The pavement saw her before she saw it.
At least, that's how it seemed to Molly when she found herself flat on her bum not ten yards away from her front door. The fifty- or sixty-odd pence she'd had tucked in her pocket had bounced right out on impact, but Molly hardly noticed. All her attention was focused on the hole she'd cut in her socks.
They were her favorite pair, white over-the-knee, and her last good pair as well. Mum would be furious.
Her eyes welled up with hot tears, ready to erupt at a moment’s notice when she felt a hand on her back. Startled, she whipped her head around, nearly colliding with the man kneeling beside her.
"Easy, sweetheart," he soothed. "Let me help you up."
Molly couldn’t remember the last time anyone had called her that. Somewhere around the last time she’d had anyone volunteer to help her, instead of taking the chance to laugh at her, clumsy little Molly Hooper, the girl who tripped over her own shadow.
Even once he’d pulled her to her feet, his hand stayed braced on her back. Molly didn’t blame him. At twelve, she was still so short and skinny, it was easy to think a strong wind might be enough to send her toppling over.
"That was quite a fall," he said. "Are you all right?"
"Fine," she mumbled, cheeks reddening.
Molly chanced a look at him. She recognized the shock of dark hair. Even if she’d never seen him up close, she’d know him. It was his stretch of pavement she’d tripped all over, after all. He’d moved in next to them last term. Molly thought he might be a teacher. That’s what Dad had said.
"I’ve got antiseptic inside. Plasters, the whole lot if you need a bit of bandaging."
"My mum's probably wondering where I am," Molly lied, automatically. Mum wasn't due for hours yet. Dad, either, but she could hardly announce she was all alone in the house. Not to a stranger, even if he did live next door. "I should really get back."
His mouth quirked up in the most peculiar smile Molly had ever seen. Her knees turned to jelly on the spot. "You wouldn't be lying to me, now, would you?"
Molly gaped and then snapped her mouth shut again on reflex. Mum always said she looked like a fish with her mouth hanging open like that.
"I--I need to go now," she stammered. "My mum---"
"Wait, please, I didn't mean to frighten you. Honest, I didn't. I only meant..." he trailed off with sheepish look, wringing his hands in front of him. "I meant no harm. I've been meaning to introduce myself properly. Here," he said and held out his hand. "Jim. Jim Moriarty."
Molly glanced toward the house, as if somehow by staring at it a bit longer she'd make her mum appear in the window. When she'd finally decided it wasn't going to happen, she tentatively took Jim's hand.
"Um, Molly. Hooper. Molly Hooper."
"Molly it is," he agreed. "If you won’t let me clean up that scrape, at least let me offer you a cuppa, Molly."
Molly scuffed her heel against the pavement. It wasn't as if he were a complete stranger. He had lived next to them for the better part of two terms and he seemed nice. Mum wouldn't approve, but then Mum hardly approved of anything and Dad always told her that she could make friends or make a world of strangers.
That decided it.
"Could you, um, well, I thought maybe if you brought the tea out here, my mum wouldn't mind so much. If that's not too much trouble," she added, hastily.
"No trouble at all, Molly. I'll only be a minute."
"You looked like a milk and sugar sort of girl. Was I right?"
It took Molly a moment to realize what Jim was talking about as he passed her a mug. "How did you guess?"
"Call it a gift," Jim said, with that same easy smile. He gestured. "D'you mind if I sit next to you?"
She shook her head. He was less than a meter away from her now. Close enough to see the dark brown of his eyes and the funny little mole under the right one. He had warm eyes. Like melted chocolate, Molly thought. The kind of eyes you could get lost in. His face was handsome enough. If you liked that sort of thing.
Jim glanced over at her and Molly hastily averted her eyes. She covered up her staring with a gulp of tea, not even caring when it burned her tongue. Maybe it would keep her from saying anything unbearably, dreadfully silly. If Jim had caught her staring, he at least was kind enough not to mention it as Molly picked at the bits of gravel stuck to her socks.
"I've the first aid kit here as well," Jim said after a while, "in case you've changed your mind about that bit."
He sounded amused and Molly wondered if he was laughing the same way the boys at school did---laughing because they frightened her and they knew it, because she jumped at the slightest noise, because she skittered down the halls like a mouse whenever she felt cornered.
Molly sneaked another glance at Jim from beneath her eyelashes. He didn't look like the sort, but you never knew.
"There's no need to be frightened, Molly," he said. For some reason, Jim’s voice brought the color rushing to her cheeks all over. "I don’t know what I’ve done to upset you, but I can promise you that I’m not the bad man you think I am."
Her head shot up at the announcement, brow knitting in confusion. "I never said---"
"You don’t need to say it," Jim said. "It’s plain, the way you’re trembling, darting glances at your house like you’re ready to make a run for it any second."
Her hands were shaking, Molly realized. She’d even sprinkled her skirt with tea without noticing. She set the mug aside before she had a chance to slop any more of it into her lap, uncomfortably aware of Jim’s eyes on her.
"I know what they tell little girls." Jim shrugged. "I can’t say I blame them, really. If you were mine, I’d want to keep you safe, too. I suppose you’ll be off, now?"
Molly hadn’t really thought about it. Half of what Jim had said had left her confused and the other half had left her stomach somersaulting wildly. She worried her lip between her teeth.
"I don’t think they’d mind if you gave me a plaster," she said, finally.
Jim brightened immediately. Molly did her best to return his smile, even as the doubt settled in. They would mind, if they found out. But if she didn’t say anything, she’d be lying, wouldn’t she? It all seemed so silly. It was only tea and a plaster. That was no reason to lie.
She tried to relax as Jim knelt down in front of her.
"I’ll need to roll your sock down. Is that all right?"
Molly nodded and Jim pulled the top of her sock carefully away from her knee, stretching it over the scrape before letting it bag around her ankle.
"Dad says you’re a teacher."
"Year eight," Jim agreed. "Are you year nine or ten next term?"
Molly supposed it wouldn’t hurt to tell him that. "Eight, actually."
"Eight, really? A big girl like you?"
Molly thought he was probably humoring her, but it was nice all the same.
"It’ll be the bin for these, I’m afraid." Molly winced as he swabbed her knee with a bit of cotton wool. "Shhh, pet, we’re almost finished."
He stuck a pink plaster over the worst of the scrape and, without rolling up her sock, kissed her knee, just above the plaster.
"There you are, good as new."
"My knee," Molly said. "You kissed it."
"Doesn’t your mum ever kiss things all better?"
"No." Her mum wasn’t that sort of mum.
"Ah, well, my mum used to do it for me," Jim explained. He straightened and Molly stood up with him. "It was lovely meeting you, Molly."
"Thank you for the tea and for the plaster."
"Any time." Jim smiled and Molly found herself half in love with him in an instant. "And if I don’t bump into you again, enjoy the rest of your summer hols."
As it happened, Molly did bump into him again.
A few days later, Molly opened the fridge to the sorry sight of one lone lemon and half a pint of milk that, for all she knew, had gone off. Mum hadn't had time to do the shopping, then, and Dad had forgotten. A search through the cupboard revealed a dusty tin of beans. Not much of a breakfast without any toast to go with it. Molly checked the table to see if they'd left her a note, or at least some money, and came up empty handed.
She gave the tin one last glance before stepping outside. It wasn't as if she had any pocket money to do the shopping, but a walk might take her mind off things, just for a bit. She glanced over at Jim's house as she walked. The guilt set in immediately. A cup of tea and a plaster was not an invitation to make a nuisance of herself. It wasn't an invitation to anything. It was what it was, which was practically nothing. Anything else was just her being silly.
Jim's door swung open as if on cue and Molly nearly jumped out of her skin. "Why, if it isn't Miss Molly Hooper. How's the knee?"
"All better," she said, with a small smile. My knee. You kissed it. "I was just---" Molly stalled. She wasn't quite sure what she'd been doing. Nothing came to mind.
"I was just sitting down to breakfast," Jim said. "Are you hungry? There's plenty for two."
"I don't know. I don't want to be a bother."
"Oh, you're no bother at all. Why don't you come inside for a bit? Keep me company until you figure out what you were doing."
It wasn't as if she had anywhere else to be and if she protested to the contrary, Jim might press for where she'd been going and Molly would have to admit that she'd lied to him again, even after he'd been sweet enough to bandage her knee. I can promise you I'm not the bad man you think I am.
It would be rude of her to refuse. Worse than rude, it would be ungrateful, and she was hungry.
"All right, then."
Jim's kitchen was bright and tidy. Molly sat at the little table against the wall, peering about as her own curiosity got the better of her. It didn’t look like he lived with anyone else, but that didn’t mean anything.
"You're welcome to look later, if you like," Jim said as he set a plate in front of Molly, followed by a mug of milky tea. "There you are."
"Thank you. Jim," she added, belatedly.
Grateful for the excuse, Molly picked up her fork and studied her plate. Full English. The last time they'd had a full breakfast at her house had been Dad's birthday. She wondered, idly, what the occasion was as she speared a slice of tomato. It was fresh, not the tinned kind like her mum bought. Molly smiled and washed it down with a sip of tea, eating as slowly and as neatly as she could manage. The last thing she wanted was to wind up wearing her breakfast in front of Jim.
They ate in silence that wasn't quite comfortable, but Molly didn't mind. Jim looked rather nice today. Sort of dapper, she thought, in his shirt and waistcoat.
