The air is heavy with weed and sweat, mingled with the stench of Absolut Raspberry and some other cheap vodka you bought from the corner shop. Music is blasting from the TV as the four of you sit on the floor. Your back’s leaning against the sofa, your knee just lightly brushing his thigh…
Content warning: sexual assault, trauma
Opposite you, Sylvie blows out a cloud of smoke, rising to the ceiling and coiling out of the open windows like a colourless snake. Hugh takes the joint from her, muttering a soft “fuck” under his breath when he has to light it again.
You’re drunk, in a hazy, tipsy, off-balance-but-still-aware kind of way, in a way that makes you more confident – but still, you feel out of your element. You’re there but you’re not there, and you’re wondering what the fuck it is that you’re doing. They shouldn’t be here. He shouldn’t be here. You shouldn’t be fucking him in your bed. You shouldn’t be giving him a hand job in the kitchen, or getting on your knees for him in the living room. None of this is right. But in this moment, all you can think about is fitting in, thinking finally, I’m in a group of friends.
The bottles of vodka are on the coffee table, close to the edge like they’re contemplating whether falling off it will be worth the end result: spilt liquid pooling in shades of crimson and scarlet – the colours of shame and lust, desire and danger. You’re the only one who doesn’t continue smoking, shaking your head when Gabriel offers it to you. You took a few puffs earlier and could feel a creeping headache rising behind your eyeballs, bloodshot, a wounded letter etching itself into your soul. A whisper of everything to follow. A warning.
You find yourself looking at Gabriel when he’s talking, lost in some conversation you’re not following with Hugh, and think that his cheekbones may just kill you. His hair is the black of a raven, darker than night, falling into his eyes like the feathers of a fallen angel. His eyes are the colour of sin and charisma, the deep brown of almost black, and his smile carves a crescent moon into your ribcage. You met him when Sylvie told Hugh about you, passing your details on when you said “sure—I want a quick fuck, he’s hot”, the night after the two-year anniversary of a heartbreak you were trying to forget. He came to your house the next day, appearing at the front door like a god descending from his throne, sleek and tall, towering over you like he knew you would smile a silent prayer and suck his dick—getting on your knees for him either way.
You were hungry and made pasta, saucy and creamy, with diced chicken, veg and sprinklings of cheese coating it like the first snowfall. In the kitchen, he watched you while you cooked: you talked about dreaming of a world where you could read and write for a living, and he talked about his niece. After eating, you worshipped him with your body, baring your soul to his magic touch and he offered thanks by worshipping you between your bronzed thighs – like magic, like sin, like dreams.
For two weeks, you were like floating stars, wishing on lanterns made of fairy dust and glitter, falling for a godlike man who’d made it clear he wanted nothing more than pure sex. You knew you couldn’t change his mind and found yourself falling—not in love, but in healing, in gratitude, in finding something more than a heartbreak ripping you apart at the seams, sucking you dry. He made you feel desired, gave you the attention you craved. His hands were big and held you like a delicate thing, a pretty flower or starshine and love in human form. Ambrosia to the gods, and he was a god.
Drunken nights with him became poison, serpentine beauty shedding your silver-gold blossoming into a purple-black aura, and he pushed into you, his hand around your throat so tight you could gasp his name and hear nothing. The next morning, he left with a tender kiss, and returned the following evening, with Hugh and Sylvie in tow.
So now, you sit here with them. Someone suggests a game of Dares, Hugh downloads the app and puts in all of your names. It pronounces your name in a weird way and you feign laughter.
They start off easy, simple, you can do those, but you start to feel uncomfortable. You don’t want to play this game, but you don’t say anything, awkwardness gripping you like a vice. You don’t want to feel like an outsider. A dare tells Sylvie to kiss Gabriel and cup his balls. She does. You look away.
A dare tells Hugh to touch the breasts of the two women in the room and rate them. Sylvie’s a ten, you’re an eight. You know your tits are amazing and inwardly roll your eyes. Gabriel sniggers.
A dare tells you and Sylvie to kiss. Sylvie tells the men to kiss first. They do. She changes the subject, and it moves onto the next dare. It tells you to kiss Hugh’s neck. You do.
Some dares are passed on and articles of clothing are removed. You’re down to your t-shirt and underwear. Gabriel is in boxers and socks, Hugh only in boxers. Sylvie is wearing a sports bra and leggings.
