Your engagement ring is gone.
All that remains is a little white band from its imprint. You never remove it. You’ve been showing it off as much as you could. To your family, friends, coworkers. You even blabbed to a grocery cashier who commented on the diamond.
The ring itself was small, but the diamonds were arranged to resemble a dahlia, your favorite.
You showed it last to the bartender.
Now you lie in a bed that’s not your own in a strange room. It’s so plush and massive that you feel as if you’re sinking into it. Fluffed, silk pillows surround you. A netted canopy hangs above you, tied back with a pink ribbon. It’s the same pink as the luxury comforter. The rose-tinted room is giving you a headache. You feel a bump on the back of your scalp. Your head throbs when you touch it.
You want to sink back into the pillows and sleep until you awake in your apartment, but you force yourself up. Your toes delve into pink, shag carpet and you look down to see your jeans and blazer have been replaced with a long, cream nightgown—nothing like your usual sweats and oversized shirts you crash in after work.
Swallowing a lump in your throat, you shove the thoughts to the back of your mind as you explore the room.
What catches your eye first is the enormous wardrobe. Its doors are cracked open, revealing an array of dresses and shoes that wouldn’t look out of place on Barbara Billingsley in an episode of Leave it to Beaver. One touch of the material and you know it’s finer than anything you’ve ever worn, silks, satins, and even a cashmere sweater.
You wander to one of the two doors in the area. It leads to a bathroom resembling a Hollywood starlet’s dressing space. The lights around the mirror shine upon lipsticks, eyeshadows, and creams laid out in order of size.
Abandoning the bathroom, you head for the second door. This one is locked. It refuses to budge no matter how hard you shake. A chain jingles from the other side through your futile struggle.
Shuddering, you step back. You look around the room again and realize there are no windows.
Your stomach drops. The room seems to spin as you fall back on the bed. The pillows beckon you to sleep but you fight the urge.
Your headache is getting worse.
You close your eyes and think back.
You went to your favorite bar after a particularly long work day. A few coworkers were supposed to meet you, but you had arrived early. You ordered your usual from the bartender after showing him your new ring.
You were early. You had a drink. You don’t know what came next. You wake up in a strange room.
The throbbing in your head is almost unbearable. You nearly give up and go back to sleep before you hear heavy footsteps from the other side of the door. You hold your breath as the chain clangs.
The doorknob turns and reveals a tall, well-dressed gentleman. His dark hair is slicked back in a style no one wears anymore. His dress shirt and slacks are perfectly tailored, but you can still spot a bulky form beneath them. He takes long, purposeful strides towards your bed with a tray filled with breakfast food.
“Good morning, darling!” The gentleman’s voice is smooth, almost melodic. “Did you enjoy your beauty sleep?”
You’ve never seen this man in your life, but he looks upon you with fondness as he places the tray on the bedside table.
“I wasn’t sure what you preferred, so I made you a little bit of everything! What would you like? Pancakes? Eggs? Toast?”
“Pancakes,” you answer with a mindlessness that only comes from hunger. You shouldn’t be this hungry, but your mouth waters as the gentleman prepares a plate for you, humming a tune.
“Here you are!” he beams when handing you the plate.
You mutter a thanks and eat ravenously. These are the best damn pancakes you’ve ever had. So good that you can almost ignore the gentleman’s eyes fixed on you. At least the meal helps you think clearer, and when the gentleman takes your plate, you blurt out, “Where am I?”
He chuckles like you told a good joke. “Why, you’re home!”
Your eyes narrow. “Then why don’t I know you?”
“Oh, how rude of me!” He gasps as his hand comes to his chest. He lowers his head. “You must forgive me. I can’t believe I haven’t introduced myself!” He raises his gaze so you can meet his piercing, blue eyes. “My name is Eddie.”
“Eddie…” Your brow furrows as you try to recall any Eddies in your life, but he carries on before you can come to an answer.
“I do hope everything is to your liking.” He steps away to admire what you assume is his handiwork in the decoration. “I understand this all may seem over-the-top, but I only wanted the best for you.”
“Can’t you just tell me what you want?”
He seems to take no notice of the bite in your tone as he meanders to the wardrobe. He takes the hem of one of the skirts between his large fingers. “You’ll have to let me know how these dresses fit. I had to guess your size, but if you need I can easily alter them for you.”
“Why am I here?”
He lets go of the hem. His now-free hand clenches into an enormous fist. He takes a deep breath before speaking again, his voice lower. “You must be tired.” When he turns back to you, he smiles as if nothing is amiss. You shudder but he doesn’t skip a beat. “Please rest, darling.” He comes to your bedside and fluffs the largest of the pillows. “You’ve had a trying night and it was thoughtless of me to pester you so soon.”
“Sleep.” He places a finger to your lips before taking the breakfast plates.
Your head is throbbing again. Your thoughts jumble as you search for the right questions to get through to him, but he’s at the door before you think of any.
But he’s already shut the door behind him. The lock clicks and the chain jingles again.
You mutter a curse as you fall back onto the pillow. The throbbing fades as you drift into a long slumber.
Memories return as you wake the next morning.
“The gentleman at the end” provided your last drink that night, delivered by the bartender. You offered said gentleman a smile and a wave, but made no note of his appearance. There was no need to concern yourself with details when you held a glass of your favorite drink. Besides, you know the bartender. You assumed he was the only one who handled it, and took a swig without a second thought.
You waited for gleeful tipsiness, but you only felt heavy. A haze of dark static framed your vision. Everything you heard was muffled, as if you were wading underwater. When you hopped off the bar stool, your limbs were like blocks of lead, making each movement arduous.
The bartender called something after you. It was likely a note of concern. You can’t be sure. Whatever it was, you brushed him off and lumbered to the bathroom alone.
You didn’t think it was the drink at that moment. You only saw the bartender with the glass. You’re a regular. He would never do this to you. He couldn’t have been careless enough to let a stranger touch it, yet you were holding onto the sink just to stay standing.
Heavy footsteps echoed behind you.
The same footsteps you hear as Eddie enters the room with that morning’s breakfast. “Rise and shine, sleeping beauty!” he chirps as he sets the plate down.
You don’t answer him as you dig into your meal. Might as well enjoy the room service that comes with your captivity.
But Eddie takes note of your silence. “What’s the matter?” he asks when you refuse to look at him. “Cat got your tongue?”
