Chapter 1: I.
Charlotte sat on the wide, white windowsill, silently watching the rain. All she could hear was the soothingly rhythmic drumming of the raindrops which then continued running down the glass, uniting to streams of water, identical to the traces of tears on the young woman's face.
She lowered her head in shame as she wiped away the tears with the corner of her scarlet cover. New ones kept flowing unintentionally. Charlotte did not even notice that she cried, nor would anybody else.
She had grown used to shedding tears in silence.
This was one of the few hours of rest that were left in her life. In these hours he would be gone, to his poker night, the bar, his golf club. Earlier she had used these hours to put on loud music, listen, sing and dance and forget, until the day he had come too early.
In an unwanted gesture Charlotte's hand travelled to her lower lip.
When she closed her eyes she could still feel the thick, ugly bruise, taste the blood on her tongue. Even more than usual his kisses had pained her back then.
Ruthless, without paying attention to her crushed lips, bones or defence he would push her onto the bed to serve as a quick pleasure between two Skype sessions. The pleasure, however, was always for him.
She wondered if he knew that she was a human being with feelings similar to his.
No, she corrected herself, that she was a human being with feelings. What kind of monster would she have to be to feel the things he did?
She was a puppet for him, a mere toy. Once ago it would have comforted her that she was his irreplaceable toy, but meanwhile she knew that she was not even that.
He had tons of other toys, yes. Strippers, whores, wives who were desperate for change in their lives, if only for one night.
Once upon a time Charlotte would have asked herself why he kept returning to her.
Once upon a time she would have told herself he loved her. Once upon a time she would have told herself that she was special.
Today she knew better, and for this knowledge she cursed herself.
Out of all his toys, she was the most naive.
She kept believing he loved her truly.
She kept believing he would change.
She kept believing that this was love.
She had tried. She had tried so hard to be free, but through every single lie he made her believe again.
How many last chances had she given him before finally accepting that she would never be able to let go of him?
Charlotte pressed her heated forehead onto the cooling glass of the window and watched the blurring shapes of trees outside.
In the branches of the limewood tree she could spot the blur of White that formed the swing, softly swaying with the breeze: the swing they had used to sit on together.
Each memory was a painful sting inside her heart.
If she concentrated she could still hear his pearling laughter that made shivers of excitement run down her back, feel his thumbs gently massaging her back in between her shoulder blades, feel his breath and his lips brushing over the skin of her neck and hear her own giggling laughter.
She could taste the strawberries and cream he had fed her and feel the rawness of his unshaved chin on her face when he kissed her.
She could remember herself rejoice when he lifted her up, swung the swing high up into the sky.
When she had flown carelessly.
Charlotte noticed that her body was rocking back and forth. Abruptly she tore her eyes away from the blurry swing and firmly wrapped her arms around her knees. With her head buried the silence was deafening.
She removed the covers and looked around in the beautiful house - the house of her dreams and the scene of her worst nightmares.
Onto the white walls nestled marble pillars which bore the high stucco ceiling. In the beginning she had adorned all the emptiness with her favourite art prints, but in an action of intervention against the 'horror' of these images he had torn all of them down.
On bare feet she wandered across the endless wasteland of white tiles, always accompanied by the sweet sounds of the rain that was still falling continuously.
It was moments like this in which her brain and heart screamed for music, one of the many desires that were not granted to Charlotte.
It was on tours and during studio recordings that she could catch a glimpse of what made her soul survive. He always watched out that it would only be her own creations that she heard, isolating her from what she desired, himself being the only one to grant her wishes, a behaviour that had, over the years, become more seldom.
Yet she smiled when she thought of him. Remembered all the times they'd spent together, the love and kisses and fruits on the swing, and was certain that this was not forever.
One day, maybe today, he would return with a smile on his face, spin her around and make her fly into the sky with a cream hood on her nose.
And if she couldn't wait she'd never witness that day.
Charlotte shivered. She was always freezing, lately.
Like a ghost she kept on wandering through the colourless marble halls while the rain kept falling slower and slower, counting down the seconds until the next round of her nightmare started.
"Chari? Are you there?"
She flinched when the door fell shut, was clearly able to distinguish the sound of him getting out if his - presumably - wet jacket.
