The Paper Swan
Author:Leylah Attar

It never came. Instead, I felt him rub something into my hairline. It smelled medicinal and stung like hell, especially where the follicles had been ripped off. He did the same around my ears. Then he applied salve on my back, on all the nicks and cuts and bruises he’d noted when he’d inspected me.

I got what he was doing—rewarding my good behavior with kindness, soothing the wounds he’d inflicted upon me. I was supposed to feel grateful, dependent, to bond with him over small mercies, but that whole Stockholm syndrome thing? Yeah, I really wasn’t feeling it. If I ever found where he’d stashed my spiked heels, I was going to nail his black heart to the mast of his fucking boat.

Die, Dah-me-yahn. DIE.

“You can manage the rest yourself,” he said, flinging the tube onto the bed.

He left, leaving the door open, and I could hear him brushing his teeth.

Screw the salve. I jumped on the now-cold plate of fish and rice.

Fish did not let me down. Fish was the juiciest, most delicious thing I had ever tasted. I wept as I ate Fish.

I picked up the rice with my fingers and closed my eyes, savoring its thick, starchy goodness. My taste buds were exploding over white fucking rice.

Yes. Yes. Yes. More!

I licked the plate clean. No, really. I licked the plate clean and then went over it once more, for good measure. I had no idea when my next meal would be, or what I would have to do for it. I changed into the clothes Damian had left for me, smelling him on the t-shirt. I nearly brought Fish back up. Not that it smelled bad. It was just downright animalistic—sun and sea and sweat—the kind of odor no amount of detergent could erase.

I peeked through the doorway. Damian was still in the bathroom. I started rifling through the cabinets: linens, towels, rain gear, scuba stuff. I was almost through when I stepped on something round and hard. Lifting my foot, I found a roasted peanut stuck to my sole. There were more peanuts on the floor, and it looked like they had rolled out of a discarded paper cone, the one Damian had been munching out of.

I sat on the chair he’d been sitting on and popped one in my mouth.

Crunch, crunch, cru—I stopped as he walked through the door.

He looked like he had just showered. His hair was slicked back and he’d changed into gray sweatpants and a white t-shirt. His eyes narrowed when he saw me.

“I have a life-threatening allergy to peanuts and I just ate a whole bunch,” I said. “If I don’t get immediate medical attention, I’ll die.”

He looked at me for a beat, before opening one of the cabinets I hadn’t gotten around to.

Yes! Maybe he had a satellite phone or a walkietalkie or whatever boats used to communicate.

He pulled out a jar and sat on the bed. He uncapped it and proceeded to moisturize his feet.

He fucking moisturized his feet.

“Did you hear me?” I squealed. “I’m going to die.” I started taking deep breaths.

He took his time, first one foot, then the other, like it was the single most important task in the world. Then he pulled on his socks and closed the jar. “So die.”

I fucking hated him. He didn’t want money. He didn’t want sex. He didn’t care if I lived or died. He wouldn’t tell me where we were going. He wouldn’t tell me why. And now he was calling my bluff.

“What do you want?” I screamed.

I was sorry the minute I said it. He moved fast. Lightning fast. Before I could apologize, he had me gagged, bound, and secured to the bedpost.

Then he turned off the light and got into bed.

The bastard wasn’t even out of breath.

I didn’t know which was worse—my arms stretched painfully over my head, the sides of my cracked lips bleeding on the gag, or knowing that this was how it was going to be. One room, one bed, my captor sleeping next to me, night after night.

I WOKE UP STIFF AND sore. Damian was gone, and I was still tied to the bed. He took his time getting back to me. I felt a surge of relief when I saw him standing there with the now familiar tray.

I had once attended a spirituality workshop that taught me to be witness to the moment, to not analyze or reason or think about the when or the why or the how. It was really an excuse to hang out with a bunch of girls, get Ayurvedic massages and bitch over green juice. My friends had long since drifted, but that’s the way it goes when you bond over the latest trends and hippest places. Things shift and change. And after MaMaLu and Esteban, I’d pretty much closed myself off. It had been just me and my father for the longest time. Nick was a possibility, and the fact that he got along with my dad was one of the reasons he’d lasted longer than most of the guys I dated. I liked my men to get along. I pictured the two of them beating Damian up and it made me happy. I liked witnessing the happy much more than I liked acknowledging my reaction to Damian. I was starting to associate him with food and bathroom breaks and relief from the pain of being bound up.

Breakfast was some kind of sloppy goo. I had a feeling it started off as oatmeal, but got beefed up with protein powder or egg white or something equally distasteful. He could have thrown in liver and onions and I’d still have finished. My arms felt like they were going to drop out of their sockets from being tied up all night, but I’d earned a metal spoon. And there was an apple. And water.

I looked up to find Damian watching me. There was an odd shadow in his eyes, but he blinked it away. When I was done, he let me use the bathroom. He’d put out a toothbrush for me, and a comb. Things were starting to look up.

I didn’t bother with my hair. I tried to avoid looking at it altogether. Damian watched me the whole time. I followed him back to the room like a good girl, and let him lock me up. I even smiled as he shut the door on me.