You jerk your head away when he reaches to touch your hair.
“Darling,” he croons as he sits on the bedside, placing a hand on your knee. “Won’t you tell me what’s wrong? I want nothing more than to see you smile, for I’ve never seen one so beautiful.”
“Then why don’t you let me go?” Your tone is icier than you thought yourself capable.
You look up to meet his gaze through a glare. “Is it money you want? Do you think I’m the daughter of someone rich and important? Is that it?”
He opens his mouth to speak, but you continue talking over him.
“Or maybe I angered you somehow? Is this revenge for something I completely forgot about? Did I turn you down when I was blackout drunk or something?” You know you should stop, but the words continue to spill out. “Or are you some crazy stalker!? If you are, then can’t you just hurry up and get it over with!?” Tears sting the corners of your eyes. “Just get it over with and let me go home…”
He takes you into his arms and holds you too tight. His grip is the kind that leaves bruises if he doesn’t restrain himself, yet his tone is soothing as he strokes your head. “Oh, darling. I had no idea you were so upset. If this place doesn’t feel like home to you, we can do anything you want to the room. The pink really is too much isn’t it? Would you prefer violet? How about a nice mint green? Just say the word and it shall be done! Tell me what it is you want.”
“I want to go home.”
He sighs heavily, as if disappointed. “You know I can’t do that.”
You’re silent for a time before speaking again. “Then I want my ring back.”
His fingers dig into your shoulder blades, making you flinch. “What did you say?” His tone remains pleasant, but there’s a waver in it.
“My ring,” you say again. “If you’re not going to let me go then can I at least have my ring back? It’s important to me…”
He lets go and steps back. You can’t read his expression, but you see his fists clench at his sides and watch them tremble.
“Eddie…?” You speak as softly as you can, but it does nothing to stop him from striking the wall. Your jaw drops as he pulls his fist from a new hole. He shakes the dust and paint fragments from his hand, scowling as they frost the carpet. He looks back at you.
“See what you made me do?” he hisses through gritted teeth.
“Eddie, I didn’t...I just wanted—”
“I’ve been generous, haven’t I? I’ve made your meals, provided you lovely dresses, and prepared this beautiful room for you.” He’s counting off each supposed act of kindness with his fingers. “Why, I would even shoot the moon for you. And how do you repay me!?”
“Please, it’s not like that! I just—”
“Just what!? You want to take that cheap ring and run off with someone who can’t even appreciate you like I can!? Don’t you see all I’ve done for you!? I don’t ask for much! Just a friendly face, maybe a goddamn thank you once in a while, but what do you do!? You plan to run off with someone else and leave me alone when all I do is give and give!”
“Enough!” He rips the lamp from the bedside table. You take cover as he hurls it at one of the walls. It shatters on impact, littering the floor with broken glass and porcelain. He mutters a curse through ragged, labored breathing. When you say nothing, he turns his back to you and mutters that he will see you in the morning. He slams the door so hard that it sends a framed picture crashing onto the carpet.
You wait until the chain is still before you get out of bed, slowly as if Eddie could hear past the door, waiting for you to make a misstep. You tiptoe around the broken shards to fetch the painting: a single red rose in a clear vase. You hang it back in its place as if you can erase the outburst by cleaning the evidence, but there’s a lump in your throat you can’t ignore.
You then navigate around the glass to the closet and grab the slippers meant to go with your nightgown, sliding into them.
Tears stream down your face as you gather the largest pieces of glass, careful as you dump them into the decorative, pink wastebasket. You return to pick up the remaining porcelain, but hobble after two steps. A shard has pierced through the useless, flimsy slipper and into your heel. You sob as the cut bleeds through.
After neglecting to bring you yesterday’s lunch and dinner, Eddie returns with a skip in his step as he presents an especially slim breakfast.
“We don’t want you ruining your figure now,” he replies when you ask of the meager helpings. “Besides,” he takes your hand in both of his, dwarfing yours, “I want you to save room for dinner tonight. I have something very special planned.” He grips your hand too tightly, and you wince.
Nonetheless, you force a smile and reply, “I’m looking forward to it.”
“Excellent!” He lets go and beams. “In that case, as much as it pains me to do so, I must leave you and begin the preparations! I’ll be back at six, and be sure to dress up!” He doesn’t wait for your response as he frolics from the room.
When the door closes you collapse back on the bed and groan. You don’t like the lack of specifics in his invitation. You aren’t keen on trusting this man with surprises and even less keen on wearing one of those tacky dresses. At least the nightgown was comfortable, unlike the others that came with waists cinched to nothing and itchy petticoats.
Thus, you spend most of the day putting off getting ready, dozing until you have little time left. You have to drag yourself from the plush covers to the foreboding wardrobe.
The dresses are sectioned off into casual and formal attire. Not that it matters. They’re all equally unappealing.
Nonetheless, you settle on a plain, yellow gown with the softest looking material. The flared skirt reminds you of dresses your mom forced you to wear as a girl for your Sunday best. Your thoughts almost wander to her, but you stop them. You doubt Eddie would react kindly to red, puffy eyes going with your evening attire. Swallowing, you head to the bathroom to make yourself up. Through quivering hands, you manage to apply golden eyeshadow to match the shade of your dress. You add in enough mascara to make your eyes resemble a doll’s more than a woman’s. You feel ridiculous as you powder blush onto your cheeks. Even for work, you never strayed from neutral tones.
As you move onto your hair, perfect ringlets would complete the look, but you settle on pulling it into a tight bun, hoping that it passes Eddie’s formal dress code requirement.
You only hope that he doesn’t demand shoes as he’s only provided heels. You doubt you’ll be going out anyways. That’d be too easy.
Already, you want to fall back on the bed and sleep through the ordeal, but you only have five minutes before Eddie’s arrival. You settle on a little tuffet and sit up straight as not to crinkle the dress. Your heart is pounding when you hear those heavy footsteps coupled with the chain.
Every hair on Eddie’s head is slicked in place—his freshly pressed suit, spotless. His smile is wide as he seems to be hiding something behind his back. “Good evening, darling!” he says, before revealing a bouquet of purple hyacinths tied with a red ribbon. “I’ve brought something for you!”
When you mutter a quiet thank you, he places them in a vase on the dresser, “So that you have something beautiful to look at each morning.”
You pick at the hem of your skirt until he’s looming over you. “I must say, darling, that you are an absolute vision.”
