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Hold Your Breath

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Two deep breathes. Count them. One, two. Your hair falls in your face. Tuck it away. No, no stop it. Quit biting your lip. You'll be alright. You'll be alright.

She murmurs these condolences in her mind, day after day after day. It's alright. That was yesterday. That was last week. That is in the past now, it's over, it's done with.

Breathe in, breathe out.

She's lying on her bed, fresh from the shower, hair stuck to her cheeks, skin still damp, and she's wrapped the blankets so tightly around her she can't move. She cradles the phone to her chest, dials number after number, listens to the ring, hangs up. Dials again, and finally, finally someone picks up. She can hear them, on the other line.

Breathe in, breath out. Let the bad rise out. Her clothes from the night before lie on her bedroom floor, the collar of the shirt stretched out of shape, the sleeves twisted. She picks it up and puts it on, smoothes knit, checks it in the mirror. She examines the cleavage, but none is showing, just her collarbone. She feels sick, and rips the shirt off, tosses it across the room, and leaps back on to her bed, covering herself in blankets, her mother's old college quilt, her baby blanket, the comforter that's been in the family so long the holes are big enough for her to poke her head out of. She buries herself in these, but the air is hot, hot, and it's suppressing her, holding her down - but it's ok.

Breathe in. Breathe out.

She tumbles through the door of her house, smiles at her family. Well! She says. That was fun! It was a lovely night! How was the party? Her family answers back, yes, yes, the party was great, did she enjoy seeing her friend, and she answers yes, yes she did, she had a marvelous time, she never gets to see Sierra anymore, even though they go to the same school, and catching up was marvelous. She says, I hope you don't mind, but I'm exhausted, I think I'll go to bed, and her family looks at her strangely, this, this coming from the girl who stays up all night long because she wants to see the sunrise? But, no, they don't mind, and she slips off to the bathroom, where she strips herself of all her clothes, turns the shower up to full blast, and, very quietly, throws up in the toilet until there is nothing left inside but grime and dirty feelings, not even air left in her, and she has to remind herself to

breathe in. And breathe out.

February the fifteenth is months away, now. It's summer, the night is warm, and the humidity swirls around her. The moon hangs overhead, pregnant, and for the first night all summer, she can see the stars, can count them, one, two...It's a beautiful night. She dips her toes into the pool, wriggles them a bit, before slipping off her jeans, tee-shirt...She piles her clothing on the chair, and slips into the water.

It laps against her neck, the water. It caresses her body, gently, siren's fingers pulling her ever closer, and the cicadas whisper to her.

She is not alone. Her eyes snap open, and she scurries out of the pool to her towel, and wraps it around her tightly. She grabs her clothes, runs back inside, locking the door behind her. When she's dressed again, she ventures back onto her porch, but it is empty, save the crickets. No one there, she's safe, but still, her heart pounds in her chest. Someone's watching me, she thinks. Someone. But no one is there. It's midnight, just her and the wildlife. It's alright.

Breathe. Just breathe.

She's curled on her bed, fresh from the shower. She's put on clean underwear, but other than that, she hasn't bothered to get dressed yet. A knock on her door, then her mother enters. I was just going to bed, she says. I came in to say goodnight. The girl just nods. Her mother closes the door and leaves. The girl pulls her covers over her, and pulls out the phone she's hidden under her pillow, and dials. She dials and dials and dials, but no one picks up. Finally, she gives up. She's about to put the phone down when she notices a bit of paper on the bookshelf, Amelie's new cell, and she dials.

This time she gets voice mail. Not surprising, she knows it's late. But she's been quiet for too long, and so she starts talking, and talking, and talking. The voice mail runs out, and this time she Amelie picks up.

Hello?

Oh, I'm sorry, I'm so sorry, I didn't mean to wake you! I'll just -

It's fine.

It's not fine.

I'm awake now. Just talk to me.

Suddenly the girl realizes she can't speak, not yet. Just talk to me, she says. Please, just talk to me. I need to hear a voice. I need to hear words that aren't my own.

What happened?

Nothing. It was nothing. Please. Just talk.

It wasn't nothing.

It was -

She can't lie, but she isn't sure how to tell the truth, so she starts from the beginning:

two deep breaths. Breathe in. Breathe out.

She is at a party, a party for Amelie's dad, and it's boring, but she'll be leaving soon. She's going to another friend's house, one she never gets to see. She's dressed appropriately, a modest black sweater, nice jeans. Her new black bra and panties underneath. She's a little bit afraid, nervous, because her friend is - well, Sierra is Sierra, and that really is the only way to put it. But finally, her mother comes up to her, and asks her if she's ready to go. The girl nods quickly, and hurries out to her mother's car. The ride to Sierra's house is silent, the girl nervously gnawing her lip. Her mother tries to force conversation out of her, but the girl says nothing.

They arrive, and the girl walks to the house, twisting her hands in her sleeves. Sierra opens the door before the girl gets there, and welcomes her in. The house is cluttered, warm and inviting, and her fears melt into the walls. Sierra beckons the girl into her room, where they start talking, one girl on each couch, the whole room between them, but the room is warm, and the walls press tightly around them, and the girl finds Sierra on the couch next to her, only a few inches away. The girl does not notice. Sierra moves closer, closer. The girl does not notice, they're being silly now, wresting on the floor over some argument neither can remember, and the girl finds herself pinned to the floor. She laughs, this is all part of the game to her.

Sierra grins. The girl's shirt has ridden up a bit, exposing hipbone, and she runs her fingers over it, carefully working the shirt up, up, up.

The girl shudders. This is not a game she understands. Her shirt has been shoved up, the nice bra removed. Her jeans, new and not yet shrunken, have slipped dangerously low on her hips, and she lies prone, on the ground. It's just a game, though, right? Sierra's her friend. She wouldn't...But Sierra grins at her, a feral grin, and the girl has to remind herself to breathe,

breathe in, breathe out.

She can do it. She can. But still, she bites her lip, tugs her bangs. She swivels the desk chair back and fourth, kicks her heels, smiles at her mother when she walks in to ask her what she is doing.

She does not touch the keyboard. She opens her word processor. She sets the program to point twelve font, Times New Roman, double space. She gets up to get a drink of water. But now it is eleven twenty-two pm, compared to the eleven o'clock pm when she sat down at the computer, and she has one day, and four more fiction pieces to write. So she begins typing. She does not know what to say, because she cannot convey the guilt she feels onto the paper. She cannot convey the shame or sadness or sickness she felt, because she did not feel it. This thing that she writes about, it did not happen to her. It was someone else, someone she does not know, and will never understand. She will lock away all resentment, all fear, all judgment all hatred, and she will type out this story, this tale, about a girl who is most definitely not her, because someone needs to know. So she sits down, and reminds herself to breathe, just breathe, and begins to type.




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