The Paper Swan
Author:Leylah Attar

Rather than I-Have-No-Clue-What-I-Did-To-Deserve This: Bang Bang.

He didn’t react to my defiance, not the slightest hint of a response. He just sat there, dipped his fingers in the paper cone he was holding and tossed something in his mouth.

Crunch, crunch, crunch.

His eyes were shielded by a baseball cap, but I knew he was watching me. I shuddered when I realized he was taking his time, weighing my punishment like he weighed whatever he was eating, before chomping it down with his teeth.

I didn’t know what I was expecting. I already knew I hated him, but now I hated him even more. In my mind, I had pictured someone completely different, someone as mean and ugly on the outside as he was on the inside. That made sense to me. Not this. Not someone so ordinary, you could walk right by him on the street and never realize you’d just brushed past pure evil.

Damian was younger than I’d anticipated—older than me, but not the grizzly, hardened thug I’d assumed he’d be. He might have had an average build and height, but he was strong as hell. I knew because I had kicked and punched and fought him like a wildcat in that parking lot. Every inch of him was cold, hard steel. I wondered if it was a requirement in his line of work: abduction, mock executions, smuggling girls across the border.

He hooked his foot around the stool and pulled it towards him. The glossy, custom shoes were gone. He was wearing ugly, generic boat shoes with ugly, generic sweat pants and an ugly, generic t-shirt. His lips curled mockingly, as if he was fully aware of my disdainful appraisal and was enjoying it. The asshole was enjoying it.

He tore the bread in half, dipped it in the stew, letting it soak up the thick, brown gravy, and bit into it. Then he sank back, chewing it slowly, while I watched. It was sourdough bread. I could smell it. I could almost taste the crispy crust, followed by the soft tang of the dough melting in my mouth. The steam rising from the stew filled my stomach with the promise of carrots and onions and pieces of soft, tender meat—a promise that Damian had no intention of keeping. I knew that now. I knew this was my punishment for turning around when he told me not to. I knew he was going to make me watch as he finished every last bit of the food that was meant for me.

The kicker was that he didn’t even want it. He looked like he was so full, he had to force every delicious fucking bite into his mouth while my stomach clamored, and I went dizzy with raw, gnawing hunger. My mouth puckered each time he swirled the bread in the stew, picking up chunks of slowly simmered vegetables and gravy. I watched him finish the bowl, unable to look away, like a starving dog ready to pounce on a stray morsel, but there was nothing left. Damian wiped every drool-inducing bit of it clean with the last piece of bread. Then he stood and uncapped the bottle of water, holding it over me.

Oh God. Yes. Yes.

I held out my hands as he started pouring, my dry, cracked lips anticipating that first thirst-quenching drop of water.

The water came. It did. But Damian held his dirty hand over me, the one he’d used to eat with, so that the water passed through his soiled fingers before it got to me. I had a choice. Accept his degradation or go thirsty.

I closed my eyes and drank. I drank because I couldn’t have stopped myself even if I wanted to. I drank because I was a ravenous, rattle-boned animal. But most of all I drank because some stupid, irrational part of me that sang stupid, irrational lullabies, still held hope. I drank till the water slowed down to a trickle. And when Damian flung the empty, plastic bottle across the room, I watched it roll around on the floor, hoping he would leave so I could stick my tongue inside and lick the last few drops out of it.

I thought back to the Swarovski studded bottle of Bling H20 that Nick and I had barely touched on our last date. He had just made assistant to the district attorney and his first official case was the next morning. It was a celebration that called for something harmless, but with the fizz and pop of a freshly opened bottle of champagne. I should have finished that beautiful, frosted bottle of sparkling water, and gone home with Nick. I should never have headed into the parking lot alone.

I looked up at my captor. He was wiping his hands on his sweatpants. I used the opportunity to take stock of my surroundings. It was a small stateroom with a queen-sized berth. The walls were dark wood cabinets. I guessed they doubled as storage space. There was one window (not big enough to crawl out of), an overhead latch that let through plenty of light (but was bolted down with a chain), and a door. Even if I got out, we were on a damn boat, in the middle of the ocean. There was no place to run and hide.

My eyes came back to Damian. He was watching me from under his baseball cap. It was navy blue with the initials ‘SD’ embroidered in white, the official insignia for the San Diego Padres. Apparently, he was into baseball. Or maybe he wore it because it summed him up perfectly:

Sadistic Douchebag

Also, if he really was a Padres fan, then Stupid Dreamer, because San Diego was the largest U.S. city to have never won a World Series, Super Bowl, Stanley Cup, NBA Finals or any other major league sports championship. It was a curse we suffered from, though my father remained hopeful at the start of every season:

Good luck, San Diego Padres. Break a leg!

“Try anything stupid and I’ll break your legs.” Damian picked up the empty bowl he’d just finished and headed for the door.

I should’ve bashed him over the head with the stool.

I should’ve tackled him so the bowl would slip and break, and then stabbed him with the broken glass.

“Please,” I said instead, “I need to use the bathroom.”