"Shit," Ethan mutters.
Graham doesn't look at them. He continues to face me. As if both of our lives aren't falling apart around us, Graham calmly says to me, "Would you like me to walk with you downstairs?"
"Graham!" Sasha says his name like she has a right to be angry at him for being here.
Graham and I both stand up. Neither of us look toward Ethan's apartment. Graham has a tight grip on my hand as he leads me to the elevator.
She's right behind us, then next to us as we wait for the elevator. She's on the other side of Graham, pulling on his shirtsleeve. He squeezes my hand a little harder, so I squeeze his back, letting him know we can do this without a scene. Just walk onto the elevator and leave.
When the doors open, Graham ushers me on first and then he steps on. He doesn't leave room for Sasha to step on with us. He blocks the doorway and we're forced to face the direction of the doors. The direction of Sasha. He hits the button for the lobby and when the doors begin to close, I finally look up.
I notice two things.
1) Ethan is no longer in the hallway and his apartment door is closed.
2) Sasha is so much prettier than me. Even when she's crying.
The doors close and it's a long, quiet ride to the bottom. Graham doesn't let go of my hand and we don't speak, but we also don't cry. We walk quietly out of the elevator and across the lobby. When we reach the door, Vincent holds it open for us, looking at us both with apology in his eyes. Graham pulls out his wallet and gives Vincent a handful of bills. "Thanks for the apartment number," Graham says.
Vincent nods and takes the cash. When his eyes meet mine, they're swimming in apology. I give Vincent a hug since I'll likely never see him again.
Once Graham and I are outside, we just stand on the sidewalk, dumbfounded. I wonder if the world looks different to him now because it certainly looks different to me. The sky, the trees, the people who pass us on the sidewalk. Everything seems slightly more disappointing than it did before I walked into Ethan's building.
"You want me to hail you a cab?" he finally says.
"I drove. That's my car," I say, pointing across the street.
He glances back up at the apartment building. "I want to get out of here before she makes it down." He looks genuinely worried, like he can't face her at all right now.
At least Sasha is trying. She followed Graham all the way to the elevator while Ethan just walked back inside his apartment and closed his door.
Graham looks back at me, his hands shoved in his jacket pockets. I wrap my coat tightly around myself. There's not much left to say other than goodbye.
His stare is flat, like he's not even in this moment. He backs up a step. Two steps. Then he spins and starts walking in the other direction.
I look back at the apartment building, just as Sasha bursts through the doors. Vincent is behind her, staring at me. He waves at me, so I lift a hand and wave back to him. We both know it's a goodbye wave, because I'm never stepping foot inside Ethan's apartment building again. Not even for whatever stuff of mine litters his apartment. I'd rather him just throw it all away than face him again.
Sasha looks left and then right, hoping to find Graham. She doesn't. She just finds me and it makes me wonder if she even knows who I am. Did Ethan tell her he's supposed to get married next month? Did he tell her we just spoke on the phone this morning and he told me he's counting down the seconds until he gets to call me his wife? Does she know when I sleep over at Ethan's apartment that he refuses to shower without me? Did he tell her the sheets he just fucked her on were an engagement gift from my sister?
Does she know when Ethan proposed to me, he cried when I said yes?
She must not realize this or she wouldn't have thrown away her relationship with a guy who impressed me more in one hour than Ethan did in four years.
* * *
Our marriage didn't collapse. It didn't suddenly fall apart.
It's been a much slower process.
It's been dwindling, if you will.
I'm not even sure who is most at fault. We started out strong. Stronger than most; I'm convinced of that. But over the course of the last several years, we've weakened. The most disturbing thing about it is how skilled we are at pretending nothing has changed. We don't talk about it. We're alike in a lot of ways, one of them being our ability to avoid the things that need the most attention.
In our defense, it's hard to admit that a marriage might be over when the love is still there. People are led to believe that a marriage ends only when the love has been lost. When anger replaces happiness. When contempt replaces bliss. But Graham and I aren't angry at each other. We're just not the same people we used to be.
Sometimes when people change, it's not always noticeable in a marriage, because the couple changes together, in the same direction. But sometimes people change in opposite directions.
I've been facing the opposite direction from Graham for so long, I can't even remember what his eyes look like when he's inside me. But I'm sure he has every strand of hair on the back of my head memorized from all the times I roll away from him at night.
People can't always control who their circumstances turn them into.
I look down at my wedding ring and roll it with my thumb, spinning it in a continuous circle around my finger. When Graham bought it, he said the jeweler told him the wedding ring is a symbol for eternal love. An endless loop. The beginning becomes the middle and there's never supposed to be an end.
But nowhere in that jeweler's explanation did he say the ring symbolizes eternal happiness. Just eternal love. The problem is, love and happiness are not concordant. One can exist without the other.
I'm staring at my ring, my hand, the wooden box I'm holding, when out of nowhere, Graham says, "What are you doing?"
I lift my head slowly, completely opposite of the surprise I'm feeling at his sudden appearance in the doorway. He's already taken off his tie and the top three buttons of his shirt are undone. He's leaning against the doorway, his curiosity pulling his eyebrows together as he stares at me. He fills the room with his presence.
