If you haven't read part 11, do so here. Or you can start from the beginning.I do not awake until I am summoned for supper.
Mr. Hale sits at the head of the dining table no matter who is present or what we are eating. When I first arrived I sat on his right. I would nervously pick at my food while stealing glances at the handsome, intimidating man who savored his meal and ignored me.
During my mid-teens my tutors would sit on his right, I on Mr. Hale's left in an armless dining chair whose legs were an inch or so shorter than the others. I would attempt to make myself unobtrusive as Mr. Hale inquired after my studies and made suggestions. I did not speak. If the tutor revealed an insolent remark or a low grade, Mr. Hale would say, "I'll take care of it." He would not look at me again until it was time to punish me. In those days I was clothed, and the only contact he made was through a wooden paddle, and the withdrawal of any warmth was far more painful. However, if the tutor praised an intelligent comment or exceptional test score, Mr. Hale would turn to me. I would replay those moments in my mind; his blue eyes would meet mine, crinkle slightly at the corners, and Mr. Hale would gift me with a close-lipped smile and a soft pat on the cheek.
Through the past four years I have been kneeling to his right unless his business associates visit; any tutors are more likely to be Mr. Hale's "special friends." In the beginning it was a thrill every time his fingers presented a morsel of food. His hands were smooth and well-kept, and knowing that I alone had the privilege of feeding from them was a tranquilizer to any brain activity. The closeness of Mr. Hale's body intoxicated me. I could feel the heat radiating through his clothes and would breathe deeply, inhaling his warm masculinity. The first and only time I dared initiate bodily contact was after a long night. I was so exhausted that I let my head fall against his corded thigh. Mr. Hale's fingers in my hair startled me from sleepy comfort, and I tensed, my breath caught in my throat. Instead of punishing me for being lax in my abeyance he stroked my scalp briefly, sending pleased shivers tripping down my spine. Then he pushed my head so that I was sitting upright.
"Did you read the book I gave you?" Mr. Hale asks when I enter the dining room. No mention of my absence from the coffee shop. There is no place setting for me, as usual. He does not look up from the papers sitting beside his plate, as usual. Save for the extra dollar and forty-three cents, every interaction with Mr. Hale has been routine.
I stop, the deep-seated anger and hurt over every wrong he has done to me burning in my chest. You drove my friend away, I want to shout, and throw things and rage and frighten him with the force of my poetic despair. I clench my teeth and say, "No."
Mr. Hale is unperturbed as he makes a note on the margins of his paper. "We'll take care of that later. You may sit down."
A white wave of heat and panic and adrenaline rushes over my body as I realize that I am about to rebel. My voice quakes when I ask tightly, "Where is my plate?"
Mr. Hale finally meets my gaze, and I want to yell at him or hit him. Will his expression never change? For the last four years Mr. Hale only displays genuine emotion during some sort of sexual activity. Does it mean anything to him that I am angry instead of hurt or afraid of losing my place by his side? More likely I am a dog that grew too attached to a new toy, and simply need a little retraining.
"Bunny, come sit down. I have asked you twice now, and I do not take kindly to this display of insolence." Mr. Hale gestures to the floor beside him where I have knelt since my eighteenth birthday. "Down."
I stiffen and turn around. "I'll make myself a sandwich," I respond, not too loudly because I am still afraid, still intimidated by this man.
The kitchen staff is taken aback when I walk in, and they watch warily as I pull bread, lettuce, cheese, meat, and condiments from the refrigerator. I haven't made my own food in years, and despite small tremors in my hands I find the experience emboldening. If nothing else I can at least make myself a nice sandwich. Perhaps I have a future career in the fast food industry.
I take my sandwich to my room using the back stairs so as to avoid Mr. Hale's gaze. I have no lock on my door, but I shove a chair underneath the doorknob before I sit down to eat. The refrain What have I done? plays in my head, an ominous thought that suddenly prompts me wolf my food and attempt to recall where the valises are kept.
Before I have finished my meal Mr. Hale bursts through the door, cracking the back of the chair.
Startled, I fall from the bed and scuttle backwards until my back is against a wall. The expression on his face is no different than usual, but the murderous air flickering around him is both terrifying and fixating. I am going to die, I think wildly, and pray that he strangles me quickly.
"This impudence will not be tolerated," he says in an even voice, towering like a terrible angel of wrath. "I fully realize that this attempt at rebellion is directly related to what happened on Sunday." He pauses, is blue gaze piercing and uncomfortable, and I sit as still as possible. "That incident is over and done with. It would serve you best to put it out of your mind, because it most certainly not affect the status quo in my house."
I tell myself that I am buying time when I turn my head to the side and say softly, "I'm sorry, Sir. I had a bad day, and wanted to sit at the table with you. I didn't really know Brandon that well, and so I was embarrassed because I didn't know what he would tell the Ultimate team. It was very awkward when I went in there today. He just didn't understand the value of my relationship with you."
My heart is beating in my ears. A derisive voice crouches at the back of my head and whispers You could have done it, Bunny. You could have held your ground. You could have been honest and damned the consequences. I quiet that voice quickly enough. Old habits have a roof over their heads and do not get paddled or regularly farmed out to strangers for sex, and they remind the voice of the vacation incident. The few times I had rebelled openly had resulted in nothing but further subservience; perhaps I should use subtler tactics in the future.Coward, sneers the voice.
Mr. Hale crouches and grasps my chin between thumb and forefinger, turning my eyes to meet his. His hand is surprisingly warm for someone of his nature. "Perhaps I have been too lax with you, Bunny."
"I—" I swallow once, trying to look apologetic. "I don't want to be a pet, sir. I want to be your lover." I almost vomit on the last word. My stomach is churning as though it will burst from my body at any moment. I suppose my physical discomfort registers on my face, because Mr. Hale releases my chin and sits on the bed.
"I forgive you, Bunny, but I caution you to remember your place."I remember so quickly that when I wake the next morning with Mr. Hale's body curled around mine, his arm wrapped over my chest in firm possession, I wonder how I had ever deluded myself into thinking that anything was ever going to change.