Tuesday, August 24, 2010

“The Box” by Susan Scutti

After years in a static job, a viewless Queen’s studio, and a six-year love affair with an inert boyfriend who refused to commit (then married the first girl he dated after the break-up) — having battled economics, the city itself and romantic frustration — Pandora finally found a husband. Not a boyfriend, not a partner, but a husband. James was a decent man with a good job and in most ways —movies, food, news anchors— she agreed with him and liked spending time with him only one jot less than her best girlfriend. More importantly, he seemed destined to be a good provider.

Her own parents had never sailed easily along the cash flow. Sure, they’d begun their union snugly pegged within the upper middle-class of a quiet New England town, but when Pandora was still young her father had become incapacitated from a stroke. After that, he collected disability checks while her mother found employment as a secretary for a small company close to home. At fourteen, Pandora worked her first job at an ice cream store in the mall and after graduating high school, she went to college in the contemporary spirit of a woman who could and would eventually earn her own living. Talking late into the night at the house of a high school friend, she dreamed aloud her own future life. “… traveling and a husband and two kids and a life different from my mother’s.”

“Oh, yeah, different. Wouldn’t that be great?” Her friend’s voice rose to a note of near hysteria. She herself later married the dentist’s son, remaining in their hometown, and became PTA Chairperson as well as mother of a large, primarily athletic brood.

Despite her dreams and abilities, Pandora somehow could not succeed in rising above a subsistence-level lifestyle and chronic disappointment to attain her vague yet modest ambition of doing better than her mother. Her very self-confidence got in the way. She’d graduated college with a pragmatic double major (Accounting to balance out all the Art History classes), but once she began job hunting, she decided that earning money didn’t need to be her central aim. So instead of the lucrative corporate careers her accountant friends sought, she chose to move to New York City and work at a not-for-profit agency that funded arts programs. A fair exchange: less money, more satisfaction.

What she hadn't counted on was the fact that a “ladder” existed even in the not-for-profit world. Worse, no part of her wanted to climb. Years slipped by where she passively watched as others who possessed either a truly arty style or a more cutthroat sensibility traveled into the spheres of power above her. No matter how often she told herself that it didn’t matter, there were other things in life and she shouldn’t focus on money and power, money and power had become the qualities she thought about most.

In those medicated nighttime hours of her lonely thirties— in the long, narrow, deserted alley beginning once the six-year love affair ended and lasting until she met her future husband— Pandora decided that she had failed at her career in pretty much the same way she had failed at love. She had given, but clearly she hadn't given what counted most.

What she automatically offered (loyalty, competence, practicality) weren't the qualities that prompted employers to take note of her — or inspired men to marry her. Someone else, someone more competitive was always offering something more. And so she never became a boss or a bride. Pandora lived those final months before meeting her husband in a kind of humiliation. She sleepwalked through her weeks. Returning home by subway each evening, she microwaved a frozen dinner then watched TV, maybe talked on the phone with one or another girlfriend. At night she swallowed anti-depressants and by day she witnessed everyone around her enjoying a life that seemed to place love and pleasure at bull's eye. On weekends, she traveled backwards into her past, taking the bus to visit her parents and her high school friend; she returned to New York on Sunday evenings with time enough to prepare for the coming week. Often she wondered: Is this hollow life a kind of punishment for daring to want more than my mother? She simply couldn’t imagine how she had reached such a late age without finding a lasting relationship unless, of course, there was something drastically wrong with her. Staring at the shape of her once bold and now somewhat fearful-looking yellow-brown eyes reflected in the darkened window of the bus, Pandora wondered what she’d done wrong in her life, what exactly had she done to render herself loveless.

After both encouragement and steady badgering from her friend Megan, and hours replying to an on-line dating questionnaire, Pandora and three single women and four single men met for dinner at a B-list restaurant in Brooklyn. James arrived late and claimed the remaining seat on her left. He looked to be about five years older than Pandora, slightly taller, too, he had a wiry build and a gentle manner. Within fifteen minutes Pandora had disqualified him; she disliked his hands, his smile showed too many teeth, and nervousness caused him to knock a fork to the floor when he handed his menu to the waiter. Once dinner got underway, she nodded without looking at him whenever he inserted a remark. Her own early attempts at humor misfired badly that night so Pandora spent the remainder of the meal concentrating on the focal conversation. The chicly under-dressed attorney across from her and the editor with long sideburns and sophisticated convictions on her right shadowed the other six dinner guests. Pandora felt the way she always felt: she wished she were one of them, the gleaming half of a perfect couple instead of another aging single woman sitting dully alone beside James.

