Asking for it, p.8
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       Asking for It, p.8

         Part #1 of Asking for It series by Lilah Pace
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  “. . . yeah. I’m fine. ”

  “Are you sure you should drive?” Carmen gives me a worried look, then glances after Jonah. “Isn’t that the professor Shay invited to my party?”

  No way am I answering that question. “I’m fine. Let’s go, okay?” I want to get as far away from this place—from Jonah—as possible.

  •   •   •

  “How could he act like nothing happened? I mean, was it that meaningless to him? That irrelevant?”

  Doreen puts her hands up in the time-out sign. “I want you to take a deep breath, okay? Pause. Just for a moment. ”

  I realize I haven’t stopped ranting since my session began fifteen minutes ago. My cheeks are hot with pent-up anger and embarrassment. So I force myself to lean back on the sofa. Relaxing is out of the question, but at least I can calm myself.

  When I know I can speak more rationally, I say, “I know you don’t approve of what I did with Jonah. You probably think I deserve this. Getting blown off. ”

  “Hey. ” She leans forward. The tagua-nut necklace she wears dangles from her neck, turquoise and brown. “It’s not my place to approve or disapprove of your life. You get to make your own choices, Vivienne. All I do is try to help you see things clear. ”

  “I let a near-stranger pretend to rape me. You can’t tell me that’s not fucked up. ”

  “Honey, I spend all day, every day, listening to fucked-up. You’re not even in my top ten. All right?”

  I laugh despite myself. Although I suspect Doreen is lying—rape role-play with a guy who’s practically a stranger has to make the top five, at least—I realize that she’s telling me to stop beating myself up.

  The worst part of the past three weeks hasn’t been Jonah’s rejection. It’s been my own self-loathing. Maybe that’s what Doreen is trying to get me to see.

  She says, “It upset you, seeing him. ”

  “Yeah. ”

  “But you’ve been at UT for years without ever running into him before. So there’s no reason to assume this is going to be a problem, going forward. ”

  Now that I think of it, Jonah and I must have crossed paths several times before we met. Maybe we walked by each other on campus, or went to Whole Foods on the same afternoon. Although it’s hard to believe I wouldn’t have noticed a guy like Jonah anytime, anywhere, maybe I’m wrong.

  Maybe I’m going to see him all the time from now on.

  “I want to talk to him again,” I say.

  “What do you want to tell him?”

  “I just want to ask why. ”

  “In my experience, the answers to questions like that usually fail to satisfy. ”

  Page 29

  Jonah could say that he didn’t want me enough to do this again. That I disappointed him that night. Or he could have met someone else, somebody he wants more than me. But I keep thinking of the look in his eyes when he first recognized me. I keep thinking about his smile.

  And about the way he laughed that night, as he thrust deeper inside me. The way he claimed me.

  “There are valid reasons he could have gone off the grid,” I say. This is the first time I’ve admitted this to myself; as usual, Doreen gets me to see the truth. “I worried that the fantasy would be . . . too intense, too much. It wasn’t for me, but it might have been for him. ”

  The dark, powerful figure he became that night—how he dominated me so brutally—that could have frightened Jonah. Maybe he’s scared that’s the person he really is, down deep.

  I ought to be scared of that too.

  “He may have his own limits,” Doreen agrees. “Isn’t it possible that what you’re seeing is his reaction to the fantasy, and its place in his life, rather than his reaction to you?”

  I nod, because I know that could be true. Still, though, I feel sure that’s not the whole story.

  Something else is going on in Jonah’s head. Something I haven’t even guessed at. And I want to know.

  •   •   •

  In the afternoon, I head onto campus. The undergrads have an essay due on Wednesday, which means my inbox is due to swell with requests for extensions, not to mention the reported deaths of a statistically unlikely number of grandmothers. As I walk in, Kip is on the phone, bartering what sounds like a deal to get our department a new copier. He gives me a wave—complete with blueberry-colored fingernails—which I return before going into my cramped little office. At least I’ve got it to myself for a while. I sign in to my university e-mail to see some of the expected excuses, a couple of campus announcements—

  —and an e-mail from Jonah.

  The subject line reads Re: Take Two.