"Something on your mind, Molly?"
"Mum forgot the shopping again." She clapped a hand over her mouth in horror. "Gosh, I'm sorry," she said. She hadn’t meant to tell him. "That was... I'm sorry."
Jim waved away her apology. "I take it you're a bit skint, then?"
"Mum will take care of it when she gets home. Really, I shouldn't have said anything," she said, but Jim had already produced his wallet from the pocket of his trousers.
"Will twenty quid do it?"
Molly curled her fingers into the fabric of her jeans to resist the impulse to reach out. She'd never had her father's hang-ups about accepting help when she needed it, but that didn't make it acceptable. Still, Jim's tone was kind enough and Dad didn't have to know. And if Mum noticed---not likely---Molly could always say she'd had leftover pocket money from Dad and hope he didn’t contradict her.
"You really don't have to."
"No," Jim agreed, "but I want to. A girl like you should never have to starve, Molly."
"I met someone yesterday. A man, I mean, the man who lives next door. His name is Jim," Molly said. She scuffed her heel lightly over the floor as her mother did the washing up. "He made me a cup of tea after I scraped my knee. He's nice."
"Is that his name?" The clink of mugs and plates paused. "I’ve really got to make more of an effort to meet the neighbors. Did you do the shopping?"
"What? Oh, yes," Molly said, glad Mum couldn't see the red in her cheeks. Jim had convinced her to take the twenty quid in the end. She'd put the change in an envelope to give back to him the next time she saw him. "Mum, I was wondering---"
The buzz of the doorbell cut through the house
"Get that for me, will you, Molly? I'll be there in a minute," her mum said, reaching for a cloth to dry her soapy hands. "Well? Off you go."
Molly scrambled out of the kitchen as whoever had rung their bell rang it again. She opened the door, ready to reel off the polite dialogue she'd prepared for situations like this, but the words got caught in her throat halfway out.
"Are your parents home?"
"Mum's coming," Molly managed. "Are you… you’re not here about me, are you?"
"It’s nothing. Just something I want to talk to your mum and dad about. Don’t worry," he said. "Your secret’s safe with me."
Molly didn’t know when it had become her secret. He’d lent her the money---it was just as much his doing as hers. Unease swirled in her belly, coupled with something not unlike disappointment. He didn't even have a smile for her today. After everything he'd said, about not wanting to see her go hungry, she'd been sure he liked her. Maybe not the way she liked him, but at least liked her enough to smile when he saw her.
Mum put her hands on Molly's shoulders as she walked into the hall. "Who's your friend, Molly?"
"Jim Moriarty." He smiled and Molly's stomach sunk even further. She'd been sure that smile was just for her. "I live just next door. You must be Molly's mum."
"It's very nice to meet you, Jim. You can call me Audrey."
"Lovely," Jim said. "I'm sorry to bother you, Audrey, but do you think I could speak with you and your husband in private?"
"Charlie isn't home, but I'll be sure to relay the message, whatever it is. Molly," she said, addressing her for the first time, "why don't you go upstairs while I talk to Jim?"
Molly sneaked one last look at Jim, hoping for some clue as to why he was there, but his expression was unreadable. Her heart a leaden lump in her throat, Molly retreated upstairs. First he'd barely looked at her and then they'd just dismissed her like, like she was a child. She wasn't five anymore. She was twelve, and twelve was much older than five. Surely old enough to hear whatever Jim had to say to her mum and dad.
She paused halfway to her bedroom. If she strained her ears, she could still hear them, albeit faintly. Molly poked her head around the railing to make sure no one was watching before crouching down on the landing to listen.
"---bothered you," Mum was saying.
"Oh, not at all, but she does seem very lonely, your Molly. Does she have anyone? Any friends?"
"I haven’t the faintest, to tell you the truth. She’s incredibly shy. I'm surprised she even spoke to you. I can barely get ten words out of her on a good day."
"Well," Jim said, with a laugh, "it wasn't easy, I promise."
Molly’s pulse skyrocketed. They were talking abut her. This wasn’t good, not at all.
"—-came by my house yesterday and while I wouldn't ordinarily be bothered---" Oh, no, he was going to tell Mum about the money. That was it. Molly's cover was blown. She held her breath, waiting for Jim to give her up. "---bit of a, what do you call it, a crush on me?"
Molly reeled back in surprise. She hadn't been expecting that at all.
"She’s a very sweet girl, but a man my age..." he trailed off and Molly felt her lower lip tremble.
She had bothered him, then. The realization that she’d mistaken his politeness for actual interest sent her stomach tumbling down in hot spiral of humiliation. How could she have been so stupid as to possibly think he might genuinely be interested in her? She was only a silly little girl with a crush to him.
"I'm very sorry if Molly's made you uncomfortable, James. I'll talk to her."
"Would you? I would be so grateful. I didn't want to hurt her feelings, but, well, you understand my predicament."
Hot tears spilled down her cheeks as Molly crept away from the railing. She'd heard enough.
It wasn't her fault Jim had encouraged her. She'd tried telling her Mum, but she wouldn't hear any of it. Molly Anne Hooper, that is the most absurd thing I have ever heard. Why in the world would a grown man encourage you? Molly had yielded in the end, but she still didn't agree.
She supposed Mum thought she was too plain to attract the attention of someone like Jim---someone handsome, who in all likelihood had a girlfriend who was glamorous and chatty and positively lovely, or maybe someone level-headed and clever and sophisticated. Everything Molly wasn't. Mum had lamented more than once that she was woefully plain, and built like a boy besides. Molly looked sourly down at her chest. Mum was right about that part, at least.
Molly fiddled with the envelope containing the two or three pounds of change left over from what Jim had loaned her a week before as she waited on his step. Mum hadn't said anything about that---she didn't even know it existed---but Molly had figured that she might as well return it like she'd planned while they were forcing her to apologize for something she hadn't even done.
She’d agreed not to tell Dad, at least, but that hardly made a difference. Molly was about ready to give up and stick the envelope in the letterbox when Jim opened the door in jeans and a plain, white t-shirt.
He looked surprised. "What are you doing here, Molly?"
"Mum wanted me to apologize."
"Ah," Jim said. He gave a short, embarrassed laugh and rubbed the back of his neck. "Molly, you have to understand, what I said to your mum---"
"I don't care," Molly said, surprised at the ferocity she could hear in her voice. Before she lost her nerve, she thrust the envelope into Jim's hands. "I brought back your change. From the money you gave me."
"And I suppose that's your apology, is it?"
Molly stared down at her trainers and scuffed her toe against the wood. Now that she was standing in front of Jim, she couldn't get it out.
"Oh, Molly," Jim sighed. "I knew you were listening and I tried to be gentle about it, but your mum…" He shook his head. "She worries about you, Molly. I only told her what she wanted to hear. I never meant to hurt you. I just couldn't tell her how special you are to me."
Her head popped up at that. "Special?"
"Of course." Jim's smile was soft. "You know how fond I am of you, Molly."
She wasn’t entirely certain she did, but the way Jim reached out for her hand gave her a fairly good idea. His fingers were hot on hers, her palm already slick with anticipation.
"I’ll tell you what," he said. "Drop by, say, half nine tonight, and I’ll make it up to you."
"But my mum---"
"It’ll be our little secret, all right? You can keep a secret, can’t you, Molly?"
Jim squeezed her hand and Molly nodded. For Jim, she thought she could do just about anything.
By half nine, both of her parents had come home. Molly stood in the threshold of the sitting room and nervously cleared her throat.
They turned toward her with identical expressions of surprise. They couldn’t have looked any more shocked if the furniture had spoken and Molly nearly lost her nerve right there.
"You’re awfully dressed up, Molly," Mum remarked.
Molly tugged at her skirt, suddenly self-conscious. "I---I was wondering if I could go visit a friend."
"Of course, Molls," Dad said. "Call us if you need anything."
"Thanks, Dad, Mum. I might be back late. I have a key."
They hadn't pressed her for details, but then that wasn't particularly unusual for them. They were probably just glad she was getting out of the house for once. A sliver of guilt cut through her as she knocked on Jim's door, unable to quash the feeling that she was doing something horribly, terribly wrong.
The door swung open so abruptly, Molly squeaked.
Jim laughed. "Did I startle you?"
"N-no, I'm fine, really, I wasn't---you didn't... yes," she admitted. "I'm not late, am I?"
Jim's hand came down on her shoulder, warm through the thin fabric of her blouse. "You're just in time."
"Those parents of yours," Jim said once they were safely inside. "Are they feeding you?"
"What? Oh, yes." Molly felt the blood rising to her cheeks again. "They aren't bad people. They're just… busy," she decided. "Very busy."
"Too busy to look after their daughter?"
Molly didn't know what to say to that, so she settled for saying nothing at all. She followed Jim over to the sofa. It was a two-seater, overstuffed and upholstered in red. Molly stepped out of her shoes and sat on the right-hand side.
"Are we going to watch telly?"
"My favorite programme's about to start," Jim said as he settled next to her.
Molly tucked her legs under her, awkwardly tugging the hem of her skirt over her knees. She'd held out on telling Mum about her socks on the hope that she wouldn't notice Molly had been a week without them, but that meant no new socks for the time being. It was cooler, at least.
