Ellen and I decided to enjoy life a bit after our emotional evening. My mom and dad were at a point where they accepted that I wasn’t a baby anymore. They let go of me more and more. They realized that locking me up and keeping me under some strange kind of surveillance wouldn’t do any good. And, even though I didn’t exactly need their permission, they gave me their blessing when Ellen and I expressed our desire to go on a holiday.
We went to Mexico, where we stayed at a beautiful hotel surrounded by palm trees and beaches. We drank mojitos and fresh coconut juice at the pool. We went for massages and even spend a day swimming with dolphins. It was incredible. That country stunned me on so many occasions. It simply took my breath away.
Plus, around there, no one knew who I was. I could just have fun without being stared at. I could avoid conversations about Lauren, and dance, and sunbathe, and relax at the pool for as long as I wanted.
It was awesome. I thought everything felt perfect at the time. Until one evening during our ten day stay, Ellen walked into the bedroom after brushing her teeth and found me sobbing and weeping on the hotel bed. She didn’t ask me a single question. All she did was put aside her toothbrush to jump on the bed as well to wrap her arms around my crawled up body.
“It’s gonna be okay,” she whispered, clearly worried.
But I couldn’t stop the tears – and to tell the truth, I had no idea why I was crying so hysterically. It just bursted out of me. Like I had been happy for too long.
“It’s going to be okay,” she repeated quietly while petting my hair.
It took an hour before I actually stopped crying.
Night fell and we went to bed. We forgot that night ever happened and spend the rest of our careless days exactly as supposed to: careless.
Four months had past since I last saw Lauren and it didn’t hurt that much anymore. Sure, I missed her like crazy, but even that found its place in my life. I had adapted to this life without her – and even though it was magical with her in it, the one without her wasn’t half that bad: I had friends, I had family, I had an own apartment, I had progress. And I had a book that finally started taking its form. Maybe I was too occupied to think about her as much as I used to. Maybe that happens when you’re apart.
And when I realized that, I felt proud of myself.
That was until she showed up in front of me out of the blue again. All the progress, all the hard work, it vanished into thin air before I had the chance to blink. She was standing across the street, soaked by the pouring rain, tonight. It was chilly and I could tell that she was shaking. She had cut her hair and was looking skinny again. Not in a sick way, just a nice athletic way. The look in her eye was full of admiration. She stared at me intensely for twenty seconds before her body started moving. But when it finally did, it seemed like she came running for me. She rushed her small feet across the concrete and put both hands around my neck to kiss me aggressively on the mouth. She was wet to the bone and felt cold. I had no idea why she was there, but I let her kiss me. And I stood there, unable to speak, holding on to my grocery bags like they were a life’s necessity in front of the door of my apartment. Seconds passed and they felt like years. The touch of her lips made me feel alive again, they undid all the acceptation I’ve been doing the weeks before. When our lips finally parted, she was panting. So was I.
All she said was that she needed to see me. She needed to see me smile. And she needed to kiss me, because being here and not kissing me felt unnatural. It hurt her, thinking about not kissing me.
“Why are you here?” I asked.
She shook her head and licked her upper lip. It’s like she herself didn’t even knew. The drips of water came running down her face, so she had to blink a few times in order to look at me. Her hands were still on my neck. I got the feeling that she felt close to crying.
“I’ll see you soon, Mariana.”
Her hands let go of me and she started walking away from me. Something told me she had been in town for longer than just a few minutes and she didn’t tell me. And just like it was a random, everyday thing, I heaved a tumultuous sigh and scraped my throat to get back to my senses: “Bye.”
I’m sitting on the ground, staring at myself in the massive standing mirror that’s just inches away from me. The room is dark, but I can see myself. I’ve changed my clothes since I walked in. I’m dry now. It’s just that I’m flabbergasted.
She kissed me. An hour ago.
Lauren is back for some reason and she kissed me.
My apartment is empty. Nobody’s around for a change. Usually there’s Ellen, or my family, or some friends. But I’m all alone now. And I’m staring at myself in the freaking mirror. I’m thinking about my life, and my life’s decisions. I keep asking myself what I’m searching for, what will make me happy. Because whatever is going on isn’t working. Apparently I was just kidding myself. It was just unfounded hope that got me confused.
But I am getting better. I am taking care of myself. Look at me, I was doing so well. I was doing great. My fingers caress the hard surface of the mirror. It’s cold. I draw circles around the places where my face’s reflection appears, like I’m analyzing myself – my expression.
