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When she didn’t show up for class the next morning, he had been worried about her. So despite every instinct telling him not to, he now headed to her dorm room. He had previously been reluctant to do this because he didn’t want to corner her, but after the way she had left him the previous day he put aside the fear of her yelling at him to leave to go check on her. He didn’t care if she yelled at him now as long as he knew she was okay, then he would leave her alone if that is what she wished for.
He knocked on her door but there was no response. He sighed and taking a leap of faith, he opened the door. She was curled up in bed and was paler than usual;she was obviously sick. “Bill what are you doing here?” She asked but she didn’t sound mad. He walked over to the side of the bed and knelt down.
“I came to check on you. Are you okay?” he asked concern growing in him upon seeing her too white face.
“I’m sick Bill. Your stupid organic restaurant ruined my stomach,” she said angrily but this only made him chuckle. He cupped her cheek.
“I’m sorry, pretty baby,” he cooed although from the takeout boxes he could see in the background he thought that these were more likely the cause of her upset stomach. She closed her eyes and after a while he got up to go, thinking that she wanted to sleep.
“Don’t leave,” she whispered and he sighed.
There she went confusing him again. After her reaction yesterday, he had gone through the rest of the day with a heavy heart because it seemed like they had been making progress but then she had rejected him again.
Of course he knew she was unsure of what she wanted and she had every right to feel this way, but he just wished there was an end date to all this confusion. A day where she would make up her mind of whether she wanted him or not.
“What do you want me to do?” He asked turning to look back at her and putting his hands in his pockets. She seemed conflicted again and he could only imagine what was going on in her mind. “I want you to cuddle me, help me feel better,” she said. He sighed again but went to do her bidding and they fell into their usual position of her in his arms. He had wanted this for weeks since they had been apart, but not like this, not when he didn’t know if she would push him away and call it a mistake again.
“You can’t keep doing this to me,” he whispered into her hair.
“I know. I know,” she said and rolled onto her stomach so she was pressed into his chest. Her small fingers were fiddling with his beige sweater.
“I like these colors on you. No more black?” She asked almost for a moment sounding like her old self.
“Nope. No more black,” he said. She had brought color back into his world and he had taken to wearing more neutral colors because of her. She sighed and pressed her head into his chest and she closed her eyes looking as if she were in pain. Maybe it was from her stomach or from her ever pressing emotional confusion.
“How many of your friends do you treat this way, Hillary?” he asked. He knew he should let her rest, but he needed her to know that she needed to make a decision or it might break him again.
“I don’t want to talk about this,” she answered and buried her face into his side. He felt frustrated. He would dangle on for her forever like a puppet and she knew it. He knew she wasn’t trying to hurt him, but she was and he knew he had no right to complain after what he had done to her, but it was all so complicated.
“We need to talk about it Hill-“ his words were cut short by her jumping out of the bed and going into the bathroom to throw up. He went to her concern overriding his frustration and held her hair back.
“Go away!” She shouted no doubt embarrassed at the vomit chunks coming out of her mouth, but
he still held onto her hair until she was done. When she at last finished, he handed her a washcloth to wipe her mouth. She then slumped against his chest and he cradled her in his arms.
“I’m sorry I keep confusing you. I just don’t know what I want,” she said finally speaking again and she sounded so normal and not cold like she had been before.
He knew what he wanted: her.
It would always be her.
“How about we start small? What do you want right now?” he asked stroking her hair. He would never pressure her, this was a decision she would have to make on her own.
“I want to feel better, and I want a bath,” she whinged and he laughed a little. There was his girl. He kissed the top of her head and stood up.
“I’ll get your stuff for your bath,” he said and went to retrieve her a new pair of clothing and underclothing.He brought her a large blue tee shirt, and some gray sweatpants with her new provocative underclothes.
“When did you start wearing thongs?” He teased putting her clothes on the counter. She rolled her eyes from where she was still sitting on the floor.
“It was May’s idea. I started doing a lot of things to make myself feel better after,” she said. He felt a little guilty about that; because she had to go out and experience new things to try to forget about him.
