Melinda Jones: “Try To Say No”

AUTHOR:  Melinda Jones

TITLE: “Try To Say No”

GENRE: Adult contemporary fiction

SYNOPSIS/LOGLINE: She should say no. But she won’t.

Try to Say No

by Melinda Jones

A sound tears through the quiet, ripping her from a dreamless sleep. She jerks awake, eyes wide, heart pounding a heavy beat against her ribcage. Her chest tightens with breaths she isn’t taking. Frantic, her eyes scan the room. Objects become recognizable by the size and shape of their shadows.

A dresser. A chair. A lamp. 

A snore.

A long, deep breath sucked in through an open mouth, a moment of silence, an exhale. It’s just a snore. Her breathing slows and deepens. The cadence of her heartbeat returns to normal. She relaxes against the pillow again. No matter how often this happens, she can’t get used to waking up next to him. 

In a few minutes, he will begin to make his escape. He’ll lower his arm from where he flung it across his forehead in his sleep. He’ll sit up, swing his legs to the floor and quietly, gently ease out of bed. He won’t realize she’s already awake and watching his routine under barely open eyelids. 

Carpet crushing beneath bare feet and a shadow moving past beams of moonlight are the only sound or sight of him. He searches through the pile of clothing torn from trembling bodies and littered about the room only hours before. She lies as still as possible, breathing lightly, listening to time reversing: thick denim yanked back onto muscular, hairy legs; a loud zipper followed by the snap of a button; a shirt pulled overhead; a dip in the bed as he sits to pull on his socks and then his shoes. 

He tiptoes around to her side of the bed, leans over her and sweeps dry, chapped lips across her cheek. He gives a tap or two to the rise of her hip and whispers, “thanks”. With cat-like stealth, he navigates the house in the dark. The tinkle of his keys rings out from the table in the foyer where he dropped them when he came over. The front door opens and softly closes. He tests the door a few times to make sure it locks. He always tests the door. 

Alone in her space, lying in the still, black night, she is safe to move, to open her eyes and breathe and sigh with disappointment. She rolls over to ‘his’ side of the bed, gathers the pillow that still smells of him—cologne and shampoo and sweat and man—and sucks in the scent of him.

Her eyes close. She imagines him there next to her. She imagines that he didn’t get up and leave under cover of darkness like there was a need to hide and sneak around. She didn’t hear the engine of his car rumble down the street in the wee hours of the morning. She remembers being with him. How he felt, how he tasted, how he sounded. How he liked it. How he liked her to like it, too. 

The tears come, then. Hot, salty reminders that shouldn’t still come, but do. The tears admonish her; tell her to stop dreaming about what will never happen. To stop romanticizing him. This.

He doesn’t want more than this, from her. This is all she is getting.  In the last year, since the near job lay-off and the salary cut and the stress of his mother’s chronic illness, he seems more tense and frustrated. He reaches out to her more often. She should say no more often. 

For years, she has nursed a tiny, harmless crush. An annoying, nagging, longing. An immature recurring daydream of being with him. He knows. She knows that he knows. She also knows that he doesn’t feel the same way about her. All the same, with the sting of alcohol on their breath and inhibitions lowered and hormones raging, it happens. 

They don’t talk about it after, but the question—would she, even though he didn’t feel the same?—is answered. The window of opportunity swings wide open.

It still happens.

By the time it is a semi-regular occurrence, she has the routine down pat: compartmentalize. During the other twenty-five or so days of the month, they are friends. Good friends. Close friends. They hang out with their other friends. They attend dinner parties and group movie dates. They show up at the usual places and do the usual things and laugh at the usual jokes. They spend time together like they always do, watching the shows they both like, bantering about plot lines and scene twists and character traits. They talk into the night, like the old friends they are. He rants about his job, the extra workload and the unfairness of having to take it on, in contrast with being grateful to still have a job. She complains about her coworkers and her boss and the new girl who doesn’t do anything all day but chew gum and paint her nails and flirt with the clerk in the shipping department. 

Then….well, then there are those three or four days a month, when his calls come late. Later than if he just wanted to hang out. Are you free? Can I come over?  His tone is different. He’s different when he wants that.

That is base, physical, and a primary satisfaction of needs and wants and longings and urges. She wants more than base, physical satisfaction of urges and longings but when the demands for something more, something meaningful arise, he pulls away. Long, torturous spans of time pass before he calls or comes around again. She makes it her business to separate the sex from the friendship.

