There was nothing quite like having my very best friend of ten years laying by my side in the dark like old times. In the quiet softness of my childhood bedroom, both of us marginally intoxicated, giggling like schoolgirls and doing very little to control our voices or our words.
The day had been a long one, but fun nonetheless. I’d met with Emma for lunch, delightfully spending an hour with her at a quiet hole in the wall restaurant near her work, with my brother Ernie to drive me around. I’d be seeing her again before I left on Sunday, for longer, but getting to reconnect with her after so long had lifted my spirits considerably. After lunch, I’d helped mom with her afternoon classes, talking to them about internships and college and jobs and adulthood. I’d even sung for them for fun when we had extra time leftover, excitedly choosing a song from Brigadoon since I’d been hearing the songs constantly for almost six months already. Then dinner with the family at my old workplace, a family owned sushi restaurant, waited on by my best friend, and bringing her home with us for a sleepover.
I listened to Rose tell me about her beau, telling me all about his accomplishments and wrongdoings in their relationship, and even the mundane aspects, and just being generally in love with him as she spoke. It was odd, being able to listen to someone be so very much in love, so very into their relationship, and not being able to relate to it in the slightest.
Rose had always been like that. The first time she’d come to my house, excitedly telling me how she’d lost her virginity, I hadn’t been able to relate. She’d loved it, had it frequently, enjoyed it every time, no matter her partner (though she was decidedly straight). I had only experienced that once. And her relationships, all but one, were all stable, healthy, based on mutual trust and respect and something akin to love. She’d ended her past relationships cleanly, but kindly, and maintained a friendship with most of her past lovers.
I couldn’t relate. On any account.
Envy struck me to the bone as I listened to her speaking, its scorching hot claws grasped around my throat, choking me, simultaneously squeezing at my heart. I wasn’t a lush like Rose; I was a lightweight who didn’t particularly like alcohol. I didn’t particularly enjoy sex except with Dakota. I had one truly healthy relationship to look back on, where it hadn’t been a rebound for either party or straight up abusive, where I hadn’t been the other woman. It stung deeply to hear about Rose’s happiness in the wake of my inadequacy.
“So tell me, Piper, my love, my darling, is there anyone down south for you, Darling?” Rose curled on her side, grabbing one of my arms like a teddy bear and clinging to it. “I want to see you happy and sexually satisfied.”
I laughed. “There’s… a person I’m sort of involved with, on the down-low.”
Rose had always been able to read me. She’d been the only one who knew about my abusive relationship while it was happening. We had both been too young to know what to do about it. I smiled up at the shadowed ceiling. “He’d be perfect if he wasn’t taken.”
“That’s never stopped you before.”
I winced– she was right, and I couldn’t dispute it. My first girlfriend and my abuser hadn’t been taken, but after them, in most of my relationships I had been a rebound– or in Jay’s case, his baby mama had been an on-and-off, “we’re not actually together but we’re not not together” shitshow, with me as the long term side hoe. “You’re right, but usually when someone talks about ending a relationship, they follow through.”
“So this prick hasn’t dumped his girlfriend for you, despite talking about doing so?” She snorted. “He must hate himself.”
“He’s never said he’d leave her for me,” I clarified, “and I’m not about to force him to make that decision. I tried that with Jay and look where it got me.”
“Sleeping with someone who’s taken because you feel like you don’t deserve better, and defending the cheating dickhead because you hate yourself more than you hate him for being a lying prick.”
I turned sharply toward Rose, frowning. “Shit, tell me how you really feel, why don’t you?”
“You’ve been doing this to yourself since that fucker Jeffrey,” Rose snapped. “He broke you. He trained you to believe that you weren’t worth anyone’s time or devotion, that you didn’t deserve someone’s one-hundred-percent, that you had to settle for anyone who showed interest.”
I scoffed. “No one wants someone who’s physically, mentally, and emotionally ruined, Rosie.” Bitterness colored my words, an ugly, tarnished color that filled the room. “Sex? This guy I’m sort of with, sort of not, has never made me hurt, but thanks to the rape and the cancer scare surgery and all that fun ass scar tissue up my vag, after awhile I start getting sore. I mean honestly, shove a scalpel up your vag and then stretch the stitches the very next day by walking–”
“I thought someone was supposed to be home with you that day?”
“No, Ernie wasn’t there and neither was mom, so now I get to enjoy scars for days in places I can’t get therapy for–”
“Pelvic floor therapy helped you though–”
“But it doesn’t lessen the scar tissue, joy of joys.” I moved on before she could argue. “My PTSD makes everything difficult. Flashbacks during sex are fucking phenomenal, lemme tell you. Not being able to see my partner is a cruel trigger/turn on combo, and handcuffs are kinky and terrifying at the same time. I’m super into dom/sub culture, I’m definitely a power bottom–”
“Things I’ve been dying to know about you,” Rose commented.
“But being submissive is hell with someone I don’t trust indefinitely,” I finished., ignoring her. “Imagine me actually getting to sleep next to this guy, some day, if that ever happened, hypothetically. Waking up in the middle of the night in a blind panic because oh god, Jeff found me, he’s here, he’s going to hurt me. Or, worse, the sleep paralysis, suddenly jerking awake and having to explain ‘sorry, my body was still asleep but my mind woke up, didn’t work right, and supplied my worst fear in place of reality, and that’s why I’m disoriented and shaking.’ No BFD.” I huffed, releasing the anger that had built up during that little speech. “You’re absolutely right though– I settle. I always settle. But this person doesn’t make me feel like I’m settling, it feels like I’m working my ass off to gain and keep his attention.”
