She gripped the the hard cherrywood head bord, wating for it to be over. Her back lay against the feather soft pillows and cool sheets that brushed across her tensed body. The bed that had always brought her so much comfort at night, was now the last place she wanted to be, especially with him. After he had finished, she made her usual noises to let him know that she was done. She couldn’t think of anything to say. Stretching out on her back, trying to ease the achiness, she lit her cigarette. She couldn’t look at him, not yet, so she just watched the smoke float towards the ceiling, wishing she could join it. Absently, she rubbed her arm, wincing slightly as her fingers passed over the faded bruise there. She glanced at it; so did he. It wasn’t the livid purplish red it had been earlier in the week. It had weakened, and now just a faint blue splotch remained. Most people wouldn’t have noticed it. They both did. They both remembered how it had happened.”I didn’t do that, did I?” he asked. She shook her head again. He knew he had. He wasn’t that dumb, or that forgetful, but she knew he liked to pretend that he was. She envied him that. He could pretend he hadn’t done it, but she couldn’t.He was so handsome. She could never help noticing. But she didn’t want to look at him. Rolling onto her side, she pulled the sheet up to her chin, covering the bruise and wishing he would go away. She didn’t want to have to ask him to leave. It was too hard. She’d done it a million times, and he had never heard her.”You okay?” he asked, standing in front of her mirror, fixing his hair. She squeezed her eyes shut. She wasn’t looking at him, so why did he have to talk to her? Didn’t he understand she was trying to pretend he wasn’t even there?She felt him put his hand on her leg, giving it a gentle shake. “Hey, are you all right? You asleep? Hey. Don’t go to sleep with that cigarette lit.” Shoot, she thought, realizing she was still holding it upright, knowing it wouldn’t work to pretend she’d drifted off. She opened her eyes.”Hi.” She smiled. He looked at her strangely.”Are you mad?”She shook her head. She wasn’t mad, at least not the way he meant. She was just done. Of course, it was probably the third time that week and at least the hundredth since she’d met him that she had been done. He grinned, pleased with himself. She could almost imagine his interior monologue. He’d scored, again, with her. She wasn’t mad. To him, everything was fine. He didn’t realize it was over. He didn’t realize she’d had it. No, he never could tell, as long as she wasn’t crying or yelling, he always just figured they were happy.He didn’t know, though. He didn’t want to know, so he simply didn’t. Things were that easy for him. She felt his weight push the mattress down as he climbed back into the bed. A cold draft of air touched her bare leg as he crawled under the sheet with her. She didn’t move, she barely even breathed as he wrapped his arms around her waist and pulled her tight against him.”Are you sure you aren’t mad?” She shook her head. “Are you going to talk to me?” She kept her breathing deep and even. She was asleep, that’s what she wanted him to think. She certainly was tired enough to be, but she wanted to wait until he left.”Tired?” he asked. Why wouldn’t he just be quiet? Wasn’t it enough yet? Hadn’t she given enough? Did she always have to pretend she had something to say when all she wanted was to be alone? “Hmm,” he murmured into her hair. “You smell so nice.”Wrapped up in her, like that, he fell asleep. When he started to snore she knew he was out for the night.”Dang it,” she muttered, knowing that now she would never get to sleep. She’d had enough, but once again it hadn’t seemed a good time to say so. He wasn’t going to leave, and she knew she could never sleep, not with him that close to her, and not with that bruise on her arm.He was still there when the sun came up. She’d known that he would be, but by then her exhaustion had overcome her, and she had drifted off. Less than two hours later, she awoke, knowing that he would be watching her.Propped up on one elbow, his face only inches from hers, he stared at her intently, as though she had been doing something far more interesting than sleeping.”What?” she asked.He narrowed his eyes. She held her breath, wondering if he was getting angry, wondering what she could do or say that would calm him down.”Did you know that you cry in your sleep?”She sighed with relief. He wasn’t mad, but he was in one of his talkative moods. Sometimes that was worse. “Do I?” He leaned across her, his arm brushing over her chest as he reached for his cigarettes. “Not actual tears,” he went on, lighting a cigarette. His eyes never left her face. “You just sort of whimper.” He paused. “And you cringe. Every time I moved, you flinched and curled into a little ball.”She had no idea how to respond. Why did he always have to watch her so closely? She hated that, especially when she was sleeping. Awake, she could try her best to make sure she seemed happy and calm all the time?asleep, she had no control over what he saw. “Are you scared of me or something?” he asked. How could he even ask that? How could he even blame her? “No.” she replied, keeping her tone low, expecting an explosion any minute. With him, she was always waiting for the next outburst. “I guess I just had a bad dream.”
