by Doel


I can't get it hot enough. At first, I think it's because the tank is running out -- how long have I been in here? -- but one glance down at my bare skin is enough to dispel that misconception. My skin is raw, a vivid, blistering red. One part of my mind realizes it should be painful, but it's not. I can't even feel it.

I turn and tilt my head back to let the scalding water work its blistering fingers through my hair and down my back. A few rivulets snake across my face, inching their way through the day-old beard before dripping artlessly to the floor of the shower.

Still not hot enough...

The memories are still there. I can still see her...the way he left her...what was left of her... Oh, God! I swallow reflexively, trying to stop the spasms in my stomach.

Not hot enough...can't feel it...

Whipping back around, I fumble with the faucets again, verifying what I already know...the cold is off, the hot all the way up. Still, I can't feel it, goddammit!

There's a gentle knock on the door, soft...sentinel soft...but it startles me as surely as a clap of thunder.


"Be out in a minute," I call, trying for misdirection. Jim doesn't need in, and I know it.

His next question proves it. "You, okay?"

Okay? No. Not now, not in this lifetime. Okay is no longer in my vocabulary. It's been retired. It's archaic and outdated, no longer applicable, along with words like innocent and naive and...and...and warm! God! Why can't I get warm?!

"Blair? You all right?"

Concern has flooded Jim's tone, and I know I have to answer soon or he's going to bust down the door. I open my mouth, but water fills it, nearly choking me. I cough and sputter and struggle to find my voice before Jim crashes in to see if I'm trying to drown myself.

"It's fine, Jim. Everything's fine. I'm okay." The words are tumbling out of my mouth so fast they're a blur, practically incoherent.

There's silence, and I can almost see Jim mulling it over -- buy the obvious lie or bust the door down and see for himself?

"I'm fine, Jim," I reiterate, and I'm pleased to note my tone is steady this time, strong and hopefully convincing. "I'm almost done. Be out in a minute."

Another short pause, then, "Okay. Um...I'm out here if you need anything." He doesn't sound convinced, but he leaves.

For a few seconds, I allow myself to wish he hadn't -- hadn't bought the lies, hadn't believed I'm okay, hadn't...given up. But then I consider his parting words...

I'm out here...

As though a switch has been thrown, awareness snaps back, bringing with it sensitivity and...pain! I open my eyes -- when did I close them? -- and steam fogs my vision. Pinpricks of blistering heat pelt my raw skin. I clumsily fumble with the faucet, shutting off the painful assault.

I'm out here if you need anything.

Standing there wet, naked, dripping...finally, finally, I'm warm.


The End



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