The Scars on My Wrists (Nanowrimo 2013)

After struggling with depression and a suicide attempt, Marie decides to take a Gap Year to Italy and Spain. She falls in love, and more importantly, changes her entire life.
Edited for movellas, in its poorly written state. R rated for lots of swearing, cutting, and sexual language. TW: (recollection of) sexual assault, cutting

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11. Chapter 11

After that day, I stopped having panic attacks often. Every month or so, I had one. The time was flying though, and soon I was packing to go to Granada to visit the Alhambra. It was late December, and only Thom and I were left. Eve had been kicked out for illegal drug use. She'd been arrested and it lead to all sorts of complications with her visa, not to mention that the program had a no-nonsense underage and illegal usage policy. Since we were in separate classes, we never really talked anyway, not since the first day we had arrived on the plane with Caroline. All of my time was spent with my host family, and occasionally, Jandro.

    We took the train down to Cordoba, to transfer to a smaller line to travel to Granada. The name of the train was El Ave, or bird, and I stopped for a moment to stare at the logo, confusing avión, or airplane for the name. I was super excited for my first real, big train ride. Occasionally I traveled by Amtrak in the USA to visit New York City, but the coaches here were larger, and a trolley filled with sweets pushed by, like something out of Harry Potter. Not to mention, the train was much faster than Amtrak. I watched out of the window next to Thom and Caroline as the scenery flew by in a blur of colors, iPod on high.  To my surprise, Thom had lost a lot of weight. He looked really good, actually.

    "Hey Thom! Have you been exercising? You look like you've lost a lot of weight, good for you," I said, trying to start a conversation. To my surprise, he blushed.

    "I got food poisoning three times," he said, shortly. "After that, I just didn't want to really eat anymore. I stopped eating shellfish and meat, so I guess you could say I've become sort of vegetarian. And I go to the gym too." He flexed his arm for emphasis, and sure enough, there was muscle there. He looked good. I wondered if he had found a girlfriend. I vaguely remembered him mentioning he wanted to find one to practice Spanish with. My Spanish had certainly improved with Jandro. He had insisted on teaching me more Spanish and helping me with my homework. We'd had many a cafe date.

    Like a sudden jolt of memory rewinding in my brain, I remembered Thom two months ago, shoveling down food like he was being paid one hundred dollars for every plate. No wonder he had gotten food poisoning. I myself had a nasty bout of it in the beginning, and it lasted three days. It had taken me a full week for me to eat properly again. A quick google search also revealed that Spain was where British tourists got the most food poisoning, hmm. I stared back out of the window, tapping my fingers to the rhythm of the beat. Snow had fallen, and the sky was a thick, cloudy white.

    As I stepped out of the train, my feet crunched onto a light powdering of melting snow. A flake or two fell onto my eyelashes, and I smiled. Spain at this time of year felt like magic, and Granada was no exception. The trees were bare, but the cobblestone street was slicked with snow. I was glad I'd worn my boots, because it was so slippery. Well, the snowfall in Madrid was pretty heavy too, despite the city retaining heat better than the country perhaps. The amount did surprise me. After all, in my hometown, snow was pretty uncommon.

    In the backdrop of the city, I could see mountains. Large, glorious mountains with a dusting of snow like powdered sugar on top. Excited, I exhaled deeply. The air here smelled different. The city had its smells, of course, not all pleasant, but the air seemed freer, fresher here.

    First off, we checked into the hotel, to let off our bags. Then Caroline mentioned we'd be seeing a flamenco performance, since it was late in the day, and in the morning we'd go to the Alhambra, presumably to spend the full day there. After a late, large lunch, Thom and I were allowed to explore the city alone. Unlike my last time together with him, where he was more preoccupied with food than talking, we fell into a quick chat.

    "I can't believe Cat and Eve got kicked," mentioned Thom. He shook his head. "What the fuck were they thinking? This sort of program costs so much money. I'm just here for six months, and it costs like an insane amount."

    "Me neither," I said shortly. "They allow us so much freedom, so I guess they thought it meant they could do what they wanted. But we still have to go to school and do our homework, and we have to go on travel trips like this. Also, we are subject to the rules and the regulations of the country. Like, we're allowed to drink here, but if we were somewhere like Egypt or something, there might be regulations on that."

    "Yeah," he said, nodding his head. "Do you wanna check out some of these stores?" We had just entered a small street, lined with what looked like souvenir shops.

