The Complete Bitches

Warning: explicit content. Reader discretion advised.

[Now]

“Sushi for one?”

Cherish stops walking and looks up in the direction of the familiar voice, its owner standing in the “Please Wait To Be Seated” line, looking as polished and groomed as Cherish’s dead sisters used to. And she isn’t alone.

Cherish promptly loses her appetite. All she’d wanted to do was go home with her takeout dragon roll. It was bad enough that she couldn’t even afford wine to go with it. Hell, she could barely afford the sushi itself. And now this.

God hates her.

The Woman Who Looks Like Cherish’s Sisters is with a man, a man Cherish knows  (or, at least, used to) very well, a man who happens to be in her every thought, whether or not she’s awake, who’s taken permanent residence in her heart even though she hasn’t seen him in months. His arm is linked with The Woman Who Isn’t Her Sisters’.

Then, very deliberately, without taking her eyes off Cherish’s, The Woman Who Looks Like Her Sisters raises her left hand, yawning luxuriously, patting her open mouth, fingers splayed just so.

Bling!

“Oh,” says Cherish, then looks at The Man She Used To Know.  He raises his eyebrows, shrugging and grimacing as though to say “What?” or “What did you expect?”

“Oh,” Cherish says again, as the takeout bag slips out of her hand. But she doesn’t even notice. Instead, she pushes her way through the rest of the line and out of the restaurant. Just in time, too, as she retches into a nearby trash can.

[Then]

Last year Cherish came home from her late night shift to find The Woman Who Looks Like Her Sisters sleeping on the couch.

She’d stormed into the bedroom. “Why is there a naked woman on our couch?”

The Man She Knew – who, by then was becoming The Man She Didn’t Know Anymore (though not quite yet The Man She Used To Know) frowned and answered her without taking his eyes off of the TV. “First, of all: keep your voice down. Second: stop exaggerating. She isn’t naked just because she’s not swaddled in flannel. Third, she needed a place to crash, so, as a friend, I’m letting her sleep here, because friends help each other out.” He turned off the TV, shut off the lamp, and slid under the covers. He’d put his face in the pillow, but his final point was loud and clear. “Fourth, don’t forget who owns this place.” (The Man She Used To Know was – is – the author of a series of self-help/motivational books and has done very well for himself.)

Cherish was puzzled, then surprised that she was surprised. He’d been like this for weeks and she didn’t know why. She remembered how sweet he’d used to be, how he’d comforted her when both her older sisters had gone missing during their road trip, when their charred bodies were found days later in their burned out red BMW, and when the case went cold due to lack of evidence. How he hadn’t judged her for not crying. “Everyone works through their grief differently, baby.”

But now he’d become a completely different person. The Woman On The Couch was much hotter than Cherish. And The Man She Used To Know had made that comment about flannel. She’d thought about asking the opinions of the women with whom she worked the next day, but no one ever talked to her. “Maybe it’s because you’re so weird,” The Man She Used To Know had told her. She’d thought he’d been joking at the time, but tonight she knew differently. He’d never said things like that before; that must have the beginning of him becoming The Man She Didn’t Know Anymore. He was being weird and distant and it had to do with The Woman On The Couch.

[Now]

The day after Cherish saw The Man She Used To Know and The Woman Who Looks Like Her Sisters, ran out of the sushi restaurant and puked in the trash can outside (much to the disgust of a passing group of teenaged girls, who’d squealed and laughed at her, The Bitches showed up.

Riding the bus on the way to work, Cherish swears she can hear familiar sounding whispering and snickering, but mentally brushes it off.

More whispering and snickering follows her as she signs in at work, puts her coat and belongings in her locker in the staff room, throws on her smock and grabs a full till from the cash office, but fails to find the source.

Until she reaches her workstation.

There they stand, visual perfection as always, down to each strand of hair, each eyelash. They’re wearing the same uniform as her, but have tied the shirt to expose their tight midriffs, and accessorize their look with jewelery. They stand so closely that they serve practically as one unit, identical sardonic smiles on their faces.

We’ve been waitin’ for you,” Bitch One says. Cherish ignores her and pushes her way in front of them. She enters her password into the register and the drawer clangs open, then shoves the till into the register and slams the drawer shut. She flicks a switch that lights up her lane number, then removes the “Next Cashier Will Be Pleased To Serve You” sign from the counter. “I can take some customers over here!”

Bitch Two imitates her wobbly voice, which earns her a high-five from Bitch One. They cackle.

Then, as Cherish starts to scan: “Nice job,” Bitch One says, “Thirty years old and making minimum wage. But hey, it’s still more than I thought you’d accomplish!”

“Would you like cash back?” Cherish asks.

Bitch One and Bitch Two fall into a fit of giggles. “That’s like the new ‘would you like fries with that?’” Bitch Two manages to say.

Totally,” agrees Bitch One. “How pathetic are you?”

“Excuse me, miss, but you scanned my can of tuna twice!”

The giggles start up again. “Oh my God, you can’t even do such a basic, braindead job! You really ARE  an idiot!”

I’m sorry,” says Cherish. “I closed the register before I could give you your change. Just give me a minute.”

Wow,” says Bitch One. “Too bad you’re terrible at sucking dick, because you could work the streets instead of failing at a job monkeys could do!”

But if she was good at sucking dick, maybe she’d be able to keep her man!”

They high-five and chuckle again.

“You overcharged me! I want my five bucks back!”

“Just a minute, ma’am,” Cherish says. “Just let me finish with this customer and-”

“I’m in a hurry! I want it now!”

So, let’s see,” Bitch One says, “let’s count down the list of why Cherish is a loser and couldn’t keep her man. Dumb as a box of rocks…”

“…can’t suck dick…” Bitch Two continues.

“Miss, that’s not mine; that belongs to the customer behind me.”

“So sorry. I’ll just void it.”

“…works a dead-end job…”

“…is as big as a bus. But then, sitting around eating potato chips and ice cream by the bucketful would give anyone a sloppy ass like that.

Speaking of sloppy – look at her! It’s called a comb, sweetie!”

“I know, right? And how about a bath once in a while? I thought we were next to a garbage dump, but it’s just you.”

“Oh my God, oh my God. I am so sorry. I wasn’t looking at what I was doing.” Cherish grabs the phone next to the register, pressing a button to activate the speaker: “Custodian to Lane 5…custodian to Lane 5 please. Thank you.

“Again – I am so sorry. I’ll be happy to go and get you another jar of pasta sauce.”

“Forget it. I don’t have time now.”

She has nothing goin’ on for her.”

“Uh-huh. Nothing at all.”

“She could try wearing makeup.”

“All the makeup in the world can’t fix ugly.”

“Yeah, that’s why he moved on to someone better. To someone who’s pretty, someone who’s thin and smart and has a decent job…”

“And someone who certainly knows how to suck dick!”

“That’s probably what they’re doing right now,” Bitch One murmurs, close to Cherish’s ear. “They’re probably in bed, naked, wrapped around each other while you toil behind the cash register at this lame-ass job. He’s probably thinking, ‘Oh, how I’ve missed out on good sex. Finally I’m with someone who knows what they’re doing.’ ”

Bitch Two is at Cherish’s other ear. “She probably makes him harder than he’s ever been in his life. He’s probably coming as he never has before. And it’s not just sex…he’s truly making love for the first time.”

“He’s whispering sweet words to her which he’s never said to anyone else. He’s saying ‘I’ve never been so in love before.’” Bitch One’s voice suddenly sounds remarkably like his. “He’s never loved anyone this much before. This is why I’m marrying you. This is why you’re wearing my ring.”

Cherish isn’t sure how she’s managed to do this, but the next thing she knows, she’s overturned her till. It lands on her feet with a bang; the coins sounding like shattering glass. It seems to reverberate throughout the store, seems to stop everyone n action: the customers, her fellow cashiers, the stock boys, the produce staff. (“Whoopsie daisy!” The Bitches sing-song.)

And her boss, who’s standing in front of the Special K display at the end of the aisle facing Cherish. He doesn’t look happy. At all.

Uh-oh,” says Bitch One. “Looks like we’ve gotten to her!”

[Then]

Cherish had woken up to their voices the next morning. She went into the kitchen and found them drinking cappuccinos from the espresso machine she’d bought The Man She Used To Know for Christmas and complained he never used. The Woman On The Couch was still wearing the tiny camisole with thin straps and shorts (the kind that Cherish’s dead sisters used to call “batty riders”) that she’d slept in. Her legs were incredible.

“‘Scuse me-” Cherish was about to admonish them for talking so loudly when she was still sleeping, but then The Woman On The Couch turned to look at her, bearing such a strong resemblance that she got dizzy and forgot what she was going to say. That was when The Woman On The Couch became The Woman Who Looks Like Her Sisters.

“Hi!” she’d chirped, offering her name and her hand to shake. She’d been way too friendly, way too eager: overcompensating. Her eyebrows were immaculate, smooth as satin, and her eyelashes looked fake.

That was probably what he was looking at when Cherish had come in the kitchen. They’d been a little too cozy-looking. He’d never sipped coffee with Cherish leaning over the opposite sides of the counter, practically nose to nose. It’d looked to Cherish as though The Man She Used To Know and The Woman Who Looks Like Her Sisters were sharing the same cup when she’d walked in.

Speaking of which! The Woman Who Looks Like Her Sister was drinking out of her favourite mug, the one which Cherish expressly told The Man She Used To Know not to let anyone – guests included – use. Even he never drank from it. And now she was. Inconsiderate and inappropriate, just like the nipples protruding from her shirt. Cherish wanted to throw the contents of that cup right in the area between this intruder’s breasts, right where her little pendant dangled. The Man She Used To Know had probably been staring there, too, the way they’d been leaning over the counter.

(Cherish might as well have been related to this woman, because she was just like her dead sisters: pretty on the outside, poison on the inside.)

She waited for an apology, waited to be offered a cup of coffee, but instead, The Man She Used To Know just said, “Hey. We’ve been catching up. We go way back – and have had some good times!”

“We grew up in the same neighborhood.” The Woman Who Looks Like Her Sisters looked Cherish up and down, probably at her flannel pajamas. Maybe that’s what they had been laughing at as she’d come in. “I’ve known him longer than anyone.“

Cherish’s jaw twitched. “Funny, he’s never mentioned you.” She cleared her throat. “Could you please keep it down? I worked the late shift, remember?” She directed the last sentence more towards him.

“At the grocery store…right?”

Cherish wanted to headbutt the smirk off of her houseguest’s face. Instead she narrowed her eyes. “Weren’t you evicted?”

The Woman Who Looks Like Her Sisters held up a finger. “Negative. I was about to move into my brand new condo, but it was delayed by a week. But since I’d already vacated my old apartment I just need a place to stay until my brand new condo is ready. And he was kind enough to offer.” She linked her arm through The Man She Used To Know’s. Cherish shot him and incredulous look, but he just shrugged.

“So you’ll be gone in a week?”

“Cherish!”

“No, it’s ok. Maybe a week, maybe longer; it depends. That’s the thing when you buy a condo: the wait times are unpredictable. But I guess one who’s never bought one, or, at least, has had their name on the lease would be familiar with the process. But it’s not your fault, I mean, it’s easier fo me to afford one because I’m an investment banker. It’d be next to impossible to do so as a grocery store clerk. Luckily, you’re living with a best-selling author!” The Woman Who Looks Like Her Sisters still had her arm linked to The Man She Used To Know, who didn’t even admonish her the way he had Cherish.

Instead he’d chuckled and said, ‘True that. Okay, we were going to eat breakfast here, but maybe we should head out since you need your sleep.”

“Sounds good,” said their houseguest, and they left Cherish in the kitchen, whose fingernails made half-moon indents in her palms, drawing blood. They shouldn’t have bothered leaving, though, because when Cherish got back to bed, she lay there wide awake.

[Now]

The manager’s office is about the size of a closet. There’s a desk, which houses an ancient computer, a stack of old flyers, multiple empty take-out paper coffee cups, and an overflowing paper tray. There are two chairs on either side of it. Cherish sits in the one in front of the desk; her boss sits in the one behind the desk. The Bitches perch on each front corner of the desk – delicately, gracefully – long legs crossed, sardonic smiles in place.

“I’ll get straight to the point, Cherish. You’re just not working out here anymore. You’ve been declining steadily for weeks now, but today is the last straw.”

Aw sheeit,” says Bitch One.

Here it comes again,” says Bitch Two. “Fired. How many times has this happened?”

