In the time since I had begun to educate Faith since her arrival, mostly in regards to practical matters directly related to her life, such as the history of slaying, Faith had come along well in her academics, and I decided as soon as Sheena was well enough to concentrate properly that she would learn along with her. Although she already knew about vampires and Faith’s status as a Slayer, there was much she did not know, and it was necessary to train her in her understanding.
I was not surprised to learn that the child had not attended school in years, and as with Faith, she found it difficult at first to even wish to learn. But it was clear to me almost immediately that Sheena was a bright girl, and soon she was actually more interested in the material I gave her then was Faith, eager to learn, and more so, I expect, to please me.
For likewise reasons I trained Sheena in self-defense and in battling just as I had trained Faith, before Faith was called as Slayer and required more intensive training than Sheena could manage. I found Sheena to be tenacious and determined, with good endurance and upper body strength despite her low weight, which she explained was a result of her love of climbing. I had learned early on that the first place to look for her when she was troubled was the roof, though heavens knows how she so consistently mounted it. After some time I was not concerned for her safety and let her be when she took such refuge, for she never did fall and seemed to draw peace and comfort from the height in some manner. I did, however, leave a ladder to lean against the side, which made her ascent less worrisome.
Sheena was a beautiful girl, with bold features, high cheekbones, and intense blue eyes, but with her hair always loose and tangled, her face always free of makeup, and her insistence upon choosing clothing that was entirely sexless in style and fit, she seemed unaware of her looks- even, at times, I thought, exasperated or impatient with them or others’ notice of them. It was and continues to be my goal to bring her to the point of being able to accept and appreciate her beauty- but even more so than that, I knew from the start that it was an important task of mine to form a trusting and physically affectionate relationship with her, as I had established with Faith.
It became clear to me soon after she came that Sheena was starved for physical touch, not only with Faith, but with myself as well. Whereas Faith, when she first came, had stiffened and even pulled away from even brief touch, and had to become accustomed to receiving it bit by bit from me, Sheena positioned herself into such situations that touch was invited.
She gave me the impression sometimes, upon observing her coertly, of a young child who wanted nothing more than to be pulled onto someone’s lap and held against their heartbeat…a child who would never voice her desire or initiate its fulfillment. Instead she often embraced Faith from behind, poked or tickled her or pulled Faith into her lap, encircled her shoulders with her arm or even nuzzled her nose into Faith’s neck, idly fingering her hair. I often turned to find her standing very close to me, not quite touching but near to doing so, as if she were hoping I would reach out and draw her in. And when I touched her in casual gestures, whether it be something as simple as a squeeze of the shoulder or a pat on the back, Sheena did not pull away, cringe, or stiffen. Instead, she leaned into it, and it seemed at times that she was holding her breath, as though waiting for it to continue.
And then, of course, there was the first time I ever gave her a massage.
It was very early evening, and Sheena had been staying with us for a little over a week. She, Faith, and I were sitting before the fireplace as Faith and I began the last portion of Faith’s wind-down routine she engages in each night before bedtime. It was a routine I had devised long ago, not only to relax her mentally and physically after long days of straining her mind and body, but also to foster a closer bond with her through the physical contact of my massaging her back and shoulders. As Sheena had been so unwell throughout the week, she had previously been in bed by that time of evening, and this was the first occasion which she had witnessed Faith’s evening routine.
She watched Faith’s yoga routine with interest from where she sat on the couch, long legs curled up to her chest, and asked no questions, even during the deep breathing exercises that preceded it. But when Faith sat cross-legged in front of me and I began to work my thumbs gently up the base of her spine, Sheena sat up straight, unable to contain herself.
“What are you doing?” she blurted, and the incredulous tone of her voice and the manner in which she stared at us made Faith stiffen, responding defensively to the implication that there was something odd about our actions.
“What’s it look like? Can’t you see?” she retorted, and I rested a hand on her newly tensed shoulders, stroking the tips of my fingers of both hands down her spine with light but firm pressure, intending to silently convey to her to relax as I explained to Sheena, giving her a smile and turning my head towards her.
“Sheena, this is part of Faith’s evening routine in order to physically and mentally allow her to fully relax before she prepares for bed. As Slayer, she pushes her body very hard each day and experiences considerable stress, and this helps her to be able to have a good night’s sleep without much chance of insomnia or nightmares.”
I looked over at Sheena again as I concluded, observing her carefully, and thought that her face darkened slightly at the mention of nightmares, her shoulders drawing up. No doubt the child had survived more than enough horrors to cause bad dreams.
Sheena seemed to be thinking about my explanation with some skepticism, her brow furrowed, before she shrugged, voicing doubtfully, “Well, it looks kind of…”
She didn’t finish the sentence, but she didn’t have to. The implication was obvious, and Faith took the bait, jerking away from my hands as she turned her entire upper body to face Sheena, her voice rising.
“It is NOT gay, Legs!”
“Sheesh, did I say anything? If that’s the first thing on your mind when I didn’t say anything, maybe that’s your own personal problem you need to work through,” Sheena raised an eyebrow again, her voice somehow both very innocent and very antagonistic at the same time, and Faith made a movement as though to jump up and face her directly, on her feet.
“Shut up, Legs, it’s not like that and you know it!”
This was the first time I had seen the girls argue since Sheena had come to stay; I had been beginning to wonder when they would, and how explosive it might be when it finally did occur. Taking hold of Faith and easing her back down again, I kept my voice level as I addressed them both at once.
