The summer between high school and college had a filmy, almost mythical feeling about it. It was, Laurel decided as she trudged down Main Street to the college library, a liminal space: a term she had learned in her dual-credit anthropology class in her last year of high school. Ambiguity, disorientation. A threshold. A jumping-off point. A place between lives. It was awash with possibilities; she'd been accepted to the best state university, a city three hours north from her town, and she was humming with excitement. What would she major in? Who would she meet? Would she finally—and Laurel blushed just thinking about it—would she finally get a boyfriend, lose her virginity like all her other high school friends?
Well. All two of them.
Laurel put that dose of reality firmly out of her mind. Today, she was focused on herself; on what she wanted and what she could do. Never mind Annabelle and Viv. Today was about Laurel.
The heat shimmered as it rose from the asphalt, the sun beating down on Laurel's freckled skin. She'd put on sunscreen before she left home, but she had a sneaking suspicion it didn't do much. Redheads always burned, or so her mother had lectured her.
She focused on the distortions the heat caused in the air instead of her mother's down-to-earth concerns; she'd seen it a thousand times, but now she looked at it through the eyes of someone who might never live in a place this hot again. She wondered if out-of-towners thought it was eerie. She could see how they might.
That nagging thought again: what if I get a boyfriend?
She turned off Main Street onto Manzanita Avenue, and from there to the college library. Technically she wasn't supposed to be there, it was only for students, but Eric, the head librarian, always let her slip through the doors with a wink and a smile. Good to see kids like you enthusiastic about learning, he always told her. Lately, he'd laugh, and add, Guess you're not much of a kid anymore, though.
Which meant he considered her an adult. Maybe. She was caught in that liminal space, after all, and maybe Eric didn't know how to categorize her. But she could go to college and come back for winter break, and then—
When she daydreamed about it, she imagined her boyfriend looking a lot like Eric. Younger, definitely; Eric was old, at least thirty-five. But she liked his glasses, and his mop of curly dark hair, and he always treated her with respect, like she was an adult.
She stepped through the doors of the library, and was welcomed by the blast of cool air from the air conditioning. It was, she had learned, important to keep books in a temperate environment, especially the older texts in the archives she wasn't allowed into.
But today, she wasn't much interested in the academic texts. It was summer; she was allowed to have a little fun!
"Hey, Laurie," Eric drawled in his southern accent, and Laurel turned to face him, brightening as she did.
"Hey, Eric," she said, her face warming. She blushed a lot around him, and shivered when he called her that stupid nickname she didn't let anyone else use.
She…she might have had a crush on him. Just a little one. Nothing that wouldn't go away once she left town.
"Where to today?" Eric asked, crossing his arms and leaning against the wall. He was wearing short sleeves, and Laurel found herself looking with fascination at his thick, tanned arms. He was bigger than her; a lot bigger. Laurel was petite and Eric was strong. She tore her eyes away, blushing harder. "Anthropology section? French literature? Theoretical mathematics?"
"Oh, come on," Laurel said with a huff. He knew better than to think she'd be interested in any kind of math.
"I'm guessing you want the fiction section," he said with a disapproving note to his voice. Eric didn't like it when she read what he called the trashy books: vampire stories, romances, the sort of thing they didn't teach in college courses. But Laurel was stubborn and read what she liked.
"I do," she agreed, but lingered. She hesitated a moment, then tossed her hair back, put a hand on her hip, smiled at him.
"What do you think I should read?" she asked him, putting a lilt into her voice like she'd heard her mother do with men in the grocery store.
Was this how adults flirted? It felt stupid and unnatural. Eric glanced over her body and posture and raised his eyebrows slightly. Laurel deflated and let her arms fall back to her sides.
He thought she was a kid still. Fine then. She'd go to college and come back with a boyfriend, and then he'd see—
"Laurie—" Eric began, his voice gentler than normal.
"Never mind," she said, high-pitched, and fled for the fiction section.
There was no solace to be found there, though. The science fiction didn't tickle her fancy and the romances—well, they were so safe, so tame. She wanted something more.
There was another section, one she'd never ventured to. She gave it a sideways look, as if more than a glance would make people scream that girl is looking at pornography!
Laurel had walked past that section, and looked at the titles of the books on the shelf. Some in particular jumped out at her: The Story of O, 120 Days of Sodom, and more recent books, like The Claiming of Sleeping Beauty, The Marketplace…books she'd looked up online in the little time she had before her mother kicked her off the computer, claiming her phone calls were more important than Laurel's precious computer time. Never mind that everything took forever to load at 30 kilobits per second—the library's 56 kilobits per second was so much faster!—or how much joy it gave Laurel to hear that dial-up chime. She hadn't had time to read excerpts of any of those books yet.
