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Portrait of a Victory
About the Author: Joseph Cusumano is a physician living with his wife and two cats in St. Louis.

Paul found Giselle lovely in every way that a young man can find a young woman lovely, but when they arrived at the cabin, he stuck to his plan and handcuffed her to the metal bed frame. Her stuporous condition made restraints unnecessary, but he was determined not to repeat any mistakes. Aside from removing her shoes and helping her into bed, Paul didn’t touch Giselle. After covering her with a sheet, he left the bedroom and reclined on a couch in the main room of the cabin.

Many hours later, Giselle awoke to a natural cadence, one she cherished above all others, that of ocean waves striking a shore. Her home being well inland, she normally took delight in listening to wind stirring the leaves of large trees or to rain tapping out its code on her windows.

Her right arm ached. She tried to move it, couldn’t, and panicked when she discovered the handcuffs. With her heart hammering in her chest, she began piecing together what she could from the previous evening. Paul must have slipped something into her drink before driving her several hundred miles west to the shore. Her friend Carrie had warned her about GHB, the date-rape drug, and she had read about it in newspaper and magazine articles. But after a few drinks at Jerry’s Place, it had been the last thing on her mind when a man seated a few bar stools away sketched her likeness on a cocktail napkin and passed it to her. The sketch wasn’t just a good likeness; it showed Giselle a more confident, happier version of herself. She had been on the verge of heading for the metro, disappointed with the string of players who had approached her that night, but now was intrigued by what could be conveyed with such crude drawing materials. A little later, when Giselle was about to fall off her bar stool, Paul escorted her to his car. He then fished a phone out of her purse, removed its GPS, and tossed it into a dumpster.

Now, even her palms were sweating. As much as her painful right arm would permit, she twisted in the bed to get a look around the small bedroom, but couldn’t see many details in the dim early light. The sounds of someone bustling about in an adjacent room drifted through the half opened door, and several minutes later, Paul entered the bedroom carrying breakfast on a tray—thick slices of sourdough French toast served with blueberry syrup, bacon, and a tall glass of milk. Somehow, he had managed to fix her favorite breakfast exactly the way her mother used to make it for her and her younger sister. But Giselle was too terrified to even wonder how he had known.

Paul removed the handcuffs, served her in bed, and took a seat in a chair several feet away. Giselle sensed it would be a mistake not to eat this carefully prepared meal. But while forcing it down, she began a desperate search for a way out. Neither of them spoke.

When she swallowed the last bite and finished the milk, she purposely let an audible sigh of satisfaction escape her. This earned her a smile from Paul, who seemed eager to please. She returned the smile and said, “That was good.”

“Thanks,” he responded, apparently relieved by how well she appeared to be adjusting to the situation.

“You’re the artist,” Giselle said. Paul nodded, about to explain his reasons for bringing her to this rustic part of the coast and assure her that she was in no danger. But before he could start, Giselle asked if she could have a second glass of milk. The question wasn’t the one Paul was expecting, but he picked up her glass and walked back to the kitchen.

He’s left me a weapon, she realized. She dried her sweating hand on the bed sheet and took hold of the knife. It had a fairly sharp point and serrated edge. The best time to strike would be when he leaned over to set the glass on the tray. At that moment, she could jerk her right arm up and stab him in the throat. But her right arm still ached, and she wondered if she had the speed, strength and resolve that would be needed. With the knife still in her grip, Giselle scanned the bedroom for an alternative.

The sunlight in the room having grown brighter, she could now make out drawings hanging on the walls. All were unframed charcoal on crème-colored paper, and they both frightened and amazed her. She shoved the tray aside, and getting out of bed for the first time, approached the drawings to confirm her first impression. The young woman portrayed in all the drawings was herself. A glance around the bedroom revealed that in each image, Paul had shown her in a different setting.

This story appears in our AUG 2016 Issue
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Reader Discussion

Did not see that ending coming. Nicely woven tale.
By Susan Rickard

Interesting story with lots of suspense. I enjoyed it immensely. Hope to see more by this author.
By Dee Overduin

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