Incense of Lavender
I’m sitting here in Hanako’s room once more, playing chess, just like we used to, and we’re just as distant now as we were in the days following her grave confession. She still hasn’t gone outside to my knowledge, and she still hasn’t shown any signs of improvement.
We clear the board and start again. I hope to myself that she might step it up for this game, but -like the previous ones- she doesn’t seem interested. It’s likely that there are other things on her mind, and this is just a distraction that she can’t quite get into.
Her moves are conducted haphazardly, and I’m having a hard time getting into it as well. I don’t feel like I should put in so much effort if she’s not going to.
The turns fly by. Neither of us speaks a word.
Why are we even doing this? It feels like we’re just going through the motions, with no meaning to our interactions…
Luckily, I notice an opening that had been present for several turns and capitalize on it, bringing our game to a close prematurely. I give the usual formality after we finish.
“Checkmate. Good game.”
…And after saying that, I feel somewhat saddened. Do I actually mean what I’m saying, or is this just what I think she wants to hear?
Instead of responding, she silently surveys me with her eyes. I get the feeling that she might be gauging my own feelings right now. She doesn’t stop even when I lock eyes with her.
She diverts her attention from me to the chess board, which she packs up and neatly puts away. I don’t necessarily disagree with that action; I was getting tired of chess too.
She begins walking toward the door. “I… I know you've been missing this…” She turns the lock. “And I… I think I’d like it too, now.” She begins undoing the tie on her nightgown.
The silence is nerve-wracking. I know what’s coming next. I know it, and I feel that if I were to do anything to disturb this quantum state we’re in, the results could be disastrous.
“Will you still a-accept these… these u-used goods?” She disrobes entirely. Her bared body stands before me. It seems cold, almost lifeless.
Sadness hits me like a freight train. To see her reduced to this… by such a horrendous act… it's almost unbearable.
I'd like to say that it doesn't matter that she's been with another guy. But it does. I can't say with absolute certainty that things will ever be the same again.
I’m conflicted. She’s been damaged by everything that’s happened to her, and I don’t know if this is right.
Because the fact is… whether or not we do this now is entirely up to me.
I feel like she's at the breaking point right now, though. If I were to reject her advances, what message would it send? She may not even be interested in talking the next time she’s up on the roof.
I know how I must look right now, pondering if I actually want to participate in an intimate bonding act with a person who I was once irrevocably in love with.
But if this will help us get our lives back on track, or give us a sense of normalcy once more, I don’t see why we shouldn’t pursue it. I mean, if we can make strides like this, then there should be nothing stopping her from making a full recovery.
That’s what this could be.
And as long as I don't get too emotionally invested, I can keep myself safe from restarting any sort of toxic relationship with her, and it can be a good thing for the both of us. I could help her on her feet and send her on her way.
Besides, she’s right. It’s been a while since I’ve had the opportunity to slake my more carnal desires.
I nod solemnly in assent.
“Okay. Let’s do this, I guess.”
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I begin removing my clothes, one by one, tossing them to the side. I think, out of the corner of me eye, I can see her smiling, ever so slightly. It dawns on me that that’s not something I’ve seen her do ever since I met her on the rooftop.
Fully unclothed, I approach her one step at a time, and she mirrors my movements, with us meeting halfway, accompanied by an embrace and a kiss. My hands work their way around her body, taking in every physical detail they can. The friction of her scarring is an odd sensation, yet one that I’ve come to enjoy. The way it further accentuates the feminine smoothness of her unscarred portion is more than a little pleasing.
Locked in a kiss of sheer contradiction, we blindly stumble towards her bed. Upon reaching it, we fall, holding each other tightly, and land side by side on the mattress.
I position myself above her, my elbows at her sides, leaving my hands free to explore her freely. I start by running my hands down her sides, physically appreciating her figure. I find myself soon moving on to her supple breasts, running a thumb over each nipple, causing them to perk up in attention.
