The kitchen wasn't clean enough. True, Martine had forgotten to dust the shelves, but she never thought Joseph would notice—when had he ever needed to go up there for anything?
He'd left after dinner, probably to play dominoes with friends. Shaking, she forced herself to stand up and begin the routine of slowly running her hands over her face, assessing the damage.
She started with her forehead—sore, but dry. Her fingers traced her right eye. Ok, but she winced as she touched her left. Another black eye. And her bottom lip was starting to swell. She ran a fingertip across it and ran into a nasty clot forming on the right side. Looking back at the corner she'd fallen into, she noticed red splotches on the tile. Must have been his ring.
She thought about crying, went numb instead. What would be the point? Still, she'd need to wash her face before dealing with the mess Joe had made...
She tiptoed to the powder room just off the living room, took a deep breath, and flicked on the light. Lifting her head slowly, Martine faced the mirror: cafe au lait skin; melted caramel eyes; long, haughty nose over full, rounded lips.
A dark shadow was already forming under her left eye, and it was clear her lip was a millimeter away from needing stitches. Gratefully, she should be able to handle this one alone. Getting anyone else involved would mean another whupping.
Makeup wouldn't cut it, though. Another inconvenience.
She raised her arm to grab a washcloth from the towel rack. That hurt too, huh?
Dabbing dried blood from her lip, she prayed concealer would work by the weekend, 'cause she couldn't miss the family reunion.
She had to see her family like this.
Martine dropped the washcloth and gripped the sides of the sink, sobbing. She ran more hot water and started on her face again, wiping away a pinkish mingling of tears and blood.
Fuck the kitchen, she thought. This had been exhausting enough. She managed to sweep up the broken glass and porcelain, wipe up the bloodstains. But she refused to dust a damn thing, or re-scrub the whole floor. What else can he do? He probably won't come home any damn way.
She made sure the front door was locked, then retreated upstairs to the master bathroom for a long, hot shower, wincing whenever she had to stretch her arms around her body, or touch her face. She slipped into her favorite cream colored silk pajamas and nestled under the comforter, listening for Joe's key before she closed her eyes.
Martine woke in a large poster bed, wrapped in snow white sheets.
How long have I been asleep? Bright sun streamed in from a window. Morning. She blinked, trying to get her bearings and feeling like she should be more afraid after having been involuntarily transported.
The ebony-framed bed was easily king sized and fairly high off the ground, like one of those old-fashioned feather beds she'd seen in movies and museums. A gossamer canopy floated above it. Considering the sun's warmth and the room's humidity, Martine wondered if it doubled as a mosquito net.
The rest of the room was a study in a simple elegance usually reserved for catalog photos. A large woven rug with an indigo pattern rested on ancient-looking hardwood floors, stretching from the right side of the bed to the vanity: a large, wood-framed mirror above a simple wooden dresser, both painted white. To her left was a large window shaded by sheer, periwinkle curtains.
Inhaling, Martine smelled the sea. The small, sunny window was closed, but farther down the same wall there were delicate, slightly open French doors shaded with longer versions of the same light blue window dressing.
Taking another deep breath, she looked down. The silk pajamas were gone, replaced with a sheer linen gown, white as the sheets.
Forgetting caution, she quickly threw off the covers, pushed the netting aside and ran to the vanity.
Her face boasted fresh, glowing skin, no black eye, busted lip, or bruises on her arms. Nothing hurt. It had been a long time since she'd seen herself in a mirror, not some wounded stranger.
Suddenly, there was a knock at the door.
Startled, Martine cleared her throat. “W-who is it?”
“Would you like anything to eat?” The voice was heavy, male, and just outside the bedroom door.
More clarity. Her feet were bare, and there was nothing under the gown. She clutched her breasts, wondering what he'd see if she let him in. Should she just tell him to leave the things outside the door? Why wasn't she concerned about where she was, how she got here, or this strange man at the door?
