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Keith's Humiliation

    - After dinner was over, hearing a car pull up, Jillian collected her purse and coat. "I think I'll go straight out to him. I'm not sure it would be too comfortable for any of us if I brought him in yet. I'll see how the evening goes. Don't wait up." As the doorbell rang she kissed her parents, then she went out, joined Keith on the step and let him lead her to the car, through the warm air and fading light of the early spring evening.
   "Jillian. Wow. You take my breath away. You're gorgeous."
   "That's exactly what Dad just said."
   He closed her door. went round to his side of the car. "And he's spot on. You're not the same girl, woman, who went out with me a week ago." He started the car.
   As they drove away, Jillian answered, "Oh, that was a week ago. Do you expect me to stay the same for the rest of my life?"
   "No, of course not. But what a big change in just one week."
   "Yes. Mum took me shopping. that helped, too. Now, do tell me, how did you keep the accident out of the papers? I've been watching them every day. Nothing. You were as good as your word. How did you manage it?"
   "I said I wasn't going to tell you, and I'm sticking to that. Better you don't know."
   "You can't blame me for being curious. I am an interested party, after all."
   "Sorry. That was the deal. I protect my sources. And I'll protect you, too. That's our deal."
   "Yes, Keith. I know. And I'll do my part, too. But you mustn't rush me. You know so much more than I do about the world, after all." How can I say these things? I sound so false. He must surely see through it.
   Apparently not, for he replied, in what she thought he intended to be a seductive voice, "Oh, my own Jillian, how I love you. How lovely it will be for us. Yes, I do know all about these things, and I won't rush you too much, I promise. Just trust me. It will be truly lovely."
    "Keith, how lucky I am to be with you. Now tell, me, where are we headed tonight?"
   "Surprise, little Jilly, but you will love it."
   She was amazed to find that he was right, that time. He had booked seats for a revue at the Wharf Theatre. Three very clever actors, and a brilliant script, taking beautifully aimed shots, all by implication - nothing absolutely specific - at the current business and political leaders, the pompous institutions and a widely ranging set of targets of minor scams and bent deals that everyone knew happened, but never seemed to get proved or stopped. It was hilarious. She enjoyed herself hugely.
   They walked together back to his car. She was still smiling as she thought about what they had seen. "Some of the dialogue was absolutely brilliant. All of it was great. Thank you. That was a lovely treat."
   She means it, he thought. "Yes, I enjoyed it, too. You didn't think very much of that movie, last week, did you?"
   She shook her head.
   The street lights were quite bright. He could see that she had turned thoughtful. He wanted her to be happy, at least for now. Perhaps tonight? If I can get her smiling again? "But tonight was much better?"
   "Oh, much."
   She was smiling again. Good. "Now, do we have to rush you back to Hunter's Hill, or is there time for some supper, perhaps?" He had everything set up, ready, at his flat.
   . "No. It's up to me when we call it a night. Let's go to The Basement, or Kinsella's perhaps. You could get us in, couldn't you? Some good jazz would be great, wouldn't it?"
   He looked at her, doubtfully, as he unlocked the car and helped her in, then got in his own side. They drove away. "I have a lovely supper set up at my flat."
   No way. Not yet. We are in too good a mood for my purposes. You need to be impatient. Frustrated. Angry at me. Needing to impose your will on me. "Oh, not yet, surely. I'm having such a good time, why spoil it?" There. Some ambiguity to frustrate him even further. And a reminder of what his target is. That I am withholding from him. "Can't you get us into somewhere nice?" Cast some doubt upon his capability. Stoke his boiler.
   "I suppose I could try. Where do you prefer?"
   "Oh, I'll leave it up to you. Somewhere nice." Somewhere expensive, she thought. Somewhere public. Something to damp you down a little, Keith. And don't think that if you spend more on me I'll owe you even more 'gratitude'. If you want that sort of deal you might at least be honest enough to spell it out beforehand. You're still a bit of an idiot, Keith, but I'll grant you that you are hiding it better, this week. Shame for you that I have a memory that doesn't completely fade within seven days.
   A short time later, they were standing in line, holding hands again, for he had grabbed one without warning, and she couldn't work out how to free herself without letting on that she saw right through him. It was at least an hour before they reached the head of the line to be shown to a table in the club. Lucky I'm wearing sensible shoes. Some of the other women in the queue were obviously in agony. All that time, while they were waiting, Keith had tried one way and another to persuade her to go to his flat instead. He had some great jazz disks there, he told her.