Before going any further, I pause so that I may examine her face and see how well she’s doing. My neck cranes upwards to catch a glimpse of her looking down at me, a look of ease on her face. I guess she’s taking things well, knowing that I still accepted her and all. She’s probably also a bit happier with how slow and steady we’re going, compared to-
No! Nothing like that! Okay, just concentrate on the present. Those events don’t have to change anything.
I take a deep breath, before going further down her body, tracing her contours with my hands. I travel down her waist, her hips, her thighs, and soon, my face is mere inches from her lower lips. I suppose I had been steeling myself for this moment, preparing myself for the worst, to see a part of her ravaged by her relationship with Tenshi, but in reality, it doesn’t look too different now from what it was like… earlier.
By now, we both seem to be sufficiently aroused, this made evident by the throbbing in my chest and between my legs, and the sleek liquid gloss collecting between hers. I think we’ll be ready after I make one last preparation.
I reach into the nightstand by her bed and open the top drawer, pulling from it a single square piece of foil. As I am about to break it, she speaks.
“I’m… still on the pill.”
I wordlessly continue, daring not to speak in response. I’d rather not even consider what would happen if I were to explain myself.
Thankfully, she seems to accept this, instead of contesting the issue.
Now that we’re prepared, I lower myself, pushing delicately into her. A warm feeling sparks at the point of contact, then courses through my whole body as I go further in. It’s been a while since I’ve experienced the pleasure of penetration.
She remains eerily silent throughout, however, failing so much as a gasp or sigh. Her cold demeanor could easily betray the warmth of her interior. Soon, my face is nearly touching hers, and I realize that she had been avoiding eye-contact for a while now, instead opting to look down and away from me. I free one of my hands and place it below her chin, nudging it upward.
After we establish eye-contact, I deliver unto her what I think is the only acceptable action right now. A deep, passionate kiss, a silent reminder that it’s me she’s with. I use this opportunity to set a rhythm to the gentle swaying of our hips.
Minutes later, our tongues break, and I open my eyes to witness the effects of my decision. She appears to be visibly cheered up, which makes me more than a little glad. This must have been a nice change of pace from the treatment she received from her paramour…
God damn it.
Why must I remind myself again of the reason why this is happening in the first place? I try to push the thought of the lies she made and the misfortunes she’s endured as far away as possible, but it’s no use.
I feel a sudden urge to ask her how she’s doing right now. It won’t be easy on my conscience if this isn’t to her liking.
“You feeling alright?”
I sigh immediately after, with startling volume. Here I am once more, taking the lead. And I can’t help but think that she knows it too.
We really are back to square one, aren’t we? It’s as if the only thing that changed is that we are sort of
in a romantic relationship. And it’s hard to say if that’s still the case or not.
I can’t shake the feeling that she has regressed so far into her insecurities that we shouldn’t be doing this. But we’ve waded this far into the river of blood, that to turn back would be as arduous as to continue.
The minutes that follow pass uneventfully. In fact, I find myself struggling to stay fully erect. My body is fighting a war with my mind, one trying to suck every last bit of carnal pleasure from the act, the other continually reminding me that I’m no longer the only man to have shared this pleasure with her.
That’s right… No longer can I say that she’s been as faithful to me as I’ve been to her. No longer can I say we’ve been on equal footing with each other. But that’s why we’re doing this. Because it’s… therapeutic.
Images again invade my mind; images of some total Adonis making her into his plaything for the night. Ravishing every bit of her body with every bit of his. Each thrust making her scream in ecstasy. Unrelenting. Unyielding.
And then, one night, the pleasure is not hers. She says no, but he insists. She makes a break for the door, but he cuts her off. He grabs her by one arm, then the other, and pins her to the bed.
A hand lightly brushes the side of my face. Hanako appears to be looking at me, forcing the biggest smile she can muster onto her face. Which admittedly isn’t much. She must have noticed how distant I looked back there, just absentmindedly thrusting in and out of her.
