Light Blue: Chapter 2

Copyright 2011, Nicholas L. Laning

You Can’t Roller Skate in a Buffalo Herd
“Alright, show me whatcha got.  Come on.  Big smile.”
The boy’s eyes were focused just over my right shoulder, where I could just imagine his mother was standing, spreading a wide, practiced, adult grin, fingers pointing at her cheeks. 
His tiny mouth stretched and strained, not quite sure how to perform as was being silently demanded.  His “smile” flashed a mouth of half-missing teeth and pink gums.  His nose crinkled, and his eyes squinted into a menacing glare.  I was just about to begin to help him with his smile when the mother’s voice chirped in right behind my ear, “Danny, smile, honey.  You’ve got to smile.  Don’t you want to smile for mommy?”
Forced grin still plastered across the kids face, he shook his head.
“Well, I’m sorry, but this is important to mommy, so smile.”
Again, I could just imagine her spreading an even wider smile, pointing even more intensely at the corners of her smiling mouth.  Whatever she was doing was only making it worse.  The kid’s already outstretched face was now maxed out with elasticity.  Every tooth, top and bottom, reflected brightly from the studio lights.  Lips were stretched thin.  His eyes bulged, trying to look happy, glowing, but the result was hysterically maniacal.
I turned over my shoulder to see the mother making the almost exact same face.  She dropped the face immediately, embarrassed for a second, then recovered with a look of snobbery that parents often get when they are doing something for their child, as if nothing done for them could ever be wrong, not even murder.
“Okay,” I said as I turned back to Danny.  “Here’s what I want you to do.  Okay?”
“Okay,” he replied, his tender voice manipulated by trying to keep that ridiculous… whatever it is… look… plastered across his face. 
“Drop your face.”  I dropped mine as I said it, letting every muscle in my face relax.  Keeping my face and lips loose, I mumbled, “Okay, good.  Now shake it out.”  I shook my face hard.  He did the same, but with the enthusiasm of a child.  He shook his head like a wild man.  Once he stopped, he began to laugh with joy.
I held down the shudder.  A dizzying series of clicks shot out in rapid fire.
“There it is.”  I turned back to see the mother smiling.  She held her hands over her chest as if doing so would keep her heart from bursting out, or perhaps to feel it beating truly with the love she had for her son.
“That’s the last one, and I think it is going to be the best.”
She nodded.  “Thank you.  We’ll be back for our Christmas portrait soon.”
“Sure.  Perfect.  I look forward to it.”
“Am I done yet?”  Danny whimpered.
“Yes, come on honey.  Let’s go.”
She paid out, set up an appointment for the Christmas Portrait, and left.  More exhausted than I had ever been in my life, they could not leave the studio quick enough.  When the bell chimed behind them, I stumbled over to the corner of the empty studio to flop down into a big, blue beanbag I liked to use as a prop sometimes.  The beans hissed and gave way underneath me.  
Thank god my two o’clock cancelled.  So tired.  It had been a full day, and would be the rest of the way, save for this one cancellation.  Usually cancellations irritated me to no end, but not right then.  I wished they would all cancel.  Imagining them calling and hearing their excuses for postponing, yes, postponing, not cancelling their portraits. 
Within a minute of plopping down, I had already nodded off and woken up twice.  Just set your alarm, moron.  I lifted my butt up off the ground so I could reach into my front jean pocket, and fish out my cell phone.  Once in hand, I got comfy, and began to flip through the menus to set my alarm.
Though it wasn’t loud at all, my body jolted a bit at the sound of the tinkling bell above the door.  A gust of cool air followed.  Leaves ticked about in the autumn wind outside.  I couldn’t see who it was.  My desk blocked my view of the door. 
“Heeyyyyy, anyone here?” a high, sparkling female voice rang.
Anger began to bubble up inside me, but I caught it.  I had no right to be mad.  It was my idea to fly half way across the world to fly back with Carissa, and it was worth it.  So, with that in mind, I slowly raised my aching body awkwardly out of the beanbag. 
Whoa.  The voice had come from a tall, immensely beautiful young woman.  Tight jeans.  Trendy knee-high boots worn outside the legs.  She wore a white button-up shirt with a bunch of frilly stuff on the front on top.  She wore a knit beanie low, just across the tops of her eyebrows.  Straight, jet-black hair framed the edge of her heavily made up eyes that, while they would technically be considered brown, were closer to black, with only the slightest distinction between iris and pupil. 
