I get dressed while Christian is in the shower and then sit on my bed and look around. His shower is ridiculously long, already running for fifteen minutes, but I don’t blame him; the hot water is good for cleansing wounds and removing the dried blood. A hot shower is the best kind of medicine for any illness.
There’s really nothing for me to do while I wait for Christian to get out. I think, what is there to expect when he does get out? I feel anxious, light tremors tickling my body, as if something unexpected is going to happen. I hate the feeling.
I want to cook something, but there’s no point – Christian just ate and I’m not all that hungry myself. I pull my laptop onto my lap and lean back on the window that’s right above my bed, the sill hard against the back of my neck. I quickly recall the heap of pillows and blankets and bloody cloths I left downstairs and go down to pick them up. I bundle up the cloths and put them into the washer, praying that they won’t stain it red; I don’t want my mom to freak out when she comes back tomorrow morning.
I take my blanket and pillows upstairs, and as I do so I stop on the stairs to admire the photographs. My mother looks so young in her wedding photo, her bump already showing underneath her gown. They married because I was conceived. My mom was twenty years old, my dad twenty-two. Her blond hair is set in curls, her cheeks flushed pink, the same natural shade as her full lips. I’ve always wondered what it was like before I came along, before I was accidentally made. I don’t hate the fact that I was a mistake because my parents don’t see me that way. My dad has always said that I’m what excited their lives, what pushed them to marry because he had wanted to marry my mom since day one.
My mom’s gown was beautiful: white – the way a bride’s gown should be – with a clear fabric around her shoulders and chest, and the rest of it embroidered with daisy flowers from her breast down. It looked almost like a cloud, its texture soft curled like a sheep’s wool. I run my finger across the frame gently as if I’m reaching into the photograph, going back in time. Obviously I don’t remember the wedding at all, but every time I look at this photo I feel as if that day was meant for me too.
“You look like her,” a voice says. I jump back and brace myself with a hand on the railing. It’s only Christian. “Except you’re not blonde.”
“I got the brown hair gene from my dad,” I say, looking up at him. I feel breathless all of a sudden and I hug the sheets to my chest to try and calm myself some.
Christian doesn’t look at me, his eyes glued to the photograph instead. He runs his index and middle finger over my mother’s stomach – over me. It seems like he knows already that I’m there, that I was already existing.
“How are you feeling?” I ask, my voice soft; I almost can’t hear myself.
He diverts his eyes to me. His hair is still dripping wet, his chest bare, painted a dark purple and vomit green. The slashes covering his skin look smaller now, the blood fully washed away. They look like diminutive black holes waiting to open and suck everything into him, gone forever. He raises his shoulders in a shrug. “I’m okay, Princess. Everything still aches, but I’ll be fine.” He gives me a small smile, completely genuine. I smile back.
“How come you stopped using all those other nicknames you gave me?” I ask. “Now you only call me ‘princess.’”
He shrugs again. “Did you miss your other nicknames?”
“No it’s just that –”
“I find ‘princess’ to be the most insulting.”
“So these names are meant to insult me?” I raise an eyebrow at him.
He clicks his tongue on the ridge of his mouth, making a sound like clackers hitting together – the ones that people use for therapy when they’re stressed. “Now you’re catching on.” He comes down a few steps and grabs hold of my blankets and pillows and turns to take them up to my room. I watch him and wonder why he’s being so nice to me again. Maybe he’s only acting this way because I’m taking care of him, and if he acts up that I’ll throw him out and he won’t have anywhere else to go. Whatever the reason, it’s strong enough for him to stick by it to get what he wants.
I follow him and watch as he throws the heap onto the bed. Of course he wouldn’t bother to put it away properly. He walks the perimeter of my room, hands in his pockets. He has his back to me as he stares down at the wood on the desk. What is he looking at? I wiped the desk clean last night; I can’t stand to go to sleep while there’s a mess waiting to cumulate. Despite that, I refuse to believe I have OCD like my mother does. She’s terrifying when she gets overwhelmed with menial things.
I don’t think of it as I do it, but I step towards Christian and reach out, lightly touching the tips of my fingers to his back. I dare myself to touch his wounds, to disappear into them, into his universe. He winces and his muscles tense underneath my fingertips, making me recoil momentarily. I only startled him. His shoulder blades bunch together, stretching out his skin around them and the cuts that settle below. One of them, a small one, stretches so tightly that it lets go of a drop of blood and I watch as it slithers down his skin until it gets close to his waistband. I wipe it up with my finger and cradle it in my fist, warm against my skin.
He doesn’t turn to look at me; he just stands still, his fist leaning on the desktop. Water drips from the ends of his hair onto the nape of his neck. They’re clear, contrasting against his dark skin. His skin naturally looks as if it’s coated with dirt, dark gray patches here and there. It almost looks as if he walked through smoke and the smut remains on his skin forever. It makes me want to scrub his skin until it’s raw just to see if it’ll ever disappear.
“It’s horrendous, I know,” Christian says softly. He turns to me, making me drop my hand to my side. I still feel the drop of blood swimming over my skin as if it’s the only drop in a rounded pool.
“Will you tell me how that really happened?” I ask.
He looks down at the floor, and the expression on his face seems so hurt as if he’s a helpless puppy that just got kicked in the side. “No,” he says, his voice gruff. Uh oh, I think. He’s starting to return to his old attitude. He sidesteps me and hustles down the stairs. A few seconds pass. I think he’s gonna leave, but then I hear the refrigerator door open and rummaging, meaning that he isn’t going anywhere. A weight leaves my chest as I sit down on the bed. My phone vibrates in my back pocket and I pull it out. It’s Cole.
“Hi,” I breathe into the speaker.
“Hi,” he replies. I hear him smiling already. “You okay?”
“Uh, yeah. I’m fine.”
“You at home? I can come see you…”
What do I say? Do I lie to him, or tell the truth?
I decide to go with the latter. “Christian is here.”
There’s a pause on the other end of the line, and for a moment I think he’s hung up on me. I pull the phone away from my ear and see that the call is still going. “Cole?”
“Why?” he asks abruptly.
I’m starting to panic. I hear Christian coming up the steps and he comes into the room, taking a large bite out of a sandwich. I didn’t even know we had bread to make any. His chewing slows when he sees the expression on my face. I can tell I look worried as I try to find the right way to tell Cole why Christian is at my house. Christian sits across from me in the desk chair and jerks his head up to the ceiling. “What?” he mouths.
I hold up a finger, motioning for him to wait, and turn my body away from him. I don’t know why I do it; he’d still be able to hear what I say to Cole.
“Melinda?” Cole demands on the other end of the line.
“I don’t know,” I say hurriedly. “He just…showed up. He was hurt and I was only trying to help him –”
Christian yanks the phone out of my hand and holds it to his ear. “Hey, Asian,” he says sternly. “Let her be. If you’re not okay with her hanging around with other dudes you need to fix those problems before you get with a girl.” Then he hangs up and tosses the phone on the bed.
I look at him, mouth agape. “Why would you do that?” I grab for the phone and start to redial Cole’s number. Christian takes it out of my hand again and puts it in his pocket.
“Trust me, Princess. It’s for your own good. That Asian guy of yours needs to learn how to trust you.”
“He’s Korean,” is all I have to say.
“Korean is Asian isn’t it? Anyways, he acts like I’m trying to steal you from him or something. God. I would never want you. Not in a million years.”