    "Yeah!" I said, suddenly excited. Everywhere I looked were ceramics, decorated with geometric concoctions with reds and blues and yellows and dark greens. 

    "So," said Thom suddenly. "I've been doing some research because I've wanted to come here for a really long time. And Alhambra was made by the Moors, who were Islamic. And they couldn't capture any image of something living. So you'll see that there is a fountain with lions in the palace, but they couldn't use the likeness of a lion. So they made something…completely different." He laughed. I had never seen him so passionate about something, in my sparse time knowing him, but he seemed like a completely different person.

    "That's amazing," I said, awestruck.

    "Yeah, I love it. Seriously. And then they made these kick ass patterns," he pointed to the plate I was holding. "And they covered the walls in tiles with these patterns. A lot of them are geometric, and some use decorative arabic. It's so awesome." I laughed.

    "That's incredible! How do you know all this stuff? I didn't research or anything. Guess that makes me a bad Gap Student."

    "Nah. Like I said, I've wanted to come here for ages. Didn't know that we were going to Flamenco though."

    "Oh yeah. They gave us no warning," I huffed. "Although they did say to pack something nice. So I assumed that we would be going somewhere fancy, like a restaurant." I bought three plates for fifteen euros, and the cashier or shop owner, I wasn't sure which, smiled. She had dark skin and dark hair, and I wondered if she was part gypsy. 

    "De donde son ustedes?"

    "Somos Americanos," I said, proud that I was finally beginning to have some semblance of a Spanish accent.

    "Ahhh, claro que si. No puedo hablar ingles bien, pero mi hijo está en los Estados Unidos ahora."

    "Que bueno!" I smiled warmly. "Está estudiando? O está trabajando?" 

    "Está trabajando." She clicked her tongue. "Se extraño mucho."

    I wrinkled my face. There was that verb again.

    "Que es "extraño" en íngles?" I asked, confused. She shock her head. "Yo no sé, pero es cuando quieres mirar una persona que no esta contigo." It clicked. Oh it clicked. She missed him. Jandro had kept telling me he'd missed me, even before we'd started going out, even before the first panic attack where I'd passed out. I thanked her as she wrapped my plates in tissue paper and packed them in a bag so they wouldn't break with jostling. My legs were wobbling, so I found a seat and sat down, ignoring the fact that there was snow now melting under my butt.

    "What's wrong?" asked Thomas. "Are you having a panic attack? What should I do?"

    "How did you know that?"

    "The program told us, so that if you had one we wouldn't freak out and make it worse for you."

    "Oh. No. I'm fine. Just realized that Te extraño means I miss you, not you're strange. My boyfriend's said it to me for ages, even before we were going out." I shook my head. "Just, I don't know. I just want to talk to him suddenly."

    "We can go over to that cafe over there, and you can call him if you want," said Thom, seriously. "I'll go and call my girlfriend too."    

    "You got one?" I smiled. My suspicions had been confirmed. "Tell me about it later. But I think that's a great idea."

    Jandro picked up on the second ring.

    "Hola, mi amor, mi Marilita. Que paso?"

    "Jandro, I dunno. I've just missed you a lot. It's been a while since I've seen you."

    "I'm so sorry. I have been so busy with work, amor. How is Granada?"

    I took a deep breath.

    "Its amazing," I said honestly. "I'm so happy I came here, it's just so beautiful." I was staring at the frost crystallized on the sign and the small icicles dotting the overhang of the roof outside the window.

    "Where are you right now?" he asked suddenly. He sounded like he was running or something, huffing.

    "Did I call at a bad time? Are you busy?" I asked, anxiously. "I can call back if you want, I'm so sorry-"

    "Now now, Marilita," he said in his beautifully accented voice. "What have I said about apologizing? You need not apologize for something. It is not your fault, and no, I am not busy."

    "Oh. Good. Well, I'm in this little Cafe. It's called Cafeteria Alhambra, or something.  In the Plaza Bib. And I'm eating a very delicious piece of tiramisu. Sorry I called so early, it's just…oh Jandro, I miss you. I miss you so much, and this place is just so hauntingly beautiful. I wish you were here."

    He sighed.

    "I know, amor. I know. I have been to Granada many times. It is a very beautiful city."

    "Just…" I paused. "The white buildings and tiled roofs, and cobblestones make me feel like I'm in an enchanted winter kingdom. If I ignore the cars, I feel like time has stopped and I could be wandering in the eighteen hundreds for all I know. And I don't know, maybe I'm just crazy, but the more beautiful it is, the more it reminds me of you."