Her beauty hurt my chest, and had taken my breath away.  Walls flew up around my heart and mind.  She had caught me off guard, and that’s okay, but no one was allowed to make me feel that way but Carissa.  Other girls could still be found pretty, but in a different way, in the same you find a mountain pretty, or a painting pretty. 
“Hello.”  I stuck out my hand to shake hers.  “I thought you’d cancelled.”
“On you?  No way.”  She smiled sharply.
Is she flirting with me?  I wondered.  I tried to guess her heritage, but couldn’t.  What I could tell was that she was a modern, urban, American woman to the hilt.  That much was obvious.
Her eyes sparkled.  “So, I kind of used this whole portrait thing as an excuse to shop for a bunch of new clothes.”  Her grin was sheepish, but still flirtatious.  She held up a shopping bag. “So, Mr. Photographer, what would you have me wear?”
In a nanosecond, a hundred lewd replies had shot through my brain.  I threw the walls up higher.  It usually wasn’t this hard, but I was too tired to keep everything together, everything in order.  Feelings and thoughts were just coming out before I could stop them. 
I gave her the advice I gave every girl.  “Well, that’s up to you, but I would wear something that fits your figure.  That is what usually looks best in pictures.  A lot of people like to try and hide behind loose clothes, but loose clothing often just makes you look bigger.  Wear whatever colors you want.  I will change the background accordingly.”  That was enough, but I kept on, “You know, you might try a lighter color.  It will contrast well with and bring out your already beautiful eyes.”  My stomach flipped at the look of pleasure my words had given her.  Obscenities rolled though my head, cursing myself over and over again for the inward betrayal. 
The left side of her mouth curled up mischievously as she replied, “I can do that,” then whipped her head around, scooped up the rest of her bags and sauntered off to the changing room. 

Save Me From What I Want
She smiled.  I stared at her through the viewfinder of my camera, processing her features to discern how to best capture them.  We spent the last five minutes or so taking junk shots, where I just have the client basically be goofy until they are relaxed a bit, and feel comfortable enough to give a real smile, or even better, not smile at all. 
She lounged comfortably along the curved spine of an ornately carved, antique sofa.  She had taken my words to heart, and thrown them back in my face, having come back out in a slinky, white evening gown, with sparkling stones along it’s slanted lines.  I didn’t know a ton about clothes, but I could tell it had cost a pretty penny.  It was graceful and elegant.  Sleeveless.  High neckline, but, with a plunging back that showed of her toned back. 
“Alright, give me a face, any face.  Go.”
She puckered out her lips and arched one of her eyebrows, just like every other girl on Facebook does when taking a picture of themselves in the mirror with their phone.  I hate it when girls make that face.  I forced a laugh.  “Why do girls like that face?  What does that face say, exactly?”
She shrugged and blinked.  “I don’t know.  It’s our sexy face.”
“Is it?”
“You don’t think my face is sexy?”  She said with hurt tone.
“Yes, I think your face is sexy.”  More curse words flowed.  I am just tired.  Don’t read into it.  You’re just tired.  Just tired.
I could tell she enjoyed my slipup.  “Well, Mr. Photographer, then why don’t you give me a good face then?”
“Okay, here’s what we are going to do, I am going to
“So, what are you doing tonight?”  She asked with a small tremor in her voice.
“Ha.  Uuuuh, I will be sleeping.”
“With who?”
The question took me back, throwing a lump into my throat.  Her tone was off-putting with its flatness and sincerity.  It would be so much easier if she actually sounded easy, sounded overly seductive.  I tried to answer coolly, not letting my frustration show.  “No one.  Just sleeping.”
“That’s a shame.  Men shouldn’t sleep alone.”
What amazed me, again, was that she didn’t say any of it with the type of sexualized tone.  It was said gently, sincerely, which made it all the more difficult to laugh off, or toss aside.  She was dead serious, and had yet to avert the lock she had on my eyes.
“I have a girlfriend.”  I said proudly.
Without flinching she popped, “and you’re sleeping alone?”
