No one has to know.
Miranda repeated it over and over like a mantra, promising herself that as long as she could keep everything a secret, there would be no harm done. His demands were simple enough for her to handle, and as long as she kept him pacified she could salvage the situation.
Damon kept his hand on her leg as she drove to her condo, as a reminder of the power he had leveraged over her. A sense of unreality washed over her as she told him the passcode to the garage, then handed over her spare key. But, Damon had told her that he was moving out of the motel, and she didn’t have any other choice but to give in to his demands.
Miranda sat down in her favorite armchair as Damon paced through the apartment, inspecting the fridge in the kitchen and rummaging through all the drawers. It wasn’t until he tapped on the glass of the fish tank that she burst out, “Don’t!” and he looked at her with a raised eyebrow.
“Your goldfish is deformed,” he replied.
That made Miranda bristle. “She’s the celestial eye breed, and she’s delicate, okay? Stay away from her.”
He moved on to look through the bathroom and the bedroom, and Miranda jumped up to sprinkle a couple of fish flakes into the tank. As she watched the goldfish eat, a painful lump formed in her throat. In all of her fantasies about Damon, it had never occurred to her that she’d get exactly what she wanted at the cost of her autonomy. She had to do whatever it took to keep that video secret, for the sake of her career.
Her head and heart had never experienced so much turmoil before. She hated herself for going along so easily, but she hoped that his promise to keep her safe had been sincere. It flew in the face of everything that she had ever believed about herself, and she felt as if her entire being was precariously balanced on the edge of a precipice. She didn’t want to be a doormat.
“I don’t have a choice,” she whispered under her breath to herself. He had tricked her and seduced her, and now she had to give in to his every demand. He was blackmailing her.
“Come on,” Damon said as he came out of the bedroom, throwing a pair of panties at Miranda. “We’re picking up my motorcycle.”
“Do you have to invade my privacy like that?” she asked haughtily, snatching up her underwear and closing her fist around it.
Damon walked over and leaned down to hold her face upwards by her chin. “You will speak deferentially to me from now on.”
“Ha! You’re kidding, right?” Miranda tried to pull away, but he tightened his grip, digging his thumb into the side of her jaw. The pressure immediately made her think of how humiliating it would be if he bruised her face, so she dropped her gaze to the side and murmured, “I’m sorry.”
“Better.” He let her go. “Hurry up and put those on, then drive me to the construction site. Afterwards, you will come back here and wait for me without speaking to anyone.”
Miranda slowly chewed on her lip as she obeyed, then picked her bag back up and silently followed Damon back out to her car. He pulled out his phone as she began driving, and stayed focused on the screen until she reached the construction site and parked next to his motorcycle. Then, without a word or a glance, he got out and straddled his motorcycle.
She sat paralyzed as she watched him drive away, and a small voice inside of her cried out, Don’t go home. Call Basil, he’ll help you.
Miranda tsked at herself for having such a stupid thought. She could manage herself without crawling back to her ex to beg for help; she just needed enough time to think of a good solution. With that resolve, she drove herself back to her condo to wait for Damon’s return.
Damon retrieved his things from the motel room and packed up his bag, making sure to retrieve several personal items that he had hidden in various spots, then checked out at the front desk. He was coming down from his high, and he wondered if he had overplayed his hand by pushing for too much too soon in his euphoria, but so far Miranda was compliant. It was too late to back down now.
After he finished his business there, he stopped by the store to pick up a new button-up shirt and athletic shoes before returning to Miranda’s condo. He found her inside, curled up in her armchair with a book, waiting for him as she had been told to. She looked up at him with wide eyes as he approached.
“We’re going out,” he said. “Wear comfortable shoes.” He then pulled off his leather jacket and t-shirt as Miranda stared, secretly smiling to himself at the way she nervously bit her lip and turned away.
“Where are we going?” she asked quietly, slowly placing her bookmark between the pages with an unusual level of concentration.
“It’s a surprise.” Damon pulled on his new shirt, then traded his boots for the new shoes. “Take your hair out of that bun first.”