Whatever they were watching, Molly didn't recognize it. Still, it was nice to sit on the sofa next to Jim. Next to anyone, really. She couldn't remember the last time her parents had invited her to watch telly with them, though she supposed she could probably get away with peeking from the hall if she'd really wanted to. Molly hadn't paid much attention to what had been on the telly at home before she'd left, but it was probably one of Mum's soaps.
Jim cleared his throat and Molly jumped. She was startlingly aware of him. Every time he so much as shifted, she felt it. She wished she'd worn trousers, but she’d been so focused on looking presentable, she’d forgotten to be practical.
"So," Jim said, at the first commercial break, "how are you finding it?"
"Oh, um, it's fine."
He smiled crookedly. "It's all right if you're bored, you know. You can tell me."
"It's not that." Boredom was the last thing on her mind, but she couldn’t very well tell Jim what she was thinking about. Not without making an awful fool of herself. "Sorry, I'll pay more attention."
Determined, Molly focused on the telly. True to her word, she paid much better attention---for all of five minutes. Once Jim had his arm around the back of the sofa, Molly fond it impossible to focus on anything else. She’d worn her hair up and a new distraction had presented itself in the form of Jim stroking the back of her neck. Every pass of his fingers made her shiver.
"Have you got a boyfriend, Molly?"
The question caught her by surprise. "No."
"Really? I’d have thought a pretty girl like you would have half the boys in London calling."
Molly wasn't sure if Jim was serious, or if he was just taking the mickey out of her. She decided not to ask. Better to take it as a compliment, even if it didn’t mean anything. Still, it didn’t hurt to pretend. It might’ve been her imagination, but Molly thought Jim had moved closer to her on the sofa. Sweat broke out on her forehead and under her arms, nothing at all to do with the temperature in the sitting room.
She froze when Jim’s arm suddenly slipped around her waist.
"You’re so tense," he murmured. He ran his hand down her side. "You can lean against me, if you like."
Jim glanced down at her and smiled. It was all right, then. Molly turned her face slightly into his shirt. He smelled like soap and a little bit like sweat, but not in an unpleasant way. Molly liked it. It was a warm, human smell, layered with a bit of spice she thought might be cologne.
She toyed with a button on her shirt, finally ready to ask the question that had been weighing on her mind for days. "Do, do you have a girlfriend? I suppose you do, don’t you. You’re so handsome, um, I didn’t mean that, I mean…" Molly peered up at him and for one foolish moment, she allowed herself to hope. "Do you?"
"Not since coming to London," Jim said. His hand curved over her belly. "I’ve been rather lonely here, truth be told."
Now it was Molly’s turn to be surprised. Everyone got lonely from time to time, she supposed, but she hadn’t expected to hear it from Jim. Loneliness had always seemed to be something that only affected children like her, whose parents were too busy, whose peers were too cruel. It was easy, even comforting, to think of it as a condition peculiar to her.
"You know that feels like, don’t you?" Jim said, not unkindly. If Molly had to put a name to it, she’d say he sounded pitying. "I hate to think of it, you alone in that house all day. No friends, your mum and dad at work. So isolated."
Molly picked at Jim’s buttons. "I keep busy."
"I like to read," she said. She kept dolls, too, but she didn’t tell Jim that. "And watch Poirot on the telly."
"Is that what you want to do? Be a detective?"
"No, I don’t think so. I don’t know, I haven’t really thought about it."
"Is there anything else you like to do?"
"How do you mean?"
"What about when it’s just you? In your room at night or in the bath, maybe," Jim said, his eyes locked onto hers. Molly was suddenly very aware of his hand on her belly, crawling upward. "I bet you like to do something special, don’t you, Molly?"
All the blood rushed to her face. How could Jim possibly know about that?
He seemed to pick up on what she was thinking. "It’s all right, Molly. Everyone does it, you know that."
"Of course." Jim shrugged. "I do it. It feels good, doesn’t it? For me, it’s always the same, but for you, there are so many options. Your hand over your pants, or a pillow between your legs," he said, as casually as if he’d been chatting to her about the weather. "My last girl liked to lie on her back in the bath and let the tap run. Have you tried that?"
Molly shook her head, afraid to meet his eyes for fear he’d know that she was squeezing her thighs together under her skirt, trying to stop it from happening. The damp. She’d soak right through her pants, right through her skirt, if Jim kept talking to her like this. The thought of it humiliated her.
"She told me once that it was the next best thing to my mouth on her," Jim continued. His hand had drifted higher, Molly realized. He thumbed over the soft swell of her breast and she gulped. There was nothing between them but a thin layer of cotton. "You should try it, let me know how you like it."
And just like that, Jim’s hand simply fell away. He switched off the telly.
"I’d best get you home. Your mum and dad will worry."
Mum was off today. On the off chance that she was sleeping in, Molly crept downstairs as quietly as she could. She'd barely slept after her evening with Jim. She'd spent the whole night tossing and turning, too agitated, or possibly too excited, to fall asleep. I'd have thought a pretty girl like you would have half the boys in London calling. That was good, wasn't it? It meant something.
Or did it? It was all so confusing. One minute, Jim seemed to be flirting with her and the next, he was remote. The night had ended on a sort of high note, if you asked Molly. It had left her hopeful, at least.
She padded into the kitchen, ready to fill the kettle, and stopped dead in her tracks.
"Molly, dear," Mum greeted. "How did you sleep?"
Molly barely heard her. Jim smiled at her over the rim of his mug, that side-smile she'd only seen him do once or twice.
"What? Um, fine, Mum. Did you, um, I was just going to put the kettle on," she said, hoping she hadn't stammered any more than usual and knowing it wouldn't matter in any case when Jim had already told her mum all about her little crush. Mum gave her a look---the one that said, 'Don't you dare be rude, Molly Anne Hooper'. "Sorry, Mum. Jim. Hello, Jim."
He raised his mug to her. "Morning, Molly."
Molly busied herself with the kettle, grateful for the excuse. She was painfully aware of how rumpled she must look in her nightgown, her hair all in tangles. She hadn't even washed her face yet. Maybe if she ran upstairs... but no, no, that would be far too obvious. They'd both know, and then they'd both have a laugh at the silliness of little girls.
"---dreadfully long flight, and for only a few hours." She was telling Jim about the conference, then. "Charlie and I wouldn't even bother under ordinary circumstances, but they insisted."
"On their dime, I hope."
Molly joined them with her tea and toast. Mum reached across the table and patted her hand. "As for what we're going to do with Molly, I've no idea."
"She's a bit old for a sitter," Jim commented. Now they were the ones being rude, talking about her like she wasn't even there. "Any family here in London?"
"Just us, I'm afraid. I'd leave her by herself, but, well…" Mum laughed nervously. "Do you have children, James?"
"Not yet," he said. Molly could feel him looking at her. "Lovely, though, aren't they?"
Molly hid her face in her breakfast, unable to fight off the color rising in her cheeks and praying Jim wouldn't give her away by drawing attention to it, when suddenly she had an idea.
"Mum? About this weekend... could, well, maybe Jim could look after me?"
They shared a glance of the sort Molly could never quite pin down. "James probably has plans, dear."
Jim scrubbed the back of his neck. "I’d love to help out, but… Audrey?"
"It’s not really, ah, appropriate, Molly," Mum said. "Anyway, I’m sure we’ll figure it out. Why don’t you go up to your room and get dressed while we finish up, dear?"
Molly gaped. They'd done it again---dismissed her---and Jim hadn’t even bothered to stick up for her. It was all she could do not to slam her mug down on the table.
"Do your mum and dad know you’re here?"
Molly tried to speak, but the words refused to form as Jim peered around her, as if he expected to catch sight of Molly’s parents any moment now. Even then, he didn’t let her in. There was no warmth in Jim’s face, no welcoming smile. No indication that he took any pleasure at all in seeing her, and Molly hated it.
"You shouldn’t be here, Molly. You know what your Mum said."
Jim’s words stung like a slap in the face. Molly’s cheeks were wet before she even realized she’d begun to cry. Her chin quivered. It wasn’t fair. She’d been patient. She’d been painstakingly careful. She’d sneaked out just to see him and he didn’t even want her.
"I’m sorry," she said, voice thick with tears. "Whatever I did, I’m sorry. Please don’t make me go away, Jim. Please," she begged. She knew she should turn around, go back to her room and have a cry and forget Jim ever happened. It would be the grown-up thing to do, but she couldn’t make her feet cooperate. "I’ll do anything, please just don’t tell them. Don’t send me back."
Molly swallowed a pathetic little sob. She scrubbed at her eyes, but the tears wouldn’t stop.
She didn’t know how long Jim stood in the doorway and watched her cry before he finally scooped her up and carried her inside. Molly stared down at her lap as he sat her on the kitchen table and let the tears trickle off her chin onto the dress she’d worn for him, certain she’d ruined everything.
Jim looked all wobbly through her tears.
She half-expected him to give her a good smack, but he only mopped at her eyes with the hem of his shirt. When his face came back into focus, he looked contrite. Molly hesitated a moment before reaching out for him. Jim’s arms curled around her and Molly buried her face in his chest.
"I’m sorry," she said again. "I didn’t mean to be bad."
“Oh, Molly, I’m the one who should be apologizing."
She sniffed. "You were so angry."
