Being brave again
A deep, extremely annoyed sigh leaves my worked up body and I feel like punching someone in the face. My skin barely carries clothes. Some panties and a bra. It’s chilly, it’s uncomfortable, it’s degrading.
If I saw myself like this, I’d shake my head in disapproval and start laughing out loud afterward. Mariana Diaz herself is hiding in a closet, in the dark. Oh, the irony! Lauren’s mom, Callie, came home from work early and my girlfriend made me hide in a freaking closet. There are voices coming from the other side of the door. It’s theirs.
I can catch up on the nervous trembling in Lauren’s voice. Luckily, her newly-found mother can’t. I guess all there’s left now, is to wait until the woman disappears again. Lauren was already decent again when the noise downstairs began. My clothes were still spread across the floor. They’re somewhere around here, in this dark place. She kicked them next to me after her hands pushed me in to hide. I feel so special right now.
Lauren and Callie talk about the day that passed. It’s late in the afternoon and Lauren’s had some intensive therapy this morning. She called me in a panic to meet her – and instead of talking about what happened, she jumped right at me and screwed my brains out. Not that I’m complaining, but I was going to talk to her afterward. Because she does this a lot and it’s not healthy. Until her mom coming home early happened … and sitting in a closet is the logical result. Boredom slowly starts to overtake me. Goosebumps decorate my body from the fresh breezes that sneak in from underneath the door when a very interesting subject suddenly pops up. It’s about a boy her mother is very found of. He and Lauren used to be friends when she was little and he’s been visiting the last couple of days. His name is Nicholas, a friend of the family that even moved with them to another state when the family decided to leave everything behind. He’s nice, he’s decent, but he has to stay away from Lauren or I’ll hurt him. Callie would like them to reconnect again, on another level. And though naive Lauren has no idea, I know exactly why.
“Look, you probably don’t like new things. That’s normal. But I’d like you to give this boy a try. You could go on a date, see what it does to you.” Callie suggests.
Nice. Now simply ignoring me and making me feel left out isn’t good enough anymore. She’s actually trying to replace me by handpicking candidates.
A part of me wants to get up on my feet and kick open the door that’s separating me from them. But I decide to give it a second, and listen to whatever it is that Lauren has to say about it. As I said before: I don’t want to risk Lauren’s good bond with her family. Though Callie’s testing me.
“But, Mom … Mariana was new to me. And I liked Mariana right away. But I don’t like this.” my girlfriend calmly states.
A proud smile takes over my face, but there’s no one to show it to.
“Come on, give the guy a chance.” Callie tries a second time. “He’s studying to be a doctor. He’s a smart man. And he’s always supported the family.”
I roll my eyes. Of course: it had to be a doctor. Can’t my competition be some nerdy guy?
“Mom, I don’t like him a lot.” Lauren attempts to explain again.
But I hear her mother sighing rather disappointed. She has high hopes for her little girl. She wants her to have a normal life. That means a man, children, picket fences and a dog. It certainly doesn’t include a lesbian lover who stayed with her during her abducted years.
“Can you please do this for me? Please?” the older woman begs. “Just give it a try. It’s fine if nothing comes out of it. But just try. You’ve never done this before. I feel like it’d be good for you.”
Good for you to leave Mariana instead of sneaking around with her, Callie means. I roll my eyes and growl quietly. I can’t believe this is happening. And I still can’t believe I’m in a freaking closet.
“Only if you’ll let me see Mariana tomorrow.” it suddenly reverberates.
A second proud expression takes over my face. But only a split second later, it hits me: is she actually going to agree to a date? Does she even know the meaning of that word? An aching feeling reaches my heart. I crawl up on my feet and put my ear against the wooden door. Maybe she’s just trying to prove a point.
“What?” her mother asks in wonder.
“You heard me.” her daughter explains. “I want to get out of this house. I need to see her.”
Seconds pass and I have no idea what’s happening. All there’s to experience is sighing and disapproval in the form of noises.
“The two of us can do something fun tomorrow. Together. Forget about that girl, Lauren.” Callie suggests, close to sounding like a plea.
At least she’s calling her Lauren now. But I close my eyes at the rejection. This woman will never like me. I’ll never be good enough for her little girl.
“I can’t.” Lauren’s fragile voice admits, yet very determined. “And I won’t.”
Again, silence. A turmoil of emotions absorb me. I feel sad and happy and loved – all at once. But this isn’t a healthy situation. She’s supposed to adjust to a normal life. This sneaking around and hiding shouldn’t be part of it. I may stay in the closest, but she’s here as well, with her emotions, her secret thoughts. Lauren’s voice resounds again. This time intimate, more emotional.
“You have no idea what we’ve been through, Mom. That house, those years, what John did to me and to … to Mariana especially. You never will, even though you try. I just need to see her. She’s the only one that gets it.”
The way she puts it seems to leave its mark. No argument against that, right?
“If you go out with this guy?”