After coffee cups were drained and the bill neatly divided into eight, the diners exchanged digits, email addresses and cards. Only James asked for Pandora’s information. With a wavering smile, she provided it. One week later she did not refuse when he called to ask her out. After that uninspiring evening, she even agreed to a second date. Although she doubted they’d ever have chemistry, the one thing Pandora did know was that she was lonely and tired of the revolving door of first dates. Maybe James did not inspire love-at-first-sight (or even second sight). Maybe she would have to try really hard with him. But maybe perseverance could awaken … something?

The afternoon before their fifth date, a man flirted with her in the grocery story and Pandora had decided anyway that she absolutely had to stop seeing James, there just wasn’t anything there. That night he arrived later than usual, saying a friend had called just as he was leaving his office. Glancing up at him as she led the way out of her apartment, she saw the signs of exhaustion in his face and felt a pang of compassion. Later, after a movie neither enjoyed, they finally had the conversation she’d been waiting for, the inevitable, Why are you still single discussion. After telling her own story, she ordered another glass of wine then sat back and heard what at first sounded unbelievable to her ears; his story was nearly identical to her own.

He, too, had been involved, engaged actually for years to a woman who in the end didn’t want to marry him. Following that were many months of patient waiting during which he went about his life assuming he’d just meet someone naturally. Being an only child, he explained, he very much wanted to have a family of his own, a family to make his parents proud. (Pandora leaned imperceptibly toward him, a rapt expression on her face.)

“Unfortunately, you can’t do that alone,” he said, his wet eyes glittering somewhat oddly.

Meanwhile, he was trying to establish a practice, which required long hours at work, leaving him little time to date. Having created enough security in his work life, he began to get out there again and meet people but he’d found no one who even remotely seemed right.

“No one.” James repeated. “Until you.”

Just then, a waitress passed their table, her honeysuckle perfume wafting through the air.
Sniffing the familiar Vermont scent, Pandora smiled unconsciously and seeing her face, James reached forward and for the first time grasped her smaller hand in his own.

Within six months he had bent his knee and proposed. Although she felt embarrassed by his gesture—years later the only thing she would clearly remember about it would be the crumbs on her carpet beside his knee—she could not fail to understand how providential the whole thing was. After all, James was more than a decent guy. Her friends downright envied her.

He appeared to be the traditional package in terms of his demeanor, politics and conversational style — he wore his straight brown hair trimmed short, voted for conservative Democrats, and rarely discussed the less savory aspects of the medicine he practiced in his mid-town dermatology office. He loved to show Pandora small signs of appreciation: flowers from the deli on Fridays and a chocolate bar... whenever. On the home front, James told her that, once they married, of course, Pandora would someday care for the children but it didn’t matter to him whether she worked or not in the meantime… just so long as she entertained his parents during their brief unannounced visits. On top of this generosity, he promised to set up a joint account and replenish it with a limited but steady allowance.

Needle in a haystack? Pandora had found the one man willing to give her what, over time, she had learned to value most — a life similar to her mother’s. And so, on that May day when Pandora stood beside her black-suited husband on an altar redolent with the scent of lilac and honeysuckle, wild tears coursed down her unveiled face.


Before applying a second coat of nail polish, Pandora’s mind wanders from memories of her wedding day to the endless discussion she plays out whenever she’s not sufficiently occupied: What, exactly, is wrong? Absent-mindedly she waves her hand through the still air as she desperately attempts to select the word for the trait her marriage lacks. She shakes her head. Her cheeks briefly puff as she blows on her wet nails. I know this much: I don’t love James as much as I should. Does she love him as much as the boyfriend she dated for six years? She shudders slightly, unknowing yet still somehow aware that horrors will fly out if she dares open that particular box. She sighs, stands, paces the living room of the home she shares with James. The toxic scent of her polish remains in the air as she waves her fingernails dry. Eventually, her vacant stare settles on the highest shelf of the bookcase as if there is the spot she might hide her heavy emotional box. Up, up, way beyond reach.

