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The Only One
“Truth or dare?” I hear him whisper.
His voice is so soft, so quiet. I feel like Juliet and here with Riley as my Romeo in secret. I stare out my window for a long time, at the black darkness caving into my room. At the curtain that hid the glass doors to the small balcony just connected to my room, swaying slightly in the cold breeze. Then I take a deep breath.
“Truth,” I murmur back, exhaling the cold air from my lungs.
“Hmm,” he sighed. “Tell me something you’ve never told anyone before. Something you’ve never said even out loud. Something you’ve been holding inside for days. For months. Years. . .”
I let out a soft breath, trying my best to laugh without being too loud. In the darkness of my room, my eyes found his and I stared into them for a long second.
“You already know all of them, Riley. I tell you everything, you know that.”
“Oh,” he chuckles, “Sydney. I know you better than that.”
I look back up at him lying sideways on my bed over the covers, his hand propped up on his cheek and elbow on my pillows. Even in the darkness I could see his eyes. Those icy blue eyes and fringed dirty blonde hair that hovered over his forehead in small spikes with the sides messily combed. He was the same boy who I’ve known since the second grade and the boy who can see right through me. The same boy who I was lying feet away from, the only person in the world who knows me better than anyone, but doesn’t know anything about me.
“Someday,” I say. “Someday I’ll tell you all of my secrets.”
He smiles, those eyes staring back into mine. “Why not now, Sydney?” He moves closer to me and I slowly back up away from him. “What do you have to lose?”
I blink. Everything, I tell myself. I have everything to lose. I can’t tell him. He’ll think I’m just as dirty as everybody else does. I’ll lose the only person who actually sticks up for me. The only person who I’ve ever at least thought cared. But maybe I was wrong. Nobody cared for me. Everybody who once did is gone, leaving new hating souls behind in their memories.
I take a deep breath again, trying to clog my airflow. He’s not supposed to be here anyway. He’s not supposed to be with me, not supposed to even know me. He’ll get hurt, just like I did.
And then I get lost in his eyes again. I stare at them for minutes. Minutes of questioning silence. Minutes of slow breaths that answered none. Minutes of losing myself inside of them like a maze I could never escape, full of memories of us growing up, the images of his past. Of everything.
Immediately I cuddle closer to him and lay there motionless in his chest. I press my head into his shirt so the tears I knew were about to fall, the weird moaning hiccupping noises that were reaching my lips with my sobs would be too quiet to hear.
“Can I show you something?” I whisper, whipping my nose with the back of my hand.
I get off the bed slowly, making sure the bed didn’t creek from the broken springs when I slid off.
I made my way to my closet and pushed all my clothes gently from the left wall. There, behind where there were usually torn shirts and ripped sweatshirts hanging up covering the wall, was a hole. It was big enough for a fist, and immediately that pain of the memory makes me flinch. My father, his big hand closed and his knuckles cracking, lashing outward towards me. Toward my head. I winced, my hand tracing over the right side of my head from where my father had skimmed it years ago. He had aimed for my eye but I dodged it and his hand hit the wall behind me after he cornered me into my closet with nowhere to run. In my mind, I watched it all over again, just like every other night in my nightmares. I watched the thirteen year old girl run into the closet with my dad running after her. Finally the girl stopped running and pushed her back against the closet wall, and then my dad’s arm came out like a baseball pitcher. And I ducked.
I wasn’t just seeing the incident in my head again though. It was what it had felt like, too, and I could feel the pain again from when he had hit me against the side of my head still throbbing like it had only just happened.
And then, I feel Riley right beside me, holding me in his arms, the warmness of his touch snapping me out of my memory.
In my softest voice manageable, I say, “My dad hits me. This is the place he first started to. He missed here. . .”
I started to lift my finger and point to the wall where the terrible memory still laid, but instantly I could feel Riley’s gentle fingers slide into my shaking hand and push my hand back to my side. Then he moves closer and starts to caress my hair as he runs his finger through it slowly, as if he was afraid to touch me. Afraid to hurt me.
