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Hidden Hurt

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As she waited, Vanessa tapped out a cigarette. It dangled from between her fingers as the minutes ticked by, growing smaller and smaller. She took one last drag and then stubbed it out in the overflowing ashtray.

The woman across from her, heavy set and with a face marked with scars, worked diligently on her darning. Vanessa suppressed a hysterical giggle.

She tapped out another cigarette.

Before she could light this one, a woman, thin where the darning woman was large, came into the back room. “Doris?” she said, looking at Vanessa.

Vanessa stood elegantly. She dropped the unlit cigarette mindlessly on the floor. She could feel the darning woman’s glare at her back, but Vanessa couldn’t spare her any thought.

The thin woman helped Vanessa onto the table. The sheet beneath her was floral patterned, pinks and reds swirling over white. Vanessa resolutely pulled her gaze away.

She had already paid up. Soon, it would all be over.

The doctor came in. He was young and handsome, not at all the sort of person she expected to see in this kind of place. That didn’t do anything to soothe her nerves. But she had taken all of her savings for this. He was worth it. A real medical degree, so she had been told. There was no way she was going to be butchered by some bumbling incompetent fool.

Through it, she could do nothing but grip the sheet on the table while he worked. For a brief, crazy moment, she wished Ken were here with her.

But he would never have let her go through with this.

The thin woman helped her from the table. Vanessa couldn’t stop shaking. She was allowed to lie down for fifteen minutes, but then she had to leave. There were more women to come, and none of them wished to see one another’s faces.

Vanessa came home well after midnight, drunk to the point where she could barely walk. Ken was up waiting for her. He caught her by the arms as she swayed in the doorway.

“What the hell, Van?” he said. “I come home, and you aren’t here, and now you’re-”

“Oh, shut up,” she said. She giggled and leaned up to kiss him roughly. She missed his mouth and settled for resting her head against his shoulder. “Said you’d be… gone all night.”

She felt Ken tense beneath her.

“Captain let me off my shift early.”

“Huh.” She pulled away and stumbled toward the bedroom. She was thankful Ken didn’t follow.

When she awoke the next morning, Ken was gone. Vanessa ached, both her body and her head. She curled in on herself, glad he wasn’t here to see her like this. She sobbed until she felt the bile bite at the back of her throat. When she was done vomiting, the snot and tears joined the mess in the toilet.

He would never forgive her if he knew.

But she couldn’t have had it. The resentment would have grown and grown until it became hate, and what child deserved that?

The front door opened. A moment later, there was a knock at the bathroom door. “Vanessa?”

She flushed the mess away. She vigorously washed her face, before shedding her clothes and grabbing the bathrobe that hung by the door. She turned on the bath before opening the door to meet Ken’s worried gaze. As much as she hated it, his blue uniform looked good on him.

“You okay?” he asked, in that way of his that she both loved and hated.

Vanessa forced a laugh. “Of course,” she said. “Just starting a nice, relaxing bath.” She gave him her best seductive smile. “Care to join me?”

Ken shook his head. “We were just passing by, so I thought to check on you. I’ll be home early tonight, okay? Promise.”

He wouldn’t, of course. Something would inevitably come up. For once, Vanessa didn’t mind.

After Ken left, she sank into the hot water. It soothed her aches and welcomed her hot tears without judgement.