You force out another, “thank you,” but he shakes his head and tsks.
“However, you must forgive my boldness. The ensemble is incomplete.” He fetches a pair of shoes in the same shade of yellow as your dress.
“Is that really necessary?” you ask quietly. “I assumed we would be dining here.”
“Of course, but we still must look our finest for the occasion.”
You sigh heavily. “Whatever you say.” You hold out your hands to take the heels, but Eddie keeps them out of your reach.
“Please, allow me.” He kneels before you so he can slip the heel onto your foot. It’s a perfect fit. When he takes your other foot, the cut is in his palm. He forces the heel on anyways. “There, perfection!” He rises and holds out his hand for you. “Shall we, my lady?”
Seeing no other option, you take his hand. The heel is already digging into your cut as he guides you to the exit. You hold your breath as he opens the door to a set of stairs. You take note that you’re in a basement as you cling to Eddie’s arm to keep the weight off your injured foot. Not that it does anything to stop the impending blisters you feel on the back of your feet.
They lead up to a perfectly ordinary, though dimly lit hall. You search for an open window, but all the curtains are drawn. Eddie picks up the pace until you reach a dining room.
Only scattered candles light the room, most of them on a table set for two. There are two dishes and a small bouquet of roses in the center. A faint piano record floats through the area, coupled with the occasional static crackle.
He pulls out your chair and waits for you to take your seat before taking his own.
“I wanted to apologize for my behavior yesterday,” he says as you realize your dinner is precut, and his setting is the only one with a knife. “But you know how a man is when he wants to know a woman.” He sighs as if disappointed in himself. “Nonetheless, my behavior was inexcusable. That’s why I wanted to make it up to you.” He pours you a glass of wine to go with your water, and you keep to the water after taking a cursory sip to appease him.
“That’s very kind,” you say as neutrally as possible.
“You needn’t mention it! Please, just enjoy. You must be famished.”
He’s right about that. As he failed to bring you lunch today, you welcome the gourmet lobster dinner, even though your share is considerably smaller than his and he refuses your request for seconds. All while maintaining a winning smile. He eats with a deliberate slowness and impeccable manners, as if he’s dining at the White House.
You almost tell him where to shove it with how damn long he’s taking, but hold your tongue until he’s cleared the table.
“Are we done now?” you ask.
He raises an eyebrow and you shudder when you think you’ve caught a trace of irritation in his expression.
“I…” you attempt a softer tone. “I am quite tired…”
“Then I shan’t keep you up long,” he assures.
You’re relieved that he’s happy again, but it’s short lived as he comes to your side.
“But before I release you, there’s something I must ask: a question that has been burning on my mind.” He drops down on one knee.
“This may seem sudden, but I must speak my mind.” He takes your hand. “We haven’t known each other long, but from the moment I laid eyes on you, I was captivated. For your beauty is unparalleled and your grace without rival. Why, any man would be lucky to call you his. I only hope...” From his coat pocket, he pulls out a tiny box. “That man can be me.” He slips the ring onto your finger and your jaw drops.
It’s your engagement ring.
You assumed he had thrown it away, but you're looking at the dahlia as if it never left. It fits just as perfectly as when your girlfriend proposed.
She had stumbled over her words. She swore that she had a whole, beautiful speech planned out, and apologized that she forgot halfway through. She was so sure she ruined the moment, but you didn’t care.
You said yes, yes, yes. A thousand times you said yes, tackling her in a hug, tumbling over each other. You both laughed and kissed again and again. You thought the dream would never end, but Eddie’s painful grip on your hand brings you back to reality.
“Darling?” His eyes shine as he awaits your answer, but your throat runs dry. You can’t speak.
“My, you’re speechless!” he decides. “It’s okay! I was too when I first saw you, but you needn’t say anything! We have the rest of our lives for idle chat! For now, let’s enjoy this moment as it is! The start of our ‘happily ever after!’”
“I…” The room is spinning. “I feel faint.”
“Oh, my poor darling.” He puts the back of his hand to your forehead. “You’re chilled to the touch. You must forgive me for putting you in such a shock!”
“It’s fine. I just...I...I need to lie down.” You stand from your chair but your legs quake. You only take two steps before you’re holding onto Eddie’s arm to stay standing. You feel sick.
“Oh please, you mustn’t push yourself.” He scoops you into his arms as if you weigh nothing, carrying you bridal style through the hall, down the stairs, and back into that eyesore of a basement. He lays you on the bed with great carefulness and tucks you in like you’re a child. “Sleep well,” he croons before planting a kiss on your forehead. “You’re going to need your rest. We have a big day ahead of us tomorrow. So much to prepare for the wedding.” He leaves you and flicks off the lights, locking the door behind him.
It takes Eddie three trips to bring down the multitude of bags and boxes. All of them are marked with logos from overpriced, designer bridal boutiques you wouldn't be caught dead in; not when you know the cheap tricks they use to skyrocket their prices and prey on manic bridezillas. Regardless, you force a pleasant smile when you address Eddie. "What's all this?"
"For you, darling!" He sets the last bag down, white satin spilling over the top. "We must begin preparations right away if we want a spring wedding!"
You had set your own date for the end of autumn.
"And the dress is the most important part!" He unzips one of the dress bags to reveal a monstrosity of lace and petticoats. It's a wonder he was able to cram it into the bag; you could barely tell where the dress begins and ends. "I do hope you forgive me for taking the liberty of adding in a few touches of my own design, but I trust they'll be to your liking."
That would explain the outdated, poofy princess sleeves.
"But worry not!" he says of your crinkled brow. "I wouldn't confine you to just one option! I've provided you plenty of designs! Consider this your shopping day!"
"How generous," you say through gritted teeth.
"Aren't I? Now please, try them on! I want to know just what you think!" He shoves them into your arms and shoos you off into the bathroom, nearly slamming the door behind you.
You listen to his footsteps as he walks off. When they stop, you can imagine him sitting in the armchair, legs crossed, hands on his lap, waiting patiently. He has all the time in the world when you have nowhere else to go.
When he starts whistling a tune, you empty the bags to endless ruffles, ribbons, and silks. All of them are tailored into the exact same princess style as the one he displayed, with only slightly varying ratios of oversized ribbons versus flowers for the accents. You search for one that resembles the slim gown you had chosen for yourself, but your search proves in vain. You finger your ring and sigh. If you're counting the days right, you'd be picking your dress up from the tailor's today.
