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Raisa Benusa
Growing Love


My Cold Creek Leap race tee is slightly damp, covered in cold sweat. My legs and butt, as they press against the sides of the tub, are cool through my thin cotton sleep shorts. I can feel every goose bump on my bare legs. The water in the bathtub needs to be turned off soon, but that would mean using my hands.

My toes start to go numb as they dangle off the sides of the tub. It's an odd tub. One of those big claw foot ones, except it has a rim around the edge big enough for me to sit on. The clock in the kitchen is ticking, but it doesn't feel like time is moving. It feels like I am moving upstream as I try to swing my legs to start up the circulation. That is something no one ever tells you about when you are short. People's feet can go numb from dangling for too long.

I can't open my hand to look at what I am clutching. Clutching so hard I'm surprised it hasn't broken, and my knuckles are turning white. Instead I look around the bathroom, trying to concentrate on every other feeling I can. Like how cold I am or that my roommate forgot to sweep the floor when she cleaned the bathroom. The walls feel like they are closing in, pressing against me, and I start to breathe heavily, but a knock from the door rescues me.

"Are you alright?" Chey my roommate and best friend asks. Chey is one of those girls who looks like she has a secret. The corner of her mouth is always turned up slightly which makes her look like she is about to laugh. It drives guys crazy because that half smile is enough of a tease for them to want to be the ones to make that corner go all the way up. She has been my best friend since I first came to college.

She lived on my freshman dorm floor and was a big partier. One night she partied a little too hard and passed out on the floor of the girls' bathroom. Her friends had just left her there. I walked in and was first hit by a putrid smell and then I saw a pink heel. Connected to the heel was Chey. Her long, blonde hair looked odd next to the yellow bathroom tiles. I knew that the RAs would be coming to check the bathrooms soon, so I quickly helped her to my single room. She always had a smile for me when we passed each other in the hall and I appreciated that since I really did not have any friends. I was the only girl on the floor with a single room, which had a connected bathroom. I earned this privilege from good high school grades and as part of my scholarship. Typically, I would not have even gone to the floor bathroom, but I was out of toilet paper, and I usually stole a roll from the closet in there.

That night I stayed with her, holding her hair back while she was throwing up. From that moment on, we were inseparable, no matter how cliché that sounds. Chey took me under her wing. She took me to parties and introduced me to people, and I had her back. It was not one of those friendships where she took advantage of me. Like some girls who use each other to gain popularity or to make them look better. I knew a few girls who only hung out with their friends because, by comparison, they looked prettier. Our relationship was fifty-fifty. We became sisters.

"Fine. Just going to take a bath," I replied. I hear her retreating into her room down the hall. I knew she guessed something was wrong, but that was what was great about her, she would not push me into telling her anything. Her
mellow music slowly drifts into the bathroom. Some song about a man professing his love for his baby... baby... I look down at my hand.

* * *

"Who's that?" I yelled over the cheers of the crowd.

"Who?" Chey asked as she looked around.

"Number twenty-four." I pointed.

"Not sure," she responded, but I knew she didn't really take a good look. Instead, she was busy scanning the crowd for her next ‘ love'. Plus, I knew that twenty-four wasn't her type, so she probably hadn't even noticed him.

"I think he's kind of cute," I said shyly, hoping to start some sort of conversation instead of just sitting there looking around. And he was cute. He was about six feet, lean, with light, wavy brown hair that was bouncing up and down as he ran around the court. He went for a shot, made it, and smiled. I noticed the dimple he had in the left corner of his mouth.

"I guess so," she said without any real emotion when she spotted him. She was into more bulky guys. Like the ones who looked like they belonged on the cover of romance novels or could star as a highlander in the movies. I watched her as she watched number five, who definitely fit that profile. She had a predatory look in her eyes and licked her lips.

"Mmm-mmmm-mmm," she said.

"Oh really! Do you have to do that in public?" I asked, embarrassed for her obvious show of affection.