Her voice escaped, indifferent to her thoughts. “Um...sure. Come on in.” What am I doing? Did I lose my mind when I woke up, too?
She held her breath as the doorknob turned. If you're so concerned, get in bed, fool! Awkwardly, Martine ran, skipped and half jumped into bed just as the man walked through the door. She threw the duvet over her lap, and exhaled.
A tall, smiling man walked into the center of the room, bringing traces of sandalwood and vetiver. Simple dress: thin white t-shirt, white linen pants, brown leather sandals. A beautiful silver tray rested in his hands, filled with several plates.
The largest plate held all manner of pastries—croissants, éclairs, a few muffins, even a bagel. Another had condiments. Then the fruit plate: slices of pineapple, mango, apple, peach... some grapes, a plum or two. Martine anticipated the scent of coffee on her next inhale, but there was none.
“Oh, forgive me. I'll be right back.” The man turned, placing the tray on the dresser, then stepped just outside the door. When he returned, he held another tray with two pitchers and two glasses. “Sorry. Here are some juices—orange and papaya. I can bring water if you prefer...”
“Oh, no. I think you have plenty here. Where did all this come from? Who are you? I don't even know how I got here...”
“Plenty of time for that, love,” he said, busying himself with putting the tray and its contents within Martine's reach, leaving the juices on the dresser. “Excuse me,” he said, reaching underneath the bed. As if by magic, he pulled out a small breakfast table and a few small plates.
“Take anything you wish. If you don't like these, I can bring more.”
“Hm. Well, fat as I am, I certainly don't need any of it,” she said with a weak smile. “But I can't remember the last time I ate. Maybe a few bites.”
The man straightened. “Should I leave you alone?”
Martine thought for a moment, taking time to look at him. He was well-built—not overly chiseled, but by no means letting himself go. He'd been streamlined by a life of sun and labor, not a gym. When he'd entered, he flashed a warm, friendly smile full of pretty white teeth. His skin was brown with ruddy undertones. His close cut hair waved naturally, set over a nose and lips suggesting generations of Native American and African collaboration.
“No. Please stay. I have some questions--”
He smiled again. “Yes, of course. I can answer some of them. Shall we eat together?”
“Sure,” she said, smiling up at him.
He sat gently on the bed and plucked a plum from the tray. He smiled at her again before he bit into it, letting the juice run down his lip. She reached out to catch it before it soiled the sheets.
“Y'all would never get that out.” He laughed; she blushed. “So, where am I—no, wait. I'm so sorry. What's your name? I'm Martine.”
“My name is Amil. You are on an island. You won't be harmed, don't worry. You're here for your own good.”
“Hm. Ok. And...my face. What happened? I had an accident--”
“That was no accident,” Amil said sternly. “We know what happened to you. That's why you're here. Why would you let him do that to you? And why did you call yourself fat?” Amil's gaze moved from her forehead to the outline of her legs underneath the sheets.
Her cheeks flushed. She wanted to be upset at his presumptuousness, but suddenly found herself totally incapable of anything except honesty. “I don't know. I feel fat. Too heavy, anyway. Been trying to lose weight, but it just won't come off. And it only makes him angry.”
Amil smiled. “You're beautiful, sweetheart.”
Martine wanted to raise an eyebrow and call him crazy, laugh him right out of the room with a “Yeah, right, motherfucker.” But both were impossible. Who is this man?
“You look like a woman. Women should be soft, round, plentiful. You want to know why I'm here? To help you love yourself.”
He'd anticipated her next question and raised a new one. “So you just get to sit around and say nice things to me?”
“Not just that. Whatever you need me to do so that when you return, you are changed.”
She was allowed a moment of disbelief. “Changed?”
“Unwilling to submit to harm. By his hand or any other.”
“I see.” Martine hung her head.
“None of that. You will not be ashamed.” Amil lifted her chin with his index finger. “You will simply learn to do better. All right?”
Martine could only nod. Inexplicably, she wanted a kiss.