We lock eyes, for just a moment in time. And, for that split-second, it seems that her and I are the only ones in the world. But even despite this… it doesn’t feel right. At all.
I can’t take this. I wince and turn my head away from hers. She appears to mirror my movement, a sullen look of dejection on her face. I can’t describe this feeling as anything but guilt. And I can’t say why it’s so distinct either.
It seems like speeding up is the only option to jumpstart the mood, but the nagging in the back of my head says that doing that would make our encounter here overlap with the ones she’s had with Tenshi. And on top of that is the reason we’ve never gone that far prior to her affair. My own insufficient heart.
The only scents are those of our bodies locked in this heat.
The only sounds are those of our grunts and moans.
The only motions are those of our heaving chests and rocking pelvises.
If only we had something to make this easier on us. Candles, music, even simple words. But neither of us knows what to say or how to say it. But for that matter, how much would those things even help? It’s not like they could fix the fundamental problems in our relationship.
It feels like we’ve made no progress in our union tonight since we started. I don’t think I’m any closer to the edge, and I don’t think she is either. Part of me just wants to feel the rush of the climax so we can be finished.
“…Want to kick it up a notch?”
She nods in response, but the look in her eye doesn’t reveal if that’s what she really desires. I guess it would make sense if she wanted to, so she could get her release as well. That’s something I’m more than willing to comply with.
Our pace speeds up. I try to shut out all of the thoughts infecting my conscience. Just focus on the physical sensations. Nothing else matters except that, right now, me and Hanako are having sex.
Her breasts bounce with every plunge, back and forth. Our skins rub together, coated with a layer of perspiration, drawn out by the heat. She wraps her arms around me, pulling me closer. Tighter.
She’s attractive. Really, really attractive. It’s terrible that she’d throw that beauty of hers around like that to sleep with another guy. Especially since she’s now an adult, and her scars don’t matter in the slightest.
My teeth clench. I go faster still, as if to discipline her. As if to rectify her. As if to rectify us. As if to prove that I can be good enough for her. An act of defiance against my heart, who wants me to stay down. But I won’t give it that satisfaction.
Hanako’s nails begin digging into my back. Her legs wrap around my abdomen, pushing me deeper into her. Her inner walls tighten around me. This… is it.
A cry escapes her mouth, accompanied by a sudden break in her pace. She begins moving up and down me more quickly, on her own accord, shuddering with each pulse. The sensation is incredible, making her react like this, and combined with how it feels to me… I can’t hold on much longer either.
One final groan escapes from me, as climax overtakes my body as well. That familiar and oh-so-sweet surge of heat explodes through my body. My senses begin shutting down, I begin to buck my hips indiscriminately, my eyes bolt shut, and any sound she makes is drowned out by the ringing in my ears. The feeling is unlike any other, and has never been this powerful before. The sensation of her riding up and down on me this hard is unreal. Almost like… in order to make her respond this intensely… who I am is somehow stronger than who I was.
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The feeling subsides in due time, and I feel drained, as if I might turn to dust at any moment.
*Thump thump**Thump thump* *Thump thump*
Only seconds later do I realize that my heart is beating much faster than it should. Shit. I guess all the time we spent without sex made me forget about how dangerous it is.
Okay, just stick to the procedure. How did it go? …Alright. Deep breaths. In through the nose, let the stomach push out, release through the mouth. Nose, stomach, mouth. Nose, stomach, mouth.
*Thump thump**Thump thump* *Thump thump*
Try as I might, I’m not feeling any less exhausted, and my heartbeat isn’t slowing down any. I throw myself onto the bed to try and relax myself, for what little good it may do. I shut out everything else, all the sights, sounds, and sensations that are invading me. Just focus… on breathing.
In… Out… In… Out…
I don’t know if my heart has ever acted up this bad before, short of an attack.
In… Out… In… Out…
Shit. Shit. Shit.