Instead, you're settling on the only dress without inflated sleeves, though you still have to wrestle a wire hoop skirt and a flood of petticoats to get into it. You stumble once in the process. The fall might have hurt if not for the abundance of lace to cushion you. It nearly matches the plushness of your bed, and you're tempted to take a nap, but no matter how many you take, you still wake up in this pink prison cell.
You force yourself back up and work on zipping yourself into the dress, which is only possible by sucking in your gut and taking a deep breath.
You scowl at your reflection. You look like a creampuff amidst the mountain of fabric, and stand stiff just to keep the dress from tearing at the seams. You're positive that it would only take one deep breath to break through the zipper.
Nothing like the light flowing dress you fell in love with. The skirt was simple and comfortable without the itchy petticoats and zipper stabbing your side. You could run, jump, and dance for joy in that dress without breaking the illusion of elegance.
You had graced just about everyone you knew with dressing room selfies, and they gushed about how well it suited you. Everyone but your fiancee, and everyday was a struggle to keep it a secret. You so badly wanted to see the look on her face when you walked down the aisle.
"Darling! Is everything alright in there?"
You cringe at his voice. "Just a sec!" You hurry in straightening out your dress and open the door, though you remain in its frame.
Eddie's jaw drops. "My, you are…" He rises from the chair as he searches for a comment. "You are simply beyond words. I had initially thought the dress too understated, but I see now that you don't need such extravagance to shine! For beauty like yours does not need to be distracted from by such unnecessary fineries!"
"Now for the finishing touches!" He doesn't wait for your response as he guides you to the full-length mirror and sits you on a stool. He fetches a pair of bags and several shoeboxes before settling behind you to brush your hair, something you didn't bother with before his arrival. "I was thinking you would look lovely with ringlets."
You wince as he yanks the brush through a particularly stubborn snarl.
"And while I had initially imagined a cathedral veil, perhaps something simpler would be more appropriate." He pulls out a medium-length veil from one of the bags and sets it on the crown of your head.
The white netting mists over your reflection. You watch through the haze of finery as Eddie digs through a bag from one of the jewelers. He sifts through chunky necklaces, glimmering bracelets, and bold pendants before settling on a simple strand of pearls. He pulls back your hair with gentle carefulness to clasp the pearls around your neck, letting them fall.
You look into the mirror to find him dabbing tears from the corners of his eyes.
"Are you going to cry?" The question comes out in a flatter tone than you intended, but Eddie doesn't seem to notice.
"You must forgive me." He turns his back on his reflection. "It is most unbecoming of me to be so emotional. It's just that...I can hardly believe this is finally happening. All my dreams are within my grasp."
"What dreams would those be?"
"I want a family, a wife to call my own, a chance to be the father I never had." His fist clenches as he says 'father.'
"Did something happen to him?"
"That's something you needn't worry your pretty head over." He kneels before you and takes your hands. "I promise that I'll never let him or anyone else do anything to you or our children."
As you stare into his pleading eyes, all you could think of is how you never wanted children. Too much noise, too much mess, too little reward. You never thought of anyone but your fiancee in your happy ending. Going through life's adventures hand in hand was enough for you, but now…
"Oh, Darling. I didn't mean to frighten you!" He must have seen how you paled at the mention of children. "For I understand that conception is never easy for the fairer sex." He releases your hands and rests one on your knee. "But I promise that after the ceremony, I'll be the best man you could ask for." His other hand creeps under the skirt.
"I'll be so gentle and careful," he murmurs as his hand travels a little higher.
"Eddie..." You squirm in his hold, but it does nothing to stop him from reaching for where the garter would be.
"Eddie, stop it!" You kick him in the jaw hard enough to send him back. Pulling your knees to your chest, you realize what you've done and recoil in wait for an attack.
Eddie only rises to his feet, expressionless. He steps back before speaking, "Forgive me." His tone is icy. "That was most improper. All that can wait until after the wedding." He turns and leaves you without another word.
You have one hour before Eddie arrives with breakfast.
For most of that hour, you scour the room for something to be used as a weapon, but everything you can lift is too light and delicate. Meanwhile, anything with enough weight to do any damage is too heavy to carry easily. The best you can hope for is one useless flail with any of those items.
If only Eddie hadn't broken the bedside lamp.
With weight out of the question, you search for something sharp, but so little in the room is reliable. The figurines are too fragile, the framed pictures are on the verge of flaking from too many embellishments, and then all the damn mirrors.
You freeze. The mirrors…
Your feet seem to move of their own accord to the bathroom and stop before the mirror. You watch your reflection take one of the perfume bottles and smash it against the glass.
The mirror breaks into jagged shards and falls from the frame, burying the makeup and products. The perfume bottle you used has cracked, and the fragrance leaks onto your hand. It's sticky and the scent nauseatingly sweet, but you focus on sorting through each shard. You pick them up one by one and hold them as if wielding a knife. Most of them are too small, hardly larger than your car keys. Those go into the wastebasket, along with those too large and awkwardly shaped, but there's one that fits your hand perfectly. Its end is the sharpest point and its base dull enough that you can hold it without cutting yourself. That's the shard you take to the bed and tuck under your pillow.
You only have to wait a few minutes before Eddie arrives with breakfast. Your eyes are glued to the door as you wait. All the while, you force yourself to breathe steadily, as if your heart isn't pounding in your ear, as if your back isn't sweating through your gown.
Even so, when he enters, you force out the brightest smile you can manage. "Good morning, Eddie!"
He chuckles at your chipper tone as he sets the breakfast tray down. "My, my, aren't you in good spirits this morning?"
"You never have days like that? Where you just wake up knowing it'll be a good day? I guess it's like waking up on the right side of the bed!"
You two laugh as if you share an inside joke, before digging into the breakfast.
All the while, Eddie prattles on and on about the wedding plans. The church he's selected, how it's to be a private ceremony, his eagerness for the honeymoon. Paris, he's thinking: The City of Lovers, where you two will walk arm and arm, dressed in the height of fashion.
"Only the best for my little wife," he says when he goes on about the moonlit walks and how you'll only eat at the finest establishments to make all the other couples "pea-green with envy."
You shovel a forkful of pancake into your mouth to stop yourself from laughing at the outdated expression. You don't bother with table manners as you scarf down your food, offering only scattered "uh-huh's" through a full mouth as Eddie revels in the sound of his own voice.
