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It has been two weeks. The ceiling is the most interesting object in your immediate experience. The soundlessness forces you to pay attention to your endless introspection. Still the hours alternate, slow then fast then slow again. Each day passes in a homogenous semi-drug induced haze, and you begin to wonder why you are here at all.

On the fifteenth day, you remember.

You were sternly instructed by the professionals to leave your room. The library is next best, in all respects just as quiet and bland. You are drawing halfhearted concentric circles on your notebook, the second hand of the clock shifting in the edge of your vision, when she slides into the seat diagonally across you without a sideways glance, intent on absorbing "The Political Ideas and Practice of Ancient Rome" by osmosis. She is oblivious to your sidelong gaze, reading with hungry eyes.

The image of need touches something inside you. Your wandering outline morphs into a fluid sketch as, without looking up again, her image forms on the page, skin sprawling across the 0.8mm lines of the notebook. The detailing is meticulous. Your eraser lies unused on your left.

She seems to barely exist, the gown hanging loosely off her limbs. Her eyes are bright and wide. Her cheeks are too hollow. She mouths silently with the book, her lips soft and supple. "The city of Rome was, from its inception, a mélange of Latin influence from the East and Sabine from the West..." The line of her chin is strong and beautiful. The pencil sweeps around her ear, outlining the wave of hair winding around her shoulder and across her gown. The shading grows, extends, enveloping the figure. The sterilized smell of the library fades, leaving a lingering vapor of old books and a new girl. Without giving thought to the matter you know precisely what she is.


The blinking light on the clock tells you it's four o'clock. On your way out, you tear the page out of the notebook and slide the picture across to the real life girl sitting diagonally across the table.

It is three days before you see her again. In the interim you have initiated communication with the nurses, unpalatable as it is. Now you know who she is, what she's here for. You wonder on the side if she noticed you enough to do the same.

This time, it's the cafeteria.

You are sitting in complete stillness except your fingers, which feel the wood of the table. With the grain and then against the grain. A familiar pattern. You look straight ahead.

She sits across from you, holding a tray almost minimalist in its bareness. Her lunch is a small white bowl of dark colored soup and that same book. She picks up the book and ignores you, reading once again with those lips. Your eyes look empty but you watch all the same, thinking as hard as you can. Hello. Could you and I be…? And yet she is still deaf to your attentions.

"The Etruscans brought with them the Greek alphabet, signaling the start of the extensive influence the Greeks were to have on Roman culture in the coming centuries. I don't know how to sign but can you lip read?"

You almost miss it, her lips move so fluidly without a beat's worth of hesitation, but there it is. She has spoken to you. The gesture is comforting, warm. Your gaze moves unbidden to her eyes. But she doesn't look up, concentrating a little too hard on the pages clutched in her hand, brow furrowed, eyes distant but hard.

Her earnest reluctance to acknowledge the communication is amusing to you. You attempt to bridge the silence with a cough. She looks up enquiringly, her face open.


Over time you have grown accustomed to the sound of your voice, the thick hesitancy and the forced undulation of rhythm. You have not forgotten the instinctual flinch that accompanies your voice.

She does not blink. Instead, she reaches a hand over the invisible line that divides the two halves of the table and grabs your…

"Hey, that's my banana."

You wince, feeling the coarseness of your voice, strained with disuse.

The banana has is now halfway to her tray. She looks at you blankly, but cracks unexpectedly into a blithe smile, the first such smile you have seen on her delicate, careful face. It's incongruity makes you want to punch the air and say I did this. I can do this.

"But – but you said yes!"

You feel your heart beat for the first time since you came here.

You follow her to her room, lagging behind her tireless legs. On the way you wave at your surprised nurse and signs that you'll be back later. She gives you the thumbs up, eyebrows raised. Your feet lift from the ground. The air supports your body, straightening your back and propelling you towards her door.

If asked, you will have no recollection of getting to this point, and yet here you are. Sitting side by side on a bed with a girl who doesn't turn her face when you speak.

She is pressing your hand and staring you down, professing to you in her rush of words that right now there is nothing she needs more than to learn.

"It's, it's – impossible to describe. I need to know – everything! It's ridiculous. It's like a constant – prickling – tingle – under my skin."

"Good thing you aren't ticklish."

She blinks, confused. You grimace. Obviously that wasn't funny. You're not even sure how that was funny in your head.


