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To Be Like You

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Your mother used to stand in front of mirrors and pull.

She'd pull at her cheeks, her chin, the skin beneath her arm and the soft, round flesh at her hips. She'd stand and pull and tell herself bad things, awful things, things that you would've hurt anyone else for saying. You're young and naïve and you don't understand what it means, but you know that she stops eating.

You don't really notice at first, how she excuses herself early from meals with food untouched, how she makes you a lunch everyday but never one for herself. You do notice, though, when you're at your birthday party and you offer her the first piece of cake, like you always do. She smiles at you, but it's a worn and tired smile, and says no thanks.

You decide not to have any, either.

That's the day dad notices, too. He insists that she eat, watches her like a hawk every meal and kisses her hair when she does. Things are getting better because dad always makes things better.

Early one Saturday morning, you wake and make her some toast to give her breakfast in bed since dad's gone. She accepts it with a smile and you sit at the foot of the bed and watch her eat it because that's what dad would do. When she finishes, she sets the plate aside and stands, giving you a kiss on the cheek before walking into the bathroom. You trail behind her and watch as she kneels by the toilet and puts two fingers down her throat.

When dad gets home, you tell him.

He's furious, and you sit in your bedroom and listen at the door as they scream at each other. You hear the front door slam, and you know that dad's gone. He's always the one that leaves.

This time, he doesn't come back.

Mom stops eating again, but she also starts drinking. Not applejuice and milk like you—no, she drinks funny smelling drinks that make her happy. They make her smile and she'll watch movies with you and play when she drinks them, so you think that they're not so bad. But she's always sad afterwards. She'll throw up a little and cry and you'll stand at her side and stroke her hair and say it's going to be alright.

One day, after she's had her drinks, you're sitting on her lap and she's brushing her hair, and you ask her,

“Mom, why do you hate yourself?”

Mom stops brushing for a second then runs her fingers through your hair and tucks a lock of it behind your hear, “Oh, honey, don't you know? It's because of you.”

Two weeks later, you find her on the kitchen floor in a pool of her own vomit with a note in her hand and no pulse in her wrists.

You see dad again for the first time in years. He looks happier than he did with mom, with you, and when he sees you, he smiles and swoops you into his arms. He kisses your cheeks and says he missed you, but you don't really believe him because he could've come back. He holds your hand when you bury mom, and you listen to people talking, saying that she looked so beautiful, so thin, like she had before you were born.

You had made her ugly, you realize. They don't say it, but you know. You had given her the pudge around her hips, the mounds on her stomach, the jiggle in her thighs. That had been you. You might has well have been the one taking the food from her mouth and jamming her fingers down her throat.

Dad helps you pack your things and then takes you back to a home that isn't yours. He got married again, he says, you have a new mom and a new brother, he says.

Your new mom isn't as pretty as your real mom. She's heavy around the hips and her arms are thick and when she smiles, her cheeks bulge obscenely. You don't much care for her. Your new brother isn't bad, though. He's skinny, like you are, and he's got way too much hair and his teeth are way too big but he smiles and hugs you and says his name is John and it's very nice to meet you.

You can't sleep in your new bed and the house isn't as big so you have to share a room with John. He snores a little and mumbles in his sleep and you tell dad in the morning that he's what kept you up, even if it's a lie. You lay in bed and you think about your mom, how she was thin and beautiful before you, how you came into her life and made her hate herself. She could've hated you, but she chose not to. She was a good mother, but you weren't a good daughter. You don't deserve to be the one getting a new life and a new family.

You crawl out of bed and walk into the bathroom because you have to go and afterwards, when you're standing and washing your hands, you see yourself in the mirror. You're not tall like mom and your skin is dark like your dad's but your hair is the same whitish blond that hers had been. You could be her, if you tried hard enough. You shimmy out of your tee-shirt and sweat pants and stand in front of the mirror in your new training bra and your kitten underwear.

You stand in front of the mirror and you pull.

Kanaya Maryam enters your life when you're a sophomore in high school.

You've cut your hair short and you wear long skirts and dark fabrics and black lipstick and sometimes, when you catch a glimpse of yourself in the mirror, you see your mom staring right back at you. Other people don't get it. They call you names, push you around, shove your sleeves up and ask if you cut yourself, and though John barks at them furiously and insists that it's wrong, you really don't care. But when Kanaya arrives in your English class with snowy white skin and short dark hair, all tall and poised and beautiful, she smiles at you and compliments your scarf.

You thank her and try to ignore the way your voice catches. Mom would never stutter like that.

That night, you stand in the mirror, and you think of the way Kanaya's chest tapered into a thin waist, the way the fabric of her sweater fell around the curve of her hips, how her jeans shifted over her long legs. You look at yourself, at your jutting ribs and sharp hips and spidery fingers and wonder if this is really beautiful. Then you remember how mom had looked, curled over the toilet, fighting every day for this, for what you have, and you know you can't just throw it away. You killed her, and the least you could do is be beautiful for her.