My mind’s racing and there’s so much going on that I can’t even understand myself. There are flashes of John’s face. Of his scar. Of his hand quickly approaching my face. I see myself lying in the backyard, my blood splattered across the tiles. My mind’s taking me back to all those nights in the basement. To the moment when he grabbed me off my bike and drugged me. And there’s Lauren, my safe harbor. I see the worried face when she picked me off the floor, nearly drowned after John’s waterboarding. I see the tears in her eyes after she stopped me from running away after he beat the living shit out of me in the backyard. I remember the look in her eyes when she first kissed me in bed that night. That confusion on John’s face whenever she stood up for me. And then I see the image of her leaving, heading to another state with her family and her so called boyfriend.
I blink and shut out all the noises and images driving me insane inside of my head. It’s deafeningly silent. Then I open my eyes again and the only thing left is myself, in the mirror, stroking my own face.
I get up on my feet hours later and decide that I need to talk to her. There’s only one place where she can be: at the hotel she and her family usually stay whenever they’re in town. Some shoes that are standing in the way end up on my feet and on my rush out, I grab my purse and car keys. I’m all worked up after driving myself insane looking at my reflection – forget for a second how tired I am after skipping a night’s sleep – and the thought of her lips disturbs me even more. Why is she here? Why did she come back without letting me know? It’s not fair. She shouldn’t have this effect on me – not anymore. She has a boyfriend now and that’s perfectly okay, as long as she leaves me alone and doesn’t stop by every now and then to rub it in my face.
Traffic’s getting me upset. There’s too many cars in town, too many people trying to get somewhere in a hurry. In front of me, some old man’s keeping the promise to drive as slow as possible and my entire body starts to get annoyed. This is so not the time to fuck with me.
“Move over, you freaking idiot!” I yell at him, aware none of my words will reach his ear.
He’s probably deaf. And by the look of his driving: blind as well. If only I could just pass him. But the two-lane road is busy. Too busy. My heart’s racing, unlike my small car. I just need to be with Lauren already. I know exactly what I have to say to her. There’s a speech. A rehearsed speech. Every second lost will just make me forget about its perfection.
“Come on!” I mumble completely worked up.
My fist hits the steering wheel and I sigh deeply. Then, suddenly, I see an opportunity. No oncoming traffic in sight, just an empty lane waiting for me to pass the idiot who shouldn’t deserve a driving license. I take the chance and accelerate rapidly. My car swings to the left and on my way past him, I turn my head to maliciously growl at the old man wearing a fedora hat. He seems upset about my behavior, but that won’t stop me from having a good night’s sleep later today. A soft smile colors my face as I realize that I won’t have to tail him anymore. That’s when I turn my head. And right in front of me, out of nowhere, a car appears. He’s honking intensely at me, but it’s too late. My entire face freezes, just like the beating of my heart, and panic absorbs my entire body. My foot pushes the brake as hard as possible, but I close my eyes as well. I won’t be able to dodge him, my brain immediately realizes. An unexplainable sadness takes over, because it hits me: I’m going to die. This is the end of me. I’ll never see her again. I’ll never get to kiss her lips again. Now I can’t tell her anymore. Tell her that I love her.
It can’t be over. It just started. I just found her.
I wake up and immediately experience all the pain in the world. My lungs are sore, my head is sore, my legs are sore. My eyes blink multiple times before they can form a shape into this room. Even those are sore. I must be at the hospital. This is a white, boring room. And there are flowers. Yep, the hospital.
My tongue moistens the dryness of my lips. Shit, even that hurts. I growl out loud and try to turn my head to the left. That’s when my memory puts together the pieces of my family. Mámi and Pápa are here, fast asleep on the uncomfortable chair in front of the window.
What happened? Why am I … Oh, right. The car. I had an accident. I thought I was going to die. I was convinced that I wouldn’t survive the blast.
Vague memories of medics and police officers cross my mind. They pulled me out. They put an oxygen mask over my mouth, they put on a neck brace, they brought me here. I was barely conscious but somehow, I remember pieces of the aftermath.
Calmly, I try to move my fingers – then my legs. They are all working, though they hurt.
“Hi.” I whisper, even though I meant to say it out loud.
It’s silent, maybe too silent, but that doesn’t stop my parents from waking up immediately. When they look up and see me blink my swollen eyes in pain, my mother doesn’t hesitate a second to burst out into tears.
