Tag Archives: breakups

Repeat

repeat

 

Something’s bothering Greg but he won’t tell me what it is. I keep asking but all he does is mumble “Nothing.” I’m still in bed when he steps out of the shower, and I watch him shave through the open bathroom door. A towel hangs loose around his waist.

I’m getting a crick in my back but I can’t bring myself to change position. I breathe deeply to keep myself calm. If I turn over the usual gauntlet will run through my mind. I bite the inside of my lip to keep from examining the headboard ten times, once for each fingertip. I need to bring this up when I see the doc tomorrow.

I reach out to touch his arm when he walks by but he moves it out of reach. It’s subtle but deliberate. He’s pouting, which seems to contrast sharply with the gray at his temples.

The hold on me snaps and I’m able to sit up. “Oh, come on. Just tell me what’s bothering you.”

He grabs a set of clothes with a huffy sigh. “I really shouldn’t have to.”

He heads back into the bathroom to get dressed. This is a pretty new thing he’s done the past couple weeks. He bitches that I don’t touch him, but goes out of his way to keep me from seeing him. I get out of bed, tighten the drawstring of my pants, and go to follow. He shuts the door and I knock.

“Christ, babe, how is this supposed to work? Is it supposed to go away if we don’t talk about it? You know, whatever it is?”

I knocked three times, and I’ve noticed. I tap the door with my fingertips, too lightly to make any sound, and that’s barely enough to keep myself under control. I don’t know that the Anafranil is working anymore.

“Just don’t worry about it,” I hear him snap.

“Jesus, something’s been bugging you for weeks now. We’re practically just pissy roommates at this point.”

“Yeah, we are.”

I have to swallow, and my eyes get that heavy feeling like I’m about to cry. I don’t usually cry, actually, but I almost always feel like I’m about to. Maybe I should bring that up tomorrow.

“Honey…”

“Jesus Christ!” He whips open the door and nearly shoves me as he moves past. “Do you really have to fucking whine about it so much?”

I shower a little longer than usual, because the need for a systemic pattern rears its head. Goddammit. Is this because I’m upset?

I decide to skip shaving, and when I’m dressed he’s having coffee by the carport door. He doesn’t look at me.

“I’m probably going to be working late,” he tells me.

“That’s fine.” Now he looks at me, like he’s ready for a fight. “I’m going to be out late with Chanda anyway.”

“Of course you are.”

“Wait. Does Chanda have something to do with why you’re such an asshole lately?”

“What do you mean ‘lately?'”

“You fuckin’ well know what I mean.”

He sighs but doesn’t answer.

“What the fuck’s your deal? Do you have some beef with her?”

“Well, I don’t know, Nate. Should I? Is there anything I should be worried about?”

I catch what he means. “Oh, Jesus Christ. You can’t be serious.”

“You’re always around her!”

“She’s been my best friend for fifteen years. What the hell? You’ve been a huffy little princess for weeks because you’re, what…jealous of my beard?”

“I’m sure Chanda would love to hear you call her that.”

Now you’re worried about insulting her.”

“Nate.” He rolls his eyes and shakes his head. “It’s not like, you know…it’s not like you’re not attracted to women.”

“Are you seriously playing that card now? Are you telling me I’m inherently unsatisfied if I’m not cheating?”

He puts his mug down and grabs his keys. “Forget it.”

“How can I?” He shuts the door when I catch up to him, but I open it again and call out: “You’ve been making such a fucking point of reminding me!

He ignores me and gets into his car.

***

The bookstore kills me today. It’s buyback time, and when I’m not helping with the register I help lug the massive volume of textbooks into the back for inventory. We’re going to be working all weekend just to get everything cataloged. More fuel for Greg’s fire.

I prefer it busy. When I’m busy, scrambling to meet the demands of others, I don’t have time to slow down and wait for the same thoughts to force my attention inward. They’re still there, mind you. They don’t call it obsessive for no reason. But they’re in the back of my mind, not the forefront, and there is no time to act on the compulsions they inspire.

