It’s seven P.M. when the doorbell rings some sound into the house. It can’t be my parents. They left for a dinner date an hour ago, and I saw my mother sticking the keys in the left side pocket of my dad’s coat. I’m very attentive like that. Something I’ve learned during my stay at the fortress. Nothing escapes my eye, an old survival trick I can’t shake off.
I told them I’d be okay for a few hours on my own. It wouldn’t be the first time, yet they act like it is, every time they leave me behind. The truth is I enjoy the silence once in a while. It drove me insane in the basement of the house I was being kept in by John, but here … I can smell my mother’s baking, my fresh clothes, my father’s liquor on the cabinet. It’s peaceful.
The door cam quickly reveals my visitor. It’s Lauren, looking distracted and confused. Her hair’s all messy and panic is flaring from her eyes. Ten seconds later, she’s in front of me, shivering like it’s been freezing like crazy. Except it’s not. It’s warm and pleasant. Spring has arrived, I can taste it in the air.
“What happened?” I ask, naturally concerned.
This is a panic attack. I recognize it immediately. She’s had a few of those. Mostly, they pass after a few minutes. She calls or texts me and I run over to talk to her. It has a comforting effect, even though half the time I’m not even sure what it’s about.
“Next week is here tomorrow.” she tells me, completely out of breath.
It’s a riddle, but the meaning isn’t lost to me. We’re moving out of the safe houses. It came so much faster than expected. So yes, ‘next week’ will arrive tomorrow. Her parents want her to come with them, back to the new place they are living. It makes sense, when you think about it. Except what about us? My girl doesn’t know what to do. I’ll be here, with my family. I don’t want to be apart from them again. Lauren’s afraid to leave me. And I’m scared as well. We’re both trapped.
There’s not even a chance to respond, because she throws herself at me, kissing me rather aggressively on the mouth. I try to push her back, but she insists on holding on to me tightly. Her fingernails are hurting my skin. She’s panicking – and this is her attempt to hold on to her present life. She pushes me up against the wall and that’s when her touch softens.
“I told my mom I went to the gym. So I better lose a lot of calories the next hour.” she whispers in my mouth.
Even though I shouldn’t, the vibration of her words turns me on massively. She takes my hands and leads me to my bedroom, where she leaves me standing at the right side of the bed. With my back against her body, my mind surprisingly takes over again. Whatever we’re doing isn’t healthy. Sex won’t solve whatever’s going on right now. But I feel her fingers lingering over my skin. And her lips touch my shoulder from behind.
“Don’t …” I whisper, but she simply doesn’t listen.
She kisses me again, moving up my neck this time and I close my eyes as a sensational feeling starts pounding somewhere in my stomach. No way in hell I can resist this.
I let her do whatever it is she wants to me. After a few more soft and teasing licks on my skin, she starts to undress me. Her eyes study the shape of my body in wonder. Her movements are so slow and careful that I feel like a living masterpiece for a while. Then, we make love. Sweet and passionate love. She plays my body like a professional.
After we’re done, she makes me drop my head on my pillow like an exhausted piece of flesh and a collection of faint muscles. But the panic seems to still be there. Just as I’m about to get up on my recovered feet to get us both some water, she straddles me again and starts kissing me immediately. I don’t exactly understand what’s going on, but it somehow reminds me of that first time ever, at John’s. That first time she crawled on top of me and we slept together. It’s just as desirable, just as intense. Just as innocent and desperate. I push her back, but she’s refusing to let go of me.
“Just let me.” she begs with a shaking voice.
I worryingly frown and stare at her scared face. It’s lit up by arousal, by confusion and the determination to make this thing happening.
The pace of our natural routines in bed changes and our sexy time turns into a hefty and emotional roller coaster. She pushes me up against the bed head so hard that my back will be bruised in the morning. I let her, it’s disturbingly epic. To be honest, I’m ultimately building up to experiencing one of the best orgasms I’ve ever had. And all the while, she has her eyes open. She stays focussed on me, on my moaning, my joyful grimaces and my borderline-experiencing-pain expressions. A whole hour later, she’s got in out of her system, and I’m nothing more than a puddle of sex. God, this was exhausting. But I’m not complaining.
