pedal knocked into her already bruised shin and she sucked air through her teeth as the pain bit her and reminded her of the injury. John from the office had appeared from nowhere and asked ‘Are you ok Lily’ with a look of genuine concern. ‘Oh yes, just caught my leg’ she smiled as naturally as she could force and inwardly cringed as he said ‘ok, well have a good evening’. Rather than scoff as she wanted to, she smiled again and said ‘thank you, and you’ and then stood and watched as he gracefully mounted his bike with a swift, almost ballet-esque movement and sped off. Lily was glad that people in the office didn’t know about her home situation. She couldn’t stand the kindness and words of advice on how to break away. She didn’t want people’s sympathy or judgement and she didn’t want them gossiping about her. Thankfully the bruises, scratches and marks had either been on her legs or torso, or easily covered with a thick concealer. She had become an expert at this and she firmly believed that no one else knew of what went on at home. He had once ripped a handful of hair from her scalp, and she began to wear her hair in a high pony tail to cover the bald patch. It had stuck as she found it was much easier than trying to brush out the knots and then deal with the frizz. Of course he used this pony tail as a weapon, wrapping it around his large hand and yanking her head backwards, but it saved losing a large clump now and again. How had it come to this? At what point did she take a wrong turn and find herself on the path to misery with no way back? She thought about the film ‘Sliding Doors’ where the characters story splits into two depending on whether she caught or missed a train and she tried to pinpoint her own ‘train’ moment. Was she always destined for this life or did she make a decision at some time that brought this upon her? With a feeling of sadness, Lily realised that she had arrived home. She looked up at the modest, 2 bedroomed mid terrace and nausea rose as the curtain in the downstairs window twitched. He was here. She closed her eyes, took a deep breath in and then unlocked the front door, wheeling her bike into the hallway. She glanced one more time at the safety of the outside, before pushing the door shut with her foot. *************************************************************** The house was eerily still and quiet. Where was he? She strained to listen for his breathing but all she could hear was her heart pounding in her ears. What was he up to? Was he hiding, ready to jump out and attack? Was he sulking? She didn’t think she was late home…. What had she done to upset him now? Resigned to the fact that she would find out soon enough, she decided to head for the kitchen and heat a microwave pasta dish for her tea. As she moved gingerly down the hall towards the kitchen diner, her heart almost burst from her chest when she saw him sitting at the table with his back to her. He didn’t turn round, although she was sure he knew she was there. She didn’t hang around for him to acknowledge her. She turned and practically levitated up the stairs to her bedroom where she shut and bolted the door. Her stomach roared in protest at the promise of food, she clutched at it, trying to quieten it in case he heard. Wringing her hands, she edged over to her wardrobe and climbed inside, curling up on the hard wooden base that had become her safe place. She closed the doors and hugged her knees to her chest, all the time listening for his heavy footsteps coming up the stairs. Silence. Maybe he’d left? She hadn’t heard anything. She decided to stay put for what seemed like hours but was probably 30 minutes. Nothing. Her backside ached and she made a mental note to put a cushion in here. She longed to stretch out her legs and click her neck. ‘This is ridiculous’ she thought. ‘This is my house, and I need to eat something’. She creaked the wardrobe door open a slither and peered into the bedroom. There was no one there, she crawled out on all fours and over to the door where she put her ear against the wood and listened. Nothing. Where IS he? She screwed her eyes up as though this would improve her listening skills… CRASH…. she dived across the bedroom and leapt on her bed. The noise had come from the kitchen. She wondered what damage would be done, she’d already replaced numerous chairs, plates, glasses. This crash had sounded like glass… hitting a wall with force. She held her breath, not daring to make a sound, eyes wide open in case he heard her blink. She eventually curled up into a foetal position and the exhaustion that had flirted with her all day, took her finally. She drifted into a fitful sleep, cold and shivering on top of the duvet. The soft cool touch of large hands on Lily’s shoulders rouses her gently from an already disturbed yet deep sleep.. ‘Mmmm, s’ okay, only a dream’ She sleepily reminds herself. Sinking back into the pillow and adjusting her position, her breathing soon falls back into a relaxed and quiet rhythm and sleep embraces her once more. Stroking, exploring the contours of her warm sleeping body… Softly caressing her thigh, gliding slowly under her clothes, a moan of pleasure escapes her lips as her body responds, her legs part as she offers herself writhing in ecstasy, heart beating faster, skin alive at the touch of the hands… Hands that are exploring, hands that touch her… There… Hands .. Mmmm… HANDS!!!! Awareness claws its way to the surface. Eyes spring open, fear like lead in her stomach, it’s so dark… ‘Don’t move and he will leave you alone’ her terrified mind advises. Frantically trying to make sense of the moment, eyes searching, body rigid she whispers ‘Please … please stop’ her face grimaces at the sound of her voice and the immediate cease of moving hands… Deadly, horrifying silence.. Heavy weight forces her down into the mattress, the bed pops and creaks under the pressure, hot breath growls into her ear … ‘NEVERRRR’!!! She awoke abruptly, her heart hammering in her chest and feeling sick to her stomach. It was dark, the house was once again silent and she had no concept of what time it was. She furtively assessed the room looking down over the undulations of the bedding to the end of the bed. Is he here or was it a nightmare? Her eyes strained to search the corners of the room, a soft light from the street provided enough to acknowledge that she was thankfully alone. Slowly she adjusted her clothes which seemed to have twisted and lifted with a life of their own, when a burning sensation on her stomach screamed its existence. Lifting her top with shaking hands she caught sight of her slight figure in the dressing table mirror, the fresh angry welts on her soft white skin forced her to acknowledge that yes, he had been here. Lily pulled her top down to cover the new evidence of his abuse, tears sprung from her eyes and slid down her cheeks