Note to self: just stop. God, why? Sigh. \0/

Characters: The Commander (Fred) and OC Handmaid Xandria

Plot: After June Offred's departure, a new Handmaid whose placeholder name is still Offred, takes her place. The rituals described in the book occur all over again. Like last time, they have nightly visits (but no Nick or a replacement of him), where they play Monopoly instead of Scrabble + the magazine handouts + lotion-giving (she doesn't use butter as a sub). By the time The Commander takes this new Offred out to that snazzy prostitute club, she finds herself feeling something for him. Intimacy is lost and impossible, but they can't just ignore this change…

Scenes: Pre-Ceremony Gathering, Ceremony 1, Night Visit 1, Night Visit 2, Night Visit 3, Ceremony 2, Night Visit 4, At the Club, Night at Hotel, end. [ends with both feeling briefly 'loved']

*This will be in 21st century language*

*Credits to Atwood*

*Commence*

I have been relocated for the first time in seven years. Offred. I repeat in my head my new name. Offred.

This Commander was late as well. Maybe all of them were. Maybe it was a tradition they had. I sat still, as I should, while he reads the biblical tale. Over and over again I have heard it. The maid, the husband, and the infertile wife. A distance away from me, the Wife - Serena Joy, I think, is her name - sobs. I like to think the Wives want change, but I know it's probably far from the truth. It's that way for everyone. Thoughts can be toxic.

I have never been fond of the Ceremony - who has? - but it has to happen. We take our positions. Thankfully, he doesn't have the hair or bad breath problems my former Commander had. I tell myself these little things to keep going in life. Serena Joy holds on tight to my arms, as if she's the one who's being fucked. I know not to complain out loud.

My new room isn't much different from my old one. Braided rug, shatterproof windows, it's I heard there used to be a pillow with the word 'FAITH' on it back when the former Handmaid was here, but it got thrown out. It makes my heart prick a little, even though it's just a pillow. A pillow with a powerful word.

Someone knocks on the door. Cora, the Martha. She's the first person I met who knocks rather than just barges in.

"A letter. From him."

The Commander. But why? I nod and take the envelope.

"Thank you."

She gives me a hint of a smile and leaves. I take the letter out and read it. He wants me to go to his office tomorrow night? Well, no wasn't an option.

It's pitch black, but I take tentative steps. For all I knew, there could be security cameras monitoring me. The door is open.

Inside are shelves lined with books and magazines. I can't help staring at them. It's a haven I'll never get.

He stands in front of the fireless hearth, hands behind his back. When I near him, he turns around.

"Hello."

The old greeting. I give an awkward nod, looking at the carpet.

"I wrote you a letter because I want you to…" He walks over to a table on which a board game box lies. My heart jumps. "...play Monopoly with me."

What a simple request. It's been years since I've heard that word and even more since I last played. He gestures to a chair across from him and gingerly, I sit down.

Monopoly, the game in which every player can hold property. I stare ahead while the Commander sets up the board. Paying fees, being paid fees. A single roll held so much potential.

We play. My fingers quiver as I put down a little house on a slot. Something to call my own, even just for the duration of the game. Nothing in this world really belongs to Handmaids. We are the belongings.

My rush of adrenaline ends at my win. I try not to smile, thinking it would be out of place. This is a trivial victory. However, I'm not prepared for his next words.

"Now I want you to kiss me."

A kiss? I thought he'd had enough of me physically.

I put my lips to his. He smells like cologne, a rich leathery scent. This feels nice, which is why I make myself pull away. The Commander's expression dims a second, but he composes himself.

"Well, see you next Friday night."

A weekly rendezvous.

"Would you like to read a little something?" He takes a magazine off one of the shelves and holds it out in front of my eyes. Bait and catch.

I nod and he gives it to me. A fashion magazine. Knee-length skirts, shirts too short to cover the whole upper body, and sparkly hair accessories. It's a sin just to have it in my hands. It's exciting. I turn the pages, dangerous sentences and pictures dancing in my vision. Among them are glamorous, sexy, independent: three of the banned words. I can barely remember what life was like back then.

