I hadn’t heard from Quinn in a few weeks. It wasn’t unusual for us to go this long without speaking, but the nature of her last call told me that this time was different. I hadn’t meant to stand her up, but Sam was beginning to act strangely. The night Quinn called me, I was supposed to be going to see her but Sam had come over unannounced with a list of things she needed to talk about. She’d been doing it for weeks now and I didn’t know how to blow her off if I wasn’t prepared.
“You’re always out somewhere,” she’d whine whenever I parted my lips to protest against another night of talking or sitting in my living room pretending to listen to her talk. And when she wasn’t sure if I was really listening, I’d get showered with a million and one questions about where I went, what I did and how many breaths did I take that day. She was never this smothering before and we always allowed each other space and time alone or with our friends. Now it was like I couldn’t sneeze without Sam asking me why.
I finally was granted a pardon when Sam told me she would be hanging out with her mother and sister. Some spa day or whatever. All I knew was that I was happy to have her out of my hair for the day.
After hitting the gym and showering, I collapsed on my living room couch. I turned on the television and began to mindlessly surf through channels. I’m not a big TV watcher aside from sporting events and the occasional weather report. I landed on one of the movie channels my cable service provided and noticed that one of Quinn’s favorite movies was on. I couldn’t tell you much about the plot. I only remembered the way Quinn would laugh hysterically when the main character told a joke or found herself in an awkward situation. I missed her laugh. I missed her.
I reached for my cellphone and scrolled through my contacts. Landing on her name, I hit “call” and waited to her her usual greeting for me. “Hey loser!” she’d say. But there was no such greeting this time. I was met with the automated voicemail telling me to leave a message after the tone. Maybe she’s taking a nap. I thought as I hung up the phone. She could always nap over here. Or maybe she’s still mad at me.
I was never the type to pop up on people at their homes but all of a sudden, I was overcome with a feeling of urgency. I needed her around right that minute. I grabbed my keys to my apartment and hurried out the door. I usually made this trip when I needed an escape. When Sam and I were fighting. Or when I was lonely or needed a laugh. I found myself in front of her door, a little short of breath. I didn’t realize that I practically sprinted up the two flights of stairs that separated our floors. I heard voices coming from inside the apartment and assumed her TV was on. I pounded my fist on her door. As soon as my knocking stopped, so did the voices.
“Who is banging on my door like they’re the police??? Is that the delivery guy??”
I smiled and prepared a witty response for when she would open the door. But before I could get a word out and then scoop her into my arms, a pair of unfamiliar eyes met my confused glare.
“Can I help you?” he asked.
You have to stop. You have to stop making yourself so available.
The hot water streaming from the showerhead, beat against my shoulders. I closed my eyes as I took a deep breath and tried to imagine how it would feel to have every trouble be scrubbed away and vanish forever down the drain. Unfortunately, no matter how hard I scrubbed, buffed, exfoliated and cleansed my body, my heart still wore the wear and tear of it all. Skid marks and footprints. Bruises and cuts. Battered and beaten. But, not all these wounds were caused by another. Most of them were self-inflicted.
I hadn’t spoken to Ryan in a week. He hadn’t tried to speak to me much either. He stood me up tonight. It wasn’t uncommon, but it was always disappointing. I was that stupid puppy that sat waiting at the door for her little boy to come home from school to play with her. But the little boy was more interested in other things. There was no need for him to rush “home.”
Do you know how stupid you look? Can never learn your lesson, huh? He does this because you make him think its okay to.
I cared more than I should have. This was not supposed to happen and yet it always did. It was like driving drunk and waiting to cause an accident. A 5 car pile-up on a busy expressway. Eventually I’ll crash. A few innocent bystanders will be caught in the chaos. Perhaps there’ll be a gas leak and an engine will explode, causing an inferno that will incinerate everything and everyone involved except for me. I’ll live to do it to myself all over again. Stupid. Careless.
I got out of the shower. The only light in my bedroom came from the yellow glow of the streetlights outside. I picked up my phone. My cheeks wet. In three rings I heard his voice on the other end.
“Nope! You started it so now you have to pay.”
“Okay! Okay! I’m sorry!”
