Though the sun was bright, clouds soon threatened to overtake it. There is always a calm before the storm. I entered the building cautiously. He sat in the only chair. His briefcase sat on a makeshift desk that was once two crates of oranges. However, even in the empty environment, he still had an air of superiority about him.
I leaned heavily against the door as I hung up my cell phone. He closed his phone simultaneously. He watched me as I stood there. “I won’t bite. Unless you want me to that is.”
I crossed my arms behind my back and continued to watch him. He leaned back in the chair with his hands behind his head. A smug smile touches his lips. “Afraid Isa? You do still owe me. What was it? 4?” He never stands, just sits and watches.
I know he will wait for me to come to him. He always does. He knows that I will come to him eventually. I always do. It’s like gravity. Undeniable. Uncontrollable. I wouldn’t have it any other way. “Not scared, no. Cautious? Always.”
The satin of my dress runs along my feet as I shift my weight. The neck plunges just a bit lower than is needed but it serves its purpose as his eyes run from my head to my toes and back again. I see the fury then. His mind grasps the reality of my state of dress. “I thought you went to the engagement party with him? Or did you decide not to?”
He is hopeful now. His trust in me is undeniable; it’s my ex-husband that he is not a fan of. “I went. This is what I wore. It was a very nice get-together. If I do say so myself.” I run a hand through my silken locks. The longest layer reaches to the top of my dress. I smile as I smooth my hands over my body. “You don’t like it?”
His eyes glaze over as he watches in utter silence. In my mind the laughter begins as we watch each other. I am fighting a losing battle here as I know he can outstare me. I hate it when he does that too. Though, to be fair, he has had much more practice than I. His hands clasp as he rests his elbows on the arms of the chair. He raises his right leg to rest on the makeshift desk. His eyes never falter, never drop.
I crumble under the scrutiny. I begin to pace the office, every roundabout bringing me just that much closer to him. My arms cross over my chest as I continue my way back and forth. He has this effect on me that is completely inexplicable. No one has ever bested me even half as much as he does. “I happen to like this dress thank you very much. It is not fair making me feel bad for wanting to look good.” I stop my pacing and turn to face him. I am within reach of him now and can’t quite bring myself to back away.
His silence drags on. I quietly contemplate flipping his chair and walking out. Watching his feet go up and hearing his surprise. The door closing behind me as the breeze catches my hair and dress. Making both items dance around me.
That thought leaps out of my mind as I place my hands on either armrest. I stare into his eyes as he continues to silently debate whatever it is he does at these moments. “Say something. Anything. Please.” I raise my right hand to rest on his cheek. A smile touches my lips as the feel of him comforts me.
“You hate the dress.” It had been meant as a question but came out as a statement of fact. It is clear by the displeasure on his face that he hated it. Every fiber of my being regretted my wardrobe choice at this moment but there was no going back now. I begin to move away from him. My right hand drops slowly, running down his cheek and falling onto his chest. His slow heartbeat only adding to my displeasure. My ex-husband had responded better to the dress than Gabriel did at this moment.
I stand upright, gathering my composure and what is left of my dignity. I turn and raise my right foot to step away from him. From my love. His sudden movement catches me off guard as I fall into his lap. His hand having caught my wrist and pulled ever so slightly, leaving me unbalanced. I look up into his eyes, just as cold and dead as before.
“I love the dress, Isa. Just as you meant me to. What I wonder though is just how much Roberto\ loved it. You know I hate when we are apart and you know that I hate when you’re with him.” His eyes remain the same. His face is unreadable. Though his words are everything I was hoping; actions always speak louder than words.
I disentangle myself from him and begin to rise as his legs capture mine. His arms become steel as he locks his limbs around me. I just started a fight that I definitely could not finish. I look him in the eyes and open my mouth to speak the very words that could be my undoing.
“What if I don’t know that baby? What if I don’t know anything for sure anymore? Just last week I asked you to commit to me. Marry me. Do you remember what you said? Why an engagement was out of the question? I do. We have been together for two years now and it feels like eight. Yet here we sit. You still stalling and I am still the same fool, just older.”
His arms loosen just enough for me to twist free. The bottom of my dress catches under his shoe and the seam begins to rip. The dress now split up to my thigh and my dignity just as shredded.
