Susan, trembling, approached the desk of the head librarian. In a tiny voice, she said, "Ms. Corcoran, I -- I -- I think I need to take a little sick leave."
Alice Corcoran's face immediately showed concern. "Oh, my. What's wrong, dear?"
"I just... Well, I'm not feeling well. It might be something I ate at lunch. I mean, it's probably not anything contagious, just a little food thing..." Susan didn't want to be responsible for anyone else worrying about their own health. "I feel like..." She left the specification of her symptoms hanging, not wanting to sound as though she was at death's door, nor as if she wanted time off for something trivial. She was sure that at least she appeared convincingly sick. Her heart was pounding, and she could feel sweat breaking out on her face, which she was positive must be flushed. "I saw on... my last paycheck... I mean, I have some sick leave now." So far, it was only eight hours -- she'd only worked in the library for a month -- but she was only trying to take off two hours early.
Ms. Corcoran gave her a look that was far more motherly than even Susan's mother could manage. It softened, just slightly, Susan's horror at the fact that Ms. Corcoran was looking at her, thinking about her, wondering about her, focusing on her. It was so hard for Susan to bring about that kind of attention that she had spent her life trying her utmost to avoid, but it couldn't be helped. If there is something you want, a voice within Susan seemed to say, you need to build up your courage and ask for it. You'll be rewarded later.
Still, Susan wished she could somehow sink out of sight, out of Ms. Corcoran's world. Susan wanted to be in her own private world, not be part of someone else's.
She wondered briefly about that voice, that tiny voice, not literally heard but sensed almost subliminally, that was urging her on. Was it Suzy?
Susan barely heard Ms. Corcoran say, "Well, you go right home, dear. Can you make it on your own? Should I call a taxi or something?"
Susan shook her head quickly, not wanting the social complication of meeting and dealing with a cab driver, a total stranger, right now -- or indeed, at any other time. "I -- think I'll be okay if I just get home and lie down awhile."
Ms. Corcoran patted Susan's hand. "Go on home, then. There'll be some paperwork to fill out, but you can do that Monday. No, Tuesday, I mean. We're closed Monday for the holiday."
Susan smiled with genuine relief that was entirely appropriate under the circumstances. "I'm really sorry..."
Ms. Corcoran cut her off. "Don't think about it. We all get sick sometimes. You just get some rest."
Susan nodded in wordless thanks, retrieved her purse, and left the building by the back door. She was glad of the back door. She could usually get to her car unseen by anyone, as she did this time. She felt faint, and concentrated on breathing slowly and evenly. She couldn't do anything, right at the moment, about her heart trying so hard to pound its way out of her chest, but the important thing was not to be found sprawled unconscious on the pavement. Imagine the attention that would bring.
She felt a little better once she was in her car, the rattling sedan her father had bought for her. When Susan drove her car, she felt partly hidden -- people, she believed, noticed only the car, rarely peering inside to focus on Susan herself.
When she finally entered her apartment and closed the door, sealing herself off from the world altogether, she'd expected to feel her usual relief. But her heart was now hammering harder than ever.
It should be simple, Susan told herself. Make some dinner, have a few drinks, let Suzy take over.
Susan had prepared for this night earlier in the week. At the hardware store, on Monday, she'd bought a new combination padlock. On impulse, she'd also bought a roll of string -- cooking twine, 400 feet of it wound around the spool. She wasn't sure why. She supposed she could tie herself with it somehow, though it didn't look very strong. Elsewhere, she'd picked up several plastic bottles containing a combination of shelled salted mixed nuts and dried fruits, labelled as "trail mix" -- on two trips, Monday and Tuesday, since she didn't want anyone wondering why she was buying so much of that sort of thing at once, and at two different grocery stores, not wanting the clerks to remember her odd repeated purchases. She'd also picked up two six-packs of bottled water, one at each store. She remembered how thirsty she'd been last weekend, and she was sure the food would come in handy. She'd checked on the forest nuts she'd found during her last foray, and had identified them as hazelnuts. When she read that they usually fall in late autumn, and had by now been on the ground for months, she grew unsure of their current edibility, and decided to get food of her own. And the bottled water must be better for drinking than the water found in streams.
A new set of wrist and ankle cuffs had arrived in the mail Tuesday. The cuffs were fancier than the ones she had used last weekend. Made of brushed steel, each was a hinged semicircle of metal, an eighth inch thick and an inch-and-a-half wide, with prongs at the end of one semicircle that clicked into slots in the other, locking the cuff closed. There was a small keyhole in the surface of the cuff at the joining, for unlocking it -- the keys were included, of course. Near the hinge of each there was a half-ring of metal, a so-called "D-ring," for attaching chains or other restraints. Like the other set of cuffs, the wrist cuffs were actually ovals rather than circles, for a more snug fit around the wrist. Susan had spent at least fifteen minutes examining them closely, locking them and unlocking them, her body tingling with excitement. Afterward she'd had to change her panties, as she usually did after she'd spent time with her bondage equipment.