I stay until six, when Chanda calls me. “Look up,” she says, and when I do she’s waving at me from the window by the doors. Her bracelets glitter in the yellow light of the student union.

“Heyo! I’ll be out in a second. Coffee upstairs?”

“Sounds good. I’ll head up! See ya in a bit!”

Ten minutes later I’m sitting by the Starbucks kiosk, sipping lemonade while Chanda blows on her tea. She reads me like a billboard and immediately asks what’s wrong.

“Greg. He’s…still Greg, I guess.”

“And that’s a bad thing now?”

“Lately?”

“You think New Greg is Permanent Greg?”

“I think it’s safe to say he’s shades of permanent.”

“So what’s his deal?”

I sidestep the direct issue. “He thinks I’m stepping out, I guess. He gets in these moods if he sees me talking to women. The bisexual thing doesn’t sit well with him.”

“Well you are kinda flirty.”

“Wait, what?”

“Not…not like, consciously. Okay, I mean,” she straightens up, concentrating. Her words here need to be precise. “Okay, so, you come off as flirty, is what I mean, even if you’re not actually flirting. And…and you act differently around women than you do around men.”

The faint Indian accent she got from her parents makes her sound almost English.

“Like…” She pauses, looking up and to the right. She sets her tea down, and raises both hands, palms up. She sits cross-legged in her chair. For some reason the pose makes me think of the Bharatanatyam she danced when we went to her cousin’s wedding. Even now she slides her neck while she considers what she wants to say. The image of her writhing jade choli starts playing in my head. It’s preferable to the day-long replay of Greg shutting the bathroom door in my face.

“Like, when you talk with women, you’re very masculine, but then you practically bat your eyes around men.” She leans her head to the side. “You’re all ‘come hither.’ And with chicks you’re like…”

She lurches forward, creep-staring me, and cocks an eyebrow. She drops her voice an octave or two and grunts “DTF?”

“Are you fuckin’ serious?”

She shrugs. “S’what I’ve noticed, anyway.”

“Well.” I lean back in my chair. “Son of a bitch.”

***

Greg’s asleep when I get home. I decide to crash on the couch after my shower, and in the spring heat my mind goes back to Chanda dancing at her cousin’s wedding. Her date…I can’t remember his name now…he’d been affectionate all night, and I remember being a bit surprised at the naked desire in his eyes. When he looked at her, they almost seemed to sparkle in the light of the silver jari in her skirt. He didn’t seem to mind that she danced so much with me. I was already with Greg by then. She and I could’ve fucked in front of her date and the guy probably still would’ve assumed I was just “the gay friend.”

I remember wondering what it was that he wanted so badly from her, from this woman I’d known since I was ten. When I thought of Chanda it was with memories of middle school acne and baby weight that hung on through high school. But when she danced then I saw the fine-tuning ballet had finally worked on her body. She coiled her arms above her head and slid her neck from side to side. Her curling lips were dark like plums, and her stomach twisted like a python.

When I finally go to sleep, my mind is stuck on the image of her lehenga. I see its delicate hem billowing against her ankles, like a sail caught on a river wind.

***

Dr. Hale is a very fatherly guy. Soft voice, direct speech, always encouraging. Ideally fatherly, I guess I should say.

“So how are ya, Nathan?”

“Ahhhh.” I twist my hand from side to side.

“What’s up?”

“My thoughts are turning more obsessive lately. Repeated imagery, mostly. Some anxiety.”

“Any compulsive behavior?”

“Not that I can’t control.”

“Is it getting harder to control?”

“A…a little, yeah.”

“How’s the Anafranil working?”

I shrug. “I mean, I’ve been pretty stressed lately, and you know how bad it used to be if I was stressed.”

He knits his brows together. “What’s been bothering you?”

“I think Greg and I are gonna break up.”

“Why do you think that?”

“He’s mad all the time. He won’t talk about it. He’s been getting real jealous of Chanda lately.”

“Of you spending time with her?”

