Silently, he pulled off his wet T-shirt. The bruise went all the way up his shoulder and then down onto his back. I pressed my lips together. I wanted to scream I was so angry and confused and heartbroken. But I managed to get to the closet, pull out a fresh set of clothes, and help him dress himself.
We sat down, and I could feel him waiting for me to explode. I took a lot of big breaths and tried to steady myself.
“Okay,” I said at last. “Will, you need to tell me what happened.”
He hung his head. “I don’t want to.”
“Dammit, Will!” I shouted before I could stop myself.
“I messed up!” he shouted back. “I messed up. I’m sorry.” He lay down and faced the wall in shame.
Why was I such an idiot? He was in no condition to talk about it. I sat beside him and very cautiously placed my hand on his back.
“I’m sorry,” I whispered, getting a little choked up myself. “I shouldn’t have yelled. Get some rest, and we’ll deal with this in the morning. All right?”
He didn’t respond.
“Will, I am so sorry.”
He heard it that time, the little crack in my voice. He rolled over and we just looked at each other, so miserably beyond words. Without thinking, I lay down next to him and let him cry onto my neck.
He passed out pretty quickly, and I was able to free myself from his arms without disturbing him. I didn’t know what to do after that. For the longest time, I just sat on my bed watching him sleep and hoping all of this hadn’t been my fault.
Sleep wasn’t working for me that night. I went to bed late and woke up before my alarm. I sat perched, arms around my knees, ready to get some answers out of him the moment he opened his eyes.
Finally, he began to stir. He rolled over and squinted at me as I watched him like a total creep.
“Can I help you?” he asked with a sleepy smile.
“What happened yesterday?” I demanded, having no patience for cute stuff.
He sighed and pushed himself up. “Well, good morning to you too. Honestly, nothing happened, Laura. I lost your gloves in the plant somewhere, and I didn’t want to admit it. I’m sorry if I freaked you out.”
He was lying. We’d cried to each other countless times. How had I still not earned his trust?
“Okay, assuming that little fairy tale is true, how’d you get the bruises?”
He looked at his arm, pulling his sleeve up over his shoulder. It was a much deeper purple now, and just the sight of it made me nauseous.
“Would you believe I fell?” he asked hopefully.
“Not for a moment. Just tell the truth, Will.”
He let out a big, exasperated breath. “Fine.” He swung his legs off the bed in order to face me better. “I was using the gloves. They didn’t help much, but the grip was better, so thanks. My supervisor confiscated them. Apparently, I was out of uniform. Outside materials aren’t allowed. He had a bunch of reasons. Look, I’ll pay you back. Take my credits and—”
“You honestly think I care about that?”
He smiled. “No, I guess not.” I waited for him to go on, but he offered nothing more.
“And the bruises?” I prompted.
He tried to dodge the question. “I mean, you should really start getting ready for work. If we get into it now, you’ll be late.”
“So I’ll be late. We are not leaving this room until you tell me what happened to you.”
Reluctantly, he nodded. “Okay. He asked where I got them. I was pretty fried at that point, so I wasn’t sure how to respond. He asked if I stole them, and when I couldn’t answer, he pushed me. It was stupid, it was playground bullying, nothing major. But I was pretty out of it, so I couldn’t catch myself or anything. I guess I got a little busted up. It’s no big deal.”
“It kind of is a big deal. Will, he assaulted you.”
“And I assaulted that guy at the market. Laura, I’m a criminal. I don’t deserve any outside help or special privilege.”
“You deserve to be treated like a human being. Maybe if you explain it to him. Go in tomorrow and tell the truth—”
“I can’t do that,” he said firmly.
I was so sick of his stupid ego. “Why not?”
“Because I refuse to put you at risk. What if it’s wrong? What if I’m not supposed to have friends here? What if I’m not supposed to live with you? If anyone finds out about you, I could lose you. And if they decide what you’re doing constitutes aiding and abetting… Laura, you’ve been so good and so brave, but if they started shocking you…” He shook his head as if it would make the thought disappear.
“Will,” I said gently. “You don’t have to worry about me.”
He looked at me wearily. “Of course I do. If I don’t, who will?”
I didn’t know how to respond. He’d let himself be injured because of me. I was responsible for those bruises and for all the tears of the previous day. I could have killed myself for that alone. My instability was what made him endure all that suffering. All that pain was to preserve our relationship, so he could be there to talk me down when I got particularly desperate. I didn’t know whether to hate him or worship him for that.
I felt myself getting teary eyed. How could I let him do this for me? How could I stop him?
I shook my head. “This sucks,” I said with a bitter laugh. “Just once, I want us to have a normal conversation. God, why is everything such a mess?”
He just smiled and reached for my hand. “We’ll get there, Baily. I promise.”
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