   Jillian had replied that she wanted the genuine ambience. He said it was over-rated. She said that she wouldn't settle for anything less. Didn't he prefer the genuine original to a mere reproduction? Not really, he told her, sometimes a reproduction could be better than the original. Electronic enhancement could make it a better experience than the live performance.
   That wouldn't do for her, Jillian told him; she preferred warm flesh and blood to any cold machine. That got his interest. He shut up then about reproductions being better.
   When they were seated inside, Jillian asked for Perrier and a slice of lime. She couldn't hear what Keith asked for, and she didn't care. She noticed that several of the people at neighbouring tables were looking at her. Keith noticed too. He put his head close and shouted over the amplified band, "I must be with the most attractive woman here."
   Enjoy it while you can, Keith, she thought. "Why, thank you, Kind Sir." The irony was wasted, as she could hardly make herself heard. He had barely caught the words, and quite missed the tone with which she had delivered them.
   "You're very welcome. Dance?" Before she could reply he had grasped her hand, virtually yanked her to her feet and then dragged her behind him onto the crowded pocket handkerchief of a dance-floor, where he pulled her close to him and started to sway to the music, rubbing himself against her.
   She felt him, large within his clothes, jutting between her hips, and she applied all her will-power to not being sick all over her new dress. All over him she wouldn't mind, would quite have liked to, actually, but the dress was too nice to ruin. Some other time, maybe, when she was in clothes that she cared less about. You'll keep, Keith, you little slime-ball, she thought.
   When the band took a break, what seemed an age later, they returned to their table. She felt herself to be in an icy rage.
   Keith was flushed. "Enjoying yourself?" he asked.
   Of course she wasn't. "Oh, it's lovely. And isn't the music so much better than a mere disk?" She hoped it was costing him a bomb.
   "Yes, you were right. Warm flesh and blood beats any cold machine."
   She just looked at him. He was impossible. Totally off the wall. And so transparent it was boring. There was only one ending to this farce, and whether today, tomorrow, or next week or month, he was going to keep pushing until he either got what he wanted, or accepted his failure.
   Why put off the fateful day? she thought. May as well bring it to a head and deal with it now, whatever it is, rather than have it hanging over me, making my life a misery for weeks on end. "What would you like to do now?" she asked. As if I didn't know, she thought.
   "If you're feeling tired I could take you home."
   Oh, what a perfect little gentleman it is - and then grab at me in the car, I suppose. You're in your true colours now, aren't you, Keithy-boy? "Let's head off, anyway, and see what we feel like away from the noise and smoke here." Let's give you some rope, and see if you tie yourself a noose.
   -- Back in the car she was surprised at his self-restraint. He just drove, mostly in silence. As they were leaving the city he said, "I can take you straight home, or we could stop by my flat for some coffee. It's set up. Live jazz is great to listen to, I do agree with you, but you can't hear the natural sound any more. Now they all use microphones and loudspeakers. It comes out the same way as from a disk. At least at home it's your volume control."
   "Yes, you were right, I was wrong. Far too loud. Painful. I couldn't stand it." Nor you, boy-oh.
   He took a quick glance at her as he drove. I can hardly wait to get her into my flat, he thought. She's a grown up, now. Gorgeous. She has always been a striking beauty. I thought she was stuck-up when I worked in their firm, but perhaps she was just too young then. Not ready for a real man. She is now, I reckon. And she owes, me, big-time. As long as she knows it, that's what counts. "Well, while I make some supper you can choose what we listen to, and how loud."
   "That will be a relief."
   Shortly after, they pulled up in one of the narrow streets of Woolloomooloo. It seemed like a construction site. He parked in the street, went round the car and helped her out. What an odd mixture he is, she thought. Totally crass with good manners. Weird. Thank goodness I did my homework this week.
   With a hand under her elbow he guided her into the lift and they were soon entering his flat. It was small, poky, even. Not well set-up. Obviously the cheaper end of the budget scale. That made sense. He was still working mainly for a charity firm.
   When he opened the door into the lounge, however, she was amazed. How could he afford such a magnificent view across the harbour, the moon over the water, the lights on the far shore making a sparkling back-drop, the glimmer of ferries sliding across the dark surface of the water like fireflies? "It's beautiful," she gasped.
   "Yes," he said, from the kitchen. "I've been lucky, but only for the moment, though. When I came here I only had a brick wall to look at. Then that building was demolished to make way for an even bigger one, but they've run into snags with their building permit and construction has stopped for a time, fortunately on the level below my window."
