Asking for it, p.27
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       Asking for It, p.27

         Part #1 of Asking for It series by Lilah Pace
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  “Applesauce and Jell-O, probably. ” Dad scowls, deliberately over-the-top to make me laugh. “How about you run by Bud’s Broilers and sneak me out a number four?”

  “Maybe that should be your welcome-home meal,” I say. “Give your arteries at least one day off, okay?”

  Probably I should encourage my father to take up lean chicken and fish, lots of greens, and no more alcohol. The thing is, that will never happen. Dad without burgers and barbecue shrimp and po’boys is . . . not Dad. He’s never going to order sparkling water instead of a Sazerac. He truly would rather live large and die at sixty-five than count calories all the way to ninety. That’s not what I want for him, but he wouldn’t listen to me.

  Mom brushes my father’s graying hair away from his face. “You look a sight. I should’ve brought you a comb. ”

  “Nobody cares what I look like in the hospital, Renee. ” But he pats her hand fondly. Whatever deficiencies Mom has as a parent, she makes up for as a wife; my dad has always been devoted to her, to the point that he’s blinded to her faults—still, after thirty-two years of marriage.

  Mom and Chloe decided that Libby could manage a visit, which makes me happy. Libby piles up in the hospital bed with Dad and shows him her new sticker book, which makes him laugh. Just the sight of her in his arms helps me relax. For once, it seems like things are going to turn out okay.

  That night, everyone else in my family wants to rest, which means I have a good excuse to leave and spend some time only with Jonah. Thankfully some of my clothes still linger in the back of my closet, so I’m able to change into a fresh outfit, a sheath dress and cardigan that can go anywhere.

  Forget finding a table at a fine-dining restaurant at the last minute on a Saturday night, but New Orleans is even richer in cuisine options than Austin. I take him to one of my favorite neighborhood haunts, a little place with tile floors and cane-backed chairs that serves the kind of dishes you can’t find anywhere outside Louisiana—crawfish etouffee, shrimp creole. The clatter of silverware and chatter of other patrons echoes slightly off the tile, but I don’t mind the noise. It gives us a paradoxical privacy.

  “You’re sure you wouldn’t rather be at home,” Jonah says. It’s not a question. I shake my head, and he adds, “You don’t get along with your sister and her husband. ”

  Despite everything, I laugh. “Small talk isn’t your wheelhouse. ”

  “Never saw the point. ” Some of the steel has returned to his voice. “We might as well tell the truth. How else do we get started?”

  We’re supposed to open up to each other. Jonah’s method is about as subtle as dynamiting a locked safe—but he’s right. For two people as skilled in silence as we are, only the direct approach will do. “No,” I say. “I don’t get along with them. ”

  Page 105

  “Why not?”

  The truth hangs above me, heavy and sharp, a Sword of Damocles. I’m not ready for that, and even if I were, I wouldn’t blurt it out in a restaurant. So I start with the pettier reasons. “They’re—status obsessed. Shallow. ” I have to smile. “You saw how quickly they started bragging when you came in. ”

  “I noticed,” he says dryly.

  “You shut that down pretty fast, by the way. Good job. ”

  Jonah shrugs and smiles, but he sticks to the subject. “That’s not the only reason you don’t get along with them, though. You’re not a judgmental person. You wouldn’t react to that on its own. ”

  It takes me a minute to decide how to answer. Telling the full truth remains impossible, but I don’t want to lie. “Anthony’s a . . . horrible human being,” I finally say. “He wasn’t faithful to Chloe when they dated in college. ”

  The only proof I have of that is what he did to me. Equating my rape with sex, suggesting even momentarily that infidelity is Anthony’s worst crime—it kills me a little inside.

  A place to begin, I remind myself. It’s only a place to begin.

  I continue, “Right before they got married, I told Chloe what kind of man she was marrying. She didn’t believe me. Ever since then, she’s thought I was a liar, or jealous of her, or just plain crazy—I don’t know. Anthony has fed her resentment, of course. Mom took Chloe’s side. ”

  “That’s not easy,” Jonah says. I can tell he senses there’s more, but maybe he thinks he’s pushed enough for now. “Were you two ever close?”

