Page 26 of Coercion

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I’m not wounded.I’m fine.

“Fuck.”This is exactly what I need the boxing ring for.Instead, I stomp into the kitchen.Turns into more of a stalk, since I don’t want to wake up the twins.Bristol’s rinsing something in the sink.“You’re right.”

She faces me after my announcement, her eyebrows going up.“About?”

“It wasn’t her fault that she had to leave.”Punch me now.A thousand times.“It wasn’tonlyher fault.My dad was a total prick.He probably hit her too.We never had any money, so she would have been worse off than you.”

Bristol’s all soft in leggings and a sweatshirt.She pats at a dish towel.“I didn’t mean to—you know.Absolve her, or anything.But there’s only so much you can do when it comes to men who want…” Her cheeks go pink.“When it comes to shitty men.”

I can’t go kill every man who’s ever hurt Bristol, but I want to.

Maybe, if I killed every man who’s ever hurt my mother, everybody would be better off.

“That’s most of us.”

“No.”Now she’s firm.“You’re one of the good ones.”

I make a noncommittal sound.I’m not.I could be, maybe.At the very least, I’ll protect Bristol and Mia and Ben.Nobody’s going to hurt them.Not again.

“Was there…anything else?”

“No.That was it.”

“Okay.”Bristol’s eyes go distant, and she’s distracted again.She opens the fridge and rearranges some Tupperware containers.Then she moves on to the dishwasher, which isn’t even a quarter full.

“You want to watch a movie?”


She curls up next to me on the couch, but we’re not fifteen minutes into whatever nineties fake-dating romcom this is when she gets up again.

Bristol, of all people, shouldn’t have to deal with so much nervous energy.Not now that we’re home.

I follow her to the table, where she’s moving each of the chairs an inch, then pushing them back in.When she’s between two of them, I step in and take her wrists in my hands.

She looks down and away.Swallows.“I’m—I’m sorry, Will.I don’t think—” Bristol clears her throat.“I don’t think I can have sex right now.”

I was wrong.I don’t need the ring.I’ve just been hit by somebody bigger than the Mountain Man, another asshole who needs to be tracked down.Maybe I could do it now, when I’m—what is this?Shocked.

I’m shocked.

I drop her wrist and storm into the living room, where I flip off the Van Gogh like the painting started all this.I storm to the chair where Emerson once sat for three straight hours trying to prove to me that he wasn’t having a panic attack when he clearly was.Then Iwalkback to Bristol, who’s standing by the dining table, eyes wide.

“You think.”Easy, Leblanc.“You think I wanted you for sex?When I’ve just driven you here from the hospital where your father’s life is on the line?While your twin siblings are sleeping off a kidnapping?You think I would demandsex?”

“Um.”Bristol looks me in the eye.She’s so pretty, sobeautiful,that of course I want her.I always want her.“Maybe?”

I take it back.This is the hit that takes me out.I’m down for good.

It must show on my face, because Bristol takes a step closer.“I thought—I thought maybe that was all you wanted from me.”

This is the worst kind of anger.It’s mostly sadness, which makes me feel pathetic.


I guess it’s not that shocking, considering some of the things I said to her in the beginning of our…relationship.That’s what it is now.Arelationship.And some of the things I said in the middle.And…in recent times.

“Fine.Yes.I made everything about sex at first.Obviously, I wanted to fuck you.”

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