She sat in the uptown apartment, head in her hands. The dark leather of the couch was cold against her bare legs, and goosebumps rose on her arms in the air-conditioned room. It was too cold; it was always too cold in there. Even the light was cold—gray light diffused through icy glass, lightening the room but not warming it. Black and white and gray, steel and brushed nickel, hard and geometric, modern. It was him. But, she was beginning to admit, it wasn’t her.
She heard the door rattle, the key jostling the lock. She took a deep breath and braced herself for the confrontation. She lifted her head as he stepped through the door.
The look on his face, he was a stranger. He was cold. She wondered when that had happened, when the warmth had left him. Had it left her too? Was it all a part of growing up?
She missed their days in the sun.
“That one,” she pointed to the sky, sprawled on a blanket in the grass, “a rabbit.”
“I don’t see it,” he wrinkled his brow, trying to follow the trajectory of her pointed finger 8,000 feet up. Not as easy as you’d think.
“You suck at this,” she laughed, propped herself up on an elbow and turned in to him. He stuck out his tongue at her. Very mature.
There was a moment of silence. She squirmed under his gaze.
And abruptly kissed his cheek and plopped back onto the blanket. (So graceful). Silence plus eye contact was more than she could handle.
She closed her eyes, enjoying the warm sun and the way her skin burned beneath it. He moved his arm the tiniest bit, but now it touched hers. She liked it.
“Psst,” he whispered in her ear.
She turned her head toward him, close enough to feel his breath on her lips.
“I kind of like you,” he said, smirking a little. His eyes were light and warm.
He shrugged. “Okay, okay. I kind of like-like you.”
She smiled again, kissed him lightly on the lips. She lingered a second, until he pulled away.
“But keep it on the DL, ‘kay?” He was smirking again, laughing with his eyes.
She rolled her eyes. “Oh, of course. Wouldn’t want your other girlfriend finding out.”
She realized the second after she said it that she had said it. She had used the word. Girlfriend. Shoot. Shoot. Shoot.
Either he didn’t notice or didn’t care. He just kissed her.
He was furious. He couldn’t understand why she would do this now, wait until now. He couldn’t understand how she could do this at all, after all this time, all their plans and hard work. He couldn’t understand it, and he couldn’t stop thinking of it.
He stared at her coldly as he stepped through the door and passed her without a word, heading to his office. He shut the door and leaned against it, suddenly weary and all too aware of the dark rings beneath her eyes and the pink puffiness of her lids. This was her fault—she had no right to be sad. Yet he was glad to see her suffer.
He heard her move down the hallway, past his office and into the bedroom. He locked his door and collapsed into the chair before his desk. He took off his glasses and rubbed his eyes hard. Visions of black, explosions of white and bleeding red swam before him with the mild discomfort of a headache.
He thought of her, and the rage crashed over him. His fist clenched, and he slammed it onto the desk. The pens rattled, and glass in his bottom drawer clinked.
He took a deep breath and pulled the decanter from the drawer. He set a glass beside it, poured himself a drink, and lifted the tumbler. He stared through the glass at the papers on his desk, fascinated by the way the scotch distorted the New York seal, the words that followed.
It made him sick; his stomach rolled in anger. He threw back the first glass, followed it with a second, and then a third. By the fourth, the numbness had set in. A welcome disconnect. He didn’t even fight the memories digging their way out; they were a world away.
Another day, another time. Loud noises and cool air. She swung her legs, back and forth, back and forth, on the bench of the bowling alley, kicking the heels of her feet together each time.
“A margarita,” she said and watched him make his way to the bar.
He returned a few moments later, shoving his change in his back pocket, the fruity drink comical in his rough hands.
“Here you go, princess,” he bowed mockingly.
“Why, thank you,” she replied, cheeky.
He slid onto the bench beside her, shaking his head. “You better like it,” he warned. “That cost me what could have been four beers.”