  “When I was little, I thought Chloe hung the moon. ” To my surprise, I have to swallow a lump in my throat. “She was so grown-up, and glamorous. So beautiful. You saw for yourself. ”

  “I didn’t notice. ”

  Most guys would be flattering me. Jonah means it.

  He hesitates, as if he doesn’t know what to say next, but finally comes out with, “Sibling relationships are tough. I get along with my sisters and my brother, but—let’s call it a negotiated peace. ”

  Jonah knows I read the article online; there’s no point in pretending I don’t know a few basic facts about his family. “I thought you only had one sister. ”

  “Maddox and Elise are technically my stepfather’s children, but he married my mother when I was very young. Elise and I barely remember life without each other. Maddox and my biological sister, Rebecca, are even younger—as far as they’re concerned, there was never a time when we weren’t a family. We all consider ourselves brothers and sisters, close as blood, full stop. ”

  That sounds like loyalty. Like love. “Then what’s the negotiation about?”

  He stares out the window at the busy street, unwilling or unable to meet my eyes. “As you know—as half the damned country knows—our parents’ relationship is troubled in the extreme. My mother isn’t well. The four of us don’t agree on how to handle that. However, we all understand there’s no easy answer. ”

  “It’s good that you don’t blame each other,” I say softly. “Chloe and I do, sometimes. I wish we didn’t. ”

  Jonah nods and turns back to me. “Maybe we get better at this over time. ”

  “Knowing people? Or loving them?”

  “Both. ” His hand covers mine, and we fall into a comfortable silence.

  Yet I cannot forget how much more I have to tell. How many secrets I still keep. Even today, when Jonah has traveled here to stand by me—when we’ve agreed to learn how to love each other—I still can’t bring myself to tell him the truth.

  My secrecy grows heavier during the evening. Darkens.

  Changes shape.

  “You’re sure you wouldn’t rather sleep at home?” Jonah asks as I park my car in front of the B&B.

  “No. I’d rather be with you. ”

  He opens the front door with a heavy brass key, and we climb the carpeted stairs quickly, hoping not to attract attention from either the hosts or other guests. Neither of us feels like making small talk about the city for another thirty minutes.

  The bedroom here is done in grand style—an enormous four-poster bed carved out of wood polished until it gleams, a marble-fronted fireplace, and an armoire so tall it nearly reaches the twelve-foot ceiling. Lace curtains cover the window, so we’re hidden away from the rest of the world. Good.

  Jonah puts my bag beside the armoire. “You didn’t have this much stuff last night. Did you find some things at home?”

  Page 106

  I nod absently as I step out of my shoes. Then I slowly pull off my cardigan and unzip my dress, which crumples to the floor. As soon as it’s off, I look Jonah straight in the eye as I begin to unhook my bra.

  He takes two steps toward me and kisses me, long and deep. As I shrug my bra off my arms, his hands find my breasts. His touch is gentle. Too gentle.

  “We would have to be quiet,” I whisper against his lips. “But we can still play. ”

  Jonah goes still. At first I think he’s already there with me, preparing to unleash his darker side. Then I recognize the confusion in his gray eyes . . . the hurt.

  Tonight
he didn’t want to play. He wanted to make love.

  I remember how he was in Scotland, the strange distance between us when I insisted on bringing my fantasy into our bed there. He obliged me, even though I could tell he wanted something else from me. Jonah doesn’t need this fantasy the way I do.

  But I do. Right now I need it worse than ever. I don’t know why, and I don’t care. I just want Jonah to take me without mercy.

  “Come on,” I whisper as I slide my hands under his shirt. “Last night we were interrupted. Don’t you want to pick up where we left off?”

  That makes him smile—the dangerous smile that makes me hot in an instant. “I knew you wanted it. ”

  Then he shoves me onto the bed, hard.

  I gasp in genuine surprise. Jonah’s with me in an instant, standing by the edge of the bed to peel off my panties. He tears them from me roughly, then leans over my body and bites my breast—not hard enough to break the skin, but hard enough that I have to stifle a cry.

  He hears the moan in my throat. His palm covers my mouth, fingers hard against my face. “Don’t you fucking scream. Do you hear me? Don’t scream. ”

  Jonah rolls me onto my stomach. I hear the zipper of his jeans, and I realize he’s not going to get me ready. He’ll fuck me right away, as hard as he can. It will hurt. He wants it to hurt.

