My walls are grey. Around the bedroom, a few peeling patches reveal both the white underneath, and the lack of care that went into the layering, undoubtedly the handiwork of some under-the-table “friends and family” discount painter. Otherwise the coat is uniform and bleak. A nest of blankets and pillows serves to dull the twin-size onslaught of stiff springs on which I sit and stare at the oppressive grey. My middle finger taps a rhythm on the back of my phone, the only indicator of my stewing anticipation.
I’ve already rehearsed this night, written three different speeches, practiced my words and her words and my responses. I fielded both sides of a hundred conversations, in the shower, walking to school, ignoring my classes, taking the bus to work, clock in, clock out, back home. And now, nothing to do but wait for-
My hand reacts to the message before my brain has time to register phone’s vibration. Here. I leave the room, the grey walls deepening with the dimming daylight, and walk outside to meet her.
We sit at my favorite rooftop spot, around the backside of my house, overlooking all the insides of the city block. I don’t come here often enough, most of my energy spent in mental warfare against the suppression of those grey bedroom walls. But this is a spot of significance, of connection. At night I could turn on the Christmas lights, strung out from the rain gutter, above the asphalt to the big hackberry tree at the edge of the grass lot behind our house: this little patch of life, boxed on all four sides by various housing and parking structures, a green oasis against the city grime. Walking below, those tiny lights made a pleasant canopy, maybe even a little romantic; but from above, sitting on the slanted, rough tar shingles, those twinkling strings of light below became a wondrous compliment to the few stars above bright enough to shine through the smog. On those nights, this quiet rooftop spot became a cosmic place, a vessel from which to pluck the best ideas floating somewhere between heaven and earth.
Tonight the lights stay off, and all the color of day dims with the cold grey of dusk. She shivers and I adjust my seat, and we both willfully ignore discomfort in reverence to the aesthetic. Cars in the street behind and a few chirping bugs accent the silence between us. After minutes, though I don’t know how many, I breathe deeply, exhale heavily, and speak.
“We can’t do… this.” I had practiced these words, and variations, in the shower this morning. I had boiled down an entire speech into this four syllable concentrate. I had worked the pause, allowing the first three sounds to reverberate across the tile before delivering the finale. Had she come ready to battle, I would have battled. But her silence spoke of her own resignation, and told me how we were to begin. And now she let a few more moments pass before her response.
“Yeah. I know. It sucks.” She didn’t ask me what I meant and I appreciated that, no reason to play dumb. I appreciated a lot of things about her. That’s why it all came to this.
The moment she had me was, two months ago, when she asked for my favorite Star Trek crew, and her answer was better than mine. This happened one week after the New Year’s party, where she danced into the room with what I came to know as her signature mix of petite figure, exotic skin, sly smile and big brown eyes. Deadly. Especially the way she used it all, the wit behind the smile, the energy bristling from her skin. Those eyes that had read more books than you, no contest. Now, sitting and shivering on the rooftop, the key to my resolve would be to look forward, keep a distance, and hope my ears wouldn’t be the chink in my armor. So far so good, and I continue.
“I’m sorry,” the apology is only partly feigned. I am sorry, but I’m also frustrated, nearly angry, and less remorseful about having the conversation as I am about meeting her in the first place. I took a long time and a lot of effort today to keep an even timbre in my voice, to avoid any sense of accusation. I was doing fine, and now need only to stick to my script: “I didn’t-“
“I know. I know I know I know.” She cut my planned speech short. “And you’re right. It just sucks. And I’m sorry too, I just…” her voice caught, and she hugged her knees. I didn’t try to interject. Not that I could, my mind– for all the day’s prep work– slow to improvise. She continued after a moment.
“I like you. In case that wasn’t obvious. But I didn’t expect you. And now, well, I just don’t know.” I scowled at that last remark. It was a lie, we both knew exactly why we were here tonight and why this conversation was necessary. I had hoped we could just get it done, without resorting to redundancies. An elephant in the room can be spoken of without some idiot saying, “hey look an elephant!” I hate being that idiot.
“Yeah, I like you too. But you have a boyfriend. So it doesn’t matter. This is it. No more long late night talks, no more flirting, no more any of it. After tonight we’re done.” The words came with more force than I intended, but as I watched the last of the sunlight give way as an overcast sky cast a deep, dull grey over the abjectly drab rooftop, I let my words stand. No second thoughts.
Then she turned those deadly eyes on me.
to be continued…