They stood alone outside of her apartment. The frigid air chilled his bones. His heart ached.
“Claire…” Jack’s voice trailed off as her back faced him. He could hear her breath come quick as if she was fighting a sob.
“You don’t know me,” she said. Her voice was so soft, Jack thought he imagined it.
He stepped closer, his breath caressing her neck, “I do know you.” Jack gently turned Claire’s fragile body to face him. It was like manhandling a limp doll.
He couldn’t stand not looking into her eyes. Despite the darkness, her bright blues outshined the moon.
Claire froze at his touch. It was once welcomed, but not now. “Don’t – don’t try to…” Her usually vibrant, lyrical voice was dry, stagnant.
She deliberately looked away from him, knowing that if she were to look him in the eyes all her walls would fall down. The walls she worked so hard to built to hide the weak, shell of a person inside her.
Jack’s gentle thumb tilted her chin up, “Try what?”
“To love me.” A tear slid down her rosey cheek. His heart stopped.
“Claire,” he gripped her shoulders and squeezed them softly.
“No,” she took his hands – his warm, strong hands – and placed them at his sides. She couldn’t bear his touch.
“You don’t know me – what I’ve done.” She choked on the words.
Jack’s face fell. The distance between them felt like miles.
“I love you, Claire. I love you more than whatever it is you’ve done.”
Her breath caught, “You can’t.”
“I can’t help it, darling.” Jack’s tender voice threatened Claire’s delicate composure.
“Jack, my past… it’s not good.”
He clenched his jaw, his lips forming a grim line. He hated not knowing what her cryptic words hid.
She hated herself for not being able to tell him. What would he think of her?
They stood in silence. His eyes stared into hers so intensely her breath caught. She looked down at her feet.
Why had she done it? Why had she allowed herself to sell her body? Yes, her mother was sick, couldn’t work – someone had to provide for her and her siblings; but she should have gotten a real job. There was surely another way. But she never found one. She filled out endless applications, attended hundreds of interviews, yet no one wanted her. Except for that man. The man that brought her to disowning her own body.
At first he only asked for a kiss, said he would give her enough money for a week just for a smooch on the lips. Grudgingly, she accepted. Her younger sisters were starving, and her mother had become a skeleton. They had to eat.
He was generous with his money, but then he began demanding more of Claire. More than she was willing to give. He took what wasn’t his to take. Took what she begged him not to, but he did what he wanted with her. No matter her cries.
She needed the money, though. She was responsible for her family’s welfare, she couldn’t risk losing their only source of income. But then he beat her, paid her after the beatings. She couldn’t stand looking at herself in the mirror. Bruises, hickies, scratch and bite marks vandalised her pale body. Her appetite had gone, she felt sick anytime she put nutrients in her belly. Her face became gaunt, eyes empty.
She would bathe for hours, yet she never felt clean. Eventually, her mother had died, and Claire and her two younger sisters moved to New York to stay with their grandparents.
Never again did she have to sell her body, suffer beatings… But she was never the same. She couldn’t go back to the way things were; couldn’t be herself ever again.
Claire’s sobs brought her out of the past. Out of the memories of him who touched her in ways she hated.
“Jack,” she whimpered.
Claire bent over crying. Crying for herself, for what she had done and endured just to keep her family afloat. All for nothing in the end, her mother died anyways.
Claire could feel Jack’s stare. She heard his boots come towards her over the sound of her muffled cries.
He knelt down beside her and just held her. Touched her in an innocent, comforting way – something so foreign to her before now.
How could she put Jack through this? How was she supposed to leave the man she loved because she wasn’t good enough? Pure enough…