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No Light

April 4, 2014

“Hey, Aaron, wait up!”

I turn with a smile, recognizing Ervin’s voice as he calls out to me. I linger for a moment as he catches up, looming up next to me with all of the impressive stature of a bull.

“Where you headed?” he asks, grinning at me so that his white teeth show. He’s had his blond hair cut again, a shaggy bowl that spills down to his arched eyebrows.

“For the square. I’m off tonight, thought I’d skate,” I tell him, and ruffle my fingers through his fine hair. “Why do you always cut it?”

“Not everybody can pull off long hair, baby boy,” he tells me, and does me one better by curling a tendril of my hair around one large finger to give it a soft tug. I don’t mind it. I’ve always let Ervin do whatever he wants, because he never really wants anything from me.

“There’s a party tonight. You’ll come, right?” he asks, letting go of me as we move on. The wind picks at my long bangs, blowing the strands into my eyes.

“Uh, I don’t know…” I hedge, trying to summon another smile. He moves a lot of goods through those parties, and he hasn’t been busted even once. But then, I’ve made it a point to never be at one. I’m bad luck. Bad, through and through. “Ervin…you know I’m bad luck…”

“Oh, come on, Aaron!” He complains, amused. “You know how I hate it when you aren’t around!”

It makes me blush, but my smile is genuine. It’s stupid the way he flirts with me, because he isn’t interested and he never has been. I think he knows how I adore him.

I hope he doesn’t realize that I love him.

“Will Sacha be there?” I lightly ask, wondering if he’ll ever let me meet the girl he’s crazy in love with. For whatever reason, Ervin has been really insistent on keeping her from all of us. I think I’m the only one who knows her name. I might be the only one who knows she exists.

“Don’t ask crazy shit!” he laughs. “Sacha doesn’t do those kinds of parties. She’s classy, right? C’mon, you gotta be there. I can’t be at a party all by myself, I’d look like a loser.”

Which is absolutely silly and he knows it.

“Alright. When and where?”

Ervin grins and drapes his arm over my shoulders, saying casually, “Seventeenth street at one.”

I stop in my tracks and stare up at him. He’s better than a foot taller than me, and probably has sixty pounds on me in broad, hard muscle.

“Seventeenth?” I echo, hoping I didn’t hear him correctly.

“Yeah,” Ervin insists, dragging me with him when  I fail to keep moving. “Over at Dana’s place.”

“But Ervin, that’s – ”

“Yeah, I know, Aaron,” he says, not sounding worried when he should be. He totally should be. “That’s Nails’ territory.”

I’ve never seen Nails, but I’ve heard of him, and the stories are enough to make me pale with horror. I’ve heard how he got his name, torturing people by hammering nails through their hands and using pliers to rip their fingernails off. I’ve heard about how he runs things, how everyone is so terrified of him that they don’t dare turn on him. And somehow Ervin has fallen afoul of this demonic person and it literally flirting with disaster.

Because Nails has made it abundantly clear that if he ever gets hold of Ervin, he’ll kill him.

Done.

“But, Ervin…”

“Don’t worry, Aaron,” he tells me, looking abashed. “He won’t find me. Besides…”

He gets a funny expression on his face. Not funny haha, but funny weird, almost like he’s looking at something a long ways away. In a strangely certain voice, he adds, “Nails wouldn’t really kill me. Not me…”

I’ve never asked him about Nails. No one knows what happened – how they met, what went down, if they were always enemies or if they had a falling out. Ervin never talks about it. I’ve never felt like I was close enough to him to ask, but this makes me really wonder. The rumor is that Ervin used to run in Nails’ ring, but I can’t find the truth in it. All I know for sure is that if anything ever happened to Ervin, I would die…

“Worry wart.” He pokes me in the ribs like it’s nothing, like he didn’t as good as say he’s playing with fire. “It’ll be fine, Aaron. Don’t be late, okay?”

He breaks away from me at a trot, graceful for all of his height, a fit and quick man in baggy clothes and a backwards ballcap. How can someone look so messy and so good at the same time?

“I won’t be,” I call after him, remembering the first night I met him. Ervin is the one who rescued me from being another statistic. Two years ago my mom’s husband found out that I’d kissed another boy in our apartment complex, and he beat me so badly that I thought he might kill me. My mom just watched. She just watched, because she was too scared of losing him to be scared of losing me.

I think it was because of her that I ran away. It wasn’t because he hit me and called me a faggot. It wasn’t because he broke my heart and my pride all at once. It was because my mother was so desperate to be loved that she decided sacrificing me was worth it.

I didn’t want to live after that, really. I had nowhere to go, no one who loved me, no prospects and no hope. I ran away with blood running down my face, barely able to stand, and was on the bridge to jump when Ervin dragged me back. He took me to the hospital, paid my medical bills, and gave me a place in his home while I recovered. Hell, he even helped me find a job so I could pay him back, which I happily have. He was the first person in my life who made me feel needed.

I owe Ervin my life. I wouldn’t have it any other way. There’s nothing I wouldn’t do for him. Nothing.

So I go to the stupid party.

It’s loud and there’s so many people. When I’m not working, I don’t like being around crowds. I’m shy of strangers, even if I mask it pretty well at work.

I see Ervin in the next room, towering over the people around him. He’s working his magic, making the money that helps feed all of us who live with him. He glances up and sees me, and smiles.

“Hey, there you are! Come here, Aaron!”

I slide through the crowd, laughing when he asks, “You been looking for me long?”

“No,” I say, sliding into a space at his side. “You aren’t exactly inconspicuous, bigfoot.”

