The fan turns slowly, making a soft whirring sound, but for the most part the air in the room remains still. She turns over in bed, dragging the sheet with her as she goes. He shifts as the fabric moves over his skin, eyes opening slowly as the motion brings him into consciousness. He stares at the ceiling for a few long moments, watching the blades of the fan circle above him. He stretches, then looks over at her still-sleeping form.
She is deep into a dream. In her mind she is underwater, surrounded by the soothing numbness of the ocean. She swims toward the shore and emerges on the beach of a tropical island, where the natives take her captive and place her on a stone slab over a roaring fire. Her former lover appears, and the reconnect above the flames. At the climax of passion he disappears, and she finds herself alone in the center of a deserted urban jungle. For some reason the silent streets do not disturb her. Instead, she wanders around the empty city, searching for a store or café that might sell something to eat.
He moves over to the edge of the bed and sits, rubbing his eyes. The motion bounces the mattress, jostling her body and waking her from the dream. For a moment she makes no sound, trying to identify her surroundings. She turns over and recognizes his back, slightly hunched over the side of the bed.
“Good morning,” he says.
“Hi,” she replies. Silence. “I should probably go,” she adds after a long moment.
“You don’t have to,” he says, suddenly containing a lot of energy. “Do you have somewhere you have to be?”
“What time is it?” she asks.
“Close to eight.”
She sighs a little. “No, I don’t.” She didn’t have to ask the time, or the day; the answer wouldn’t have changed.
He lies back down next to her on the bed. “How are you feeling?”
“Fine,” she replies quickly.
She pauses. “Not really,” she admits.
“I don’t know.”
“Fair enough. It’s still early.” He smiles at her. She tries to return the favor and weakly succeeds.
“What happened last night?” he asks.
She remembers, back in her apartment, holding the bottle of pills in one hand and her phone in another. She remembers a half-empty bottle of champagne resting on the kitchen counter. She remembers running down eighth avenue and tripping over a pile of garbage bags.
She touches her elbow and winces.
“You were pretty banged up,” he adds.
“Yeah.” She frowns. “I fell.”
“You fell quite a bit.”
“I’m sorry.” She stands. “I shouldn’t have come here. I shouldn’t have bothered you. I don’t even know why I still had your number.” She searches around the room for her purse, wallet, keys – she couldn’t remember what she’d brought with her.
He walks over and stops her, resting his hands on her shoulders. “Hey. It’s okay. I’m glad you came over.” She slips out from his grasp. “It’s really great to see you again. It’s been so long,” he says to the wall.
“It hadn’t been long enough.”
He lets out a breath of air. “Ouch.”
She stops and turns to face him. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean that.”
Their eyes meet. “I know,” he replies.
“Last night, did we – “ She pauses. “Did we?”
“No,” he replies quickly.
“Okay.” She nods.
“What do you remember?”
She hesitates. She remembers her roommate not answering, hearing four rings and then voicemail. She remembers her keys digging into her palm and men whistling at her as she ran down the street. She remembers collapsing into his arms, hearing vibrations coming from his warm chest, feeling her feet lift off the ground as he carries her into the next room.
“Not much,” she tells him.
A crease forms on his brow. “What happened before you came here?”
She cuts him off. “How long has it been?”
He pauses. “Four months.”
“That is a long time.”
“You still seeing that guy?”
She thinks of her dream, of making love while being cooked alive. “We broke up last month.”
She shakes her head. “Don’t be.”
“I never liked him anyway.”
She smiles a little. “You never like any guy I date.”
“Sure.” He walks to the doorway. “You want breakfast?”
She hesitates. “Okay.”
They walk to the kitchen. She sits down at the table as he gets out a frying pan, eggs, bread, butter, and cheese.
“You want something to drink?” he asks.
He gets out a glass, puts three ice cubes in it, and fills it from the tap. So simple, so specific, and just the way she likes it. He knows. He places the glass in front of her, and she feels a pang of guilt.
“Thanks.” She takes a few sips as he turns the stove on and cracks a few eggs.
“This isn’t really fair, is it?” she asks.
He chuckles. “Probably not.”
“Are you seeing anyone?”
“I think you know the answer to that question.”
She nods. “Right.”
They listen to the eggs simmer. He scrapes the spatula on the bottom of the pan with one hand and opens the bag of cheese with the other.
She stands. “I really shouldn’t be here.”
“Goddamnit, will you stop?” He slams the spatula down on the counter and whirls around to face her.
“Did I say that matters to me? At all?”
She clenches and unclenches her hands nervously. “I guess not.”
“Please. Just sit.”
She doesn’t. “I just don’t understand.”
“Why you’d do this for me. I show up out of the blue after four months. You let me sleep over. You make me breakfast.” She chews on the inside of her cheek. “I treat you like shit.”
“Yeah. You do.” He watches her unflinchingly.
“So I’d rather live with you than without you. You know that.”
She sits down again and watches as he moves around the kitchen. “How have you been?” she asks awkwardly.
“You left.” He puts two slices of bread in the pan, pressing them into the heat with the spatula. “Just disappeared. It’s been hell.”