I tried to wriggle free but his grip was too strong. I could barely breathe because I was laughing so hard. He’d discovered how sensitive my sides were a long time ago and I was paying for my comments about his “cooking.” He’d never been much of a cook. The proof was in the pudding. And the pudding was what was supposed to be his mother’s famous porridge. Instead it was more like liquid cement.
“Say it again!”
“I’m sorry! I’m sorry! I’m sorry!”
“Say you’ll eat the porridge.”
“Never! It tastes like glue!”
I managed to get out of his grasp and ran away from him to the other side of the kitchen but he was too fast. He got ahold of me once more and this time picked me up and threw me over his shoulder.
“Me, Tarzan! You, Jane! Jane no eat breakfast, Jane must pay price!”
“Oh yeah? And what are you going to do about it?”
He marched towards the bedroom. The curtains did pirouettes in the breeze that was coming in through the opened window and sunlight warmed the room. Our clothes littered the floor and I smiled to myself while remembering what happened here the night before. I landed on the bed with a soft thud. We paused for a moment. That smile. His smile. It was contagious.
“I love you, Quinn.”
My smile disappeared and I looked away.
“Don’t freak out. You know what I mean. I just love being around you and spending time with you.”
I sat up and pressed my knees to my chest. How could I be so selfish?
Kyle had come into my life unexpectedly and I thought that our friendship would be innocent enough. From the beginning it was clear that he was a good fit for me. And once we started dating, it felt nice to be treated how I had always hoped to be. I loved Ryan, but he had a girlfriend. He was in a relationship. We were wrong for seeing each other and it was time that I went out and found someone of my own. I knew he was beginning to care about me. I was even growing a soft spot for him as well. But I was holding back. As soon as Kyle started to open up, I began to shut down. Was I really ready to date anyone else? Was I ready to date at all? It wasn’t fair to use Kyle like a security blanket. When Ryan chose to participate in his actual relationship and I was left alone, I’d call Kyle. No, it wasn’t fair at all. And here this man was, deserving of a woman better than the one I was, and he couldn’t see it.
Maybe if I could convince him that he didn’t care as much as he thought he did, I could also convince myself that I wasn’t totally fucked up and I could stop feeling as low as I did. I was becoming one of those people that my friends and I always said we hated.
“I love everything about you. I love your sense of humor. I love your free spirit. I love how you squint your eyes, knowing you need your glasses but you insist that its only a habit. I love that you yell at the television when you’re favorite show is on. I love when you make me grilled cheese sandwiches with bacon and then eat some of mine as well as all of your’s. I love your laugh. I love how you’re still gorgeous even when you do your ugly cry. I love that you’re a nerd and you want to be married in a library. I know you’re afraid of something. I’m not sure what it is and when you’re ready to tell me, I’ll listen.”
I wanted to tell him everything. How I didn’t deserve him and how I’d spent the past 3 years as someone’s secret. I wanted to tell him about how selfish I was for what I was doing to him and to Sam. I wanted to say that as wrong as I knew it was, I couldn’t stop. In some ways I didn’t want to. I was a terrible person and Kyle should run away as fast as he could because I would only hurt him too. But instead I said nothing at all. I touched his cheek. My chest felt heavy. My phone rang and I glanced over at the caller I.D.
“So how was dinner last week?”
“It was alright. But he’s been acting funny lately.”
“Funny? Funny how?”
“Distant. He’ll be in the room with me, but be all the way in Australia at the same time.”
“What? Like on Skype or something?”
Kelly was trying her best to make me laugh. She usually did a great job at that. But tonight I was too distracted.
“Did you talk to him about it?”
“I’ve tried and all he says is how he’s fine and just tired.”
“Hmm well he may be just that. He works and he’s in school. You know how you get tired sometimes, too.”
I played with the straw in my drink. The ice clinked in the glass. I was too distracted to eat anything even though I had ordered my favorite burger. Kelly and I decided to go out to dinner and enjoy the nice weather in the city this evening. She insisted and told me that I couldn’t stay inside all week, especially since Ryan was acting strange. She knew I’d torture myself if I stayed in my apartment. However, my brain was still frantic with why he was acting so strangely. I knew that men had mood swings just like women did, and he was a Pisces. Pisces are infamous for their moody behavior.
“Sam, stop it.”
“I’m sorry. Okay you have my full attention. Enough about me. What is happening with you?”