"Chari?" His voice sounded increasingly angry already and she took a deep breath, straightening her shoulders before appearing at the balcony above the entry hall.
"I'm here, darling."
A smile took over his lips and he walked up the stairs quickly to wrap an arm around her waist while his other hand crawled underneath her pullover's sleeve to stroke her shoulder.
Charlotte, firstly tensing upon his touch, felt a warm shiver run through her body and let out a sharp breath when she rested her head against his shoulder. With closed eyes she parted her lips when his mouth brushed over them and his hand wandered down to grab hers.
"Come with me," he whispered and she opened her eyes to catch a look into his eyes. Eyes were the windows of the soul, they said, and his were like the stormy sea.
His arm let her waist loose and she followed him away from the balustrade, down the high corridor into their bedroom. Not once did he let go of her hand, nor did he squeeze it to a point where it became painful.
Charlotte had just shut the door when he already pressed her against it, locking their lips in a passionate kiss.
Her hands ran through his black hair, through the gray strands that looked like silver, and the taste of his mouth was familiar.
His dark jacket had already been taken off when he had come home, her creamy white cashmere jumper was oversized, without pants to bother her.
He swept her up gently and carried her over the short distance to put her down onto the bed, where he kissed her again. His finger travelled over her naked skin and she felt her breathing becoming ragged and impatience rising up within her.
It was not much later that she pressed him down with a hand to his neck, to feel his skin right on hers and push further.
When the night had fallen upon the house, the rain had ceased. What remained was only silence, more deafening and gruesome than before.
Looking at herself in the mirror Charlotte wanted nothing but to cry, but she had run out of tears so long ago.
Her arms were bruised again, black and blue and violet. Her lips slightly swollen, her shoulders covered in bites and marks. Her back was aching and burning, even after the cold shower the blood had kept flowing.
Why had she given in again?
In retrospect she always knew that it was wrong. That what he did to her was not supposed to happen in a relationship. But as soon as he touche her all those doubts would be wiped away on an instant, as foolish as it was.
One touch was enough to make her blind to the obvious. One look was enough to make her deaf to the screams of reason. One breath was enough to make her dumb and oblivious to what was happening and the consequences of it.
She would never be free from this.
In the delirium of lust the world around her would blur, she would feel his fingernails digging deep into her flesh like the sweetest caresses. The bites would feel like the softest kisses and the crushing force of his fingers like a gentle hold on them.
Afterwards it would hurt, on the inside and on the outside.
Charlotte always cried when he was done with her, sometimes more and sometimes less.
Today she had pleased him, which meant less tears, less hate of herself. Tomorrow could be different, she knew. Tomorrow she would maybe not be enough, and when she already was bleeding and aching he would add to the pain if she hadn't pleased him.
She could only wonder what it would be.
A kick into her stomach while she was lying on the ground? Biting her neck awfully close to her carotid artery, making her numb of fear that it would kill her? Chaining her to the bedpost, pushing her off the bed with force, hurting her, insulting her, strangling her?
Everything was possible, and she knew. But while they were doing it she would never be able to stop.
She didn't enjoy the pain. But she enjoyed him, with every fibre of her body, to the point where she wouldn't feel the pain until it was over.
Nobody else could ever make her feel the way he did.
And she hated him. And she hated herself. And she loved him.
When the lust had been over the first thing she had done was to put everything into the wash that he had touched. The white pullover and her scarlet lingerie vanished in the machine and the innocent white underwear came, along with the scarlet pullover that would make the blood invisible.
Just when she had poured herself the first mug of tea and was stirring honey into it the ringing of the phone distracted her.
It was her task to answer it, but undoubtedly he still would appear at the top of the stairs, coaching and controlling her answers as he always did.
"Charlotte Wessels here, who's there?" she asked quietly, instantly causing him to gesture wildly.
"Charlotte, it's good you're there!"
Under his stare it was easy for Charlotte to hide her smile as she greeted Marco with relief.
"Ah, Marco, how nice that you call me. How are you doing?"
He frowned and she gestured him to not worry about the guy on the other end. He didn't seem pleased, but did nothing to intervene.
"Fantastic, how about you?"
Knowing that he was watching Charlotte forced herself to a smile.
"Great, except for the rain. It's a little depressing."
"Ah well, nothing to do against that," Marco sighed and continued.
