Asking for it, p.23

Asking for It, page 23

 part  #1 of  Asking for It Series

 

Asking for It


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  I squeeze Shay’s hand. “I came here to help clean up. But what if I got Carmen out of the house instead?”

  “Oh, God bless you. ” Shay leans back on her pillows, gone limp with relief.

  So I hurry downstairs, grab Carmen’s purse, then point to her. “You. Me. Brunch. Now. ”

  Carmen and Arturo freeze, midargument. It would be funny if I hadn’t seen Shay crying. Finally Carmen manages to say, “How can you think about brunch at a time like this?”

  “On a weekend morning? It’s pretty easy. Come on. ”

  She doesn’t say a word as we leave, or on the drive to Magnolia Café. But while we wait in line outside, Carmen mutters, “You could have just told me to cool it. ”

  “Would it have worked?”

  Carmen doesn’t answer. She just hugs herself more tightly against the chilly breeze.

  “What were you freaking out about?”

  “The way they spend money—”

  “They threw one party, Carmen. Otherwise they’ve been more careful with their money than you or I have ever been. ” Arturo is one of the genius-freaks who started an IRA at eighteen. “That’s not what’s actually bothering you. ”

  “How would you know? You can’t read my mind. You don’t have to ask yourself what it would be like if you had to help support your brother and his wife and a baby—”

  “That’s not going to happen!” Even if I didn’t have so much faith in Shay and Arturo, the Ortiz family is reasonably well off. Carmen and Arturo’s parents aren’t rich, but they’re in a position to help out if the new baby needs anything.

  Carmen hasn’t even heard me. “—you don’t have to ask yourself if you’re going to get derailed, because you don’t have any responsibilities like that. You can just keep working on your thesis, and going to the studio. You’re going to make it no matter what. It’s not like that for me. ”

  “Of course you’re going to make it. You’re a math genius. ”

  “No, I’m not. ” Her voice breaks. “I was really smart on the high school level. And the undergrad level. But now? At this point? I’m falling behind—I can tell I’m falling behind, and my advisor says I have to buckle down or—”

  Carmen starts to cry. A few people in the brunch line are staring. Well, let them stare. I hug her tightly. “You’re not scared for Arturo. You’re scared for yourself. ”

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  “One of us has to make it,” she whispers as she hugs me back. “I don’t think it’s going to be me. ”

  Her behavior over the past several months finally makes sense. All this time, Carmen’s been dealing with this incredible anxiety by pushing her fears onto her brother. First she resented Shay for weighing Arturo down with responsibility so young; this morning, she turned on Arturo. But really she’s scared to death that she’ll fall and no one will be there to catch her.

  “Listen to me, okay? You’re going to get through this. Yeah, graduate work is difficult. It’s supposed to be! But you were smart enough to get there, and you’re smart enough to make it through. ”

  Carmen shook her head against my shoulder. “I don’t know. ”

  “Sometimes life is like a video game. When things get harder, and the obstacles get tougher, it just means you leveled up. ”

  She laughs brokenly. “Except I suck at video games. ”

  “I know. ” Carmen never even figured out how to steer her car in Grand Theft Auto. “But you don’t suck at math. Come on. Deep breaths. ”

  She keeps crying it out for a while, though, and is still teary when we finally get seated. Still, one of the great truths of life is that any situation can be improved with coffee. By her second cup, she’s perked up a little—and when her waffles arrive, she’s calm again, enough to notice my relatively empty plate. “Hey, why didn’t you order anything?”

  “I got tea and toast. ”

  Carmen gives me a look, no doubt remembering my ability to slaughter a stack of pancakes.

  “Well,” I admit, “Jonah might have made me breakfast this morning. ”

  “Oh, yeah? He stayed over?”

  “I stayed over. ”

  Carmen’s eyes are still red from crying, but I can tell she’s glad to have something else to think about for a while. “You’ve been so quiet about this guy. When you first met Geordie, you told me everything. ”

  I’ll never be able to explain why I didn’t tell her about Jonah at first, or why so much of our relationship will remain secret. But if he’s going to be a bigger part of my life, I have to open up about him a little more. “Jonah’s a very private person,” I say. “I respect that. ”

  “Fine. Be mysterious. It doesn’t matter, because obviously this relationship is the definition of a whirlwind romance. And you’re totally into him. I mean, you went to Scotland with him! How much was that ticket at the last minute?”

