"Rachel? What are you doing?"
Rachel glanced up from the spot on the floor, where she sat huddled and whimpering. Tierney was looking down at her. She wore an expression of concern and had one hand resting on a pointed hip. Her head was angled slightly to the right.
"What are you doing, Rachel?" she asked. "Are you okay?"
Rachel shuddered and sniffed loudly. She tried to come up with a reasonable explanation for why she was curled up on the floor and crying. She blurted out the truth without meaning to. The words simply expelled themselves from her lips.
"I think that I'm going to spontaneously combust again! I can feel it. My insides feel very hot."
Tierney nodded and then bent down, getting onto her knees next to Rachel. She brought her arms around Rachel in a hug. Rachel stiffened at first, but then allowed it to happen. Tierney's body felt warm against here. Her large breasts squished against Rachel's side. Rachel found herself feeling very safe. Her fears fizzled and dissipated. Tierney brought Rachel further into her arms, until Rachel was nearly sitting on her lap, and she rubbed Rachel's upper arm with one of her hands.
Rachel wasn't used to being hugged, and she certainly wasn't used to being hugged like this. Nan didn't like to touch her. She didn't like to touch anyone, and Rachel always tried to stay away from Papa. There was no telling when he might lose his temper. Rachel always found that it was best to keep her distance from him. She spoke to him as seldom as possible, and she certainly didn't hug him. Helene had hugged Rachel a couple of times, but her hugs were stiffer. They were burdened with bones, and Helene swayed back and forth each of the times that she had hugged Rachel. She'd had an uneasy sort of energy. This affection that Tierney was enveloping her in was something different. Rachel felt herself let go of the anxiety that was twisting and flicking about inside of her. She was always so wrapped up in her thoughts. Thoughts. Ideas. Words. Words. Words. It was all words, and they kept her feeling nearly catatonic with fear. She was caged inside of them. But then in that moment, with Tierny's warm, plush body against hers, she pulled herself away from these things. She was able to become something separate from them. She fell into a tumult of overwhelming and tactile sensations. She rested her cheek against Tierny's torso and felt the soft, but somewhat scratchy material of her old, over-washed tank top. She could smell the remnants of sweat, drying on Tierny's pink skin. She felt the tickle of Tierny's breath on her neck and cheek. She fell into a well of sensory reception, and for the first time, that Rachel could ever remember it happening, she stopped worrying. Something dead fell away from her. She felt robust and free. There wasn't anything leeching her energy and strength.
Then Tierney pulled away, and that newly lightened sensation fell away, and Rachel was left wondering why her stomach still felt so hot. Was she going to combust or wasn't she?
"Listen, Rachel," Tierney murmured. "Your mom isn't perfect, okay? She's my friend, but you can't always listen to what she says. I can't say my piece where it's not my place. I can't tell you anything, but I know she's gonna tell you all about what really happened as soon as she's ready. I promise you that you are not gonna spontaneously combust, okay?"
Rachel nodded and wiped away that hot tears drying in sticky rivulets across her cheeks.
"You want to know why I think your stomach feels hot?" Tierney asked.
"Yeah, why?" Rachel asked, in a cracking voice.
"I think that you just need to eat something. Your mom and I are gonna take you out for breakfast, and then we're gonna drive to our favorite bookstore over in Red Bank. How does that sound?"
Rachel sat up taller and beamed.
"That sounds great! I love to read!"
"Okay," Tierney chuckled. "Well, go grab a sweatshirt. It's really warm out for January. I don't think you need your winter coat, but maybe get something to throw on."
Tierney furrowed her brow and reached over to push aside a long tangle of hair strands that had fallen across Rachel's face.
"Maybe a scrunchie too."
"Sure Tierney," Rachel said.
She hopped to her feet and hurried away, feeling suddenly shy. She could see Helene walking briskly down the hall. They passed just as Rachel was stepping into the shadowy hallway, and Helene was stepping into the living room bathed in luminous sunlight.
"Hurry up, Rach," Helene muttered over her shoulder. "We're gonna leave in five."
"I will," Rachel answered, without turning around.
She hurried into her room and grabbed her pink and maroon fleece pullover that Nan had packed for her. She also decided to change her shirt, as the one that she was wearing was a bit wrinkled. She tore off her navy blue butterfly shirt and replaced it with her white Spice Girls t-shirt. It had a large photo of all five Spice Girls and the words "Spice Up Your Life!" were written in sparkling glitter beneath them. It was one of Rachel's favorite shirts, and she'd been waiting for just the right moment to wear it. She was sure that Tierney and Helene would love her shirt and comment upon it. Spice Girls was a really popular band after all. Rachel couldn't wait for the two women to see that she had such good taste in music.
Rachel paused for a moment, before pulling the t-shirt over her head. She stood there with her arms in the sleeves and the shirt hanging in front of her, staring down at her bare chest. She sighed. There was nothing there. It wasn't that she really wanted anything to be there. It was more that she wanted to have enough to convince her Nan that she should start wearing a bra. Yasiris had started wearing a bra at the beginning of the year. Rachel couldn't wait until Nan let her start wearing one. She would really feel like a grown-up when that day came. Maybe she would even become grown-up enough to stop being so scared of spontaneously combusting. Tierney had seemed very sure that it wouldn't happen to her. Maybe Tierney was right. Maybe it was just as Nan always said, and she was just being silly, inventing reasons to become afraid and upset.
YOU ARE READING
***Long-listed for the Watty's 2018***Rachel lives in constant fear that she will burst into flames. She can feel the heat building in her gut. She keeps buckets of water under the bed. She keeps them to fend off the flames that her body may create...