The pages of my journal rustle as I scan my list one last time. Tears seep unbidden from my eyes as I breathe deeply in preparation for the agonizing emotions that already encroach upon me.

Wordlessly, I hand the journal over. As she begins to read, I anxiously tear open the small envelope in front of me, searching for some sort of comfort or relief from the cresting tide of horror that wells within me. Soothing, comforting words leap up at me in neat, orderly writing, but I still feel myself being pulled down, down... sucked into the vortex of shame and sorrow and utter vulnerability that threatens to engulf my entire being. I am naked, exposed. My heart has been vivisected, and the vile black seepage that oozes from its fibers is there, in her hands.

I give in to the emotions, and sob out my anguish.

God, I feel so exposed... so alone... so... dirty. I'm sorry for causing you so much pain. But I'm so exposed! What do I do? 

Silently, stealthily... something else pours into my being like warm water. My heart quiets, and settles within me. Could this be... can it be... peace? Is this truly peace I'm experiencing? Even as she reads the lined pages of my blackness?

"You don't have to cry anymore. I've taken it away. You're free."

...What? Free? You mean, like, forgiven?

The peace quietly swells inside my heart, and washes over my whole body. I relax, my tense muscles unknotting themselves, my breathing regulating. I still want to cry, in a way, but now I know that it's all okay.

She finishes reading. The journal is purposefully laid aside, and the scattered books that lay between us are stacked and removed. She crosses the space between us, and we embrace. As our arms connect our bodies, so the tears that streak down our faces connect our hearts.

As we pull apart, I marvel at the peace that is still firmly entrenched within me. I meet her eyes with a smile, and share this new development with her. Our tears flow again, but this time they have root in joy, not anguish. Her face practically shines with happiness, and I realize once again how very precious our friendship is to me. She says I am brave... maybe so. Bravery is the last thing on my mind. I am simply content in the knowledge that, were I to die today, it would be all right.

Besides the inexplicable peace that has taken up residence in my heart, there is also a bright flicker of savage joy. I revel in it as I tear the offending pages from the journal, and leave them crumpled on the carpet beside us. What once held such foreboding and shame now lies in a helpless heap of cream and silver, nothing more than pulp and graphite.

She prods the sleepy fire back into groggy cognizance as I deposit the wadded remnants of my torment into its eager jaws. Together, we watch the overbearing blackness of the past wither into harmless ashes.

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