She smiled and began to gush about her newest beau. Kelly always had a guy. A guy for each day of the week. She didn’t believe that a committed relationship with one guy was for her. I always figured she’d grow out of that but I’ve known her for 10 years and she hasn’t had a single relationship. But she was happy. Maybe thats what I needed to do. Who would I be kidding though? I knew I was a relationship type of girl. I was not made for casual sex. I thought about how quickly I fell in love with Ryan.
“You’re not listening.”
“I am! He took you to that new sushi spot.”
She lifted her right eyebrow in that way she’d always had done since we were younger. I knew I wasn’t fooling her. She knew that I had learned to selectively listen to her. I would listen just enough in order to repeat details. I hated when Ryan did that to me so I could only imagine how much my own best friend hated it.
“I give up. You’re in Australia right along with Ryan right now. Go see him. Talk to him.”
“No! I’m out with you tonight!”
“No you aren’t,” she laughed “You’re where ever he is or at least wishing that you were. Its fine. I know how you women in relationships are.”
I felt badly but she was right, in that way that best friends usually are. After I had my food wrapped up and put in a carry-out container, Kelly and I parted ways outside of the restaurant and I began my trip towards Wood Grove Apartments. I tried calling him, but there was no answer. Maybe he was asleep. I knew where he hid his spare key so I parked and headed into the building. The elevator came quickly and I pressed the button for the 3rd floor. I got off and found his key under the right corner of his welcome mat. I opened the door and the apartment was dark. I took off my shoes and tip toe to the bedroom. He was asleep. I smiled and watched him for awhile. I undressed and took one of his t-shirts out of his dresser and put it on. I climbed into bed and cuddled closer to him. He sighed, wrapped his arms around me and pulled me close to him. No matter how angry he made me or I made him, these moments made everything worth it. I felt him place a soft kiss on my forehead and I put my face in his chest. I inhaled. Then inhaled again. And again. That scent. Where had I smelled it before?
“You sure you wanna eat here?”
“Yes, Ryan. Whats the big deal? Why don’t you want to eat here?”
“There’s no problem, I just think we should stay in tonight.”
“Listen, we stay in enough. Kelly said this place was really great and I want to try something new.”
I took a deep breath and continued driving. It was 9:00 on a Thursday night. I hoped that she had gotten off early. Or maybe hadn’t come in at all. It was one thing to let her see my girl and I in the apartment complex, but this could get sticky. I parked the car and killed the engine. I watched her get out of the car first.
“You coming? Or am I eating alone?”
I followed her through the entrance and to the bar. It was dimly lit and the clatter of eating utensils against plates and patrons’ conversations couldn’t drown out the sound of my heart beating in my ears. Could she tell how anxious I was? We found two stools and sat down. I took out my phone and began to type out “What are you doing?” Before I could hit send, I smelled her.
“Hey how are you guys tonight? My name’s Quinn. If there’s anything you need, just let me know.” She placed two coasters down in front of us.
“Hey, don’t you live in the apartment complex down by Wood Grove?”
“Yeah I do.”
“I knew you looked familiar. Right, babe? I’m Sam.”
“Nice to meet you, Sam.”
“And this is Ryan. Excuse him. He’s in a mood tonight and I don’t know why.”
“Its fine. He’s probably preoccupied thinking about the game thats on.”
“Girl, yes! Anytime there’s a sporting event, he’s on another planet.”
They laughed. She seemed so calm. I felt my heart rise into my throat.
“Can I get you guys any drinks?”
“Um yeah I’ll have a Long Island and…”
“Uh a beer please.”
“Let me guess. Heineken?”
Quinn smiled and I nodded.
“I’ll be right back with your drinks.”
There was no point in sending that text now. Was she pissed? Did she think I did this on purpose? I couldn’t read her. I could never read her. It fascinated me. It was why I couldn’t seem to stay away. She was consistent but unpredictable. I never knew what was next. She knew she held the cards and yet somehow, I trusted that she’d play them right. Was I being cocky for believing that?
“I’m going to the bathroom. Be right back.”
I was left alone with my thoughts and then I inhaled her aroma again.
“So you bring her to my job. That’s great.”
She put the beer down in front of me.
“I didn’t want to come here tonight. She insisted. Are you upset?”
