The door to our flat looks innocuous from afar. Nothing more than an unassuming wooden rectangle of faded burgundy. I notice, for the first time, that the paint is just starting to peel. Falling away in long strips, like a sunburn. The number we have shared for months now – number 317 – hangs, slightly askew, from the center. It is written in a slanting hand, with black paint inside of a dull gold metal plaque. The door to our flat is at the very end of a long hallway that is lined with identical faded burgundy rectangles, and I am reminded uncomfortably of a scene out of The Shining.
I stand before our door for a long time without doing anything but shifting my weight uneasy from one foot to the other. My palms are slightly sweaty, and it makes holding the things in my hands a little harder. I adjust the hastily-wrapped book in my right hand so that it does not fall, feeling the dampness beneath my fingertips. The small paperback is wrapped in unsightly brown butcher paper that the butcher gave me out of pity. There are grease stains, and I hope that they do not bleed through. It is obvious that I was never any good at wrapping presents, but it will have to do for now. I had planned to give it to her for her birthday – 3 weeks away now – but desperate times call for desperate measures.
In my other hand, I make doubly sure that the paper bag does not slip further out of my grip. A bottle of cheap supermarket wine keeps a somewhat-squashed bouquet of flowers ignominious company. The flowers are of some vague, almost-unidentifiable sort, and they are a pale white that reminds me of wedding dresses. The suggestion makes my stomach tighten uncomfortably inside. A small bag of chocolate-covered coffee beans rounds out the motley crew, hidden somewhere at the very bottom of the bag. They are her favorite.
I twist the unlocked doorknob open with my forearm and nudge the door forward with my shoulder. Our flat is strangely quiet for this time of morning, and oddly bright. Neither one of us closed the blinds last night, and the morning sun shines gleefully in through the large windows. In the light, I realize that everything still seems to be in surprisingly good condition. Nothing is terribly out of place, and nothing too important seems broken.
I walk through the open doorway that leads to the living room and look around. For a moment, I let myself hope. But there is no sign of dark hair or green eyes on the couch or in any of the chairs. I wince as my eyes pass over a dark red stain on the carpet that spreads from a shattered bottle like spilled blood. The food that we had planned to eat last night is still on the table and has long since gone cold. It is clear that she did not feel in the mood for cleaning up last night, and I do not blame her. All I can hope for is that the bottle at the bottom of the bag does not meet the same fate.
The kitchen is also empty, though I notice that the door to the refrigerator is ajar. The floor beside it is slightly wet. Whether that happened last night or if it happened this morning, I cannot tell. I shut it quietly with my foot and move on towards our shared bathroom as noiselessly as I can. I pass the bathroom and glance inside, just to check. There is no one inside, but some of the things that are normally on the sink have been scattered across the floor. My toothbrush is next to the toilet, and hers near the bathtub. I frown slightly before moving on. I can pick them up later.
The door to our bedroom is closed, though not all the way. It creaks somewhat as I push it open with my forearm. Our bedroom is much darker than the rest of the flat, and it is clear that she closed the blinds here. Even with the dim light, I can tell that there is someone in our bed. The sheets are a tangled mess wrapped around a motionless form, like carved marble.
She stirs a little as I enter but does not get up nor make a sound. Walking over to the windows, I open them. This elicits a response, and she moves more than she did before. She also mumbles something that I cannot all the way make out from beneath the sheets. New York City is bright outside the glass, even in the early morning. I have not slept at all this past night, and the light prickles at the back of my eyes.
Without risking any words, I sit down on the side of the bed. I place the paper bag on the floor between my feet and tuck the book between my thighs. It is a long time before she moves again, but eventually she does. The sheets shuffle off her shoulders like clipped wings as she sits up slowly. To my surprise, she has changed out of her clothes from last night and into her pajamas. Or, into the light gray sweatpants and dark grey Columbia sweater that she calls her pajamas. I am still dressed in the clothes from last night, faintly damp and slightly wrinkled. For a moment or two, she looks around in almost-confusion. Then she sees me.
Her long black hair is a tangled mess, and her expression, once she finds it, is guarded. But in that moment, I am sure that she has never looked more beautiful.
The Delilah Roan DeAngelo-Murray that I know is all wavy black hair and bright green eyes and hand-knitted scarves. She wears faded jeans and khaki sweaters and ties her hair back when she runs. She drinks wine from a stained coffee mug and drives a Pontiac Firebird that once belonged to her brother, and which is older than she is. She volunteers at an animal shelter on weekends and graduated from Columbia in 5 years. There is a small scar across her right eyebrow that she told me she got playing soccer in middle school. She says it was because she ran into one of the goalposts, and the image always makes me laugh. Beneath the loose-fitting sweater and sweatpants, I know that there is the slender body of the woman I love. Her skin is surprisingly pale, even for an Italian-Irish mix, but is strangely free of freckles. Her eyes are still a little red, and I know that it was because she must have cried herself to sleep. The thought of it makes my heart sting as I force myself to look at her. I promised her when we began dating that I would never hurt her.
Last night, I know that I finally broke that promise.
She says nothing but continues to stare at me through slightly-red eyes. Her left hand is lying on the sheets next to mine, and I take it carefully. Her fingers feel strangely cold as I rub the back of her palm with my thumb. She does not pull away, but she does frown slightly as she looks down at our hands. Her eyes, when not red, are a clear green that reminds me of the springtime. They were the first thing I noticed about her 3 years ago, when I first spotted her across the library.
“Hey,” I say finally, unable to think of anything better to say. It sounded pathetic in my head, and it sounds even worse out loud.
She raises her unscarred eyebrow.