It's not until you finish your meal that you get a word in. "Eddie, I'm so sorry to interrupt, but um...can you do something for me?" You bat your eyelashes for good measure, which makes Eddie's chest puff out, a smug grin spreading across his face.
"Of course, darling! Tell me what is on your mind!" He cups your chin, and you maintain your sweet smile as you point toward the bathroom.
"Last night, I saw a rat in there. I can't seem to find it now, and it gave me such a fright that I hardly slept at all last night. Would you please look around for me? I can't imagine what sort of diseases that thing could be carrying, and I don't think I'd have the heart to kill it even if I did catch it…"
"If that's all, then you needn't worry a moment longer! I'll take care of the vermin. You just wait here." He pats your head before turning for the bathroom.
When he's taken a couple steps, you take the shard from underneath your pillow. The lingering perfume has made your hand sticky, making it easier to grasp the shard, even as you tremble.
The shag carpet absorbs your footsteps, and Eddie doesn't hear you tiptoeing after him. You hold your breath as you watch his back. He takes no notice, not even when you come within an arm's reach of him.
He's in the bathroom doorway when you take a deep, silent breath. He flips on the switch, light shining on the broken glass.
Before he can respond, you leap forward and plunge the glass into his shoulder. It takes great effort to break the skin and draw blood. You can't cut through the muscle and he reacts too fast for you to try again.
He only howls in pain once before turning, but you keep your grip and latch onto his back. He spins in an attempt to grab you, but you hold strong, even as your feet no longer touch the ground. You cling tightly to him and pull out the shard, blood spilling from the wound. Your grip is so tight that the edge cuts into your palm, but you ignore it as you bring it down for another attack. But this time, it doesn't meet its target, as Eddie throws you off.
The back of your head crashes against the hard tile, blurring your vision. The shard is no longer in your grasp. You blindly reach through the static, but Eddie has kicked the weapon from your reach and is on top of you. You attempt to ward him off by punching, clawing at him the best you can, but he easily holds you down, pinning your wrists on either side of you.
Tears roll down your cheeks as you stare up at him.
His eyes are like ice, unmoved by your tears. He says nothing as he releases your wrists so he can grip your neck, his fingers circling it easily. You try to pry his hands off, but that only makes him tighten his hold.
You're sputtering for breath when everything goes black.
You don't know how much time has passed when you wake up in a new room.
The plush, soft bed from the basement is replaced with a firm mattress. You're laying on it, staring at a plain ceiling fan. Everything around you is shrouded in shadows, with only a thin stream of light escaping from underneath the door.
You attempt to sit up, but your wrists and ankles are tied to the bedposts, four tall pillars towering over you. They taunt you as the rope burns your skin.
When you give up, the door opens.
Bright light pours into the room, straining your eyes. You squint and see that Eddie is silhouetted against it. You can't make out his face, but you recognize those broad shoulders and feel the rage emanating from him.
The lights flick on, shining off a pair of scissors in his fist. If he tightened his grip on them any more, they'd surely break.
Wordlessly, he comes to your bedside, teeth gritted as he glares you down. He's waiting for an answer, an explanation, a plea, anything, but you say nothing.
The word spit from his lips like venom, but you turn your head from him. He roughly grabs your chin to force you to look.
"Answer me, whore!" His usually smooth voice has gone low and gravelly, almost inhuman.
"Well...I...uh…" No answer you can muster is good enough, and you both know it.
"Why would you do that?!" He's in your face now, and you can see faint scratches across his eyes from the day before. "Haven't I treated you well enough? I gave you a room of your own, a bed to sleep in, meals every day, the finest clothes to wear. Why, I treated you like a princess! What more could you possibly want of me!? Haven't I done enough for you!? What else am I supposed to do to make you happy when your greed is insatiable!?"
"By letting me go?" You know he won't oblige your request, but it still stings when he throws his head back and laughs as if you told the funniest joke in the world. He's wiping tears from his eyes by the time he's stopped.
"My, you must really think me foolish. For I know plenty well what a woman like you does without a man to keep her in line. If I let you go, you'll only go out into the world with your womanly wiles and ensnare the next man unfortunate enough to look your way. Women like you are dangerous when left unchecked! You take and take until there's nothing left!"
"You're just a crazy asshole!" You cry out. It won't do you any favors, but damn did it feel good to finally say it.
You expect him to hit you, but he stays level. "The only thing that made me crazy was thinking you'd be any different from the others." He raises the hand wielding the scissors and brings them to your throat.
You shut your eyes and prepare for the pain. You could already see your mangled corpse making headlines, your throat slit, and Lord knows what else after you've bled out. But the pain never comes. Only a faint snipping sound before he pulls away his hand.
When you open your eyes, he's holding a lock of your hair. His focus has shifted from you so he could braid the lock and tie it off with a tiny ribbon. "I really did think you would be different." He sighs heavily as he takes the braid to a small chest on his dresser. It's wooden and antiquated in its design, only opened by an ornate key from his pocket. "You seemed so sweet and understanding. There was something about you that felt so real, like you were more than a fantasy, proof that goodness and beauty in this world could be obtained." He opens the little chest to reveal a collection of braided hair locks, blonde, red, brunette; an entire spectrum lined up neatly, and yours is laid amongst them.
All color has drained from your face when you choke out, "What are you going to do to me?"
Eddie breathes in deeply as he shuts the chest. He turns to you, and though his anger has dissipated, he looks down at you like you're nothing more than a pest. "I'm going to give you one last chance. You must know I want to make this work. I still believe that you and I could have something special, but in order for that to happen, things have to change."
"What do you mean by that?"
"If you have to ask me, then it tells me you aren't ready." He turns and leaves you, restrained, hungry, and nauseous.
You're tied to that bed for a week.
Eddie only releases you for a few minutes each day to use the bathroom. Once in the morning, once in the afternoon, and once before bed. He never gives you the courtesy of a moment's privacy as you relieve yourself, but you gave up on arguing.
Sometimes he feeds you, but not always. When he does, it's no longer the fresh, gourmet meals. Now, he brings scraps, as if they're only being given to keep good food from going to waste.
You eat every bite without complaint, but Eddie remains cold and unfeeling. You wonder if your stunt is beyond his forgiveness.
Initially, you thought complacent silence would sate Eddie's moodiness, but he's unmoved.
