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the shape of your body (it's blue)

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It’s everything she expected and nothing she expected, all at once.

Gwendolyn is soft and comforting, it’s true, but there’s still something terrifying about an experience so new. She feels as though she doesn’t know her own body, or perhaps she’s never known it. Perhaps she’s meeting herself for the very first time. Kisses are pressed like flowers against her abdomen, her hips, her pubic bone. Gwendolyn’s mouth is feverish, is hungry, is wanting and searching and finding. Her eyes find Mildred’s. They are bright and shining and desperate and angry and hers.

I want you, Gwendolyn says. All of you.

Mildred closes her eyes. She breathes. She doesn't know how to give herself. But for Gwendolyn she’s willing to try.

They lie side by side in Gwendolyn’s bed, panting, every molecule in their bodies singing. Aftershocks roll through them in waves, and Mildred feels pleasantly like she is floating somewhere above the rest of the world, safe in a bubble with Gwendolyn. Her Gwendolyn, who smells of post-coital sweat and lavender and cigarette smoke.

Gwendolyn’s strawberry blonde hair is a wild mass spread out against her pillowcase. Her eyes are closed but Mildred knows she isn’t sleeping. She’s very still and her breaths are deliberate, even. The swell of her breasts rises and falls with each slow inhale, each quiet exhale. Her lashes are long, resting against the tops of her cheeks. Mildred can see the delicate lavender veins that run beneath the nearly translucent skin of her lids. She reaches out and graces a careful hand over Gwendolyn’s eyes, for the simple, sensual pleasure of it.

Gwendolyn’s eyes open at Mildred’s touch. She swivels her head towards Mildred without moving the rest of her body. Gwendolyn’s eyes are an almost startling shade of blue, Mildred thinks. The sort of blue she’s always imagined the ocean must be when you travel out far enough. Sometimes Mildred thinks they must see straight through her, those eyes. Mildred thinks they must see into depths within herself that not even she has explored.

They’re doing that right now. Studying her, patient but discerning. Gwendolyn, Mildred knows, may have a remarkably open heart but she does not suffer fools. She does not make the same mistake twice.

“Mildred,” Gwendolyn finally says, “I’d like to talk.”

Gwendolyn’s hands are a miracle. They must be. There’s no other way Mildred can think to describe them. No other word does them justice. Gwendolyn’s hands treat her body like it’s a treasure, a sacred artifact, a secret to be carefully uncovered. Her hands are petal smooth, impossibly tender. Her hands are white-hot as a filament, as breathless and unstoppable as the rising tide.

She runs her fingers up and down Mildred’s body, over every freckle, every soft curve, every scar Mildred desperately wishes she could hide. Gwendolyn’s hands do not skip over the parts that Mildred feels so certain are hideous and wrong. They take these things in, hold them, collect them like a curious child picking up exquisite, shining pieces of sea glass.

When Mildred tries to pull the covers up to her shoulders, Gwendolyn stops her. Gently pins her arms against the mattress. Shakes her head.

No, Gwendolyn says. No. I want to see you. Let me see you.

Mildred wraps the sheet around her body. The thought of having this conversation while nude is, quite simply, unbearable. She’s been vulnerable enough for one day. For an entire lifetime. Gwendolyn seems to sense this, because she does not pull the sheet back down. Mildred is almost unspeakably grateful for being given this small, compassionate dignity.

Gwendolyn sighs, and Mildred can hear the shudder in it, the threat of tears that trails on the out-breath. Her stomach clenches, knowing that she’s responsible for it. Of all the people she’s hurt, she hates herself the most for hurting Gwendolyn. Even if Gwendolyn is willing to forgive her, Mildred isn’t sure she’ll ever be able to forgive herself.

Gwendolyn’s chin trembles. “I--I don’t have the…the emotional stamina,” she says, “for something fluid, or temporary.” She swallows, shakes her head. “I can’t; I can’t. Not with you.”

“Gwendolyn--” Mildred tries, but Gwendolyn holds up a palm, stop.

“No,” Gwendolyn says, “I--I need to finish. Please let me finish.”

Mildred’s throat, all at once, feels narrow as a pinhole. Words claw against her esophagus as she tries to force them out. “Okay,” she whispers. “I’m listening.”

Mildred thinks of all the times she’s known, I’m going to be hurt, and badly. She thinks of cause and effect; order and sequence; Newton’s Law. What comes up must come down. She thinks of the way her old broken wrist always throbs before thunderstorms. A warning, a premonition, a promise. How storms rejuvenate just as much as they destroy. She doesn’t know how to reconcile those things with Gwendolyn; Gwendolyn, who is so sweet and earnest and good. Gwendolyn, who is staring at Mildred as though Mildred painted every last star in the sky.

Pain and pleasure, pain and pleasure, pain and pleasure. There is no pain now. Only Gwendolyn, Gwendolyn, Gwendolyn. It will come later, she’s sure of it, it always does. There is never good without bad; never light without darkness. But Mildred is tired, she is tired, she is so goddamn tired. She does not have it in her to fight anymore; does not have it in her to run. She is here, now, and she is Gwendolyn’s.

Do your worst, Mildred wants to say, though she’s not sure who she’s even talking to. I’m ready. I have been waiting for this my entire fucking life.

