TWENTY ONE.

I can never hurt him. I throw my fists at him, kick him, swear and yell until my chest is stinging with sharp agony. Nothing. He stands and laughs in the haze of half memory, looking down upon me. His arms are against my shoulders, knees to my legs and his body pinning down mine. I’m slip my shoulder. I ‘m going to take my swing. One last ti–

“GODDAMMITTHATFUCKINHURT!” I wake up sitting straight up in bed, fist outstretched, shoulder hot with anger and pain. Cass is straddling me, face turned away, hands grasping at her jaw trying to contain the pain. “Damn, V. You could have just told me you didn’t want to get up.” She turns back to me and her expression softens. “Having the dream again?”

“I think so. But who knows, maybe my body was just reacting to you trying to rape me.” She smirks at me and I grab her wrists and twist her under me. “Shame on you, trying to take advantage of a girl while she sleeps. I think maybe I should show you what it feels like.” She mockingly mouths horror at the idea before slipping out of my grip, collapsing me on my side and punching me in the boob as she rolls out of bed.

“Nice try, Evangeline, but last time I checked you didn’t have the equipment, or the balls to do it.”

She slips into the hall and I give chase, following her to the kitchen where breakfast is have laid on the table. “Neutral ground!” she sputters from the other side.

“Uh-huh.”

I pin her between my arms against the counter, rattling the sugar jar as I press my forehead against her and lock my gaze onto her sky blue eyes.

“If you two are going to waste my effort making your mornings incredible, at least behave yourself for a moment so I can get some sugar for my tea, yeah?”

Cass peeks out from behind me as I turn my head to see Jean steeping a bag of earl gray with a look of amusement. He moves to grab the sugar jar behind us but Cass intercepts him, hopping back onto the counter while simultaneously moving her arm into his way then wrapping her legs around me to ensure I can’t clear his path. Jean I exchange looks and she moves in for the kill, nibbling at his neck. He clamps her down between his neck and shoulder before moving away. “Sweet,” he remarks before smirking and raising his hand to reveal a sugar cube, then plopping it into his tea and taking a long, exaggerate sip. “Now let’s eat, hmm?”

We sit down, with Cass serving up the dishes while forcing me back to my seat while I try to help.
“Cass, I’ve been living her for a half year already. You don’t need to keep treating me like a guest.”
“Maybe I like spoiling you. Ever think of that?”

She makes sure to lay down heaps of bacon and waffles in front of me.

“You seriously think I’m going to eat all of this?”

“You can certainly afford to,” she sneers, pinching my arm. “You’re skin and bones.”

“Maybe my frame can take it, but my poor heart won’t.”

She leans in and sets her hand on my chest. “I’ll just have to be sure to give it a tough workout.” My heart jumps. A playful look flickers from her eyes and into the golden light reflecting off her hair. I can’t help but glance down her shirt at her breasts. She catches me and I blush.

Jean and I clean up, regulating Cass to the living room as we do. In the process I manage to tilt a plate into the faucet stream and splash Jean across the face. Jean retaliates with the sink hose. Soaked, I defend myself with the plate, reflecting the stream back at him. He lets out an animal cry and mounts a nearby chair to get a better firing angle—which prompts Cass to enter the kitchen and give us a disappointed mom face. “I leave you two alone for a minute and you make a mess everything?” Jean throws an accusing stare at me.
“She started it?”

I open my mouth to retort. “I don’t want to hear it,” Jean smirks, “from either of you,” which shuts him up. “Both of you clean yourselves up while I clean up after you.” She jabs at the doorway with her thumb.

We dry ourselves off and change our clothes then retreat towards the living room. I slink around the handrails that line the lowered living space, minding the step as I move to the couch. Jean moves right across the room into the study as I pick my laptop off the coffee table. As I boot it up I watch him go through his daily routine at his standing desk. Originally Cass was the one who had excitedly bought it, explaining that it would keep her blooding flowing and motivate her not to waste time when working. Then she discovered how difficult it was to churn out pages of artwork while standing up for hours. After that Jean repurposed the desk as his work station.

Cass can crank out pages of artwork without a break but was too disorganized to handle any of the logistical or business aspects of her job. So Jean takes care of it while acting as her springboard for ideas. They make such a natural team I forget there was a time when they weren’t together. They seem to as well. Ask them when they started dating and neither of them will give you a response, bouncing the question back and forth until they settle on a date that sounds close enough.

“Hey V?” Jean’s voice peeking out of the study.”

“Hmm?”

“You’re going to be out today, yeah?”

“Mhh. Meeting Clint later for a movie.”

“Ah, alright. When you get back I think Cass had some jobs that might be worth looking at.”

