Her Personal Demons by Ginna Moran

Chapter 1

For All Things Unholy

RAVEN

I CAN’T BELIEVE I’m dying on the floor of a dirty bathroom. I know it. I feel it deep inside me, and I regret not sucking it up and cleaning the damn place. I don’t know what bullshit I’ve done in my life to deserve an end like this, but here I am, hanging onto a toilet, sweating and crying with no one around willing to save me.

I wish I could say my impending death was due to partying too much and drinking over my limit. At least then I’d have an explanation for my body betraying me. But no. This is something else. I’m sick without an explanation, and it’s been a never-ending cycle the last few months.

This time feels worse, though. My body can’t take it. I need help from someone who actually cares about me. If only my cousin would answer my calls.

Clutching my phone, I listen as my cousin sends me straight to voicemail for the third time. “Tamia, I’m sorry. I know I fucked up, but I need you. Please call me back. Please.” Closing my eyes, I disconnect the line and rest my head on the side of the tub.

I know I shouldn’t expect much after our last fight, but I thought that maybe she’d give me another chance if I apologized. I was just so mad at her for yelling at me for moving back in with my ex. She didn’t believe me when I told her we weren’t back together, and it just...it’s pointless to think about it now.

Dizziness washes over me in another intense wave. I blink through the strange haze in my vision and smear the sweat prickling on my forehead with my arm. Fuck. What is wrong with me?

Lifting my phone, I tap my finger on the screen and call my parents next. They haven’t answered since Christmas, but maybe today will be different. They can’t ignore me forever, right?

It goes straight to voicemail too.

I groan and lie on the bathroom floor.

“Joel,” I call, shielding my eyes from the vanity lights over the wall mirror. I didn’t want to have to yell for my ex-fiancé, but I don’t know what else to do. He’s all I have despite not wanting anything to do with him. “Joel, I need to go to Urgent Care. I can’t wait it out this time. I feel as if I’m dying.”

Joel’s voice muffles through the door, annoyance lacing his voice. I can’t hear what he’s saying, but he’s pissed. Maybe drunk. I don’t know. I’ve been in the bathroom for hours. He never took me seriously before we broke up, always shrugging me off like I make things up to inconvenience him on purpose, so I don’t know why I even try now.

“Joel, please,” I beg, groaning. “Please. Please. Please. I’ll do whatever you want if you take me.”

He mutters from outside the door too lowly for me to hear but doesn’t come in.

I sigh.

I’ve been feeling sick on and off for months now. At first I thought it was food poisoning or a stomach virus. Maybe too much drinking to deal with Joel’s asshole behavior over refusing to take his lying ass back and accept his engagement ring again. But even after I quit drowning myself in alcohol, the sickness still comes back.

Without medical insurance, it’s been tough. I can’t afford all the tests I know my doctor would want to run. Joel says it’ll be in the thousands. It doesn’t help that he also makes me feel as if I’m going crazy. He thinks I get sick because of the stress over losing my job as the office manager at Tony’s Construction and having to move out of my apartment in North Angel Canyon. It was always like him to brush me off, which is why even though I could make things easier and give him what he wants by taking him back, I don’t.

I don’t even like being here.

The shitty circumstances made me swallow my pride and call Joel for help. I didn’t want to, but I had nowhere else to go. He only hassled me over not calling him sooner and told me he loved me still. He claimed that our breakup made him appreciate me more and that he’d do better. That it was our destiny to overcome the drama that split us up...

My stomach clenches at the thought. I can’t think about it. I’m sick enough as it is. Joel’s been generous, allowing me to sleep on the couch, rent-free. He’s taken care of me, even when he didn’t have to, but I can’t imagine spending my life with him because he holds things over my head and makes me doubt myself.

It’s one of the things that always starts an argument between us. I’m too stubborn for my own good—according to him. I wouldn’t be in this situation if I’d accept his ring already. He claims he wants to take care of me, but I know it’s not about that. I see the shit he does more clearly, no matter how nice I know he can be. Things could be worse. They have been. If only he was a dick all the time, I wouldn’t feel so conflicted.

A soft knock sounds on the bathroom door, and Joel cracks the door open without waiting for me to respond. “I brought you some water, baby. You need to stay hydrated.”

I bob my head and hold my arms out, silently asking for help. Setting the glass on the edge of the tub, Joel ignores my request and crosses his arms over his chest. He tightens his jaw and gives me a long once-over. His frown deepens like I’m the last person he wants to be with.