“Of just being around her at all, really.”

“Now, Greg knew you weren’t exclusively attracted to men when you two got together, right?”

“Oh, yeah. I made a big point of making sure he knew that.”

“Okay. Now, and please don’t take this the wrong way, but have you given him any reason to think you haven’t been faithful?”

“Not that I can think of.”

Dr. Hale is quiet for a minute. “Is there any possibility you’re attracted to Chanda?”

“Hold on. Why are we getting into this?”

“Trust me, there’s a point to it.”

I’m quiet for a long while. The silver jari in Chanda’s skirt sparkles behind my eyes, over and over. “Yeah. Yeah, I think I am.”

He nods. “Yeah, I think you are too. And I think this is a recent thing. Dollars to doughnuts, Greg is picking up on that.”

“Well, fuck.”

“Now remember how obsessive thought patterns can artificially inflate feelings of attachment and attraction? Now, that inflation can become compounded when you take into account existing feelings of platonic affection. You with me so far?”

“Yeah. Her being my friend complicates things. Makes ’em…like, bigger than they are.”

“Substantially. Now, I think you’re surprisingly adept at appraising your own perception. So, bearing all that in mind, would you describe yourself as possibly being in love with Chanda?”

I honestly consider it. Jangling bracelets. The Bharatanatyam.

“I think…I think I might be on the edge of that, yeah. Not yet, but…close.”

He gives me a comforting smile. “Well, there you go, kid. Your symptoms are flaring up because you’re stressed. Love, breakups…that stuff hits all of us pretty hard. And you work in a college bookstore. April is a shit storm for you guys.”

“So what do I do?”

“I couldn’t say, professionally or personally. Those are things you just have to manage on your own. Your boyfriend…I think you already have a course of action in mind in that regard, so I won’t add any input.”

“What about Chanda?”

“What about her?”

“What do I do?”

“There’s nothing to do.”

“Should I tell her?”

“I’m a clinician, Nate, not a life coach. That’s a question you gotta figure out by yourself. I…”

He pauses, then puts his pen and pad down and leans forward, elbows on his knees, hands clasped.

“My wife and I were close friends for a decade before we began dating, and there’s no doubt in my mind whatsoever that she’s the love of my life. But…I’ve seen plenty of beautiful, loving friendships fall apart because of the presumption that attraction has to be consummated. Some friends can date, fall in love, fall out of love, and be friends again. Some can’t.”

“I would suggest…” and he points right at me, “…that you consider exactly what Chanda means to you. Not how much. That’s a meaningless measurement. Consider what she means to you. The what is important. What space is her best fit, and yours?”

He looks at the clock. “Alright, kid. I wanna see you in a month. I’ll forward my notes, but I still want you to tell your psychiatrist everything you told me. Off the record, I don’t think there’s anything clinically significant to the increase in your symptoms, but see her anyway, alright? From what I understand, side-effects from Anafranil can be sneaky bastards. They like to play the long game. She might wanna do some blood work.”

I have a weird urge to hug him when I leave, but of course I don’t. Still, though, the image of us hugging replays over and over in my head until I get a text from Chanda, asking if I wanna meet up when she gets off work. After that, the only thing I can picture are the white jeans she wore when we met last night for tea.

***

Greg stays out all weekend, fuming. While he’s gone I ask Chanda if she knows anyone who can help me move. She comes over in mom jeans and a baggy tee shirt, her friend Rebekah in tow. Rebekah has a sharp, curving nose that almost seems to pin down her extra-wide grin. She has frizzy blond hair that she keeps tied back.

Abhay swings by once everything’s boxed up, and he packs the U-Haul trailer like he does it for a living. He’s tall and athletic and I try not to feel too competitive. He’s a nice guy, eager to heft the heaviest items and joking around while he works. He never seems to sweat or lose his breath. I can see why Chanda likes him so much.

They’re clearly in love. They’re not engaged but obviously they will be one day. Their families would love it if they wound up together. She pretends otherwise, but tradition is important to Chanda. Both are first-generation kids, both have family hailing from the same province. He gets her in a way I couldn’t.