His patience can't last forever, and you don't want to die here. All you want is to go home, hug your friends, tell your parents that you love them, see your fiancee again. You want to see her face when you walk down the aisle in the dress waiting at the tailor's.
Tears stream down your face when you think of her. You can't bear to imagine her now. She must be worried sick. You only hope that she's sleeping enough and remembering to eat. She could stress herself out to sickness when you're not there to tell her to breathe and remind her that it always turns out okay. Except now it's not okay.
For all you know, they've written you off as dead. They always say on TV that the first 48 hours are most important in a missing person's case. After that, the police dig up a body in the woods.
You sniffle as your hope runs out. You wish you could see her just one last time, even if only to apologize for worrying her so much.
You look up to see Eddie at the door with another helping of table scraps. You almost tell him off when you notice his gaze has softened.
"E-Eddie—" You choke out between tears. "I'm sorry, I…"
You want to see her again.
"I wanted to see you, Eddie. I was scared you weren't coming back this time. That you—you…"
"That I what?" He attempts a sharp response but fails to mask the waver in his voice.
"That you didn't want me anymore."
His jaw drops as he struggles to find the words. You only have to sob to send him rushing to your bedside and cupping your face, wiping your tears with his thumbs. "Now, darling, please don't cry. Of course I want you."
"No, you don't!" You make a half-hearted attempt to escape his hold, as if ashamed to face him. "If you did, you would have let me apologize, but you were always so cold and mean, and….oh, Eddie, I was so scared…"
"Apologize?" His expression is dumb enough to make you laugh in any other situation.
"Yes! I never meant to hurt you! I...I was just so frightened. I...I panicked. For no man had stirred such feelings inside me and I didn't know what to do, so I...I tried to run, but you wouldn't let me, so I...I…" You're wailing now. "What have I done to us? How could you possibly forgive me!?"
Eddie is silent as he unties the ropes, but you continue to cry, pretending not to notice his mercy as you beg for forgiveness again and again.
"There is nothing to forgive." He pulls you into his arms and you sob into his chest. "I should have noticed you were hurting, that you only needed a little tenderness to understand."
"So you still want me?" You look up at him with glistening eyes and whimper. "Please say you do, Eddie. Don't you see I love you?"
He goes beet red. "Darling, I…."
You think of her when you lean in to kiss him on the lips, holding it just long enough to convince him before you pull away. You're sure he thinks your face is red from blushing instead of the exhaustion from sobbing. As you wait for a reaction, you cover your mouth, eyes wide.
"I'm sorry," you say quietly. "That was too forward, wasn't it? Our first kiss should have been at the wedding…"
Eddie's chuckle is smooth as he cups your chin. "I think it was just perfect." He returns your kiss with one of his own, though he keeps it chaste and quick.
You think of her when you smile sweetly for him. "Does that mean...we can try again?"
"Of course we can." Eddie's grinning. "After all, the wedding is nearly upon us. What better time to start anew?"
"I can't wait." You wrap your arms around him, resting against his chest, listening to his heartbeat. You let him stroke your head and soothe you until you drift into sweet dreams of seeing her again.
It's the night before the wedding.
You and Eddie are lounging on the sofa, when you suggest a night on the town—dinner somewhere special where everyone can marvel over what a perfect pair you make.
"I'm not sure…" Eddie bites his lip. "Tomorrow is a big day. We should be well rested for the ceremony. I'd absolutely hate for us to lose ourselves before our life together begins."
You pout as you lean against him. "But Eddie, that's precisely why we must go out! What other chance will we have to go out as fiances? Tomorrow it will be husband and wife. That's it! I never even got to show off my engagement ring." You hold your hand up so the light bounces off the dahlia, each diamond glittering.
"Darling, I promise you that come the honeymoon, I'll be sure everyone sees it."
"But it's not the same." Your gaze falls. "It's different for a woman. There's nothing quite like showing off a beautiful ring and talking about the wedding date. It's a special time that a woman only gets to experience once, and it'll be even better because you'll be right there with me." You cling to his arm. "I know every woman will be pea-green with envy when they see me with such a strong, handsome man. Oh please say we can go, Eddie! Please?" You flutter your eyelashes until he would be inhuman to say no.
"Alright, but only for a little while. We need to get our rest for the big day tomorrow."
Nonetheless, you tackle him in a hug, sending you both crashing on the couch. "Oh, thank you, Eddie! Thank you, thank you, thank you!"
He chuckles as he sits back up, patting your head. "I'll make the reservation immediately. How does Dorsia's sound?"
"Dorsia's sounds divine!"
You've never heard of Dorsia's in your life.
"Then you best get ready! We want to be looking our best tonight." He ushers you off and you blow him a kiss before frolicking off into the bedroom.
Since making up, Eddie had moved your things from the basement so your exquisite gowns now hang alongside his slacks and tailored shirts. You sort through them, humming a tune until you settle on a bright red one.
Though it maintains the vintage silhouette with the cinched-in waist and flared skirt, it's a daring, sleeveless number. You pair it with a shimmering shawl and pantyhose before tending to your makeup. Bold, red lipstick complements your gown, and enough foundation makes you look positively airbrushed. With smokey eyeshadow, your eyes pop. You even brave the eyelash curler for the occasion.
When through with the makeup, you curl your hair into perfect ringlets to hide the chopped strands. Enough hairspray to blow a hole in the ozone keeps it all together.
A more patient woman might have painted such overgrown nails, but you keep it easy by slipping on a pair of white gloves to hide the lingering rope burns. You make sure to wear your ring over the glove for all to see. Once you complete the look with a strand of pearls, Eddie walks in, slack-jawed and frozen.
"Darling, you look…"
You turn from him and cling to the shawl. "Oh, it's not too much, is it? I know red is so daring, especially in public, but I really wanted to look special for you."
He's quick to recover with the flattery and comes to your side to kiss your head. "You look positively divine, but I'm going to have to keep a close eye on you. You're going to be turning heads tonight."
"Oh, I hope so! That's what makes it so fun!"
"As long as you know that you're mine."
You fight the urge to shudder as you say, "I wouldn't dream of being anyone else's."
He kisses your hand before parting, saying he needs to ready himself and sends you downstairs.