I hear the door swing closed and lean back to find Cass leaning over the rail behind me, big eyes staring from behind her streaked purple and blonde bangs. She leans forward and I meet her halfway for a kiss. Her hands stroke my cheeks and slide down my neck to my shoulders then down my arms locking to my hands. It makes my spine tingle every time.

“I was just telling her about the jobs, Cass.”

Cass vaults the rail without warning and lands on the seat next to me. Before I can tell her off for launching my heart rate into the stratosphere she plops her head down into my lap and lays down.

“Yup!” she begins, “A guy I know was telling me the show he’s working on is looking for new writers. Aside from that they’ll also be taking pitches for a short film compilation project starting this summer.” Jean walks back into the living room and sit himself next to Cass, turning her over and sliding his hands up her shirt and up to her shoulders, his fingers kneading into her skin. Cass coos and melts away.

“Sounds good, yeah? Something that will let you flex your creative muscles more than spreadsheets and reports.”

“You’ve got all the details?” I ask.
“Not quite. They’re looking at candidates within the company first but they should have a list of open positions up by tonight or tomorrow.”

“Great. It’d be good to not feel like such a mooch around here.” Cass squeezes my hand.

“C’mon. You know that just having you around makes up for the fact that you are a massive, massive, mooch.”

“Somehow I don’t feel reassured. How’s the next project coming?”

“The editor wants a preview of the boards by the end of the week. They’ve all been penciled already so it’s all about the inks now.”

“Don’t know how you do it. Seems like the work never lets up.”

“It’s easy. You find something you love and you do it. Besides, I can always force Jean to finish the inking if I need to.”

Jean shoots her a look. “Oh, like in January? When your editor told you that it seemed like your inking technique regressed a few years?”

She turns over and smiles innocently at him. “You’ll get better with time and practice, I promise.”

“Since when is it my job to learn inks?”

Cass doesn’t bother to answer but instead bounces up to him and nibbles at his ear.

Lilith or Lady in Red?” Clint asks.

“You ever watch anything but genre movies?” I ask.

“Says the girl who binges on Godzilla flicks every year.”

“At least those movies have some sort of deeper subtext,” I mock back.

“You’re going to tell me that Final Wars was anything more than an overblown camp fest?” Despite being a head shorter than me Clint smirks up at me as if he has me on my knees. “Uh, Godzilla vs. Zilla?” I retort.

“Nice try, but fanservice doesn’t justify the rest of that movie. Now which one? Or would you rather watch The Vow?”

I sigh. “Lady in Red. At least I’ll be spared the aesops.”

“Weren’t you just going on about subtexts in genre films?”

“Subtext doesn’t excuse a film from being bad.”

“I think,” he starts, flashing his deviant white smile, “you’re just arbitrarily picky.” We pay for our tickets and head for the theaters upstairs. Clint cocks his head. “So tell me,” oh here we go, “is today the day you’ll say yes?”

“Definitely not. Although I’m hoping today is the day you’ll stop asking.” I step onto the escalator and he follows. “Alright, alright. I can take a hint.”

“Less a hint and more a screaming neon sign, no?”

“Harsh. Though I guess you have your hands full with those two back home, huh?”

I muster the dirtiest look I can and fire it at him. “We’re on an escalator. I could kick you down the steps.” He throws his hands up and backs down a step. “Woah there–” still scowling, “It’s cool. I’ll just chill over here.” He leans back on the rail like a greaser. “See? Chill. Icy cold over here in the—fah-riend za-hone!” He snaps his knees forward and his elbow back as he belts out the last syllables, like some sort of mini-Michael Jackson. Then he promptly stumbles and almost falls down the escalator. Despite his idiocy, or because of it, I can’t help but let out a muffled giggle. He smirks as he gets his balance back. “But seriously, it’s cool. I wouldn’t want to be with someone who didn’t want to be with me anyway.” I tilt my head an raise an eyebrow. “Alright, maybe I’m still planning to whisper my name into your ear at night to sneak my way into your subconscious.”

“We’re only at the top of the escalator. I can still kick you down it.”

“It’ll be rather hard for me to achieve my dreams of being a superhero with my bones sticking out of my body.”

“Naw, it’s fine. You can just be like Marrow from the X-Men.”

He mocks pulling weaponized bones from his back, striking the air in front of them then crossing his fists as if he was blocking with them.

“Well now you just look more like Ultraman,” I say. Mischief in his eyes.

“Ultraman, eh?” he coos as he slides up to me, “how about you help me get my color meter flashing red?”

I roll my eyes and shove his face away. “You best calm down or your Ultraman will never rise again.”

“SMASH! I’d prefer you just throw me down the escalator a few times. To our seats then?”

