The lights would come and go at no particular interval. It was as though every morning someone deliberately spun the dial on a timer so that it was never actually set properly. Sometimes there wasn’t a real light in her dark corner, but only a glow from a nearby place. Sometimes there was no glow at all. Those were the days she decided that instead of a game of “Spin the Light,” it was “Kill the Lights.” No matter what the circumstances or environment Ali never lost her mind, she just waited patiently until she was freed to go home. That was her ultimate want, to return home.

The dark space she occupied was somewhere far from her own home. The home she had spent four years cultivating into just that. The past few months of year five had been spent here. In this desolate, dirty place. It wasn’t as though she was physically chained to anything, but she might as well have been the way the ground reached and grabbed for her. The way the fifth kept her tied here. She could bathe for a year straight, soaked in a tub of perpetually near boiling water and she wouldn’t be able to completely get the prints from the grime out of the microscopic cracks of her skin. She was a hostage at someone else’s convenience, and she hated it. She thought about the year they had met and how she had been a hostage of sorts then too, but only to her bad behavior and pathetic coping skills. She had made it through that, and now she would make it through this. This perpetual darkness of someone’s hate.

He didn’t hate her. That was never the point. In fact, he thought of Ali most days of the week. Occasionally, she slipped his mind. Sometimes he could not think of her for the better part of a month. But then he would think of her, and for the following days she would pop into his mind to varying degrees. Just sitting there, waiting for him to act on his own thoughts. He usually didn’t though. Ali, while being many things, was also a stupid bitch who felt as though she was so much better than him. So much better in fact that should he have the audacity to reach out to her she acted as though she didn’t owe him her entire life. Edgar heard the snap of his pencil before he felt the splinter in his hand. He hadn’t even gotten halfway through his second coffee or even touched his breakfast doughnut, but he already knew that today was going to be a Ali day.

The lights were on today. Ali no longer had any sense of time, but to maintain some type of normalcy used hunger and her cravings to identify a breakfast-y morning, a sandwich-y lunch, or a everything dinner. This morning she had muffins on her mind. She loved muffins. In her real life outside of this room Ali would make homemade chocolate chip muffins if she couldn’t get them off her brain. She’d spring right out of better no later than five minutes after six, hop right into the kitchen, and whip up some warm, delicious muffins. People always seemed surprised that she would take the time to scratch make anything that early, but they were the same people who didn’t realize throwing a few scoops of flour, baking soda & powder, and six other ingredients was just as fast, if not faster, than taking out the box mix, opening up the box, opening up the plastic, pouring the mix, still getting out the wet ingredients, and then mixing everything together before pouring it into the perfect little cups. It had been a lifetime since Ali made muffins for herself or for anyone else.

