When I glance at the water accumulating underneath my feet, all I see is evidence. Standing in the middle of his bathroom—their bathroom—gripping her towel around myself, I squeeze my eyes shut—tight—hoping that when I open them none of this will be a reality. My anti-fantasy is interrupted when he calls my name from the other room.
I open my eyes. The anxiety builds within me like ugly black smoke inside a chimney, thick and dirty, eager to pollute the air. I inhale carefully and walk out of the bathroom, following the sound of his voice. Wet footprints trail behind me until I stop at the doorframe of their bedroom.
“What?” I ask. “Can you at least try not to be so loud? She might come back, you know.”
He chuckles, standing in front of the floor-length mirror, fiddling with the gold piece at his wrist. “I’m sorry,” he says. “I didn’t mean to upset you. I couldn’t find my cufflinks.”
I say nothing. Instead I take in my surroundings, which are now exposed by the light of day. I can’t even remember the last time I was here. Their bedroom is well furnished and nicely decorated—every picture, pillow, and trinket strategically placed. Nothing like my own apartment with the living room, kitchen, and bedroom all conveniently rolled into one. I’m lucky the toilet has a room to itself.
“What’s with the grumpy face?” he asks, glancing at me briefly before returning to his reflection and reevaluating his tie.
“I’m scared,” I say flatly, as though it should be the most obvious thing in the world.
I enter the room and take a seat on the still unmade bed—more evidence of my disruptive presence.
He asks, “Of what?”
“Of what’ll happen when she finds out.”
He laughs. “You say ‘when.’ You mean ‘if.’ She’s not going to find out.”
“How can you be so sure?” I press. “She could bust in here at any minute and see us here—me in this towel, you half dressed. The potential for whatever this is to become one huge fucking cliché is so ridiculous, and I don’t understand how you—”
The front door of the apartment slams shut.
“Seriously?” I whisper-scream in disbelief.
He’s suppressing laughter. I’m suppressing tears. I wonder how I could have ever wanted this so badly. We stand immobile, each waiting for the other to initiate the next move.
We hear the sound of keys hitting the counter and the click of her heels as she approaches. She calls out, “Ben, are you still home?”
He pushes past me, annoyed—at me or her, I can’t tell who—and responds as he exits the room, “I’m here, honey.” I release the air I’ve been unconsciously storing in my lungs.
“Gwen, help me tie this, will you?” I hear him say, as I seek shelter in their walk-in closet. I leave the door open a few inches.
“Sure,” she says, and then asks, “Why haven’t you left yet?”
“I had a conference call earlier this morning and I’ve been running late ever since,” he explains. “How about you? Forget something before you left?”
I wait in the closet as they continue their small talk in the kitchen, listening for the moment when I might safely emerge. I pull the string hanging from the ceiling, and the dim light above my head distributes itself amongst the designer clothes and shoes. My eyes are drawn to the opposite side of the room, where the light can’t quite reach. That seems to be home to their less-loved possessions. Squinting my eyes, I scan that area, trying to identify the objects hidden in the darkness. I crouch down, holding my towel to ensure it doesn’t slip.
The first in a stack of frames leaning against the wall contains a picture of two young girls posing in front of a back drop, wearing distinctly different dance costumes. One wears a purple tutu and models her right pointe shoe in a graceful tendu. As young as she is, she exhibits an air of control and attention to detail. She’s good at doing what she’s told. The other, younger sister is clearly annoyed at having to adopt an assigned pose. Unlike the girl in the tutu, her costume—a tacky psychedelic spandex pantsuit—wears the dancer, and not vice versa.
Those costumes never fit the way they were supposed to, I think.
“Where did this sweatshirt come from?” I hear Gwen ask from the kitchen. Her voice is sharp and elevated. My body freezes over with fear as I listen for his response.
“It’s not yours?” he asks casually after a pause.
“Milton High School,” she says. “Sammi has this sweatshirt.” Her voice is direct.
“Has your sister been here recently?”
“I don’t know, Paul,” she responds. “You tell me.”