A Stranger to Myself

"I feel like I don't even know myself. And if I don't know myself, how can anyone else ever know me?" Autumn has always felt alone, like an outcast. But when a girl comes into her life and reveals things about Autumn she never would have known otherwise, can Autumn learn to accept her differences she's so used to hating?


20. Queen Sized Bed

It was weird to think about and address, but Carmen and I had never really just done anything for fun before. All of our interactions consisted of her trying to console me, trying to prevent me from doing self-destructive things, and us fighting. So when we just met up one day and went to the movies, I was at a bit of a loss when it came to how to act.


It's dumb now, but I can't even remember what movie we saw. I don't think I was too into it because I was completely distracted the whole time - my mind had been absolutely buzzing ever since she had admitted to me her feelings hadn't changed. I almost couldn't mentally function. 


We left the theater and she asked me where I wanted to go next. For some reason I hadn't known this, but she had her drivers license. Her parents let her borrow the car so we were totally on our own. My mom was just glad to see me willing to do stuff instead of hanging around the house all day so I was immediately allowed out. We were free to do literally whatever we wanted. And I couldn't think of a single thing. 


So, I let her pick. 


Surprisingly enough she didn't have any ideas either. The movie theater we went to was attached to a mall so we decided to just wander around while we thought of something better to do. Although that may sound kind of boring and I really didn't like the idea of seeming like a mall-rat, with Carmen, it was fun. She seemed to make everything fun. I hadn't seen her that genuinely happy since I first met her. It was refreshing. 


As we flitted from store to store she started to interrogate me on some basic stuff she realized she didn't know about me. Favorite color, the music I liked, hobbies, my middle name, my birthday, etc. I told her the answers; blue, alternative, writing and reading, Cecelia, and August 19th. I always asked her the same thing afterwards. Her responses were purple, pop, drawing and dancing, Marisol, and February 17th. Also in case I haven't mentioned this, Carmen's last name is Guevarra. 


Just talking to her about the dumbest things was really calming. Something about her voice made me feel so utterly grounded and safe, like I didn't have to worry about anything else ever, like I didn't have any other problems in the world and like she could fix everything in an instant. I didn't want to be separated from her in the slightest and was practically glued to her side at all times.


I wondered if she noticed but I obviously didn't ask. I also wondered if the feeling was mutual.


Eventually when the mall got boring and we didn't like being in the crowds anymore, we hopped back into her car and she got on the highway, driving aimlessly to a destination I wasn't informed of. The entire way she blasted music from her iPod, songs I knew were popular at the time but had never really heard before. It was all pop and rap sort of things. Seeing her enthusiastically sing along - even to the fast rapping parts - word for word, was one of the most entertaining scenes I've ever witnessed.


We drove for a long, long time until the sun was starting to set. I was incredibly curious, having no idea where we were by then. The road had turned from pavement to dirt without me realizing it and our urban surroundings had morphed into rural ones. Now we drove past trees and fields instead of high-rises and gas stations. We were also the only car on the road for literally miles. 


She finally pulled up next to what looked to be some kind of park. We had been driving for hours. It hadn't been boring though. Nothing was boring with her around. She led the way as we walked right in. Benches were overgrown with vines and weeds, remnants of a no-longer-functioning merry-go-round were rusted and abandoned next to a collapsed see-saw, and the entire place had a really weird feel to it. But I liked it. 


She sat herself down on the previously mentioned park bench and inhaled deeply. I'd never seen her so calm. I joined her at her side. Trees were above us, overhanging everything, making it seem like nighttime when in reality the sun had yet to completely leave the sky. We hadn't spoken a word since the car had stopped and I don't think either of us were sure why that was. It just didn't seem needed, if that makes any sense. 


She was the first one to speak up, though, as was expected, "When I first met you, I honestly had no idea you were going to be this important to me." Her voice took on a tone it hadn't had the entire day. I looked at her from the corner of my eye. She was staring upward, not at all at me. 


I knew what she was doing. This was when we were possibly going to talk about more serious things. The air adopted an all too familiar weight to it and my shoulders sagged. There were still faint traces of a smile on her face. Maybe she chose to do this here because the environment calmed her. It calmed me a little bit too, but a part of me was dreading the conversation that was to come. 


