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CHAPTER ONE OF PERCEPTION

Parker was sitting on the bathroom floor, her back against the wall and her eyes fixed on the razor blade Travis held in front of her. Tears blurred her vision. Nothing else mattered at that moment. Nothing but this blade that was offered to her. She was faintly aware of the throbbing in her head from the blow she had received, of the warm blood trickling down her cheek, of the locks of gore-soaked blonde hair sticking to her chest, but all of it seemed far away. The key to her freedom was here, in Travis’s hand. Just a clean cut on each wrist, and everything would be over. It was so tempting.

“Go ahead, babe. Take it,” Travis said, edging the blade closer to her hand.

Parker hesitated. How did it come to this? When did she start thinking, realizing, she was too worthless to live? She looked up at him. Travis stared at her with an expression that could be mistaken for compassion to an untrained eye, but Parker knew better. His eyes had this sickening glow in them. The same glow that shone every time he hurt her. He enjoyed this, like he had enjoyed everything he had put her through.

His face split into a sickly grin.

Travis hadn’t looked like that when they first met. He had been charming, funny, and had reminded Parker a little of Kurt Cobain with his shoulder-length blond hair, though he wore glasses and had green eyes. Parker had quickly fallen in love with him, and they’d moved in together after only two months. It had felt so good to be with someone who loved her and her little quirks, and she had also been eager to get away from her over-criticizing mother.

How stupid I was.

Parker tried to remember her life before Travis. It felt far away and hazy. She knew there was a time she had been relatively happy, or at least not too unhappy, but she could not remember it clearly. She’d distanced herself from her friends, she’d stopped going out with her coworkers for happy hour after a long day working at the animal hospital, and she’d stopped calling her parents altogether. Travis had isolated her and made her his.

The memory of the first time he slapped her flashed through her mind. His eyes had lit up as he did it, the same way they lit up now. Travis had looked satisfied, pleased, as if he had been waiting a long time for the release. Parker had been completely shocked and had imagined herself hitting him back, storming out of the room, and driving far away. But instead she had simply stood there, her hand pressed to her burning cheek.

If only she had known it was merely the beginning of a sickening routine of slaps, punches, hair pulling, a broken wrist, and occasional bites. But the worst was when he wanted to have sex. Being rejected would make him so furious Parker was terrified he would kill her, and so, she would give in and let him do what he wanted to do. She remembered one time in particular when he wouldn’t take no for an answer and had tried to force her, pinning her down on the bed and screaming in her face. Parker had seemingly won the battle that time. She had struggled so much, scratching, wriggling, and kicking that he’d had no choice but to let her go. She’d locked herself in the bathroom, crying and jumping every time he punched the door and screamed at her to let him in. Travis had calmed down, eventually, and gone to bed. Parker had stayed in there for hours curled up on the floor, dozing off and startling awake, and then slipping back into a haze again.

Parker had decided to come out in the middle of the night because her back was killing her and because she’d thought Travis was asleep. She’d slowly opened the door, and her heart leapt in her throat when she found herself face to face with him while he stood in the hallway. Before Parker had the time to retreat inside the bathroom and shut the door, Travis had grabbed her hair and smashed her face against the wall, instantly knocking her out.

When she regained consciousness, her forehead throbbed agonizingly, and blood gushed out of her nose and onto the floor. She couldn’t bring herself to move and get up for what had felt like hours. She could picture Travis towering over her, watching and waiting for her to get up so he could hit her again, even harder this time, so hard it would kill her.

That was the day Parker understood she was going to die if she stayed with him. Running or dying; those were her options.

Parker stayed. She kept living inside this nightmare, unable to wake up but able to see how senseless her life had become, and now the time to die had come.

From where she was sitting in the bathroom, the dent on the wall was visible from that time he’d smashed her head. A dent with a faded pinkish stain. She clenched her teeth and pressed her lips together to restrain an angry groan growing inside her throat. “I don’t think I want to die…”

“Of course, you do. It’s okay, you can do it,” Travis said softly. “Take it. I will help you if you want. You’ll feel so much better after that, you’ll see. This is the only way to free yourself.”

Travis took her hand and delicately put the razor blade in it. Parker looked at it, her tears blurring her vision. Her eyes wandered to the pressing iron stained with blood lying next to him on the floor. If only she’d known it would be used as a weapon against her when she’d bought it.

Nine dollars and ninety-nine cents at Bed Bath & Beyond! Get yours now, so your boyfriend can beat the shit out of you with it for a steal!

Parker tried to remember why he’d hit her with it earlier but couldn’t. Travis had his reasons, and she didn’t understand most of them. A few flitted through her mind: she was home five minutes later than usual, the dinner was too hot, she read crappy books, she wasn’t sexy enough, she talked too much or too little… Anything was a good reason to ‘put her back into her place.’

