She was getting as far away from him as possible, and who could blame her? He'll never, ever change. She needed to tell herself that again. Looking in the mirror, her eyes still dark with yesterday's face, she repeated her mantra of defiance, of escape - escape from the snare-laden city of his charm: 'He'll never, ever change. Just leave. Leave right now! Leave right now and don't ever, ever look back. Because he's never, ever going to change.' With wiggling toes and fists that couldn't be clenched tight enough she felt like she almost had it, almost believed it. If she closed her eyes, sealed them shut in the deepest darkness she could imagine, she could almost get it. Seeing his impassive, half-smirking face floating in the creosote of her memory she knew she could do it. If she had to, she could do it.
Traffic was really beginning to pick up outside his window and he was just opening his eyes, but he'd spent most of the night awake, or in some state that rendered him vulnerable, but not rested. He noticed a persistent scratching at his door, so he got up and let his roommate's cat in. Immediately the cat started weaving in and out of his legs and purring loudly and biting his knees until he picked the animal up and rubbed its belly and kissed its forehead and mauled it with rough love like his mother used to tell him not to. There was still that persistent scratching, though. Not at the door, of course, but of somewhere in the back of his thoughts, like the sound of an alarm that invades a dream. It had kept him awake all night, this phantom notion. Probably just need a shower or something, he thought. So he dropped the cat on his bed next to the still sleeping lump of covers - now growing bare, milky thighs in the morning light - and, as quietly as he could move his heavy, uncoordinated, slightly hung-over self, made his way to the bathroom, cat in tow.
The hot water felt good on her aching neck, relaxed the tension in her shoulders a little. She wouldn't miss its fleeting heat, though. Nor the mold stains around the ceiling. God, she nearly dislocated her shoulder trying to scrub those out. He took one look at them and said: 'Fuck that. You'll only be in this house for a year, that shit won't hurt you.' Of all his faces, apathy was his most handsome, at least his most fitting. Though she'd never seen him wear many others, so it was impossible and unfair to say for sure. But no matter how long she kept the world hidden behind closed eyes, no matter how far away she moved, she'd never forget his smile. His bared teeth, just crooked enough for character; his predatory eyes, glowing with deceit and - what is merely to him - mischief; his breath, still sweet with the taste of a recent meal. And she never knew him to go hungry.
When he opened the creaking bathroom door, the cat was waiting for him in the windowsill, licking its paws, looking more bored than hygienically concerned. He stopped for a moment to love it. 'Hey, buddy. Hey, buddyboy. How ya doin'? Huh? How ya doin', buddy?' Pacing back and forth on the windowsill, a rattling din in a tiny chest, arching its back to follow his hand, the cat was overcome with happiness. A word popped into his head: 'enraptured.' I'll have to remember to use that, he thought, and made his way back to his bedroom, leaving his friend on the windowsill clawing at his turned back, broken-hearted, forgotten.
She got in her car, sparked the ignition, put her hands on the steering wheel, bit her lower lip, wiggled her cold toes inside her shoes, blinked, cleared her throat, blinked again - harder this time, squeezed the steering wheel, blinked again, tried to swallow, but the lump wouldn't budge, and burst into tears. Folded over herself, elbows on the wheel, engine running, face buried in her hands, sobbing damn near uncontrollably. 'Fuck you! I would've gladly abandoned everything for you, you fuck! You selfish fuck!' She screamed her curses and hexes into the warming car, feeling safe behind the tinted windows, soundproof doors; feeling safe knowing that by tomorrow she'd be a resident of this city only on paper. She just wished she'd inflicted something on him, scarred him in some way. But she hadn't. No one ever had, no one ever will, she divined. And she looked out her car window, at the house she lived in for a year, the colorless sky above. She saw him walking up the street to meet her for the first time after they'd talked on the phone for so long. He'd been so eager to meet her. Couldn't wait 'til she moved to the city. Couldn't believe how wonderfully fortuitous it all was. He was sure it had to mean something. And yet it only amounted to a few nights of, admittedly, great sex, some writings she was certain weren't even about her, and a pile of unfinished movies and books he'd recommended her.
Standing in his room, dressed, lightly cologned, with his shoes on, not sure what to do about the girl whose name he couldn't remember in his bed. He wrote her a note, called her 'Lovely' in it. Said he had some urgent errands to run, he'd be back in just a little while. If she had things she needed to do and had to leave, he'd understand. If she was here by the time he got back, he'd like to take her for coffee. He signed it: 'Won't be long, John,' and hurried out the door. Hoped he wasn't too late.
Enough tears to negate the ten minutes she'd spent putting her face on, several deep breaths, and a atring of curses and hexes later, and she felt like she was ready to leave it all behind her. Just shift the car into drive and gun it and never look back. She'd tied up all her loose ends except for the one: a record, Bruce Springsteen's Nebraska, sitting on her porch. She'd texted him last night and told him to come get it if he wanted it back. Told him she'd be leaving at 10am, and if he wanted to say good-by to come before then. If he couldn't make it, she'd understand and would just leave it on the porch. Of course he didn't reply. It was pretty late in the night and she knew his habits. She looked out her car window again for one last look at the house she had once fatuously called home, and noticed the record was gone.
Her car was still there, so that was a good sign, he thought. He didn't notice it was running; just picked up the record and went in without knocking, like he always did. Almost immediately he could tell no one was home, but called her name anyway. No answer. Why was the door unlocked? He went back outside and saw that she was just stepping out of her car.
'Hey, you! How are ya?'
'I must've forgotten to lock the door.'
'Wouldn't be the first time, ha ha!'
'No, but it'll be the last.'
A brief hug.
'That's right. You're headin' back to sunshine and sandy beaches today, huh?'
'Yep, I'm all done with school, and going back home to recoup for awhile.'
'Can't say I blame ya. This city can get rough. Winters here, especially.'
She didn't know what to say to him. She just stood there, blinking, wiggling her toes, trying as hard as she could to not let a single emotion slip past her. But his fucking tone of voice, that smug look on his face, the way he was treating her! God, it was enough to make her claw his eyes out, stomp his face into the ground, punt him square in his big, ugly balls!
'You know, I was thinking this morning in the shower about you and me and how we met. That was really something, wasn't it? Not many people are lucky enough to have such a chance encounter. And I know we don't really talk anymore, but I really think we've got a chemistry, you and me, and it'd be a shame to just let that vanish, so let's definitely stay in touch. Okay? For real, let's stay in touch. You're always going to be important to me. You'll always be an important part of my life. We can't let that slip us by. You know what I mean? We're really lucky to have met and I think it's important to never forget that. We absolutely must keep in touch. Promise me we will. You've got to promise to write and call and let me know anytime something even slightly worthwhile happens. I'm going to miss you. I really am. I'm gonna miss your laugh, and your tiny hands, and your vegan lasagna, and your never-failing upbeat attitude. You're like the happiest person I've ever met, you realize? I've always envied your indefatigable sunny disposition. It's like you're . . . you're just enraptured by life. That's so amazing. I feel so lucky to have met someone like you. So, please, promise me you'll write and call. Okay?'
'You know, you are so full of shit.'