For the first couple minutes, you wait on the sofa, but when he starts whistling a tune, you abandon your heels and tiptoe to the kitchen. He only whistles when he knows he has time to kill, and this is the first time you've been alone since your captivity. Nonetheless, you've made sure to keep make note of where he keeps his pens and pad of paper for grocery lists. You rip a piece off the pad and take one of the pens.
Eddie has allowed you entrance in most rooms of the home, except one. You suspect it's the garage and that's where you head next. It's down the hall. You keep your steps light as possible as you scurry there. Your hand hovers over the doorknob while you listen to make sure he's still whistling. Only then do you open the door, guiding it closed so it doesn't slam.
Your nose immediately crinkles at the foul stench that hits you. It's hard to fight the urge to retch and you have to fan your eyes to keep tears from ruining your makeup.
Despite the stink, there's nothing out of ordinary in the garage, only large storage boxes surrounding a dark car. You squeeze through so you can reach the car and flatten the paper over one of the boxes as you jot down the make and license plate number, noting the "classic vehicle" label.
Once you have it down, you hurry from the garage and back into the hall where you can breathe easy again.
Eddie is still whistling.
You return to the sofa and fold the piece of paper, placing it in your shoe before slipping them back on.
The whistling stops.
Heavy footsteps follow, descending the stairs. When they reach the bottom, Eddie is looking most debonair and elegant in a tuxedo. You make sure he knows he's a catch by jumping to your feet and gasping.
"Oh, Eddie! You look so handsome!" You're careful as you rush towards him to not disturb the piece of paper.
"I can't look anything less than my best when accompanying the most beautiful lady in town," he says.
You cover your mouth as you giggle. "Oh, Eddie! You're incorrigible!" You hope you're using that word right.
"Only for you, Darling." He tells you to wait at the front door so he can bring the car around to pick you up, and you oblige.
It feels like you've entered another reality as you step outside and take in the first breath of fresh air since your captivity. It's also the first time you genuinely smile. The breeze never felt so cool and refreshing, and the stars take your breath away.
You savor every moment of night air until Eddie pulls up in his classic vehicle. Moonlight shines off the perfectly polished exterior. When he stops the car, he hurries out to open the passenger door for you.
As much as it pains you to enter, you're sure to thank Eddie as you settle into the leather interior. It reeks compared to the fresh air, but you count your blessings that it's not whatever the hell was in the garage.
At least Eddie allows you to roll down the window. He doesn't even press you for conversation as he's happy to hum along to the oldies station while you watch the city go by.
None of the street names are recognizable on the drive over, but the area seems no finer than anywhere you've been, though there is more neon than you're used to. At first just a few scattered storefronts, but soon the buildings are larger and lights advertise available vacancy, reservations only, and 24-hour openings.
It's before the most pristine, white building that Eddie parks the car. You're sure the architecture is influenced by some European country, but you can't place where. You always counted on your fiancee to be the cultured one. She would go on and on about the countries she wanted to visit, languages she wanted to learn, and rare books she wanted to read. You don't know how she remembered it all.
Eddie walks in like he owns the place, made to tread upon the spotless red carpet with crystal chandeliers overhead.
The staff notices him and straightens up when he passes by, wearing their biggest, fakest grins.
You feel like an accessory for his arm as he strides in and demands his reservation for two under Gluskin. You wonder if that's a real name or one he made up, but you don't linger on the thought long. You're too busy focusing on not tripping down the steps as the hostess leads you.
She brings you to a small table away from the larger ones. Two glasses of water await, along with more silverware than any sane person needs.
You wait until Eddie pulls out your chair to take your seat. The folded corner of the paper is poking at your heel as you thank him.
"This place is absolutely breathtaking," you tell him as he sits. "I've never been anywhere so elegant."
"All that will change after tomorrow." He reaches across the table to take your hand. "When I've made an honest woman out of you, I'll take you to these places as much as you want. You'd like that, wouldn't you?"
You force a smile even as Eddie's holding your hand too tightly. "Oh, Eddie. That would be wonderful!" You bat your eyelashes as you place your hand on top of his. You're certain he'd stare into your eyes forever if not for the waitress clearing her throat. Though she's quick to flash a smile, you catch her split-second scowl and feel for her. It must be near the end of her shift and the last thing she wants is a pair of sickening sweethearts wasting time in their own world instead of making their damn order.
"What can I get you two to drink?" she asks.
"Hmm…" Eddie takes his sweet time perusing the drink menu, and you know the waitress is fighting back eyerolls until he settles on "Bastianich Friulano for me and my fiancee." He beams at the last word, though the waitress has no reaction outside of her promise to return with wine.
Eddie scowls at her indifference.
"It's alright," you assure. "She's probably got a lot on her mind."
"Still, you think she would have the decency to comment on the perfect couple when she sees it."
"Maybe she's jealous," you suggest while you fight the urge to choke on the sparkling water you mistook for normal water.
"Maybe you're right."
That calms Eddie down enough and you settle into small talk until the waitress arrives with the wine and takes your order, though Eddie takes care of that for you by deciding on, "an orange-fennel salad for the lady."
You make no protest as the waitress takes your menus away.
When she leaves, you attempt to escape to powder your nose, but Eddie assures that you look "breathtaking as is" before trailing into rambles about tomorrow. It's almost a feat to be admired that he can talk so long about the exact same topic, but you think your sustained fake interest is even more impressive. If only he would use the bathroom after all that vile sparkling water, but he remains until the food arrives and you stare with longing at the juicy steak he's ordered for himself.
Your fiancee always did joke about what a carnivore you are and chided you for not eating your greens. You're going to be hearing enough scolding to last you a lifetime if you get out of this. You intend to eat all the greasy meat you could get ahold of, even if it kills you.
For now though, you make do with the salad, though you spend more time picking off the croutons as you try to think of a way to escape.
"Is everything alright, darling?" he asks.
"Hm?" You look up from your half-eaten salad. "Yes, why?"
"You've hardly touched your meal."
He's already cleared his plate while you're still shifting croutons in pointless circles. You're about to assure that the meal is fine when an idea comes to mind. Though you still promise the quality of your meal, you pair it with sad eyes that resemble a dog at the pound and a wilting voice.
"Now, darling. Don't feel you have to hide yourself from me," he says. "Do tell me what the matter is."
"Oh, but I don't want to be any trouble…"
"You could never be any trouble."
When he takes your hand, you sigh. "Well...it's just...my salad doesn't taste quite right. I don't know...I think the ranch is old, but it's fine, really." You set your fork down as his eyes shadow over. "Eddie?"
