I dart a look at my clock. A half an hour until the ceremony is over. It's a risk.
He meets me at the door, just like he said he would, his hand out. Blushing, I hand him my panties, which he clenches in one fist, while darting the other hand under my skirt. "Very good," he breathes, as he slips a finger inside of me.
I make it back to the ceremony just as they are ready to throw the rice. I smile like the professional I am, and no seems to notice that my hair is mussed and I am still not wearing any panties.
Let the world outside be damned, I've found paradise. It's a sixth floor apartment in an okay part of town and it's inhabited by an actual angel.
In between fucking her and cooking for her, I'm happy enough just to hang around watching her. She spends most of the morning on the phone, doing all of the bootstrap work I remember from when I started my own company all those years ago. The promotions, the press releases, the greasing of suppliers palms, and the never-ending search for clients.
She's good at it. Better than I was, I see that right away. Where I am more of a big-picture, idea person, Sanniyah is gifted at breaking things down into steps. Her vision boards and timelines are like a foreign language to me; both impressive and utterly incomprehensible.
I feel bad eavesdropping, but she's given no indication that she is looking for these calls to be private. So I sit back on her bed and watch her chew the end of her pen, her face screwed up in this cute little frown as she places her call.
"Yes, thank you, I can hold." She taps the pen nervously. This call seems a little different than all the others. Her calm, collected demeanor is fraying a bit at the edges. She catches sight of me looking at her and smiles, then holds up crossed fingers. I nod and cross my fingers too, and the look of gratitude she gives me makes my heart hurt.
Then her attention snaps back to the call. "Felicia! Yes, hi, Sanniyah Jones, Rita Torres gave me your number?" Her smile falters a bit, but she plows on. "I do realize you're busy, but I was hoping you had a chance to look over the press release I had sent you. As Rita may have mentioned...uh huh...no definitely, my inbox is out of hand as well." She gives a brittle laugh. "I believe I sent it, let me see, about four days ago? That would be...yes, the twenty-first." Her shoulders are slumping lower and lower and I want to reach through the phone and throttle the person she's talking to. "Well of course, I would be happy to call back, is there a particular time of day you'd prefer? No, I get that, believe me. I'll be in touch very soon. Thank you so much, Felicia. Will you please tell Rita I say hello? Wonderful."
The frozen smile melts off of her face the minute she hangs up. She stares at her phone, slumped over, her face a mixture of disappointment and confusion. She looks deflated.
"Anything I can do?" I ask. I can't see her like this.
She startles like she had forgotten I was there. "Um, no, not really." She turns to her computer and begins scrolling through the massive quantity of emails that I can tell from here are all organized and filed. "There it is," she mutters. "It has a fucking read receipt, you bitch. I know you opened it."
She slams her laptop lid closed and hops to her feet. "I need to take a walk, you want to take a walk with me?"
I feel her words more than I hear him and they are a punch directly to my gut. My throat goes dry and I feel the icy trickle of cold sweat slithering down my next. Gripping the sheets in my shaking hands, I try to stall, hoping she can't hear the panic in my voice. "Where do you want to go?"
She is already putting on her sneakers like this is nothing to her. "I don't know, I just need to move, stop staring at a computer screen for a bit. The park's only three blocks from here, we could grab a bite at the gyro truck."
"You tired of my eggs?" I stall.
She laughs and stands back up, shaking out her hands and jumping up and down. "I'm just...all pissed off and antsy. I need to burn a few calories."
"I can think of a calorie burning activity we can do right here," I urge, patting the bed beside me.
She rolls her eyes. "Carter, we've barely left this apartment in three days. It's nice and all, but I think I'm getting a Vitamin D deficiency. Can't we just go for a quick walk?"
She doesn't know what it costs me to rise from the bed. I feel like I am moving through ice water, slowly freezing to death while she watches me with nothing more than impatience. "Sure," I tell her, my tongue too thick in my mouth. "Just a quick walk."
This is what normal couples do, I tell myself as I walk to her elevator like I am preparing to meet my doom. They go out, they walk, they experience things together. You said you were ready.
I am not ready!
I am gripping her arm too tightly. "Sorry." She doesn't know that if I let go of her I might drown.
The first step out onto the sidewalk is like stepping off the edge of an abyss. I squeeze my eyes shut, feeling exposed, a prey animal waiting to be picked off by unseen predators. Sanniyah is already moving, her hand in mine the only tether that is keeping me from running full tilt back to her apartment, back to my helicopter, back to my island, my sanctuary, my safety....
"Fuck," I hiss audibly, and open my eyes. If I can just keep them fixed on Sanniyah.
She is about a pace ahead of me, the crowds parting in front of her. She leads me and I know she thinks it's just because I don't know the way to McMahon Park. I do, of course. I grew up five blocks north of there. Summer camp was that the civic center on the north end. My dad would drop us off on the hot summer mornings, the pavement already starting to bake even at the early hour. And my mother would pick us up at the end of the day. My mother...
"Carter, watch out!" Sanniyah yanks me back on to the sidewalk just as the wash of air from the passing bus hits me full in the face.
"Holy shit, are you okay?"
He just...stepped out in front of a bus. That was disturbing enough. But what is more disturbing is the dead look in his eyes when I yank him back on to the sidewalk.
It's like he's just...not there. At all. The sparkle in his blue eyes is gone and the color has somehow faded until they are as dull and flat as a doll's. He's pale, paler than I thought a white person could get, even under his tan I can see the sickly, almost deathly pallor. And the hand I am clutching to my chest is clammy and limp as a dead fish. Without meaning to, I fling it away in horror.
"Carter, what the hell is going on?" I can feel the tears. He looks terrifying right now.
"I can't do it." He doesn't say this to me, but I hear it all the same.
He blinks, and for a minute his eyes are right again. Then they dart around behind me, taking in the passing pedestrians, the honking cars, the tall buildings. And then it begins to dawn on me. "Your agoraphobia...," I realize.
"No!" he says sharply.
"It's okay, shit, I shouldn't have done this, I should have known better, but I thought you were okay since you came to me, Carter, I'm sorry I pushed you..."
I reach out to hug him to me, but he steps back, his arms tightly at his sides. "No! Please. Sanniyah. Don't touch me right now, okay?"
"What do you need?" I ask, feeling frantic. "We can go back, right now, okay?"
"No." He is still standing there, eyes darting, chest heaving.
My mind races. He's not hearing me. His fists are clenched at his sides, knuckles white. "Carter? I'm going to call someone, right now, okay?" Frantically, I scroll through my phone for the number.
The ten minutes that roll by are the longest I've ever spent in my life. Carter is frozen in front of me, his face a mask of anger and shame. No matter how much I tell him that it's okay, that I am sorry, he only says 'no,' over and over again until the black car rolls up and Camilla jumps out.
"Carter, here. Come right here." I feel my heart sink to see how he lets her lead him into the safety of the black Towne car. The instant he is behind the tinted glass, he relaxes.
"Thank you for calling, Sanniyah." Camilla sounds concerned, distracted, and a bit put out. "He shouldn't have pushed himself, it can undo all the good he's done up to this point."
"I'm sorry," I say dumbly.
"It's okay," she answers tightly.
But I know it isn't when she gets back into the car and shakes some pills into her hand. Carter shoots me one last anguished glance, then pops them into his mouth, dry. Then the door closes and he is gone.
Already my apartment feels too empty with him gone. I wander around, picking things up and putting them down, until, with nothing left to distract me, I fall into bed, wrapping myself in the sheets that still smell like him and cursing myself for being my bull-headed self. Anger courses through me in waves, each wave followed by another of heartbreak and sadness that startles me each time I feel it.