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Whiskey in the Water

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2 by 4 set of images of Rebecca

January

The basement door shuts behind Wes with an ominous finality. It sounds like a death knell, but Rebecca tells herself she’s just being melodramatic. Her situation is fucked up enough without letting her imagination run wild.

Then again, sitting alone in the dark and waiting for her captors to decide her fate, there isn’t a hell of a lot else to do.

She tugs at her bonds again—not really expecting a result so much as giving in to instinct. The ropes burn, but the pain helps her focus.

She wonders if she said the right things to Wes. Did she sell the story enough? Too much? Should she have just kept her mouth shut and denied the whole Rudy shit show until the bitter end?

Fuck.

Why did she let it get to this point? She should have run. She should have gotten far away from this mess as fast as possible at her first opportunity. Hell, she should have taken Lila’s advice and stayed the fuck away from her and Griffin in the first place.

Shoulda, coulda, woulda—what a fucking joke, pretending she ever had a choice. This is exactly how everyone always said she’d end up—scared, bloody, and alone. She hates, hates, hates that the world is proving those assholes right.

God-fucking-damn it.

Fuck Lila.

Fuck Darcy.

Fuck Annalise and every one of the goddamn baby lawyers.

And fuck Wes most of all. Fuck him for not being the asshole she was so busy watching out for and still stabbing her in the back the second she let her guard down.

The memory plays over and over in an endless loop: his disappointed, puppy eyes pleading, “What did you do? Why did you lie to me? Why are you making me hurt you?”

Rebecca grits her teeth and looks up through the darkness. She thinks she can see a thin sliver of light trickling under the door at the top of the stairs, but it might just be her imagination.

She listens intently for any hint of footsteps and tries to will the door to open. Anyone coming down those stairs is more likely to hurt her than help her, but at this point she just wants the whole damn mess to be over.

*   *   *   *   *

September

“I’m not gonna fuck you.” Rebecca’s words are low but sharp enough to cut. She stands framed in her doorway and looks down at Wes on the stairs.

“What?” He stops and turns to look up at her with a mask of confusion that appears to be completely genuine. Damn his big, stupid, puppy-dog eyes. They’re fucking ridiculous on what should be a grown-ass man, and Rebecca has a terrifying suspicion that they’ll be really damn effective if she ever lets down her guard for even a second.

Her voice drips condescension. “That’s what this is about, right? Save the day, get the girl? I figure it’s only fair to let you know ahead of time: Sex? You and me? Never gonna happen.”

She glares at him, daring him to contradict her, to say she’s just playing hard-to-get or call her a frigid bitch and insist he’d never want a druggie slut like her anyway.

“Oh. Well, that’s not...” Wes looks hurt for a moment. His eyes somehow manage to turn even softer before he shakes his head. “Never mind. I just…I’m glad you’re out; that’s all.”

Rebecca returns his gaze coolly and twitches her shoulder in a hint of a shrug. She figures there’s nothing else to say.

Wes stares at her for a long moment, like he can peer into some secret heart of her if he just tries hard enough. Then, he turns and walks down the stairs.

Rebecca stands guard in her doorway until he turns the corner out of sight and the sound of his footfalls fades into silence.

*   *   *   *   *

November

Rebecca lies curled under the comforter with her back towards the door. She holds her body still as Wes enters the room and eases the door shut. She can feel his focus on her as he lifts the comforter and carefully slides beneath it. At first, he leaves a couple of feet between their bodies, but he inches forward slowly until his nose brushes her hair. She can feel his breath on the back of her neck. She squeezes her eyes closed even harder and focuses on keeping her breathing slow and even—in and out, in and out.

Rebecca counts the seconds off slowly in her head. At thirty-five, his hand tentatively settles on the curve of her waist. At fifty, it slowly slides around to rest on her stomach, and she becomes ever more aware of the careful inch of space between her back and his front. She chews on the inside of her lip and waits.

