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Fractured Souls: Chapter 7

Asya

I am standing in the middle of the shower stall, staring at the two bottles on the corner shelf. The black one is the bodywash for men I’ve been using since I got here. It has a woodsy scent with a hint of citrus and sage. It was there from the start, and it was the only one. Now, there is a different shower gel next to it. A pink bottle with flowers on it. Pasha must have brought and left it here for me. I take a deep breath and reach for it, but the instant my fingers come close to the bottle, anxiety rises within my chest. I look back at the black bottle and move my hand to it. The anxiety intensifies. I let my hand fall. I spend more than fifteen minutes watching the stupid soap bottles and gritting my teeth to the point of my jaw hurting. I finally grab both and send them flying across the bathroom, where they hit the wall and fall to the floor.

A bang sounds on the door. “Asya!”

I lean my back against the tiled wall as my breath comes in shallow bursts. This is the first time I’ve tried to take a shower without Pasha being in the bathroom with me. I felt so proud of myself earlier when I told him he didn’t have to come in with me. He smiled a little and said he would stay on the other side of the door just in case.

“Asya?” Another bang. “I’m coming in!”

The door bursts open and Pasha rushes in, looking around himself. His eyes fall to the bottles on the floor, and then his gaze snaps to me. His metallic gray depths, not light blue as I originally thought, scan me from head to toe—questioning, assessing . . . worried. Their intensity draws me in, grounding me in a way that eases my anxiety.

“I couldn’t choose which fucking bodywash to use,” I say and close my eyes, feeling completely defeated.

“Shit,” Pasha mumbles. A few seconds later, his rough palm caresses my cheek. “I’m sorry. I wasn’t thinking.”

“It’s not your fault I’m a basket case.” I sigh.

“You’re not a basket case, mishka.”

“Yeah, sure.” I snort. “You should take me to the nearest mental hospital and leave me there.”

“Asya, look at me.”

I open my eyes to find him standing in front of me, his hand still on my cheek, and the other on the wall next to my head.

“It will get better,” he says. “I promise.”

“You don’t know that.”

“I do. You’re a fighter. It’ll take time, but you will get better. Come on, let’s get you washed up. Okay?”

I nod reluctantly.

“Good. I’ll go get that shower gel.”

I watch him walk toward the other end of the bathroom and pick the bottles off the floor. Then, he returns inside the shower stall.

“This one is mine,” he says as he places the black one back onto the shelf, “and the pink one is yours. You’ll use that one.”

How can he be so calm? It’s as if my throwing a fit doesn’t bother him in the least.

“Now, what else is the problem?” He looks down at me.

I bite my lower lip. “The towels.”

“The towels?”

“Bath towels. You have blue and white ones.” I keep using the hand towels after my shower because those are all white.

“I’ll use blue. You have the white. Does that work?”

I nod, feeling like a complete idiot. Pasha’s fingers lightly grip my chin, tilting my head up. “Any other problems with the bathroom?”

“No,” I whisper.

“Okay. Should I wait here?”

I don’t want him to leave, but I shake my head anyway. It’s not easy, but after his instructions, I can handle the shower alone because I know he will still be close by.

His smiles. “Shower. Dress. I’ll be waiting outside, and we’ll have breakfast when you’re done.”

Pasha’s thumb brushes lightly along my jaw before his hand falls away from my face. He turns and leaves the bathroom. Slowly, I raise my hand and retrace the path of his touch.

 

Pavel

 

I place a cereal box on the counter in front of Asya and head toward the fridge to get the milk. When I put the carton next to the cereal, she reaches for it, but I take her hand in mine.

“Not yet,” I say.

With my free hand, I open the cupboard and take out a jar of marmalade. I place it next to the cereal box, grab the peanut butter and bread, and line everything up on the counter. Asya tilts her head to the side, watching me.

I move to stand behind her and nod toward the things on the counter. “What would you like to have for breakfast?”

Asya looks over the assortment of food and flattens her lips.

She’s been here for two weeks. Every morning I’ve given her milk and selected a cereal, making sure it was a different flavor each time. Asya always made us both a bowl, and we had breakfast in the dining room. It distresses her when she needs to make even the most trivial decision, so I’ve tried my best to make it easier on her. But it’s time she pushes beyond her comfort zone, even a tiny bit.

“Why are you doing this?” she asks through her teeth.

“What?”

“Asking me to choose.”

“If you can’t, I’ll help you.” I reach to place my hand on her waist, but I catch myself and press my palm onto the cold counter instead. “But maybe you can try. It’s just food. You can’t make a wrong choice, so don’t worry.”

She grabs the edge of the counter in front of her and stares at the items. A minute passes. Then five more.

“It’s okay,” I say. “Take your time.”

The need to stroke her back or place a kiss in her hair is eating me alive. I forgot myself once and kissed her on the back of the head. Hopefully, she was already asleep and didn’t notice it. She would probably feel revolted if she finds out I’m attracted to her. It’s wrong on so many levels. When she mentioned the other day that she’s only eighteen, it only made the situation worse. She is fifteen years younger than me. I need to keep my distance as much as possible.

“I can’t.” Asya’s nails scrape the top of the counter as she tightens her grip, her gaze fixed on the cereal box.

“Of course you can,” I say as I battle the need to touch her.

It guts me each time I see her struggling to make even the most basic choice. She still doesn’t want to talk with the psychologist, so I’ve been calling every two days to ask for guidance. The psychologist recommended I create a situation where Asya would need to make a small decision, but I’m not supposed to insist if it makes her too uncomfortable. The doctor tells me every time that for Asya to get better, she needs professional help. However, it can only happen if Asya is ready to accept it.

A few seconds later, I see Asya’s right hand creeping forward, toward the cereal, then it stops. I move the box closer but make sure it’s still far enough that she needs to reach for it.

“You said you liked to eat cereal at home,” I say. “Do you think your preferences have changed?”

“No.”

“Then it’s safe to say that you’d pick cereal. Come on, just a few more inches.”

Asya purses her lips together and, the next moment, her hand closes the distance to the box. She grabs it and presses it into her chest as if it’s something utterly precious.

“I did it,” she mumbles.

“See? It’ll get better.”

She spins and wraps her free hand around my wrist while her gaze bores into mine. Her palm moves upward, along my forearm.

“Thank you,” she says and leans into me slightly.

“Any time, mishka.” I reluctantly take a step back. “Let’s eat. I’m starving.”

A strange expression crosses Asya’s face as her hand falls from my arm. She turns away and busies herself with pouring the milk and cereal into matching black bowls. I don’t think I ever used these before she came. In fact, more than half of the kitchen wares were unused, tidily stored away in drawers and cupboards. Of all the stuff I own, I’ve only used two plates, some glasses, and a few coffee cups. I’m not certain, but I may have used the stove only a time or two.

When Asya is done pouring the cereal, I carry the bowls to the dining room. She follows a step behind me, clutching the hem of my shirt in her hand, something she still does most of the time. Only after I reach the table does she let go of my tee and take the chair on my right.

She is so quiet all the time. When she eats. When she walks around my place. Even when she cooks. There is no clanging of pots or silverware, no noise whatsoever unless she’s humming to herself. I can’t decipher the song, but the melody sounds familiar.

I wonder if she was so quiet before, or if it’s a consequence of everything that’s happened to her. But there’s still fire left in her. It might be suppressed deep inside, but it’s there. Whoever hurt her, didn’t extinguish it completely.


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