“This year alone? Let’s see. There was the wine store…”

“I’ve never had so many complaints about a single cashier over the course of one day – ever! Five! Five! i got five complaints! I’ve been a manager here for over ten years and have never had five complaints about one cashier in one day! Hell, I’ve never had five complaints in a single week about one employee.”

“…file clerk at the gas supply company…”

“…administrative assistant at the childcare centre…”

“I don’t expect my staff to be perfect. You’re human and you’re going to make mistakes. And I watched you make mistakes over the past few weeks and let them slide.”

“…the drugstore…”

“…the 1-hour photo lab…”

“But this – this I can’t. Today was just a spectacle. You’re dropping things, forgetting people’s change…did you know we lost a customer today who has been shopping here since this store’s opening? She said she’d rather go to our competitor and pay a little more than put up with such incompetence.”

Dumb. As. A. Chimp,” says Bitch Two.

“I’m sorry,” Cherish splutters.

“Well, it’s too late for that now. It seems like you’re going through something, and it sucks, but you know what? That’s life. Everybody is struggling with something, but you need to leave whatever it is at home, just like the rest of us, suck it up, and be ready to work as efficiently and competently as possible.” He taps a pencil against the desk. “Since you’ve failed to do that, and, especially, based on today, I’m going to have to let you go. But maybe you can take this experience to your next position as a chance to do better.”

Bitch One says, “Now it really is a shame she can’t suck dick – that’d convince him to keep her!”

[Then]

Cherish had finally managed to fall asleep. When she woke up, they still weren’t there. And when she called him, it went straight to voice mail. She texted him several times, too, but got no response.

They still weren’t home by dinner time, and he still wasn’t answering Cherish’s calls or texts. Same for when she left for work. When she called yet again on her break, she got worried that they were either lying dead in a ditch or hooking up in some posh hotel room. (Actually, Cherish didn’t care if The Woman Who Looks Like Her Sisters was lying dead in a ditch. In fact, she hoped she was.)

She came home to an empty house. Finally, he answered.

“You need to relax,” he’d said. “Stop blowing up my phone.”

“But you’ve been out almost all day with another woman!”

“So? I told you: she’s an old friend. Can’t I go out once in a while without you hassling me?”

“I’m not hassling you; I’m just-”

“I’m hanging up right now. I’ve been having a really good day and I’m not going to let you ruin it.”

They returned in the wee hours of the morning just when Cherish finally managed to fall asleep. There was a lot of whispering and giggling. Cherish strained to hear if there was any kissing sounds.

Then, for the next half hour, she could hear talking, which started – once again – as whispers, then ascended until it became a touch below shouting. There was the sound of the TV being turned on, glasses clinking. They seemed to laugh with every second word, until they seemed to be laughing more than talking. Cherish’s heartbeat reverberated loudly against her pillow.

When he finally slipped into bed beside her, his name barely left her lips before he snapped, “I’m tired. I don’t want to hear it.” He smelled of alcohol. “Goodnight.”

And that was his standard response over the month and a half that The Woman Who Looks Like Her Sisters stayed with them.

“She said she was only staying a week!”

“I don’t want to hear it, Cherish. You heard her – she said maybe a week.”

“She ate the leftovers that I was planning to take to work for lunch!”

“I don’t want to hear it, Cherish.”

“She’s been in the bathroom for forty-five minutes and now I’m gonna be late for work!”

“You’re exaggerating, Cherish. I don’t want to hear it.”

“She left the door unlocked! We could have been robbed – or worse!”

“I don’t want to hear it.”

“Look at this bill! She’s been making long distance calls on our landline!”

“Dammit, Cherish! I’m sick of hearing you bitch and complain about everything she does! Do I have to remind you again whose money pays for this place?”

“Do I have to remind you that you wouldn’t have this place if it wasn’t for -”

The Man She Used To Know put up both of his hands, his face hard and expressionless. “I don’t want to hear anymore of this. I’m walking away.”

That night, Cherish woke up prematurely, thanks to a nightmare about burning flesh and screaming. The Man She Used To Know was not beside her. Once her sweat cooled and her heartbeat slowed down, she got out of bed.

When she crossed the TV room to the kitchen on the pretext of getting a glass of water, she witnessed his lame attempt at scrambling from his place on the couch beside The Woman To Whom She Isn’t Related and onto the floor where he’d set up a makeshift bed. (He’d even had the nerve to pretend to be asleep!) Cherish was sorry he hadn’t smacked his head or probably erect penis into the coffee table on his way there, and wished she could see, in the dark, if he’d at least had his clothes on.

What she did see was the silhouette of The Woman Who Looks Like Her Sisters, who did not pretend to be asleep and was in fact sitting right up facing Cherish. Cherish didn’t have to see the expression her houseguest was wearing on her face – she already knew what it was.

Once again, Cherish resisted the urge to toss her beverage in the other woman’s face, instead going back to bed and laying there wide awake, wondering if she was finally experiencing karma – a suspicion that was confirmed when she found them banging three days later on the same couch where she’d first encountered The Woman Who Looks Like Her Sisters.

[Now]

The Bitches follow Cherish home. All the way home.

“Tsk, tsk. 30 years old and still taking the bus.”

“That’s what happens when you’re a minimum-wage loser – can’t afford a car!”

“But wait – don’t you need a license first?”

“That’s right!” Cackle. High-five.

“Oh my God – she’s checking her cell phone!”

“I mean, why even bother having a phone? It’s not like it rings, ever!”

“And it’s not like she has anyone to call.”

“It’s so old-school, too. No one has a phone like that anymore.”

“Except maybe Zach Morris!”

“Ha! And everyone has a smartphone now, like a Blackberry or iPhone or whatever. But a flip phone? Really? Come on!”

“Well that’s what happens when you’re a minimum wage loser – can’t afford a decent phone!” Cackle. High-five.

“I don’t even know why she’s looking at that guy. He’s too good-looking! Waaay outta her league.”

“I don’t know why she’d look at ANY guy. They’re all outta her league!”

“She was lucky to have had a man at all!”

“He must have been blind, deaf and dumb.”

“And desperate.”

“At least he came to his senses and left her ass.”

“I know. So I guess that means she’ll be alone forever!”

“Yup.”

“Will never have sex again.”

“Except with herself!”

“Hopefully she can make herself come, because she couldn’t do it for him!” Cackle. High-five.

Really?! This is your neighborhood?”

“Talk about classy.”

“There’s, like, a vagrant sleeping on the sidewalk over there.”

“I’ll bet he makes more money than she does.”

“Oh, looky – she lives on top of a laundromat.”

“I guess you could consider this the penthouse!”

“The stairwell smells like piss!”

“Holy shit – she doesn’t even have her own bathroom! She has to share it with the other tenants!”

“Soooo pathetic.”

“Look at this room!”

“It makes a closet look like a freaking MANSION!”

“There’s barely any elbow room!”

“Filthy carpet!”

“Jesus – she doesn’t even have a proper bed! 30 years old, working minimum wage – oops, wait: now unemployed – living above a laundromat and she sleeps on a futon.”

“Nice dinner!”

“Cereal for Chrissake.”

“She sure knows fine dining!”

“I’m surprised she can afford this gourmet meal!”

“Aw look – she’s a’cryin.’”

“I don’t blame her. I ‘d cry too if this was the state of my life: no friends, no man, no money, no car, no job, and nothing to show for it but 30 extra pounds and a futon.”

“And what do we have here? I shouldn’t be surprised: basic cable.”

“The picture isn’t even clear! Why bother? And I mean not just watching TV, I mean, her life!”

“Wonder what else she has planned for this super exciting evening. Carving her ex’s name into her arm? Nope, already did that. Calling him just – ha! – to hear his voice? No, she already did that enough times so he had to change his number.”

“What about writing pathetic poems about her crappy existence.”

“Maybe she should call one of her friends. Oh wait, my bad, she doesn’t have any.”

“Time for bed already?”

“Don’t you mean time for futon?” Cackle. High-five.

“She can pull the covers over her head all she wants – we know she can hear us.”

“That’s right. She can pull them as far as she can but it won’t change the fact that she’s a loser. Her man chose wisely.”

“Hmm. But maybe, just maybe we would leave her alone – at least to sleep – if she’d do one thing for us.”

Slowly, Cherish lowers the covers, pulls her face – sticky with tears – from her pillow, and listens.

[Then]

Even though Cherish already knew – after all, that’s why she pretended to go to work on her day off – it still came as a shock, as though everything had been going perfectly fine, too see The Man She Used To Know currently (and quite ferociously) in the act of infidelity in full-colour, high definition.

She let out a primal scream, sprinting towards the interlocked couple, and, with superhuman strength, grabbed the shoulders of The Fucking Whore Who Was Just Like Her Fucking Sisters and wrenched her off the penis of The Fucking Lying Asshole Cheat She Used To Know.

The Fucking Whore lay on her back in shock, grotesquely spread-eagled; Cherish could see everything. But she didn’t care: she would have beaten the living shit out of The Fucking Whore, exposed vagina notwithstanding, if the sudden devastation hadn’t brought her to her knees – and brought up everything in her stomach and onto the rug.

“Cherish, what the fuck!” The Fucking Lying Asshole starts pulling on his pants.

Cherish managed to stand up despite her wobbly legs. “What the fuck indeed!” Her voice was shaky on delivery, but just as loud as his. She wiped her mouth with her sleeve and watched as The Fucking Whore stood up, still stark naked, glaring at her, ready to pounce, but The Fucking Lying Asshole restrained her with one arm. “Put your clothes on,” he instructed.

Very deliberately, before The Fucking Whore could pick up her shirt, Cherish beat her to it, dropping it in the puddle of vomit.

“Hey! What the hell is wrong with you?” The Fucking Whore tried coming after her once again, and was once again restrained by The Fucking Lying Asshole. He glared furiously at Cherish.

“Well now you know how it feels to have disgusting things come in contact with your belongings!” As Cherish’s voice bordered on a screech, she could feel the wet salty taste of tears on her tongue.

“Disgusting? Excuse me? Your fat ass is the one that’s disgusting!”

“I’m NOT FAT!” Cherish yelled.

“Stop it!” The Fucking Lying Asshole commanded. “You see – this is why this happened! I don’t belong to you! You are too possessive! You need to get a life of your own!” Now he’s the one out of control, eyes bulging, neck veins protruding, breathing heavy. “I am so sick and tired-”

“Hold on a second!” Cherish was dizzy. She felt like she was going to barf again. “You’re saying you cheated because of me? You’re saying this is my fault? You’re the one who brought her into this house and told me to my face that she was just an OLD FRIEND!”

The Fucking Lying Asshole tossed his own shirt to The Fucking Lying Whore, who whipped it on, buttoned it up, then, amazingly, stayed right by his side, throwing an arm around him. The look on her face was pure defiance. But this time, Cherish refused to be baited.

“Well, she was. That was the truth at the time. I mean, we did mess around a little back in the day – ” and at this, he and The Fucking Whore actually exchanged a smile, then he bent his arm so he could hold the hand which dangled around his shoulder.

“Oh, my God,” Cherish moaned.

But he continued on as though she hadn’t made a sound. “The connection never went away I guess, because, well, once I ran into her, we started feelin’ each other again.”

“Oh, my God,” Cherish moaned again. She wanted to sit down but the only place to do so in the room was the couch, but she’d rather die. Actually, she just wanted to die. “How can you stand there talking so normally about this?” She was trying to look only at The Fucking Lying Asshole but it was hard without also looking at The Fucking Whore.

“Seriously, Cherish – calm down,” he told her. “I’m just telling you straight up so you’ll understand why this happened.”

“Well I don’t wanna know!” Cherish exploded, picking up The Fucking Whore’s soiled shirt and hurling it into their direction. She slammed into the bedroom and hurled herself across the bed, wailing like she never had in her life. She could hear cackling in her ears, so she slammed her hands over them as she rolled across the bed as though it would relieve the excruciating pain, still wailing like a grieving wife. (Later she admits to herself that the volume of her cries was mostly for effect, a last ditch effort at sympathy, which, of course, was unsuccessful.)

Then she stepped out of the car, slamming the door behind her.

“Hurry the fuck up!” The Fucking Whore yelled from the driver’s side. But she was not alone. There was another one of her, seated in the passenger’s side. “You’re lucky we’ve stopped to at all to let you pee in these bushes, ‘specially since you’re piggybacking on us.” She took a sip from one of the latte that she’d made Cherish buy for the both of them.