  She isn’t asking for real—just trying to get me to prove I’m head over heels for Jonah. Still, this might be the moment to be totally candid about the Scotland trip. “He got me the ticket. ”

  Her eyes go wide. “Jonah bought you a ticket to Scotland? Oh, my God, Vivienne. That’s huge!”

  “Not really. His dad actually was one of the cofounders of Oceanic. So he’s got an in with the airline. ”

  This doesn’t have the effect I expected. Carmen frowns. “You said Oceanic?”

  “Uh, yeah. Why?” Was there a crash today or something?

  Instead Carmen says, “So . . . Jonah’s part of that screwed-up family in the tabloids. ”

  I gape at her. “How do you know that?”

  “If his dad founded Oceanic, and his name is Jonah Marks, that means his dad was Alexander Marks, right?”

  “Since when have you heard of any of these people?”

  Carmen makes a face. “The usual! TMZ, sometimes the news, supermarket tabloids—I mean, come on, you have to read those once in a while, right? What else can you do while you’re waiting in line?”

  “I check my phone and talk myself out of buying candy bars, like a normal person!” Great. Everyone in the whole world pays more attention to gossip than I do. So much for keeping Jonah’s secrets. Calming myself as best I can, I say, “I think Jonah tries to keep his distance from all that. ”

  “He didn’t even say anything about his mom this morning?” Carmen winces. “I bet he hadn’t heard yet. ”

  “Hadn’t heard what?”

  Even the most serious news sources print sensational headlines for this story. There’s no way to describe it that isn’t lurid.

  CHICAGO “MAD HEIRESS” ARRESTED FOR ASSAULT ON STEPSON

  Everything from the Wall Street Journal to OhNoTheyDidn’t has differing accounts of what happened. A few blurry camera-phone videos have been posted to YouTube, but none of them reveal much beyond distant movement in the dark, and the sound of a woman shouting. As near as I can piece together, Jonah’s mother left Redgrave House—already unusual, for her—and went to The Orchid, a downtown club and restaurant so chic even I’ve heard of it. The Orchid’s owner turns out to be Maddox Hale, Jonah’s younger stepbrother. When Jonah’s mom accosted Maddox, an argument ensued, and apparently she hurt him—though nobody can agree whether she knifed Maddox through the hand, only slapped him, or something in between. I don’t get a good look at Jonah’s mother at any point on the videos, but I do hear a man saying, “She doesn’t know what she’s doing. It’s all right. I don’t want to press charges. ”

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  So Maddox would have let it go, whatever it was she did. The police feel differently.

  All I know for sure is that Jonah must feel so torn up inside. And I understand instinctively that he will never, ever talk about it with a single soul—not Rosalind, not me, not anybody.

  Maybe I should call him or run back by his apartment. Not to make him open up if he doesn’t want to, just to be there with him.

  Yet that feels like . . . too muc
h. Like acknowledging his pain would be too intimate. How can we be this close and yet this distant? I want to bridge the gulf between us, but maybe that’s impossible.

  The entire day, I wait for him to call. I don’t expect Jonah to vent about his family’s sorrows, but he might turn to me for companionship. For understanding.

  He doesn’t phone that day. Or the next. No e-mail either.

  Whatever hell Jonah is going through, he seems determined to go through it alone.

  Twenty-seven

  On Thursday, Jonah finally calls while I’m shopping at the supermarket.

  Even after five days, I don’t get a hello. Instead he says, “Sorry I’ve been—off the radar. ”

  “That’s okay. Sometimes we all need some space. ” That’s my invitation to him to tell me why he wanted his solitude.

  The invitation is declined. He says only, “I had an idea. ”

  “Yeah?”

