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We’ve been together for almost five months, but I know that I’ll never say that I love her and mean it. She’s turning her glass while she talks, the white wine sloshing like waves in slow motion. She isn’t saying anything that interests me, so I just concentrate on the way her gloss-covered lips slide together as she speaks.
She pushes her thick-rimmed glasses up her nose and raises her brows. Her honey-colored eyes have that look again – the insecure one she always gets before biting her lip and asking if I love her.
“Are you even listening?”
I take a sip of my drink, making eye contact before leaning in to make it look like I’m serious. “Of course.”
She smiles before resuming her usual chatter. I honestly don’t know how she never manages to run out of things to talk about – being the newest errand lackey can’t possibly be that thrilling. If I had her job, I’d hang myself. She started working with us around nine months ago, and I’m surprised she hasn’t quit yet.
“Maybe we could run some articles with recipes?” She tucks a short strand of hair behind her ear. “It seems like something our target demographic would be interested in.”
I cut her off with an abrupt exhale. “I thought we agreed not to talk business anymore when we’re out.”
She shakes her head, her cheeks going pink. “Right, sorry.”
She’s biting her lip again, but looking down like a child who’s just been scolded. I’m really not in the mood to hear her whining tonight.
“Hey.” I smile, setting my hand on hers. “It’s fine; it’s starting to get late. I should probably make sure you get home okay.”
The sex isn’t awful, but it isn’t fantastic either. Her bed squeaks, and she doesn’t like it when I smoke. Plus, her cat watches every time we go back to her place. I hate cats – they remind me of my ex.
I wait until she’s fallen asleep, breathing slowly against my shoulder with her manicured nails still half-digging into my hip, before I slip out of her apartment. I don’t do sleepovers – the thought of waking up to find Andrea standing in the kitchen, wearing my button-down and her dark blue underwear, scrambling eggs, makes me uncomfortable. It happened once when she stayed over with me, and she hasn’t been back to my place to stay the night since. I can tell that it bothers her, but she’s too nervous to ask why.
When I get outside, I lean against the brick of her building and inhale the crisp, mid-November air. It’s to my benefit not to break up with her – mom loves seeing a girl with me at Christmas, and the errand lackey looks presentable enough – even though her insecurities get under my skin.
I’m halfway back to my place when my phone rings, shrill in the silence of the street. I don’t need to look at the number – there’s only one person that would call me this late. I hold the phone up to my ear, and she’s whispering my name before I can even say hello.
“Can you please come get me?”
She sounds like she’s been crying or running – her breaths are shaky and uneven. I can picture her trembling on the side of the road, mascara smudged under her eyes.
I need a cigarette. “Where are you this time?”
She gives me a less-than-helpful description before making me promise to stay on the phone with her until I got there. There’s a dog barking in the background – the kind of dog that wants to tear you to pieces.
Luckily, she isn’t far. We meet on the corner of Elmira and Thirty-Second Street. The hem of her dress is ripped and her hands are shaking as she slides her phone into her purse. She’s thinner than I remember, but still saunters forward like a lynx.
I tug off my coat and slip it around her bare, bony shoulders. “What happened this time?”
She shakes her head, leaning her body into mine as she starts to sob. It’s hard to see her like this now. Her once-golden hair looks more like dirty dishwater, and hangs around her like broken beads strung up to cover a doorway. She hardly looks like the pretty girl that played waitress number three in our school musical.
Before I know it, we’re walking back to my place. She stops crying after she sits down on the plaid couch in my apartment. I hand her a glass of water and sit on the edge of the coffee table. She looks up at me with the same green eyes that she looked at me with when she told me she was leaving me for Bryan. As far as I know, they’re still together. I never understood what she saw in him. They met at the club she used to work in; he’s the one that got her into shooting up, yet he still swept her away. But that was two years ago.
She takes a sip of the water before looking back down. “Can I use your shower?”
She stands up, disappearing into the bathroom, and leaving the glass on the counter. A drop of sweat rolls down the half-drank glass of water as she locks the bathroom door. I set my phone on the floor before lying back on the couch and closing my eyes. She comes back into the living room wearing one of my white dress shirts, the sleeves dangling down her wrists.
“You know I need those for work.”
“It’s Saturday.” Her voice is whiny, like a drowning kitten. “I think you’ll be fine.”
