A Girl to Die For – Lucy Wild

HE’D LOWERED THE LIGHTS and closed the curtains before he began. The cruel wind outside howled as loudly as it could but inside the bedroom, it could barely be heard, the thickness of the glass keeping the winter out and the warm in. The roaring fire helped, not that Karen could see it through her blindfold. She could hear it though, the wood snapping and crackling as he continued to poke at the inferno. She could hear him too, the gentle in out of his breathing whenever he paused. She pictured him over there. Standing up. Turning to look at her. Seeing how her body looked in the flickering glow of the fire. Were the bruises already forming? Was he looking at the marks he’d made? Was it worth begging again? Would it make any difference? Would he just cut her again? Her wrists ached from being bound in place above her head but she was too terrified to care. What she cared about was what he was going to do to her next and unless he removed her blindfold, she wouldn’t even know about it until it happened. Like the first punch. It had been such a shock, all the air forced out of her lungs when his fist slammed into her gut. That had been an hour ago and he’d done so much more since then. That first punch was a walk in the park in comparison to what he’d done to her.

She heard a slight hissing sound next to her ear and despite the pain, despite the terror, she knew what it was he was holding. It gave out a heat that radiated towards her skin. It couldn’t be anything else. “Please,” she muttered between sobs. “Please, don’t.” She tried to move her body away from the burning hot poker, not easy with her limbs bound so tightly in place. “I’m guessing this isn’t your first time,” she’d said, giggling when he’d connected the cuffs to her wrists. It felt like a lifetime since she’d willingly let him attach her to the bed posts. If only she’d known what he had planned for her. How had she got there? Her thoughts raced back through the terror to earlier in the evening.

Had there been signs he would be like this? When should she have guessed? She’d felt dizzy after her first drink. Had he slipped something into it? Or was it just because she hadn’t eaten all day, too nervous about her upcoming date with Mr Suave? Her first internet date. A night at a wine bar with such a handsome man. So witty. So charming. He made her laugh for hours, provided her with glass after glass until all her inhibitions had melted away. She remembered climbing into his car, too happy to care where they were going, just wanting to know if he looked as good out of his suit as he looked in it. His house, set back from the road. “You like your privacy?” she’d said with a giggle as they drove up to the door, the gates automatically swinging shut behind them. He’d nodded in response.

“I need my privacy.” “Ooh, what for?” she asked, leaning on his shoulder. “You’ll see.” That smile of his, the one that made her insides melt. More drink inside. Then up to his bedroom. Wood panelled, four poster bed, a fire that he lit while she watched. Everything a romantic girl could ask for. A single perfect kiss. Then he suggested she might like to try something new.

He’d brought out the handcuffs and she’d been excited beyond measure. It was going to happen. Sleeping with a stranger on the first date. A scandal if anyone found out. But she wasn’t going to be telling, this would be just between them. She hadn’t even told anyone she had a date, not wanting to boast before she knew whether or not it was going anywhere. The handcuffs told her it was definitely going somewhere. She should have seen the warning signs. She might have been all right if she’d been paying more attention. The way he’d snapped at the barman for bringing the wrong drink, the angry sigh he’d not bothered to hide when her shoe fell off on the way to the car, the way his smile faded when he closed the curtains and turned to look at her, prone and vulnerable in his bed.

But she had brushed her qualms away like an irritating fly, gone, forgotten, easy to ignore when he was busy running his hand up her thigh. “Let’s make it interesting,” he said as she lay on the bed, handcuffs around her wrists, ropes around her ankles. “I’m listening,” she said, her eagerness spilling out of her mouth as she grinned at him through a drunken haze. He brandished a blindfold like a magician pulling a bunch of flowers from his sleeve. “Makes it more intense,” he said, tying it in place, tying it too tightly. She realised then but it was already too late. The look on his face told her, the way his mask slipped, revealing the real him. “I’m not sure about this.” “I am,” he replied, smiling coldly. “Let me go,” she demanded, trying to sit up.

In response, he leaned down and licked her cheek. “Where would be the fun in that?” he asked. And then he began. The pain started almost immediately. By the time he waved the poker towards her, she was utterly exhausted, her throat sore from screaming, from sobbing, from begging. She tried begging yet again, twisting her head away, the hissing growing louder. Panic raced through her and she wrenched at the handcuffs, trying to force her wrists through them, crying out in pain as they dug into her skin but getting nowhere in her escape attempt. “Please, why are you doing this?” “I don’t want to do it,” he said, his voice by her ear, whispering as if he was afraid someone might overhear him. “I don’t have a choice.” “You do,” she cried.

“You do have a choice. You could let me go.” “I can’t,” he replied, pulling the blindfold from her and tossing it into the fire. She looked up at him as the poker moved closer towards her. “No,” he muttered, shaking his head as she twisted away. “Not yet.” He turned from her, shoving the poker back into the fire. “Please,” she tried again. “Please let me go.” She looked at him as he turned back to her but it was like he’d become a different person.