We play two rounds of Monopoly this time. He wins the first and I win the second. Each slot I claim represents something I long to have: necklaces, makeup, alcohol, privacy, freedom.

"I have lotion if you want some," he says, opening a drawer in his desk. My eyes widen.

"How do you know I don't have it?"

"The last Handmaid told me." His voice is quieter. I've heard she had broken more than few rules before her mysterious departure. I can't blame her.

The Commander hands me a bottle of lotion. There's nothing special about the quality, but it's still lotion.

"Thank you."

He steps in closer and waits. Time to say good night. I kiss him for a little longer, maybe also a little more sincerely. As I leave, I tell myself not to do that again.

The third time was on a Saturday because Serena Joy stayed home on the Friday. Apparently, she said she had a stomach ache. I worried she would find out about the night visits.

It was all the same, except he had a half-empty glass of scotch in his hand.

"What would you like to do today?"

His face is a little red. This must not be his first drink. The question makes me nervous because there are so many things I'd like to do with him. I shouldn't be thinking this way.

"Play Monopoly and read another magazine maybe," I reply.

"Okay."

The disappointment in his voice has to be imaginary.

As we play, I can't help looking at his drink. Having some myself is out of the question, but the mere sight of it feels almost naughty. This is probably why I lose our first game.

"Well, that wasn't exciting at all." The Commander is getting drunk now. "I don't want another easy win."

"Don't worry. You won't even get another win." Adrenaline flushes through me. For once, I feel like I have power. He gives a playful smile and I don't let myself look at it for too long.

"Let's just play and see, then."

I take the lead, thanks to a few lucky chance cards. He rolls the dice and sighs when he has to pay me a visitor fee for landing on one of my stands. Twenty dollars, hospital fee of thirty dollars, income tax, more visitor fees...It's getting intense. My seventy-five dollars versus his fifty. On his next turn, he winds up in jail. I refuse to bail him out.

"Why didn't you help me?"

"Because I'm winning this time." I sound more boastful than ever. He stands and leaned over the board, gazing straight at me.

"If you don't bail me out on your next opportunity to, I'll…"

"You'll what?"

"Try it and you'll find out."

I roll the dice with less vigor. For a moment I had forgotten he was a Commander. He could get me arrested if he wanted to. I was, after all, a lowly Handmaid.

There's enough recklessness left in me to ignore him when I land on the jail square.

"All right. Your curiosity is quite something."

"More like my competitive spirit."

"I'd say both." He walks nearer and leans in. A blink later, he's kissing me. My heart jumps at the energy he's putting into it. This is a prize, not a punishment. His mouth tastes like scotch and it's delicious. I can't get enough. I want to pull him in closer and undress him right this minute, but he pulls away. We're both breathing hard.

I tell myself to blame everything on the alcohol, that my thoughts were merely the effects of it. It's a lie I need to believe.

The Ceremony is even more dreadful now. I try to keep my face emotionless so Serena Joy wouldn't suspect anything. Looking at the table to my right instead of at the Commander helps a little, but still, something has changed.

I couldn't sleep the last several nights because of that night. Kissing, especially with real passion, is an art lost in Gilead. It isn't needed in sex, in the conceiving of babies. I want another kiss.

My feelings bubble up and I force myself to think about other matters. Looking sideways for a while makes my neck ache, so I tilt my head around to soothe it and glance at the Commander on accident. He presses himself closer on me so our lips only a handful of centimeters apart. I tense and he, realizing his actions, pulls away and returns to his normal position. Maybe if I didn't tense, we would've kissed right then and there. No, not with his Wife there. I'd get reported and live in the Colonies as an Unwoman.

My fear isn't as strong anymore and this worries me.

It's on a Friday again. Instead of standing at the fireless hearth, he's near the door.

"You tried to kiss me during the last Ceremony," I say, not sounding particularly upset.

"Yes. I'm sorry."

"Just keep these actions for the night visits."

His expression seems to brighten. Had I reassured him? I was supposed to have no influence over him at all.

"I have a special plan for tonight," he says. Oh, so that's what cheered him up. Never mind.

"What is it?"

"It wouldn't be fun if I just told you now, but you're going to wear something exotic."