in fat drops that she angrily swiped away. Shame and humiliation flooded her soul. Her body bore many scars and bruises, a collection of marks that she had hidden and excused for a long time. How long has it been? Months? A year?? A small whimper escaped her lips which she cut short by clamping her mouth tight shut, her heart fluttered like a bird trying to escape the confines of its cage. Knowing that she would not report nor tell a soul of this latest attack, she took a deep breath and closed her eyes, counted to five and exhaled. A deep heavy sigh which expelled the panic and fear that threatened to overwhelm her. Breathing in again she gathered her strength with the mantra.. ‘I am strong’… exhale… ‘I am protected’ and in once more ‘I am strong’ and out… ‘I am protected’. Lily opened her eyes and with a new resolve and a mental shield up, she made her way over to the bedroom door. She took her mobile phone from her jacket pocket and squinted as the brightness of the screen assaulted her eyes. It was 1.28 am. Her stomach ached with hunger and her thoughts turned once again to the tomatoey pasta dish waiting in the fridge downstairs. Sore and aching she pressed her ear to the door and listened. Silence. She slid the bolt and opened the door a fraction. Still silence and blackness. She had always been afraid of the dark, however the light allowed her to see all of her nightmares vividly. She decided to use her phone as a light source and stepped out on to the landing. Pointing her screen towards the stairs she strained to see any sign of movement or him. There was nothing. Her stomach growled like an angry dog and she again clutched at it to silence it. Edging towards the top of the stairs, she moved steadily. Her socked feet making no noise on the carpet and breathing shallowly so he wouldn’t hear. She stepped onto the top stair and twisted to shine her phone into the hallway below, her bike was as she left it, handbag still in basket, otherwise the hall was empty. She could see a light source emanating from the kitchen… what was that? It wasn’t bright enough to be the spotlights. She crept down the stairs, deliberately stepping on the edges where they wouldn’t creak. She rounded the corner into the hall and faced the kitchen. She could see from here that the fridge door was wide open and the light from the fridge gave the room an eerie glow. Listening constantly, she made her way towards the kitchen and found it empty. He had left. Relief flooded her body making her almost giddy and allowing her to realise she had held her breath all the way downstairs. She flicked on the kitchen spotlights and the room suddenly became warm and inviting. She mentally acknowledged the broken glass on the floor, but decided to get the food cooking first. Reaching into the fridge, she grabbed the pasta dish and some grated cheese. She felt suddenly afraid, she had watched films and knew that the baddy would be behind the fridge door when she closed it. Pondering what to do, she realised that she had no choice, sighed deeply and swung the door shut. He wasn’t there. With the food turning in the microwave, she went back out to the hall to fetch a dust pan and brush from the cupboard. It was then she noticed that the post man had been and there were two envelopes protruding from the letterbox. She padded over and snatched them out, noticing that one was from the energy company and the other from a cable TV company offering her an amazing deal on broadband. She tossed the latter onto the console table and opened the energy bill. As she paid by direct debit it was a courtesy bill really, as long as her payments didn’t go up, she didn’t care for the meter readings. BEEP BEEP BEEP. The microwave proudly declared the completion of its task and her stomach roared once more. She made her way back towards the kitchen still looking for her monthly payment amount. As she entered the kitchen…. BEEP BEEP BEEP… the microwave was getting frustrated its efforts were not appreciated and she glanced up at the sound. The bright light of the kitchen and the blackness of outside caused a mirror effect on the windows and, again, knowing how it goes in the films, she expected to see his reflection behind hers. She averted her eyes away from the window immediately, dropped the letter, grabbed a fork from the draining board and her food from the microwave. Not even hesitating to get a plate, she dashed upstairs and locked herself in her room before peeling back the film and tucking in. The rest of the night passed uneventfully, although Lily stayed in the relative safety of her room. She was lucky enough to have an en suite, so rarely used the main bathroom, leaving it for him to frequent. After an average night’s sleep, she was roused by the alarm on her mobile, showered, dressed and scraped her hair into a pony tail. Leaving it dangerously late to make the 10 minute bike journey to the office, she slid the bolt on the door and stepped into the hallway. The door to the second bedroom remained shut and there was no sign of movement behind it or anywhere else in the house. She turned and trotted down the stairs, no time for breakfast, grabbed her bike and opened the front door, allowing the brisk morning air to flood into the hallway. Upon manoeuvring the bike out backwards, she gently closed the front door so as not to rouse him and inelegantly climbed onto her cycle, wincing as the new injuries reminded her of their presence. As she made her way down the street of houses identical to hers, she pondered what her neighbours were like. She’d lived here for almost a year now and not met any of them. She wondered whether they heard the commotion once he got into a rage. They must have done. They must have heard her cries and things being broken. They clearly decided to ‘mind their own business’ and Lily was grateful for that. This was her life, her situation, she didn’t want outsiders involved and she hoped dearly that if she continued to avoid and ignore him, he would get the message and leave. She thought back to the swish apartment she had moved from, closer to the office, shiny, sleek and built on a grave site. She had decided to move away from there in the hopes of breaking free from him. She did not let him know she was making steps to move, she hoped to slip away and leave him behind, but he had found her at the new place, and once he turned up, she couldn’t not let him in. Just before she turned the corner she glanced back at her small home, the figure stood in the bedroom window glaring, anger and misery seeping from him to stain the atmosphere with negativity. He hated her, she knew this… yet he would never let her go. With a heavy heart and the fresh marks on her body throbbing at the sight of him, she turned the corner and made her way to work. Her sanctuary.
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