“Stop apologizing.” He switches the stove off and places the spatula down on the counter. He runs his fingers through his hair. “Why did you come back?”
“I don’t know.”
He shakes his head. “All right.” He opens the cupboard and grabs two plates. He serves the eggs and the bread, and sits across from her at the table.
She doesn’t touch her food. “Did I say anything to you last night?”
“You really don’t remember.”
She shakes her head. He sighs.
“You didn’t say anything.” He picks up his fork, takes a bite of the eggs, chews, and swallows. Still she does not move. Finally – “You said you love me.”
She stares at him. The blood rushes into her face. Still she says nothing.
“Was it true?”
She picks up her fork and pokes her food.
“I didn’t think so.”
“It is true.”
He leans back in his chair. “Why didn’t you tell me?”
“I forgot how to.”
He sighs and puts his fork down. “How long?”
“I don’t know.”
“You’re a dirty liar.” He smirks.
“I forgot that I can’t lie to you.”
She grabs onto her glass as if it could somehow grant her stability. “Three months.”
“Six.” She stares at the ice cubes melting in the water. “But I’ve known for three.”
He shakes his head and chuckles wryly. “You.”
She frowns. “What?”
He leans forward and puts his head in his hands. “You are a fucking nightmare.”
“I was going to kill myself last night.”
He stares at her, mouth opening and closing in shock.
“Oh.” That’s all he manages.
“So essentially,” she continues. “You’re right. I am a nightmare.”
He doesn’t break eye contact with her. Anyone else would have been too afraid to look her in the face at this moment. And somehow, it’s as if his gaze holds her. “Why did you want to do it?” Always so blunt, so honest, so straight-to-the-point.
“Would you believe me if I said I don’t know?”
“I think you do know.”
“Okay.” She scrunches up her face, and he watches her explore her memories with her eyes closed. Finally, she relaxes. “I was tired.”
“Tired,” she affirms.
He nods slowly. “I think I get it.”
“But why were you so tired?”
Her hand tightens around her water glass. “Because everything hurt.”
A fire lights up in his eyes. “Did he do this to you?”
“No.” She takes a breath, trying to find the bravery to be as open and honest as he was. “You did.”
“Me?” Shock, incredulity, rage. “I haven’t seen you in – how could I – you –“ He had too many things to say. “I’m not the one who walked away!” he explodes.
“I was trying to save you the trouble,” she mumbles.
“Of what?” He’s still yelling. All of this has been pent up inside of him for too long. “Of being in love with you? Because I think we both know that’s a hopeless situation.”
“You don’t love me,” she says quietly.
He laughs in manic disbelief. “How could you say that?”
“You love the idea of me.”
He shakes his head. “That is utter bullshit, and you know it.”
“You have this version of me that you’ve made up. You love her. Not me.”
“You don’t get it, do you.” Not a question.
Tears well up in her eyes. “I just couldn’t handle you loving someone who wasn’t me.”
“So you left.” He laughs again, more loudly. “Wow. Now that really isn’t fair.”
“I know!” She picks up the glass and almost hurls it across the room, but he reaches out and grabs it from her hand just in time.
They stare at each other. He places the glass back down on the table. Her jaw clenches. He reaches out slowly, placing his hands on hers, pressing them into the table. She stays completely still.
“I didn’t want to stick around to see you move on,” she whispers. “Whether we got to be together or not.”
“You know I won’t.”
“Everyone else does.”
The corner of his mouth twitches upward in bitter humor. “What do I tell you? A cliché that you’ve heard a million times? That I’m not everyone else?”
She lowers her eyes and looks at their hands, tense and motionless on the table. A strong urge to pull away overpowers her, yet she feels that the attempt would be useless. He wouldn’t let her get away so easily. Not again.
“Why did you let me go?” she says in response.
His hands move up to circle around her wrists. “I’d done enough chasing.”
“I don’t –“ She bites her lip, then fights against the desire to swallow her words. “I don’t know why I always run.”
“You didn’t run from him.” An accusation with only a taste of blame.
Her brows draw together. “No.”
She recalls her dream, of wandering the empty streets of the city, starving and yet without a care in the world. “Because I always felt alone with him anyway.”
“And not with me.”
She takes a deep breath, preparing herself for the next words to leave her mouth. “Without you, it feels as if a large chunk of my body has been cut off. As if there’s a hole in the middle of it all.”
His fingers release her wrists and trace slowly down the side of her hands, lifting them up from the table and sliding underneath. Their palms now touch each other.
There’s an elated feeling in the center of her chest, so strong it hurts. “I couldn’t live with that any more.”
“So you chose not to live with it any more.”
She curls her fingers around his hands. “Yes.” She swallows. “It was either you. Or – to not live.”
There’s a hopeful twinkle in his eyes. “And you chose me?”
She uncurls her fingers, but allows her hands to stay on top of his. He doesn’t move, or can’t. This is either the end or the beginning, and she is paralyzed with indecision.
The urge rises again. To go back down eighth avenue and leap over the pile of garbage, to down the rest of the pills and drown in the champagne. There is nothing worse, she thinks, than the possibility of your dreams coming true.