She reached up and touched her hair with uncertainty, then realized how much of it had already worked its way loose. Standing, she pulled out the bobby pins as she walked to the bathroom, then returned a minute later with her hair neatly brushed and a pair of ballerina flats in her hands. “Will these do?”
Damon shrugged. “It’s cold outside, so we’ll be taking your car. Give me the keys.”
That made Miranda scowl and cross her arms. “Are you actually fit to be driving? I’m not going to have you crashing my car because you’re under the influence of …” she waved her fingers thoughtfully. “Of whatever,” she finished.
He narrowed one eye as he held out his hand. “I will punish you if you’re difficult.”
“Remember the video.”
Her shoulders sagged as she retrieved her bag and pulled out her car keys, then dropped them into Damon’s hand. “Please don’t damage it,” she said flatly.
Damon pocketed the keys, then pulled Miranda’s coat out of the closet and held it for her to put on, murmuring “Good girl.”
They didn’t talk as he drove. Miranda stared out the window at the last traces of the sunset, feeling out of place as a passenger in her own car. However, Damon’s driving was satisfactory, and while he was more aggressive than she would have preferred, he didn’t do anything alarming. If it hadn’t been for his earlier actions, she would have never guessed that he wasn’t sober.
When he parked, Miranda looked up at the building and immediately assumed that he was lost. “Do you need me to pull up a map?” she asked.
“No. We’re here,” he replied.
“But this is the Community Center …”
“I know.” Damon got out of the car, then leaned down to say, “Come on,” before slamming the door shut.
“What are we doing at the Community Center?” Miranda asked as she scrambled out of the car, then jogged over to keep up with Damon as he marched for the front door. He simply gave her a grin, took her hand in his, then went inside. All they had to do was follow the noise until they found the gym, full of people dancing.
“It’s a contra dance,” Damon explained. “Looks like we’re a little late, so we’ll wait for this round to finish then jump in.”
“What the heck is contra dancing?” Miranda asked as she watched the crowd of people swirling around and laughing, her hand tightening around Damon’s.
“Just watch, and you’ll figure it out.”
“How do you know about this?”
Damon put his arm around Miranda’s waist, pulled her close against him and said softly into her ear, “I’m a multifaceted sort of guy.” Then he laughed. “I used to do this sort of shit all the time when I was a teenager, at least until I started going out back to smoke weed. I’ll teach you everything you need to know.” While his primary goal in bringing Miranda there was to soften the blow of his earlier actions to keep her second-guessing herself, the energy and the music were affecting him and putting him in the mood for some lighthearted fun. He kept her close and touched her affectionately, giving the occasional explanation on how contra dancing was done.
His demeanor made Miranda relax; it was more on par with what she had come to expect from him before he had dropped the bombshell of blackmail on her, and she wondered which version of him was the true one. She leaned against him as they watched the lines of dancers and listened to the caller, pretending that they were on an ordinary date, and that the events of that afternoon had been a small lapse on Damon’s part. After all, wasn’t she still getting what she had fantasized about?
When it came time to join the other dancers out on the floor, Miranda felt shy as she tried to follow Damon’s patient instructions. She had never participated in any organized dances before, and trying to follow the moves made her feel like she had two-left feet. But as she started catching on, she found herself laughing and reveling in Damon’s praise, forgetting that there was any darkness between them. By the time the event was over, her feet were sore and they were both breathing heavily, but they were smiling.
It wasn’t until the early hours of the morning, while Miranda was lying awake, that the reality of her situation crashed down on her. In the clarity of the darkness, she realized that Damon had deliberately set her up, and had prepared the hidden camera ahead of time with every intention of entrapping her. Their drinking game, and even the way she had opened up to him about her deepest secrets, had all been part of his plan to get her under his thumb.
She could never lie to herself at 3 AM.
Miranda started to cry, and although she tried to keep it quiet, Damon still stirred next to her in bed. His arms reached over to pull her to his chest, and he held her firmly as she sobbed against him.