“I guess I’ll get going?” He asked unsure of what to do with himself. He didn’t know if she wanted him to stay and any second now he was expecting her to put on her defense again and tell him it was a mistake.
“No, stay here. I want you to stay,” she said.
He sighed and ran his hands through his hair.
“What if it’s a mistake again? I can’t keep doing this, it hurts too much,” he said his voice cracking a bit. He had gotten his hopes up the night of the tree lighting only to have them shattered. He had ended up broken but had finally come to peace and now if he got his hopes up again only to lose her he didn’t know what he would do.
“It hurts me too. Right now it won’t be a mistake, it maybe tomorrow or later but not right now,” she said and he could tell that again she was conflicted.
He knew that maybe what was better for both of them was to say no and to just stay away from her, but he couldn’t.
He would never be able to deny her.
“I’ll stay then, but please warn me when you’re going to shut me out again,” he said. She nodded and turned to begin to run the bath. As she began to shrug out of her clothes, he turned to wait in her dorm room.
“I’ll be out here if you need anything,” he said and closed the door behind him.

 

Already the warm water was starting to make her feel better and as she sat in the tub, she swirled circles in the water.
The water, it was so clear and certain.
She wished her feelings were that clear and certain, but they weren’t.
She had gone throughout the rest of the day trying to put him out of her mind once she had left him.
She hadn’t been able to.
More and more now she found that she wanted to be with him again. When he had shown up at her room, she hadn’t been able to throw him out like she knew she should.
To see him standing there, looking so concerned about her had done something to her heart. Because surely someone who’s only intention was to toy with her for a bet wouldn’t be going through all this effort right? There had to be more than that.
So she sat in the bath for a while thinking of him and if he was being genuine. She tried to pin down what exactly was keeping her from being with him again and when she found it, she found that it was her pride. Her pride told her things like ‘taking him back would be weak.’
But would it really?
She didn’t know anything anymore.
Eventually she knew that she couldn’t procrastinate anymore and she got out of the bathtub and began to put on her clothes. Once she was done she looked in the mirror. She looked very obviously sick and she sighed, and resigned to putting her hair in a braid. She knew she would have to go out and face him, and her heart was beating fast from excitement or nerves she didn’t know. When she reentered her room she found that he was laying on her bed staring up at the ceiling.
“Feel better?” he asked as she sat down next to him shyly. Her earlier request of cuddles had been impulsive and she knew that she shouldn’t be giving into impulses. Impulses could change within time. Act now and regret it later.
“Yes,” she answered again her voice detached. She sighed and her face went into her hands. She was fighting it, again that feeling that she needed him. It was like her body was cursing at her for being deprived of him for so long.
“You know you don’t have to feel pressured with me. Anything you want I’m willing to give you. If you want me to go I’ll go. If you want me to cuddle you I will. If you want me to cuddle you then forget about it tomorrow I will. I will give you anything,” he said.
His selflessness touched her, and for a moment she considered his offer. She after all had said that right now this wasn’t a mistake. So Maybe she should give into her impulses at least for now. Maybe she should start small like he had said.
So what did she want this very moment? She peaked through her fingers and saw that he was watching her.
He looked so warm and she desperately wanted to be in his arms. So despite her pride shouting at her and every logical thought in her head, she moved up so she was laying down next to him, her head on his shoulder. His eyes softened, looking at her.
“You’re so beautiful,” he whispered and then sighed. It seemed as if he was trying to remember this moment forever. His words touched her, but she knew she looked sickly so she only laughed. “it’s true. You aways look beautiful. Please don’t doubt that,” he said and hesitantly wrapped his arm around her waist pulling her closer. She allowed it. Right now this was what she wanted. “I’ve been sick all morning,” she said. She was overwhelmed by his familiar scent and her deep longing for him grew. Longing that she had put behind iron bars. That longing was breaking through and even with him so close she still missed him.
“Doesn’t matter. You’ll always be beautiful to me in whatever form you take. I’ll think you’re beautiful even when you’re old,” he said and it sounded as if he had been wanting to tell her this for weeks.
His statement was too much and along with his scent, that scent that had made her cry not that long ago, she felt tears begin to form. She closed her eyes and sighed.