I only fill it with my absence.
After knowing him for as long as I have, there's still a mysteriousness that surrounds him. It peeks out of his dark eyes and weighs down all the thoughts he never speaks. The quietness is what drew me to him the first day I met him. It made me feel at peace.
Funny how that same quietness makes me uneasy now.
I don't even try to hide the wooden box. It's too late; he's staring straight at it. I look away from him, down at the box in my hands. It's been in the attic, untouched, rarely even thought of. I found it today while I was looking for my wedding dress. I just wanted to see if the dress still fit. It did, but I looked different in it than I did seven years ago.
I looked lonelier.
Graham walks a few steps into the bedroom. I can see the stifled fear in his expression as he looks from the wooden box to me, waiting for me to give him an answer as to why I'm holding it. Why it's in the bedroom. Why I thought to even pull it out of the attic.
I don't know why. But holding this box is certainly a conscious decision, so I can't respond with something innocent like "I don't know."
He steps closer and the crisp smell of beer drifts from him. He's never been much of a drinker, unless it's Thursday, when he goes to dinner with his coworkers. I actually like the smell of him on Thursday nights. I'm sure if he drank every day I'd grow to despise the smell, especially if he couldn't control the drinking. It would become a point of contention between us. But Graham is always in control. He has a routine and he sticks to it. I find this aspect of his personality to be one of his sexiest traits. I used to look forward to his return on Thursday nights. Sometimes I would dress up for him and wait for him right here on the bed, anticipating the sweet flavor of his mouth. It says something that I forgot to look forward to it tonight.
I can hear all his fears, silently smashed between each letter of my name. He walks toward me and I focus on his eyes the whole time. They're uncertain and concerned and it makes me wonder when he started looking at me this way. He used to look at me with amusement and awe. Now his eyes just flood me with pity.
I'm sick of being looked at this way, of not knowing how to answer his questions. I'm no longer on the same wavelength as my husband. I don't know how to communicate with him anymore. Sometimes when I open my mouth, it feels like the wind blows all my words straight back down my throat.
I miss the days when I needed to tell him everything or I would burst. And I miss the days when he would feel like time cheated us during the hours we had to sleep. Some mornings I would wake up and catch him staring at me. He would smile and whisper, "What did I miss while you were sleeping?" I would roll onto my side and tell him all about my dreams and sometimes he would laugh so hard, he would have tears in his eyes. He would analyze the good ones and downplay the bad ones. He always had a way of making me feel like my dreams were better than anyone else's.
He no longer asks what he misses while I sleep. I don't know if it's because he no longer wonders or if it's because I no longer dream anything worth sharing.
I don't realize I'm still spinning my wedding ring until Graham reaches down and stills it with his finger. He gently threads our fingers together and carefully pulls my hand away from the wooden box. I wonder if his intention is to react like I'm holding an explosive or if that's truly how he feels right now.
He tilts my face upward and he bends forward, pressing a kiss to my forehead.
I close my eyes and subtly pull away, making it appear as though he caught me while I was already mid-movement. His lips brush across my forehead as I push off the bed, forcing him to release me as I watch him take a humbling step back.
I call it the divorce dance. Partner one goes in for the kiss, partner two isn't receptive, partner one pretends he didn't notice. We've been dancing this same dance for a while now.
I clear my throat, my hands gripping the box as I walk it to the bookshelf. "I found it in the attic," I say. I bend down and slide the box between two books on the bottom shelf.
Graham built me this bookshelf as a gift for our first wedding anniversary. I was so impressed that he built it from scratch with his bare hands. I remember he got a splinter in the palm of his hand while moving it into the bedroom for me. I sucked it out of his palm as a thank-you. Then I pushed him against the bookshelf, knelt down in front of him, and thanked him some more.
That was back when touching each other still held hope. Now his touch is just another reminder of all the things I'll never be for him. I hear him walking across the room toward me so I stand up and grip the bookshelf.
"Why did you bring it down from the attic?" he asks.
I don't face him, because I don't know how to answer him. He's so close to me now; his breath slides through my hair and brushes the back of my neck when he sighs. His hand tops mine and he grips the bookshelf with me, squeezing. He brings his lips down against my shoulder in a quiet kiss.
I'm bothered by the intensity of my desire for him. I want to turn and fill his mouth with my tongue. I miss the taste of him, the smell of him, the sound of him. I miss when he would be on top of me, so consumed by me that it felt like he might tear through my chest just so he could be face-to-face with my heart while we made love. It's strange how I can miss a person who is still here. It's strange that I can miss making love to a person I still have sex with.
No matter how much I mourn the marriage we used to have, I am partly--if not wholly--responsible for the marriage it's turned into. I close my eyes, disappointed in myself. I've perfected the art of avoidance. I'm so graceful in my evasion of him; sometimes I'm not sure if he even notices. I pretend to fall asleep before he even makes it to bed at night. I pretend I don't hear him when my name drips from his lips in the dark. I pretend to be busy when he walks toward me, I pretend to be sick when I feel fine, I pretend to accidentally lock the door when I'm in the shower.