“I see,” he said. Amil leaned in, surrounding her with sandalwood-vetiver cologne. Martine closed her eyes just as his lips brushed hers.
The kiss was chaste at first, almost a greeting. Despite herself, she reached up and caressed the back of his neck. Amil responded with a soft moan and an open mouth. Slowly, her tongue sought his, dancing. After a few moments, he pulled away.
“What do you want?”
She blinked. “Huh?”
“I'm sure you've realized you can have anything you want here. I'm sure it's also clear I know a lot about you—much more than you know about me. I am here, ultimately, to serve you. I can sense what you need, but I cannot give it unless you ask. So, what is it you want?”
Martine froze. Her first instinct was to revert to sarcasm, followed by bitter laughter. She hadn't been asked what she wanted in years, and never by Joseph. She followed where he led—initially considering his “strength” and “focus” a blessing. By the time she'd realized it was just a means to control her, it was too late.
She knew what she wanted: love. She was tired of hiding bruises, cuts and scrapes. She wanted to stop flinching at the thought of a man touching her. But did she truly deserve this—a beautiful, kind man willing to serve her? It didn't make sense. Martine hated the idea of Amil seeing her lumpy, naked body; there was no way he was going to want her once she took off the linen sheath. She didn't even know if she'd be able to open to him.
At least she didn't fear Joseph discovering her infidelity—she'd intuited that he'd never know—but she could see how her sexuality had been regimented, checked, tracked, subdued. Her pleasure and comfort were not worthy of time, discussion or thought. Martine was Joe's, and that was that. She wasn't sure she remembered how to be herself.
Martine had taken to picking at a piece of lint on the duvet to avoid Amil's question. Finally, she thought, there's only one way to figure this out.
She forced herself to look into Amil's eyes--almond shaped, deep dark brown. She saw kindness, admiration, even a bit of longing. He wanted to touch her. Martine faked a blink and quickly glanced at his trousers. There was a slight bulge that hadn't been there before.
“I...I want another kiss.” Obedient, Amil kissed her, harder this time. His lips were insistent; his tongue sought hers. As she leaned in, he wrapped his arms around her and squeezed, shifting his chest to meet hers. She could feel him breathing against her breasts.
Martine broke the kiss and caressed Amil's face. He smiled and put a hand on her shoulder, rubbing it gently.
“I love your mouth,” Amil breathed. “Will you kiss me other places?”
“Yes.” What am I saying?
“How far do you want to go? Should we stay this way, or...”
“No,” her voice was firm, clear. “I want to be with you. Fully.” If there was no way Joseph would know, she was taking the chance. She'd been starved of too much for too long.
Amil rewarded her with a wide, genuine grin. Martine felt her walls flex. What would he do to her now that she'd given him permission?
Amil moved the dishes to the dresser and crossed back to the bed. In a single, swift motion, he reached over Martine's lap, tossing back the sheets and the duvet. Starting at her left foot, he ran his hand over her toes, up her shin, then her thigh. He stopped to finger the flesh just above her hip, causing her to flinch. To diffuse that, he kissed her again, moving his hand up to her left breast, testing its weight. Then, gently, he kneaded it with the palm of his hand. His fingers occasionally stopped to brush her nipple, which rewarded him by contracting into a dark, firm pebble.
Martine's back arched as Amil delivered more kisses, first on her lips, then down the side of her neck. He crept, inhaling her. When he reached her collarbone, her hand found the back of his head and dug into his soft, kinky hair. Encouraged, he bit her earlobe.
“More, please...” she moaned.
Amil pulled away so he could meet her eyes. “What do you want?”
“Everything.” The word was a breath.
“As you wish,” Amil said. He gave her a quick, smacking kiss, then propped her up on a mountain of pillows. Once she was comfortable, he got on his knees near the foot of the bed. Grinning, he stretched out on his stomach, placing his hands on her thighs. His head disappeared beneath the linen gown.
A moment later, Martine threw her head back and nearly purred.
Amil smiled, squeezed her thigh, and kept working.