But now…she was practically an adult now, right? Was there any reason she couldn't read those books?
Laurel swerved and made her way towards the forbidden section.
Even the titles made her tingle, knowing what was behind those modest hardback covers.
She glanced around furtively; if Eric saw her over here, she would just die. But he was nowhere in sight. Blindly, she grabbed at a book and tucked it under her arm, making her way quickly—but not too quickly, she didn't want anyone to notice—for a quiet room, one designed for studying. Those were hard to snag during the school year, but during summer, no one would be there, and she'd have a door with blinds over the single window privacy.
She could do whatever she wanted in there.
It wasn't very long until Laurel slammed the book shut and shoved it down the length of the table, her hands shaking.
What a disgusting, vicious story it was! She had expected—well, she'd expected ravishment, but something where the woman eventually liked it, something where she wasn't crying and screaming, and being whipped—Laurel hated it. She really did.
She was pressing her thighs together, her hips rocking slightly to rub the seam of her shorts against her—against her—
She hated herself. How could she react to a story of rape like this? What would that future boyfriend—the boyfriend who looked like Eric, the one who was kind and gentle and respectful—what would he think of her?
The book was still in reach. In a sudden spurt of fury, Laurel grabbed it and threw it against the closed door, as if that would somehow erase its contents from her mind.
Then the door opened.
Laurel sat petrified as Eric poked his head in the door, his expression dark.
"What do you think you're doing in here?" he asked coldly. The book on the floor caught his eye. "Are you throwing things? My books?"
"I—I'm sorry," Laurel managed, voice tremulous. "I just—"
"And what are you reading?" Eric stooped and picked up the book, and Laurel went rigid in her chair.
Eric's face went still when he read the title. His eyes flicked up to Laurel, and they were colder than she'd ever seen them.
"I see," he said, and opened to a random page.
"Please don't," Laurel said.
"Your hands are not your own, nor are your breasts, nor, most especially, any of your bodily orifices, which we may explore or penetrate at will," Eric read. He looked up at Laurel, who was frozen in horror and shame, and a smile curved his lips. It was a cruel smile. Laurel had never seen it on his face before, could never have imagined it.
"You will remember at all times—or as constantly as possible—that you have lost all right to privacy or concealment," he continued, "and as a reminder of this fact, in our presence you will never close your lips completely, or cross your legs, or press your knees together (you may recall you were forbidden to do this the minute you arrived). This will serve as a constant reminder, to you as well as to us, that your mouth, your belly, and your backside are open to us."
He snapped the book shut.
"Is that what you like, Laurel?" he asked softly, but not kindly. "Do you want to get raped?"
Her stomach dropped. She was abruptly aware of the situation she'd put herself in: reading erotica in a room alone with a man who had, she now realized, locked the door with a click when he'd entered the room…a man much bigger than her, a man who was angry at her. Laurel had never been in a position to be aware of danger before. She was keenly aware of its presence in the room today.
But Eric would never hurt her. He couldn't, he'd always been so nice.
He didn't look nice now.
"Please," she whispered.
"Kid young as you shouldn't be reading this kind of trash," Eric said flatly. "Stand up."
It was better to obey, wasn't it? This was Eric. He'd always treated her so well. He wouldn't really hurt her—not really.
Laurel stood. She was shaking.
"You're not going to hurt me, are you?" she asked, her voice quavering. "I'm sorry, I'm so sorry for reading that book, and for throwing it—"
"What I'm going to do to you," Eric said evenly, "is exactly what you deserve."
A pulse of terror ripped through Laurel. She stumbled backwards, but there was nowhere for her to go.
Eric rounded the table in a few long strides, grabbed her by the shoulders and threw her flat on the table. Before she could struggle or even cry out, he ripped open her shirt, the buttons flying everywhere, baring her plain white bra to his staring eyes.
"Nice," he said, and groped one of her small breasts. Laurel tried to squirm away, her breath caught in her throat, tears blurring her eyes, and couldn't, held tight in his grip. The fabric was thin, and he found her nipple and twisted it cruelly.
Laurel found her voice and yelped in shock and a little bit of pain, but Eric held her down—he was so much stronger than she was—one hand covering her mouth and the other forearm pressing down hard against her throat, strangling her air.
"Think carefully before you scream," he whispered in her ear, his breath hot against her neck. "Think about what this looks like. You're reading a book a kid like you shouldn't read. You talked me in here, and now you've taken off your shirt. Everyone knows you've got a crush on me. And who knows, you seems like a good kid, but what if you're just like your whore mother?
Now, who are they going to believe when we tell them what happened here, you or me?"
