by Hannah Taranto

 “Stop that. You’re making me feel shitty.” Andrew was standing. He was leaned over Ellie who was lying down on the bed. She was hastily wiping tears from her cheeks.

“What could possibly make you so sad? Someone like you should be happy. I want to help you be happy,” Andrew had said when Ellie had first cried in front of him a few weeks earlier. He had hugged her, kissed her forehead, and wiped her tears away. But he wasn’t like that right now.

 “You need to stop crying and go get food. Food will make you feel better.”

 Ellie just shook her head. Food had no appeal to her right now. The very thought of moving made her sick and the immense pain that racked her body prevented moving even if she had been motivated to get up.

Instead, she sobbed.

Just let it happen… Relax… It’s not a big deal… You invited me over… Just chill…

The words kept ricocheting in Ellie’s head, like a bullet shot into an empty, steel room. She wanted it to be silent, but she didn’t know how to silence her own brain. It was a montage of the last few hours that she couldn’t stop thinking about, playing over and over in front of her eyes.

It was maybe twenty minutes later when Ellie finally got a hold of herself. Andrew just stood there.

 “Next time, maybe we can just hang out and watch Netflix and just… just like be chill?” Ellie asked without making eye contact. She was embarrassed by her own question. She remembered how he had looked when she first met him—when she told him Netflix really meant Netflix. “You don’t invite a guy over to actually watch Netflix. But if that’s what you want, then sure.” He had shrugged it off like it was alright. But it wasn’t and the night had ended with sobs punctuated with quiet utterances about how she didn’t feel comfortable. “I’m sorry,” he had said, one hand on her thigh and the other in her hair. “I didn’t mean to do anything that wasn’t okay.” With flowers left on her doorstep to apologize, that had been that and here he was two weeks later.

“Just Netflix? Sure. But if you cry before I see you again, we’ll have to do this again.” It wasn’t a joke. He meant it to sound like one. But he wasn’t joking. The lilt in the statement wasn’t from a smile, it was from a sneer. He would do it again. He would. A fresh wave of panic engulfed her. She felt like her heart was going to beat out of her chest and her stomach was twisting into smaller and smaller knots. She clutched at her stomach as if she could prevent her organs from tangling, but the panic kept coming. Her throat felt full, not like it was closing up, simply like it was being filled by the panic. Her eyes welled with tears. Only her fear of it happening again kept her from breaking down right then. She was running lines in her head for what seemed like an excruciatingly long time. She needed to say the right thing.

Finally, when the panic subsided, she plastered a smile across her face, and stammered out, “Fine. I’ll just lose it the second you come back.” She had meant it as a joke but, just like Andrew’s, it was not. Her voice was shaking and she saw the slight twitch of his right eyebrow.

“You’re a shit liar.” But Ellie, though tempted, didn’t cry. She knew nothing good would come from more tears. But despite the fear of the six-foot tall man standing over her, she didn’t want him to leave. She didn’t want to be alone. To be alone would be to have nothing but the twisting pain in her abdomen and jaw to focus on. And to be alone with the blood on the white sheets that stared back at her like a sentient being.

The sheets. She had used them as a final effort to stop him, after everything else had failed. After saying no, after explaining why not, after struggling, after picking up her phone and having it ripped from her hands, after begging. “My sheets,” she had whispered from beneath his hand, “I don’t want to ruin them. They’re white.”

“Get a towel then. You’re so uptight, like damn.” But Ellie’s towels were light too, a pale blue, and she only had two of them. And she had two other sets of sheets. It would be easier to avoid the memories of her bloodstains on the sheets than the towels. She hadn’t gotten her towels out and he had gotten annoyed with her for interrupting him. His words from that moment once again flung themselves, unwelcomed, into her head.