“Yeah, we, like, fucking didn’t invite you for a reason,” Fucking Whore Two said, then, to Fucking Whore One, “Next time we should make her wear some adult diapers.”

“Well she is hardly toilet trained.”

As Cherish walked closer to the thick thatch of bushes, one of them yelled, “You’ve got thirty seconds! And then we’re taking the fuck off!” The engine was revved to punctuate her point.

Cherish stood in front of the trees. They’d been drinking those coffees for a while now.

“Hey, don’t pull your pants too far down. We don’t wanna see that flabby ass!”

“I wouldn’t be surprised if she’s got a dick in there!”

“Or at least an overgorwn bush!”

“Of course! I mean it’s not like anyone will see that thing anyway!”

“It’s probably atrophied from extreme underuse.”

“You’ve got ten seconds left, loser!” The First One yells, “then we ’bout to drive off on your ass!

“Ten,” they began to chant. “Nine…”

Cherish had a bottle of sleeping pills that she was going to take to get herself away from them. Then she thought it would be better to get them away from her.

“Eight…” Their voices started to falter, began to sound like they were speaking underwater. “S-seven…”

They never made it to five.

Still, Cherish counted to thirty, first forwards, then backwards, and slowly made her way back to the car. She opened the driver’s side, barely observing the slumbering forms of The Fucking Whores. She yanked the trunk release, then took out a can of lighter fluid.

The smell of the liquid burned her nostrils, but to her, it was the sweetest perfume. And the sight of it sloshing over the clothes and skin of The Fucking Whores: pure art. Except wait – Fucking Whore One wasn’t quite yet asleep.

“Whatreyadoin’?” she slurred.

Cherish lit a match, dropping it into Fucking Whore One’s lap. “Watching you die.”

She watched the other woman moan and scream and drool, trying her best to move but failing. Satisfied, Cherish opened the gas tank, lit another match, and dropped it in. The car burst into flame before her eyes: a beautiful sight. The moans got louder. Then the car became a couch, The Fucking Whores became one, who was wearing a thin camisole and “batty rider” shorts. The Fucking Whore screamed and screamed and screamed. Cherish screamed and screamed and screamed.

“Cherish.”

She jerked awake to gentle shaking. She was drenched. She’d fallen asleep on top of the covers, but somehow became tangled within them. The Man She Used To Know stood in front of her, the look on his face contrite at best.

“Can we talk?”

[Now & Then]

The Bitches are chanting.

“Do it, do it, do it,” they urge in fervent whispers.

Cherish’s heart pounds. She’s shaking and sweating, sure she’s gonna barf. Or lose control of her bowels.

She knows she’s gone too far. But she also knows that this has to be done or she won’t have any peace.  And she’s so damn exhausted: her body begs for rest. So The Bitches need not push her with such force. She’s gonna do it,  just on her own time. She’ll be damned if she is actually going to tell them this, though. Because to do so would be to acknowledge them and there’s no way in hell she’s gonna do that.

Ever.

So she’s trying her best to ignore them as she closes her eyes, takes several deep breaths and –

“Hurry the fuck up, for Christ’s sake!” screams Bitch One.

“Do it, do it, do it!” screams Bitch Two.

Cherish finally acquiesces just to shut them up. When she’s done, she steps away, panting, her heart banging even harder in her chest like a kick drum. There’s a weird wet sensation on her palms that she knows isn’t sweat, so she inspects them.

They’re stained red.

Cherish screamed.

“Jesus – what’s your problem?” Bitch One snarled. She was sitting on the couch with Bitch Two, watching porn. They were drinking beers – lots of them. Several bottles littered the coffee table, along with open bags of chips and the remnants of a frozen pizza.

Cherish was doubled over, clutching her abdomen. The pain was excruciating. “Help me, please…”

Only minutes earlier, she’d been in her bedroom reading (only because the Bitches banished her from the family room as she watched TV alone: “Get the fuck outta here”) when the cramps began. She knew what it was right away, especially when she felt the warm wet sensation between her legs. Paralyzed by the pain, she started to moan, but got no response, which she should have expected; her parents were away for the weekend. But she thought that this circumstance would at least be an exception. So she continued to moan until she heard Bitch Two yell to Bitch One, “Sounds like there’s a stuck pig oinking up there!”

Bitch One giggled. “Indeed.”

“I can’t stand to hear poor piggy go on like that.”

“Let’s turn up the TV!” So they did. The loud moaning – unlike from Cherish, of pleasure – irritated her, seemed to increase her pain.

“Please,” Cherish groaned. The warm wetness was spreading; her underwear was soaked by now, and she was immobilized by the worst pain she’d ever felt in her life. It was sharp and stabbing and relentless. Even during her time of the month she’d never felt such agony.

The TV went up even more, and that was when Cherish knew that her cries weren’t going to be enough. Surely if they saw her condition – the pain and the blood – they would realize how serious it was and help her.  So, whilestill curled up in the fetal position, she rolled off the bed, landing on the floor with a thud. The impact exacerbated her pain even further.

“Quiet up there!” yelled one of The Bitches. Then the TV volume went up even more, and The Bitches started to imitate the moans with great exaggeration.

Cherish started crying quietly from where she lay, mostly from frustration. The tears were so hot, they burned. She whimpered, but of course, was drowned out by the thunderous volume of the TV and The Bitches’ over-the-top moaning. They were the last people she wanted to go to, but they were the only people she could go to. Surely, within their teeny tiny shriveled hearts, there was a smidgen of compassion.

She managed to crawl down the hallway. When she reached the stairs, she tried to stand up. The blood was gushing out of her profusely now. When her attempt to change positions failed, she let out a brutal cry, one that she thought would overpower the TV and The Bitches, but it went ignored. She tried standing a couple more times but, each time, was held back by the intense cramping.

Cherish had no choice.

She curled herself back into a ball, tucking her knees into her chest, wrapping her arms around them. Then she rolled herself down the stairs, gritting her teeth. Cherish descended quickly, managing to escape injury save a bump to her elbow on the landing.

“Ow!” she’d shrieked. The Bitches had to have heard that, but again, they acted as though they hadn’t. Cherish roared and crawled the rest of the way into the living room, then managed to stand up, albeit hunched over.  And that was when she’d seen the blood on her hands and screamed.

“Please what?” Bitch One said.

“Can you please call 911,” Cherish managed to gasp.

The Bitches exchanged a look. Bitch Two picked up a couple of fresh beers; she opened one and handed it to Bitch One, then opened the remaining one  and took a long drink from it. “For what?!” Bitch One snorted.

“I’m losing -” Suddenly, Cherish was gripped by a pain that brought her to her knees. “Please, call 911…or take me to an emergency room…please.”

Bitch One put down her beer, clapping her hands to her face. “Oh please oh please…”

Bitch Two laughed, and then said, “I thought we told you to get lost! Besides, you’re ruining the carpet.”

“Yeah! Go bleed to death elsewhere.”

Cherish was curled up into a ball again, choking on her sobs. “Can you…at least…I need…give me the phone?”

“I didn’t hear a pleeeaaase.”

Bitch Two snickered. “That’s ALL she’s been saying!”

“P-p-please.”

“Ummmmm,” said Bitch One, rolling her eyes up and to one side as though she were thinking. Then she looked straight at Cherish. “No. I didn’t believe your ‘please'”.

“Don’t be such a cunt,” Bitch Two said, then picked up the cordless phone and kicked it in Cherish’s direction. “There ya go, girl. Though I don’t know what you’re in such a tizzy about: you don’t have to worry about going through an abortion. And besides, the baby’s just doing itself a favour by escaping from having you as a mother.”

“Now who’s being a cunt?” said Bitch One.

Cherish promptly threw up on the carpet.

“Gross!” The Bitches exclaimed simultaneously. Then they looked at each other and pointed. “You owe me a Coke,” said Bitch One.

“Okay. Except make it a rum and Coke.”

“Deal.”

“Wait!” Cherish screamed, but already The Bitches were making moves to leave, grabbing their purses. “Wait!”

Bitch Two spun around. “What? There’s the phone!” She pointed and smirked, then waggled her fingers and spun around. She and Bitch One joined hands and left the room.

“P-p…” Cherish stopped herself, knowing that her protests were useless. The phone was only a couple of feet away from her, and there seemed to be an intermission in her pain, so she slowly dragged herself towards it.

Suddenly, Bitch One popped back into the room. “Forgot something.” She bent down and unplugged the phone base; standing up, she twirled the disconnected cord, smiling at Cherish for several seconds. Then, “Don’t wait up!” She dropped the cord and left the room again. Cherish could still hear The Bitches cackling, long after they left the house. Panic and pain ripped through her simultaneously, and she let out another long guttural scream…

“Miss Cherish! Miss Cherish!” Her landlord is pounding on the door. “The police are here to see you!”

[Then]

“So?” Cherish was sitting up straight with her back against the headboard, fully under the covers now, her arms crossed. The Man She Used To Know sat at the very end and very edge of the bed, not looking at her. Like this, it seemed impossible to believe that they’d ever performed any intimacy whatsoever there.

She didn’t give him a chance to answer. “What? Do I smell?”

The Man She Used To Know sighed, then bent his head, rubbing the back of his neck. “Why won’t you look at me?!” she shrieked. Slowly, with his hand still resting on the back of his neck, he turned his face slightly towards hers, just enough to give her the side-eye.

“So I’m not good enough for full eye-contact?” Cherish knew she was really getting shrill now; there were probably dogs barking like crazy everywhere. But she couldn’t help it. All of the pent-up anger she’d been storing over the past six weeks – hell, she had to admit to herself, much, much longer than that – was finally spilling forth, like a pot boiling over.

The Man She Used To Know sighed loudly, threw up his hands and stood up. He walked to the window and placed his hands on his hips, shaking his head.

“Oh. I’m so not surprised you’ve turned your back on me, since that’s all you’ve done lately.” Cherish pushed off the covers and swung her legs over the edge of the bed. It was her time to say everything she’d ever wanted to say to him, everything she’d stored up inside of her to keep the peace. Everything he’d stopped her from saying because he didn’t want to hear it, even if it was the truth, because it inconvenienced him, because it would force him to accept his responsibility for his part in the damage that done to this relationship. Well, she was through being stifled, fucking through. It was as though the first words she’d said to The Man She Used To Know since he’d come in the room was like an appetizer, and now she was serving a five-course meal, plus a few side dishes. She hoped he gorged.

Speaking of side dishes: “Is she still here?” Cherish demanded, pointing at the closed bedroom door. Before he could answer, she jumped off the bed and headed in the direction she’d just pointed. She was breathing fast, as though she’d just run a marathon. Her adrenaline had spiked to an all-time high, so intensely that the sudden rush of blood to her veins was almost painful. She wasn’t sure what she’d do if The Fucking Whore was still out there. At the very least, Cherish knew that she’d be on the receiving end of certain violent acts.

The Man She Used To Know was the complete contrast to her fury. He was still standing at the window, except his hands were now in his pockets. “The fuck you going?” He said in a low, calm voice.

“The fuck you think I’m going?!” Cherish was practically roaring now.

“What – you think you’re going to go out there and – ” Cherish wasn’t sure if The Man She Used To Know was genuinely amused or just laughing ironically.

She pounded a fist on the door, then whirled around. “What’s so funny?” she demanded. “And turn around and look at me when you say it!” Her heart thudded in her ears.

The Man She Used To Know very slowly and deliberately turned around. And when he did, Cherish wished he hadn’t. The look on his face was so sardonic it looked like he’d put on a mask, made him temporarily ugly. And the way he was glaring at her: she might as well have been a disheveled, urine-scented nutter on the street shouting profanities and unintelligibles at no one in particular. It was filled with a mix of pity and disgust, and she could almost feel his need to get away from her.

And still: Did she ever want him.

“Oh, honey – ain’t nothing funny at all,” The Man She Used To Know responded. ‘That’s what fucked up about this situation: it’s sad.” Then he put his hands in his pockets again and turned his back on her once more.

“Sad? You think this is sad? I know you’re not referring to me because I’m not the one who’s screwing around!” The Man She Used To Know said nothing, so only her heavy panting filled the silence. “Hey!” She yelled so loudly that he was forced to turn around and face her again. “Why aren’t you talking, huh? You came in here all ‘let’s talk’ so talk, dammit! Talk!” But instead The Man She Used To Know just stood there, wide-eyed and incredulous. “TALK!”

