It was easier to pretend normality than I’d expected it to be. Glen’s house turned into our common room for a week or so. There were people in and out all the time, and nobody minded if I just sat in the corner and listened to them talk. There was no expectation that I was going to be leaving in a hurry, either.
To be fair, I’d expected it to be impossible – it still wasn’t easy. Some nights I slept really heavily and woke up groggy. Others, I couldn’t get to sleep, and when I did I had nightmares. I’d lie awake too miserable to cry, and every time my mind drifted, I’d see blood running down my arms.
A few nights after I’d gone to Glen’s, I woke up not quite screaming to find him sitting in the armchair by the window. He was just there, watching me. Watching over me. “You all right, Hera?”
I shoved my hair out of my face, embarrassed. “Um, sure, I just… what are you doing here?”
He shrugged. “I heard you yelling in your sleep. I thought maybe… if I was just kind of here, you’d sleep better.”
I thought about it, or I tried to anyway. This was less scary than waking up alone, and it wasn’t like he was pushing himself on me. He wasn’t trying to touch me. It was kind of sweet, really. “Okay. Thank you.”
I frowned. “Are you going to sit there all night? That doesn’t look very comfortable.”
“I’ll be fine, don’t worry about me.”
I was tired, so I didn’t. When I woke in the morning he was gone, but the chair cushions were still warm. He had sat there all night.
Picking at breakfast, I had a go at furthering my plan. “You don’t have to stay here with me all the time, you know. You haven’t left the house since I got here. You must be going batshit.”
He shrugged, in his particular disreputably elegant style, watching me over his coffee mug. “That’s not going to happen. Laura would kill me. Not that I mind. And I -” He stopped abruptly and shook his head, soft brown hair falling over one eye. “I do need to go to the supermarket. If you really want to not be a pain, you could come with me.”
Well, okay, he had me there. Because if he hadn’t left the house in days, neither had I. I thought about going out in public, and one completely irrational thought froze my brain: Patrick was out there. I stared at my plate and tried to stop my head floating away in an ocean of blind panic.
“Don’t let him win, Hera.” Glen’s voice was quiet and level: he was always so reasonable. “You’re in control.”
“I don’t feel it.” The pain in my chest was hard to breathe around. “I just don’t understand…” I couldn’t look at Glen and say it, and until Sartre jumped onto the table in front of me, I was just flailing about randomly. I buried my fingers in her fur. “I would have… I would have, if he’d asked. I meant to sleep with him. So why would he do that? He didn’t have to.”
Glen put a box of tissues down in front of me, and his arm around my shoulders. He didn’t seem to care what a horrible drippy snotty mess I was. “I don’t know, Hera. I mean, I don’t understand what makes someone do that. But he had to take, he couldn’t let you give. That would have given you power. He had to be completely in control. He’d already decided he was going to rape you, love. It was shitty, and wrong, and awful, and his fault.”
He sat down, and pushed my hair back so he could see my face. “We really want to make it better. And I know we can’t. Still. Surely there’s somewhere we can start. Chocolate? Pies? Absinthe?”
I smiled, mostly for him, but making the effort did make me feel a tiny bit better. “I think I know what you’re up to, you know. You’re scared of going to the supermarket by yourself, aren’t you?”
“Terrified,” he said, stroking the back of my hand, avoiding Sartre’s teeth. “I don’t know where anything is, or what it costs, or what it’s supposed to look like in its native state. I’m a boy, I’ve got no idea what I’m doing.”
I shook my head at his ignorance, deploying all my actorly skill. “Fine. Let me wash my face and put a brush through my hair, and we’ll go.”
We actually had a pretty good time. You play a role long enough, you start to become it. We teased and bickered our way through the shopping, including a long argument over the relative merits of vegemite and marmite which ended with Glen threatening to buy Bovril instead, and me calling his bluff. For something we’d never done before, it was all so very normal.
At the checkout, I tossed a copy of the paper onto the conveyer belt on a whim. I hadn’t seen the news in nearly a week, and more to the point, I hadn’t done a crossword in that long either. It’d be interesting to see if my brain still worked.