"Of course. It makes it more fun," she laughed, which caused at least three guys sitting around us to turn and look at her.

I didn't know that much about basketball, so was relieved when the game was finally over twenty minutes later. At least it was twenty minutes well spent watching number twenty-four. Chey was excited because this meant she could do what she did best, flirt. I told her she was a tease, but she said it was flirting. I didn't see the difference. She always liked to go to these games in the hopes that she would meet the next Mr. Right. I was dragged along for the ride, but didn't really mind. I had brought my book, but when Chey saw it she told me "No," which was the end of the discussion. I didn't see the big deal, but she was always on the look out to not only find herself someone, but me as well. This meant I couldn't look like a dork.

We wandered through the crowd afterwards, which was basically me following her around because she was on the prowl. I could always tell because she got this look in her eyes when she spotted someone she was interested in. She would stop and start talking and laughing loudly to me while glancing every so often at the guy. Eventually, he would hear her and make his way over. But this time she didn't have to because number five made a straight beeline towards her. Typical. So while they "flirted," I just stood there wondering about what book I should read next.

"Hey."

I was slightly startled out of my thoughts by a deep voice.

"Hi," I said turning, which really turned into "huh" without the "I" because standing there, looking and smiling at me, was number twenty-four.

"My friend over there happened to overhear something interesting during the game. Any guesses?" he asked with a grin, which made his blue eyes sparkle slightly. I'm a goner for blue eyes. Shaking my head no was my only response. I probably looked like a fish, or a doe in headlights. Slowly I put my hands behind my back to pinch myself without him noticing. "Are you sure? Because he said some girl behind him pointed me out during the game saying I was cute. You wouldn't know anything about that? Would you?"

It took me a minute to comprehend what he was asking and when it did it felt like the earth was dropping away beneath my feet. "This isn't happening, I'm dreaming, this is not real." I kept repeating this mantra in my head as I started to panic. I could feel my face starting to heat up and knew I was blushing or turning pale. It also felt like I was having hot flashes. I wondered if he could feel that. Wow wouldn't that be weird. Standing next to someone who gives off heat one minute and chills the next. So, I did what any deer in the headlights would do... I stayed silent and just looked at him.

"My name is Trent and if you are indeed the cutie from the stands, I'd like to invite you out to pizza with me tonight." He didn't ask it but rather demanded it as he held his hand out, like he already knew what my answer was going to be. Slowly I put my hand in his and responded...

"I would love to get pizza. And Claire is my name."

***

The distorted view of the world through water isn't that bad. It puts a dull blur on everything, making sharp edges less harsh. Being like this reminds me of when I was little and would go swimming. I would sink to the bottom of the pool and look up, trying to stay under for as long as I could. I loved the world through those watery lenses. The water gently holding and rocking you as you float nowhere in particular. Weightless. Peaceful. I push myself upward for air. The bath water is steaming, like the river back home when it is foggy. The hot water is relaxing, but not comforting in the way it used to be.

Lying there, I can taste the salt on my lips and wonder if when I get out, the water from the bathtub will be salty too. Can you cry enough to do that?

I pull on my pink panties and t-shirt and wander out into the dark hall, pausing outside of Chey's door. Slowly I lean forward and rest my head against the old wood as I slowly breath in and out. It takes me forever to knock. I slowly open the door to her dark room. Chey slowly raises her head from her bed as I croak out, "Che..ee...y." She immediately is out of the bed, putting her arms around me, guiding me back to her bed. She asks me what's wrong as I cry into her arms. I can't speak; sobbing seems to be the only thing I am capable of. She just holds me closer telling me it will be ok and slowly brushes my hair with her fingers. I finally manage to croak out the words.

"I...I...I'm pregnant."

***

Life was hell growing up. My dad was abusive and basically beat my mom into submission. Dinner had to be ready at a certain time and it had to be cooked perfectly. My siblings and I always walked on eggshells, which was hard in an old house with squeaky floors. When Dad would come home, we would try and gauge what type of night it was going to be.

