Showing Restraint


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The moment I take the iced green glass from Helen's smeared, still-hot lips, she asks me calmly, "So, what is it with you and the Counsellor?"

"What is it with us? What do you mean?"

The room is dim, the shadows shallow and blurred. I sit on the edge of the bed, staring at my reflection in the window. I look like a life-size cut-out of Betty Page in my black lace slip, my oldest, best-loved strappy black Rocky Horror Show stilettos and nothing else to preserve whatever modesty I probably should have, apart from my loose, tangled curtain of hair. My outfit is reduced to total indecency, my beautiful beads and sequins a river of shiny black on the chessboard of Helen's bedroom floor.

"Don't play dumb with me, C."

She stretches indolently, her heavy milkmaid breasts pulled upwards by her wide, pudgy arms. On her ample breasts, strong blue veins stand out, running through her soft brown nipples like an inked relief map. She's still comfortably naked but for the bracelets of metal on her wrists, cuffs dangling like brutal jewellery. I've never really got into her tying-up fantasies myself, but being a dominatrix is a pretty good tension release, and I need that tonight.

Over drinks earlier, during which we made our way through an impressive amount of lemon vodka, "A gift from an admirer, sweetheart. Isn't it nice to get something useful as a token of affection?" we'd decided that she was going to be tied up tonight- I told her I was feeling too aggressive to be restrained. I still am.

"Tell me," she orders.

"Fuck you, Helen, I thought I was the dominatrix here."

I pour myself another vodka. I've had a decidedly pleasant buzz in my confused, muzzy head since the wine at lunch, but in Helen's Art Deco bordello, a good drunk takes a lot of maintenance.

Helen is well-known for wearing her lovers out. Usually she likes me to curl up against her, hot and soft, and drowse like a babe, but tonight I'm too jittery and wired to put up with Helen's enormous violet eyes engulfing my sleeping face like I'm lying inside an aquarium. She doesn't sleep. So I sit, turned away from her, glad she's not touching me. Helen touches herself instead, as whimsically as if she was on her own, unfocused eyes like those of a little girl discovering the joys of her body.

Helen's twenty-nine, and has been for quite some time. She was brought up a pampered suburban socialite in South Africa, and when she was sixteen, she was married to a diamond heir who took her to this beautiful house in Jodenbreestrat. He was assassinated by an employee two years later, and Helen received a ridiculous wedge of cash. Whenever this shows signs of running low, Helen is what we call a 'freelance whore' and she loves the idea that sex has always kept her in the style to which she has become accustomed.

Most of us can't really believe Helen's fantastic past, her labyrinthine Gothic palace, or her strings of lovers. The gay guys call her a fag hag and find her ridiculous and the straight girls can't get it into their heads that she's sexier than they'll ever be, but the straight boys and others seem to understand her attraction.

Helen's fingers gently run across her collarbone, trickle down the deep rift between her breasts.

"Calvin called me this afternoon about my little party tomorrow."

She's gently running her fingers over her breasts, her wonderfully responsive nipples shrinking up hard and tight beneath the powerful slabs of her fingers. "Some camp nonsense about, did I know if anyone else was coming as that guy from the Matrix?... Orpheus..."

"Morpheus, I think. It's just an excuse to wear leather, you know him."

"More like an excuse to spill his little anxieties to Auntie Helen..." she yawns, stretches, her whole huge body rippling in contentment. Helen's a very big girl, owing to her insatiable greed for everything, but the word "fat" doesn't fit her at all. She needs great, grandiose adjectives- Statuesque, Rubenesque, Voluptuous,  Voluminous... She's absolutely gorgeous. Her skin is a strong, clear olive, her lips plushy cushions of red. Her nose is a great, beautiful, tempting arch and her long, black hair with its delicate red inner lights drips off the white pillows like a night waterfall, its ripples shimmering in the stark moonlight.

Watching her stretch the impressive length of her beautiful, strong body on the plain white Egyptian cotton sheets, I could care less about Calvin's anxieties.

She tells me anyway.

"He says that It' L with you and Joanne."

"If it is," I snap, "what am I doing here?"

"What indeed..."

I can hear the smile in her voice, and I turn around to look at her. As I admire her, the generous warmth of her body rising like bread in the chilly light, the lush velvety strips of her vagina still wet and open in the darkness, she yawns again.

"Ohh...I do believe that you've actually taken it out of me, you dirty little bugger. What is with you tonight?"