Why the hell did I have to go and do that? Going above and beyond my limit like that… was anything but the best idea. But I didn’t… want to feel inadequate. Not because of my condition, and not because of the thoughts that were draining me at the time, physically and emotionally.
In… Out… In… Out…
While I struggle to regain my composure, my mind seems to want to wander towards other things. Namely, what happened at the end there.
It feels incredible, that’s for sure. I’ve never made her climax that strongly before, and I must have set a new milestone for the intensity of my own.
On top of that, it’s a sort of reassurance that we still can do the things we used to do, and that we will make it through this.
And yet I can’t shake the feeling that it’s somewhat empty now that we lay here in bed afterwards. I was willing to forego that she wasn’t very vocal during the act, but the silence right now hurts.
Why? Was I still not good enough? Was her other boyfriend that much better than me? Or did I remind her too much of him?
It appears that my heartbeat is returning to a more stable rhythm. I guess that’s good. But still, I feel like I’d better make something out of this, instead of it just being a quick fuck.
“Hey, Hanako… Was that… to your liking?”
She puts on a smile with such speed that it reeks of falseness.
“I know that Tenshi-”
Her smile vanishes, and she turns her body away from mine immediately.
“Shut up about him.”
A shocking rebuttal. Normally, any kind of talking meant that we were coming to understand each other. The walls are up now, and she doesn't want to demolish them. The rape really did break her.
She even didn't enjoy it, did she? If she's at the point where even an experience like that won't make her feel better, I don't know what I can do. This was supposed to be therapeutic.
Powerless. That’s what I am.
And that's what she is too.
It’s as if, in one fell swoop, each of us was stripped of our power to improve ourselves and our situation.
I scoot up to her and wrap my arms around her abdomen. She offers no resistance.
We stay in this spooning position for a while, neither finding the courage to say anything. And yet, her dissonance is starting to irritate me, and I think I’d like to get my clothes back on to keep the cold away. I get out of bed and approach them, still piled in the corner. As I first grasp my shirt, Hanako speaks.
“Could you please… go b-back to your room? I… n-need some time alone.”
…Is she serious? I turn back to her, shirt in hand, and see that she’s still avoiding eye contact.
“Please, Hisao. I just… want to… b-be alone right now.”
“Hanako, I want to be here for you. You mean a lot to me, and you know that. Why do you want me gone?”
“I… I c-can’t explain right now.”
“I just… can’t…”
“You’re going to have to.”
“Just go already!”
She sits upright almost instantly, focused on me. The look in her eye burns with a fierceness alien to me. Her words come out shakily, with breaths in between.
“Hisao… please… I want… you… to leave.”
She seems startlingly adamant on this. Still, I don't like the idea of being separated from her after our first intimate moment in a long time. Maybe… we can make a compromise.
“Is this… something we can talk about later?”
No response. Maybe I need to be more specific.
“Tomorrow morning, maybe?”
Again, she stays still. I’m about to speak again when she nods meekly.
“So, first thing next morning, I’ll be back, and we can go over this, right?”
The same meek nod.
Desperation wells up inside me as I redress and walk to the door.
I want to do something more right now, though. A plea- no, a prayer of repentance escapes my mouth. Something I never thought I’d hear myself saying.
“I love you.”
It sounds weak, pathetic. Starting off too quiet, cracking in the middle, and ending abruptly.
“…I love you too…”
Barely audible. Did she even mean it? Did I
even mean it? But it’s probably the best that I’m going to get out of her tonight.
The door shuts behind me with a dreadful click, making me recoil ever so slightly. It feels like I’m walking away from something important, something more than just cuddling after sex, but I can’t say what.
The walk back to my room is borderline paradoxical. Me and Hanako just had sex for the first time since she admitted her affair, but I still feel empty.
The sunset is impressive, smearing the sky with a golden-orange color, and students scuttle about to and fro, wherever their journey takes them; wherever their destination may be.