I didn’t answer.  Instead, I pressed down the shutter and took off a few clicks.  The bulbs flashed bright with a pop.  A second later the last image came up on the LCD screen on the back of my camera.  It was a great picture.  One of the best I had ever taken.  It was sexy, sincere, and vulnerable all at the same time.  “That’s one of the best pictures I have ever taken.”
She smiled, then went right back at it.  “So, are you some kind of church guy or something?”
I exhaled with frustration.  “Nope.  Far from it.  Atheist actually.  But, my girlfriend, Carissa, is very Christian.”
“Ah, I see,” she said.  “Well, that’s okay I guess, for her, but what are you doing with a girl like that?  I know one thing…”  She trailed off, waiting for me to ask.
“What’s that?”
“I,” she stressed, “wouldn’t let you sleep alone.  That’s for damn sure.”
“You should be with a girl like me.” Her voice echoed through my head.  It was the exhaustion.  I knew it, but couldn’t stop it.  The thought leaked into my mind, taking root in my heart, and other more fickle places, What are you doing with Carissa?  You should be with a girl like that, Joel.  Look at her.  I did, and was amazed.  She is sweet, sexy, and there would be no stopping, no boundaries with her.  You and she could be whole.
There it was again.  Whole.  Carissa and I would never be whole.  Maybe it made sense on some level that I should be with a girl like this one.  There was no good reason on the outside that I should be with Carissa.  Yet, truth is, not whole with Carissa is still a million times better than whole with this girl, or any other girl.  I don’t understand it, and it drives me mad, but Carissa doesn’t just have my heart, if there is such thing, she is my heart.  Only with Carissa could I ever be whole.

The darkness of my room held me.  Soft stripes of yellow light beamed in through my shades, stretching dimly across the walls.  It wasn’t often I was able to think of nothing, but that’s exactly what I was thinking about… nothing, mesmerized by the interplay between the bars of light and dark.  Occasionally things got really interesting when the lights from a passing car would cause the bars to slide about my walls and ceiling.  I had been lying peacefully in that half-awoken half-asleep state for hours, drifting in and out of dreams, both good and bad, all of them weird.  I could feel my brain grinding under the strain of the massive chemical reboot it had just received.  I had been asleep for a very, very long time. 
I felt momentary happiness, and not just any kind of happiness, but the best kind, the kind that comes only from thinking I don’t have something, and then get it.  Residual panic still lingered on the edges of consciousness from waking up earlier with the horrified notion I was late for work, only to see that it wasn’t morning, but in fact completely night, it was the weekend, and I could sleep for as long as I wanted. 
My body stretched, twisted and turned.  My joints popped and cracked.  The sheets whistled smoothly and wonderfully across my skin.  I felt warm and safe under the weight of my duvet and comforter. 
Memories of yesterday, of life, were tapping on the outside of the glass bubble I had put up around me.  They threatened to break through at any moment, but I fought it.  Just a few more minutes, I pleaded with my subconscious.
Calculating and cruel, my subconscious hit play on the recording of yesterday and turned up the volume, “I wouldn’t let you sleep alone.”  The images of her shaped, glossy lips slowly rounding out the sounds were projected forcefully into my conscious mind.  I tried to stop it, but it played from somewhere so deep, there was no way for me to reach the off button.  Again and again it played, causing the empty space on the bed around me to become bigger and bigger.  I was alone.
With violence, I opened my eyes, threw my hands on top of the covers, and pushed myself up into a sitting position.  I reached over and fondled the cold, hardwood side of my dresser until I came hold of the dangling knob that opened my t-shirt drawer.  My wrist sat uncomfortably across the front lip of the open drawer while I felt around for what I wanted.  Just as I got my hands on the shirt I was looking for, I realized that all of the shirts were flat and neatly folded.  This contradicted my last recollection, that of an almost empty drawer, a couple of shirts and a single sock clumped up against the back. 
Should have been obvious, but it took my still half-sleeping brain almost a minute to recognize Carissa’s handiwork.   The shirt I was looking for was my father’s when he was in high school.  Forty something years had worn it paper-thin, fragile, and incredibly soft.  The shirt smelled fresh and clean.  Suave-Tel.  Yep.  That was her brand.  She had come and gone, putting all my clothes away while I slept.  For a moment, I wondered if she had ever stopped and watched me sleep, and thought me handsome.   I missed her deeply.  My body ached again, but now for the next time I would see her.  Depending on how late it was, I would probably have to wait until the morning. 