"Stop asking me stupid questions."

I'm not exactly out of my purring, hissing dominatrix mode yet, but to show her I mean no harm (in any way) I lie down on the bed next to her, trying for a pose of indolence and contentment. It doesn't work. I can actually feel the bony angles of my set-tight shoulders and taut neck against the sheets.

She holds the bottle to my lips, and while I gulp like a child she runs her fingers up my throat, feeling me swallow. "You're getting a big mouth, you know that?"

I pout at her. "It's got to be big to get my tongue in it."

"Jesus! You and your tongue...It's a good job you turned out to be a dyke."

I laugh. "You know, one time when I was sixteen I stuck my tongue out at my dad...I forget why, no, I remember, he was taking the piss out of me cause I was running up and down the stairs singing "I Feel Pretty" really off-key. Anyway, when he saw my tongue he just...I dunno, looked at me. And he smiled. You know? It was like...he had a son with a really big dick or something."

"Italians. You're all such weird macho bastards," Helen mutters, and then looks at me, her eyes softened a little. "You know, that's the first time I ever heard you say anything about your family."

"We don't talk much, do we, Helen?"

"I talk to you more than I talk to anybody," she says, wistful, her eyes positively liquid now.

Helen dreamily handles the soft violet feather boa draped over her black, angular iron bedstead. The bedstead is good for snapping the handcuffs to, but my beautiful, flagrant Helen is a soft-centred femme for all her S and M posturing, and she generally heaps the bed with cushions so she doesn't actually hurt herself when not in the act.

Helen fondles the feather boa, and draws it over her breasts, watching the milky flesh pucker and stiffen. Then a wicked little light begins to sparkle in her gorgeous violet eyes. The sensual geography of her face upturned, the sharp snow of moonlight edging her features in the monochrome room, she oh-so-gently trails the edge of the feather boa over her nose.

She takes a deep, luxurious breath, nostrils flared and receptive, and then her face changes to an expression of intense concentration. Helen gives the tiniest of sniffles, a short, sharp beat in the silent dark. In spite of myself, I'm watching her, and when I try to swallow, my throat is so dry it hurts.

"What are you doing?" I ask, as if I didn't know. I take another drink, and lean back on the pillows, happily taking on the role of voyeur.

"You did me a favour," she murmurs, her rich voice thinned to a vibrating metal string. "Now," there"s a slight hiccup in her voice as her nose wrinkles violently, "It's my turn to do you one..."

"You don't have to, Helen." My voice quivers wretchedly.

"Ohhh... I want to." She sniffles. "Ah...this is making my nose...tickle..." Helen sniffs again, harder. "Besides," her voice is genuinely breathy now, the urge to sneeze spreading from her flared nostrils to her lungs as her breasts heave dramatically, "What kind of lover would I be if I didn't know... your... Achilles heel?"

She inhales deeply, the dander and dust from the feathers sucked right into her sinuses, the soft little feathers themselves unmercifully tickling her great, quivering nose.

Her eyes well suddenly with bright, sharp little tears of irritation. "I just hope you know how crazy this is driving me," she chokes. "I- hi... hi I just... want to..."

Then it comes, as though she just commanded it to. Helen's mouth yawns wide as she inhales, a continuous sound that rises in pitch as it grows in length, and the sneeze barrels through her. She lets it come happily, relieved, as she jerks up from the pillows, breasts heaving, and lets out a great, bellowing,


The sneeze is incredibly powerful, shaking her generous body from head to toe, rebounding and echoing off the chilly, tiled walls. Her enormous breasts are the last part of her body to stop shaking with the aftershock of the great sneeze, and when she looks up at me, she has the look of a naughty little girl in her eyes.

Helen sniffs, eyes streaming from all the dander and ticklish feather-dust in her sinuses. "Mmhh... Damn, that felt good!  I'm beginning to get what you see in this, you know."

I'm not surprised when she reaches with a slightly shaky hand to grab my wrist, her ugly metal band clashing against my own silver bracelet. This is when we start playing.

Playing Doctor, Helen calls it laughingly. Like all power-struggling game players, Helen and I drew up our terms and conditions for acting out our little fantasies long ago. The main rule for this sneezing game is that she gives me what I crave for, but I have to act exactly how she wants me to, until the last minute. This is our bargain, and it caters for her as much as it does for me.

