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By:Alexa Riley

“Oh, Mama,” Saint murmurs, and starts to rub my legs.

I can feel the lump forming in my throat start to rise. All these years and it’s still hard to talk about.

“They were wonderful, Saint. Perfect. It was just us. Both of them were only children and their parents passed when I was a kid. We were this perfect little family, just the three of us. Then I was all alone. It was hard at first, but I had friends who helped me get through it. My family wasn’t rich by any means, but they did okay. I was set up after their deaths. I could stay in school, not have to worry about working. But I was lonely.”

Leaning down, I lay my head on Saint’s chest. I don’t want to look at him for the next part.

“Nick was perfect too…in the beginning.” Saint wraps his arms around me and holds me in place.

“I think I was vulnerable—too innocent, too trusting. Now I can see I was an easy mark for a man like him. I was someone he could control. I was a little bit lost and he knew I would cling to him. And he was right. Things moved fast with him. I was caught up in this fairytale. Here was this older man showering me with attention, telling me we would get married, have babies, he would become partner at his firm, and I, once again, would have my perfect family. I wouldn't be lonely anyone.”

“You’ll get your perfect family, Mama, I promise.”

I shake my head because I know he’ll do anything to give me that. That’s just the kind of man Saint is, I give him the rest of my story. “Everything was great for a while. Then my friends starting saying they never saw me anymore and that they thought Nick was too controlling. He told me they were just jealous because we were so happy. And, to be honest, I didn’t care that he was controlling at the time. He was still wearing his mask, but then it started to slip and his need for control went to a whole new level—from knowing where I was every second of the day to picking out what I wore and even what I ate.”

“It’s okay, baby. He can’t hurt you anymore.”

“I know, I know. It’s not about the pain or the betrayal anymore. I hate who I was, who I became with him.”

“Don’t do that to yourself, Mama. You were young. You were hurting. He took advantage of that,”

I know he’s right. But it’s easier said than done.

“He didn’t full-out lie to me. He did want a perfect life. But he just wanted his perfect life. I could practically see a mask slip on his face when he would start to go into one of his moods. Things like my leaving a towel on the floor or wearing the wrong dress to a company event would set him off. The first few times he hit me, it wasn’t too bad. He always begged me to stay and said he was stressed at work. He said I should be more understanding. But it just grew worse. I started to withdraw from him and he knew it. I knew I didn’t love him. I loved the idea of him but he wasn’t real. Never was.”

“Then one night he accused me of flirting with his co-workers at a company party when he made partner. It wasn’t until we were behind closed doors that the real Nick showed himself. The front door wasn’t even closed and he was on me. His hands wrapped around my neck and he forced himself on me. He told me if I was going to flirt with his co-workers like a paid whore he would treat me like one. And he did.” I feel a tear escape down my cheek and land on Saint’s chest.

“After he left for work the next day, I took off. I packed a bag, withdrew some money from the account my parents had set up for me and took a Greyhound out of town. I left a note telling him if he came after me, I would tell everyone who the real Nick was. Not that anyone would believe me. Not perfect Nick. By this time my friends were long gone and I was utterly alone. I thought if I lay low for a few months he would quit looking for me, if he ever even tried to look for me in the first place. He used to say he would kill me if I left him. When I looked in his eyes, Saint, I believed him.”

“I don’t doubt he would,” Saint says more calmly than I expected. “I’m so sorry, Mama.”

“Nothing to be sorry about now. It’s over. I’m over it,” I say, sitting back up.

“No, you’re not. Not yet but we’ll get you there. You have to let me in. You pushing me away all the time is because of the scars that man left on you. Don’t you see? You’re still giving him control. Control over us.”

His words hit me hard. He couldn't be more right. I am who I am because of Nick. He’s the reason I’ve changed. Some of the changes I like, some I need to let go of.

“I’m sorry about what happened to you and that our paths didn’t cross sooner,” he pauses, measuring his words carefully. “But I need to be honest with you. I already know your story.”