Brad sucks hard on the straw of his drink, decorated with a row of red palm trees, resting it on his chest as he lounges on the couch, his ankles crossed at his designer shoes. He sighs like he's had a long day, but we both know he woke up at noon and chased his craving for In-N-Out Burger, and has done little else. I sit down next to him, sighing out my own exhaustion from the day.
"Adam says he wants to get married."
When I tell him my news, he looks up in sudden alarm, and puts his feet down on the floor, tossing back his hair the same length as mine.
The afternoon light cuts in across the living room from the west, creating tangible shafts of light in the dust motes floating by. The light glances off Brad's shoulder and pools near the coffee table. He sets down his drink, the ice within it sloshing around, and we avoid eye contact for the next few seconds.
I see his jaw clench back words he's not saying in profile, the crow's feet around his eyes creasing and uncreasing with an expression between thoughtfulness and hatred. He stares through the room and toward the front door of the house, looking through every layer of reality between us on the couch and where he sees us going someday, together. Like a mirage in the desert, I imagine it gets a little further every day that passes where we don't talk, or we do talk and fight.
This fight has lasted a week, and has been punctuated sporadically with breaks during which we spend the night together.
"You're a little late," I tease him, half to force him to say why he'd insist I don't, and half to tell him that it's no big deal, whatever he wants, and it's not like I love Adam or anything, he's just this guy who thinks he can be as close as we are, Brad, okay? But I know full well at least a third of it stands to make him defensive, for one reason or another. I wait for him to laugh his breathy laugh that says I'm full of shit, but he stays quiet, and his jaw clenches faster.
I want to stand up, throw something across the room, and scream at him, "What do you want me to do, Brad?" I want to break something, or I want to break myself into the girl he's always wishing I am. I want to seamlessly become whoever she is, which will walk us, step-by-step, to the place he's always looking when we talk.
I stay still on the couch and do nothing, and say nothing, because I'm trapped, and so is he. Because I know he's wishing for the same thing. We're always wishing for the same things.
A week ago, the distant look drained from his eyes and he started looking at me for the first time, which I would've been thankful for, if it didn't mean we had been defeated somehow. I tried to tell him everything we were looking at once was still possible, but like couples who stop trying to conceive to spare themselves the inevitable heartbreak, I had to let it go. Doors closed between us, enough to sound like rain falling on a roof. He told me to look at him, right now, so I wandered into the living room where he was finishing his cheeseburger, and he suffered a momentary relapse of purpose by telling me not to marry Adam.
We sit for a moment and try to regain our focus, both of us trying to be together without looking past this moment to the one which might follow it, where we're different than what we are. I told him the other day it feels like we were once engaged and then broke up, only to reconcile years later. It all feels like small tests of limit with Brad. Are we back to where we were supposed to be yet? Are we back there now? How about now?
But the thing is, we were never there, so how could we be back?
In the silence following my joke, I begin to formulate two theories of existence while Brad fishes Nicorette from the pocket of his jeans. Having flirted with quitting, cutting down, and quitting again in the last year, he's now settled on smoking only on the rare occasions he wishes to make a particularly strong statement about how upset he is.
My first theory of reality is that there is a world where Brad and I are happy that we've never been able to find but once. My second is that we are fated to live a normal relationship in reverse, beginning in a place I would describe as platonic volatility, and moving backward through disappointment, betrayal, passion, love, and ending at attraction.
"Why not?" I ask him, knowing full well he's fighting with how to answer that inevitable question.
"Cause you're gonna marry me," he blurts, tucking the gum into his jaw. "You keep saying shit like it doesn't feel like we are, so I said well fuck it then. I'm just gonna marry your ass again and again 'til it sticks."
Until it sticks. Until we can find which theory is real, or penetrate the near-impenetrable universe of togetherness we strive for. Until we are looking at each other. Until I can believe we're married, and he can see we are.
At this point I should say that my struggle to bring this moment to life with words is three times as hard as writing about Adam ever is, and to me it means there's a way Brad and I have never really been in the same room. At this point, I feel like I need to say that there's something...
God, there's just something missing from all this. My sense of purpose, or my sense of beauty. The way I have always chosen to bring Brad to life, or maybe with the way Brad has always been alive for me. Why is this going so wrong? I can't ever say how this feels, to be within arm's reach of him and no closer.
All I can figure is that I am as afraid to write about him, as I am to love him. I'm afraid to travel down the slick umbilicals of us to the warm knot where we reside and try to untie it out loud for all it's denseness and it's sharp corners of nevermind and it's deep needs for each other. Maybe I'm afraid it's too bloody or too sick or too hard.
The truth is anywhere I could find space for Brad to carve out something to keep for ourselves, I did. I hooked barbs into his heart, connected with heavy ropes which I attached to my own, looping them around things we hated or loved, strangling things which were supposed to grow. Because he's mine. He's something I understand, and a way I understood myself. And I don't want to let him go, but I'm running out of ways I can see it's possible to keep him. I did all this at the expense of our ability to breathe.
"Evie?" Brad asks me, when he sees I've started to cry. His eyes usually sharp and bird-like are cautious, and almost gentle. He is reaching out to me across the pool of afternoon light, acting like a spotlight on a stage for us, and I can see all the blonde hairs on the ridge of his hand, and the thick of his forearm . I can feel within him all the low animals which forced his hand across that divide; every wolf mistaken for a dog, every prince-turned-coke-dealer.
I take his hand and he pulls me across the couch. The distance I cross from where he's a boy who could never mean what he says to someone with the will to end a human life seems much shorter in practice than it does in my mind. Our fights travel that same distance - we begin with a mess of our words and they give way, in the end, to this place.
Do you remember when you thought the best album you'd ever heard was over, but they granted you just one more song? Do you remember it coming on softly enough to convince you it was your ears playing tricks on you?
Yeah, Evie, I remember.
We must've been together.
And it must've been like this, after school, and almost time for mom and dad to get home.
But the house is unfamiliar, the way a memory stolen is unfamiliar, and never sounds like something I would do.
I never would've...
See, I never would've just been in love with Brad, without trying also to test that love by destroying it. I couldn't just have him, not like this. It couldn't be this simple, it couldn't feel...
"I love you," he says to me, his mouth an inch from mine, his kiss slow and almost afraid. And hey, maybe it's something I could be proud of; being the girl so dead set on self-destruction that even Brad is terrified of me. So the last song on the album starts, quiet after the long pause of our silence.
The doors of our possible lives open on quiet hinges while I'm sitting in his lap. If we can stay here, and we can fuck forever and keep at bay the guilt that I didn't let us stay here to begin with, we'll be okay. If we can stay here without any problems being used for evidence against ever belonging in this place, we'll be okay. We'll be okay if the album doesn't end. We'll be okay if the sun never sets. If I ignore this knot inside me which makes us impossible to survive.
I know how to survive, Evie. I taught you how, remember?
Yeah, Brad, I remember.
Don't marry Adam. Just stay here with me.
"Do you feel that?" I ask him, and I open my eyes to see his, wide and blue.
"Yeah," he breathes.