“Are you okay now?” I ask her, panting extensively.
She doesn’t even deny that there was something wrong. My fingers are going through her hair tenderly as she has her head placed on my bare breasts, listening to my heartbeat. It finally slowed down again.
“I need to tell you something.” her voice announces.
She sounds scared and sad. I don’t like that about her. My fingers keep playing with the blonde locks, comforting her. Hers are tracing little circles on my skin, touching me so carefully and subtly I almost can’t feel a thing. Before continuing, she lets go of me surprisingly, to sit up straight and grab her underwear. She puts it back on and picks up her shirt from the ground. As she’s buttoning up, she drops her head and sighs deeply, making it sound like a painful moan.
I push myself up on my elbow and run my fingers across her back. That’s when she tells me.
“This won’t happen again.” she whispers, without looking at me.
It makes me laugh out loud: “I can’t accept that.”
But I quickly learn it’s not a joke. She puts a hand in front of her eyes and sniffs up some emotions.
“I’m leaving tomorrow, Mariana. I decided that I need to stay with my family.”
Her words break my heart immediately. Part of me knows that this is the natural decision to make, but the bigger part of me had hoped and expected her to chose me over them. To chose love. She has struggled with this for weeks now, not being able to make a decision. And now she has – and it doesn’t involve me. It’s slapping me in the face – it’s hurting me in the core.
“And Nicholas is coming with you.” I figure.
“Mariana … That’s not even relevant …”
Sure it is, because the way she just turned her head at me all annoyed is a confirmation. Suddenly, I notice the massive tears flooding down her cheeks. I’m too shocked to be mad at her, to be honest. I don’t feel anything. It’s all numb. My feet take me out of the bed and I put on some comfortable clothes. While it all seems like a faded nightmare, my body paces up and down the width of the room. She just sits there and stares at me.
“Do you love him?” I finally ask her.
She frowns all offended and nearly smirks: “What?”
Her reaction pisses me off.
“It’s English. You understand what I just said. Do you love him?”
Lauren gets up as well and shakes her head agitatedly.
“That doesn’t matter.” she claims.
A silly smile filled with disbelief contradicts every single thing I’ve ever believed in before I met her.
“Are you fucking kidding me? That’s all that matters, Lauren.” are the words that flow directly from my heart.
I sound like a love fool. But my reaction, however surprisingly calm I seem to remain, provokes the opposite with her.
“Yeah, well, you know what, Mariana? John used to make me believe a lot of things. And they all turned out to be lies. So … fuck off, will you? I need to find my own truth for once.”
She’s never been this rude to me before, and she knows it. Suddenly, she takes a breath to calm down. This whole situation has her fucked up like crazy. She puts on her sweatpants and folds her hands in front of her mouth. Her eyes are closed, in an attempt to organize her thoughts. And then there’s me, feeling ready to jump out of the window.
“You have to understand, Mariana, that I really want a normal life. I got raised by a monster, treating me like one myself and I didn’t know any better. I thought of love as something imaginary – something they invented to make movies more beautiful. I never really saw it in real life, so I got used to it being this illusion. And all that time I was in that house, John told me how much my family hated me, how they sold me, how they never wanted to see me again. How I was lucky he wanted me, because nobody else did.”
I know this story. She had told it to me in our bedroom and at the time, she seemed okay with it. It’s because she didn’t know any better back then. Now she does.
“I cried for a hundred days straight, trying to accept that. But the sad truth is: after a while I got used to the idea. And then, suddenly, out of the blue I met you. And yes, you made my life rather fucking wonderful. And yes, you made me feel very, very loved. You chased away that idea about love being fictional. And I’d never, ever dreamt that a simple smile of yours could make my heart skip a beat. About how fragile and still undefinably comfortably I am around you.”
This is the most beautiful confession of love I’ve ever heard. But nothing about it feels right. Because if she loves me this much, why is she leaving?
“You showed me love, Mariana. You thought me what it feels like. The purity of it. How delicious and undefinable and completing it can be. Nobody can ever take that away from us. But finally – finally – I’m with my family again. People that have been stolen from me over a decade ago. And it turns out they don’t hate me. They didn’t want to sell me. They searched for me for years without me knowing. After all that horror I went through, they want nothing more than my life to be normal – to be part of their circle. And I am so very scared to lose them again, Mariana.”
