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Picture Perfect

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She still remembered when she first found out who he really was.

Sophie Landers was in her room hanging a poster up on her wall when her dad came in. It was a hot August day—the fan was on, blowing her hair out of her face, and she was wearing shorts and a tank top that was just a little too small. She looked up when she heard him enter, a wide grin spreading over her face.

“Hi, Daddy,” she said, running over to give him a hug, wrapping her little arms around him.

He hugged her back, smothering his face into her hair. “Hi there, sweetie. What are you up to?”

“Oh, nothing, really.” She gestured towards the wall. “Just hanging up the poster Mom got me the other day.”

He inspected her work, both hands on her shoulders. “Looks great. Have you seen your mother anywhere?”

Sophie shook her head. “She left about an hour ago to go to one of her groups. She said she wouldn’t be back for another few hours.”

Her dad didn’t respond to that, but continued to stay in her room. He watched as Sophie gathered her hair up into a ponytail and closed her window. The fan whirled noisily in the corner, her baby-blue clock ricking away on the wall. She picked a chapter book up off her bed and was about to read when she heard the door close.

Glancing up, she saw that her dad was still in her room, turning the lock until it clicked. She hovered uncertainly by the end of her bed, not quite sure if it meant she was in trouble or not.

“Let’s talk, Sophie,” he said, giving her a warm smile and indicating that she should sit down next to him on the hot pink sheets.

Frowning, she put her book back down. “About what, Dad?”

He draped his arm across her shoulders, pulling her close. Immediately she snuggled up against his side, pulling out the cute card and hoping it would work. His hand rubbed her bare arm lightly.

“Had your eye on any boy lately, Soph?”

She blinked. “Huh? No. Why?”

He shrugged, giving her one of his secret looks. “I’m just wondering, honey.”

“Oh.” She swallowed, thinking hard to try to understand where this conversation was supposed to be going. What kind of a subject was boys? She wasn’t even friends with a boy.

“I only needed to know,” her dad continued, “because I want to make sure that nobody hurts my little girl. They couldn’t ever love her like I do.”

“I love you too, Dad,” she beamed.

“No, they can’t love her like me.” He picked her up and sat her on his lap, bowing his head until it rested on Sophie’s hair. His moist breath was cool against her cheek, and she was quite content to be sitting there with him. Slowly, however, her smile faded, and she detected a trace of alcohol hanging on the edge of his breath.

“Daddy. . . .” she started.

He shushed her, placing a finger over her mouth until she pressed her lips together into a thin line. He stroked her cheekbone with his thumb, his face barely a millimeter away from hers. Sophie didn’t know what to do. His eyes were closed; he couldn’t see the panic written on her face. His hand dropped to her leg, trailing across her thigh.

She shivered at the touch, an unexplained anxiety rising in her throat. It didn’t make sense, though. It wasn’t the first time that he’d accidentally brushed against her—she knew he didn’t mean it. Even if he had been drinking, there wasn’t any way he’d try to scare her like that. He said it himself, he wouldn’t let anybody hurt his little girl.

“Did you ever wonder what it’s like to kiss a boy, Sophie?” he asked her.

Her fingers curled up, nails cutting into her palm. “Yes. I mean, no. Maybe. I don’t know. Dad. . . .”

Again, he hushed her, pressing a soft kiss onto her cheek. Her heart started to beat faster, like a drum in her chest, her breath coming in short spurts. She wanted to say something . . . say what, exactly? He wasn’t doing anything.

She didn’t know what she was so worried about. This was only her dad, after all. Is it a bad thing that he loved her?
No. Of course not.

Without warning, his lips pressed against hers. She stopped breathing altogether, her mind slowing down to a stop—one, two, three, four, five. . . . Five seconds until he pulled away, a smug grin on his face.

Sophie cringed away in his arms, not quite understanding what just happened. “Dad? Dad, what was—?”

“How did you like it?” he asked.

She stared at him with wide eyes, tears beginning to pool. Her small body began to tremble from head to toe, an overbearing sense of confusion sweeping over her. “What?” she squeaked.

“Did you like kissing me?” His eyes bore into hers with a burning passion, enough to send violent chills down her spine. His rough hands were running all over her body, trapping her on his lap.