“Seriously. I thought you were going to be a cheap girlfriend.” He was joking, mostly.
“Oh, is that what I am?” she teased. He figured she was secretly pleased with the word. Girlfriend.
“Um, yes. I feel that’s an appropriate term for a girl I frequently sleep with and spend a considerable amount of my time seeing.” He acted annoyed.
“Oh,” she continued. “I guess I could agree to that.”
“I mean, if you’d prefer, I can call you my—” he used a fairly inappropriate word, though a word he was confident was more likely to have come out of her own mouth than his. He appreciated the shock factor.
“Now that is what I thought we were doing.”.
“Har har.” He made a face.
She just laughed.
She knocked on the office door. She had given him time, time to come home, to unwind, time uninterrupted. He couldn’t stay in there all night, though. He couldn’t put off this conversation forever.
“Jake?” she knocked lightly. “Jake, open the door.”
She tried turning the knob but wasn’t surprised to find it locked. So he was drinking.
“Jake, open the door.” She knocked a little harder. She heard the volume on the television rise in response.
Frustration turned to anger and swallowed her up.
“Goddammit, Jake, open the goddamn door!” she shouted and pounded her fist against the hardwood.
She stumbled backward in surprise when he did.
“What? What do you want me to say?” he demanded, the glass in his hand. “You made yourself clear.”
“Just—just talk to me,” she pleaded, all anger forgotten.
“Why? Why should I? You didn’t.” The accusation in his tone ripped into her. “You put it in a goddamn letter. You couldn’t even say it to my face.”
He curled his lip in disgust and slammed back his sixth—or was it seventh? He had lost count.
She didn’t know what to say.
His eyes narrowed, sensing her retreat. He took a step forward; she took a step back. He stopped and laughed, and turned back into his office.
“You’re a bitch,” he said, setting his glass on the desk.
“And you’re an asshole,” she countered, fury taking hold again. “You think you’re so perfect, nothing you ever do is wrong,” she sneered. “You did this! You and your drinking and your work. This is your fault. You checked out, you pushed me away—”
“And you RAN,” he interrupted, raising his voice above hers. “You ran right into his arms, you cheating little bitch.”
“Don’t you dare—”
“Dare what?” he laughed. He choked on it and hissed, “You deserve it, and you know it. You left his bed—” he swallowed, “You went from his bed to our meetings, to your fittings, and the cake and the reception hall and the registry. You—” he shuddered, took a breath. His last words came out a whisper, “You fucking little whore.”
She had nothing to say.
They sat on the bed of his pickup truck, legs dangling over the edge. The wind carried smoke from the grill to their perch, and they had to turn away just to breathe.
He passed her the ketchup and watched her. He liked to watch her. She was easy on the eyes, and she made him laugh.
She hated it when he stared. She was afraid he would look too closely and see all her imperfections, the things she tried to hide. They were easy to gloss over from a distance. She was good at that. But he was steadily closing that gap, and she hated the feeling of vulnerability it left in her.
She caught him watching her, swallowed the bite in her mouth.
“Am I chewing too loud?” she asked, clearly self-conscious.
“Why do you always ask that?” he laughed and leaned his shoulder into hers as he took a bite of his own lunch.
She shrugged. “I’ve been told I chew too loudly. And eat too fast. I try to remember not to.”
“I’m pretty sure you eat okay,” he told her, smiling. He thought she was adorable, even if she did eat like the fat kid from Willy Wonka. And anyway, she was much, much prettier.
“I’m not ready to go,” she said and looked over to gauge his reaction.
He didn’t give much away, just shrugged. They sat in silence for a moment, until he said, “I’m kind of excited.”
“I don’t want anything to change,” she explained. “I like this.”
She looked around at the beach, the bay, the trees and the grill. She smacked a mosquito flying too close to her arm.
He leaned into her again, and at last said, “At least we’re going together.”
She nodded and let her head drop to his shoulder.
“Psst,” he whispered in her ear. “I love you.”