The buddy from the fuck. 

It works. For awhile. While he’s in the room. After he is spent and has slipped away while she pretends to sleep, the tears come to remind her that she wants more than these explosive, powerful, amazing and yet painfully empty episodes. She will never have it. She begins to think that maybe, for the good of her heart, her mind and sheer sanity, she should break it off. 

She should. 

But she can’t. 

She feels weak even admitting it, but the word “no” never comes to mind until he is gone. Her doorbell rings and he is there and they aim for the bedroom, tossing away clothes as they go. A few hours of exertion relieves stress and pressure and frustration and peels away the layers of the day, the week, the month. Soothes away irritations. If only for that fleeting moment of pleasure, problems disappear. There is a sliver of time right then, right there, when it’s just the two of them. That’s her favorite part, what she needs, what she craves from him. It is as much a release for her as it is for him. 

She laughs when she overhears her girlfriends musing about his prowess and bedside manner. If they only knew that he is not smooth or charming or gentle. He is far from winking eyes and romantic gestures and manly confidence. His strong hands awkwardly grab, grip, push, hold her in place until he is finished. He talks a lot. He asks a lot of questions. He needs near constant assurance. He needs to know that she likes it, that she’s having a good time and that he makes her feel those sensations and make those sounds.

She remembers that from the first time, more vividly than she should because she was drunk out of her mind and so was he. 

There was a party. Some friends, some drinks, some food. Parties are always at his house because he lives on the beach. They gather in the sand around the fire pit, telling stories and drinking cheap alcohol, gazing out at the calm of ocean waves and the smooth moon as it hangs in the sky. They wish on falling stars and sniff the salty air. Parties at the beach house are low key by nature. Come when you can, leave when you must. 

By 3am, most of the guests are gone, save for her. On the fringes of alcoholic fugue, she hears empty cans being tossed into a plastic bag, the aluminum in tinny concert as they gather among the glass bottles. He creeps around the couch so as not to wake her. He seems surprised to find her eyes open. Glassy and bloodshot but open. He abandons his task and crouches between the coffee table and the loveseat. 

“Hey. How are you doing? You want some water?” He speaks softly, stroking her face. This is unfair, and he knows it. He likes to fan the flames of her crush on him. He is young and flattered. He can’t help it. 

“And some aspirin,” she says, her voice grainy from strain and alcohol.

He disappears and reappears with a glass of water and the small white bottle of pills. She sits up halfway and takes the water from him, pressing the cool glass against her throbbing temple. He fishes two capsules from the mouth of the bottle and hands them to her. 

“Three,” she says. “I need three. Two won’t do anything.” 

She tosses them back and swallows, then takes a swig of water. 

“Thanks,” she mumbles, sets the still full glass onto the coffee table and lies back down. The ache throbs and pulses through her brain. She moans and whimpers, clutching her head. 

“Are you gonna puke? On my couch?” He pokes her when she doesn’t answer. She swats his hand away. 

“I’m not gonna puke on your couch,” she whines. “My head hurts.” Talking makes it hurt. Breathing makes it hurt. She just needs to lie still and not talk or breathe or move until the pain reliever can do its job. 

He lifts her head and slides up under her. He picks up a throw pillow and places it on his lap, then gestures for her to lie down. She settles gently so the jackhammer pounding at her skull will subside. 

She closes her eyes against the brightness of the room. A heavy hand rests on her shoulder as he lays an arm over her and settles himself into the seat. Remnants of music from the party thumps from the speakers in each corner of the room. He stretches to pick up the remote and changes the station. Easy listening light rock tunes now provide the soundtrack to an otherwise silent early morning. For a long while it is the only sound. 

The pain ebbs like the ocean tide, washing in and rushing out, weaker with each wave. Eventually, she can think and breathe and possibly move without feeling like her skull is about to split into two pieces. She realizes, lying there on his loveseat, her head in his lap, that they are alone. And it is late.  

Long, deep breaths sound above her. Then a strangled, snorting sound. She flips to her back so she can see him. He is asleep, his head tipped back against the cushion. Eyes closed, mouth open, chest rising and falling with his breaths. 

She sits up and he stirs, eyes opening, mouth smacking, stretching. “You okay?” 

She checks her hair, smoothing it down and adjusts her thin blouse. “Yeah, I feel better. Thanks for the drugs, man.” 

His sleepy gaze wanders her body, settling on her chest. “Uhm…yeah, no problem.” 

