It was just after my boyfriend declined an invitation to a pool party for my best friend’s birthday that I realized that I had never seen him take his shirt off.
“Why can’t you go to the pool, Cole? It’s my best friend,” I whined.
“I don’t like parties, Lin,” he replied flatly.
“That’s not true: we met at my cousin’s wedding, remember?”
“Well, is your friend asking me to be a groomsman or go to a pool party?”
I crossed my arms.
We were in my living room on the fifth floor. Cole had come to pick me up for a date, but we had cast the idea aside in favor of this particular debate, which is why I had my hair up in a blonde bun and five-inch heels on my feet. Cole sat on my dull blue couch and watched me with emotionless grey eyes as I pouted. Only one lamp had been hastily flipped on when we had invaded the room, and the light coming from it cast dark shadows across his tan face. I tapped one foot impatiently as I stared down at him, clacking my shoe to the passing seconds.
Cole sighed, “Lindsay, please. I don’t want to go?”
“I’m starting to think you don’t even care about me,” I breathed. “You don’t trust me about anything.”
“Lin, I told you I got issues!”
“You’re not even trying, Cole!”
I turned away, put a hand on my cheek, and said, “You’re a wall, Cole. I don’t want to leave you, but you gotta open up to me, or I won’t have a choice. What’s it gonna be?”
I looked over my shoulder at him when I’d finished. His head was down, so I couldn’t see his face. When he spoke again, his voice seemed harsher than usual, as if he were choking.
“I won’t go,” he declared, “but I’ll show you why.”
He grabbed the bottom of his red sweatshirt and began to work it up over his head. I reached for the wall and turned on the main light then sat next to him on the couch.
Cole’s skin was covered in scars.
“What happened?” I asked, touching in circular collection near his navel.
“Broken bottle. I was fifteen.”
I straddled him for a better look.
“This one?” A thick welt on his chest.
“Whipped with a cable. Twelve.”
I touched a thin long slice along his left shoulder.
“Surgery on a broken collarbone. Three pins to fix it. Fourteen.”
“Oh, God, is there more?”
He sighed, “Some on my back. And these burns on my arm here, from her cigarettes.”
He pointed out a cluster of a half-dozen round burn marks near his elbow. I saw a flash of white down his forearm and grabbed him, turning his arm to see it better. He didn’t fight me when I grabbed the other arm and found a matching line. My vision blurred.
“I don’t wanna talk about those,” he whispered.
“Why… why would-?”
“Because,” he murmured, “it made them see. And they took me away from my mom, found good people to take care of me. I met my best friend staying with them. I was his groomsman last year.”
Our eyes locked, and I realized his were as teary as mine.
“And that’s where I met you.”