When we take a lunch break Abhay rides with Chanda to pick up food. Rebekah and I sit on the porch, drinking light beer and arm wrestling. She beats me every time. I want to keep going, long after the break is over and we’ve all eaten. I’d like to focus on anything other than the private jokes Abhay and Chanda share.

***

The apartment looks a lot more spacious now that everything’s arranged. Chanda had to do most of it. Greg was always the housekeeper when we were together.

I get an excited text from her before I head out: “TELL. ME. EVERYTHING.”

Rebekah’s already ordered a round when I find her at a back table. Her hair’s down. It’s less frizzy than I remember it. She has glasses on, thick black-framed jobs. Her huge grin gets wider as we drink. Hours later, while we’re playing darts, I think over and over about us drinking light beer, and her beating me at arm wrestling. I’m still thinking about it that night, when I go to sleep.

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Stitches

stitches

 

I wake up to him kissing my neck and running his hand between my thighs. I sigh and turn my head to kiss him. He needs a shave, but I’m too distracted to tell him that. And besides, I like the stubble. I’m tempted to tell him to let me sleep another hour, but he runs his fingernails along my stomach, and I come alive against him.

Eventually I turn over and pull him close, careful to keep the injured finger clear of his writhing back. Kissing his shoulder, I can see the bruised, stitched flesh, torn and marred, in heavy contrast to his smooth tan skin.

***

I would have really appreciated it if she’d told me sooner I was losing her. I knew we were going to break up, but I couldn’t have gauged how vicious she was going to be about it.

We’d been getting along lately, though, so I guess I misinterpreted that as a reconciliation. In hindsight it was pretty clearly just a cease-fire.

She was doing her makeup in the bathroom. She was naked, her hair fresh and dry, and before I jumped in the shower I came up behind her and kissed her neck. My hands slid along the curve of her hip.

“Get the fuck off me!” She jabbed me sharply with her elbow. Not enough to hurt, not in the body, anyway. But enough to startle me back.

“Jesus! What was that?”

“Are you trying to make me put out my goddamn eye?” she snarled. Even curled back across her teeth, her pink lips looked remarkably kissable. Eyeliner gave her a stare like sharp wire.

“Alright! I’m sorry.” I put my hands up in surrender and stepped into the shower.

“Oh, don’t sound so fuckin’ wounded.”

I didn’t answer, just started my shower. After a minute or so I heard her groan. “Turn it down! The steam is gonna fuck up my hair!”

I ignored her. I let the heat scald away my irritation with her. By the time I stepped out, she’d already left for work.

***

When he and I are finished we hold each other, our chests pressed together, me breathing heavily just behind his ear. His hair is sweaty, but when he sweats it’s with a clean, almost sterile odor. I run my fingertips against his scalp, ignoring the slight sting of my injured finger. We both need a shower. We’re clearly not done fooling around just yet.

Every so often he gives me a lazy kiss to my temple. We both doze off a few minutes. When I wake up I can feel him getting ready to go again. When Brittany got her stuff, she stripped the linens straight from the bed and threw them in the car. Soon Bobby and I are tangled in the act of consecrating the bare mattress anew.

***

“Christ, all I’m trying to do is talk to you-…”

“That’s all you fucking do. You talk about things but you never fucking do them. Goddamn, you’re boring.”

“Babe, just…”

“Just get the fuck back, alright?”

“Goddamnit,” I caught the door to the bathroom before she could close it. “Do you want us to break up or what?”

“No! I just want…”

“You don’t even fucking know what you want! All you do is endlessly bitch at me…”

She pulled the door. I tightened my grip, holding in place. Before I could say anything else, she threw her entire body into pulling it closed, grunting in anger and effort.

My finger made a dull, wet sound as it was smashed against the frame.

