Utrecht, The Netherlands
Wednesday, the 26th of November, Evening
The room appeared to be bathed in bright white light. The pain, Charlotte felt, was still somewhere there, but it felt like nothing but a faint recall of everything she had faced. Her head was throbbing and aching, but as she sat up the milk white mist that appeared to be surrounding her soothed the agony.
There were silhouettes in the mist, Charlotte believed to recognize a woman's shape that bent over her, then turned away to talk to an even more blurred apparition further back in the room. The words that came to her ear were muffled and quiet, making her unable to understand.
Slowly she tried to recall what had happened, and the memories stung like the fresh cuts they were. As she thought about the pain it seemed to become more determined to show off, from a rough echo it turned into fire upon her whole skin. Charlotte fell back into the cooling mist where she gathered clear thoughts.
What had she done?
Everything concerning Floor had come together so naturally that she hadn't even thought about what she was doing. Now she had the opportunity to do so.
"You deserved what happened to you," a voice whispered inside your brain.
"You don't cheat on somebody you love. Imagine the pain he must have felt. Do you really want to condemn him for rightfully punishing you?"
"No!" Charlotte screamed, all of a sudden hysterically burying her head in her hands, covering her eyes from all the whiteness. She was so tired of all the whiteness.
For years and years this voice had been leading her life, and in all those years it had convinced her again and again with its strength and rigor and logic. But in all those years it had never done what it did now - fall silent.
"You don't agree with me that you deserved it?" it whispered, half in shock, half threatening.
"No," Charlotte whispered, sobbing. Fearfully she spread her fingers to gaze through the gaps between them, but still there was nothing. No body to the voice.
"No," she repeated, this time stronger.
"You don't hurt someone you love. No matter what they did. You don't hurt them."
There it was, the truth that had been hiding and vanishing between the lies of the previous years. So simple and yet so incredibly hard to grasp. Around Charlotte, the air seemed to suddenly darken.
"It's the only way of showing them they hurt you. Of reightful retribution. Don't act like it isn't, Chari," it whispered, now close to her ear. In her corner of the room Charlotte curled up into a tight ball, hiding from the Nothing.
"You want to take the fault away from you, transfer it onto him. But that isn't right. You don't love him, you see? You're a whore, a cheating, lying, whore. And there's nothing-"
"STOP!" she screamed out, wrapping her arms around her knees.
"Stop, stop it! Shut up! You've been poisoning me for too long!"
Whatever the voice would have replied vanished in the roaring of an approaching storm. The air quickly darkened and Charlotte seemed to fall slowly, sink as the world around her went black.
"Charlotte!" Floor exclaimed hopefully as she caught the glimpse of a movement in her friend's body. For eternities, so it seemed, the young woman had not regained consciousness, and Floor had not once left her side. After it it was partially her fault, she thought, that it had come so far.
No, Floor told herself and shuddered. It wasn't her fault, it was the fault of him alone. Charlotte's mother, who had rushed to the hospital instantly upon the arrival of the news (the doctors had sent the hysterical woman to the park with her husband) had told Floor everything about her daughter's boyfriend in tears. How she had always feared that something could happen, by their age difference and his coldness and her own intuition.
Alexander Visser was 43 years old, which made him 18 years older than his girlfriend, and while this did not indicate the potential for anything to go wrong for Floor his character certainly did. He had been married before, she had found out from a talk of two policeman, to a woman who had barely even been legally adult by the time of their wedding. She didn't know what had happened to her, but she could guess that it had not been a happy ending.
For some time she had had reason to fear that Charlotte would not survive the relationship to Alexander Visser, but since midday her condition stable and she breathed regularly. She suffered from two broken ribs, an additional contusion on her ribacge, countless wounds and cuts all over her body and had nearly been strangled. She had been lucky that any vital organs had not been damaged, but still, when her eyelids flickered it was the greatest relief that Floor had ever felt.
"Hey," she said softly to not startle Charlotte.
"Can you hear me?"
"Y-yes..." Charlotte mumbled and turned her head at her.
"You don't have to worry anymore, dear," Floor answered softly.
"We got you out of there. They've got him. He won't be coming close to you again, never. It's over, Charlotte. You don't have to be afraid anymore."
Putting her hands to her face Charlotte fell back into the pillows and breathed out deeply.
"I'm so glad..." she whispered shakily and Floor put a hand to her cheek to gently caress her skin and wipe away the single tear that flowed down Charlotte's cheek. Under her touch she could feel Charlotte freeze, then carefully grab Floor's wrist to direct her hand away.
"I'm sorry," she whispered, not daring to look Floor into her eyes.
"But... I can't do this. I can't love you. If all of this had never happened I... I would be loving you like crazy. I wouldn't ever leave your side, but like this..."
She shook her head and shivered while she looked down.
"I'm so sorry... but I'm so afraid. I-"
"Quiet," Floor shushed her gently by putting a finger onto her lips. Charlotte looked at her with a fear that wanted to break Floor's heart.
"Don't be afraid, Charlotte. I won't be pushing anything. I can't say I know how you feel, but I can... try to understand. If you should be ready one day, I'm here. If you won't be, then I'm still here. I'm not leaving you alone now, Charlotte, never. You're my friend. I wouldn't do that."
Charlotte looked at her and Floor saw that her words had opened the floodgates. Charlotte fell into her arms, her tears streamed down Floor's shoulder and chest while she rocked her friend back and forth to calm her down.
"I'm here," she repeated again and again.
"Thank you, Floor," Charlotte whispered when she was able to speak again.
"Thank you so much."