This is part of my novel, "What Losing You Did to Me". To start at the beginning, click here. Right now a new section of my book posts every Tuesday and Thursday.
I open my eyes to view the sleeping form of Cielen next to me. We'd spent most of the last year sleeping together in smaller spaces then this hotel room, so when I'd offered him half of the bed last night he hadn't declined.
I think back to all the times Cielen had quite literally saved my life. There was that insect that had stung me during our hike north and almost instantly my leg had swelled up and the poison had started making me delirious. Cielen had cut my pants and my boots off with his hunting knife and rushed me to a nearby stream that he'd located with magie, lowering me in the cold water to stave off the swelling. He'd practically seen me naked. And then there was that time when I'd had a fever and to lower the temperature he'd had to basically give me a bath.
And not once had he even batted an eye or made a pass at me sexually. Different then what I'd been taught in school, where I was told the sight of too much flesh could cause a man to forget himself.
I suddenly realize that Cielen has his eyes open and he's smiling at me. I blink at him, turning red, not knowing what to say about the fact that he'd just caught me staring at him.
He yawns, stretches, and picks up the hotel phone from beside his bed. I listen as he orders both of us breakfast.
I sit up slowly, letting my thoughts, like my sleepiness, fall to the floor.
"Cielen." I say, turning towards him in the bed. He's done with his order and is reclined on the pillows, his head resting on his hands.
"Yeah?" He says, arching an eyebrow at me.
I clear my throat, suddenly nervous. "Do you remember what you said yesterday when we were outside the engineering building?" I ask.
He purses his lips. "Yeah."
"Well," I say, not quite sure how to put what I'm thinking into words--"I know you say you don't want anything from me, but I'm afraid. I'm afraid in the back of my head that you really do want something."
I swallow, and continue. "I'm not sure how to say it. But I feel like I owe you something."
I'm afraid I've said something wrong, because Cielen looks so serious, laying there with his dark skin against the white sheets, his brown eyes staring at me.
"That makes me sad." He says at last. "I mean, I like it that you want to be my friend, Merienge. But I don't deserve your friendship. And you don't owe me anything, except perhaps common courtesy, as a fellow human being."
He sits up, his eyes roaming my face.
"Let's try something." He says. "You know that my major was psychology, right?"
I nod. At most schools a magie user picks a non-magie degree as a backup plan. Cielens was psychology. Mine had been Literature.
"Well, I want you to tell me about all the interactions you've had with men. Okay? Start with the orphanage."
I want to ask what this has to do with anything, but Cielen waves my questions away.
"I'll explain the why after this is over." He says. "Lets start with elementary school. Tell me about your first memories there."
I take a deep breath.
"Well, I was brought to the orphanage at three...they tested me for magic and found I was positive, so I was mostly kept away from the others. I remember when I was five wondering why I couldn't play with anyone. My teacher said it was because I had magie and my magie could hurt them. I didn't know what was wrong with me, but now I know that they thought my magie could have a will of it's own and hurt the others." In rural, non-magie places this is common misconception.
"My first interaction with a kid near my age was the only other magie user at the school. He was several years older then me, but he didn't want to play with me. I would watch him work spells and wonder if one day I'd be able to do that."
I lapse in to silence. I'd not spoken of Benji in a long time, or even thought of him.
"Why didn't he want to play with you?" Asks Cielen.
"He said...he said it's because I was a girl." I say at last, closing my eyes. "When they told him they'd found another magie user and he would have a classmate, he was so excited. Only to find out I was a girl."
"And what did your teachers do about this?" Cielen says, his voice light.
"They didn't do anything. Even when he refused to talk to me. And he'd push and pinch me....but eventually he left. He was 12 when I met him, and he went off to college when I was 9. I never saw him again." I say, softly.
Silence fills the room. I am suddenly aware of myself breathing, so I hold my breath, not wanting to disturb the air around me.
"And then you were alone?" Cielen asks, his voice loud against my frozen thoughts.
"Well, I had my teachers...and the library. So I wasn't that alone."
More silence. I stare at my hands, unsure of how to go on. Tentatively, I look up. Cielen...is...crying?
"Whats wrong!" I say, reaching out to grab his hand. "Are you okay?"
He blinks at me. "Yes, I'm fine. I just am wondering how your fine, Merienge. I hurt for you."
"What do you mean?" I ask, confused.
"I just want to go back in time and have a stern talking to with that boy and your teachers." He says.
"I just wanted them to notice me." I say. "I don't know what I did wrong, but..."
"You did nothing wrong!" Cielen explodes suddenly, flinging back the covers and jumping out of bed to pace around our little hotel room. "That boy should have been disciplined. You should have been allowed to play with the other children."