“What were you dreaming?”She tried to think of something to tell him, but she couldn’t remember. He always wanted to know what she was thinking; even her dreams weren’t private anymore. “Was it about me?” he asked.She knew there was no way she could answer that without making him mad. If she said yes, he would be offended that he had been a part of her nightmare, and if she said no he would be offended that he hadn’t been on her mind enough to penetrate her dream. She couldn’t win. “I don’t remember,” she said finally. He sat up abruptly, getting off of the bed and going over to the mirror. There, he stared at his reflection for several minutes. She barely breathed, wondering what was coming. “I think you’re scared of me,” he said without turning. “Either that or you must still be mad about the other night.” “I told you I wasn’t.” “Damn it!” he yelled, slamming his fist down on the dresser. Even though she had known it was coming, she jumped. “Why are you trying to fool me? Do you want me to feel bad? Is that it?” “No.” She could feel her mouth starting to twitch, and her eyes were welling up. Silently, she willed the tears to stop. It would just make him worse if she started crying. He stalked back over to the bed and stood glaring down on her. “Why do you have to spend days trying to make me guilty every time we have some stupid fight? I hate this crap. You always overreact and make everything a big deal.” “I’m sorry.” She sat up, pulling her knees up, moving as far against the headboard, as far away from him, as she could get. “I’m not mad. I swear.” He went on glaring at her, trying to judge whether or not to believe her. She was so tense. She didn’t know what to expect. She never did. He could either drop it, and everything would be fine, or he could go on for hours?there was no way to tell. The staring got to her, as it always did. Never, in her entire life, had she met anyone who could stare people down the way he could. She started to cry, trying to choke back the sounds, but knowing it was too late. “Ridiculous,” he muttered to himself. “Completely ridiculous. I ask you a simple question and now we start this again.” Her eyes were clouded, but she could feel him glaring at her. She covered her face with her hands, burying it so that she would not have to see him as she cried.He grabbed roughly at her hands, yanking them away from her face and putting his own only an inch from hers. “You love trying to make me feel bad, don’t you?” he yelled. She shook her head. “Why do you always have to be like this? You know why you cry, don’t you? It isn’t because of me. It’s because you want me, and everyone else, to be as miserable as you make yourself. I’m sick of it!” She nodded, hoping that if she agreed he would just stop. “I’m sorry,” she repeated. He stared at her. Looking at his face, she saw the change come. Just as quickly as he had grabbed her, he leaned over now and kissed her cheek. His fingers released her hand, and one reached out to wipe at the tears running down her face. “Oh, baby,” he said quietly. “Why do you always have to get so upset? I hate seeing you like this.” He gathered her into his arms, pulling her limp but unresisting body against his. “You know I don’t mean the things I say and do when I’m mad. You shouldn’t let it bother you so much.” She cried against his shoulder, both because she was upset about his yelling, but also because she was relieved he had stopped, and that it hadn’t been worse.He lay back on the bed, pulling her down with him. She braced herself. He started kissing her It went on and on for hours, and not once, in that entire time, did he even guess that she’d had enough, and not once did she think it made a difference whether she had or not.