Asking for it, p.16
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       Asking for It, p.16

         Part #1 of Asking for It series by Lilah Pace
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But there I go again, dodging a hard truth. Better to just say it. “That night, at the benefit, I saw you with a woman I thought might’ve been your date. ”

  “What?” Apparently Rosalind hasn’t spoken to Jonah about our conversation. When she said she didn’t meddle in her friends’ romantic lives, she must have meant it. “No, no. I went with a friend. ”

  “I realize that now. Even when I first saw her, I knew she might not have been someone you were romantically involved with, or interested in. It just didn’t matter. ” Saying this out loud is so hard. “Our arrangement was supposed to be sex only. You and I were supposed to remain almost strangers. So I shouldn’t have cared so much whether someone was in your life. I mean—I don’t cheat, and I don’t spend time with guys who would be cheating. But that wasn’t the part that got under my skin. I was jealous. I didn’t want another woman anywhere near you. It’s that simple. ”

  Jonah remains quiet for a few long moments. Then he says, “Your ex was there. Geordie, is that his name?”

  “Yeah. ” I’m surprised Jonah knows that. “We’re not involved anymore. We never will be again. ”

  “I know. But when I saw you near him, and I knew that he’d had you—that he’d slept with you more times than I ever had, that he’s gone down on you, that you’ve come for him—I wanted to put my fist through a wall. ”

  That shouldn’t turn me on nearly as much as it does.

  “Normally I’m not the possessive type,” Jonah continues. As coolly as he speaks, I can now glimpse the uncertainty deep within those gray eyes. “With you, I’m jealous of everyone who ever touched you. ”

  Should that be a huge red flag? Maybe. But when I saw him with Rosalind and didn’t understand the truth about them, it made me crazy.

  I can’t blame Jonah for irrational jealousy when I’m in its grip myself.

  “We haven’t spoken that much outside our—games,” he says. “We both obeyed the rules. So I shouldn’t feel close to you. Not this close. ”

  After a long moment, I reply, “Really you only know one important thing about me. But the one thing you know is the single most intimate, private thing I’ve ever shared with anyone. That’s why I said I bared my soul to you, every time. That’s why this relationship feels like—”

  Like what? I don’t have the words for it . . . or I’m afraid to say them. Maybe Jonah’s afraid too. He says nothing, but he nods. I tell myself it’s enough that he understands.

  “You’re the only woman who ever fully realized what I wanted from this fantasy. ” Jonah meets my eyes more evenly than I was able to meet his. “I always thought any woman who would understand that would be—”

  Page 61

  “Frightened?” I ask.

  Jonah nods again, even though suddenly I feel certain that’s not at all what he’d planned to say. But he continues, “I think we both made some assumptions about each other that aren’t true. But you’re right. Doing what we’ve done, sharing what we’ve shared—we’ve revealed more than we planned. So we feel more bound to each other than we ever meant to. ”

  Bound to him. Yes. That’s it. Even though I still wonder what kind of man Jonah is—even though the roots of his fantasy continue to puzzle and unnerve me—I am already bound to Jonah Marks.

  For better or for worse, he’s bound to me too.

  “How do we keep going?” I whisper.

  There’s his fierce smile again. “You still want to play. ”

  “Yes. ” A thousand illicit dreams remain unfulfilled inside me. Jonah can make them come true. I want that as much as I’ve ever wanted anything.

  “Then we have to go back to square one. ”

  “What does that mean?”

  Jonah’s smile changes. Gentles. “I guess we go out on our first date. ”

  “First date?” Now? After we’ve already fucked like animals? As absurd as it is, the idea charms me, and I realize I’m grinning back at him. “Do you mean tonight?”

  “No. ” He seems almost offended by the idea. “We’ll make a whole evening of it. Talk and walk around town and—”

  “Act like normal people. ”

  He nods. “If we can. ”

  I start to laugh. Jonah doesn’t, but he’s smiling down at me, and I know—we’re actually going to try this.

  •   •   •

  It’s all delightful fun until you have to explain your life choices to your shrink.