“Let’s.”

“So how many partners do you have?” she asks.

I almost spit out my green tea, but instead swallow it and gag on it on the way down. “Now Ash, what kind of question is that to ask of a lady?”

“I see no ladies here.”

That’s because the only time you have your eyes open is when you stare into a mirror, Ashley.”

“Heartless as ever I see. Come on, we run into each other at the grocery store after so much time and is how we start a conversation? The least you could do for an old friend is hook me up with some juicy gossip. Especially after denying my invitation to dinner.”

“I’m full of popcorn and processed sugars. Besides, we’re stopping for drinks aren’t we? Would you just blurt out how many people you’re sleeping with?”

“Three or four, but it’s not like any of them are serious or anything. And that’s why you’re buying a brown bag full of groceries, right?”

“It’s a week’s worth, and it’s not only for me.”

Lit eyes and a flashed smile. “That’s right. You’ve been living with those two, haven’t you? Jean and what’s her name—Cassie.”

“I have a feeling you were looking for an excuse to bring that up the whole time.”

She leans back and bites her thumb. “Maaaybe,” she purrs from under her wave of golden brown hair and dark glasses. She takes a sip of her coffee and slinks in closer, fingers outstretched against my cheek. “Mmh…be a dear and indulge me in a bit of fun.” I back off and nudge her hand down to the table. I can’t help but notice that she’s exposing her cleavage and lacy bra to me.

“Remind me again,” I ask, “why you were one of the first people I came out to?” She slinks back gracefully.

“Maybe because I was one of the only few interested?”

“Or maybe because you were one of the only few who was nosy enough to pester me into telling you?”

“Oh hush. Now are you going to to tell me about it or what?”

“What’s there to tell? Cass is my best friend. When I was kicked out she let me live with her. Her boyfriend just happens to live with her too.”

“And you two just happen to all fuck each other too, huh?”

Blush. “I mean, yeah, I guess we’ve all slept together a few times.”

“A few times together? You’re telling me you never sneak some head or something while Cass is out?”

“Huh? I mean he’s attractive but he’s not my boyfriend. And why would I need to sneak?”

“You’re telling me you live with that handsome specimen and you’ve never once made a pass at each other? And if you did Cassie would be okay with that?”

“Never, and yes. I mean Jean shares Cass with me, why wouldn’t she share him? It’s not like we have anything to hide from each other, we live together.”

“Oh I have plenty to hide from my roommates, I assure you.”

“They’re not really my ‘roommates’. Cass is more like…my partner, you know? And Jean’s her partner.” Ashley puckers and licks her lips and suddenly I realize I’ve given her the piece of gossip she wanted.

“So you’re telling me,” she begins, “that you and Cassie are officially a thing, and her and Jean are a thing at the same time? And that you all fuck each other?”

Sometimes, yes.” My chest tightens. My head is heavy.

“I assumed you had some woozy nights of low inhibitions among friends, but this is so much better. This is like, a full blown open thing isn’t it? Although I’m sure you know that it won’t last, right?”

“Why would you say that?” I stutter.

“Unless you’re a full on lesbian, romance with women just doesn’t work. I mean, I had a girlfriend at the start of college but I just couldn’t give up the feeling of a powerful man thrusting into me from above. Besides, someone’s going to get jealous eventually.”

“It’s not like that at all.”

“Trust me, if I know anything it’s men and relationships. I was almost married, remember? Oh, by the way, since you’ve got this whole open affair going on, think you could maybe…hook me up with Jean?”

“It’s really not like that. We’re not swingers or anything.”

Come on, I’m sure he’d be up for it, especially if you were part of the package. Men love extra attention.”

My body feels hot. My chest flares with sharp pain.

“I’ve got to get going. The groceries are going to spoil.”

“Sure. Think about what I said, yeah?”

Good news!” Jean greets me as I walk through the door, groceries in hand. “I bothered the station for more details and eventually was able to talk to the project lead. You’ve got the first pitch!”

That’s great Jean, but I also have a large bag of groceries in my hand and dirt all over my shoes that I’d rather not track into the kitchen.”

Right, sorry. I’ll get that. I was just excited.” I hand him the bag, take off my shoes and set them on the rack. “How did the day go?” he asks as I walk into the kitchen to find him already unpacking. I move to help. “It was okay,” I sigh.

Only okay? Should I be worried?”

No. It’s fine. Well… I guess something Ash said bothered me.”

Ash? Ashley? That girl who’s always got men falling over her at every outing?”

Please don’t tell me you’re into her.”

Far from it. She’s not exactly relationship material.”

She was almost married.”

Almost. Anyways, what did she say?”

First of all, I kind of let our arrangement here slip. Sorry.”