Anything other than my plain red dress and white wings (Atwood term) would do perfectly. Sometimes, I fancy a time when I'll look like I matter.

He returns from the closet, holding an outfit. My eyes widen at how scandalous it is. The chest and forearm areas have opaque black fabric, but the rest is transparent and adorned in tiny black stars. A stripper could wear this.

Still, it's something new.

"I can tell you like it," The Commander says.

"It's...different." I take the outfit from him and turn around. "Don't watch me change."

Did I have to say that? He wouldn't want to see me naked. There's nothing significant between us.

I wonder how much longer I should feed myself these lies.

"As you wish."

Now his back is facing me. I change quickly so the awkwardness would be brief. The material sticks to my skin and stretches along my limbs.

"Okay, I'm done," I say, looking at the floor so I don't see his reaction. A stripper wouldn't be my ideal career if women could still have jobs. This was a different kind of exposed than the Ceremony.

"It suits you," he comments, walking closer to me. His hands rest on my shoulders and my breath catches.

"Don't touch me."

"Why?" His touch moves down my arms, but when he reaches my wrists, he sighs and lets go. "I'll save it for when we get the night started."

My eyes meet his and I nod.

We're in his car. The confidence with which he's driving tells me this isn't the first time he's going to wherever the secret location is. Had he done this with the last Handmaid? I shake off the thought and accompanying wisps of jealousy. I'm not supposed to feel these feelings.

The gateway appears into view. I never thought I'd have the opportunity to see it.

"Get down on the floor of the car," he whispers to me. I hide beneath the seats and try to make myself as small as possible. Hopefully my outfit won't tear.

I hear another man's voice - the gatekeeper - then The Commander's. The exchange is short. We continue forwards and I return to my seat.

"He didn't see me, right?"

"No." He turns and gives me a grin. "We only have a few minutes of driving left until we arrive."

Excitement twists in my stomach.

The bright colors, feathers, and other flashy decorations almost blind me as I walk in. This 'Jezeebel' place was wild. There are crowds of women in 100% stripper outfits and men in suits as far as the eye can see. I'm too surprised to decide where I want to go, so I let the Commander pull me along. He has no problem mingling with people and introduces me to everyone we bump into. I just nod and smile every time. Some pairs of eyes I glanced at were so covered in eyeshadow and other makeup that they looked bruised.

"I'd like it to be just the two of us for a while," I say after the 20th encounter.

"Oh, all right." He must sense the frustration in my voice. We grab a seat on the red plushy two-person sofas and he gestures towards the bar nearby. "Want something to drink?"

For the first time in years, I have access to alcohol. I bite my lip to stop from grinning like a madman. "Yes. A margarita on the rocks for me."

It'd been my typical order back when I frequented bars.

"Great. I'll go order them."

I have my first sip and resist the urge to jump up and down. It's like candy but for adults. Despite knowing it would be a bad idea, I drink over half of my margarita in one shot.

"Enjoying yourself, aren't you?" The Commander asks, raising his glass of scotch to his lips.

"Yes. Alcohol is so thrilling."

I want to laugh, but hold it back for fear of embarrassing myself.

"You know what else is thrilling?"

There's his playfulness already and he was still far from being drunk. He must be in a romantic mood.

"Yes. Kissing," I reply, making eye contact with him. His smile seems brighter than before, but it could be the alcohol messing with my mind.

"Exactly."

He kisses me and I'm made aware of the hundreds of people in this place. Few would notice us, but doing intimate acts in public was never a hobby of mine.

Still, I can't brush off how good he and his scotch taste. It feels perfect, locking lips with a guy who knows what he's doing. Even if it's not allowed.

A trio of voices grow closer, bringing me back into reality.

"Stop," I murmur into his mouth, making no move to break the moment.

"You don't seem to mean it very much."

"I'm trying to." With great effort and reluctance, I pull away. He masks his disappointment by turning to his scotch.

How many people saw us?

He flings open the door and we stumble in. I can't wipe off the probably ridiculous smile plastered on my face since thirty minutes ago. My mind is cloudy. I've never tasted such freedom.