I chose my words really carefully, "...I had a weird sort of feeling when I first saw you. I don't know what it meant though..." My gaze drifted and remained on the loose dirt at our feet. 


There was a predictable pause, "I just thought we could be natural friends since we were neighbors. I didn't expect..." She trailed off and never finished her sentence. I didn't push her to. 


I was going to be leaving soon, going back to my mom's place a good few cities over. I wouldn't be seeing her. There were still a few questions lingering in the back of my head that would drive me insane if I never asked them. I didn't care how much it brought the mood down, I felt like I was running low on chances to bring certain things up. This seemed as good a time as any. 


"Carmen?" In my peripheral vision I noticed her look at me, "Do you think things would've gone easier for you if we just never started talking?" My hands gripped the edge of the bench I sat on and held onto it tightly, almost like I was worried I would fall off. The longer the silence lasted the more intense this concern became. 


She must've noticed the whitening of my knuckles because one of her impossibly soft hands rested on top of my clenched fist. The unexpected contact caught my attention and my head whipped in her direction, eyes not on her face, but where she was touching me. 


"I'm really glad I met you. I hope you know that." It was impossible not to believe her. She sounded so sincere. 


I opened my mouth to say something back to her, but nothing would come out. I just stared at our hands, realizing we hadn't had any contact like this for a while, and remembering one of the first times we hung out when this same sort of thing happened. And I remembered moving away from her, panicked, making some excuse about having to do homework. So much had happened since then, it was almost unreal.


We stayed there for a little while longer, neither of us saying anything. She interlaced our fingers together at a point and we just sat, not looking at one another, just sort of zoning out. Just knowing she was there made me happy. That she was with me. 


By the time we got back to town, it was really late at night. I had called my mom ahead of time to let her know where I was so she wouldn't have a panic attack. She made Carmen talk to her on the phone just to prove I was actually with her.


Surprisingly enough, when I texted her and asked if I could stay the night at Carmen's place, she said yes. Carmen had asked me to. Her house was closer than Marbara's was, and we were both pretty tired. She said that a few of her siblings had gone with her mom on a college tour so her house was a lot less crowded than normal. 


When we got there she had to use a spare key she had to get in. All the lights were off and the house was silent. We tip-toed up the stairs and into her room. Only after she carefully closed the door behind her did we both exhale in unison and feel like we could talk again. 


"So... um... should I...?" I pointed slightly at the couch I had slept on the last time I was there. My voice was slow, somewhere between a mutter and a whisper. It was silent though so she could hear me. 


"No, no," She immediately said, instead gesturing to her bed. When she saw my expression change she spoke again, "You're only going to be here for tonight. Please take the bed so I don't feel bad." 


I sighed, "It's your house." 


"You're my guest. Let me treat you." 


There was a pause clearly weighted with my uncertainty. 


"Fine, I'm not giving you a choice, you're sleeping in the bed." She grabbed my hand and led me to it, and I didn't resist. Mainly because I was once again caught completely off guard by her holding my hand like it was nothing. Before she wouldn't have even dreamt of doing that because she would've felt awkward. Maybe she felt like she didn't have a lot to lose now that I was leaving? I wasn't sure. I wished I knew though. 


I sat down on her bed and felt my eyelids getting heavier and heavier with every passing second. It was probably around 3 AM at that point. I didn't normally stay up that late. She was tired too. She kept yawning a lot, using one of her dainty hands to cover her mouth whenever she did so. My eyes were glued to her face and they couldn't seem to move away. Jesus Christ she was really gorgeous. It was unfair. 


I watched her as she walked over to her couch, grabbing a blanket from her nearby closet and starting to get settled. I felt so awkward and out of place. It didn't seem right for me to be stealing her bed from her. It was queen-sized. It could fit two people. I felt my cheeks warm at the thought of what I was about to ask, when I got a feeling that was probably similar to the one she got when she held my hand. What did I have to lose? We didn't have too much time left together. Might as well take some risks. 


"Carmen?" I spoke up quietly. I was under the covers by then but just barely, sitting up still. 


She looked over with an adorably raised eyebrow as she laid the blanket across her couch's cushions, "Yeah?"


