I'm getting older. I can see it in the mirror. The dark circles that seem to sink my eyes, the lines that never used to be. I trace one with my fingertip, and suddenly I feel ancient.
Twenty-three years today. I wonder if I could be pretty again, if I tried. So I do.
And then I make a cake. Vanilla, with strawberries and white frosting. It used to be his favorite. I wonder if it still is.
It's on the table by the time he's home.
He hangs up his jacket before he notices anything. And then he stares.
"What's that?" I bristle with a bit of annoyance.
"It's a cake. You know, for special occasions. Today's our anniversary. Twenty-third, to be exact." He keeps staring. "Happy anniversary."
He shifts his weight a bit and looks away uncomfortably. "Oh." Nobody speaks. I wipe off my lipstick and go to bed.
It was a pathetic attempt anyways.
"Tell me that you don't care."
"Say it." Eye meets eye, but his are only full of pity.
"Alright, whatever, you win." Silence. And a whisper. "Why do you want me to hurt you?"
It's dark again, and quiet. The world is half asleep, but we're still up and blinking, hand in hand.
"Do you want this?" My question echoes off the wall. His eyes are dark and lovely.
"I do." There is hesitation. "But I'm afraid I'll hurt you." Incredulity wracks my mind, and I smile up so innocently. Naively.
"I can't imagine you ever doing anything to hurt me."
My lips spread thinly across my face in a wry smile. I turn and walk away.
He doesn't understand. He can't hurt me.
I can't feel anything at all.
He's gone again by the time I wake up. The candle has been blown out, and the cake remains untouched. I cut myself a small piece. There's no harm in that, right? Wasn't it meant to be eaten?
Waste not. I stare at my plate. The pale white frosting stares back at me, daring me in a weak attempt to invoke desire. But I can't. Suddenly, I'm not hungry.
A thud echoes off the walls as it lumps against the bottom of the waste basket.
She always sat so elegantly, tall and regal like a queen. The office was her dominion, the vast expanse dotted lightly with scattered paper and post-its, and I was to yield beneath her.
"You're seventeen, right?" I nodded curtly.
"You know why you're here, right," her mouth was soft, but her eyes glinted with false warmth. I suddenly felt very tiny, nestled there among the cushions.
She began again. "You're here," she said, "because there are people that care about you, and they want you to get better."
But that's what everybody says.
They always say it.
She looks at me again, with but another question. "Why do you do this to yourself?"
My gaze falls down, fastening on the angry marks that weave across my pale flesh like the poised feet of a dancer.
How can I answer questions I don't know the answers to myself?
She lifts my chin to face her.
"Tell me," she murmurs, guile tongue thick with synthesized empathy, "Why do you do this to yourself?"
I want to tell the truth. That there's no reason, and I don't know. But who could honestly believet that? She stares at me with those calloused, empty eyes.
Empty, like the way I feel.
And suddenly, I know the answer.
By noon, Jenna's stopped by. Still worried, always worried. So afraid that something will happen. And that it will be me that caused it.
"You should get out more." The overused nag. "It's not good for you to be inside all the time, Mom. You're always so lonely."
Lonely I am, but it's come to the point where I hardly mind anymore. "I'm fine, sweetheart. Stop worrying about me so much." I cast her the most of a smile I can force. "I'll always be fine." A sigh of frustrations emits from her lips.
"Maybe you should get a job," her eyes are pleading as I scoff silently. "Or something, at least! Just to distract yourself. Especially now that.." she falters, "now that.. Well, you know, how you guys are gonna.. go and get that taken care of…" Her tone is sad now, with an edge of bitterness. It cuts across my conscience, little papercuts of remorse. I'm sorry, I want to say. I am so very sorry. A tear leaks from the corner of her eye.
And suddenly she's by the door. "Anyways, I've got to be going," she flusters. "Say hi to Dad for me. I'd stay but I just.. really have to go now. Bye Mom, love you." She disappears before I can utter a word. And I'm still here, feeling never more the guiltier.
"Alright, that takes care of everything. Just sign on the dotted line." I stare at the page in front of me.
"…Ma'am? Are you alright? Well, take as much time as you need."
All I have to do is sign.
He's already done and disappeared. I don't know where he went. I'm not wondering. My knuckles are white, and the pen quivers in my hand.
Just sign on the dotted line.
"Tell me," she begins again, hollow caress in tact, "Why do you do this to yourself?" A small sad smile works its way across my lips.
"Which is worse?" I reply. "Feeling pain, or nothing at all?"