Asking for it, p.28
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       Asking for It, p.28

         Part #1 of Asking for It series by Lilah Pace
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  I don’t have another flashback, thank God. But the memory of Anthony saying this while I lay there on the sofa, crying, still shaking with fear and pain—it lances through me, sharply enough to drain the blood from my face.

  Just walk away, I tell myself. That’s all you have to do.

  But as I turn, I see Jonah. He stares at me, then slowly turns his head toward Anthony. Horror seizes me in its cold fist.

  Jonah knows. He knows.

  The sick silence of this moment is broken by Libby’s laughter. She’s still playing on the swing, innocent of everything.

  Jonah says, “Libby? Go in the house and get your coloring book. I want to take one of your pictures with me. ”

  Her eyes light up, and she jumps from the swing to run inside. Anthony, aware something has changed but not what, frowns at Jonah. “What is this about?”

  Jonah has not taken one step forward. He does not raise his voice. But in this moment I am reminded of why, when we first met, I thought he was dangerous.

  Because he is.

  “Listen to me,” he says to Anthony. “If you ever touch Vivienne again, if you ever say anything to her about what happened, if you even stand too close to her, you’re going to regret it. Deeply. Painfully. And permanently. ”

  Anthony laughs, but there’s a nervous edge to it. This is the first time anyone has ever called him on what he did to me, and he doesn’t know how to handle it. “What are you talking about?”

  “Don’t play stupid either. ” Every muscle in Jonah’s body is tense. “Just this once, you have to deal with the truth. ”

  I should speak, but I can’t. My shock is too complete. Shame, anger, wonder, gratitude, love—they’re all bubbling up, boiling over, and I am in a place beyond words.

  Finally Anthony takes a step back, getting out of the range of Jonah’s fists. “I don’t know what Vivienne told you, but there’s two sides to every story, buddy. You know how women get. ”

  “I know what rape does to people,” Jonah says.

  Anthony holds up his hands. “Whoa, whoa, whoa. That’s a hell of an accusation to throw at somebody. Vivienne and I were teenagers. Hormones all over the place. You remember how it is. So we got busy one night, and then when I stayed with Chloe, Viv couldn’t stand it—girls get jealous, and sex mixes up their heads—”

  “Anthony?” says a tremulous voice.

  Only then do the three of us realize Chloe had stepped out onto the porch. I don’t know exactly how much she heard, but it was enough.

  Anthony had been defensive; now he’s almost panicked. “Sugar, you know there’s nothing to this. ”

  Page 109

  “You said she flirted with you. ” Chloe braces one hand against a white column. She’s shaking so hard I can see it from here. “You never told me you slept with her. ”

  Finally my voice returns to me. “He didn’t sleep with me, Chloe. He raped me. Anthony told you a lie, and I told you the truth. ”

  I can tell she doesn’t believe me. At least, not yet. But for the first time, Chloe has to accept the fact that Anthony Whedon is a goddamned liar.

  “I meant what I said. ” Jonah takes another step toward Anthony, which is enough to make Anthony skitter back to the steps. “Leave Vivienne alone. ”

  Seeing Anthony like this—exposed, foolish, scared—is a thousand times more satisfying than I ever dreamed it could be. Someone finally stood up for me. Someone finally believed.

  I take Jonah’s hand. “Let’s go. ”

  Jonah only glances at me for a moment; his laser glare remains focused on Anthony. “Okay. ”

  As soon as we turn toward the car, though, we hear Libby’s footsteps on the porch. I turn to see her dashing toward us, a page of her coloring book in one hand. “Here, Jonah! I picked you out a picture!”

  He bends down to take it from her. None of the adults says a word.

  “It’s a princess, see? I made her dress yellow, and red, so maybe it’s like a volcano dress. Do you like it?”

  Jonah nods. “It’s fantastic. ”

  Libby beams up at him, trusting and adoring. But Jonah can’t smile back. I know that he’s seen what haunts me most about Libby.

  She has her father’s eyes.

  •   •   •

  I don’t trust myself to speak again until I’ve steered the car onto I-10. “Jonah—thank you. ”

  “For what?” He sounds strained.

