The apartment hang heavy with silence as, with a steady hand, she pushed apart the blinds just enough to peek through. Her roommates having all gone to various holiday parties, the only other sign of life came from the far corner, where the Christmas tree stood breathing its soft glow into the large living room.
She already knew the portrait she would see through the crack, but anxiety continued to rise in her as her heart defied her head. And there he was, sitting on the other side of the spotlight, his body facing her, his eyes altogether elsewhere.
She hated how he would simply sit there. She hated it more when he would sit and write. She hated his voice, his eyes, his mannerisms, his smell. She hated his smile and his glances at her when he thought she wasn’t looking. She hated that he was in love with her, but most of all she hated the undeniable fact she was crazy about him.
Recoiling her hand quickly, she shut out the image of him as the blinds closed with a snap that echoed throughout the room. This simply did not figure into her plans. At least they would both be gone in a few weeks and then everything would return to normal.
This place was to be a momentary escape, a transition. While the implicitly mundane existence here had left her miserable for the first few months, it served its function perfectly, reinforcing the burning desire of constant movement, of travel, to see what beauty may be left in the world before finding herself deeply mired in the unreality of reality. Fear of living a recycled life haunted her.
And then, (of course), he had appeared.
Here, of all places, she had figured it safe to lower her defenses regarding the opposite sex. The first months had proved her right – the males here were often attractive, but always hollow. There was no reason for her to believe anyone of worthwhile substance would choose to come here, and so she had put the matter comfortably to rest in her mind. And so, (of course), this is when it had happened.
It was desire which had ultimately brought them both here, and it was work that brought them together. Her supervisor had asked her to train him during his first few days, a job she loathed. With only the slightest possible whim of cordiality she provided him with just enough knowledge so that he wouldn’t be in her way.
As days passed he learned quickly on his own and, proving his work ethic, found himself more often than not scheduled to work all of the busiest shifts. Frequently she found herself alone with him in the shop, the two of them being the most trusted of the employees.
Despite the clarity of her will to be left alone, he soon found himself quite taken with her. After a series of missteps, (which always ended with his advances being rebuffed), he came across her one night sitting alone on a bench by the lake. The conversation was awkward, but came to have an underlying tenderness. Eventually she had agreed to take a walk with him to nowhere in particular. Allowing herself to become partially exposed, she couldn’t deny how much she had missed real conversation. The walk lasted three hours.
Spending more and more time outside of work together, they soon had a standing weekly date to share tea over old black and white movies. More often than not these evenings dissolved into drinks under star-soaked skies.
Despite their closeness, she never allowed him to touch her in any way. Even the night he had received the news of a close relative’s passing, she had remained rather cold, not even offering a comforting hug.
Glancing out once more she saw him writing in a notebook. Damn him.
It was a week ago that he had presented her with an early Christmas gift – a copy of his favorite novel, The Great Gatsby. He had been shocked to discover that she, the only girl he had ever met who could casually speak of Hemingway in the same fashion that all the rest spoke of last night’s television shows, had never read it. Beneath his shock, however, was naked excitement in the fact that he would be the one to introduce her to this great work.
She sat in the chair beside the window now, thumbing the pages of the short book. She had finished it earlier today but knew it would take months to digest. He had been nervous to give it to her, and even more nervous afterward. With the book he had included a short note, which she used as a bookmark, that recounted some of the times they had spent together – his favorite having been when they jumped into the pool fully clothed and were promptly kicked out. He had had the foresight to remove his shoes, but not the contents of his pockets or his watch. Yet, as they walked home, her wearing his sneakers, all he could do was laugh and smile.
The morning after presenting this gift, he gingerly approached her on the bus, unsure of how it would go over. He said hello and took the seat across the aisle from her, as had long been their custom. Today, however, she motioned him to the seat beside her, which he promptly took. She tried to remember now…what was it he smelled of? She couldn’t place it, but it was warm and comforting.
Parting the blinds she watched as he capped his pen, shut the notebook, and receded into his apartment. She continued to sit, thumbing Gatsby, examining the characteristics of the shadows cast by the tiny multicolored lights. Momentarily lost in them, she stood and proceeded to her bedroom, floating through the doorway and coming to rest on the bed. Book across her breast, she lay motionless.
With a deftness previously unknown to her character, she gracefully tossed the book to the floor and alighted. Grabbing a bottle of cola and a bottle of rum she hurried though the door, locking it carelessly behind her.