She longed to escape. To go sit outside and read her book until her hands stopped shaking and her palms stopped sweating. From every angle she was being assaulted with feelings she didn’t even know the name for, ones that made her heart squeeze, ones that made her head ache, one that made her feel so sad that she wanted to cry so badly it hurt her throat when she didn’t.

“Did you?”

She jumped, forehead almost colliding with his. “Yes! Yes, I liked it!”

His face relaxed into a smile. “Good. I’m glad, Sophie. You know, you’re a beautiful, smart, caring girl. I wish that there had been more girls like you around when I was younger.” He paused. “I love you Sophie.”

“I love you too.” Her other senses dulled out. All she could smell was the alcohol.

Fat tears rolled down her cheeks, the pressure behind her eyes proving too much. Her dad’s eyebrows met in confusion as he took in her scared face, drained of any color, and felt the trembling of the child in his arms. It was like he was looking at her for the first time.

“Oh, honey, why are you crying?” he said, wiping her tears away. “There’s nothing to be sad about! I love you, so much more than you know! What’s the matter?”

She turned her head away from him when he tried to come closer, drawing her legs up to her chest so he couldn’t run his hands over them anymore. “I don’t want you to do that,” she whimpered, her voice barely a whisper.

And then he laughed.

He laughed at her, a loud and almost pleasant sound. It shocked Sophie into complete silence, complete stillness. Not even her hands shook.

“Oh, Sophie,” he sighed, cupping her wet cheeks with both of his hands. “It’s okay for your dad to show you that he loves you. I thought I was only telling you that I love you. I’m so sorry, sweetie, I didn’t know that you would take it that way!”

She shook her head slowly, not able to understand what he was saying. He was showing her . . . that he loved her? Is that what this meant? She was relieved, but she still wasn’t sure if she believe him. Then again, why would her dad lie to her?

If this meant that he loved her, then why hadn’t he ever done it before now? Did he not love her before?

He saw her hesitation and acted quickly. He stood up with her still in his arms and with one hand threw back her covers, laying her down in bed before climbing in with her.

He tucked the blanket up around her chin, hand coming to rest at her shoulder. “Are you okay now, Sophie?” He didn’t wait for her to give an answer. “I’m sorry that you didn’t know. But now you do, don’t you? I just wanted to tell you that I loved you. That’s what fathers do.”

She looked at him, still a little skeptical. “You—you mean it?”

He nodded, giving her a reassuring smile. His hand slid down, fingers tracing over her collar bone and getting lower and lower.

She fought the urge to shudder, to cringe like last time. If he said that he meant it, she believed him. It made her nervous, the way he touched her for the first time that day, the places that he went. . . .

But it was okay, because he wouldn’t lie to her. It was okay, because he said it was.

It was right because he said it was.

Her mother didn’t notice when she was silent that night. She was too exhausted from work. She didn’t notice that her husband was missing, locking himself in their daughter’s room to toy around with her body, while he hushed her worries, fed off her fear, and taught her it was okay if he touched her, no matter where it was. And he didn’t tell her that it was going to ruin the rest of her life and he’d hurt her if she threatened to tell.

It was eleven years ago. She was five.
*
*
*
It was a knock on the door that broke the chain of her impulse.

The bottle of pills slipped from Sophie’s hand, the contents spilling into the open drawer beneath it, a pretty sound not unlike rain. Cursing, she slammed the drawer shut as the door opened behind her.

“Sophie?”

“Oh. Hi, Dad.” She picked up a water bottle on top of her dresser and took a sip, cringing as it burned her throat. It wasn’t water.

He came into her room, closing the door behind him. She froze as she heard the lock click.

She saw him coming closer from the mirror.

“How are you doing, sweetheart?”

Shrugging, she laughed nervously, averting her eyes from the mirror. “Okay, I guess. I have a paper due on Monday that I haven’t even started on yet.”

“Is that so?”

He was behind her now, wrapping his arms around her waist. Sophie tried not to move, so he wouldn’t get angry, but it didn’t stop the fake water bottle in her hand from shaking, the liquid almost splashing out from the top.

She wished he would go away.

