Julian likes watermelon lollipops more than he loves you, and really, you cannot pretend to be surprised. He has always been one for sugar over substance. You wake up early on Saturday morning to follow him to the candy shop, where he buys a big bag of them and tries to sneak a few before he gets back to your house. He knows that you leave for work at nine and he’ll have free reign of the place.

You trail from a distance as he crosses backroads that you didn’t even know existed. He moves with the effortless grace of a real New Yorker, something he has told you time and time again that you are not. You're slowing him down just by existing. He passes through an alleyway behind an old Chinese restaurant with a fading neon sign, dragging his hand across the cheap paper lanterns hanging over the back door. Only he could make walking past dumpsters look inviting.

Someone exits the restaurant with a bag of trash. She drops it to the ground at the sight of him to gather him into a hug. "Julian? Get out!"

It's the kind of hug where they rock back and forth. He doesn't hug you like that. You press you back against the wall in the darkness, even though you know the dirt-caked brick will stain your white shirt.

"You thought I wouldn't come by?" Julian asks the girl. "I always come by."

"I was worried that this time, you wouldn't."

You wait for them to kiss. This is, after all, what you were expecting. But they don't. The girl releases him, picks up her trash, and throws it into the dumpsters before giving him a little wave and going back inside. He waves back and pops another lollipop in his mouth.

The next street leads him past a darkened bodega with peeling posters advertising discount flowers. The plate-glass windows look as if they have survived a war, finely dusted with dirt and peppered with little cracks covered in duct tape. The workers go berserk at the sight of him outside.

"Julian!" one of them, an older gentleman, yells. You note in passing that they could be related; they have the same hooked nose and thick, coiled hair. If you could see their eye color you could confirm; Julian’s eyes are a brown so dark they could be black.

"Hello!" Julian ascends the concrete steps to the entryway. He does not go inside.

"Escaped the missus?"

Julian laughs. He doesn't laugh for you like that anymore. "I’m out for a walk. She’s still asleep."

You’re not.

"Well, it’s nice to see you. I was worried she’d stolen you away from us."

"She could never keep me from you," Julian says. “You guys are always my number one.”

“You should bring her by. I can’t believe we’ve never met her.”

“No, she resents New York.” Julian rests his palm against the window, like he wants to leave a handprint on the glass. Condensation fogs around his fingers. He must know that you don’t resent New York, you resent his lack of effort to include you in it. “She’s far too sour for people like you.”

The older gentleman points back at a few other employees inside the bodega. "How about some coffee?"

Julian brandishes his bag of lollipops. “I’m all set. She’ll make me drink coffee at home later.” It confirms your greatest fear: mornings are sweeter when you are not there to contaminate them.

“Come by again soon,” says the gentleman. “Sometime when we can talk.”

Julian nods, waves, leaves. He continues through the streets as if everyone in this city knows him by name. Maybe they do. He buys a newspaper at the corner stand. Last time you said you should buy one, he turned you down.

The sun has barely crested the horizon, although the city is already buzzing with life. Julian blends into the crowds with his bag of lollipops, his camouflage akin to the color gradient of the sky. You watch him pull out one candy after another, stuffing the crumpled wrappers into the trash cans lining the streets, and it is impossible to tell where he ends or where the tourists begin. He becomes one with the throng.

It’s a Saturday. Julian likes watermelon lollipops more than he loves you. You return to the apartment without much to show for your efforts, so you splurge on a package of licorice from the lobby’s vending machine.

You know that you shouldn't have followed him outside in the first place. That kind of behavior will only make him hate you more than he already does, and next time he visits the Chinese restaurant he will kiss the girl with the trash. He loves everything else more than you. You repeat those words to yourself like a mantra. Maybe you'll have an engraving done, so you can sit them on the windowsill above your sink. If you look at them every morning, it will be impossible to forget where you stand.

"He loves me," you say aloud. When nothing feels different, "He is still in love with me."

Nine AM is still three hours away. You call in sick. For lack of anything better to do, you lie on the couch in the living room and look out the window. The weatherman predicted rainstorms for this morning, but the rolling clouds divulge nothing of their plans. The sun climbs higher and higher in the sky, swatches of pink, orange, and red fading into an endless expanse of blue. A marshmallow skyline.

You think of how Julian used to look at you. At one point, you were just as glorious as the sunshine in his eyes. Now, lollipops fill that position.

At ten, you see him strolling down the street like he never left you alone. His step bounces. His face shines. He reminds you of those women from yogurt commercials, always far too thrilled to have active probiotics working in their digestive systems. It must be beautiful to see the city as he sees it, with his version of rose-colored glasses swirling around on his tongue. He never kisses you the way he tastes watermelon.

June 22, 2020 20:32

You must sign up or log in to submit a comment.