  There’s a price to pay for demanding our game tonight. I want to pay it.

  His hands clutch my waist and pull me down until my legs dangle off the bed. He parts my thighs roughly, then grabs my hair and tugs hard enough to bring tears to my eyes. The whole hot length of him fills me as he thrusts inside.

  “You’re already wet,” he says, as if it disgusts him. “You’re such a filthy slut. ”

  Jonah starts taking me hard and fast, every stroke meant to punish. His grip on my hair tightens as he pumps into me. My blood has rushed to my clit, my cunt, and already I know I’m going to come hard, soon.

  “That’s right,” Jonah pants. “You know you have to take it, don’t you? Don’t you?”

  Yes, yes, I have to take it, no matter what you give me, no matter what—

  And then Jonah says, “Good girl. ”

  This room vanishes. Jonah vanishes. The past decade of my life is gone. I am a fourteen-year-old girl; I am lying on the couch; Anthony is raping me. He is inside me right now.

  Within one breath I know what this is. A flashback. I’m having a flashback. I haven’t had one in years, not a real one—a moment where I am back there, and Anthony’s on me, and it is real. It is completely real.

  I gasp, “Silver. ”

  Immediately Jonah stops moving.

  “Silver, silver. ” Tears have begun to flow down my face, and even as the nightmarish image of Anthony fades, the horror remains.

  Jonah pulls out. He rolls me over, and at first the sight of him frightens me. He’s naked; his still-hard cock stands out from his body, ready to fuck me again. But then I see the expression on his face—concerned. No, stricken.

  He’s not going to hurt me. Jonah would never hurt me.

  “Are you all right?” he whispers. I shake my head no. He begins to lie down beside me, then pauses. “What should I do?

  “Hold me. Just hold me. ”

  Jonah stretches out by my side and pulls me into his embrace. I start to cry—deep, racking sobs that hurt my throat. When did I last cry like this? Have I ever let go so completely? I can’t remember. I can’t think.

  All I know is that Jonah is with me, pulling a blanket over me and holding me close, and it feels like the only safety I have ever known.

  Thirty-one

  “What’s wrong?” Jonah whispers once, late at night, after I’ve stopped sobbing but before I can fall asleep.

  “I can’t. Please. I can’t. ”

  “You can tell me. ”

  “It wasn’t you. Please, Jonah, not now, not tonight. ”

  Page 107

  I drift in and out of sleep, never truly losing consciousness for more than a half hour at a time. Jonah holds me all night long.

  •   •   •

  First thing Sunday morning, I decide to start the drive back home just after lunch.

  “I’ll be back for Thanksgiving,” I say as I towel-dry my hair in front of the mirror in Jonah’s room. “If anything happens before then, I can get back PDQ. ”

  He nods, but says nothing. We dress in near silence; I slip on my jeans as Jonah buttons his shirt, both of us aware of each other yet never meeting each other’s eyes. The weight of unasked questions fills the room.

  Jonah wants to take care of me. He wants to understand me in a way no one else has. He’s knocking at the locked door nobody else ever even found. My famished heart hungers for this, for him. But I am still not ready to speak the words. I am not ready to tell Jonah who and what I really am.

  Somehow it seems as if when I say the words to him, when I say, Anthony raped me, all of it—the rape, Anthony’s power over me, the true depths of my sexual compulsion—will become more real.

  Which is ridiculous. It’s pretty fucking real and always has been. Still, that’s how I feel.

  Jonah says, “Would you like me to drive back with you?”

  “But you bought a plane ticket. ”

  He gives me a look that reminds me his dad owned an airline. “It’s not a big deal. Besides, you might need someone to change a flat. ”

  That makes me smile for the first time this morning. “Okay. ”

  I text Mom and Chloe my decision about leaving today before we head to the house to say good-bye. This saves me the angst of a face-to-face confrontation, but means they’ll have time to prepare their most withering put-downs before I even get there. The lesser of two evils, I figure.

  Fortunately, when we arrive, the first family member out the door is Libby, her bright yellow overalls as sunny as her smile. “Aunt Vivi! Uncle Jonah!”