She rushes over to me and as she grasps on to my hand, I notice the terrified look in her eyes. That complete and undeniable agony.
“I am so afraid to cry for a hundred days again, that I can’t risk it. I can’t risk letting them down, because maybe, one day they will hate me, just like John predicted. Because I’d stay here. Because of us. Because I close my eyes to try and forget about you, and still all I see is you. But you know how my mom is. She doesn’t approve of this.”
Her speech seems to slowly approach it’s inconsistent ending. I wish I could say anything to make her stop, but her words cut me to the bone. There is not a single emotion flowing through me right now that will make me seem like a not-terrible person. Because all I want is to keep her with me. I want to beg her, to throw myself at her feet. She puts her trembling fingers on my face and bows her forehead against mine.
“So, you see … you have to see … I need to be normal. I need to feel normal for once. Just for a moment – for a brief while. Not just for them, but for me as well. I need to know how it feels. Or how it could feel. I have to prove John wrong.”
I nearly choke in the silence she calls upon me. I’ve never seen her this vulnerable before, not in all those months we’ve spend together. Her eyes blast out the fear that hides deep inside her heart. All of a sudden, I understand. I understand that she doesn’t even know what being normal is – she has no clue how normality works. It’s what I’ve been wondering for a while now. And I was right.
She needs this right now, in order to be able to breathe as a regular person again. She has an entire new life to adapt to. One I’ve missed and nearly forgot during all that time. But she didn’t even get that far: John just took her away before she learned some important life lessons and acceptable ways to interact and open yourself up to people. Suddenly, I think about how I’d feel when I’d lose my mom and dad again. What that would do to me. It makes me sick to my stomach.
I feel her skin on mine. I feel her breathing passing my neck. A lost, hurting tear wanders her left cheek. My index finger picks it up – it caresses the softness of her. I realize that she might be right: maybe I’m not healthy for her right this moment.
I believe that people, who are destined to be together, might find each other at the wrong moment in their lives. Maybe this is one of those situations. Maybe she needs to grow and discover who she really is, before she can cope with the fact that we’re supposed to last a life time together. Maybe, I need to back off and accept reality: she doesn’t want to be with me with all of her heart right now. There are more important things happening in her life at this moment.
We’re at the front door, saying our goodbyes without talking. I inhale the sky that feels like a million knives cutting through my throat. I can’t speak, I can’t even cry right now. Not a word has passed my lips the last half an hour. We just each sat on the other side of my bedroom, staring at each other.
I bend over to kiss her softly on the mouth. She squeezes her eyes shut in pain. She tastes like rainbows and candy sticks and I try to memorize it. After that, it’s time. Time to surrender. I can’t believe she’s going away. I can’t cope with the idea.
“Don’t forget me, Lauren.” I beg.
It’s the only thing I’ll ask of her. All my other desires would make me a selfish bitch. She starts to cry uncontrollably, but I decide that nothing I could do would make her feel better. Her lips crumble under my touch and I taste tears I never wished to have seen. A taxi is waiting right next to us, waiting to take her away from me, maybe forever.
My body turns around and lets go of the girl it loves the most. The footsteps bring me further away from her. And before I know it, I don’t even feel her near anymore. There’s the sound of loud crying, more like howling and the actual breaking of a heart. Then there’s the closing of a door – and the humming of a starting engine. But I don’t turn around anymore. Because if I did, I’d try to stop her. And I’m not allowed.
I’m used to being a selfish person – that’s just who I am. But not when it comes to Lauren. For her health and emotional stability, I’m capable of sacrificing all of me. And that’s exactly what I’m doing right now.
I reach my front door and find support against the wooden frame. That’s when the infatuation finally appears to deteriorate. I’m left with a body that has lost the ability to cry, apparently. But suddenly, a few footsteps reverberate behind me. My heart, that I swore had stopped beating the second she told me she was going to leave me, suddenly jumps with hope. Maybe she changed her mind. Maybe she …
But I turn around and find myself even more shocked than I was a second before. There, in front of me, is the bitchy, blonde ghost from my past, nervously holding on to the purse that’s wrapped over her left shoulder. My jaw drops and the hope is gone, yet a strange feeling of joy replaces that heartbroken feeling.