  “For taking Anthony on. For seeing what nobody else ever saw. ”

  He stares out the window at the dull jumble of chain stores that lines the interstate. “Why didn’t you tell me?”

  This conversation was inevitable—I knew that—but I’m not ready. When would I ever be? “It’s a hard thing to say. ” True. Obvious. Meaningless. Jonah deserves more. “The only people I ever told were my mother and Chloe, and they didn’t believe me. I mean, the only people not counting my therapist. Because, wow, I have done some time in therapy. ”

  “It never helps. ” Jonah doesn’t get sidetracked. “Your mother . . . didn’t believe you?”

  “Anthony’s rich. He wanted to marry Chloe. Mom would never let herself believe anything that got in the way. Even what happened to me. ”

  “And your sister? That’s what you told her the night before the wedding, wasn’t it?”

  Concentrating on the road is difficult. “She only heard part of the story before she shut me up. Anthony had convinced her I was jealous of her. As if. ”

  Jonah shakes his head. “I would have believed you. Don’t you know that?”

  I think I always knew, though I never realized it until now. Jonah would have believed me, and that’s why I didn’t tell him. “It would have—complicated things. ”

  “You don’t think I deserved to know?”

  “What? Where my sexual fixations come from? Do I need to bring you in to talk to my therapist before every date?” I sound hysterical, even to myself. So I take a couple of deep breaths. “You keep your secrets too, don’t you?”

  “This isn’t about me. ”

  “Isn’t it?”

  Jonah turns his face from me. “This is the way to the airport, isn’t it?”

  “Uh, yeah—”

  “Drop me off there. ”

  “Jonah?”

  “You should have told me. ” The words burst from him, so angry I wince. He sees that, and speaks more quietly, but with an effort. “I needed to know, Vivienne. ”

  “It’s a difficult thing to tell. ” That sounds so inadequate.

  “You didn’t think I needed to know that before I did these things to you?”

  Humiliation scorches me from the inside out. “We both wanted that fantasy. It was your idea!”

  “If I’d known you were a rape victim, that would have changed everything. ” Jonah won’t even look at me now.

  I’m crashing. Burning. And from a greater height than ever before, because only moments ago I dared to believe that Jonah was truly on my side. For the past couple of months, I’ve been trying to make peace with my sexual desires. Now all the shame has returned in an instant. “You think I’m sick for wanting it after what happened to me. Don’t you?”

  Page 110

  “That’s not it. ”

  Of course it is. “You hate me for giving in to the fantasy, even though you wanted it too—even though it was your idea. ”

  Finally Jonah turns to me again. I wish he hadn’t. The fury in his eyes makes me feel sick inside. “You turned me into the last thing I ever wanted to be. You turned me into someone who abused a rape victim. ”

  “It wasn’t abuse. Not if I wanted it. ”

  “Your wrists are still raw!” he shouts.

  I wince and turn away.

  When Jonah speaks again, his voice is calmer—but in the tight, controlled way that tells me it’s mostly an act. “We can’t keep doing this. ”

  Does he mean we ca
n’t play our games any longer? No. He means that this is the end of him and me.

  “All right,” I say. The words come out cool and polite. I sound like my mother. In our worst moments, we often revert to our worst selves. “Let’s go to the airport. ”

  Jonah doesn’t speak as I drive him there, though I sense he’s waiting for me to say something. What? It doesn’t matter. The man I showed my most secret self to has rejected that part of me. The one person who looked deeply enough to find the truth turned against me because I didn’t tell him myself.

  And something about my secret feeds the darkness inside him in ways neither of us can bear.

  I pull up in front of the airport, by the sign for Oceanic Airlines. We are surrounded by people dropping off friends and family members, hugging each other tightly around the backpacks they wear, exchanging kisses and laughter amid nests of luggage. Jonah opens the car door, then says, “Good-bye, Vivienne. ”

  It sounds so final. But I can top it. Without looking at him, I say, “Get out. ”

  Thirty-two

  “This is the part where you say ‘I told you so. ’” I wipe at my eyes with the Kleenex Doreen always has waiting on the end table. “Go ahead. ”

  “That’s not what I’m thinking, and it shouldn’t be what you’re thinking either. ”

  “Why not?” My eyes actually ache from crying. I don’t think I’ve stopped weeping since I broke down driving past Shreveport yesterday afternoon. “The most fucked-up sexual arrangement ever has now blown up in my face. Not like a grenade, like an atomic bomb. You saw it coming. ”

  Doreen shakes her head. “Not this. ”

  All last night, I kept staring at my phone, waiting for it to chime with a text from Jonah. I didn’t expect an apology, much less an explanation. But I can’t stop wondering what he’s thinking.