I turn my head to look at her full on before looking back at the ceiling.
She steps forward, water from her hair dripping on the floor behind her. “You’re going to sleep there?”
“Are you staying, Naomi?”
“Where else am I going to go?”
“Then, yes.” I close my eyes. “I’m sleeping here.”
She doesn’t move.
“You don’t live here anymore,” I whisper. “What do you expect?”
“Bryan doesn’t know I’m here.”
“Does he ever?”
There’s a brief silence before I feel her sink onto the couch next to me, curling her fingers against the fabric of my tie. I want to protest, to stop her, but we both know that I won’t. She’s tugging on it, sliding the fabric from around my neck before she trails her fingers down the buttons of my shirt. I open my eyes to look at her.
She’s tipping her head to the side, hair falling over her shoulder to graze my cheek. She pushes the sleeves of my shirt up to her elbows, and I can see the injection tracks running down her forearms in ugly scabs. There’s a slide of her rail-like thighs against my slacks, the whisper of my name, and the scrape of her nails against my scalp.
She always tastes like cinnamon.
I can feel the protrusions of her spine against the skin of her back as my borrowed dress shirt hits the couch cushion. Mom has always hated her, even back when we were just kids. Her hips are sharper than the last time she was here. I’m scared I’ll break her if I’m as rough as I want to be; she’s already going to have bruises in the morning. She’s always been good at this – that’s probably why people pay her for it now.
When the sun creeps through the blinds, she’s still sleeping against my chest. I’ve thrown the afghan that usually lines the back of my couch over her to keep her from catching a cold. When she finally wakes up, she pulls on her clothes from last night and asks if I can give her money to catch a cab back to her place.
I know that’s not what the money will be going towards, but I give it to her. I’ve never been able to say no to her anyways. Then she leaves, practically slamming the door behind her.
I’m curled to the linoleum before I even notice that I’m sinking.
Everything inside of me feels as dead as it did when she packed her bags and left the engagement ring that had belonged to my grandmother sitting on the kitchen table. My forehead is pressed to the front door. Everything sounds like a swarm of fruit flies. I’m out of cigarettes. I feel like I’m inhaling nails. I almost don’t hear the phone ringing across the room.
It has to be Andrea.
Dammit, I am not in the mood for her asking me why I didn’t stay over last night when she knows full well that I never do. I’m not in the mood to lie and say that I love her for the umpteenth time. But I drag myself across the kitchen floor to pick my phone up from the counter and hold it to my ear.
“What is it?”
Whatever she was planning on saying doesn’t come out. She’s quiet for a moment before she speaks. “I was out and wanted to know if you needed more cigarettes.”
I lean back against the cabinets, not caring as the handle presses into my bare shoulder. “Yeah. I ran out last night.”
“Is there anything else you need?”
My hands are shaking and my vision is blurry. I press the heel of my palm against my forehead and shut my eyes. “Just the smokes will be fine.”
She’s at my place twenty minutes later, pushing the door open once she realizes it’s unlocked. She has a brown grocery bag balanced against her hip – just like how Naomi used to when she came home.
“Here.” She crouches down, pressing the pack into my hands along with my lighter.
I nod, taking them from her with shaking hands. I can’t say anything as she looks around the apartment. I’m only in my boxers – my clothes are scattered across the sofa and Naomi’s forgotten bra is hanging from the bathroom doorknob. She watches me as I try to light my cigarette.
“Jack.” She sets her hand on mine gently, flicking the lighter to life before holding it to the end of my cancer stick. I take a drag and keep my eyes closed.
She sets the lighter back on the counter and studies me for a moment before crossing into the kitchen with her bag of groceries and starting to make what I can only assume is soup. She always somehow manages to know how to calm me down when I’m like this. After a few drags, I get up and press the butt into the ashtray on the table before going to my room and getting dressed.
By the time I get the living room tidied up, she has the soup going and comes to sit next to me on the couch. Her head nuzzles against my shoulder as she threads her fingers through mine, but doesn’t say a word.
I watch her flip through the channels until she finds some rerun, made-for-television movie that she’s probably seen before. I don’t push her away or go out on the balcony for another cigarette. I just let her lean up against me, running her thumb over the back of my hand.
Feeling her press her body up against mine is better than lying on the kitchen floor alone.