A Hot Bath

The bubble drifted near the ceiling under the track lights in the thermals that the bathwater was making. It was bright and shiny, then invisible, then bright and shiny… There was nothing like a bath to make everything okay. If that little bubble would just last forever, Deborah thought.

She knew she had to take the bath after Kevin asked her if she was okay. She was crossing the quad going back to her dorm when she passed him. Her expression must have prompted the concern, or maybe he knew, because he came running over to her and asked super sincere. She started laughing which was okay, at first. She couldn’t stop laughing. She laughed until her teeth were numb and Kevin was scared out of his wits. There were a hundred people staring when she could stop enough to start walking again. At least a handful of them probably already knew all about her day.

It was all over; everything was over. Trip would never hurt her again. She just had to get in the tub.

She went straight upstairs, passing her room, and into the bathroom. She went in the little room where the tub was and pulled the bolt. She didn’t rinse out the tub, though she shared it with six other, largely unclean, girls. She just started it, hot. And climbed in; remembering to undress after her shoes were soaked. After she lay down naked and limp she didn’t feel the heat as such. It just felt good.

Deborah studied a lot with Rita in her dorm; St. Anne’s. That’s where she was all morning. The wings on St Anne’s were built close together like an old Roman village. Students strung laundry lines between buildings and had late night parties with all the windows open. It was getting hot while they worked, the air conditioning was usually broken in the old dorms.

“My, God, I can barely breathe in here,” Rita said.

No duh,” said Deborah, “Hey, do you have a Diet Pepsi?”

“Nope, but I bet Ellen does. Open the windows, I’ll go mooch a couple off her.”

Deborah opened the windows and jumped back down to History of Western Civ. Rita came right back with two half frozen Pepsis.

“Diet, diet,” said Deborah.

“I know, but it was this or nothing. You know Ellen and her imaginary NutraSweet headaches.” The psychosomatic characterization drew giggles from Deborah.

“Do you hear that?” asked Rita, “I think someone across the L knows Ellen too.”

There were frantic happy giggles drifting in the window from somewhere.

“I know that sound,” said Rita smiling, “You want a show?” Rita threw her notes down and ran to the window.

“I was right, I was right,” she said, “Come here, Debbie. You have to see this.”

For five seconds Deborah was sure that Rita hated her guts. But then she realized that Rita had probably never seen Trip without his shirt on. She didn’t know he had a tattoo of the little character from the Pearl Jam album on his left shoulder blade. Rita didn’t know it was him down through that window fucking the crazy hell out of the giggliest girl in four states. That’s why Rita was laughing and pulling Deborah’s arm saying, “Can you believe it?” It wasn’t because she was trying to kill her.

Deborah did believe it. In the spreading belief there was also the knowledge that it wasn’t the first time it had happened right next door. Deborah worked at the information desk at the Registrations Office. She’d met Giggles once. “You’re Deborah,” she said. Her eyes told the rest but Deborah hadn’t been willing to pursue the girl’s scared look.

Deborah screamed, “Goddamn you, Trip, goddamn you, you shit!”

Rita’s eyes went white and looked like they were going to come right out of her face. In that moment she felt every bit as wrong as Deborah did. She uttered the frenzied apologies that would keep them friends for the rest of both their lives. She followed Deborah downstairs, not sure if it was to help her pummel her fiancé with useless blows, or if it was to stop her from doing something truly crazy. Deborah ignored her, outstripping her quickly, not headed to the dorm where Trip was probably putting his socks on by now, but going back to her own room. Until Kevin, that idiot, who had participated in running defense for Trip more than once, asked that idiotic question he was tied up in answering.

She knew all along, well, she didn’t know, but she knew. There had been many others; every pressed doubt had a face now. Deborah could summon them and did. Girls, women, that Trip would be walking with when he was late for dinner, or that Deborah would see sheepishly fleeing the table when she met him for lunch in the sub. Deborah made herself see all the ones she was sure of. She was aware that there were probably at least a few she didn’t know about, though she was also now aware that Trip had made a point to introduce them or let Deborah see him with them, so maybe she knew all of them.

It wasn’t just that she was faithful to him for three years, or that he’d hit her at a frat party when he was drunk and she’d come right back to him, or that none of his family liked her while hers adored him, or that she had quietly accepted each time the wedding was pushed back another four months. It was that he’d had to leave that window open. She could imagine the girl down there with one breast out of her bra, wet with his saliva, trying to pull the blinds and Trip pulling them back up and grabbing her giggling body and throwing it down to get her pants off.

She knew him well enough to realize that he wanted to be seen. For exactly the same reason he was always doing nice things for her in front of people. He had to have people watching. He could be incredibly cruel when they were alone, especially in bed, but no one would have believed it. So she hadn’t let herself either.

She lay in the tub watching that stupid beautiful bubble that refused to pop. The bass from someone’s stereo carried right through the floor and the water against her ear drums along with fists pounding on the locked metal door. She knew it was him but she was focused on the song. She couldn’t hear the lyrics, or be sure if it was the one she thought it was, but her head filled them in. She imagined what a nice video it would make, the bubble floating there and her in the tub; the boy pounding, between an emaciated but heartfelt group of threatening apologies, to get in a door he’d never get in. No one would like it but she would. The bubble popped, she guessed, it simply didn’t reappear under one of the lights.

Deborah took the razor off the side of the tub and shaved her legs; it hurt like hell in the scalding and soapy water, but it felt good. She felt so much better after lying in the tub for an hour that she was going to call Zack. He’d been in all her classes, they had much in common. Rita wouldn’t shut up about how fine he was. He was nuts about Deborah and asked her out once, she told him she liked him but she had a serious boyfriend. He hadn’t asked again. Most guys weren’t like that, most guys would have kept asking.

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