   She went out onto the balcony, looked down, and in the moonlight saw the building he was talking about, its top now a mass of scaffolding. When it was up to this level it would be almost close enough to touch.
   "But for the moment, it's lovely. Almost magical at night. I bet it's great in the day-time, too."
   "So are you, and so would you be, too." He had come up behind her, and had put his arms around her waist.
   "What do you mean?"
   "You are lovely at this moment, and I bet you would be great in the day-time, too."
   "Oh, Keith. Knock it off."
   Now it was his turn to play puzzled. While he was thinking about it he led them back into the lounge, where coffee and small cakes were now waiting for them. There was quiet jazz playing. By the time they were seated, and sipping, he had decided to play the innocent. "What do you mean, 'Knock it off'?"
   "Stop pawing me."
   "I'm not."
   "You were. I don't like it. You know I don't like it. I never have liked it. You know that, too. Your manners have got better, but the basic Keith is still there. Unchanged."
   He opened his mouth to respond.
   "Oh, shut your mouth. Don't bother acting all surprised. This is me, Jillian. Not 'Little Jilly', perhaps, but the same person you pawed at years ago, and you're still at it. Crass. Gross. Don't look so surprised. You know very well what I'm saying, and if you don't understand yet, it's time you learnt."
   "Oh, Jillian, how could you say that? I love you. I've loved you since the day I first saw you. I know you were too young then. It was wrong of me. But you're older now. You're a woman."
   "But not a woman who loves you, Keith. Accept it. Grow up. Be a man."
   "I am a man, Jillian. I am indeed. I've paid my dues, and not complained, and gone straight, and helped you when you needed my help. What more do you expect of me?"
   "All you did was tell me to keep driving on, and to buy me a cup of coffee later on. Pass me my purse so that I can pay you for that coffee."
   "Oh, that's hard. I'm prepared to perjure myself for you, to risk sentence as your accessory, and you would throw a cup of coffee in my face."
   "Specially if it was scalding. You disgust me, Keith. I nearly lost my dinner all over us both when you frotted me in the club."
   "Frotted me. Jeez, so disgusting in your habits, and so ignorant with it. What an unappealing combination. Frottage, French. Rhymes with barge, near enough. Rubbing. To get your jollies from rubbing against some poor innocent victim, the way you did on me when we were doing what you so amusingly referred to dancing."
   "How do you know about such things?"
   "Listen, you poor excuse, I'm getting an education. That means learning things. Mainly out of books, but that's far better than having you teach me."
   "But Jillian, I love you so much. If you don't love me, what do you want me to do? If we aren't friends, why should I continue to perjure myself for you? I may as well go to the cops, at least clear myself."
   "Keith, you just aren't in the real world. One moment you say you love me. Last week you said you would never tell. Then you said only if I let you fuck me. Now you talk about love again. How can you expect anyone in their right mind to see you as a love object. You chop and change from appeals to threats and back again, like a yo-yo."
   "I never said all that."
   "Different words. Same meanings. Deny it?"
   "But you keep rejecting me, Jillian. It's so confusing. I do love you, and I want to be with you always, but a man can only take so much rejection."
   "I'm right, aren't I? Sex with you or go to jail?"
   "Oh, Jillian, it's not that black and white. I do love you -"
   " - oh sure, so long as I come across."
   "It's not like that."
   "Oh, no? Then tell me, Keith, just what it is like, please?"
   "Like I say, I love you, and, well, it's different for men, we can't just go on holding hands and being great friends, the physical pressures build up and we need a loving release. You would do that for me, wouldn't you?"
   "Well, for one thing we aren't great friends. And now you expect me to masturbate you? Ugh. How could you ask me to do that? Oh, don't answer - if you could frott me the way you did I shouldn't be surprised at anything you come up with."
   "No, Jilly, I mean for us to make love."
   "I don't love you that way, Keith." That's got to be one of my major understatements, she thought. But if I don't play along with the little creep he could get violent. I've got to calm him, or at least try to be a little less confrontational with him until the right moment.
   "Just how do you love me, Jillian?"
   "As a warm and caring friend, Keith?" What price sarcasm, she thought.
   "Give me a kiss, then."
   She remembered the last time. Oh, no. She leaned over and quickly pecked his cheek. Serves me right for trying sarcasm, she thought.
   "That's nice," he said, "while it's leading to something deeper. Now we are at that point. We have to move on, Jillian. Life doesn't stand still."