    He paused for a moment, and I could hear him exhale.

    "Look out of the front window, Marie."

    "Why?" I asked, confused.

    "Just look." I raised my head, expecting to see the frost and the icicles, and there was Jandro.

    "OH MY GOD!" I almost screamed, and then muffled my reaction. I could see Jandro outside, holding his cell, laughing. I tapped Thom on the shoulder, mid conversation with his girlfriend.

    "Thom, I'm sorry, but my boyfriend showed up, mid conversation. I have no idea what the fuck is going on, but will you be able to get back to the hotel without me?"

    "Yeah, yeah. Go," he said smiling, before turning back to his girlfriend. I burst outdoors and hugged him in the street, tight. I hadn't seen him for two weeks because he'd been so busy.

    "What are you doing here? Are you stalking me," I asked, half-serious, half-joking. "It's a friday, you have work, and it takes at least four hours to get here, and that's like, booking it. So you have some explaining to do." 

    He laced his gloved fingers into my bare ones.

    "Amor. Don't get mad at me, but the program thought that you should have someone from your host family here in case you had a panic attack. And since I've been the one taking care of you and picking you up from school, and I'm the one working on my medical degree, they chose me." He braced himself, as though expecting me to get upset.

    "Why would I be mad at you?" I mumbled. Suddenly, the sweet moment of seeing Jandro had soured in my mouth. "The program thinks I'm a liability. Not your fault. Unless you think I'm one too."

    "Of course not," said Jandro. "I thought you should know the truth, although it doesn't change the fact that I wanted to be here for you. I know we haven't spent much time together lately, and in three months, you'll be going to Venice-"

    We hadn't discussed Venice yet. Nor had we discussed an end date for our relationship. But I panicked. I thought I was going to lose him, I thought he was going to propose we break up. I didn't take the time to clarify, I assumed.

    "Jandro, no. You have no idea how much this means to me." I smiled. "Are you in the same hotel?" 

    "Yes. And I'll be with you for all the activities, including the flamenco tonight. I just came a bit late because I had to wrap things up at work. You know, explain to my boss that I had a plausible reason to go down to Granada."

    "Yeah, to be my babysitter," I grumbled, jokingly.

    "No, because I had to see a very beautiful girl who has stolen my heart completely," said Jandro teasingly.

    The cogs in my mind were winding around. I was terrified now of losing Jandro.

    "So, what room is your hotel room?" I asked. 

    "I'm on the fifth floor. Why?"

    "So am I. And everyone's out. But I'm thinking maybe we should go back, and maybe you should go buy condoms or something-"

    "What?" Jandro was so floored that he stopped in the middle of the street, yanking me back. "Are you serious?" I looked into his eyes. If I showed even an ounce of regret now, he would back down. And I didm't want that to happen.

    "Jandro, I'm ready," I said, firmly. "We've been together for nearly two months. And you're right, I don't want to leave for Venice without having had sex, and now's a perfect time-"

    "Do you want to have sex because your leaving in three months and we have a hotel room? Or do you want to have sex because you are really ready?" he asked, clarifying.

    "I am really ready. It's been over a month since my last panic attack, and I'm not having anymore nightmares," I said. I wasn't sure I was ready. Inside I was a quivering ball of jelly. And I was terrified that after leaving, that was it. We'd be over and I'd lose any chance at being with a man who loved me like no other. My insecurities were the strings holding my arms and moving me, like a marionette. I couldn't say what I wanted to. That I loved him. That I wanted to know that we at least had some semblance of a future together. That as soon as I hopped on an airplane, it wouldn't vanish oversees, gone with the time change. 

    All I knew was that when lately he'd kissed me, it took every urge not to tear off my clothes and jump on top of him. I was tired of holding back.

    He bought condoms at a pharmacy nearby and then we went back to the hotel. He opened the door and ushered me in.

    "Do you want to take a shower first?" he asked. I nodded. Luckily, the shower had a disposable razor which I utilized. I came out, wrapped in a towel, and Jandro took a fast shower, probably only five minutes. Those five minutes were the longest five of my life. I was a tense ball of nerves.

    I am beautiful, I thought. Jandro thinks I am beautiful. He won't run from my scars, and he won't care that five minutes ago I ate tiramisu. Though at first, I hadn't thought I was ready, now I was starting to warm up to the idea. It was okay to have sex after what had happened, I thought. Jandro was gentle. I trusted him. He wouldn't cause a panic attack.