We had held eye contact but when it came to actually asking her, I almost chickened out. 


Finally, I forced it, "Why don't you just... we can..." I didn't know how to word it. After a super weird lapse in any conversation I awkwardly blurted out, "...It's a queen sized bed." 


By some kind of miracle we held our eye contact still. Even though the air got really heavy and things felt ridiculously tense, we just kept staring at each other. She stopped what she had been doing mid-motion, her expression sort of blank like mine was, mouth slightly open although she didn't say anything for another minute or so. 


She took a deep breath, "...you sure?"


I nodded. 


She started to walk over and I scooted to the side, giving her more room, not entirely believing what was about to happen. When she sat down on the other side of the bed my body was so tense I thought I might freeze in the same position and never move again. Our eyes hadn't moved from one another. 


She was the first to look away and she moved her focus to the tracings of her blankets. She seemed to be focusing a lot on her breathing patterns. I didn't stop looking at her. She was just so goddamn pretty. Sometimes it felt almost impossible not to look at her. 


I was still tired and so was she but this had made us forget about that fact for a little while. She seemed to be the first person to actually address her lack of energy. 


"It's late..." She mumbled. Her speech was almost slurred. 


"Yep..." Wow this was really awkward. 


"So, I'm gonna..." She started to get under the covers and I just nodded, trying not to be all tense and weird but failing miserably. This situation was incredibly odd, knowing the sort of... history Carmen and I had. I tried not to think about it. By the time she was halfway beneath them I had followed her lead. The lights had been off as well, we were relying on the light from the moon coming in from her windows. 


Just a week, or even a few days before that, I never would've thought even a little that this would be happening; that I would be in Carmen's house, in her bed, with her next to me. I was facing her back and she was turned from me, deliberately I think, to possibly decrease the awkward. It didn't really work but she tried. 


We didn't say anything else. I think if we had, it would've seemed really forced so we both avoided that. 


I couldn't sleep though. I just stared at her. For a long time, probably over a half hour. Being near her, this close to her, made me wide awake and full of adrenaline and I didn't know why that was. My feelings for her were still a complete grey area, at least in my eyes, because I just couldn't define what they meant and I was scared to actually try for fear of the answer I would come to. If I did feel... something for her, that would just crush me emotionally because I was moving away. If I really thought about it, getting closer to her like this was probably a bad idea in hindsight because it would just make it harder for me to leave. 


I had thought she was asleep by then, but she proved me wrong when she emit a deliberate, shaky exhale. And I immediately understood it. 


She had no clue if I was awake or not, I might've been, but she let out the breath anyway. She took that chance. I knew what she was trying to do, I knew her well enough to interpret the meaning behind it. She was showing me how distraught she was. How distraught I was making her. This entire situation was most likely equally as odd for the both of us, considering it seemed like we were as far from one another on this bed as we could get. She was upset. I could tell. She was trying indirectly to show me, if I was even awake, which she didn't know. 


I was abandoning her. Really, that was what it felt like. I knew it wasn't my fault, it wasn't my choice on whether I stayed or not, but I knew it was for the best - that was what made me feel so guilty. Leaving her was what was best for me. That sounded so heartless, but it was true. I needed to get away from here and pursue my own happiness, but was that selfish? Was I focusing too much on myself? Carmen wanted me to get better and I knew that, but at what cost? Maybe she felt similarly to how I was - like getting closer to her like this was just going to be so painful in the long run. It was conflicting. We wanted to be around each other, but it would just hurt later. 


It was then that I did something that even surprised me. I did it subconsciously, not really giving myself time to debate or decide. I scooted closer to her and wrapped my arms firmly around her middle, tugging her against me. She inhaled sharply and tensed up like a statue. I urged myself to relax and forced my eyes shut. 


Finally, after about two straight minutes of no change, she calmed down. Her breathing patterns went back to normal and her body relaxed. Her hands drifted down and rested atop mine. I was still shocked at how soft her skin was, it didn't matter how many times I felt it, I swear to God it was unreal. The adrenaline that was coursing through me started to die down rapidly, and the fatigue replaced it. I was asleep in minutes. 


The last thought in my head before I lost consciousness? I didn't want to leave. I never wanted to leave her. 



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