I remember yelling so loudly it felt like a roar. Brittany covered her mouth against the drips of blood spotting the carpet. She kissed me over and over on the forehead and told me she was taking me to the emergency room. She ran off to get dressed and grab her keys. While she was getting ready, I climbed into my own car and drove away.

I heard her come home from work around nine. I’d locked myself in my room. On the table in the kitchen, I left a note, telling her she had a day to get her stuff out. That’s all it said. Now that I think of it, I haven’t laid eyes on her since seeing her disappear into her room. This room, where Bobby and I are now.

***

When Bobby gets out of the shower I’ve set up a tray with toast and eggs. A carafe of coffee is on the desk I moved in here yesterday.

Bobby dries his hair. “God, I love you.”

He says it lightly, and I pretend not to notice him gauging me with his eyes. Seeing how I’ll react.

Oh, no.

His phone vibrates again. Text from Mark: “Hey babe. Flying back in tomorrow.”

Bobby tosses the towel over the curtain rod. He pours coffee without getting dressed. I take in the sight of him, and run my thumb along the stitches in my finger.

Maybe he’s sincere, but two days into this I’d prefer it if he wasn’t. I never touched him before Brittany left. Never thought of it.

While he stands there I contemplate going to him, kissing his body, going further and further until he’s against the wall and shuddering above me. I think about him trying to do that with Mark, a man almost twenty years older. Always tired, always busy, always out of the house when Bobby gets home. Maybe Bobby does love me. But he also can’t.

Bobby types something into his phone while he drinks his coffee. He winks at me while he sips from the mug. The tip of my left middle finger is deep blue and purple. Between the stitches I can see the skin beginning to heal. The flesh is smashed and shredded, but still it comes together.

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Pomegranates

pomegranate

 

“I think we should break up.”

“Seconded,” he told her, juggling three pomegranates. Nimbly he stuck two back into their crate and set the other in their cart.

“What?”

“I agree. We should break up. That’s, uh…” he swept his hand across the cart. “That’s what this was for. Although I guess now we don’t have to go through the hassle of checkout. You feel like Arby’s?”

“Wait. You wanted to break up too?”

“Well, we’ve been over for awhile now. It’s only just recently become clear to me this isn’t a hump we’re going to get over.”

“What do you mean by that?”

“I mean…wait, what do you mean what do I mean? You just said you wanted to break up with me too. I was there, remember?”

What hump?”

“The fact that we don’t love each other anymore. Or rather that you don’t love me. I think I might still love you, though. I mean, I could just be fixated, but I think I still love you.”

“And you want to break up anyway?”

“Well yeah. Did you miss the part where I said you don’t love me?”

She was quiet at that part. Almost seemed ashamed. “I’m sorry.”

He just shrugged. “That’s how these things end. One of us stops loving the other. I mean, we weren’t in love when we started out.”

“What do you mean?”

“Well, you told me, the year we became exclusive, that you realized you were in love with me right after New Year. I didn’t have that thought about you till the summer.”

“So we were together almost half a year, and you didn’t love me?”

“Sometimes love just grows. I figured it would with me. Guess I figured right.”

“That’s awfully cynical.”

“Nope. I said love, remember?”

“Stop saying that! Stop saying remember like you’re mocking me!”

“I’m sorry. That was pretty shitty of me just now.” He looked her in the eye. “I’m sincerely sorry. My…feelings are hurt, and I was sublimating it by being a douche bag, I guess. I really am sorry.”

“But you said you wanted to break up.”

“I agreed we should break up.”

“You were planning to break up with me tonight.”

“And pack my things in the morning. I know. It doesn’t mean I’m not so petty that being dumped first doesn’t hurt.”

He had a small fantasy of just tilting the cart over and dumping everything on her sparkling ballet flats. He was somewhat comforted by the surge of guilt he felt when the imagery passed. She reciprocated with a fantasy of her own, a simple one where she beat her fists against the back of his head, until the smugness was replaced with a pitiful beg for her to please stop hurting him.

But was that what he was saying already?

“Plus, I’m still in love with you, like I said.”

