WARNING: ADULTS ONLY. Readers are strongly cautioned. “Broken” portrays sensitive subject matters including animal abuse, torture, and graphic sexual violence. There is strong language, drug reference and is not suitable for some audiences. Please proceed with caution.
I opened the red door of my cottage and peered through the crack into the early morning. My home was out of the way of everything. Those who came to visit had to make an effort and almost no one made the effort. I liked it that way.
“Miss Lundy?” he said nervously. “Miss Elizabeth Lundy?”
Like a sniper staring through the scope of a rifle, I assessed the youth, determined the level of threat he posed, and punched out the stats in my head: Male. Twenty-two years. Five-five. One twenty pounds. Thin arms. Wide shoulders, straight back. If he worked out he could turn more than a few heads. Pity he didn’t bother.
He smiled a bright smile that exposed a decent set of teeth. Everything about his composure exuded relief and elation once he saw that I hadn’t slammed the door in his face.
“Good morning,” he said and it truly was. The sun bathed the deep greens of the forest and hills despite the white clouds that streaked the Irish sky. The stream that cut through the land behind him caught the light and glistened like crystal glass. The rains would be here by evening, but for now, it was a very good morning.
He was American. New England. His hair was sandy, short, and brushed back. Eyes were hazel and clear. Skin, pasty pale. Not a fair Irish pale I had grown used to seeing, but an unhealthy sickly complexion one can only get from living in an office too long. Desk jockey, I concluded. Pencil pusher. Virgin. I could take him. I could teach him a few things. I would break him.
“Dia Duit,” I answered softly and waited for an explanation.
“Miss Lundy. I’m William D. Shaw from the university.” He nervously shuffled his bag then freed and extended a long, slender hand. His fingers were strong, almost pianist quality and I felt my blood rise when I slid my hand into his. Strong shake. Confident. Not feeble or limp. I imagined his hands on me. Sliding up my neck, through my hair. If he knew what he was doing, that is. He didn’t look like he would. He was shaking, but doing a decent job keeping it together all things considered.
“We spoke on the phone,” he said. “Well…we didn’t speak on the phone so much as I left you a voice message. I…may I come in?”
I released his hand and noted the warmth. His blood pressure was high, but no sweat. That was a plus.
I pulled my cell from my pock and woke the phone. Yep. There was the message I didn’t want to listen to yesterday. I hated checking my voicemail. I associate it with matters of importance and nothing ever was. Such a pain. I also hated guests, change, interruptions, and the feeling I got when someone came to my door. Anxiety, terror, then the arousal. I wanted him to leave and afterward I would indulge on a bit of fantasy. The anxiety always won and I rushed them out the door. I never invited them in. Never asked them to sit down. They were not welcome. They needed to know that. But I had promised myself I would do better. I had felt myself regressing again. Two months is too long to go without contact. Even I knew this. I could invite him in or don my coat and go out. I felt sick at the thought of a crowded room.
“Yes. Come in,” I said and pushed the door open, giving him room enough to enter my domicile while granting myself the space for my own comfort.
Mine was a small domicile with one floor, perfect for just me. Aged rich planks made up the wood floor and whitewashed stone formed the walls, which were dressed in moss, roses, and ivy on the outside. The old kitchen that greeted guests, if ever I had any, extended into an eatery that turned a sharp corner around the only bathroom and into a quaint living room I had converted into a greenhouse years ago.
Aside from a plain, but comfortable sage couch, a rocking chair where a faux fur blanket hung on the back, and a bookshelf containing my most prized possessions, the room was dripping in plants. Floor plants, hanging plants, and floral potted things all strategically positioned to bask in the morning light that poured in through the giant bay window where my tabby cat, Cookie, spent her days watching the birds. That room gave the same feel of an old forest. I loved reading in that room. A Steinway electric piano graced the corner and provided a gracious view of the forest outside when I played. My bedroom was accessible only through the green room.
Mr. Shaw stepped into the small part of my kitchen reserved for dining. He studied the living room I had converted to a greenhouse across from the dining table. Cookie flipped her long, plush tail and stared at the birds through the large bay window where the morning sun seeped in.
He appeared surprised at the simple accommodations and inhaled the scent of Irish stew simmering on the stove. Directly left of the red door was the only fireplace I used to dry the air on the dampest of days and coldest of nights.
“What can I do you for, Mr. Shaw?” I asked.
“Thank you, Miss. Lundy, for seeing me,” he said. “Please, call me William.”
I gave him a disapproving stare.
“I was wondering if you would be willing to do an interview with me? I’m a big fan. Longtime fan, actually, and your work with the Druid Series was astounding. Ian was…”
I said nothing, unimpressed with his compliment, but forced a smile. I was still too annoyed at the interruption.
“I’ve been following you for quite some time and…well, nothing is known about you,” he said. “Nothing, really. It’s all so limited.”