“It shouldn’t be that hard for a smart girl like you,” he said affectionately in her ear. The hands started sliding down her body, his chest pressing against her back. “But if you want, I can help you with it. I used to be great at papers, back in high school.”

Her fingers tightened around the bottle, popping dents into the plastic. She knew better than to move, but even a small thing like this was enough to drive her crazy. Her throat was dry; the sharp smell of alcohol made it hard for her to breathe.

He had to smell it too. He had to know, had to know what he did to her. He had to know what he made her want to do to herself. He was the one who bought her the pills.

His nose traced across her neck, sending almost violent shivers down her spine as she squirmed under her mask of composure. “What do you say?”

Out of the corner of her eyes, she could see him from the mirror. She could see the way he acted like he owned her, the way she let him do it. Her mind was completely blank. Didn’t he know that she didn’t love him, that she stopped loving him a while ago, along with herself?

His breath was warm on her skin, his fingers moving as light as feathers.

“Yeah, that’s a great idea.”

Breaking away, Sophie rushed to her closet and pulled out her book bag. She unzipped it and dumped the books onto her bed, sitting down stiffly on her covers while she fumbled with her literature book. She swallowed past the lump in her throat as she heard him grunt in frustration.

Frustration. Oh God, she’d made him mad.

It was going to cost her.

She took another sip from the water bottle before sitting it down on the nightstand.

“I-it’s about the writing styles we’re learning,” she said, hating how her voice was shaking. He sat down next to her, leaning in close. “How changing it affects the story.”

“What kind of work is that for a tenth grader?” he scoffed. “They should be teaching you better things.”

She took a deep breath and tried to think of something to say, anything, but she couldn’t think of anything good enough. “I don’t think I really understand it. . . .”

He didn’t say anything back, but placed his hand on her knee, leaning in father, slowly, until their faces were almost touching and her heart was beating wildly in her chest.

She turned her head away. He hadn’t come in here to help her with schoolwork.

“Hey,” he said gently. Almost tenderly, he used his finger to turn her chin back in his direction, tracing along her tightly shut lips, eyes shining with an almost sickeningly bright light. “What’s the matter, Sophie?”

His hand slid further up her leg, his other arm winding around her shoulders, pulling her in towards him. He bent his head down and began to kiss her neck, making his way to her ear.

“Are you going to tell on me, Sophie?”

That was the question that always brought her back. He always asked it, every time—and he knew the answer, every time. He knew how it set off a battle within her, how it made her feel guilty.

“No, Daddy. I won’t tell.”

The words betrayed her feelings. A searing pain engulfed her heart, filling her with a sense of raw worthlessness. How could she let him do this to her? These feelings, they weren’t hers, and neither were the words—they were all his, formed from the fear that he laced into her life.

She hated him. God, she hated him. There was no end to the list of things he could do to her if she said no, and she was certain there was a list just as long of things he could do to her if she said yes.

Her life was sickening. Disgusting.

It was almost worth it to die, if it meant escaping this h*ll.

Sophie pulled away from him slightly, hoping it would be enough to get the message across. But he didn’t stop. He never stopped.

“Dad,” she said, wishing her voice didn’t sound quite so desperate. “I have a lot of homework to do tonight. I have to get started.”

He didn’t say anything back. He didn’t stop, pretended that she hadn’t said anything, pretended she was invisible. It was too much.

It was too much.

Almost enough to make her snap.

He caught her by surprise by planting a kiss on her lips, leeching off of her unease. His hands wound around her body like a vice, fingertips tugging at the end of her tank top, his mouth moving greedily over hers. And just when she thought she was going to suffocate he broke away, picking up the literature book off the bed.

His hands were completely off her.

Sophie blinked a few times, wondering at the sudden change in his behavior. He flipped through the book, looking to her when she sat there, still as a statue, her mouth glued shut.

“What page is the information on?”

Wordlessly she took the book from him and opened it to the correct page, leaving it open on her lap, so that there was something there other than his crawling fingers.

Her eyes stared straight ahead while he took great care to not even brush her leg as he read the page over her shoulder.

Suddenly she was aware of absolutely everything—the ticking of the clock, the chilling breeze coming in from her open window, the blood pounding in her ears, her palms beginning to sweat as she waited for his next move. . . .

