Chapter Four

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I knew Rhys couldn't hurt me through the phone, but I still trembled at the sound of his voice. I gripped the railing to steady myself, willing this to be one of my nightmares.

"Why have you been avoiding me, Miranda?" Rhys said. "You haven't responded to any of my texts or phone calls. I was afraid you had been kidnapped. I almost called the police over it."

I'd been avoiding him because I didn't want to have this conversation. Talking to him always left me confused, as if I'd just imagined all of the terrible things he'd said and done to me.

"Luckily Steph let me use the café phone," Rhys said. "Or I would never have reached you at all. You never would've called me back."

"I'm-I'm sorry." I hated the way I changed around him: shrinking into myself, my voice becoming thin, quiet, deferential.

"What did I do to deserve this?"

"You didn't do anything," I said, aching. "I just had to get away for a while."

"Then where the hell are you, and when are you coming back?

I am not going back. But no matter how loud the words were in my mind, I couldn't speak. My throat closed like a fist.

"I don't get you, Mira," Rhys said. "I try to be what you want me to be. I don't even look at other women. I'm trying to build a nice, stable life for us, which isn't easy, you know? Law school puts a lot of demands on me, not just on my time, but on me, emotionally."

Rhys would be a great lawyer someday. He'd have the jury wrapped around his little finger in a matter of minutes.

"I just don't understand what else you want me to do," Rhys said, and he paused, indicating that it was my turn to speak. To reassure him.

My heartbeat raged inside my ears. I would not give in to him. Not this time. I would not. "You don't respect me," I choked out. "You are...." Even now, I could not say that word, that concept, settling for something concrete instead: "You hit me."

"Oh, come on." Rhys barked a laugh. "You're so dramatic, Mira. I barely touched you that time."

"It wasn't just one time. And I still have bruises...." My hand went to my thigh, where Rhys had left a bruise the size of my palm.

"You are such a liar," Rhys snapped. "I take perfect care of you."

I swallowed hard, my body still shaking. "You really-you don't. You don't."

"You know what, Mira? You're only saying these things because you don't want to admit that you're off somewhere, chasing after other guys, sleeping around. You said I'm controlling-well, if I am, it's because I know the way men look at you, and you draw their attention on purpose with those slutty clothes-"

A spark of anger burned at my fear. We'd had this argument before-so many times. It didn't matter what I wore. He always found fault with it: too slutty, too prim, too much myself.

"Miranda, you know you have to act better," Rhys said. "You can't keep doing whatever you want, going out and partying all the time. You have to think about the kind of example you will set for our children someday, and our community, as my wife-"

The word broke a dam inside me. "I will never marry you, Rhys! It's over. Don't ever call me again, from any number, ever."

"Mira-" He sounded shocked, even contrite. I hung up the call and turned off my phone, taking big, shuddering breaths. Slowly, Claire's back deck came into focus. Byron the Great Dane was watching me anxiously from a dog bed the size of a sofa.

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