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Her kisses; delicious and lingering, always take him by surprise, every time, even though they’ve been officially A Thing for almost four months now. Spencer kisses him like she could be more than happy to just do it for hours on end, and slowly but surely Toby’s surprise stops including anxiety induced goosebumps and nausea. He gets used to running his hands over her body, always through her clothes, and it gets easier to immediately recognize that he has nothing to fear – she’s taller than Jenna, leaner, too, and his hands get more confident as the weeks pass. Sometimes she moves to undo his shirt, but he usually manages to distract her by moving her hands to his shoulders or his butt. Eventually, he lets her. And not long after that, he finds the confidence to slide his hand up her bare back, and he feels a rush of relief fizz through his veins and across his skin at how it feels both ordinary and wonderful. There’s no lingering feeling of doubt or regret or guilt or any other combination of negative emotions that always have seemed to engulf his experiences of sex.

Then, one day, when he’s lost his shirt and she has too, her soft fingers skim slowly from his shoulders over his chest and down his abs until they hit his belt. She pulls the loose end free from the loops and he hears, rather than feels, the belt unbuckle and slide free. His hand, just seconds before twined in her hair, shoots down to catch her hands with his heart pounding out of control in his chest. He breaks the kiss and jerks backward involuntarily, and she freezes, staring up at him with her eyes wide and her mouth still parted.

“What?” She asks, catching her breath, “What’s wrong?”

He wants to find the words to explain what just happened, but there’s nothing there. His mind is coming up empty, leaving his mouth opening and closing around empty air until he lets go of her and shifts off of her. Sitting beside her with no shirt on and his jeans undone, he’s never felt so exposed in his life.

“Toby?” Spencer prods with concern beginning to creep back into her voice, “What is it?”

“I- I can’t…” He manages to get out finally, embarrassment and mortification descending over him like frigid rain as it begins to dawn on him that Spencer has probably never been rejected in her life, and she’s probably sitting there judging him and hating him and mentally paging through the probably volumes thick list of guys who’d be only too happy to give her what she wants if he won’t-

Spencer’s hand settles gently on his forearm, “Toby,” She whispers, settling beside him on the bed and slowly sliding her fingers down his wrist until they can twine with his fingers, “It’s okay.”

Reality quickly eclipses the destructive path his thoughts had begun to head down like a runaway freight train – this is Spencer. Not Jenna, who forced him to do what she wanted by blackmailing him with the threat of a rape accusation that was never more ironic than it was coming from her, Spencer. Spencer who loves him, who hasn’t judged him unfairly since the first day she came to his house, sat on his porch with a copy of L’attrape-cœursand apologized for her mistakes – both verbal and mental. Spencer who trusts him with her life, and who he’d trust with his any day of the week.

“I haven’t been with anybody since Jenna.” He makes himself say, without stuttering or hesitating or turning his face away from her (though he’s still not looking her in the eye), “I haven’t been with anybody buther.”

There’s a prolonged silence, during which his only comfort is the fact that she doesn’t physically withdraw from him – her hand remains just as steady around his as it has been since she first took it – until finally, she tells him softly, “I fooled around with my last boyfriend a little but we didn’t go all the way. Before that, the only person I’ve ever been with… like that…” She does hesitate where he didn’t, and he can almost predict what she’s going to say before she does. “The only person I’ve ever had sex with was Ian.”

“You had sex with him?” Toby asks evenly, without a hint of judgment in his voice.

“I was fifteen.” She nods, “He was twenty three. Don’t get me wrong, I wasn’t saying ‘no’, but I don’t think I completely understood what I was saying ‘yes’ to either.”

“I was saying no.” He tells her, his voice tightly controlled, “But she didn’t seem to care about that.”

“She assaulted you.” Spencer whispers, and she sounds stricken, “The whole time you were saying ‘no’ and she wasn’t listening.”

His embarrassment only deepens when he feels tears welling up in his eyes – he can’t even remember the last time he cried in front of anyone. He’s pretty sure it must have been at his Mother’s funeral ten years before. He can’t help it though – he’s just so relieved to have someone understand the severity of what he went through. He knows most people would laugh at him, mock him for it. Guys are just expected to always want sex, and it’s as if some people in society can’t fathom the fact that guys can get raped too. He’s not sure that’s what happened to him, and he’s not sure he wants to put a word on it because then he becomes another label, another tick in another box, and he’s got more than enough ticks in more than enough boxes to last a lifetime thank you very much. But Spencer, Spencer is not asking him to define what happened to him, and she’s not asking him why he’s not over it yet, and she’s not asking him why he won’t have sex with her yet either. She’s just accepting his story, and accepting him, and he has honestly never loved her more than he does right then.

“How about we just curl up and watch a movie in the den.” Spencer suggests, “Our Netflix is working again so we can watch that super depressing one about the family of book publishers who go all Shakespearean on each other that you like.”

He smiles for the first time since they stopped kissing, “The Substance of Fire.” He reminds her, not for the first time, “Sounds good.”

She smiles back and watches him get up off the bed. He stoops to pick up his shirt from the floor and leaves it open around his shoulders whilst he buckles his belt. She feels a stab of guilt that she had put Toby in the position where he’d felt obliged to share that with her, perhaps before he was ready to, but she’s relieved that they’ve finally talked about it. She’ll never forget that video, and what she’d felt the first time (and every time) she watched it. It would be so easy to convince my Mommy and your Daddy that you’ve been forcing yourself on me, Jenna had said mockingly as she took off his shirt, and he’d stared straight ahead with unfocused eyes and a solidly clenched jaw whilst Jenna removed more and for the first time she turns it around – imagines what she would think, what she would feel, if she had seen that video and it had been the other way around – Toby taking off an unresponsive Jenna’s clothes and warning her in a mocking voice that it would be so easy to convince everyone in town that you’re nothing but a slut Jenna– she would call him a rapist, because that’s exactly what he’d be. Rape doesn’t have to involve holding a gun to someone’s head to be rape. Sometimes rape is the threat of violence, or blackmail – the latter of which being Toby’s experience with his step-sister.

Just the thought makes her feel sick to her stomach – she knows what it’s like to feel trapped in a situation that you know no one would ever believe your version of. She can’t imagine how hard it was for Toby to tell her I was saying no. She resolves then and there never to assume anything about their relationship – physical or otherwise – not without talking to him first. Plus, she needs to read up on how to help him move past it without inadvertently making it worse. The last thing she wants is to become a source of fear or pain to him, but she doesn’t want to condescend to him either. She just wants to help – preferably in a manner that helps them both to rebuild over their past experiences rather than comes at them with the force of a wrecking ball.

She picks up her top from beside her on the bed and pulls it over her head. “Toby?”

He turns around as he buttons his shirt, and she smiles at him – not a grin or a smirk or a sympathetic smile, just her normal, honest smile – and says, “I love you.”

“I love you, too.” He says as she moves across the bed, and once she’s kneeling on the edge of it, he leans down to kiss her with a matching smile on his face.