Gwendolyn rolls onto her side. Mildred does the same. They lie there, side by side, facing each other. It reminds Mildred of those trick pictures, where from one angle you see a vase and from another people kissing. Mildred reaches out and cups Gwendolyn’s cheek in her hand. “It just all happened so fast,” she whispers, but Gwendolyn shushes her.

Gwendolyn bumps her forehead against Mildred’s. Mildred can hear her sniffling back tears. “I was vulnerable too, you know,” she says in a wobbly voice, and Mildred can feel herself being ripped cleanly in two. “You’re not the only one with…with baggage.”

“I know I’m not,” Mildred says softly.

“When you finally told me the truth,” Gwendolyn says, “it…it should’ve felt freeing, I suppose. As though we were finally close enough to be honest. But it didn’t feel that way. It…it felt like you’d been using me until you’d gotten what you needed, or until you decided you’d had…enough.” Tears drip down her cheeks and she roughly wipes them away. “Mildred, I--I don’t want to keep secrets, and if that’s what we have to do to be together, I…I don’t know that I can.”

Mildred’s breath is a violin string pulled taut and ready to snap. “Gwendolyn,” she says hoarsely, “I wouldn’t--I couldn’t--I’d never.” She grabs Gwendolyn’s hands in her own. “I need you to know, no matter what happens today, no matter what we decide, that taking advantage of you was never my intention. Ever.”

She cradles Gwendolyn’s jaw. “Gwendolyn,” she says, “you are as much an extension of my selfhood as a limb, and just as necessary. When I thought…I thought I’d lost you, it ached like I’d lost part of myself.”

Gwendolyn pushes a lock of hair behind Mildred’s ear. “A compelling point,” she says. “Tell me more.”

Orgasm, Mildred thinks, is entirely too clinical a word for what is happening to her body.

She’s thought she’s had orgasms before, thought that the relief that came with the ending was all she was supposed to experience. She thought they were the pleasure of absence, of ending, of loss. She didn’t know that they were supposed to fill her and devour her, all at once. She didn’t know they were supposed to be color and light. She didn’t know they were supposed to blur and fuzz out everything, everything, besides the single point of ecstasy deep inside her core. She is opening; Gwendolyn is opening her, wider and wider and wider. There is an entire galaxy beneath her ribcage, and Gwendolyn has found it.

There is the sensation, suddenly, that Mildred is sinking into a warm bath, or maybe she’s become the warm bath. She is melting; she has melted into Gwendolyn. Mildred’s body is no longer her own and she is glad for it. She has carried it and carried it and carried it and she is ready to set it down. She is ready to let someone else carry it for her.

I’ve found it, Mildred thinks. An accidental home.

Mildred wraps an arm around Gwendolyn’s waist. She buries her nose in Gwendolyn’s neck and breathes in her smell. It grounds her. Gwendolyn is a tether, holding her in the present. She fights back the shadows. She throws back the curtains; she opens the doors and the windows. Gwendolyn makes her brave, makes her want to be brave.

“I’ve always been…a solitary person,” Mildred says slowly, “and even though it was of course out of necessity, I told myself that, on some level, it was my choice. That being alone meant I could be safe.” She closes her eyes and breathes. “But then I met you. And suddenly I very much didn’t want to be alone anymore. I love you, Gwendolyn.” She laughs, and it’s a teary, hiccuping sound. “Isn’t that the worst thing you’ve ever heard?”

Gwendolyn uses the tips of her thumbs to wipe the tears from Mildred’s cheeks. She runs her hands up and down Mildred’s bare arms. Gently, carefully, she kisses the tender skin of Mildred’s temple. She pulls back. She tilts her head to the side and considers Mildred. “No,” she says softly, “it’s not.”

For a while, they are tentative around each other. Mildred becomes a regular visitor at Gwendolyn’s house and, eventually, a regular fixture. At first, she comes bearing excuses: in the neighborhood, car trouble, raining too hard to see, leftover cake from a birthday at the hospital and I thought I might share.

But eventually she stops bothering with excuses, and eventually she’s coming by for dinner, and eventually she’s staying later, and eventually she’s helping with the dishes, and eventually her things are scattered all over various rooms, and eventually, amazingly, miraculously, they become a we.

Neither of them really says this, of course. The we is a fragile, magical, ethereal thing, and to speak of it is to risk shattering it. Anyway, it’s not the sort of thing one needs to talk about. It is unquestionably, undeniably there: it is in the way they laugh as they wash the dishes, it is in the way they drink too much wine and marvel at the sheer bigness of the universe, it is in the way Gwendolyn likes to push Mildred’s hair out of her face, it is in the way Mildred likes to clasp Gwendolyn’s hand as they read curled up on the sofa, it is in the way Mildred falls asleep, her head on Gwendolyn’s chest, listening to the steady thrum of her heart.

Mildred doesn’t ask how it happened. She doesn’t think to ask; she’s afraid to ask. She is exhausted, and she is home. She’s never lived without running, but Gwendolyn makes her want to sit still. Gwendolyn makes her want to let things simply be. Gwendolyn is a promise to keep; Gwendolyn is a secret that’s all hers. Mildred holds her close.

I will not lose you, Mildred once said. They are for each other, then. There must be a word, Mildred thinks, for what binds together two people who have loved each other. The way that it creates a scar between their bodies, strong and dark and proud, that only they can see. A single, beautiful fabric, that nothing can tear or mend.