The bottle was nearly empty. Tiny bits of blood mixed with the water. I watched the rose-colored liquid swirl around my feet. My skin was red and raw and burning. There could never be enough soap to scrub myself clean.
Exasperated, I slowly fell to the bottom of the bathtub and held my knees up to my chest. I sat there until the once scalding water became lukewarm and I finally resolved myself to face the world outside the bathroom door.
I stood in front of the mirror examining the flesh he touched, the hair he wrapped through his fingers, the lips that never bothered to protest. It was always this way the morning after.
I listened to my parents downstairs as I dressed. They were laughing as they cooked breakfast, oblivious as always. My little brother shouted at the imaginary characters of his video game. I took a deep breath and descended the stairs.
“Good morning, Ally,” my mom called before I even reached the bottom step.
“What are your plans for today?”
I sat down at the table and poured a glass of orange juice, “I’m meeting Josie at the café this afternoon and then we’re going out tonight.”
“This is the third weekend in a row, isn’t it? You really like this girl, don’t you?”
I gushed. I knew my reddened cheeks betrayed me.
“Fine. I’ll step pestering,” she said as she playfully nudged my arm. “Go on and eat your breakfast.”
I did really like Josie. We met in Sociology class . . . every Monday and Wednesday at 8am. She sat next to me that first day. On the second, she handed me a cup of coffee, “I know there’s not enough caffeine in the world to make this class bearable, but I thought this could help.”
Neither of us had a class until after noon, so we ate breakfast together in the dining hall. That continued every Monday and Wednesday for nearly a month before she finally asked me out. To say I was elated would be the understatement of the year.
For our first date, we met in a small neighborhood café on a Saturday afternoon. I didn’t even notice the guitar case next to her until she told me to hold on for a few minutes and walked to the stool in the corner. I was in awe of her talent. I sat mesmerized by the cascade of auburn hair around her shoulders, the way her fingers danced on the strings, and the intoxicating melody resonating from her mouth. It was, by far, the happiest day of my life.
But my happiness was short-lived because while my Saturdays belonged to her, my Friday nights belonged to another. The guilt was overwhelming. I knew Josie would be devastated if she . . . I couldn’t even think about.
Breakfast ended and I cleared the dishes. My father came up beside me to dry while I washed. “You should invite your friend over for dinner some time. I’d love to meet the woman who has my little girl so smitten.”
“Dad!” I laughed despite myself and started to forget about the night before.
The afternoon at the café was perfect as always. After lunch, Josie and I went back to her dorm room to listen to music and talk. She stroked my face and kissed me for the first time. What should have been a beautiful moment left me feeling dirty and ashamed.
I pulled away and stared at the floor.
“What’s wrong?” she asked, genuine concern in her voice. “I . . . I thought you wanted . . . “
“I did! I do!” I cut her off. “I’m sorry. It’s just complicated right now.” I lay my head on her shoulder and she just held me. After what felt like eons, I sat up and composed myself.
“My parents want to meet you,” I said.
She must have thought that was the cause of my hesitation because her entire body language changed and her face lit up. “I’d love to Ally! Just tell me when!”
We made plans for the following Saturday. I tried to push it all out of my mind over the week. My classes were overwhelming and I needed to keep my grades up. My parents could never have afforded to send me to a private university, but I busted my ass throughout high school and scored a full scholarship. Now I just needed to keep it.
Studying became more difficult as the stress of the situation weighed on me. I was more than half-way through the semester and I just needed to make it to the end. I thought about ending things with Josie, but I was falling in love. I didn’t have the strength to let that go.
As the weekend neared, the knots in my stomach grew. All of the people I cared about most would be under one roof on Saturday . . . all of the people I was afraid to disappoint . . . all of the people I knew I would shame. But still, I drove to his house on Friday night.
I parked my car in his driveway and walked up to the front door. He stood there with a smile spread across his face as he ushered me in. I didn’t hesitate. He owned me until the end of the semester.
Josie was right, no amount of caffeine, or anything else, would make Sociology bearable. But in 6 weeks, grades would be posted and I’d be free.