"I was just meaning to ask, we've talked about doing something for your new album together again, right?
Do you guys have any plans on when and how the recording sessions are going to take place yet?"
"Yes, actually, we have!"
Charlotte's face lit up but she hid it again immediately when she reminded herself that he was still watching.
"We've already written some songs, actually. I think Martijn meant to contact you sometime soon?"
They continued their talk about business for a while, and when she hung up he vanished from the top of the stairs again, without a word.
Charlotte sighed and wrapped her hands around her mug as she cuddled into the blanket on her windowsill. The rain had against started to fall, little drops dripping constantly in a calming rhythm.
It wouldn't get easier.
Chapter 2: II.
Utrecht, The Netherlands
Sunday the 23rd of November, Morning
The rainy weather in the Netherlands was not comfortable for every person, but for Floor Jansen it was just right.
In fact, if she wanted to live in Finland one day, rain and moderate cold wasn't what she would have to get use to one day.
Yes, Floor had not been in a band with the Finnish guys for a year, but whenever the topic of an album recording had been scratched in one of their talks it had become certain that there would be issues if Floor kept living in the Netherlands.
However, at the same time it would be a challenge for working with ReVamp if she moved to Finland.
Of course Nightwish was an institution, already much bigger than ReVamp would ever be, but which one of those bands should be her priority at this point?
Floor sighed and shuffled her coffee to go on the table in front of her. Going out in the rain wasn't exactly the most pleasant thing, but considering that her coffee machine had broken down on a Saturday at 8pm she had had no other choice than that.
While she was still trying to distract herself by thinking of the upcoming Christmas days and the next tour she would do (where she would have to tell the ReVamp guys that she would possibly have to quit?) her telephone rang. A Finnish number, it had to be one of the Nightwish guys, but she hadn't learned their numbers by heart.
It was a pleasant surprise when Marco answered the phone - the one with whom she had, against all of her doubts, had a fantastic start.
"Marco!" she said cheerfully.
"How nice you call me. I was just asking myself what the hell I should do."
Marco laughed wholeheartedly.
"You're mirroring me! Manki's out with the boys and I'm here on my own, I'm not even used to that anymore! We can keep talking if you want, but the reason why I called was actually to ask a favour of you."
"A favour?" Floor asked, raising her eyebrow.
"Tell me, I'll see if I can do it."
Instead of an answer she first received a question.
"You know Charlotte, don't you? Charlotte Wessels?"
"Of course I do," Floor said, smiling.
"It's impossible I don't know her. She's amazing."
"I agree with you there," Marco said.
"You live close to her, don't you?"
"Three years ago I did," Floor answered.
"I live in Utrecht, she'd moved from her birthplace close to the city back then. She'd just bought a house together with her boyfriend, I don't think she's moved since then."
"She has a boyfriend?" Marco sounded surprised, causing Floor to frown.
"Yes. You didn't know?"
"She never directly talked about him as far as I remember, and he never visited her i the studio either...
Anyways, what I wanted to ask you: I called Charlotte last night, and... I don't exactly know how to say that but sonething seemed off about her. She's already been kinda off during the last recordings we did together, but now..."
Floor played with her fingers.
"And what could I do against that?"
"I'm not exactly sure either," Marco replied, "but it would calm me if you could just call and maybe meet her. She's such a nice kid, you know? I don't want her to end up like so many others."
Floor knew there was truth in Marco's words. And anyways, meeting Charlotte again would probably be a fantastic thing, considering how well they'd gotten along back then.
"Do you have her phone number?"
About an hour and a half later (the longest phone call she'd ever had with a male person, as she noticed) Marco's family returned and he hung up.
Bit without Floor doing anything about it her doubts about Nightwish and ReVamp had turned into smoke and made way to thoughts and memories of Charlotte.
Utrecht, The Netherlands
Sunday the 23rd of November, Midday
Charlotte was sitting on the table again, stirring a bowl of yogurt that she had taken out of the fridge not because of her hunger but to keep her fingers occupied.
It had been a hard night.
When she had finally found sleep it had constantly been interrupted by a burning pain when the bloody scratches on her back reopened. She had pressed her eyes shut, trying not to whimper and wake him.
He now sat opposite her, his eyes seemingly fixed on the newspaper, but she felt that he was watching her from the corner of his eye. He always did.