Susan had even made outdoor preparations, she believed, though she didn't know what they were. Actually, Suzy had made the preparations, not Susan. Susan had awakened Wednesday morning with a... presence, in her head. Not that, exactly, more like an awareness of someone who had just departed. It was Suzy, she was sure, apparently able to get a small message across to Susan at the boundary between sleep and wakefulness. Suzy had told her, not in words but with unmistakable clarity, to have some drinks with dinner tonight. Susan had gone to work, and argued with herself through the morning whether to heed the message or not. Initially she had decided against it -- she couldn't spend a Wednesday night tied up in the forest and then go to work the next day, not without spending the day as a sleepless zombie, which would be hard to hide. But it occurred to her near lunchtime -- perhaps this new thought had come to her through another nudge from Suzy, though Susan felt entirely capable of thinking thoughts without Suzy's help -- that Suzy might simply want to take over tonight to see to some preliminary details for the weekend.
In the end, Susan had decided to trust Suzy. Suzy was inside her, after all, and had a vested interest in not getting Susan in trouble. Susan had used another significant part of the bottle of tequila during dinner, around 6 o'clock, and suddenly somehow it was bedtime, the clock by her bed reading 10:30. Susan's clothes were a little soiled and damp, but she was exactly where she was supposed to be at this time of night -- though she had no idea what she might have spent the last four-plus hours doing. She was relieved that her judgment about Suzy had been correct. When she checked her bondage drawer, there were a number of items missing. On a hunch, she went out to the kitchen. The trail mix was gone. Susan was pretty sure she hadn't eaten it -- or, that is, that Suzy hadn't eaten it. She'd be more full. The bottled water was also gone.
And now it was time. It was midafternoon on Friday, Memorial Day weekend, and Susan was off work until Tuesday. Plenty of time, in case Suzy put her in a situation that took a long time to escape. Susan had come home early, with the sick leave maneuver, in case Suzy needed more time to set things up, but suspected that everything was ready. She didn't feel any urge to start drinking right away, and decided to wait for her normal dinnertime. At about four o'clock, Ms. Corcoran had called to make sure Susan had arrived home all right. Susan had told her she was feeling a little better already, but still slightly queasy, and intended to take a quick nap before dinner, which she was sure would help. She thanked Ms. Corcoran and hung up, her heart pounding once more. She hated talking to people on the telephone as much as she did in person. But it was over now. Nothing to do but fix dinner and have a few drinks with it. Suzy would handle the rest.
But Susan couldn't bring herself to get started. She was excited beyond measure, certainly, but also terrified. What if something went wrong? What if she was found, chained, naked, helpless? Susan remembered, very clearly, how the possibility had scared her so much last weekend. How could she put herself through that intentionally now? Instead she could spend the long weekend safe, in her home, alone, unseen. That was all she had ever wanted out of life. Wanting to do anything else was completely alien to her. And yet...
If I don't do it now, Susan told herself, I will never be able to make myself do it later, not next week, not next month, not ever. I will never know that feeling again. That rush, that joy... that orgasmic explosion, like nothing I've ever felt before. Never again in my life.
She'd arrived home around three-fifteen. Now, near five o'clock, Susan sat hunched on the sofa, her hands clasped and elbows in her lap, rocking back and forth, little whimpers escaping her throat, helpless to begin what she wanted so badly to do.
She sat up straight with a sudden thought. Taking just one drink, she realized, would solve everything. One drink would calm her, which she needed badly. It wouldn't commit her to anything. She wouldn't lose her body control to Suzy, not from a single drink. One drink would simply make it easier to think rationally, an ability that had almost left her now, under the tension she was feeling. Right now, she had neither the power to say Yes nor the power to say No, and so she was being ripped apart in between.
Susan hurried into the kitchen, fumbled for a glass in the cupboard, shakily opened the tequila bottle and poured out one finger of the liquor into the glass, filling the glass the rest of the way with orange soda from the fridge. She drank about half the glass in a single gulp, and drained it with two smaller swallows.
Immediately a sensation of warmth and well-being spread through her body. She closed her eyes, took a deep breath and sighed it out, feeling her heartbeat slowing by the second.
I don't have to do it, she told herself, with a smile of relief. I can stay right here, snug in my apartment, for the next three days. I have enough food. Three whole days with no one to look at me, speak to me or even give me a single thought. I'm closed off, safe from the world, and I can stay that way.
She opened the freezer and pulled out a frozen dinner box, opened it, pulled up the cellophane edges on the plastic tray, slipped the tray into the microwave and punched the buttons to cook it, all movements requiring almost no thought from long practice. She looked at the tequila bottle again.
One more drink, she told herself, can't possibly be enough to knock me out. It's not for summoning Suzy, she promised herself. It'll just get a nice Friday evening off to a relaxed start. I'll watch one of my DVDs. A comedy.
She splashed some more tequila into the glass.
Finishing dinner, and dumping the empty tray in the trash, Susan felt as well as she had all day. She put her hand down on the counter top to resist a momentary dizziness. She giggled, for no reason she was aware of, and drained the last of her third glass of tequila/orange soda mix.