“Thanks, kids. Have fun tonight, and next time you need the hook up, remember me,” Ervin says, finishing his business with a group of lovestruck teens. Girls love Ervin. It’s really kind of annoying.

“Money in the bank, baby!” Ervin tells me, sweeping his ballcap off and plopping it on my head sideways. I right it with a laugh and try not to blush.

“Here, I saved this for you.” He holds out his hand to me, offering a tiny pill.

I eye it warily and tell him,  “No, Ervin, that’s ok. You know I don’t do that stuff.”

“Open up, Aaron,” he orders, gripping my jaw. Despite my hesitation, I open my lips for him and he pushes the pill under my tongue. It’s all I can do not to suck on his finger when he starts to pull away. It’s oddly satisfying when he picks up another pill with those same fingers and slides it under his own tongue, sucking on them briefly. It’s like an almost-kiss.

I’m not sure what it is, because I never get nosy about Ervin’s business, but the world takes on a decidedly weird cast almost immediately.

“Quick, huh?”

He sounds like he’s at the end of a tunnel and my ears start to rings. Something cold and wet slaps into my hand and he tells me, “Have a beer, baby.”

I drink it because he tells me to, wincing at the bitter taste. Somehow, I think he moves away from me or something. Someone is kissing my neck but I don’t care about it, and I move away to wander around in a dumb haze. Nothing makes sense. I’m too hot and so tired. When I open a door and find a bed, I just go in and flop down.

I lay there and wish, hope, dream that Ervin comes to me…and he does.

But he’s not alone.

There’s a girl with him, clinging as he drags her inside and slams the door after her. The bed groans a complaint as they land next to me. I listen to them make love, my hand fisted at my mouth, shedding tears without meaning to. I feel so lost and ashamed because it’s not me that he wants and it never will be.

But when it’s over…

When it’s over, she isn’t the one he turns to.

It’s me.

His big body curls at my back and he drags me into him, snuggling me tightly into the curve of his rigid belly.

I know he doesn’t love me. I know he doesn’t even want me, but at least he never makes me feel like I should die for being me.

I close my eyes, nestle closer to him, and drift off to sleep.



“GET UP!”

The panicked shouting slices through my sleep.

“Aaron! Get up! We have to go now!”

I sit up, groggy, watching in confusion as Ervin stumbles into his pants and shoves his feet into his shoes.  “What?”

“It’s Nails.”

It’s like iced water on my skin. I bound out of the bed in stark terror, snatching up Ervin’s shirt and tossing it to him. He yanks it on, grabs my hand, and drags me out through the window onto the fire escape.

It’s predawn darkness. I can’t see much beyond a wall of Ervin’s ring who’ve come at the rumor of danger. They wait for us in the alley. I think we’re going to run, but they unexpectedly bristle, and I’m helpless with fear. I feel sick, trapped, scared.

“Aaron! Stay back!” Ervin shoves me between two dumpsters and pushes down on my head. “You’re no fighter! Let us take care of it.”

“But it’s him!” My voice comes out as high and breathy as a girl’s. My fear softens Ervin for a moment. He gives me a gentle, tight smile and says, “I can handle Nails, baby boy. You stay here where it’s safe.”

They don’t use guns. Guns are fast and virtually painless – no, the law of this street is payment in pain. Brass knuckles, lead pipes, bricks, anything they can get their hands on; the two sides clash with devastating results, a chaos of bloody, wounded bodies, screaming, and shattering glass. It isn’t about making bodies and problems with the law, it’s about territory and retaliation – the more pain, the better.

I hide there. I’m not ashamed to say that Ervin is right. I’m not a fighter. I’m small, light, and slender. All of the things that make me good at my job work against me in a bloody street fight.

But that doesn’t keep me silent when Ervin falls on the cracked cement just a few feet away from me, his head hitting with a dull thump that makes me sob.

A long, lithe shadow reaches down and gathers up his limp body by the front of the shirt. I shiver when I hear a low, raspy voice say, “You didn’t listen to me…”

When he kicks him in the chest, I scream without realizing it.

And he sees me.

He sees me.

I feel his light blue eyes like hell’s own fire locking onto me, fierce and unwavering. What else can I do? What? I crawl out on all fours and beg.

“P…please don’t.” I hate that I’m shaking, that my voice cracks with fear. He’s not as tall as Ervin but he’s terrifying, every tattooed inch of him. He puts his weight on the booted foot he has planted in Ervin’s chest and I hear him moan in pain.

“Stop!” I scream, and fling myself down to cradle Ervin’s bloody head. Several of Nails’ crew gather closer. I can feel his eyes on me and I dare to look up into his face.

He stares down at me, unexpectedly handsome, even with those fierce, narrowed blue eyes. His mouth is drawn into a silent snarl, revealing teeth so sharp they look like a wolf’s. There’s an expression on his face that I can’t make sense of. He looks pained, betrayed.

I don’t expect mercy. But I expect that maybe I’ll do instead.

“Please…” I almost choke on my fear. “Hurt me instead!”

Nails sneers, disgusted. His eyes meet mine, and  I don’t know what it is, but when he looks at me…there’s an odd connection….disquieting… “Please.” I lower my head, waiting for all of that wrath to be visited on me. It isn’t the first time I’ve taken a beating for no reason, and I doubt it will be the last.

The last thing I expect is for his low, raspy voice to bark out, “Take that fucking cowardly bitch and get the fuck out of here.”

I stare at the tips of his scuffed combat boots, unable to comprehend it until he snarls at the others, “Let’s go.”