Reluctantly she put a spoonful of yogurt into her mouth, slowly chewed the apples she'd put into it, hoped that she wouldn't throw them up again soon.
His day was scheduled. No matter what day of the week it was, he would leave at 7 in the morning without a breakfast (which he supposedly got somewhere in town), return between noon and 1pm to either eat what she had cooked or a takeout lunch (depending on what they had decided for the previous day) and never return before 6pm.
It should have give her relief, but she felt as though he had a sensor for everything she did 'behind his back' and would not allow those things to happen. He didn't like meetings with friends that didn't take place in a record studio, especially not if said friends were male.
Charlotte ate another few spoons of yogurt, realizing how hungry she actually was. When he wordlessly stood up to leave into the direction of the stairs she was just about to start a conversation, unable to endure the silence between them any longer.
The telephone rang.
Charlotte picked it up from the table where she had left it after last night's talk with Marco. He didn't need to tell her to enable the speaker function, it was already programmed into her like into an obedient robot.
"Charlotte? Is this you?"
A female voice, vaguely familiar yet Charlotte didn't know where to sort it.
"Yes. Who's speaking?"
"Floor, Jansen. You remember me?"
"Sure I do!" Charlotte smiled at the memory of the incredible woman. Sometimes it still happened that she thought about how life would have gone with Floor at her side - the strong woman would have strengthened her, so that she- but there was no point in thinking like this.
"I haven't heard of you in a while. How are you doing?"
"Great!" Floor replied.
"It's been a busy year, lots of things happened. I believe you've heard that I'm with Nightwish now?"
Yes, Charlotte had. Nightwish...
It was a weird coincidence that Floor called only a day after Marco had, she thought.
"Anyways, now that I'm finally at home for a while I thought I'd phone you again. It was a great time we had back then. I was hoping to meet you once more."
Charlotte's face lit up in a way that would've been embarrassing if Floor had actually been with her.
"That would be fantastic!" she cried out, but was brought back to reality by a decent coughing in the background. The smile vanished from her face.
Of course he was still there. The joy of hearing from Floor again had made her oblivious to his shaking head.
"But unfortunately my private life is pretty full right now," she quickly cut off Floor's reply.
"Oh," the other woman said.
"Well, there's nothing to do about that. See you then, I guess."
"See you..." Charlotte mumbled with downcast eyes and let her hand with the telephone sink. His steps vanished in the corridor upstairs.
With heavily beating heart Charlotte pressed the key silencing the phone speakers.
"Floor?" she whispered, so quiet that she almost couldn't hear herself.
Charlotte could have cried from relief. Maybe, maybe there was still some luck at her side.
"I've changed my mind," she breathed.
"I can very much fit a meeting into that schedule."
Chapter 3: III.
Utrecht, The Netherlands
Tuesday, the 25th of November, Afternoon
It was as if he spent more time than usual at home during his lunch break. Charlotte was afraid, she was frightened that something would happen out of plan, that everything would go wrong, that he would find out and punish her.
The last night he had not been pleased.
An ice package had reduced the scarlet swelling on her lip and cheeks while the bruises on her upper arms remained. But why would Floor see her upper arms?
It had turned considerably colder on Monday, and Charlotte had lit a fire earlier this day. There was no reason for short sleeved clothes, and her bruised lip would be explainable with the simple by-the-way mention of an annoying habit of lip biting.
Charlotte had told Floor that she would have to leave to an important family party at 5:30 so that her friend would leave in time before he returned. She had planned everything, and if everything went well Floor wouldn't even know about the existence of her partner.
There really were other things that they could talk about.
Of course Charlotte was worried, and of course something could go wrong. But although he became jealous so easily he loved her, she noticed, as she looked at his deep, dark eyes.
He would never hurt her for doing something she wanted to do.
The clock crept forwards like frozen in time.
Minute for minute Charlotte stared at it, kept staring, kept waiting, but the time only seemed to pass slower.
Then, finally, perfectly matching the distant sound of the church bells, he closed his newspapers and went around the table to pull her into a passionate kiss. His skilled fingers ran over her waist underneath her pullover, sending another shiver down her spine before he pushed against her lips again and left her there.
Her heart rate and breathing took too long to calm down again.
She wanted this man. Loved him.
