The noise the tiny graphite pencil makes, as it drags its way across the uneven paper in the dimming light of the flat, is discouraging. The words aren’t quite right, but they’re as close as she’s going to get tonight.
She groans and rolls out the muscles in her shoulders. They’re stiff and with a grimace she realizes she’s been sitting for far too long. She makes her way to the dingy fridge in the corner. All that’s left inside are a couple of half-empty takeout boxes and a carton of milk for the morning coffee. Despite Perry’s never ending lectures, she’ll always put coffee above food on the priority list.
In that spirit, the only thing in the panty is half a bag of granulated sugar behind the coffee beans. There might’ve been bread, she thinks, or maybe muffins, but if there were they are long gone now and she creaks the door shut with a listless sigh.
To forget to eat this morning was a mistake. One forget blurs the whole day into a mess of them and then it’s all she can do to try and hold the tattered threads of her mind together.
She stumbles to the bathroom picking the hairbrush up off the counter on the way. Running it over her head, she pulls through the snarls and tangles, relishing in the sharp pain the action brings. Her hair actually cooperates for once, which she notes with a twinge of satisfaction, and she pulls it into a loose bun.
The bathroom itself is just as sparse as the rest of the apartment and she reminds herself for the umpteenth time she’s out of shampoo. Five minutes in and five minutes out and she’s done, dressed in the outfit she picked out earlier, when her brain didn’t feel quite so much like it was swimming through a turbulent fog. The jeans are too tight.
Snatching her keys from the hook by the door, she prepares to surrender herself to the outside world. Briefly she considers giving Perry a quick call, his lecture on proper care still stuck in her head, but he should be out with his boyfriend tonight and it would be rude to bother him with her errant and chaotic thoughts.
You can get through this.
Just another night.
They won’t ask about her writing, she knows. Still, she almost grabs a sample anyway, desperate for the conversation starter, but abandons the journal just before she closes the apartment door. The thud it makes as it hits the floor is final, and she turns away without another word.
As she travels down the hallway, she transforms. Hunched shoulders straighten and clenched lips loosen and tilt upward in a facade of false confidence. A quick rub to the forehead is all she can do about the blossoming migraine without disrupting her eye makeup, especially since the Advil ran out three days ago. She fixes her shirt and increases her pace as she walks, hair falling into place with the last bits of the practiced personality. The woman who bursts into the lobby with a full grin of sunshine is entirely different from the one that had been hiding in the apartment.
He sees through it anyway.
They’ve been reunited at the bar for exactly five minutes, the whole group that is, but his gaze lingers on her longer than it should. Still, that doesn’t necessarily mean anything, and she gives him the same rehearsed smile she’s given all the others.
Somehow the conversation manages to keep itself going without her having to spoon feed everyone prompts, and they all laugh soap bubbles over frivolous things before the forced formalities are over. For just a second the facade breaks and everyone feels it, the deep lingering feelings over the table, the desire to say something real. But of course no one does. They belong to new groups now after all, and words of truth are wasted on their fellow broken high school alumni. Gradually the once-friends shuffle away, shuffle apart, candy words coating their lips, promises they’ll never keep. They all leave early. Thank goodness.
But then she runs into him outside and swears to whatever God is up there, she’ll give up the entire hidden stash of latte money if that’s what it’ll take for them to stop being so cruel to her.
At first he doesn’t say anything. She wonders if perhaps, he’s doing that on purpose. Well she certainly isn’t going to fill in the gaps. She doesn’t owe him any words, not anymore, and the exhaustion is returning to her brain. Her time is spent, and she’s going home.
But he follows.
He follows her down the road. He follows her around the corner and across the street and through the light and in between the shortcut alleys and over the garbage bins that decorate the back of her apartment building and into the lobby and up the stairs.
He waits in the hallway for her to get the key out. She knows he’s waiting to see it, waiting for his suspicions to be confirmed, yet she doesn't move. The facade is up. He knows; no use in hiding it anymore. Still she waits another moment, just to ensure he really won’t leave, before she finally turns and thrusts her key in the lock.