The warmth was long gone, the humanity had vanished. His face was devoid of emotion. He took a step across the room, pausing to pick a knife up on the way, the knife he’d already used to cut her clothes away from her, the knife that had made that wicked, still stinging deep slice across her chest. “I love your eyes,” he said, moving closer as she flinched away. “I think I’ll keep them.” She screamed as he lunged with the knife, her head thrashing from side to side. He climbed onto the bed, kneeling on her chest, crushing the air out of her as he slid forwards until his knees were by her ears, gripping her head tightly in place. “Please,” she muttered. “You can scream if you like,” he said, lowering the knife towards her. She did.

It made no difference. He worked at her until he was done. By then her screams had long since died away. She had been silent for over an hour. ONE HOLLY WAS GLAD THAT the first question he asked wasn’t, how many dates have you been on? She’d already said she had no intention of lying so that meant she would have had to answer with the truth. And the truth was she’d been on a grand total of none. She’d always assumed that by the age of twenty-one, she’d have been settling down, maybe even thinking about marriage. Her friends might like sleeping around but that wasn’t for her. She wanted a man, a husband, a family, a house, all the things that would prove she was a settled person. She’d never felt settled before.

Born into a family that kept moving, forever chasing her father’s job, she barely had time to get used to one house before they moved to the next. He worked on the railway, each promotion taking him to a different station, his family going with him, upping sticks every time, losing the friends she’d acquired. Sure, they said they’d write to each other, email too. Occasionally one or two would fly back and forth but they soon fizzled out. They were there, she was not. When you knew you’d never see each other again, was it worth keeping in touch? Especially when you had games to play and sweets to buy. By the time she was ten, she was an expert at packing boxes, but had given up on trying to make friends. Between her birth (nine months after the first showing of Showgirls at the cinemas, as her mother often pointed out with a wink) and when she turned sixteen, she had moved home twelve times. From the south to the north and back again, criss-crossing the country three times, hating every single move. It did not make it easy to get to know the other kids in school when she knew she’d most likely be gone by the end of the year.

When she reached sixteen, full of the exuberance of the teenage years, she decided to move out of the family home, leaving her father, mother, and baby sister wondering what they’d done to offend her. She worded it as best she could. She’d had enough of moving. She just wanted to be in one place for long enough to get to know people, to try and make friends. And yes, she was aware of the irony of moving in order to stop moving anymore, so they didn’t need to point that out to her. She managed to make real friends within a week of starting at college, having moved into a houseshare with Brian, who kept to himself, with Caroline who kept waking her at night to talk about Brian, and with Fiona who was the only one still her friend by the time she moved on to university. Together, the two of them ended up in a tiny terraced house in the student area of York, the rooms surrounded by too thin walls, the house surrounded with too thin undergraduates. Studying English literature was one more way for her to try and feel settled. Books that didn’t change year after year, even if her perspective on them might. She enjoyed the first two years of study, thoughts of settling permanently in York starting to soak into her bones.

She liked the lake that ran through the campus, the wildfowl that noisily accompanied her to morning lectures. She liked the course too, and the tutors, particularly Dr Gibson who took her and the other doe eyed girls through Jane Eyre with such passion, it sometimes felt possible that if she closed her eyes, she might be up on the windswept moor, his arm around her shoulder, her the governess of his heart. But she knew it was just a crush. She’d had plenty before and no doubt she’d have plenty more. She had moved on by her third year, trying to concentrate on her final essays, not men, so close to graduating that she could taste it. And that was when Fiona thought it would be a good idea to sign her up for an online dating app. Fiona never had trouble with men, never had an issue finding one to date. Holly had no idea how she did it. They would sit in the pub at the corner of their road or in the student union bar, both of them dressed up but only Fiona centre of attention. One time, a man in a rugby shirt actually shoved Holly out of the way to get to her housemate, like she was a particularly weedy opposition player.

She didn’t bother protesting. There didn’t seem much point. She had talked about dating, trying to get tips from Fiona. Back in college, Fi had laughed, telling her not to get worked up about having never kissed a guy. “It’s not all it’s cracked up to be,” she said. “Any man’ll kiss you. It’s getting them to leave you alone afterwards that’s the challenging part.” Holly didn’t care what it might be like. Or how hard it might be to get them to leave her alone afterwards. She just wanted to know what it would feel like to be kissed.

The last man who kissed her was her father and he’d stopped embracing both his daughters on the lips way before they’d started at pre-school. Since then, he’d always gone for the cheek or if he was feeling particularly confused with the expected mores of society, a firm handshake and a slap on the back. Holly just wanted to know what it would be like, to be kissed, to be held, to be looked after. Just once. Then she could work on the next stage, marriage and family. “It’ll happen,” Fiona had said. “You just wait. You’re beautiful, you’re cleverer than me, and you’ve got all your own teeth. Just wait until you start uni’. They’ll be all over you.