  “To say I have mixed feelings about this,” Doreen said, “would be putting it lightly. ”

  “You’re not supposed to give opinions about my life. That’s not what therapists do, right? They listen. ”

  Doreen shoots me a look. “Have we ever had a traditional patient-therapist relationship?”

  “No,” I admit.

  “And I doubt we’re going to start now. Besides, I gave you my opinion when you asked whether I could ‘believe this. ’ If you weren’t uncertain about your decision, you wouldn’t have asked. ”

  She just poked through the bubble of giddiness I’ve floated in since Jonah and I spoke two nights earlier. All the concerns I had—that I still have—become clear once more.

  She says, “I have to admit, I feared your meetings with Jonah would prove destructive, and they haven’t. The shame you’ve carried about your rape fantasy has diminished to some degree. Both he and you took precautions to ensure your safety. Best-case scenario, I’d say. But you need to be aware what you’re doing now—merging your fantasy life and your emotional life; that’s about a thousand times more complicated. ”

  “What’s going to be so different?” I snap.

  “You tell me. ”

  I hate it when Doreen makes me answer my own questions, mostly because I usually do know the answers. They’re just answers I don’t like. For a moment I fidget on the couch—pushing up the arms of my white cardigan, curling my feet beneath me. But I can’t postpone replying for long. “. . . I still wonder what kind of a man has such powerful fantasies about rape. When we play our games, he knows exactly what would scare me. He knows how to be cruel. He’s thought about that a lot. ”

  “That’s a valid consideration. ”

  “How can I judge him for that when I have rape fantasies too?”

  “You know why you’re so fixated on them. You don’t know why he is. ”

  I want to tell Doreen my theories about his family—about his anger with his mother, the way her threats might have taught him about violence. However, I remain quiet. Doreen would simply say that it’s only a theory, with absolutely no proof to support it. She would be correct.

  More gently, Doreen says, “Have you ever considered telling Jonah the truth about your rape?”

  “No. ” The word comes out more sharply than I intended.

  “You’ve still never told anyone besides your mother and me, have you?”

  I shake my head. “Nobody else. ”

  One time, years later, I tried to tell Chloe the truth about that night. But she shut me down before I’d even revealed the whole story, telling me I’d always been jealous of her, asking whether I’d come on to any of her other boyfriends. It wasn’t exactly a moment for the Sisterly Bonding Hall of Fame. So Chloe still doesn’t know. “Refusing to believe” is the same as “not knowing,” right? For my sister, it might as well be.

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  “It’s your secret. A piece of your life that’s yours to share or not to share, as you see fit. You never have to tell a soul if you don’t want to. ” Doreen has never tried to make me feel ashamed of my own silence, for which I’m deeply grateful. Sometimes I see courageous rape survivors on television or the Internet, braving clueless commentators or vicious trolls to speak out about their experiences, and my admiration of them is mirrored by my own sense of cowardice. She continues, “But keeping this secret from Jonah—giving him that kind of power, without knowing how deep your wounds lie—”

  “I’ve handled it
so far,” I say. Which is true.

  So far, though, Jonah and I have played “softer” games. Ones where I could easily reassert myself at any second. I want more than that from him, though. I want him to tie me up. I want him to fight me, to defeat me.

  I want him to own me.

  When the sex between Jonah and me turned out to be so freaking amazing, I thought maybe I’d disarmed Anthony’s power over me, for good. What if I only buried the bomb deeper? As Jonah and I dig further into my darkest fantasies, we might be getting closer to the fuse.

  Doreen says, “Your involvement with Jonah so far has worked well because you set boundaries. Without those boundaries—what happens?”

  “I don’t know,” I admit, but I lift my chin. “I guess I’ll find out. ”

  •   •   •

  “Come on,” Shay gripes Thursday afternoon, as Carmen fusses around her. “Dr. Campbell put me on bed rest. Not in traction. ”

  “Still, the closer all your stuff is, the better. ” Carmen steps back to admire her work: a semicircle of remotes, magazines, and snacks all around Shay’s place in bed. “The iPad is at one hundred percent, but the charger is here on the nightstand when you need it. And here’s my Netflix password! So you can watch movies all you want. Now, do you need some ginger ale? Maybe some apple juice?”

