They watched her and the way their eyes slid over her body was like a physical touch. She wanted to revel in it, believe it was because she was beautiful, or at least feminine. But it wasn’t true.

She wondered what it would be like if one of them touched her. Not just with his eyes, but his hands; palms and fingertips slipping and sliding over her arms and hands, against her neck and over her clavicle, sliding lower… What about brushing across her stomach, her waist, a thigh? She would then stop herself, flush, and busy her hands with something meaningful.

Sometimes the pressure built to a staggering crescendo as she lay in the darkness, in the bunk beneath her sleeping sister and across the room from her sleeping brothers. The silence was deafening, broken only by the snores and mumbles of others. She could hear her father’s even breathing in the next room, once and awhile punctuated by a sudden snort. The clamor within quickly drowned them out. Her fingers would find that sweet spot between her legs, and it was always slippery and hot. Only a bit of pressure, circles, this way then that, and her body would shudder. The crescendo would fade, drain away, leaving her limbs heavy, her body content, and her mind working to shut out the shame.

But when she did that, she saw them looking. Watching. And heard Mama say with disdain as they passed by, “Dirty old men. Just ignore them, dear. They’ve evil on their minds.”

When the time came that she found herself an adult alone, and feeling eyes slide over her body, she wanted to revel in it. Mama was no longer there to tell her it wasn’t her they were watching; only their own filthy fantasies. And when he approached her, looked into her eyes and smiled, she returned it. When he offered his hand and his name, she did the same. When he told her she was beautiful over the meal he bought her, her mouth said thank you, but her mind grew suspicious of his motivations. He only wanted to own her. Beauty did not enter in.

When he asked her after a number of dates if he could kiss her, she said yes. He told her again that she was beautiful and asked if she believed him. She attempted to lie, but he caught her chin between his thumb and forefinger and made her look at him. She couldn’t lie looking into his brown eyes.

He smiled softly, and kissed her. And when he did, his hands swept her skin and their bodies melded and she felt him. Him. Firm and growing against her hip, and the crescendo rose again.

When he whispered into her ear with his need pressed against her, Now do you believe you are beautiful to me? she believed him. She invited him in.

The Beast was loosed. And it was not him.

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