   "In it's own time, surely. You can't force love."
   "But I need you, Jillian. I need sex with you. Your kisses have inflamed me so I can't go on without your fulfilment."
   "Keith, there's some script in your head that's out of step with the real me. I just pecked you on the cheek and you think we are in a mad, passionate love scene. I'm quite happy to not kiss you, rather than risk your going up in flames, as of now."
   "You know that's not what I mean."
   "Keith, I'm not going to have sex with you. Forget it."
   "Are you prepared for me to forget our deal, too?"
   "Our deal?" She raised her voice. "Our deal? Deal? You bloody little blackmailer."
   "No, just mutual protection. Caring for each other."
   "Sounds like blackmail to me."
   "Oh, call it what you like. Do you want me to go to the cops?"
   "Of course not. I'd go to jail."
   "Is making love with me so bad you'd rather give up med. school, give up your freedom, give up everything, shame your parents, just to avoid it?"
   "How do you know, till you've tried?"
   "I just do." And I don't want to find out with you, she thought. There is only one way this is going to end up if I let you have your head, and I could think of better ways of experiencing my first time.
   "That's stupid, and you're not stupid, Jillian Jones. If there is one thing I know, it's that."
   "All right, I don't know."
   "Trust me, it will be lovely."
   "I don't trust you. And while it might be lovely for you, I've never done it before, so I have absolutely no idea if it would be lovely for me. And I certainly don't feel any lustful drive coursing through my veins that would make me want even to take my clothes off in your presence, let alone have you touch me. Anywhere. With anything."
   "You've never done it before? But you're so beautiful."
   "What's that got to do with it?"
   "Well, the pretty ones get pashed up by the blokes, and so they do it."
   "Not this 'pretty one'."
   "But didn't Chris?"
   "I told him I wanted to wait. The way I'm telling you. But he loves me enough to restrain himself and wait until the proper time."
   "And when is that?"
   "When I feel ready."
   "Dear God, you're twenty-one already. There never will be a proper time. You're just plain frigid. Chris wouldn't be waiting. Not for long, anyhow. Have you told him that he has to wait till you graduate?"
   "No. Not exactly."
   "'No means No. Which part of No don't you understand?' That's what girls are taught to say to men, these days, isn't it? So your 'No' means you don't want him, not as a man, not ever as far as I can tell, and when he finds out you won't let him into your fair white body for close to a decade, he'll be gone before you see the smoke."
   "I told him I was going to the movies with you tonight. He didn't mind. Stop distorting things you know nothing about."
   "Me? What about you? You've not been straight with Chris, and I reckon, you're not being straight with me. I'm telling you like it is, and you're twisting and turning it every which way trying to avoid loving like a woman."
   "Loving is not the word. You want to rape me."
   "Oh, Jillian, how can you say that? It's just not true."
   "Ha! You want sex with me despite my refusal. You are prepared to use extortion to force my unwilling acquiescence. That's rape, just as much as if you tied me to the corners of your bed then jumped my bones."
   I'm stupid, she thought. Stupid, stupid, stupid. He doesn't need that suggested to him. I've got to take that back somehow. "But you aren't going to do that, it's not your style, so why commit the same crime in another guise. It's rape, Keith. Rape. Because, given a free choice I would not agree to what you are asking."
   "Well, you don't have a free choice, Jillian, and I'm telling, not asking. So finish your coffee. I don't want you to feel rushed, but we're just wasting time here. And don't even think of throwing the coffee over me. It's too cold to scald me, anyway."
   He gave her a few moments, then stood up, took her coffee cup and put it down on the table, then took her hand and again pulled her to her feet. This time is was not onto a public dance-floor. This time it was into his bedroom. It was dominated by a huge bed with massive, ornately carved, timber ends.
   "Keith, No."
   "Tough. No more teasing."
   "You kissed me back there."
   "A peck on the cheek? Keith, I'm telling you No. No, you understand. No, no, no."
   "Tell me anything you like, but get your gear off or I'll be telling things you don't like. Get it off or I'll get it off for you."
   "You said you wouldn't be violent."
   "I said no such thing. But I won't be. That would give the game away. People would notice. It would come back to me, and I would be forced to tell what I know. That would get you into jail, Jillian. Jailed Jillian. Oh, no. That's not what I've got in mind. Not at all. Take off your nice clothes. Carefully. Don't just stand there. Start with the dress."
   She just stood there.
   He walked across to the bedside phone. Picked it up.
   "What are you doing?"