I prop myself up on my elbow and reach for the glass of water. “Can you please take me to Urgent Care? I don’t think I can drive myself. I’m feeling worse.”

“Because you’re dehydrated. Come on. Drink.” Joel points at the glass. “You’ll feel better. I know the last week has been rough, but you can’t let the stress get to you, baby. You’ll get a call back for a job soon. I know it.”

Maybe Joel’s right. I’m sick because of the stress. He always said I overthink things.

My hand shakes as I bring it to my mouth, and I accidentally drop the glass. It cracks on the bathroom floor, spilling across the tiles. I scramble to pick up the pieces. Sharp pain swells across my thumb as I cut myself on the shard. Blood drips from my hand and splashes into the puddle soaking my pajama pants.

“Damn it, Raven! I swear to God I think you pull this bullshit just so you can live here and mooch off me while fucking around with other guys. You’re taking advantage of my love for you, and I’ve had it! If I’m going to have to constantly take care of you, then you need to fucking take care of me how I want. Would it fucking kill you to give me a blowjob every now and then? It drives me crazy that you won’t even sleep in my bed after everything I’ve done for you even though you threw my fucking ring in my face.” Joel stomps on the broken glass with his boot, crushing it into tiny pieces. He throws a towel from the cupboard at me next. “Soak this up. I’ll call Rob and see if he’ll prescribe you some anti-nausea meds, and I’ll pick them up at work.”

I tuck my legs closer to me and grab my phone. “I can’t wait that long. I’ll just call a ride to take me to Urgent Care if you can’t.”

“With what fucking money?” Joel leans over and snatches my phone from me. “You’re overreacting. You’re going to be fine. Just clean up, and I’ll get you another glass of water. Try not to ruin the bathroom even more.”

Without waiting for my response, Joel exits and slams the door behind him. A bang sounds on the wall as he punches it, a sound I’ve become familiar with. I groan and shift, my body aching. I sweep the towel across the sopping water and drape my arms over the edge of the tub.

I close my eyes and say a silent prayer for strength. I don’t know how much time passes by, but it feels like Joel has been gone forever. Long enough that I manage to take a few deep breaths without feeling like my insides want to escape me. Reaching for the tub faucet, I turn it on and pool a handful of water in my palm. I sip it slowly, dribbling it down my chin with the effort, but my stomach doesn’t reject it.

I kind of hate that Joel might’ve been right. Maybe I am being dramatic and this is nothing serious. People get sick all the time...no. It’s more. I know it is. The only one stressing me out is Joel and only when I feel like shit. Nothing makes sense.

I think about last night’s dinner, wondering if maybe this really is food poisoning this time. Except I ate the same thing as Joel apart from the glass of wine where he drank whiskey.

A thought nags at me the more I think about every time I’ve been sick. He wouldn’t do anything to hurt me, especially if he’s trying to get back together, right? He brushes me off because he works in the medical field. He’s always so calm, ready with some sort of diagnosis or assurance from his doctor best friend. It’s not like he’s making stuff up. He’s a pharmacist at the same hospital and can ask a number of people for off-the-record advice.

Why don’t I believe the thoughts, though?

Why am I questioning every kind gesture and focusing on his asshole attitude? How he berates me. How he just said he thinks I’m faking it to stay here, when in fact, right now, I have the urge to run. My gut knows something is wrong, and I’ve been ignoring it. But what can I do? My parents refuse to talk to me. My cousin Tamia won’t call me back. I haven’t spoken to my old friends in so long that I can’t remember the last time.

“Fuck. You’re overthinking. You’re paranoid,” I whisper to myself.

But what if I’m not?

Confronting Joel will only piss him off. He could kick me out, and then what? I’m broke. I have twenty bucks to my name after eating through my savings. I need it for gas money to go on my non-existent job interviews. It’s been weeks since I’ve heard a call back.

I push the thoughts away and swallow my nerves, using the tub to get to my feet. My body trembles, and I shiver through my disgusting sweating, but I manage to stay on my feet. I’ll just let Joel know he was right and apologize. Hopefully he’ll drop the attitude. I just want to plop my ass on the couch and sleep the rest of the sickness off.

Cracking the bathroom door open, I peek into the hallway and spot the brand new crater in the wall. That’s the fourth one in as many weeks that I’ll have to fill and spackle because he won’t. He’ll say if I didn’t piss him off all the time, they wouldn’t be there.