I'm second to take a shower. My last one back in the Commander's house is eight days ago. I glance at my naked body and despite my drunkenness, feel a sense of belonging with it. With the events of late, it's become more than an object to make babies with. I've become more than an object.

Or is that too bold of a statement?

He lies on the bed, wearing blue short-sleeved shirt and long pants. It's strange to see someone high up in society dress so casual. I'm transported in the foggy memories of the past, when most people had equal rights, when rules were not suffocating restrictions, when fertility was not problem, when everyone said hello and goodbye to each other…

"Did you have a nice shower?" The Commander asks, breaking my reverie. I resume my dumb smile.

"Definitely. Being able to shower on your own is refreshing."

He nods, but I can tell he has no idea what I'm referring to. Nobody except the Handmaids know the reality of a Handmaid's life.

"So do you want to call it a day or do something else beforehand?" I ask, crawling into the covers beside him. The alcohol is controlling me and I love it.

"I have enough energy left to do a little something, yes." He shuffles closer and pulls down one of my sleeves.

Oh yes, we're getting somewhere. His lips move onto my neck, then down along my exposed arm. My other sleeve falls. Caresses. My stomach tingles at his touch.

I think about putting my hands on him, but I have to remember he's the one who has control of me, not the other way around.

His eagerness with pulling off my shirt means he's either yearned for this real sex for a long time or his drunkenness has eaten away at his patience. Judging by his heavier breathing, maybe both.

The Commander unclips my bra. His mouth finds my breasts, making me dig my fingernails into the bed. How did I live through the past five years without this sensation? Every move solidifies my hate for the Ceremony.

"Am I doing this right?" he whispers. Even his voice pleases me.

"I'd look bored if you weren't."

He gives me a small smile and resumes his actions.

I don't know how much time has passed, but I don't care. Aside from my underwear, I'm naked. He stops stroking my legs and meets my eye.

"I want you to please me."

Oh, so finally I have permission.

"I was hoping you'd say that."

"You could've just asked."

"Shut up so I can obey you."

It's both a dominant and submissive sentence. How ironic. Pushing away other thoughts, I lean over him and start with his ears.

Our first meeting had been cold and emotionless. I saw him as someone intimidating, someone who could manipulate my life as much as he wanted. This is still true, yet fear is one the last emotions I feel.

His body wouldn't be considered sexy, but in my eyes, it is. I was never one for muscles and abs. He smells of scotch and hotel lotion. What I'm doing would be illegal if he hadn't instructed me to do it. It still feels illegal, though.

I take hold of his zipper and he trembles. In excitement, probably. I love it when my mind roams free like this. For once, I have him in a vulnerable position. Nobody's here to reprimand me. No security cameras will catch me.

The adrenaline is pumping in. Unzip, pull off. Heh, now he's as naked as I am. Fighting back a grin, I let my hands slip lower.

"Stop." His word comes out as a groan. I'm reminded of the kiss on the couches.

"You don't seem to mean it very much," I repeat his words from then, unable to hold back the grin any longer. The Commander abruptly pins me down on the bed, eyebrows furrowed. I'm not as intimidated as I should be, whatever that 'should' meant.

"I'm trying to." The way he says what used to be my sentence gives me shivers. So he's remembering the same moment. While I'm thinking of a response, he kisses me.

I can't breathe. I don't want to, either. This is wild and just so right. My heartbeat grows louder as I pull him in tighter. He moans, making me kiss him even harder.

It's a sound of submission, submission to me. It's so immensely pleasurable to hear.

He tugs off my underwear, then his. The fucking isn't anything unfamiliar, except this time, it's more than that. It's making love.

Being completely naked certainly makes it more natural, but I don't have to put any effort in to enjoy it. His thrusts are hard and passionate, tossing away my every rational thought.

We make eye contact. It's a beautiful freedom to not having to break it if I don't want to. There's no Serena Joy in my way. Both is us can breath as heavily as we want, make all the sounds we want to make…

The Commander groans and comes in me. Unlike his previous restricted ones, it's a groan of pure abandonment, like it's been begging to fly out of him for years. He gets off and lies beside me, panting. We're both covered in sweat. The air sends cold tingles across my body.

"Now I know what real sex feels like."