"Not at you, sweetheart. Never at you. I was only angry at myself. I didn’t mean to take it out on you. You must know that. I never meant to make you cry, Molly." He rested his forehead a moment against hers. "I couldn’t stand myself if I thought I’d hurt you, Molly. Do you think you can find it in your heart to forgive me?" he said, sounding so pathetic Molly thought she might start crying all over again. He kissed her neck and the warmth of it seeped all the way down to her toes. "Please forgive me, Molly."
His next kiss landed on her mouth. Molly’s first instinct was to push back on his chest, but Jim held her fast, rubbing slow circles on her back as his mouth brushed hers, ever so gently, and she relented. He licked at her mouth and she was so baffled, she opened it, and then it was happening. Jim licked over her lower lip, over her teeth, and it should have felt odd and slimy, but it didn’t.
Tentatively, Molly flicked her tongue against his, and Jim gave a murmur that sounded like encouragement. He tasted of tea and peppermint toothpaste. Molly liked it, the taste and the way Jim held onto her, the way he sighed against her open mouth.
It was her first proper kiss and it was perfect.
"Am I the first man to kiss you, Molly?"
"Did you like it?"
She nodded, suddenly feeling shy. Jim’s mouth was red and wet, his eyes darker than she’d ever seen them. His mouth was on hers again before Molly could get a word in, but she didn’t mind. She didn’t mind at all. Jim crowded himself between her knees, spread wide to make room for him. The hem of her dress had bunched up around her hips and Molly jumped as Jim’s hand lit on her bare thigh.
"Easy," he murmured. "You know I won’t hurt you."
Molly supposed she did know, but that didn’t mean she wasn’t frightened. Excited, yes, but scared, too. She’d never realized before how much bigger Jim was than her. He wasn’t a tall man at all, hardly taller than her mother, but he towered over Molly. His hand felt enormous on her thigh, the hem of her dress caught between his thumb and forefinger. She could feel the damp seeping through the cotton of her pants at the sensation of his hand so close to her.
She thought of the first time Jim had laid his hands on her, when she’d thought he was going to reach up under her skirt, and the second time, when he’d cupped her breast. Molly whimpered as she felt the gush between her legs. There would be a spot on her dress, or on Jim’s tablecloth.
He pressed his thumb into the hollow of her hip and Molly knew then that he knew. Her heart thudded against her ribcage as his fingers teased at the leg of her pants, his fingertips hooked lightly under the lace trim.
Jim’s lips touched her ear, the light scrape of stubble sending shivers down Molly’s spine. "Are you wet, sweetheart?"
Molly tried to bring her thighs together, so focused on the damp pooling between her legs that it took Jim’s hand sneaking under the bodice of her dress to even realize he’d pulled the straps down over her shoulders. He rolled her nipple softly between his fingers and Molly gasped, her exhalation damp against his collar.
All too soon, he was straightening the straps of her dress. Jim smoothed the skirt down over her knees.
"I wish you could stay, Molly."
"Oh, sweetheart, if I don’t send you back to them, they’ll think I’ve stolen you away."
Molly hid her pout against his shirt and mumbled, "Maybe you ought to."
"Shhh, don’t talk like that," Jim said. "I need to protect us, Molly. Protect this. That means that sometimes, you’ll have to be patient. You can do that for me, can’t you?"
"Good, that’s my girl."
"When can I see you again?"
"Soon," Jim promised. "I’ll let you know when. Now give us a kiss, Molly."
Molly let herself in with the spare they kept under the front mat, hardly daring to breathe until she’d made it to her room and shut the door behind her. Her knees gave out only a moment later and she sunk to the floor.
Her head spun, the sound of her pulse a quiet thunder in her ears.
"Am I the first man to kiss you, Molly?"
"Did you like it?"
If they found out… Molly shook her head. She didn’t even want to think about what they would do if they knew she’d gone over to Jim’s without permission, let alone that she’d let him do so much more than simply kiss her. She could imagine Mum’s shock, Dad’s disappointment at finding out they’d raised one of those girls.
The shame twisted her stomach, a cool counterpoint to the heat swirling there from the memory of Jim’s hand on her thigh, on her breasts… before she realized it, Molly had a hand between her legs. She rubbed over the top of her pants where she’d gone slick and soaked through them. Her head fell back against the door with a dull thud, her mouth open in a silent cry.
"Are you wet, sweetheart?"
Are you wet?
Are you wet?
Molly heard it over and over again as she moved against her hand, eyes closed as she imagined Jim’s hand between her legs, rubbing at her just the way she liked. Is there anything else you like to do? What about when it’s just you? In your room, all alone? He’d kiss her to soothe her, tell her she was good, so good, just as he sped up and---
Molly clapped a hand over her mouth, muffling the shout as she came.
"Soon" turned out to be even sooner than Molly could have hoped for. She'd expected Jim might ring her or maybe even make a house call and whisk her away right from under her parent's noses, but in the end, it was simpler than that.
No sooner had she dropped her towel on the floor of her room than she saw her summons, a slip of paper weighted down with a book on top of her pillow.
I miss you awfully. Please come rescue me. JM
(P.S. I didn't know you kept dolls, Molly, my sweet.)
It took a moment for the words to sink in.
Molly grabbed for her towel, knowing it was silly even as she did it. Yes, Jim had been in her room, but that didn't mean he was still there. A quick look was enough to confirm that. There was nowhere he could have hidden and anyway, Molly didn't think he would try to scare her like that. Not with her parents home, at least. Still, she wondered how he'd sneaked past them.
Knowing Jim had missed her after less than a week made Molly glow pink with pleasure as she dressed. That couldn’t be anything but a good thing, him missing her. If he’d missed her, he’d be grateful to see her, and if he was grateful to see her, maybe he’d kiss her again.
Molly bit her lip, remembering the touch of his hand on her leg. Maybe he’d even do more than kiss her.
Dad was coming out of the kitchen just as Molly came down the stairs in her favorite white linen frock, the one with the sunflowers embroidered all around the hem. Jim would like it too, she was sure.
"Well, aren't we in a hurry," he said, easily blocking her exit. He was a big man, tall and broad. Molly made sure to look appropriately cowed as he gave her his sternest look. "Where are you off to, Molly?"
"A friend's. Do you mind?"
"Your mum had hoped you'd help her with the washing today."
Molly's face fell. "But I promised. Please, Dad? I haven't seen him in ages."
Oh, no, she hadn't meant to say that at all.
"You wouldn't be talking about a boyfriend, now would you, Molly?"
"No!" Dad raised an eyebrow and Molly stared down at her flats. "Maybe. Yes. Sort of. You won't tell Mum, will you?" Mum would see through her in a second flat. "Please, Dad?"
"I'll not say a word---" Molly's heart leapt "---on one condition. And that's that you look me square in the eye and promise me that that young man of yours is treating you right, Molly. I'll have no daughter of mine wasting her time on a lad who doesn't."
Molly smiled. "He's brilliant, Dad. I promise."
That seemed to satisfy him. He pulled her into a hug and kissed the top of her head.
"Now run off, before your Mum gets wind of us."
Molly was greeted to an eyeful of Jim the moment he opened the door, a towel slung around his hips and a toothbrush in his mouth.
"Just a minute," he mumbled, while Molly did her best to look somewhere else.
If not for politeness' sake, then for her own sake. Molly stepped out of her flats and made herself comfortable on the sofa while she waited for Jim to come back. Her belly swirled with an all too familiar heat, despite her earlier... activities. She blushed. It had felt good, she thought, lying under the tap and letting the water run over her like Jim had talked about. She hadn't meant to try it, not really, but she'd thought that maybe, if she took care of it before leaving the house, she wouldn't get so excited in front of him.
It was hard enough to hide one pair of wet knickers from her mum.
"Sorry about that, Molly," Jim said, from somewhere behind her. "You caught me a bit earlier than I expected."
When he sat next to her on the sofa, he wasn't wearing any more than he had been before. Less, maybe, depending on how you thought of a towel, which had at least covered most of his legs, versus pants, which covered hardly anything at all. Not his lean calves or his long thighs, peppered with dark hair, or the sharp wings of his hipbones. His belly was flat, covered in sparse hair like his chest. Molly hadn't expected him to be quite so, so hairy, but it wasn't bad, she supposed.
Jim chucked her under the chin. "You're staring, Molly."
"I wasn't, am I? Was---yes," she said, quietly accepting defeat. She had been staring, not that Jim looked as if he minded at all. "Aren't you going to put something on?"
"It's so hot today, it hardly seems worth it," Jim said. Idle, he stroked over her neck and down between her shoulder-blades. His fingers dipped beneath the back of her dress, cool on her overheated skin. "You can take some of that off, if you like. Make yourself comfortable."
Molly pulled at the hem of her dress. "I'm not wearing anything but pants under it."
"Well, I won't complain if you don't," Jim said with a smile. "No one’s watching."
No one but you, she thought, although she supposed he did have a point. It was awfully warm in the sitting room and it wasn't as if Jim was going to be wearing any more than his pants, either.
"Could you, um, could you get my zip?"
"Turn a bit for me." Molly had expected he might kiss her shoulders, or touch her breasts, but he didn't. She didn't know whether to be disappointed or relieved. "Raise your arms, now, just like that."
Still, Molly couldn't help tucking her knees against her chest the moment Jim lifted her dress over her head and folded it over the arm of the sofa.
"You don't have to cover up like that, Molly. You can see my chest, can't you?"
