The day of – part 1.
Bella was running again. Momentum carried her forward down the dark, infinite corridor. Her legs were getting tired. Her clothes were so hard to move in. She tore at it, and the tatters of her wedding dress fell by the wayside.
She felt like she could move again. But there was something else. The shapes were still gaining on her. She pushed harder, but it was no good.
She looked down. That was what it was. Her engagement ring was so heavy. She started tugging on it, but it was stuck.
She pulled and she pulled. The sounds of people drawing close were getting louder. She twisted the ring, until it finally started moving. She pulled it off and threw it aside.
Yes, good girl… be a good little bitch...
Her pace quickened. The voices grew more distant from behind her. She was free! Up ahead, she saw a room. A hotel room, maybe. She wasted no time, and entered it.
The man was there. The handsome man. He dangled his long pocket watch in front of her eyes, and she fell to her knees.
“Please…” she said.
You belong here…
Bella woke to the smell of coffee. She was sweating in spite of the cool morning air.
“Still having trouble getting rested, huh?” said Mark. She slowly opened her eyes. He stood over her holding a yellow keep-cup she’d been favoring recently. She smiled.
“Yeah. Some of these dreams have been…” she began. Been what? They certainly hadn’t been getting any less vivid.
He sat down on the bed next to her and placed the coffee on the bedside table.
“It’s ok,” he said, then leaned down and placed a gentle kiss on her forehead. “Everything’s going to be perfect.”
She continued to smile, with one hand tugging gently on her ring. When she noticed she was doing it, she suddenly tensed up.
“Oh, it’s um, it’s nothing.”
To avoid too much last minute panic, she’d left plenty of time between appointments. Her newly restored dress and all of the accessories were laid out carefully in the front room, and her hair and makeup people were coming just after noon.
Her mother had suggested that she take a nice long bath with scented candles as a preemptive strike on the wedding day nerves, and she had intended to do just that, but something was clawing at her. Her fingers were straying again. Her thoughts were straying again. What if this creep comes back and tries to do something funny during the ceremony? Maddy had promised to look out for her, but could she really guarantee that nothing was going to happen? It would be easier to just run.
She pushed the thought out of her head. She needed to stop and think. She walked into the study sat down. She knew exactly what could help her focus. She picked up the deck of cards and started to shuffle. She dealt the cards into piles, then flipped the cards one by one and started to play.
Solitaire was such a relaxing game. The three can go there… The two can-
She saw it. The Queen of Hearts.
She knew what she had to do.
Half an hour later, in the cool morning air outside her friend’s apartment, Isobel felt relief. She ran her hands over the cool metal of the pistol.
“You’re sure about this?” said Maddy.
“I just don’t think I’ll feel safe unless I know where it is. I’m sorry. I know it’s probably not wise but…”
“Hey, it’s ok. I made a promise and I’m going to keep it.”
“Thanks Maddy. It really means a lot,” said Isobel, smiling.
Having retrieved her self defense gun, Bella thought she had everything completely under control. But an hour later, sitting in a chair having her makeup applied by a professional, she found herself once again plagued with doubts and anxieties.
“It’s ok,” said Alyssa. “It’s completely normal to have wedding day jitters. I see it all the time.”
Alyssa was doing a great job. Bella really had no complaints there.
“Yeah, I know. I didn’t think it was going to get to me so much,” Bella replied.
“Getting married is a big step,” said Alyssa. “It’s like a new life stage and all that.”
Bella thought about it.
“I do want to get married. The thought of marriage itself doesn’t bother me at all,” she said.
It was true. She could picture her ceremony as clear as day. The cathedral they’d booked had beautiful stained glass windows and just an incredible architectural style. All of her friends and family there – even the ones she secretly hated. She would be walked down the aisle by her secret master, held by the leash, crawling on her hands and knees, ready to be given away to a big, strong, powerful man.
She shook her head.
“You wouldn’t be the first woman to marry somebody she wasn’t sure about. But don’t worry about it, nobody really knows what they’re doing ‘till their second marriage anyway,” Alyssa said, chuckling slightly.
Alicia laughed politely.
“No, Mark is really super great. Sometimes he’s slack on the laundry I guess. But…” said Bella. What was great about Mark again? She loved Mark, she’d never felt this way about anybody before. So why was she struggling to think about what she liked about him?
Alarm bells were going off in her head again. She could feel something there, stopping her from getting to where she wanted to go.
“Sorry, I was just thinking about today. He’s…” she said, straining.
What was he? It was like the connection between the idea of Mark and her feelings about him had road blocks placed between them. Could she get there another way?
She searched back in her mind for specific memories. That early flirting, finding excuses to hang out with each other. The day he asked her out. Their first anniversary. When she helped him through the death of his brother. The week in Paris. The proposal. Him helping her through her own fears and anxieties.
It was all still there. She felt relief. She started psyching herself up. It’s too late to turn back now. Even if it would just be easier to run away.
Before too long, it was time.
