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Authors: Danielle Pearl

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BOOK: ReCAP: A NORMAL Novella
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But her entire body stiffens. And her
discomfort is palpable. I inwardly chastise myself for my stupid
fucking joke. I'm teasing a girl who's obviously suffered some kind
of abuse about bondage. I want to punch myself in the fucking
face.

"Safe
word,
" she whispers tremulously, and I
hate myself even more. But I'm also impressed. By Rory. Because she
didn't panic or even get upset, though she was obviously distressed
by my playful suggestion. She used the tool I'd just given her. And
in a way, she's trusting me to honor it, and I'm going to fucking
be worthy of her trust. I need to watch my damned mouth from now
on.

"See... It works," I say, and I watch her
relax. I feel a swell of pride. "But you have to pick an actual
word, not just 'safe word'."

She suggests "calculus", and I laugh again.
I agree wholeheartedly, and tell her I'm going to go bring her car
around for her.

I appreciate that she doesn't argue, though
I suspect she wants to out of her own pride. But she doesn't want
to walk out there alone any more than I want her to, and I race to
the student lot before she can change her mind.

****

Stronger Than You
Think

I
roll my eyes at Chelsea.

"So which is it? Is Dave into Lily or not?
Because she's going on about how she going to hook up with him
before spring break, and get him to take her to Prom. And I mean,
ugh, it's so annoying. But if he doesn't like her, I was thinking
we could set him up with Rory."

That gets my attention. I'm pretty sure Dave
has every intention of hooking up with Lily, but she'll be lucky if
it lasts through spring break, and there will definitely be no Prom
for them. I've never seen a girl keep Dave's interest for long
after she sleeps with him, and I doubt Lily will be any
different.

But I don't discuss my friend's business,
and Chelsea shouldn't be either. But what has me on alert is the
suggestion that Dave should go for Rory.

"I don't think Rory is
interested in being set up, and anyway, I think Dave can handle his
own love-life, or
screw
-life, since I don't think love has anything to do with it.
And so can Lily, for that matter," I admonish her.

"Well I'm just saying, if he's not into
Lily, maybe he and Rory would hit it off. Is she coming with us on
spring break?"

Chelsea was much cooler when we were
younger. She was funny and she liked to do fun things, but the
older we get, the more her jokes are at her own friends' expense,
and the more superficial her interests become. I suspect we'll
always be friends, but we don't really have all that much in common
anymore.

I'm about to tell her that I doubt Rory
wants to come on break, and that even if she did, we won't be
trying to fucking set her up with fucking Dave, but Chelsea's eyes
lock on something over my shoulder.

"There she is, your little
student," she says and I turn to see Rory at the library entrance
behind me. "I was just asking Cap if you're coming to Miami for
spring break."

"Oh," Rory says, startled, "Um, no, I don't
think so."

"Oh, but you should!" Chelsea is overly
enthusiastic. "We're all going, you know, our group of friends.
Think about it, it's not too late," she calls as she turns to
leave. But I'm pretty sure Rory doesn't like Chelsea much,
considering she makes an excuse to leave any time the girl is
around, so if her plan is to get Rory to come on break so she can
move ahead with her set-up plan, I don't think she'll be especially
effective.

But I'm practically seething at the
suggestion of Rory and Dave as I follow Rory to our usual table
toward the back of the library. Even though rationally I realize
that Rory's not interested in a relationship with Dave or any guy.
Her signals have been pretty fucking clear. And I consider that
maybe it would be a good idea for Rory to come on break. I'm not
worried she's going to hook up with any of my friends, or anyone
else. And she gets along great with Carl and Tina, and I can look
out for her.

In truth, I now realize
that if she
doesn't
go, then I'm looking forward far less to it myself. I enjoy
her company more than most other things lately, and I enjoy most
other things more with her company.

So I give Rory a pathetic pep talk about
only being a senior once in an effort to get her to consider
joining our trip, both for selfish reasons, and for the fact that I
mean every word. She can handle it. I know she can.