  Shay gives me a slightly helpless look, and I stifle a giggle. She’s gone from having not nearly enough of Carmen’s attention to having way too much of it. In the long run, I think this is a good thing; Shay can no longer doubt how much Carmen truly does care about her. But right now, Carmen is getting on both our nerves.

  I take Carmen by the shoulders. “Enjoy the Netflix,” I say. “And let us know if you need anything. Now Carmen and I have work to do. ”

  “But we’ll be back tomorrow!” Carmen promises. “As soon as our last classes are over!”

  Looks like I can’t put this off any longer. “. . . I won’t, actually. ”

  Carmen looks at me, stricken, as if I’d shot Bambi’s mom. Shay simply smiles. “Got a hot date?”

  She’s joking. Why did she have to pick that joke? “Well, yeah. ”

  “Really? You’ve been holding out on us!” Shay perks up, excited for me—and probably relieved to no longer be the center of attention. “Who’s the guy? Anyone we know?”

  “Well, you know him, Shay. And I guess you might’ve met him at the party, Carmen. Do you remember Jonah Marks? He’s one of the earth sciences professors?”

  Carmen might be distracted by Shay’s condition right now, but her sharp mind never forgets a single detail. “The guy with the great arms. ”

  I have to laugh. “They’re pretty good, yeah. ”

  Shay, meanwhile, stares at me as if I’d suddenly begun speaking in Hindustani. “Jonah . . . Marks,” she repeats. “The same one I know. ”

  “The one and only. ” I feel so shy talking about him, as if I were going out on my first date ever. “Remember how I told you Jonah helped me with that flat tire? Well, we talked some at the party—and then we ran into each other again at the charity event for Geordie’s organization—and tomorrow night we’re going to get some dinner. ”

  Each and every word I said was the truth. Just not the whole truth.

  “Okay. Wow. ” Shay blinks, then pulls herself together. “I’ve never talked to him much, but like I said, he’s pretty cool to work for. He’s so quiet, though. Hardly ever says a word. ”

  Already I feel protective of him. “He’s not a cold person. Just reserved. ”

  “Oh, sure, definitely,” Shay says, nodding quickly. She’d never trash-talk anyone. Already, I can tell, she’s trying to see Jonah through my eyes. Thank God she can’t.

  Carmen says, “Jonah’s quiet? Hardly seems like your type. ”

  Page 63

  I shrug. “Turns out we have a lot in common. ”

  They’ll never know what that means. Now I have to find out if what Jonah and I share can bring us together, or whether it’s destined to tear us apart.


  Every other time I’ve dressed for Jonah Marks, my main concern has been whether to wear underwear.

  Tonight, I have new priorities.

  He’s seen me in everything from the professional stuff I wear to teach in to trashy pink dresses to plain old T-shirts and jeans. Even though I’ve never actually been fully naked with Jonah, he’s seen every part of my body. So why am I trying on the entire contents of my closet in an attempt to find the perfect outfit tonight?

  Makes no sense. But here I am.

  After putting on and then rejecting at least ten other possibilities, I settle on something simple: a pleated black skirt, white button-up shirt with the sleeves cuffed, ballet flats, and a simple chain around my neck. It’s laid-back and pulled together, but not fancy, and, well, not that sexy.

  I mean, I think I look good in this. I wouldn’t wear it if I didn’t. But this outfit doesn’t show off my legs, my ass, my cleavage, anything like that. This is the first night Jonah and I have ever spent together that isn’t totally about sex. Tonight we’ll . . . talk. Somehow that feels scarier than our role-playing.

  For once I’m ready ahead of time, which means I have to find a way to wait that makes it seem like I’m not waiting. So I open Spotify and click on my contemporary jazz channel; Cassandra Wilson starts to croon, and her voice melts over me like caramel. I sink into my plush white sofa and take slow, deep breaths.

  Just for tonight, I won’t ask where this is heading. I won’t try to reconcile our sexual fantasies with the kind of people we are. I won’t bring my enormous load of emotional baggage with me.

  Tonight, I’m going to find out just what kind of person Jonah Marks really is.

