It was the glow of the lamp that softened her resolve. Or maybe it was the sheets. Yes, it was the sheets, those impossibly soft, warm crimson sheets. They glowed under the lamp’s light, just as she did.
It wasn’t a bedroom, really. It wasn’t even really a room. Clothes lay haphazardly on the floor, having been recently discarded. They formed pathways and misshapen piles of fabric where tired feet had sloppily sauntered through them in the journey to get to the bed. Burnt-out stubs of candles were fused to the night stand, leaving hard, yellow wax over the mahogany wood. At least fifteen glasses, all of different sizes, sat on the table in the middle of the room. They each contained varying amounts of water. Crumpled sheets of paper decorated the floor alongside the wrinkled clothes, lines of smudged ink still visible through the crinkles. To the side of the room, a beige fainting couch sat, hardly disturbed aside from a large and rather noticeable coffee stain in the middle of the cushion.
No, it wasn’t a room. Anyone who entered could see it wasn’t a room at all. The sheets were too tangled, the scent too warm. It was too familiar, too personal. It wasn’t a room—it was a home.
Her quivering toes dug into the mattress at the foot of the bed. Her legs, soft and luminous under the warm lamplight, shook at the knees, which she clutched with surprisingly muscular arms. Her hands were knotted into each other, so tight her knuckles shone white. Her chest heaved and her lip shook.
The woman’s eyes closed, she took a deep breath, and quietly muttered a question into the air, which hung before her for a moment. She waited, smiled, and solemnly nodded. When she looked up, tears fell from her eyes.
The door before her had fourteen locks on it, but she knew, just this once, they wouldn’t be enough. She heard them click, one by one, all fourteen of them. Then the door opened.
“It’s been a while.”
She couldn’t see his face, but the deep baritone of his voice gave him away. The lamp beside her flickered out, leaving the room in darkness. “You don’t have to do that, you know,” she whispered.
She heard the floorboards groan as he took a step forward. “I’m trying to be nice,” he said softly. “That’s the best I can do.” She felt the hot palms of his hands rest on her cold feet, and she shuddered. “I’m sorry they did this to you.”
“I’m sorry they made you do it.”
The air hung with nothing but darkness until the lamp fluttered back to life, and all she could see was his face. “I’m not going to let them get away with this,” he said, and she could see in his eyes that he was telling the truth.
“Thank you,” she said. Her chapped lips curved into a forced half-smile.
He stepped back. “Now get up,” he instructed.
She did as he said, quietly moving from her perch on the bed and anxiously standing before him on weak legs, fear ever-present in her eyes. Biting his lip and staring at her with a glassy glare of regret, he slowly pulled a syringe from his belt, removing the cap and gesturing for her arm. Her head snapped up, a new, almost feral look in her eyes. “No,” she pleaded. “No, not again.”
Turning abruptly, she started towards the door, nervous sweat gleaming on her forehead. He raced after her and had swiftly captured her wrist in his grasp before she had even made it past the threshold.
“Please,” she begged. “It’s bad enough as it is, don’t make it worse.”
He winced at her words as he deliberately rolled up her sleeve, but didn’t reply. Pulling her closer to him, he quickly plunged the needle into her forearm. “I’m sorry,” he said as she let out a sharp cry of pain. He pushed down on the syringe until the deep purple liquid was completely dispensed. He withdrew the needle, carelessly dropping it to the floor. “It’s protocol.”
She felt her eyes grow heavy. She lurched forward, holding onto his arms for support, carefully calculating his expression. He was sad. Sad and…Afraid? Anxious? No.
He was never afraid.