Authors: Sherri Hayes
And then my Master did something totally unexpected. He walked to me and knelt down to bring himself to my eye level. “Is it what you wanted, Brianna?”
The confusion was back. “I don’t understand, Master.”
He sighed, and his shoulders slumped in defeat. Once again, I had to press my lips tightly together and not to utter an apology.
My Master sat back on his heels and brushed the hair away from my face. His touch felt good, comforting. “I want you to feel safe here. This is your home.”
I nodded, but even I knew it was weak. What he was saying didn’t make sense to me. I didn’t have a home, just a place.
His voice brought me back to the present. “Would you like to spend the day with me, Brianna?”
He was asking, not commanding, I could tell. But could I really refuse him? I didn’t know the answer to that. And even if I could say no, did I want to?
No. No, I didn’t want to refuse him. It would clearly make him happy to spend the day with me, and that had been my goal this morning, right? So I answered the only way I could. “Yes, Master.”
Brianna was a total enigma to me. I didn’t understand her. And in order to be able to help her like I wanted, I needed to.
My original plan had been to spend the day at home, talking. But after our brief conversation, I knew that wouldn’t work. I would spend the entire day dragging sentences out of her, all the while wondering if she was answering truthfully or just telling me what she thought I wanted to hear.
The new plan involved us going out. It was a risk, yes. I had no idea how she would react to being around people, although Lily said she’d had no major problems. With me, it was different; I knew that. She viewed me as her owner with her sole job to please me no matter what her wishes were.
So today, my goal was to learn about her.
It didn’t take me long to come up with a place to take her. I needed somewhere she could open up, let her guard down. Nothing accomplished that better than animals.
Before heading out, we both went into our rooms and changed into jeans. I grabbed my favorite pair, the ones I wore to family barbeques over at Richard and Diane’s house. There was an excitement humming through me as I got dressed for the second time today.
Walking back out into my living room, I waited for her. Brianna stepped out of her room wearing a fitted pair of jeans and a dark blue long sleeved shirt. Her hair was pulled back in a sleek ponytail, pulling it just slightly off her neck but still allowing it to tumble down across her shoulders. A brief flash from this morning crossed my mind of long brown hair brushing against my thighs, and I had to turn away abruptly before I did something stupid.
I took a deep breath to calm myself. “Are you ready?”
“Yes, Master,” she said to my back.
Opening the door, I motioned for her to go first. She did, all the while keeping her gaze downcast.
Our drive was a silent one. She kept her eyes down for the most part, but occasionally I would catch her looking out the passenger window. Then it was like she’d catch herself and look back down at her lap. “You may look out the window if you’d like,” I said giving her a smile she didn’t see.
She did hear me, though, and brought her head up to look out the window once again. We were getting close to our destination, and I wondered what she’d think of my choice of activity.
I knew exactly when she figured out where we were going. Her eyes opened wide, and she shifted in her seat. “Is there something wrong?” I asked.
“No, Master,” she quickly assured me.
I watched as pressed her lips together. “But?” I prompted.
She glanced down at her hands and blushed. We pulled up to the parking attendant, and she waited until we moved on to find a place to park before speaking. “Why are you taking me to the zoo, Master?”
“Do you not like the zoo?”
“No,” she said quickly. “I mean, yes. I do like it. It’s just, I don’t understand.”
And it was clear from her tone that she didn’t. It was also clear that those simple words were difficult for her to say. Pulling into a parking spot not far from the entrance, I turned the car off, got out, and walked around to open her door. She exited the vehicle, and I shut the door behind her before taking her hand in mine. Turning her toward me, I brought my free hand up to cup her face, making her look at me. “I thought you might enjoy the animals,” I said, rubbing my thumb against her cheek. “If you’d rather we did something else . . .”
The guarded look behind her eyes softened just a little, and she shook her head. “No,” she whispered. “I like this very much.” Then she paused a moment, shifting her weight from her left foot then back to her right. Her eyes lowered again, and although the next words were quieter than the rest, they were still unmistakable. “Thank-you.”
I couldn’t believe we were here at the zoo of all places. The first thing to cross my mind when I’d realized where we were was that this was somehow going to be my punishment for this morning. When he’d asked me if something was wrong, I’d quickly told him no. After all, if that was what we were here for, I’d brought it on myself by acting so stupidly.
But then he’d asked me why and . . . well I couldn’t bring myself to ask him again if he was going to punish me for this morning. If that wasn’t what this was, then I wasn’t going to put the idea in his head.