One minute becomes two and stretches into three. Two hundred seconds seems like a nice, round number. One ninety-eight. One ninety-nine. Two hundred is a breath in. As she breathes out, she scoots backwards, pressing her back against his chest. She feels him relax and the corner of her mouth twists into a wry smile as she waits for the inevitable conversation.

“So, uh, is this…okay?” He murmurs into the back of her hair.

“Seriously?” She rolls her eyes, even though she knows he can’t see it. “We’ve had this conversation over a dozen times already. Maybe you should get your head examined. You’re gonna make an awfully shitty lawyer with that level of crappy memory.”

She’s kind of hoping he’ll rise to the bait or laugh it off, so of course he does neither.

“You know what I mean. After everything that happened tonight…you could feel different. Your boundaries could have changed. I’d understand if you weren’t comfortable…”

“Oh, my god. Enough with the Dr. Phil shit. I’m fine. This is fine. Everything’s fine. If I want you to keep your fucking hands to yourself, I’ll damn well tell you so. Got it?”

“Got it.”

“Good.”

Except it isn’t, because Rebecca feels Wes tense up again behind her. He pulls back slightly, and she becomes aware of his other arm trapped between their bodies and the bed. His hand lifts off of her stomach, and she knows that he’s about to pull away completely.

“Oh, for fuck’s sake.”

Rebecca sits up enough to adjust his arm, then lies down snugly against him, with her neck on his arm and her back pressed against his front. She pulls both of his arms tightly around herself and covers his hands with her own.

Rebecca bites the inside of her cheek and tries to keep her voice steady and her tone matter-of-fact. “Look, everything’s fucked, but we can’t do anything more tonight, and this—“ She pats his hands. “—helps. Honest. Okay?”

“Okay.”

Wes kisses the top of her head and holds her tight until his careful breaths turn to gentle snores. Rebecca closes her eyes and tries to not to think about anything at all.

*   *   *   *   *

October

“Okay. You’re right. I fucked Griffin. Hell, I’ve fucked all kinds of people all kinds of ways. So, what, you assume this whole ‘asexual’ thing is just an excuse to screw with your head?”

“Rebecca…”

“No, seriously, Wes. You’re jealous of what I did with them? You want the same? Pick your flavor: wasted out of my mind, high as a fucking kite.” Rebecca stops yelling for a moment and tilts her head to the side in a parody of careful consideration. “You know, I’ve never actually had sex on shrooms, but if you wanna try…”

“Damn it! No! Of course not!”

His look of horror is almost laughable. Rebecca forces out a dry chuckle.

“Dude. Make up your fucking mind. You want sex? Those are your options.” Rebecca stops pacing back and forth across the room and throws her arms wide in frustration. “What’s it gonna be?”

Wes’s face twists into a grimace, and he pinches the bridge of his nose. “I’m not saying…I just…” He looks up at her and she has to turn away, because the hangdog eyes are out in full force. “You said you were asexual. I accepted that. I read up about it. I asked about your boundaries and preferences and followed them to the letter. But now I find out that you’ve done…things…with God knows how many other people. You can’t expect me to not have questions.”

“Oh. Questions,” Rebecca scoffs. “Of course. Totally reasonable.” She drops into the chair across from him,  leans her elbows on the table, and schools her features into a carefully neutral mask. “Alright, the prosecution may now examine the witness.”

Wes doesn’t snark back, which is a bad sign. It means he is taking the fight seriously. He looks at her thoughtfully for what feels like hours, and she can almost hear the gears in his lawyer-brain ticking away, planning and strategizing, devising the optimal line of attack.

Rebecca keeps her face blank and her eyes bored and tells herself that it’s not worth giving a shit anyway. If she’s misjudged him, if he’s just an asshole like everybody else, then it’s probably better to find out now. She can break up with him and get as far away from this whole clusterfuck as possible. And if he demands a parting fuck for his role in getting her out of jail, well, it won’t be anything she hasn’t done before.