No more tears.
Never again.
Because she felt like if she started she would never stop.
“Please don’t talk like that, Bill,” she whispered her voice pained. It was painful because she felt like that future was lost to them. They had moved in together and talked about children and then it had suddenly been torn to shreds. It was like they had been looking through rosy lenses or a colorful window, then the glass had broken through showing reality.
“i won’t if you don’t want me to, but just know it’s true. We need to talk about what happened with us.”
“Bill no i-“
“Hillary. Please. I have no right to ask, but just give me this. Let us talk like we used to, like how you wanted to. I can’t go on pretending like we’re strangers,” he said and his voice sounded just as pained.
It was that pain that pushed her forward and probed her, maybe she could share her pain with him?
But she would start small.
“Why did you want to go to the art museum yesterday?” She asked and snuggled even closer to him, letting him know that she was trying. He arm was still around her waist and he began to rub lightly at her lower back like he had used to.
“Because I appreciate art more now. I’ve started painting,” he answered talking to her in that gentle voice he always would. That interested her, when she had first met him she would have never seen him as the painting type. They were both silent and she didn’t know what else to say, she knew that eventually they would have to start talking about the deeper things. She had been right, he was warm it felt like the type of soothing warm that came with clean clothes from the dryer.
“I’ve painted you before. I can show you sometime,” he said breaking the silence.
“I would l like that,” she answered.
Then silence once more.
She knew they were tip toeing around what they really wanted to talk about, each waiting for the other to bring it up. She wanted to talk about it, but she was scared. They hadn’t truly talked about it before and she wanted to stay in this bubble, with his arm around her and pretend everything was fine.
Of course that could never last.
Thoughts of his betrayal and of what he might have been doing with Bambi came back and she withdrew from his touch.
“You hurt me,” she said. It was simple but powerful.
“I know, baby, I know,” he said his eyes immensely sad, “I didn’t mean to. I didn’t tell you because I was scared of hurting you and because I was scared of you leaving me,”
He didn’t have to say anything more. They both knew that the unspoken words that both of his fears had come true anyways.
“I want to know everything. I want to know wha happened between you and Bambi,” she said. It would hurt, but she needed to know so her thoughts wouldn’t keep going to dark places. She felt fear about what she would hear and on instinct she went deeper into his arms again, burying her nose in his chest. It was still strange to her how he could be the cause of her pain yet she still went to him for comfort. He held her protectively.
“Okay, I’ll tell you but please don’t think less of me,” he said sighing.
Then he began.
“It started that night at the bonfire. I was still an asshole then. Scott came up and introduced himself. Apparently he had heard about me at Oxford. He asked me if the girl I was with, in this case Bambi,” he paused and kissed her head gently and apologetically, “He asked me if she was my girlfriend. I said I don’t do girlfriends. Then he brought up this game, a bet really that he and his friends would play at Oxford about seeing who could nail a girl first. He told me he liked to go after the innocent ones because it was more of a challenge. Then he pointed you out, and we decided the bet would be who could nail you first,” he paused here and looked down at her. She was feeling strange, but she knew that now that he had started she would need to hear the rest. “Go on,” she said simply.
After a few moments he did.
“So I looked for you and I figured you would be in the library, you seemed like the type. You walked in and I hesitated in approaching you, but eventually I had to since you went and sat back behind the shelves. I remember how it bothered me that you seemed to not notice me or be charmed by me right away. So then later on after you went to check out that book, I tripped you because I knew it would get your attention.”
At this she giggled. It had gotten her attention alright.
It amazed her that in the midst of all this pain, she could still laugh.
“Then later on at the party, I didn’t expect you to be there. When you uh-“
“Walked in on you getting a blow job from Bambi?” she offered and finished his sentence for him. He mock shivered underneath her.
“Gross, yeah that. Well after you walked in on that, I told Bambi to get out and leave me alone, she did but she was pissed. Already you were stirring something within me. I remember thinking that you looked so innocent and appalled by what you had seen and that you had your dress stained. I guess looking back now I was worried about you. I went back in the direction of the party and came across Scott. He asked me about my progress with you, I said there wasn’t much. I didn’t even know your name and he had to tell me it. I remember that even then I thought it was a nice name. I decided to go back to my room instead of the party because I didn’t want to run into Bambi again, that’s when I ran into you again.”
