He must've decided to answer it, because he started talking, drumming his fingers against the dash. I gritted my teeth at the steadfast cadence, punctuated by the click of his nails. "Yo, how's it going? Yeah. No, everything's fine. Just some godawful traffic." A pause, then Paranormal looked back at me. "Oh, he's fine. Sassy as ever. He's so excited, he told me he just can't wait. Josh's gonna love him."

I narrowed my eyes and curled my lip in what was supposed to be a menacing front, though my expression became more of a grimace than anything when my stomach started to cramp suddenly. 'Cause I had no desire to listen to Paranormal lying straight out his ass, I tuned out of my surroundings, bit my lip and ceased holding myself upright, allowing my dead weight to snap the handcuffs taut, ignoring the agonizing stabs of pain that occurred as a result and instead occupying myself with the floorboards, making a game out of how hard I could kick my feet across their carpeted panels. How long could I get away with it, before my jailor threatened to make me stop? Ten points if you can manage to rip the carpet, purred a singsong notion, threading through my veins like a thief in the night.

Juvenile? You bet your ass it was, but again, at this point I couldn't have cared less. There was no point in behaving myself; no one noticed, no one cared. I was already going to hell, so I might as well have some fun before we got there, right?

If I'd been seven or so years younger, I might've wondered who Josh was. But with scars on my arms and almost a decade of enslavement under my belt, I knew. His identity might as well have been etched in the marrow of my bones. Josh Josh Josh. Ahahaha, I only knew two syllables about the man andI hated him already. The rawness of it, of the hate, slicked through my blood like a surge of dulled razors, not sharp enough to tear me apart but tangible enough that I knew they were there, lurking just under the surface; sharp stitches adorning the insides of my veins. I wanted to yank them out with my teeth, I wanted to purge my system of every semblance of their gross existence.

Except I couldn't. I might have hated the hate, but I needed it. It was essential to my survival. But fuck, I was so tired.

Oxygen dispelled past my lips in an exaggerated exhalation; I pulled my feet onto the seat and braced myself against the leather upholstery, sagging heavily as if I could somehow snap the handcuffs in twain. I knew all too well that it was a virtually impossible feat, yet I never stopped trying. I never gave up, because someone had once told me that the day I gave up would be the day my abusers won and they could never win. I had promised her I would never give up, and no matter how tired I grew, I would keep that promise. They can't win. They will not win.

To my utter surprise, I felt something in the handcuffs give way, and as white-hot agony burst behind my eyes, hope flared and I thought maybe .. maybe ..

But no. Of course not. My skin had merely broken; steady trickles of blood spilled out, staining the delicate white of my wrists with red. Twisting in the handcuffs' grasp, I managed to probe the rent skin of one wrist with the fingers of my other hand, examining the width between the jagged edges, and swallowed a moue of disappointment. The blue of my veins was untouched; fragile twigs trapped under impenetrable ice. Although it hadn't been my intention to hurt myself, I would've rather retained a fairly severe injury instead of a minor scrape. Irritation furrowed my brow. Tch.

"Hey, man, how's it going?" In the driver's seat, Paranormal was amiable and easygoing, oblivious to my distress as he talked into the phone. Someone else had assumed position on the other end of the line, I realized. Paranormal's inclination to please had evaporated, replaced by a genuine, casual affection. Whoever he was talking to now was someone he was more comfortable with.

Once upon a time his laughter would have acted as a salve – now it might as well have been salt in my wounds. "Yeah, we're on our way. He's right here."

Immediately my attention catapulted from my wrists to the weredaemon in the driver's seat: acoustics zoning back in, momentarily flinching as the conversation flooded over my senses in a miasma of information. I came to the conclusion that it was Josh that Paranormal was talking to, from the echo of throaty vocals on the other end, underlying tones tinged with intrigue and amusement; the scent of open excitement, oddly reminiscent of Christmas. I was appropriately revolted to discover that it wasn't a present that earned such regard – it was me. Swear to God, if they try to wrap me up in a bow ..

"You wanna talk to him?"

I stiffened almost instanteously, curling my upper lip contemptuously. "No," I said, even though the question wasn't directed at me. Hell would freeze over before I willingly talked to that bastard on the phone.

Paranormal settled back in his seat. "Surprise, eh?" So the shithead had declined. Smart man. I forced myself to continue listening, even though Paranormal did most of the talking. From what I could hear — which admittably wasn't much — he was a succinct speaker, even when excited. "Well, I dunno about that, but I can guarantee you'll never get bored with him around. He's .. well, no, interesting is a gross understatement. It'd be more apt to say that he's .. ah, rather lively, for lack of a better word. He's prone to bouts of defiance and the occasional temper tantrum or two, sometimes you almost forget he'll be twenty in November. If he wasn't so damned cute, I wouldn't have even considered him as a match. But I think you two'll be good for each other."

The way his tone of voice fluctuated from teasing to serious made me want to puke. I didn't know what to believe anymore; all I knew for certain was that I'd allowed Paranormal too many liberties with my person — the photographs, the swimming, the late night snacks and stories — and now I was paying for it.

Stupid Sasha. You should've listened to Chika. She was telling you right when she said trusting people only got you hurt. Why didn't you listen? Stupid, stupid Sasha.

The call ended there and I expected Paranormal to resume navigating through the traffic, but to my surprise he just rolled us forwards and began dialing. I recognized the number with vague apprehension. Levi Anansi.

But Levi didn't pick up. It wasn't a surprise – the towhead was notoriously negligent when it came to such matters. Considering what I'd gathered from my minimal interactions with him [I'd never actually seen him - as far as I knew, he and Paranormal were just pen pals] which consisted mostly of the exchanges that occurred between him and Paranormal on a regular basis, he picked up the phone for only one person. Who that person was, I didn't know and hadn't asked, presuming it didn't concern me. A girlfriend, most likely, although from what I'd heard of her, she was a total and complete bitch.

In hindsight, I can say with confidence that stems from the sole factor of my reliance upon my mate keeping me safe – I was dead on the fucking money.