Having journeyed through courtship and arrived at marriage, having been married now for close to a year, Pandora more thoroughly understands the complexity of a union between a man and a woman than she ever had during her single years. So her mind naturally turns to an examination of her relationship with James as well as the relationship she once shared with her former boyfriend. I will never love James as fiercely as I loved…. Abruptly, she sits, sighs audibly. Making a noise not unlike the rattling of a cage, Pandora shakes the bottle of nail polish, then twists it open, unleashing another invisible cloud of foul scent into the air.

Objectively, James is not less appealing than her former boyfriend. But she always notices ridiculous details like the hair on his fingers or the way he purses his lips like a woman as he forms an argument before speaking. Once again, she begins the small fine strokes along the nails of her left hand. More than that, she never feels the masculine gravity of him. She never hears the sound of his call, feels the need for response.

Pandora shifts the nail polish bottle between hands, while her mind insistently arranges the facts for an opposing argument in the same manner she positions her various knives in the kitchen drawer. I am exhausted and getting old and I’ve wanted a child for so long! (What about that? some inner voice cries.) James is a good provider and always decent to her and… and he married her! He’ll be there for her if she gets pregnant and has a baby. End of story! Oh, to be a mother to a child, a beautiful child. She’ll be able to fulfill that dream with James, won’t she? A dark fog passes through her mind, icy fingers touch her heart; she’s left feeling weighted, swimming under murky water with no knowledge of the sky. Stealthily, Pandora clamps the big box shut, sits on it and opens instead a less significant emotional compartment.

With her former boyfriend, hadn’t she come to resent his way with her? Oh, she had loved him, admired him when she met him. That first night he’d held her hand as he told her his dreams of rising to the rank of executive management at the software company where he worked. His hazel eyes shone warm and bright, and glancing around the nearly empty nighttime park where they sat touching on a bench, she suddenly felt as if she were home in Vermont. He had a different style of intelligence than her own; his mind was penetrating and overwhelmingly painstaking. Not that she herself didn’t have a small genius for details, it was just that his thorough-goingness was far beyond that of her own or anyone she’d ever met. More than his mind, she admired his maturity in matters of career. After her few experiences with college boys, she understood him to be a real man.

Except in the way he approached her sexually. First he’d been somewhat quick with her, which she chose to interpret (also somewhat quickly) as love. Poor boy needs me, she would croon silently in her mind as each night, after exhausting himself, he’d lay with his head between her breasts. And although she remained unsatisfied, although she wanted him to take care her own more complicated, more uncertain needs, she felt her heart go out to him as if he were a small boy. “Rub my neck,” he’d say lifting his face to hers like a boy. So she’d rub his neck, forget herself. Afterwards, while he slept, she would roll him onto his back and soundlessly satisfy herself, wondering why she never dared share this with him?

Years later, her husband James promptly proved himself to be a completely different story. Although they only rarely had sex before marriage, he made an effort to please her. Eyes steadfastly closed, he worked till she felt the small thrill of pleasure. Grateful that first time, she gushed her thanks but he quickly shushed her.

Eventually, she felt less effusive and gradually felt a little taken aback by his ways —there was something strangely cold about his silence and firm, almost rough, touch. She couldn’t deny the great relief of being pleased but it didn’t feel like intimacy. It didn’t feel like love. During the first month of marriage, things changed; he began to favor a different position. Even more, he began to place her hands so that she could help herself whenever they made love. Embarrassed the first time, he placed his fingers against her mouth when she began to speak. Soon she learned how to expertly satisfy his desire as well as her own while her eyes, mimicking his, remained closed.

More or less. Usually, Pandora ever-so-cleverly glances back at his face through half-closed eyes. She has learned that a spasm in her husband's upper lip reveals his nearness to satisfaction. She's come to rely on it, and to watch as it shifts into a pucker. At this sign, she herself becomes mildly excited (or at least relieved) knowing that he will soon be finished with her. And whenever she drifts back into the world by herself, when she goes shopping, say, or to the cleaners, she finds herself noticing the upper lips of unknown men, wondering if their faces resolve into a similar expression when completing the act.

“That's your fetish?” Her therapist’s downward-turned mouth suddenly lifts.

Pandora’s eyebrows rise. “Fetish? I wouldn't say fetish...”

“If that's what gets you thinking about sex, it's a fetish. Think of the word as a technical term.”

“A technical term?” Pandora says, laughing.