” But she was wrong. They weren’t. Fiona’s men came and went but for Holly, there came none. She tried to flirt. She tried to make conversation. She tried different make up, different outfits, different opinions. But she got the impression her efforts came across as desperate as they felt. “Maybe I should just hang a sign out of my window. “Virginity here. Please enter and remove.

No charge.” Fiona had smiled like she always did. “That might not attract the best kind of man. You know what you need?” “To move to a country where arranged marriages are the norm?” “You could do that. But maybe first, you might consider online dating.” “Oh, come on, Fi. The internet’s full of weirdos.” “Not all of them. My cousin got married to someone she met online.” “She got lucky.

” “So could you.” Holly thought about Rob Whittaker. Age eight, he’d taken her to the top field behind the school, far away from the sight of anyone who might disapprove. Behind the clump of dying elm trees, he’d tried to persuade her to lift her skirt. “You do it first then I’ll show you mine,” he’d said, his face earnest. Holly had been too scared. She remembered racing away into the arms of a dinner lady, on the verge of tears. If she’d known that would be the only time a member of the opposite sex would proposition her, she might not have run quite so fast. It wasn’t that she had anything against showing hers. Not now more than a decade had passed since that initial and only request.

Nor did she have anything against the internet. It had educated her in quite a lot of the ways people might lock their bodies together. She’d read stories online that had left her glad she’d locked her bedroom door. She’d seen pictures and videos that led her straight to the delete history button afterwards. She’d learned all about the different things you could do to spice things up in the bedroom. Spanking, roleplay, uniforms. All of it for people bored of normal sex. But what about people who hadn’t even tried normal sex? How many dates have you been on? How many times have you had sex? Same answer for both. None. Zero.

Zip. Not a single time had anyone looked at her and thought, yes, that’s someone I want to know better. Not since Rob Whittaker. Maybe she should look him up, see if the offer still stood. It didn’t help to know that Fiona’s cousin was married. It didn’t help to know that her sister was about to get married. Pregnant with their first. If it was the days of Jane Eyre, that might have been quite the scandal, the bride to be already with child. But the only issue when the news broke was whether the dress would need taking out by the time of the ceremony, now only two months away. Holly ached to have a date to take to the wedding.

She couldn’t bear the thought of seeing Lizzie’s bulging bump whilst not even knowing what it felt like to be kissed. Baby sister too. Three years younger. It was so unfair. But the internet wasn’t the way to go about getting a date. Somehow, that felt like cheating. The world was designed for you to meet someone real, out there. Going online to bypass that rule, well that left a sour taste in her mouth. So when she went off to the bathroom and returned to the lounge to find Fiona holding her phone, she did not feel good. Fiona was smiling in that devious way that said she was up to something.

“What are you doing?” she asked, already suspecting the answer. “I might have signed you up to Match Up.” She at least had the decency to look guilty, Holly thought. “And why might you have done that?” “Because I know for a fact Lizzie’s wedding is coming up. I also know that if you’re going to have a date for it, you’re going to need to practise. What better way than with this hunk of beefcake who is…two hundred miles away. And gay. Never mind, we’ll keep looking.” It was hard to be angry with her. It was because of Fiona that she’d been able to put up with Caroline at college.

It was because of Fiona that she learned how to get around I.D checks when buying alcohol (the trick being to show enough cleavage to keep their focus on your chest, not your age). It was because of Fiona that she didn’t drop out in the first year of university when she failed her first assignment and saw no point in continuing, ready to resign herself to a life as a checkout girl. Fiona had held her hair when she threw up after her first experiment in buying alcohol at seventeen, two bottles of wine that stayed down for an hour but came back up in under a minute. Fiona had been a good friend on the weighing scales of life. Holly had been a good friend too. She’d held Fiona’s hair out of the toilet far more often, both at home and at the nightclubs that she pretended to hate visiting. She’d comforted her through each and every one of her break ups, often with the cliché of ice cream and cheesy music. But they were clichés because they worked. And their friendship worked.

Which was why when Holly found out that an account had been created for her at Match Up, she couldn’t stay cross for long. Maybe she really would find her perfect match on there, like the advert said. We match you up so you spark together. The slogan alongside the logo, a flaming match in silhouette, filled her screen as she took the phone from her friend and sank onto the sofa. “So, what do I do now?” she asked. “Now,” Fiona replied, tapping her on the knee. “We find a guy who’ll ravish you, a man with the looks of Heathcliff, the manners of Darcy, and the huge cock of Christian Grey.” Holly blushed, giggling as she did so. “That easy, huh?” “By this time next week, I guarantee you’ll not only have your first date, it will be perfect.” She was half right.

Holly did have a date lined up within a week. But it was a very long way from perfect.

.

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