CONSEQUENCE

At first, she thought she was okay.

Her nights were typically mild, the worst dreams being the product of dozing off in front of some B-rated indie horror at 2:00 AM or eating too much, too late. Her days were usually tame, the worst fears being running out of orange juice or missing the rent. Beyond that, she was happy and carefree. Things looked up.

It was all a matter of perspective. The past was the past, so why dwell on it? She did things to help make this easier, of course—she painted the walls of her new place bright, loud colors, bought monochrome prints of New York and plastered them up wherever she could. She started taking yoga classes. She even thought about buying a dog, but maybe that was a little much. Revitalization was one thing; scooping up shit was another.

Oh! And who could forget all the new clothes and shoes. She had to look good. She was "rebirthing," after all, changing into something stronger, faster, better. She bought a lot of dresses and all sorts of fancy high-heels. Lots of jewelry, too. She liked to mix and match. Maybe a nice hat with some deep mascara and dark lipstick. Or maybe a cute dress and sandals. It really didn't matter if she was used to it or not; she was experimenting, in the middle of a grand metamorphosis. Change took effort. It took time. She even let her hair grow out—something she hadn't done since high school.

She had to lose some things to make room for others, though. She stopped calling some friends, although they'd stopped first. She quit her job and found another one. She even started frequenting new restaurants and stores. These were necessary things to do, remember. She was starting a new chapter in the book of her life. She felt like she was a teenager again, writing in her journals about finding herself and trying to figure out who she was. But it was fun. It didn't feel like a regression at all.

Months passed like this. Slowly a new self began to emerge, one that was okay, one that was fully healed. The butterfly was rising from the cocoon and spreading its wings. It was a second coming. She felt happy, energetic, at last ready to confront the world again. So she made it a habit of going out more often—made it a habit of wearing shorter skirts and more revealing blouses. Some nights, staring into the mirror, it was hard to decide if she should pay more attention to her butt or to her breasts. Before, in her first life, men making shameless moves and buying her drinks disenchanted her. But now she was okay with it, even flattered by it. She was okay with guys being pigs. They were programmed that way; they couldn't help it. She didn't know why it had taken her so long to realize such a simple truth. Maybe she'd been way too uptight.

She had fun with it. She'd let them get close, but not too close. They could look, maybe touch once—twice, if they were lucky—but never more. She became a master tease. It felt good. For once, she was in control—not her mother, not her friends, and especially not some dipshit guy.

But soon she started getting a little too comfortable, not just with guys but everything in general. Things started losing their flavor. All the different colors of makeup confused her; the long hair grew tiresome, and she remembered why she preferred it short. The shoes became a nuisance, so she started wearing her beaten sneakers more often. She stopped going to her yoga classes and instead just stayed in, preferring to sleep. When she went out, her smiles felt forced and unnatural. Her cheeks got tired.

Slowly but surely, things began to change back. It was exhausting being a new person. So she cut her hair, stopped wearing so much makeup. She gave up a lot of the dresses and shoes to the local Goodwill. She took down the prints of New York and even considered painting the walls again, but the idea seemed like so much work. It made her eyes heavy just thinking about it.

She started eating more and watching less TV. She stayed in bed longer, not necessarily sleeping. It became hard to get up on some days, especially when the light from the windows became too bright and the shadows too deep, too strong. There could be things hiding in them.

"It's about time you called," her mother said on the phone one rainy day. "I've been trying to get a hold of you for weeks."

"I know," she said simply. "I've just been busy."

Gradually she stopped flaunting when she went out. Instead, she would find a seat at the bar and stay there, indulging in a beer or two and nothing flashier. Unsurprisingly, fewer and fewer guys started paying attention; even pigs can tell when the doors are closed. But one night a man did pay attention, and he looked like a decent guy. He wasn't too pushy—in fact, he was a little awkward. She thought he was cute. So she humored him, and they talked, and then she found herself starting to come undone, the vulnerability begin to come out. She didn't want it to happen, but it felt alright. She was tired, and he seemed nice enough. Maybe she needed this.

They went back to her place. The first few kisses were shy and hesitant, slow enough for her to get comfortable. Then they were on the bed, her arms around his neck, his hands finding her breasts, her hips, her thighs—and then it happened.

She screamed. She pushed him off. He didn't understand, didn't comprehend. He tried touching her again, tried reassuring her, but she only fought him harder, only cried more loudly. When she had finally forced him out, she collapsed back onto the bed, crying, trembling, shaking, shuddering, sobbing. She could feel the bruises again, taste the fresh blood on her tongue, smell the rotting flesh. Worst of all, she could see the horrors, sense the impending and inevitable doom that waited behind every door. It was an awful joke, not just an assault, but a living nightmare, still with her every day and night, still just as ugly and brutal as it had ever been.

She grabbed her phone, dialed his number. She waited for a long time as it rang, her heart still beating hard, her breaths still coming out quivering and weak. But the number wasn't in use anymore. How? Why? He had promised he'd be there whenever she needed someone to talk to. He'd promised

She'd never called. Never connected.

She laid there in silence, in a ball, the phone loose in her limp hand, her cheeks grimy with tears. He was gone, just like everything else, a part of that old life she wanted to get back but couldn't stop trying to leave behind.

Slowly the lights went out, and the darkness of sleep descended.

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