I wake up next to a stranger. It’s despicable how often I end up in this situation, but it’s not like there’s much that I can do about it. I know how I got here, but that doesn’t make it any better. Does it make it any worse? At this point, it doesn’t matter.
I look at the man. The boy. The kid. He really is just a kid, probably no more than fifteen. That should make me feel bad—worse—or something, but it’s hard to feel anything anymore. Right now, though, he’s still asleep. He is dreaming, so his mind is not on me. I steal to the bathroom.
I look at myself in the mirror. The face I see there is the same face that I see every morning when I wake up, as long as I wake up first, or alone, but it’s not the same face that I saw in the elevator mirror last night. This is my face. These are my dark green eyes, these are my damp hands sweeping back my curly hair. This is the color of my skin. I try to enjoy it while it lasts, but what’s the point?
I can hear him groan himself awake in the next room and I close my eyes, hating myself, hating him, hating everything.
“You still here?” the kid asks. His question demands an answer, a very specific answer. Sometimes, if they’re uncertain, I can choose to stay silent. But this one? This one has plans.
It’s showtime, I can’t help but think. I spin on my heel and my posture straightens against my will even as I lose three inches of height. His attention is on me and it makes my skin lighter, it makes my hair straighter and it turns my eyes blue. By the time I’ve opened the bathroom door, my face is unrecognizable—it would never be confused for the one in the mirror.
Against my better judgment and against my very will, I linger in the doorway, coy, balance shifted all to one side to subtly show off the other leg, hand at my hair (is it longer or is it just the lack of curl?) to twirl it, and my lower lip curls up under my teeth, again to draw attention to it, to my mouth, as my eyes brighten. It shouldn’t confuse me anymore that my hair is suddenly sopping wet, but the surprise that I feel when my fingers touch the dripping ends of it doesn’t register on my face. Because I shouldn’t be surprised.
I shouldn’t be surprised, as far as he’s concerned, because I just took a shower. I just took a shower, because (as far as he’s concerned) that’s what girls do the morning after, so that they can look good and be clean again for their man—and let’s not forget the fact that wet hair just looks so amazing, right?
He is right, though, I should have just taken a shower. If it was up to me, I would have used any extra seconds to wash off everything that happened last night. It wouldn’t do me any good, of course, because the first person who saw me leave the hotel, alone or otherwise, would assume things about the girl trying to make her escape, would see her as dirty, and all of that would be back again. It would only be symbolic.
But that’s not how this all plays out in his mind, so it doesn’t really matter anyway. It doesn’t really matter what I think. I’m just a blank canvas.
“Hey, babe,” he says, putting one pasty, smoothe-skinned arm back behind his head like he imagines an adult would do and smiling in the way he figures the hot guy smiles at the woman he just slept with.
This is his script, I’m just acting out the lines.
“Hey,” I tell him, still smiling, still swaying on one leg.
“Some night, huh?”
Does he really not have anything more interesting to say?
“How ‘bout you come back here for round two?” He puts his other hand on the bed next to him and rubs it like it’s flesh.
“I’d love to,” I find myself saying. “But I really have to leave.” It’s what I want to say, but that doesn’t mean it’s me saying it. These are still his words.
“Come on, baby…” He reaches out that hand, but does he really want this?
“Look,” I tell him, “last night was really great, but…” What will be my excuse? What will be his excuse? “I have a boyfriend,” I hear myself say, like a casual reveal at the beginning of a movie, a minor character’s confession to illustrate that the main guy is a stud who can take another man’s girl just because.
“That’s okay,” he assures me.
Am I going to give in? Is that how this goes? Is he that kind of man? He’s not a man at all, of course, but is that the kind of man he wants to grow up to be? “No, it’s not okay,” my character says, suddenly blaming herself. “I can’t, I can’t do this.”
“It’s all right,” he says, but—
“No, it’s not all right! I’m… I’m dirty, even after taking a shower.” Sometimes I think the worst part of these little charades is the dialog they come up with.
“It’s okay. We don’t have to… We don’t have to do anything.”
That’s a comfort—note the irony. “Are you sure?” Why is he playing with me? Why is he playing with himself? It plays like indecision, but—No. This is a carefully planned script.
He lures me back to the bed under false pretenses and then waits for me to break the arrangement and have at him again. And I’m helpless—after all, didn’t he act the gentleman? Gentlemen are always rewarded, aren’t they?
I remind myself that he doesn’t really know what he’s doing. No one ever knows what they’re doing with me, what they’re doing to me. I play into their fantasies without them even noticing. If they’re confident, like this one is, I end up on my back. If they’re not, if they doubt themselves and their abilities, they will leave me alone. If they feel guilty afterwards, sometimes they will let me go. Unless feeling guilty is what they want, too.
This one is simple. All he wants is power: to win the girl, to get laid, to get one over on some other guy. I hear myself pleading with him when he’s done and leaves. “Will I ever see you again?” I ask.
“Is that what you want?”
He has no intention of ever seeing me again. I’m nothing but another notch on his belt—am I the first? Honestly, most men are such shit and keep being such shit, it’s hard to tell for sure. I probably was. He was a bit more awkward.
Why am I even asking these questions? It’s not like I care. It’s not like I care about him—at least not as a person. But I do need to know. For strategy. I care because understanding him might—what? What can I do?
I gather my things, I put on my clothes, I go back into the bathroom. I still don’t look like myself. The image is starting to fade, but he still hasn’t forgotten me. He may be thinking more about himself than he’s thinking about me, but he’s still thinking about me more than anyone else is. I’ve left an impression on him, so he’s left this impression on me, of this girl that I’m not, of this girl that he slept with, this girl who slept with him, who isn’t me.
But who am I?
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