“Hey,” she repeats, her voice surprisingly even when compared to mine.
I try to say something else, to fill the silence that eats at the center of my chest, but there is nothing. All the things I thought about wanting to say to her have disappeared like a daydream in her presence. Instead, I lift her hand to my lips, and kiss the back of her hand gently. The gesture is old-fashioned, but I know that she prefers it to a typical kiss. As I do, my lips brush against the golden band around her ring finger. She has not taken it off ever since I gave it to her 8 months ago.
She purses her lips almost self-consciously and looks away, but her fingers curl around mine like she does not want to let me go.
“Where were you?” she asks, but without looking at me.
It is one of our secret hobbies to go to Central Park to watch the sunrise at least once a week. There has not been a week where we have not gone together. But that morning, I watched the sunrise by myself, wondering at how it was possible to feel so lonely in a city like New York.
“I needed my think,” I manage somehow as my thumb resumes its soft journey across her skin. “I needed to clear my head.”
“We both did,” she mutters, turning her face to mine. She closes her eyes momentarily as she inhales shakily. “I’m sorry.”
Those are the only words I do not want to her from her this morning. I shake my head. “Don’t. Don’t apologize. You have nothing to apologize for.”
“Nic…” she begins, but does not finish the thought, or simply cannot bear to say my name.
“I should’ve known better, Dee,” I tell her, wanting to make her believe it as much as I do. “I know how you feel about us. It was my fault.”
“No, it’s not,” she says, more firmly than it should have been. “I overreacted.”
“You had every right to be angry,” I say, and I believe every word. “It wasn’t my place.”
“That doesn’t excuse what I said. I was angry and upset, but that doesn’t mean I can just say whatever I want.”
She shudders, and instinctively, I move a little closer to her on the bed. With my free hand, I brush a strand of her dark hair back behind her ear. She smells like a forest after a long rain, and I have never found out how she always smells so good. I’ve tried sometimes, but even with her shampoo, it’s never the same.
“We promised we’d always be honest with each other,” I say as bracingly as I can. “Maybe last night, we finally were.”
“I can think of ten better ways to be honest with each other off the top of my head that don’t involve as much yelling,” she mutters, though I can start to hear the beginnings of sarcasm in her voice. “Or broken wine bottles.”
She blinks away a sudden tear I see flash in her eye. “I was… scared when you left. It’s not safe out there out at night. Especially when you’re alone.” Then she shivers, though I know that she tried to hide it. “I thought you weren’t going to come back.”
Those are the last words I expect to hear from her. Her voice is so frightened, and my heart falters. She does not know that I felt the exact same after I left. She does not know that I wanted to come back the moment our door closed behind me. How it felt to walk the same path we always walk together without the warmth of her by my side.
“What if I told you I felt like that too?” I say softly. I try to make it sound lighthearted, but the words catch in my throat as I say them. The idea of leaving her alone frightens me more than anything.
“I’d believe you,” she whispers back, and with those short words, we are fine again. I know that the rest will come later, but there is no more risk of them being thrown like a bottle.
We are quiet for a long time again, but this time it is a silence we share. Then I remember the bag at my feet. Lifting it, I pull the flowers out first, handing them to her with a flourish worth of a fancy restaurant from Downtown. She wrinkles her nose in distaste but still takes them. She smells them hesitantly and pulls a face.
“You know I hate these kinds of flowers,” she says flatly.
I am glad to see the small smile on her face as she puts the flowers to one side. Next, I pull out the bottle of wine. It is a cheap supermarket brand from the same place the butcher gave me the butcher paper. At the sight of it, the smile grows.
“Are you sure that’s the best idea right now?” she laughs, and the sound is like the sunshine. The room grows brighter, and I finally feel like I can breathe again. She does not seem to notice. “I think the other bottle is still out there. We’ll probably have to change the carpet.”
Her laugh is infectious, and I cannot help the silly grin that pulls across my face. We always keep glasses of water on our bedside table, and I take them. There is a little bit of water left in one, but I drink it quickly. She watches me in amusement as I uncork the bottle and fill our two glasses. I hand one to her and we drink together.
“It’s terrible,” she sputters, half-giggling. Then her eyes catch sight of the bag. “What else do you have for me?” she asks with an impish grin.
Our moods are brightening with the morning. Last night might never have happened if we can just manage to forget about it now. I pull out the coffee beans from inside the bag, and she rubs her hands together in mock glee. She does not open them, instead placing them inside her sweater pocket. I know that they will be long gone before the rest of the morning is out. But then she pauses as I remove the wrapped book from under my legs. She takes it, but her movements are slower than before. She says nothing as she pulls off the butcher paper wrapping. I hear her sharp inhale as she reads the title.
The Blue Kite.
It is book she has never read. She does speak of it often, but the author is her estranged mother, and I know that the young girl in the story is meant to be her. She has not seen Yvette DeAngelo in years, and I know that the last meeting ended as badly as it could have. I have already read the book, and I know that the book is Yvette’s attempt at reconciliation with her daughter. She reads my inscription to her on the inside of the cover and laughs once in the kind of way that is a half-sob. When she is done with the inscription, she closes the book and places it carefully to one side. Her hand rises to her face and she wipes away a tear with her finger. Shifting slightly on the bed, I lean forward to catch her as she wraps her arms around me.
She is warm and shaking ever so slightly. I kiss the top of her head with shaking lips, and her hair smells like cucumbers and young grass. She rests her head against my shoulder, and I stroke her hair with my fingers. I let her cry into my shoulder without saying a word. My own eyes sting with tears and I exhale shakily. We are fools, but we are each other’s fools, and I can think of no other place I want to be than in her arms.