Exchange Student X
I don’t know where he’s taken me. Eddie hired a taxi that drove through darkened glistening streets until it jerked to a stop in front of an elegant stone building with a wrought iron fence in front and stone walls on either side. Now I look from him to the building, uncertain.
He pays the driver, entwines his fingers through mine and leads me to the front door.
A doorman greets him. “Mr. Hollaway, good evening.”
Eddie nods. He speaks to the doorman, his voice nuanced, words careful, manner refined. My smile trembles.
“What is this place?” I ask when we’re out of earshot.
Eddie shakes his head as he turns the key in the lock of the door on the immediate right. I almost gape at the interior when he flicks on a light. Shiny hardwood floors, leather furniture, a fireplace encased in beautiful stone, floor to ceiling windows. Unsure, I stand in the foyer, my eyes darting around the open floorplan.
“Is this where you bring girls…boys…”
“I don’t bring anyone here. No one knows about this and you’re not to say anything,” he snaps, runs his hand through his golden brown hair, and then sighs. “Sorry.”
Suddenly I realize. “You hide as much as I do.”
His blue-green eyes meet mine then, again that vulnerability he seems to share only with me. “Let’s have a beer.”
I grab his hand. “No. Stay sober.”
He moves close, takes my face between his hands and kisses me. “If you like.”
The bedroom is sparkling. In the back of my mind, I had thought it would be on old sheets creased with the odors of other bodies, stained, real. I had reduced myself to that.
I melt into his kisses and then am just in bra and panties, feeling his eyes on me before looking up, wondering if, even though he’s sharing this strange world with me, I am just another. Then his eyes flicker to my wrists, which I immediately hide behind me. But he’s seen. He snags one of my arms, stares at the raised angry pink flesh, his thumb gently caresses the scars.
Wordlessly he leads me to the bed, peels back the duvet so that I can slide in, and he slides in after me. The coolness of the sheets comforts me. He pulls me to his chest, my cheek rests there, my ear absorbing the steady beat of his heart, my brain memorizing his smell, his skin, the gentle way he warms my soul, even though we both may be broken.
“Tell me,” he says.
I do. In monotone I relate a story about a high school sophomore who thought a senior boy loved her, how he was the king of the school, how she did things with him, not understanding that it was not real. How one day pictures appeared with her kneeling in front of him, her eyes closed to everything, while he smiled, his hand displaying an abusive gesture above her head. How that girl who had always stayed hidden, who imagined him a prince, who didn’t understand cavernous ugliness, who feared her parents, her parents friends, might see those pictures, wanted–only, finally–to perform the ultimate expression of withdrawal.
As my voice trails away, my eyes closed against memories I can never eliminate, reconcile, he rocks me against him, his full lips murmuring words against my temple and I hold him tightly, hoping that his biggest lie is hiding who he is from others, but not from me.