"Come on, Molly. You don't have to be shy. Not with me." Jim ran a hand up the length of her calf and smiled. "It's nothing I've not seen before, I promise."
Molly still wasn't convinced. Maybe Jim had seen other girls, but he hadn't seen her. She clung to the difference, even though she knew she was being a bit silly. There wasn't anything that different and it did feel better to have air on her skin, even as cool as her dress had been.
Jim circled around the back of her knee and an undignified giggle came out of her.
"Are you ticklish, Molly?"
"No," she lied. A slow smile spread over Jim's face and she shook her head. "No, Jim, don’t!"
Molly shrieked as he launched a full-scale tickle-attack. It didn't take him long to find all her weak spots---the backs of her knees, the soles of her feet, under her arms---and for a moment she forgot all about the fact that she wasn't wearing a thing aside from her pants. She dissolved into giggles, boneless and helpless under the onslaught.
Jim growled, playfully biting at her neck and Molly rolled them both off the sofa onto the carpet. For one shining moment she had the advantage but before Molly could find any of his ticklish places, Jim rolled her onto her back and stuck his hands under her arms, laughing as she kicked and yelped and tried to buck him off.
Finally, he stopped.
"I've got you," Jim said, as he stilled, his face only centimeters from hers. "Exactly where I want you."
Molly shivered, suddenly aware of Jim's weight on her. His belly tickled against hers as she caught her breath in great, gulping lungfuls. She could feel him against her hip---at least, she thought she could. She didn't know what it was meant to feel like, exactly, but she had some idea, garnered from the racier sections of the library she'd dipped into once or twice when no one had been paying her any attention.
"Jim? Is that... are you?"
"Are you asking if I'm hard, sweetheart?"
"I think so."
Jim gave her a considering look. "Have you ever even seen a man naked, Molly?"
Molly swallowed and shook her head. This was as close as she'd ever been.
"So you've never seen a cock."
"A picture, once," Molly admitted. The NHS had sent a woman to teach them the basics, which had included a slide of the male anatomy that, at the time, had left her with far more questions than it had answered. "I suppose that's a bit different."
"A bit." Jim shifted and brought his knee up between her legs. Molly felt herself getting wet immediately, painfully aware of how close he was and how little there was between them. "Do you want to see mine?"
"Your mum was right, you know. About you being shy," Jim said. "Sometimes I think I've coaxed you out of that little shell they built for you, but then you crawl right back in and hide from me again. It's only a bit of skin, Molly. Nothing to be ashamed of." He sat back on his heels and shrugged. "Maybe I was wrong about you."
"How do you mean?"
"I thought you were ready for this. I'd blame those parents of yours, but I just don't know, Molly. You don't seem to want anything to change."
Molly bristled at his remark. How could he say that about her? It wasn't her fault that Mum and Dad never been frank with her, always embarrassed when she'd asked anything the least bit related to sex, or to bodies. Dad always told her to ask Mum and Mum always said they'd talk when she was older.
As resolutely as she could manage, she said, "I want to see."
"No," Jim said, with a shake of his head. "It was a daft idea to begin with."
"I don't know. Maybe you'd be better off convinced you've something to hide from me."
He shrugged as Molly sat up and moved onto her knees. Plucking up her courage, she gave his lap a surreptitious glance before laying her hands against his chest. Jim watched with curiosity as her hands traveled over his belly, stopping just short of his pants. Molly exhaled and took a deep breath. She had one chance to convince him she was mature enough for this, just one, and she wasn't about to muck it all up.
"Let me see," she said. "Please, Jim. I want to."
Molly rested her chin on her knees and waited, her heart racing as Jim reached into his pants.
Her first impression was the color. He was red, much redder than Molly would have anticipated. And he was big. At least, he looked big to her. Molly stared, equal parts fascinated and horrified as Jim pumped his fist. She gasped as his penis gave a twitch. He moved his hand over it as she looked on, slowly running his fist from base to tip.
"You remember the talk we had, don't you? About masturbating?"
"Everyone does," Molly repeated dutifully.
"That's right, sweetheart. That's exactly right. Everyone does, and that means there's no reason for you to be embarrassed."
Molly tried to focus on Jim's face, but she could still hear his hand moving, an almost wet sound. The curiosity pulled at her. She had to look again. His penis curved against his belly, thick and shiny. There was a white bead of fluid on the top.
"You can touch it, if you like."
Molly glanced up sharply. "Touch it?"
"It doesn't bite. I promise. Here, give me your hand," Jim said. "I'll show you how."
Tentatively, Molly held out her hand for Jim. It seemed to happen all at once, Jim's hand on hers and him pressing her palm to him, until she was holding him awkwardly in her fist, fingers loose. She didn't know how tightly she was meant to grip him and she didn't want to hurt him, not knowing what she was doing. Jim pumped their hands slowly. Molly watched, fascinated. His skin was hotter here. The slight slickness reminded Molly of how she felt just before she really started to get wet, when she was just a bit damp between her legs.
Not at all like she was now. She'd felt it start earlier, when Jim had pressed her to the floor, and she could feel herself flooding as she moved her hand on his penis, mindful of his eyes on her. They'd gone dark again, black and hungry and bottomless. It seemed entirely too possible she'd be sucked into them if she looked too long. She never knew what to make of it when Jim looked at her like that and made her feel so skittish, so small.
Her heart pounded with the fright of it, the throb echoed between her thighs. Nothing excited her quite like the fear she felt around Jim.
"Do you like it?"
"It's...nice," Molly decided. She'd gotten used to the feel of him in her hand, and the stickiness that came with it. "Am I doing it right?"
"Perfectly. Come a little closer for me now, sweetheart."
When she was in range, he dropped his free hand to her thigh. There was nothing coy about it today, not like the day he'd sat her on the table. He didn't stop at a tease this time, his fingers slipping right under her pants. Molly forgot to move her hand when Jim traced a line down her, right where she was soft and wet and open.
"You must be very sensitive," he remarked. "Do you come easily?"
Molly didn’t know.
"But you do come, don't you?"
"Good, that's good. Oh, you can stop that now," he said, with a nod to her hand, still wrapped weakly around his penis. She watched as he tucked himself away, the outline visible through the cotton of his pants. To Molly, the bulge looked almost comical. "Do you want me to make you come, Molly?"
The carpet fibers scratched at her skin as Molly lay back against the carpet. Molly held her hands over her breasts for a moment before letting them fall away. There was no point to it when Jim had already seen. He kissed her trembling belly.
"Just relax," he murmured, between kisses. "You’ll like it."
Molly closed her eyes, willing herself to relax muscle by muscle as Jim nosed against her hip His face was smooth today, but it still made her shiver the closer he got to the cradle of her thighs. She'd imagined his fingers, but never his mouth. What little she'd read in the library hadn't mentioned anything about that, though she'd heard cruder references from older boys.
Even through wet cotton, the warmth of Jim's mouth rubbing over her curled her toes and made her gasp. She slapped a hand over her mouth before remembering that she wasn’t in her room at home and there was no one to hear her but Jim. He hooked his thumbs under the elastic of her pants and Molly did her best to resist the urge to curl in on herself as pulled them down.
He held them to his face before tossing them aside in a sordid little heap. Molly reddened once it caught up to her that he’d been smelling them, but her embarrassment was quickly lost in the flow of things.
She hadn’t realized just how wet she’d gotten until she heard Jim practically peeling her thighs apart with a murmur of appreciation. He held them wide with his hands, tender but unyielding when she tested them with a nudge of her knees.
"Oh, Molly, just look at you," he said, the air of his exhalation making her squirm in his hold. "Look at how pink you are, how lovely and wet you are. I don’t think I’ve ever had the pleasure of a prettier, pinker cunt." The word, sharp and dirty, sent her pulsing with excitement. "How you must taste, Molly…"
The room spun as he lowered her mouth to her. Molly quivered against the pressure of Jim’s hands, his tongue deft and hot and electrifying between her legs. He licked and slurped and sucked at her, until she was wetter than she’d ever been in her life, until she tried to close her legs to trap him there, unable to stop the flood of sounds coaxed out of her by Jim’s mouth, Jim’s tongue.
He spread her wider with the fingers of one hand, leaving her entirely exposed to suck at the spot Molly liked to rub with her fingers. The tender underside of his lip enveloped her and she groaned. Jim’s hold relaxed and Molly pressed up into his mouth, rubbing her little swollen spot against his lips until she gave one last strangled cry and fell back against the carpet.
Jim continued to lap at her, licking up the wetness between her legs before crawling up beside her. Molly moved into his arms and settled against him, conscious for the first time of the fact that she was entirely naked, but too relaxed to move.
Jim sighed. "You’ll be the death of me, Molly Hooper."
"Molly, is that you? Did you get the biscuits?"
"Just leave the change by the sugar bowl, dear."
She continued to fold tea towels as Molly sat at the table and thunked her head down on her hands. Jim hadn't been home again. Or, if he had been home, he hadn't answered. Molly wasn't given to suspicion ordinarily, but even she had a difficult time believing that he could have been out every single time she'd come by. Not when he was on holiday. She’d offered to run every little errand Mum or Dad needed that would let her walk past Jim's house in the hopes that he might walk out on the front step like he had so many times before and ask her if she wanted to come in, but he never did.
There’d been no sign of him for weeks. It had been a fortnight since he’d left that note on her pillow.
