She knew something was wrong before her key even touched the lock. The scraping of the key’s teeth against the tumblers in the lock seemed to echo through the still hallway. She turned her key to the left, pulling the bolt out of the housing and pressed down on the handle of the door.
The door opened with a light scraping of the latch against the frame, but more than that, she could hear the sound of rain tapping on the windows of Alex’s apartment. She poked her head in, about to call out to Alex when she heard it. It was a small sniffle, out of place in the empty space.
She didn’t let the door fall closed behind her. Instead, she held open for a second before silently closing it herself. She didn’t reach for the gun on her hip. It wasn’t an intruder that had her worried.
She couldn’t pinpoint where the sound had come from and the rain beating on the windows echoed off of every solid, modern design choice in the apartment, drowning out any sound smaller than a slap.
“Alex?” she called softly.
There was another sniffle, but no words. It was a louder sound, an attempt to gather herself into some kind semblance of a person.
Maggie quickly rounded the bar that created a boundary between the kitchen and the living room. In the silent steps it took to get there, Maggie’s stomach tied itself into knots. She worried that something had happened to Alex. She worried that she was attacked. Her hand went to her gun as she stepped behind the bar, but it fell away when she saw the reality.
The way Alex looked up at her, tear streaked eyes and emotion soaked red eyes, broke her heart. Maggie scanned the apartment for some sort of threat, but only found the grey-blue light of the storm outside invading the apartment and coating everything in an unnatural calm.
“What happened?” Maggie knelt down next to Alex, her knee hitting the hard floor as a feather would.
Alex shook her head. She dropped her head onto the plateau of her knees. Her thighs pressed hard into her chest and she closed her eyes, continuing to shake her head. She couldn’t speak. Her throat was raw. Her eyes burned with each blink. Her entire body was trembling.
Maggie looked around again, still worried about some sort of unseen danger. When she was satisfied, she sat down next to Alex, pressing the soles of her shoes into the floor. They slipped a bit and squeaked loudly, making Alex jump.
She looked over at Alex and apologized, her hands wedged between her legs. She didn’t know what to say. She didn’t know what to ask. She didn’t know how to get what was bothering Alex out of her.
Instead, she just sat quietly with Alex, waiting until Alex was ready. She looked at her girlfriend who was obviously struggling with something gargantuan. She swallowed and looked over Alex’s head at the windows, the rain drops politely knocking before sticking to the glass and running down.
The visual of the rain gathering to run down the glass irked Maggie for some reason. She couldn’t think of why until it dawned on her.
“It’s raining,” Maggie breathed out.
Alex looked up from her own lap and looked guiltily at Maggie. She nodded slowly and sadly. Her eyes roamed Maggie’s body, looked at her clothes and ending at her boots that she subconsciously moved away from.
Maggie hopped up and walked back to the door. She kicked off her boots and shrugged off her jacket. She checked her hair, realizing that there wasn’t much she could do for the rain that her fallen on her, but she put her hair into a ponytail and walked back to the kitchen.
Alex had been staring at the place where she’d last seen Maggie. She looked scared that Maggie wouldn’t come back, but relieved when Maggie sat down next to her again.
“Honey,” Maggie pulled Alex into her arms and held her there. The rain had scared Alex. She held Alex hard against her, realizing that it was the first time it had rained since Alex had been rescued from the glass box that tried to drown her.
Maggie closed her eyes and held Alex, breathing deeply and slowly knowing that when she did, Alex usually matched her breathing. Alex used to joke that Maggie was just that zen, but Maggie found it cute. She hoped it still applied.
Maggie reached her hand across Alex and placed her hand on the side of Alex’s face. She felt Alex’s hair ruffle under her hand. It felt different, stiffer. She pushed Alex’s hair away from her face and knew what it was.
“I’m sorry I didn’t realize-” Maggie started.
Alex shook her head. “You’ve been busy.”
Maggie smiled softly. “I should have noticed. Just because I’m packing my apartment doesn’t mean I stop noticing.”
Alex rested her head on Maggie’s shoulder. She looked at her oven, staring at the stripes in the glass. “I understand that… Logically, I shouldn’t be afraid of-of rain – of water.”
“There is no logic to this,” Maggie stroked Alex’s side with light touches. She kissed the side of Alex’s head, despite the very real fact that she probably hadn’t showered since she’d been rescued. “You need to take your time.”
