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does she want to be little, does she want to be small?

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They were laughing. It was all they ever did, Gordon and his friends, drink and laugh and compare notes on their private planes and stacks of money. The schools their sons were going to. Their wives. All pieces in their games, tokens to be moved across the board whenever it suited them. Objects to be used. Advantage, them.

Thought you said she was young. Was his name Ben or Gary? Not that she cared. She’d glazed over when they’d been introduced, gritted her teeth against tight hugs and wandering hands. How she longed to snap their fingers into a thousand tiny pieces, break their fists so they’d never clench again.

And she had, she’d punched one of Gordon’s friends right in the mouth, when they’d first been married, given him a big, purple bruise on his jaw and it had been so hard not to be smugly satisfied for giving the bastard what was coming to him. She’d seen him feeling up the rest of the cabin crew too, imagined giving him what for when her turn came. And it had been worth it.

Gordon hadn’t been happy. It had still been worth it. She’d never done it again in his presence.

Thought you said she was a looker. Carolyn stared at the screen, men kicking a blurry football across a court. Pitch? Field? She didn’t care. Easier to watch that than listen to Gordon’s friends, though. They weren’t really watching the game, using it as an excuse to gossip and drink and show off. Carolyn didn’t want to be there, sat on Gordon’s lap like a demure little thing, the jewel in his collection.

Easier to pretend to care about sport than them. All their boring trips across the world. Their conquests.  

You’ll have to forgive her. That’s my son in there, makes her tired. Gordon’s hand on her thigh, Ben’s eyes between her legs, on her stomach. She wasn’t really showing yet, to her relief, because the second Gordon thought he could get away with it, he’d try to keep her at home, and that was a fight she didn’t want to have. Didn’t know if she could win.

One of the footballers kicked the ball into the goal, and Gordon and his friends cheered. Carolyn breathed out. Anything to stop the attention from being on her, the eyes of the room raking across her body. She didn’t dare imagine what he’d been saying about her to these men, what domineering hell-bitch she was painted as. Toughness to them was something to be broken, after all.

Gordon’s fingers squeezed her leg, stubby fingers imprinting her flesh. Marking her? It all came down to prizes with them, who can have the biggest brag. All she could do was smile, gritted teeth as Gordon’s stubble and alcohol breath touched her cheek.

The game moved on. Another empty bottle. It wobbled, precarious on the edge of the table. Carolyn held her breath, braced for the crash. An excuse to get up, at least, good girl, headed for the kitchen. Obedient. All eyes on her as she stood up. Even though she’d known it was coming, she still jumped as Gordon’s hand landed on her, making the statement mine for everyone to see.

She hadn’t particularly wanted to wear this dress, hadn’t particularly wanted to dress up for Gordon’s friends but he had a performance to give and a wife to show off and shouting back at him was so tiring. She was already so tired.

How long could she dawdle in the kitchen? The idea of going back in made her feel sick but everything was about appearances here, a game of minesweeper with no logic. Anything could make the bomb go off.

They had barely moved, when she returned, dustpan and brush in hand. They were all still lounging, draped over the sofas, leaving her no free space to sit back down except with her husband, where she ought to be. They barely reacted as she came back in, their conversation about stewardesses they wanted to bed clearly far more important. Carolyn crouched down. The faster this was over, the better. But the glass had gone everywhere and the last thing she wanted was to be on her knees, bent over and doing the housework for her husband. All eyes on her.

Gordy, you’re right after all, she’s better from this angle. Could all have a go like this, couldn’t we? Looks good on her knees after all, doesn’t she? Thought you said she couldn’t be tamed. Proper Cinderella now, ain’t she? Could all have a go, couldn’t we?

She was sure enough that she’d missed a few shards but to hell with them, to hell with it if they sliced their feet open. If she only could, she’d take their words and fashion them into a knife. She’d knock over the board. Wasn’t the queen supposed to move in any direction? Bombs ready to go off.

Shaking hands, she stood back up, shreds of her dignity. All eyes on her. Couldn’t rush away. Couldn’t give in to them.

Away from their eyes, she heaved a breath, bracing herself against the countertop, a wave of nausea crashing over her. She couldn’t tell where it was coming from. She couldn’t linger too long, in the dark of the kitchen. Glass at the bottom of the bin.

From the living room, a roar went up, a cheer. Another goal? She didn’t care. She hoped their team lost.

She couldn’t linger here too long, but in the dim light of the kitchen she was safe, for now. Alone, and safe. Unconsciously, her hand rested on her tummy – not completely alone, perhaps. Gordon Shappey’s son. What kind of boy would he be? If it had anything to do with her, he wouldn’t be like his father. He’d have humanity and respect, and he’d be brave. She’d teach him to be brave.

She only wished she could be more brave. If she were braver, she would take these shards and words and throw it all back in their faces. If she were braver, she’d never let her son meet his father.

Carol? Get us another drink, would you love?

She bit her lip to stop herself from choking on a laugh. What did he know about love? Not that she was terribly familiar with the subject. But all he loved were things he could wrap his fists around and say here, look, I own this. It’s mine. Better on her knees.

But what choice did she have? Reduced to lingering in the kitchen. How her twenty-year-old self would have hated her! How Ruth would have laughed. Pawns in a game.

She would teach him to be brave. Gordon wouldn’t get his hands on her son. They could laugh and gawp at her, lewd eyes and wandering hands, but they wouldn’t touch him. She could be brave enough for that.