Helen's such a powerful, controlled actress of a woman that she can't stand being vulnerable, though on another level, it turns her on immensely. It's forbidden, so of course she's got to have it. Helen is Eve, Lilith, a siren. Helen is dangerous, and Helen is greedy.

She's working harder now, sniffing at the boa, but It's taking longer for a sneeze to build. The element of surprise is gone, and her nose is obviously a little stuffy already. The next sneeze is going to be tortured. Even as she struggles with the eye-watering buildup I can smell the hot scent of her sex rising between us.

She makes a soft, whimpering sound like a little girl.

"Oh- my nose...It's so tickly...I can't stand it!"

My mouth is sour and dry again. "Poor darling," I croak, my heart jackhammering in my throat.

Helen has always insisted that she"ll only sneeze for me if I comfort her, as though she's ill, so both of us have intense power over each other. I can't hold her, not quite yet, so one of my fingers- chilly from the iced vodka glasses- traces her hard brown nipple, making it harder.

She explodes suddenly, unable to keep the tickles in any longer, falling backwards onto the pillows and attempting to smother the worst of the spray with her heavily beringed, indigo-nailed hand.


I stroke her nose with one finger, shaking my head as though I'm worried about her. "That was a big sneeze, honey!"

She nods frantically, her eyes moist, her nostrils red-rimmed as one finger drifts under them. Just like Joanne does...

I swallow hard again as I gently pry away the finger.

"Don't do that, you'll just draw it out."

Helen's nose is so sensitive- one of her features that she normally can't stand- that she doesn't even need another sniff at the beautiful violet feathers. She looks up at me, powerless and pitiful- but acting, of course, always acting. The twitches in her nose, however, are for real.

"I don't want to," she whispers, her voice scraped raw and depleted. "It's too big...I don't want to sneeze."

"Now, honey."

The rich purr has come back into my voice as I take charge of her, straddle her, weight resting on my knees. I feel her buck against me as she lets loose with a great, wet, uncontrollable "EhhhTSHOOOO!...oh, you bad girl, you surprised me!"

"Sorry, I swear I didn't do that on purpose..." I lie, acting the Concerned Lover. "You certainly are sneezing a lot, honey. Bit of a tickle in that gorgeous nose of yours?"

"I'm fine," she snuffles, as I reach down to kiss her, tickling her nose with my hair, letting its dark, scented strands gently irritate her nostrils. I let my hair fall right into her nasal passages, penetrating, making her nose itch dreadfully. Helen lets out a soft little cry of discomfort as I reach for her hands, and gently but firmly hold them, so she can't do anything to alleviate the tickles that plague her as I probe her hot, vodka-tasting mouth with my tongue.

It's a long kiss, and I feel her strain and whimper beneath me, trying like crazy to hold off the building sneezes, until I have mercy on her and end the kiss, holding my face less than an inch from hers as she erupts into a perfect fusillade of sneezes, uncontrollably spraying my face.


A great rush of wetness comes from me, damp and hot against her belly. She gives me a Mona Lisa smile as she feels it. "Bless you," I whisper, tonguing her throat, her collarbones, moving down to her nipples.

"Bless me," she echoes, sniffling.

I wish she wouldn't say that. It's what Joanne says after one of her big, dramatic "HAAHISSHOO!" sneezes, and I close my eyes as she comes into my head again... but why not? Why can't I have two fantasies?

I let go of Helen's hands and she rubs furiously at her nose with her clenched hands. Helen's nipple becomes hard and tight under my tongue, shrinking up into a blood-engorged walnut. The taste of smoke and vodka in my mouth slowly softens to a warm woman-taste, and I want to put my tongue on her clit, lash her into orgasm...but we"ve barely even started, and her nose is still looking a little twitchy.

"You know," I tell her, as sternly as I want to tell Joanne, "I really think you're coming down with a cold, darling."

"I think so too..." she sniffles damply, her voice dropping to a low, husky register. "My nose has just been so tickly all day."

"All day?"

"Mmmm." Her breath quickens. "And I've been thinking about you...thinking about you coming home to take care of me..."

Sometimes, we tell the truth when we're fucking.

This is an awkward moment, and Helen has to recover from it somehow, so I'm not too surprised when her disobedient fingers trickle down to my cunt. I respond. I can't help it, couldn't hold back if my life depended on it. She touches my clit and it springs into life, my rich and copious wetness spilling heat onto her.

She does, and she smiles a little- a real Helen-smile, a smile which says, "I am in charge here."

That's not playing the game.

