Title: 162 Pages (Working Title)
Author: M. Reis
Summary: It wasn't that she didn't love him or even that she did, it was that he would forgive her, and that's why she was leaving him. He told her he'd write a novel about her and he was afraid to start because it would be inevitable that he'd have to finish.
Feedback: I post here in hopes of real feedback. But short reviews and incoherent flames are also welcome. )
There were goose bumps on her skin, she realized, and she hated that she was nervous like this. Sitting in the dimly lit coffeehouse, she pulled her red leather jacket tighter around her shoulders. It didn't make her warmer. The temperature wasn't the problem; it was her goddamn nerves. He was late. He was never late—it wasn't in his character. He was so orderly and disciplined that it didn't make sense for him to not be right on time. She was suddenly worried and shuddered involuntarily at the idea something might have happened to him.
She wished she had brought note cards so that telling him everything might go easier. Prompters. They wouldn't have helped though. She had no idea how to even begin telling him what she needed to, so she knew she wouldn't really tell him at all. She demoted him in her mind to a need-to-know basis and ignored the fact that he needed to know by distracting herself. She watched a couple in the corner. They were arguing and the woman was winning. She jabbed her finger angrily into the man's chest and he gave her a remorseful look. It was times like this Laurel wondered why people were even in love.
There was a man in the corner booth, staring intently at his laptop. He wore a suit with no tie, and he had messy brown hair. He couldn't have been more than twenty-five, and he seemed ambitious from a distance but of course—and Laurel knew this—everything looks perfect from far away. In another time, another place, under different circumstances, she'd be very attracted to the man in the corner and she'd have gone over and chatted him up. Tonight however, he was just a convenient distraction. If Israel didn't show up soon though, she might chat him up, and she might even go to bed with him, but Israel would show up. She knew he would. Still, it was a nice fantasy and he was a nice distraction. She wondered what he was thinking. He probably a girlfriend, or maybe a boyfriend, or maybe he had no one at all and if he had no one, it was likely he didn't want to have anyone and so he sat sitting in a dark corner of a trendy coffee shop, working fastidiously, almost like he was taking revenge. Whatever reality was, Laurel would never know.
It was then Israel bustled in, looking out of breath. He stopped short in front of her table and drew himself up. He straightened his wire-rim frames instead of wiping the fog off them, stroked his beard out of habit, and then smoothed the front of his button-down shirt, even though it wasn't wrinkled, in a move that was just so Israel. He smiled at her, took off his scarf and black, woolen coat, and sat down. Her heart skipped a beat. There was a lump in her throat. She went to speak, but he cut her off.
"You look brilliant," he told her, and it was only when he pointed it out she realized she was sore. She'd known before… before it had happened that she would be sore when it was over, but she hadn't noticed it. The incident, the cause of her discomfort, seemed already to be ages ago, but it hadn't been long at all, only a few days. She cast her eyes downward. "How are you?"
In normal circumstances, that being when he knew everything, he would ask how she was feeling, but this time he didn't know about the incident, or even that one had occurred. She pushed it from her mind. "I'm leaving you."
Laurel had not been aware a human being could just stop, but Israel did. He froze completely and stared at her. She took a long sip of her tea, the hot liquid warming her throat. She wished her hands were warm and that she didn't feel so cold. Israel sputtered and then stopped again. She wished it didn't have to be this way. He was a good man.
Israel blinked. "What are you doing?" he asked. He hoped she would clarify and in doing so, say she wasn't leaving, that he had misheard. Wishful thinking, but what more could he do? She looked away.
"I'm leaving you." Israel seemed visibly shaken and she realized it was for the first time in all the time she had known him. He'd been her lover for two years. Well, almost. They would be at two years in a just over a month or so, so she had to end it before then.
"You're having one of your whims," he accused suddenly. His eyes grew dark. She realized that he was not only visibly shaken, but helpless. Israel didn't do well with being helpless. "You can't mean this."
"This isn't a whim," she told him, though she acknowledged to herself there was a fair possibility that it was. She'd always operated on her gut feeling and her whims. But this couldn't be a whim, because she was in pain too. She never liked to hurt herself, she didn't even like to hurt him, but it seemed necessary to survive.
He took a deep breath. It seemed like she'd knocked the life out of him. He spoke very quietly. "This has to be a whim, there's no reason for it, I mean, think about it, there's no reason for you to end this, we're both so happy."
She shivered. She hated it when he was right. "Yes, you made me very happy once."
"Have I stopped making you happy?" Israel demanded. She suddenly felt a small surge of joy because Israel, Israel who never lost his temper, Israel who was never emotional, Israel who was never rattled, was no longer perfectly contained. Israel was desperate and hopeless. It was the first time that she had seen him be truly controlled by his emotions.
"I'm not happy anymore," she told him. She knew he was not the reason. It was true there were times Israel drove her insane. He was the kind of guy who thought he was infallible, and Israel knew her so well that he could lecture for hours, and to make it worse, he was right most of the time. Usually she reveled in how he saw through her, and took solace in his logical and wise counsel, but there were times she wanted to fool him, and she never did. He never even let her feel like she was an illusion. He always had to make crystal clear that he saw right through her. So even now, she was unhappy and it was of her own making, her own mistakes, things she hadn't handled the best, and she knew if he stayed around, he'd call her on them, he'd figure them out, the things he hadn't already discovered, and she couldn't stand the thought of him knowing anymore. It was a real bastard thing to do, keep seeing through someone when they didn't want you to anymore, and he didn't get that. She wanted her privacy back very badly. She had something now that she had to keep secret; it was no longer a desire so much as a means of survival. "I don't know if it was you or me that stopped making me happy, but this doesn't do it anymore. Yes, it was real. I have no doubt that you did make me very happy. It doesn't matter though. You made me very happy, Israel, but you don't anymore."