She flinched a little at the memory of how he had surprised and yelled at her.
“I didn’t know how to act seeing you there. For a second I liked it and that scared me, I was still so fucked up back then. I had always been a private person so I did the only thing I knew how to do, I yelled at you. I immediately felt guilty as I watched you begin to cry. You tried to deny it and I could see that you were holding back, trying not to let me know. So I cleaned your dress and I realized how much I liked being gentle with you.”
His words were softening her, and while she loved his story telling she needed to know the pain most of all.
“Bill. Please just tell me about the bet and the things I didn’t know,” she said. She couldn’t take hearing anything more. He always had such a way with words and to hear him go through their whole relationship again and painting it beautifully only to reveal the hurt would crush her.
“I’m sorry, I get carried away when it comes to you. This next part is where Bambi came into play. You know how I took you to that party and we played truth or dare?” He asked. She nodded, she remembered that all too well.
“My line of thinking then was if I could show you off, and show everyone you were mine then they would leave us alone. Sadly that didn’t happen. Later that night after you fell asleep in my room, Scott called me and told me to meet him outside. Bambi was with him. They had teamed up apparently and Bambi requested that I sleep with her or she would tell you about the bet. Her father is the dean of students and at that point I was so scared of losing you.”
He paused and held her tighter, rocking her back and forth lightly. It seemed like he was hesitating on telling her what happened next, but she needed to know. As much as it pained her, she needed deeply to know everything.
“Did you sleep with her?” She asked.
He sighed.
“No, I didn’t have sex with her. I lied to her at first and told her I had an STD. She let me off the hook easy and just made me get high with her. Then I came back to our room. That wasn’t the end of it though. The next day after you told me you would move in with me, she was in my dorm room. She wanted me to fuck her again but I refused. She was weird she told me if I fucked her that once then she would leave us alone. At that point, I didn’t want to be intimate with anyone other than you, but I still made a mistake,” he paused and again he seemed full of regret.
After a long lapse he went on.
“Hillary, I made a compromise of sorts with her. I told her I wouldn’t fuck her but instead that we could masturbate together. It was to get her off my back because the way Bambi is, is that she won’t move on from a guy until she has “beat” them or made them conquests of sorts. I did it and I’m sorry,” his voice broke.
She was silent, she had no words.
He hadn’t slept with her, but he had still touched Bambi like how he had touched her. It made her sick to think of his fingers in her. She felt empty and she could feel the physicality of her heart being broken.
“Hillary, I won’t move on until you understand this: It was physical and nothing compared to you,” he said and squeezed her gently. His voice sounded so genuine and for a moment she allowed herself to empathize with his pain.
“I won’t say I forgive you, because right now the pain is too fresh. I will say that I believe you didn’t intentionally want to hurt me,” she said softly. How could he want to hurt her? After all, like she had thought before, if it had all been for a bet why was he here now still trying?
“Thank you. Now about the weed those were the only other times I saw Bambi because she
became a dealer in this way. At this point she had moved on from me and was dating Packer so there wasn’t anything physical between us again. I only used the weed because the high it brought me made me feel more relaxed and less guilty. You have to understand, I felt guilty and scared all the time that you would somehow find out.”
His soft blue gray eyes seemed so sensitive and she wondered if hers looked the same.
There was so much hurt between the two of them.
“Finally, the weed was a downfall. Bambi had played me. I had been trying to help her in between getting the weed from her. I tried doing for her what you did for me. I told her she didn’t have to be so rude all the time. In turn, Bambi pretended like she was helping me against Scott and keeping an eye out for him. For example, she told me that Scott planned on telling you about the weed and to put it in the glove compartment. What I didn’t know was that she and Scott had both decided to tell you that the weed was in the glove compartment. After taking you to Arkansas I decided I would tell you about the bet, but then we made love and I got distracted. I was going to tell you the next day but procrastination was my downfall. I thought I had time. I waited too long and you found out in the worst possible way. Bambi had stolen my wallet and had given it to Packer with your pictures, and you know the rest.”