And he loved her.
What should she worry about?
And then she was sitting next to Floor.
Charlotte's heart was beating, for the first time in excitement and not in the rhythm of thrill and fear.
The first thing she had noticed was the incredible softness of the other woman's skin when they had hugged.
Floor had pressed a quick kiss to her forehead (it was likely that her cheeks had been out of the taller woman's reach), and Charlotte had felt a blush accompanying the comfortable warmth that flooded through her body.
"I missed you," Floor said quietly, yet smiling, and put a hand to Charlotte's arm.
"What have you been up to?"
"Me?" Charlotte asked, raising her eyebrows. When had been the last time he had asked her something along those lines?
"Well, I've been busy," she replied quickly before the silence could become awkward.
"Recording, touring, writing... but tell me what you've been up to! Joining Nightwish... I mean, nothing against ReVamp, but Nightwish - that's a whole different league!"
"I know, right?" Floor exclaimed.
"I still can't comprehend it if I should be honest."
She laughed while she put a strand of her dark hair behind her ear. The rest of it fell over her right shoulder like a soft curtain.
"It all happened so fast!" Floor continued.
"'Please learn the setlist in 48 hours'... and then I was headlining Wacken Open Air! It's unbelievable!"
"I've always prophesied greater things for you," Charlotte smiled, only half joking. Floor threw her hair back and closed her eyes. The grin on her face signalized that she was drowning in memories for a moment, and Charlotte let her.
When Floor returned her attention to her, Charlotte was gently rocking her body from left to right while closely watching every movement the taller woman made. She couldn't remember the last time she'd been sitting together with a woman so carelessly.
Charlotte's head unwillingly fell onto Floor's shoulder.
Redness crept up her face but Floor smiled at her in a way that made her heart melt and her head sink back. While Floor was gently ruffling her hair Charlotte closed her eyes and snuggled closer to her friend.
"I'd completely forgotten how great you are," she whispered, more to herself, but Floor obviously heard her.
"All that I'm thinking is that I don't know why I didn't miss you more," she whispered and rested her head onto Charlotte's.
Engaged into the warmth of this embrace Charlotte felt as safe as never before. Even the comfort of a hot bath with hot tea in a locked room where he couldn't find her didn't surpass the feeling - but thinking of him was the last thing that came to his mind.
It was Floor who broke the silence by lifting up her head, laughing sheepishly.
"Why do chairs have the be so uncomfortable?"
"I do have a couch, you know?" Charlotte asked, flashing her a grin and a look. Then she stood up, carefully carried the tea towards the couch table and took a seat on the huge couch between blankets, pillows and more of these, patting the sea next to her.
Floor didn't let her say it twice and took the seat next to her, so that their skin touched.
"Much better," she said contently and poured some tea into her mug. Charlotte followed her example and they sat there in silence, sipping their drinks and enjoying the doubled warmth.
When she had emptied her mug Charlotte stretched and yawned, falling sideways onto the couch. Before she even could react Floor had assumed the same position, her face was now close to Charlotte's head.
"Spoon," she cheekily whispered into her ear, causing Charlotte to giggle. Floor's warm breath tickled in her hair. She stretched herself further and giggled again.
"I have no chance of being the big spoon, have I?" she asked.
"Nope," Floor grinned and quickly wrapped an arm around Charlotte's waist to indeed spoon her.
Pressed so close to Floor's body Charlotte could hear the other woman's rhythmic heartbeat and breath and wondered how anything on this earth could be so calm.
Quickly all her worries left her mind, and Floor and their conversation were all that was left. They talked, now about the previous years, then about their short time together. Their future plans. How Charlotte would record with Marco,how Floor would go on tour with ReVamp, supporting Sabaton.
"I'm glad I'm here, Charlotte," Floor said suddenly.
"I was worried sick about how I'm going to handle these bands. I haven't really rested in about a week. But now... it's all so easy..."
"I feel the same," Charlotte whispered, not daring to move and destroy the moment. Instead of a reply Floor buried her face in Charlotte's hair.
The silence was no longer cold. It gave her a feeling of safety and comfort that seemed to glue her eyes shut.
Charlotte turned around, already half asleep, resting her head on Floor's chest now. The taller woman gave her another small kiss onto her head before she allowed her to drift away - only to flinch a second later, startled by a loud bell somewhere in the distance.
