the day after

Things to do today:

1) Breathe in.

2) Breathe out.

—        Ned Vizzini, It’s Kind of a Funny Story

 

Breathe in. Sara opens her eyes. She’s in bed, the covers pulled up to beneath her eyes. Her face feels tight, swollen. The room is bright, too bright. She rolls her eyes and turns away from the window, slipping back under the darkness of her eyelids.

 

Images flashing too quickly to follow. A bouquet of dark crimson roses in her arms. A procession. Her mother. A stranger with a sad smile. Strangers, all with sad smiles. Black shoes and black pants-black shirts-black ties-black eyes-a frame-a portrait and-

 

There’s a hand on her shoulder. It’s resting on the blanket. Its weight is comforting. That is, until it starts moving. The hand is… moving? It’s gripping her, swaying her slightly. A voice, muffled, comes through the comforter. It sounds tired and vaguely frustrated.

 

“Sara,” Nate? “Come on. You gotta eat something sometime.”

 

No. Her hands dig into the pillow, back curved and knees drawn up.

 

Nate sighs. He rubs a hand roughly over his face, running it through his hair.

 

“If you don’t get out of bed, I’m gonna carry you out.”

 

A few moments pass by uneventfully. Nate pulls the covers down.

 

Everything feels raw, so raw. I feel like my skin’s been peeled from my body. I don’t- How do I-

 

“Shh. I’ve got you.” Guilt shoots through him. He sighs, scoops her up into his arms and lets her sob. Tears soak his T-shirt and he strokes her back, mumbling into her ear. He threads his fingers through her hair. His thumb rubs against her ear.

 

Her sobs fade into occasional hiccups and her body sags in his arms. She’s lost so much weight – too light, he notes – as he maneuvers them both to lie back onto the bed. The sun is setting now. He presses a kiss to the top of her head and props the pillows up around her. He’s rearranging the covers when he feels fingers tugging at the hem of his shirt. Breathe in.

 

Please stay.

 

He frees her fingers, grasping them within his own, as he slips back, tentatively, between the sheets. His eyes search hers, uncertain. Her eyes are closed, a frown between her eyebrows as she pulls him closer. She looks so small, too small. He curls around her protectively, one arm coming to rest on her waist and back, and the other cradling her head. Their legs align, knee to knee and toe to toe.

 

Sleep doesn’t come easy, at least not to Sara. She tosses and turns throughout the night, uneven breaths and occasional whimpers keeping Nate uneasily awake.

 

—–

 

Sara opens her eyes. She’s in bed, the covers pulled up over her shoulders. It’s too bright and she squeezes her eyes shut once more, moving closer to the warmth emanating from the other side of the bed. Her hands find soft cotton, and she breathes in the scent of faint cigarettes and coffee. Nate jerks awake at her touch, immediately alert. He tenses for a moment, scanning the bed for her. A soft whine alerts him to her weight against his chest, and he relaxes, careful not to jostle her. He debates getting out of bed to get food – so far everything he’s made has wound up uneaten. His hands are trembling.

 

Damn Sara and her long legs. Nate tip-toes to grab the packet of coffee grounds from the cabinet. He used to think her apartment was nice, but now it’s just a prettily-packaged obstacle course. The countertop is black and sleek under his palms as he boosts himself up just a little bit more-

 

He gasps, barely managing to avoid dropping the bag on the floor. The sound of flowing water makes him cringe. Too loud! He shuts the tap off and quickly sets the carafe back on the heating plate. Quickly now- four tablespoons’ worth into the filter. Put the basket in the holder. Close the lid, flip the switch. Breathe out.

 

—–

 

Breathe in.

 

Coffee?

 

Her chest is pounding. She didn’t dream – if she did, she can’t remember. The bed is cold, the sheets heavy. Pain pricks her eyes and the familiar tendrils begin to snake around her throat and squeeze. A hand flings out to grapple with the sheets, a blanket, a pillow. Anything.

 

Nate?

 

The bed is not her friend. The bundles of warmth wind themselves around her legs. Her chest heaves. She reaches up, taking hold of the headboard and pulling herself upright. She pants and surveys the room. The trees are dark outside, the sky a gradient of orange and purple. Footsteps approach the door, soft and quick. They hesitate outside the door. The knob twists slowly, carefully, then-

 

Nothing.

 

What?

 

A beat and a whispered curse later, the head of messy hair backs into the room, brandishing two cups of coffee and plate of toast.

 

“Oh, you’re awake,” Breathe in. He smiles. It’s tight around the edges, mouth tense and shoulders drawn. Faint lines of despair trace his forehead, beneath the strands rendered askew. He catches her eyes lingering on them and runs a hand through them. He’s nervous. He shuffles his feet awkwardly, watching her through his lashes, weighing the possibilities.

 

“I, uh, made coffee,” he clears his throat, shoving both hands into the pockets of worn blue sweatpants. “I got some toast from that shop around the corner, too. You like that one, right?”

 

Her eyes stay focused on him, the steady gaze unsettling. “Yeah. Thanks,” she finally says, a half-whisper grating through a neglected throat. He runs a hand through his hair and adjusts his glasses. He can’t bring himself to smile, his mouth twisting into an empty echo of the real thing.

 

He lifts the covers and settles in next to her, passing her a cup and watching as she wraps long fingers around the porcelain. Her freckles stand in sharp contrast to her skin, a pale beige, in contrast to the tan she kept before- before all this.

 

She sits in silence. He leaves half the toast and a glass of water on the nightstand, taking the cold mug from her hands and pressing a kiss to her temple. Breathe out.

 

—–

 

Nate goes back to work. There’s only so many days you can take off without losing your job. He stands in the doorway that Tuesday, looking like a kicked puppy. “I’ll be back before you know it,” he calls. “I’ll bring dinner back with me.” Sara nods, leaning against the wall beside the bed, afghan throw draped over her shoulders. She waits until the lift bell sounds and the doors close before she moves.

 

The apartment is empty. The air is still, dust particles dancing in the early morning light filtering through the blinds. The mahogany feels alien under her feet, and her bones ache. She wanders through the house – lets her fingers drag against the wall as she circles the bed, caresses the hard wood of the bar stools lining the kitchen counter, pats the smooth polyester arm of the loveseat. She pauses, eyeing the laptop on the coffee table.

 

—–

 

Nate is surprised, to say the least, when he returns to Sara’s apartment. Boxes of salad and fried chicken go in the fridge. The apartment is dark save for the glow of the laptop screen. He goes to shut it down, only to stumble and almost fall over the afghan. The girl herself is draped across the grey cushion, head pillowed on her arm and skin uncovered from the hips down. He takes a moment to appreciate the progress; this is the first time she’s been out of the bedroom since- since before all that’s happened. Breathe in. He thanks her guardian angel, because he believes in that sort of shit, and bends over, scooping her into his arms.

 

Sara sleeps through the night.

 

Breathe out.

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