“I was going to.” His voice was still frustratingly calm and controlled. “But then you came at me like a lunatic banshee, so I decided to let you finish with your little psychotic episode.” The Man She Used To Know looked her right in the eyes. “And I was laughing just now because you were about to go out and physically harm someone, which I know, despite the fact that you’re pretty much foaming at the mouth right now, you’re simply not capable of.”

Cherish was still breathing hard. “So you think I’m pathetic.” Her voice, however, had become significantly calmer.

“And not just today.”

“Oh,” Cherish sounded like a busted tire letting out air. She felt like she was going to collapse, so she moved away from the door and sat on the bed again. She was surprised when The Man She Used To Know sat down beside her. This time, there was a lack of distance; he was close enough so she could smell him. He smelled the way he’d always did; but she wondered how much of this odor had to do with The Fucking Whore. “So. Is she still here?” she said softly.

“No,” The Man She Used To Know whispered back. “I made her leave.”

Cherish nodded. Suddenly the energy in the room felt different, as though they hadn’t tossed a single hateful, ugly word to each other. (Except “pathetic”- that one was a wound that was all too fresh.) “Is she gone…forever?” She chose not to look at time when he answered her, because she knew what it was, but still, she could still see him shake his head “no” in her peripheral vision.

Cherish tried to speak but all that came out was a strangled sob.

“Look,” said The Man She Used To Know. “It’s time I just put my cards on the table.” He licked his lips. “Maybe I went about this the wrong way. I mean, I know what I was doing when I invited her to stay here. I told myself it was just helping out an old friend. But…Cherish, she’s unfinished business. The one that got away. The One.”

Cherish hiccuped.”I-I thought I was The One.” Is this what it feels like to be hit by  a bus?

The Man She Used To Know sighed. “I thought so too.”

“So what happened?”

“Well…”

Cherish bent over, holding her stomach as though she were in pain. “Just tell me,” she said weakly.

“What’s happening here between us has nothing to do with her,” he said, gesturing towards the door as though The Fucking Whore was standing there, or at the very least, still behind this. “Ok, maybe she does have a little to do with this,” he clarified when Cherish, still doubled over, snorted. “But there’s been shit going on between us way before she showed up. And I think you know that.”

Cherish straightened up. “So fucking her nearly through our living room couch was a way to fix things?”

The Man She Used To Know ignored her sarcasm. “‘Course not. But maybe subconsciously I wanted you to find us like that so you’d leave me. The way I -” he took a deep breath. “The way I wanted to leave you for a long time but didn’t have the courage to do.”

Cherish whipped her head around to look at him straight on. “You wanted to leave me?”

“It wasn’t obvious? I mean even before she came here?”

“Oh my god. And then you have the nerve to justify this, to somehow blame me-”

“I’m not blaming you!”

“No? Because it sounds like you were forced to stick your dick into someone else because stupid me couldn’t get the hint that you didn’t want to be with me anymore. So of course it also forced you to treat me like crap and let her treat me like crap. Well I’m sooo sorry for being sooo dense and expecting fidelity from my man.”

The Man She Used To Know shot up to standing. “You see, when you act like this-”

Cherish also stood. “You see? Blaming me again! Take some responsibility for what you’ve done to me. Take some fucking responsibility for what you’ve done to us. For once!”

He sighed, then patted the spot next to him on the bed. “I’m sorry. I’m sorry. Sit back down, please.” When she complied, he surprised her by holding her hand. Her heart lifted, and she leaned on his warm, bare shoulder.  Maybe all wasn’t lost. Maybe they could work things out, after all.

And she was even more convinced that this was possible when he began to run his thumb over her fingers. Cherish was amazed at how much this subtle gesture aroused her; it made her realize how little he’d touched her in the last few months – yes, even before The Fucking Whore got there. This time, her pounding heart and heavy breathing had nothing to do with anger. Her head still on his shoulder, she put her hand on his cheek, pulling his face close to hers. Their noses bumped.

“I’m so sorry for the way I acted just now,” she murmured. Her clit was throbbing; it was so engorged, it hurt. It’d been so long… “I just love you so much,” she was practically whispering into his mouth now,  “that I…” Cherish mashed her lips against his, despite the fact that a split second prior, she’d seen the look of horror and confusion in his eyes. And now she was ignoring the resistance of his lips as she tried forcing them open with her tongue. But it kept running into his tightly clenched teeth. It wasn’t going to stop her though. She had to have him. Not just now, either, but forever.

“Chish.”

“Shhh…” she managed to whisper against his lips. The throbbing in her pants got more intense, as did her breathing, the beating of her heart. She straddled him, rubbing her pubis against him, feeling him go hard. But his lips were still unyielding. “It’s okay. It’s okay,” Cherish assured him. He’s just scared, that’s all. He just has to get used to me again. “It’s okay.” Still kissing him, still straddling him, she pushed him on his back and began to pull down his pants. She didn’t care that he’d just fucked The Fucking Whore. She needed him too much right now.

Chish,” he said again, more insistently this time. She could feel the vibration of his voice against her lips, which just turned her on even more. “Shhh,” she told him again. She didn’t know why he was being so stubborn when it was so obvious how much he wanted this, how right this was, how this would fix everything. They’d just been going through a dry spell. Sure, he hadn’t reacted to it in the right way, and they’d have a lot to work through, but right now she just wanted to be fucked. She wanted him to fuck her. Or, at least, she’d fuck him so good he’d forget all about The Fucking Whore.

But before she could go any further, The Man She Used To Know sat up halfway and took hold of her shoulders, disengaging his mouth from hers. “Cherish,” he murmured. “No.”

She was still on top of him. “What?” She was so frustratingly dissatisfied. “It’s okay, baby.” She tried pushing him back down again, and that was when he grabbed her wrists, forcing her to back off. “What’s wrong? I don’t get it…”

“Cherish.” His voice was firm, but kind. She looked him right in his eyes and knew, despite what his body was telling her. But he felt so warm, solid and safe that she didn’t want to recognize the truth in his expression. Even if he’d been the one to hurt her, she needed him to be the one who comforted her. She needed him.

“Please,” she murmured.

“No.”

“But I know you want to,” Cherish ground her hips against his arousal again.

“It doesn’t matter-”

“Yes it does. It means you still want me.” She clenched her thighs around him as tight as she could.

But The Man She Used To Know was stronger than her. “Cherish – just stop! Stop it.” Now he was fighting her, taking his hands from her wrists so he could plant his palms on her waist, pushing her away.

“No.” Cherish choked on a sob. “Is it because I’m too fat?”

“Cherish…”

“Please just one more time…even if it’s over…” Tears were running down her face now. “Please just fuck me one more time and I won’t give you any more trouble, I swear,” She could hear herself – the whiny tone of her voice, the desperation – and hated herself for it, but her desire for The Man She Used To Know was stronger than her pride.

“I said stop!” The Man She Used To Know demanded, this time pushing her off of him as hard as he could – hard enough to make her fall off the bed and onto the floor in a heap. She lay there in shock as he pulled up his pants all the way and went to his dresser for a fresh T-shirt.

“Oh my God,” Cherish whispered.

“Hey, I’m sorry, it’s just that you wouldn’t listen…” He reached out to help her back up but she scooted away from him, pulling herself into a sitting position.

“No.” Cherish drew her knees to her chest. “It isn’t even that. It’s what you said before.” She had trouble meeting his eyes. “I am pathetic.”

The Man She Used To Know sighed and knelt down next to her. “I didn’t mean to sound so harsh.  It’s just that lately, you’ve seemed to become someone else.” He was close enough, yet careful not to touch her. He’s just being nice now. “I mean, even now – one minute you’re screaming at me, and the next –  you’re trying to seduce me.”

Cherish moaned and put her face in her hands.

“it’s ok. Look, like I said – I want to be upfront with you. Cherish…I think we’ve run our course. A long time ago. And, as I just admitted, bringing someone else here was not the best way to deal with it, but I was just angry because you’d changed so much that I didn’t know what to do.”

Cherish took her face out of her hands, wrapped her arms around her drawn up legs, and laid her head on her forearm, finally able to look at The Man She Used To Know. “So why didn’t you try talking to me?”

He told her that she was too difficult to talk to. He told her that she’d become a person he didn’t recognize anymore; a person he no longer enjoyed being with. “Sorry – I’m just being honest.” He said that he felt like he was the only one putting effort into the relationship.

“What?!” she shrieked.

“Let me finish,” he told her patiently. Then he went on to say that he’d lost respect for her: the way she’d not only let the relationship go, but let herself go. And he didn’t only mean her appearance. That was only a small percentage of it. Mostly just the way she went through life without ambition, without purpose; as though she’d be satisfied going through life without progressing at all. He’d watched her go downhill while he stood helplessly by, not knowing how to save her.

Cherish raised her head from her arms. This time she was the one wearing a sardonic smile. “Sounds like you are blaming me,” she said quietly.

“I know it seems that way, but that’s only because there was just a bunch of things I’d wanted to say to you that have been pent up over the years but I was too scared to say.”

“Scared? Of me?”

The Man She Used To Know shrugged. “No. Scared of losing you.”

Cherish gave a shuddery sigh. “So now you’re not scared of losing me anymore.”

“No.” He said this in a whisper.

“I’m sorry but I’m -”

“Just being honest.” Cherish finished for him. She stood up on unsteady legs, and went to lay down on the bed again, and The Man She Used To Know sat down next to her again. Back to where they started.

[Now]

The knocking continues.

“Miss Cherish! Miss Cherish!” her landlord calls once again. Then, in a  lower voice, “I’m so sorry, officer; I thought she was here. I’m certain she never left!” More knocking ensues.

Though Cherish isn’t entirely sure if this round of knocking is coming from her landlord’s fist on the on the other side of the door, or her knees. Or maybe it’s her heart knocking against her chest. Which makes her scared: what if they can hear her, even though she’s wedged herself in the corner of her closet?

A new voice presents itself: a second male voice addressing the first. “Looks like she isn’t here, sir.”

“Do you want me to let you in? Maybe she’s here but can’t hear us for some reason,” Cherish’s landlord replies.

Cherish lets out a small, involuntary gasp. Her heart bangs against her chest louder than ever. The seconds it takes for the response to come feels like hours. She’s shaking so hard that the hangers containing her meager wardrobe start rattling against one another and her breath is coming faster until she’s panting. And then there’s the knocking of her knees and her heart. With the symphony of fear playing in her tiny closet, where she resides in the corner, sitting upright with her knees pressed up against her heaving chest, her threadbare winter jacket blocking her field of vision, she’s really sure they’re going to hear her now, going to break down her door and haul her away.

Don’t fuck it up,” Bitch One says in her ear.  She’s sitting to Cherish’s left. “Or else you’ll end up in the pokey being somebody’s bitch.”

Wait a second – that’s not necessarily a bad thing,” says Bitch Two. She’s on Cherish’s right. “I mean, at least she’d be getting laid!”

Bitch One chuckles.”True, I mean, better locked up and gettin’ some than living this pathetic, sexless example for a life. Sure, you have freedom, but what’s freedom when your life is this lame? Maybe you would be better off in prison.”

Yet on second thought,” Bitch Two continues, “Look at her! Even a desperate horny butch wouldn’t want any of that!”

True,” says Bitch One. “you’re right! She’s not even worth getting raped in prison – or anywhere else for that matter. However, she’d still be living larger than she is out here! She’d get better accommodation, better food…”

Cherish’s face is absolutely drenched in her own sweat. Droplets of it sting her eyes, forcing them shut. Her night-shirt is thoroughly soaked, though, inexplicably, her bare arms are covered in goosebumps. Her stomach rumbles, partly from hunger but mostly with anxiety. Her bladder is so full, it’s painful.

Of course,” Bitch Two says in response to her counterpart, “she’s used to being rejected but that doesn’t mean that her life won’t be better in the slammer!”

So what are we hiding in here for?” Bitch One says. “We should let ‘em in and get ‘em to take her away!”

Good idea!” says Bitch Two.

“Thanks, but that won’t be necessary,” the second voice finally says. “I’ll just head back to the station and try giving her a call later, see if I can catch up with her at another time.”

“Would you like me to let you know when she gets home?”

“Um, don’t go out of your way, but if you do happen to see her, please give me a heads-up. Here’s my card.”

“Thanks, officer. Can I ask if Miss Cherish is in trouble?”