"Shh, Char," Floor whispered and soothed Charlotte while her head sank back to look into Floor's eyes now.
Eyes you could get lost in.
And she did. She got so lost that she blended out all of her surroundings and their sounds, including the church bells.
Before Charlotte really knew what was happening their faces were inches apart, Floor gazed at her as intensely as Charlotte gazed at her.
Seconds that seemed like eternities later she felt Floor's lips for the second time on this day, this time brushing over hers, lightly at first, then with increased pressure, as a kiss so intimate and loving that Charlotte could not believe what was happening.
He never had- He.
At an instant Charlotte recoiled and drew her head back.
"I have a boyfriend," she wanted to shout, but after the breathless gasp in which the first word came out she froze.
She looked into his eyes.
"She has a boyfriend," he icily replied in her place, grabbing her hand tightly to pull her away from Floor.
"I believe it would be better for you to leave. Now."
Charlotte's breath got stuck in her throat. In the threatening silence she didn't dare breathe. Her stare silently begged Floor to stay, to let her explain, to not leave her alone.
But Floor didn't look at her anymore. The eyes on the ground she only nodded.
Don't go, Charlotte's mind screamed and pleaded.
Don't leave me here. Don't you see it?
But Floor didn't see it. She grabbed her coat without a word, shut the front door and left Charlotte alone, delivered to his wrath.
"I'm a liar," she whispered tonelessly.
"I'm a cheater. I'm a whore."
"Louder," he demanded sternly. His gaze told her that she should follow his demand, but her voice cracked away, no word came over her bloodied lips anymore.
With all her power she shook her head.
The pain came flashing down on her like lightning that struck her body, cracking open the skin on her cheeks so that it seemed as though she was crying bloodied tears.
She lay on the floor, without a chance to defend herself as he bent down to rip her pullover of her body, exposing the bruises and cuts all over it.
"How many of these come from kisses with your whore?" he hissed. Charlotte whimpered silently. Hot tears began to fill her eyes, in the wounds they burnt like open fire.
Lightning struck again.
Charlotte begged that she would lose her conscience soon.
"So you don't want to tell me, hm?" he whispered, gently stroking over her hair.
"Maybe we'll have a way to make you... remember."
She screamed out in pain as he violently yanked at her hair. Few strands fell into the blood on the floor, she was not able to see them anymore as he pressed her down with a force that nearly crushed her bones.
"Please," she cried beggingly, as loud as she only was able to.
"Lord... please... please... PLEASE..."
But it didn't stop. And after all the years of 'love', she knew that this was the time it wouldn't.
This was the final end.
Floor's heart was painfully pounding in her chest. She stood there like paralyzed with a hand in front of her mouth, begging to an invisible force that she would stay unnoticed.
The invisible force didn't hear her.
"There's your whore," she heard Charlotte's boyfriend hiss at the younger woman inside, receiving a pained cry in reply. Floor had no sight of her friend, but she was as afraid as never before.
Finally, the blockade in her limbs left her and allowed her to run.
Ignoring the pain in her side she ran away, down the street to the next house she could reach, and ran the doorbell in desperation.
"She's leaving," he whispered. Charlotte could barely hear his words Anymore while the world was going down in a swirl of red and black.
"She's running for help, but they're not gonna believe her. It's her against me. And they'll never find you.
And with these words Charlotte knew that it was over. There was nothing left to lose.
She dragged up her bruised and broken body with the aid of the final bit of adrenaline somewhere in her veins amd threw herself against him.
In surprise he cried out, Charlotte was able to see a blurred trace of blood running down his nose.
With a deep roar he crushed her back onto the floor, pushing himself on top of her. He forced his lips onto hers violently, she struggled below him, unable to breathe after a short time already. Her head and chest were close to exploding.
Then, he pulled away from her lips, before she had even taken a breath he had rolled down from her, turned her onto her back where he sat on her. Once more sharp fingernails dug into her skin, only now there was no more lust involved.
The last adrenaline was gone.
Charlotte closed her eyes, her body went limp as she heard something crushing, probably within her. His iron grasp wrapped around her throat, the incredible pain returned, increased to a point where Charlotte thought it was Hell.
Then it was all gone.
Chapter 4: IV.
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."