I was debating between going back to sleep and playing some NCAA Football on the Xbox, when a loud crash came from somewhere in my apartment.  I sprung out of bed, and ran into living room, swiping my pocketknife off my desk on the way out.  Heart pounding and ready for action, my fist tightened around the knife.  All the lights in the living room were off save for the TV, which flickered silently.  Light glowed from the kitchen.   I popped into the door of the kitchen.
Carissa shrieked, dropped an empty plate, which shattered on the hardwood floor.  Her hands flew up over chest, then her mouth, then back to her chest again.  I couldn’t help but laugh uncontrollably at her cuteness. 
She finally opened her eyes, only to shut them again even tighter.  She laughed, and pointed in direction of my legs, then chirped, “Good morning?”
I dropped my gaze to see the tent of my shorts.  My face flushed with bit of embarrassment before I started walking toward her.  “Carissa, what’s wrong?” I asked sarcastically.  “Come give me a hug.” 
“Mr. Bernal, you go take care of that…” she stopped.
“Exactly,” she said through smiling teeth.  Without even opening her eyes, she was somehow still was able to connect a jab perfectly in the sweet spot.  Again, I limped off, dripping melodrama.  “The pain!   The agony!”
“Go on, get back in bed.  I am going to bring you breakfast.”
I inhaled deeply through my nose.  It didn’t smell like breakfast, and I said so, “Am I having steak for breakfast?”
She had turned her back to me and punched on my Kuerig machine, which immediately began to slurp and bubble as its coils heated up.  “Mmhmm. That’s what you eat for breakfast when you wake up at eight o’clock at night, Mr. I’ve-been-asleep-for-twenty-something hours.  I was at home unpacking, when Mom and Dad invited me over.  I went over for little while.  Dad’d made steak, and sent one over just for you.”
My just-woke-up voice boomed about the kitchen, “Did you remind him that arsenic is not a marinade?”
“Kidding, kidding.”  I headed off back to bed, throwing over my shoulder, “Sort of.”
Her voice rang through the house from the kitchen, “’Heard that!”
Within five minutes she kicked the door gently open.  Trey in hand, she squeezed through the door.  The various cups, plates, and utensils all clicked, clanked, and rattled with each step she took.  Every movement was cautious and precise.  Ridged arms.  Neck muscles tightened.  Eyes fixed upon the trey.  Her upper body was a statue.
I hadn’t really noticed that she was wearing a pair of my sweatpants, and one of my sweatshirts.  They absolutely dwarfed her in every way.  The elastic bands around the wrists weren’t enough to keep the sleeves from sliding down making it look as if she had no hands, and that the trey was just an extension of her arms.  She had rolled up the waist of the pants a couple of times to make the waste fit.  Good thing she had shorts and t-shirt underneath, because I had no idea when those pants were going to let go of her petite frame and fall to the ground.
No sooner had the thought crossed my mind, than it happened.  She had gingerly made her way all the way from the kitchen to my bedside, when they let out and fell to the floor, piling up silently around her ankles.  Her already infamously white skin had found a new shade of pale under the grey, Irish sky.  Black, Umbro shorts made the contrast all the more obvious.
She closed her eyes, sighed, smiled, and shook her head.
I clapped mockingly, while suppressing a laugh.
She opened her eyes, waddled over to the edge of the bed, and handed the trey over to me.  In a flirtatious huff, she bent down and pulled the sweatpants up, collecting them about her waist.  When she lifted up her head, several strands of hair had fallen down in front of her playfully, frazzled face.  Hands holding tightly to the waist of the pants, she blew out a puff of air, pushing the hair back from her face.
Seeing my reaction, she continued to play it up, waddling the entire way around the right side of the bed before sitting down on the edge.  “What do you think?”  She asked softly.
Slowly and intentionally, I surveyed the culinary landscape that sprawled out in front of me.  Steak topped with pepper.  Sweet potato, buttered, coated with brown sugar, and steaming hot.  Green Beans.  Iced tea served in one of my etched, crystal tumblers.  Salt and peppershakers were at the ready.  Napkin folded like a professional.  And, I wouldn’t know for sure, but it looked as if the silver ware had been positioned in the way some book would say was proper. 