Some appear to be couples, holding hands, watching the sunset together, at complete and utter peace with the world. Some are with groups of friends, making a ruckus that -while annoying- seems to fit the scenery. Their laughing and joking tones contrast with the serenity of the romantics, but not harshly enough to damage the picture perfect evening.
And then there’s me.
Walking by myself.
With nobody by my side.
Away from my broken girlfriend.
Who cheated on me with another guy.
And paid the price.
I have to fight to hold back the tears. Not now, Hisao. Not right now.
I quicken my pace. Maybe it would be acceptable for me to break down right now if she was here. But if she was, I wouldn’t have to.
I guess this is weakness, isn’t it? Not just “my arms are tired” weakness, or “my heart is broken” weakness. But instead, genuine, “I can’t do this” weakness. The kind that eats away at every string holding me together, every bit of rebar and concrete giving me form, every electrical circuit giving me function.
The door flies open. Nobody’s in the lobby, thankfully.
I make a break for my room.
Nothing impedes me; another blessing.
I open the door, throw myself inside, and slam it closed.
I quickly dispose of the condom from before, then sit on the side of my bed and bury my head in my hands. I try my hardest to cry, believing it to be some emotional catharsis if I do. But now that I want to, no such relief comes. I feel even more tense and strung-out than I was outside, watching the rest of the world enjoy its easy life.
The rest of the fucking lucky world around me. Those who didn’t get stuck with a broken heart, an unfaithful lover, and the lack of resolve to make things better. I relapse into a coping mechanism to try and ease the pain. Examining the causes of the situation. Did I do something to deserve this? Is this some kind of karmic justice? Where do the roots lie?
A startling realization hits me.
I am the reason this happened.
If I had never existed, then I’d have never met her, and we’d have never begun our romantic relationship. As a result, she’d never have gotten the courage to go to the jazz club and meet that devil named Tenshi.
Or, if someone else had picked her up off the ground, she might have been happy and content with him.
I wonder what she’d think if I told her about what I’m feeling right now-
Oh my god.
This… feeling of guilt.
This is how she felt after the fire took her parents.
She felt she was responsible, since if she hadn’t been there, her parents would not have lost their lives protecting her. And likewise, if I had never come into her life, she would never have needed to go through the pain she’s been put through.
I’ve always told her not to blame herself for the deaths of her parents. Maybe it’s time I start taking my own advice.
…This is absurd.
I’ve been angry at her for cheating on me, I’ve been wanting to shield her again, like how I used to, and to top it off, I’ve been subconsciously blaming myself for everything that’s happened to her lately.
My feelings this whole time have been a tumultuous whirlwind of anger, frustration, guilt, and denial… and I still think that I care about her… and understand her a little better, now.
Now, I can't pretend that I know exactly what she's been through. I
haven't had my parents, my home, and my childhood ripped from my hands and incinerated. I
haven't been emotionally mutilated by years of torment from my peers. I
have never had people crowding around me, the unwanted freak, telling me through both smiles and grimaces that I was useless and that I would never belong.
But I have known that same desire as her to be free of this “cripple” stigma. I have known what it's like to not have anyone to confide in, or to open up to. And now I have going through my own existential crisis as well.
I look at my hand once more. The same quarter-moon wounds from before, now glazed over by scar tissue. I thought they were a sign that I was better than her, and that they were born from disdain. I thought it meant that I hated her.
But that’s not true. It was a sizable reaction to someone who's important to me making a mistake. It was a sizable reaction to the fact that I had to come face to face with my own shortcomings. It doesn’t make it okay that she cheated on me. Not at all. But we’re not going to put this behind us until we both accept that it’s not okay.
Alright, tomorrow morning, I’ll tell her. I’ll tell her everything. And with any luck, she’ll do the same. We’re not going to move past this unless we can face it together. We’re not going to demolish these walls without some effort on both our parts. I was wrong to think that she’s the only one that’s been broken by the events that transpired that night. This entire time, I’ve been feeling the effects too, even if I hadn’t realized it, and when it comes down to it…
The two of us aren’t that different.