The therapist resists rolling her eyes and looks down at the pad on which she's written three possible names for the baby she is carrying. “There’s nothing wrong with liking sex,” she says in the voice Pandora hates most.

“I don't exactly see myself that way. As a woman who likes sex,” Pandora states uncertainly, tasting the truth of each word.

“Maybe you should start seeing yourself that way.” Now the therapist's voice sounds both authoritarian and pleading. Pandora nods vaguely and looks away from the other woman's eyes. What does she know? Pandora’s gaze wanders towards the clock on the end table as she politely changes the subject. Her well-paid therapist doesn’t challenge her.

Driving home, Pandora decides that if she is not a great wife on the sexual level, at least she is good enough. At a stop sign, her eyes rest for a moment on the potted geraniums decorating a front porch. Her husband is not what she would describe as demanding. He leaves her be, for the most part, he usually attends a full schedule of ADA events and meetings and protests overwork most weeknights. Generally he approaches her on Saturday nights only — and this is after they'd enjoyed a relaxing dinner with the usual glass of wine, followed by an extra glass of bourbon just for him. In this non-demanding milieu she has learned sexual satisfaction even if the overall style of what happens leaves her feeling a little put off, a little isolated. Still, maybe her therapist has a point; maybe this is Pandora’s own way of “liking sex.”

Do her feelings of distaste really matter?

Pressing the gas, she considers the fact that she has risen above what she once saw as her fate. Renewed, Pandora refashions her mental self-portrait with the colors of choice… and price. Only a weak woman— the emotional type, like her friend Megan— would be unable to endure the small penance of an imperfect marriage in order to gain a better life for herself and her future children. “Why don’t more women bargain for security first when marrying?” she says aloud as she pulls into James’ (her?) driveway.

Pandora swiftly emerges from her car, locks the door behind her, and leisurely walks into her solid house which straddles the border between Queens and Long Island. The largest trees are beginning to show buds. Not even a year has passed since her wedding. The March days were unusually mild and so the shift to April's sunny spring passes imperceptibly. Yet this lack of seasonal temper disturbs Pandora’s psyche. Something inside that has been taut for too long suddenly loosens. Although she continues to maintain the high gloss of her appearance, one can detect something weakening within Pandora’s core; she's begun to take long naps each afternoon simply because she can’t think of anything else to do. This unfamiliar languor shows in her face the same way a taste for fried foods, say, or an unusual sexual indulgence might show on someone else's. Her eyes no longer gleam as brightly as in the days before her marriage; and the skin around them swells just enough to make her once poignant eyes look small.


On a damp evening just before her husband arrives home from work, Pandora brushes her fair hair. She watches herself in a mirror, notices the way her pretty pink and white face rises like a bouquet of pansies from the collar of her lawn green blouse. She went to the gym that afternoon and feels strong, stronger than she has for some time. Last night after supper they talked (just talked) about the fact that she was still not pregnant. As she dabs cologne behind each ear, she looks into her momentarily unsteady eyes. We will simply have to try harder.

It is no coincidence that on Sundays—the day following her usual night of sex—Pandora makes a point of calling Megan, one of her remaining single friends in the city. Usually, as Pandora silently sweeps lingering nighttime memories from her thoughts, she will sympathize with Megan who still deals with the all-too-familiar single problem: the near-impossibility of meeting an attractive, uninvolved man in one of the biggest cities in the world.

“And everyone who doesn’t live here thinks this must be the easiest place to meet guys.” Megan will sigh. “God, I hope you appreciate James.”

Commiserating with her friend, Pandora will silently formulate the reasons why she (and not Megan) has managed to escape a spinster’s fate. Even though Megan is pretty— she is blonder and more petite than Pandora— her voice has an acerbic edge, which betrays her exacting nature. Guessing that, probably, Megan will never inspire a man into marital action, Pandora sighs and murmurs her understanding words while straightening the upholstery on her exciting new couch.

Now, the hand that holds her blush brush pauses halfway to Pandora’s face. She will definitely have to stop napping in the afternoons if she wants the puffiness in her face to go away. Once I have a baby all my free time will disappear. Smiling, Pandora daydreams that she is holding a small child. It will be worth it, worth all the sacrifices I've made. With this thought, her eyes narrow as if trying to focus on some distant, unseen pain. “Sacrifice,” she repeats aloud, a new habit now that she spends more of her time alone.

