The two women keep me pinned to the bed, grunting as I try and wrestle free of them, until Ramona’s happy that whatever she’s given me will be taking effect soon. They leave, then, and Ramona smirks as I try launching to my feet, only to find that my arms and legs are made out of rubber. I hit the ground hard, but it doesn’t seem to matter. In actual fact, nothing really matters anymore.
She makes me pose in my yellow dress, dead eyes staring straight down the lens, and then she makes me strip. She tells me how I’m to stand or sit, how I’m to hold myself, and she snaps off picture after picture of me, the flash burning another flare of color into my retinas each time. When she tells me to sit on a wooden chair and open my legs for her, I come to my senses long enough to refuse, and she slaps me around the face.
“You’d better just do it, white girl. You don’t want to make this hard on yourself,” she says to me, her voice softening. It’s as though Ramona is both the good cop and the bad in this scenario, which makes it hard to know how to react to her—I never know which side of her I’m dealing with at any one time. She gets her way in the end. I open my legs and close my eyes, and the flash doesn’t bother me this time. I think maybe she’ll tell me she wants to take the shot again, eyes open this time, but she doesn’t. Maybe the people who will be viewing these pictures like when a girl’s shame is evident, along with the most private parts of her body. Maybe that’s what excites them.
“Don’t worry,” Ramona says, as she hovers in the doorway, half in, half out, her job done. “You’ll be out of here really soon. The men who are gonna bid on you, they take good care of their possessions. If you’re good to them, do as your told, you won’t want for anything. It’s a better fucking life than you would have had here with Raphael.”
She says this as though she might know from personal experience what a life with Raphael might be like. I have no choice but to put the yellow dress back on. Ramona leaves me alone in the bare room, my clothes, the clothes I wore in another life still quietly stinking of vomit in the corner, and me curled up in the middle of the bed, too empty and too nothing to even cry anymore.
I eventually fall asleep. I don’t dream, which is a small blessing. It’s dark when I’m woken up—by a silhouette standing in the doorway. Raphael. “You fucking lying whore,” he spits.
I sit bolt upright on the bed, my head spinning. The drugs from earlier have mercifully worn off, but now I feel sick. Adrenalin washes through me in a powerful tide that jumpstarts my heart, sending it into overdrive. Where is Hector? Ramona? Without them here, I don’t feel safe. Not that I’m safe with them here, but at least they would protect their goods, as it were. “You’ve been touched before. I know it. I can fucking smell it on you,” Raphael snarls.
He takes one step into the room, and I push back on the bed, my hands and feet scrambling for purchase against the sheets. “I’ll scream,” I whisper. My voice cracks—so much fear, so much adrenalin—and I think perhaps he might not have heard me. “I’ll scream,” I say again, this time louder, more confident. Raphael snorts.
“Scream all you like. It won’t get you anywhere. You’ve been bought and paid for now, bitch. And from what I know of your new owner, you’re gonna wish you’d never been born. Get ready. They’re already coming for you.”
Ramona’s warning—be good and your new owner will be good to you—was apparently a waste of breath. If Raphael thinks whoever’s bought me is a bad person, then I am totally fucked. “Come with me,” he commands. I get to my feet, my head spinning from lack of food and panic, and follow after him as he leads me back down the stairs. In the corridor, he stops abruptly, turning on me. My head smashes against the wall as he pins me by the throat with one powerful hand. “You should know, Sophia Letitia Marne, that I have a very long memory. And I hate being fucked around, especially by whores. I don’t like not getting what I want. You got a sister, huh? Any family? I am going to find your family, Sophia, and I’m gonna make them pay for your little lie. You hear me? And then, when I’ve fucked and killed your mother and all of your sisters, I’m going to send you pictures. And you’ll know that their deaths were because of you.” He spits in my face, then—a huge, wet ball of saliva and phlegm that hits me on the mouth and cheek. “Just wait and see if I don’t,” he whispers.
A door next to us opens, sending a rectangle of orange light spearing through the darkness, and Hector appears in the doorway, hands on his hips. “Thank you, Raphael. That will be all,” he says. My legs almost collapse out from underneath me when it doesn’t look like Raphael is going to let me go. But he does. He squeezes my neck one last time, fingers crushing my esophagus, and then pushes away from me, growling under his breath. He charges down the corridor and then out the front door, slamming it hard behind him.
“Why don’t you come and wait with me, Sophia?” Hector asks. I’m too paralyzed by what just happened to even contemplate answering, let alone following after him. He takes hold of my elbow and guides me into the lit room he just appeared from, where he sits me down on an overstuffed wingback chair and hands me a tissue. I wipe my face mechanically, too numb to do anything but breathe.
“I should kill you.”
My head snaps up to find that Hector has sat himself down opposite me. I see the room properly now—the rows and rows of shelves along the walls, jammed with books. The writing desk. The fireplace, in which a fire is crackling enthusiastically. This must be his study. Hector bridges his hands together and crossed his right leg over his left, studying me with those green eyes of his. They looked sharp and calculating in the sunshine earlier, but in the muted light they now look watery and inconstant. Like they aren’t any one fixed color and could easily change with the man’s mood. “I hate being lied to, sweet girl. Why did you tell me you were something you weren’t?”