Cherish doesn’t catch the rest because the sound of their voices are beginning to gradually fade; she guesses they’re walking away from the door. Finally.

Uh-oh,” Bitch One says. “They’re getting away…”

We’d better get their attention fast!” Bitch Two finishes.

They stand up and start pounding on the closet door. “Hey! Hey!” They scream. “She’s in here! Get her! Get her!” Now the only thing that Cherish can hear is their shouting – which reverberates in her head – and the sound of their fists striking the cheap wood – which beats in her chest.

Hey! Hey! Come back!” They yell, then stop abruptly. They turn around and look at Cherish, who still sits folded up in the corner, trembling on the floor among her shoes and a couple of shirts that have slid from their hangers. Then they collapse on one another, laughing hysterically.

Cherish promptly pees herself.

Yuck,” say The Bitches in unison.

***

Oh for fuck’s sake,” Bitch one says, hand on one hip. “They’ve been gone for, like, a fucking hour now. And you’re sitting in your own pee. What’s wrong with you!”

Cherish is still trembling, but not just from fear. The sweat and urine has cooled on her skin. But it’s the only movement she can make, because she feels paralyzed. as though she’ll be stuck in her current position, sitting in her own liquid waste, until her heart stops. Then she thinks that it wouldn’t be such a bad idea if that happened. She just hopes that if it does it’ll be SOON.

You’re disgusting,” Bitch Two says. “You might as well join that homeless man on the curb. Except he probably won’t associate with someone who has less dignity than he does.

I think we were wrong,” she says to Bitch One. “Even jail is too good for her.”

You’re right. It’s a good thing that they didn’t come get you. What you deserve is to sit here and in your own piss and starve to death and have the rats come into this filthy hole you call an apartment and eat your rotten corpse. Which wouldn’t be a big deal anyway. No one would miss you.”

Cherish’s face is moist again, but this time from tears instead of sweat.

Oh,of course,” Bitch Two scoffs. “That’s your solution. Sit there and cry like a little girl. That’ll really help. I can’t imagine why your life is such a mess, seeing that you work so hard at it.”

Cherish swipes her forearm across her wet eyes.

Now, that’s not true,” Bitch One tells Bitch Two.”Even if she did work hard at her life she’d fuck it up…because, she’s, well, a fuck-up.”

Cherish sighs with a shudder, then examines the palms of her hands. They were still stained; she’d washed at the big red blotches with scalding hot water and soap for ten minutes, but they’d only downgraded to a faded pink at best.

Out, out, damned spot,” The Bitches had mocked.

“Seriously, you’re being ridiculous. The cop’s left the building. Why the fuck are you still sitting here? I mean, it’s not like you haven’t gotten away with worse!”

This time Cherish shudders with more force, so hard that the hangers shake again. She keeps curling and uncurling her hands into fists, staring at the faded pink spots, wiling them to go away, to evaporate beneath her gaze.

Oh yeah,” Bitch Two continues. “I went there.”

Cherish whimpers and shakes her head.

Hey – you’re being too hard on her again,” Bitch One counters. “I mean I admire her balls for what she did the first time. I didn’t think she had it in her. And the fact that she fucking got away with it – I can’t help but admire her in a weird way.”

True. She really fooled the cops good, with her poor pitiful pathetic put-on persona.”

Good alliteration there,” Bitch One says. “But I guess that part wasn’t too hard to play seeing that she’s been that way all her life.

I mean, look at her now. Acting the same way she always has: the role of a scared little girl. Simpering and whining like a victim. Well you’re a victim, all right – a victim of your own shitty choices. And don’t bother blaming us-”  and Bitch One points to herself and Bitch Two “-for what happened last nigh because you didn’t have to listen to us. It’s not our fault you have such a weak resolve. Maybe if you had a stronger sense of self you wouldn’t get yourself in such trouble.”

Cherish starts sobbing quietly.

Oh, wah-wah-wah,” Bitch Two spits out in disgust. “Woe is me. You make me sick. Absolutely sick. You’re a fucking pile of vomit. You think crying will help? You think crying will make anything better? Yeah, go ahead: sit there crying. See where it gets you. It’s not gonna get your man back – but then nothing short of a miracle would do that because he’s wayyy too good for you. It’s not gonna get your job back. But lame as it was, it was also way too good for you. It’s certainly not gonna change what you did last night, and it certainly isn’t going to change what you did three years ago-”

The last part of Bitch Two’s tirade breaks Cherish out of her paralysis and launches her to her feet. Her pajama pants are waterlogged at the seat, sagging unappealingly at her backside. The closet is so small that it traps the hot buttery scent of her piss, and the combination of her empty stomach and the putrid fragrance makes her completely nauseated.

Or maybe it’s the same thing that forced her to stand up.

Bitch One gasps. “Once again, we’ve gotten to her.”

Cherish releases a small cry from her parched lips, which are so dry that she can feel the skin peeling off of them, and presses her back against the door, facing The Bitches, who look feral, carnivorous.

Bitch Two chuckles. “I think you’re right.”

It takes Cherish several tries before she gets the closet door open. She runs to the bathroom to vomit, but in her haste to lift the lid from the toilet seat, she knocks over the garbage can that sits beside the commode. Its single item falls out with a clatter, rolling against the tile floor until it comes to a stop when it hits the wall.

“Oh no…” Cherish moans. If the faded reddish-pink stains on her palms hadn’t confirmed that last night had really happened, this did. She’s actually too terrified to vomit now.

God you’re stupid,” Bitch One barks from behind her. Cherish jumps to her feet from the kneeling position she’d assumed in front of the toilet but doesn’t look behind herself.

I mean, Jesus. You were sooo much better at covering shit up the first time,” Bitch One continues. “But now you’re just fucking sloppy.”

Yeesh. It’s a really good thing you didn’t let the cop in,” adds Bitch Two. “they’d have slapped the city bracelets on ya and hauled your ass away for good!”

Nooo…” Cherish moans. This isn’t possible. She’s sure she’d thrown it into a nearby dumpster. She’s sure she hadn’t come home with it.

Yesss,” The Bitches hiss back.

Cherish’s throat closes. She can hardly breathe, so she starts gulping for air, making strangled sounds that are half-gasps half-sobs. Her knees feel weak and she’s sure she’s on the verge of collapse, then thinks that wouldn’t be such a bad thing, as long as she cracked her head open on the edge of the sink and died on the way down. But unfortunately she manages to stay on her feet.

Maybe this time,” Bitch One says, and her voice sounds like it’s coming from the bowels of hell, “you’re not going to get away with it.”

Cherish lifts her eyes to the mirrored cabinet above the sink. She looks horrible, awful, like ten kinds of shit. Her eyes are cherry red, framed by her short thick eyelashes which are clumpy and wet with the tears that are running down her face in a haphazard fashion, merging with the snot that’s running copiously from her nose and into a salty river in her mouth. But there’s a sight that’s even worse behind her: The Bitches standing in the doorway in the form of charred skeletons; their arms linked and their bony see-through smiles fixed into wide, gruesome grins.

With a calm manner that surprises herself, Cherish opens the cabinet and takes out a razor, heading to the shower stall. She slides the stall door open, steps in and turns on the water. As it gets hotter and hotter, as steam fills the tiny space, as she stands beneath the needle-sharp spray that soaks her hair to her scalp and her clothes to her body, Cherish extends her right arm in front of her, reddish-pink palm side up, and grips the razor tight in her left hand, right above her right wrist. Through the rapidly falling water in her eyes, Cherish looks at The Bitches again, who have resumed their original forms, but are somehow still as fearsome.

“Is this what you want? Is this why you’re here?” Cherish’s voice, louder and stronger than it’s been in forever – powerful, even – bounces off the tiled walls of the shower stall. It’s the second time she’s addressed The Bitches since they showed up, so she figures she might as well make it count. “Well, mission accomplished.” She presses the razor blade to her wrist and starts to apply pressure.

[Then]

The Woman Who Looks Like Cherish’s Sisters never came back after Cherish had found her on the couch with The Man She Used To Know. Cherish told herself that she didn’t care, but she was curious as to where she went. Finally moved into her condo? (Cherish suspected that the condo had been ready the whole time and The Woman Who Looks Like Cherish’s Sisters just pretended it hadn’t – to her own advantage). Found another home to wreck? Cherish sincerely hoped it was the latter, because that would mean she would leave The Man She Used To Know alone.

Either way, it didn’t matter.

“Look,” The Man She Used To Know said the same night he’d been caught fucking The Woman Who Looks Like Cherish’s Sisters. Cherish was still smarting from his rejection – and partially ashamed of herself for throwing herself at him. It was like hanging onto the edge of a cliff by your fingernails, clawing desperately but futilely at rocks and dirt, knowing that no matter how much you crawled and fought, you were still going to fall off the edge.

“Look. It’s clear we’ve run our course. We can talk and talk and talk and talk, but at the end of the day…” He threw up his hands. “It’s over.”

Cherish was sitting on the bed, her arms still wrapped around her folded legs, her head resting on her arms. The Man She Used To Know sat about a foot away from her. She opened her mouth, but he raised a hand before she could start speaking. “I know what you’re about to say. And you’re right: cheating on you was completely wrong. I’m totally going to put that out there. And I’m sorry you had to see what you saw today.”

“Please. I think you wanted to get caught. And having her live here? Taking all these liberties? Pretty fucked up.”

The Man She Used To Know sighed and stood up. “I’ve already apologized for and acknowledged that, okay? I don’t want to fight with you anymore; nor do I want to draw this out anymore. So,” and he turned to face her, clasping his hands together. “I’m sorry, but you’re going to have to move out.” He flinched slightly as he awaited her reaction.

Cherish lifted her head from her forearms, untucked her legs, and inspected her cuticles. “So you can move her in? No wait – so you can sell this place and move into her oh-so-awesome condo.”

The Man She Used To Know sighed impatiently again. “What I do after you’re out of here is my business.”

You’re out of here. Said so casually, like she was a pest or mould. Her eyes stung. “Okay.”

“I know you’re not exactly, you know, can afford much rent right now, so I’m willing to pay first and last month’s for you.”

That made Cherish’s eyes fill up even more. Is that how desperately you want to get rid of me? Is this some kind of consolation prize, a way to “pay me back” for cheating on me?But she could see that she had lost the fight; she’d been K’O’d and the referee was standing above her prostrate body, counting to ten.

In the end, The Man She Used To Know gave her two weeks to find a place, moving out temporarily to give her space until she did so.

Cherish didn’t have to guess where he went.

[Way Back Then]

“Hi.”

Cherish jumped. The voice seemed to have come out of nowhere. She didn’t want to be rude, but she just wanted to go home and get back in bed and read. Anyway, she was probably mistaken; perhaps the voice wasn’t addressing her, after all.

“Excuse me.”

Cherish turned around. The source of the voice was a man she didn’t know, who she’d never seen before. He was cute – baby-faced – and quite tall. He was smiling at her, and she could see that he had perfect teeth with which he probably wasn’t born. He was slightly out of breath, and she was shocked to realize that he’d just run out of the library to go after her.

And she had no fucking clue why. Her unwashed hair was hidden under a hastily tied bandana; she was wearing a fleece zip-up jacket that was several sizes too big, jogging pants that truly should never have seen the light of day, and dirty sneakers. On top of that, she knew her face was greasy and her lips were terribly chapped, but she didn’t care.

“Hi,” The Man She Didn’t Know Yet said again, still smiling. “I didn’t mean to scare you. I just, um, noticed that you read a lot.” He gestured towards the full bag in her hand.

Cherish shrugged. “Uh-huh.” What was going on? Was a total stranger about to mock her for reading too much? Did he run out of the library just to do that? Her sisters probably put him up to this.

The Man She Didn’t Know Yet was still smiling, albeit nervously now. “Okay, so don’t get creeped out or anything, because what I’m about to say sounds, well, creepy, but I noticed that you come to the library a lot, take out a lot of books and then come back for more. So, I’m kind of fascinated at the rate and at the volume you read.”

A smile threatened to break out on Cherish’s face – the first genuine smile since The Incident.

Since The Incident, Cherish had only left her bed to go back and forth to the library. All she did was read to escape the thoughts that pervaded her otherwise…

The remembrance of laying on the living room floor for hours as she bled out, paralyzed by pain, her ears assaulted by the pornographic movie her sisters left on full volume, until she passed out. When she woke up, she was in the hospital with the news she’d had to have a blood transfusion and that the damage was so bad, she’d most likely never be able to conceive again.

