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i feel numb most of the time

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Denise calls her newest ex-lover Ted at three in the morning several weeks after his emotional obliteration. She holds her breath as the phone rings; through no fault of her own, some men aren’t receptive to her system. Tonight is especially tense – Denise is six cigarettes and ten shots deep and still feels ready to shatter on the slightest impact. On nights like this, she locks her jewelry box with a key that she stores in the back of her sock drawer. If she falls apart, she’ll take anything in sight down with her. It only took one time to wake up in a pile of knotted necklaces, crushed costume jewelry, and earrings with backs lost to time to come up with a safeguard for bad days.

She reclines on the bed, phone still held to her ear. This isn’t out of relaxation; it’s strategic. Lying down makes her voice sound softer, sleepier, and childlike. The system doesn’t work without feigning innocence. There are only two kinds of men – those who think they can exploit her, and those who think they can save her. They love believing that underneath the manipulation and the lies and the filthy, filthy fucking, she’s just a wide-eyed waif whose only crime was being too scared to love them.

Idiots. The only thing underneath her gorgeous exterior is a bottomless hole where her soul is supposed to be. Buying into her game does nothing but fill it, just a little bit. They only save her in the way that capturing prey saves a hungry predator. One-sided and violent, but necessary all the same to keep things running the way they’re supposed to.

Hunting down the young ones always works the best. Ted is no exception. He’s 21, an art student, and had never been in love before. It will be a very long time before he loves anyone else again, too. Denise has made very sure of that; it’s why the system exists.

The phone clicks. “Hello?” says a sleepy voice.

“Hi, Teddy.” She emphasizes the slurring in her voice – it works well to pretend she’s drunker than she is so she can get out of whatever she says later. “It’s Denise.”

“Denise? Why are you calling at 3 o clock in the morning?” he says. She can hear him shuffling around on the other end, sitting up maybe, running his fingers through his hair. Ted thinks he’s getting a booty call. He catches on faster than some of the others did.

“I was just thinking about you. I know we ended on a bad note but I’ve just been so lonely ever since we broke up.” She sniffles for affect. “My bed feels so empty now.”

There is a long pause before he says, “Mine too.”

“Could you keep me company for one more night? I miss you so much, Ted.”

Guilt is already seeping through his brain, willing him to not go. Don’t stick your dick in crazy it says, though her calculated actions are as far from crazy as it gets. To make this really work, she has to tug somewhere other than his heartstrings.

“I need you inside me tonight,” she moans.

He clears his throat. “I- I’ll be there in fifteen minutes.”

“Can’t wait,” she breathes, and hangs up.

He says fifteen, but he arrives in eight. The boy has it bad for her.

Later he’ll penetrate her on her bed in front of six hidden cameras and repeat as a mantra ‘I love you, I love you, I love you.’ She won’t say it back; she never does. Denise will fake an orgasm and take the position as the little spoon until Ted falls asleep. When his snores fill the room, she’ll extract herself from his arms, light another cigarette, stare out the window, and smoke until nothing but ash is left. She won’t get off until she kicks him unceremoniously out of her apartment the next morning, coldly telling him that it was all a terrible mistake. The pleasure will flow through her like a rushing river. For a little while, she’ll feel nearly whole.

Getting off is almost like having feelings again. Not quite as good, but it will do.