   "Phoning the police. How do you think your mother will take the news when they phone to tell her you're in custody. They will, you know. I'll tell them she's your next of kin. And of course, so she is." He held his hand over the buttons, but hadn't pressed any of them yet.
   "You wouldn't."
   He pressed a button.
   "Put your hand on your zip then." He waited as she did so. "Good. Now pull it down."
   "Keith, please. I can't."
   "You are doing very well, so far." He pressed another button. She gasped and pulled the zip down a centimetre. "Very good." He hung up the phone. "Now the rest of the way, if you please. You'll find it isn't so hard, once you've got it moving."
   He moved back to the bedroom door, closed it, and switched off the light. Now there was only the glow under the door from the next room. She felt a little easier.
   He went to the window and flung back the drapes. The moon flooded into the room.
   "Keith, don't. Please."
   "You want the room dark? Are you ashamed?"
   "Not at all. I'm under duress. It's you who should be ashamed. But you want me to undress before the window, with everyone able to watch?"
   "Yes, why not? Anyhow, nobody can see you up here."
   "If you expect intimacy from a woman, don't you set up an intimate atmosphere? This isn't intimate, it's public."
   "I thought it was quite nice."
   "Well it's not."
   "You can see the harbour. You thought it was lovely a few minutes ago."
   "With what you want me to do, I couldn't see the view."
   "You could if you sat up. Now there's an idea."
   "Keith Heffernan, you are out of your mind."
   "I'm very serious. I'll close the drapes and put on a side-light, if you keep undressing. Or I'll make that phone call." A few moments later the room was a private space again.
   He switched on the bedside light, sat on the bed, took off his shoes, swung his feet up, and leaned back with his hands behind his head. "Slip the dress off, now, and lay it over that chair. We don't want you going home all crumpled. Your Mum might get the wrong idea about you." He laughed.
   "Not while you are watching."
   "Pretend I've got my eyes shut. I'm pretending that the night of the Parkway never happened. Maybe you can pretend that this night didn't happen, too. Get the dress off." He picked up the phone again.
   Jillian hurriedly slid the dress off her shoulders, stepped out of it and laid it across the chair. She turned away from him
   Keith replaced the phone and whistled. "Oh, dear god. I thought you were gorgeous, but I didn't know the half of it. And in red, too. Oh, my word. What a marvellous back, and a bum to die for."
   She just stood, there. Said nothing. It had all been said.
   "Now, turn round."
   She didn't move.
   "Please? Please! You are raping me and you say please? Ha! No means no, as you so clearly put it, earlier."
   "Turn round, or stand as you are and undo your bra. You've got a choice. But you must make it now." There was the sound of the phone being lifted.
   She reached back and undid her bra. Heard the phone being replaced.
   "Turn round."
   She did so, glaring at him, furious, her face and neck bright red, almost the same colour as her underclothes in the dim light. She said nothing. She heard her heart pounding in her ears, and felt her abdomen go tight with stress. She shrugged her shoulders to ease their strain, and realised then how keyed up she was, and knew from her studies that her body had prepared her muscles to be ready for flight or fight. I feel ten times stronger than usual, she thought. If it was just a matter of physical strength right now, I think that I could deal with him.
   But what can I hope to do about the accident? I've killed a man, and this little shit is blackmailing me, and I guess he is my punishment. That's an interesting thought. The gods are going to get me, one way or another. The fickle fates. How relaxed he looks, just lying there, a spectator to my discomfiture.
   If this is the way the fates work, it's going to be interesting to see how they treat him for what he is doing now. He may be their instrument, but he's doing evil; it's his choice. Have they tempted him with blandishments, perhaps? Am I the bait, the vehicle with which the fates will bring Keith Heffernan down in turn?
   "That's better, you are starting to relax. Now take the panties off, or would you like me to come and help?"
   She tried to hold the bra across her bosom with one arm, while sliding the panties down with the other hand. He laughed. It was not a comforting sound. She remembered that he had to be in control. Her best chance was to take the initiative. Push him faster toward his goal, more confrontationally that he expected, than he could cope with. Oh, I do hope he can't cope. I'm going to be right out of my depth if he keeps his cool. Here goes nothing.
   "Oh, the hell with it," she cried, suddenly. "You are a total shit, frotteur, and criminal beyond any understanding, and I'm sure you are guilty of every bad thing any of us ever thought of you, however light your sentence may have been."
   He said nothing. Just looked at her with a half-smile playing around his lips. But his eyes were cold, hard.
