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Resisting Maxu: Prologue


Meg stared at the black screen of the ancient iPod clutched in her fist. She’d found it cold and wet on Jeremy’s outdoor weight bench. Whirling through the patio doors and swallowing bitter tears, she headed toward where Jeremy would be. Where he always was. His office. If you could call a stale-aired, wood-paneled game room with a dedicated energy drink fridge an office.

But had Meg batted an eye when he’d pushed to remake the guest room she’d spent months scouting yard sales and curbs to furnish? Nope. She hadn’t raised a word of objection when she’d had to sell the DIY tufted headboard or the upcycled solid wood nightstands she’d fought over at the VanBuren Street Goodwill. Because he’d told her all the money they’d spent on his fancy microphone and gaming computer were the beginnings of a dependable streaming career.

And she’d believed him. Again.

But now…her iPod?

Meg didn’t ask for much. Not out loud anyway. She didn’t splurge on fancy new phones or push to go out to extravagant dinners. What she did hold dear was her music. Years and years of carefully curated playlists for every mood, every situation. And Jeremy had left it outside in the rain after one of the four times a year he used the rusty workout bench. Nice weather will make me want to work out, he’d said when she’d argued against leaving the bench outside. She might snort if she weren’t so angry.

But it wasn’t just anger for his thoughtlessness. Or his laziness. Or his utter lack of regard for her things. It was anger with herself.

One balmy late spring day after school, she’d made the colossal mistake of going to Jeremy’s house to watch a movie. They’d both been hormonal seventeen-year-olds, and she’d ended up flat on her back, virginity gone, with Jeremy’s holier-than-thou sister looming over them.

To say her religious parents had been upset was the understatement of the century. The words harlot and damned had been all but stamped across her forehead. They’d pushed for her and Jeremy to get married as soon as they turned eighteen, and his parents had been just as adamant.

Meg hadn’t put up a fight then either. Fear of being kicked out of her house had held back any arguments she might have had. They lived in a small town and she had nowhere else to go. No other family that would take her in. Her parents had done a marvelous job of selecting her friends for her—meaning the shallow acquaintances she’d had were all just as strict and pious as her parents were.

So, ten years ago, three weeks after her eighteenth birthday, she’d married Jeremy. A boy with whom she’d only ever exchanged a few sentences and flirtatious looks with before their five minutes of fumbling sex.

Now, grinding her jaw, Meg took in a calming breath, then pushed open the office door. She cringed as warm, stagnant air rushed out. How long had he been sitting there? It was close to six p.m., yet Jeremy was still clothed in the frumpy workout sweats he’d been wearing the day before. He gave an annoyed grumble and his right eye squinted at the light pouring in from the hall. His gaze didn’t stray from the screen in front of him, his fingers clicking and flicking the greasy game controller in his hand.

“Did you use my iPod?” she yelled, hoping he could hear through the weighty noise-canceling headphones. She held up the waterlogged evidence and waited.

After a beat, his gaze flicked to her, then the device, then back to his screen. “Yeah. I thought that workout mix might make me power through some reps, but it sucked. All girly stuff.”

Meg lifted a brow at his pale, thin arms. In high school, he’d been lean and tall. She could remember staring at him from across her desk, eyeing the cornflower-blue button-up school uniform and daydreaming about how he’d look as a man. Exactly the same, as it turned out. He hadn’t filled out in the shoulders like she’d thought. His messy blond hair had never deepened in color. He was stagnant. Just like the air in this room. Just like her.

“You left it outside, and it rained this morning.” She seethed. Of course, all her songs and playlists should be up there somewhere in the cloud, but that wasn’t the point. She’d bought this over ten years ago with money she’d scraped together. The device had been there for her, giving her relief when she’d needed it most.

It was sentimental to her, not to mention well used. At any given hour, she could be found puttering around the house, cleaning, or doing chores, and she always had her earbuds in, iPod securely tucked in her pocket.

He knew how important it was to her, and he’d just…just left it outside.

“Huh?” Jeremy curled his tongue over the left corner of his mouth and angled his body to the side as if doing that would prevent his avatar from being killed. When he successfully avoided the oncoming attack, he shot another glance at her and she could see her complaint register in his brain. “Oh, sorry, babe. I must have forgotten.”

Obviously! He didn’t say another word, and it took a moment for her to comprehend he didn’t plan to. He was already focused on his game again. Just like that. He’d destroyed her most cherished possession and all he could muster was a hollow “Sorry”?

Her eyes burned from lack of blinking.

Seeming to realize she was still standing there; he finally paused his game. “You can play the music from the laptop, right?”