I pretend to be happy when I'm breathing.
It's becoming more difficult to pretend I enjoy his touch. I don't enjoy it--I only need it. There's a difference. It makes me wonder if he pretends just as much as I do. Does he want me as much as he professes to? Does he wish I wouldn't pull away? Is he thankful I do?
He wraps an arm around me and his fingers splay out against my stomach. A stomach that still easily fits into my wedding dress. A stomach unmarred by pregnancy.
I have that, at least. A stomach most mothers would envy.
"Do you ever . . ." His voice is low and sweet and completely terrified to ask me whatever he's about to ask me. "Do you ever think about opening it?"
Graham never asks questions he doesn't need answers to. I've always liked that about him. He doesn't fill voids with unnecessary talk. He either has something to say or he doesn't. He either wants to know the answer to something or he doesn't. He would never ask me if I ever think about opening the box if he didn't need to know the answer.
Right now, this is my least favorite thing about him. I don't want this question because I don't know how to give him his answer.
Instead of risking the wind blowing my words back down my throat, I simply shrug. After years of being experts of avoidance, he finally stops the divorce dance long enough to ask a serious question. The one question I've been waiting for him to ask me for a while now. And what do I do?
The moments that follow my shrug are probably why it's taken him so long to ask the question in the first place. It's the moment I feel his heart come to a halt, the moment he presses his lips into my hair and sighs a breath he'll never get back, the moment he realizes he has both arms wrapped around me but he still isn't holding me. He hasn't been able to hold me for a while now. It's hard to hold on to someone who has long since slipped away.
I don't reciprocate. He releases me. I exhale. He leaves the bedroom.
We resume the dance.
* * *
The sky turned upside down.
Just like my life.
An hour ago, I was engaged to the man I've been in love with for four years. Now I'm not. I turn the windshield wipers on and watch out the window as people run for cover. Some of them run inside Ethan's apartment building, including Sasha.
The rain came out of nowhere. No sprinkles to indicate what was coming. The sky just tipped over like a bucket of water and huge drops are falling hard against my window.
I wonder if Graham lives close by or if he's still walking. I flip on my blinker and pull out of my usual parking spot at Ethan's for the very last time. I head in the direction Graham began walking a few minutes ago. As soon as I turn left, I see him duck into a restaurant to take cover from the storm. Conquistadors. It's a Mexican restaurant. One I'm not too fond of. But it's close to Ethan's apartment and he likes it, so we eat here at least once a month.
A car is pulling out of a space in front of the restaurant, so I patiently wait for them to leave and then I ease my car into their spot. I get out of the car without knowing what I'll say to Graham once I walk inside.
"Need a ride home?"
"Up for a night of revenge sex?"
Who am I kidding? The last thing I want tonight is revenge sex. That's not why I'm following him, so I hope he doesn't assume that's the case once he sees me. I still don't know why I'm following him. Maybe it's because I don't want to be alone. Because like he said, the tears will come later, in the silence.
When the door closes behind me and my eyes adjust to the dim lighting in the restaurant, I spot Graham standing at the bar. He's removing his wet coat and laying it over the back of the chair when he sees me. He doesn't appear at all shocked to see me. He pulls out the cha
ir next to him with the confident expectation that I'll walk over to him and take it.
I do. I sit right next to him and neither of us says a word. We just commiserate in our silent misery.
"Can I get you two any drinks?" a bartender asks.
"Two shots of whatever will help us forget the last hour of our lives," Graham says.
The bartender laughs, but neither of us laughs with him. He sees how serious Graham is being, so he holds up a finger. "I have just the thing." He walks to the other end of the bar.
I can feel Graham watching me, but I don't look at him. I don't really want to see how sad his eyes are right now. I almost feel worse for him than I do for myself.
I pull a bowl of pretzels in front of me. They're a mixture of shapes, so I begin to pull out all the sticks and I lay them on the bar in the shape of a grid. Then I pull out all the O-shaped pretzels and scoot the bowl of the traditionally shaped pretzel knots toward Graham.
I lay my pretzel in the center of the grid. I look at Graham and wait quietly. He looks at the pretzels I've strategically placed on the bar and then he looks back at me. A very slow and guarded smile makes its appearance. Then he reaches into the bowl, pulls out a pretzel knot and places it in the square above mine.
I pick the spot to the left of the center square, placing my pretzel carefully in my square.
The bartender lays two shots down in front of us. We pick them up at the same time and swing our chairs so that we're facing each other.
We sit in silence for a good ten seconds, waiting for the other to make the toast. Graham finally says, "I have absolutely nothing to toast to. Fuck today."
"Fuck today," I say in complete agreement. We clink our shot glasses together and tilt our heads back. Graham's goes down a lot smoother than mine. He slams his glass on the counter and then picks up another pretzel. He makes the next move.
I'm picking up the next pretzel when my phone starts buzzing in my jacket pocket. I pull it out. Ethan's name is flashing across the screen.
Graham then pulls his phone out and sets it on the bar. Sasha's name is flashing across his screen. It's comical, really. What must the two of them think, walking out and seeing both of us sitting on the floor together, eating their Chinese food.