When you had emerged from Leon’s room early the next morning you found Celine in the hallway. She had a blissful and serene look on her face, though tired. The way she smiled at you extolled her utter contentment. She raised her arms up and opened them wide, walking towards you as you might suspect a loving zombie might. You closed the distance with a few steps of your own and accepted the embrace of your friend, and only just recently, lover. “Oh Al, I’m so happy I can’t sleep.” she whispered. “I owe you so much. I’m so grateful…..we…we’re so grateful.” She dropped her weary head to your shoulder and snuggled into it before squeezing you as tightly as she could. You felt the air being pressed out of your lungs with her embrace but the look on your face was not one of serene bliss as her’s was.

“Celine…” you whisper. “Celine.” you repeat, having not got a reaction from the cuddling woman in your arms.

“Hmmm?” Celine replied, content to leave her face nestled between your neck and shoulder, swaying back and forth as if to some music that only she could hear.

“Celine,” you whispered again, “Does Michelle know?” The guilt soaked words escaping your mouth like emaciated prisoners of war.

“Know what?” Celine replied, raising her head now to look you in the eye.

“About…..about us.” you manage to say, not sure if you were even allowed to say “Us”. After all, you only spent the one night with Celine. As much as you enjoyed every moment and it awakened something within you that you had hid a long time ago, it was a night of carnal delights. You felt like it was wrong for you to be with Celine when you couldn’t see yourself loving her as more than a friend. So even though you tried desperately to not regret the night you spent with her, you were having difficulty consolidating your actions with your beliefs. “Will…..will she be mad?”

“Because we spent the night together?” Celine confirmed, being sure she was up to speed on what you were discussing. You nodded slowly, a look of concern drawn over your face. “You think I should tell her?” Celine asked, catching you off guard.

You had assumed that Celine would have. It was off putting to find that she was keeping you a secret. “You didn’t?” came your response.

“Are you upset at me?” Celine asked, and for perhaps the first time in all the time you’ve known her, Celine seemed vulnerable.

You stood silent for a moment in the awkwardness of uncertainty still fully within the grasp of Celine. You weren’t sure what to say. Should you be upset? Should you make a fuss? In a few days you’ll be heading back home and it will once more be just Celine and Michelle. Did you have the right to be thinking only of yourself? “I don’t know what to say.” you finally uttered, honestly. “I mean…..part of me thinks you should tell her….and part of me thinks you shouldn’t.”

“Well what do you want me to do Al? I don’t want you to be mad at me.”

“And I don’t want Michelle to be mad at you either.” you reply immediately.

“She might not be mad.” Celine mumbled, now completely unsure of herself.

“I don’t know Celine.” you say to the now sniffling woman in your arms. “I guess…..I guess I just want it to mean something…..that’s all.”

“But it did!” Celine exclaimed as loud as she could in a hushed whisper. The forcefulness of her words, though not in volume, came from the way she said it. “It did mean something to me. Oh Al….what have I done.”

“It’s not you Celine. I didn’t say no. I didn’t push you away. I wanted it as much as you did. I wanted to be close to you and know how Michelle felt.” you sighed and tilted Celine’s head back up to look directly at you once more. “I guess…..part of me was jealous of what you two had.”

“Oh Al….” Celine sobbed and pulled you close again. “I love you too. You know that.”

“But not the same as Michelle. It’ll never be as strong as Michelle.” you admit to Celine as much as you admit it to yourself. “She’ll always be your number one girl. The woman in your heart. I’m just the girl that showed up and got hypnotized by you.”

“Al….it’s not…..it’s not like that….” Celine sobbed again, her body shaking with each sob. “I…it’s just….” she spluttered then looked at you again, “…you’re never here!” she finally allows herself to say. “Michelle….she’s here…..she’s real….she doesn’t just visit and then leave with my heart in her suitcase..”

“I didn’t mean….” now you feel yourself coming to tears again. “I…..oh Celine …just hug me….please.” you plead, your sniffles turning to protracted sobs. Celine squeezed you again, and despite her intentions that made you cry even more. “I want what you have Celine. I want that so badly.”

“It’ll happen Al, I know it will.” your petite friend cooed, softly stroking your long hair from your eyes and behind your ear.

“You’re right,” you admit, “You were right not to tell her I think. It serves no purpose other than upset everyone.” Another long sigh escapes your lips followed by the sporadic intake of air between sobs.. “I…..I…..was…..being …self….selfish.” you manage to say eventually.

“So was I.” Celine said under her breath. “I’ve been so lonely without my Michelle.” she continued. “I didn’t know if I’d ever see her again…and you were here…..so beautiful…so tender.” Celine hugged you again. “I just…..I guess I just know how to tell her.”

“Well….don’t.” you reply, your hands on Celine’s shoulders. “I know that you love me. I know that you love her, and I know your love for Michelle will never be eclipsed.by a love for anyone else.” Celine smiled, visibly relieved. “We won’t tell her, we never will.” you continue, “but just know that for me, this was a very important event in my life.”

“I know…..I know” Celine replied sheepishly, “and don’t think because I didn’t tell her that it means nothing to me. It’s actually the opposite. I’m overjoyed to be your first…..as I’m sure Leon is as well.” she giggled, and you couldn’t help but giggle as well.