Then he’d surprised me yet again by telling me he’d brought me here because he thought I’d like the animals. I loved animals. Mom had let me get a dog when I was seven. He got me through everything when my world started falling apart.
I followed my new Master up to the ticket counter, and he paid for two as I hung back. When he was done, we walked through a little gate, and a man stamped each of our hands with the outline of a green elephant.
It was still early. The zoo had just opened, according to the sign, and there weren’t many people yet. My Master took my hand and led me to a huge map directly across the plaza. Coming to a stop in front of it, he glanced down at me, but I didn’t look up. “What animal is your favorite?”
A quick war waged inside my head as I debated how to answer. Was this a test?
“Brianna?” I raised my head a little but didn’t meet his eyes. His free hand lifted my chin. “You have to have a favorite,” he said giving me that same crooked smile he did this morning.
“The lions,” I whispered and hoped it was the right answer.
Apparently it was. He dropped his hand from my chin and looked up at the big map. “Lions . . .” he mused to himself. “Ah. Here they are.” Then I felt a slight tug on my arm. “Let’s go.”
The lions were all the way on the other side of the zoo. We passed hippos, gorillas and even a reptile house on our way to our destination. I really hoped he wouldn’t want to go into the reptile house. I didn’t think I could handle it; I hated snakes. Just the thought of them sent shivers down my spine.
He noticed. “Are you cold?”
I shook my head no. He was very observant, of course; so was Ian.
Thankfully, our arrival at the lions’ cage cut off my trip down memory lane. There was a bridge running across the top of a platform. On one side was a male with a full mane and on the other three females. They were beautiful.
The first time my mom brought me to the zoo, I’d been drawn to them. Each step was confident, predatory, and yet elegant, especially the male. The movement was like a dance but with music only they could hear.
Quickly moving to the other side of the bridge, I focused on the three females. Two were lounging underneath a tree while the other one was clearly surveying her territory. She was beautiful; I was in awe.
Lost in my memory and my observations, I completely forgot about who I was with until I felt his hand come up to press against the small of my back. “You really do like them, don’t you?”
There was a hint of amusement in his voice, but I answered him honestly. “Yes.” I sighed.
After a few more minutes, he shifted his weight beside me. “Would you like to stay here a little longer or go see something else?”
I thought about it for a few moments. The zoo was a treat; I knew that. Why he was giving this to me, I had no idea, but I wanted to take advantage of it and see as much as he would allow. It felt odd to speak the words. “I’d like to see something else.”
Out of the corner of my eye, I saw movement and figured he must be nodding since he began to guide me back down the ramp. There really was so much to see. I hadn’t realized we’d also passed an aquarium full of fish tanks three times my height.
The room was dark, but there were lights inside the tanks. Fish of every shape and color swam by in different patterns. Some of them even came right up to the glass and bumped it, causing me to jump. My reaction made my Master chuckle.
We moved on from the fish to the gorillas. There was a mother gorilla and her new baby, sitting in a corner of the enclosure. It was very cute. I felt a pang of longing. Being eighteen, I wasn’t in a big hurry for children, but I had hoped to have some one day. And even though I knew that would never be possible now, I still couldn’t help the sudden sadness that filled me.
Needing to get away from there, I took the chance and just walked off. After only a few seconds’ delay, he was beside me again, his warm hand on my lower back guiding me as I willed the tears to go away.
It was for that reason I didn’t realize where we were going until it was too late. I remembered him opening a door and a blast of warm air hitting me.
And then everything else ceased to exist outside the mind-numbing fear that gripped me.
Coming to the zoo had been a good idea. I knew it the minute we got to the lions. For the first time since I’d known her, I saw the lines of Brianna’s face relax.
I was quite pleased with my choice of activity as we walked into the reptile house, my hand on her lower back guiding her. She was even moving around a little without me having to give her instructions to do so.
A gust of warm air hit us as we stepped inside the temperature-controlled building. I was quite neutral when it came to snakes. They weren’t my favorite creatures by any means, but I did find them interesting to look at from behind a glass wall.
Two steps inside and I felt Brianna’s muscles stiffen beneath my hand. Looking down, I noticed she’d lost all color in her face. Moving to stand in front of her, I tried to get her to look at me, to focus but she wouldn’t. Instead she crossed her arms, tightly hugging her torso, while her breathing became increasingly shallow.
An older couple walked around us with stares of obvious curiosity at the scene. I couldn’t care less. All I knew was that we needed to leave this place. I had no idea what was going on exactly, but something changed the minute we’d entered this building. My only hope was that leaving would correct the problem.