  “For our next game. ”

  I’m standing in the produce aisle between the cucumbers and the persimmons, but just hearing his low, rough voice talk about our games makes my body respond instantly. Fire kindles deep inside, and I cradle the phone closer to my face so no one will overhear. “Tell me. ”

  “When I have you, I want to own you. ”

  “You always do,” I whisper.

  “Not completely,” he says. “Until now. ”

  •   •   •

  Doreen’s hair seems to have gone gray at the temples in the past couple of months. I wonder how much of that is due to me.

  “You and Jonah haven’t spoken about his family issues at all,” Doreen says. “Even with their goings-on splashed on every website and newspaper in the country. ”

  “He doesn’t want to talk about it. ” I shrug. “Sometimes I don’t want to talk about things either. So we respect each other’s privacy. Isn’t there a quote about that? About how the best love is two solitudes that border, protect, and greet one another?”

  “We’ll discuss Rilke some other time. ” Doreen’s dark eyes never leave my face. “You say Jonah never mentioned his mother’s arrest. Instead he called and asked you to ‘play’ again. ”

  “That’s right. ”

  “You realize he may be compensating for feelings of powerlessness. ”

  At that I have to laugh. “You don’t need a psychology degree to figure that out. ”

  “What do you think you’re compensating for?”

  “I’m punishing myself by indulging myself. When I indulge my rape fantasy—when I surrender to that fear and helplessness—I’m punishing myself for wanting it. Don’t you see?”

  “I doubt it’s as simple as that. ”

  Is she kidding? “Nothing about this is simple. ”

  Doreen leans forward, and when she speaks to me, genuine emotion comes through in every word. “There is no reason for you to punish yourself for this fantasy. ”

  “I want to relive the worst thing that ever happened to me? What Anthony did to me? It’s sick. ”

  “Again, many women have rape fantasies. Some men do too. It’s not always a response to trauma. Most of the time, I don’t even think there is a specific reason. ”

  A thousand times, Doreen has said this. But what she says next explodes in my mind like she’d thrown a hand grenade:

  “You might have had this fantasy even if Anthony had never raped you. ”

  “No. ” I shake my head. “He did this to me. You know he did. ”

  “Anthony raped you,” she says. “The fantasy comes from that, and from a culture that eroticizes violence against women, and leftover puritanical guilt about sex that tells us we’re not allowed to choose it and want it for ourselves, and from God only knows where else. ”

  I’m furious with her. I want to cry. My cheeks are flushed with shame. Every emotion I’ve ever felt about this is bubbling up at once. “But it’s the only thing that gets me off. I can’t come any other way! Does that sound normal to you?”

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  Doreen looks at me steadily. “Exactly. The fantasy isn’t your problem; it’s the extremity of your fixation on it. Who is it who won’t let you find sexual satisfaction any other way?”

  Me. She means me.

  And only at this moment do I realize Doreen has been building to this moment for a very long time.

  I grab my purse. “This is over. ”

  “This session, or our counseling relationship?”

  She said this knowing I might break from her permanently. Right now I want to. But I’ve found too much solace here in the past to let Doreen go that easily.

  “For now,” I say. “But I’ll be back. ”

  I go out the door without waiting to hear her reply.

  As I walk to my car, trembling, I think of what I meant to talk with Doreen about. We weren’t supposed to unearth the roots of my fantasy today. We were supposed to talk about this weekend. What Jonah wants from me. How much further we’re going than ever before.

  It doesn’t matter. No matter what Doreen said today, it wouldn’t have stopped me.

  What Jonah asks of me, I’m going to give.

  Preparations:

  I set up an automatic e-mail response at both my school and personal accounts, letting everyone know I won’t be able to reach them until Monday morning at the earliest.

  I tell Carmen that Jonah is “taking me away for a weekend,” just to a cabin in the state park, nothing major. She thinks it’s something romantic and sweet; more to the point, she won’t worry about me. Won’t look for me.

  Kip hears that we might go hiking, Jonah and I. Although he raises an eyebrow at my choice of recreational activities, he believes me. Why wouldn’t he? That way, when I come back to the office next week, Kip won’t think anything if I’m scratched or bruised.