A fortnight since they'd had that awful tiff.
"Mmm." Molly watched as he moved the flannel over her belly. He'd got dressed again, she saw, in a shirt and trousers. She'd been out for a while, then. "What time is it?"
"Quarter past one."
It wasn't the answer that startled her, but the tone. There was something off about it, and combined with the way Jim was hunched over her, all stiff-shouldered with his face hidden... Molly didn't like it one bit.
"Is something wrong? You sound---" Like someone I've never met "---different."
Jim bristled. "Don’t be silly, Molly. Nothing's wrong."
You look guilty, she wanted to say, but something in Jim's voice made her hold back. Once Jim finished, she sat up. "Do you have my pants?"
He fished them out of his trouser pocket and tossed them to her. He'd smelled them, she remembered. He'd tasted her and he'd had her knickers to his face and she'd let him and no one would ever know. She was surprised to find them dry, but she supposed Jim would have washed them if he was carrying them around in his trouser pocket.
Molly tried to pretend he wasn't staring at her as she pulled them on, but she could feel his eyes like fingers sliding down her neck, trailing over her breasts and down her belly. He hid it well, but she could always feel it when he watched her; the silence was starker; the hair stood up on the back of her neck and her arms prickled with goose-flesh.
She forced herself to smile, despite his stony expression. "Do you want me to stay for a bit?"
"Do what you like."
That wasn’t very encouraging. "Are you sure everything’s all right?"
Jim threw the flannel on the floor, suddenly livid. "Why are you doing this, Molly?"
"Interrogating me," Jim spat. "Why are you asking me all of these questions? Don’t you trust me?"
Molly was baffled. "I wasn't. I do. I only wondered---"
"Just stop it, Molly. Stop it with your damned questions!"
After that, Molly had retrieved her dress from the sofa and dressed as quickly as she could manage. She'd left in such a hurry, she'd made it all the way up to her room before realizing she'd left her shoes next to Jim's sofa. He'd still been holed up in the bathroom with the tap running when she left, but Molly hadn’t wanted to risk provoking him.
She could do without, for now.
"Are we having ourselves a sulk here?"
Molly forced a smile. "Only a little one, Dad. Where's Mum?"
"Oh, she's off somewhere." He waved vaguely and sat across from her. "Is this about that young man of yours, Molly?"
She didn't want to lie to him, but she couldn't exactly tell him the truth. "No, not him."
Dad reached across the table for her hand. "You know we worry about you, your mum and me."
"It's okay, Dad. You don't need to worry." Molly gave his hand a squeeze. "I'll be fine."
Everything would be fine.
After another week of lying in bed and ticking off the days Jim hadn't spoken to her, Molly was sick of waiting to be forgiven. Whatever Jim thought she'd done, which she hadn't, she could explain it. That was the adult thing to do, wasn't it? Talk about it. Converse. Keeping apart as far as they could and waiting for the problem to disappear would only drive them further apart.
Whatever it was, they could work it out. Molly knew they could.
With her mum and dad out of the house, it was as good a day as any to call a cease-fire. Besides, it had been three weeks, almost a whole month. Molly didn't think she could wait any longer than that. Not with the fall term fast approaching. She also knew for a fact that Jim was home today. His house was visible from her bedroom window and Molly had seen him open and then close the curtains not an hour before. He couldn't avoid her this time.
Molly rang the doorbell. No response. She knocked several times. Again, no answer, not that she was at all surprised. He'd been pretending not to be home so long, why give off now?
"I know you're in there," she said, meaning to be forceful but falling miserably short. Surreptitiously, she checked to see if anyone was standing within hearing range before she tried again. "I know you're in there, Jim! And---and, you're being childish. That's right. Be---" An adult? A man? Just... there? God, this was hopeless. Molly pounded her fist against the door with a cry of frustration. She hated this. "Oh, just come out and talk to me, damn you!"
The door creaked open an inch. "You shouldn't be here, Molly. I'm not a nice man."
"What are you talking about?"
"Those things I made you do. Touching me," Jim said. Molly could see most of his face now. His eyes were red and swollen. Her heart gave a sympathetic twinge. She thought he might have been crying. "It's better like this. Please, I don’t want to hurt you anymore."
"You didn't make me do anything. I wanted to."
Jim’s laugh sounded more like a sob to Molly. "You only think that because I made you think it."
"Why are you saying that?"
"Because it's the truth. You remember the day we first met? When I told you I wasn't the bad man you thought I was? I lied, Molly. I am that man. I'm very ill and this sickness..." He broke off and exhaled shakily. "I manipulated you. I made you like me."
The anger had been bubbling up inside her for weeks now, but at that, it erupted.
"Don't treat me like I'm some silly little girl!" she shouted, surprised at herself even as she said it. "Maybe I'm not as old as you or as, as lived, but that doesn't mean that I don't know what I want or that I don't know what goes on inside my own head. I know my own mind," Molly insisted, more quietly but no less firmly than before. "I know what I want."
Jim stood looking at her for a moment. "I suppose you’d best come in, then."
"Tea," Molly said. "Definitely tea."
"Just there on the hob. Are you going to make us a cuppa?"
"Everything looks better on the other side of a brew. That’s what my dad always says."
Jim drummed his fingers on the tabletop. "Wise man."
He went back to staring at nothing as Molly busied herself with the kettle. By the looks of it, it had been days since his last shave. She left him to it for the time being. She didn’t like trying to force him into conversation like this. He’d talk to her when he was ready, she told herself, even though she only half believed it. By the time the kettle had boiled, he still hadn’t said another word.
Molly set a mug in front of him. "Do you take milk and sugar?"
"I meant to get in touch with you, you know," Jim said, abruptly. "Ring you, or catch you on your way back from the shop, but every time I thought about it, it was all too much. I couldn't make the call, couldn't bring myself to call out to you." He wrapped his hands around his mug. "Not when I knew you'd never look at me the same way again, once you knew what I'd done."
"What did you do?"
Jim shook his head. "You won't forgive me this, Molly."
"I'll decide that, thank you," Molly said, primly.
If forgiveness was hers to give, she was going to do it on her own terms.
For a long moment, Jim only stared down at his mug. "After... after you'd fallen asleep there on my bed, I went back into the sitting room and your pants were just there, lying on the carpet, so I picked them up. I meant to give them back, but you looked so sweet lying there and I didn't want to wake you and I was still---" his tongue darted out to wet his lips "---still hard from before."
Jim mumbled something she didn't quite catch.
"I said I wanked into your pants." He looked at her, his eyes wide and wet. His voice rose, panicked. "I didn't want you to know, so I threw them in the wash, but you noticed and I couldn't tell you what I'd done for fear of what you'd think of me. How disgusting I’d been."
Well, that... certainly explained why he had looked so guilty, once she'd woken up. Molly did her best to keep her expression neutral, but it was difficult when the whole concept was so incredibly foreign to her. He'd... and into her pants? And she'd worn them, too, even if he had washed them.
"I told you you'd think I was disgusting. I'm a bad man, Molly. A sick man."
"No, you're not. You just... everybody does," Molly said. "You wouldn't have needed to if I'd... helped."
Jim wiped his eyes on his arm. "I suppose. Are you still cross with me?"
"Are you sure?"
"Completely. It's all right. I don't mind."
Jim gave a watery smile at that. "You're more than any man deserves, Molly. Least of all me."
"Don't talk like that," Molly said, feeling flustered. She stood, not quite sure what to do with herself. She shifted her weight from one foot to the other before plunking herself down on Jim’s lap.
The scruff from his beard tickled her face as Molly leaned in to kiss him. After a moment, Jim's hands circled her waist. Molly could barely believe how good it felt to kiss him for the first time in weeks. All the fire from earlier had gone out of her and she melted in his arms. She hadn't realized how much she had missed the way he held her, how his chest felt under her hands, the curves of his mouth. She'd missed all of it down to the last detail, even if the way Jim was kissing her now wasn't quite like the way he'd ever kissed her before.
'Hungry' was the only word for it. The only word Molly knew, at least. His hands clutched at her, his mouth wet and sharp and fierce. He nipped at her mouth, light at first and then harder. The taste of blood hovered at the back of her throat and Molly pulled back.
"Sorry," Jim said, immediately. "I bit you, didn't I?"
"It's all right." She knew he hadn't meant to actually sink his teeth into her. He'd just got caught up in the moment. "Just… softer next time."
He slid his fingers around to the base of her skull when he kissed her this time. His fingers toyed with her ponytail, deftly removing the elastic band and tossing it off somewhere. Molly didn't mind. Not at all. She'd have worn her hair loose, the way Jim liked it best, only she'd thought having her hair up made her look a bit older, more authoritative. It had done the trick, at least.
Jim kissed a path down her throat, his teeth scraping lightly against the exposed skin. "Is it terrible of me to want to take you to bed right now?"
Molly combed her fingers through his hair. "What would you do to me, if I let you?"
"Oh, Molly... I'd have you right here on this table if I thought you'd let me get away with it." Jim rubbed his cheek against the bodice of her dress. "I wouldn't even take off your frock, not after you went to so much trouble to look pretty for me," he said, his mouth wet against her neck as he slipped the straps down her shoulders. Molly didn't know when he'd had time to undo her zip, but suddenly the top of her dress had fallen to her waist. "I'd just tug your knickers down around your knees," Jim said, as he kissed his way down her chest, "and work my cock inside your tight little cunt."