He knew how to send her spiraling to the edge of insanity and then drag her right back.

She was just a toy to him. Something that he could pick up and mess with whenever he wanted to. Something he could toss around and abuse and then lock up in a closet when he didn’t want it. Something he could beat on and beat on until it finally broke, and then he would simply find a new one.

That was the thought that kept her up at night.

If it wasn’t her . . . who would it be? It had to be somebody else, she knew she wasn’t the first. She couldn’t be. But she was torn between wanting to be the last and wanting him to chose somebody else, to give her her life back.

No, she shouldn’t want somebody else to suffer like this. She could handle it. She could take the pain, if it means saving another girl, just like her.

She told herself she would gladly take it if it saved somebody.

But the little white pills scattered through her dresser drawer said otherwise.

She wanted those pills. She wanted them so badly.

He was talking to her now, saying something, but her mind was a million miles away. He could see the vacant look in her crystal blue eyes, and he knew that she was already gone, and that the literature book on her knees didn’t matter anymore.

Before he left, he would kiss her forehead and say he loved her, and she would say it back. But she didn’t mean it. She would said “I love you,” but really, she longed for those pills.
*
*
*
Somebody once said that things could always get worse, and so they did.

It was never easy for Sophie after that first time. She built a lie to keep everybody happy, and it became her life. What she told people was merely her hopes, not her life. She kept it bottled up, and she built walls, and she never let anybody inside.

It used to be that her father would visit her only once or twice a week. Then he came three or four, then five, then six, and eventually it seemed it was every single night. Her eyes had dark circles under them because she couldn’t ever sleep afterwards. She felt dirty, ugly, disgusting.

But no matter how bad it got, she didn’t say a word. For nine long years she stayed silent. He warned her of what would happen if she told, how her mother would never forgive her, how she would never have another father. He said she should be grateful for what she had, how much he loved her.

He said that he would hurt her if she told. And if that wasn’t bad enough, he would hurt her mother too. But there was no need for that to happen, was there Sophie, because you’re a good girl, aren’t you? You won’t tell, will you, Soph? Don’t tell, or there will be consequences.

And so she withered.

As she got older, she started to wonder why people never talked about their dads. In her mind, it made sense that if her daddy showed her that’s how you tell your daughter you love her, other dads would do that too. But nobody said things like that. It was always praise for their fathers, or anger against them. There was never a word about the things that Sophie’s dad did.

That’s how she learned. That he’d lied. He’d lied, just so that he could use her. That’s all he really wanted, something to mess around with when his own wife wasn’t enough.

She told him that once, when she was ten. It was also the first time that he’d ever hit her. She told him, and he’d turned around and slapped her across the face, leaving an angry red mark. He yelled, saying that she was stupid, that she didn’t deserve his love. He said things, yet he still turned up in her room that night.

After that she’d been too scared to do anything else.

She learned things. She learned that he’d lied from the start. But she still never told, because she was terrified of what he would do to her.

Nobody would’ve believed her anyway.

By the time she was thirteen, her entire life had changed. She knew the terms—her dad was a pedophile, she was being molested, and that if she hadn’t told by now, she wouldn’t ever. It didn’t matter what you called it, it was her life and she wasn’t going to get a new one. It was better than nothing.

Nothing she told herself seemed to bring any comfort. She began to withdraw herself, breaking away from everybody. They couldn’t understand her, wouldn’t help her, even if they knew the truth. To her, it was better to avoid anybody and everybody if it meant that you didn’t have to lie anymore. Silence was better than lying.

Her dad noticed. He called her a baby and told her to stop being pathetic. And that night he still came into her room, and he still claimed he loved her.

She learned the names for the emotions that she felt that first time. There was grief, and there was despair, and terror, and anguish, confusion, pain, worthlessness. She learned their names when they wouldn’t go away.

They grew with her, those emotions. They fed off her energy, hung on the edge of her conscience. They went with her wherever they go and if she didn’t fight them they would form a dark cloud inside her head and they would try to take over and she wouldn’t be able to even breathe without being in agony.