    He came out, the towel wrapped around his waist, and I drank in the sight of him shirtless, bare chested, no hair. His dark, curly hair was damp from the water. I winced, expecting him to immediately pull off my towel and ravage me, like in pornography or whatever, but he merely sat on the bed.

    "Let's get under the covers first," he said, smiling. "I don't want you getting chilled, amor." I smiled back at him, through my nerves. I was shivering, from both the butterflies in my throat, this strange excitement, and the cold air on my wet body.

    Jandro kissed me deeply. There was fire in his eyes, now darkened in the dim lighting. I couldn't tell what he was thinking.

    "We are going to go very, very slow," he said, firmly. "If at any point, you want to stop, because it hurts, because you are scared, because it physically hurts, whatever, I will stop immediately." I nodded, teeth chattering, goosebumps breaking out on my wet skin. I wasn't scared anymore. I wasn't nervous. This feels right. And even if we end up breaking up in the end, I'm not going to have regrets, I suddenly realized. I wanted this.

    "First things first," he murmured, pressing himself up against me. "Let's get you warmed up." He kissed my face, my neck, the hollows of my collarbone. 

    "You are beautiful," he groaned, dipping lower, pressing kisses on my ribcage. I laced my hands into his curly hair. Yes. This felt right. Very right. I suddenly felt triumphant that I wasn't freezing up, that Jandro's touch was making me respond, and I felt good. I felt like a goddess in his arms, like he was worshipping me with each kiss, each caress, and making me know that I was beautiful. He traced the scars on my arms and kissed them.

    "These are beautiful too." I laughed at that, for some reason. I had begun to think of them as beautiful lately too. Like a graffitied canvas. He grinned back up at me, and then continued exploring me, asking me for permission before letting his hands roam.

    For such a long time now, I had felt broken. I'd tortured myself in my mind, saying that no one, not even Jandro could love me fully. I thought I would never be able to have sex without associating it with the night I was raped or the night I was groped. But Jandro was changing that. Cautiously, asking me for permission before touching anything, we were both treading on unfamiliar ground. And that made me feel a bit better. That there was no black or white ground, we were a muddled grey, getting to know each other in a whole different way.

    After we lay in a sticky, satisfied embrace, I would trace the muscles of his stomach with my fingertips, trying desperately to memorize every part of him with my hands. I laughed, and cried.

    "Are you ok?" asked Jandro.

    "No, it's just," I blubbed, "when I first came here, I thought that I'd be able to remember my first time with happiness. It turned out that I'd already had my first time and it was horrible, and I just can't believe that you don't think I'm disgusting or broken or a whore or anything because of what happened. I know I wasn't a virgin, but-"

    "Oh, mi amor, mi amor. You have nothing to worry about, sweet palomita."

    "Did you just call me a dove?" I laughed. I was such a mess of emotion. 

    "Yes. Because you are white and pure like a dove. Virginity is a stupid concept that I think frankly doesn't change anything or assign any value to a person. You are not a whore simply because you are not a virgin. Also, what that man did to you was not sex. As far as I am concerned, I am your first. Not him. He was a criminal, who wielded it as a weapon."

    He kissed me.

    "Jandro," I said shyly. "I've been doing some thinking. What will happen to us when Venice happens?"

    Jandro sighed. He looked very sad, suddenly.

    "I hope we won't break up." He seemed unsure.

    "What do you mean?"

    "I hope you won't see some hot Italian guy and fall in love with him and call me up and be like 'Oh Jandro, I don't love you anymore,'" he said matter of factly, and I saw him grin.

    "Jandro, I'm serious," I said, soberly. "I don't want this to end."

    "Good. Because I don't want it to end either, and I don't intend on giving you up. I mean, we will be living several blocks from each other in the USA, yes?"

    I curled up in his arms. I couldn't wipe the smile off my face.

    "Jandro. I love you." I could feel his lips smile as he kissed the back of my neck.

    "I know. I love you to. I have loved you since the day I set eyes on your angry little face, so sure that I had to be a robber. And Jesús, we have a date with flamenco in forty minutes."

    "Shh…" I said, smiling, eyes closed. "Let's just cuddle."  

    "Are you warm now?" he asked, teasingly.

    "Yes. I'm warm." I was warm all over, warm like when I'd woken in the hospital and burned alive with the pain, but I wasn't burning now. Warmth washed over me gently like a flickering flame, and I was alive. I wasn't broken. I could love. I could deserve love. I could deserve Jandro. I watched the daylight fade outside the window, falling into a deep sleep.

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