“Ellen.” I utter with some difficulty.
As I say her name out loud, I flash back through some of my worst nights in captivity, when all I could think of was her. And now she’s here. It’s really her.
The girl hasn’t changed a bit. Still the spitting image of my best friend in high school. And she’s back. Out of all the days, tonight.
Her eyes are staring at me in wonder. I can tell she never expected to see me again, ever. With her mouth agape, she has refrained from approaching me when she was ten feet away from me. A nice, blue dress and cute, yellow ballerina’s – that’s all she’s wearing. She’s trying to mouth some words, but fails terribly. I know the feeling.
Being the courageous one, I’m the first to close the gap between us. The closer I get, the more anxious she appears. I’m literally a ghost. I’ve resurrected from the dead. Her green eyes are wide and she forgets to blink for a disturbingly long time.
And then they arrive, her first words, wrapped in a nervous tone and filled with emotions: “You stupid bitch.”
She makes me laugh while crying and I dive in her embrace.
It happens. Coming home all makes sense right now.
Ellen and I talked all night long. We didn’t sleep, we didn’t eat. All we did was talk. She asked me how I was and I told her the truth: I had no idea. Now that I finally started feeling better again, Lauren’s departure happened. I went back to square one.
And after telling her the story of what happened a few hours before, she skipped the part about me being gay, which was comforting for once, and asked me the obvious question: “Why didn’t you stop her?”
My mind had been made up and I remained rather convinced about my decision. Nothing about me being with her would mean true progress in Lauren’s development in this big, scary world. I’d just hold her back. Besides, if I had asked, she would’ve agreed in a heartbeat. She would have stayed, here, with me, for me – despite all the desires she had just confessed to me about being normal for a change. I’m the only person that could have made her change her mind. And that wouldn’t have been right.
“I can’t be the one who’s begging her to stay. I can’t be that person.” I answered her.
Ellen didn’t understand.
“John always told her what to do. Now she expects that from me. It’s not healthy. I want her to be healthy. To be independent.”
Ellen frowned nervously, thinking it through. Occasionally, she put her fingers on mine, to make sure I was really, really there. My soft expression promised her I was.
“But you love her, no?”
I smiled sillily and nodded, not even embarrassed to admit it to her: “That’s why I let her go. And if she really loves me, this will all be over someday.”
My old friend sat across me in the living room. She and her blue dress were a perfect match. But it had been over a month since I got out. Nearly two. The only person apart from my family I wished to have seen after I left the fortress was her. And she wasn’t there.
“Why didn’t you come back earlier, Ellen? Why are you here, now, and not that very first day?” I finally dared to ask.
She owed me an explanation. It wasn’t college. It wasn’t a money issue to grab a plane and fly home. She wasn’t that kind of girl.
“I was scared.” she admitted, staring at her fingers instead of me. “Because I’ve had this life and you didn’t.”
But I started laughing, rather than feeling intrigued: “You weren’t scared. You feel guilty.”
Of course she did. I thought about her last words a million times, the first months I was being kidnapped. They flashed through my head non stop, even while sleeping.
What’s the worst thing that could happen, right?
She said it just before I left. That last practice. And it sounded so silly and innocent. Her voice cracked as she tried to come up with an appropriate apology. I stopped her just in time, cupping her hands with mine.
“You didn’t know this was going to happen, Ellen. It’s not your fault.”
She disagreed with me and shook her head aggressively.
“But I let you leave all by yourself because I was drying my stupid hair.”
I forced her to look me in the eye and smiled: “Listen to me. And listen well. Never have I ever blamed you. I blame John. He’s the one who grabbed me.”
She wasn’t feeling redeemed with my answer, though: “But if I would’ve been there-”
“He probably would’ve taken you as well.” I interrupted her.
She heaved a deep sigh and nodded, finally getting the picture. Her pretty green eyes were swollen from hidden tears. Something told me she was convinced that the situation was a dream. I got up from my seat and sat down right next to her. That’s when I put my arms comfortingly around her and hugged the shit out of her. I needed a friend right now. And she’s about the best one I could get.