Their laughter was louder than the water coming out of the showerhead, louder than the stream as it hit the tiles, but I knew they weren’t trying to be quiet. I had thought about chasing after them, but I had been sure they already took care of whatever they came to do. There was no point to go after them; it was already done.
I showered until the hot water started to run cold, which was honestly not very long. I tried to shut my mind off like I did every moment of every day, but everything reminded me of Peter, including the steam that hugged me close in the shower and made it hard to breathe. I had yet to decide if it became hard to breathe because of the steam itself or if it was because I felt my heart tearing into a million tiny pieces every time I thought of him. More often than not, I ended up curled into a little ball on the shower floor, watching the water pool around my fingers before finally disappearing down the drain. I was sure that if I lay there long enough, it would take me too, but it never did.
When the water turned cold, I turned off the flow and finally emerged from the shower cell. Predictably, my clothes were gone, but since this was their favorite means of torment, I wasn’t surprised. I looked for a towel, but they had removed these from me as well. Though this was somewhat less frequent, it was not unheard of, and I had kept a stash of clothes underneath my mattress for the times when they were extra thorough in keeping me naked and shamed.
The dormitory was empty when I went inside, and this was somewhat unexpected. I had expected to find a crowd in here waiting to taunt my nakedness and badger me, but they were not to be found, a pleasant though confusing surprise. I went to my pod and checked my drawers to see if there were any clothes left for me, and there were none. I checked my hidden spot under my mattress, checked a second and third time, and then realized that they must have found it, though I had been so careful to be sure that they didn’t see me do it.
There’s an expression that people use when they want to say that they’ve put up with too much for too long and have finally reached the breaking point. They call that the straw that broke the camel’s back. This was the straw.
I walked out of the dorm no less naked than I had been when I entered it, my hands cupped over my breasts, though I supposed it didn’t really matter if I couldn’t cover up the place between my legs. My hair was still sopping wet though most of me had started to dry off, rivulets of water streaming down my spine and down to my legs. I left little wet footprints as I went in search of a towel.
People stared at me as I walked to the men’s dorms, though people walking around naked weren’t unheard of. Some of the people watching pointed and laughed, but most didn’t care- because most people don’t care about something happening that doesn’t involve them. These people could have been friends of mine one day.
There were a couple men- closer to boys, really- waiting to use the showers by the men’s dorms. They were all gawking at me, but one was braver than the others and came up to me, wearing nothing but a pair of boxers and a towel over his shoulder.
“Can I help you?” he asked, his eyes traveling first over my covered breasts before lingering around my navel and then beneath. He stared long and hard at that place.
“I need a towel,” I said.
“You came all this way for a towel?” he asked with a laugh, his friends cawing at us.
“There weren’t any left in the women’s showers,” I said. I could see the shelves just ten feet to my left, filled to the brim with fluffy white towels with blue stripes, to denote that they went to the men’s dorms. “Can I have one?”
“Help yourself,” he said, holding his arm towards the towels.
So I did. I went forward to the stack and took two, a large one for my body and a smaller one for my hair. I heard a new chorus of laughter coming from the group of boys, and I turned around in enough time to see the boy I had spoken with behind me, thrusting his pelvis at me, his hands out as if he were holding my hips in place.
“Okay,” I said.
He stopped thrusting. “Okay?”
“You can fuck me,” I said and his friends went silent for the briefest moment before they started cawing again.
He didn’t say anything with his mouth because he didn’t need to. He nodded his head off to the direction of the dorm and headed that way, knowing that I would follow. I went after him, the catcalls loud, my hands still covering what pieces of nakedness that I could but it hardly mattered anymore. He went into his pod and I followed him as he closed the door behind me, his eagerness already apparent from one glance at his boxers.
I sat down on the bed as he pulled himself from the slit in his boxers. I closed my eyes and waited.
“Are you a virgin?” he asked, putting a warm sweaty hand on my knees.
“No,” I said. I knew I was older than him, but I’m sure that didn’t matter to him.
“Are you a whore?” he asked, moving my knees apart.
“No,” I said.
He didn’t ask anything else, and I braced myself. I winced when he entered and then there was nothing, not a single sensation. He lasted longer than I had expected and then it was over and he was tucking himself back into his underwear and was heading back towards the showers. He left the door just a little bit ajar, a signal that I should be leaving but enough to keep me private for a moment longer.
It had been a last ditch effort on my part, a last chance to feel something again. I tried to conjure up the image of Peter the whole time, and it wasn’t hard to see his face, but it wasn’t the face I wanted to see. I wanted the smiling, warm eyes that looked back at me every time we made love, but instead I saw his pale skin and closed eyes bobbing above the water as he floated away. I saw him growing farther and farther away as I pounded at the glass, trying to break it open so I could pull him inside to safety. Then there was only the back of his head, a mop of brown hair soaked through by the current, and then I was being pulled away so that I wouldn’t see what happened next, but I saw.
Maybe I would have been a little more respected if I had decided to contribute from Day One instead of shutting down, if I had shown up to meals or offered to lend a hand when one was needed. I found I couldn’t use the excuse that I’d lost someone; they just said to me that everyone lost someone that day and told me to get to work. It might have been decent if I had just done as I was told instead of falling apart, but I hadn’t. I couldn’t.
I took my towels in hand and left the boy’s pod, at first thinking I was going to go back to the dorm and try to sleep for a while, but I would find only torment there. I decided to follow the boy into the showers instead.
He had only been a minute or two ahead of me but he was already bragging to his friends about me. He would mark me down as a conquest in his book, though I hadn’t been conquered so much as given him harbor. He wasn’t actually in one of the shower cells, he was standing outside one with the water running hot while he smoked a cigarette with a few others. Smoking is prohibited in the compound, but when people want to sneak it they go to the showers and let the smoke go up through the vents with the steam.
One of his friends noticed me first and then drew the attention of the others. The boy looked to me and laughed.
“What do you want?” he asked me.
“Can you give me something?”
He laughed and grabbed at his crotch. “I didn’t give you enough before?”
“I want your matches.”
“What do you want with my matches?” he asked, but still he came forward and pushed them into my hands.
“I haven’t decided yet,” I said, my hand closing around the cardboard. “You’ll know when I do.”
“Psycho bitch,” he muttered as he walked away and rejoined his friends to laugh about fucking me.
In the end, he had it right about me. They all did. They just didn’t know it until it was too late.