  He’s answering the e-mail I sent three weeks ago, like nothing ever happened.

  His reply contains only two words: What changed?

  Between my sending this e-mail and our encounter Saturday—that’s what he means. I know that much. But I don’t understand anything else.

  I know what Doreen would tell me to do. What Carmen or Shay would tell me to do, if I’d confided in either of them about this. Any sane, rational person would say, Write back, tell him you’ve thought better of it, and leave it there.

  Walk away.

  My fingers tap out the message on the keyboard, and I hit send before I can think better of it. My reply: We need to talk.

  I don’t know what happens next. But I’m going to see Jonah Marks again.

  Ten

  Three days later, just after sundown, I’m back in the same wine bar where Jonah and I first met for “negotiations. ” I guess this is round two.

  Tonight, however, the bar is less sultry, more rowdy. This is a home-game weekend, which means Longhorns football fans and UT alumni are already swarming into town. I didn’t put on anything special this time—I’m wearing the same fawn-colored cotton dress I put on this morning. Yet I feel overdressed anyway, because I’m surrounded by a sea of orange T-shirts and football jerseys. It’s like being trapped in a can of Fanta.

  Somehow I know the moment Jonah walks in. I turn my head toward him even before he’s fully through the door. His shirt and jeans are black, his gaze sharp as he instantly focuses on me. He doesn’t smile as he comes closer, cutting through this raucous crowd like a knife.

  “We can’t talk like this,” he says as he reaches me.

  “Hello to you too. ”

  But Jonah’s right. Having an intimate conversation here is impossible. We’d have to shout to hear each other. Bad idea. “I think this place has a patio in back. ”

  It does. Of course, the patio is crowded too—but it’s not as awful, and at least here the talking and laughter around us isn’t deafening. I can even hear soft Spanish guitar music playing. The heat that lingers even after nightfall curls around me; my skin is already moist, and strands of hair that have escaped my ponytail stick to the nape of my neck.

  Jonah reaches toward me, like he’s going to take me by the arm, but I don’t let him lead me. It’s not like I don’t see where we’re headed—the one empty corner. Strings of multicolored lights overhead sway in the breeze as we walk there together, to a small dark passage near the back door that leads into the alley. When I stop, Jonah does too, still a few steps between us.

  Page 30

  “Let me repeat my question,” he says. “What changed?”

  “You took off without a word! That’s what changed. How is that not obvious?”

  I can see the muscles tense in his shoulders, his jaw. He’s so built, so aggressively masculine, that I first think he’s barely holding himself back from biting my head off. Yet his voice is steady, not angry. “I wasn’t aware we had to check in with each other about our daily schedule. ”

  “I didn’t ask for hourly reports. You left for weeks, and you never even told me you were going anywhere. ”

  “The point was to remain strangers. Wasn’t it? To keep it . . . raw. ”

  Something abo
ut the way he says that—raw—makes my breath catch in my chest. As angry as I am with Jonah, I can’t forget the way his touch makes me feel.

  I can’t stop wanting him.

  Jonah must sense my weakness. A slow smile begins to dawn on his face. Almost a smirk. “You can have neat, tidy, and safe. You can have tame. Or you can have what you really want. But you can’t have both, Vivienne. And I think we both know which one you’re going to choose. ”

  Somehow I still have a scrap of pride left. “Where were you, that you couldn’t send an e-mail or text or make a phone call even once in three weeks?”

  “Antarctica. ”

  Smart-ass. I could slap him. Then I realize—he’s serious. Completely.

  I repeat, “Antarctica?”