“I need to go back to work,” Alex sighed, her voice cracking as she tried to speak. “But I can’t- it’s just rain and I can’t leave my apartment.”
Maggie could feel Alex’s body start quivering as she spoke. “Hey,” Maggie leaned away from Alex to look at her face. “This isn’t something you just get over .”
“But I want to.” A single tear ran down Alex’s face. She looked down and wiped it away. She exhaled an uneven breath. She shook her head. “I can barely take a drink without shaking so hard I drop the glass.”
Maggie was quiet for a long time. She let Alex lean on her and think.
When Alex’s breathing had calmed, Maggie picked up Alex’s head. “Are you up for trying something?”
Alex’s muscles tensed in her upper back and she could feel them pulling at each other like her back wanted to rip itself apart. But she nodded because she hated being scared.
Maggie stood up and Alex stood with her. Maggie skittered to the windows and pulled the curtains closed. Then she turned on all the lights in the apartment, lighting it up like noon on a clear day.
She returned to Alex’s side and picked up Alex’s unsure hand. Maggie looked at the sink in the kitchen and then at Alex. She knew her girlfriend was smart and knew where she was going with that. Maggie held Alex’s hand as she took one step away to open a drawer and extract a towel. “You don’t have to do anything you don’t want to, okay?”
Alex nodded without speaking. She stared at the faucet that would soon expel water and she didn’t want to be afraid of it. She wanted to reach forward and turn it on, but her hand wouldn’t move.
Maggie slowly reached forward and turned the water on. It was a slow, thin stream that barely made a sound in the bottom of the sink. “Just touch it. Whenever you’re ready.” She held the towel within Alex’s reach.
Alex stared at the water. Just looking at it made her feel like she couldn’t breathe. She gulped down lungfuls of air, trying not to think about how it had filled her lungs and nearly killed her, invading every cell of her body.
With a herculean effort, she picked up her hand that was holding Maggie’s hand and moved it toward the stream of water. It was a slow process that stopped just short of the water coming out of the faucet. Her heart pounded and every instinct she had told her to turn it off and walk away.
Then she felt the gentle tug. Maggie’s hand pulled Alex’s toward the water, Maggie’s eyes watching her face for any sign that it was too much. It looked like physical pain on Alex’s face when their joint hands moved under the water. It was warm and ran between their fingers and palms, flowing through the lines in their hands before falling back into the sink.
Alex watched and slowly counted in her head. She was testing herself, pushing herself. Trying to see how long she could stand it before she couldn’t. When she hit twelve, she jerked their hands out from under the water and Maggie quickly covered their hands in the towel.
Maggie let go of Alex’s hand and covered it in the towel, wrapping both of her hands around it and drying Alex’s hand thoroughly. She smiled. “That was really good.”
“That was just… water from the sink,” Alex sighed, feeling defeated despite her triumph.
“That’s progress,” Maggie looked at Alex’s face. She traced the lines of pain and terror in her face. She wished she could take it all away. She would have given anything to be the person that had been trapped in the glass case of rising water.
“What about…” Alex sighed. “What about going to work? Even after it stops raining? I need to shower.”
Maggie pulled the towel off of Alex’s hand and closed the space between them, pulling Alex into her arms. “You don’t really smell bad in general.” Maggie let Alex rest against her for a moment before pulling away to look at her face. She pushed Alex’s hair out of her face. “And dry shampoo does wonders.” She offered up a reassuring smile. “This is only temporary, but you can’t rush it.” She touched Alex’s face, fingertips to pale cheeks. “No one is going to fault you for taking a few days off.”
“I will,” Alex’s eyes shimmered in the soft lighting of the apartment.
Maggie looked over Alex’s face and nodded a few times. “I get that.” She licked her lips and looked down, trying to figure out what to do to make it easier on Alex. She picked up Alex’s hand and leveled her chin. “Okay, so I’ll take a few days off. You can help me pack my apartment and we’ll take our time integrating our stuff together.” She put her other hand on top of Alex’s, holding her hand gently. “And I have a friend who can come over and… that you can talk to. Someone who can help more than I can.”
Alex opened her mouth to argue. She didn’t want to have to talk to someone. She didn’t want to have to see a professional. But when she looked toward the closed curtains, she knew that she had to get some kind of help. She couldn’t even look out the window while it was raining without feeling like she was going to throw up.
With a slow nod, Alex agreed. She put her hand on Maggie’s shoulder and pulled her girlfriend to her. She just needed to hold onto her. “Thank you.”