Editor's note: I am at the SDS 2015 conference in Atlanta for the launch of Defiant, so I'm a little too busy this week to write. Instead, I've decided to share a sample chapter from the paperback so that people who missed the serial version can see what the fuss is about. Ordering information is linked at the end of the post.
Clay gulped down the scent of Noahleen’s hair. His hands slipped down from her shoulders to the small of her back. She squeezed him, but otherwise she did not move.
“I love you so much,” she said. “You look like you’ve had a bad day.”
He mumbled something into her hair. Neither of them knew what it was. His hands rubbed the spot right over her spine, where the hollow of her lower back was deepest. Noahleen’s knees sagged, but then she unwrapped herself from their embrace and pushed him away.
“Not now,” she said. “Are you hungry?”
Clay shook his head. Words were not going to be his friend tonight. He touched her waist, but he made sure not to grab at it. He needed her wrapped around him. He needed the pressure of her body to keep himself from floating away. He thought about how he used to hide in closets and under beds, packing himself tightly into spaces so that he could feel the weight of other things on his body. More than fucking, he needed her to hold him down, to compress him until the pockets of empty inside his chest disappeared and he forgot the problems of the day.
She pulled away from him, though, leaving fifteen inches of aching emptiness between them. Just enough that he could not reach down to her waist. Just enough that he could only lightly stroke her arm around the elbow. Not enough to be running away, but enough to tell him “no.”
He stepped back. If they were going to be apart, then Clay needed her outside of his space.
“Are you hungry?” This time when she said it, it was clear that she really meant “I am hungry.”
“I’m not, but I could cook,” he said. “Maybe the smells will jog my appetite.”
“Never mind,” she said. She walked away from him and into the bedroom, shutting the door behind herself.
Clay wanted to follow her, but instead he sat on the couch. Whatever led her to retreat, she would eventually let him know. He thought about starting dinner so that he could surprise her, but he worried about choosing the right meal. If he chose wrong, it might complicate whatever was filling the distance between their bodies. It was better to just wait until she made it clear what she wanted.
The TV stared at him with its big empty face that looked like a shadowy reflection of his own face. It was begging him to switch it on. He thought about it, but decided the noise would just make him feel worse. There were only judge shows and reruns of sitcoms from the 1990s to choose from at this time of day anyway.
So Clay sat. For how long, he could not be sure. He intentionally avoided looking at the clock. Once, he heard Noahleen pass from the bedroom to the bathroom and back, but he did not acknowledge her. If she wanted him nearby, she could make the first move.
His resolve faltered before hers did. He felt himself getting hungry, and the hunger reminded him that he had other work to do before he could really rest. He would have to nudge whatever this tension was toward a resolution.
Clay heaved his bulk off the couch and walked to the bedroom, to Noahleen. She sat in the center of the bed, holding her head in her hands and letting all of her dark hair cover her body like a curtain. Clay sat on the bed, but he kept his distance and his silence.
“I’m sorry,” Noahleen said.
“Sorry about what?” Clay found himself confused.
“I’m sorry about this morning. And I’m sorry that I’m still upset about this morning. I’m sorry about shaking you up right before you left, and I’m sorry that I’m not happy, and I’m sorry that I’m not being more available to you so that you can talk about what’s happening with work and therapy and everything.”
“I don’t feel like you’re unavailable. And I don’t expect you to just sit there and mind me while I try to deal with work and everything. What do you think we have going on here?”
She shook her head. “I just feel like, you know, I’m not working so I should take care of the house. Like I’m doing something wrong if I just sit around and wait for you to come home from work. Especially if you’re going to just go to town on the housework when you get home. If I’m not keeping this place up and I’m not making a contribution to our income, what am I? What good is it for you to stick with me any more? I’m just draining your resources.”
It took a few seconds for Clay to consider Noahleen’s words. It was difficult for him to do so, because he wanted to just reject everything she said as a lie. He knew, though, that accusing her of lying would just lead to them fighting. Even so, it was hard for him to make his brain engage with statements that just were not so, and comforting nothings took forever for him to produce.
Meanwhile, she sobbed.
“Why don’t you think you’re contributing?” he finally asked. “You’re recovering. You’re doing more every day, and we’re slowly but surely getting to an equilibrium. You had a section of your brain removed from your head a couple of years ago. You’re on four different tranquilizers. It’s not surprising that you can’t work or that you might get tired from doing basic chores. Why should you feel bad about it? You did the physical therapy, the rest is just letting yourself work up some endurance.”
He rubbed her back.
“Besides, I never expected or asked you to do all the housework. How could I hold it against you if I never even talked about it with you?”
“I know,” she said. “You think I don’t know? Nothing I’m feeling makes sense, and that makes it worse, because I’m wasting your time and I’m upsetting you, and there isn’t even a good reason for it. I really wish I could just stop, but I can’t. I need to do something.”
“Have you thought about going back to work? Just, you know, part-time. Just a little so that you can start getting back into the swing of things, to see whether or not you still want to do the same thing.”
She shook her head. Her hands were still planted firmly on her face.
“I just can’t. If they saw the way I am now—the way I walk, and the way my left hand has gotten clumsy since the surgery… I can’t go back. And I’m pretty sure that a company that doesn’t know me yet wouldn’t hire me. Who wants a part-time worker who can’t hold a schedule and can’t meet with clients because she’s too spaced out on tranquilizers? I’m too embarrassed to even ask. I don’t want them to see me this way.”
Clay pulled away from her. He wanted to say something kind, but the way she talked about herself upset him. If it had been anyone but her saying these things about her, he would have started a fight with them by now. He swallowed his bile and focused his attention on making her feel better instead of being more right than her.
“So you need something new to do.”
Noahleen finally dropped her hands from her face. “You’re fucking brilliant. Why didn’t I think of that?”
“No, I mean… I mean that I tried to start a business while you worked.” Clay was having a hard time speaking because Noahleen was giving him a dead-eyed stare. “Maybe you could do it this time. Maybe there’s something you could do at home, for yourself. That way, you don’t have to work on someone else’s schedule. You don’t have to try to support the whole house. You can contribute on your good days, and you can work on your recovery on the ungood days.”
“Yeah, but what?” she asked. “It’s all well and good that you can just proclaim ‘start a business,’ but I don’t have any idea what I could even do.”
He shrugged. “I don’t know. If you feel like you need to contribute, though, maybe you could start by figuring out which parts of the housework you want to do, and then you can spend the rest of your time exploring options for working from home. And whatever you decide you hate doing for housework, I’ll keep doing. I did all of it back when you were working. I know how.”
She shrugged. He tried to hold her again, but she still pulled away and told him once more that she was not in the mood. Then she got up and went into the kitchen to put dinner together, leaving Clay on the bed, wondering why it was that she seemed to always think that his touching her was a prelude to sex.
Defiant is available from Autonomous Press in both paperback and ebook editions.