When he reaches out to her, she flinches before she can stop herself. He gently guides her hand across the table towards him, turns it over, and covers her palm with his own. She looks at their joined hands in confusion and hesitantly raises her eyes back to his face.

“Rebecca, do you love me?”

Her stomach sinks—he’s going straight for the jugular—but fuck it. She isn’t going to back down now. She’s proud of how emotionless her voice is when she answers, “Yes.”

“Do you believe that I love you?”

So that’s where this is going. Just get it over with, like ripping off a Band-Aid. “Yes.”

“Do you still want to be in a relationship with me?”

If she keeps a neutral tone, if her voice doesn’t break, then it doesn’t count as losing. “Yes.”

“Do you enjoy when we’re physically intimate? When we hug or kiss or—this.” He nods towards their clasped hands.

He isn’t exactly being subtle, but she’s using all of her energy keeping her stupid emotions in check. She’s too damn tired to try to avoid the obvious entrapment. She focuses on their hands, imagining they belong to someone else or aren’t even hands at all—just an abstract interweaving of light and dark. “Yes.”

“Do you want to have sex with me?”

There it is. Focus on the hands. Just say it. “No.”

No response. She blinks. Her eyes are burning and her vision is going wavy at the edges. She swallows, and her fingers twitch against his wrist. She’s not going to pull away. He can do or say whatever the fuck he wants, but she’s strong. She can get through this. Just this once she’s not going to be the one who pulls away.

“If I…” He pauses, and she doesn’t look at his face. She can’t. She closes her eyes and tries to brace herself for what’s coming. He’s clearly uncomfortable, feeling his way carefully around the words, and knowing that each one is carefully chosen makes them hurt even more. “If I said that I would break up with you unless you had sex with me, would you do it?”

Rebecca feels like everything just under her skin is buzzing, vibrating, shaking like a fucking earthquake, while her actual body stays impossibly still, frozen in time. She wants to scream, curse, scratch his fucking eyes out for daring to ask her that. She wants to run as fast and as far as she can until her body collapses in exhaustion and pain that almost matches what she feels inside. She wants to sink through the floor and down into hell. It’s probably where she belongs anyway, and there’s no way it could suck more than this.

She doesn’t want to answer him. He doesn’t deserve an answer, and she doesn’t deserve to have to deal with this bullshit again and again and again—but she lifts her head to look him in the eye, forces a raised eyebrow and a smirk, and hears her own voice, almost teasing, reply, “I don’t know. Why? Is that something you’re likely to say?”

His face shifts through a series of micro expressions, changing too quickly for her to interpret any of them.  Then he shakes his head. “No. No, of course not. That would be a dick move, right?”

The tightness in Rebecca’s chest releases slowly—she’s suddenly intensely aware of being able to breathe again. “Right.”

“Right,” he echoes, nodding.

Maybe they’ll be okay after all.

*   *   *   *   *

December

“I’m gonna sleep here tonight.” Rebecca flops onto Wes’s bed, folding her hands behind her head and crossing her legs at the ankles.

Wes sits down on the other side of the mattress. “You don’t have to…”

She turns on her side to face him. “Come on. It’ll be fun—like a slumber party. I’ll wear dorky pajamas, and you can make us popcorn.”

Wes sighs and shakes his head. “I’m really not in the mood. I haven’t…”

“Been sleeping well? I noticed.”

Wes raises his eyebrows and tilts his head in silent inquiry. Rebecca sits up and knocks on the wall. “These things? Not exactly soundproof.”

“Oh.” Wes looks away from her. “Guess not. Sorry.”

She kneels behind him and wraps her arms around him, resting her chin on his shoulder. “No biggie. Seriously. Don’t be such an angsty drama queen. That’s my job.”

She makes an exaggerated pout and rocks their bodies back and forth until Wes’s grim face melts into a grudging smile. Then she grins and turns him to face her so she can kiss him on the mouth.

