Burning Flesh

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They didn't stay up all night. They never did, but they always tried.

Around three am, they settled onto the air mattress that Rachel's grandfather had set up for them in the exercise room. They'd started having their sleepovers in the room next to Rachel's bedroom after too many mornings of bruises and stiff backs and red groggy eyes between the two girls. Rachel's twin bed wasn't large enough to accommodate the two of them. The air mattress wasn't very comfortable, but it was better than the two of them crammed up against each other all night, struggling to find room and relax.

Despite the heavy eyelids and slight headache that Rachel had gained as a result of staying up so late, she couldn't sleep. She could hear the soft breathing of her friend beside her. She sensed her stillness and knew that Yasiris was asleep. Laying so close to her, with their bodies lightly touching, Rachel could smell the familiar fragrance of Yasiris, a scent that was uniquely her. It wasn't a perfume or a lotion that she wore. It was just the aroma produced by her body. It was sweet and light and somehow a bit musky. Yasiris had always smelled this way, ever since they'd met when they were six. Rachel wondered if she always would smell this way. She wondered if Yasiris' body would continue to produce this fragrance, even when she was an adult. She wondered if a man would one day lay next to Yasiris and drink her smell in the same way that Rachel was doing now.

This thought unsettled Rachel. And then as she continued to consider the idea, it gave her a vaguely prideful feeling. It would be nice if someone else could enjoy Yasiris as much as Rachel did. Someone would love her friend one day. Her friend. Yasiris was hers. At least more than she was anyone else's.

Rachel thought of how Yasiris had pretended to believe her when she'd said that no one had picked up. She stared into the darkness of the room and thought of the disembodied female voice on the other end of the line.

Her mother. Her mother had never lived with her, never spent much time her. Rachel didn't know why, but Helene had left home right after she'd been born. Whenever Rachel asked why she'd left, Nan would purse her lips and blink quickly. If Rachel asked again, she'd snap at her to mind her business, even though Rachel was fairly sure that her mother's absence was her business.

Then Helene had come back for a visit once. She'd asked Nan if she could take Rachel on a camping trip. Rachel hardly remembered. She didn't remember her mother. She remembered a woman with pale skin and red hair and a man with medium-brown skin and a bushy mustache. They were nice to her, but Rachel didn't remember anything they'd said. And she recalled that she'd lost her crayons and cried. The accident itself, the terrible injuries she'd sustained on that trip, Rachel didn't remember. She remembered being in the hospital later, the pain so intense she couldn't even cry.

Her head became dizzy with these thoughts. She turned from her side to her stomach and strained to lull her mind into sleep. But the combination of discomfort and anxiety kept her from falling into a deep sleep.

She began to flirt with the early stages of sleep. She lay in a relaxed state and images flitted in and out of her mind. She didn't see them, not really. She was somewhat aware, but couldn't quite process the images that presented themselves. Sometimes she didn't really see the images, but instead seemed to feel them. Her brain puttered along in an odd way, turning these images over. Over and over, just like that photograph.

Then, for awhile, her mind was quiet, and Rachel was not aware of anything. Although she was still not quite asleep. Her thoughts did not stop, but became very quiet and muted. They were so far down and muffled in her mind that she could not extract and view them.

Rachel did not know how much time had passed when she became aware again. The time lapse felt instantaneous and somehow it seemed like a great deal of time had passed as well. She had the sense that she hadn't really slept at all.

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