"Please don't," Laurel breathed shakily. "Please don't, please don't—"
"Take off your bra," Eric ordered. Laurel shook her head wildly. He backhanded her across the face, snapping Laurel's head to the side, and repeated himself, this time impatient.
"Okay," Laurel whimpered, "okay, okay—"
Her trembling hands went to her bra clasp, and this wasn't how she'd ever imagined it, this wasn't what she wanted at all.
"Nice," Eric repeated when her breasts were bared to him, and he groped them hard, rolling her nipples between his thumbs and pinching hard. Laurel slapped a hand across her mouth to keep from crying out. This was—she hated it so much—this was exactly how she touched herself, those rare occasions that she did, exactly how she caressed herself, and her body knew the feeling, her body reacted.
Laurel was crying, tears dripping down her face, shaking her head over and over.
"Shorts next," Eric ordered, and when she didn't move, he made an impatient noise and pushed her flat again, working at the button of her jean shorts with one hand. Laurel kicked her legs impotently; Eric was pressed between her thighs where she couldn't hurt him, and was that hard thing against her leg, was that his—
He yanked her shorts and underwear off with little more care than he'd shown with her shirt, and callously pushed her legs open. Laurel fought to keep them closed, but she couldn't resist against his strength.
And then he looked down at her, and he knew, he knew her secret.
"Holy shit," he said conversationally, and the vulgarity off his lips was bizarre even in this situation. Laurel's mind latched onto it as if it couldn't deal with everything else that was happening: Eric swore.
"You're soaking wet," he added, and touched her there with a thick finger, rubbing a quick circle around the nub at the top—Laurel gasped and squirmed, throwing an arm over her face to cover her eyes—then thrust two fingers brutally inside her. It hurt, it hurt and she cried out before she remembered she had to be quiet.
"Gonna make it easy for me, you little slut," he muttered, and his hands went down to his pants, unfastening his belt, unbuttoning, and then—
"That's not going to fit," she said, stunned. "That's not going to fit, please don't put it in me—"
"Oh, it'll fit," Eric said, and pushed her legs wide as they could go and sank himself deep inside her.
Laurel went rigid, in too much pain to even cry out. Every inch of her body resisted the invasion, but she was helpless to stop it, her pushing hands useless, his hands on her hips holding her firmly in place.
"Fuck, this is good," Eric hissed, and thrust again. Laurel moaned in pain, tears leaking from the corners of her eyes. "Yeah, you like it too, don't you? Fucking whore."
Laurel could only shake her head slowly, her head lolling on her neck as Eric settled into a rhythm. She was pulsing where he was inside her, pulsing like a million papercuts were happening all at once—and for other reasons, too, and maybe Eric was right, maybe she was a whore.
"Do you have," Eric said, his thrusts speeding up, "any idea how long I've wanted to do this? Been thinking about fucking you since I first saw you."
Laurel whimpered. She'd come to the library for the first time her sophomore year of high school. Eric had shown her to the psychology section, had encouraged her interests, had been so kind to her—
He was groaning while he—while he raped her, now, groaning and squeezing her breasts. Laurel laid back and took it, staring at the ceiling. Was there even a point in fighting now?
"Wait," she said suddenly, a sharp pang of fear rising in her. "Wait, don't—I can't get pregnant, don't get me pregnant—"
"Don't care," Eric grunted, and with a shudder, he finished inside her. Laurel could feel it spill out of her when he pulled out, warm and slick on her thighs.
Before she could scramble away, Eric leaned his full body weight on her, trapping her there, pinned against the table. He grabbed her jaw in his hand and yanked her around to face him, planting a disgusting kiss on her lips.
"And that," he said, "is what little whores like you deserve."
Laurel sat alone in that room for a long, long time after Eric left. Her mind was blank, floating. She ached everywhere, but especially between her legs, and that pain was the only thing anchoring her to reality.
Clothes. She had to put her clothes back on.
With numb hands, she struggled with her underwear and shorts, stumbling when she pulled them back on. He was right, no one would believe her if she told them what really happened here.
Stupid bitch, she thought to herself savagely. She'd never used that word before, but it applied here, she felt. Stupid bitch, what did you expect, reading something like that.
She heard it in Eric's voice.
Shirt next. It had been destroyed, buttons gone everywhere in the room. She tied it like a crop top and mindlessly picked up every last button from the floor, putting them in her pocket.
Laurel made her way out of the library primarily by clinging to the shelves. She was sore enough to walk oddly, but at least there hadn't been any blood that she could see.
She couldn't avoid Eric on her way out. He smiled at her, as if nothing had changed, as if his evil twin had raped her instead, and said, "See you next time!"
There would be no next time.
Laurel didn't know if she'd go to a library again.