"Now, Helen darling, you don't want to get all excited and tired out with that nasty cold," I caution her. "You'd better keep your hands to yourself."

"No," she says, cocking her head like a little girl. I can see her thinking- How much can I get away with?

"You're asking for it, aren't you?"

"For what?"

I reach, calmly, for the cuffs. "Oh, you know what."

"C!" she exclaims. "Don't you dare!"

"You're not playing," I whisper.

Her beautiful, watering eyes challenge me in the dark. "Neither are you."

But neither of us has said the Word yet, the Word we have to stop at no matter what.

"You want me to cuff you?"

She shakes her head. Helen valiantly summons all her reserves, tries to pretend she isn't excited, but I know how she loves to be dominated, and I can feel her juices mingling with mine. She's sniffling, the tickle intensifying as I watch. I wait for a moment, watching her face contort in the moonlight, but then- just as the sneeze is coming- she reaches to pinch her nostrils and stifles the sneeze completely.

"Helen!" I snap, landing a quick sharp slap on her hip, but then I remember she likes that too. Damn it.

She grins at me in the dark, luminous smile like a jack o'lantern.

She's daring me.

I'm practised at this kind of thing, and I'm strong when I want to be. Efficiently, I snatch her hands and snap her bracelets to the bedstead with a hollow, sharp clunking sound.

"Oh, C, you bad girl..." she groans, her voice rich and dark with an undertone of pure ecstasy. "You bad, bad girl."

I look into her face, which is still contorting just a little, and slide my finger into her- as I'd expected, she's slick with hot juice and feels sublime.

"You're the bad little girl, sweetie pie."

She makes a soft moaning sound in her throat- she loves it when I act like the stern Mother. I've never asked why, but that's how it is. She wrinkles her nose up helplessly, scrunches her face to stop the sneeze, her nose twitching crazily.

"I'm not...going to sneeze..." she tells me, a sharp line appearing in the bridge of her nose. "I'm not...I..."

I reach for the boa, drape it round my neck and gently touch the tip of her nose with it. Helen's in agony and I can feel her struggling beneath me, trying like crazy to maintain her strength, her power, her dignity.

"Bitch!" she yells at me, and that's it. That's it.

In front of her tearing, excited eyes, I gently examine the boa, and then lay it down right on her face so all she can breathe for a second is a thick nose-full of violet feathers. This is so much for her that it actually stops the sneeze for a moment, leaving her blinking and wet-eyed, the sneeze far too big for her to get out unaided.

I have pity on her.

Sort of.

"You want to sneeze now, don't you?" I ask, pretending unconcern even though we're both so wet I'm practically sliding off her hips.

I expect her to spit at me, curse at me, but instead she's too satisfied in her own fantasy of helplessness, the rolling valley of her belly shaking as she heaves in breath, the great white hills of her breasts almost obscuring her seizing, scrunching face from my point of view. I stare past the beautiful lush landscape of her hips, into her eyes.

"Yes..." she whispers darkly.

I touch her nipples, pinch them lightly in my fingers, and her shivery words squeeze and contract every fibre of my being.

"I want to sneeze," she whispers, "but you know...what I really want...please give me at least one, honey, at least one..." her words tail off into mumbled ecstatic sex-nonsense. She whimpers, "Please..."

"I'll give you everything," I tell her, my body full of the commanding heat of mindless need. I take the boa, look at it again, and pluck out its longest, softest feather.

I'm an artist. I paint with the feather, play with it. First I trace the damp outline of her nose- her quivery, desperate nostrils edged with a thin, wobbly line of tickles. She wrinkles up her nose and I trace it momentarily to the bridge, then back down, and in- first, lapping too gently at the shallow, warm shore of her nostril, driving her crazy as she shudders and bucks beneath me, and then I stick the feather in for sure, with a deft, ticklish twist.

The surprise of this intrusion triggers such a mighty, "HEHHHH... HESSSHHHOOO!"  that Helen's body shakes and convulses, her head rearing up, spraying my face and throat lightly with wetness. Even though I'm sure the feather's soaked it hasn't stopped working its magic, and her face seizes up again as she begins to sniffle uncontrollably, sucking yet more dust and feather-dander into her sinuses.

While the damp mass of dander is certainly irritating her, her nose is too runny and her nasal passages too wet to actually tickle her into a sneeze. She heaves, sniffs, closes her eyes, strains against the cuffs as her hands twitch with the desire to rub her nose. She ducks her head against her shoulder in an attempt to ease the itch, but the sneeze doesn't come. I reach for the closest thing to hand- a royal blue silk scarf, one of the four that she first tied me up with- she keeps these for her newer conquests, the ones that are a little wary of metal and leather.