“What is it you want from me? Wait! Don’t tell me. Patience? One day at a time? Well, I am sick and tired of this fear of yours. This,” I gesture to my body, “means nothing to you. This is never enough for you. You’re afraid that planning will cause you to lose me? Well, I am sorry to say this but that pal was not the cause. I hope your fear is just as warm as I was.”
I hadn’t come here with this in mind but two years was a long time. Especially for me. His fear was smothering me. It had taken hold of every aspect of my life now and I had absolutely nothing to show for it. As I neared the door I stopped suddenly. Never turning to him, my voice cracks. “I just need to know, did you ever love me Gabriel? Or was this all just one more hypothetical situation to you?”
“Isa…” His voice falters, he pauses for half a minute, and I have my answer.
“That’s what I thought baby. Take care of yourself Gabriel.”
My eyes begin to burn as my pain searches for an outlet. I need air, my body is shutting down as it becomes too much for me. My right hand closes into a fist as I shove the door open. My body shudders as the wind whips through me. A downpour starts and I am grateful. I begin to sob. The tears masquerading as rain, the rain taking pity on me. My pace picks up as I run for my car. My heel catches a puddle and I slip for a moment, catching myself quickly.
I reach for my car door as my left hand hits the button to unlock the doors. That tiny beep, my salvation. The car door is open and I never look back as I make my way inside. The engine roars to life as I turn the key. My mind never registering my actions. I pull away quickly and pray for a safe return home.
Never noticing the man in the rearview mirror, I depart. My sobbing continues as my vision is blurred by both my tears and the rain. I regret not turning on my radio as that ring tone begins. How can I decide what’s right? When you’re clouding up my mind. I can’t win your losing fight all the time. The screen is now consumed by his crooked half smile that I have grown to love over the years. The wind outside cuts me to the bone as I open the window just enough to rid myself of him. The phone shatters as it hits the pavement.
The engine stops as I have reached my destination. My pain driving me here. My need to feel something more than nothing. I look to my right and sigh as my body grows weary. My car recognizable to him as he comes to meet me. The pain clear on my face. The redness around my eyes making me look like a raccoon. His arms slide under my body as he easily lifts me out and into the rain once more. I cuddle closer to him as his body is the only warmth within reach. Sleep overcomes me.
I wake to find red satin sheets that were once home to me. Robert is yelling in the other room. I assume that it is the phone that has angered him as he responds to silence. “You will never see her again if I have any say in it. You have no idea what she was like when she arrived here. Her temperature was easily 102 and she was shivering. She sobbed in her sleep and screamed about not being enough. Your name seemed to always be the cause of more pain for her. You will have nothing to fucking do with her. You hear me? Fucking nothing you bastard!”
I heard the phone hit the wall. I tried not to move as reality kicked in. He had let me walk away. He had promised to never let me walk away and yet it had happened. He didn’t love me. Not enough to stop me anyways. So, why had I come here? Then it hit me. I had come home.
Robert was an asshole. Robert was not good for me but he was always here. My one constant and he had defended me entirely. My eyes drifted to the clock as a knock intruded into my thoughts. “Are you awake Isa?” I contemplated not answering but what kind of person would that make me?
“Yes Robert, I am up. I am so sorry for all of this I just didn’t know where else to go.” I sit up and smile weakly, trying to reassure him of my safety. He sits beside me and faces where I sit. His hands come to rest on my shoulders. His presence makes me very aware of my clothing. He had obviously changed me as I slept and though it had been for the best, I couldn’t help but be a bit angry. The black nightie barely reached the middle of my thigh and the neck dropped too low. I pulled the sheet up to cover myself and save some of my dignity.
“Isa, you don’t have to apologize. You never have to apologize. I wouldn’t want you to have gone anywhere else. I would ask one thing in return.” Fear hits as I wait for what he wants in return. Money? Sex? “Can you please tell me what happened?” I sigh. Not a horrible request; could have been worse.
I open my mouth to speak and no words escape. My body is suddenly weary once more. My head becomes dizzy as I yawn. “Isa, get some sleep.” I try to speak but it is a struggle to even move my lips. “At least…tell me…how long?” I turn to crawl back to the pillow as he whispers the answer. I am not too sure but it sounded like four days.
No dreams invade. My sleep is peaceful. Only the faint rise and fall of my chest is discernable at this point. No sound, no movement, it is as if I had died.
I wake. Fear overtakes me as I can not quite recall where I am. Everything seems dreamlike. As though I no longer truly existed outside of my mind. I start suddenly as the bed beside me moves. A moan and some more movement causes me to jump from the bed. A mirror on the headboard alerts me to my appearance. My state of dress only frightens me more. Not to mention the collar.