“Come on, man. It’s for a couple of pills. I don’t want to miss work,” Joel murmurs, standing in the kitchen with his elbows on the counter. He sighs and rubs his hand across the back of his neck. “Yeah, yeah. I get it. No one will know. All that other stuff is just for fun. You and Ky should join us sometime. Makes for a helluva good time with Raven. She’s been so tense lately and they chill us both out.” He laughs. “You’re a saint, bro. I appreciate it. I can’t be sick if I’m going to take care of my girl. She’s going to take my ring back soon. I know it.”

I blink at his words, my body tensing. What the hell is Joel talking about?

He chuckles again. “Shit, yeah. I’ll try that next time. The hangovers make her useless, but she doesn’t care. She knows she can always count on me as long as she doesn’t pull that trying to move out shit again.”

My legs wobble the longer I clutch onto the hallway wall for support. I can’t hear Rob’s side of the conversation, but the trash Joel spews shocks the hell out of me. He makes it sound like we get high and drunk together or something. And he needs pills for himself? He was supposed to get me anti-nausea meds. What the actual fuck?

“Right,” Joel says, stretching his back with a groan, drawing my attention back to his conversation with Rob. “I’m telling you. It works. Try it. You’ll never have to worry about things like the shit Raven put me through. Train Ky now, man. If she doesn’t follow your lead, then find another woman who will. It’s too fucking exhausting. I didn’t waste two damn years of my life to just let her think she can leave me.” Anger deepens his voice. “I’m not putting up with that. She’ll learn.”

Joel stands in silence, clutching the phone. The murmur of Rob’s voice trickles through the quiet. I hold my breath and listen.

“...Jesus, Joel. Are you drunk?” Rob asks, though I miss the other part of what he tells Joel.

Joel barks a laugh. “Fuck. That obvious? Sorry, man. Raven’s been a pain in my ass all night. Needy and coming down. You know how it is.”

“Just be careful what you say. People don’t know you guys like I do.”

“You’re right, Rob. They don’t.” Joel sighs. “Anyway, send the script to Bell’s this time. Anna’s working and won’t give us any problems like Rita would.” Rita’s the Chief Pharmacist at the hospital he works at. As for Anna? I have no idea. “I have to get back to Raven before she starts screaming for me to hurry back to bed. She gets lazy and acts like a fucking useless bitch when she’s annoyed.”

With a laugh, Joel sets his phone on the counter and turns toward the cupboard, grabbing a bowl from the shelf. My heartbeat pounds in my ears, and I try to process his conversation with Rob. Anger burns through me, repeating all the lies Joel told. I knew he had a temper, but he made it sound as if I’m some needy, worthless bitch who is only tolerable high. I haven’t done any recreational drugs in years, since my early twenties. The most medicine I even take is for a headache...

I scratch my nails into the wall, staring in shock as Joel pops open an orange pill bottle from inside an oatmeal container on the top shelf out of my reach without a stool. He smashes a pill on the counter before adding it to the bowl and mixing applesauce from a pouch of snacks he keeps for his niece when she comes over.

Scooping up the bowl, he spins on his feet. I can’t move out of his view fast enough, and he narrows his eyes in annoyance.

“What are you doing up? I don’t want you fucking puking on the carpet,” Joel says, striding closer.

Panic squeezes my chest, my mind whirling. “I won’t. I’m feeling better. You were right. It must’ve just been stress. Maybe something I ate. I’m going to rest on the couch.”

“The hell you are, Raven. You’re disgusting. I don’t want your filth on my furniture,” he snaps, stopping a foot away to tower over me. “Now take this and get your ass in the shower.” Shoving the bowl at me, he pushes it against my stomach. “If you can keep this down, then maybe I’ll let you sleep on the floor next to the couch.”

I stare down at the applesauce. “I’m okay. I swear.”

Glowering, he grabs me by the shoulder and digs his fingers into my skin. I wince in pain, trying to pull back, but he only squeezes tighter. “Don’t be a fucking pain and eat it. It’s what Rob said to do. You want to feel better, don’t you?”

I keep my gaze locked on the bowl, my body shaking under his heated glower penetrating my forehead. Tears burn my eyes. He sounds so angry like this is all my fault, but I know it’s his. Everything starts connecting together in my mind. How could I be so foolish?

Joel shakes me. “Raven, don’t you?” he repeats.

Still, I can’t get myself to look up or respond.

Grabbing me by the back of the head, Joel yanks my hair, forcing my gaze up to his. I drop the bowl of applesauce on the floor, and it splashes all over our feet. Fear seizes my chest with his rage. I don’t know what comes over me, but I swing my hand out and slap him.