How much were they not saying to each other? How much had gone unsaid in the three years they’d been together?

They were still standing by the fucking pomegranates. Those things always took so much work to peel and eat.

“So,” and she had to stop to swallow a lump in her throat, “so what do we…Ben, I don’t wanna hurt you like this.”

“Then don’t. Dump me. Or I can dump you. Either way I should be fine, so long as we end it by tonight.”

Ben turned the cart around and nodded for Callie to follow. “I think I need some wine. We’ll feel better about this once one or both of us is drunk.”

He grabbed two bottles of the dirt cheap Merlot he always drank, then grabbed a mid-grade Moscato he knew she favored. “I’m not being a hog, I swear,” he told her, nodding to his own bottles. “The pomegranate glaze I wanna make needs to be boiled in a red.”

“Are you sure you’re still in love with me?”

“Pretty sure. But after awhile I’ll be running around somewhere, and it’ll hit me that I’m not in love with you anymore. It’s okay. That’s how it works. You fall in, you fall out.”

“Not always, though.”

“Oh, God no, not always. Only chumps get that pessimistic. Love can be forever, it just usually isn’t.”

She chewed her pinkie nail. “I should’ve ended this sooner. It wasn’t fair to you.”

“What do you mean? You been out of love with me for awhile now?”

She couldn’t think of any other way to phrase it other than: “I think so.”

“How long now? If you don’t mind me asking, I mean.”

“Like,” and she bit her lips. “Like…a long time now. I haven’t had that fluttery feeling for…years, I think.”

“Ooooh.” He paused, like he was considering something. “So not New Year, then.”

“What?”

“You weren’t in love with me on New Year’s. You had a crush on me.” He waved his hand like he was clearing smoke. “Love’s the other thing. The…the steady part that comes after. The quiet thing.”

“You don’t think I loved you?”

“No, I think you did. Longer than you think you did, anyway. You just…didn’t know which part the love was.”

There came a cold edge of certainty in her. “You’re a fucking patronizing bastard.”

“Oh, fuck you.” He sounded tired when he said it. “Do you realize how much restraint I’m showing by not climbing in the car and leaving your ass to walk?”

He imagined her walking, and again there came the guilt over how much pleasure the idea of her discomfort gave him. She imagined not talking to him as he moved his things into the U-Haul trailer. Thing was, between the two of them, her fantasy was more likely to come true.

They checked out without a word, and they were halfway home before Ben broke the silence. “Hey, look, I’m sorry for what I said.”

“I started it.”

“No, no. I had that coming. You were completely right. I was baiting you and I didn’t like that you’d caught on.” He bopped her knee. “I’m sorry. I really am.”

She glanced down at where he’d touched her. Once it would have made her breath catch, for his hand to have been so close to the hem of her skirt. Now the December night only felt cooler.

“Hey,” he said then. “Let’s just stuff our faces and get drunk. I’ll sleep on the couch. This’ll all be over by tomorrow.” He reached over and squeezed her arm above the wrist. “It’s like a band-aid, see? We just gotta do it all at once. It’ll be alright.”

They drove home, together, each heading further and further away.

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After Halloween

jack-o'-lantern

When he wakes up he can feel with his nose the faint moisture of his breath against her shoulder. They’re both naked and face down. He turns his head and takes in the smell of her hair. It’s sweet from product but there’s a light, clean musk from sweat and oil. It’d been a muggy Halloween.

The vague, clammy heat around his groin reminds him they’d had sex before passing out. They hadn’t blacked out, but the memory was definitely coming back to him in slow motion. Them walking to the spare bedroom to find some smokes he could give her. Putting his arm around her waist without thinking about how close he was holding her. The surprise that flowed through him like warm liquid when she’d kissed him.

Reaching below her Little Bo Peep skirt, hands traveling past the little red bows on her stockings. Feeling cool skin, the curve of her ass against his squeezing palms. Her undoing his belt with one hand, reaching into his fly with the other.

Kissing from one shoulder to the other across her bare back. Her arching her head and running her tongue against his ear.

