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Bruises that Don't Fade
“Hey, Anabel,” Jared smiles as I walk into work. I smile back and quickly brush past him to clock in, not trusting myself to speak. If I speak he might notice that I’ve been crying. He’s too good at reading me. When I turn away from the time clock, he’s still staring at me.
“Hey,” he squints at me, “your eyes are all red, are you okay?” he reaches out and brushes my cheek, and although I know he’s just concerned, I flinch.
“Woah,” he says, pulling his hand back, “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean anything...” he trails off awkwardly, waiting for me to say something. Alright then. I clear my throat.
“I’m fine, just hurt my neck this morning that's all so I’m a little jumpy,” I go to walk away, but he lightly catches my arm, halting me.
“Let me see,” he says, silently asks quietly, his tone slightly suspicious but his eyes are so concerned I know he won’t go away until I show him.
I sigh, quickly pulling the collar of my jacket down to show him. His eyes are astonished as they take is the large red blotch on my neck. It stretches from one ear, through my hair, to the other ear, harsh and unforgiving.
“Where is that from,” he asks, shocked.
“Nothing, it’s fine,” normally, this attention from Jared would boost my mood. Ever since we became friends last summer when we both got a job here at Sammy’s Grill, I’ve hoped that our casual flirting, after work movie nights, and intense games of Would You Rather, would add up to more. If this were about any other subject, I would love this attention, but not tonight. Not over this.
He shakes his head, unbelieving of my quick retort. His fingers come up to touch the burn and i bite my lip to keep from reacting, but to my dismay a tear falls from my eye. Before i can wipe it away, he sees.
“Seriously, Anabel, talk to me. What is that from?”
“It’s just...” I laugh shakily, “I got this new curling iron and i accidently rested it on my neck. I can be so oblivious some mornings,” I smile, hoping he falls for it, but even I can tell how awful my lie is. Come on, drop it Jared.
“Is that the story you’re sticking with?” he asks, annoyed.
“Yes, because that’s what happened,” I say, pulling my red curls out of my pony to cover the burn,
We stare at eachother for a few seconds as he waits to see if I’ll give in like i normally do under his gaze. But this isn’t like our argument’s in a game of Would You Rather or when he wants me to get an all meat pizza instead of our usually sausage. This is different. I’m not telling him. Finally, he sighs giving up and grabs my hand, pulling me to walk with him.
“What are you doing?” i ask, surprised by his sudden change in attitude.
“You need to put something on that or it will get worse,” he drags me through the kitchen where we work to the back offices. Reaching a back office he pulls a key out of his pocket and opens the door. I wait as he searches the cabinets until he finally pulls out a first aid kit.
“Sit,” he instructs, pointing to a stool. I watch as he skillfully opens up a bottle of burn cream, his long, tan fingers working. His toned arms flex ever so slightly at the motion underneath his button-up shirt that is rolled just above his elbows. Motioning for me to turn around, he sets down the cream and grabs my wrist, sliding the ponytail off. Surprising me, he slowly starts to gather my hair in his hands, putting my long red hair into a soft pony on top of my head. His fingers running through my hair are pure bliss. No! He’s just putting burn cream on my neck, this isn’t something more!
“Take off your jacket,” Jared’s words hit deep it my gut, his voice close to my neck. I unbutton my jacket and slip it off, revealing my blue tank underneath and giving him more access to my neck.
“This might sting a bit,” he informs me, “but just sit still, okay?”
Not waiting for an answer he begins smearing the cream on my neck. I jump as pain radiates from my neck down my back and goosebumps rise on my arms. While he continues to smear the cream on my neck with his right hand, his left strokes my shoulder, calming me, and my breath catches. We sit like that until he finally finishes and speaks.
“Well,” he clears his throat, “you can turn around now,” I swivel in my chair and his brown eyes bore into my own. He looks away quickly and grabs a disinfectant wipe out of the kit, wiping off his hands.
“So are you ready to tell me what really happened?” He asks. He reaches over and pulls me to my feet, his arms circling around my waist. I’m shocked by our proximity, so close i can make out every fleck of gold in his brown eyes, which are crinkled now, worried as they look down at me.
“I’m fine,” I go to pull out of his grasp, but he hugs me tighter to him.
“No,” he gives me a level look, “you’re not fine.”
I’m not sure if it’s the concern he has for me, or my emotions running high, or his body so close to mine. Maybe it’s still from the pain in my neck, i’m not sure, but suddenly i feel myself begin to cry.
“No, Ana, please tell me what’s wrong,” as i try to hide my face in his chest, he pulls my chin up to look at him.
“I know you don’t want to tell me, and that’s okay. But if someone hurt you... You are strong, beautiful, outgoing, and...” He trails off wiping a tear from my eye, “Nobody can hurt you. I’m here, no matter what. You’re not alone”
And suddenly, for the first time in my life, i didn’t feel alone. As Jared and I stood in that small office, i cried until i had no tears left. When I told him everything he simply stroked my hand, listening to every bit of what i had been hiding for so long, and never interrupting. When i confessed exactly why we never hung out at my house, and why I had to be in my room before my dad got home from work or I had to wait until i was sure he was asleep before i would sneak past his bedroom to mine, and finally why on those nights I messed up, and go there when he was home and fully conscious, I had to call off work the next day, and then often still had bruises days later. As i confessed all of this for the first time in my life, I felt a huge weight lift from my shoulders. When i finished, I smiled a sad smile at him, and he leaned over and kissed me softly, pulling me into his lap. And for the first time in my life, I was safe.