They melt into the shadows like they’d never even been here in the first place. Not a one of Ervin’s cronies is standing. It’s hard for me to get him on his feet without their help, dead weight that he is, but he rouses enough to stagger with me, leaning on me as much as he’s able.

For whatever reason, the Devil showed mercy. I feel lucky. Still,  the way he looked at Ervin…

I look at Ervin’s bloody face and all I can feel is grateful that he isn’t dead. Maybe I’m not so unlucky, then. When I’m able to get us a cab right on the street at this hour, I think that maybe I’m lucky after all.



Ervin is hurt pretty badly. Badly enough that I want to take him to the hospital.

But I don’t because we don’t have enough money. Right now, there are seven other people living in his house with us. Most of them work at clubs as servers or as strippers – things that don’t ask for an ID or require any personal information. Together, we hardly pool enough to cover the expenses of the house itself, let alone afford food and medical care. A hospital is simply out of the question.

“Ervin, here,” I say, panting under the strain of holding him up. At two hundred pounds, he has over sixty extra on me in pure muscle and he’s built like an ox. It’s hard to bear up under him, even if his raw strength often makes me a little giddy. “Come on, moose – step up!”

He stumbles up the stairs and I just take him straight to the bathroom to clean him up.

He starts coming to a little more when I plop him down on the stool to get his shoes off.

“You okay?”

I look up and give him my best smile, inwardly wincing when I see the bruised black eye he’s sporting and the blossoming spread of his broken nose. Lucky for him he has a wide bridge anyway and it won’t ruin his good looks.

“Yeah, I’m fine,” I tell him, and tug his shirt over his head.

He lifts his arms obligingly, hissing softly in pain, his light blue eyes squeezing closed for a brief moment.

“Ervin, this looks terrible,” I tell him, inspecting the river of cuts and bruises that run down his sides. “I want to take you to the hospital. I think you’ve got some broken ribs, at least. Are you breathing okay?”

“Yeah,” he says, but with difficulty, and blows out a breath. “Jesus, that guy’s a monster.”

“Come on, I’ll help you stand,” I say, offering my hands to him. “You need to shower, like seriously.”

It takes us a couple of tries, but I get him on his feet and kneel to free his baggy pants and boxers from his long, large feet when he gingerly lifts them.

“Aaron,” he says when I stand up, his filthy, bloody clothes in my arms. He’s paused with one hand on the wall, slightly bent over to take the pressure off of his ribs. In an unsteady voice, he says, “Thanks, baby boy.”

“Anytime,” I tell him, and joke with him because even beat up and bloody, seeing Ervin naked like this is pretty much the sum of my dreams. “You look awful. Holler at me when you’re done and I’ll help you out, okay?”

“Sure.”

He gets in and cranks the taps. I put his dirty laundry away in the hamper in his room and turn his sheets down for him on the bed I made this morning. Most of the time, he only naps here during the day and does whatever it is he does all night – usually peddling drugs and whatever he can get his paws on. Really, for this being his house, he doesn’t spend much time here. I can only remember a handful of times he’s actually stayed overnight in the past two years that I’ve lived here.

I linger around the bathroom even though he doesn’t need me to, and slide in with a towel whenever I hear the water stop.

“Thanks, Aaron,” he says, dripping and hurting. He reaches for the towel but draws back with a hiss.

“Okay, here’s the part where you don’t let it bother you that I like guys, okay?” I tell him, and he laughs and warns me, “Don’t make me laugh, you jerk. It hurts!”

I take it as permission and briskly towel him off, wishing that things like this were the kinds of things that make two people draw close. But the sad truth is that the only man in the world I love is only interested in girls. Done.

“Ervin, I want to take you to the hospital,” I say again, and when he starts to shake his head I urgently tell him, “I’ll take extra clients or something! I’ll pick up extra sets! Anything! You’re hurt!”

“Help me to bed, I’ll be okay,” he tells me, letting me wrap the towel around his hips and tuck it in. I steady him as he shuffles to his room and gingerly gets into bed, pulling the towel free.

“Here, let me see that,” I say, taking it and kneeling. I wipe off the bottoms of his feet and say with a smile, “You don’t want crumblies in there with you. I just changed your sheets yesterday.”

He flops back with a groan and breathlessly says, “Thanks for taking such good care of me, Aaron.”

I pull the covers up over him and smooth them, telling him, “Anytime, you know that. Get some rest. If you’re still bad before I go to work tomorrow, I’m taking you to the hospital whether you like it or not.”

“Deal,” he says, and drapes his thick forearm over his eyes to block out the light.

I hit the switch on my way out and quietly close the door, wishing I was in there next to him.

I go to bed and sleep it off, not rising until two in the afternoon. When I go to check on Ervin, he’s already up and gone, but I find a pile of prescription inserts tossed carelessly on his bed.

“What’d he do, take out a loan?” I murmur, wondering how on earth he’d managed to see a doctor in the first place, let alone fill so many medications. But I’m glad he’s managed it somehow. I’m glad he’s going to be okay.

I glance out of the window and see him talking to a man in a black suit who’s waiting next to a sleek black sedan. Evin is gesturing pretty wildly, but he’s also grinning and showing off his blackened eyes.

“You moose,” I fondly say, wondering who that guy is that he pays such attention to that overgrown child of a drug dealer. Whoever he is, he exchanges something with Ervin and goes on his way.

Business as usual.

I smile and turn away from the window to go get ready for my night, and I forget all about the man in the alley wearing that expensive black suit.



