The sky is positively glowing with first light. The purplish snow clouds blur into the horizon and sunlight bleeds through them, lighting them ablaze with gold. A shiver courses through me as a stir comes from behind me.
I turn to find that she’s already up. She pulls on her robe and joins me at our massive bay window. She tousles my mop of black curls and chuckles. “Look at yourself!”
I look back at the window and find my expressionless face staring back at me, my hair in a frizzy pile on top of my head. Then, I see her reflection as she rests her chin on my head. She smiles at us.
“Mind if I sit?”
I nod and pat the cushy bench beside me. She hops into the empty seat and I pull her close, turning her to face out the window with me. Her head finds my shoulder and she hums softly.
The sun finally drags itself over the mountaintops, a lazy yellow orb lying lax on the distant peaks. Beside me, Katherine’s ditty concludes, and she takes an audibly deep breath.
“Azariah?” her voice breaks the silence.
She never uses my full name, and my heart instantly starts beating faster. I wonder if she can hear it. It pounds faster still when she scoots ever so slightly away from me.
“You know I love you, right?”
I nod, thankful for once that I have no voice to betray my calm exterior.
“Good,” she says, looking away from me. Here it comes. “So, that means you should know that my leaving is not your fault.”
The way she rushes through her sentence reeks of insincerity. I stand up and head for the door, but she grabs my wrist. Though I know I don’t want to hear anything more she has to say, I look at her.
Her brown eyes are bloodshot. Her shoulder-length hair is knotted and piled on her head. She’s wearing worn-out sleep shorts and my favorite t-shirt beneath her open robe. She looks a beautiful, teary-eyed mess, and it makes my chest hurt. Hoping she won’t notice, I look out the window, past her, focusing on the fading colors of the sunrise.
Katherine is talking again, but I block her out. I just watch the sun climb mind numbingly slowly into the wintry sky.
I’m so lost in thought that I jolt back into the real world when I feel a warmth on my jaw. My eyes find hers as her hand rests on my face.
“Az, I know you’re not listening to me, and I know neither of us want me to go.”
I usually swallow my emotions when Katherine does this to me, but not this time. I frustratedly pull her hand away and rapidly sign. Why leave if you don’t want to?
“You know why, Azariah.”
She sighs. “We’ve tried everything, Az. Marriage counselling, trial separations, talking it out, stopping talking entirely. We even put on those ridiculous marshmallow suits and fought it out! Nothing is working. Nothing is helping. I love you, but… I don’t want help anymore. I want out.”
Though her words are harsher than usual, I appreciate the directness. She’s pulled this same stunt countless other times and not once has she outright said she ‘wants out.’
Sounds to me like you want to leave. That stings…. But have it your way.
Her hand is back on my jaw, and I hope she feels the tenseness as I clench my teeth. “I’m sorry, love.” After a pause, she adds, “I’ve already packed. I mean it this time.”
I’m sure you do.
She frowns and grabs the other side of my face, pulling me down and kissing my forehead.
She did that all the time when we first met, and it used to annoy me. I desperately wish I had something to lord over her like that, but I have nothing. In fact, I sort of crumple after she lets me go. It’s just the reaction she was hoping for.
I want to look away from her. I want to push past her and begin my life without her with a fresh cup of coffee and last night’s leftovers. But all I can do is look at her. A sad smile spreads across her heart-shaped face.
“I’m going to miss those emerald eyes of yours, Azariah Steele. Do me a favor and keep them to yourself. I’d hate to see someone else snatch you up.”
I’m sure you would. Are you going to leave now?
She looks momentarily hurt, then walks back to our bedroom, comes out moments later with a few suitcases, and leaves.
The first thing I do without Katherine is fetch myself that cup of coffee and eat cold tacos right out of the Styrofoam box. It’s not quite so glamorous as I would have hoped.
The rest of the day drags on, but I’m sure Katherine will be back before I get too bored. She never stays away long. I must admit, my bed feels wrong without her in it. It takes me hours lying in the dark to finally fall asleep.
My night is riddled with panic attacks that wrench me out of my restless sleep and send me into a frenzy pawing the bed searching for Katherine, only to remember that she’s gone again. I’ve had rough nights when she’s walked out before, but never one quite so miserable.
When I wake up to find the first traces of morning light have leaked into my room from the bay window, I give up on sleep. Though I’m so exhausted I can barely move, I pull myself out of bed. My head is pounding so hard my vision is blurry, but I still make my way to the bay window and plant myself on the left side of the bench.
