Page 49

On that evening when the sky was pale and blue and the beer cans were rolling around each time she stepped on the brake, Gillian made an illegal U turn and drove to Ben Frye’s house before her nerve failed her. She told herself she was an adult and could handle an adult encounter. It wasn’t necessary for her to run away, or protect someone at her own expense, or do anything more than take one baby step at a time in any direction she chose. All the same, she thought she might faint when Ben came to answer his door. She’d planned to tell him that she wasn’t looking for a commitment or anything serious—she wasn’t sure if she was going to kiss him, let alone get into bed with him—but she never got to say any of it, because once she stepped into the front hallway, Ben wasn’t about to wait.

He’d done enough time with patience, he’d served his sentence, now he didn’t intend to look past what he wanted. He started kissing Gillian before she could mention that she was still thinking it over. His kisses made her feel things she didn’t want to feel, at least not yet. He got her up against the wall and slipped his hands under her blouse, and that was that. She didn’t say “Stop it,” she didn’t say “Wait,” she kissed him back until she was too far gone to think anything over. Ben was driving her crazy, and he was testing her, too—every time he got her really hot, he’d stop just to see what she would do, and how much she wanted it. If he didn’t take her into the bedroom soon, she’d find herself begging him to fuck her. She’d wind up saying, Please, baby, which is what she used to say to Jimmy, although she never really meant it. Not back then. It’s never possible for a woman to concentrate on making love when she’s that scared. Too scared to breathe, too frightened to consider saying, Not like that. It hurts too much when you do it like that.

She talked dirty to Jimmy because she knew it helped to make him hard. If he’d been drinking all night and couldn’t get it up, he’d turn on her so fast she’d be reeling. One minute everything would be fine, and the next second the air all around him would be set on fire from the fury of whatever was inside him. When this happened, either he’d start to slap her or she’d have to start telling him how much she wanted him inside her. At least he’d have something to do with his anger when Gillian told him that she wanted him to fuck her all night, she wanted him so much she’d do anything, he could make her do anything. And didn’t he have a perfect right to be angry and do whatever he pleased? Wasn’t she so bad she needed to be punished, and only he could do it, he could do it right?

Talk and violence always turned Jimmy on, and so Gillian always started talking right away. She was smart enough to get him hard fast, to talk nasty and suck his dick, before he started to get really mad. He’d fuck her then, but he could be mean about it, and selfish, too, and he liked it when she cried. When she cried, he knew he had won, and for some reason that was important to him. He didn’t seem to know he’d won from the start, when she first saw him, when she first looked into his eyes.

As soon as they were done with sex, Jimmy would be nice to her again, and it was worth almost anything to have him when he was that way. When he was feeling all right and didn’t have anything to prove, he was the man she’d fallen for so hard, he was the one who could make nearly any woman believe whatever he wanted. It’s easy to forget what you do in the dark, if you need to. Gillian knew that other women thought she was lucky, and she agreed with them. She’d gotten confused, that’s what had happened. She’d started to accept that love had to be like this, and in a way she was right, because with Jimmy that’s the way it did have to be.

Gillian was so used to having someone get her down on her hands and knees first thing; she was so ready to be struck and then told she’d better suck hard, that she couldn’t believe Ben was spending this much time kissing her. All this kissing was making her crazy; it was reminding her of what she could feel, and how it could be when you wanted someone as much as he wanted you. Ben was about as different from Jimmy as anyone could be. He wasn’t interested in making anyone cry, then sweet-talking her afterward, the way Jimmy used to, and he didn’t need any help the way Jimmy always did. By the time Ben pulled her panties off, Gillian was completely weak in the knees. She didn’t give a damn about going into the bedroom, she wanted it there, she wanted it now. She no longer had to debate the possibility of being with Ben Frye; this relationship had already happened, she’d walked straight into it, and she wasn’t about to start walking away.