  Water the plants. Pack an overnight bag.

  And on Friday, I drive to the place where I’ll be held captive.

  •   •   •

  I want to kidnap you, Jonah said.

  I want to keep you tied up, away from the rest of the world, for days. I want to use your body in every way it can be used, over and over, until you can’t take it anymore. But you’ll still have to take it. And I want you to know there’s no place you can run to, no one who will hear you.

  You will be completely mine.

  When we could think straight again after that, we worked out the logistics. As aroused as I am by the thought of Jonah actually grabbing me and dragging me into his car, we can’t risk it. We might easily be seen, which means someone could either call the police—or worse, play vigilante, which could get Jonah arrested, badly hurt, or even killed. The places where we live offer some privacy, but I’m too familiar with them. Too comfortable. Both of us want the illusion of ultimate control to be as complete as possible.

  So Jonah found a place, a rental cabin near the edge of the state park. He’s given me an address and a time to show up there Friday afternoon. By another hour on Sunday, he’ll set me free.

  The rest is completely unknown to me. I’ll be in Jonah’s hands.

  I wear the clothes I bought at the thrift store specifically to be destroyed—a faded cotton skirt, a T-shirt too thin for November weather. While I can’t saunter in carrying my suitcase without destroying the illusion, I’ve packed a duffel bag Jonah will bring inside from my car at some point. It contains a change of clothing for Sunday and my cell phone. Anything else I need, or want, I’ll have to earn.

  This late in the season, we’re probably the only ones who’ve rented a cabin for the weekend. Even if we weren’t, none of the other cabins are within three miles. Every minute I drive reminds me of how remote our location is. How all-encompassing this fantasy will be. My palms are sweaty against the wheel of my car. Songs play on the radio but I don’t hear them. There’s only my pulse, my nervousness, and my desire.

  Sunset stripes the sky violet and or
ange as I reach the cabin. Gravel crunches beneath my tires while I take the long, narrow road away from the highway and the rest of civilization. Finally I see the cabin—a small, rustic place with bare-wood walls and a low ceiling—and Jonah’s sedan parked in front.

  He will have heard me pull up. That’s his cue.

  I get out of my car. My legs feel weak and wobbly beneath me. I drop my keys on the hood of my car, turn away from the cabin, and listen. Every rustle of leaves in the trees makes my ears prick, and—not for the first time—I think, This is crazier than anything else you’ve done. You’re crossing a line. Are you ready for that?

  Then I hear the cabin door open, and I run.

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  Twigs and branches snap across my chest as I hurl myself into the woods, running as though my life really did depend on it. My world has become a blur of trees, dirt, the pale sky above. The uneven, rocky ground makes me stumble once, twice, again—but I keep my footing. I have to. I have to try to get away.

  And I can hear him behind me. His footsteps coming faster and louder. Even his ragged breath. Jonah’s chasing me with all his strength.

  We are both too good at our games.

  I reach a clearing and attempt to run faster, but that’s when I’m tackled from behind. We fall to the ground, and I put up the best fight I can—kicking, wriggling, trying to get out from under him—but Jonah has me. All my struggles do no good.

  He gets his knees on my arms, puts his weight on my chest. Jonah is breathing hard, dirt smudged across his cheekbone and his forehead. He pants as he looks down at what he’s caught, and I feel the rise and fall of each breath beneath my trembling body. I am powerless to do anything but lie beneath him.

  Slowly, Jonah smiles.

  •   •   •

  “I’ve been waiting for you. ”

  Jonah has dragged me inside this cabin—which is bare-bones, so far as I can tell. One of his arms pins both of mine behind my back as he pulls me onward so fast I stumble. I glimpse only a few sticks of wood furniture, a rag rug on the floor, before Jonah pushes me into the bedroom.

  The bed is the only piece of furniture in the room. Barely even a double, with a metal frame that has tarnished to dingy mercury gray over time, and covered only with a stark white fitted sheet—but what catches my attention are the ropes.

  Jonah has wound pale ropes around each of the four posts of the bed. They wait for me.

 
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