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Frenci Nguyen

Grin and (Don’t) Bear It

content warning: sexual assault


Based on the clues below, designate the best word or phrase for the corresponding blanks to recover what was taken from the soon-to-be high-school sophomore.

  1. This adjective can describe a state of being that is absent of apprehension and anger, tumult and chaos, tension and uncertainty.

  2. This -ing adjective signifies a searing pain accompanied by an acute burning sensation and an exclamation of, “Ow, it hurts.” This pain is often too much to bear.

  3. This season is associated with warmth, sunshine, sweltering heat, beaches, humidity, blue skies, fried seafood, and young, short-lived romance.

  4. Most often an expression of adoration (platonic or otherwise), this three-word phrase substantiates how important, valued, cherished, and special someone is to an individual. In its most toxic utterance, this phrase can morph into a method of emotional manipulation.

  5. This verb signifies a permanent end to all past and present occurrences. Enough. No more. Please ______.

  6. This verb connotes an unwilling yet patient and resilient suffering. It is persisting; it is tolerating; it is withstanding.

  7. This three-letter noun is often considered the highest act of physical intimacy. Associated synonyms: fornication, consummation, intercourse.

  8. This verb indicates a temporary halting. At its strongest, it is a command. But at its weakest, it is a nulled request—a disregarded final plea.

  9. This noun is a physical display of happiness, excitement, enjoyment, amusement, or bashfulness. Flushed cheeks, bright eyes, and bursts of giggles typically compliment this reaction.

  10. This noun is the sound of aged, wooden floorboards underneath someone’s footsteps— of doors swinging open on old hinges—of a coiled, queen-sized mattress rocking on a finicky black bedframe, under the weight of two teenagers.

  11. This noun indicates an individual’s acceptance of, agreement to, permission for, approval of partaking in an action. Like promises, it can be easily broken.

  12. This noun is the point at which any number of possibilities converge: a decision that is up to the individual.


She relaxed and took slow, ___1___ breaths like he comforted her to do—but the unexpected pain overpowered her body. What filled her wasn’t the magical bliss her more experienced friends had bragged about or the happiness of finally joining with her boyfriend. His affirmations of love couldn’t erase the burning, throbbing, ___2___.

That ___3___ evening eleven years ago, while she and her grandmother were driving home from a family barbeque in Galveston, her skin cold and prickly from the residual beach sand stuck to it, he sent her a “Happy one-month anniversary, baby :)” text message amidst a flurry of “___4___”s and heart emojis. She kept her phone at her side, out of her grandmother’s line of sight. Her raised knee obscured the screen’s brightness.

“What do you want to do, baby?” she texted back. “I want to make it special.”


“Ow, ___5___,” she said through gritted teeth. His pace persisted, although now slower.

“I’m barely inside,” he grunted. “You can ___6___ it.”


“It’s not that I only want ___7___,” his first reply read. “I can ___8___ as long as you need, baby. I would never hurt you. But I do want to become closer with you.” She angled her body away from her grandmother and towards the passenger-side window, hiding her ___9___ where the dim interstate lights didn’t reach.

She was curious about what lied beyond him exploring her mouth with his tongue when they made out, beyond him groping and kissing her bare chest. Besides, after already coming that far—after the repeated adrenaline rushes of him secretly stumbling out the back door and dashing across the overgrown backyard to escape undetected through the broken side fence—of course he'd desire deeper intimacy. It was only fair she entrusted her body to him.

“I’m ready,” she texted back. “My grandmother’ll be at work all day on Monday.”


“You feel so good,” he reminded her. She tried to smile but just laid there under him with her arms over her eyes, wincing with each ___10___ of the queen-sized bed. They were past the point of no-return, past the chance for her to revoke ___11___.

So, at least she could take it—at least she could give him pleasure. She was resilient, after all; she just needed to get used to the unrhythmic way he was plunging himself into her.


It used to matter to her whether he would’ve kept his promise, whether he would’ve

listened to her “It hurts” had she rejected him more—had she cried or screamed or shoved him away, tried anything to pry herself from his weight. As if this negotiation of “what-if”s was all it would take to appease years of self-blame for not physically fighting him off the way she was taught to do if anyone forced themselves on her. No one ever taught her what to do if she didn’t say “No” but still begged the person to stop. She was never told that the decision to continue is always up to her.

Because even though she opened her legs for him, he was the one who betrayed that ___12___.

Her choice.


Frenci Nguyen holds an M.F.A. in Creative Writing degree from Miami University (Oxford, OH) where they specialized in creative nonfiction, taught freshman composition, worked as a graduate writing consultant at the Howe Writing Center, placed as runner-up for the 2021 Betty Jane Abrahams Poetry Prize, and won the 2020 Jordan-Goodman Graduate Writing Award in Creative Nonfiction. Frenci has poetry published in The Citron Review and essays published in Bat City Review, Hippocampus, peculiar, and Emerald City.

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