This story is by Janiquwa Dais and was part of our 2017 Spring Writing Contest. You can find all the Spring Writing Contest stories here.
I stared at my reflection in the mirror, assessing the lump on my forehead, a developing black eye and my busted lip. And I figured that when I awake tomorrow morning, I will have the latest Hermes clutch bag and a pair of Giuseppe Zanotti’s to match.
I used to watch my mother get beat up on a daily basis. Momma would always tell me that love hurts and that, if you really love a man, you stay with him no matter what. After the beatings, I would get gifts. So I guess that was his way of showing his love. Momma got nothing but an overcrowded two-bedroom house with five children as compensation for her beatings. At least I have something better to show for mine.
Besides his temper and drug usage, Connor is an impressive man. He is the top finance executive at Bower & Glover Associates in New York City, owns a huge 3-bedroom condo in Midtown Manhattan and owns a Bentley. We have been in a relationship for a little over 3 years. He was the first person I met when I moved from North Carolina. The first year he never laid a hand on me and treated me like a queen. He took me on trips and gave me anything I asked for. He was prince charming and that’s how I fell in love.
The first attack took me by surprise. He came home full of anger. Instead of greeting me with a kiss, I was met with a slap to the face which knocked me down to the ground. He began to punch and kick me until I blacked out. Afterwards, nothing was said and no apologies were given. The following day he told me to get dressed and no need to pack, we were going to Dubai. To this day, that was the best trip of my life, and all it cost me was a few fractured ribs.
Dealing with Connor for this long has allowed me to prepare myself before each attack. I take a few shots of Tequila and some painkillers an hour or so before he comes home. There are times when I am able to predict where he might strike and I do my best to try to protect myself. Once I tried to defend myself by hitting him back and that might have been the biggest mistake I ever made. The end result was two black eyes and a broken nose. I decided that day that it was not worth it, considering I still loved him and believed that he would somehow change.
On the outside looking in, we have the perfect relationship. Everyone in our neighborhood is envious of me. All they see is the expensive and luxurious lifestyle we live, and they assume that I believe that I am better than them. It wouldn’t matter to convince them otherwise anyway. Connor never allows me to have friends or get close to anyone. The only person who knows what happens between us behind closed doors is Mary-Ann. Mary-Ann is a private pay doctor that Connor hired. She always comes to clean up the mess that Connor creates since hospital stays are out of the question.
I got up the next morning and as I expected, I had my brand new bag, shoes and a rose gold Canfield watch with diamonds. I did not expect the watch. There was also a handwritten note that read:
Angela, I would love to have lunch with you. Meet me at my office where I have arranged to have food from Baboo, your favorite. Be sure to fix yourself up before you head out. Call Mary-Ann if needed.
I decided that I did not need to call Mary-Ann. I’ve been through enough black eyes dealing with Connor, that I knew how to patch myself up. I figured a dramatic eye and a dark lip will work best to conceal the bruises. I would leave my bangs down to hide the lump on my forehead. Two hours later, I smiled at my reflection because I did such a great job with my makeup. I wore a black bodycon dressed paired with my gold spiked Christian Louboutin shoes. This was one of Connor’s favorite looks. I knew I had to look my best whenever I came to visit Connor at his workplace; anything less, and I would pay for it once he got home.
When I got to Connor’s door, there was someone inside with him, a tall, athletically built man. He was dressed in a tailor-made gray suit, light blue shirt and brown shoes with a matching tie. Not only was the man attractive, he also looked familiar.
“There goes my girl,” Connor stated and stood up to kiss me on my cheek. He wrapped his arm around my waist as if I was his most prized possession. That was confirmation that he approved of my look.
“Angela?” The well-dressed man questioned.
That’s when it hit me. I knew this man. Of course he was much older than when I last saw him. However, I could recognize those huge Bambi eyes anywhere. It was Justin Taylor, my first love. Seeing him in Connor’s office took the wind from my lungs.
“You two know each other?”, Connor asked, while staring at me. I quickly smiled at him and said no, secretly praying that he would believe me.
“Uh… no of course we don’t. But you were just talking about her, so I put two and two together,” Justin confirmed, and chuckled nervously.
“Right… but, of course.” Connor began to hold onto my waist a little bit tighter.
“Honey, I want you to meet Justin, our newest finance exec. He’s been working with me for a few months now and I’ve been teaching him the ropes,” Connor said.
