lost and found

for Kayla

She knew it was missing the moment she woke up. Goddamnit, she thought. Not again. Splashes of morning collected in the twisted sheets, spilling and pooling but refusing to disappear when she pulled all four hundred threads-per-inch over her head. It warmed her in patches, soaking through the cotton, waiting cheerfully for her reemergence. I'll be here when you're ready! I'm California sunshine, and I'm utterly fucking relentless!

As always, she started with the bathroom mirror, padding barefoot across a floor that felt especially cold and hard. But it wasn't there as she held herself briefly in a series of practiced poses, angles and arcs that flattered her body's better features. Not in her stomach, forgivingly flat before breakfast, and not in her biceps, pale sinew that betrayed or belied its age depending on the light.

She looked for it in the shower, turning over thoughts like foreign coins, the flip sides of which are interesting, but rarely surprising. Nope. Not there. Not today.

Drinking coffee a little while later, she gazed around a room at furnishings chosen at no small cost of consideration or price. At books and photo albums and nearly four decades of mementos - the things that would represented her sum and substance, when she ceased to present her corporeal substance to the world anymore. But it wasn't to be found in any of that, either. (And she'd known better than to look anyway.)

It wasn't in the faces that filled her day. Not the one that supervised her on how to spend it or in those of whom she supervised herself. Not in friendly smiles, not in nods of respect, not in the appraising, approaching eyes of men on the sidewalk - glances which seemed to grow shorter all the time. She rarely returned them at all these days, for fear of experiencing just how short.

It was hiding particularly well, she realized, when not even a bit of it was to be found in her lover's eyes at the end of the day. Always the last place you look, she thought wryly, noticing how late it had gotten. A few more hours and she'd have to call off the search until tomorrow.

Then the letter came. It rang itself into her inbox with an optimistic chime, and she reached for her phone. Launched her mail app. Recognized the name. Opened the email. Read the words. Understood the import. She felt the compliment bloom in her brain, then float down to her heart where it took root and bifurcated in a single, delicious burst. To the tips of her fingers it raced, this relief in remembering that Yes, okay, sometimes it's impossible to see myself, but it is there.

It is there.

She boxed it up in steel-reinforced gratitude and copy-pasted it to the clipboard of her mind, where it would be easily accessible for at least another twelve hours before slinking off in the dead of night, luring her into the next round of hide-and-go-seek.