When he finished, they were both silent.
In a way it all made sense and slowly her doubts about him were beginning to fade.
Still, the other questions of her pride and on the matter of if they would still work together were in the back of her mind.
One thing at a time.
So she kept those other problems locked away, in this moment she was with him, reliving their pain together.
He stroked her hair and she laid her head in the crook between his shoulder and neck, breathing him in.
“I don’t hate you,” she said suddenly. It felt like the right thing to say but still incomplete because she couldn’t say her I love yous like she wanted to, in that way her heart was still frozen. She couldn’t tell him those three special words again because she didn’t want to get his hopes up when she still didn’t know what she wanted.
“I know you don’t. You’re just hurt, and it’s okay. You can be hurt, you can allow yourself to feel it. You showed me that,” he said. Their legs were intertwined and at last her body seemed at ease. He was still so warm and she wished they could stay like that forever, she wished they could once again look through rose colored lenses and ignore the reality of their situation.
“I’m sorry I didn’t get you anything for Christmas,” she said. She had often admired the hair pin before going to bed, but she hadn’t worn it yet. Wearing it would mean she was with him again and she didn’t know if that was a possibility or if she still wanted that.
“It’s fine. You’re giving me everything right now by letting me be this close to you.”
His words made her flush and he mumbled, “you’re so pretty when you do that.” She closed her eyes. Her stomach ache was long gone and she felt better in many ways. Still complicated but better.
“How was your break then? Did you go back to Arkansas?” she asked. She wanted to catch up with him, hating that they had spent time apart.
“I did. I’m not gonna lie I was a wreck for a while. Really Hills you know how to make a man cry. After a while though it did get better. The holidays were fun and I got new tires for my car,” he said.
She nodded, but her mind was mostly on his statement of crying. He had really cried for her even when she wasn’t there to see it.
“How was your break Hills?” He asked in return.
She thought about what to say. She definitely didn’t want to mention the brief conflict with her father.
“It was okay. It was nice and snowy, and I got a lot cool gifts. Like my record player over there,” she said nodding towards it on where it sat on the dresser top.
“It’s lovely. We should put it to use. Do you want to dance with me?’ He asked playfully. She wasn’t much of a dancer but she did like his playful tone, it reminded her so much of how things used to be before they all went to hell.
“Okay,” she agreed and he pulled her up from the bed gently. She stood and watched as he went over to the record player and got the record set up. The nice slow jazz came on, and he came up to her. He put his hands on her waist and she felt awkward, unsure of what to do.
“Place your hands on my shoulders, Hilly,” he said, still guiding her as always. She did and he began to led them so they were swaying and dancing in tempo to the rhythm of the music. She stared into his eyes. Those eyes that had caused her so much pain but yet so much joy. He was looking at her so tenderly and for a moment she forgot the world; all that mattered was him and his stunning eyes.
They began to sway closer and she desperately wanted to kiss him. She could tell he was feeling the same way and his eyes were fixated on her lips. He brought his face down closer and their lips were just inches apart.
Then she felt something furry at her foot and the moment was ruined by her looking down to see Cotton awake from her nap and out to play.
“Hey! Look who it is!” Bill said excitedly and bent down to pet Cotton. Hillary went to sit on the bed, her lips still tingling with longing for him. Bill played with Cotton for a few moments before glancing at the clock.
“Oh shit. Sorry, Hills. I have to go to work now, but I’ll see you tomorrow okay? Are you sure you are feeling better?” he asked inspecting her face.
She nodded, her physical problems at least were resolved.
“I’m sorry for making you skip classes,” she said. He stood up and straightened himself up. He then came to give her head a quick kiss peck on the top.
“I wanted to be here. It’s fine. I’ll see you tomorrow and I love you,” he said. It didn’t seem to bother him that she didn’t say it back, and he walked out of her dorm room, shooting her one last smile.
Then she sat there listening to the music still playing and Cotton’s purrs on the floor. She then got up and stopped the record player and she opened the drawer of the dresser. She took out the pin he had given her and put it in her hair, trying to hide the smile that wanted to take over her face.