What Now? by Kayla McCarthy
She was sitting alone on a muted orange couch in the corner of the room. She was out of place among the blaring of trap music, chatting friends, and gyrating bodies. He had spotted her while making his way over to the cooler, his red plastic cup nearing empty.
He raised his voice slightly in an attempt to be heard over the music.
Her eyes widened.
“Uh….” She looked down, playing with a loose thread at her sleeve.
“I think we have a class together; I’m Brandon.” He gave her a winning smile, his signature move.
She blushed, just like girls always did when he smiled at them.
“You’re, like, mad fucking quiet, y’know that?
“I-I’m sorry, I just….I’m Samara.”
She instinctively moved closer to the arm of the couch. He spread his legs and draped his arms along the length of the couch.
Brandon smiled at her again. “It’s fine, Sam.”
“Samara,” Sam whispered, lost under the booming of the bass.
“Let’s get out of here.”
After that, they were always together.
He even took her to meet his parents during Thanksgiving break.
His mother took her aside after the second course and said, “Samara, you’re a good girl for him. You make him easier. He needs your quietness.”
So, that’s what she did.
She was quiet for him.
One day the switch flipped, dynamics changed. Maybe it was from spending years watching him, but she learned how to imitate him. She learned how to say and do the right things to the right people.
He watched her at a party much like one at which they met. She looked people in the eye now when she spoke to them. Hair was worn back, she never looked down, not once.
He could hear her from across the room: “Oh my God! He totally should never have said that to you.”
“He did! Niggas really don’t be shit.” She tossed her hair back, and the group around her laughed.
He stood alone wringing his hands. He could feel years of confidence flying away and landing on her.
He hated her.
From that moment on he no longer "worked" on her. The things he used to pressure her to do she did herself. His suggestions about how she should dress became screaming about how she will dress. “Can you pass me that?” became “Get it yourself.” He couldn’t say he snapped suddenly. His smile no longer worked on her; she’d just roll her eyes.
The only time she felt anything worthwhile was when she was reminded of the shade of red that could fall from her nose. The first, second, third, and seventh time, he cried beautiful angry tears from bloodshot eyes. Sam comforted him, returning to her original purpose.
They sat on the bathroom floor, her patting his back with one hand. Her other held toilet paper to her nose. That night he moved his blanket from the couch back to the bedroom.
After the eighth time, he made no move to apologize. Instead she watched as the pictures shook on the wall after he slammed the front door and went out.
Picking herself up, Sam went to the bathroom.
She watched herself fix her hair in the dirty mirror. She’d clean it, but he used it too. Her mind went blank for a moment. For the first time in a long time it was quiet.
Samara grew up in a loud house, devoid of privacy. Quietness made her uncomfortable. Maybe, that’s what he gave her, familiarity. The familiarity of screaming down the hall, the coziness of going through her phone, the tingling that swept through her body when he came close enough to hit her.
Slowly, she pulled herself away from her reflection.
It occurred to her that she should call somebody. Right? She pulled her phone out of her pocket and tried thinking of the person she’d have the least time convincing. The phone rang for an eternity.
“Hello….hello?” Sam looked back at the mirror, her eyes stung like she had stared at the sun too long.
“Yeah, I’m here. What’s up?” Samara paused.
What’s she supposed to say? My college boyfriend is hitting me?
Instead, she said, “Uh, I need help. Can You bring your car?”
“The fuck do you need my car for?”
“I just gotta get the hell out of here.” Samara tensed.
“Real fucking talk.”
Sam turned on the faucet with the intention of rinsing her face. Instead, she watched the flow of the water out of the silver tap, wondering where the water went and if she could go with it. She reached for a towel and dampened it under the faucet. She leaned forward and began to wipe the toothpaste and grime off her reflection. She watched herself grimace at what she looked like.
She watched her lips move to form words she couldn’t hear.