It’s been a week since Nails beat up Ervin, but the event still scares me so much that I’m reluctant to walk home from work alone. There isn’t much that can be done about it, though. I try to keep to the lit roads where there are crowds, then I laugh at myself because I’m not the one that Nails is hoping to kill.

I still get goosebumps when I think of him. His face. His eyes. I still shiver when I remember the connection I felt when our eyes met.

I’m thinking about it so hard that I’ve entirely forgotten my caution. I yelp in surprise when a hard hand grabs my arm and yanks me into the open maw of a sleek, black van.

“That’s him, right, boss? Ervin’s baby boy.”

My heart locks up, sinking and sliding in my chest when that raspy, purring voice says,“So you’re Aaron.”

I nearly lose myself panicking because it’s him! Oh God! It’s him!

Passing streetlights throw light on his pale face, turning his wolfish grin into a devil’s leer.

“Gag him and tie him. I don’t want to hear him scream just yet.”

I struggle, but like I said, I’m not a fighter. They tie me up with embarrassing ease and gag me. I hope desperately that Ervin will realize in time to come save me, but there’s little hope of that. Nails will kill me, maybe as an example to Ervin, as a warning. I steel myself for pain. I think of my own death and find out that I’m just as resigned to it now as I was two years ago when I looked down at the river below me and started to jump. It’s an unhappy realization, an ugly reminder that no matter what, I’m still that boy who ran away from home, still that failure as a son, still that failure as a human…

But at least I’m not scared.

It seems like we drive forever. I lose track of things when they blindfold me. When the van finally stops, I have no idea where we are or how far we’ve come. I’m shaking as I’m dragged inside, my tears soaking the blindfold, my teeth clenching in the gag. I hope that if he kills me, Ervin doesn’t think it’s his fault somewhere. That’s the only thing that really scares me.

Someone shoves me so hard that I fall, unable to catch myself on my bound hands, and hit my head on a concrete floor. People laugh. There are a lot of people. Someone kicks me in the stomach and I double over the pain, hoping I don’t puke and choke on it. Someone else rips the blindfold off and I look around wildly at the inside of an abandoned factory. There’s a huge group of people circled around me, laughing at my pain.

“So, you’re Ervin’s latest honeypot, huh?”

I cringe when I hear Nails’ voice, purring and low but still carrying. He strides up to me and crouches, yanking my head back by my hair so that my throat tightens with pain. Whatever he sees in my face doesn’t satisfy him. He thrusts me away from him hard enough to make me roll a little, and orders, “Beat him.”

They do.

They kick me, pound me with fists and whatever comes to hand. They cut me with glass and bottlecaps, grind their boots into my wounds. I feel my nose break, feel the ring through my nostril tear, feel the small bones in my hands crack under stomping feet. I feel it and the pain is so great that I just stop feeling it. I lay insensible on the floor, not even crying anymore, curled in the fetal position in a splattered stain of my own blood.

It takes me a moment to realize that they’ve stopped, that Nails himself is coming forward again. He slides his studded belt off of his hips and doubles it over, snapping it painfully across my shoulders, but after everything, I hardly feel it. I don’t know if it’s the shock or what, but I really just don’t feel it.

“Aaron,” he says, stopping when he realizes it doesn’t affect me, moving to crouch next to me. “Ervin’s baby boy…Had enough yet?”

He spreads my right hand on the concrete. I choke on the gag when he flattens my bent fingers, writhing suddenly at the pain. My eyes widen and I almost pass out when I see someone hand him four slender nails and a bloody, rusty hammer.

“What’d he do to make you stick so close to him, huh?” Nails asks me. He probes a finger into the webbing of my thumb, places the point of the nail very precisely, and asks, “Why the fuck would you beg to take his place?”

I can’t answer because of the gag, but he doesn’t need me to. He smirks at me, enjoying my pain, and tells me, “You said you would take his place, didn’t you? Well, I’m your fairy-fucking-godmother. Wish granted, you little bitch.”

He brings the hammer down precisely, and I scream so hard that the world goes black as the nail bites through my flesh and into the concrete floor.



When I wake up, I wish I’d died.

I resist the freezing water that sloshes over me, lacking the strength to even guard against it. My pain is so overwhelming that I can’t even process it for a second. All I can do is try to find a ragged end to hold on to.

“You up yet?”

My right hand is a flare of pain. I lift it with a trembling, weak arm like it isn’t even a part of me.

There are holes in my hand, holes clean through the webbing between each finger, leaving frightening, raw, red wounds that throb so badly I almost throw up.

I roll onto my side and I do throw up, meager bile and acid, a ripple of pain that keeps washing over me.

“Are you – you little shit, did you just fucking puke in my tub?”

A hard hand grabs me by the nape and wrenches me up, forcing me to sit up. I’m so weak that I fall backwards, floundering, moaning a little when a shower floods to life overhead and douses my naked body with more cold water. My watery vomit swirls down the drain, tinged with pink and concrete grit. I fold in on myself, wrap my arms around my legs, and lose the battle with my tears.

“Still wanna be Ervin’s little scapegoat?”

He angles the shower straight onto me, but I’m already so numb that all I can do is shiver. Bruises are showing up on my skin, purple-blue and ugly. I’m covered in seeping cuts and gouges, with things that will scar, things that will make my job impossible after this.

The water warms gradually. A cake of soap slides over the lip of the tub to rest against my foot.

“Wash off,” Nails tells me. I smell cigarette smoke but I don’t see him.

“Wh…what do you want?” My voice shakes, almost unrecognizable thanks to my swollen, bloody mouth. My throat is dry and raspy. My right hand doesn’t work and my left can barely hold onto the soap. They did a thorough job of breaking my fingers. I let the soap slip away and I don’t try to get it again.