This time, though, the sunrise is about half an hour away. My eyelids are unbearably heavy, and my headache is promising to kill me, so I curl up on the bench and hug my legs to my body. Though my position causes some difficulty inhaling and exhaling, I somehow drift off.
Hours later, I wake with a start, feeling like I’m being watched. I’m facing the window, so I freeze, listening.
It’s quiet for a long while, and I’m just about to untangle myself and start my day when I hear a soft humming. Katherine.
I have my guesses as to why she’s here. She could have forgotten something. She could have changed her mind about leaving already. Or maybe she’s just here to torture me.
Part of me longs to free myself from this bench and go to her. I know that even just a sideways glance from her will put me completely at ease, if only for a moment.
Another, smarter part of me knows I need to stay put. I care deeply for Katherine—I always have—but she knows how to mess with my head. She always does this: she leaves at the drop of a hat, only to come back later like nothing happened. And I always stupidly welcome her back with open arms. She has this way of making it feel like her mere presence is an honor; one that I’d be a fool to lose.
I already know which part of me will win out.
I roll over slowly, not even sitting up. I just peer from over my knees, and there she is, watching me. She waves and throws me a halfhearted smile. “Good morning, sunshine.”
She looks a lot better today. Her hair is sleek and clean, and her eyes are crystal clear. She’s wearing a pinstripe pantsuit that I’ve never seen on her before. I draw further into myself, suddenly remembering I’m a wreck.
It’s not until I’ve taken in this version of Katherine that I realize she has my tee shirt in her hands.
“I, uh, brought you some things. Your tee shirt—I know it was your favorite—and also…,” she trails off, breaking eye contact.
I raise an eyebrow, too nervous and drained to free my arms and sign.
She sits on the bed and pats the space beside her. “Can you come sit, please?”
I reluctantly stagger to my feet and half-sit, half-crash into the spot beside her.
“Have you been drinking?” she asks with surprise.
No, of course not. Rough night.
She nods. “I suppose it’s going to be like that at first. I barely slept at all.”
Yeah, you look like it. I hope my sarcasm distracts from the panic on my face. This is certainly not the beginning of her ‘I Still Love You and I’m Coming Back’ speech.
“Oh, you know I clean up nicely. Now, as for this,” she pulls a manila envelope out from under the tee shirt and my heart drops. “I know you’re not going to like this, but it’s been a long time coming.”
She hands over the envelope and has the nerve to watch me open it. I go numb when I pull out the divorce papers. How long has she been sitting on these?
I can feel her looking at me, but all I can do is stare at the stack of papers.
“Will you please sign them? I meant what I said yesterday, Azariah. I can’t do this anymore.”
I’m on autopilot as I respond. Yeah, I’ll sign.
Still barely conscious of my actions, I fill out the paperwork while she looks over my shoulder. Once I’m done, she slides the papers back into the envelope and heads for the door. I almost convince myself to stay put and let her go wordlessly. Almost.
I stumble after her, and she’s halfway through the living room when I put a hand on her shoulder. She spins around to face me, a knowing glint in her eyes.
I take a deep breath. I know I shouldn’t be doing this. I shouldn’t be giving her what she wants. But I can’t stop myself; I don’t want to suffer through another night like last night.
Don’t go. Please don’t go.
She lights up slightly. “Oh, Az… I really should leave,” she says, glancing toward the door before looking back at me.
It’s not too late to get rid of her. I know she’ll happily leave if I don’t beg her not to.
But I’m a better beggar than I am a bachelor. So, I step closer to her. I run my hands through her sleek hair. I duck down and kiss her forehead.
Stay. I need you. I’m a mess without you and we both know it. Just look at me. Don’t go.
She grins. “For a man of so few words, you always know just what to say.”
She embraces me and we stay like that for a while. Though I hate myself for giving in again, I have to admit, it feels so good to have her back. Though she was hardly gone long, I missed her.
Once I’m finally ready to let go of her, we sit on the couch and watch a movie. She sits right up against me with her head tucked in the crook of my neck and her arms wrapped around me, and I wonder if she can feel the shift in my breathing when it happens.
I don’t notice what brings on this sudden change in mood at first, but eventually I hear her humming through the noise of the movie. Without warning, something in me snaps.
I don’t know what’s scarier: my sudden, screaming rage; or the fact that I know I appear perfectly level-headed on the outside. It takes everything in me to remain still and keep my eyes trained on the screen while my mind races.