“Faith, sit down, please, and calm yourself. Also, please remember that I prefer that Sheena be called Sheena, at least in my presence.”
I ran one hand with heavy pressure over her shoulder blades and then down her back, feeling Faith take a deep breath beneath my palm as I turned to address Sheena as well, giving her another smile. Despite her antagonistic comments, I noticed the way she was leaning forward slightly, as if longing to put herself in Faith’s place.
“Sheena, as I have stated, this is an activity intended to relax Faith, and it is not in any way sexual or suggestive. If you would like to see for yourself, you may certainly do so after Faith is finished, in another ten minutes or so.”
As I had anticipated, Sheena had not expected this offer, and seemed genuinely thrown by it. Her eyes widened, her mouth opening and then closing quickly, and when she answered her cheeks were slightly flushed as she shook her head, her voice colored in embarrassment.
“What? No, no, that’s okay, Diana. Uh, that’s…that’s okay. I don’t need that.”
Yet even as I turned my attention back towards Faith, deliberately not looking Sheena in the eye so as not to embarrass her further, I could feel her still watching us even before I replied with as much nonchalance as I could muster.
“Are you sure, Sheena? You have been ill recently, and it would help with any lingering aches and pains. I would be careful not to cause you discomfort, should you ever wish to take me up on the offer.”
Although I only saw part of Faith’s profile form where I was positioned behind her, I could see that she was smirking, and it took effort not to smile myself. after all this time I was sure Faith realized my true reasons for my initiating her ritual, and recognized now my attempt to engage Sheena as well. And for a moment Sheena hesitated, seeming torn between maintaining her desired self-image and accepting what she must have known she truly wanted, before shaking her head quickly.
“No, that’s all right. I’m fine.”
But as I finished Faith’s massage, then sent her upstairs to obstensibly prepare for bed but more likely to read her new comic, I had barely gotten to my feet before I felt a cold hand hesitantly take my arm. As I turned to face her, I saw that Sheena was standing close to me, biting her lip, before she lifted her chin in a clearly false show of confidence that her uncertain words belied.
“Uh…my back does kind of hurt.”
I didn’t’ ask her outright if she wanted a massage, suspecting that direct acknowledgement of her unspoken request would break the moment. Instead I simply smiled, lightly touching her hair, and eased her to the floor with me, pushing her hair aside to drape over her shoulders as I began to work the muscles of a back that seemed considerably more narrow and fragile to my touch than Faith’s. And as Sheena let out a shuddering sigh, then closed her eyes, slowly leaning back into my touch, I knew we were completing another step forward in her healing.
It is this run of thought and memory, mingling together in my mind, that comes to me as I continue to observe the girl’s workout, carefully watching each movement to spot any made incorrectly. I can still almost feel the length of Sheena’s body leaning into me, the weight of her head against my shoulder, and I smile to myself, thinking of their differences. I could not remember more than a handful of times that Faith had initiated physical contact with me, although she willingly accepts my invitations, but in the short time Sheena has been here she is already becoming more bold about touching me, even hugging me, and finding nonverbal ways in which to communicate her own desire to be touched. I’ve no doubt that when she and Faith are finished in here she will embrace me or otherwise find a method in which to invite an embrace. It is really a sweet aspect of her, and not what I would have expected after Faith.
Not to say that Sheena is not a difficult child, and sometimes, when paired with Faith, an almost impossible one. Neither girl is an angel, for certain. Having two teenage girls means much bickering and rivalry, and though Sheena is older and taller than Faith, Faith is heavier and infinitely stronger, two factors Sheena routinely ignores in her efforts to best her. These attempts of hers to outdo Faith often end with her injuring herself or making herself ill, and when one of the girls is in an unpleasant mood, they spur each other on so that it is certain the other will be as well by the day’s conclusion.
Teaching them both at once can be a challenge, for Faith finds it much more difficult to focus with another student present. For her part, Sheena sees no reason to remain safe at home each night as Faith patrols, and multiple times she has disobeyed me to follow her, putting them both an unneeded risk. I have walked into more explicit conversations and worse, physical acts, than I care to remember, and yet if I were to allow locks on doors, I am not sure I would be comfortable with what may happen then. Both girls are impulsive, reckless, and often utterly exasperating, and I think Sheena often influences Faith to be more so than usual.
And yet, Sheena is a good girl at heart. Thoughtful and affectionate, eager and eager to please, even sweet…and vulnerable, still she manages to carry that vulnerability that first made me love Faith too, a vulnerability undiminished by her strength. And when I watch Sheena and Faith resting their heads against each other on the couch or chasing each other around the house, when I see Sheena’s eyes grow wide with childlike awe when given something new, when I see Faith smile at her with glowing eyes, or hear her subdued tone as Sheena leans into my side, describing only a single aspect of her life before that was nevertheless enough to incite my anger, I know I am not sorry she is here, nor will I ever be. She is mine. She is mine, and one does not back away from one’s own, whatever trouble they may bring.
As they finish their training, I watch as Faith sits down, gulping from her bottle of water. Sheena too is sweating, almost panting, but it is me she comes to, her eyes seeking mine as she comes to stand near.
“Did I do all right?” she asks, and I smile down at her, slipping my arm around her shoulders, never mind her perspiration, and draw her against my side. As she leans into me, her head against my shoulder, I answer her with words conveying more meaning than related to her direct question of the time.
“Yes, Sheena. You have done very well.”