“I want Ervin to be very, very sorry he tried playing his little games on my turf.”

“H…he…”

“Shut up.”

I jump at the snap in his voice.

“When I want to hear you speak, I’ll tell you to,” Nails says. He stands, comes over and crouches next to the tub. He’s so close that I’m surprised to find his eyes seem even more blue, narrowed beneath his arched black brows. “What are you to him, Aaron? It is Aaron, isn’t it?”

I nod frantically, cringing when he sweeps my bangs back and leans closer to peer into my swollen, blackened eyes. “Soft and pretty as a girl, kept out of fights. I wonder why.”

I say nothing, unwilling to admit to this man that I’m nothing special to Ervin. I flinch beneath his assessing gaze, feeling suddenly ashamed whenever he says, “Not so pretty after that beating, though. Wonder what he’s doing, keeping a stripper so close, now. Interesting.”

He turns the water off. I sit there shivering in the cold tub, wishing every breath didn’t hurt so badly.

Nails tosses a towel at me, glaring. I see an echo of my stepfather in the way he looks at me, the same loathing, the same utter and complete contempt.

“Go ahead,” he says, baring those sharp, sharp teeth. “Ask.”

I do. “Will you kill me?”

Nails laughs and lights another cigarette, coming close to drag me up by my hair. The cock of his head is predatory and heated, angry.

“Oh, you’ll live, Aaron. I’ll even send you home,” he tells me, and touches my jaw lightly, his skin tan against mine. “When you’re so broken he won’t recognize you as his special little baby boy.”

I start to realize that there are much, much worse things a human being can do to another than what has already been done to me.

“How much do you think Ervin would want a pet that played with the enemy? He ruined something precious to me. The least I can do is ruin something of his…”

“It’s not like that! We’re not lovers!” I desperately protest, hot tears squeezing from my eyes as he drags me from the tub by my hair. I slip on the tile, crashing to my bruised knees and gasping in pain, “Ervin doesn’t even like boys!”

Nails scowls down fiercely at me and snarls, “Don’t bullshit me! Everyone who knows him spills the same shit – it’s Aaron, he’s the one Ervin’s into, the one Ervin takes with him everywhere and coddles like a fucking baby.”

I think of who is really precious to Ervin, the girl he wants to marry. His Sacha  means the world to him, and that means she’s important to me. No matter what happens, I know I can’t let this monster find out about her. If anything was to happen to her because of me…I’d rather die than allow it, that’s all. I’d honestly rather die than let anything hurt Ervin.

I scramble on the cracked tile floor, catching myself on hands that shoot screaming pain up my arms and out of my mouth until his rough palm slaps over my busted lips and blocks it. He drags me up and hefts me around my waist, wet and limp as a dishrag, the world fading in and out. I shiver in the cold air and catch my breath with a hiss when he flings me down again on something that gives beneath my weight.

I fight when he shoves his fingers into my mouth, but he only deposits a pill on my tongue and snakes his hand free before I can bite him, holding my jaw closed until it dissolves into bitter nothingness.

I choke when he lets me go, trying to gag it up but it’s already gone. Everything gets hazy and weird, like it had with whatever Ervin had given me.

Nails looms up next to me. I realize he’s dropped me onto a bed, that I’m dripping water onto a cover neatly pulled taut over the mattress.

“Wh…why…”

He weaves his fingers into my hair. I stare stupidly at the necklace around his neck. It’s a nail bent in two places. It looks kind of like the letter “N”.

“He took something precious from me,” Nails tells me, pulling to tip my head back. There’s nothing in his light blue eyes but anger and determination. “He took it and just shrugged it off. Killing that bastard is too good for him. I guess I’ll just have to pay it back to him.”

“P…please…” I can’t seem to get the words to come out right. Whatever he’s given me numbs my pain. It doesn’t hurt whenever he ties my wrists together and fastens them to the wall. I lay there stupidly looking at the long line of my body sprawled out on his bed, naked and still wet, covered in bruises and cuts. I think of how ugly it is, like a white canvas splotched with blue, red, and purple. A ruined painting. A ruined body and a ruined life. I don’t want this to happen to her, but it doesn’t really matter if it happens to me, because I’m already in ruins.

I always have been bad luck…

“It’s awfully early to cry, you fucking brat,” he tells me. I didn’t even know I was crying, but when he says it I can feel the wet warmth running down my face.

“You made me ugly,” I tell him, rapidly losing the train of rational thought. “All ruined…”

“You haven’t seen anything yet,” he purrs.

And he’s right.

I lose everything in a haze of weird light and shadows. I can feel him touching me, his rough hands sliding up the insides of my thighs like dancing spiders. I laugh at it, and it catches on a sob. It hurts when he pinches me, leaving a bruise on the tight skin of my balls. His hands are slick and I moan a complaint when he pushes two fingers against me.

“Don’t!” It comes out fierce and loud, but the rest of it is lost. I’ve never done any more than kiss before and touch another guy through his clothes. I’m terrified suddenly that I’m going to be forced to do a lot more than that, but then I forget.

I just drift.

There’s a rhythmic push up inside of me and a deep, echoing voice telling me, “How are you so tight, still?”

“We….weren’t…” I remember I was telling someone that Ervin isn’t my lover, but then I remember that I shouldn’t do that, that I should let him think it’s true so I can keep Ervin’s true love safe.

I shudder when something slick and warm gathers up my soft sex and starts to squeeze. It feels so good that I moan, my back arching, my hips pushing down against the pressure inside of me.