I never thought of it that way. The rules were the rules. I remember feeling so sad that I hadn't been a boy, wondering what was wrong with me, wondering why the other boy didn't want to play with me. And for a long time I'd hated my magie too--the one thing that kept me from being normal like the others.
"I bet the other orphans were none to kind to you as well." Cielen's voice drifts back into my hearing, and I realize I'd missed a few sentences.
"No, they weren't. But I didn't really expect them to be. I mean, I had my very own room and my very own tutors..." I trail off, suddenly tired again. I'd really wanted to be friends with them. But they, on the rare occasion when we did happen to cross paths, would only call me names and push me around demanding that I do tricks for them.
"Okay." Says Cielen, sitting down again, "Lets keep going. After the older boy left, were any of your instructors male?"
"Yes." I say. "Besides the librarian they were all male."
"And...?" Cielen asks, his question prodding my subconscious.
"They were okay. I was with one of them most of the time."
"What were there names?" Asks Cielen from the bed, next to me.
"Dr. Applegate, Mr. Rostyn...and Dr. Mattyx." I say. "They commuted from two different colleges to teach me, rotating days. Dr. Applegate was Mondays and Wednesdays, Mr. Rost was Tuesdays and Thursdays and Dr. Mattyx was Fridays."
"This may be a hard question for you, Merienge, but did they ever expect anything of you? I'm not talking about homework or assignments. I'm talking about your body."
I am silent. I don't know what to say. I'd never thought about it that way.
"You don't have an answer if you don't want to." Cielen says.
"I...don't know." I say at last. "Dr. Applegate would always talk about my legs. We had uniforms at the orphanage and he started tutoring me more often after Benji left. He'd keep remarking about how shapely my legs were getting and what a fine women I'd be one day. His comments made me feel really uncomfortable, but I didn't know what do about it."
I realize I'm shaking. I edge closer to Cielen.
"Is it okay if I put my arm around you?" Cielen asks, and I nod. He pulls me close to him.
Just then there is a knock on the door, and a female voice calls out "room service." I jump. Cielen answers the door and brings us both breakfast. He sets the trays on the bed and resumes his seat next to me.
"Just to let you know, if at any time you feel unconformable, we can stop talking." He says, "But I think this is good. I think we are finding out why you feel the way you do."
"Okay." I say. I feel suddenly small, an oyster lost in an ocean of barnacles.
"So, from the time you were 9 until you left at 16 for college, did Dr. Applegate do anything else?"
I think back. "He made me sit facing him after I turned 13. He said his eyesight was failing and and needed me to sit closer to him. And..."
I stop, the feelings in my heart getting all confused with the memories of the orphanage.
I take a deep breath. "And, one day he used his pointing stick to lift up my skirt..."
I'm glad the covers are over my legs right now so Cielen can't see.
"...And I didn't know what to do. I was afraid. He put his hand on my leg and I screamed and ran away to the nurse."
I stop and take a deep breath.
"And did the nurse do anything?" Cielen says. He sounds strangely level headed.
I look down at my hands in shame. "She made me go back and apologize to Mr. Applegate." I say. "I shouldn't have been wearing such a short skirt..."
"What?!" Cielen explodes beside me.
"Well, I was wearing an uniform that was too small. The nurse gave me a larger size so that the hem fell over my knees." I explain.
Cielen is silent besides me. "They said I was getting older so they stuck an aid worker in the back of my classes to make sure nothing else happened, after that." I say. "So it all did turn out all right, I suppose."
"They said you were getting old?" Cielen says. He turns to me, his eyes meeting mine all in a rush. "This is awful."
"Well, the nurse said he didn't rape me. And she said I hadn't said no..." I remember when she's asked me if I'd said no. Well, no I hadn't...it had been so confusing, it had happened so fast, all I had thought of doing was running away...
"You do know none of this was your fault, right?" Cielen says besides me. "Dr. Applegate was wrong! Your skirt wasn't too short, you getting old had nothing to do with it, and there is nothing right about what your teacher said or did to you."
I bite my lip. "But I didn't say no." I say, "So I must have done something wrong to make him think..."
"Merienge, not saying no does not mean you said yes." Cielen says, cutting me off mid sentence.
He takes both my hands in his. "I understand now, why you think you owe me something. It seems many of the males in your life have misused and abused you--and the other adults seem to have let them take the blame for it. This is totally wrong. And if there is one thing I want you to understand from today it's that it's not your fault."
I meet Cielen's eyes slowly. "But it feels like my fault." I say.
"I know." Says Cielen, shaking more tears out of his eyes. "I know."
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