I thought I’d imagined Glen flinching when I did it, but then when we were unpacking, I couldn’t find the paper. So when I finally tracked it down, I looked at it more carefully than I normally would have. It was on the inside front page, not much substance, but padded out with a picture. “Fears Mount for Missing Student.” The photo of Patrick with the article probably wasn’t the one his parents would have chosen: it looked like it had been taken at a party, bad lighting and obvious shit-facedness.
“His flatmates hadn’t seen him for a couple of days,” Glen said from behind me, his voice level and grounding. “So they called his parents. They freaked out, and it looks like they’ve been at the police, because they wouldn’t bother otherwise. He’s an adult, he’s a student, he’s only been missing a couple of days and the last time he was seen was in a bar about three on Sunday morning. As it turns out, his parents are Jehovah’s Witnesses. They’ve been whining about him being led astray.”
I thought about it, with difficulty because a part of my brain was screaming that if he was missing, he could be anywhere at all. Here. Outside. Anywhere. “Sunday. Saturday, really. The day after Laura said she’d had a word to him.”
Glen put his hand on my shoulder. “She was pretty angry. I’ve never seen her so angry. He could easily have been scared enough of her to just leave town for a while without telling anyone. I mean, if he was still here he’d have told someone by now, if only to get that bloody photo out of the papers.”
It did make sense. Laura could be sleazy and calculating, loving and frustrating, and I was sure she could also be utterly terrifying. I was just paranoid. “I… I’m sorry, I think I need to go have a lie down for a while.”
Glen turned me around to face him, gently. “I could come with you, if you want. I’ll bring that chocolate we bought.”
It was an odd thing to say, but the idea was actually quite appealing. It shouldn’t have been, but it was. “Yes, alright then.”
So we ended up spending the rest of the afternoon lying stretched out on my bed, feeding each other chocolate and fending off the advances of the cat, pretty much in silence. It was nice.
We were up again by the time Laura arrived, with Marianne in tow. She’d brought some broken jewellery with her, and I sat down to help simply because it was expected, because that was my role. Marianne was pale and fidgety and kept telling us that Richard wasn’t there, that she couldn’t find him. I’d seen her bad before but never quite like this, so anxious. I wondered later if it was because of what had happened to me, that maybe the possibility had entered her life for the first time, and she couldn’t get her already-fragile head around it.
Richard turned up later, with Peter and a pile of takeaways. I was pretty sure Laura had known where they were all along. She liked being in control, and she didn’t hide her annoyance when she wasn’t as well as she thought she did.
Darren arrived while we were sharing out the food, and from the ribbing he took I gathered he had a new boyfriend. While they were giving him shit, I managed to get Laura off by herself in the kitchen.
“Why didn’t you tell me Patrick was missing?”
She gave me a look, and if it wasn’t her I’d have called it worried and uncertain. She leaned back on the bench and ran her thumb over her mouth. “I guess I just… I didn’t want to upset you. And he’s not missing, little fuck. He left. I didn’t think he wouldn’t tell his family where he’d gone. I’m pretty sure I know where he is. I think we can get him ‘found’ again. Honestly, Hera, I’m sorry, I just didn’t think. I under-estimated how big of an arsehole he was, and believe me, I didn’t think that was possible.”
She leaned over and stroked my arm, her face creased with concern. “Will you be alright?”
I shrugged, staring at the floor. I couldn’t look her in the face: it hurt too much. “I don’t really have much choice, do I?”
That night, Glen slept in my bed. I woke up a couple of times, found myself curled against his chest, under his arm, and felt completely safe. There was a dark shadow round his face, a hint of glossy muzzle, but that was good too. I was on my way to death: it was his job to protect me.
The next day I accidentally interrupted Richard and Laura in the hall. She looked disconcerted, and as worried as I thought I’d seen her the day before. He looked, frankly, smug. She slipped away before I was sure what I’d seen, but it wasn’t right. It was just another thing that was wrong.
Being with Glen, though, continued to be comforting. It was just so easy. It should have been, of course. He was one of my dearest friends, and he’d never been anything but gentle and concerned with me. I’d never had a male friend like that before.