He saw I wasn’t impressed and was eager for him to get to the point.
“Right,” he said. “So I was wondering if you would be willing to do an interview…”
The tension was unbearable. I watched the way he rubbed his thumb on the strap of his back pack.
He was still rambling when I zoned back in and hadn’t heard a word he said. I took great delight in watching him squirm. Maybe if he was as anxious as I, he would get the hint and leave.
“My dear, Mr. Shaw,” I said and raised my chin so that he could see the sunlight graze my neck. “Please, speak plainly,” I said softly.
I felt myself doing it again. Already my defenses were up. If I could coerce him into thinking about sex, I would be safer. I needed to calm down. He was no threat. I had already assessed that. Good God, I missed my swords.
“Beggin’ your pardon ma’am?”
I watched him glance at the slender lines of my neck. It was working. He would calm down soon enough.
“There is something else you wish to ask me,” I gently declared. I watched him relax and I smiled. I knew the light gleamed in my eye and I tipped my head ever so slightly. I had this routine mastered. “Instead of winding your nerves into all sorts of knots, please just ask what you will of me.”
I could feel the smooth coercion in my voice, the way my words rolled off my tongue and soothed him like a charmed snake heeding the words of a succubus. He inhaled and I waited patiently.
“I had hoped to wait until later to ask this, you being a recluse and all. I…” He nervously glanced away. “I wish to do a full biography on you.”
The room fell quiet. The boy was holding his breath as if afraid my answer hinged on whether or not he breathed in the next two minutes. I toyed with the idea of delaying an answer for ten minutes just to watch him squirm.
After three minutes, I put him out of his misery. “You wish to write a biography.”
“So…” I grinned. I could see his jaw line twitch. He still hadn’t breathed. “…you’ve come to descend into the bowels of my psyche, have you?” I took up the coffee pot and poured myself a cup. “And what is it you think you’ll find there, Mr. Shaw?”
I added a tea spoon of sugar and opened the fridge.
“Why a biography?” I clarified.
“Well, you’ve been strangely quiet about your life,” he said. “Your past. Almost no one knows anything about you prior to your thirties. People want to know. I know some who have started a pool that you’ve killed someone. They think you’re a serial killer hiding from the law.”
I leaned out of the fridge, arching my brow. I permitted a smirk.
“It’s the eyes,” he said. “They…”
He caught the look, my posture. Nothing he was saying impressed me and he knew it. For a moment, there was a hungry flash in his eye and surprising even me, he dumped his bag to the floor.
“Miss Lundy,” he took a step and I straightened my back, my hand went up and before he knew it, I was holding a knife to his throat. He didn’t move.
I blinked and realized he hadn’t moved. There was no knife. There was only me and him in my kitchen. The fridge door was wide open. The coffee creamer in my hand. The look in his eyes was enough to know I had my boundaries and he was on them.
I knew where I was. It had been too long. I blinked back the image and tried to clear my head. I had to remember which world I was in. I put the creamer back in the fridge and reached for the Baileys I kept with my whiskeys and wines on the top of the fridge instead.
“This isn’t just about your books, Miss Lundy,” he said. “This is about you, the author. People want to know about you, the woman behind the books, and you’ve told us precious little.”
“That was no accident,” I said, pouring two shots into my coffee. “Do you want coffee?”
My invitation for coffee was enough to urge him to slide off his coat and drop it on the back of the chair nearest the door.
I let the silence settle between us while I poured a second cup then walked to the table beside my guest. I set the coffees down and extended a hand, directing him to sit.
“So,” I sighed, taking my seat as he scrambled eager to take his. “You wish to write my biography.”
“Yes, Ma’am,” he said. “People want to know who you are. What you are. What made you write the books that you write. They wish to know your schooling, your loves, your struggles. What challenges in your life made you what you are. They want to know your lows, your highs. They want to know…” He sighed. “They want to know what struggles shaped you to write the macabre you portray in your books.”
I clutched my coffee. I felt sick. The challenges in my life? I held my cup steady against my shaking hands. I didn’t trust myself to move. I knew what he asked. The poor whelp didn’t. My hands went white.
“Get out,” I said darkly.
William stared at me stupid, and I felt the anger surge. He didn’t move. Nor did I.
Perhaps I needed to tell my story, to talk, to not be alone. I knew where I was. If I were alone right now I would descend into the bowels of my mind and, this time, I wasn’t certain I could come back. There was less and less reason for me to.
I heard William shuffle and take up his bag from the floor. I thought of Jacob and Isaiah. I thought of my Raven. Oh, how much I missed Raven. So much. So…so much.
Don’t think about that.
I took a sip of my coffee and felt the tears burn, but that well had dried up long ago. I heard William take up his coat and his bag from the floor. He opened the door and just like that, I didn’t want him to go.
