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Delayed Reaction

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"Want me to stop?"


Alice's face hurts and her shoulder throbs, and she's tired of being coddled. She wants to be fucked hard and fast enough to forget her own name.

Ian is gentle and considerate, and treats Alice like spun-glass no matter how she tried to push him further.

Afterwards, he tries to cuddle. Alice flinches. "Ow," she adds as an afterthought.


They lie side-by-side. Alice stares at the ceiling. His unfamiliar weight in the bed beside her keeps her raggedly skirting the edges of sleep.

"I think you should go now," she says finally. "Sorry." The words fall away into the dark room like small stones in still water.

He isn't asleep either. "Is it--I shouldn't have--" He tries to apologize. He's convinced he's taken advantage of her.

He dresses, fumbling for socks and shoes. She kneels in the middle of the bed, hugging her pillow to her chest. Her arm hurts. She squeezes it tighter.

"No. No, it's okay," Alice repeats. "No, I wanted to, too. It was good," she lies.

She thinks he finally believes her when the lines smooth out from his face, and he squeezes her hand comfortingly.

"I just need to be alone," she says, even though she doesn't. Not really.

She just doesn't want to be with Ian. Whatever is between them is tentative and shaky, not sturdy enough to bear the comfort she needs. He's a near-stranger, and she feels like a stranger in her own skin tonight.

She wraps herself up in the comforter, and sees him to the door, blanket trailing behind her. "Sorry," she repeats.

"Are you going to be okay?"

Alice draws a shaky breath. "Yeah. I just need some space right now." What she needs is for everyone to stop asking her that.

"If you need anything, call me," he says, even though she's kicking him out in the middle of the night. He's just so nice. He kisses her forehead carefully.

"Thanks," she says again, shuts the door, and scrubs her palm across her forehead.

Then, she curls up in her mercifully empty bed, and cries.