"It's not over." He slips the fingers of his right hand into me and my eyes widen. My mind whirls back to reality. This is taking the rule-breaking on a whole new level. A woman's orgasm has no part in the conception process.

His strokes feel good, almost too good. I bite my lip and wonder how he knows where my clit is. Few men had such knowledge in the past, let alone in these times. He must've done this several times before.

A few minutes more and I'm pushed over the edge. Oh, goodness, yes.

It leaves me breathless. I lay there, dazed, gazing at him. He's smiling. Something warm wraps around my chest.

"I haven't felt so happy in a long time," he whispers.

"Me neither."

Life is usually predictable for me. I go through the motions every day and keep my emotions in. There's no place for them in this world, whether you're a Handmaid, Commander, or Wife.

Except today.

I snuggle closer to him and he presses his lips against mine. My every muscle relaxes. Seconds later, he breaks the kiss and a bit of disappointment trickles into me. It fades away, however, when he caresses my cheek with his left hand.

It's like we've become lovers. No, the thought's too bold.

The alcohol must've worn off now.

"What's your real name?"

My heart jumps. Did I hear his question right? Maybe I wasn't thinking too boldly after all.

He really sees me as a person.

"Xandria." It comes out a little wobbly. The me five years ago still seems like a previous lifetime, but now, I've taken a step away from Offred.

"It's a nice name."

His own dances on the tip of my tongue. I'm too nervous to say it, though. Not yet.

"Does your Wife call you by your actual name?" I ask, feeling stupid as the words leave my mouth. The answer is obvious.

"These days, she just mutters it. We don't have much in common anymore." He sighs. "Her beliefs coincide...nevermind. It's better if I don't tell you."

I nod in understanding, trying to ignore the sinking feeling. One night doesn't mean he'll start spilling all his secrets. For all I knew, we could wake up tomorrow and act like acquaintances once more.

Even if everything will be back to normal, I'm glad for this taste of intimacy.

Thought after thought makes my eyelids droop more and more. The Commander slips his hand into mine.

"Looks like you're getting tired. I am, too. Good night, Xandria."

I can't hold back a giggle. This is perfect.

"Good night, Fred."

He blinks twice at my usage of his name and grins.

The Ceremony is tomorrow, which is why I'm walking to The Commander's office. He's granted me permission to knock on his door any time on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Fridays.

His eyes don't hold their usual twinkle anymore. At least, not when he looks at me. Every time we make eye contact, I try not to think about our wild night. I'm back in Gilead, I remind myself.

"Hi." His greeting is cold and businesslike. At his indication, I step into his office.

"Hello. I wanted to talk to you about the Ceremony."

He closes the door and sighs. "You don't want to do it, am I right?"

"Yes."

There's a long, tense silence. I'm asking to break a long-standing tradition and rule. Do I really expect one of the rule-makers to let me? One night could only change so much, especially in this kind of society.

But I can't bear it. I can't have Serena Joy find out about anything that's happened between us. If I went through the Ceremony again, I'd leave too many clues.

"I've been pondering about everything these past few days," he says, turning to face him. "This isn't something I want to do, but I think I have to send you away. Tomorrow."

The words strike me like icicle knives, freezing up my entire being. He isn't being serious. It takes a while for my reply to thaw.

"Isn't there some other option? If it comes to that, I'll deal with The Ceremony."

I'll close my eyes during it, distract myself with other thoughts, do anything I can. Just don't throw me to another Commander.

"No. The real problem is my attraction towards you. If I stop it now, there's still hope for it to disappear."

Is this a nightmare? No, it's just reality.

"You're going to report me…"

My arms are quivering. I was too trusting, too naïve. He's a trap I fell into, a trick I fell for.

"I'm sorry."

I don't know how to answer.

Serena Joy passes by me in the hallway. Her lips are pursed and eyebrows set firm, like she's suspicious. Does she know? She says nothing and keeps on walking.

Tears stream down my face. I'm back in my room, sitting on my sofa and hugging my knees. He's going to send me away. The sentence echoes in my mind.

Four nights ago, I told myself one moment of intimacy was enough. I guess when you experience something so powerful, you can't help but want it for a lifetime.