She raises an eyebrow and shoots him half a grin. “See something you like?” 

He blinks, slowly bringing his eyes to her face. He doesn’t even seem embarrassed to have been caught staring. “They’re just… there,” he says.

“So they are,” she says, nodding. Waiting. He yawns. Stretches his legs. Scratches his belly. Says nothing else. She takes her cue to leave. “Well, thanks again for the drugs and the uh, lap. I’m gonna get going.” 

She tries to stand but weaves to the side as the room turns on end and spins wildly to the left. “Whoa.” 

“Sit your ass down,” he says in a thick mumble. “Not going anywhere.” He tugs her arm and she falls back to the couch, giggling. 

“I’m still drunk.” 

“I know. Me too. I want you to stay.” 

He drops a hand to her thigh and then, ever so slowly, slides that hand down her bare leg and back up, just under the hem of her shorts. Goosebumps pop up in its wake. He lingers rather high up, his thumb rubbing just inside her thigh.

Tempting. Teasing. Is he really making a move? 

His hand is warm and heavy. And on her thigh. Her crush, having lain dormant and grey, is brought it to life in a flourish of reds and pinks, rushing back with force and intensity. Her heart leaps. Her skin is flush. She looks away.  

And then looks back at him. His hand is where he has never, in all the years he’s known her, ever touched her before. His eyes give away desire that, in all the years she’s known him, she has never seen. 

But he’s drunk, her mind argues. 

So am I, she argues back. 

He won’t remember it, her mind argues. 

I will, she argues back. 

“Well, you have to be tired. It’s been a long night. You should go on up, go to bed. I’ll be okay down here.” She pats a cushion on the couch and smiles, hoping he will suggest an alternative to actually sleeping on the couch. “I’ll just leave whenever I feel like I can drive.” 

His hand doesn’t move except to gently squeeze her in his grasp. “And leave you down here to sober up by yourself? How rude,” he says with a short laugh. He flirts. He smiles. His eyes twinkle.  

This is happening.

She tries to relax, sinking into the couch, laughing back, smiling back, flirting back, and hoping her eyes still have some sparkle to them. 

He stands and begins walking out of the room. He turns back to see if she is following and smiles because she is. They stumble up the stairs, weaving and giggling, leaning against one another. 

As soon as her feet hit carpet, he is all lips and hands. His body presses tightly against hers, moving her backward until her legs hit the mattress and she can’t help but fall onto it. The room is cool and dark. He doesn’t turn a lamp on. 

It is… clunky. He is loose and drunk and verbal and self centered. His breath, hot and haggard, smells of three day old Budweiser. He just barely waits until she comes before he succumbs to his own climax and when it is over, he rolls to the left and collapses next to her. Before she can whisper something about how… good… it was, he is snoring. 

She has liked him for so long that she tells herself that all first times are uncomfortable and unpleasant. She hopes for a next time. And that when the next time comes, it will be better. 

A laborious, torturous three weeks pass before the next time comes. Twenty-three days in which her emotions toss back and forth. Embarrassment. Elation. Shame. Hope. 

His nervousness is cute. His direct, pointed request is not, but she forgives it. He asks her to come over, but not for dinner or drinks or movies. He asks her to come late. Very late. He is so obvious. 

She should say no. She says yes. 

She comes late. They climb the steps to his bedroom. She braces herself for a repeat of the first time, but is pleasantly surprised that the experience improves when he hasn’t been drinking all night and isn’t half asleep. 

Except that when he is sober, he is even more self conscious. He doesn’t like it when she isn’t obviously having a good time. He feels inadequate if she doesn’t sound like a porn star, so she obliges with some loud moaning and a few fuck yeah‘s. After, he stays inside her. Her skin and his cheap sheets soak up his sweat while he catches his breath. He asks her over and over if it was good. 

It isn’t the sex that draws her to him. It has never been about the sex. It is the moments after, when he is lightheaded and spent and vulnerable, basking in the afterglow and so tired that he might say anything, and sometimes does. Sometimes he confesses things that he doesn’t tell anyone else. Like how he resents having to take care of his mother, especially when his father, though estranged, lives mere miles from her. How he hates his job but it pays so well, he doesn’t want to quit. He tells her that he knows how wrong it is to keep coming to her, taking from her and not offering more. He tells her that he feels safe with her and that feeling brings him back, time and again. He suggests that maybe they shouldn’t keep doing this

Eventually though, he calls again. She should say no. She won’t.

