We sat up each of those five brief nights of our affair. We stayed up far later than we should have, and I was a beaming, laughing mess each morning after. I was sleep-deprived and happy in our dream.

Each day we made maps of the stars for our living; each night we lay stretched out beneath your wood-paneled window, savoring the cool breezes that made the tropics more bearable, whispering quietly over the hum of the attending amphibian choir.

You once asked me to lay out my hands on your skin. I did; I brushed the tips of my fingers over the soft white flesh of your back, tracing the stories I had yet to tell you – the stories that, in the end, I never would. You lay quietly still on thin cool sheets, and I sat by your side, lightly drawing, always drawing, my nails faintly raking your shoulders with pictures I could never imagine.

We were both hooked from the instant I started.

You caught me that way, and I imagined that I might be trapping you, if only I could make you dependent on the pleasure I knew you loved. I grew to know the one smooth arch of your back, sliding down from the base of your neck, over thick, strong shoulders, down into the valley of your waist and back up through to your naked hip. One quick turn up to your spine completed the circle, and it was up, down, around once more. Over and over and over. Each night, I felt that motion one hundred times, and almost cried, to know how much I loved it, wondering how long it would be before I’d come to hate it.

I clung onto you so hard. The more lightly my outstretched hands would trace, the harder and harder I was preparing to not let you go.

You left anyway.

After the end of our affair we sat up still some nights together, but in entirely different ways. I would sit, silent, and let the abstract pictures I’d been making on your body digress into words that grew angrier and angrier, caught up in the visions of what your skin used to mean. And you lay still, nearly falling asleep, as I failed to acknowledge how completely disinterested in everything having to do with me you were, you were, except for in the feel of my hands swiftly tracing.

Our affair of five short, lonely days turned into two months in my head, as I sold off my soul and my pride in the act of docilely, stoically nursing your muscles with the bile of my retching and frustrated liver. I sold myself for what I thought I really needed. When what I needed was all the strength I was so casually giving away.

I should have known that it was doomed the night I asked you to touch me too, and draw into my flesh the care I hoped you might still be holding, but that you were too lost in guilt to admit. You said that you were tired, but you had no idea. You had no concept of what tired could really be, as I sat there still, too enchanted to recognize my own self-betrayal, hauntingly writing more ghost words on your thin, thin skin even after you refused to do the same, never realizing what I was giving away for the sake of my hope in a dream I never had.

She's lying there curled in a ball on the white, sterile bed beside me. She looks fearfully into my face and her hand grasps mine.  It's so cold.

-move your hip back a little, now, relax your back, push your back out towards me a little... OK-

The doctor presses the needle against her back and slides it through her skin and into her spine. She says she's OK, she says it's just fine, but she's lying through her teeth

I can see the pain in her eyes. I make faces at her through the rail beside the bed - I want to do a raspberry on her neck. She can't move now, so I file this away for later.  When this is over, I do it on the back of her knee as she watches TV.  For now, I cup her hands within mine to warm hers. I don't want her to have to do this again.

The Doctor watches the needle carefully and fills his little bottles with clear fluid. He talks to her softly and gives the dry clinical conversation while I trace my finger across her knuckles.

I look into her eyes and try to show her I'm not worried. I'm such a liar.

She squeezes my hand. 

When it is done, she rolls on her back and smiles up at me. I keep thinking that she can be so fucking brave sometimes. She keeps insisting that she wants to go home.

Personally, I would have kicked and screamed the whole time and I would have laid in that bed until they kicked me out.  I'd Say "You want to prod and poke? Fine, let me heal here. Get me a Coke"

She talks to her parents as we wheel her to the car. "It wasn't so bad at all." She lies, "I'm a little sore, but I'll be fine" But her hands clench on my shoulder as I help her into the car.

I can see the fake smile in her eyes.

When they leave she collapses.  Her strong smile melts into sobs and I hold her and feel impotent. When she's done, we drive home to put her into bed. Her shuffling, painful walk reminds me of her grandmother- I don't tell her this.  I smile to myself as I help her out of her clothes and then over to the bed.  I cover her up and go to the kitchen to fix her some strawberry tea.

Between the pain killers and the Valium she's wiped out and asleep by the time I return with the tea.

So I watch her lying there and drink it in silence.

I.

My hands are cold. I notice this as I shake hands with her fiancé, whose meaty grip seems incomparably warm. Cold, and almost trembling as I take her coat, his coat, and hang them one after the other in the closet. This while Tina brings them into the living room.

This coat is the same one she wore last winter. The same one tossed casually over a chair as I gave her a backrub through her sweater. And through her turtleneck. No cold hands then as I pressed them to her naked flesh.

A cup of tea might help. I hear their easy conversation from the living room. I go into the kitchen and turn on the burner with the kettle on it. She and Tina have enough to talk about so I can hide for a moment without being awkward. I pace, the water heats, and John tells some joke or another. The laughter of the two women is lyrical.

I go into the room and give again my hellos. She and John smile warmly at me. I am more well-loved than I would like. I give her only the barest glance, and then I sit down squeezing up next to Tina and kiss her on the cheek. Tina leans against my shoulder and John begins to tell a story that I would ordinarily be interested in.

My lips start to mouth "excuse me," then stop, then wait a few minutes more. Tina has to finish dinner preparations, so she goes into the kitchen. Finally the kettle boils shrilly and I must say "excuse me." A pause. "Would you like some tea?" I ask. Neither of them would, so I go into the kitchen and leave her and John to amuse themselves.

The kitchen is full of Tina's thinking. It's not good thinking. I take the kettle off the burner and the whistle stops, and in that sudden quiet Tina says "Do you still love me?"

Still. What a word. For three long seconds, my silence answers no. But then I say yes, of course I still love you with all my heart, and I enfold her in a hug that convinces us both.


II.

"Give it!" She tried grabbing the marker out of my hands but it was no use.

I fell onto my back. She fell on top of me. (in a way I found quite nice) This from a girl whom I could barely give a backrub to a week ago.

John came back into the room with a cup of tea. He grinned faintly at the two of us. He sat back down on the floor at his place next to the game board.

"She cheats," I said to him happily. She hung on my shoulder, thwarted. "I won the magic marker fair and square," I continued.

Graceful in defeat, she said "oh go ahead." I took the cap off the marker. She leaned forward and I drew a few freckles and cat-whiskers on her face. It was quite cute. The dots were where I wanted my lips to be.

The game went on. It was sometimes quiet, sometimes lively. In between turns, I could feel my silence smiling back at me.

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