“You’ve been drugging m-me,” I say, stumbling away from him.

His surprise over my slap only makes him hesitate for a moment.

I scream and try to get out of the way, grabbing onto the torch lamp just outside the hallway and in the living room to knock it in his path. “Stay the fuck back, Joel! If you don’t, I’ll go to the police. I’ll tell them what you’ve done.”

I regret my threat immediately. I should’ve known better than to piss him off even more.

Lunging at me, Joel grabs the front of my shirt and forces me against the wall. I squeeze my eyes shut as he swings in anger, punching me in the cheek. Pain swells through me, and I lose my footing, my body wanting nothing more than to cower.

“Don’t you ever fucking threaten me, you crazy bitch,” Joel mutters, a deep guttural noise escaping his mouth. “I’m trying to take care of your damn ass. Whatever the fuck you think you saw is in your damn head. You’re sick. Seeing things.”

Tears leak down my cheeks, and I heave a shuddering breath. “You’re r-right.” I can barely get the words out. “I’m sorry.”

The fury in his brown gaze diminishes, and a cocky-bastard smile tugs at the corner of his lips. If I know one thing about Joel, it’s that he always thinks he’s in the right. I don’t even care if he isn’t. All I want is for him to back up and leave me alone. I want the chance to get up and run. He’s fucking drugging me. Making me sick. I saw him do it with my own eyes.

But if I leave...

I can’t stay here. I can’t.

I slowly shift to my elbow. “I’m sorry,” I repeat. “I’m just feeling sick. It’s making me crazy.”

Grabbing my hand, Joel yanks me off the floor and sets me on my feet. He drags his gaze over my body like he’s looking for another part of my body he can hurt next. I can only imagine what he’ll do later.

Joel touches my cheek, pushing my hair behind my ear. It takes everything in me not to recoil from his touch. “I’m only trying to take care of you, baby. You know that I love you. I want to marry you for fuck’s sake. I don’t know why you always have to give me a hard time. Have you been talking to Tamia again? She putting thoughts in your head?”

My bottom lip trembles uncontrollably. “No.”

His eyes narrow. “You’re lying. I saw her calling your phone.”

My heart beats in overdrive, his silent glower daring me to argue. I can almost feel the sting of his berating and the pain of his fist all over again. It twists my insides and shadows my vision. Panic steals my breath. I feel like I’m going to die at any second. If Joel doesn’t kill me, then my heart still might, exploding to escape this misery.

“Raven,” Joel grumbles.

My stomach heaves, and I puke all over the front of his shirt.

Baring his teeth, Joel hollers and swings his fist, hitting the wall inches away from my head. I panic and shove him back, twisting out of his hold on my shirt, not even caring that he yanks it off in his attempt to catch me. I bolt toward the door in my bra and sweatpants, my feet bare and my black hair an out of control mess. Joel hollers behind me, but it only pushes me to run harder, my feet slapping the cement pathway as I head to the parking lot.

“Raven, damn it! Get back here!” Joel yells from behind me.

I give up on running to the parking lot and instead cut between the last two buildings in our apartment complex and scream for help. I rush to the door of the apartment on the right, which is the only one lit up inside.

I raise my hand to bang on the wood, but a hand slaps over my mouth and another one hooks around my waist, yanking me back. Joel shoves me to the grass and kicks me so hard in the stomach that I can’t even cry out in pain. Shadows crowd my vision as I open and close my mouth, trying to suck in air that doesn’t come.

I try to push up, to fight, to do anything to protect myself from Joel. He’s too fast and livid, kicking me again until I roll on my back. I lie defenseless on the ground. Joel towers over me and punches me in the face again. And then again.

Blood pours from my nose and my split lips, dripping down my cheeks. It pools in my ears and stains my hair. I close my eyes, cutting off my view of Joel’s scowling face, his rage turning him more into a monster than I ever knew possible.

I pray for the pain to stop.

I pray for a quick death.

My life is over, and there is nothing more I can do.

Joel beats the fight out of me.

“Hey, asshole! What the fuck are you doing?” a rich, smooth voice shouts. “You can’t do that here.”

Joel’s hand loosens from around my throat, and he shoves himself off. “You better not fucking say it was me, Raven,” he mutters in my ear. “I will kill you.”

“Hey!” a man shouts. “You can’t just leave her.”

My mind refuses to process what’s going on.

All I can do is stare up at a strange man as he looks down at me.

His eyes glow red.