“It probably sounds strange, but getting the tattoo was like a rite of passage for me. Having it and remembering where I was emotionally at the time doesn’t make me sad. It reminds me that I can survive, that I came out of a difficult time in one piece.”
Maya’s lip trembled and she fidgeted with the edge of the sheet. She hadn’t opened up like this to me before, maybe ever. More and more my vision of Maya, who she was in her soul, began to resolve with the memory. The brown-eyed, blond-haired angel I used to love had changed, her bright flame both darkened and intensified at once, as if she’d walked into a long, cold shadow on her path and had spent the past four years trying to outrun it.
“Sometimes you don’t seem happy. I don’t have much to compare it to, but were you so much unhappier then than you are now?”
“Markedly. I’d lost you, I…” She swallowed hard and bit her lip, reddening the already rose-colored plump of flesh with the tip of her teeth.
Tension rippled through me with the unpleasant memory of how I’d left her. Wanting to forget it as quickly, I kissed her shoulder. I breathed in her subtle scent, reveling in the warm, petal-soft skin beneath my lips. Maya’s soul was encased in this body—warm impassioned flesh. Marked with dark symbols, her body held secrets to her past. I wondered what other truths I might uncover from it when she wasn’t pushing me away from her innermost thoughts.
I resisted the urge to let my mouth wander, to coax out the cries she’d given me earlier. I couldn’t ignore the premonition that more dwelled below the surface.
“You said other things… What other things were happening?”
She gave me a gentle push away. Resistant at first, I leaned back, giving her room to sit up. She moved her legs over the edge of the bed and rose quickly before I could pull her back down to me. She found her dress on the floor and slipped into it, the tight fabric hugging her everywhere.
“Where are you going?”
“I have to go home. Eli is probably wondering where I disappeared to.”
She had a valid point. In fact, I wondered why her phone hadn’t been ringing off the hook. She’d been gone for almost an entire day, and we’d never let anyone know we left. She could have been anywhere, with anyone. Maybe they assumed we would end up together last night, but then again, maybe this was routine.
Memories from last night played in my mind. The one with another women’s mouth on her shot to the forefront. I fisted my hand, bristling at the display they’d put on, how I’d nearly pummeled their onlookers.
“You disappear a lot on Saturday nights?” The question came out before I could think about its implication or temper the meaning and disappointment that laced every word.
She shot me a cold look. Motionless, she stared, and regret rooted in my gut. She grabbed her purse and pulled on her coat.
MAYA. I took a cab back home. I wanted to put distance between us quickly.
I hated the judgment in his voice. Especially after what we’d done. I’d exposed myself physically and emotionally, only for him to fling my bad behavior at me.
I stewed the rest of the day, and my phone remained ominously silent. Maybe now that he’d gotten f*****g me out of the way, we could get back to reality. Anger circled around the raw vulnerability I had when I was with him. I wanted to wipe it out, bury it deep. But how could I when he had me pinned that way, stripping me with his own honesty? He’d said he loved me. If he’d been anyone else, I wouldn’t have believed him. I believed him. I had no doubts that he was falling as hard and fast as I was.
Yet, the hours of silence had me unsettled. I had no idea what he was thinking now, and I hated that I was on the defensive now. I sat with the rejection¸ slowly turning it to self-assurance, that I could stay ahead of this. I wasn’t going to let him run my heart into the ground this time. I couldn’t go through that again. I wouldn’t deny loving him, but I’d just dipped my toe in it. I wasn’t drowning in it yet. I could still save myself.
He called on my commute to work the next morning. I ignored it, and the handful of texts that followed. He’d let me sit with my resentment a little too long. Just before lunch, my phone dinged again. Compulsively I searched for it, too eager for another inquiring text from Cameron. Instead, it was Jia.
J: Pop into my office before you head out.
A nervous heat prickled under my skin—a mixture of shame and embarrassment that I was going to lose my job for my atrocious behavior. I tried in vain to focus on work as the last thirty minutes ticked by before I was supposed to meet Vanessa for lunch. Finally, I couldn’t take it anymore. I knocked quietly on Jia’s door. I heard a muffled voice inside. Hesitant, I opened it. She was sitting at her desk, her fingers flying over her keyboard. She paused when I entered.