  Jonah may have left my life, but his shadow will linger for a long time.

  “Someone finally learned the whole truth,” I whisper. “And he hated me for it. ”

  “You don’t know that he hated you. You only know that Jonah had to stop. ”

  “Why else would he stop?”

  “You tell me. ” Doreen gives me one of her looks, which means it’s time to dig deep.

  And I remember Jonah’s words: You turned me into the last thing I ever wanted to be.

  I tuck a lock of hair behind my ear. “Whatever darkness that’s within Jonah—whatever fuels that fantasy for him—he doesn’t want to turn that on someone who’s actually been hurt. ”

  “Jonah spoke harshly. He shouldn’t have done that. But he gets to have limits too. ”

  She’s said this to me before, but about Geordie, when he absolutely could not play along with my fantasy. Those two men have drawn their boundaries about a thousand miles apart, but they’re both within their rights.

  Still. “Jonah was angry. He was furious. I froze up just the way I did when I was a little kid and Mom would start screaming. ”

  “Did you feel threatened?”

  “Not physically. It just . . . hurt so much. Jonah had stood up for me, and finally, finally Chloe knows Anthony’s full of shit, and it could have been one of the best days I’d ever had. Instead everything fell apart. ”

  Doreen nods. “Let’s focus on the good part of the day for a bit. Somebody finally believed you. Somebody finally put the blame where it belongs, on Anthony. How does it feel?”

  Beneath all my sorrow, all my anger, that tiny light still glows. “Unbelievable. Like—like the whole world turned upside down. ”

  “In a good way?”

  “Yeah. ” Whenever I think about returning home for Thanksgiving, or Christmas, I feel apprehensive, but it’s not the dread that has consumed me for years. Anthony will never have as much power over me again, even if Jonah’s not at my side. I saw him humbled; I saw him humiliated. That memory will feed me for a long time to come.

  Page 111

  “What about your father?” Doreen says.

  I have to laugh. “Apparently he already talked one of his golf buddies into sneaking him some jambalaya. He hasn’t changed. ”

  “Do you wish that he would?”

  “I try not to wish for the impossible. ”

  And yet I can’t stop wishing I could roll back time, wind it back on a spool until I reached yesterday morning. Maybe I couldn’t change anything, but at least this time I’d understand exactly what went wrong.

  Even understanding wouldn’t be enough.

  •   •   •

  Later that day, as I sit in my office manually inputting grades, my phone buzzes with a text. Electricity crackles along my skin, and I have no idea whether the sudden flush of energy comes from anger or hope.

  But when I look at the screen, I see it’s only an invitation from Shay to come over and watch Netflix with her tonight or tomorrow. And how was your romantic weekend in the woods?

  I never even told my closest friends about Dad’s heart failure. Major omission. So I send out a few texts, then spend the rest of the afternoon answering frantic questions from Carmen, Arturo, and Shay. I tell Kip, too, and within minutes a caramel macchiato has appeared on my desk as if by magic.

  “Caffeine doesn’t solve everything,” I say to him, even as I accept it with a smile.

  Kip sighs. “A macchiato can only solve your problems if you let it, sweetie. ”

  The one person I don’t hear from is Geordie. He’s incredibly busy at the moment—papers are always due at the end of the semester, and LLM papers are to undergraduate papers as World War II is to the invasion of Grenada. Still, for something like this, I would expect him to text at least. Geordie was the only guy I’ve ever been with who won my mother over; he launched a full-scale charm offensive on my parents, to such good effect that they sent him a birthday card two months after we broke up. So Geordie would be worried not only about me, but also about my dad.

  Sometimes cell phone reception sucks in the library, I remind myself. Plus he might have shut off his phone to be sure he’d be productive.