I nodded with fervor, eyes still on the presentation in front of me.  “Oh yeah.”

I plunged my hands into the water.  They tingled with pain, but I grimaced my way through it, until my hands became at least somewhat more accustomed to the heat.  How do women do this?  Every time I had cleaned dishes with the women in my life, they seemed to be able to handle the extreme heat that accompanies doing the dishes.  Being a man, I had had to dig up every ounce of machismo to not show how much it hurt when around them.  At least I could be a woos about it with no one around to judge me.
I grabbed the top dish, and began to rub the grime off with my thumbs.  Each rub grunted and moaned audibly, even from underneath the water.  Once I sunk into the mundane flow of my task, my eyes blurred out of focus, and my mind drifted. 
Staring mindlessly down into the steaming, suds-topped water in front of me, I imagined myself small enough to be able to stand on the end of the faucet.   Then, I dove into the sink like it was a giant pool.  Able to hold my breath forever, I would swim under the water all I like.  The dishes would act as sunken ships to be explored. 
With a jerk, I yanked the plug and pulled forward out of my head.  The drain sucked and gurgled all the water away.  There were a few dishes left, but that would do the time.
Carissa was summoned in my mind, flooding my senses with their memories of her.  Without her here, I could still smell her, feel her skin, taste her lips, hear her voice, and see her light blue eyes.   Anticipation charged me, for there was no need to imagine.  I reveled in the electricity distance had refreshed, knowing that sometime down the road, despite my best efforts, there would be times when I would take her for granted.  Not today, though.  Today I was saturated with affection.
Gingerly, I walked through my apartment, up to my bedroom door.  With great care, I grabbed the knob, and slowly turned it.  Once fully turned, I pushed the door silently open. 
Jetlagged and snoring, she lay on the left side of my bed, curled atop the covers.  My trip had been brutal, grueling, but my body never had to adjust time zones.  I was over and back before that was necessary. 
Despite the cool, autumn temperatures outside, the fan was on high.  The loud whirring sound it made covered the soft hush of steps while I snuck up to left side.  Now I could see her face, asleep and precious.  Lips occasionally bulging open when exhaling deeply.  She had charged me with keeping her awake until eleven o’clock.  Slowly but surely, she was pushing her body back to Central Standard Time.  Or so she was trying to do.  She had fallen asleep while I ate.  While we were talking, she laid her head back, “just to rest a bit, not to sleep,” she had said.  Not a minute passed before she had conked out. 
Part of me debated breaking my promise and letting her sleep.  She looked so tired.  I didn’t want her to be tired, to be miserable, but I knew better.  She would feel better once her body was adjusted.  As cruel as waking her up now seemed, it is for the best. 
So, I sat down on the side of the bed, picked up my legs, and swung them on top, until I lay on my side facing her.  The wooden frame of my bed creaked and cracked under my weight.  My eyes focused sharply on the twitches and movements of her face.  That hadn’t woken her.  I reached over and rested my hand with extreme care upon her shoulder.  Her tiny shoulder poked through the encompassing sweatshirt that billowed about her like a blanket.  Still not awake.  I gave her shoulder the tiniest shake and called her name as low and soft as possible. 
She didn’t jolt as expected.  Her eyes drifted open in one slow, fluid motion.  Light blue eyes again stared at me.  Somewhere behind them, I swear I could hear the rush of the ocean.  I smiled.  So as to keep the waking up process as gentle and pleasant as could be, I kept my voice low and soft.  “Hey.”
“Hey,” she said with raspy sleep-ridden tone. 
“Sorry to wake you up.  I would’ve been happy to just watch you sleep, but you said to keep you up.”
She drew a sharp breath and stretched.  “Thank you.”
“Besides, I’d have to kick you out eventually.  Can’t have you sleep over or anything like that.”  I’d said it with a sarcastic tone.  We both knew I wouldn’t care about such a thing.
She didn’t miss a beat.  “Ooooh Yeaahhh,  riiiiiiight.  Yep, well, bummer.  I thought I had you this time, maybe sneak my way into getting to stay over.”