“It’s gonna be okay. Really,” she reassures him. Their eyes meet, and for a moment she’s completely open—soft and sincere.

He reaches up to brush the hair back from her face, his thumb and forefinger tracing the shell of her ear and the line of her jaw.

“Thanks,” he says, somehow managing to give the simple word a heavy weight of unspoken emotion.

She shrugs minutely and pulls away, breaking eye contact. “Sure. Whatever.” She scoots to the edge of the bed. “Your mattress is like one thousand times more comfortable than mine anyway. I’m off to pajamafy,” She heads for the door, then pauses. “You’d better have that popcorn waiting for me when I get back.”

Wes smirks and gives a snarky salute. “Yes, ma’am.”

*   *   *   *   *

August

“You know this is going to end messy, right?” Rebecca is aiming for casual detachment, but a hint of genuine pleading sneaks into her voice. She looks at Lila sitting next to her on the roof, and then looks away, out over the city.

“Oh, whatever.” Lila scoffs. “I thought you—of all people—wouldn’t be so judgy.” Her tone is light and joking; her eyes aren’t.

Rebecca holds her hands up. “Hey. No judgment here. Most things end messy. I just don’t want you dreaming about you and Darcy riding off into the sunset.”

“No way. I’m not delusional. I know it’s just sex.” Lila grins wickedly at Rebecca and leans towards her. “Hot, dirty, delicious marathon sex that goes on and on and on.”

Rebecca laughs and makes a face. “Ewww. I’ve already seen the picture—I do not need stories to go with it.”

“Don’t say that! Who else am I supposed to tell? You’re the only one who won’t call me a slut. Or, hey. How about, you tell me about your best sex ever, and then we’ll be even.”

Rebecca looks at her for a moment then slings her leg back over the inside of the roof edge and slides down so that she’s sitting with her back against the wall. She rifles through her bag for a joint and lights up. Lila sits down next to her and looks at her curiously.

“What?” Rebecca asks. “I am not nearly high enough for this conversation.”

Lila rolls her eyes and holds out her hand for a turn. Rebecca passes the joint, and they smoke in silence for a couple of minutes before Lila bumps Rebecca’s shoulder with her own. “So, spill.”

Rebecca just smiles slightly, raises an eyebrow, and takes another hit.

“Oh, come on,” Lila wheedles. “Give me something?”

Rebecca shrugs. “I dunno. Sex is sex.”

“Sex is sex? What is that? Some Zen bullshit? Something’s gotta stand out.”

“It’s just the truth. Everyone makes such a big fucking deal about sex—like it’s got to be heaven on earth, or the ultimate sin—but for me it’s mostly like…whatever. It happens. Sometimes it’s worth it, usually it isn’t, but mostly it’s just fucking annoying how much time and energy everyone spends obsessing over it.”

Lila looks hurt. “Oh, well, excuse me for living, then. I’ll just leave you the fuck alone.”

She moves to get up, but the joint, combined with the beer already in her stomach, makes her slow and slightly unsteady. Rebecca gives her a light push, and Lila falls over on her side on the blanket. Lila starts giggling, and Rebecca joins her, until they both break out into full-body laughter and Rebecca falls over to lie beside Lila.

“So, you want me to stop talking about my sex drama then?” Lila asks when they’ve finally calmed down.

“Eh.” Rebecca shrugs. “Whatever. I guess listening to you agonize over it can be kind of entertaining. Sometimes.”

“I knew it!” Lila sits up and points down at Rebecca in mock accusation. “You totally enjoy living vicariously through the highs and lows of my love life!”

“You got me. It’s like watching a train wreck on TV. It’s fascinating and awful and so, so reassuring to know that none of it will ever affect my life in any significant way.”

Rebecca grins and Lila grins back at her and settles down beside her. “As long as we’re clear.”

Rebecca takes another hit, closes her eyes, slowly lets it out, and smiles. “Crystal.”