“How did I get here?” Cherish had asked.

“Actually…you were found outside the emergency room doors, propped up by a garbage can…luckily someone found you and brought you in…”

Cherish shuddered. “Thanks.”

No one came to visit her, and once she was released, there was no one to drive her home. (she’d called home but no one answered), so she was forced to take a cab. Once she got home, she’d fallen into bed and that’s where she’d been ever since (but not before asking her sisters if they’d taken her to the hospital. They’d scoffed. “Yeah, like we’d save your pathetic life. By the way – you’d better clean up the mess you made on the carpet.”)

The memory of The Incident made the smile slip right off of her face. “Thanks,” she said grimly.

“Hey, I’m not making fun of you, I swear. I think it’s great!”

This guy couldn’t possibly be picking her up. Still, she wondered if her breath smelled, if she was emitting any heinous body odours. Brushing her teeth and showering hadn’t exactly been a priority lately. “Thanks,” she said again.

“Okay, look. I have an ulterior motive here,” The Man She Didn’t Know Yet stuck his hands in his pockets. “I’m kind of writing a book – that’s why I’ve been holed up in the library, and that’s how I’ve seen so much of you. And I was wondering if maybe I could get you to read what I’ve written and tell me what you think.”

This was the last thing Cherish had wanted to do in the first place: communicate with anyone. Especially men, who were kind of on her shit list right now, given that the last one with whom she’d been involved – the one who had been “responsible” had taken off as soon as she’d given him the news.

The Man She Didn’t Know Yet got uncomfortable with her silence. “I know this seems really weird, but I need an objective opinion, and I figured as someone who reads as much as you do, you’d know whether or not my writing is shit.” Then he titled his head to the side, curious. “Hey, let me ask you: why do  you read so much?”

“I -” and that was all Cherish could get out before she burst into tears. Soon, she was sobbing hysterically.

“Hey – I’m sorry…I didn’t mean to insult you.” The Man She Didn’t Know Yet looked horrified. “I was just curious, I swear! Like I told you, I think it’s great -”

Cherish shook her head. It was so humiliating – standing outside the local library sobbing as a total stranger tried to comfort her with awkward pats to her shoulder. “It’s not that. It’s not that at all.”

“Then what is it?” The Man She Didn’t Know Yet said softly. “What is it?”

*

“Wow.” The Man She Didn’t Know Yet gazed at her, his mouth hanging slightly open.

Cherish nodded. “Yep.”

After her mini breakdown outside the library, he’d waited until she stopped crying, ran back into the building to grab his things, and hustled her into his car. Cherish was vaguely aware that she was getting into a car with a total stranger, but she didn’t care – and that’s when it hit her: she had even less concern for herself than she thought.

But the man in front of her seemed to have a whole lot of it. He’d driven to a nearby coffee shop, where they chose comfy couches to sip their lattes. And talk. Well, Cherish did most of the talking. She didn’t mean to tell him so much – almost everything – but it felt good to finally spill to someone.

The Man She Didn’t Know Yet leaned over and patted her knee. It also felt good to be touched. “I’m sorry you went through all of this. And here I was chasing you down and yammering on -”

Cherish lifted a hand. “It’s oaky. I mean, there’s no way you could have known.” Then she looked down at herself, chuckling. “Except I look like ten kinds of shit.”

“I think you look just fine.”

Cherish’s eyes met his and they laughed. She wasn’t exactly sure why. Cherish was shocked at how foreign the sound of her own laughter was to her. Then she was even more shocked to realize that she was actually relaxed and having a good time. God, how she dreaded going home. Even more than ever.

As if he’d read her mind, The Man She Didn’t Know Yet said “I can’t believe they just left you lying there! I mean, I’m sorry, but…”

Cherish bit her lip. “I know.”

“And just…dumped you at the emergency room like a bag of garbage…I mean, it had to be them. Who else would it have been?”

Cherish just nodded.

“And there was no one else there for you?”

Cherish rubbed at her wet cheek; The Man She Didn’t Know Yet handed her a napkin. “Thank you. We live with my aunt, but she’s away on business so often it’s like she’s not even there.”

“What happened to your parents?”

Cherish’s response was barely above a whisper. “Dead.”

The Man She Didn’t Know Yet took her hand. “Jesus. You’ve been through a lot, haven’t you?”

Again, Cherish simply nodded.

His hold on her hand got tighter. “Well, then, I’m glad I ran into you. Looks like I did it just at the right time.”

 *

As The Man She Didn’t Know Yet drove her home, they were silent for most of the ride, at least until Cherish came out with what had been on her mind since the moment they’d met.

“Um, I’m a little curious about what you said earlier today…about seeing me at the library all the time.”

“Yeah…?”

“Just…what made you notice me?”

He shrugged. “Like I said – you came very frequently and took out a lot of books. Pretty easy to notice.”

Cherish put her head in one hand. Fuck, she had looked tore up from the floor up the entire time, wearing oversized, ill-fitting, sometimes outright dirty clothes; she’d often be sweaty from the 15 minute walk from her house to the library. And her unwashed hair! Oh, Christ. 

“I -” Cherish took a deep breath. “I read a lot because I spent all day in bed. That’s all I could do.”

The car was silent again. The Man She Didn’t Know Yet reached over and held her hand for the rest of the ride.

When he pulled up to Cherish’s house, he said, “I almost don’t want to let you inside.” He was still holding her hand. She could have easily taken it for something else, but there was no way.

“I’ll be fine,” Cherish murmured, then let go of his hand.

“So,” they said at the same time. Then they turned to one another.

“Thanks,” Cherish said softly.

“Take care,” The Man She Didn’t Know Yet replied.

“You, too.” Cherish took a deep breath, then opened the car door, but made no move to step out. She took another deep breath, then turned to face him once again. “Hey, if you’re still interested, I’d love to help you with your book…”

The Man She Didn’t Know Yet smiled broadly, beautifully. “I’d like that.”

 [Now]

The Bitches aren’t fazed at all.

“So? Go ahead, get it over with already!” Bitch One urges.

“Seriously,” agrees Bitch Two. “You’re better off dead, and you know it!”

“You think you offing yourself is a threat to us? We encourage it! Go the fuck ahead!”

“You look like a stupid, ugly wet rat standing there!”

“Hell, if you don’t do it soon, maybe we can help!”

Cherish is still standing in the shower, the water on full blast, the razor still poised above her wrist. The hand that’s holding the razor is trembling now as she considers her next move. All the courage she’d had, that made her challenge The Bitches mere moments ago, has seemed to go down the drain with the water.

“What are you waitin’ for? What do you have left? You’ve lost your man, who, by the way, is marrying someone else…”

“You’ve lost your job…”

“You’re broke…”

“Fat…”

“Ugly…”

“And, oh yeah! The cops are after your ass!”

“So whaddya have left to live for?”

Slowly, Cherish reaches out, shuts off the shower, throws down the razor and slumps against the stall. Her chest trembles with unreleased sobs.

“That’s what I thought.”

Coward.

Just then, the phone rings, and Cherish’s heart starts pounding. She knows exactly who it is, but she’s too paralyzed to move.

“Why don’t you answer it?” The Bitches taunt, but Cherish continues to ignore them, letting the phone ring and ring and ring until the call goes to voice mail. She feels her heart beat even faster as the familiar voice fills the room – the voice of the man she used to know.

[Last Night]

“…But, maybe, just maybe, we would leave her alone – at least to sleep – if she’d do one thing for us.”

Cherish laid awake for hours, the taunts from The Bitches assaulting her ears; her stomach still fairly empty from her insufficient dinner; the images of her boss’ expression – just before he took her to his office and fired her -playing like a movie before her closed eyes.

But the feature presentation that took its place, that played over and over in her head was The Woman Who Looks Like Her Sisters at the sushi restaurant, with her smug expression as she flashed her ring in Cherish’s face…and the look of indifference from The Man She Used To Know. No matter how she tried to and then away, those images would not leave her brain. Cherish knew they were being put in her head by The Bitches, and that they wouldn’t let up unless she heeded their words.

And that was how she found herself in front of the home she’d shared with The Man She Used To Know – that he now shared with The Woman Who Looks Like Her Sisters.

Oh, the mess she had been when she’d moved out. Her ex-manager had been right: she was barely functioning at work after that, but she tried to power through because she knew the grocery store was her only means of income. Cherish would just drag her sorry self out of bed, trying her best to fake her way through her day, then, once her shift was over, she’d go hone and crawl right back into bed, not getting up until the morning. But no matter how much she slept, she was still so tired; sometimes she’d sleep through her alarm and end up late for work. Sometimes she’d even fall asleep in the break room during her lunch, going over her allotted hour; she’d even do so on the bus and miss her stop.

Cherish hadn’t been this depressed since The Incident. And this time, there’d been no one to save her.

After a while, Cherish’s extreme fatigue went away, so instead of sleeping as she lay in bed, she would think. And then she started to stew with anger, her mind going back to when things started falling apart. It was so empty – sleeping alone. Not having anyone to talk to during meals, no one to vent to after work, no one to go with to the movies or to restaurants. That’s when her mind would go back even further – to the good times, the times before The Woman Who Looks Like Her Sisters showed up: the laughter, the lovemaking, the nights out.

Cherish knew that The Man She Used To Know must have been lying there, too, missing her, thinking the same things. She knew that once the novelty of fucking someone else wore off, he would come back to her, and she would say “It’s okay. I forgive you.” Then they would hold each other, and he would say “I want you to come home.” And she would.

She waited for him to call. She waited for him to show up at her door. She wrote copious love notes to him, but didn’t send them, because she knew, somehow, he could read them, and he would see how much she needed him. She took a pen and wrote his name on her arm, refreshing it when it faded, thinking that through some kind of osmosis, it would lure him to her. And when it didn’t, she accidentally on purpose pressed harder, and his name was permanently etched on her skin, even after the ink washed off. She thought for sure that would bring him back to her. But he never came.

So that’s when Cherish started calling. At first, just to hear his voice. (Sometimes, she would get The Woman Who Looks Like Her Sisters instead, and she would have to hold herself back from yelling “FUCK YOU” at her before she hung up). Then one day she just burst out with a tear-filled spiel about how much she missed him, how much she wanted him back, and he lost it on her. He verbally ripped her to shreds, calling her names, telling her to get professional help, telling her he wished he had never met her, and to stop fucking harassing him. He finished by telling her he never wanted to see her again. After The Man She Used To Know hung up on her, Cherish was paralyzed to the spot, phone in hand. She didn’t move for two hours.

Two days later, when she risked calling him again, a recorded voice told her that the number she dialled had been disconnected.

“I have to know. I have to know. I have to know,” Cherish chanted to herself as she lay in bed, as she showered, as she rode the bus to work. She even whispered it during work, as the customers looked at her strangely.

But it two her two weeks to work up the courage.

This time, instead of going straight to bed after work, Cherish went straight to a park and sat on a bench located across from the home where she used to live with The Man She Used To Know. She had gone to Goodwill and purchased a hat ad a coat and a scarf that would make her unrecognizable to him. Then she carried a newspaper with her and pretended to read it until she saw his car pull up in the driveway – and every time it did, her heart would thump in her ears…and sink when the white BMW belonging to The Woman Who Looks Like Her Sisters pulled up, too (which it did more often than not.) But that still proved nothing.

“I have to know. I have to know. I have to know.”

And then one Saturday, she saw the moving trucks pulling up, and that’s when she knew. She’d thrown up in a nearby garbage can, then went home and straight to bed with a splitting headache. When she woke up, she’d found some of her furniture overturned, one breakables smashed to bits on the floor, and magazines ripped to shreds – but didn’t remember doing any of it, or much of the days that followed.

Until she went to the sushi restaurant, saw The Woman Who Looks Like Her Sisters wearing that ring! And then The Bitches showed up and wouldn’t leave her alone and said they wouldn’t leave her alone unless she would do that one thing.

So she got out of bed, put on the coat and hat and scarf from Goodwill.

“That’s a good girl,” said The Bitches.

Then she left her apartment, went to the hardware store, and made her purchase.

“That’s a very good girl,” said The Bitches.

Then she went to the park. Nobody was there. Cherish watched from the park bench, behind her newspaper, as The Man She Used To Know and The Woman Who Looks Like Her Sisters leave in his car. She counted backwards from one hundred, then made her way across the street.