“Nice to meet you, I’ve heard so many great things about you,” said Justin while he shook my hand.
The only thing I could manage to do was smile. Justin quickly excused himself from the office, and Connor and I sat down to begin our lunch date. Connor kept on talking to me, but I couldn’t hear a word he said. I couldn’t believe that he was living in NYC and working side by side with Connor. Growing up, Justin and I were inseparable. Eventually, Justin’s family moved, leaving me heartbroken. Seeing him today made me question whether I ever got over him.
Three weeks went by after I last saw Justin, and he was embedded in my mind. Connor did not ask me to come to his office since that day, so I had no valid reason to go there and run into Justin. I desperately wanted to see him again but knew my life would be in jeopardy if I did. I couldn’t figure out how I could manage to see Justin without Connor knowing. All I had to rely on were memories of the past and hope that I would be able to speak with him again.
When I got up this morning, I received a “gift” from Connor. There was a note letting me know that he paid for me to go to the spa. Last night, Connor came home angry and high. He didn’t even bother to clean up the white residue left on his nose. He slapped me and kicked me until he became tired and told me to go clean myself up. When I came out of the bathroom, he was already asleep. All I could think then was that this somehow had to end.
I made my way to the spa and was surprised to bump into Justin. Our eyes locked for what it seemed like an eternity. He smiled at me, and I smiled back. We hugged, and I winced, holding my breath for the moment. Connor had really done a number on my ribs.
“Angela, how are you?”
“I’m doing well. How are you and what are you doing here?,” I asked as I continue to gaze into his eyes.
“Honestly, I got lost. I’m still trying to figure this big city out,” he stated while laughing nervously.
“I’m glad I ran into you. I have been trying to find a way to see you again, you know to catch up. But as you can see I have been unsuccessful.”
Again, he laughed, and I began to melt.
“Well – I’ve been hoping to ….” I did not get to finish my sentence, because I could see Ashlee, the spa manager watching us. I became frantic with thoughts of Ashlee telling Connor what she saw, since she was on his payroll.
“Nice seeing you again, but I can’t talk. Excuse me please.” I tried to rush past him.
Justin grabbed my arm and I winced. My shoulder was now exposed, and on it were black and blue marks. A few of Connor’s kicks from last night landed on my shoulder and upper back. I felt Justin freeze and so did I. I couldn’t move and I did not want to turn to look him in the eyes. I quickly checked to see if Ashlee was still watching, but mercifully she was gone.
“How long has this been going on?” Justin asked. I could hear all the concern in his voice.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” I replied, grabbing my shirt to cover up my shoulder.
“Angela, I’m not going to ask again. Tell me how long.” Justin sounded angry. I finally turned to look at him, and all I could see was disappointment in those Bambi eyes.
“Look, don’t worry about it, okay. He loves me and I guess I love him. Anyway, I can’t stay. You don’t want to know what will happen if Connor finds out about this.”
Justin did not utter another word. He just picked me up and rushed me to his car. He drove off, finally stopping in front of an empty lot. Justin stated firmly that he would not let me go until I told him what was going on. I felt afraid and embarrassed, but I knew I had to tell him. After a long silence, with my eyes plastered out the car window, I began to tell Justin about the real relationship between Connor and me. Justin said nothing the whole time, just held my hand, wiped my tears when they fell, and allowed me to speak freely. I knew then that I deserved better.
“You can’t stay in this relationship Angela. He will kill you,” Justin stated, while placing my hair behind my ear.
“If I try to leave, he will definitely kill me. Besides, he is all I have here, and I will not go back to North Carolina and live with momma,” I said while biting my nails.
“You have me,” Justin replied. “We can be together. I’ve never stopped loving you, and now that I know what he is doing, I can’t let you go back.”
That was three months ago, and Justin and I have been secretly meeting up ever since, whenever I “had” to go to the spa, with Justin paying Ashlee more money than Connor did to help keep our secret. Seeing Justin has been the only thing I have had to look forward to, since nothing changed between Connor and me. Justin and I have been focused on finding a way to get me safely out of that relationship. Thanks to a “little birdie,” Justin was able to discover that Connor was secretly funneling money from investors into a private offshore account he created under another name. The information was sent to the press, which led to an investigation and ultimately to Connor’s arrest. At this point, he could be facing 25 years in prison. Best of all, Connor doesn’t suspect us. Speaking of us, Justin and I are planning to move back to North Carolina, and I couldn’t be happier.