Because… what if he starts sleeping with another girl? What if, while sleeping with her, he suddenly decides he is ready to offer more? She isn’t ready for some other woman to benefit from what she’s built with him. It would devastate her to see him with show up to their friendly gatherings with a new girl on his arm and to watch him flirt with someone else and coax her into his bed so he could ask her, over and over, how good it was. 

So, she hangs on with an iron grip on thin shreds of hope that can’t possibly hold her.  But she can’t— won’t let go. She strokes his back and scratches his scalp and lightly touches her lips to his temple and quiets his apologies with whispers of, “It’s okay. It’s okay.” 

After he thinks she is asleep, he will get up, redress, and slink out into the inky darkness at the edge of night. She will listen to his car start and rumble through the neighborhood, then roll over and suck in the residual scent that is by now embedded in the fibers of the pillow. 

The tears come to remind her that what she hopes for will never come. He will call again. And ask again. And come over again. After, he will stay inside her and he will admit things and apologize to her and she will be weak and tell him, “It’s okay”. When he is gone, she will soak his pillow with her tears, his scent filling her nose, and decide again. 

The next time he calls, she will try to say no.

23 Responses to Melinda Jones: “Try To Say No”

  1. Wow. Nothing else to say.

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  3. Katie

    That was great. I’m with them on the wow.

  4. Richard Dickerson

    Double WOW! Excellent!

  5. Karen

    I think I forgot to breathe while I was reading that. Very good.

  6. Hi Melinda–great story, I can feel this poor girl’s angst. Fantastic imagery with good strong bones to craft a character readers can pull for, if not feel sorry for, too. My only suggestion would be to make it slightly less redundant. I felt like I already knew exactly how she felt, how torn and tormented she was over this one-sided relationship, without it going on for paragraph after paragraph. You explain it quite well, and one thing I’m trying to learn as I further my own writing career, is to be descriptive yet with word efficiency, you know? I don’t think you need to keep reminding the reader of how deeply affected she has become, we get the message loud and clear. Otherwise, I hope this girl gets far away from this guy and finds someone who needs her for more than just a rough roll in the hay:)
    Good luck to you!!

  7. Thanks everyone!

    @jennifer, while I was reading it this morning, I started to understand what you’re saying. It is supposed to circle around and bring you back to the beginning, but I do understand what you’re saying about re-stating things the writer should understand and infer. I’ll work on that. Thank you!

  8. Debbie

    Hi Melinda,

    I think you have a great stat to a captivating story – lots of emotion and great description. I love the line, “Objects become recognizable by the size and shape of their shadows,” and the description of him sleeping (the snoring, etc)

    I have to agree with Jennifer though – there is a lot of repetition that I would delete in the interests of tightening up the story.

    She feels weak even admitting it, but the word “no” never comes to mind until he is gone. ** I would eliminate some instances of “telling” on her part and begin the sentence with “The word “no”….

    “She remembers that from the first time, more vividly than she should because she was drunk out of her mind and so was he.” I would delete this (just as an example) and go right in to the party….

    It seems harsh (and so hard to “kill your darlings”) but I’ve done this exercise – gone through stories I’ve written and cut them down to say, 1000 words for a contest (example) and they have ended up being much tighter stories! Hope this helps. Deb

  9. Thank you Deb! It does!

  10. Sarah

    this is just awesome. really really good. great read.

  11. Very entertaining – kept me interested! I think we are moved most by the things we can relate too… I’ll say no more 🙂

  12. Jackie

    Love the title and love the tagline.

    That poor girl should read the book, Getting to ‘I Do’, by Patricia Allen! She has a common problem: being sexually addicted to a man who will never give her what she wants. I am wondering why she doesn’t respect herself more.

    This is probably only me, but this sentence tripped me up:
    He searches through the pile of clothing torn from trembling bodies and littered about the room only hours before.
    I thought this was referring to murdered people, which completely changed the mood. If you changed the sentence slightly to say “from their trembling bodies” it would have been clear to me, and I would not have had to go back and re-read three times. Maybe a different word than “trembling”? Trembling says fear more than desire to me.f

    You did a great job of describing the complexity of the relationship, the desires of each, and the conflict between them. Good writing!

  13. @Steph, Yes, I have no comment, either. *wink* Thank you so much for commenting!