Still in pain, but luckily sedated to the bone, I honestly wonder if I am tripping when Lauren walks in a while later, carrying the most worried face in the world. Even my mom seems a bit more at ease than she does.
“I brought some flowers. I heard people do that.” She whispers nervously, staring at me.
I smile softly and discover just how many painful muscles that sets in motion. My mother thanks her and takes them away from her. They all greet and hug each other kindly before my mom and dad disappear from the room to give us some privacy.
Lauren’s still in town, I didn’t expect that. I’ve only been awake for about a half an hour. According to my mom, I’ve been asleep for three days. Ellen was here just a minute ago, to yell at me. It’s because she was worried. I get it. Now she ran off to cry in some corner. That’s how we work. And that’s okay.
Lauren calmly walks over to me and puts a hand on my forehead, which – aw – hurts. Her touch makes it all better, though. I recognize the look in her eyes. Sadly, for a long time, it was way too familiar. My entire body, it’s just as bruised as during my days in the fortress. I had forgotten about the abnormality of this kind of pain. But I’m reminded now.
“You’re alive. Thank God, you’re alive.”
I cough and fake a silly smile: “I just took a long nap. You don’t get rid of me that easily.”
She doesn’t support the humorous comment, as it seems. Her eyes are upset and the constant caress of her fingers on my skin gives away how badly she feels like crying.
“I … I wanted to tell you that I’m sorry about everything.” her shaky voice tells me.
God, not now, Lauren. Not about Nicholas. Not about the kiss. Just be happy to see me, don’t rub it in my face that I can’t have you.
I lick my lower lip and heave a deep sigh, partly to pump some air into my lungs: “Don’t, Lauren. Don’t tell me how sorry you are. Because telling me how sorry you are only helps you – not me. So …”
“Not about what’s going on between us. About your accident.” she whispers, quickly correcting my assumptions.
I sigh and swallow painfully – in more than one way: “Oh.”
That’s when I close my eyes for a second. I’m so sedated that I feel like falling asleep right away. But I stop myself. She’s here, to see me. I’m about to give her my full attention.
“So, how are you, apart from almost being dead and all?” she asks, kicking the fun back in.
I smirk, which hurts, but that won’t stop me. This is disturbingly familiar and even though I’m in a lot of pain, she’s seen my in far more life threatening conditions, I guess.
“I’ve been through worse.” I admit, throwing in some half smiles.
“Yeah, so have I.” she whispers softly, reminiscing about old times.
We shut up for a while, as she rubs the messy hair out of my face and cleans some remaining spots of blood from my forehead. A bandaid, that would make this all the more authentic. She used to clean me up all the time. Sometimes I miss it.
We pass some time together, but not a lot is said. She makes sure my room looks nice. She folds my clothes perfectly and puts them in a drawer. After a while, she sits down right next to me, on the bed, to stroke my arm.
“You know, you really do attract horrible things.” she notices.
I shrug, carrying a grimace: “It’s a hobby.”
She clicks her tongue and puts her hand on mine.
“And apart from nearly dying, how’s life working out for you?”
I pretend to be all right, but it’s like trying to fool a genius. Surprisingly, the sedation has got me a bit worked up and my true feelings come floating.
“What, you want to talk about how time flew by when you were gone and how I had the time of my life? Because that didn’t happen.”
She lowers her head and bites her lower lip in annoyance.
“What do you want from me, Mariana? Just tell me.”
I smirk and close my eyes for a second.
“I want you to kiss me. More than painkillers and morphine, I want a kiss from you.”
She’s surprised by my directness and looks at me for a long time. Then, she bends over to put her soft lips on mine. Even more than a second before, it’s hard to breathe. But I don’t mind. This feels better than any sedative in the world. I feel her giving in. This is a kiss of love. Of honest, confronting, admitting love. I taste it in every fiber of her skin, in the warmth of her being. When we part, I stare deep into her eyes. She keeps her left hand on my cheek and softly strokes it.
“I’m not going anywhere, okay?” she whispers. “I’m here.”
The words warm my heart, but I can’t help but being suspicious.
“What happened? Was it me nearly dying that did the trick? Because I could’ve done that earlier if I had known.” I smile, hiding my insecurities.
She shakes her head and her eyes fill up with tears right as she’s about to open her mouth to start talking.