Edgar had Ali’s web page open. She had long since banished him from her social media sites, but her web page was open to the public. And how did it keep up appearances. When they were both different people he had borrowed her computer. Being the ever selfish bitch she was Ali had constantly kept her web page open on her internet browser, it was “a way for her to track her followers, schedule posts, and make her own progress” she had justified to him. He had known then it was because deep down she loved only herself. At the time he had believed her. Edgar had wanted Ali to succeed in her life, so he poked around. She had hundreds of posts pending and scheduled ahead. Ali’s personal page was cool, as was her personal quest to build such a yoga following that when she opened her own studio classes would sell out years in advance. Edgar had laughed when she explained all this to him. She had been serious. Yes, it was cool, but it wasn’t a fucking career. She couldn’t run her own business because she ran an inspirational site about yoga and personal well-being. It was one thing that most of the time she was the one who requested Chinese food for dinner and veggie out over movies. On days when that was her demand, to stay in and “veg together” instead of going to the bar with his coworkers he would borrow her computer and delete a scheduled post or two.  If she was going to interfere with his career, it was only fair that he got to do the same with her’s. On days when she droned on about her increase in followers or a new pose she mastered in yoga he would delete the second post in a series of three. It was a completely different thing when her posts were geared toward respecting yourself and leaving toxic relationships, when she was the toxic one. It was another time when she outright lied to the public and to him. It had been around Thanksgiving, they had recently broken up. She posted thoughts of thanks across the internet – thanks for the support, for the outreach, for the following. It was excessive. Edgar logged onto her web page. Her latest post had not been a pre-scheduled one, but it was about Edgar and the horrible, abusive person he was. She was full of shit. He wished he had counted the number of times she had begged and pleaded for forgiveness – the number of times she was truly at fault, the root of the problem – if he had done that in response her own following would be the lynch mob to the forest. After that he froze her account, and locked her out. She needed a bold reminder that it wasn’t she who wore the halo in any aspect of life. If only he had posted the picture of her in the collar, degrading herself and his insistence. That would have grounded her real quick, but that was the thing about Ali, she always had to be reminded to not be so selfish. To not assume someone would both financially bankroll her dreams and then also take care of her when they fell crashing down. Ali always said she was going to finance her own life, but she didn’t have enough sense to see then that she needed him. That her whole life would one day be left in his hands. Meanwhile the girl couldn’t be bothered to pack his lunch for the week, but would race out of bed to make herself muffins. Edgar couldn’t understand why he was with her. She was a thoughtless, selfish, airhead – whose dreams were as vacant as lofty as her brain. But she was hot, skinny and flexible. She was incredible in a kitchen. When he told her to do something she did it, so he had to tell her when it was her turn to buy them dinner or buy them drinks. She always looked like she wanted to cry afterward, but deep down he knew that she liked being told what to do. She knew that he would always have the final say. And if she hadn’t known it before, when they were together, she most certainly knew it now.

Ali had seen the lights on, but it had been a very long time, if ever, that she had seen them so bright. For a second she thought she would be able to go home. After all, how many stories had the reunited friends, lovers, or family members fading into a bright light before the flash of the epilogue where it’s Christmas time and their lives are perfect? Ali punched herself in the hip. She felt nothing, but startled herself into reality. This was not a Hallmark movie, and Ali was not her mother. Happy endings like this didn’t exist. The only thing that truly existed here was light and darkness. That was it.

Edgar thought briefly about what he was doing as he was doing it. Ali didn’t care about him. Once his rage calmed down, he would be able to remember that she was the scum of the Earth, and having her not care about him could really only be taken as a compliment. He told himself he agreed to come to the Fire Pit because it was close and because it was the guys from work favorite hang out spot. He told himself it was because he thought he could take Ellie, the bartender home, if she would stop being so loyal to her boyfriend. In reality, he used to love coming to this place for all of those reasons, but then he began bringing Ali here with him. Coming back without her was an embarrassment. She had caused a scene the last time they were here at the same time. He hated being embarrassed. But that was Ali – never listened, always did what she want. She’s the one who hurt him “accidentally” she cried, but because he was a giant and she was a little bitch, it was he who was wrong… Edgar whipped his wheel to the right, swerving his truck into the lot and into his spot. He sighed out. If he would listen to himself, he knew he was coming here because perhaps he would see her. If she was here, he would make an effort, but never would he be bothered to drive to her house and see if she was there. He had done that twice – the second after they broke up. She hadn’t been home. It had been a waste of his time.

Ali had been excited about the bright light. Now, she was afraid. It had been on for hours. She felt drunk and the air reeked of cigarettes. Ali could barely focus on what was in front of her. She was scared. Being deprived of substance was inhuman, but feeling like this, out of nowhere, was unbearable. She felt waves of nausea and rage. She was sure someone had to have done something to her, but she didn’t remember seeing anyone. There had to be a reason for all of this – Hallmark or not – everything had to happen for a reason. She just had to focus.