“What a waste of your energy.”
“I’m in love with him.”
Rose was silent for a minute, and so was I, realization hitting me like an entire semi truck to the face. Where the fuck had that come from? When had that happened?
“I take that back,” I said. “I’m deeply infatuated with him and for some reason my brain keeps saying ‘sup Piper, you’re falling in love.’ Which I’m not. At all.”
“How’s Egypt this time of year?” Rose asked flatly. “Is the water warm? Cause you seem to be in denial.”
I couldn’t help but snort. “That was actually really good. I love that. I love puns.”’
“Thanks, I try.” Rose cleared her throat. “Now, back to the matter at hand. You think you’re physically broken because of your scarring. Mentally you’ve got PTSD, and that makes everything a clusterfuck, because that little voice in your head sounds like Jeff.”
“Yes, you’re on point so far.”
“Emotionally you’re so dependent on finding someone who can put up with those two problems that you settle for anyone who treats you with kindness and respect once they’ve found out about the abuse.” I nodded. “And this guy… is special because… he’s talented sexually?”
“I’m actually attracted to him,” I mumbled, “unlike most of my other exes, who I was attracted to, but not in that hyper-fixated, completely creepy way.”
“Oh, no,” Rose wailed softly, “he’s the new obsession? That explains everything!”
“Look, if I could control it, I’d choose a cute, single gay girl my age, and call it a fucking day.” I squeezed Rose’s arm. “It’s hell. It really is. But he… returned my feelings, sorta, I guess. Responded to them if nothing else.”
“Uh-huh.” She didn’t sound convinced. “Have you talked to him about where the two of you stand?”
It took me a moment to work out the words. “I… don’t want to be that person. I don’t want to scare him away, or overwhelm him, or ask too much, or want too much–”
“Wanting someone to choose you over someone they’ve talked about dumping doesn’t strike me as wanting too much.”
I clammed up. “He… seems like the kind of person who would prefer we remain no strings attached. Like he wants something casual, considering he’s just getting out of a long term relationship. Or would be.”
“You’re a fucking disaster, Piper!” Rose sat up suddenly, tossing the blankets away, pulling me up with her since she still had a firm grasp of my arm. “You deserve someone who’s going to make you happy. Not someone who’s going to lead you on and fuck you over– no pun intended this time– and play with your heart. If he doesn’t feel anything for you, drop his ass.”
I shook my head, squeezing my free hand around hers. “He texted me to check in multiple times so far this weekend. He and Jay are having a death battle over who likes my Facebook statuses first.”
“I swear to god, if this dude uses you as his side chick, I’m coming down with a machete and we’re gonna roast him on a spit in his own front yard.”
Grinning, I pulled her in for a hug. “I know. You’re the best, Rosie.”
She squeezed her arms around me. “My Piper deserves the very best, and anyone who fucks with you answers to me.” Leaning back, she took my face in her hands, staring at me through the shadows of my bedroom. “Find out how he feels, however you have to do it, okay?” I nodded. “If he doesn’t at least mostly return your feelings, with room for development, ditch his ass and go be happy with someone who loves you.”
I nodded again, but the errant thought came anyway– what if I don’t want anyone else? “I don’t want to be selfish with him, Rosie,” I whispered. “I’m– I’m possessive and jealous, I can’t seem to help it, even though I can talk myself out of acting that way, and convince myself I don’t really feel that way. I don’t want to smother him by wanting him for myself.” A half smile tugged at my lips. “I’ve even suggested polyamory to him, in light of the fact that he’s actively cheating on his girlfriend. It seemed like something he’d be interested in.”
“You’ve been forcing yourself to share the people you love for too long,” Rose soothed, stroking my hair once before laying back down. “Just once I’d like to see you with someone who you only have to share with friends and family. Someone who isn’t constantly looking away from you while you’re with them. Someone who doesn’t want to see you with anyone else the same way you don’t want to see them with anyone else.”
“If only,” I murmured, laying back down as well. “If only.” A few minutes passed in peaceful silence. I knew Rose hadn’t fallen asleep when she fidgeted, her breathing still irregular and shallow, so I spoke again. “I don’t want him to know I’m falling for him.”
“I know, my love.”
“What if he finds out?” I curled onto my side and wrapped my arms around Rose’s waist. “What if he rejects me?”
“How could anyone reject you? You’re wonderful.”
“Thank you, but I’m serious.” I squeezed her slightly. “What if– god, what if he never spoke to me again? How would he react? What if I ruin everything?” I shook my head. “Better that he doesn’t find out. My internship is over soon anyway; I need to think about the future.”
“Don’t you want him to be in it?” Roses soft query was like having a lantern raised over my deepest feelings.
“More than anything,” I breathed.
“Then, somehow, you need to find out how he feels.” I nodded. “And who knows, that might be what reels him in for you.”
I rested my head on her shoulder, the alcohol and the darkness and the late hour all falling over me like a warm blanket. “I hope so.”
Before we could talk any further, I drifted to sleep.