The initial shock of Celine’s secrecy had evolved into acceptance and already you felt the jealousy and anger wash away. It would be selfish to cast aside Michelle’s feelings only to satisfy your own ego and need for importance. Celine wasn’t some random stranger. She was your friend, your good friend. Of course your time together meant something. Maybe not as much as it meant to you, but still it was important; you were important to her.

She was right though. You were going to be leaving again. Going back home to the same things you just wanted to escape from. Other than your parents, was there even anything worth coming home for? You shook your head and cast aside the depressing thoughts looking down at Celine still nestled between your shoulder and neck. You felt her take a big contented breath and give you one last squeeze. “Tomorrow,” she said quickly, once more her confidence returned, “you tell me all about Leon.” She punctuated the sentence with a wink and turned on her heel to skip down the hall back to her room, and back to a sleeping Michelle.

You shook your head once more laughing at yourself. If the you of two months ago saw the you of tonight, what would she say? Would she even recognize you? You stopped the introspective for a moment as you became keenly aware of the burning sensation between your legs. As gentle and patient as Leon was it was as they say, the first time definitely hurts. While it didn’t really hurt at the time, you reasoned that was because you were so wrapped up in the moment. Leon had done such an expert job of revving you up with his masterful tongue and tender touch, that by the time he had positioned himself to enter you for the first time, you were soaking. Still, right now, it felt like you’d only be happy if there was a fire extinguisher blasting at your nether regions. You suddenly recalled a cheesy romance novel you had snuck away to read. “Her loins were on fire for him.” you whispered to yourself. Then laughed, “Doesn’t seem like it’s as exciting as the author would lead you to believe.”

You hobbled your way to the bathroom with a gait that resembled a green horned cowboy after a day of riding. You chuckled again at your own thoughts, “A day of riding.” You didn’t last a day. You didn’t last more than a few minutes. Leon had done the initial work of getting you ready for him, but once you were used to his sex being within yours he had rolled over so that he was on the bottom. “It’s better for you this way.” he had said, “You know where to go to feel good so it’s less scary yes?” It was less scary, but it didn’t take long for you to lose complete control and become a spasming gasping heap piled upon his chest. “Sorry.” you had said, apologizing for your behavior, though not knowing what was right or wrong with anything you had done. “Oh Al,” Leon scoffed. “This night was for you. Your pleasure is my pleasure.” he had laughed. He had laughed even louder with your response of, “Well that’s good, because I think I’m done for the night.” patting at your stomach which was still a tense hard ball of twitching muscles. You turned the water on and plugged the drain. A hot bath was in order.

With the plumbing the way it was, this was the only time that you’d get a decent hot bath anyways. After a few minutes the tub was filled, and not a moment too soon because just as it got to the level you wanted it to be, the hot water ceased to flow and all that jetted out of the faucet was ice cold water. “Fuck” you shouted in a whisper, quickly turning off both the hot and cold water taps. You then stepped into the warm bath and drifted into a blissful stupor. After an indeterminate amount of time there was a light wrapping of knuckles on the door.

“Yes?” you responded eventually.

“It’s Michelle, can I come in?”

You quickly looked around the bathroom as if to find something that would cover your guilt, “Of course.” you said, feigning confidence that just didn’t exist.

“I just needed to ask you something…” she said once entering the cooly tiled bathroom. You waited for the question suddenly aware that you were holding your breath as if expecting to be hit in the stomach. “Celine told me something and I just wanted to know if it was true.” Michelle continued cryptically.

“Shit.” you thought to yourself. Though only a few minutes earlier you were upset that Celine hadn’t told Michelle about her experience with you, now you felt exactly the opposite. You begged the stars that Celine hadn’t told Michelle. With her cute innocent face staring at you, her big puppy dog eyes and oddly attractive boyish hips, you felt like dying if you broke this girl’s heart. “Oh?” you responded eventually, finally realizing that Michelle was waiting on your confirmation to continue.

“She told me that you and her had….”

“Oh fuck….” you thought to yourself as Michelle muddled through her question. No doubt in her head she knew exactly what she wanted to say but having to translate to English on the fly slowed her down and had the effect of pausing the question at the worst moment.

“…you and her had written this letter?” she finally finished.

The relief was immediate and you audibly sighed. “Yes.” you replied after a moment of thankfulness to Celine’s superior powers of discretion. “Yes we did.”

“…and that it was your idea?” Michelle continued. Her eye began to twitch and you noticed the subtle wrinkling of her forehead as she tried to stop herself from crying.

You looked at her and smiled, “I suppose it was.”

Michelle was still standing in the doorway, the letter in her hand and a pained expression on her face. “Oh Al.” she finally allowed herself to say, as a big crocodile tear traveled slowly down her cheek unattended. “You………you have no idea how much this meant to me.” Her eyes were squinted up now, starting to become red and more tears were ready to fall. “You…you just have no idea. I don’t know how much I can thank you for this.”