My gaze wanders to the black clock ticking away in a corner. If I destroy it, will tomorrow never arrive?

I have to stop this wishful thinking.

In the evening, there's a knocking on my door. I drag my feet across the floor and answer it.

The Commander.

"What?" There's so much emotion in me that only a bit of it comes out on my face and in my voice.

"I wrote a letter for you."

He drops an envelope at my feet, turns around, and leaves.

I pick it up and open it. The letter's in his slightly messy but still legible handwriting. Three lines in and my throat's already constricting. By the midway point, I have to take a one-minute break. When I get to the end, I'm in tears again. The paper slips from my fingers and lands on the table in front of me. He's written down all his feelings and they mirror mine.

A love letter.

An hour remains before he's going to report me. The Eyes will come soon afterwards and shove me into one of their frigidly formal cars. I'd rather not think about it.

Someone knocks on my door. It's much more of an inconvenience now than during my first days here.

It's him again.

"You know you're not allowed anywhere near my room, right?"

I must look bitter because his eyes widen for a second.

"Yes. It's just that…"

Tick, tock, tick. He doesn't finish his sentence. If he wants to forget about me, why is he here? I cross my arms.

"What do you want?" My question comes out more assertive than ever.

"I want you," he replies, looking straight into my eyes. "Physically and emotionally. For the la-"

I cut him off with my lips. I can't stand to hear the word and its indications of the end. Succumbing to him again, I know, is absolutely stupid. But since I'm leaving today, I might as well do every stupid thing I can.

He backs me up against the wall, as immersed in our kiss as the night at Jezeebel's. His desire hadn't been entirely because of the alcohol.

Neck, shoulder, arms...it's like the first time. His every move is imbued with desperation, an unwillingness to let go.

Or I'm just falling prey to wishful thinking.

Half of my dress is off and already my hair's messy and my cheeks are flushed. His lips caress my collarbone, sending tremors along my veins. I itch to do something.

"Can I touch you?"

"Yes."

His permission is like the key to my jail cell. I grab his jacket and unbutton it from top to bottom at top speed. He slows down a little, as if to let me have some of his dominance.

I want him. I want him more than I think I do. The sounds of our breathing blot out the ticking of the clock. In his embrace, time is an illusion. He's more forbidden than alcohol, which is why he's even more delicious than it.

Serena Joy could be walking down the hall this very minute. The thought is fleeting, lost in my sea of pleasure. I close my eyes as he slides into me. The outside world is like a blurry dream. I could live in this moment forever, holding him and listening to him.

But it ends. I gaze at the floor as I catch my breath, imagining the sleepy and loving eye contact during the night at the hotel.

A new idea pops into my head.

"Fred?"

"Yes?" The Commander wraps his arms around me. Tears tickle my eyes.

"Instead of reporting me, could you drive me to Jezeebel's?"

He pauses for my words to sink in. His eyebrows raise.

"You want to-"

"Yes," I cut him off. "Please."

"...Okay."

Then it's settled. This'll be better than bearing Ceremonies with who knows what kind of Commanders. I used the little power I have. No, he allowed me this power.

I smile, both to myself and to him. To respond, he kisses me with more emotions than just passion. A wetness touches my cheek. He's crying.

Don't cry.

I've arrived at the setting of that perfect night, but the person I had it with is gone. Gone forever.

The swirls of pink, black, red, blue, orange, and green look mocking now. Crowds of chatting couples and groups single me out. Nobody knows me. I lean on a vacant purple sofa, ready to have a breakdown. No, I can't. Any obvious signs and I'll get arrested. The Colonies are worse than this.

Everyone's so well-integrated here. With all the competition, I'm not sure if I'll manage to snag some customers.

I feel so bare and vulnerable in this attire. The mascara, blue eye shadow, foundation, and bright red lipstick don't belong on me either. Not like the first night here.

First things first: find a room to stay in. With my head up, I make my way past people, alcohol stains, and abandoned fluffy hot pink scarves to a desk. My new future is about to start, whether I'd like it or not.

The voices through the door are but a distant world. I toss my baggage onto the white, swirl-patterned blankets of the bed. This will be my home for who knows how long. Possibly forever.