  “Yes. ” Then his expression softens slightly, becomes less savage, more . . . human. “Well, Patagonia mostly. I was based in Punta Arenas, Chile. But from there I was able to charter a plane south for some flyover photography. ”

  “Of Antarctica. ”

  Jonah smiles, and it’s not a smirk this time. “We discovered a dormant volcano beneath the Antarctic ice sheet a couple of years ago. I’m a research professor—I only teach a class once every two years or so. Mostly I analyze findings from all around the world, and sometimes I collect data myself. Like any other scientist. My data happens to be found near fault lines and volcanoes. ”

  The one place in the entire world that’s completely off the grid: That’s where he was. I tuck another loose strand of hair behind my ear. “I have to admit, that’s . . . a pretty solid excuse. ”

  He leans against the nearby brick wall as he studies me. After a long moment he says, “I should have let you know. ”

  “No, no, you’re right. I’m not your girlfriend; you’re not my boyfriend. You don’t owe me explanations. ”

  “No, I don’t. But I owe it to you to protect you. After that night, you were vulnerable. I should’ve realized. ”

  Just like that, Jonah’s no longer the remote figure I imagined rejecting me with contempt. He’s once again the man who asked how to make me feel safe, the one who brought me a glass of water afterward and kissed me as tenderly as any man ever has. I say, “You didn’t abuse my trust. We had—a failure of communication. ”

  “We’ll have to do better,” Jonah says. The smirk returns. “Besides, I had no idea you’d want to go again so soon. That e-mail came not even seventy-two hours after I left you. ”

  The wounds to my pride are still healing, so I’m not going to let him get away with that so easily. I lift my chin. “Didn’t you want it too?”

  He laughs, low and rough. It’s just the way he laughed when he was inside me, glorying in having thrown me down. Wetness wells between my legs, and I want him to touch me so badly it makes me weak.

  “I thought about you every night,” Jonah murmurs. “Most of the days. I dream about tearing that dress off your body. When I close my eyes I see you the way you were afterward. Wrecked. And what I want more than anything else is to wreck you all over again. ”

  So much for Jonah “having limits. ”

  Maybe I should feel powerful at this moment, when I realize that I affect him as much as he intoxicates me. Instead it’s all I can do to keep from trembling. I brace my hand against the fence behind me, the one that marks the boundary between this loud, brightly lit place and the darker alleys of the city beyond.

  This is when a particularly enterprising member of the waitstaff appears. “What will you two be having tonight?”

  “Whatever the lady wants. ” Jonah’s eyes meet mine as he smiles. “It’s up to her. ”

  Not fair, Jonah. I manage to answer, “We’re still making up our minds. ”

  Within another second we’re alone again, and Jonah raises an eyebrow. “That just means he’s going to come back. ”

  Page 31

  “If I told him we weren’t drinking tonight, he’d have asked us to leave. ” Sometimes it’s hard to remember this is actually a place of business, not just a venue for indecent proposals.

  “Maybe we should leave,” Jonah murmurs. “Don’t we have better things to do?”

  Tonight? Now? He can’t mean that. We’re supposed to plan these nights in advance. Sane and safe.

  But what’s happening between us—that’s not safe at all.

  “We—we can’t,” I manage to say. “I want us to choose a night, a time, but not now—”

  “What if I made it now?”

  Jonah steps forward. With one hand he grips my chin, holding my face still as he leans closer. He’s so tall that he seems to loom over me; the rest of the noise around us seems to fade away.

  Yet as his eyes meet mine, I know . . . if I say the word silver, this will end in an instant.

  I don’t say it.

  “I could back you into that alleyway,” he whispers. “Just a few feet away. Five steps and we’d be in the dark, where nobody could see you, and nobody could stop me. ”

  “I’d scream. ”

  Jonah’s eyes darken. He likes it when I play along. “I wouldn’t let you,” he says, as two of his fingers slide up to cover my lips. “I could cover your mouth while I pinned you against the wall. That would leave me one hand free. So I could reach up under that little dress of yours. Pull your panties down. ”

  I’m completely caught in the spell he’s weaving with his words. The low tone of his voice is like a hypnotic, drugging me. “I’d be so scared,” I whisper. My lips brush against his fingers. “Too scared to scream, or to fight. ”

  He breathes out sharply, as though I’d struck him. So dirty talk turns him on too. “I’d be able to get my cock out. It’s already so hard for you. All I’d have to do is push your thighs apart—lift one leg up—”

  “I couldn’t stop you. ”

  “But you’d push back. ”

  “I would. But I wouldn’t be strong enough to get away. I’d be helpless. ”

  “And you’d be pushing against me the whole time I fucked you. ”

  “Yes. ”

  By now I’m dizzy. If Jonah pulls me into that alley for real, I don’t care about the nearby crowd. I don’t care how shameless it would be. I’m his.

