"Where She Goes"
The silence is overwhelming, pressing in on all sides, a blanket. It's warm, for sure, but not comforting.
Then I listen more, my ears making up for what my eyes are lacking in the dark, and I hear things again. Footsteps on the floor above us. Hushed laughter in the hallway. Rats, squeaking, scurrying in the walls. The quiet breathing of the rest of the corps.
This is the fourth night in a row she's snuck out. I know her methods now. She waits, pretending to sleep while the wardens make their rounds, then lies awake in the darkness, like the rest of us. But there she remains, quiet, awake, while the rest of us drift off to sleep, one by one. Then, careful and quiet, I hear her sit up, pull back the sheets. She's fully dressed. She stoops, puts on her slippers, stands, then leaves.
This is the third night in a row I've waited up for her. I was already drifting off when she made to leave, the first time. I was curious, to be sure, but sleep's clutches ensnared me already. So I closed my eyes, murmuring for her to be careful.
The cot beside me is still empty, and my eyelids start to droop. I wonder what time it is, how long it will be before she returns. Impatience gnaws at me, and anxiousness. I don't want her to get caught.
Footsteps in the hall. The door opens silently, and a thin band of wavering candlelight is cast upon the floor for a moment, disappearing again into blackness. I stiffen, waiting.
I hear my cot groan slightly in protest as more weight is added, as she comes to sit beside me, as she breathes my name. Finally.
I sit up, unable to see her, my eyes still startled by the light from the hallway. I reach out my hands blindly, encountering hair, her face.
"I was worried," I whisper.
She nods in acknowledgement, taking my hands—still on her cheeks—with her. "I'm sorry."
The apology is sincere, but I am stubborn, and a little jealous. "You're back now. No one saw you?"
I smile in the darkness, relieved. "I'm glad." And I am.
She leans forward and we exchange kisses, whispers goodnight. I lie back as she leaves, climbs into her own cot, into the sheets that I know will be pulled up to her chin by morning. Again she whispers goodnight, then sighs. I imagine her eyes closing, soft lashes caressing delicate cheeks as she drifts, slowly, into sleep.
I however, stay awake, troubled.
It's the fourth night in a row, and I still don't know where she goes.