Meg’s jaw clenched. He was not trying to give her solutions as if she’d come to him with a problem. “I can’t carry the laptop around everywhere with me, can I? The battery only holds a charge for, like, ten minutes. It has to stay plugged in. My phone is on its last legs, but maybe I could buy a new one.” Meg took a tentative step forward. “If I got a job too, we could—”

“No. No job. What’ll happen when we have a kid? Besides, where would you even get a job? You’ve never worked a day in your life. I don’t want you to have to worry about all that.”

Meg wasn’t surprised at his answer. Apparently balancing their accounts, doing their taxes, and keeping their house clean inside and outside were not skills that could be put to use in a “real job,” according to her gopher of a husband. Her parents, in-laws, and Jeremy were of the same mind on this. She was to stay at home like a good wifey and have babies.

The one and only time she’d gotten a job behind their backs, Jeremy had found out and sent her stern father to harass her at the deli counter until she’d finally thrown off her apron and allowed herself to be led out.

Good women listen to their husbands. Good women are modest and obedient. The entire way home, she’d been treated to an endless lecture filled with passages from the Bible illuminating her father’s arguments. Did it matter to him she and Jeremy barely even went to church anymore? No. Hypocrisy was alive and well in her father’s household.

Her lack of children was a continual disappointment to her family, and though they never said it outright, she knew her father’s critical gaze was always assessing what she was doing wrong. How she was failing to be worthy of the blessing of a child.

Still, him thinking she wasn’t being devoted to Jeremy enough was better than the truth. If they knew she’d been sneaking two towns away to get birth control pills, her dreary life would get a lot more exciting, but not in a good way.

A ping sounded from the screen, and Jeremy’s eyes zoomed toward it. He kept his body facing her while sitting in the chair. Somehow, it still felt like he was turned away, though. She was a pesky annoyance. Like a gnat he couldn’t catch but was always trying to swat away.

As she stared, some of her anger vanished, replaced by the hopeless resignation she’d come to recognize. Jeremy never pushed her to become pregnant. He never questioned why she hadn’t gotten pregnant yet either, not that they had sex all that often. Though he claimed he wanted a child, he spoke about it without much enthusiasm. As if it was an inevitable thing they had to do since they were married. The next phase of life. But what phases had there been already?

Being controlled in her parents’ house, then being controlled in Jeremy’s house? She’d roll over and die before she let her child be controlled too.

Besides, in many ways, Jeremy was just a boy. A big, lanky, twenty-eight-year-old boy. Neither of them had wanted to get married then, and neither wanted to be married now. They’d been amicable for the most part, but these roles they’d fallen into…this person she’d become…she hated it. A part of her that her bitterness wouldn’t acknowledge knew he hated it too.

She was a coward.

Her shoulders slumped, shame leeching away the rest of her ire. If she were braver, she’d leave him. Damn the consequences. But every time she came close, apprehension weakened her resolve. She had no money of her own. No family or friends that would take her in. As Jeremy so kindly pointed out, she’d never had a job. No actual life experience. She hadn’t ever even been outside of Indiana. Her arms dropped, the iPod dangling from loose fingers.

She’d had so many dreams as a bright-eyed teen. She’d wanted to travel and meet people from all over. She’d wanted to eat new foods and see amazing sights.

How was this her life? How had she let this be her life? How had she let herself care so deeply about a decade-old iPod—an inanimate object—that when it was gone, it felt like her world was crumbling around her?

Something in her broke a little at that realization. She cared more about this iPod than she did about anything else in this house, including Jeremy. Meg took a step back into the rust-colored seventies carpeting of their hallway. As soon as she’d cleared the room, Jeremy swiveled back to his screen. Husbandly Attention Given to Hysterical Wife mini game…complete.

She floated through rooms like a ghost until she was outside. The tips of the tall yellow grass tickled her fingers as she shuffled into the overgrown fields that surrounded the house on all sides. Pale and full, the moon hung overhead in the early evening sky.

She plopped onto the ground, clutched her iPod to her chest, and closed her eyes. All was silent except the gentle chirping of insects and the rustle of prairie grass as it swayed in the breeze. By all accounts, she should be relaxed, zen. She supposed she was something akin to that.

No, not zen. Numb. She’d grown so damn numb to the world. It was the only way to survive, really. If she let any of her disappointment in, it would bury her.

Next time, she told herself, as she so often did. If reincarnation exists, then next time let me be braver. I’ll do things differently. I promise.

Her lids were squinted so tightly shut, all her concentration focused on her wish that she didn’t see the shadow blocking out the dying light. Hearing the rustling behind her, she turned. “What do you want, Jer—” She gasped.

Not Jeremy.

A lizard the size of a man loomed above. Her mouth fell open on a scream, but the lizard pointed something at her. The last thing she remembered before the world went dark was wet mist hitting her face.


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