She shrugs, moves on without a pitying glance. You have never felt so lost, so unequal to the speed of her lips or the racing of her mind but there is also, somewhere, the conviction that this is exactly what you've been waiting for.

The next day you move even deeper. You show her your wrists. She shows you her IV scar. You let her touch your ears with her cold fingers. She puts your hands on her stomach and lets you feel the spaces between her ribs.

This is unreal, like being in a prolonged fantasy. You shut your eyes and throw your head back onto her pillow, visualizing something so obscure, so atypical, that it is frightening. What would happen if we –

Then she prods you on the forehead. Your eyes open to see her face. Her arms are on either side of you, sinking into her bed. Her knees are pressed against your sides and the rest of her is suspended in the air over your prone body. Your eyes flicker to the right, checking the door is actually closed.

"Are you listening – well – are you watching – well – are you paying attention at all?"

You nod gravely and assure her as carefully as you can, considering the fact that there seems to be a growth in your throat. Your breath quickens.

"Er. Um, thing – thing – thingymabob."

Her face is still suspended on top of you. You swallow and feel the mysterious lump, which is now settled in your chest, swell in size.

"I was saying…I decide something. Then – well – then I go ahead and throw myself into it with everything I have. Do you – do you understand me?"

As she sways closer to your mouth whatever modicum of articulation you normally muster has completely abandoned you. You are panting lightly against her cheeks, eyes unfocused. Is she –?

But you have left it too long. She rolls her eyes and begins to pull away, your body moving with the bed as she shifts her weight.


And with a determination and skill you did not possess before today your legs wrap themselves around her waist and pull her back to you. Your panting is surely more than audible now.

Her eyes are impassive, expectant. Your mind is paralyzed with fear and yet knows exactly what to do. Tightening your stomach muscles to raise your body from the bed, you can nearly reach her mouth. Straining with the physicality of the moment you pull her towards your mouth with your lower half and almost touch your lips together. She pushes back against your pull, body straining away even as her neck arches forwards towards your impatience. Her words are fervent, and you don't need to be able to read lip to know that she is saying finally – finally – finally!

She pushes you back onto the bed, pressing your body into the mattress. You breathe shallowly, in fits. Your hands curl behind your head, slipping under her pillow and grasping the bed sheet, relaying the strange euphoria slowing dripping through your body from your fingertips into the solidity of the room.

Her fingers knot themselves into your hair, winding closer to your scalp. She bobs up and down, coming so close to kissing you but lingering out of reach, her breasts skimming yours. Your fingers stretch, cling, melt into the bedframe. You use the fortitude of wood to force your body into her bony hips, pushing her up and off her own elbows and knees so that she is balanced shakily on your body. Her frame, so light and unsubstantial, is a weight you welcome. One last push off from the bed and your lips meet with the two of you suspended in the air for a fraction of a moment.

A jolt.

And so it comes to be that your first sexual encounter of any kind is in mid air, with a girl with tunnel vision and eyes that are too intense to be real.

It is all so astonishing that you fail to be concerned.

It is the day before her release. The two of you have been making out on her bed, just as you have been ever since that day of days. At a hopeful interval, when you both stop for a quick breath, she asks you to stop. You won't, and lean in for another turn. She turns her face away, smiling so you just catch the edge of her lips with your tongue, licking them wet, laughing at her attempts to escape. You have her pinned between your thigh and the end of the bed. She is suddenly somber.

"Listen, I have something for you."

She picks up your hand and asks you to stand up. You, being contrary, stay still, raising an eyebrow in the hope that you can somehow entice her lips back onto yours in the way you've recently learned to enjoy.

She rolls her eyes and opens her other hand. Inside is a meticulously folded piece of paper.

"I wanted you to be standing –I mean, for this – but – "

She walks to the door, wrapping her arms around her still-thin body and watching the door as you unfold the neat creases of the paper. It is the picture that you drew the first time you saw her, but not. Your heart expands exponentially, and you throw the picture on the bed. Taking three large steps, you turn her body around and cocoon her broken frame in your arms, gathering the pieces of her body together and communicating your gratitude in the only way you can imagine, pouring into her mouth thank you thank you thank you.

The picture carelessly discarded on the bed is of the girl you know you love, and who loves you. A brown crayon has carefully placed your image with hers, your hands touching.

And on the edge of the page, small and discreetly.

"I love you."