  He gives me a look—but it’s not the panicked face most guys would make upon inheriting the title of uncle after just one meeting. Jonah’s not scared, not at all.

  I think, I’m in so deep.

  So I swing Libby up into my embrace. With a pang, I realize she’s already almost too heavy for this. I’m missing this little girl growing up. “Where were you this morning?” she asks. “I had to eat Cocoa Krispies all by myself. ”

  “Yeah, but Jonah’s bed-and-breakfast had waffles. ” I smile at him, and finally, the two of us are once again at ease.

  “Waffles?” Libby’s face falls. Obviously she feels she got cheated.

  So I quickly add, “Next time Jonah’s in New Orleans, you and I will take him to get some beignets. How about that?”

  “Ohhh-kay,” she sighs. I am being forgiven, but barely.

  Which is better than I’m going to do with the rest of my family.

  Inside, my mother accepts my introduction of Jonah politely, though without ever leaving her seat in the high-backed armchair. Her blue eyes scour him as roughly as steel wool. She’s never trusted my judgment about anything—least of all men. Geordie they liked well enough, but he was an exception to the rule of disapproval. “A professor, you say? Were you one of Vivienne’s teachers?”

  How blithely she accuses Jonah of a massive ethics violation. Before I can reply, Libby does it for me. “MawMaw, I told you, Jonah teaches volcanoes!”

  She raises her eyebrows. “I assumed that was a story. ”

  “I’m an earth sciences professor. ” Jonah meets my mother’s eyes steadily, even searchingly, as if he’s looking for the truth I won’t tell him. “Vivienne and I have mutual friends. ”

  Which is a pretty neat way to sidestep the question of how we started going out in the first place. I’m impressed. “Jonah flew down yesterday morning,” I add, “and he’ll drive back with me today, so I don’t have to go alone. ”

  “Very kind. ” Mom sounds like she doesn’t believe her own wor
ds.

  This is when Chloe makes her appearance, coming in from the kitchen in a sweater dress and, Jesus H. Christ, high heels. “Heading back already?” The way she smiles at Jonah makes me realize why my sister went to all the trouble to fix herself up this morning. No, she’s not actually flirting with him; whatever Chloe’s other flaws may be, she’s not a cheater. She’d never go after a guy behind Anthony’s back. But she still has this need for men to notice her as the most beautiful woman in the room.

  Page 108

  Jonah hardly even looks at her past a polite nod. “It’s a long drive. ” Chloe’s smile tightens as it goes from genuine to artificial.

  “I’ll be back for Thanksgiving,” I promise. “Just a couple of weeks. And I can arrange to spend a few extra days at home, with Dad. ”

  “What about Christmas?” Mom says it like I’ve never deigned to stay with them, when in fact that’s the one holiday I’ve never skipped. Granted, I spend as little time at home as possible, and I always make it back to Austin for New Year’s Eve.

  At least, I did. This year has to be different. If being around for Dad means enduring hours or days of Anthony’s company, then that’s what I have to do. “I’ll be here, of course. ”

  My mother sweetly says to Jonah, “And will we be seeing you again over the holidays?” Obviously she expects him to dodge any solid commitment, thus simultaneously proving him unworthy and humiliating me. Mom never could pass up a two-fer.

  Once again, Jonah doesn’t flinch. “I expect so. ”

  “Of course. ” Mom settles back in her chair, satisfied—even pleased with him—but there’s a definite sense of surprise at my having found an interesting man. Like, Look what the cat dragged in.

  The gauntlet is all but cleared. Now we just have to get into the car.

  But then we walk onto the porch, where Libby is playing under her father’s supervision, and I amend that. We just have to get past Anthony.

  “Y’all should have good weather for the drive,” he says as he strolls up to us, standing just a bit too close to me—not enough to stand out as weird, but enough to give me the creeps.

  My response is clipped, almost harsh. “Hope so. ”

  Anthony’s grin widens. “Are we going to see you during the holidays, Vivienne?”

  “Absolutely. Longer than usual this time. ” For Dad, I remind myself.

  He nods, as if I need his approval. And then he says, “Good girl. ”

 
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