“I don’t think it’ll work out, anymore.”
She’d heard the words before- she’d felt the ache in her heart when they stung the air around her- like tiny needles jabbing at her skin, coaxing a reaction.
But she smiled instead, told him what he wanted to hear.
“I’m sorry you felt that way. I have a hard time with all this stuff.”
“We’re cool, then?”
She said yes, what else was really left to say?
So, he smiled; a smile she thought she’d never be able to conjure from him. Something that made her realise he was better off without her than with her by his side. Her heart heaved inside her- clawing at its cage.
But she still smiled.
His goodbye didn’t hurt as much, because she knew she’d see more of him. He always came back; always found his way to her. It was something different every time.
Sometimes he couldn’t find where his stuff was, Other times it was a bad day at work. Some days he just needed a friend.
But he always came back.
Just, never the same way.
Parts of him came to her- piece by piece- she knew not what to do with them. He was a friend, an acquaintance, a lover.
For the most part, he was a stranger.
And yet, strangers weren’t supposed to mean so much to you, were they?
It shouldn’t hurt when he’s walking away, it shouldn’t matter what he’s doing, she shouldn’t care how he feels.
But she still does. Because, she knew the truth. She knew the parts of him he’d long since shed. She knew the parts of herself she’d given up- ones she would never get back. She knew it all.
He thought of her as this shy little girl, with an air of indifference- that it wouldn’t matter to her. And she wished that was true, because that would make it simpler. It was easy to say that love was a lie they both pretended to feel until it wasn’t fun, anymore. It was fucking simple- to look him in the eye and tell him she didn’t know of love and it’s bittersweet embrace.
It was what they needed.
It just wasn’t the truth.
The truth was a broken promise, a shredded dream- a hope that still burned in the dark. It was the tears in the middle of the night, and the hours wasted inside four walls with the rest spent starring at them.
It slips away, then. The agony, the longing- in its place is something worse, something that leeches itself to you.
The facade isn’t hard to put, it comes as easy as the memories rushing inside your head. Soon enough, it’s as if nothing happened. You’ve convinced them all, you’ve told them it didn’t matter. He didn’t matter.
Saying it enough, she thought it’ll come true. To the point she thought the same, as if he never happened. But then her phone would ring again, and his number is on the screen- doesn’t matter if his name isn’t. She knows the digits flashing in the back of her head are the ones she’s spent hours talking to.
“Hey. You free tonight?”
The right choice is to tell him no. No would be the right answer- an end to a beginning she was too tired to repeat again and again.
She heard herself before she’d made up her mind- something she knew was of no consequence, anyway. Since when did her mind ever matter where her heart did?
“See you in a bit?”
She realized then, that it was always meant to be this way. She was supposed to meet him in that bar in January, be partners in that class in college, be lovers behind the walls in secret. It all boiled down to one seeming moment, one moment where she knew that this is what their life together would be; what it was to prey on one another in a toxic mess.
She didn’t love him, the way he seemed to love her. His was a battle; a war to wage, a castle to conquer, a fight to victory.
Hers was the silence; the aftermath of everything said and done. The quiet after the dark, the stillness after a storm.
Both took but never gave.
Maybe that was what they meant when they called it an affair; it wasn’t an exchange, just a mindless lust to take.
“The key is in the same place.”
This time, she wondered how long it’ll take to tear through each other. Maybe it was a game, a torture to subject themselves to- to see if they were worthy of one another, of something bigger than themselves.
As he slid through the door and into her apartment, she realized she was tired of it. Of running after things she could never have- of chasing something that didn’t exist. And as his hands slid over her, she made sure she didn’t feel anything.
She squeezed her eyes just as her hands clenched his linen shirt. And she thought- quietly, discreetly- that maybe, just maybe, it was her time to take.
And so, she smiled again.