“You think this is some love story?” I said.
He stopped at the door.
“The life I’ve lived, you think it’s something to admire, to aspire to? You think I hoard romanticism within my silence?”
He watched me with a look, uncertain if he had offended me or not.
“You hope to hear a fairy tale, Mr. Shaw, a “Hemmingway-lost-love” story, but what you will get is a nightmare.”
He closed the door.
“There are those whose lives are hell,” I said. “Hell barely begins to explain what I have lived. The books I wrote were buried beneath the endless screams. Most days, I can not write or think or breathe over the screaming in my head.”
William dumped his bag to the floor. This time, he remained at the door.
“You let me into your home,” he said. “You agreed to hear me out. You invited me in and poured me coffee. Part of you wants this story told.”
And he wasn’t wrong. I did want this story told. I did want to release this poison inside of me. Something longed to put it out there. I ached to be heard. I had tried so many times before. I had written the outlines, drawn up the plans. I knew exactly what parts to tell. I knew which parts needed to be heard. But it felt selfish. It felt wrong.
A part of me ached to do this in the chance that someone, anyone would hear me, just once. Oh, how I longed to be heard just once. Perhaps that was why I always spoke my mind. I was tired of not being heard.
I gazed at the man-boy in front of me. The fire in his eye confirmed his determination.
“It feels selfish,” I said. “Talking about myself like this.”
“I’m asking you to do this,” he said. “I want to know.”
“I don’t want to,” I said.
Something in the boy told him to hold his tongue. Now was the time to listen. For that, I was grateful.
“I want to bury this inside me,” I said. “You must understand. There is a part of me that always longs for death. There are days, it hurts too much. I can not get angry. I can never be angry. I won’t allow it. I’m afraid of what I will do if ever I get angry.”
He stared with that look I’ve seen so many times. The look everyone gets when they hear pure honesty. People don’t hear it often. The inner most thoughts of our psyche. Those are the words we keep secret.
I gazed out the south windows across the table. The hills were green and calm as if they had suffered and weathered and aged over a lifetime of ancient wars. And endured it all, they did. Today, nothing more could bother them. Nothing mattered anymore. Endurance teaches us one thing if nothing else, to savor the calm after a storm. To savor the lives of those who survived.
Hadn’t I savored long enough? Perhaps it was time to reflect.
“Twenty four hours,” I said.
He blinked as if stunned I had agreed.
I took up my coffee, grateful I had added the double shot. This morning, today, I would need it.
“I’ll give you until dawn. Whatever you ask of me, I’ll answer. Whatever you wish, I’ll consent.”
He blinked again, this time relief, shock. He didn’t smile.
He dropped his coat, slid off his shoes and placed them properly beside the door, toes pointing away from the wall. He grabbed his bag and, in a rush, dropped a notebook and pens on the table.
He pulled out a recorder, checked its batteries, and positioned it between us. I waited until he was settled in before beginning.
“How is your tolerance for swearing, Mr. Shaw?”
“Uh…fine, I guess,” he answered.
“If I am to tell this, then I am telling this the only way I know how,” I said sternly.
He nodded attentively. “At times, I will be vulgar, crass, and uncouth. I will be graphic and blunt and honest. Understand, that if I attempt to censor myself, then there is a chance—a good chance—I will not finish this. So I ask again, Mr. Shaw, can you handle vile and vulgar?”
He nodded. I knew I made him nervous.
Good. He needed to be. “Let’s start,” I said.
He settled into the chair and positioned his pen, eager for the lesson.
“I have a fear of relationships,” I began. “When I love, I love easy, deep, hard, strong, and long. But I can not marry. I can not live with anyone. I can not accept gifts from anyone or let anyone close enough for intimacy. If we do this…” William looked up from his paper, suddenly aware that I was addressing him directly. “…you are not to touch me,” I said. “You are not to comfort me. You are not to approach me.”
He stared at me, not sure why I was saying this. But I knew. I had given this disclaimer so many times before. This was the best way.
“Know my intentions now. Know what I am, so when I flirt and smile and play with you, you’ll know exactly what my intentions are. We will never be more than friends. If we have sex, it will be nothing more than just sex,” I said. “I will cry afterward and you are to let me. If you touch me, I will attack you. I will want to kill you.”
He looked stupidly at me now. But when we get into this and I throw myself at him, if I break and lunge at him, he’ll know why. He’ll need to know why.
“Do not love me. You can not have me. You can not keep me or wife me. I can not be owned or possessed. I will stray. I always stray. If you get close, there will be a day when I will push you away only to pull you close to me to push you away again.
“Do not love me. I will love you hard and long and deep, but to keep you safe from me, I will destroy what little is left between us. I will reject you. Let me save you the time and trouble. Do not love me. You have been warned.”