Victory's Secret: Chapter Three

Rachael Tamayo
Cynthia Austin

The bedroom is small and neat. A four-poster bed made of sealed, natural wood sits in the middle of the room, another hand-carved piece. A multi-colored quilt is on the bed, assorted squares of the worn fabric appear well loved.
My bag sits on the bed, untouched as promised. I lift a pillow and bring it to my face, taking in the scent. It’s the same one I picked up when he kissed me at the altar. I’ve always despised the smell of tobacco, but on him... My stomach clenches. On him, it smells sexy. I won’t disclose that to him, of course. I’d rather he dropped the nasty habit. Beside the bed sits a simple table of matching wood. It holds a pretty, red vase with yellow flowers in it. I smile, knowing they must be for me. Bending, I take in that scent too, sweet and clean.
On the opposite side is a dresser, tall, with six drawers. One by one I open them, finding some empty, others with his neatly folded clothes. The closet is almost empty. He’s likely packed up his things, knowing he is moving out.
Why were these things left in the drawers?
I shrug, and move back to my bag, ready to change out of this dress. I pull out my things, putting everything away except the slacks and top I plan to wear.
I change, hanging my simple wedding dress up, glad that I don’t have to put it back on. I’m told that wedding dresses used to be ornate, and women used to spend months choosing the perfect gown. I frown, unable to understand the sentiment as I look at my simple linen dress and matching head covering. I’ve never met anyone that thought of their wedding as anything more than an obligation.
I take my toiletries into the bathroom across the hall. I check my hair, my face, then step out. I want to explore the rest of the house, but I smell food cooking, so I squash the urge and head toward the source of the delicious aromas.
I’m too nervous to be very hungry even though I hardly ate earlier. William had gotten room service for me this morning, but I barely touched the steak and eggs. He had ordered without asking me, and his furrowed brow told me he was annoyed I didn’t eat it. Then the car arrived, and I was whisked away to get dressed for my second wedding.
I manage to find my way into the kitchen. It’s small, quaint, and empty. I furrow my brow; the table isn’t even set. As I turn to look for my husband, the back door opens. He’s shed his suit jacket. A few of the top buttons of his white shirt are open and the sleeves are rolled up. One arm is covered in small tattoos, symbols of some kind, dozens of them are sprinkled up his sun-kissed arm and disappear under his shirt. His bright, stormy eyes lift and meet mine. I’m reminded of the small white ink tattoo on my left foot. It’s been there since I can remember; barely visible, unless I’ve been out in the sun with no shoes on. My mother told me it was given to me when I was an infant but never explained why, other than some vague old law that required all the female babies to be tattooed at birth. She had one in the same place. I assumed every woman must have one until my school friends told me they’d never seen it before. After that, I always avoided taking my socks off in public. I look down at my slippered feet.
“Hey, come outside, the food is ready.”
Outside? What the...?
I follow without a word. Crisp spring air hits me in the face, the screen door slams behind me with a slap, and I smile. There is a table set for two.  
“Oh, this is perfect.” I breathe the words, not meaning to have said them out loud.
“Is it?” He pulls out a chair for me.
“I love it. It’s beautiful here.” I sigh, sitting on a cool plastic chair.  
He sits across from me, and cocks his head to one side. “Do you?”
I nod, looking around, taking in the fresh air.
His dog comes waddling around from the side of the house, plops down in the sun, and goes to sleep. “I’ll be sure to bring you back here sometime then.”
How has he managed to hold onto this property when everyone is supposed to surrender all past possessions to The Brotherhood by their wedding day? It doesn’t make sense.
I realize I’ve done it again; asked a question out loud. My jaw ticks and I avoid his eyes by looking down at my food and hope he’s not upset with me. I see the food for the first time - a toasted chicken salad sandwich with fried potatoes. He seems to have put tremendous thought into it, and me. I pick up the sandwich and fill my mouth with a bite before I say something else.
“I do a lot of woodwork for some of the council, so they let me keep the house in place of payment. We made a deal. Don’t tell William.”
I look up, he winks at me and picks up his fork.
Don’t tell William. I almost laugh, and I don’t know why.
“This is very good, where did you get it?”
“I made it.”
I feel my eyes go a little wide, then I smile and take another bite. “You’ll have to teach me how you made this.”
He smiles at his plate. “You got it.”
Lunch continues with small talk, and I manage not to put my foot into my mouth or ask any more invasive questions that will get me into trouble. Thank God.
After lunch, he shows me around the house and the property. He tells me about his parents, he shows me pictures and tells me stories. He doesn't touch me once, not even to hold my hand. But it’s his motorcycle that surprises me the most as I walk up to it, almost afraid to touch it.
“It’s okay, you can touch it.” He laughs lightly. I glance over my shoulder and find him standing with arms crossed over his broad chest. “You won’t hurt it.”  
