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He spotted her across the dance floor, dark hair spilled in tendrils over her shoulders. Long, loosely curled, with the appearance of someone who’d painstakingly styled it to look effortless. Her eyes were muddy, with flecks of bright emerald, like treasures, hidden under bangs. Strands stuck to her eyelashes, thick and sticky with mascara. Her body was striking, proportionate, with soft curves; no anorexic stomach or over-sized breasts. The clothes she wore were flattering, but not remarkable. Her face was hiding behind layered, heavy make-up: dark and dramatic, overdone. She had a drink in one hand, and sipped it periodically, laughing nervously when spoken to. She didn’t dance.

He strode confidently, casually, across the floor and spoke to her. His voice was low, comforting. He was dressed in all black, but in an approachable, soft way. His name was Jake (or Theo, or sometimes Shawn), and she was Vanda, or something to that effect. She was drunk, or nervous, or both. He whispered darkly sweet things in her ear, words flowing like syrup and she hung on them, begging for acceptance. He granted it, drawing her into himself, surrounding her like a blanket in a hailstorm. She was safe. They left with his arm around her waist. Glances were exchanged with the bartender and the regulars, who’d seen it all a thousand times before.

Jake saw beautiful girls as butterflies. Some men pinned them to boards for inspection, some captured them in jars, release uncertain, wings beating desperately against the glass. But he only entranced them to light briefly on his skin.

They arrived at his apartment. He let her lead the conversation, cold hands cupped around coffee cups, with no illusions of tempting sobriety. He asked nothing about family, or why she needed this release, or the reason she had left her friends without a backward glance. He didn’t own her. He just gave what was needed.

They kissed like drowning, undressing the other with measured motions, hands trained for the inevitable. Their night was hazy with alcohol, crucial, but trivial. He remembered Vanda fell asleep with her knees up to her chest, protecting herself involuntarily. This had been all they had wanted, required: a one-night stand. It could have been her first... or hundredth. He would have treated her the same.

Her back pressed against his chest as he listened to her even breathing, his exhale warm on her ear. He ran his fingers through her hair until the product crumbled and he had privileged access to her natural state. Perhaps he was wrong about her insecurity; their conversation had been demanding, her actions unique. He fell asleep, lips pressed hot on her cool skin.

The sunlight fell upon him like a heated wave. Jake awoke, the bed empty at his side. He must have been right the second time; she was assertive and proud. And gone. His loss was fleeting.

He found her in his bathroom, staring in the mirror. Her thick make-up and hair product were gone. Across her cheeks were two blazing scars, angry raised skin in x shapes, evident of purposeful fury, from an unknown time. She was raw, unkempt; breath-taking. He wrapped his arms around her, chin resting on her shoulder to follow her gaze.

You have the world’s consent to be beautiful.”

“I know.” She answered, but her fingertips grazed the marked skin to make sure.

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