Slowly, she approached the driveway, the familiar house. God, she missed it. On the porch, there were two iron wrought patio chairs separated by a matching table which hadn’t been there when she’d lived there. Cherish’s chest started to heave as she wondered exactly how many changes had been made since that bitch –

“Hurry the fuck up, for Christ’s sake!” screamed Bitch One.

“Do it, do it, do it!” screamed Bitch Two.

So Cherish did it. She took the aerosol can out of the plastic bag, removed the cap, shook up the can, took aim, closed her eyes, and started spraying.

“You dumb bitch! Open your eyes and look at what the fuck you’re doing!” Bitch One screamed.

“You’re getting it all over the place!” Bitch Two screamed.

Cherish opened her eyes and gaped. “My God…” The driver’s side of the white BMW was covered in haphazard red streaks. She’d done more damage than she intended.

Suddenly, a voice broke through the darkness. “Hey! Hey!”

“Shit! The next door neighbours!” The Bitches squealed.

Cherish gasped, spun on her feet and ran faster than she ever had in her life, her lungs burning, the laughter of The Bitches echoing in her ears the whole way home.

[Now]

“I know what you did! I know it was you, and I know you’re hiding, but I promise you will pay for this, you sick FUCK!”

“Wow,” Bitch One says. “he sounds mad…”

“Oh, God,” Cherish whispers, dropping her head into her hands.

“Hmm,” Bitch Two muses. “Maybe we shouldn’t have told you to do it, after all.”

“You said you’d leave me alone if I did,” Cherish moans into her hands.

The Bitches laugh. “We said we’d leave you to sleep. You don’t get it, do you? We will never leave you alone – ever.”

[Now]

Cherish lifts her head out of her hands. She stares at her palms, still tinged pink. “There are things,” she whispers, “that I’ve had the courage to do.”

The Bitches scoff, their favourite verbal expression when it comes to her. “You? Courage? Those two words don’t belong in the same sentence.”

Cherish glares at them. The Bitches are so ugly; The Bitches are so beautiful. “There are things,” she says, a little louder than the first time, “that I have had the courage to do.”

“Okay…heard you the first time. Still don’t believe you; still not buying it.”

Cherish is now speaking at her regular volume. “There are things,” and she balls her hands into fists, training her eyes at The Bitches, who stand before her, their expressions partially smug, partially amused, “that I’ve had the courage to do.”

“The fuck,” Bitch One puzzles, “are you stuck in an infinite loop?”

Like a dog, Cherish bares her teeth, and starts to walk towards The Bitches, who actually back up – albeit mockingly – their eyes wide and their hands held up in a parody of surrender.

“Oooh,” Bitch Two giggles. “Someone’s grown a pair.”

“There are things – “

“…’that I’ve had the courage to do.’ We know, we know; you’ve already made your point.” But The Bitches continue to back up to avoid Cherish’s approach. “Name one courageous thing that you’ve done.”

Cherish continues to bear down on them, only raising her eyebrows in response.

“Oh please,” Bitch One protests. “Don’t mistake being crazy for being courageous.”

“Besides,” inputs Bitch Two, “what good did that do you?”

Cherish has now backed The Bitches clear out of the bathroom. “I. AM. NOT. CRAZY. Youhave made me crazy.”

“Yeah right. You  were crazy way before we got here.”

“No I wasn’t!

“What are you? Mad as hell and you’re not gonna take it anymore?”

“SHUT UP!” Cherish roars, and The Bitches fall silent. And just when she thinks she’s finally gotten the best of them, they collapse in giggles, so she tries to counteract them by repeating herself. “Shut up shut up shut up!” She’s screaming so loudly that at first, she doesn’t even hear the pounding at her door.

“Let me in, you little psycho!”

Cherish holds her breath.

“And don’t you dare pretend not to be there like you did for the cops! I hear you in there screaming like the crazy bitch you are!”

Suddenly, The Bitches are at either side of Cherish. “This is your opportuntiy,” Bitch One says into her ear.

“We’re not the ones who made you crazy – she did,” Bitch Two says in her other ear. She points at the door. “That’s why you did what you had to do.”

“And it brought her to you.

“So now is your chance to show us that you have courage, after all!”

“Now’s the time to make her pay for everything you’ve lost, everything she’s taken from you.”

Cherish looks from Bitch One to Bitch Two, noting the knowing expression in their eyes.

“And maybe then,” The Bitches whisper in each ear, “maybe then you’ll have some peace.”

Cherish closes her eyes, takes a deep breath, and opens the door, coming face to face with The Woman Who Looks Like Her Sisters.

[Way Back Then]

“You’re up.”

“Ah-mazing.”

“Yup.” Cherish acknowledged her sisters’ observations, which they had addressed to her as she entered the kitchen and headed to the fridge.

“And you’re, like, dressed…and not in your usual hobo chic!”

“You’ve also bathed and washed your hair.”

“Yup,” Cherish responded again, pouring herself a glass of juice. She had decided to communicate as little as possible with them, knowing that they were bullies who thrived when she reacted negatviely to the cruelty they dished out. And she’d certainly gotten good practice: back when she’d sequestered herself in her bedroom, her sisters kept bursting in and making dead baby jokes, but she’d been so numb she didn’t so much as look in their direction, never mind react. So eventually, they gave up, and Cherish discovered how powerful it was to ignore them. Even in her zombie-like state, she stored that information in the back of her mind for future use – like today. And so far, it seemed to be working.

“But why’s she up all of a sudden?” said one sister to the other.

“Yes. What has made her suddenly stop sleeping in her own filth?”

“Do you think it’s a man?”

“Pfft. Please. I’m trying to eat here.”

Cherish rolled her eyes, but said nothing. She didn’t know why she’d spent so much of her life listening to her sisters, why she’d developed such a fear of them, when they were nothing but annoying and stupid. Never again was she going to let them have so much power over her or feel threatened by them ever again. Particularly after The Incident.

Besides, they didn’t know what they were talking about. Cherish didn’t get out of bed for a man; she wasn’t that weak. She’d actually gotten herself a job as a receptionist, and was planning to go back to school in the summer to make up for the courses she’d missed during the medical leave she’d taken after The Incident. But to hell with them; she wasn’t telling them shit.

Also, she’d been hanging out with The Man She Was Getting To Know a lot more lately, but that didn’t count, at least, according to her sisters’ assumptions. Their meetings were purely platonic, and were strictly about what he’d asked of her – to meet him at the library to help him with his book. It was just a coincidence that she’d decided to get out of bed the day he’d called her to meet up for the first time. And she couldn’t have shown up looking a wreck again like she had the first day she met him, so showering and hairwashing was the natural next step. She’d evem put on makeup, did her nails. Then the day after she started job hunting, she’d found work within a week.

All of this happened two weeks ago. She’d been up and at ‘em every day since, and her sisters knew it, since she had encountered them nearly every morning in the kitchen – they’d just outright ignored her. That made her even more careful with her responses today, seeing that these crafty bitches seemed to be pulling some mindfuck with her, finally acknowledging her so-called resurrection.

“So you’re not going to tell us?”

Cherish just smiled mysteriously, then took another sip of juice.

“Well, whatever. Not like we care, anyway.”

Cherish deposited her glass in the dishwasher and then left without a word. But she knew they cared; she knew they did.

***

The Man She Was Getting To Know reached up and massaged the back of his neck. “We’ve been in this library for hours. How about we get out of here and grab a coffee, maybe something to eat?” They’d been sitting at a study table since he’d picked her up from work and brought her to the library.

Cherish looked at his profile. His hand was still rubbing at his neck and his head was thrown back, his eyes closed and his teeth clenched as his fingers worked through his own flesh. When she’d first met him, she’d found him kind of cute. But now that the haze of misery had been completely been lifted from her eyes, she’d noticed more than a few girls looking his way. Sometimes that made him hard to work with, so she was often quiet, on which he sometimes commented. This made Cherish more nervous. She really didn’twant to like him. She knew that there was no way in hell he liked her back like that, and liking someone romantically was the last thing she needed right now given what she had been through.

Still. He seemed to really like hanging out with her, and was always super nice to her, but Cherish had been through enough rejection to know that didn’t mean shit. But this was the first time he’d suggested going somewhere after one of their sessions, so…

“Um, okay,” Cherish said softly, cautiously. She was still watching him.

Suddenly, he turned his head and caught her. Her heart stuttered. But then he smiled at her, reached out and started massaging the back of her neck. His hand was warm and firm. Now her heart was pounding. “I bet you could use this, too,” he said. “You worked hard today.”

“Thanks,” Cherish whispered.

In the car, Cherish was silent, unable to believe that she was still aroused from such a brief touch. It made her realize how long it’d been since she was intimate with someone and how much she’d missed it. Not just sex, but being held. Being touched. Being cared for. Her parents died in a car crash when she was three and her sisters were five, and her aunt, who’d been looking after them ever since, meant well, but lacked an emotional capacity. She provided for them well enough monetarily, but wasn’t much fot hand-holding or terms of endearment. And her sisters – well, they were as cold as ice.

“Hey,” said The Man She Was Getting To Know. “You’re quiet again.”

Cherish tried to shrug as casually as possible. “Have a lot on my mind, I guess.”

He reached out to take her hand, and Cherish’s heart picked up the pace again. He hadn’t done that since the day they had met. Whenever he’d driven her home after their meetings, he’d kept his respectful distance, usually bidding her adieu as she stepped out of the car (a few houses down from where she lived with her sisters; he acquiesced to her request without comment, because he knew) with a mock salute. But he’d already touched her twice today, and Cherish couldn’t help but wonder if that meant something, even when she didn’t want to. He’s just being friendlier, she told herself, because we know each other a little better now.

“I don’t want you to feel sorry for me,” Cherish blurted.

“I don’t,” The Man She Was Getting To Know said almost immediately. “I mean, I do, but it’s not just that…I like you.”

Cherish just held her breath.

“I think you’re nice and sweet – and smart.” He pulled their entwined hands close to his chest; his voice got softer. “And I think that you’re lonely.”

She started to cry.

“No, no – hey, I’m sorry…don’t…I didn’t mean to make you cry. Shit.” The Man She Was Getting To Know dropped her hand, driving until he found a safe place to pull over. Then he took off his seatbelt and drew her into his arms, tenderly cupping her head against his chest and wrapping his other arm around her, keeping her close. “I’m sorry,” he whispered again.

Cherish closed her eyes. She was in absolute bliss. His body was so warm against hers. The sensation of his hand stroking her back was so soothing, and she could hear his heart beating, which was so comforting. She didn’t even feel like crying anymore, but she pretended to, so he’d keep holding her.

***

Cherish slept with The Man She Knew almost right away.

“Are you sure?” he’d asked.

“Yes,” Cherish had said, boldly meeting his gaze, pouring into it all the conviction she could manage. She didn’t want him to think she had a shred of doubt or a moment of hesitation.

“Um, so how many people have you…”

“Not many. Only two. You?”

She made sure that she slept with him often, and did everything she could to please him. And please him she did.

“Wow, Cherish…I’ve never been with a girl who liked sex so much.”

That made her smile. It pleased her that he was pleased.

***

“Where have you been?”

Cherish was confronted at the front door by her sisters, which was yanked open before she could put her key in the lock. She was coming home after a night at The Man She Knew’s apartment, which she had been doing for a few weeks now, and, once again, her sisters had not commented on this recent change of activity. They must have sensed she’d been slightly apprehensive about their silence, and decided to have fun with her.Mindfuck, But so far, Cherish has stuck to ignoring them – even when they made their usual nasty comments to her that seemed to come out of nowhere. She would have liked to think that her silence made them nervous, but she couldn’t tell.

“We’re telling Auntie!”

Cherish didn’t respond. She just tried to enter the house but her sisters wouldn’t move.

“You are not getting in here until you tell us where you’ve been!”

She ignored them again, and tried to plow her way through them, swallowing her fear as she did so.

“Excuse you!” She was shoved back onto the porch. “Have you been fucking some random ass – again?”

“We have a right to know!”

Cheirsh attempted to charge her way through the human barricade her sisters made, but she was shoved back onto the porch yet again.

“You know what? We’re sick of you and your silent treatment!”

“It’s time you tell us what’s going on right now!”

“If you don’t, you can just go live on the curb like the trash you are – your choice!”

Her sister’s words, as usual, affected her, but this time, not so negatively. Being with The Man She Knew made her fell like herself again, but better.  Stronger and more powerful. Which was way better than simply making her feel beautiful, although he did that, too. He made her feel worth loving; and it wasn’t just what he said, necessarily, but that he did. How he treated her, which he did in a way no one had ever treated her before.