Edgar had closed his tab, and had managed to get Ellie’s number, and by texting her phone his name, he had gotten his number in Ellie’s phone as well.
“Text me when you’re home safely, okay?” She had said returning one of his cell phones to him. He had two, one for work and his personal one, who knew which was on him now. He had been drinking since 4:30. The bar hadn’t yet closed, but the lights in the restaurant area were up already. Edgar climbed up into his truck, and started it. His phone buzzed. Giving his truck a minute or two to warm up, Edgar took out his cell phone.
“;)” the text read.
Edgar threw a fist in the air. His phone dropping and landing by his legs. He knew that bitch wanted him. Retrieving his phone, he opened up his messages. He scrolled down, and typed back, “knew u wanted it…” He dropped his phone in the cup holder of the center console. Edgar threw his truck in reverse and made his way on the highway, northbound. He had known she wanted him, but he wasn’t going to give it to her. Not until she begged like a fucking orphan. He figured she’d make it until tomorrow morning at best. He couldn’t believe it. He had been thinking about her all day, and now she had texted him. He got into the right lane and picked up his phone. Opening the last conversation in his inbox he texted her once more, “after all this time. I knew you wanted it. I’ll be there in a few.” Edgar heard a loud sound and snapped his head up. He jerked his wheel to the left, and beeped his horn at the car next to him. There was a fucking exit, didn’t the guy see he was in the right lane. You can’t just cut from the middle lane to the exit ramp like that. Fucking idiots. Edgar typed out one more message, “your gonna beg for this cock all nite. Be a good girl nd youll get it.” Edgar’s phone vibrated. He opened the text, “I think she gave you the wrong number… stop texting my girlfriend.” Edgar didn’t understand. Wrong number, that jerkoff had the wrong number. Edgar reopened a new message and entered the number, “youll have to beg fast A im so ready for you already” Edgar moved back over to the left lane and hit the gas. He was going to get there, and Ali was going to beg for his cock. She was going to beg on her knees until they bleed. Tomorrow he would remind her to clean out the scrapes and put band-aids on, but first she was going to beg. Edgar couldn’t remember which left it was after the light, but he did know the exit was coming up. He was sure he would remember where her house was after he got off at the exit. Shit, Edgar thought to himself and he cut the wheel to cross the four lanes of traffic on his left.

Ali watched as the light filled the entire room. As the brightness grew to take over the whole room, a nugget of understanding formed in Ali’s brain. She finally understood. At once she knew it was over. No more would she be confined to a dark and fucked up space. If not home, free was next best option, and in moments, she was finally going to be free.

Early the next morning, Ali woke up in her bed and glanced at the clock – 5:56 AM. She blamed herself for going to bed thinking about muffins. She glanced over at her boyfriend, still sound asleep and snoring. She would quietly get up and make a batch of muffins for her and pancakes for him. She’d throw the muffins in the oven, but wait until Michael woke up before making the pancakes, the eggs, the bacon, and maybe even some hash if she had potatoes. She would get some yoga in while her muffins were baking, and then read the paper with her coffee until Michael got up. It was going to be a lovely Sunday, Ali thought as she made her way into the living room. She moved the coffee table out of the way, grabbing the clicker Ali turned on the TV. There was a meditation channel that came with her cable subscription and it played the best relaxation music. Of course, since Michael had come to bed after her the TV turned on to a local news channel. Ali was sure there was some type of sports program or something he had been watching before bed. “In the latest news, deadly crash on Route 71 late last night. The driver has been identified as Edgar Crakenhall was declared dead on police arrival. It appears that the driver had not only been drunk driving, but also on his cell phone.” Ali dropped the clicker on the table and picked up her phone which vibrated as she lifted it. Ali looked across the screen, one new message from a phone number. Ali opened it. The number had texted her last night as well. Ali froze. She hadn’t heard from Edgar in months. It had been amazing. Apparently, she and their relationship were as alive as ever in his mind. Ali breathed a sigh of relief, as horrible as it was, at least now there was no part of her still held hostage in the corner of Edgar’s fucked up mind.

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