It’s an ultimatum. Lauren doesn’t understand that life is more than lefts and rights. There’s standing up for yourself. There’s making your own choices. It’s not always what someone else tells you to do.
Somewhere deep inside, I hope she won’t take it. She needs to make it perfectly clear that I’m her first choice. That I’m the one she loves. And I’m sure she will. I’m absolutely sure she won’t allow her mother to drive us apart. A confident smile curls up the sides of my mouth and I put my hand against the wooden surface. And then she opens her mouth.
“Fine.” she sighs.
I blink, probably five times in a row. I can’t actually believe what I just heard.
“So, you’re going out with a guy now?”
My snarky comment catches her avoiding look. She bites her teeth and licks her lower lip. Then she innocently shrugs before answering.
“Mariana … It’s not like that. It’s not going out. I just … I didn’t know what to say.” she unconvincingly explains.
“How about fucking no?”
I’m clearly agitated. No, pissed. She remains on the bed, carefully observing me as I’m getting dressed again. Now I’ll have to climb out of a freaking window as well to avoid that stupid woman. How is this day happening?
God, I can’t believe she agreed to date this loser. I can’t!
I throw my shoe across the room and curse rather loudly. That’s when she begs me to keep my voice down. Her mom might hear. Well, fuck her mom!
I turn around and point my finger accusingly at her, which immediately scares her. I see it in her eyes.
“You think you’re so cute, don’t you? You think you’re so fucking cute and you can get away with anything?”
She doesn’t say a word. All she does is breathe in and out, deep and loud, mouth agape. I suddenly realize how my behavior is scaring us both, so I take a step back and turn away from her. Nothing she can say will make me feel better – and she knows. This is fucked up. This is even borderline close to being funny. But I’m not laughing. The only thing I’m achieving is scaring her, by acting like John’s little miniature.
She feels sorry, I see it in her eyes when I turn around again. God, Lauren. This girl is going to drive me crazy. I sigh, realizing I’m giving in, and put both arms in my waist.
“Well, so do I!” I admit, simply to come across slightly amused and less angry.
Her anxious eyes soften up and she jumps off the bed to come running for me. Her arms wrap around my fragile body and her mouth immediately puts a soft kiss on the skin of my neck, in a way to thank me for my forgiveness.
“Don’t worry. It’s just this one time, I promise.” she whispers in my ear.
I can’t help but feel the shivers running down my spine.
She went on that first date. After that, she went on a second one. Lauren told me this Nicholas guy was not so bad. He had dark hair and an athletic body. He played tennis and he took her to practice one time. I was so surprised she did that, without me. Starting from then, she liked playing tennis, with Nicholas. It felt like I was losing her, even though she promised I was the only one she loved. This Nicholas guy made her feel safe, though. He was a warm person, someone who taught her new things. The painful truth is that he was a great catch. That poor, kidnapped Lauren got treated rather correctly by him. Finally, a male figure that didn’t seem to scare her as much as John. Someone to change her point of view on men. I would’ve been a monster to take that away from her.
Her mother loved him, her father didn’t seem to mind his presence in the house. Her sister didn’t care. Honestly, Leslie seemed to like me. She was the only one.
Nicholas attended the family dinners. He stayed for movie nights when my visits got declined. Before I realized it, Lauren actually started to like him. And I remained the dirty little secret. The person that stood in between. Telling her family the truth about us scared her, especially since she discovered how my Abuela reacted. She wasn’t ready to lose the relatives she just met. And I couldn’t be the one to force her.
It all happened so fast – too fast to let it sink in. And there was nothing I could do about it. I couldn’t deny her from seeing him. She had to discover things like that on her own terms. She had to pick me over him by choice. John had told her what to do for years. I couldn’t do that to her. Even if it hurt me, I needed to make sure she was certain about her feelings.
It’s Thursday afternoon, about a week before we are supposed to leave the safe houses. After another therapy session, I end up in her bathroom. She’s busy brushing her teeth when I ask about one of her recent dates. Lauren doesn’t like to talk about it. She thinks it is awkward. It isn’t, really. It’s simply horrible.
“How was therapy?” she switches subjects, like that’s a better idea.
I smirk: “Same old. Terrible stories, tears, emotions. … Would make a great movie.”
She softly smiles to herself in the mirror. This girl knows exactly what I mean. She spends more time on that sofa than I do.
“He had me talking about that time he nearly kicked me to death in the backyard. I thought I had forgotten about it. About how it felt.” I stop to swallow for a second. “I was wrong.”
My fingers subconsciously stroke the left side of my ribcage. It hurt for weeks after he did that to me. She puts down her toothbrush and flushes her mouth before turning around to stare at me.
“Are you okay?”
I refuse to play the victim. Especially around her. She had ten years of his crap.
“What have you been up to lately?” I change the subject after shrugging, unconvincingly.
She plays along, lets it rest for now and lingers her finger over the sink.
“Nothing much. I have been building up this interest in ecologically responsible ways of using natural resources in order to save the planet.”