That night, once everyone had gone and we’d settled down to sleep, he wound a lock of my hair idly round his finger and watched my face. “You know you’re pretty, right Hera?”
I snorted. I honestly didn’t even believe him enough to be disconcerted. “Fuck off.”
“No, see, I know what you’re thinking. You’re smart and you’re really talented and caring, and you spend all your time in that shadow… But you’re warm. Your hair and your skin and your smile, and just the way you are. Laura, she’s beautiful, but she’s… sharp. You wrap your hand around that, you’ll bleed. Marianne is the same, in a different way. She’s beautiful because she’s difficult. You’re…”
He smiled, which I couldn’t really handle. “What’s wrong with that? Sweetness is nice. I mean… you don’t always want Bad Boys, right? With their attractive dangerousness and basic arseholitude. Sometimes you just want someone who makes you feel warm and safe and comfortable. Yes?”
I thought – which was an over-generous description of the process – about Peter, and then about Glen. And Chris, and Charles. Sometimes Peter made me want him so sharply it felt like being cut. His fingers drifting idly across my bare skin could stop me breathing. And yet… he never made me feel wanted, or attractive, or safe. And if men could feel that way about Laura, that they wanted something they didn’t really want, then perhaps… perhaps I could be attractive in the same way Charles or Chris had been. In the same way Glen was.
I shook my head. “I don’t want to be… Glen, it’ll be a long time before I want anyone to find me attractive. In any way. Not after Patrick.”
He leaned up on one elbow, his expression almost fierce. I could picture his ears laying flat against his skull. “Don’t let him, Hera. Don’t give him that power. Please, love, don’t let him take pleasure away from you. Don’t let him own your body. That bastard doesn’t deserve it.”
He took a steadying breath, visibly calming himself down. He rubbed away a tear with his thumb, his skin soft against mine. “I’ll never, ever do anything without your permission. I swear.” There was a weight, an echo to it, an oath made between our number. “I’d like to kiss you. If that’s all right with you. And if it’s not, that’s okay too. I can wait. But… it hurts to see you walking around, dead on the inside. What he did to you, that was nothing to do with desire, with wanting. Do you want me to kiss you?”
Without really thinking about it, I nodded. It felt like an act of defiance. If I was going to die, it didn’t really matter anyway, and it felt like a slap in Patrick’s face. Glen was right; Patrick wanted to keep on having power over me, and I could take it away. Take it back.
We kissed, the first time I’d ever kissed one of the Inner Circle outside of the House. He was slow and deliberate, kissing me a lip at a time, nipping gently, and then holding my face, kissing me deeply, and I felt something shift, the place where wanting should have been but wasn’t, just this great hollowness.
Glen was patient, though. Having led me that far, he let it go, and I fell asleep with his arm around my waist. And then the next night, he asked again. This time, kissing him was easy, warm and welcome. He kept going, his touch deliberate but never pushing too far. Every time he moved, his mouth or his hands, he stopped and asked me. My neck, my shoulders, my breasts. Sometimes I couldn’t say yes, but he always gave me the chance to say no. And perhaps because I could say no, I never did.
He parted my legs and knelt between them, stroking me with his fingers and tongue, touching and tasting me with the same patient, purposeful desire. I tried to tell him it wouldn’t do any good, tell him how sorry I was but I just couldn’t feel that way any more, but I couldn’t find the words. And after what seemed like an absolute eternity, it turned out I’d have been wrong anyway. He managed to draw from me a depth of response I didn’t think I had any more. I shuddered and cried out, feeling heat flood back through my body, all the flesh that had been cold and remote and withdrawn.
Glen lay back beside me with a quiet smile, and wouldn’t let himself be dragged back on top of me. “No,” he said quietly, kissing my neck. “Not tonight. This is just for you. It’s my privilege.”
The next night, he was not so self-sacrificing. But still, he drew me on top of him, not putting his weight on me, so I could stop any time I needed to. It was slow and gentle and fond, and his face was utterly beautiful. Beautiful, and safe.