"This is unacceptable." He's seething now. "This was supposed to be a special night."
"And it is! Just getting to go out together is special enough, really!"
"You're too softhearted," Eddie says. "No one, and I mean no one, can get away with mistreating my fiancee like this."
"Oh, Eddie. That's sweet of you, but you don't need to go through a fuss for little, old me."
"But of course I do." He catches sight of what appears to be a manager checking on another table. "I hate to leave you, but this will only take a moment. I'll get this taken care of."
He rises from his seat and storms off to the manager without another word. He's no doubt making some ridiculous demand, but you don't listen. Now that you're alone, everything is muffled, like you're underwater. With Eddie's back turned, you reach into your heel for the paper. It's crinkled but readable when you check it under the table. You look up to make sure Eddie is still throwing his tantrum before you reach out for the first person to pass. It's your waitress with a round of drinks for another table. You're holding onto her apron, knuckles white. You can't find the words.
"Ma'am...is everything alright?" she asks, brow furrowed.
"Help me," you choke out as you shove the paper into her free hand. You squeeze just once before releasing her. Maybe she lingered for a few moments, but you don't know as you straighten yourself and look forward as if nothing happened.
The waitress heads to her next table as Eddie returns.
"Is everything alright?" you ask.
"No, we are leaving." He grabs your arm and yanks you to your feet. "I refuse to give such a cheap and vulgar establishment another moment of our business."
"But, Eddie, it's fine, really. What about dessert? Surely that'll cheer you back up. Please, won't you be reasonable?"
Your pleas fall on deaf ears, but no doubt everyone is staring as Eddie drags you out. You lock eyes with the waitress just before the door shuts behind you.
I'd also like to dedicate this work to Papillion specifically <3 Forever the Reader Insert to my Edgy Aesthete Ho <3 Thanks for everything, gurl!
Halfway back to Eddie's house, police lights appear in the rearview mirror.
Initially, Eddie ignores them, gripping the steering wheel even as you gently point them out.
The police turn the sirens on and speed up until they’re riding the bumper.
Though he seems to consider otherwise for a moment, Eddie finally pulls over.
You watch as a cop exits the car and strolls up to the driver's side. Eddie's tight grip on your hand is all that stops you from escaping. You can feel the sweat through your glove as Eddie rolls down the window to greet the officer. He remains pleasant as he asks what the problem is, and if he can make it fast since he and his fiancee must be heading home.
"I'm not your fiancee."
Though Eddie's hold is too tight for you to wring free, information spills out of you. Your name, when you think you were taken, the restaurant you came from, but when the officer is about to ask Eddie to exit the vehicle, he floors it through a red light before the officer can return to the car.
"Eddie, what the hell are you doing!?" You beat at him with useless swipes and punches. He won't hit you back with how much focus it takes to swerve through traffic and run stop signs, pushing the car to its limit, but his efforts mean nothing.
More officers come and it only takes minutes for them to corner Eddie.
The car isn't even fully stopped when you throw yourself out, stumbling from your heels, collapsing to your knees. The blacktop scrapes and bloodies your skin, but you’re laughing until an officer helps you to your feet.
He knows who you are, that people have been looking for you, and promises to take you home. You follow him to his squad car, but it brings no peace.
The windshield offers a front row seat to Eddie's arrest, like a home theater. It takes two officers to bring him down and wrestle him into cuffs. Every shout, every curse breaks through the glass. Even through his struggle, he's looking right at you.
"I'll get you back!" He shouts as the officers struggle to drag him away. "Mark my word, I'll find you and I'll make you pay for this! You won't get away with this, you whore!" A flurry of obscenities follow, cut short only when he's shoved into the police car.
You know he's still ranting. His voice is clear in your mind as if he were sitting right beside you. You shrink into yourself and hold your head as if you could shut him out all the way to the station.
There, they interview you. Answers come automatically, as if someone programmed you to say them, even though you can't remember a single question. Regardless, your answers suffice and they release you.
Your fiancee is waiting in the open doorway. Her eyes have gone hazy and stare at you through dark bags. She's paler than you remember, and her hair is overgrown and tangled. Even her clothes are rumpled and unkempt. You might not have recognized her if not for the shining ring on her finger.
There's so much you want to tell her, but all you can manage is a sob as you crash into her arms. You cry into her shoulder while her tears rain on you.
The days that follow are agonizingly slow. They schedule a trial for Eddie and ask you to testify. It's the last thing you want to do, but you agree. You can hardly recall what you told them, but everyone insisted you were a great asset. It doesn't seem to matter when you find out about the bodies stored in the garage. All the names came from Missing Persons reports; mothers, daughters, wives, all shoved into storage boxes to rot, many so mangled and disfigured that they could only be identified by matching their hair to the locks in the chest.
Most of the remains are returned to family and loved ones, but there are a few with none to claim them. Your heart goes out to those women the most.
Eddie doesn't shed a tear for any of them. He claims they were heartless creatures who deserved to die. He believes he did the world a service.
Then Eddie's lawyer explains his mental health and past. He tells a story of a father and uncle. Men who violated and brutalized a young Eddie, and he has the photos to prove it.
You're queasy as they collect photos of a battered, naked child, tied down, gagged, crying.
The jury pales as the lawyer goes on about the abuse Eddie endured in his early years. He lists conditions that you’ve never heard of and has medical professionals to back him up, claiming no one can function with such trauma infecting the brain.
When Eddie is questioned, he denies these claims. He recalls a home life like "Leave it to Beaver" despite looking straight at the evidence that says otherwise. He's laughing and crying when it's all over.
Your heart might go out to him if you didn't know better.
Not long after, the jury deliberates.
You wait and wait. Your fiancee holds your hand the entire time. Neither of you say a word as the hours pass by, not even when the jury requires another day.
You both return first thing in the morning. Again, you two wait hand in hand.
The jury has reached their verdict.
They find Eddie guilty, but insane or mentally ill, thus he will be sentenced not to a traditional prison, but Mount Massive Asylum for the Criminally Insane.
Eddie looks at you as they escort him out, silently reminding you of his threat. He's going to come back for you. It's not a life sentence. He won't stay in that asylum forever. If he tried, he could charm his way through tests, fool the doctors into claiming him mentally stable.
You weep into your fiancee's arms.