            Relax and this will hurt less… You’re so bad at this… This isn’t exactly pleasurable for me… Hold me… Fuck, come on…

            Ellie focused on his face to push the thoughts out. She was glad he had shaved his goatee off. It hadn’t looked good on him. It gave him the distinct appearance of someone going through a midlife crisis but didn’t have the money to buy a sports car so they simply made poor facial hair decisions. She knew that stir crazy feeling. She had once marched a mile to a store in the middle of December, bought blonde hair dye, and dyed her blonde that night. Of course, her hair hadn’t bleached well and she had ended up with orange hair for a year after. Or the Thursday night she had been a little down, so she had spontaneously gotten a tattoo saying “Be Well” in curly script. But she didn’t regret that tattoo. There were very few things in her life that she did regret.

            His real hair was coarse, curly, and blonde, like her older brother’s. She had laughed when he had showed her his picture of him with long hair. The picture looked stupid. He had whisked it away immediately, grabbed her phone, and scrolled through all her pictures until he found a bad one. She had attempted to grab it back, but of course, his arms were longer and stronger. When she had moved to retrieve it he said, “You’re clever, don’t make a scene in the coffee house,” and winked. He kept it until she politely asked for it back and then, smiling, he had whispered, “See what happens when you use your manners?”

Ellie made eye contact with him again and realized that she should say something. She wondered how much time had passed since he had called her out for lying. She wasn’t sure.

            She needed him to stay—Anything to not be alone. “Let me prove I can lie. ‘Two Truths and a Lie’, come on.”

            His slight hesitation was enough for Ellie to see that he was uncomfortable but she guiltily forced her facts on him anyway.

            “I once ate half a Taco Bell taco and threw it up in the mall parking lot…I once worked-” she started but he stopped her.

            “That’s not a real thing, it has to be something about you, like, damn,” Andrew interrupted. So she started with more personal things, and he got each one wrong. She asked him to do one, so she could get to know him better. He told her he would just tell her something personal. He told her that his cousin who he was very close to had died from drugs and that maybe he could have helped him. Ellie tried to comfort him but all Andrew said was “I don’t need you to rationalize it, I’ve made my peace with it.”

            “I didn’t mean-I’m sorry,” she stammered.

Maybe frustrated with her emotions, maybe embarrassed by what he had just shared, maybe truly hungry, he announced that he was leaving because he needed food. He gathered his things from her desk, said goodbye, and closed the door behind him.

            Ellie was alone in her room. She didn’t cry. She ordered Chinese food with no intention of eating it, painfully aware of the burning in her throat where he had forced things that aren’t meant to be swallowed. She looked around. Her pillows were on the ground, her sheets were coming off the corners of the mattress, and her black and white elephant tapestry that hung on the wall had fallen down on one side. The mess overwhelmed her. She had to organize it.

She stood up on her bed to reattach the tapestry to its Velcro command strip. She looked at the brown stain on it that had been there since she removed it from its package. She liked to stare at it sometimes when she couldn’t fall asleep. She knelt back on her bed, intending to fix the sheets that she didn’t have the energy to wash tonight when she noticed the bruise that was forming just above her right knee.

            Please… please stop… stop it…

            But the only response was his teeth on her leg and his hand over her mouth. She looked at it now, the four different marks forming two different semi circles that didn’t touch. The bottom left side of it was a bright purple color, while the rest of it had tints of green. She knew she bruised easily but this bruise seemed much worse than any others she remembered. The bruises on her neck and arms were slightly less severe. They would last for two weeks. The bruise on her knee would haunt her for three more weeks. The pain in her abdomen for one. The pain in her jaw for months. She would sleep on the bloody sheets for three nights. She would continue talking to him for four days and then finally block his phone number. She would never be able to control the flashbacks or the nightmares.

HANNAH TARANTO is currently a Junior at UAlbany majoring in Biology and Pyschology. She transferred to UAlbany in the fall of 2017 from Tufts University in Boston where she lived with her service dog, Boston. In her free time, she enjoys writing bout topics close to her heart and reading historical fiction novels.