It was exhausting, trying to fight them. A constant battle, and every day she never got any closer to winning.

And eventually they became too much.

Too much, too much, too much, it was always too much! She wasn’t strong. She wasn’t ever strong enough. They were stronger, far stronger than her, and she couldn’t take the weight crushing down on her anymore.

She tried to make it go away, tried so many times. But it didn’t work, and she gave up trying to protect the little sanity she still had left. She broke apart razors, pressed the tiny blades into her arms, forced the metal deeper and deeper into her arms until the sharp pain brought her back from the abyss. It tied her to her own mind, kept her from floating away. It made her addicted.

For months she went to her blades to deal with her pain. The feel of the cool metal in her hand warmed her in a way, because it meant that she could take it all out and it wouldn’t bother her anymore. The cuts crisscrossed across her body, flawing perfect ivory skin. She didn’t care if they scarred, so long as it took the pain away, eased her burden for even the shortest while.

Sophie knew what she wanted to do with her pain. If she could, she would take her razors and dig them into her arms, rip apart the skin and split the veins. She would take out the years of regret, of anger, of absolute h*ll, let out the unbearable pain that controlled her life. She would slash at her thin arms until the blood was everywhere and she collapsed of the floor and she enjoyed those few minutes of pure bliss, of not having to hide anymore, of finally being in control.

She would take an entire bottle of little white pills and swallow them all; steal all of her daddy’s secret stash of alcohol and wash them down; write him a nice letter telling him goodbye while she waited for the pills to wreck havoc in her system.

She would take the strongest rope she could find and tie it to the rafters in the basement, in her father’s own haven. She’d stand up on his desk, tie a noose in the end, pull it tight around her neck and slip off the polished wood. She wouldn’t struggle for air, or claw at the rope, or try to call out. She would accept the blackness with ease, and her only regret would be that she wouldn’t ever know his reaction to finding her body.

But she didn’t do any of it.

It was all because of him—how she was never happy, how she was never able to sleep, how she wanted to kill herself. How she never did.

It was all because of him. Because of the things he said.

It had been two years since then, and the pain still hadn’t gone away. She knew that he saw her scars every time he took off her shirt, that he saw the blood that stained her sheets as he climbed in bed with her, that he could smell the alcohol whenever she managed to steal some.

He would come into her room and lock the door, and he wouldn’t care that what he did to his daughter made her want to die.

Sophie had resisted the urge to hurt herself by now. It had been long enough, and even though it had never gotten easier, she’d come to accept it. Once a monster, always a monster; he would never change. But something else that would never change—she wasn’t going to get a second father.

As much as she hated the thought, she needed him, and so did her mom. He knew quite well that it would be extremely difficult for her and her mother to get along without him, and that’s why he did it. He’d raised his daughter to feel guilty for everything, and because of that, he knew that she couldn’t bring herself to make it harder for her mom than it already was.

The only thing he didn’t consider was what would happen if she did tell.

Sophie had thought about it before, but never for long. Oh, she wanted to tell. She wanted to tell more than anything in the world, even now. The only problem was, she couldn’t find a bright side of being the tattle-tale. Sure, he’d stop toying with her body . . . but that was it. More bad would come out of it than good.

Sometimes she thought that maybe it would be a good idea. Maybe it would help her get her life back, if nothing else. Maybe it would send away the voices in her head telling her she wasn’t worth it.

No, even telling couldn’t solve that.

The voices, the names, the guilt, they were here to stay. Even if the molestation stopped that very night, she wouldn’t ever be the same. The past eleven years of her life were always going to follow her.

So what was the point?

She had since found ways to cope with the pain inside of her. Sometimes, she could even make it go away for days, savoring the hollow feeling its absence left behind. Sometimes she thought that it had finally gone away for good, only to wake up in the morning with an awful tearing sensation in her chest, and she knew that she had failed again.

That was what her life had come down to. Failure and pain.

That was what happened to her brain every time she heard to lock click.

No doubt he would be visiting her tonight. She wondered what her neighbors would do, if they knew what was happening in the house down the street. What would her friends say, if they knew that every time they visited, they were in the same house as a monster?

But of course, she didn’t have friends anymore. She stopped inviting them over. She wasn’t going to offer them up as an offering to the big bad wolf.

