SEVENTY-TWO

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I was waiting for Max to return. We had been moved to a room with a queen-sized bed, because the adults had quickly realized that we wouldn't be leaving each others' sides. Considering the plan that Max's father had informed us of, it seemed that it was in their interest to keep us close. To strengthen our connection.

I didn't even bother to consider the fact that they had let two 16-year-olds sleep in the same bed together, and that with the knowledge of what we had been up to before (to create the double bond). I guess these were extenuating circumstances. Or maybe they had realized that we would only feel safe and heal if we were close to each other. They never even attempted to separate us.

Of course, it would help if I wasn't blocking the connection. Which was what Max and his father where fighting about right now. I knew, because they were only next door, and they were not using their inside voices.

Mr. Evans was frustrated because Max had just told him that I was blocking the connection. He was wondering how Max could let that happen, if Max really didn't know how much a connection would help me in the current situation and that I needed it now more than ever. Max was yelling back, angry with his father because he clearly couldn't see how much I was hurting, how distant I was, how sharing a connection right now might overwhelm me and how he didn't want to push me.

I pulled the duvet over my head and pushed my hands over my ears as they started arguing about my eating habits. Or the lack thereof. How Max wanted me to have a free choice of what I wanted to eat and how that might help me get my appetite up, when Mr. Evans kept throwing medical facts about the need to slowly get a starved body used to food, through small amounts of easily digestible soups.

I began singing to myself (a desperate off-key noise) to drown out the noise further when my hands weren't enough and completely failed to hear someone enter my room.

But the person was careful enough to say my name repeatedly as she approached the bed and hence didn't scare me.

She pulled the duvet back, revealing my face as my hands slowly slid away from my ears. I registered Max's screamed objections through the wall against having me fight their fight, fight for their race, before I took in Diane's open face looking at me.

It was the first time she had come to visit. The first time I had seen her since she had begged me to take care of her son (something I had failed to do) on the eve of the meeting.

"Oh," she got out before she started crying.

Her tears pierced my heart and I felt myself crumbling in response to her maternal concern and love. No one had cried so openly for me before. Not even my father.

"You poor girl," she whispered and brushed a hand through my newly washed hair, tucking it gently behind my ear as she sank down on the bed.

"I'm so sorry," she whispered, wiping at my tears as her own flowed unhindered down her cheeks. "I'm so sorry this happened to you."

I squeezed my lips tightly together, but couldn't avert my eyes from her.

"How are you?" she asked and I bit hard into my bottom lip to stop myself from screaming.

Because it felt like there was something inside of me that needed to get out. That needed to be loud and almost destructive. Rather than calm and accepting.

Instead I said nothing.

Her eyes turned hesitant, the same look a lot of people around me had been giving me lately. Unsure of how to treat me. Walking on eggshells. "Can I hug you?"

It felt better than I thought it would, that someone actually asked for permission. So I had no problem giving it. Nodding slowly, she gave me a soft smile before leaning over me and pulling me up into her embrace.

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