He laughs. It pounds around me in waves. He laughs and something bigger slides into me inch by slow, painful inch. There’s something on my hip holding me. I look down and see a tan hand clenched there, a hand with a silver ring covering his middle finger with the shape of a writhing dragon. There’s a bruise under those fingers and my cock is bucking in his other tan hand, thrumming with the onset of orgasm because this is the first time in my entire life that another person has touched me this way, and I’m sobbing because I’d always dreamed it would be different my first time.

I thought it would be with someone I love.

I thought it would be something I wanted. I never dreamed that I’d be hurtling towards orgasm without even meaning to at the hands of a man who’d visited such cruelty on the very body he’s riding so furiously.

“Not yet, you fucking brat.”

He stops touching me and I sob, but it’s okay because he’s holding my hips with both hands and there’s something dancing in and out of me so hard and fast that I feel like I’ll melt. I try to move my legs but they won’t obey me. They stay sprawled over his working hips until he lifts them and bends them up next to my head. I’m loose and limber, so high I don’t even know where I am. I feel the hot rush of his breath when he moans, sinking deeper, rolling me up into a little ball to drive into me. Something inside of me jolts me with sensation every time he thrusts deep and I’m too silly to resist it.

My cock bounces as I shudder, spurting cum all over my chest and face. He’s staring down at me and all I can see is the glow from his light blue eyes. His hands tighten in the bends of my knees and he strains against me, popping his hips against me so hard that I can hear the wet, sharp slap of flesh.

He’s breathing hard but his face is still so bitter.

“No wonder he likes you,” he tells me.

I laugh at him because he’s wrong and I tell him, “You’re stupid. He doesn’t like me. I just kissed a guy, that’s all. I just kissed him and he beat me up and my mother just watched. Why would you think he likes me?”

His brows draw down slightly and he pulls out of me. I lay there with cum all over me, with my arms tied above my head and my legs sprawled open and my body like a lewd, ugly, ruined canvas.

“No one likes me,” I say, remembering the look on my stepfather’s face when he beat me, like I’d done something on purpose just to piss him off. I’ve just lost my virginity to a hateful monster and I deserve that somehow, I’ve earned it because I’m an awful, ruined excuse for a human being…“How could they?”

Then I’m swimming. I’m not sure why, but the water is warm and it’s okay. When I try to touch the bottom of the pool someone jerks me up by the hair and harshly tells me, “You’re going to fucking drown, you moron.”

Soap stings my eyes and I blink. I try to rub it away but my fingers don’t work right. I yelp when someone touches them, feeling them with their own fingers that actually work.

“Not broken,” he says, carefully feeling over the small, bruised bones.

“Of course I am,” I tell him, annoyed, and slide back into the water to find a mermaid. Maybe if I kiss her, she’ll turn back the clock and make everything okay again.

The ocean drains away and I’m left staring stupidly at the bathtub where I’d awoken the first time. But isn’t that how life is? You think you have something amazing and full of potential, and then it gets sucked away to show you all you’ve got is a pathetic, broken bunch of nothing.

“You cry too much.” Something smashes into my face, but it’s soft at least. I nuzzle into it and wipe my tears, bending my wrists to hold it. “Stupid.”

I don’t care.

“Open your damned mouth!” he shouts, and he must’ve been telling me for awhile because he’s got hold of my jaw and he’s shaking me, angry again.

I open my mouth and he puts something in and shoves a glass of water at me so hard I almost inhale it.

It sobers me a little, the water. I drink it greedily before it slides out of my dysfunctional fingers and clatters onto the floor where I’m sitting, running a cold puddle under my sore ass.

“Why…why am I on the floor?”

“Because that’s where I put you.”

I look up woozily and see Nails pissing into the toilet next to me. It’s a long way up to his face. He’s scowling like the stream of his urine is a pain in the ass he’d rather not deal with. When his blue eyes slide over to me, he looks at me the exact same way.

“I like your beard,” I tell him, because I do. It’s not like anything I’ve seen before, but kind of like Ervin’s. Ervin keeps his goatee short and close, like Nails does, but Nails has shaved a thin line down from the corners of his mouth that arch into his chin. It makes him look even more grim and scary, and I remember that I should be afraid of him. “My ass hurts.”

“That’s the idea,” he tells me, and shakes a droplet of pee off of him. He’s got a ring through the tip of his cock.

“That’s huge,” I marvel, wondering how such a thing could happen.

“What? The ring or my cock?” he asks.

I frown and stare, measuring him up against my imagination and tell him, “Both.”

“Moron.”

“Yeah.”

He picks me up off of the floor and makes me rinse off again. When I fall out of the tub, he hitches me up and carries me back to his bed.

“Like a princess,” I laugh, because it’s so stupid it’s funny.

“You’re a weird fucking kid,” he tells me, but he doesn’t seem to mind when I rain sloppy, clumsy kisses down his throat.

“Just do it again,” I insist, clinging when he tries to put me down because if even a monster doesn’t want me, what hope do I have? “Once more, okay? Then I gotta go to work…”

“Not looking like this, you won’t,” he tells me, and peels me off of him long enough to touch my face, to touch my nose ring which is sore and hurts under the brush of his fingers. “It’ll heal. Here.”

He puts another pill in my mouth and the world goes hazy.

I fall asleep before I can get what I asked for.



Every time I wake up, he shoves another pill into my mouth. Sometimes it makes the world go fuzzy, other times it doesn’t do anything. He complains sometimes that I’m too hot, boiling up in my own skin. Red lines start to crawl up my hand from those weird holes that hurt so bad, but after he gives me more pills for awhile, they start to fade away.