He’s well versed in hiding his tiny gasps of shock. That’s probably a good thing because she does have to admit, it is worse than usual. What dishes she has used in the last couple of weeks lay discarded on the counters and neglected in the sink. Almost four weeks worth of takeout trash are crammed into the bulging, miserable bin in the corner. The laundry is on the floor in two piles, ‘Has to be washed’, and ‘don’t bother’. ‘Don’t bother’ is a lot bigger. The bed might be made, but that’s only because she can’t remember the last time she actually slept in it. The pile of blankets is a lot closer to the door than the piece of furniture is.
She knows if he really looks, he’ll see the rest of it too, carpet desperately in need of a good vacuuming, and empty vessels that once held food. All the things she’s learned to look over, leaned not to see, glaringly present themselves in weeks and weeks of fog and peeling paint. Not to mention the hundreds of used coffee mugs that cover every available surface, liquid that, despite her constant consumption, never even manages to make the slightest dent in her bone deep exhaustion. And of course there’s the rotten journal, still smug in its center point on the entryway floor.
“Sash-” he starts, but she cuts him off.
“Satisfied? Did you see what you needed to confirm?” Little old, pathetic me, limping along without you, her brain wants to add, but she’s just too tired. She’s too tired for this.
“Why didn’t you call?” he settles on, a simple question sure, but an important one all the same.
“It’s not that bad.” It really is though, and she doesn't know why she bothers with the denial.
“I thought you had a roommate… Perry-something right?”
“We’re not rooming anymore.” She doesn’t tell him the rest of it, doesn’t tell him Perry stopped over every day, every single day for almost two weeks after he moved in with his boyfriend. That had worked for her, until the two of them romantically decided to study abroad together. Call me. He’d said, and he calls her every single night. It’s her own fault for not picking up the phone.
Not that he needs to know any of that.
“Do whatever the guilt needs you to do to get out of here,” she decides on, “I’m going to bed.”
She drags her way into the tiny bedroom, slams the door, and doesn’t look back. It’s not until she’s face-first in the pillows that she remembers the journal. Oh well. Chances are against him reading it anyway.
He read it.
That’s the first thing she thinks, when she emerges from her den the next morning. He’s gone, but it’s very clear he had a lot of guilt to get rid of. The dishes are washed, every single last mug is put away, and the trash is gone. It looks like he might’ve vacuumed, but the carpet is dark for a reason, so she can’t really be sure. He did the laundry too, or at least moved it somewhere besides the middle of the floor. There’s a note sitting on the counter, next to the open journal, but she’s not going to read it. She won’t. She can’t.
There aren’t any new groceries, and it’s not exactly like he can help her take a bath, not anymore that is, so it’s not perfect. Still, it’s a start, and she wishes she had the capacity in her heart to feel gratitude. Anything would probably be better than the overwhelming desire to punch the smug look she’s sure he had off his face. She would’ve done it, if she had the energy. She’s not allowed to feel gratitude towards him, not when she knows he acts out of guilt, and guilt only. Once, maybe a long time ago, there might’ve been something else there, but if there ever was, it’s gone. He’s made that very clear.
Still, it’s annoying how fast he saw through the facade. She thought she got better, over the last few years, but clearly she still has a long way to go.
Maybe she will call Perry tonight. At the very least his steadfast mind might help her think this through rationally. He always has had a way of cutting through the fog she never seems to make a dent in.
She’s not going to read the letter. She’s not, but she knows which page of her journal his sheet of paper rests upon.
Second Chances, the title reads, the chapter of her book where the damsel breaks down and admits she needs the prince, accepts the half-assed apology he offers. Second Chances, the title says, as if anyone would ever be as idiotic as to believe a person can change.
She tears the page out of her journal and rips it to shreds without a second glance. His letter she saves for Perry. Maybe he’ll burn it for her when he gets back.