I waived my finger in front of me.  “No, no.  One of us has to draw the line here, and you are clearly too weak to do it.” 
She chuckled, just as I’d wanted.  Her face dropped.  Though I can usually tell what she is thinking, I couldn’t figure out what was going on behind those eyes.  Something secret, unshared.  An incredible urge burned to know, to push, but not now.
“I wish I could.”
“Sleep here, with you.”
My face dropped like a stone.  I knew she loved me, but it had always seemed so easy for her to say no, to keep her distance.  I have never had any power to even fake being strong.  I need her, and don’t know how to hide it.
“I know you think it’s easy for me… it’s not.  It’s not easy, Joel Bernal.  It’s not easy.”  Her voice shook a bit.  “You have no idea how hard it is to not give myself to you, to hold out, to wait for you.”
“You have me.”
“Do I?  I don’t know how it could be so, but no one knows me like you do, and my heart knows none like yours, and yet we are so far apart, Joel, so far apart, and it kills me.”  A tear dropped from her eye.  She wiped it.  “I’m sorry, I am extra emotional.  I am still very tired.  I don’t mean to cry. 
“You can cry whenever you want.  It just breaks my heart when it’s me that is the reason you cry.”
“I don’t think anyone has hurt us as much as we have.  I don’t know how much more I can take, Joel.”
Everything jolted.  My heart broke.  What is she saying?
“Stop, I don’t mean it like that.  I don’t know what I mean, just that we can’t go on like this forever.  Something has to change, doesn’t it?”
She was right.  It couldn’t, and I knew it.  We were being torn apart from the inside out each and every day we stayed like this.  “I suppose it does.”
“You want to know something funny?”
I pushed through the anger and sadness welling up inside me, to remain strong for her.  Later, I could let it go, but not here.  “What’s that?”
“No one has made me feel closer to God than you have.”
There was nothing to say.  No response would make a difference.  All I could do is push up a smile, look at her eyes, and listen to the ocean behind them, lest I lose myself in bitterness.
“Joel, I want you to know…”
Before she could finish her sentence, I reached out and touched her face, leaving her silent, eyes bulging with exileration.  I drug my knuckles ever so softly against the lines of her face.  My hand opened, and with my fingertips, I traced the outer rim of lips.  Their smooth, pink purse lips gave to my touch.  Her breath blew heavy across my fingers.  I traced her mouth several times.  Then, I etched the ridge of her perfect nose.  Finally, I let my open palm cup the right side of her face.  Her right eye, blazing light blue, peaked in between the gap of my thumb and the rest of my fingers. 
My movements felt childlike to me as I scooted myself right up against her, matching her curled posture, placing my face inches away from hers.  Our noses touched.  I didn’t say a thing.  I just felt.
Delight.  That’s what I felt as I watched her eyes burn with intensity.  Mine surely did so back, wrapt completely in love.  When I looked into her eyes, this time, I did not see heaven, but our love as history, unfolding through out all of time.
It was there when the universe had yet to break open, to be.  There in the cold nothing, it was, waiting for us to come.  I could see us.  We were a king and queen, staring at each other under the covers of our lavish bed, holding each other as the world outside begged for our last bits of strength to keep it together.  Then, we were a boy and girl, playing hide and go seek, hiding in the bushes.  Out of breath from running, we cuddled silently together in the leaves, faces inches apart, watching our would-be finders screaming giddily about the yard, without understanding what was going on in our hearts, only that it was.  We were people ancient, standing on an undiscovered earth, telling each other we loved each other with just our eyes, just as we are now, as language had yet to be.  The collection of that love in its entirety; all of it, was flowing through us.
“I wish this could be.”  Though just a whisper the words pounded me in the chest with their weight. 
I whispered back, “Me too, like nothing else.”
“You know that movie, Source Code, how in it there are all of those universes?”
“How different outcomes could occur in the different universes?”
She paused, as if reconsidering what she was about to say.  “Do you think there’s a universe out there where both of us are atheist, of both of us are Christians?  Where we are whole?”
My heart broke into dark sadness, but I masked it from showing in my whisper.  I thought about giving in for just a second, to playing along, but as if someone else controlled it, my both opened.  “No, I don’t… but I wish.”