I touch the leather on the seat. I’ve never been on one of these things. How would it feel to ride it? Would I close my eyes? Would I scream? Would excitement flash through me like tissue paper on fire with my arms wrapped tightly around Liam’s waist as we speed through the countryside?
“Do you want to go for a ride?”
My breath catches as I turn, unsure of how to answer. His eyes are on me, a hint of a smile playing around his lips. I swallow, wondering if I should. “Is it safe? Aren’t they dangerous?”  
“I won’t go fast, I promise. Just a slow, easy ride around the country. Did you bring any jeans with you?”
I nod.
“Go change, and I’ll wait outside. I have a helmet you can wear.”  
 I guess that’s decided. My heart-rate picks up as I head back inside, and return to find him sitting out front. He smiles, handing me a black helmet.
“Here. Just relax and hold onto me, it will be fine.”
I get on the machine behind him, my thighs thrown wide. I’m forced to scoot up behind him, and wrap my arms tight around his waist. My heart thrums a hard, frantic rhythm against my ribs when he starts the thing and glances back at me. I can’t see his face through the helmet, but I hear his muffled voice.
“Are you ready?”
I nod. Here goes nothing. The thing rumbles to life, vibrating between my thighs, the cool spring wind on my skin. He doesn’t go fast, just as he promised, and the slow, leisurely pace gives me the courage to stop thinking and take in the countryside.
We ride for a long time. By the end, I’m relaxed and sitting behind him with my hands on his thighs instead of holding onto his waist for dear life. The ride ends on the banks of a slow, lazy river.
He pulls off his helmet, and I do the same. “So, did you like it?”  
“I did, it was relaxing, made me feel . . .” I search for a word.
“Free?” he offers.
A hard feeling to come by. I smile. “Yeah, I guess so. Thank you.”
That’s when it seems to happen. The silence falls between us and he just stares at me for such a long, intense moment that I feel my face go hot and I have to look away. I don’t know what to say. He hasn’t so much as hinted at sex all day. Now my heart is pounding, and my stomach has plummeted.
His first steps toward me draw my eyes back up. His eyes are a steel storm again; troubled, but also soft and wanting. He stops inches from my face.
“Victory, I know I’m not supposed to ask, but I want to know.” His voice is deep and curls around my name. “How are you, after your night with William? Did he . . . are you hurt?”
I swallow, then take in a breath and hold it. How do I answer? Why is he asking?  He isn’t supposed to ask such things.
“Why do you think he would hurt me?” I finally ask, softly, unable to tear my eyes from his.
“I just want to make sure you are okay. You can come to me, always, you got that? I won’t ever hurt you, and I won’t ever let anyone else hurt you.”
Somehow, I believe him. He doesn’t know me, and I don’t know him, yet I believe him. “I will. But he didn’t hurt me.”
In truth, he didn’t even touch me. The hotel room even had double beds, which left me a bit bewildered, albeit relieved.
He blows out a breath, running a hand roughly through his hair before turning back to me. I don’t know what to say, or do. This isn’t how things are supposed to go. He isn’t like anything I thought he’d be.
I stand and look up at him, into those blue-grey, cloudy eyes. My heart beats fast as his hand lingers on my cheek. He kisses me. Too soft, too gentle. I can feel the passion he’s holding back. It’s deep and twists a knot low in my belly, and sends waves of tingles outward. My arms wind their way around his neck as he backs me into a nearby tree.  
No one has ever kissed me like this. Ever. Men and women don’t interact much before pairing, it’s considered inappropriate and, well, pointless. He pulls back, my face in his hands, his eyes blazing.
“I won’t ever let anyone hurt you. Tell me you believe me.”
 Will he still mean it when he finds out?
I swallow, unsure of how to react. My lips are tingling from his, my face flushed from such intimate conversation.
“I believe you,” I whisper. It’s all I know to say.
Releasing me, he backs up a step, then another. “Come on, let’s head back.”
As the day wears on, we cook dinner together. He makes me laugh as we chop and mix and stir, and I smile when he insists on eating in front of the TV so we can watch a movie. By the time night has fallen, I’m sleepy. And no longer afraid. Gone is the worried anticipation of the touch of a stranger.
“Here, lay down.” He puts a pillow in his lap with a crooked smile. I’d been sitting with my head propped on my elbow, eyes heavy.
“Oh, I’m fine.” I lie.
He laughs, patting the pillow. “Lay down, Victory. Get comfortable.”
I hesitate. He rolls his eyes and grins.
After a moment’s more deliberation, I settle my head in his lap and he covers me with the blanket. I feel his hand on my head, stroking my hair. This man is attentive and considerate. A man who spent the whole day trying to get to know me, helping me get to know him. My heart warms and my eyes grow heavier, the movie blurs as I struggle to stay awake. Mother was right. He is kind. I fall asleep, warmed by Liam’s hands in my hair.