Trigger warning: self-harm
You act as if you don't remember me, yet I know you do. How could you forget? How could either of us forget?
Sometimes, I wake up in the night, clawing at my skin. Feeling the water droplets balance on my fingertips. Watching the bubbles float around me, crystalline, twirling in a graceful dance, beautiful given any other circumstance. Of course, you don't know that. But you know me, and I know you, so why aren't you saying anything?
Is it the guilt?
I wish it was the guilt that stilled my tongue; it would be much more preferable to the hatred.
Lizzy was the one who grabbed my arm and dragged me over here. I couldn't stop her once her mind was set, but of course, you know that better than anyone. The excitement flowed out of her in waves nothing short of an Alka-Seltzer tablet dropped in Coke. Or the waves water creates. You'd know that too, wouldn't you?
Anyway, I'm rambling again. If you could read my mind, I would almost be sorry. Almost.
Now Lizzy is grinning, words tumbling from her lips, all but screaming over the DJ's music. Her blue eyes are all squinted, too, fake lashes pinched close together. Oh, look. One is slipping, hanging halfway on. She doesn't seem to notice, but you do, because I can see you debating about whether or not to tell her. Whether or not to fix it yourself, because there go your fingers, twitching at your side. They always do when you wonder if you should act on your thoughts or not. In the end, however, they never rise more than a few inches past your waist.
Wow. For only meeting you once, I sure know a lot about you. More than Lizzy does, that's for sure.
You keep staring at Lizzy's eyelash. Maybe it's easier for you to do that than to look at me. For me, it's easier to look at you. To gape. To gawk, because wow, you look well. Healthy. I bet you didn't conceal the dark rims under your eyes before this party. I bet you didn't pick out a long-sleeve top to hide the fingernail scratches along the length of your arms; I bet you chose it just because you liked the way it looked. How lovely that would be. To choose to do something only because you liked the sound of it. The idea of it.
Lizzy's still talking, rambling on and on about how good it is that we finally get to meet. How long she's wanted to introduce us. Me, her best friend. You, her now adored significant other. The one she hadn't shut up about since the moment she picked me up at the airport. This whole party was her idea. An introduction because we both know Lizzy does anything but small affairs.
But she doesn't know. You didn't tell her. What would she say if she did know? Would she hate you? Is that why the secret is still buried within you? Does Lizzy not have enough shovels to dig it up, or are shovels not enough? Perhaps a whole excavation crew is needed, with power tools to crank open your mouth and a whole row of surgeons to pry the words out.
I wish I possessed that kind of power. I wish I could get you to talk. To tell me why. Why did you condemn me to this fate? Why did you do this to me?
Lizzy laughs, that snorting, donkey-sounding bray of hers. How I wish I could join in. How I wish I could even pretend to join in.
"Stop staring at each other like you're corpses, reanimated on the same night," Lizzy says, grabbing both our hands and shoving them together. "Shake."
Your hands are warm, but they tremble the moment they touch mine. Good. More guilt. I'll have some of my own, then. The guilty pleasure of sinking my nails into your flesh, of seeing you flinch but refuse to back away for fear of Lizzy noticing. Pain. Good. Have more of it. Have what you inflicted on me.
Then, all at once, your touch becomes too much. It's the first time we've touched, but it brings back so many memories of the time we didn't. I yank my hand away with such force you stumble, shoving it between my side and my arm. Your warmth is gone. Good. I never wanted it.
In its absence is the coldness again, and I'm suddenly grateful for the long sleeves. They hide the gooseflesh pricking along my arms. The hairs standing on end.
Lizzy excuses herself, saying she's off to get us some drinks. She stumbles away. Over her shoulder, she orders, "Talk!"
The crowd swallows her up, and I'm left tracing her receding back with my tired eyes. Why would she leave me alone? Alone with you?
Overhead, the flashing lights change from pink to blue. How utterly, painfully, agonizingly ironic. They dance across the floor, rippling like waves, and I feel the bile start to rise up in my throat. My nails reach for my arms but catch on nothing but silky fabric. It slips right through and my hands fall uselessly down. Down, down, down.
I sense you looking at me now, Lizzy no longer barricading your view. Eyes burning, I return the gesture, trying to force all my mixed, sizzling, searing emotions into the single stare. By your second flinch of the night, I'd say they were pretty well received.
I don't know how long we remain there. Watching each other. Toeing the boundary line, wondering just how much we'd lose if we crossed it. Then, after an eternity, you finally speak.
No, actually scratch that. It isn't speaking. It's lighter than a whisper, yet heavier than a ball and chain. It's filled with guilt and grief and sorrow that you probably thought you'd never have to face again. That you probably thought you could hide from, but you can't.
"I'm sorry," you breathe. "I'm so, so sorry."
"How could you be?" I hiss back before I can slip the collar back around my tongue. Before I can hold it in its place. "You saw me fall in when nobody else did. You watched me drown when everyone else was oblivious. I saw you as I slipped downward. I reached for you. I begged you to help. And all you did was stare."
I don't give you a chance to speak, lifting the bottom of my long-sleeved shirt. Letting you see just what was in that water. What got to me while you were standing on that boat, surrounded by a million and one partiers who just didn't notice. Who didn't hear the screams above the music until it was too late. Until the damage was done, and it was.
"How can you be sorry?" I seethe under my breath, though I know you can hear me. Same as you heard me then. "How can I forgive you, when you didn't even move? When you didn't even call for help?"
The shirt slips from my fingers, hiding the grotesque imagery away again. I grip my purse tightly, already turning away. "Tell Lizzy I went back to the hotel."
I am to the doors, a hand on the sleek, furnished handle when I turn back. I don't know why. Perhaps it's that effect you have on me. That magnetism. That wonder on where you are, how are you, throughout all these years. The want to know if you are as shattered, as fearful, as broken as me.
And when I turn back, I guess I get my answer. Because there you are, watching me through the ocean of dancers. And I see your nails graze your arm. Watch them push up your long-sleeves to dig into your flesh. To add scratches to your art gallery that matches mine, down to the very last, jagged scar.