“Isa? Baby, what’s wrong?” Robert’s voice drags me back to reality. To the here and now.
“No, no. This…it’s not. We didn’t, did we? Oh, I think I am going to be sick. For fuck’s sake Bob!” I ran for the bathroom and was thoroughly sick. My throat burned and my head throbbed. My hand found the collar once more. It was studded and the perfect size. Almost as if he had been waiting for this moment.
“Isa! I have to go to work. Don’t try to leave while I am gone either. I will find out if you do and I really would rather not have to come and fetch you. Besides, who else do you have anyways? Your little rebound broke your heart; you don’t want to have to go to mommy and daddy a failure once more; who else is there?”
He was right. I hated to admit it but he was right. He had alienated me from everyone while we were married. I had barely started rebuilding my life when I met Nick. Now, that that was done, what else was there? Who else? The door slams as I am sure he is gone now. I didn’t know what Robert did now but I was sure that whatever it was, it wasn’t legal.
I slowly walked back out of the bathroom. I was about to sit back on the bed when a knock came at the door. “Robert?” I am sure that he forgot his keys once more. He always used to when we were married. I always figured he did that on purpose. I couldn’t go anywhere then, he’d need me here to let him in. That was how he always worked. Cautious.
I open the front door and it wasn’t Robert. Nick stared back at me. Silent. Patient. Underneath it all, I knew. He wanted an explanation. Did I have one was the million dollar question. I am in my ex-husband’s house, in a nightie, collar around my neck; I know how it looks.
“Okay I know how this must look but let me explain. I was upset and I don’t know why I came here but I couldn’t be alone. That much I knew. I mean, you pretty much said you never loved me. I mean, why else would you have acted that way? Hmmm? You paused Nick. You paused and then when you spoke, your voice cracked. How would you react if I did that?”
I begin twirling my hair as the narrow doorway prevents any form of pacing. My stomach jumps as I wait for him to say something. Silence. Unending silence. “Please say something. Yell at me, something, anything Nicholas please. Nothing happened. At least, nothing I know of. I just needed to be around someone. To feel cared for, loved, safe. I know that this is not the ideal place and that he is definitely not the ideal person but who else is there? You were my everything and in moments, you were gone. You don’t want to commit to me? That’s fine, then don’t. Just don’t expect me to wait around for the day after never. I have waited two fucking years. For what? I was ready to commit from the very beginning. You were everything I could ever want and more. You made me a better person. Completed me. I had never known happiness or love until you and yet; you never saw me that way. I wasn’t your other half. I wasn’t what you were waiting for. Why wasn’t I Nicholas?”
Tears begin to form at the corners of my eyes. I shut my eyelids as tight as possible. “All I ever wanted was you. All I still want is you. Nothing happened here. Nothing. How could anything when you have my heart, my soul, my very essence Nick?” Words never come. No sound, no movement. I could swear this was just a bad dream but I would never be that lucky.
He turns away then, never says a thing, just turns and walks away. I had promised before to never touch him at these moments, to just let him go. Though it pained me, I did just that. My body wouldn’t move, couldn’t move. No matter how I urged it, my heart was gone. My will had been destroyed.
After what seemed an eternity, I shut the door. Desperation hit as the clock read fifteen minutes after two. If I was right, Robert would be leaving work soon. He would be here by three. I remove the collar and rush to find the dress I had worn when I had arrived here. The dress was easier to locate than my car keys and purse. Not impossible as I ran for the door. 2:45. I would make it! I bolted once I was outdoors. The sun stung my eyes as they struggled to adjust.
My car seat was dry but the interior smelled awful. Robert had obviously opted to not leave me alone unless absolutely necessary. Drying out my car, or maintaining it rather, obviously was not a necessity. The engine did not stall or sputter as I was afraid it would. It roared to life and I was soon on my way home. I remembered why I had left Robert in the first place.
I knew he would come after me; I just had to be ready. I made it there in a record time of five minutes. Running every red light and stop sign. Praying that there were no cops out today. I ran inside and prepared. Locked every door and window, changed into jeans and a t-shirt, and threw on some gym shoes.
He never came. He would wait until I least expected it. Wait until I was out at night, alone. I would be. Alone. Always. Nick would forever see me as he did this day. I was sure of nothing else more than that fact.