Of course you knew you should be feeling great for the small act of kindness that you initiated with Celine, but you didn’t. You only felt a pit in your stomach. Your night with Celine could have easily compromised her relationship with Michelle. Your selfishness and ego would have ruined two friendships simultaneously. How self serving and impetuous were you. You felt ashamed of yourself. “Think nothing of it Michelle.” you replied with a smile that masked your guilt.

“Oh Al it’s not nothing. You….you don’t know what I was going through.” Michelle said, tears alternatingly dripping down her faces from one eye then the other. “You could not know how much it meant to me.” She bit her lip and closed her eyes tightly squeezing two more tears from the corners of her eyes. This was more than just gratefulness. You could sense that now. Stuck in the tub, naked, you didn’t know what to do. Your instinct was to get out and bolt across the bathroom to give her a hug, but modesty held you down in the water. “I’m….I’m sorry….I don’t mean to…I….I just needed to tell you……that.” Michelle blubbered between soft sobs, her eyes still shut tight as she waved the letter to and fro.

You thought of what Celine had told you. What Michelle had been through before she was rescued by Celine. The experiences no doubt cleaned up to keep from retching at the details. Somehow the vague, opaque term of “rape” seemed easier to handle than to have every nuance and detail expressed. It’s like hearing about someone dying in a car crash. The news doesn’t go into detail about what limb was severed, what the impact did to the victims organs, or how they didn’t, as much as we wished it were so, die instantly. What had this poor girl gone through in order to make it to Paris and be luckily enough to find Celine. Then, if that wasn’t bad enough, she was dragged back into that situation by the police who played the role of unwitting accomplices. Michelle was unaware that you had been told her backstory, so you had to play the ignorant friend, “It was no problem Michelle. I was happy to help.”

“So you knew that….that Celine wasn’t allowed to contact me?” she questioned between sniffles and quick breaths.

“Yes.” you replied softly, “Celine had told me a little bit of what happened after I left.

“So you know what they did to Celine and Leon then?” Michelle sniffled again, another tear running down her face that she managed to catch with the back side of her hand, wiping it away and blinking rapidly.

“Yes.” you confirm.

“Did Celine tell you why I ran away?” Michelle asked, leaving you to decide whether or not you should come clean about Celine’s revelation or not.

You decided that Michelle deserved the right to tell her if she wanted to and instead of replying with the truth you just told her, “She told me that your home wasn’t a good place to be.” While it was true to the gist of Celine’s revelation, it wasn’t the full truth. You were finding that there were times when being dishonest is the best action to take.

Michelle stood for a moment, visibly contemplating what to say next. Eventually she continued, “It wasn’t.” she sniffled once more. She wasn’t ready to reveal to you the extent of her torturous situation. “…and it was even worse when the police took me back home.” she trailed off with the last word and your mind filled in the details.

“Shit” you thought to yourself. What else did this girl have to go through?

“When…..when the letter came….” she paused for a moment and then stared right into your eyes, her demeanor suddenly strong, forceful, and intense, “you cannot tell Celine about this….” Seeing you look back at her with a curious expression she continued, “..promise me you will not tell Celine.”

Unsure of what it was that you were promising not to say, but certain that it was important enough to confirm your silence, you nodded in agreement to Michelle’s demands.

“…..when I received the letter I had already decided…” she scrunched her face up again and more tears came streaming out. “Oh god Al…..I…..I was going to…..” she struggled through the last words, and though you could anticipate the next you remained quiet, still soaking naked in the tub. “….I was going to kill myself Al….I was going to do it.” she sobbed loudly and placed her hand over her face.

You couldn’t help but cry as well. Seeing her pain so obvious and tangible in front of you. You wiped your own tears away as you watched Michelle’s posture slump as she shook her head, revisiting all the painful thoughts that brought her to such an awful decision. You stood from the bath and quickly wrapped yourself in a towel. Michelle was still sobbing, taking in big sporadic breaths and shaking. Clearly still in pain. You darted across the cold tiled floor and embraced the young woman and for the second time in less than an hour, you had a woman in your arms, crying on your shoulder.

“I…I almost did it Celine!….I was….I was that close.” she spluttered, talking into your shoulder. You felt her tears running down your back as her arms tightened around you.

“But you’re here now, that’s what’s important.” you said, hoping it would be enough.

“I’m just……I’m so grateful Al.” she sniffled, “You…..you and Celine…you…..you saved my life.” she sobbed again and all you could do is squeeze her tighter. You wanted to make everything better. You wanted her to stop crying and just be happy. You wanted to be able to hug the pain out of her life. But you couldn’t. All you could do is be there for her.

“I’m grateful you’re here to Michelle.” you smiled and kissed her on the top of the head, “very grateful.” Your earlier impish need for validation now replaced with a mix of guilt and happiness.

“I’m sorry to interrupt your bath.” Michelle said quickly, “I just needed to tell you that.”

“I’m glad you did Michelle. You can talk to me anytime you want, even when I go back home. If you ever need to, you can call me.”

“Thanks Al,” she smiled finally, then kissed you on the cheek and quickly left the bathroom, shutting the door quietly behind her.

You placed the towel back on the rack and slipped back into your bath, catching yourself sobbing as you did.

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