Don’t worry about it. We never hid anything anyway.”

Yeah, I told her that. She seems to think we’re some kind of swingers or something. Always on the prowl.”

He finishes putting away the groceries ans steps over to the cabinets to pull out a box of tea bags. “Tea?” he offers.

No thanks, I had some with Ash.”

Let’s at least have a glass of wine to celebrate your new job.”

I don’t have the job yet.”

Please. You’re talented enough to make it for sure. It’s just a matter of time.”

I’m flattered. If you put it that way I guess I’ll have one.”

He pours us both a glass of white wine. “Why do you care so much anyway?” I ask.

About the job?” I nod. “I know I’m not your boyfriend exactly, but you make Cass happy, so it only feels natural for me to want you to be happy as well. You know that. What exactly did she say to you?”

My eyes flit around the room in avoidance. “She thinks this is some crazy sexual thing where we just fuck each other all the time,” our eyes meet, “she said this could never last.”

Sounds like she has a completely false impression of our relationship.”

It was frustrating. I couldn’t get a word in to correct her.”

Don’t worry too much about it. Doesn’t sound like she’d hear anything she didn’t want to anyway.”

You’re probably right. She didn’t even think Cass and I could even care about each other genuinely. She all but flat out said we should lend you to her too.” I lean back against the counter and look at Jean, trying to gauge his reaction. He chuckles, downs his drink and moves to refill mine.

That’s definitely not going to happen.” I exhale a bit and sip my drink.

Ha. She even suggested I should make myself part of the package, can you believe that? Said you’d love the extra attention.” A pause.

She’s not wrong.”

You won’t sleep with her but you’d have a threesome with me and her?” His hand on mine.

No, but I would enjoy some extra attention from you.” He moves his other arm to my open side and moves to a more intimate position. “We’ve never had any time one on one. I’d like something a bit more personal,” he whispers. He moves in and I turn my head away. He plants the kiss on my cheek then moves to my neck. I close my eyes.

STOP.”

What’s wrong? Afraid to take me on without Cass backing you up?”

It’s not that.” He moves back to my neck, scraping his teeth against it.

Cass won’t mind, if that’s what you’re worrying about.”

Well I will!” I push back harder than I meant to, throwing him off balance and knocking over the wine glasses. He looks up at me from the floor, stupefied. I realize that I sound more panicked than I mean to.

I…something just got into me. I wasn’t thinking clearly.” He gets up quickly, avoiding eye contact and starts cleaning up the spills.

Really? You thought that would be okay?”

I wasn’t thinking straight. I really wasn’t. You’re right.”

Stop thinking with your dick then!” I don’t mean to come off angry, but I do.

Absolutely. I’ll set aside the wine.” He cleans in silence then puts away the wine and goes back to the cabinet. “I think I’ll make some tea after all. Did you want a cup?”

Make it red.”

Cass comes in late, just as I finish my shower. Before I can get to bed she grabs me by the hands and bounces excitedly. “You’re in! The meeting for your big first time project!”

Cass, calm down. I don’t have the job yet.”

Just a matter of time, V, you’ll see. Then we’ll all go for drinks to celebrate!”

I’m not really feeling drinks these days.”

Hmm? Dinner then, no biggie.” She throws off her jacket then runs into the bathroom. “I’m going to take a shower. Spending time with those stuffy editors at the office always makes me feel gross. We’ll talk details after.” I can’t bring myself to feel as excited as her, but can’t help but want to indulge her excitement. I flip open a book while I wait but find myself blanking out and unable to take the words in. I back a few pages to try to recap then give up.

V!” I hear Cass shout from her room, “Come and help me here!” I walk over to the next room only to find it empty. Cass leaps from behind the door, hair half we with only her panties on, knocking me over into the bed and nibbling at my nape. She flips me over and pins me to the bed, hair dangling over her eyes, flickering with mischief. I can’t help but lean up for a kiss. She brings herself close and teases me for a it before giving me what I want. We move under the covers and start to cuddle as Jean walks past the door. “Should have known it was you making the noise, Cass. Didn’t hear you come in.”

That’s because you lock yourself in that room with nothing but work,” Cass replies. “Take a break for once and come snuggle up with Eva and me,” she coos. Jean and I lock eyes for a moment before he turns away.

There’s still a lot of work to do and I can’t put it off. Don’t wait up.” Cass grimaces at him but gives him a kiss goodnight before returning to bed with me. We play around for while then fall asleep with Cass lying on my chest. My eyes are heavy…

He comes back. Handsome, strong, and powerful. He looks at me unwaveringly then takes me by the hand. He’s going to make me a princess, to bring me to where I belong.

I am terrified.

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