  Instead, though, Jonah slowly leans back and takes a deep breath. His knowing smile returns. “We’ll choose a night sometime soon. Extremely soon. ”

  He got me this keyed up and he’s just walking away? I can see—just from the quickest downward glance—Jonah’s as aroused as I am, so much it’s indecent for him to be seen in public. “We—you and I aren’t going to—”

  Jonah shakes his head. “Not tonight. ”

  “Oh, you son of a bitch. ” But I smile as I say it.

  “It’s a treat for you. ” He untucks his shirt. That’s twice I’ve made him hide his erection in public. I should start putting notches on my lipstick case à la Pat Benatar. “I put you through three weeks of unnecessary confusion. So I’m making it up to you with a few days of suspense. ”

  Suspense as a treat? Yes. Now that I know how good Jonah and I are together, the anticipation will drive me crazy.

  (My shame has faded to a shadow next to Jonah, but it’s still there. Waiting. )

  The waiter reappears, eyebrows raised, eager to hear our drink orders. I want to wave him off again, but Jonah says, “A glass of pinot noir for the lady. ” He drops a twenty on the waiter’s tray, and instantly the guy disappears, leaving us alone once more.

  “Thanks,” I say. “But aren’t you getting anything?” I could remain here all night listening to him talk dirty.

  Instead Jonah says, “I have to go. ”

  “Are you kidding?”

  “Nope. ”

  I want to ask why he’s going, and I sense Jonah might tell me, but that’s one step over the line. We need to be totally open about our expectations and our limits. Our lives? Those, we don’t share. Otherwise we’ll stop being strangers. The fantasy wi
ll stop being what we wanted it to be. It would become . . .

  I don’t know what it would become, and I don’t want to know. This is the arrangement, and we’re sticking to it.

  “So you’ll pick the night?” I say.

  Jonah nods. “And this time you get to pick the setting. The mood. When I call you, you tell me what you want. Be clear. Because once we meet each other—”

  Page 32

  “—you’re back in control. Completely. ”

  Slowly he lifts his hand to my mouth. His thumb brushes the corner of my lips. Then he pulls back. “Good-bye, Vivienne. ”

  After he walks away, I walk back into the noise and the hubbub of the bar to find the nearest empty chair. My heart is still racing, and I hardly trust myself to remain on my feet. How could I have gone from suspicion and hurt to exhilaration so quickly? But Jonah took me there.

  Jonah takes me so many interesting places, I think, and I laugh to myself.

  By now the sky overhead is dark, and the heat has faded to pleasant warmth. The waiter manages to find me; the red wine Jonah chose for me tastes earthy and rich. I indulge myself by hanging out on the patio for thirty minutes or so, drinking about half my glass. Once a guy comes over in hopes of hitting on me, but I wave him off. Happily he’s a gentleman who can take no for an answer. All I want is to sit here luxuriating in the memories of Jonah’s touch, and his words. In the promise of what’s to come.

  My phone buzzes from within my purse. Who would be texting me? Maybe it’s Jonah, determined to keep me hot and bothered all night long. I bet he’s as good at sexting as he is at everything else.

  A sly smile spreads across my face as I fish out my phone. Turns out it’s not a text, just a voice mail. The name of the sender glows on the screen. My smile fades.

  All the shame comes flooding back.

  Eleven

  “Not answering. How surprising. ” Chloe’s voice is sharp, precise. Her words could cut diamonds. “I saw Liz at Art for Art’s Sake. Imagine my surprise when she said you’d spent the weekend at her house not two months ago. ”

  I grimace. Liz usually covers for me; my sister must have caught her off-guard.

  Chloe’s voice mail continues. “You know, I can’t ask you to be a better daughter, or even a better sister, as apparently that holds no interest for you. But I wish you could be a better aunt. Libby loves her Aunt Vivienne, and she asks after you all the time. Colors for you, and makes me send them to you, even though I’m sure you just toss them in the trash. Maybe you don’t understand children’s feelings, since you don’t have any of your own. But if you cared at all, you’d at least try to see your niece when you were in town. ”

 
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