Failure and pain, that’s all her life was.

Whoever said suicide wasn’t worth obviously never felt like she did.
*
*
*
A row of family pictures ran across the table, shiny silver frames reflecting the light.

Sophie ran her fingers across the edge of the table as she walked down the hallway, picking up the middle picture on her way. She held it carefully in her hands as she ascended the stairs slowly, making her way into her room.

She had headphones stuck in her ears, listening to her iPod as loud as it would go. Her mom wouldn’t be home for another hour to yell at her about it.

And her dad? She didn’t know where he was.

Didn’t care.

She stopping halfway across her room, lifting up the picture she’d taken. It was a snapshot of her and her parents at her grandparents’ house from when she was little, barely five years old. Before it all started. The baby Sophie was in her mother’s arms, laughing at something behind the camera.

She’d long since left her mother’s arms.

They looked happy in that picture. That’s why she liked it so much. Her life was a simple thing back then, full of sunshine and crayons, where her parents didn’t argue late into the night and her dad didn’t sneak into her room to wake her up past midnight.

It was a picture perfect family. A picture perfect life.

And then it was ripped away from her hands, the frame being hurdled across the room, glass shattering as it struck the wall. The headphones were being jerked from her ears, iPod tossed aside hastily.

Strong hands spun her around, grabbing her by the shoulders and dragging her along, throwing her down onto the bed.

Her father’s face appeared in front of hers as he climbed on top of her. His pupils were dilated, a sweat forming on his brow, the sharp and unmistakable scent of alcohol drifting off of his breath.

He’d been drinking. A lot.

Sophie tried to turn her head away, unable to take the smell as he breathed on her face, but he grabbed her chin and forced her to look at him. There was an angry light behind his eyes, one that was a red flag signaling that Sophie shouldn’t move. The red flag said that she should let him have his way.

The alcohol he’d drunk said she should fight back.

She chose to let her instincts take over--she didn’t know what to expect when he’d been drinking. Pushing back against him, she made an attempt to roll out from underneath him, to find some route of escape. But he wrapped his hands around her thin wrists, squeezing tightly and pinning them to the bed above her head.

“What’re you doing?” he slurred. “Trying to get away from me? From me?”

Sophie didn’t say anything back but continued to squirm, kicking out as hard as she could with her legs. She didn’t connect with anything. He pressed down on her harder, bending his head down to whisper in her ear.

“Are you trying to escape, Sophia?” he hissed. “Are you trying to say no to me?”

He let go of her arms and got off of her, kneeing her in the stomach in the process. While she was double over, gasping, trying to catch her breath, he closed and locked her door before she could find any time to react.

She glanced back up at his return to the bed, realizing her mistake in hesitating. Before he could get back on top of her, she slid off the edge of her bed, quickly rising to her feet and trying to skirt around him.

For a drunken man, he was particularly fast, lunging at her and knocking her against the wall with a thud. His placed his hands on either side of her head, trapping her between him in the wall as he leaned in to try to plant a kiss on her lips.

Sophie flinched, turned her head and tried to pull away, but it didn’t deter him. He only pressed his body tightly against hers, kissing her neck and moving a hand across her collar bone, sliding it down until her got to the end of her shirt. With a jerky movement, he pulled back, bringing her with him, and in a deft move he was ripping her shirt off, throwing it across the room.

She gasped at the sudden chill it brought on, palms starting to sweat with anxiety. His violent streaks were few and far between, and they never went farther than a few harsh words and a slap across the face. This was different, the anger in his eyes burning more passionately than she’d ever seen before.

It terrified her.

But there was little she could do to fight against him. He was stronger than she was. She tried to hit him and he smacked her hand away, she tried to kick him and he pressed her into the wall, she tried to push him and he pushed back harder.

Sophie tried to duck under his arms and succeeded in slicing her foot open on a shard of glass. Cursing, she involuntarily fell forward, right into her father’s arms.

He half carried-half dragged her back to the bed, unceremoniously throwing her down on the pink sheets--the same sheets from eleven years ago. Sophie’s breath caught in her throat; every gasp of air she took hitched in her chest. He was crushing her.