Her rambling results in me understanding nothing of it. This girl and her crazy-ass interests. Just last week, it was photography.
“You what now?” is the only logical thing that leaves my mouth.
She pulls me closer to her and kisses the side of my neck. That always gets me.
“Yeah, I’ve read a lot about it on the Internet and in books today and yesterday. It’s really interesting. In fact: next time you plan on taking a shower, you should totally call me.”
To me, that just sounds a bit provocative, but just in case she’s really serious about it, I refrain from giggling.
“Why would I do that?” I ask curiously.
“So I can join you … You know, save water.” she smirks, feeling very pleased about her comment.
Did she just actually make a joke? Her hands slip past my waist in order to hug me suggestively, which makes me chuckle. Her eyes are so enchanting. And her smile – oh, God, her smile is the prettiest. She bends over to me and nibbles the flesh in my neck. It tickles like crazy. This girl drives me crazy. We face each other again a second later, and that’s when I sigh all confused and flabbergasted.
“Where are we going, Lauren?” I ask, desperately aching the answers.
Our future is so unsure. I always thought getting out of the fortress would be our biggest challenge. But here we are, unsure about anything going on at the moment. And next week will be here soon. Too soon.
She doesn’t answer me for a couple of seconds. All she does is stare deeply into my eyes. Then, suddenly, she kisses me intensely and filled with love. I can feel it. I know the taste of love.
“I’m going wherever you are going.” she tells me.
She doesn’t know, simply because I didn’t tell, but I talked about Lauren during my therapy session today. The more time is passing since the day we left the fortress, the more insecure she seems to be feeling. Whenever I’m not around, she calls or texts me – and it is dead cute how much she thinks of me. But I know it isn’t all in the name of love. It’s also fed by fear and anxiety. It’s the feeling of being helpless and scared. The only exception seems to be Nicholas. Urgh.
The first few weeks entering society were a pleasant change. She reunited with her long-lost family, she discovered the world she had only read about in books and was so curious about.
But that was nothing more than a subtle distraction from what was actually happening: she got taken away from her actual life – a life that John forced upon her, but that doesn’t change the fact that it was the only one she knew. She was used to living in a glass house, with imaginary friends and an abusive father figure. And nobody ever asked if she wanted to trade that for something we believe to be normal. For her, that life with John, it was completely normal. And although I immediately figured out what a bastard he was, she didn’t have a clue until I started pointing it out. She thought of him as caring and compassionate, since during rare moments, he really was. He was the only person she knew, so there was nobody to compare him with. And that fortress, it was her home. She took care of it with an admirable passion.
She’ll never admit it to anyone else but me, but she misses it there. She misses the garden we carefully mothered, planting crops and flowers. She misses the room with the bed we slept in for months. She misses John, because even though he was a complete tool to me, he took care of her – like when she burned herself. He stayed with her until she fell asleep that night – I saw it with my own eyes. And she can never tell a living person, because they’ll think she’s gone mad. So I’m here. I’m here, keeping a close eye on her. I’m the only remaining connection to John and the fortress – to that old life she’s lost. And her fingers are grasping on to my presence so tight and intense that they are starting to leave scars on my skin. All simply because she’s afraid to give it up.
I told my therapist how concerned I am about it. I don’t want to be the person she thinks she loves. I want to be the person she wants to love. It isn’t just about her. That’s why I’m allowing her this shit going on with Nicholas. I can’t forbid her to see him. I won’t. But I want to. What if one day, she kisses him? Or he kisses her? What if she’ll like it?
I want me to drive her crazy when I’m around her, not when I’m not around her. I want her to text me whenever she feels like she’s missing me, not because she’s missing her old world. I want her to love me for who I am, not for the time I’ve spend with her.
My therapist asked me what I think all my worrying means. At first, not a single answer to that could be formulated in my mind.
The strange thing is, even though you think you’re talking with a counselor, the truth is you’re actually talking to a counselor. They are always distant and observing. Basically, you pay them a great amount of money to ramble about your feelings and conflicting thoughts. So after a half an hour talking to myself, in the presence of a person holding on to a pen and a green notebook, I realized I’m afraid. I’m afraid that I’m slowly starting to destroy her. Bit by bit. Every answered call and immediate showing up whenever she demands at a time takes me there. Because that’s what I do. Lauren freaks out and she has only one person to talk to. Me. And basically, she’s not processing. She’s not letting go.
My therapist didn’t comment on that. It’s on me to figure out whatever it is that I’m feeling. But sometimes, a girl just needs a helping hand. Because nothing in my mind is rational when it comes to Lauren. My whole heart knows just how much I’m in love with her. It bursts with rainbows and musical miniature hearts. It’s overpowering every reason going on inside my mind.
And truth be told, although I really want to express my concerns about it to Lauren, I’m scared shitless, really.
Because what if I’m right?
God damned, John. Even now you’re dead, you are still capable of destroying everything.