She doesn't seem to sleep, not really. I think she naps, when she thinks I'm not looking, maybe even when I'm not there.
I caught her one time, after, when she thought I was far enough asleep that didn't need her watching over me. Her belly rose and fell in smooth breaths: up, down, up, down. I touched the soft orange peel looking part, of her belly, right above and below her belly button, which she hated and put my quivering lips to it. She woke with a look of disgust and asked me why. I kissed her again and asked why shouldn't I?
I watched her too, as she left her apartment that morning when she found the butterfly stick-on tattoos on her belly, the wing tips touching, one over the other. Her hand rested below her belt and her lips and eyes enjoyed a quiet smile.
"When did you have time to do that? " She asked the next time we met.
"When you were sleeping. "
Maybe she doesn't realize that she sleeps. Right after she folds herself into me and I rock her, holding on for life, for her love, for everything. Maybe she doesn't realize that she does because she closes her eyes towards the end and just follows my hands. I held her, longer then, after the tattoos.
Her hair reached down to the small of her back then. And she wore it unbraided till two in the morning, when she allowed me to her place. When I always seemed to need her.
"You always look like you're sorry when you come here. "
She waited on the other side of the door in her big button down cotton shirt. Looking linear, her feet together, her eyes serious, her hair straight against her back, undone.
"And I told you not to wear skirts at this time of night. " I knew.
She reaches out her hand and I take it. Still I keep my eyes on the wood floor. She pulls me to her, wrapping my arms around her waist. Her thumbs stroke the sides of my face, making my eyes close. She kisses me, standing on her toes and pulls me up to her. My fingers dig into her shirt and then into her back. Which only makes her kiss me harder, then I finally begin to struggle less.
She smacks her lips together lightly, then leaves me and tends to the open door. It slams quickly and locks seal it shut. I sit on the edge of the sofa, my hands buried in my denim jacket pockets, fists. She sits on her leg facing me.
"You don't have to look so sorry, I told you it was alright to come. "
I reach to the nape of her neck and grab her hair, placing my other hand on the wall to stop me from making my head bleed from hitting it on the brick wall. I reach her throat with my tongue and I feel the saltiness that comes before retching. She follows my thighs up. I stop kissing her to leave and she pulls me back.
"Don't... " And she lets go. I turn my face the other way. I notice that my jacket found its way to the floor, my pockets empty out. I stumble back, still trying to get up, get away, get by. I stood by the door, crossing my arms and planting my heels into the floor.
"I might hurt you. "
"I'd rather you hurt me and not yourself. I'm a big girl. "
"They'll kill me. "
"At least if you tell them, they'll be warned. "
I bit my knuckle. " I wish I could have warned myself first. "
"You don't make what you are, you just come into it. "
She unbuttoned her shirt and stood behind me. Her fingers pulled hard to turn me around, she knew I would resist. I lost her, somewhere, somewhere behind the blurry candle light, behind the red lipstick smeared on her lips, behind my fear.
I can't say I knew what anything meant or that I wanted it to mean just what it was. She said that night I cried through most of it and got angry through the rest. I told her I didn't quiet remember. She said she wiped my tears as I slept and that's why she didn't forget. It was vague that morning, as I tried to make her breakfast and she came, naked and had breakfast of me on the sugar speckled table. The scars on my backside from the fork I didn't realize was there, still looked suspicious to Doug.
Still she let me in at two. Even before the red scratches went away and the bruise on her thigh was completely healed. I never had to give her excuses. She accepted that I would be there and she let me in.
"Why do you let me come? "
"Because you need to."
And she always answered like she never had enough words, like she had no use for them. Like me asking questions with words was too much.
I found a key in the mail. She took three chances by coming and dropping it off: Mom, Dad and Doug. She knew about Doug. That I casually loved him, that Mom and Dad adored him and that I would eventually leave him. She knew, he was not, "...what I was or wanted..." and that I never gave him bruises or scratches or got angry with him in bed. I never hurt for his kisses or cried for his touch. She knew. And still she let me in at two in the morning.
Mom thought I spent most of my nights at Doug's and Doug thought I always left early so I wouldn't make Mom angry. And still my candle burned at both ends. Four months spread into twenty at two in the morning. And Doug would ask if I would be over and I would always promise. Still he would say nothing when I would shower afterwards and little did he say when I started feeling sick when he would hold me and less he would say when I stopped kissing him. But he cherished me and she, she said she loved me.
"You have a key, why do you knock? "
"I didn't know if you had company or not. " I looked her in the eye now.
"You cut your hair. " She palmed the smooth silky fuzz that was left.
"Yeah ... and I told Doug. "
"Before or after you cut your hair. "
"Before. My parents don't know either. I just wanted to know if I could bring a few things over, till the storm passes with them. "
I dropped my weekender at her feet and marched down the hall and out the door. It had been twenty-seven months at two in the morning.
Dad sends money to the PO box regularly. He says Mom sends her love, although she has never signed her name. He said she loved the flowers that I watched her throw in the trash bin on the curb. And though Doug has never spoken to Dad personally, Dad didn't know he broke my nose. He tells me that he wishes I would grow my hair back, he misses how I look and he wonders if I would have lunch with him, of course without Mom, she has a conference that afternoon. I drop him a note and fill him in on my studies, which he still pays for and tell him, lunch will be on me.
"I think I should go. " She passes her warm palms on the sides of me, tensing my bare skin. I stop.
"If you want to... I mean really. "
She kisses the space between my shoulders and neck and slides off to get dressed.
Dad says I've lost weight. I tell him I've become vegan. He grips his fork and looks at Jana. He notices her solidness and how angular her jaw is and how the gray has started at her right temple. He looks back and notices how my cheeks hollow and how my head is still bald and how certain my eyes remain. He hands me a gift he says is from Mom and I buy him an expensive cigar. He tells Jana he is glad to finally meet her and she shakes his hand, holding on to him to let him know I'm in good hands. He looks through her, then to her, then lets her go.
I give him a hug for Mom and tell him I'll call her soon, even though I know she won't pick up, even though I know she needs to hear my voice, even though I know I won't call again after that.
Later, I find out that they've been talking. Jana and Mom. And she told her how Doug broke my nose and how I keep shaving my head and that I went to the eye doctor like I was supposed to and even, maybe how often I shit.
"She's the only daughter I have, you understand. " And Mom bites her lip like she does when she feels she has to do something even though there is nothing she can do.
"And I love her very much. " And Jana watched Mom leave down the street, wiping her eyes with her sleeve. And I watched Jana walk to where Doug works and grab him by the collar and drop him to the ground and break his ribs with her knee.
"What are you doing?!! " I stopped her in the street.
"I don't know. "
But she slept that night when she got home. She went to work all eleven days when she wasn't home and walked at night or checked on me then went to her hotel room and read or watched TV. She said she missed me.
I brush her hair and put it in one thick braid down her back. She knows I don't need to know what she's been up to but she tells me anyway.
"I was alone. "
Which she wants me to know that she didn't sleep with anyone else. I get up and head for the fridge. She watches my lank body beneath my jumper, the sadness beneath my tank top.
"Maybe you should go home. "
I throw her a sarcastic laugh and hand her a beer mug with wine in it.
"Yeah... home... " I slip my fingers through hers and grip them solidly.
I kiss the back of her hand.
"I'm not going to run ... anymore. I have all the home I need here. "
She still naps when she thinks I'm not looking. Like she needs to be awake to make sure I'm really there, that I won't vanish. And I lay awake when she finally sleeps and kiss her butterfly belly.
Sandra, 23, lives in Florida and works full time in the cruise industry. She can be reached at Xanii@aol.com