At least the sofa here is softer than the one in the Commander's house. I bite my lip.

The voices from the neighboring room turn into moans. Are they of real or forced pleasure? Detached or intimate? Most likely, it's a paid one-night stand.

Hmm, money. I've forgotten what a coin felt like in the palm of my hand, nor can I imagine the crinkle of a dollar bill. The terms hold no meaning anymore. But here, it's different. They still exist.

I stare at the little dark purple pillow beside me. No 'FAITH', nor any other word, is imprinted in it. Nothing's special about it. There's nothing special about me either.

Staying here is no use. If I want customers, I must go mingle with people.

After two hours of mostly awkward attempts, I get my first customer. With his dark red lipstick and pink bandana, there's no doubt he's a strange one. But, at this point, anyone fairly decent would work.

It's like the Ceremony, except both of us are naked. These little differences amount to something when you're desperate enough. When he's finished, he fishes out a handful of ten-dollar bills. They're coarse to the touch, but they're real. After he's left, I turn one of them over and over in my hand. Its transparent band glimmers when I hold the bill at a certain angle. It takes me thirty minutes to recognize the face on it: our last president. The one whose assassination led to all of this.

Some time later, when I tuck myself into bed for the night, the image of the ten-dollar bill remains in my mind. A relic of the past.

Months have passed. For the ninth day in a row, I see my face on the front page of the newspaper. They're looking for me. I take a deep breath and the nerves slowly disappear, as usual. No use panicking. As long as I slather on the makeup, wear my outfit, and act all chipper, nobody will suspect anything.

My new routine is becoming the norm. Wake up, eat breakfast, chat with guys, fuck a few if I'm lucky, eat lunch, chat and fuck again, eat dinner, chat and fuck a third round, shower, sleep alone. The money I have is in the thousands, but it's not enough to buy the beautiful rainbow shell necklace I saw at the window of a nearby jewelry store. But, if I keep getting customers, I'll get there.

I'll be able to buy something of my own will. The mere thought makes me want to jump around like a child high on sugar. Twenty years ago, buying a vase held no special meaning for me, but now, even if it were a rock, I'd smile for the rest of the day. It makes me someone, not something, because objects cannot own other objects unless its owner instructed it to.

My owner...Commander Fred…

By itself, my fingers close more tightly around the ten-dollar bill I'm holding. I notice and stop before I crinkle it. His name puts a lump in my throat and a tear in my eye. I have to forget him, I have to.

This is my new life. I grab a tissue and carefully wipe the tear off my face. Some blue eyeshadow comes off with it, anyway. I'll have to fix that later. The better my makeup, the more customers I'll get.

I stare at my freshly painted fingernails. Is this really better than the Ceremony and everything? In both cases, I'm not seen as a person. I'm a device, a device of procreation or sexual gratification. In Gilead, at least I'm guaranteed to have someone use me.

Maybe I shouldn't have left him. I could've found a way to deal with the Ceremony without Serena Joy suspecting anything…

The clock strikes eight. Enough of this thinking. It's time to dust myself off and go to that date I stupidly agreed to. Those neon knee-high socks and round, puffy wig should've served as enough reason to say no, but my desperation decided otherwise.

I drag my feet across the hall, frowning at the wet stickiness covering most of my hair. He just had to spill his Bloody Mary on me, didn't he? Idiot.

When I get to my room, I head immediately to the bathroom, push the clothes off my body, and enter the shower. The warm water brings to my face a genuine smile, slowly washing away the thought of my disgusting date. In the span of a little more than one hour, he had downed thirteen cocktails. Not to mention his gulping was as intense as that of someone who hasn't drank any water for weeks. I remember his sticky hands trying to invade my chest and grimace. No way I'm going on any more dates.

Thirty minutes after my shower, I've finished my makeup. I'm slipping into my bathrobe when a knocking reaches my ears. I open the door and forget how to move.

Commander Fred.

"What are you-"

"You know what I want." He walks in, shuts the door, and backs me up against the nearest wall. There's a fire in his eyes, one that makes my heartbeat quicken and my palms sweat.