Putting my arm firmly around her waist and pulling her to my side, I practically carried her back out the door. Looking around, I spotted a bench across the way and headed for it.
Thankfully, it was still early enough in the season that there weren’t crowds of people. That didn’t mean we weren’t attracting attention. Several people, including one zoo worker, paused in their progress to assess the situation. I couldn’t spare them much attention, however.
As we both sat down on the bench, she continued to curl into herself and was now engaged in a sort of rocking motion. She was mumbling, but I couldn’t make out the words.
Wherever she was, it wasn’t here. I needed her to calm down and focus.
Drawing on the little experience I had with her so far and what had worked before, I reached out and tried to get her to look at me. My efforts, however, didn’t glean me the desired effect. Instead, her head stayed down but was now buried in my chest. The only advantage I gained was that I could now understand what she was saying.
“Please. Please, Master, please.”
I glanced over at the building we’d just left, closed my eyes, and wrapped my arms around her. It was the first time she’d called me ‘Master’ since we’d entered the zoo. Obviously, the reptile house had triggered a memory or something for her. What in the world had this beautiful creature gone through?
She needed to know she was now safe, but I had no idea how to accomplish that, given that a simple trip to the zoo could do this to her. All I knew was that I couldn’t take her anywhere like this. Even making it to the parking lot would be a challenge.
So we sat, my arms around her and her head against me. Occasionally I’d hear another
leave her lips, and I would respond with a quiet
It took a while, but finally her breathing became normal again, and her muscles began to relax.
When I thought it was safe, I put some space between us and brought her chin up, forcing her to look at me. Her eyes were bloodshot, and her face covered with salty streaks left by her many tears.
Bringing my other hand up, I used my thumbs to wipe away the physical evidence of her breakdown. Suddenly her eyes got huge, and I could tell she was once again frightened. Her eyes shot downward quickly, and I saw her lips begin to part. With no doubt as to what was coming and not wanting to hear her insane apologies, my thumb moved to cover her mouth, and her lips instantly closed.
“My instruction from earlier has not changed, Brianna. You are not to utter those words for the remainder of the day, do you understand?”
Taking a look around, I noticed we were pretty much alone. Releasing her face, I watched as her head once again bowed. She’d retreated into herself again. It was like one step forward and two steps back.
Sighing, I looked down at my watch and noticed it was almost noon. “Are you hungry?” I asked her.
I noticed her pressing her lips together, a sure sign she was nervous. My guess was she was trying to guess what I wanted her answer to be again. Like I said, one step forward, two steps back. “This is not a test, Brianna. It is a simple question. Are you hungry? Yes or no?” She nodded but didn’t ease the pressure on her lips.
Standing, I held out my hand. I wanted to see if she would take it freely. After only a moment’s hesitation, she put her hand in mine and stood up beside me. I gently squeezed her fingers in reassurance and approval, both of which I knew she needed from me.
Walking to the food court, I could only imagine what passersby were thinking, especially if they’d been privy to her meltdown. Her head was lowered with her eyes to the ground for our entire walk to the center of the zoo. I thought about stopping and trying to get her to focus on something but reconsidered. My assertion had been to go get food, and more than anything, I needed to be consistent with her; so food it was.
The small food court held four options: burgers, hotdogs, pizza, or chicken. There was also a selection of french fries, nachos, pretzels, and ice cream.
Switching the hand that was holding hers, I moved behind her, placing my mouth at her ear. “What would you like?”
She stiffened for just a second and then relaxed again before raising her head. I watched as she scanned the small menu. Then she was pressing her lips together again. Did she really think there was a wrong answer here?
I moved around to stand in front of her, and her gaze immediately shot downward. I suppressed a sigh. But just as I was getting ready to ask my question again while keeping the frustration out of my voice, she answered, “A hamburger, please.” She paused and then added
in a low whisper so that no one could hear around us.
That had been the reason she’d been pressing her lips together. Although that was still a subject we needed to address, this was not the place. I was just happy she seemed to be making choices faster, easier. Reaching down, I linked our hands once again, and we walked up to place our order.
I was . . . confused. That was the best word I could come up with. My new Master didn’t make any sense to me. Or his actions didn’t.
Once I’d calmed down and realized where we were and whom I was with, I was embarrassed. And a little scared. I was sure I’d drawn attention to us, embarrassed him, but when I’d looked up, his eyes had only held concern. For me.
