The first blow split her lip, then his fist kissed her eye. By the third time her beloved slammed his shiny knuckles into her soft flesh, Erika Tyler Wilson had decided.
This was it. Tonight's one-sided boxing match would be her last.
Elliott would hold her tight, as usual, and try to kiss away the pain of the bruises he had inflicted. He would cradle her in his embrace and wipe her tears, whispering in her ear how much he loved her. Tomorrow, though, the dozen yellow roses he always sent after a particularly brutal episode would be coming to an empty house.
As she lay there in a child-sized, crumpled heap, covering her face and head with her arms, she told herself this would be the last time she would cower on the floor of this house. No more worries about removing bloodstains from the snow white carpet. No more wondering if the neighbors were peering through their palladium windows to get their weekly entertainment --- same time, same place, same guest star.
No more excuses. No more shame. No more pain. Erika felt free, even as Elliott continued lashing out at her.
"Why --- do --- you --- make --- me --- do --- this --- to --- you --- ?" He punctuated every word with a blow as he called her a foul name --- again.
She knew the routine. When he began spouting ugly words, it meant the end of his tirade was near. Erika locked herself into a corner of her mind, away from the pain. She felt her husband hitting her, but then again she didn't.
In this space she was safe. She didn't think about anything, really, except getting through the beating. By removing herself from the present, she could keep her sanity.
She often lifted her thoughts about what her body was enduring so that when Elliott was ready to make up, she could comply without hating herself. If she forced her mind to disengage from the abuse, she wouldn't remember everything that happened.
The process made it easier to look into her husband's clear brown eyes and believe him when he said he was sorry. It made it easier to believe what she always told herself: he couldn't help it. He really hadn't meant to hurt her, but once again she had done something foolish to provoke him.
Erika always managed to upset Elliot, with her probing questions, with her inadequate efforts to be the dutiful wife of a law firm partner, or simply with her failure to have dinner on the table when he arrived home from a stressful day at work.
"Don't I work hard enough so you can stay home? The least you can do is have a hot meal ready for me. Is that too much to ask?" Elliott would sneer as he sat in the cavernous dining room, loosening his tie and waiting to be served like a king.
His after-work routine never veered too much off course. He rarely entered the house the same way, always coming in quietly, as if to catch Erika in an illegal act. Sometimes he would casually enter through the garage door off the kitchen, sometimes through the front door, and other times through the entrance off the side patio. On occasion he would use the entrance to the walk-out basement and startle Erika by emerging in the foyer as she stood in front of the stove putting the finishing touches on their meal.
Elliot would stroll past her without speaking, pick up the dry martini she had waiting for him, and stand with his feet spread apart in front of the bay window that took up most of the rear wall of the kitchen. He would gaze at the golf course, though he couldn't see much because it was usually late evening and too dark.
Instead of relaxing him, the routine seemed to fuel his frustration. It seemed to be his quiet time to dream up a grievance that would give him an excuse good enough to pick a fight. It if wasn't about dinner, the problem would be an errand Erika had forgotten to run or the inappropriate tone she had used when she finally summoned the courage to welcome him home for the evening.
The reason never mattered. When his mood soured, when he felt like swinging, she would enter the ring whether she had asked for the match or not. It had been that way since they had eloped in Jamaica four years earlier. Even in that idyllic retreat, Elliot hadn't been able to control himself.
"Why do you make me hurt you?"
It seemed he had been asking that question in a pained, remorseful whine for as long as she could remember, even before she had become his wife. Funny how she thought their vows would make things better. Not funny how much worse life had become.
Now he was finished. He had grown tired quickly tonight. The trial today must have been particularly grueling, Erika thought as she let her mind return to the present.
Elliott knelt beside her and picked her up. In his muscular arms, she felt as light as a paperweight. She struggled to recall a time when she had felt safe there too.
She kept her eyes closed as he carried her up to their bedroom. A single tear slid down the side of her cheek as she rested her head on Elliott's chest.
"I love you, baby," her tall, honey-complexioned husband said softly as he lay her on their king-size bed.
Any other night she would have concentrated on keeping her bloody lips off the sand-and-gold comforter, but tonight she didn't care. She shook with silent sobs as Elliott peppered her with kisses. He didn't seem to notice.
"Why do you make me act this way?" he asked as he closed his eyes and kissed her neck. "Why do you always make me hurt you? I love you.
"Stop crying, baby. I still love you," Elliot whispered into Erika's hair. "Let me show you how much."
Erika stopped shaking as Elliott began to peel off her clothes. Her tears dried up as she lay there and stared at the ceiling. Tonight she was grateful he hadn't bothered to look into her eyes.
If he had, he would have known she was leaving. He might have tried to kill her. Instead, he apologized and expressed his affection in the best way he knew how.
As usual, he didn't notice Erika's lackluster response. He mistook her stillness for enjoyment. And when he was done, he lay next to her and told her again how much he lover her.
He pulled her close to him and gently kissed her swollen lips.
"Good night, baby. Happy anniversary."
Excerpted from Nothing But the Right Thing © Copyright 2012 by Stacy Hawkins Adams. Reprinted with permission by Revell. All rights reserved.