“Okay, Mariana, I’ll tell you the truth. You insist that I have this thing called a normal life. Something you have know for years before John happened. And you feel guilty because I didn’t. I have no idea what you are talking about when you talk about being carefree and genuinely happy and free of scars. You even walked away and let me have my opportunities and experiences because you felt like you were holding me back from enjoying everything the right way. But the truth, Mariana is that you’re wrong. Very wrong. And I’m the first person in the world that’s brave enough to tell you that. Because I’ll never be able to have a normal life – no matter how much you want to believe in it. I’m a messed up, little girl.”
She nearly smiles while saying that last part. But it hurts my heart.
“But that’s okay,” she continues courageously. “That’s always been okay, because I had you. That was enough for me. And when you let me leave, you took that one good thing away as well. So, here I am, standing up for myself for once, claiming you back. Because my only chance at a life that’s similar to being normal – that small, little chance to be happy, in my own way – is by being with you. So you can say all you want – I’m not leaving.”
She’s more determined than ever and it’s extremely sexy. She even raised her voice at one point.
“You crazy girl.” I sigh.
Then a smile appears. She rubs my cheek and kisses my mouth softly. Her eyes keep focussed on me. I can’t help but blush. She wipes my lips clean and starts thinking.
“No. The thing is … I’ve been in town for a week already. Nicholas accompanied me. It’s for business.”
She pauses for a second.
“The night I kissed you, I spent hours getting ready for the most amazing date with the most perfect boy I’ve ever met. And then I ended up spending the entire night – what seemed like an eternity – thinking about how much I’m in love with a girl.”
I didn’t know she was in town. But even after that confession, I refrain from saying anything. What is she doing? What’s the point?
“So I went over to your place and I kissed you and then I went home … And I couldn’t stop thinking about you. A regular day, really.”
She frowns in a disturbed way and heaves a sigh.
“I ended it with Nicholas the next morning and went back to talk to you. I came back for you before I heard about the crash, you know, to tell you how much I love you. I was sitting at the doorstep of your apartment when Ellen arrived in a panic. I rushed to the hospital as fast as I could. But you were asleep. So I stayed at your apartment with Ellen, waiting for you to wake up. And Nicholas went back home.”
I forget the heroic imagination of her accomplishing miracles to get here as fast as possible and try to put together the pieces of the puzzle.
“And … you told him?”
“Yes. I told him. And my mom. You can imagine how that went.”
She even smiles sweetly. It’s like whatever the woman said doesn’t even matter.
“Why? You said you wanted a normal life … You asked me.” I recall.
She nods, like she’s ashamed of it.
“I’m sorry. I’ve been so … so scared and …”
She gasps deeply while whispering.
“I’m so scared to want you, Mariana. And look at me, all I do is want you.”
Being dependent of someone has ruined her life once. Of course she’s afraid now. There’s painful laughing. Lauren gave up her dream of being normal, and I feel responsible.
“Why did you tell them? You ruined everything for you now.” I tell her, more concerned about her own happiness than mine.
“Because I love you, you fucking idiot!” she ridicules me. “I’ve always loved you – ever since that first time I walked into the basement. From the first second you whispered your name to me. And I spent a lot of time trying not to. I tried to talk myself out of it – told myself that I couldn’t, that I shouldn’t. That I wanted to be normal. But it won’t work. Because nothing feels normal when I’m not with you. I love you. No one else. And I can’t make it go away.”
A deep sigh prevents me from crying and ultimately, I shake my head, giving in.
“I have that effect on people.”
She starts giggling and drops her head adorably. We dream away for a while.
“I never slept with him, you know.” She then honestly tells me. “He was okay with it. He thought it was the trauma. But it was you. I didn’t like it when he came on to me, so I made up excuses. Why would I sleep with a boy? Just to assure myself that I really like girls? That’s not how it works. I’ve always known what I like. And I didn’t like him that way. I just used him … as a leverage to keep my mom from finding me new dating material. I promised myself to work hard. To come clean about my experiences, to forgive John for what he did. And until that happened, I kept Nicholas around, as a dear friend.”
I frown all surprised: “He was your … fag hag?”
She smirks and starts nodding: “I always knew I’d get back to you, to prove that I am okay now. It’s not exactly very nice of me … But I’d do anything for you.”
I turn my head and start grinning: “Knowing where you grew up, that worries me.”
I can’t believe this is happening. She’s back, willingly, even though I told her – I asked her – to stay away and for once, she didn’t listen to me. She’s healed. She came here because she really wanted to. She came back for me because she loves me. Not because I begged her, or pleaded.
Lauren fucking loves me.