The apartment was only until she calmed down. He expected she’d be angry, but lying to her turned his stomach. He’d been forthcoming about his fling. She deserved as much after their years of marriage.
She’d arranged for things like his clothes and computer to be sent to his new address, but he’d committed to winning her back. They’d been through hard times before. No one tosses that aside so easily for the same of one mistake in a moment of weakness.
He’s send flowers and letters with the wax seal and rose petals like when they were first dating. She loved the kitschy movie stuff. When she saw all the little things he’d remembered like those husbands in the movies, she’d realize what they had was real.
And it all started after he answered the knocking at his door. He put the notebook of ideas down, hoping she’d already come to her senses. The heavy knocks were methodical though, exuding business. Like getting divorce papers. He could read them over and over again, but reality wouldn’t change. There wouldn’t be any cheesy rom-com happy ending. Their marriage was over. She was gone for good.
Not unlike the young woman on her bed, knees to her chest, trying to reconcile the last few days. He’d been the sweetest gentleman despite their age gap. He didn’t look down on her for the shitty apartment in the bad neighborhood. She’d let herself believe again. If a man like him cared about her, then maybe she really was worth something. He made her want to stay clean, instilling the audacity to hope for something better than a hot pipe or needle prick.
Until he saw the pregnancy test. Nothing made men reevaluate their marriage like a side piece with one in the oven. That’s all she’d been. He’d never leave his wife. Not for her at least. Par for the course. The only man who brought her to bed and stick around was the father she wished hadn’t when she was too young to run away and too scared to report.
She envied the hoes turning tricks on the street. Rent came due whether you had it or not and you can’t pay in warm-and-fuzzies. She couldn’t even pay with dignity like in the building across the street. Her landlord was some old Chinese lady, not the pimp. She wondered which was worse.
She tied the tourniquet around her arm. Fuck it. She wasn’t Julia Roberts and Richard Gere wasn’t coming with a bouquet of roses in his teeth outside her ghetto apartment. She’d seen enough and judged the world wanting. Sorry, kiddo, this was better than anything you’d find in the real world.
The hood of his sweatshirt went up as he walked away from his last deal, some weepy chick he hadn’t seen in a while. He’d hoped she got clean, but he was running a business. He couldn’t afford to turn away profit, even if it disappointed him. He was supplying the masses with product they demanded. If not him, plenty of others would corner his market.
His hoody had a local college logo on grey background. Dealers don’t wear long coats and chains out in the open. That’s just some trope made my uppity white production execs for TV. This was a business decision. College kids from the ‘burbs coasting on daddy’s money got antsy in the streets. A little camouflage put them at east. Not enough to get friendly, but enough to think the black guy selling drugs was on a basketball scholarship making ends meet to escape the hood like in the movies rather than a felon who cracked bones to cement his place in it.
He’s considered going straight once he made enough. Dealing was a young man’s game and no one lasts forever. But his baby-mama had a son. She didn’t want him around, but she couldn’t afford to ignore his money. He just wanted to make sure his son was taken care of, especially now that she wasn’t working.
He was a lost cause drug-peddler and she couldn’t keep up with the bills working the nine-to-five on the straight-and-narrow. But his son was a good student, convinced he’d make it out of the hood. If he could help his son achieve the dream he couldn’t, it was worth every junky tweaking in an alley.
Not that she knew how her sperm-donor ex felt. She had bigger issues that the idealistic hoodlum who talked big game about making moves before missing the birth of his son because he was in lock-up. Nobody has time for it out here.
Living paycheck to paycheck is as good as anyone got living straight on the bottom rung. The streets were full of wolves outside the door offering anything to make your meager funds their meager funds. Drugs, loans, women or your own life if you don’t empty your pockets and bag. It’s all on the table when people can’t put food on it.
Her son wouldn’t turn out like his father no matter how many visitations he asked for. He was smart and gave her faith to believe he’d find the right way out rather than relying on the streets like everyone else. She hoped he’d learn from her example while she could provide it. The first round of chemo started in a week, but life ain’t like the movies when you hear those odds and gotta make plans for those left behind.