The recollection is priming him to go again. Pressed against her as he is, he’s quickly growing hard. With anyone else, the idea of wake-up sex would be a more he’d never cross. But they used to do it all the time before she’d move out.

This isn’t her costume’s maiden voyage. It’s seen more use outside of Halloween than on it.

He rolls off her, and as the sheet falls away he takes in the sight of her. Muscled from college lacrosse, and long. She drapes so easily across the length of this bed. Tan skin and bronze hair. With the heat he feels coming off her while she sleeps, he thinks of her as an errant stream of molten gold.

The urge to lie back down and hold her pulses through him. He feels the familiar urge to want to keep her safe from harm. It’s an awkward thought; she’s taller than him by an inch, and though she’s slimmer he’d bet she’s a good deal stronger. If anything, all he could ever do is serve as a human shield. He thinks that maybe that’s what lovers are once the sex runs out.

Then he shakes the silly melancholia out of his head and slides his ass to the edge of the mattress, letting the sheet slip off and land on her in a heap. He grabs his boxers, shaking them free of the red lace panties they’re somehow tangled with. He sees the whiskey he carried in here last night. Somehow, despite the stumbling and rattling, the bottle had sat upright all night, uncorked. Wasn’t there a patron saint for alcohol?

He thinks of pouring a hair-of-the-dog shot, but he’s clearheaded and doesn’t have a hangover. He’d cut most of his drinks last night with tap water, so when the drunk hit it hit smooth. He picks up the open bottle and smells it, huffing the robust malted odor. It almost smells like molasses.

He doesn’t want to leave the bottle behind, but he also doesn’t feel like searching through a house full of sleeping people for the cork. Bad enough he has to make it to the bathroom to flush the condom. He looks back to the bed, lifting the sheet. It’s sitting between her legs, a few inches from her pussy. Condoms are so sad once they’ve been used. This one looks deflated, like someone’s gutted it. The wetness around it gives him the impression it’s bleeding out.

Jesus, was he always this depressing? He shakes his head again and runs a hand across his face, blinking and taking deep, deep breaths to wake up. He sweeps dark curls out of his eyes, takes a couple tissues from the desk, and uses them to grab the condom, then chucks it to the floor to pick up later. He pulls on his clothes and tosses the Hannibal Lector mask he wore by the door.

She sighs, turning her head, and snuggles deeper against her pillow. She twists her hips, and curls her legs – still in those striped stockings – almost to her stomach. She’s one of those people who look like they’re smiling when they sleep.

He walks down the hall to the toilet and flushes the condom, and on his way back he finds the cork for the whiskey. He stuffs the mask in his back pocket, grabs his wallet, phone, and keys, and totes the booze with him when he leaves. He takes a moment to look at her before setting the lock on the knob and closing the door, pulling until he hears the clang of the latch in the frame.

He checks the time on his phone. Three missed calls from her. The other her. The one who’d had plans across town last night. One text: “Hey, I miss you! <3”

He leans against the wall for a moment. Goddamn. He considers deleting the text. He needs a shower. He needs to watch his drinking. He needs to watch his hands.

The jack-o’-lantern on the counter is dark and cold, but it smiles warmly in the dim light of the early, cloudy morning. The kitchen window behind it ticks with streams of rainwater funneling off the roof. A few empty plastic cups crowd the pumpkin to the right. He pops the cork and pours a shot into one.

“Have one on me,” he says, looking past the triangle eyes to the lumpy, melted candle. “You’ve seen more than your fair share.”

He stoppers the bottle and heads out. The whiskey goes in the trunk, the clapping of the lid echoing through the quiet neighborhood when he closes it. The engine starts with a smooth grunt, and it’s the only noise he hears the entire drive back to his apartment.

The jack-o’-lantern sits vigilant by the sink. Steam from the whiskey continually builds and then fades against its rind. A single gnat buzzes around its nose. It sits, the steward of those sleeping in these dead moments when the living know they’re alive.

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