This isn’t a love story, and that makes finding beginnings and ends difficult. So I’m going to start right here, somewhere in the middle, today, with the girl I’m waiting for and the secret she could have told me yesterday.
She should have told me three weeks ago, or on any one of those chilled January walks, warmed by good conversation and laughter, in any of the days since. But yesterday, when there was nobody around and nothing but the whole night before us, yesterday as we watched the evening sky bleed black, as she lay next to me on warm quilt on frozen shingle on my favorite rooftop spot, as we pulled tighter our coats and each other, speaking of everything between us through the vapor of our own breath—
No, not everything. I kept having to remind myself while pacing redundancies into my bedroom carpet. Yesterday, she really should have told me. My phone buzzed on the bed.
“Here.” The text lit up the screen.
I grabbed at it, and fumbled, but that was the extra second I needed to take a breath. Let her wait. I slipped the phone into my pocket, and turned my attention to a peeling chip of grey paint on the wall. Beneath the grey was a patch of white. Whatever under-the-table “friends and family” discount painter my landlord hired hadn’t cared much to do the job right. Knowing her she got exactly what she paid for.
I suddenly felt very violent and angry toward that small grey dangling flap of ugly old paint, and so I pulled at it, hard. I tore it off, leaving a long white gash in the wall. The peeling chip had hardly been noticeable before, but now it was impossible to not look at this gaping wound. It hadn’t made me feel any better to do it either. I rolled the grey piece between my fingers and threw it into the trash can as though all this was its fault. Finally, I went back to my phone.
“Coming,” I texted, like I had just realized she was there.
She should have told me!
I climbed out the window on the way to the roof and took a deep breath because I wanted her to see me calm, controlled, not jaw clenched and temper flared. The outside air was cold and sharp all the way into my lungs, which actually did the trick since it made me cough a few times and forget about nearly everything, much like a stubbed toe can cure you of a throbbing headache, momentarily.
She was already sitting there, on the rooftop, hugging her knees to her chest, looking out over the tiny oasis of trees and snow-covered grass boxed in by parking structures. It was a beautiful place, at the right angle and the right time of night, and she was a beautiful girl—no use denying it.
Christmas lights hung loosely around and stretched across to one of the trees at the edge of the grass lot. From street level, the twinkling canopy made for a simple, romantic walk. Sitting above, however, up here, those strings of twinkling lights made you feel like you were among the stars, like you could just reach out and pluck all those great and cosmic ideas that tend to float somewhere between heaven and earth.
This night, however, the lights were off. There were no stars, just cement and city smog. We sat for a few minutes without a word, simply watching the daylight fade.
“So–” she started, but I was on a short fuse.
“Why didn’t you tell me?” Maybe I should have tried to hide my anger, but this was no time to bottle up feelings. There had been enough secret-keeping. And frankly I had a right to anger. I had a right to know how I got here. For three weeks she lied to me, and I had a right to know why. I needed her to know she had hurt me and I needed her to hurt too.
“You’re right,” she said. “I should have.” It was a quiet admission and almost pitiful enough to make me feel bad for yelling.
“Yes, you should have.” My voice was steadier, even if the words were still dripping with spite. I had no interest in assuaging her of guilt. I had too much shame, too much embarrassment pumping through me to even feign at grace. Hell, I could hardly look at her. Every time I did I just saw those big brown eyes welling up and sparkling like some impressionist autumn sunset, as disarming as the night I met her three weeks ago when she came dancing into the party with her signature mix of bristling energy and needle-sharp wit.
There were only a handful of people there and I noticed her immediately. Yes, she was petite and pretty, but so was everyone; it was a New Year’s party for tiny pretty people, two of the many reasons I did not belong. But when she opened her mouth I knew those lips held more language in them, those eyes had read more books, that skin had pressed more ink into more lined paper than anyone else in any room into which she might ever dance.
Shit. I caught myself daydreaming. How many seconds had passed in silence? I sucked in some cold to get my mind back to present. My head cleared and my temper cooled.
“So.” I gave the word the full weight of an exhaled breath. I allowed it to sink, to ebb out of reach while I gathered myself for the next part, the part that was easier to think about when I was angry but now just made me feel sick. I forced out the next few words. “You’re getting married.”
And then I turned to face her. I don’t know what I expected, maybe a confrontation, maybe apology or pleading or rationalization, something I could throw back in her face and watch her bleed. Instead, she just turned to match my stare.
“Yes.” She responded, not quietly and not loud, just firm, and simple. Her eyebrows lifted, wrinkling her smooth skin into lines of concern. And then I saw it. There, in her eyes that were still somehow welling up but hadn’t yet let loose a tear—there was the pain.
She was hurting. And immediately I wished she wasn’t. I got what I wanted and I didn’t even want it anymore. Is this how catharsis is supposed to go? Wasn’t I supposed to get some sort of satisfaction, or at least some vindication? I knew only one question mattered.
“Do you love him?”
I nodded, and sighed, and relaxed, and looked back over the trees and the snow. I supposed it was time to finish this off with some dignity.
“It’s fine,” I said in a light, level tone. I hoped it sounded flippant, like I was commenting on the weather. “Neither of us expected this. It was a mistake, and we just need to—” but then she cut me short.
“No,” she said, raising her voice for the first time. “Not a mistake. This was not a mistake.”
I looked at her, and though I could still see the pain in her eyes I could see something else, something in her balled up fists and clenched jaw, something fighting to the surface and aimed right at me. I honestly couldn’t tell if I was about to be kissed passionately or pummeled.