His hands slid over her bare chest, his lips moving across her shoulders. He was on her with a vicious passion, a burning fire that wouldn’t subside.

Sophie’s mind was on overload. He was drunk. Drunk. She couldn’t remember the last time he ever drank more than a few beers. There was no telling what he would try to do this time, no way to be prepared. All of her past experience in dealing with him was void; she was at a loss. What if he hit her and it left a mark? What if he didn’t stop, and her mom came home, and she saw everything?

What if this time, he went too far?

The fear sent her heart beating away irregularly, the blood starting to pound in her ears. She pounded on his chest with her fists, but all he did was pin them down on the pillows once again.

There weren’t many options left. She was too scared to just wait and see what he would do. She opened her mouth to scream, but he silenced her by pressing his lips down over hers. He sucked away all of her air, shoved his tongue into her mouth.

She bit down hard.

He fell away with a muffled cry, releasing her to raise a hand to his mouth. Sophie took advantage of his shock and kneed him in the gut, sending him toppling over to the floor.

While he was down she scrambled to her feet, almost tripping herself in her haste to make it to the door. All it took was one little slip, not even enough to send her to the floor, and his hands were already wrapped around her ankles.

Sophie let out a shriek, making a desperate lunge for the door. Her hand caught the doorknob, clicking the lock open. It swung open a tantalizing inch before she found herself falling, being pulled backwards.

“Sophia Jane Landers,” he father yelled, “would you stop being so difficult?”

She aimed a kick at his face. She’d been silent for year after year after year. She’d done whatever he’d asked, let him control her, let him hold her life in his greedy fist. And for what?

So he could come home drunk, toss her around her own room, start something she knew would end in rape?

No, Sophie had had enough.

A violent rage took over, blurring all of her senses. She turned over on the floor, the rough carpet scratching at her skin. She hit him over and over again, letting out all of the pain he caused her. She threw caution to the wind, doing anything and everything she could think of to making him let go of her.

There was a cry of rage from behind her and suddenly Sophie was being crushed again, a sweaty hand smothering her face into the carpet.

Her father was in her face, screaming something, but Sophie didn’t hear it through the adrenaline coursing through her veins. There was a sharp sting as he slapped her, his nails ripping at the surface of her skin.

His hands found their way to her throat. The terror Sophie was in--it escalated to pure panic as his fingers wrapped around her throat and started to squeeze.

It wasn’t an even match. It wasn’t fair.

She clawed at his hands, fought against him as hard as she could, but she wasn’t strong enough. No matter what she tried, he was always stronger.

So this was it, then, wasn’t it? This was the end. She’d finally found the motivation to fight back, and the one time she’d retaliated, it ended with him cutting off her air. She was suffocating.

It was tempting to give up. Let him end it all for her. She didn’t have to do a thing, not anymore.

In a twisted kind of way, she was finally getting what she wanted. Her pain was finally going to end. She didn’t have to live with her secret anymore. It was too good to be true. He was personally going to take her out of the h*ll he’d thrown her in.

Sophie’s head was beginning to ache, a pressure pushing out from the inside. Her chest rose and fell in tiny, fitful movements, tears streaming down the sides of her face. Her lungs screamed for air, her attacks against him growing weaker and weaker as darkness creeped at the edges of her vision. Her hands slipped away from her throat; she gave up trying to fight back.

She didn’t want it to end this way. . . .

And then something happened that she hadn’t expected. His grip loosened for a moment, just enough to let the air get to her starved lungs again.

He started to swoon on top of her, his form becoming sloppy.

It was probably the alcohol. But Sophie didn’t question it. Using up all the energy that she had left, she jerked her knee up and caught him in the stomach. With a grunt, he started to roll off of her.

She grabbed at his hands, broke his grip. Didn’t waste any time recovering. In a second, she was crawling out of her room, stopping only to jam her door as best she could to keep him from getting out.

Her whole body shaking, she stumbled into her parents’ room, locking the door behind her. The blood from her cut foot smeared in vibrant streaks across the floor as she limped along. She darted for her mother’s vanity, picking the home phone up out of its cradle. It almost fell out of her hands.

Fingers shaking, she dialed three numbers.





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