So I'm trying something a little different
With her eyes closed, she imagined the storm raging. The dark clouds overhead, bearing down on the world as if to bring The End, dumping their watery contents in droves against the earth.
If she were home, she knew the rain would turn the yard to mud, and flood the flowerbeds and window boxes. The rain would run off her front walk and down into the street, curving with the road as it made its way down to the sewer.
Here was different, though. The city operated separately from the suburbs, and she found herself wondering what rain would even disrupt here. Homeless people. Late-night pedestrians.
She opened her eyes finally, blinking to dissuade sleep from returning even though she wanted nothing more, really, than to sink back into unconsciousness. There had to be another reason she’d woken besides the rain, and—
Her body stilled beneath the covers when she felt it. Or, to be more precise, when she didn’t feel it.
She knew before she even rolled over to look that he wasn’t lying beside her. Nonetheless, he did it anyway. It was strange not to see him there, occupying his side as she occupied hers.
It was even stranger still, for her to be lying there, in his bed, without him.
She turned her head to the side, listening now not to the rain and the blowing rain, but to any sound she could discriminate apart from those two. Half a minute passed. Then a full minute. She was about to get up and take a look around when she heard something creak.
It was only a chair, she guessed, but it still made her jump. Still made her pulse quicken.
Every day she wondered when her neurosis would leave her. Not today, apparently.
It will never be today.
She found him sitting at the kitchen table, leaning back against the back of the chair like it was two in the afternoon, not two in the morning. His elbow was propped up on the table, but it didn’t support anything. His head stayed between his shoulders, his eyes focused on a point in a place somewhere far away. She stood there, wearing nothing more than a loose-fitting white tank top and a pair of ordinary black panties, and watched him. She thought he would’ve looked up when she’d walked in. She hadn’t been loud—how can you be loud with bare feet?—but she hadn’t exactly tip-toed, either.
He didn’t look up.
Yet she stood there, counting the seconds as she ordered him mentally, Look at me, Look at me, Look at me. She was too frightened to give him a firmer directive. Too scared it would sound like a plea, and she wouldn’t be able to look either him or herself in the eye after she let things sink to that level.
He never looked up, so finally she just asked: “What are you doing awake? It’s the middle of the night.”
His head turned to face her slowly, as if it took great willpower and great pains for him to leave the place he’d been before and return to her. She bit down on her tongue to try to distract herself from thinking too hard about the distance that seemed to be separating them more and more with each hour that passed these days.
The cordial smile that spread across his face bloomed too late and too slowly to be genuine. “I could ask you the same thing.”
She walked over to the table, pulled out the chair, and sat down across from him. “It was the rain,” she told him quietly, and just then the wind blew past, causing the precipitation to lash against the walls. Like this was a court of law and she’d needed proof to convince him of her case.
She wondered if he’d give her his proof if she asked for it.
“The rain woke me,” she repeated, and he nodded slowly, as if needed time to digest this decidedly uncomplicated explanation. Silent seconds passed between them as she waited for him to answer, to reply, to give some indication that he heard her, that he understood that this was a conversation. Finally, she just had to ask: “What about you?”
He shrugged, going back to his staring. She realized too late that it probably would’ve been better just to live with his I-can’t-hear-you routine. That was better than getting this I-don’t-care rejection, this flat-out refusal to communicate.
She listened to the rain against the windows in the absence of his explanation. It was really driving against the glass now. When the wind calmed down, and its roaring quieted for a moment, she could hear the booms of thunder accompanying the cracking of lightning in the distance. She could hear it growing closer. If the lights were been on, she wondered if they’d be flickering now.
“Is it going to rain all night?” she asked, just to break the silence.
“I don’t know.” He didn’t even pause for thought before replying.
“Do you think it’s going to storm tomorrow, too?”
“I don’t know.” A reflex answer, quickly turning into a habit.
“Will you still want to go out if it does?”
“I don’t know.”
“Are you coming back to bed soon?”
He opened his mouth at once to reply—I don’t know—but then shut it when he realized her trick, and she almost smiled in triumph. But in the end, she didn’t, because there was nothing to smile about. Instead she waited, blank-faced, for him to respond. The few seconds he allocated himself to think of a new answer felt like they lasted for hours.
“In a little while.”
She closed her eyes, ducking her head and pressing her lips together so she wouldn’t yell at him. Doing this took a lot more effort these days than it had in the past. In her lap, her hands came together and clutched at one another. She was so desperate for contact it seemed she’d even settle for her own.
“I’ll be there when you decide to come back.”
He nodded, speaking to her directly, but still not quite looking into her eyes: “I know you will be.”
His reply released a weight in her stomach, and it pulled her down, twisting her insides as it crushed them beneath its bulk. From the way he didn’t meet her eye, she couldn’t tell if the words were meant as an insult or not. She thought about calling him out on it—thought about telling him I won’t be here forever, you know—but she knew it wouldn’t matter. He was barely listening.
And besides, no matter how much she wanted to be her own person, they both knew she felt more herself when she was with him. They both knew she would, in fact, be there forever—she’d wait out death if it meant he’d eventually come back to her.
She stared at him, wondering if he knew that. Wondering if he cared.
Of course he cares, she told herself, but it was an empty reassurance. She had never really been able to see inside of his head, and he’d never really trusted her fully with its contents. Not that he trusted anyone.
Still, she’d been foolish to think she’d be able to break through where everyone before her had hit a brick wall. That was the definition of insanity, wasn’t it? Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result?