His tongue flicked out against her nipple before he took it in his mouth. Molly let out a shuddering moan. She hadn’t expected to be so sensitive there. Her fingers dug into Jim’s shoulders as he mouthed at her breasts a moment longer before finally kissing his way back up to her mouth.
He swiped his tongue over her lower lip. "Have you bled yet?"
"Your period, have you got it?"
Molly hadn’t, but she didn't know what that had to do with---oh. "Are we going to have sex?"
"Something like," Jim answered, vaguely. "Stand for me."
Molly put her hands back against the table edge to steady herself as Jim helped her out of her pants. Once he’d finished, he pulled her back into his lap, her knees on either side of him. She felt him working the button of his jeans under her. He wedged his free hand between her legs, lightly stroking her with his knuckles for a moment before withdrawing.
"I wanted to make sure you were wet," he said. "But you’re always wet for me, aren’t you, Molly?"
She didn’t know about always, but she was certainly wet now. Jim sucked the taste of her from his knuckles and Molly felt a gush of fluid trickle down the inside of her thigh at the sight, wondering if she’d be able to taste herself on his mouth. He hadn’t kissed her after he’d licked between her legs.
"Here we are," Jim said. Molly could feel it the moment he pulled out, his penis wedged hotly between them. "Up a bit, that’s it. Perfect."
Molly didn’t know what they were doing, exactly, but she liked it. Jim was like velvet softly rubbing between her legs, smooth and even warmer than his fingers. He pressed a bit harder and Molly moaned against his neck, the muscles in her thighs going slack as she rested her weight against him. Jim nuzzled his face against her breasts and groaned as he teased at her with the soft, spongy head of his penis. It wasn’t inside, not really, but it was close enough to set her heart racing. There was the tiniest bit of stretch as Jim bumped against her, like he was daring her to tilt her hips and take him all the way inside.
"Careful," Jim panted. His fingers dug into the soft flesh of her bottom. "Careful, now. I wouldn’t want to slip into your cunt by mistake, and you so tight down there. I’d tear you apart, Molly."
The way he said it, low and hot close, made her even wetter. Part of her wanted to tense, hold back for fear of letting Jim in too far, but it was the rest that made her grind down against him, trying to discharge the electricity his movements had built up between her thighs.
Molly sucked on his tongue while she rocked against him, building to a frenzy before she finally slumped against Jim’s shoulder, bathed in sweat and weak from head to toe. She didn’t know what it would be like when Jim came, if he came, but as it happened, she didn’t have long to wait.
Jim grunted, gave a final jerk of his hips, and then stilled. Molly didn’t know if it was her imagination or not, but she thought she could feel him trickling out against her thigh. She buried her face in Jim’s shoulder and tried to catch her breath. The sensation between her legs was a vague, syrupy mess, tinged with soreness she thought might be Jim’s fault.
"Did you come, um, inside?"
"I must’ve slipped you a bit of the head. Does it hurt?"
"No," Molly lied. It wasn’t worth making a fuss over, not after their last fight. "It just feels wet."
He kissed her shoulder. "I’ll run us a bath soon."
Molly closed her eyes and let him hold her while they both calmed down, loath to move.
"Jim, can I ask you something?"
"I wondered why you, um, with my pants? I don't mind," she said, even though she did, a little. "I'm only curious."
There was a long pause before Jim said anything. His hands traced up and down her back, absently drawing shapes and squiggles. Molly supposed he was thinking about what to tell her.
"I like girls’ pants. How they look on, how soft they are. You'd got so wet for me, I just... I liked the way they smelled," he said, and Molly felt another bead of fluid trickle down her thigh. "I liked the way they felt wrapped around my cock, with the taste of you still in my mouth. I thought about you," he told her, his hand sliding down to pet between her legs. "Making you wet again and pushing inside you."
Molly gulped. "I thought you said I was---" I'd tear you apart, Molly "---too small."
"It was only a thought," Jim said. He sounded irritated.
"I'm sorry. I didn't mean to make you angry," Molly said. "Please, Jim, I don't want to fight. We can, if you want. I mean, you can, with your---"
"It's all right, you don't owe me that. I'm sorry, I know I shouldn't be so hard on you," he said. "I know how hard you try for me. You're a very good girl, Molly. One of the best I've ever had."
One of the best, but not the best. Molly might have been a very good girl, but Jim's tone seemed to suggest that she wasn't good enough by half. He was disappointed with her, she was sure.
Jim was disappointed, and it was all her fault.
If he thought she was a good girl, that had to mean he wasn't cross with her.
That's what Molly told herself as she made the short trip from Jim's house to theirs, trying not to look like she'd done anything she wasn't supposed to. Jim had run her clothes through the wash, but that wasn't enough to make her forget the way he'd taken off her pants and ground against her. Molly was sure it showed on her face.
She took off her shoes before walking inside, hoping to sneak up to her room without waking her parents.
"Where have you been?"
Too late. Mum was there on the sofa, looking like she hadn't slept at all.
"Mum! I slept over, at a friend’s. I thought, I thought Dad told you."
"Your dad had no idea you were sleeping over. We were worried sick, Molly."
Molly stared down at her feet, the guilt a lump in her throat. "I'm sorry, Mum."
"Sorry isn't good enough. I've talked to your Dad and he's agreed, you're not to go out again. You're grounded."
"Do not argue with me, Molly Anne Hooper. Grounded," she repeated. "For as long as it takes for you to learn your lesson. Now go upstairs. I don’t want to hear another word from you until breakfast."
There was nothing for it but to endure it and make her excuses as best she could. Thankfully, they didn't press her for details as to who she'd been with or what she'd been doing. We don't want your excuses, Molly, Mum had said, when Molly had tried to offer at least a partial explanation. I thought we could trust you, but it seems we can't.
It hurt to know she'd disappointed them, but all the same, it was hardly fair. They were barely ever there. What was she supposed to do---stay locked up in her room all day long, waiting for them to come home? It was, she reflected, what she'd always done before. Before she'd met Jim, that was. Now that she was under house arrest, Molly didn't know how she'd tolerated it for so long. She felt she'd go mad cooped up in there with nothing but her dolls and her books and her own imagination.
I miss you awfully. Please come rescue me. JM
Molly turned her face into her pillow, eyes stinging with the bitterness of it. If only he'd come rescue her.
Five days into her punishment, Molly heard Jim at the door.
She fumbled the plate she was washing, wincing as it clattered against the edge of the sink. Not broken, fortunately. She hoped her mum hadn't heard. Molly looked between the sink and the doorway for a moment before edging quietly around the counter. Carefully, she peeked around the doorway. Jim was wearing an expression of good-natured bemusement as he chatted with her mum.
"I haven't seen much of Molly lately. She was meant to come over and help a bit with the gardening yesterday. I thought maybe she'd forgotten. Is she home?"
"She's here, but I'm afraid I can't let you see her. Not after the other night."
For someone who knew very well where she'd been the other night, Jim did a laudable job of feigning surprise. Molly couldn't help but be a bit impressed, even though he was lying right to her mum.
"We caught her coming home at three in the morning the other day. Charlie and I were absolutely sick with worry."
"That's terrible. Did she say where she'd been?"
"One of her friends from school, but she might have called to let us know she'd be late." She shook her head. "Enough of that. How've you been keeping?"
"Brilliant, thanks. I've been in Dublin most of the week. Family," he explained. "Anyway, I won't keep you any longer. I'm sorry to hear about Molly. That's no way for a young lady to behave. You can tell her that, from me."
Mum laughed. "I'll be sure to, James. We'll see you later."
Molly hurried back to the sink as her mother closed the door. Mum walked in just as she'd picked up the dishrag.
"I didn't know you'd been helping Jim with his gardening," she said.
"Oh, um, yes." Molly didn’t think Jim even had a garden. "After I apologized, I offered. To make it up to him. For being a bother."
"Well, I'm sure he'll be fine without you for a few---my god, Molly," she tutted, finally noticing the state of the sink. "You've barely washed anything! Go take care of the laundry. I’ll finish up here."
Molly didn’t need to be told twice.
Molly stepped out of the bath and toweled off with a yawn. She wasn't tired so much as she was listless, bored after spending days cooped up with nowhere to go. Mum didn't even trust her to run to the shop on her own anymore. It wasn't late, only half nine, but Molly had nothing better to do. Not unless she wanted to watch telly with her parents.
The thought wasn’t incredibly appealing.
She wrapped her robe around her and walked back to her bedroom.
"Well, if it isn't our captive princess, come back to her tower." Molly had almost begun to scream when a hand clapped over her mouth. "Shhh, don't scream, Molly. It's only me," he whispered. "It's only me, sweetheart."
All at once, she relaxed. That was definitely Jim's voice.
As soon as he let her go, Molly spun to face him. "How long have you been hiding in here? Did my mum and dad see you? Do they know you're in my room?"
Jim gave a snort. "I think I know better than to ask your mum and dad for permission to wait until you get out of the bath."
"Why are you here?"
"I thought you might be missing me," Jim said. He pouted at her, his hands coming down on her shoulders. "Did you not want to see me?"
"No," Molly said, quickly. "I mean, yes, I did. I'm just... surprised, is all."
