"How is it?"
He keeps trying to make conversation, like we actually have anything to talk about. I don't look into his chocolate-caramel eyes, but instead keep my neutral expression fixed on my fork. I've only been picking at my food--a lavished slab of steak and mashed potatoes. The basil is wet and dark green. It sticks to the fork as I tilt it this way and that; just minuscule motions as I watch the light of the fancy chandeliers that the metal throws back at me. I cannot see my face within the silver, nor can I see his. The pretty reflections seem to come from an entirely different world, taking the low light of the restaurant and giving it life. Motion.
"It's fine," I reply, having long since lost any expression in my voice. He sits back as if offended, and I automatically flinch at the shadow which crosses his face. I don't like that shadow. I've learned to fear it, just as I've learned to fear him, and I know when it's there even when I only catch glimpses of him out of the corners of my eyes. "Thank you," I add quickly, knowing instantly that I will have to work now to appease him. I fight down the panic that clutches my throat and allow my emotions to ebb back into the flow of nothingness. I've gotten good at doing that, in the year I've been tied to him. I force myself to scoop some mashed potatoes from the white place and raise them to my mouth. The taste sickens me, but I swallow through the constriction in my throat and try to let off some semblance of normality. I know what will happen if I don't. Too well.
There are so many people here--waiters wearing black tuxes and carrying silver domes of entrees in one hand. Guests. Old Couples. Mothers and Sons. Lovers.
I'm the only victim in this place.
He seems slightly mollified now that I've started eating, and I force the bile back down my throat as he starts stuffing his own face, downing it with red wine which stains his lips like blood. I flinch, begging my stomach not to turn out its contents.
He doesn't like the silence that I stretch between us. But I'm too sick of his voice to try to appease him in this way, even if I know I'll only pay for it later. I don't want to know anything more about him. What I already know disturbs me deeply--keeps me from getting the sleep I so badly need at night. He's at least twice my age... Oh my God. I wrap my arms around myself as the sick feeling hits again. It's a constant companion now. Everything he does... everything he took from me... I've never given it to anyone before even by choice, even though I'm an upperclassman at the local university. Granted... "local" isn't a term I can use anymore. We aren't even in the same state.
"I do hope we get to do this more often," he tells me, taking another sip of red wine. I stare at the cup rather than having to look at his face. The liquid still looks like blood, swirling around inside the glass, but it's better than having to see it on his face. "I am quite enjoying myself."
I say nothing. He is insane for even thinking that he can take me out like this. What does he want? He's already taken everything else! Does he want me to start giving in to Stockholm Syndrome? To actually start enjoying when he takes advantage of me at night even as he parades me around during the day like... like his pet? Does he want to rub it in my face that the searches have mostly been called off, that he can now bring me around in public without fear of being recognized? I let my eyes wander again and silently plead for someone to notice. Somebody is bound to notice. No one does. Please! I feel my mind scream, my silent words falling on deaf ears. Don't you know who I am? Haven't you seen my face on the milk cartons? "I have to go to the bathroom."
He laughs at my halfhearted attempt, actually throwing back his head and letting it ring out as if I've just said something incredibly witty. "No you don't," he says, and with the dangerous glint in his eye it's almost an order. I return my attention to my meal, which has gone from tasting like vinegar to tasting like ash. I don't reply.
Because he knows--he is telling me right now that he knows. He's telling me by taking me out of this place like we're a normal couple. He knows that no one is keeping an eye out anymore, that the only ones who might still care are my parents, a thousand miles away. He knows I will never escape him.
He knows that I know it too--that I am no longer even strong enough to try.