I couldn’t believe she would show up like this, tapping on my door. Like I had nothing to do but sit at home and wait for her. Every night for the past eight months. Waiting.
She was drunk, or close, her hair up in a lazy bun, curls dangling, spilling in a way Hollywood could try to replicate but never get right.
She reeked of smoke, booze, of three different traces of cologne from the guys she’d let lean in close and whisper all sort of things in her ear. And yet, she was breathtaking. And she knew it. And she wasn’t supposed to be within 100 yards of my door.
Her smile widened, like her path of destruction. “Hi.”
I closed my eyes. From exhaustion—no, not exhaustion, but to stop seeing her, stop wanting her—when her lips found mine.
I pushed her away, wiped the tequila from my lips. “Nicole.”
She stepped back, arms out as she bit her smile. A strap from her dress slipped from her shoulder and she left it there. A reckless mess, I reminded myself how many times I’d gotten a call or text, from a friend, cousin, uncle, law officer, asking if I knew Nicole Degeode, knew what she was doing down at Claxby’s?
It was no longer my problem, not my place to worry about anymore. I didn’t need to get down here now and pick her up when she got sloppy, coax her to the car, absorb her slaps and punches, help her up the stairs, rub her back when she got sick, crying and mumbling about her childhood. Not my problem.
She breezed through the small living room, like she’d never left it, her heavy eyes lingered on the new television I’d bought with my tax money. I was suddenly proud and ashamed of it. She nudged the game controller on the floor with her toe and grinned. “Been busy?”
I remained at the open door, the brush of her lips still on mine, part of me thinking, if I don’t get close, I might be okay. “What are you doing here?”
Her grin fell, the eyes widened. 0-60 in a flash. She spoke to the floor. “I’ve missed you.”
If Nicole was capable of love, a cosmic question, I could convince myself she loved me. But Nicole could never fully give herself to someone else. Not again. Not after her parents left her, on separate occasions, leaving her with nothing more than good looks. She picked up the pieces, decided long ago she wasn’t falling for that trick again. She’d check out first. Every time. She did it to her own grandmother, it wasn’t hard for her to do to me.
She spun around, hit me with ocean blues. I shut the door, conceding, weakening. I’d been with two girls in the eight months Nicole and I had been apart. Two girls with smiles and laughter and dreams of nursing and managing. One with brothers and a large family and friends, one who went to church sometimes and the other loved animals. Two girls so different yet so safe and normal I knew if I played it right things may have, could’ve been stable and long term. Maybe not marriage, but certainly not the mayhem inflicted by the soul arsonist standing before me. Daring me to look into her eyes.
I kept my distance, but the emotion got the best of me. “Nicole, you threw a brick threw my windshield.”
She smiled. “You were ignoring me.”
“I was driving!”
She blinked, shrugged, then turned to the shelf. I studied her back, the ridges and grooves, where my hands used roam free, tracing circles.
She looked back at me, reading my thoughts, a smirk forming on her lips before she noticed the framed picture of us. A selfie I’d taken of us last fall. Her head on my shoulder, her eyes holding such love it hardly looks like her at all. I’m looking to the left, never able to get my eyes focused.
She picked up the frame, tilting her head. “We look so happy.”
I nodded. The glass was cracked diagonally, from one corner to the other. I wondered if she even saw it. If she remembered heaving the picture across the room in a fit of rage. If we kept on, doing this, I might never come back.
Her phone dinged in her purse. She dug in her purse and glanced at her phone, rolled her eyes. I couldn’t help myself.
She ignored me.
I hoped someone else was dealing with her, until the thought almost killed me. Sure, the late nights and fights and crazy ideas, the piles of clothes on the floor, it was all exhausting. But the passion. How her smiles exploded across her face. The way she curled up in a ball when she slept. Those moments in between the crazy, when her voice was low and clear, nestled into my neck. I’d spent the best and worst moments of my life with her.
My gaze fell to her arm, down to the pink lines near her wrist. I knew Nicole didn’t want to hurt me intentionally. She wanted to hurt herself.
Her phone dinged again. She let the purse fall to the floor.
She bowed her head, so her hair covered her face. The picture trembled in her hands. She traced the crack, a thin line between our heads in the photo. I took her shoulders, felt the rupturing inside of her, felt it spreading into me. The girl with secrets and scars and a smile cracked like glass in a frame.
I was just glad she was home.