Questions tingle on my tongue, questions like why hasn't he reported me after seen me in the papers and why he's here, but another completely different one escapes my lips.

"So, this means you have money?"

"Yes. Treat me like one of your customers."

The mere thought of treating him in a cold, aloof manner tightens my throat. I can't, I just can't. Our night swirls back into my mind like an ocean wave crashing into the shore. My fingers curl.

"Can't we have sex like last time?" My plea sounds faded and weak, especially in the presence of the Commander's narrowed eyebrows.

"Do as I say, or I'll report you."

His harsh voice makes me tremble. I give the slightest nod and the next thing I know, I'm lying on my bed with him looming over me. Keeping motionless and looking disinterested is as suffocating as being underwater without the ability to breathe, but I force myself to stay true to his instruction. More than anything, I don't want to become an Unwoman.

I casually take off my bathrobe. On the other hand, he's quickly pulling off his clothes. Whether it's because he's turned on or he wants to get this over with I can't tell. I turn my head to the right and stare at the brown lamp on the nightstand. The Ceremony has found me again. After all the time running away from it…

And if I hadn't complained about it nine months ago, we'd be having real sex now. I clench my teeth to stop tears from forming and try to clear my mind as he fucks me.

His breaths tickle my cheek. As a distraction, I picture in my mind a ten-year-old version of myself in a grassy field with sunshine and a clear sky, holding a purple balloon. My mother stands beside me, holding my free hand and smiling. Heh, the days when she was still alive. Maybe she still is.

The picture fades when I notice the Commander has stopped thrusting. Did he come already? I turn my head to face him and his unsatisfied glare says otherwise. My heart jumps.

"I can't bear this," he mutters. "Treat me like your lover."

I've barely processed his words before he drown me with his kiss.

The warmth is addictive. At last, I feel a sense of belonging. A somebody. I respond with such fervor that I briefly push both of us into sitting positions, but then he pins me back down and moans.

What a beautiful sound. I forget about the makeup smeared all over my face, about my face in the newspapers, about being a prostitute and having been a Handmaid.

Stay here with me. He moves down to my neck and softly bites it. Now I'm moaning. Please stay. My hands caress his hair like the last time had been yesterday. For so many months, my encounters have been performances, following someone else's script. But this is my scene now.

"Touch me," he whispers. Soft, delicious words. Quivering a little, I get on top of him and bury my face into his chest.

We pull away from each other, both panting. I lie there, gazing at the budding smile on his face.

"I can't believe you're here."

"For the past few months, I've been thinking about coming to see you. Today, I decided I couldn't take it any longer."

"Do they know?"

He sighs. "No. Serena Joy's undoubtedly suspicious, though. She can tell I don't want our new Handmaid." He shuffles closer to me. "I understand why you made the decision to pursue this life instead of doing the Ceremony all the time. I hate it, too."

My eyes widen. Should one of the creators of this regime be saying something like this?

"You…"

"You can only admit these things out here, never in Gilead," he continues, looking pensive. "Sometimes it seems like what I believe and what I think I believe are two different worlds."

I rest my eyes on the floral pattern of the blankets. He's made a good point. "Over time, we convince ourselves to follow a certain script so many times it ends up feeling like something we agree with. It's happened twice for me."

"Well said." The Commander kisses me again, smiling as he does it. I want to stay like this forever. A warming sensation bubbles in my chest.

"I…" The words stop. Is this even appropriate? After all, he does have a Wife. The warmth grows, urging me to speak. "I love you."

He's silent for a moment, his eyebrows raised. My heartbeat can't get any faster.

"I love you too."

I can't helping breaking into a wide grin. We're lovers...at least, we could be lovers.

"So, can you stay here with me tonight?"

"Yes," he replies. A flash of worry crosses his face and my mind stops spinning with romantic thoughts. This kind of relationship is forbidden. Just because we both care about each other doesn't mean the rest of society will let it slide. Fred's not the whole government.

"Well, good night." I slide under the covers. They feel softer and more welcoming than usual.

"Good night, Xandria. We can be together, I'm sure we can." He wraps his arms around me and I know he means it. Love, heheh, someone loves me. The thought makes my fear fade away.

"I hope so."