Under the skin
It took me so long to convince her to have dinner with me. She was always talkative and flamboyant, but whenever I suggested that I liked her she retracted immediately. No matter how much she refused me, I couldn't let her go. As the days and weeks passed I only fell more and more in love with her. Her vivacity, the way she played with her hair, mindlessly, while she smiled and told me something funny that had happened to her, all this enticed me to the point that I could not spend a minute without thinking about her. She said no to everything: to lunches, to dinners, to a picnic, to two concerts, to a day at the beach. One day I decided that I should play all my chips in one last attempt. I fell to my knees in front of her and declared my love, speaking for five minutes without pausing so much for a breath. She finally agreed to a dinner, perhaps worried that I might start to cry and throw myself on the floor, holding her foot as she tried to get away from me. I almost exploded with joy, and I took her to the best restaurant I knew, knowing that it was way more expensive than I could afford.
It was a lovely evening; true, she was stiffer than her usual self, and she did not laugh as much as she did when surrounded by friends. I was nervous as well, wanting to be at my best to ensure that it would be only the first of many dates. We spent almost three hours at the restaurant, but it seemed like a few minutes. The dinner went by, the courses being brought by waiters who seemed to be out of fashion for at least thirty or fifty years, the wine making everything softer and easier, and by dessert I was in heaven, because she seemed to be having such a good time. I asked her if she wanted to go somewhere, to dance, when we left the restaurant and came back to reality; but she said that she'd rather take a walk. It was one of those lovely spring evenings, which are still fresh and yet so pleasing. We walked, slowly, not worrying about where we walked to; she held my arm, and her touch made me feel the king of the world. I couldn't say what we talked about, but suddenly it was almost two in the morning, and she said she had to go. I offered to take her home, but she refused, softly. I did not push further.
The following day, when I called her, she seemed retracted again. She said she did have a good time, but refused to set another date. She was as polite as she could. I hung up feeling that all my joy had been drained by that phone call. When we met again, she seemed to be the same one she was before I had declared my love to her. I couldn't handle it; I took her aside and managed to make her promise that she would go out with me once more, after minutes telling her how much I loved to be with her, how wonderful that evening had been, asking why she wouldn't go out with me again. This ritual was repeated four times, until it was impossible for her to deny that she too felt something for me or that the kisses we had shared had sealed the beginning of our relationship.
Given her reluctance, I took the slowest pace possible in my advances. I only kissed her on our third date, and, even so, afraid that I might ruin everything. It was barely a peck on her lips before she moved her face away. I wondered if there was something wrong with me; but, though I am certainly not material for the leading man of a major picture, I am not repulsive either.
Things eventually settled down, and we started to be a couple. Perhaps, I said to myself, she had had an awful experience before, raped and hurt by some sleazy bastard, and she is afraid that it might happen again. I was not with her to get into her panties and shout “next!”, so I relented to her pace. It was hard, sometimes, since not only I loved her, but found her very attractive; yet I behaved as a gentleman of yore. With time the pecks became kisses, the slight caresses progressed from her hand to her arm and more.
It was a sunny Sunday, and I was glad to have invited her to a brunch. She seemed radiant, wearing a colorful skirt that, though reaching barely above her knees, made her sexy and desirable to no end. The brunch was extraordinary; the tables had been arranged outside, and we enjoyed the champagne, the good food and the sun. When we finally went away I told her that I loved her more than I had ever loved anybody. She seemed taken by those simple words, more than ever. It was as if only now she believed that I really did love her, and that it was not all an act. She kissed me, for the first time taking the initiative. I welcomed her in my arms, and as her passion only seemed to grow, I gave the cab driver the direction of my apartment. She had been there twice before, nervous and insecure, though I had not even suggested that we could do anything. I felt her mood change when we walked through the door; as if she had only then realized where she was. I pretended to not notice, taking her in and kissing her as before, holding her neck with my hands, as I knew she loved so much. She slowly lost her tension, and we found the couch without unlocking our lips.
My passion was infinite, and at a certain point I said that I wanted to make love to her. She tensed at once. I told her that I wanted her, that I loved her, that she was everything to me, and, in something that surprised even myself, I asked her to marry me. She was surprised, and started to cry. I begged her not to cry, but to laugh and say yes.
“You will not marry me,” she said.
“Of course I will! What makes you say that?”
“It's better that we part now.”
“No!” I cried. I did not let her go, making all the promises I could think of to convince her.
“It is useless,” she muttered, at last. “There is only one way for you to understand.”
She walked to my bedroom, and I followed her. She started to undress, slowly. I came closer, to touch her, but she told me just to sit. Her skirt came out first; she had her back turned to me. I waited until she took her shirt off, and only then she turned to me. The skin of her torso was disfigured, rugged and with red and purple spots, as if burned by fire or chemical or worse; the scarred tissue covered the entire right half of her body and part of the left, going from the top of her thigh to her shoulders. As I ogled, surprised, she took her bra off. Her right breast, though as developed as the left one, had also been damaged. She suddenly started to dress again to leave.
“Don't,” I said. I wanted to know what had happened, but even more, I wanted to know what to say to her. She turned her face away, tears filling her eyes. “I love you,” I said, I repeated, then again. I said it didn't matter, that it changed nothing, and yet, after each thing I said I felt the words were useless and would not help. I wished my body was like hers, to make her comfortable. I fell to my knees. She walked away.
“I'll die without you,” I cried, with the certainty that I had lost her, that I had spoiled it with my reaction, and all I could do was let out a wail that came from my very soul. Perhaps that was what stopped her; I don't know, all my strength was gone. I felt the floor beneath me, my head trying to carve a hole on the ground, my eyes closed, everything black and gone.
“You can't love me,” I heard. I don't know how long I stood on the floor until she said that; only seconds, maybe. I looked up, finding her on the door, the blouse with only two buttons in their holes, the skirt crooked, her eyes wet and the tears falling. I couldn't say anything; we just watched each other, until I could only mutter in a coarse voice. “I can't not love you. You own my heart.” She unbuttoned her blouse again, opening it and screaming, “look at me!”
I did. I looked at her, again. Yet I could not see anything but her beautiful soul.
“Marry me,” I think I said. She cried more, and more, her body leaning against the door frame and then sliding to the floor. And that was where we made love to each other for the first time.