I hold the scarf to her running nose and she stares at me incredulously.

"C, are you crazy? This is silk! Get be a tissue," she says, stuffily,



"I have to blow by dose! Please get be a tissue. I really," she sniffs thickly, "deed to blow by dose..."

"If you need to blow, you're going to have to do it on this."

Almost in defiance, she does, discharging the feather in her nose with a loud, gurgling blow which wets my fingers a little through the silk. The pressure obviously triggers a bit of a tickle, and she stares at me with that blank, glazed look I've learnt to love, concentrating totally on the pressure in her nose.

We start to play again. Well, I start to play with myself. I can't help it. I know well enough not to brush my clit, knowing I'll come right there and then if I do, so I just stroke the damp folds of my cunt as she watches hungrily.

There is nothing so soft as this. Nothing so hard.

"Please let me..." she begs softly, staring at my open, swollen cunt.

"Let you what?" I trace the feather boa down her breasts, knowing that the tickles make the ones in her nose even more intense.

"Sneeze," she whispers, like It's a magic word, which, indeed, it is, but It's not quite the one she means. "Honey, please. I feel like I'm gonna explode!"

"You want me to make you explode?"

I watch her swallow and more wetness bathes my cunt- we're both so slick I'm not even sure hose it is.


"It's that bad?"


I smell cinnamon, even though I know It's only my sex-heat, and think of Joanne"s flesh, hot beneath my fingers, wishing I could taste her skin...It's not that different... not really...

"You poor thing," I whisper, getting up from the bed to root in my little beaded black bag. "You tell me how bad your cold is. Maybe I've got something for it in here."

"Really bad," she tells me. "It's so bad. This morning I just woke up with the worst case of the sneezes...I couldn't stop, and now...I've got such a tickle-"

She draws in a deep, surprised breath as I take out a little bottle of my precious perfume, and grins triumphantly at me.

"Is that for me, I wonder?"

"If you're good," I tell her matter-of-factly, as I slide my fingers deeply into her.

Helen snaps back into her submissive pose, scrunching her nose helplessly. "I'll be so good."

"I know, sweetheart, I know."

I spray just a little, and It's enough- she inhales with her usual greed and eagerness, and begins to heave in breath harshly as she rises to meet me and I- the greedy little girl now- take her cunt in my mouth. I hear her gasping, groaning, struggling, watch her leaning up against the iron bedstead, hot, sweet, too fucking good to be real...

She edges closer to relief, and I raise my head, leaving her open to the air, open to cool. She spits at me like the cat she is.

"Give it up," I tell her.

She shakes her head, fighting to sniff and tickle the sneeze into a real, satisfying explosion with only the harshly scented, sweet air to aid her. She's desperate for something, anything- a rolled-up tissue, pepper, dust, but she can't move to get it.

Helen moans unashamedly, and I can't stand it...this is never going to happen, not for either of us...

"Give it up, Helen."

"Take my damn cuffs off."


She knows how much I need her hands...she knows how much she needs them. We stare at each other, damp-eyed, hot-mouthed.

I undo her cuffs, but as her hands go to her nose, I grab them tightly.

"It's coming," she tells me, meaning everything, as she pulls my hips to hers, hungry as a wolf.

"I know." I straddle her again, resting in her soft, ample lap, and sink my fingers into her.

Helen sighing, reaches up, right hand cats-cradling through the tight, swollen knot of wet flesh that is us, and cups my hot sex.

I cry with relief, making noises I didn't know I could make, and then- dear God bless you Helen- she uses her free hand to reach for the feather boa. As I pleasure her, she makes a contented little sound in her throat, and sinks back against the dishevelled pillows, teasing me with her fingers, teasing me with her nose, with the feathers, plucking one out and slowly beginning to tickle her nose.

"We've got to...time it..." she tells me, her face screwing up, the muscles in her thighs contracting against my hand. A dreadful thirst bites the back of my throat. I have to come. I have to. "Helen, I'm gonna-"

I'm a moment away from coming, and I feel her fingers slack off a little.

"No you're not," she informs me. "Not until I'm done. But it won't won't be"

Out of malice, I begin to work her clit in my fingers, feeling it harden like mine, and then we have no more words, just nonsense, just wordless pleas.