He doesn’t tie me up anymore. I don’t remember why he did in the first place. I’ve always been here, haven’t I? I always just stayed right here in this messy bed, waiting for him roughly fuck me. He does it more now that I don’t mind it. Sometimes, he stretches his long body out next to mine and traces the ugly welts and scabs that have grown up on my skin, putting something on them that eases the pain. Sometimes he follows them with his lips, and his lips dance down my belly and he swallows me whole.

“Eat me all up,” I tell him, trying to stroke the stiff, dark spill of his black hair, but my fingers have never worked right. “Just eat me all up until I disappear…”

When he pushes inside of me, I push back. It’s like magic when he does it, like there’s a button deep inside of me that only he can reach, and every time he touches it, I come apart at the seams, thrashing in orgasm. It doesn’t matter how many times in a row, every time he slides into me, it happens.

He says my face is healing already. He tells me I look like a damned girl. Every time I cum for him, he murmurs, “No wonder Ervin likes you,” and somehow despite it all, I manage to keep that secret, but it’s getting harder and harder to remember…

“Don’t stop, don’t stop, don’t stop…” It’s a mantra, something I say with every ragged breath.

“If I don’t, you’re going to die,” he tells me, dragging me around by the wrists. “You need to fucking eat, Aaron!”

“Eat Aaron,” I giggle, turning my face away when he pushes something against my lips. “Just eat me all up…No one would miss me anyway…”

Sometimes, I eat him all up.

“You’re terrible at this,” he tells me, holding my bangs out of my face so he can see me with my mouth wrapped around his stiff cock. The ring hits my teeth. I don’t know what I’m doing except slobbering all over him. “You were serious, weren’t you?”

He pulls me off of him by my hair and I lay limply staring up at him, my unfocused gaze turning him into a shadowy blur with glowing blue eyes.

“You’ve never been with a guy, have you?” he asks. “Have you even had sex before?”

“Nope,” I tell him again, shaking my head and laughing because it’s funny. It’s stupid and awful and hilarious and so predictably me that it would end up this way. I forget that I’m trying to protect Ervin’s girl. I forget that Nails shouldn’t know I’m not Ervin’s latest fling. I’ve forgotten everything except that I want him – hard hands and sharp teeth and angry, bitter blue eyes doling out the punishment I’ve been earning my whole life.

When he bares his teeth at me, those sharp fangs gleam. From the eyeteeth back, all of his teeth are sharp. He’s bitten me several times hard enough to draw blood, those sharp, sharp teeth puncturing me down to my worthless soul.

“You’ve got to be fucking kidding me,” he breathes, scowling at me. He pulls my head back towards him and slips the huge head of his cock between my lips. “Pay attention, moron. Here’s how you do it…”

I get the hang of it and he cums down my throat so much I wind up coughing and choking. It makes him mad. He shoves me backwards and buries his spurting cock in my ass, pumping until its all out of him, like it’s something filthy he wants to get rid of inside of me.

“It’s okay,” I tell him, awkwardly petting the slope of his shoulder. He’s like a beast atop me, all liquid grace and bunched, wiry muscle. The tattoos dance over the corded muscle of his arms and sides, winding down his ribs to meet just above the softening jut of his cock. “It’s okay…”

“What’s okay?” he asks me, shoving upwards and twisting to reach his cigarettes. He’s still thick inside of me, so big even soft that he can stay there. He lights his smoke and glares down at me. I just lay there with my legs loosely bent over his hips and my wet sex leaking cum onto my belly.

“You can hurt me,” I tell him, because it’s true. “It’s okay to hurt things like me, right? It’s okay. I’m just…nothing, so it’s fine…”

I remember the bridge and how badly I was crying. I remember looking down at the water and wondering if there were rocks that would hurt me, lying all unknown beneath. Human hearts are like rivers, always changing and dangerous when you least expect them to be.

“He should have let me jump,” I breathe, reaching out to a memory of Ervin.

“Who?”

“Ervin,” I sigh. “He should’ve let me jump. I walked all night to find that fucking bridge, and then he kept me from finishing up…”

“Stupid,” he scoffs at me, but that’s okay, too.

“When you’re done with that cigarette, will you kill me?”

“You want me to?” he asks. He leans over me, a looming, menacing shadow, and puts his hand around my throat, watching me with those bored, light blue eyes.

I think of my mother’s face, how she just watched. She didn’t shed a tear for me. I’ve never been enough for her. I never made her happy. I never could please her with anything I did. The only favor I ever did for her was get out of her life so that she could live happily ever after with her husband.

“Happily ever after,” I murmur, feeling his hand on my throat. “Not everybody gets a happy ending…”

I close my eyes and sigh a little, so tired. I wish he’d give me another pill, or maybe all of the pills, so I could just ride on out as high as a kite. But that’s a little more compassion than I deserve.

“I’m just bad luck,” I tell him, and laugh. “Yeah, go ahead. I want you to.”

His hand tightens, incredibly strong. I don’t doubt that he could squeeze the life out of me, but apparently he doubts that I’m serious. He waits for me to struggle but I don’t.

“You fucking brat,” he calls me, and takes his hand off of my throat to slap my cheek, snarling, “Breathe.”

I take an unsteady breath, unwilling and resentful.

“I told you I was broken,” I whisper, and watch the world fracture into tears. “Sweep up all the pieces and throw them away…”

He picks me up and tosses me onto the bed, filthy as I am. When he shoves another pill into my mouth, I don’t resist.

“More,” I tell him, gesturing weakly at my mouth. “Just…give me all of them, okay?”

