The Masks We Wear

She didn’t knock. Morgan opened the door silently, and hovered
there. Half in and half out of the room, poised in the doorway as if for
flight, watching him asleep. Not really asleep — he had heard her steps
in the hallway and had been awake for hours regardless. But Chris lay
with closed eyes and hoped that looking would be enough for her today.
Perhaps she would go away.

A deep breath, and quick soft steps across the room. She laughs
gently, “Hey, sleepyhead. Gonna stay in bed all day?” Light laugh, light
words, but a world of tenderness is in her touch as she brushes back hair
from his forehead. He hangs, deciding — then opens his eyes and looks at
her. Under the steady regard of those gray eyes she falters briefly, then
smiles bravely, so casually. “Breakfast? The dining hall will be open in
ten minutes. You’ll just have time before Physics.”

“Morgan. Why are you doing this?” He asks her softly, trying to
be gentle, masking a recurrent irritation.

She shrugs, cheerfully, helplessly. “What? We can be friends,
right? I don’t hate you — you don’t hate me, right?” Her voice trembles
a bit there, giving her away, but she recovers magnificently, tones
cooling to British perfection. “Surely we can be civilized about this?”
Morgan’s eyes are only slightly over-bright, and if tears lurk behind
them, they are invisible in the shaft of sunlight that bathes them both,
blinding his early-morning eyes. Chris sighs, and sits up, blankets
falling away from his chest to reveal a fist-sized bruise, nicely
blackened. She gasps.

“I hurt you.”

“It’s nothing.” The words sum up the conclusion of the previous
night, when storms and pounding had finally given way to a limp exhaustion
and hard-won conviction. Maybe she is right; they had had so much that
surely they can be friends. Right now, though, Chris just wishes she
would go away…for a little while, just a little. “I need to get
dressed. Do you mind?” He says this with a gesture to the door, and a
slightly more acerbic tone than intended, irritation spilling over.

She moves as if to rise from the bed, but a sudden convulsion
grabs her and the brave mask is torn away as tears spill helplessly from
ice-blue eyes. She compresses in on herself, legs quickly up to her chest
and arms wrapped around them, head shoved between her knees and the sobs
pounding through her. She cries noisily with all the barriers down,
abandoned like a child. Morgan makes no move towards him, no request for
comfort; after the harsh words exchanged the previous night, she does not
expect any safe harbor. But a moment later his arms are around her and he
is rocking her, murmuring nonsense words to hush her tears.

Eventually she calms, and they remain frozen in the island of
light, unable to pull away. Then she twists, only slightly, in his arms,
so that her pointed face is tipped up to his, and Chris cannot help softly
kissing away the tracks of tears, his tongue darting out at the last to
catch one on the verge of falling, and then they are kissing wildly,
fiercely. Her slender arms reach up and entangle behind his neck in his
long hair, and Morgan pulls him down on top of her, so glad to once again
feel the strength in his long body, the weight of it above her.

Hands travel memorized paths, and her clothes fall swiftly to
their combined assault. They know each others’ bodies so well — the fit
of head to shoulderblade and leg slipped between thighs. They are too
ravenous for restraint and so it is quick, not nearly long enough before
she is arching naked above him and he is shuddering.

She whispers broken love-words afterwards as he cradles her body
in his arms and tries not to listen. He knows that she means them, as she
always does, and that they are still not enough. The sun has slid away
and Chris shivers as he releases her. His voice deliberately cold, almost
British himself as he pulls himself up — “You’d better go.” He does not
look at her; he cannot. His face is stern, forbidding. Morgan says
nothing, gathering her clothes in a crushed silence and dressing slowly,
waiting for him to break, to call her back.

She is still waiting as she walks out the door and closes it
behind her, waiting all down the long walk down the corridor, waiting
through breakfast. In his room, Chris huddles beneath the blankets and
soaks a blue flannel pillow with tears, silently, wondering how many times
this drama will be re-enacted before it is finally finished.


M.A. Mohanraj

December 15, 1996