Rory seems a little out of it, maybe a
little more tired than usual, and we work longer than we usually
do. There's a big test on Monday, and I know how badly she wants to
do well, and how badly I want to help her achieve that.

By the time I'm looking over her last test
problems I feel confident that she's got the material down.

"Where's Ms. Pitser?" she asks. I'm
distracted, looking over the last problem, and I don't understand
why she cares where the librarian is.

"Hmm?" I glance at her before returning my
attention to her work. "What time is it?" I ask.

"Almost seven."

Oh. Well then she's gone for the day, and I
tell Rory that I'm pretty sure Ms. Pitser leaves at six.

Suddenly her chair is scraping roughly
against the floor and I look up in time to see her shoot out of her
chair like the building is on fire. I watch her inquisitively,
trying to gauge what the hell is going on, but there's no sign of
what's rattled her.

I see her entire demeanor change in an
instant, and I feel dread unfurl in my gut. She flushes, first her
cheeks then all of the skin visible around her plain black tee
shirt, her breathing grows shallow and quick - too quick. She moves
backward, away from me, as if I'm some predator waiting to pounce,
and I can't understand what has changed, but I'm worried for
her.

"Rory? You okay?" I ask her, trying to keep
my voice calm and level.

"You- you said the library's open 'til
seven," she chokes out. I hate the way her voice sounds - utterly
terrified.

I stand slowly, not wanting to startle her,
but needing to figure out what the fuck is going on. Why the fuck
is she worried about the library being closed when it's clearly
still open?

"It is," I remind her.

"But the librarian left!"
she shouts.

I walk toward her carefully, and she takes
an equal step back.

"You knew she was
leavin'!" she accuses me. I flinch. I'm transported back to that
first night at Andy's -- when she'd thought I'd been luring her
away from the party to hook up. But that was before we were friends
-- before she told me about the men who all hurt or abandoned her,
before I told her about Bits. It stings, seeing her look at me like
that again.
God
,
does it sting.

"She leaves at six, but the library stays
open 'til seven. See? The lights are on, the doors aren't locked,"
I remind her, desperate to make her see sense, to see that just
because Pitser left doesn't mean she's not safe. That I'm here,
that I'll keep her safe. But I'm the one she's afraid of, and it
feels all wrong.

Suddenly she snatches her backpack from the
floor and reaches for her calc book, and I take another step toward
her, desperate to remind her that I'm not her enemy, that I'm her
friend. But she backs away from me again, and her eyes fill with
fucking tears, and it rips my chest right open, twisting my heart
painfully.

Fuck
. It's unbearable - seeing the terror in her eyes, having it
aimed right at me. I would
never
hurt her, how does she not know I would never
fucking hurt her?!

"Calculus!"
she sobs, and it completely guts me. That was
supposed to be our safe word – so she could feel comfortable in our
friendship, not so she can prevent me from... what?
Beating
her?

Shit
. I haven't even actually done anything and I fucking hate
myself right now.

I'm desperate. I need to fix this. I need to
help her. And I don't know what the fuck to do!

"Oh, God, Rory. Don't cry.
Everything's fine. We're fine, okay?"
Please, please believe me
, I
silently beg.

The honor I felt when she showed trust in me
has been shaken and turned upside down. I am murderously angry at
whoever hurt her so badly that she thinks it's what every guy would
do. I am ashamed of myself for not having the foresight to prevent
this situation. And I am completely devastated at seeing her so
helpless, so afraid.

I reach for her arm, needing to comfort her
and not knowing what else to do, and she shakes so violently that
I'm almost starting to feel as frightened as she does.

"Please!" she begs. But
what she's begging me for, I don't know, because I swear to fucking
God, if I did, I would give it to her. Right now I would give
fucking
anything
to take away her pain, her fear.