“Why would I be upset, Ryan? She’s your girlfriend. You take her out on dates. Its normal. I’d be foolish to be upset, right?”
“Look, I’ll tell her we have to go or something. I don’t want to make you uncomfortable.”
“I’m not uncomfortable. Its you. Its written all of your face. You’re like a child with crumbs on his face from the cookies he wasn’t supposed to have before dinner. A shame that she can’t see that though.”
“What is up with you lately? All of these questions. All this attitude. I don’t understand. It was easier when-“
“When I was just a fuck. Trust me, it was easier for me, too.”
“You were never just a fuck, Quinn.”
I saw her eyes dart from mine to the bathroom door. I turned around and saw Sam coming from the bathroom. She smiled at me on her way back. She took her seat and sipped from her glass that had been waiting for her.
“Mmm! That is good! You are working for those tips huh?”
“I sure am.”
“By the way, what is that perfume? It smells so good on you.”
“Thank you. It was a gift from a friend.”
The entire time, I hadn’t looked away from her.
“So, are you guys ready to order, or do you need a little more time to decide what you want?”
I took my can of Arizona Iced Tea out of the freezer and shook it. It was at that stage where the juice was frozen but still soft enough to drink, with a bit of it still in a liquid state. Perfect. I cracked the can open and poured a glass full for myself.
I closed the freezer door and turned the lights off in my kitchen. The entire apartment was dark except for the glow coming from underneath my bedroom door. I tip toed back into my bedroom and was careful not to make too much noise. But then he rolled over in bed and looked at me. ”For me?” he smiled. ”No. For me.” I sipped from the glass then handed it to him.
This was the third night Ryan had come over. I didn’t question him about whatever problems he may be having with his girlfriend this time. I was curious but didn’t want to know. I was content with his company and did not want to remind myself that it only came when he was upset or bored with his current situation. He was mine for these few nights and it was my pleasure to help him forget whatever was bothering him.
I climbed back into bed and clicked on the television. I flipped through the channels absentmindedly. I didn’t know what I was looking for. And that went for television just as much as it went for my love life. I felt his arm drap over my shoulders and his finger tips draw small circles on my skin. I tried not to react but my skin grew prickly and I shuttered slightly. The flesh is weak I thought to myself.
“Whats the matter?”
“You seem distracted.”
“Nope. Just trying to understand why there’s nothing on television, ever.”Click, click
“We don’t have to watch TV. We can do something else.”
He wanted to talk? Or was he only saying that because men are constantly told that all women want to do is talk and he’s trying to follow suit. I didn’t want to talk. At least not if I was going to get the answers that I knew I would if I did ask him any questions.
“Why are you with her?”
“What do you mean?”
“I mean exactly that. Why are you with her?”
“I don’t know.”
He removed his arm from around me. It was too late to stop now. I had to keep pressing until he answered me.
“Ok so you’re just with her to be with her?”
“No. I love her.”
“So why do you cheat on her with me?”
“Why does it matter to you all of a sudden?”
“Its not all of a sudden.”
“You care enough to stop fucking with me?”
“I don’t know. No.”
“You do for me something she doesn’t.”
“Fuck you any way you want and cook you dinner?”
“That but you’re a great girl in general.”
I heard him getting frustrated. He could get up and leave after this and never speak to me. We have no ties. He owes me nothing. And part of me wouldn’t blame him. But another part of me would be angry. As if he broke up with me when in actuality he’d be doing the right thing. I remembered something I read about how when a woman sleeps with a man, a hormone is released that makes her feel closer to the person she has had sex with. I imagined him being drenched in my emotional hormones. And then I’d rub them into his skin so he’d feel what I felt. Or maybe I drain this hormone out of my system totally and never have it released again so that I wouldn’t have these kinds of emotions.
“If I’m so great, why isn’t it me? Why am I just a side? Why do you only show up when you’re fighting? Or bored? Why am I a secret?”
“Lets not do this please.”
“Fine! Lets do what you came for instead!”
I climbed on top of him and kissed him hard. I tasted the salt of my tears on his lips and licked them away. I felt his arms pull me to him tight and his hands firmly grip my waist. He pulled away from me and looked at me. I felt small. I felt foolish.
I kissed him before he could get anything out. I didn’t want to know.