I can’t figure out what’s wrong with me, but it suddenly feels like I’m reliving every time she’s ever left me all at once. I’m overwhelmed with recollections of that sickening emptiness that fills me every time she decides I don’t do it for her anymore. To my horror, I’m finally able to admit what I really feel for Katherine instead of what I feel when she makes me feel it.
I hate her. I hate her striking beauty. I hate her singsongy voice. I hate her bell-like laughter, and her dry humor, and the way she messes up my hair, and the way she kisses me. I hate that she can control my emotions with just the look in her doe eyes. I hate that she knows I need her, and that she knows just how to terrify me into begging her not to leave. I hate that she’s got a vice grip on my heart and mind. And I hate her infernal humming.
I can contain myself no longer. I push her off me and jump to my feet. Her eyebrows furrow, and her humming ceases. “What is it, love?”
For the first time in ten years, I don’t hesitate for a second. I hate you.
She cocks her head like she doesn’t understand. “I’m sorry?”
Katherine Josephine Goodman-Steele. I hate you.
I finally notice a twinge of panic creeping into her expression. “You don’t mean that,” she laughs, but the quiver in her voice betrays her.
No, I really do. I mean it more than I’ve ever meant anything in my life. I hate you and I want you out of here.
The twinge of panic morphs into a look of sheer horror. The expression is only there for a second before she pulls herself together and looks up at me from beneath her dark eyelashes. “Tread carefully, love. I have the signed divorce papers right here and I don’t think that joke is very funny at all.”
I grab a pillow from the couch and swing it violently at her, missing on purpose. She flinches at the threat and then stands, shying away from me slightly.
“What are you doing, Azariah?”
I muster all the fury swirling through my chest and do what I can to reflect it on my face. I look her dead in the eyes, unblinking. Getting rid of you, like I should have ten years ago. I grab another pillow, and this time, I let it fly.
The realization finally hits her that I mean it. She frowns and her eyes well up with tears. Her fake crying used to wreck me, but it does nothing to me this time. If anything, it adds to my frustration.
I find myself wishing that I could yell; that I could scream at her to get out of my house and never come back. Instead, I march to the front door, swing it open roughly, and gesture for her to walk out. A rush of icy air wraps around me, but I don’t move. In fact, I stand taller and stomp my foot as hard as I can. Elementary of me? Certainly. Satisfying? Oh, yes.
She tenses at the action and eyes the doorway. “If you do this, I’m never coming back,” she warns with a shaky voice.
If I never see you again, it’ll be too soon.
I think I spot some real tears slipping down her reddened cheeks as she scoops up the manila envelope and moves toward the door. Just before she walks out, with only a few inches between us, she turns to face me.
Her eyes connect with mine and there’s sorrow in her expression. “I do love you, Azariah. Can’t we… Oh, never mind,” she looks away and into the night. “I suppose we’ve given it enough second tries to last a lifetime.”
Though I’m still shaking with anger, I can’t deny that I feel a momentary pang of guilt. I tap her shoulder and she looks at me again, hope in her eyes.
I grab her face and give her a swift, gentle kiss. I hear the breath she’s been holding release in a huff, and a smile creeps onto my face. I let go of her and she follows my hands, sure I have something to say.
Now, go. I’m so sickeningly pleased with myself that it’s a struggle to wipe the smile off my face.
Her jaw tightens as she wordlessly turns and walks out. I slam the door as hard as I can behind her, though the satisfaction of getting into her head for once has relieved me of my intensity.
I feel unexpectedly overjoyed at her absence. My newfound sense of freedom pulls me out the door and into the frigid night.
There’s this lovely little lake at the back of the property. Katherine and I used to walk down to it almost every evening and watch the sunset. At some point, she decided the view wasn’t good enough, and that she’d rather watch the sunrise every morning, so we had the bay window built onto our room. I always preferred the lake, but it didn’t feel worthwhile to fight Katherine over it.
Sunset is long past, but the full moon is all aglow in its reflection on the still water. I drink in the view, smiling to myself as I sit on the edge of the dock, my legs hanging over the water. Maybe I’ll miss Katherine someday. Maybe even later tonight. But right now, I’m doing just fine. Better than fine, even. I’m happy. I’m sure I look a fool as I sit there swinging my legs and grinning, but there’s no one around to judge me anymore. It’s just me and the man in the moon, who watches me from the glassy surface of the lake.