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Dead.

Nadine was dead.

“What the fuck did you do!?” I cried. Tanner stood from where he’d been sitting on the rocking chair I used to rock Samuel to sleep. “Where the fuck is my son!?”

Tanner knelt over me and smiled. But it wasn’t the same toothpaste commercial smile I’d seen before. There was no perfect boy next door behind the menacing expression and crazed look in his eyes. “You used to kiss me like I was the most important person in the world,” he said as he reached out and ran his thumb over my lips. I jerked my head away but he grabbed my chin and yanked it back to him. “You used to love me,” he spat.

“At some point I probably did.” I shook my head. “But I don’t remember,” I lied.

Tanner reared back, delivering a punishing backhand across my face. “Liar!” It stung so bad it rattled my cheekbone and I swore I could hear it vibrating in my ear. “There is no ‘probably’ about it. I know you remember. Do you want to know how I know?”

“Where’s Samuel?” I asked again. “Let me up, Tanner!” I tried to stand.

“No!” Tanner shouted, pushing me down on my shoulders, pinning me to the floor. “You will stay right the fuck there while I’m talking to you. I’ll ask you again, do you want to know how I know you remember me?” Tanner hissed through gritted teeth.

I slowly nodded, giving in and playing the game of question and answer Tanner was so hell bent on playing.

“Because, Ray, I felt your fear. I felt your lips tremble against mine. And the only reason they would do that…would be if you remembered the last time you saw me.”

“You mean the night I caught you fucking Nikki? The night I saw you give her drugs? Hit her? You mean that fucking night?” I yelled pushing up on him. All the anger and rage from that time rushing back into me. Tanner pinned my wrists to my side and laughed in my face.

“Yes, that’s the night.” Tanner reached up to my throat. “But I refer to it as the night I killed you. At least I thought I did.”

He squeezed my throat, cutting off my airway, and then the unexpected happened. It started as a flash of white light, followed by small staccato bits of recollection from right before I’d lost my memory:

Tanner standing over me, reigning down blow after blow on my face and body as Nikki screams for him to stop.

The feeling of being dragged over gritty concrete and hoisted into a pile of trash. The slanted image of the back of Tanner’s legs as he casually strolls from of the alley.

The feel of a finger under my nose searching for signs of breath. The sound of Nikki whispering apologies.

The blue and red lights flashing in the distance. Sirens getting louder and louder as they approach.

Nikki apologizing one last time before the feeling of her frail frame curled up against me disappears.

Being loaded up onto a stretcher as people shout orders all around me.

And then a final memory, but this one different, this one was from weeks after I woke up in the hospital. One I was seeing from an entirely new perspective.

I wake up and open my eyes to Nikki standing over me, eyes furrowed in confusion. “Ray?”

“Huh? I’m sorry do I know you?” For a few seconds I thought she was someone from my past, but then her expression turned annoyed, almost cold.

“No, you don’t know me…but you’re on my fucking bench.”

And then it all made sense.

Why Nikki didn’t tell me who she was, who I really was. Why we went to King’s party that night. Why she insisted that the solution to all of our problems would be the protection of a biker.

The entire time we’d spent together she hadn’t been lying to me.

She was trying to protect me.

The least I could do was fight to protect myself.

I lifted my knee and with all my might I landed a blow right between Tanner’s legs. When he reached down to cup his balls I held his head between my hands, and then there was a deafening crack as my head connected with his. Blood, warm and thick, dripped into the corner of my eye. I stood on shaky legs. “You fucking bitch!” Tanner wailed. Holding onto Sammy’s crib in order to keep myself upright, I attempted to put one foot in front of the other and I just about made it to the door, but I wasn’t fast enough.

Tanner grabbed my ankle and, on the next step, I landed chin first on the carpet. My teeth cutting into my tongue, filling my mouth with the taste of copper.

“I’d rather have you love me, but I’ll settle for you being afraid of me.” Tanner flipped me over onto my back. My head hit the baseboard and the side of my cheek smacked into the side of Sammy’s dresser. I rolled from side to side trying to clear the ringing from my head.

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