He surprised her again by kissing her. He steered her back toward the bed, his mouth still on hers. Molly sat as soon as her legs hit the edge of the frame, Jim's knee coming down between her legs. The denim of his trousers rasped against her bare thighs as he laid her back against the bed, his tongue sneaking past her lips to lap at the inside of her mouth.
Molly curled her fingers in the front of his shirt. Jim groped at her waist tie and pulled her robe open one-handed. She jerked away, panicked.
"Wait, Jim. We can't."
He kissed a path down her chest, unaffected. "Why not?"
"My mum and dad---"
"Don't even know I'm here," he said. "They're not going to come check up on you, Molly. Not if we're quiet."
"But what if they catch us?"
"They won't, Molly. Don't you trust me?"
"I suppose. Yes."
Jim squeezed her thigh. "Then lie back for me and be very, very quiet while I lick your cunt."
Molly swallowed hard and lay back, her hair still wet against her neck from the bath. The next thing she knew, Jim had her legs over his shoulders. She was flush against his face now, his breath hot and moist between her legs. Molly dug her fingernails down into the duvet and willed herself to be quiet, breathing hard through her nose and biting her lip as Jim began to lap at her. He gripped the outside of her thighs this time to keep her hips elevated. She swallowed a moan as he began in earnest. His nose rubbed against the swollen bud between her legs as he tongued further down, between her labia.
She stuck her hand in her mouth and bit down hard as she pumped---Be very, very quiet while I lick your cunt---against his mouth. The other, she tangled in his hair. Jim's fingers tightened on her thighs, maybe in warning, and Molly flopped back against the bed. Sweat poured off her with the effort to keep still and quiet enough not to disturb her mum and dad. She thought she could her her parents' programme playing downstairs and inexplicably, the thought sent a little bolt of pleasure between her legs.
She didn't want to be caught, but the thought that they could be, potentially, seemed very exciting.
After a while, Jim's fingers replaced his tongue. Molly tried to quash it, but she couldn't help but be a little disappointed. She liked his mouth on her and he hadn't even let her come. His fingers were nice enough, though, she supposed. He ran them up and down her, swirling around where she was leaking, before he slid his thumb inside. The shock of it made her grunt, not very loudly, but enough to make Jim remind her that she needed to be quiet.
The soreness from the other night had already faded, but she still felt a slight stretch at his thumb breaching her. He pulled back and Molly let out a long, shaky breath.
"All right there?"
"Fine. I'm fine."
"Good," Jim said, "because my prick is a lot bigger than my fingers."
"Your, oh. Mmmm." Molly pressed her lips together tightly as Jim pushed two fingers inside her. The slight stretch became a twinge of pain and Molly squirmed against his hand.
"Breathe, Molly. Be a good girl for me. I know you can take this."
Molly gave it a go, but she couldn't relax, knowing Jim was prepping her for sex, that he was going to be inside her. His fingers worked in and out of her, but it didn't feel good the way his mouth did, or like it had when she'd rubbed off against his penis.
"Jim, I don't know if I want to," she whispered.
He didn't seem to hear her, but Molly didn't know if she wanted to risk speaking any louder. She tried to focus on her breathing, on how happy she was to see Jim---anything but the way he was stabbing at her with his fingers, stretching her and twisting inside her. Maybe it was always like this the first time. She was a virgin, after all, and even if Jim did have small hands for a man, they were still much larger than hers. He was probably being as gentle as he could be with her.
It wasn't much, but the thought calmed her a bit as she waited for Jim to finish. After what seemed an eternity, he did.
Molly sat with her back to the wall, her robe still on as she watched Jim remove his shoes and socks. His shirt went next, and then his jeans, before he stepped out of his pants. His cock jutted up between his legs, hard and purple and even bigger than Molly remembered.
"It won't fit," she blurted out, her thighs clenching automatically. "It won't. I want to stop."
"Relax, Molly, everything will be all right," Jim said. He knelt in front of her on the bed and grasped her face in his hands. "Look at me. You trust me, don't you?"
"Don't you want to make love with me?"
A few nights ago, she had, but now she wasn't so sure. "I don't know, Jim, can't we---"
"Shhhh," he soothed. "It’s normal to be nervous. That’s all this is, Molly. I'll tell you what---if you don't like it, we can stop."
"Do you promise?"
"I promise. Now, let's get you out of that robe. Will you let me help you?" Molly nodded and let him set it aside before he pushed her gently onto her back. "Are you comfortable?" She nodded again. "Good, you're such a good girl. Now put up your knees for me. That’s it, nice and wide. I can turn the light off if you need me to," he said, gently. "Would you prefer that?"
"Please," Molly said.
She thought it might be easier in the dark, but as soon as Jim switched the light off, Molly whimpered. Jim was there in an instant, kissing her and petting her to calm her down. Gradually, she relaxed again, her eyes adjusting to the dark. Jim's skin felt hot against her own, the hair on his legs and chest and between his thighs tickling at her as he carefully rested his weight on top of her.
He rubbed at her with his fingers, coaxing her open, and peered down at her. "Are you ready, Molly?"
If she didn't say yes now, she never would, and she didn't think she could handle Jim being disappointed with her again. Everything would be fine, just like he promised. Molly curled her arms around his neck and settled against his shoulder. She felt the head of his penis rubbing at her.
I'd tear you apart, Molly, Jim had said. She squeezed her eyes shut and held her breath, waiting for it.
When it finally came, she was underwhelmed. It wasn't awful, but neither was it fantastic. Everything blurred into a single dull, vaguely painful sensation. She squeezed her muscles, experimentally. Jim grunted and surged forward. Molly let up immediately when the dull ache shot up through her pelvis like wildfire.
"The first time always hurts a bit, but the worst part's past," Jim assured her. "Just stay loose for me, play with your cunt a bit if it helps. I won't be long."
Jim started to move and Molly clutched at his back. This was sex, she thought. It felt surreal, like it was happening to someone else. It wasn't much like it had been when she'd thought about it on her own, which had been intimate and exciting and had made her wet between the legs. The Jim she thought of when she played with herself was tender and moved his hips slowly, to make sure she could handle him.
This Jim wasn't anything like that. This Jim grunted every time he pushed into her, each sharp snap of his hips making her dig her knees into his sides. This Jim didn't even kiss her.
"You're so tight." His saliva dripped onto her shoulder. "God, how I've waited for this, Molly. I've dreamt of your wet little cunt for ages, of having you like this."
It was easy to tune him out as she lay there, focusing on anything but the slap of his skin and the sticky, heavy feeling pooling between her legs. Play with your cunt a bit if it helps. She could barely feel him anymore, though she could hear the squish every time he thrust back in. Molly's gaze wandered over his shoulder and stuck immediately on the top of her wardrobe, where she'd set up her dolls. She counted them while Jim fondled her breasts. Dad had bought her one every year for her birthday since she was five. They stared back at Molly with vaguely accusing eyes as Jim rammed his penis inside her, again and again.
His last thrust made Molly wince and then, as suddenly as it had begun, it was over. Jim was panting as he rolled onto his back. Molly thought it had only lasted a few minutes, maybe even as few as two, but she hurt everywhere.
She felt down between her legs and moaned pitifully as she felt the swollen tissue. Her hand came back sticky and dark. Molly wiped her hand on the sheets. "I'm bleeding."
"Are you?" Jim groped between her legs for a moment. Molly squirmed. "Plenty of girls bleed the first time."
"The other girls you've slept with," Molly said. "Did they bleed, too?"
Jim's eyes narrowed. In the dark, the impression reminded Molly of a snake. "Some of them."
The numbness was beginning to wear off and she could feel the damp patch under her. Molly rolled away from it. Jim spooned up behind her, either not noticing or not caring that she'd bled all over the spot where he was lying.
"You're angry with me."
"No," Molly lied. She could feel his semen dribbling out of her. "I’m not."
"Don't lie to me, Molly," he said, sharply. She started at the sound of his voice, like he’d cracked a whip at her. "If I hurt you, I’m sorry. You know I’d never hurt you on purpose. I love you, Molly," he said, tenderly. "Whatever anyone else tells you, I love you. You know that, don’t you?"
She did know. That was what frightened her.
After Jim sneaked back out, Molly stuffed the sheet under her bed and tried to forget about it.
Mum found it along with a bloody pair of knickers, two days later, while looking for the pair of trainers she’d never remembered to go back for. They sat at table, Molly’s hands wrapped around the mug of tea Mum had made for her. Peppermint, not the usual plain, black Tetley, for the cramps she was having.
"Well," Mum said, after a long moment. "They did tell you about this, didn’t they? When that woman came to your school?"
"Good, well, that’s sorted, then." She patted Molly’s hand, slightly awkward but on the whole quite warm. "There are sanitary towels in the bathroom cupboard, so you go right ahead and help yourself, dear."
They lapsed back into silence. Molly swirled another spoonful of honey into her tea for something to do. She’d already found the sanitary towels after Jim had gone, once she’d cleaned up and realized she was still bleeding. Toward the end, there’d been stringy white bits mixed in.
"I suppose I ought to stop thinking of you as my little girl, now that you’re a woman," Mum said, suddenly. Her smile was sad, but proud, too, Molly thought. "You’re growing up so fast, Molly. And with your Dad and me so busy all the time…I feel like I’ve missed so much of it."
Molly thought of Jim rutting into her, and forced herself to smile.
"It’s all right, Mum. Sometimes I feel the same way."