A line of blood was dripping from where the man had scratched at my face. It led from my left nostril down my lips and chin, the blood continuing down my neck. Tears were beginning to brim as I left the room, and I almost ran into him as he was leaving an office on the second floor. Shocked, I immediately covered my face but it was too late and his eyes widened in panic.
“Jesus, what happened to you? Who did that?” This is not what I needed right now. It was easy to be strong in front of people that I hated, but for him I was always ready to break down, to open up, to let him in. But I couldn’t, if I wanted to protect him he could know nothing, he could be nothing to me.
“I just cut myself,” I mumbled, not making a very good excuse and somewhat subconsciously changing my voice to a meeker, more timid version of my normal, no-nonsense tone. He led me to the window bench at the end of the hall and pulled a handkerchief out of his pocket, only he would still carry something like that around. I tried not to smile as his face became very concentrated and concerned; the look of genuine distress pulled my heartstrings so tight it hurt. Quickly I grabbed the cloth from him and remained serious.
“I’m fine, really.”
“Okay,” he was taken back, a little hurt. I was hurting him, and that’s the last thing I wanted to do. But I used my reputation, my shell, the hard exterior that I had built up over these years, to shield him and therefore keep him away from everything that came with me and my messed up life.
“But I know that you didn’t cut yourself, you looked scared when you left that room, what happened? Come on, we’re friends now remember?” Don’t do it, don’t give in to those deep set eyes and the little furrows on his forehead, and don’t you dare look at his hands, the calluses and hangnails that were just begging to be discovered, to be grabbed and touched. I imagined him finding out and how it would change everything for him, how it would crush him like a bug and they would know. They would know that he knew and that would be the end of it. He would be in too deep, there was no dipping in to test the temperature, if he stuck his toe in, his whole body would get the effect.
“Yeah there was a bird loose and I was helping Firenze catch it. I’ve always been scared of birds. But you should get back to work, you weren’t hired to take care of me, that’s what the servants are for.” My voice didn’t break, but it felt like my heart was about to. He nodded firmly and left without another word.