You’re getting drunker and don’t remember the moments passing by, but you’re standing up and a dare tells Hugh to eat you out. Someone cheers. Sylvie says “do it”, and you find yourself looking at Gabriel. His face is impassive, and you feel a sliver of fear rolling down your spine, that first splash of cold water in the morning, an icy fog eclipsing your heart and vocal chords.
You don’t say anything. You go into your room and Hugh follows. You stare at yourself in the mirror and then you’re on your bed and Hugh has sunk to the ground, his face between your legs. You feel weird, like you’re floating outside of your body. I should stop this. Say stop. Just tell him to stop and he’ll stop – but you don’t say anything. Sometime later, he moves, he wants to fuck you, you can tell. You shake your head. “No,” you say. “No sex.”
Someone knocks on the door, and it’s Gabriel. He asks for the condom on the desk. You feel yourself go still. He’s fucking her.
“You sure?” Hugh asks.
“No sex,” you repeat. No. No sex.
You swallow and sigh. You sit on your bed silently and somehow, without realising, you’re dressed. You go out into the hallway. Hugh knocks on the living room door. “Go away,” Sylvie shouts. “One minute,” Gabriel says.
Feeling sick and disoriented, you go back into your bedroom, dragging Hugh to keep you company. Suddenly he’s kissing you, and then you’re falling on the bed and he’s sliding a condom on and he’s entering you. You’re not feeling anything, not physically, you can’t even tell his dick is in you. It’s small but you see him moving, you see him staring at you. Not blinking. Why isn’t he blinking?
God, this is weird. You look away but you can feel his eyes on you. You feel suffocated. You lift up a hand and thankfully, he slips out. You shake your head when he moves as if he wants to try and get it back in. “I don’t want to.”
You get dressed. He gets dressed.
You sit on your bed and talk. You laugh.
Going back out into the living room feels weird and you know you should’ve said something, but you didn’t want to come across as a party pooper or a loser or someone who kills the joy and sucks the fun out of everything. You shouldn’t feel guilty, but you look at Gabriel and he looks back at you.
“He couldn’t get hard, babe,” Sylvie tells you. You blink. “He only wants you.”
Gabriel laughs a little awkwardly; you shrug and then go on your phone to text your best mate. You’re silent, texting her everything that’s happened. You tell her you feel as if you hate yourself. You go into your room and leave the phone there, peel off your duvet and pillow covers and bedsheet, and grab your dressing gown. A shower will fix this.
The water burns like liquid fire, scorching the touches away from your body. You close your eyes and feel the droplets falling like rocks or hail on your skin, bleeding out the ghost hands. Gabriel comes in and stands behind the shower curtain you’ve pulled. “Your friend is calling and sending bare messages,” he says to you. “She seems worried.” Just then, your phone rings again.
You answer and speak to her in your language. You joke with her and laugh. You step out of the bathtub and put on the dressing gown, looking at Gabriel all the while. You hang up the phone after reassuring her you’ll be okay, you are okay. Gabriel asks if you’re okay and you nod. You wipe away the water from the tiled walls and clean up the reminder of your shower and leave to get dressed.
When you’re back in the living room, they’re ordering McDonald’s, but you don’t want any. They get you fries and an apple pie anyway. You play cards. Well, they play, and you sit like a shell of a woman, watching, throwing down any card. You fight back tears. At night, you curl into Gabriel and breathe in his smell. You know it’s over.
The next morning, you wake up at the same time and have sleepy goodbye sex. You change the bedcovers again and put them in a pile on the floor. You go into the kitchen and check the washing machine to see if you can fit anything else in there, but your breathing speeds up and you fall to the floor. Your hand grips the leg of the chair nearby and try to calm your breathing. You feel like you’re going to be sick. You shove the door closed and lean over to the bin and dry heave.
You didn’t want it, but you didn’t do anything to stop it or him. You can’t call it that or name him that, because it isn’t. It isn’t. Yet every professional you speak to, days later, says it is. You speak to your other friend. She says it is. You don’t think it is. It isn’t. You didn’t stop Hugh. You were all drunk. You talk to Sylvie on the phone, she says you’re being dramatic and to stop accusing people because it could ruin their lives—and it isn’t it. Gabriel says not to get his friend into trouble. Hugh says if you’d said something, if you’d said no, if you’d said stop, nothing would’ve happened. He’s not a bad guy.
You should’ve said something. Because this is just regret. Isn’t it?
Sumaiya Ahmed is a freelance features journalist, published poet (Lost and Found and Reality), book reviewer and blogger, aiming to break down the boundaries of cultural stigma and shame attached to mental health and sexuality within the South Asian culture, and bringing marginalised topics to light. She is the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of Poised.