    @Jackie- I so appreciate your comment. Do you know I struggle with that sentence every time I read it. I have flipped back and forth from their to just bodies and finally settled on leaving it out. And I agree on your summation: so many women give themselves to men that don’t deserve them in the hopes that they will change and become more deserving. I want the reader to feel sorry for her but also to kind of dislike her and want her to buck up and get some self respect.

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  15. Hi Melinda, You don’t know me. I am an author. Many books.

    Just wanted to say “bravo” for that story. And… to agree with some of the others about tightening. As we all know, sometimes removing the first paragraph can add urgency.

    For example if you took away this para. “A sound tears through the quiet, ripping her from a dreamless sleep. She jerks awake, eyes wide, heart pounding a heavy beat against her ribcage. Her chest tightens with breaths she isn’t taking. Frantic, her eyes scan the room. Objects become recognizable by the size and shape of their shadows.”

    You might start it with: “A dresser. A chair. A lamp. Objects become recognizable by the shape and size of their shadows.”

    “A snore.”

    Now we are right in the room with her. The ambiance you create by using this staccato rhythm at the outset already implies she is breathless, a bit frantic. What’s this snore? Now we are curious.

    It’s a sad, universally-appealing story. But it needs to be tighter. More urgent.

    Thanks for letting me read and comment. sw

    Then you could go on to explain As it is, the first para has the word “tears” in it and at first I wasn’t sure if those were tears or the verb to tear.

  16. Olga Oliver

    Melinda – excellent writing, but I can’t stand that guy. Wonderful descriptions pull the reader right into the actions. But when I ask ‘what do I take away from this story’ the answer is I’m just plain angry. I want to kick him out the door and fetch her to the nearest therapist. This is a woman needing to like and love herself instead of loving a selfish bore loaded with testosterone. If she could stop whining and crying, accept and use the situation as a he does, I could respect her, but I’d like to see her grow out of this situation.

    Show us some more of your writing. Your diction is clear and perfect.

  17. @Suzanne- thank you so much for taking the time to give me some advice! I never thought of cutting the first para… I will give it a try. Would the word “rips” work better, because of the tear vs tear issue?

    @Olga, thanks for your comment! My goal is for the reader to think she is just the most pitiful, weakest thing, ever. I’ve struggled with whether to make her likable and decided that at the end of the day, the reader might roll their eyes in frustration and think, “Ah this reminds me of that stupid girl so and so…” because in reality we know that girl that tries too hard and hangs onto something that isn’t for her. And we know that guy that’s taking as long as she’s giving.

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  19. Melinda, This is my first time to explore the Peer Review pages, and I thought I would comment on your story since it has parallels to one I’m writing. First of all, you write very well, and I think this story has a lot of potential. But, there are two things that I see, one being repetition, which has already been commented on. That’s easy to fix. The other is my response to the woman. As I recently learned from a structure analysis of my story, my main character was viewed as a victim, and the reader would not emphasize with her. I see the same with your character. In fairness, your post is just a small snippet of the set up, and I don’t know where the story is going, what the first plot point is, when and how she will change that causes the reader to root for her. But, at this stage, I’m not emphasizing with her or rooting for her. I assume the point of the story is to progress to her finally saying no, and finding what she desires. Presenting a character as a victim is tricky. You state that “I want the reader to feel sorry for her but also to kind of dislike her and want her to buck up and get some self respect”. It’s hard for me to feel sorry for her, although I don’t dislike her. If the set up continued to present her as is, I would likely lose interest before the first plot point. Maybe an inciting incident earlier would keep me reading, but I would expect that by the plot point the story wins me over to root for her, otherwise I would grow tired of reading about a weak victim that I don’t have empathy for. That’s what I’m struggling with in my story, a young woman meets two men in a bar, and is torn between the two. One is a decent guy, the other is a sociopath, who is charming, handsome, and charismatic. But, my first draft had her as a victim, and I need to rework the set up to give the reader some reason to care about her. I’m looking forward to reading your story as it plays out. You have a great writing voice.

  20. Melinda, I had one more thought. As I said previous, I’m aware this is just a small snippet of the set up, and I’m sure there’s a lot more you have thought about and developed. Maybe an inciting incident in the middle of Part One where she sees him with another woman, not that he is involved with her, maybe just talking to someone, that foreshadows the issues she is going to be confronted with at the first plot point. Something that causes the reader to have confidence that she is not going to be a victim for the first 20%-25% of the story, and they begin to care a little more about her. Ha! I’m having enough trouble with my own story, so take my comments with a gain of salt.

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