I shared a room with my younger sister. We never really got along. She was a rebel and strived for popularity. She was one of those girls that if you looked at her wrong she would make it her life's ambition to make you miserable, which included endless torment at school and scathing rumors. I wasn't really concerned with popularity. I just wanted to get out of that town, go to college, and have a different life. Books were the only real thing in my life. She always had boyfriends whom she claimed she was in love with and that they would save her. I tried having relationships, but I never really fell for anyone. The moment I felt they were getting close to me, I would shut them out. We were both messed up but who isn't. She wanted love and I was afraid of it.

We would often come home from school and hear our parents fighting. I would go for long walks or disappear in a book so I wouldn't have to hear it. She would sneak off and immerse herself in others' problems, making them feel as bad as she did. The worst was when we would wake up at night to them fighting. During those nights, I think we were both comforted in not being alone in that house. I knew not to reach out to her with a comforting touch or words, but, by just lying there with someone, it was easier. At least you didn't feel completely alone. A sisterly comfort, a connection of minds and feelings. That is what we shared. Something only someone who has a sister can understand.

One of those nights when I was seventeen and she was sixteen, she surprised me. She spoke and, for the first time, I heard her pain instead of just feeling it.

"I never want children."

That's all she said, but it meant a million things more. I didn't say anything and I knew she didn't want me to. She wasn't looking for comfort, but was making a statement. I didn't know how I felt about what she said. Did I want kids? My chest seized up and pressure started to build as I thought about it. I didn't want to be my parents, but could I promise that I wouldn't turn into them? Could I put someone through this? Or did I want a child to love? To show them the love that I wasn't shown... and maybe have that love returned? Or was that just selfish and my sister had it right? It would be more loving, show more love, to not bring a child into this world than to put them through this.

***

"You should get an abortion," Trent whispered into my ear as he held me.

"What?" I asked through tears.

"We would both be better off," he continued. "Think about what this will do to you. Your future. Will you be able to finish school? Can you support a baby? You have the rest of your life to have children." I just stayed quiet as he went on and on, making it seem like it would be easier for me, instead of how scared he was. "You know your parents aren't going to help. What will they say?" With each word, I kept feeling colder and colder. I didn't know what I should have expected from him.

He kept looking at me, trying to hide his panic and fear. I felt hurt and confused. What about me? Could I do this? I honestly didn't know? Then he said what changed my mind.

"You don't want to make the same mistakes that your parents did. Do you?"He knew exactly what to say sometimes, the asshole. I knew that he was right, but it still felt wrong.

I started to feel more panicked than anything, and fearful. Like a porcupine fish was inflating inside of me.
"I...I...I... Oh God!" I said covering my mouth and running for the bathroom. I threw open the toilet lid and let the contents of my stomach empty into the bowl.

"You wouldn't need to deal with this either," he said from the doorway. Damn him. He didn't even have the decency to come into the bathroom and hold me. He wasn't taking any of the responsibility! He probably never had to make a responsible decision in his life.

Ahh! Why was I so confused? None of this made sense. Was I ready to be a mom? Could I afford it? How was I going to take care of a baby when I couldn't even care for myself some days? He was right. I wasn't ready to be a mom. I heard myself saying, "I don't know. Just make the appointment," as I heaved again into the toilet. I slowly let myself fall onto the bathroom floor and rested my head against the cool, white porcelain. Slowly, I reached up and flushed, and as I did, I felt as empty as the toilet.

***

"I think I want to break up with him," I told Chey as we drove back to our apartment after leaving our friend's house party. I waited for her response, needing it as I looked out the dark windows into the cold fall night.

"Why?" she asked. It wasn't like she hadn't heard me say this about other guys in the past. It usually meant I thought the relationship was getting too close.