Before I know what I'm
doing, I pull her into my arms. She tries to push me off, but I hug
her tightly. She cries against my chest, still trying to push me
away, and I rub my arm up and down her back, whispering for her to
calm down, that I'm not going to hurt her - that I would
never
hurt
her.

I squeeze my eyes shut and
continue my mantra. Telling her that she's fine. That
we're
fine. That I would
never hurt her. I am desperate to keep her safe, and it's a
visceral, physical need to protect her, even from her own
fear.

I'm terrified that I'm
doing the wrong thing. That holding a girl against her will –
especially one who's been abused – even in a hug, is probably a
really bad idea.

But I can't let her go.

Slowly her breathing grows
deeper, calmer, and her trembling eases. Her arms gradually make
their way around my back, until she's holding onto me, gripping my
shirt and clutching me to her. The relief I feel is immeasurable,
and I just continue to hold her, rub her back, and whisper
reassurances.

I feel overwhelmed. Too many emotions swirl
through me - rage at whoever did this to her, compassion for her
suffering, and not least of all, a deep, unexpected anguish. I
think my eyes even water, though I honestly can't remember the last
time I cried, but it couldn't have been more recently that a decade
ago.

"That's it, Ror. See? You're okay," I
whisper, masking my emotional reaction as best I can.

I move my fingers to her hair, stroking it
softly, and we stand there, holding each other in the empty library
for long minutes.

Eventually one of her hands releases my
shirt, and I look down to find her reaching for the front pocket of
her backpack where I know she keeps her pills. But she doesn't need
them. She's not panicking. She's okay.

"You don't need them, Rory. Look at you.
You're fine. You're calming down. You don't need a pill," I tell
her, and she actually listens.

Finally, she pulls back to look at me, and I
hope I look composed enough. I don't want her to see me rattled. I
want to be a rock for her - someone she can lean on, not someone
she needs to worry about.

She releases her other
hand and I relax my grip on her, though I don't especially want to.
I hate the reason she's here, but I have to admit she feels good in
my arms. My chest feels too-full, and I swear there's a tangible,
physical pull between it and her. It's like nothing I've ever felt
before, and, I realize, I wish we could have something more than a
friendship. Of course I've wished that from day one, but now it
isn't only a physical attraction, it's something deeper – something
I barely even understand.

"You're okay," I promise her.

She nods, and it's beautiful. I back away,
fighting my instincts to keep her as close as possible. But she
blushes again, this time in shame.

"Oh, God, I'm so sorry!" she says, but I
won't have any of it.

"It's fine, Ror. I mean it," I say intently,
hating the way she shakes her head.

"Oh, God," she cries. She falls into a chair
and drops her head in her hands, but I kneel in front of her.

"Hey." I try to get her
attention, but she shakes her head again. I need to get through to
her. I won't allow her to be embarrassed over that. That wasn't her
fault. That whoever hurt is to blame. And, if anything, she should
be proud as hell that she just beat a panic attack without having
to rely on her medication. It's crazy – she's the toughest girl I
know, and she has no idea. "Hey," I say again, and though I
hesitate, I take a gentle hold of her wrists and pull them down so
she has to look at me.

I wait for her to meet my eyes, and she
looks so helpless in this moment, so innocent and hopeless that it
tugs at something inside me. I've never been so affected by another
person, but this girl somehow just has an invisible hold on every
part of me.

When I speak, I do so
slowly and carefully. "I should have told you when Pitser left. I
didn't realize it would matter," I tell her honestly. "That's my
fault. I didn't think. I am the one who is sorry, okay?"
And I won't fucking let it happen
again
, I silently swear.

She stares at me for a long moment, and I
hope to God that I'm getting through to her. She deserves no guilt,
no shame. None.

"I don't know why you're so nice to me," she
breathes, and I feel my entire body relax. I hadn't even realized
quite how tense I was.

BOOK: ReCAP: A NORMAL Novella
4.07Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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