  The music keeps me from hearing the car’s approach, so I startle when I hear the bell. But the song and my new resolution calm me, and I smile as I open the door. “Hi. ”

  Jonah simply nods. This man isn’t big on hello. He doesn’t smile, either, but his voice is warm as he says, “You look beautiful. ”

  “Thanks. ” So do you, I want to add, because he does. Simple black pants that nonetheless hug his taut waist and skim past muscular thighs—a midnight blue shirt turns his gray eyes the shade of a less stormy sky—and a heavy platinum watch around one wrist, the first sign of real wealth I’ve ever seen from him. But men never understand when you call them beautiful.

  I see him glance past my shoulder, perhaps curious about the place where I live. Or maybe he’s figuring out how to get in, some night. He says only, “So—should we go?”

  Jesus, he’s ripped the clothes off my body and we’ve fucked like animals, but suddenly neither of us knows what to say. I laugh a little, and when Jonah gives me a look, I explain, “I was smoother than this at my junior prom. ”

  “Same here. ” A smile slowly dawns on his face. “Should I have brought a corsage?”

  “Next time. Come on, let’s go. ”

  •   •   •

  We go to a restaurant on Congress, not far from my place. Most Italian restaurants serve up the classic spaghetti and pizza, but here, the emphasis is on authentic northern Italian cuisine: roasted lemony chicken, pale white cheeses, and light, crisp Soave wine. Just inhaling the scent of the air is more delicious than most meals I’ve ever had.

  That gives Jonah and me something to talk about for approximately twenty seconds. After that, we’re sitting across the table from each other, hardly knowing what to say.

  What if I don’t like this guy at all? I wonder. What if we have nothing in common besides our kinky fantasies?

  Just when the silence is about to go from awkward to pathetic, Jonah says, “What made you decide to draw that picture? The one in the print I bought. The man holding the dove. ”

  “I like to portray—contrasts. Duality. So I look for images that express two very different concepts at once. ”

  “The strength of the
hands,” Jonah says. “And the fragility of the dove. ”

  “Exactly. ” Should I ask this? Might as well. “You said you were drawn to the etching even before you knew I made it. Why?”

  Jonah remains silent long enough that I wonder if he was lying about his interest in it. But then I realize he’s not stumped for an answer; he’s searching for the right words. “There’s so much tension there—you can sense the energy, even in the muscles. So I thought he’d imprisoned the dove in his hands. That he was on the verge of hurting it. But then I saw how careful he was—that his grasp is gentle. He wants to keep the bird alive. The drawing surprised me, and I liked that sense of surprise. A simple image turned out to mean more than I first thought. ”

  Page 64

  “Wow. Thanks. ” Don’t get me wrong—it’s nice to be told that people think your work is beautiful, or lifelike, that kind of thing. But there’s no compliment an artist loves more than someone telling you your work made them think.

  “When did you start drawing?”

  “Well—first of all, I’ve always loved to draw. But the work you bought isn’t a drawing. It’s an etching. ”

  Jonah has relaxed slightly as we settle into conversation. So have I. He says, “What’s the difference?”

  So I start explaining about etching—the processes, the materials, the history of it all. He’s genuinely interested, and every minute is easier than the last, and suddenly our evening together takes flight.

  No, Jonah’s not hugely talkative. His explanation about why he liked my etching is the longest he talks about anything the entire dinner. But he listens well. Instead of planning the next anecdote he can share, he responds like someone who genuinely wants to know more about my work, and more about me.

  Of course he’s naturally curious, I remind myself as we leave the restaurant. Instead of heading straight back to his car, we begin wandering along Congress, side by side. The guy’s a scientist. Curiosity is his fuel.

  “Enough about me,” I say as the Thursday-night bustle flows around us—college kids heading to bars, stores open late to take advantage of the foot traffic, guitar music and drumbeats audible from the door of every club. “What about you? What made you decide to study earthquakes?”

  “And volcanoes,” he adds.

  “Can’t leave out the volcanoes,” I say, and am rewarded with a small smile.

  “Well, when I was about ten years old, my mother and stepfather took the whole family to Hawaii. ”

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