   Jillian shivered, though the night was warm. "For all I know you were the mastermind and your poor father the pawn, stupid enough to go to jail so you could stay free. You are out to make me feel as bad as possible, aren't you? The worse I am embarrassed, the better you like it." She flung the last of her garments at him, put her legs apart and threw her arms wide. "Here, get a good eyeful. I can let a doctor look all over me, so I can cope with your stupid perving. You've played the embarrassment card for the last time. What's next?"
   "You'll do as I tell you, or you'll be sorry."
   "I'm plenty sorry already. Forget about that. And I've done all that you asked. What's your problem now?" As she had earlier in the week, she felt herself on the other side of the glass, watching the ants. None of this matters. He can't hurt me. I'm not out there, I'm here in my head, safe, looking out. He won't damage my body, it would end his game. He can't fuck with my mind, either. It's safe in here with me.
   "You know what I wanted. You're supposed to be terrified."
   She put her hands atop her head and started to sashay towards him, around the side of the bed, naked, hips thrust forward, legs apart. "Like this, big boy? Want me now, big boy?" She looked down at him.
   "No, no, no, no! Why aren't you scared? Be scared!" His voice was rising as he yelled.
   He wasn't relaxed now. Great, she thought. I'll fix his bike, but good. "Well, no means no, so I'll have to do better." She put one hand over her crotch and the other arm over her breasts, and huddled herself over, protectively. "Oh, please Sir, Mr Big Man, Sir, please don't harm me. Let me go. I'll do anything. Anything. Only don't make me do that 'anything' thing." And burst out laughing as she straightened up,
   "No, no." He was almost weeping with frustration. "You're not doing it right. You're spoiling it. You're doing it deliberately. Bitch, bitch, bitch. BITCH!"
   He swung round, put his feet down on the floor, almost between her parted legs as she stood beside the bed. She didn't move. He tried to stand up, without touching her, but she was too close. He had to sit back down on the bed. She grabbed his head, held his ears, pulled his face into her breast, against a nipple. "Baby want a suck? Have a suck baby."
   Part of her mind was up in one corner of the room, behind her, looking down on the scene. You are doing well, it thought. Maybe, she answered, but where am I getting this from? It may be the right thing for now, but how do I know how to do all this? Just from the books? Instinct, she replied, plus, maybe, a few of the sick psychological thrillers you've seen. What a good mind I've got, she mused. What can you do for me next, O My Mind?
   The head in her hands was blubbering, like the baby she had called it. "You've spoilt it, you've spoilt it," it mumbled into her chest.
   "How was it supposed to be, poor little baby?"
   "You were supposed to plead, and weep, and beg me. Then I'd have the power, and it would be so good. Making you frightened and pleading and doing it to you anyway."
   "I know, poor baby. And I'm not pleading, am I?" She let go the ears. Wouldn't want to have to stitch them back on, she thought, and instead wound one arm round the head to hold it firmly against her.
   Then she had a flash of intuition. With her free hand she grabbed one of his, pulling it without warning up between her parted legs. "Want a feel, big boy? Feel what's waiting there for you? Hot and pounding? Feel what you're missing?"
   She felt his shoulders begin to heave, and stepped back. He rushed into the bathroom, gagging, and she heard him vomiting into the toilet, as she retrieved her underwear and began to dress. She was shaking, shivering, suddenly cold. Oh, dear god. Is this going to be the pattern of my life from now on? Can I hope he will leave me alone now, or will he get worse? Will I ever get my life together again? I hate this. I hate what's happening to me. I hate what I'm becoming. Hard. Vicious. Lewd. I never would have dreamt I was capable of that scene. Amazing what you can do when you need to, though. Despite herself, she laughed. It was quite a happy sound, she thought. Behind her Keith started puking again.
   Once dressed, her hair still un-mussed, her insides still tense and quivering despite her laughter, she picked up her purse and let herself out, hearing him still retching and sobbing in the bathroom, and took the lift down. Back on the street she began walking to where she had seen a taxi rank shortly before they had arrived here. She was once more pleased with her choice of shoes. Her mother had been right again. Get shoes that looked dressy but were also comfortable for walking. She looked at her watch. Had all that really only taken three quarters of an hour?
   Ten minutes later she was in a taxi, and thirty minutes after that she was home. She showered for almost an hour before she felt able to dry herself and lie down in her bed, but sleep was as far from her as it had ever been. She was still awake when the sun came up.

Copyright © 2003 Peter Leon Collins
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