Kanaya slips seamlessly into your life. She and Jade hit it off, and she keeps up with Dave's smarmy wit with a subtle wit of her own that hides behind her careful, deliberate way of speaking. She shoots you quiet smiles and sits beside you in English and chats with you even when you're closed off and withdrawn. She doesn't mind when you don't respond, and you enjoy listening to her talk.

At one point, she takes your wrist into slender fingers, her skin startlingly pale against the brown of yours, and comments on how thin you are. You feel a surge of pride, and you allow yourself a smile as you thank her. But you see the way her brow creases and you think that maybe it wasn't a compliment. You think maybe you're not quite thin enough.

You don't eat that night.

Or the next.

John shoots you worried glances but says nothing about it. It's better that way. He doesn't need to know.

You invite Kanaya over for dinner a couple of weeks later. You don't eat much, just pick at the food, nibbling a little, but no one seems to notice. No one but Kanaya, who eyes your nearly full plate as you and she walk into the kitchen to deposit your dishes. You ask her if she wants to go to your room and talk for a little and she accepts the offer with a smile.

You sit on your bed as she wanders a little, peering at the posters on your walls, the photos on your dresser. She's hovering by your book shelf and she plucks a book from it. It's something from when you were younger, before mom died. You couldn't bring yourself to throw it out. It's a book about a wizard, one who starts young and careless and ends a wizened man who inspires those graced with his presence.

“You like wizards?” She asks, returning the book to its shelf and running her fingers along the spines of those around it.

You flush, “Not anymore,” you say, “Not for a long time.”

She looks at you again with a furrow in her brow before coming to sit beside you on the bed. She takes your hand again, touching each knuckle gently, pressing softly on the webbed flesh between them.

“I enjoy wizards,” She says, and you jolt a little, “And magic,” a pause, “And you.”

You look at her and she smiles, lifting your hand to her lips and kissing it.

She leaves a little while later and you feel light. The food you'd had at dinner doesn't make your stomach churn and you fall asleep with a smile on your face, thinking it might be nice to be Rose for a while.

It doesn't last, of course. The more time you spend with Kanaya, the more inadequate you feel. She's mature; regal, almost. She dresses well, even just for school, but you think that she'd look good even in a garbage bag. After lunch, after spending half an hour pressed against her side, all sharp angles and awkward limbs against her shapely curves and baby soft skin, you find yourself in the bathroom, heaving. There's not much in your stomach, so it's mostly stomach acid burning your mouth and splattering the toilet bowl.

Then there's a hand on your back and fingers combing your hair and for a moment, just for a moment, you imagine that it's your mother. That she's here, holding you, proud of you for being beautiful for her.

But it's Kanaya's voice murmuring soothingly in your ear. It's Kanaya rubbing circles into your back and telling you that everything is okay.

When it's over, she pushes your bangs back and kisses your forehead, offers you gum from her purse. You accept it—anything to get that acrid taste out of your mouth—and let her help you to your feet.

She asks if you're alright, doesn't look like she believes you when you say yes, and walks you to class. You spend the class remembering the way Kanaya's brow had furrowed, the way her lips pulled tight, and you don't feel like mom, and you don't feel beautiful. You feel like Rose for the first time in years.

After class, someone catches your bag and spills it on the floor. They laugh and jeer and call you awful names and you're not beautiful now, you're not mom, and you can't shake off their words because Rose deserves them. You cover your ears, your manicured nails digging painfully into the soft skin at your temples.

Kanaya isn't graceful when she punches a boy in the face. She isn't poised when she snarls at them to leave. She isn't poised when she crouches in front of you with wide eyes and tells you that she's taking you home.

Jane is home when the pair of you arrive, and when she sees your face, she smiles sadly and doesn't question anything. You were wrong about her that first time. She's beautiful, too, in the way she smiles and her laughter and her imperfections. You think you might envy her.

Kanaya takes you up to your bedroom and locks the door behind you. She sits on the bed and when you join her, she pulls you close. She kisses your head and holds you tight. It should be uncomfortable, but it's nice. It's warm.

A moment later, she leans back, asks if you'll lay down. You comply and she puts her hands on your bony hips, the tips of her fingers just barely under the hem of your shirt. She asks if it's alright, and you say yes. She pushes the fabric up, fingers running along your sides, over your stomach, dipping into your navel before sliding up and curving into the valleys between your ribs. She shifts a little, bends over and her lips follow the same path.

It's not sexual. There's no heat, no fever. It's cold. You shudder and tears burn at your eyes. You let them fall, let them set the roots of your hair. Kanaya doesn't pause. Her fingers run down your legs, under your knees and her lips follow. She breathes into the point of your elbow and the thin skin over your pulse. She noses your neck, kisses your jaw, presses her forehead against yours. She wipes away your tears and her lips meet yours and finally, finally, she says,


And you break. Because you're Rose, you are. You aren't your mother. You're Rose and you're broken but Kanaya loves you anyway. You cling to her and shatter.

You shatter because she'll be there to put you together again.