She nodded.  A single tear pooled atop the side of her nose.  “Me neither.  I like to pretend it though.”
I couldn’t even answer.  I was filled with so much conflict.  Rage.  Devotion.  Frustration.  Love.  Bitterness.  Passion.  They were all inside me, tearing me into pieces while trying to each drag me their way. 
I was going to reach over, put my hand on her back, and pull her all the way against me so that I could hold her, so that we could hurt together, as always.  Unintentionally, though, my hand slid under the bottom of her shirt.  At first my heart pounded and a gentle hiss came as my hand slid smoothly across her silky skin, but when it reached the small of her back, I could feel something… something foreign on her skin. 
Everything shifted in the blink of an eye.  Carissa’s demure demeanor gave way.  She shot upright, grabbed the bottom of the great sweatshirt and stretched it downward.  Her reaction startled me, both physically and emotionally.
“What was that?”  I asked with a calmness reserved only for Carissa.
“Don’t… don’t worry about it.  It’s nothing big.  It’s fine.”
“Show me.”
She wore the most earnest face she could put on.  “Please don’t.”
I kept my calm, but my anger at having something hidden from me peaked through the cracks of my practiced, gentle tone.  “Carissa, show me.”
Her face dropped at the invocation of her name.  I had thrown down the ultimate ante between us.  She didn’t say a word, just turned until her back faced me, and stopped. 
Without hesitation, I lifted up the back of her shirt and sweatshirt just enough to show the small of her back.  There, an inch to the left of the valley of her spine, a scar raised above her skin. 
My heart both stopped pounding, and pounded faster, if that’s even possible. Something inside me tore under the realization that she had hidden this from me. 
With dead calm, shooting daggers out of my stone cold face, I asked her, “What the… how… did this happen?”
She whipped about to look at me, wincing upon meeting my acerbic glare.  Stone cold, she just said it, “I got stabbed.”
A tide of fire engulfed me.  Before I could think a single cogent thought, I had stood up and swept my hand across the top of the nightstand, sending a vase flying over to break against the wall.  My eyes bulged out of my head.  Spit flew out of my seething, teeth-baring mouth.  Someone had stabbed my Carissa.  In seconds, I had already tortured and decapitated the blurry-faced perpetrator with glee.  My hands yearned for the feel of his windpipe, that they might get to crush it.
It took every bit of restraint not to yell.  “Tell me everything.”
“I can’t.” 
My heart broke further.  “What do you mean you can’t tell me?  Of course you can tell me!  You’ve told me your darkest secrets and fears.  I know the things you’ve done.”  I waited a lifetime.  No response.  Just silence, and a trembling, tear-filled, blank stare.
“Talk to me, damn it!”  I shouted.
“I can’t!”  She shouted back.  “I can’t tell you why it happened, and I can’t tell you why I can’t tell you.  All I can say is that I was stabbed, that I have a very good reason for not telling you, and that you need to trust me, Joel.  You need to love me!  Love me, truly, and believe!”
Believe.  There it was.  The key word.  I hate belief… except when it comes to her.  In her, I have believed, but now I feel myself turning apostate.  Recantation was bursting from my heart, up onto my tongue. 
Then, as so many times before, she looked at me.  I peered in through the light blue waters, and this time I saw my own past, before I met her.  It was darker than the vast chasm I now stared into.  The only reason I now hated the one who had stabbed her, was because of she.  For but a moment, I could once again feel the complete emptiness of my depression.  I stood in the grey, skinless, every nerve exposed.  The passing wind was enough to make me scream, if only I had a mouth. 
There at the breaking point, I chose.  The words caught in my throat.  Every bit of my pride held them inside me.   For over a minute, all I could do was stare blankly into her eyes, which were busy, desperate in searching my face for any crack or sign of what was to come. 
Only when I saw her face begin to fall in doubt did I conjure the strength, the willpower to muscle out, “Okay.”
“I will trust you.”
She flung herself into my chest.  Her arms flung around me and squeezed almost to the point of pain.  Heavily, her body convulsed with each sob.  I could feel the cool wetness of her tears soak through my shirt. 
This fight had just begun.  Yet, again, with every bit of discipline, I slowly put my arms around her, and told her it would be okay.  I lied.