  Which isn’t a bad idea. I snap off the phone, and just like that, I’m not waiting for Jonah any longer. It should feel triumphant, or at least decisive. Instead it only feels sad.

  That evening I go to the studio. Some artists find it difficult to work when they’re upset, but sometimes that kind of emotional energy fuels me. Don’t knock sublimation until you’ve tried it.

  So I sit there, Bettye LaVette on the radio and chambray shirt rolled to my elbows, preparing to ink my latest plate. But just as I’m about to get started, I notice an indentation in the plate. Once it was just a nick in the wax, but now it’s a reservoir for ink, a blotch waiting to happen.

  Some prints look good—even better—with a bit of random “noise. ” Not this one. I swear under my breath and prepare to study the plate closer. Sometimes you can fix something like this; sometimes you have to start over.

  Although there are several different etching techniques, and I’ve experimented with most of them, every method of etching involves the same fundamental process. You always start with a metal plate; you coat that plate with a waxy, acid-resistant material; you carve the design or picture you want to make into the wax, all the way down to the metal; and then you pour the acid. The acid bites into the metal, cutting your lines into it permanently. Then, when you ink the plate, you reveal a pattern you can print over and over—each piece of art identical and yet genuine, never faded by repetition.

  But when you make a mistake, the error lives on and on. The ink catches it every time. No matter how many more prints you make, the blot will always be there, replicated a hundredfold.

  Sometimes I think my life is the metal plate. Anthony carved the lines into me. But my toxic relationship with my family—and now the way Jonah turned on me—that’s the acid.

  And the same stains, the same errors, repeat themselves every time.

  Disquieted, I s
tep away from my work. A minute’s break might be a good idea. I go to the water cooler and get a drink in a tiny paper cup, then recall that I haven’t turned my phone back on since midafternoon. Might as well see what’s going on.

  As it powers up, I tell myself, You will not expect a text from Jonah. You won’t. It’s not happening.

  This proves to be true. He didn’t text me, but Geordie did. Five times.

  OMG Viv I’m so sorry is your dad okay?

  Carmen says he’s all right but jesus you must be freaked out want to meet up for a drink bet you could use one

  Page 112

  Hey I’m at Freddy’s Place if you feel like coming out

  Theiyre beng total shitheads Viv fuck this place

  If you know the owner of this phone, can you come pick him up? He is not allowed to remain on the premises. —Management

  The time stamp on that last one is only ten minutes ago. I groan and grab my purse.

  Most people think of Freddy’s Place as “the one next to the Mexican restaurant that turned out to be a front for the largest drug-running enterprise in town. ” (No offense to Freddy’s, which is awesome. But when they busted the Mexican restaurant, it was pretty big news. ) The food at Freddy’s is good, but when I come here, it’s usually for a drink or dessert after a movie, sometimes both. I love their courtyard, strung with lights, filled with laughter, and always visited by a few dogs dozing under their masters’ tables.

  The person I’ve come here with most often is Geordie, and as I see him slumped on the porch, I wonder if we’ll ever be allowed on the premises again.

  “Viv!” Geordie holds both hands in the air, like he just scored a winning soccer goal. “I told you she’d come!”

  The manager standing next to him, arms crossed, scowls even more deeply. “You know this one?”

  “Yeah, sure thing. ” Oh, my God, Geordie’s so drunk. It’s not like I haven’t seen him messed up before, but it’s weird to see him this trashed this early in the day, especially when he’s out on his own. “I’ll take him home. Has he paid his tab?”

  Geordie laughs. “O’ course I paid! Whadya think I am, luv?”

  That much Scots accent means bad news. “Sorry,” I mutter to the manager as I scoop one of Geordie’s arms around my shoulders.

  The guy shrugs. “He can’t keep doing this. That’s all I can say. ”

  “What do you mean, ‘keep doing this’?”

  This wins me a disbelieving snort. “He shows up here at least once a week. We told him a while ago we weren’t going to allow him to drive away—so most of the time he takes taxis. Today he drove here, though, and I can’t allow him to leave. We could get sued for millions if he had a crash, and frankly, it’s just a matter of time. ”

 
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