Her eyes shifted to the razor blade again. She took it with a shaky hand and moved it closer to her left wrist, then froze. Travis put his hand on hers and helped her press the edge of the blade into her flesh. They started at the base of the wrist and sliced upward, making an incision that was about three inches long. A grunt came out of her throat and turned into a cry as she watched her skin split open and thick blood pouring out of it.

Searing, hot pain shot through her arm. It hurt a lot more than she had anticipated. Parker started to panic and hyperventilate. Her hand, shaking wildly, dropped the razor blade and pressed onto her gaping wound as she pulled her damaged wrist against her chest, crying.

Travis twisted her hand away to prevent her from stopping the bleeding. “Good job, Parky-boo! Everything will be better after this, you’ll see. The other arm now.” Travis picked up the blade, seemingly undisturbed by the blood covering it, and put it in her shaking left hand.

Parker watched her hand take the blade to her second wrist and froze, looking at him. “Why do I have to die?” she asked, heavy sobs nearly choking her.

“Because you are worthless, Parker,” Travis said in a matter-of-factly tone. “I tried with you; I really did. But you are so… insignificant. You’re not happy, are you?”

“No…”

“You will be if you do this, trust me. No one will miss you.”

The glow in his eyes… They shone with excitement, in a way Parker despised.

An intense rage rose in her guts, twisting them and making her blood feel like lava flowing through her veins. Her fight or flight instinct kicked in, lifting the foggy drape that had been covering her mind for months. She finally woke up from the nightmare, and all its twisted logic was now crumbling down.

Her left hand started to feel numb; she had to act fast. Parker suddenly lifted her arm and slashed Travis’s face with the razor blade. He let out a cry of surprise, and she reached for the iron, grabbed it, and smashed his head as hard as she could. Parker expected him to fall, and her stomach dropped when he barely lost his balance and managed to stay on his knees. He seemed disoriented at least, and she hoped it could give her a few precious seconds to get out. Parker stumbled to her feet and started toward the hallway, holding her bleeding wrist close to her. But after only two steps, a strong hand grasped her ankle and pulled her backward, making her fall face down on the floor.

“You can’t get away from me, you bitch!” Travis roared.

Parker clawed at the floor desperately, but Travis didn’t let go. His grip was so tight it almost felt like he was cutting the blood flow in her foot. She shot a glance at him. The blood from his cheek was covering half his face, his lips were twisted into a terrible grin, and his eyes were brighter than ever.

“Come back here! Come back here!” he yelled, as he grappled both of her legs and pulled her back to him.

I’m running out of time.

If she didn’t get out now, she would bleed to death. The blood flowing from her wrist made the floor slippery and hard to crawl on.

She wriggled furiously, and as one of her legs broke free, Parker drove her heel in his face several times, but he didn’t let go of her. Travis ignored her kicks and crawled over her, catching up to her, and pulled her toward him at the same time. From her ankle, he grabbed her calf, and from there, her knee, and then her thigh, planting his fingers in her skin hard enough to hurt.

You can’t get away from me!” he roared. “I’ll kill you myself if I have to, you piece of shi—

Her foot once again crashed onto his face, smashing the back of his head against the wall in the process. The blow stunned him, and he finally let her go. As Parker staggered to her feet, he clumsily threw himself at her and tried to circle her knees, but she slipped away just in time and heard the thump of his body on the floor behind her. She stumbled toward the entrance, trying to keep her balance as her ears buzzed and the room spun around her.

When she reached the front door, Parker turned the doorknob, but nothing happened. For a second or two, she stood there, confused as a fresh wave of panic filled her, adding to her nausea. The sound of Travis’s heavy breathing grew louder, closer.

Parker!”

His roar injected some clarity into her fogged mind, and she turned the lock, then reached for the doorknob again with her slippery hands. The blood made it hard to turn, but the door eventually cooperated and opened. She rushed outside into darkness, thick raindrops splashing her face, and sprinted blindly on rubber legs through the front yard.

“Where are you going, Parker?” Travis yelled, freezing Parker’s insides.

A single glance over her shoulder was enough to see his blurry shape step over the threshold.

Suddenly, her foot touched nothing but air. Parker thought she was losing consciousness, but instead, she stumbled down the sidewalk and onto the road. The sound of a blaring horn followed by the screeching of brakes made her shrink and freeze. A car stopped a few paces from her, its headlights blinding her.

She stood there, paralyzed and breathless. The buzzing in her ears grew louder, and her heart thundered so hard it made her want to throw up. Then, she heard the distant sound of a car door opening, and a dark, blurry shape appeared behind the lights.

“Are you okay, miss?” a voice said.

Both the glaring lights and the mist formed by each of her shaky breaths blinded her. She opened her mouth, but it was too dry to let a sound escape. Her body shivered from the cold and the blood loss, and Parker knew it would give out soon. She swallowed, and with the last of her remaining strength, uttered, “Help me…”

Her vision darkened, and she collapsed on the ground.

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