• It'd been a while since they'd seen each other. Long distance had taken its toll on them in different ways. She got sad... he got angry. It was raining the day they saw each other again. The toll of time faded to shadows in the backs of their minds... except for one thing. One thing she'd heard from a friend that loved her dearly, one thing he knew he was absolutely guilty of. It'd been two weeks, and they'd both been preoccupied with finals. She hadn't doubted him until she heard from that friend. And now they had something important to talk about.

    He reached for her hand, intending to bring her in for a hug. She withdrew. "Don't touch me," she said, fighting not to cry. She felt cold all over and she would have given anything to let him wrap his warm arms around her. She hugged herself, rubbing her arms absently. She couldn't let herself do that. She crossed the room, leaving him to shut the door to her apartment. She looked out the grey window, suddenly sick. He came to stand behind her, one hand on the wall.

    "Why not?" he asked, keeping his voice level. She started to squirm away, but he stopped her with his other arm around her waist. She stilled, but made no indication she'd answer him. "Why not?" he repeated, stronger. Nearly a demand. Her heart pounded. She had the words in her head, but like so often she had trouble saying them. Seemed to stick in her throat, easy enough to say if only she could speak around her pulse. Suddenly she was encircled in his arms, pressed firmly against his body. She could tell what he wanted, and it made her eyes burn with unshed tears. "Stephanie," he said when she attempted to escape. His voice stopped being gentle. "Steph, why won't you let me t--"

    "I don't know where you've been," she blurted out, shrinking in on herself. He was surprised enough to relent his grip on her, and she went around to the opposite side of the sofa.

    "So," he said, defeated. He turned toward her. "Chris told you about--"

    "You're filthy," she said, wiping at her wet face. "And I feel dirty when you touch me now.”

    Filthy. Dirty. Was that what she honestly thought of him?

    "I trusted you," she sobbed. "Again, I trusted you." She hid her face in her hands, cried freely. "You know what that means to me and you still..." she cut herself off with a choked sob, fled down the hall to her room. He sank to the floor, a little dazed.

    Stephanie braced her back against the door, even though she was positive he wouldn't follow her. She held her breath for a moment, trying to stop crying. In the end she slid down the door, hugging her knees and wailing.

    She didn't know how long she sat like that, all hunched over herself, leaning against the door. Her eyes hurt. She'd somehow managed to fall asleep. Whimpering, she popped her neck and slid back up the door, her hand fitting to the doorknob behind her. She opened the door cautiously, peeking around the corner with bloodshot eyes. The shower was running. Frowning, Stephanie made her way to the window, which overlooked the parking lot. The spot for her apartment was empty, so her roommate couldn't be home. She looked to the visitor's parking, spotting her own red Pontiac Firefly, and a black Dodge Stealth parked next to it. She shivered, internally cold. Was she scared? Sad? She didn't know. She could barely feel anything.

    She went to the bathroom door and knocked lightly. No answer. A solid knock. Still nothing. "Reece?" she called tentatively. She couldn't help the tremble in her voice when she said his name. Nothing. She tested the doorknob. Unlocked. "I'm coming in," she said.
    Steam billowed out around her, nearly suffocating her. The shower was on full-blast, and to produce so much steam, probably as hot as it would get. She wondered how long it'd been on. Through the frosted glass of the shower stall, she could see Reece's vague outline, knew he had his hands against the wall the shower-head was on, knew his own head was bowed as the hot, hot water pounded the back of his neck. She felt a peculiar twinging sensation in the palms of her hands and fingertips. She folded them tightly against her, leaned against the counter so she wasn't looking at the shower stall. Not for the first and probably not the last time, she noted how small the bathroom was. It was a wonder how two women managed to share it. She thought of Vineo in order to distract her from Reece.

    "What are you doing?" she asked at length. She looked at his clothes tossed to the ground as if he'd been in a hurry to be rid of them. Just how long had he been in there? She started to pick them up, receiving no answer. "You're going to run up our water bill," she said absently. He shut the water off. Suppressing a peculiar sigh, she placed his clothes on the counter, then retrieved her towel from her room. She opened the shower stall just enough to hand it to him, keeping her face turned away. "Here," she said. She heard him move, heard his feet splash just ever so slightly in the water on the floor of the stall. He didn't take the towel. After a long moment, she stole a glance at him, then couldn't look away. She fought not to gasp.

    He wasn't just red from the hot water. There were angrier red spots covering his body where he'd scrubbed with the rough loofah that never got used. There were almost-bleeding areas at his neck and around his hips. Her heart ached, nearly broke at the look in his eyes. She hadn't meant to make eye contact. There was so much in his eyes, she couldn't read it all. The only thing she could read for sure was the pain there, shown through the red at the corners of his eyes. She'd never seen him cry. No one had. And now he looked like he might.

    She had to tear her gaze away, gestured for him to take the towel, a small sound in the back of her throat she tried to swallow. He took it, finally, skimming the back of her hand with his fingertips. She pulled her hand back like she'd been burned. She took half a step back, gripping the edge of her shirt with both hands so tightly her knuckles turned white. She tried not to shiver, but couldn't help it. Reece made a soft sound.

    "Am I ugly?" he asked, sounding vulnerable as a child. She couldn't bring herself to move from where she stood.

    "No," she said, squeezing her eyes shut. She was starting to cry. In a whisper, "You're beautiful."

    "Not nearly so beautiful as you," he said softly, reaching out to turn her face toward him. She jerked her head in the opposite direction, out of his touch. His hand dropped to his side. "Am I that repulsive?" His voice shook.

    Bitterly, angrily, she congratulated herself. Break both your hearts, she thought. It was so hard to keep from throwing herself at him, taking back everything she'd said to hurt him, soothe him, comfort him, take the pain out of his face. It was all she wanted, but she wouldn't let herself have it. This would just happen again.

    "I didn't kiss her," he said after what seemed like a very long time. "I don't love her."

    "Then why did you..." she couldn't even finish her question. The words hung in the air around them like smoke.