I don’t move. I’m frozen, standing there, my head fallen back into his chest. The wet marks are already starting to form, soaking up in the cotton in his shirt, but it’s beyond his care.
My lips are already starting to start the sentence before he can ask what I know he’s already thinking. It’s the same question I’ve always asked myself for years. The same question I stayed up night after night crying about ever since my dad started to hit me.
“I was raped when I was thirteen.” I croak out. “I got pregnant. My parent’s never believed that I . . .” I drained off again. I was having a terrible time getting my words out tonight.
I lean in closer to Riley, trying to stop the tears. I can feel his arms wrap themselves around me; the warmth of his closeness feels so distant in the closet, in this tiny small space. It didn’t feel like a closet to me. It felt like the place I started to get beaten. And now, I felt like Riley was going to hit me too. But he didn’t, and each minute he was silent I had to look up just to see if he was still breathing. But I’m glad he was silent. It said what words couldn’t.
Finally he spoke, and when he did his voice was soft. “When I was little, I used to steal my mom’s bras and stuff chocolate pudding in them and then I put them back in her drawers to wear the next day.”
“I had a miscarriage.” I say.
“I kissed my cousin.”
“I took ten sleeping pills every night after that, hoping it would solve my problems.”
“I killed my dog.”
“Sometimes, my mom uses me as an ashtray. She calls me over after she’s done with a cigarette and makes me hold out my arm so she can put it out.”
We stop talking. I ease away from Riley’s hold and push up my sweatshirts big sleeves. Running along my right arm were burn marks everywhere and scars from when I tried cutting myself.
“It was summer.” Riley starts back again. It’s like we’re both having different conversations with ourselves at once, but somehow, deep inside of me, I know Riley’s listening. “I let him out of the house because I was mad he ate my hotdog right of the bun. I kicked him and watched him run out in the street. After that, the only thing I saw was his tail stop wagging as the car passed.”
“I ran away when I was fourteen, after the miscarriage.” I say.
“I buried Chip in the backyard in his favorite spot in the shade under the Blossom tree.”
“They sent search teams after me, and when I finally returned home they beat me again.”
“I’ve loved you ever since the third grade.”
I’ve started to say something else when my mind runs over his words. I pause, pushing away from Riley. I stare into those eyes again, my heart pounding hard in my chest. The eyes that told a story beyond mine, the eyes that said more than silence, more than words possibly could. The eyes that held the reflection of a sixteen year old girl with two dismal and depressed ones staring back, and a thousand shadows covering her face along with the past she never had.
“Nobody’s ever said they loved me since I was thirteen.” I breathe.
“I’ve never said I love you to anyone before. Not even my parents.”
I lean into him. “My daddy used to tuck me in my bed at night when I was little. Before I got pregnant. Before people think what they do about me. Before it all happened. He always said he loved me and he would kiss my forehead. I always said it back. Always.” I drain off. We’re silent for a long time, but for the first time I’m comfortable in the silence. Comfortable with someone standing so close to me. Comfortable to hear that somebody cares. “I always had a feeling I didn’t mean it though. But now, I’m sure I do. I love you too.”
He holds me closer and I let him touch me now. I let him run his hands over all my scars.
“Thanks.” I say softly, my voice still in a whisper. This entire time I felt like we were so alone together, nobody else home. But people were; the same people that beat me and burned my arm with cigarettes. And those people were only a few rooms from mine down the hall.
“For what?” He asks.
I stay quiet for a while, my head down, until finally I look up and into those eyes. “For being the only one who ever loved me.” I smile. “The only one who did, the only one who never judged me when everybody else did.”
Riley smiles, and then stares me down, pushing me into the corner my father did three years ago. The corner where the hole in the wall still was. But this time, I didn’t feel like the closet was just a place to be hit. It felt different.
My back up against the wall, just like that night it all started, my breathing slow and heavy, Riley stares at me for what seems like hours. Days. And then he leans into me and I can feel his warm breath spread across my face, the minty peppermint burning in my nose. And finally, the lips that in my heart I knew I always longed for, brushing against mine.