Pandora stares blindly in front of her as her thoughts settle on the idea of trying harder to have a baby. She’s tried to bring up her dissatisfaction to James in the past. She’s tried but has always felt like a fool for doing it. The last time it happened James face assumed a pained expression almost immediately after she began speaking and listening, he gently balanced his fork along the edge of his plate. (Seeing this, Pandora nearly shrieked but somehow maintained her impassive demeanor.) Finally, her unhappy words petered out and, after a pause, he spoke. “You don’t think I treat you well?”

“No, of course you do. It’s just…”

“Darling, I’ll try harder.”

Pandora winced, apologized. Later, in bed, she was even more compliant. Now, she rouses herself, finishes her makeup then stands and looks out the bedroom window at Mrs. DeMita next door — a widow whose only child, a daughter, recently married and left for a life in Saskatchewan. Pandora watches her neighbor kneel and spiritlessly pull weeds, one by one, from her garden. His smile didn’t reach his eyes… when he said he’d try harder, his smile was… hateful really.

Minutes later, James walks into the living room carrying a small box, one that unmistakably contains jewelry. Pandora laughs and straightens herself on the couch. The magazine slips from her hands and she bends to retrieve it. Oddly, she has an immediate sense of foreboding — the muscles around her stomach clench all at once — and so she tries not to appear too hurried in opening James’ gift. Self-consciously, she pauses in the middle of loosening the bow to say, “How sweet of you!” Then, she quickly brushes her lips along her husband's cheek. Finally, she reminds herself to act gracious even if it doesn’t contain the gold earrings she'd recently pointed out to him.

The extra glass of wine she'd drunk at lunch causes her hands to tremble slightly when she lifts the lid, uncovering a thick gold chain necklace attached to a large, half bronze, and half silver coin. Some kind of ancient… coin? Pandora shows her strength — the only sign of her disappointment is a sag in the line of her shoulders. She places it around her neck and watches as it dangles just below her breasts. Mainly, she feels bewildered; so large and gaudy, it isn’t even his taste. Why something so ugly?

“Thank you,” she repeats. Where did he get this? She thinks as she takes her place at the dinner table. She will need to exchange it for something she actually likes, later claiming she lost it. Tasting the fish, she says, “I think I should have broiled it for one minute less.”

“Yes,” James says, “But it’s still very good.”

Cunningly, she’ll even pretend for a while it’s her favorite piece of jewelry.

“I had three new patients today, referrals.”

“Good for you!”

Since her wedding, Pandora has learned her passive ways—unrewarded at her job—are viable tools for getting what she wants with her husband. She has honed three skills in particular: silence, hinting and waiting. As she spoons up a helping of green beans for James, she asks, “Where did you buy this… coin?”

“I thought you'd like something you could wear everyday. Similar to a wedding band,” her husband says as he lifts one of her floral linen napkins to the tight line of his lip.

She laughs appreciatively then places her fork beside her dinner plate. While he continues to eat, she stares for a moment at the wall beyond him. He hasn’t answered my question, has he? Behind his head, the wallpaper has faded from direct sunlight. (She will have to remind Zondra to leave the curtains closed after she cleans.) Pandora sighs and touches the chain of her new necklace, a weight almost as heavy as lost hope. Oh, it is nothing but a whim she supposes, a strange whim she will simply have to endure. She moves her hand to the clasp at the back of her neck. How long till the glamour of it wears off for him? How long till she can casually remark as they get ready for bed, “I must have lost it while I was at the mall. I don't know how — the clasp worked perfectly!” This too will pass. She finishes her wine, warm in the glass and overly sweet, and smiles throughout the rest of dinner.

Unexpectedly, her husband reaches for her in bed that night. Some small resistant sound escapes her lips but he doesn’t appear to notice. He ignores her mouth, concentrating his kisses on the new gold chain instead; roughly, he lifts her nightgown. Beside the surprise of his desire, his touch is different this time — more forceful. Even urgent. She feels mingled shock and disgust; she watches his mouth twist with passion as his kisses follow the long chain along her chest to the coin twisting around her left breast. He takes it in his mouth as he turns her and enters her. When he finally begins to pulse, she twists her head and sees how his mouth becomes suddenly slack and the bronze and silver coin, wet with his spittle, falls from between his lips.