I gathered a few breaths. "I don't know. It's like he is always trying to manipulate me. He says things to get what he wants. Like when he says ‘I love you' it's when he wants me to do something, overlook something, forgive him. Not because he means it."

"All guys do that," she said. I knew that but it felt like something different.

"I can't see myself with him for the rest of my life. It's like the more time I spend with him, the more I want to go. I get annoyed, like being with him is a chore." I started speaking faster as the truth came out. "I don't want him and his manipulations, sweet talking. Ahhh! I hate how when we go out he is always touching me, especially when we are in front of his friends. It feels like he is doing it to put on a show. ‘Here's my girlfriend!' He's not doing it to make me feel special, but to make him feel more important. I just don't feel the same anymore... I don't love him." I felt as if a pressure had been lifted when I finally admitted it.

"I agree with you," Chey responded. "I think I've known for a while that you weren't happy, but you needed to come to that realization on your own, and I'm glad you did. It's not like you're married to him or have kids." She reached out to grab my hand and squeezed it. "Just think! We will both be single and can tear up down town together!" she laughed. Of course she would see how this would benefit her as well. I couldn't help but smile but that didn't last long as my stomach started to turn.

"Oh my God pull over!" I yelled.

"What?" she exclaimed with confusion as she slowed down.

"Pull over," I repeated as I reached for the door handle. "I'm going to be sick!"

***

"Do you want me to go in with you?" Trent asked.

"No," I responded. I felt numb, lost, and fearful as the nurse called my name. I didn't want to be alone, but I knew I would rather be alone than be with him. With more calm than I thought possible, I walked through the doors to the surgery room with the nurse...

"It's ok. You did the right thing," Trent said while patting my back as I threw up outside of the abortion clinic. Trent guided me towards his car, putting his arm around me. We got to his car, but I couldn't open the door. I took a breath and looked at him.

"I don't want to be with you anymore."

"What?"

"I said I don't want to be with you anymore."

"Come on. You don't mean that," he said it so casually it was as if he hadn't even heard me. I started to walk away, but of course he kept on talking.

"Wait! Just wait. Just think, we can start over now. We have the rest of our lives ahead of us," Trent said as he came slowly towards me around the car, as if approaching a wounded animal. But I was not a wounded animal. I looked straight at him.

"No. We are over." I said. "Goodbye, Trent."

"Wait... you can't do this!" he pleaded. Then he sounded angry, "Just because you got pregnant..."

"No," I said, pissed, cutting him off. "We got pregnant. We! Not me. We. You only care about yourself. You only care about things that will affect you." I could tell he was about to talk again, so I cut him off before he could. "No. No talking. I'm done." And I turned and walked away. He didn't even bother coming after me again.

"Good riddance," I thought as I heard him drive away. I got out my cell phone and called Chey. "Chey, can you come and pick me up?" She didn't even hesitate as she said yes.

"Are you ok? What happened? Do I need to bring the shovel, cuz I will. My uncle owns this farm out in the country. No one would ever find the body." Was it even possible to love her more?

"I broke up with Trent and... I'm fine." And I was. I thought back to being on the table and what it was like. Lying on my back with my legs spread on the cold table looking up at the white lights. First, the doctor telling me to relax, then the nurse holding my hand, right before they would give me the numbing shot. All of a sudden I realized why I felt so lost, so empty. It wasn't because I was that way at that moment, but because I knew I would feel that way if I went through with it. Looking down at my stomach I felt something I had never felt before. Love, acceptance, warmth. I knew those weren't my feelings, but my baby's. My baby. She was giving me those feelings. That moment of clarity overcame me and I knew that she was telling me that she loved me and didn't want me to do this.

"Hey, are you there?" Chey asked, breaking me out of my trance. I realized I was still on the phone and my other hand was resting on my stomach.

"Chey, I didn't get the abortion," I laughed into the phone. At that moment, I felt more alive, loved, and right than ever before.

 

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