“Shut your fucking mouth,” he tells me, and I fall asleep when he walks away.

Time doesn’t mean anything to me there in that room. I forget that there’s anything outside of his bed or the room he keeps me in. I don’t care about any of it. I sleep when I want. I eat whenever he forces me to, but I don’t like the way it makes me feel.

“I wanted to be an artist when I grew up,” I say, talking to the steel beams far overhead. I lift my arm and look at those weird things at the ends of my wrists, swollen and bruised but healing. “I wanted to work in a museum or something. I wanted to be like those beautiful things there…”

I feel his hand on my chest, the graze of his knuckles as he brushes them down my belly.

“Why aren’t you?”

I laugh when he asks me that, because it’s silly.

“I can’t be anything like that anymore,” I sigh, curling into his touch. I coil up around his arm and bury my face in his throat, breathing in the cigarette musk of him. “It was just a stupid dream. All I’ve ever been able to do is strip, and now…”

I laugh again, trying to work fingers that refuse to obey, unable to close a hand pierced with scabbed, angry holes.

“How’d he get you, Aaron?” he asks me. It seems like he’s asked me before, but he keeps asking me like he’s hoping he’ll find out something I’ve tried to keep from him.

“I took a beating and tried to jump, but Ervin was on the bridge,” I say, closing my eyes, feeling his pulse beat steadily against my cheek. The cords of his throat are tight and taut. I bite him just to taste him. “He kept me from jumping. He said to give it a year…and after a year, he said to give it another year…I think that guy is going to keep saying that, don’t you?”

“Probably,” he says. I hear him exhale. “You suicidal little shit head. No wonder he’s kept you so close.”

“He doesn’t,” I insist. “I stick close to him. It’s because I love him…but you can’t tell him that. It’s a secret.”

He laughs. “You love him? Seriously?”

I nod and wriggle under his arm to get into his lap.

“Your teeth are really sharp,” I tell him, seeing his grin. “Like a wolf’s or something.”

“You’re such a fucking weirdo,” he sighs. “And you’re filthy again.”

“It’s your fault,” I remind him. “Every time I get clean,  you mess me all up again.”

“You should’ve just been born with tits or something, you moron,” Nails says. “A dick is a total waste on someone who already looks like a damned girl.”

I wind my arms around his neck and hang on him like a monkey. I don’t even care that the rough material of his cargo pants is chafing my raw ass. I just want to be held, even if it is by someone mean and cold like Nails.

“It’s kind of weird that a scary thug like you does guys,” I muse, tracing the bend of his neck with my tongue.

His low, raspy laughter rumbles through me and he says, “I don’t do guys, Aaron, you brat. If the most precious thing to Ervin is a gloomy, girlish boy like you, then so be it. It just fell out this way, that’s all. Dummy.”

It makes me strangely sad, and I start crying. My tears flow down his shoulder and he pulls me back from him. A second later, he puts another bitter pill under my tongue, and I’m glad to have the escape.

“Don’t be so pitiful…” I think I hear him say it to me, breathe it in my ear. “Don’t look at me with those lost eyes of yours, you brat. It takes more than one love-starved kid to bother me…”

Love-starved. It’s what I am. I bend like a willow under his touch because if he’s touching me, he’s not hurting me. I seek him out and encourage him because it’s the only thing even remotely close to affection that I’ll ever be allowed to feel. I can pretend for awhile, pretend that I’m normal, that someone wants me around, that I’m not a miserable mess with no purpose and no meaning.

“It doesn’t change anything,” he tells me. He’s sitting on the bed with me straddling him, buried to the hilt inside of me. He rolls backwards and I arch over him, tracing the lines of muscle in his belly with my bent thumb. I feel him pulsing inside of me and I wriggle a little, but he slaps my ass soundly and says, “Aaron! Listen to me, damn it! I don’t care how many times you give your ass up to me, I’m not dropping my business with Ervin, you understand?”

Was that the deal? I can’t remember saying such a thing to him, but it sounds like something I would say. Every scrap of affection in my life I’ve had to bargain for, make a deal for, endure something for.

“But I love him,” I say, like it means anything.

He’s silent for a moment, then he asks, “Are you crying again, brat?”

“Am I?” I ask, and wipe clumsily at my face. He’s like a stallion leashed between my thighs, but all I can see the end. He’ll get what he wants here, and no amount of deals I make will keep him from getting rid of me.

Because I don’t mean anything and I never have.

“Shut up,” he tells me, and I guess I let it slip out of my mouth instead of just thinking it. “Stop saying shit like that, will you? You’re too young to be so fucking gloomy.”

I collapse against his chest and close my eyes when he wraps his arms around me.

“If you’re not the one who is precious to Ervin,” he purrs, rolling onto his side but still holding me close. “Then who is?”

“No one,” I lie, because I don’t want to go home. I don’t want to go back. I’m dirty and gross and hopelessly destroyed, and Ervin will see it all in a glance. There’s no way I can ever face him again, not after this, not after begging this awful, mean man to use me any way he wants. “There’s no one…”

“You’re a terrible liar,” he sighs, hitching me closer, still deep inside. “Want me to tack that other hand of yours to the floor?”

“Go ahead,” I murmur, squeezing around him. “You can just kill me if you want. Even if there is someone, I’d rather die than betray him.”

His hand drops to my ass and squeezes as he rolls me underneath him. Looming over me like a blue-eyed monster from a fairy tail, he hunkers close and starts the deep, rocking rhythm that I love the best. I close my eyes, and the tears start to spill out when he softly whispers, “Then I guess I don’t need you anymore…”

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