He makes love to her again on Saturday night and once again, he reaches for her on Sunday morning. Hours later, she still feels too exhausted to dress … or even to call Megan. While he works in his study, she sits doing nothing, nearly motionless. A cup of soothing Oolong steams before her on the kitchen table. Again, her mind orbits the events of her recent past. When James first came into her life, she knew immediately that he was not perfect. But she had wasted years on a man who never truly loved her and had gone for years after that without meeting anyone interested in her. The night James told her he wanted to marry her, all her bitterness dissipated as swiftly as the taste of sour once it’s followed by something sweet. Implicitly, James promised her a new life — he would make up for all the disappointments of the past.

A sudden vision of the bronze and silver coin falling from her husband's mouth rises to the surface of her mind; bile also comes up. Hastily she swallows hot tea, scalds her lower lip.

The problem with her marriage is sex and if sex is the problem, that has to be her own fault. It’s that simple. No! some inner voice shouts, No! Didn’t she also resent sex with her former boyfriend? By the end of that relationship, he’d taken to whining his requests of her. (Unconsciously, she clenches her right hand into a fist.) Another flash on James’ curling lip, the coin falling, the sensation of his rough grip on her hips. Gingerly, she sips the steaming tea and out of nowhere, she suddenly understands that her former boyfriend expected her, maybe even wanted her to dislike sex. Believing that allowed him to approach her in his little boy way, a selfish way, so that he could avoid treating her as an adult. An adult who enjoys her physicality. An adult who has desires and expectations of her own.

She pulls the necklace from beneath her robe and plays with its chain. My good fortune has not fallen from the sky. Yes, she finally lives in a real place, a house, not just a cramped studio apartment. Yes, she’s finally in a position to have a child. But she is paying for all of it. In the living room the grandfather clock softly chimes the hour. Sighing, she grasps the hard coin in her hand then listlessly leaves the kitchen to go and dress.

As she strips off her clothes, she thinks, it’s not a matter of sex, it’s a matter of feeling. Yet she believes that James will never leave her even though he doesn’t feel what she expects. Examining her figure in the mirror, Pandora senses there’s still something she doesn’t understand, and this something is the lock that keeps her safe, closed tight as a box. More importantly, she knows that she just doesn’t have the strength to leave him now. She’s exhausted with life, and she’s tied to him in very real ways, too; she no longer has a job, or her own home. Besides, there’s still the lure of a child as well as all that is unfinished between them.

An hour later, sitting beside James in the car, Pandora’s normally erect posture appears a little crumpled. They are driving to the house of his college friend in Westchester. David is having an afternoon party. Pandora met David, her husband’s closest friend, a few times before she married and then again at the wedding. Usually, her husband meets him for lunch or for a brief drink after work.

The car jerks as James brakes for the exit ramp. He turns and smiles at her. For a moment, she wonders about him. A new thought occurs to her. Perhaps her physical distaste for him mirrors his feelings for her. I’ve been assuming he likes having sex with me, but isn’t his prowess fueled by an extra glass of bourbon? They pull into a gravel driveway and slowly roll towards a picturesque gray house with pale green shutters.

“It’s lovely!” James pronounces as he parks their stolid Volvo behind a forest green Jaguar. “Just perfect, don’t you think?” Before she can answer, he eagerly steps out onto the drive.

He walks quickly in front of her. An impressive maid answers the bell and placidly leads them through immaculate rooms to a patio in the back. Pandora turns to tell her husband that they have arrived too early; very few people stand clustered around the bar. She says nothing, though, when she sees the sudden glimmer in her husband's eyes as his gaze lands on David, who stands at the center of the party. Completely unaware of her, James walks over to the other man. Watching the men speak from a short distance, Pandora notices that her husband seems subtly different. Vital.

Just last week, David had been in her husband's office when she called and he'd said hello to her over the speaker phone. Now, the mellifluous sound of his voice recurs to her as a mental echo. Pandora moves toward the two men, old friends, her steps as deliberate as those of an actress trapped in a cinematic slow motion sequence. Her face forms a perfect mask of curiosity and a sound like the ocean blots out everything but the moment when her husband calls her name then says, “You remember David?” This other man reaches for her hand and Pandora automatically extends her own. Magnetically, her eye is drawn down from his gaze, pausing only briefly on his upper lip, which curls with … disdain?

Down her eye travels, down, until her gaze is snagged on the golden strands of a chain necklace and what hangs beneath the semi-transparent fabric of David’s shirt—a large bronze and silver coin identical to her own.

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