But he didn’t know anything. He was focused on studying for his math exam. Math made sense, it’s pure logic. Two plus two equals four, the hypotenuse was the longest side of a triangle and equations were just confusing looking scales he had to tidy up. It was about finding ciphers to break codes.
Not that anyone cared at school. Hillary Swank wasn’t swooping in to inspire anyone and change the system. No one cared about some black kid from the inner-city public school. Teachers didn’t care because the students didn’t, students didn’t care because the teachers didn’t and no one cared about either unless there was an active shooter to report on the news. Getting straight A’s didn’t impress anyone when they saw his zip code.
He didn’t need to be an adult to see how bullshit everything was. If he was getting out of the hood, he needed money. Financial aid wouldn’t cut it, students loans would bury him before he even tried and he couldn’t rely on competitive scholarships taking pity on him. Streets don’t know pity except for exploiting.
His father kept saying not to ask where the money would come from, just that it’d be there for him. No one said it, but he knew what his dad was doing. At least he knew his dad. His dad found a way to survive in an environment he hadn’t chosen to be born into. It was evolution. And he kept showing up, fighting his mother for any excuse to come by.
It’s more than any kids could ask for. His father wasn’t some dope dealing villain trope and he wasn’t gonna be some forgettable background character either. He’d make it through college and get his parents out. They’d know someplace better than the ghetto they’d been herded into.
Someplace like the penthouse suite of the wife who wouldn’t be married much longer. She stared out the open window, curtains billowing out towards the city stretched out below and beyond, bathed in starless night. The city was too bright, drowning the celestial sparkle in a neon, fluorescent and incandescent haze.
She used to think the people below looked like ants. She hadn’t seen ants in decades, since before they’d met in college outside rural Nebraska. With each sip of vodka from her opulent glass, she thought, with their phones lighting up the pavement, they were more like stars missing from the sky above.
It made sense after the fourth drink. It’s dark above everyone else. Not many people reach where stars reside like she had. Maybe the stars got lonely being so far apart from each other and decided time was better spent closer together.
She thought she’d done the right thing. Everyone loves a feel-good girl-boss triumph story. They don’t show how much gets sacrificed to make it there. It doesn’t make for good TV. Don’t wanna scare the kids away from reaching for the stars.
She’d decided her husband wasn’t going back to work after the accident. She wouldn’t get that phone call again. The firm had a partner position opening up and she’d fill it. Then her husband could recover in peace without worrying about making ends meet.
It was a grueling success. She left before the home-aid arrived and returned long after he was asleep. She’s watch the rise and fall of his chest to assure herself he was fine as long as he was alive. The bags under her eyes and aching feet strapped in heels fourteen hours a day were worth it to see him safe in bed. As long as she could provide, they’d be fine.
It’s easy to say he shouldn’t have violated their vows, but she’d have been happy if he kept his ungrateful mouth shut. This was the real world, not some bullshit movie they watched while dating. She didn’t want honesty. She’d be content to live the lie that she hadn’t wasted years keeping him safe and content. He’d never go hungry like they did in college or pick which bill was most important like when they started out in the real world.
He felt guilty, but not about how it affected her, to which she’d say “not at all.” If he’d been discreet enough to not let anyone know, especially her, everything would’ve been fine. How would she find out while spending all her time supporting his easy ride?
But he laid it out, promising to do better. He opened a can of worms to apologize for the worms on the floor when he could’ve just kept the damned thing sealed in the first place. Now she had to confront the mess he’d made.
She put the shimmering glass of ice reflecting city lights on the windowsill. It must’ve been great not being alone if all the stars were walking the streets. She remembered her idiot husband, soon to be ex-husband. He thought he’d make up for being stupid, making a mockery of all her dedicated sacrifices over the years, with some rom-com redemption scene.
Fuck him. Those writers were garbage hacks with no clue what real life was like living in their fantasy world of how life should be. She should have been sleeping in the same bed as her husband, but reality doesn’t know the word should.
She saw the real world full on people on the ground. It was about time someone showed everyone what it was like to make it to the top. Ice clinked, melting by the window in an empty penthouse as sirens rang below. The movie adaptation of her news story wouldn’t live up to the reality of her because life is more than any movie could hope to copy.