It’s Saturday morning and I can hear him playing a Charlie Parker record in the other room. I’m eating a slightly stale bowl of Chex and practicing saying words in French. Embrasse-moi. The Chex tastes like cardboard, but I keep eating. Embrasse-moi.
He sits down beside me and I shift my legs to dangle over his lap. “Embrasse-moi,” I purse my lips and he smile-laughs. It’s my favorite, the smile-laugh. He begins reciting more French words that I can’t quite remember the translations to, but I imagine they’re complimentary because now he’s kissing my neck. I picture adding a cigarette to my free hand and how perfect the whole scene would be. But then I remember I’m pretty grossed out by smoking. So I nix the idea.
I’m wearing a T-shirt of his as a nightgown, but he looks at me like I’m in nothing. He’s always been able to do that. He leaves me split, undressed, a body waiting for inspection, even when I’m still fully clothed.
He kisses me with the kind of mouth that feels urgent. It’s like he’s always telling me to stay without a single word. I probably shouldn’t like it so much, because there’s something unnerving about a boy who kisses like that. But here I am. Here I stay.
In between pressing his lips against my skin, he says, “Not everyone gets you like I do,” but this time, it doesn’t really feel like romance. It feels a bit like a threat. My stomach tightens and I count back all the times he’s told me to relax.
I count back all the times he’s told me to stop worrying, to not overreact.
Embrasse-moi. Embrasse-moi. Embrasse-moi.
And it hits me.
It hits me why he kisses me with a mouth like that and why he looks at me across the kitchen table like I’m so delicate.
Conversations I always try to hush come spilling back into the room. The times he compared me to ghosts of girlfriends, pointed out their flaws and where I could improve. And how I swallowed my own pride and listened.
He tells me he loves to refurbish old bicycles and cars and I wonder if I’m not just one of the same. I’m the old bike he found outside in the alley. Something that was just tossed aside. Because it was too much work, required too much attention, was just not the model that fit into most homes. So someone just left me there, oh, but he brought me inside. He slapped a new coat of paint because he doesn’t mind getting his hands dirty. Because he’s a man who loves projects and I’m a girl who doesn’t mind being called one.
Except that I do.
I do mind.
“Why am I never enough the way I am?”
“I don’t ever ask you to change.”
I’m not kissing back this time. I’m not relaxing this time. I’m not a fixer-upper. I’m not a rough draft. I’m not putty to mold into the perfect girl. I touch all my bruised parts and remind myself that does not mean I am broken pieces for him to rearrange.
He tells me to relax. He tells me to calm down. He tells me I’m overreacting.
I say, “Then why does it finally feel like I’m speaking?”
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