“They’re bullies,” he’d said about her sisters. “Their only source of power is to make you feel small. And so far, you’ve done a good job of tuning them out. Don’t give up on that. Don’t give them back that power, or let them have back the power that they used to take from you.”

Her head filled with his words, Cherish shoved back. Hard. It was something she knew they wouldn’t expect and would therefore surprise them.

And it did. One of them acutally fell on her ass. Cherish tried walking past them, but the sister who was still standing lunged at Cherish as she retreated and grabbed her by the hair, dragging her back to the front door.

Cherish reached up and tore her sister’s hands from her head and, still holding on to them, turned around, planning twist them until they broke, but it was too late –  the other sister had gotten up.

“Bitch, I don’t think so,” she said, slapping Cherish across the face so hard that she was the one to fall down this time. Cherish tried scurrying to her feet but it was too late: they had already descended on her.

***

Cherish and The Man She Knew moved into their home a year after they met. Prior to that, they’d lived together in his tiny apartment since the day she’d been confronted by her sisters. She hadn’t really meant to move in with him so soon, but she’d had no choice, since she’d been thrown out.

“My God – what happened?” The Man She Knew said as soon as he’d opened the door. She’d called him, a sniveling mess, barely able to articulate much more than “I need to see you,” as she’d crammed herself into a grimy phone booth (back then she hadn’t even had a cell phone) which had been quite a feet, not only considering that finding a pay phone had been hard to find, but that she’d had a bulging backpack into which she’d hastily shoved as much as her belongings as she could fit.

Or, at least as much as she could due to all the commotion that had occurred prior to her packing; her tear-stung eyes, and chest-stuttering, stomach wrenching sobs slowed her down considerably. She was so distraught that she wasn’t even sure of what she’d put into her bag, and as she stood in that phone booth, gripping the (probably diseased) receiver so tightly that her knuclkes hurt. She wished that she hadn’t packed so quickly and worried that she’d left something of importance behind, something that her sisters would destroy. It was bad enough that she had to leave a lot of her belongings as it was, which was pretty much everything, But if she were to put it into perspective, she really hadnothing – nothing now except The Man She Knew.

So when she’d arrived at his door and he’d asked her what had happened, she’d fallen at his feet sobbing (which was the second time she did so that day – the first had been in the phone booth seconds after she’d hung up with with him and realized that she hadn’t zipped up her backpack all the way, that some of her belongings had fallen out). But it wasn’t because of that, or even the fact that she was officially homeless, but the concerned tone of The Man She Knew used to adress her.

“Oh, Cherish,” he’d said softly, pulling her to her feet and into his arms. She’d gripped him to her tightly like he was a buoy and she was stranded in the middle of the ocean.

***

“What is going on here?” Cherish’s aunt had exclaimed as she’d entered the kitchen, her coat still on, her carry-on bag still slung over her shoulder.

“She’s gone crazy!” One of Cherish’s sisters pointed. “She’s about to stab us – to kill us!”

“That’s not true!” Cherish screamed, except there had been a knife in her hand and shehad been chasing her sisters around the kitchen. But they had driven her to it.

After she’d been slapped, which effectively made her fall down, they had descended on her like wild animals, mauling and pulling and yanking and scratching and biting and punching, spitting in her face, yelling obscenities and insults. She tried fighting back, but they were too powerful for her. It seemed as though she lay there forever, getting her ass thoroughly kicked. She managed to raise her arms and cross them over her face.

“Please stop,” she’d moaned, but they laughed at her weak protests. And as they continued to hit and hit and hit and hit, the rage inside of Cherish started to build and build and build and build. It started from her toes and made a slow burn the rest of the way up her body until it reached her throat – where it threatened to choke her if she didn’t release it – and spread through her limbs, making her feel more powerful than she ever had in her life. It was as though her body did not belong to her, as though some kind of supernatural force or spirit took over and gave her the inhuman strength to uncross her arms and fling them to strike out at her sisters, who tried holding them back down to restrain her, but their actions just show more adrenaline through her and gave her the ability to fight them back off, for a while, she was able to maul and pull and yank and scratch and bite and punch and spit. This time, she wasn’t mumuring weak protests, but screaming and roaring unintelligbly.

Throughout the melee, she was able to observe the raw shock and panic on her sister’s faces. For the first time, they were losing control of the situation, for once, Cherish would not be defeated. Bad enough for her sisters that she had effectively ignored their hateful comments towards her over the past few weeks, but now she was able to fight back. You built this fire over the years; now you’re getting back all at once in full force.

Bitches.

Cherish thought about The Incident again – how she laid on the floor for hours in excruiating pain, bleeding out, thinking she was going to die. How they had laughd at her, mocked her, unplugged the phone on her. How they’d dumped her on the curb outside the emergency room as though she were trash. Before she knew what she was doing, she sat all the way up, grabbed each of her sisters by the hair and yanked hard, pulling from the scalp, then ramming their foreheads together with a satisfying thud.

Fuck!” Their reactions were synchronized: the shouted expletive; the grimaces of pain, the clutching of both hands to their foreheads. Cherish took that advantage to wrench herself completely from the floor, jump up and, by the time her sisters had gathered their wits and stood up to approach her, she’d grabbed the biggest knife from the butcher’s block and brandished it at them.

“Do you want to know what it’s like to bleed and writhe in pain?” Despite the fact that she was trembling and panting, Cherish’s voice was menacingly soft and steady. “Because I sure would,” she continued as she turned the tables, approaching them.

“Ooh – someone’s been stealing lines from bad crime movies.” The snarky tone was the same, but the fear in their eyes – an expression Cherish had never seen on them before,ever, – was unmistakable.  That fear made Cherish feel so powerful it almost turned her on.

“Shut up!” she yelled, more from a desire to intimidate than from anger now. She took a couple more threatening steps towards them. “Shut the fuck up!” She knew she was pushing it now, but she didn’t care. For the first time, Cherish was wielding the power, and it felt great. She was going to live that moment to the fullest.

Gripping the knife, she advanced on her sisters, and that was when her aunt walked in.

***

“So, naturally, they twisted the story to make me sound like the bad guy, and Auntie gave me, like, an hour to get my stuff or she was going to call the police on me.” Cherish sniffed. The Man She Knew was holding her hand, listening intently as he sat beside her on his living room couch. On the coffee table in front of them was two wine glasses. Both had long since been emptied by Cherish herself, and she wasn’t even bothering with them anymore – because she was now drinking straight out of the bottle.

Which had helped her to lie more effectively.

Okay, so she hadn’t exactly lied; she just left a little something out of the story she’d been relaying to him for the past forty-five minutes: the knife. But everything else was pretty much the truth. After all, she’d been attacked – unprovoked – in a fight where she’d been unfairly outnumbered. Of course he’d understand that she’d had to fight back – in kind, that is. While Cherish had felt completely justified in pulling the knife on her sisters (in fact, she thought it was long overdue) she wasn’t confident that The Man She Knew would feel the same way. Sure, he knew how her sisters had treated her, but she didn’t want to take the chance that he would call her “crazy” and “psycho” the way her sisters and her aunt had. He might be repulsed by her behaviour and cast her out the way they had just done, and Cherish couldn’t have that because then she’d have no one left.

“Wow. I had no idea it was that bad. I mean, from what you told me I knew it was bad, but…”

Cherish sighed. By now she’d calmed down. The only emotions she had left were apprehension and desperation. The way she’d gotten kicked out was horrible, but now she was starting to see that they may have just thrown her into the biggest opportunity to start her life over, and make it a happy one. So it was necessary to maintain the mood in ehich she had arrived. It wasn’t exactly a lie, either, just embellishing. A survival tactic, really.

She accompanied her sigh with a shake of her head, which she then dropped into her hands. She felt The Man She Knew put his warm hand on her back in a gentle caress, and smiled into her palms.

“Shh,” he said. He pulled her into his arms, continuing to stroke her back as he repetitiously kissed her forehead.

Cherish was still smiling – this time into his shoulder, but her voice came out in a quaver. “Of course, Auntie came in at the time that made me look bad.” She forced a sniffle. “And no matter how I tried to explain to her that they started it…she just wouldn’t listen! She even said she would call the cops!”

“Why would she do that?”

“I don’t know…she’s always taken their side.” Cherish squeezed her eyes shut, trying to force some tears.

The Man She Knew tightened his arms around her. “How is that possible? Didn’t you tell her about all the other stuff they’ve done to you before?”

“No,” Cherish said in what she hoped sounded like a choked sob. “When I was little, I was too scared…which didn’t change when I got older, but even if I did have the nerve to tell her, she wouldn’t believe me…they’re so good at lying, at manipulating…”

Sounds like you’ve learned from the best, a voice very much like her sisters said in her head.

“It’s not the same thing!” Cherish protested, unable to stop herself from speaking aloud.

“What’s that?” The Man She Knew was still holding her, so, luckily, her words were muffled into his shoulder. He laid another soft kiss on her forehead.

“Nothing.”

“No, tell me.”

Cherish though for a quick moment, then, finally able to eke out a couple of stingy tears, reluctantly pulled away to face him. “It’s just…I’m so scared…I have nowhere to go…”

The Man She knew took her face between his hands. “Of course you do. You can stay here with me.”

Cherish bit down on her lips to keep from breaking into yet another smile, trying to adopt a pensive expression. When she was sure that she could compose herself, she spoke carefully. “But isn’t it too soon?” She hoped her tone sounded authentically concerned. “I mean, we’ve only been dating…”

The Man She Knew ran his thumb over her cheek. “Well, you practically sleep here every night already, and I certainly can’t have you living on the street.”

Cherish nodeed, then looked into his eyes, biting her lip again, this time not to supress a smile, but to make it look as though she was still thinking about it, but her heart was pounding.

“Hey, Cherish, it’s okay, I swear. Don’t worry – you’re going to be okay, I promise. I’ll take care of you.”

Then he enveloped her back into his arms, and this time, when Cherish cried, her tears were genuine.

 [Now]

As soon as The Woman Who Looks Like Cherish’s Sisters clears the doorway, she grabs Cherish’s arm, wrenches it behind her back, and slams her face first against the opposite wall. She plants her knee into Cherish’s back to anchor her there. “What the fuck is wrong with you? Couldn’t deal with the fact that I’m with him so you have to destroy my property?” Behind them, Cherish can hear the door slam shut; The Woman Who Looks Like Her Sisters must have kicked it closed.

All Cherish can do is whimper, partly because her cheek is pressed so hard against the wall that she can barely open her mouth, and partly because she’s terrified. And slightly ashamed. In that quick moment before The Woman Who Looks Like Her Sisters had ambushed her, she’d noticed how well dressed and well groomed she had looked, as opposed to Cherish, who had forgotten how she must have appeared – attired in urine soaked pajamas, not to mention her unkempt, unwashed hair and her face salt-stained with dried tears and snot.

“You act like this and expect him to stay with you? No wonder he left you! He told me about how crazy you are!”

This makes Cherish try harder to struggle out of her grasp. Fucking lying bitch. The Man She Used To Know wouldn’t have ever said that…would he?

“Oh, here we go.” Thanks to Cherish’s obscured vision, she can’t see The Bitches – but she can certainly hear them. “Of course you get an opportunity to make her pay and you’re letting her punk you.”

“In your own home.”

Cherish tries to vocalize another protest, but it only comes out as yet another whimper.

“You’re so pathetic.” At first, Cherish thinks The Bitches have continued to speak, but instead it’s her unwelcome visitor, her attacker. “You have the balls to go and fuck up my car but hide like a little coward when the cops come?” Cherish can feel some movement against her. “Well, I’ve just pulled out my phone; I’m calling them back, and I am going to hold you here until they come.”

Panic raidates through Cherish’s body like a shock of electric; she tries catching her breath as best she can but it’s next to impossible in her compromised position. Her heart bangs painfully against the wall. She can hear The Woman Who Looks Like Her Sisters talking to the police, when, at the same time, a distinct rattle catches her notice, but she doesn’t realize what it is until it rolls into her peripehral vision. It must have caught the notice of her elegant intruder as well, because Cherish can hear her add “Oh, and there’s evidence.”

The Woman Who Looks Like Cherish’s Sisters clicks off the phone, grips Cherish’s arm tighter, and leans forward, to whisper two words in her ear: “Busted, bitch.”

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