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Authors: Francine Pascal

Naked

This poor man. Gaia almost smiled again. He was still living under the delusion that he had control over his life—control over Gaia, control over this other woman. He still believed that he could force his will upon the world. Another hopeless sap,
a sagging mountain of testosterone gone awry.
Was the old cliché really true, that men were really all the same? Certainly the men in her life didn't rate much higher than Pudgy Jogging Suit here. Sure, they weren't brutal rapists. But they had other faults going for them. Unreliability. Dishonesty. Cruelty.

Kicking this guy's ass would be a pleasure. A way to take revenge upon all the slimeballs who made the world a more foul place, her father included. Yes, maybe this was her purpose in life: to teach the men of the world a lesson—that they were all swine, each in their own unique fashion.

Gaia's eyes flashed to the guy's victim. She was frozen, eyes wide, uncomprehending.

He took a step forward. “Come and get some, sweetheart,” he whispered.

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NAKED

FRANCINE PASCAL

To Michael & Ada Rubin

This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are either products of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events or locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

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Original
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Copyright © 2001 by Francine Pascal

All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce this book or portions thereof in any form whatsoever.

For information address 17th Street Productions, 33 West 17th Street, New York, NY 10011, or Pocket Books, 1230 Avenue of the Americas, New York, NY 10020.

ISBN: 0-7434-2263-5
eISBN-13: 978-0-7434-2263-5

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GAIA

A
funny thing happened to me the other day. (Was it yesterday?) I woke up, showered, scarfed down two bowls of Froot Loops, and went to school. For some reason, though, the doors were locked and the building was empty.

And then I remembered. It was Saturday.

Ha ha ha. Hysterical, right?

Guess you had to be there.

I can't seem to keep track of time anymore. For example, I know my father left a few days ago. I'm just not sure how many days it was. Four? Five? Six? Not that it matters. He'll probably be gone for another five years, or ten, or forever. And I suspect that if I had some adult supervision—if I weren't just living in solitude in a big, two-bedroom sublet on Mercer Street—I probably would have a better idea of where I should be, or where I'd been, and when.

But I don't. Have any adult supervision, that is.

Yes, that's right. For the first time in my life, I am completely responsible for myself. What freedom. I am free to stuff my face full of doughnuts at any time. I am free to watch mindless TV for hours on end. I am free to cry whenever I want. In fact, crying is the activity that seems to take up most of my time. It's a little odd, seeing as I can probably count on one hand the number of times I cried in the last five years. Unfortunately, it also makes me feel like a loser: pathetic, lame, and weak. And ironically, when I experience these emotions, I just want to cry some more.

So that's precisely what I do.

No wonder I've always fantasized about living on my own. It's nonstop fun!

George Niven wants me to move back in with him, back into the brownstone on Perry Street. He checks up on me every single night. Of course, I'd rather
spend an eternity in hell than move back into that house, but I keep that to myself. I just make up excuses about how I'm too busy to pack, et cetera. (That's another disturbing trend I've noticed: I've started to tell little lies all the time.) I feel too sorry for him to tell him the truth. I empathize with him. I know what he's going through. He's all alone.

It's all very humorous on some level. I mean, I can be calm in a hostage situation. Put me up against some knife-wielding skinheads, and I'll be cool as a proverbial cucumber. But day to day. . . trying to fall asleep in this apartment, trying to walk to Gray's Papaya, trying to make it through a single class at school. . . I never know what I'm going to get. Tears? Rage? The sudden and desperate need to leave the room? Anything's possible.

And if I could feel fear, I would be afraid—mostly of myself.
Because I've entered unchartered territory. I used to be completely in control. Well, not always, but I was usually in control enough to maintain a smooth, icy veneer as far as the outside world was concerned. But now I'm living this precarious existence where I'm one step away from losing my shit at all times.

What I wouldn't give for the days when I used to feel nothing—back when I had all my emotions folded up and packed away in a nice big steel trunk in my head. Back when I could go through
months
without crying. Hell, there were probably two years there where I didn't feel much of anything at all. Those were the days.

But now, thanks to the many men in my life (my father, Sam, my uncle Oliver, Ed), I have no control over my feelings anymore. These men tricked me. That's what it basically comes down to. They snuck up on me, tempted me with
happiness (as if such a thing actually exists), and then collectively broke my heart. They abandoned me. Not just once, either. My father abandoned me
twice.
It's as if they all took a secret meeting at some big hunting lodge—you know, the ones with the red walls and those huge antlers and disgusting mounted deer heads—and conspired to screw with my head: to pick the lock on my steel trunk, to drag out every single emotion I've ever had and hang it on display for the general public.

But enough about them.

Have you ever tried a doughnut shake? Neither had I until the other day. (Or was that earlier today?) Anyway, I was standing at my disgusting kitchen counter with a box of one dozen assorted Krispy Kreme doughnuts in one hand and a half gallon of milk in the other. Lunch. (Or was it dinner?) And then I saw the blender.

Three seconds later I was
stuffing doughnuts down into the large Pyrex blender cup—cinnamon, jelly, chocolate glazed, Boston cream, powdered—as many as I could. Then I poured in as much milk as I could, secured the rubber lid, and slammed down every button on that blender—mix, chop, puree,
congeal,
whatever. . . . I watched as all those doughnuts turned into a thick and lumpy vomit-colored sludge, and then I hurled off the lid, lifted the entire concoction to my mouth, and took a “sip.”

Needless to say, it was the most horrifying dose of concentrated sugar I'd ever tasted. But as I spat the sludge out into the sink full of dishes. . . I realized. . .

That doughnut shake was a perfect metaphor for what is clearly the true chaos of human existence. I'm sure you see what I mean.

It's like that book we've been reading in MacGregor's English
class. Camus's
The Stranger.
Everything Camus wrote is dead-on. There's no
order
to anything. There's no
reason
for anything. It's all just one long list of absurd events with no payoff whatsoever. Feel what you want; it doesn't matter. Do what you want; it doesn't matter.

I can't believe how much time I've wasted thinking my life was leading somewhere in particular, thinking there was some kind of master plan for me—as if there was ever a “right” or a “wrong” thing for me to do. There's no meaning to any of it. We're all just a bunch of random doughnuts, crammed into this giant blender for no apparent reason, chopped at, spun around, and blended together into a repulsive and utterly meaningless
mud.

So from now on, as far as I'm concerned, the more absurd, the better. I'll just do and feel nothing and everything at the same time, in giant swirls and
spins and stops and starts. No control over a stitch of it. I'll cry and then I'll be numb, and then I'll feel so unbelievably pissed off, I'll want to rip my door off its hinges and break every breakable item in this empty apartment. One hundred percent pure emotional free fall—total chaos in my brain. Thank you all so very much.

Control.
Isn't it ridiculous? People are always trying to take control of themselves or else they're trying to control someone else. They're all so deluded. When are they going to learn? There's simply no such thing as control. None at all.

human garbage
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