A single finger slowly traces the curvature of my spine, leaving a trail of goose bumps in its wake. Despite my best attempt at pretending to be asleep, I tremble at the feather-light touch, unable to contain my reaction.
My breath hitches.
Why must he do this to me?
I hate myself for it, almost as much as I hate him. And I hate him... boy, do I hate him. I've never hated something or someone so much in my life before. I hate his hair, his smile, his eyes. I hate the words he says to me and the raspy tone of his voice. I hate the things he does, the man he is. I hate the way he treats me, the way he affects me, the way his hands inflict the worst kind of pain before somehow igniting a fire within me. It burns deep, raw passion and desire mixing with the purest agony.
I hate it.
I hate it.
I fucking hate it.
Once he reaches the small of my back, his finger pauses, before tracing a line along the waistband of my panties. I can feel my body coming alive, heating, like he's expertly kindling a fire, one only he knows how to stroke.
I want to douse myself in gasoline and set myself ablaze, melting away in the flames just to escape these feelings, but I know it's useless. Even as a pile of ashes, I'd never get away. He's a force of nature. The wind would carry me right back to him.
The air feels thick, like it's filled with the blackest smoke, or maybe my lungs are just too stiff, strained along with every muscle in my body. I want to scream. I want to pull away.
I want to run away.
But I don't, because I know he'll just catch me if I do.
He did it before.
He'll do it again.
I keep my eyes closed as his finger trails up my spine again, willing myself not to feel it. It doesn't exist, I tell myself. I'm asleep. He's asleep. This is nothing more than a dream. Or is it a nightmare?
He's not really touching me.
Except he is... I know he is. Every traitorous cell inside my body is coming alive from that touch, every nerve ending sparking like live wires. If this isn't real, nothing is.
I almost wonder if that would be preferable.
His finger reaches the nape of my neck and once again pauses, this time for longer. Five, ten, fifteen... I count the seconds in my head, waiting for his next move, trying to think ahead, as if this is a game of chess and I can plan a counter-attack.
It's pointless, even wondering. He's already captured my king. Checkmate.
Once more, his finger follows the path of my spine, making it halfway down before deviating. It explores the rest of my back, going every which way, making shapes and forming patterns along my warm skin like I'm a living canvas and he's an artist.
Despite myself, curiosity gets the best of me, and I wonder what he's drawing. It feels random, nonsensical, but I know this man. Everything he does is for a reason. There's always method to his madness, meaning behind every word, a point to his actions.
And it's usually never good.
I squeeze my eyes shut tighter, trying to make sense of the movement of his finger, as it seems to dance along my back. Is he drawing me a pretty picture of a life he once promised, trying to make the lies seep through my skin? Could he be writing a love letter, swearing to do better?
Or maybe it's more like a ransom note.
I wish he would draw a rope so I could pull it from my flesh and hang him with it. I'm sure he deserves it.
I pick up on the pattern eventually, noticing his finger following the same continual trail, looping and curving. I envision it as he does it, realizing after a moment that he's spelling out a lone word in cursive.
His full name is Ignazio Vitale, although once, not so long ago, he urged me to call him Naz. And it was Naz who charmed me, who won me over and made me melt. It wasn't until later that I got to know the true Ignazio, and by the time I met Vitale, it was far too late to just walk away.
If I ever even could've…
"Ugh, that's it." A book slams closed across from me, so hard the entire table shakes. "I can't take it anymore. I quit."
I don't look up, my eyes scanning a section of text, only vaguely absorbing the words. I've skimmed through it a dozen times, the book glued to my side the past few days, like maybe the information will sink in through osmosis.
"This is just way too complicated," the voice continues, interrupting what little focus I'm struggling to keep. "Half of it doesn't even make sense."
I flip the page in my book as I mumble, "Sometimes the questions are complicated and the answers are simple."
"Who said that? Pluto? I'm telling you, Karissa, that shit's not even in my book!"
Those words draw my attention away from my work. I glance across the little round table at my friend, Melody Carmichael, as she rocks the wooden chair back on its hind legs in frustration. "It's Plato, not Pluto."
She waves me off, making an, 'oh, who really fucking cares' face. "What's the difference?"
"One's a philosopher, the other's a cartoon dog."
If she can't keep that straight, she's screwed come test time in, say, oh... thirty minutes.
"Yeah, well, I'm inclined to believe the damn dog makes more sense than the old planet-y bastard," she says, shifting through her thick stack of notes. Philosophy, our last class of the day, our last mid-term as freshmen at NYU, and she's reached her breaking point. Typical.
"I mean, listen to this shit," she says, reading from her notes. "Many men are loved by their enemies, and hated by their friends, and are friends to their enemies, and enemies to their friends. Like... what does that even mean?"
I shrug. "Means people are people, I guess."
My gaze goes back to my book, my eyes scanning the text again.
"And it wasn't Plato, by the way," I say, answering her earlier question. "It was Dr. Seuss."
"Seriously?" she asks. "You're quoting Dr. Seuss now?"
"He was sort of a philosopher himself," I say. "Most of his work dealt with logic and reason, society and human nature. You can learn a lot from his books."
"Yeah, well, I prefer a different philosophical doctor," she counters, dropping her chair back onto all fours, the loud thump echoing through the small cafe. "I think Dre put it best when he said bitches ain't shit but hoes and tricks."
Her dead serious tone makes me laugh. "And here I thought you worshipped at the altar of Tupac Shakur."
"Now that man put Pluto to shame," she says. I refrain from correcting her this time, not sure if she really can't recall which is which or if she's just being a smartass at this point. "A coward dies a thousand deaths... a soldier dies but once. That's deep."