I hear my voice rising and falling on and on, a wail rising from a part of me I'd long forgotten I had, as I knead her hot damp flesh, feeling sweat break out and run in clammy streams down her back, the delirious, feverish urgency of pure fucking- my whole body concentrates itself into the desire to come, I don't care if she isn't going to sneeze, I have to come, I have to-

And then I hear her take a deep, quavering breath, holding me tight and close to her, feeling the feathers caress the back of my neck as she garlands me with them, pressing her face into the tickly softness.


I cover her shoulders and neck with hot, wet, desperate kisses as she rears back, my hand embracing her, fucking her, mirroring what she does to me, and then she explodes,


It's too much.

Beneath her hands, I feel myself explode and melt, hear strange cries which might be her, might be me, bathe in our juices, feel her shiver as the night chill frosts her sweat, feel her generous, soft arms fold around me.


I'm crying.

"Hey. Hey..."

I can't help it.

Flesh. Sweat. Joanne... I want your limbs around me, your heat enveloping me like a coat of pure sweetness, want your arms round my neck, your legs thrown over mine, I want you to love me... I can't the darkness, the need churning in me, why did she do that, why, why... why do I have to need her?

Why can't I stop thinking about her?

My fists, in frustration, pummel Helen's back as she tries, her lips damp and sex-scented, to kiss me better.

"C, what is with you?" she asks, for the third time that night, and dries my tears with a clean corner of the blue silk hanky.

She doesn't really demand an answer, just fills me a cold glass and lets me drink while I recover. After a few minutes, she looks at me, her face harder now. She's Queen Helen again.

"You kissed Joanne," she says sharply, an accusation.

Helen has always known what's going on, which is probably why she gets everything she wants.

"She kissed me."

"Just the once?"


"And Calvin said you were out having lunch this afternoon."

"We were."

"You can't seriously like her that way."


Helen's eyes narrow, and in her moonlit face, turned to the high window, I see a ghost of the unearthly beauty she must have had as a young child-bride.

"C, have I been jealous of any of your other little... clients?" she hisses.

"No. But you know this is different, don't you?"

"Yes," she says plainly, "in that you can't possibly have sex with that woman. She's ugly."

Her voice is brittle, pettish. Mine has gained a new strength, rubbed raw with lemon vodka and sex. "You know that's not true, Helen."

She's silent for a while.

Then she slowly begins to go through the last odd little ritual of our Thursday night lovemaking.

Helen dampens a cotton pad with strong, cold lemon-scented cleanser, and begins, slowly and lovingly, to wipe the smears and crumbs of red, black and white from my face. I submit, closing my eyes, keeping my face as still as a mannequin's.

Carefully sweeping the cotton over my forehead,  she sighs, and begins to speak.

"Never mind, darling," she says gently. "You haven't given me a definite answer, but I won't be crying into my pillow for long, believe me. Yes, I do know that Joanne is not about to settle for what you usually have to offer. For Christ's sake, child, the last time you went on a proper sit-down dinner date you shagged the waitress. I know that you're going to have to sacrifice a lot to settle down into Joanne's way of life, that you two are going to become absolutely sickening and we will all hate you and stop inviting you to orgies, that you will make each other dinner, guzzle popcorn and give each other back rubs while you watch the late movie, that you will adopt doggies and take them for walks, that there will be no more Thursday nights for the pair of us and that I'll be a bitch to you at the few parties of mine you attend, and miss you like crazy and probably, now that I can't have you, worship the ground you walk on."

"Helen, I'm not going to marry her!"

"It's that or nothing, and you know it, girl."

"Everything's so bloody black and white with you."

"Au contraire..." she finishes her ritual and scrutinises me. Then she touches my cheek. "Rose petals," she says, softly, dreamily. "You're so fucking young. You're so fucking young and beautiful and I wish, I really wish, that you're right. But you're not. Either you carry on, or you change. Those are your options, and try as you might to find a middle ground, you know you'll have to give Joanne more than a quick fuck. You think she...deserves it."

I nod, staring out of the window at the narrow slabs of the houses.

"I think you deserve it too," she says softly. "Take that however you will. But this is the last time."

Statement? Reflection? Question?

None of the above.

She says it tonelessly, and I know it's true.

All I can do is nod again, holding back more tears as Helen reaches out lazily and runs her fingers over the handcuffs.

"Go home, C. Now. If you fall asleep, I'm gonna keep you here forever."