Her bridesmaids had helped her get into the dress. Mark’s cousin had come through incredibly well. He actually had to replace part of the dress, but he’d manage to integrate it more or less seamlessly. She was standing in front of the tall mirror, flanked by her bridesmaids.
“You look amazing,” said Jasmine. All the others nodded in agreement.
Despite her earlier trepidation, she was feeling great.
“We all look amazing,” she replied. She was initially a little skeptical of the bridesmaids dress that the group had decided on, but it had grown on her over time. It was a floral dress, lightly patterned over top of a red base. It was a stark contrast from her own, much more traditional white dress.
“It’s just… are you sure about that?” Jasmine continued.
“Sure about what?”
“The um, the choker, I guess?”
As if somehow rendered visible, her eyes focused around her neck. It wasn’t a choker. It was unmistakably a black leather collar. She was briefly startled.
“Oh, I just thought it looked nice,” she replied. The truth was, she didn’t remember putting it on.
“I like it,” said Nora, who was smirking. “I’ve always been telling you that you could stand to be a little naughtier.”
She moved her hand up to take it off, but her hand stopped as she made contact with it. It felt nice. She felt safe and warm with it on.
“I just didn’t know she was into that sort of thing,” said Jasmine. “But it doesn’t look bad or anything!”
She raised her hand to touch the collar. You belong here. She didn’t need any more complications right now. She decided to leave it on. It felt so good. Why should I take it off? Because some prudes might think I’ve got a kink?
For her part, Maddy didn’t comment on it at all. Bella felt so glad she was here. She knew she’d be looking out for her.
Twenty minutes later, in the limousine on the way there, her dad hadn’t said a word about it. He just seemed… happy. Some of the nerves were creeping back in again, and she had to suppress her urge to bite her freshly done nails several times.
The exterior of the cathedral was just as grand as she remembered it. It reminded her of the one near where she’d grown up, except even bigger.
“Ok, it’s time,” said her father. “Are you ready?”
She looked him straight in the eye. Run run run run run, the words echoed. She slapped herself in the face. No. I will NOT run.
“Ok, I’m ready,” she said.
She heard the music. That damn music. Of course it was going to play, she’d planned it that way.
Her dad looked over at her, but didn’t say anything. The doors opened. She crossed the threshold, and people all turned and looked her way as she began her measured walk down the aisle.
Luckily, nobody was going to notice that she looked slightly embarrassed. The veil covering her and the normal, expected wedding emotions were ample protection.
She barked again, then again. She was struggling to stop herself this time, but managed to at least reduce the volume such that it was drowned out by the organ. She felt too embarrassed to look people in the eye, so she simply stared ahead, past the flower girl, past the crowd.
She was so busy trying to focus on suppressing the sounds, she failed to notice another unexpected urge until it was too late.
She dropped down onto her hands and knees. What the fuck am I doing? But it didn’t feel wrong, exactly. There was a whisper at the back of her skull. You belong here. She took two stride forward before her father, assuming she had simply tripped, knelt down and helped her back up. Nobody laughed, at least that she could hear.
With a herculean effort, she started walking normally again. But it felt off. The idea of being a good little bitch for her master was reverberating inside her mind, and she was getting turned on by it. No! Whatever it was that was trying to sabotage this day, her day, she was absolutely determined to win. She’d spent years dreaming of this, months planning it, and a whole shitload of money organizing it. She reminded herself that she could be a good little bitch for her master after the ceremony.
She reached the front of the cathedral. Mark looked very dashing in his wedding suit. In a way, the whole ceremony felt surreal. She’d been planning this for so long, and she’d been dreaming about what her wedding might be like since she was a child. Now it was finally here, it wasn’t what she expected.
After her father gave her away to Mark – a process which she found unexpectedly arousing – she started practicing her wedding vows in her head again. She didn’t pay much attention to the priest reading the liturgy of the word, or when one of Mark’s family did a reading from the old testament.
“The Bride and Groom will now exchange vows.”
She stepped forwards to the microphone.
They had both opted to write their own vows. They agreed it was far more meaningful and romantic that way. She cleared her throat. She looked out over the crowd. Two families. Mark’s was much larger than hers, but she’d filled her side with more friends. Her parents were there. Her cousins, friends, peers and coworkers. She took a deep breath in.
“Mark. I vow not to take our time together for granted. I promise to encourage you to follow your dreams. I promise to…” she said. Oh no. Oh no. She tried to remember the exact wording. In her rehearsals it had gone perfectly. After a few seconds, she gave up. She was going to have to just do say what came naturally to her.
“I promise to… love you, to honor you, and to obey you,” she said. As the word obey came out of her mouth, she immediately felt her nipples prick up.
“I promise to do my best to be good for you,” she continued. “To be available to you whenever you need me… to be loyal and faithful to you above all else.”
She realized what she was saying could be taken the wrong way. She also realized that the wrong way might have been what she meant when she said it. She decided she needed to simply stop before it got further out of control.
She turned and looked at Maddy. They both knew what had just happened.
* * *
Madison was prepared to act at the ceremony. But other than some of Bella’s hypnotic programming coming to surface, it had gone far better than she’d feared. Bella didn’t suddenly turn into a robot and shoot somebody.