She turned her head away from him, no longer able to keep up the one-sided eye contact—the last façade of communication—and looked back towards the windows. The wind had let up some—the gusts were no longer roaring like they had earlier—but the rain was still coming down hard as ever. She watched as it beat against the windowpanes like a continuous shower of hollow-point bullets, each one expanding as it met its target.
When she tired of looking at the rain—tired of being awake in general—she got to her feet and headed back to bed. She didn’t bother looking over her shoulder as she went; she knew he’d probably returned to that far away place he’d been staring at when she’d sat down.
She drew the covers close as she laid in bed, shivering against the cool sheets. It was cold here near the window, and without his warm body against hers, there was little warmth in the bed. She rubbed her legs against the sheets and blankets, trying to create some friction to heat herself. When her shivering finally stopped, she laid back against the bed, resting her head against a pillow and turning her body to face the windows. Doing so made her put her back to the kitchen and him, but she pretended she didn’t mind because she was certain now that he wouldn’t.
She laid there for a long time—maybe an hour—just watching the rain fall. Gradually it did let up. The wind died completely not twenty minutes after she settled in bed, and after that, the only sounds left to hear was the rain against the building. The sound was quieter now, calmer. She couldn’t help that it would seem peaceful—if only he were lying here with her, watching the rain in the middle of the night and trading secrets with each kiss or soft touch.
She closed her eyes, letting the pitter-pattering of the rain numb her senses as she thought back to earlier this evening. She tried to remember if he’d seemed standoffish, or different, but nothing came to mind. Nothing stuck out in her mind as an omen, portending an imminent end.
In fact, when they’d rolled and twisted between the sheets earlier, she’d thought he’d been extremely present. Even more attentive than usual.
Then maybe it’s a just nighttime thing, she mused, watching the rain fall like teardrops down the windowpanes. Maybe the night scares him, makes him think of things he’d rather forget.
Too late, she asked herself why she’d never questioned him about this before. Certainly things had never gotten this bad, but there had to have been warning signs, hadn’t there? Weren’t there always warning signs?
She didn’t think she could handle it if things just fell apart out of nowhere.
She hoped tonight wasn’t her last warning sign. She hoped she hadn’t ignored the others.
She hoped for a lot of things.
When he finally did return to bed, it was much later than she expected and yet a great part of her was still relieved. A great part of her hadn’t expected him to come back at all. A great part of her still worried that this thing between them would not, could not, last much longer.
For reasons that were petty and spiteful—reasons that later shamed her—she kept her body completely still, frozen in place like a statue, as he settled into bed beside her. He shifted towards her, reaching out to place a hand on her hip, but still she didn’t move. She wasn’t feeling too interested in another roll between the sheets—no matter how attentive he was, or pretended to be—and she figured she’d give him a taste of his own uncaring medicine for once. With those angry thoughts in mind, his gentility took her by surprise; she almost jumped out of her skin when she felt his lips pressing the lightest kiss to her shoulder blade. Somehow, she had enough discipline to stay where she was.
Even so, hearing her name coming from his lips in that raggedy whisper nearly broke her. The soft kiss was nothing compared to hearing him speak like this.
“I’m sorry,” he murmured, his voice so quiet and low that she had to struggled to keep her breathing even so as to not drown him out. “Some nights I just can’t keep it together.”
Keep what together? she longed to ask, but she kept her mouth shut. If she opened it, she’d blow her cover of being asleep, and then she knew he’d never speak to her like this again. She focused on her breathing—keeping it low and slow and measured—as she listened to him speak.
“It doesn’t mean I don’t want to be with you. It doesn’t mean I don’t…” He trailed off, and she strained her ears, hoping to pick up any audible syllable. For a time, there was nothing.
“It doesn’t mean I don’t love you. It doesn’t mean that at all. It just—It means that I need to think. I need to take time alone and think, because God knows I’ve fallen too far deep into this thing with you much too quickly, and I don’t want to scare you off so I’m trying to slow it down, I really am, but it’s not…” He laughed shortly, and she almost shivered when his hot breath tickled her skin. Thankfully, he pressed his forehead against her shoulder then, and it was easy for her to lie still beneath his touch. “Baby, it’s not working,” he whispered hoarsely, and all the laugher was gone from his voice now. “It’s not working and there’s no way to reverse it and I… I’m running out of ways to postpone the inevitable.”
When he sighed heavily after his hurried speech, she could feel the heat of his exhale spread across her skin. She squeezed her eyes shut, wishing she could lean back and rest against him. She wished she could roll over and take his face in her hands, and press one big kiss of thanks on his lips.
She wished she could turn over at say I love you too and tell him not to worry so much.
But of course she could do none of that, because she was asleep. Or so he thought, and so she needed him to believe that. She bit down on her lower lip, wondering how she’d ever be able to really sleep tonight after all this.
At least, she told herself later, as she waited for him to fall asleep so she could attempt to relax, at least it wasn’t a sign of the end.
It was a sign of something else, though, that was plainly clear, and while she welcomed that something else with open arms, she couldn’t help but wonder if that was actually a good course of action.
He loved her, she could assume that much, and she loved him—she knew that much—but what did any of that mean right now? He was staying up late at night trying to convince himself he felt nothing for her and she was burying her feelings deep down so he couldn’t break them—what kind of a love was that?
And even if it was true, even if it was real love, what did it say about their chances if they were both too scared to say a word of it out loud?
Author’s Note: Reviews are always appreciated. Here’s to hoping I’ll have something real the next time I post. Thank you so much for reading.