And then I’d quickly averted my eyes, remembering my place and still unsure how he’d react to my very obvious tears; and as was habit to me now, I started to beg forgiveness. He’d surprised me yet again, though, by stopping my apology, reminding me of his earlier words, and adding that he did not want me to say
for the rest of the day.
I . . . just . . . didn’t . . . understand.
He was so different from Ian, in a good way. I’d been with him for over a week now, and so far, he’d given me my own bed, clothes, and had even taken me to the zoo. My new Master had been kind and gentle to me, only reprimanding me this morning after my stupid mistake.
I kept waiting for reality to set in, for the nightmare I’d lived in for the last ten months to come back. It had to come back, right? This man had bought me, just like Ian had. He was handsome and clearly wealthy. There was no reason he couldn’t have any woman he wanted, so why buy a slave unless you wanted to do things no normal woman would allow?
It was stupid for me to think of those things. This was my life. This was what I was and nothing would ever change that. I already knew my new Master could be much nicer to me than Ian ever was, and I would make him happy as much as I was able.
Briefly I wondered what he would have in store for me later; surely today would have a price. But that didn’t matter. I didn’t think there was much he could do to me that Ian hadn’t already done. Just the way he touched me made me think he’d be much gentler than my former Master was. All I had to do was endure it.
I kept my head down as I ate, but I knew he was watching me; he watched me all the time. The old Brianna wanted to ask him why, but I’d learned that lesson the hard way a long time ago, so I remained silent. When we were both done, he took our trays and threw our trash away.
Next, we walked to see the giraffes. There was a raised platform, and we watched as a line of kids held out food to feed the long-necked giants. It was a sight to see, and I felt myself start to relax again. I would enjoy this. He was not Ian, and come what may, I would deal with it. I’d survived before. I’d survive again.
As the giraffes got their fill and ambled away, so did we. There were ducks by the pond, and a house filled with exotic birds. It had been so long since I’d visited a zoo, I’d forgotten how much there was to see and just how enjoyable it could be.
I could tell we were almost done and heading back toward the zoo entrance when I saw a small fenced-in area holding barnyard animals. It was silly, I know, but he’d indulged me so far, so I walked closer.
There were cows, geese, sheep, and goats all roaming together in the small pen. Children were mingled in alongside their parents with food cupped in their hands. I watched as a little girl who looked to be about five desperately attempted to hold onto her stash as a goat tried to find a way through her defenses. She jumped back and squealed when his nose touched her hand.
Suddenly, I heard the weirdest sound. It took me a moment to recognize what it was, but finally I did. It was me. Laughing. I laughed.
It had only lasted a few seconds, maybe not even that, but I laughed. When was the last time I had laughed? I didn’t know. I couldn’t remember the last time.
The little girl giggled again, regaining my attention. Her mom stood behind her watching, so proud of her little girl for her small accomplishment. I remembered that. I’d been that little girl.
Then I felt my Master’s hand on me, and I jumped, startled out of my reverie. My automatic response was to apologize, and I’d almost slipped, allowing the beginnings to cross my lips. He didn’t seem to be concentrating on my words, though, as I once again felt his fingertips brush the tears I hadn’t known I’d shed away from my cheeks.
“Are you ready to go, Brianna?”
I nodded, and we left.
As he drove us out of the parking lot, I started looking out the window again at the passing scenery. My eyes were on the buildings and trees, but my mind was on what had happened today and my concern for what would happen tonight.
An electronic ringing filled the car. He reached for his pocket and pulled out his cell phone. “Hello?”
For about a minute he was quiet, listening to whoever was on the other line. After a moment, I felt his eyes on me, and I couldn’t help but stiffen a little.
“Okay,” he said. “I’ll be there in about fifteen minutes if you can have everything ready.” There was another short pause, and then he closed the phone.
Calmly he placed it back into his jeans pocket and returned his hand to the steering wheel. I was curious as to the conversation, but I knew better than to ask. It wasn’t my place. Obviously we were going somewhere.
Ten minutes passed before he spoke. “I need to stop at my office for a few minutes. I won’t be long, but I was wondering if you’d like to see Lily while I take care of this?”
Another question. He was giving me an option. Did I want to see Lily again?
“Yes, Master.” Nothing else was said for the remaining drive.
He parked his car near a set of elevators on the first floor of a parking garage in the middle of downtown. I knew he wanted me to follow him, so I did so this time without him asking, hoping this would please him.
We got into the elevator, and he pressed the button for the tenth floor. The ride up went quickly with no stops in between. I could see his reflection in the metal doors. His face was tense as if he was preparing himself mentally for something he really didn’t want to do.