Even so, Maddy had had remained tense the whole time. She had not enjoyed the reception. She couldn’t. She looked happy and smiled at everyone as was expected of her, but she was inwardly terrified. She knew that this wasn’t over. Bella seemed relieved to have it past her, as if the danger had ended the moment the priest said “I now pronounce you man and wife”. But Bella was still stuck in that man’s web.
As the number of remaining people at the reception drew down slowly, she knew the danger only grew.
It was early evening by the time the groom finally announced he was going to be leaving with Bella. One of the groomsmen got about a second into a wolf whistle before Mark shut him down.
She waved goodbye to everybody and returned to her car. If he wasn’t here, then the next logical place to ambush them would be on the way to the honeymoon suite.
She left just before them, but took a slight detour to let them arrive first. She hoped she wasn’t making a mistake by doing that. She in the hotel lot, then stepped outside. The summer night was just starting to fall. The street lights flicked on as she walked towards the entrance. Then, she saw him.
He was walking down the street, coming the opposite way. She averted her eyes and hoped he hadn’t noticed. You’re just here for an evening stroll. You’re just walking right on by, she thought, measuring her pace very carefully.
“Sorry,” he said as he scurried past her on the footpath.
“Sorry,” she parroted with a nervous laugh, then continued walking.
A chill ran up her spine.
“Say, don’t I know you?”
It was the kind of voice that made it clear he already knew the answer.
“I’m sorry, I don’t think so?” she said.
He started to walk after her. She increased the pace. Oh shit oh shit oh shit.
She pulled out her phone.
“Hey come back! Do you see the King of Diamonds?”
Madison froze. Her legs stopped moving. She felt an urge, coming deep from within. What the hell are you doing, Maddy? She thought she wanted to run away, but there was something else she had to do first. She turned and looked around for something.
The man was there, now just a few paces behind her. He was holding up a card. Her mind fogged over.
“Yes, I thought that was you. What was your name again?”
She barely processed what he said.
“Tell me now. Tell me what your name is.”
“It’s… No,” she said weakly.
“Focus on the card, my dear. Look deeply into it. I mean you no harm. You can tell me what your name is, surely.”
“It’s… Madison Dyer.”
“Ahh, that’s right. You’re very pretty, Madison. Yes, very pretty indeed.” He scanned her up and down. “Lovely neck. Oh, and the legs too, yum.” Maddy knew people found her attractive – you couldn’t go through college without being extensively hit on if you were. “You know, it’s more polite if you thank somebody when when give you a compliment.”
Madison stared ahead.
“Why don’t you try that now? Thank me.”
“Thank you,” she said.
“See? That’s not so hard. You should always thank me when I pay you a compliment.”
She felt tranquil, but at the same time, something was bothering her. There were compliments and there were compliments. That compliment was delivered in the tone of somebody sizing up an animal at the meat market.
“We’re a little exposed here. Come this way, will you my dear?” he said, gently tugging at her arm.
She couldn’t think of a good reason not to follow along with him for now, so she did. They walked around the corner into a small private street that staff of the hotel would use to drive supplies in.
“You know, I think she might have mentioned a little while back. Aren’t you the one who used to have a thing for Mark? You two both wanted to date him in college? Or was that one of her other maids?”
The words hit her like a truck. She started becoming more aware of her surroundings.
“I… um… I don’t want to…”
Her breathing quickened slightly.
“Oh dear, oh dear, focus here, focus on the card, Madison. Focus on the card.”
The King of Diamonds. Yes, she should focus on the card. She felt immediately calmer.
“Well that certainly answers that question for me. Now, tell me what you’re doing here, Madison. Have you come to bother the newlywed couple?”
“I’m not bothering… I’m watching over…”
He scratched his head and drew closer to her, as if he was about to deliver a hug, but never did.
“Watching over? What are you worried about?”
Madison stared ahead for a long time before answering. This was wrong. This was bad.
“Bella is worried… I’m worried…”
“Worried about what? It’s ok, you can tell me.”
She struggled. She knew there was a reason she shouldn’t be telling this person too much. She compartmentalized as best she could.
“Worried… somebody was trying to… ruin the wedding, or hurt her.”
“Oh? Why would anybody have wanted to ruin this wedding? Do you suspect something?”
“Uh… I’m…”. This was dangerous. With every probing question, it felt more possible to assert herself.
“Answer me, Madison.”
She still felt like she had to say something. But perhaps she could keep a little bit to herself.
“I think… I think you might be involved… to… steal money...”
He stood silently for a moment.
“Well, in some ways that’s not entirely untrue. But you’re thinking too small. Still, I’m very impressed that you even managed to get this far. You must be quite intelligent.”
“Thank you,” she said.
“But this does raise a few problems for me, I hope you understand. Perhaps… Hmm. Why don’t we get you inside before somebody tries to wake you up.”
“While we walk, I want to float an idea past you. Something that I think you might not mind doing for my good friend Mark, and something which will really help us all out.”
She listened intently.