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 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.
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.