"I could again!" Israel protested. She shook her head coldly.
"No, you can't." She drained the remainder of her tea. "You can't and I don't make you happy anymore."
"You made me so happy," he declared. His voice broke. Her heart broke for it. She loved him most when he was being particularly charming, delightfully ostentatious, and she was not used to seeing this side of him.
"You say that like you'd never been made happy before," she replied. When he did not dispute the statement, she cringed. He looked down at the table quietly. When she'd met Israel, he'd been magnanimous and enigmatic. She'd slowly been able to chisel away at it, and underneath she'd found a curious boy, wide-eyed and grinning, always this charming, awkward half-grin. She usually only saw it when they were alone together. It was like he saved the best parts of himself for Laurel. One night, he'd held her close and told her he usually loved with his best Sunday heart, starched, pressed, and white, but he had grown to just love her, constantly and casually, but very deeply and truly. It was the kind of love a fellow could wear everyday. She'd never told him, but she'd been touched when he said that. It was true, she supposed, that Israel, who was so deserving of love, had never been made happy by it before.
"Let's talk this through," he begged her softly. She looked at him and for the first time since he sat down, she met his gaze. His eyes were soft with emotion and he had never looked so sad. She realized then that he did know something. Maybe not everything, but he must know something. Of course he would know. He was an intellectual, and wise as well. He would have put it all together. She wanted to reach out and take his hand. But she knew if she did, she'd lose her nerve and she'd tell him everything, all her secrets, the few she'd managed to keep for herself, the ones new enough he hadn't found them. She finally had secrets, and she had one that was too big to ever tell him. She suspected that, as was the case with most of her secrets, Israel knew. She couldn't bear telling him. She was ashamed and scared. She knew in her heart he would accept her in this, as in everything, but she couldn't ask it of him, not this time. "Laurel, we need to talk."
"I'm afraid," she said coldly, "that's no longer an option."
She braced for his reaction. She had chosen to break up with him in public, to avoid a scene. That was the real reason she broke with him this way. It seemed irrational though—Israel had never yelled at her, never really raised his voice, but then he'd also never been controlled by his emotions before in front of her (and she suspected the same was true for when she was not around). He had no reaction for her. She stood up and began walking. He sat there for a moment before following her out. They stood outside. It was crisp evening, and he was suddenly very cold, despite his warm, woolen blazer. He held his red scarf in his hand. It looked as though it would snow. It was January, so it was almost certain it would. She gave him a long look then turned to walk away. He grabbed her arm. She glowed in the streetlight.
"Let me say what I have to and then you can go."
"I don't think that's such a good idea," she said quietly, keeping her voice firm. She'd vowed to leave him a hundred times before—they were whims. She'd always lost her nerve. His hand gripped her arm, and when he realized he was, he let go.
"I need to say something, please let me." His voice was torn up with feelings.
"Why don't you just write a story?" she said, trying to sound bitter. It still amazed her that he, this staunch and suppressed man, was a talented and evocative writer. "Or aren't you any good at nonfiction?"
He smiled briefly, it really just flashed across his face, gone before he realized he'd even smiled at all. "If it snows tonight," he told her gently, which was odd, because he was upset and he wasn't trying to be gentle. "I'll write a novel about you and I. I promise I will."
"And you would, wouldn't you?" She shook her head, smiling indulgently. She realized if they kept this up, she'd lose her nerve and he'd trap her. She had to leave him. She couldn't do this anymore. She couldn't bear being with him. Even if she could stay friends with him, she could never let him touch her again. Of course, there was a chance if she stopped being his friend (he called her his best friend), that she could allow him to touch her. She hated how messed up that seemed, but it was true. Quieter, almost dotingly, "Of course you would."
"Your ego would like that very much," he replied, with equal parts scorn and adoration.
"Of course it would." She froze over again. "My ego liked you very much."
He grinned ruthlessly, the one he grinned when he was seeing right through her. It reminded her why she was leaving. "Darling, we both know it was more than your ego that liked me."
She forced herself not to react visibly, but she bristled despite her efforts. "That's probably why discussing this is no longer an option."
He looked right at her, his eyes wide with desperation. "Please," he begged. He looked down at the sidewalk. "I just need to say I'm sorry."
She relented. He took her silence as a cue. She waited. He finally spoke. "I'm not very eloquent when I'm upset, but I am sorry." He shook his head. "I don't know how this happened, or why, but I know I fucked up over time. I know somehow, somewhere along the line, I must have gone off track with you. I'm sorry for what I did. I think in retrospect, there's a good chance I've been entirely arrogant and insensitive, and I think, looking back, maybe I thought I knew things I didn't."
He felt like all the air had been let out of him. He'd been ecstatic when she'd asked him to meet her tonight because he had perceived she had a secret and he thought she would let him in on it. He thought he knew what it was, but she was leaving him and that didn't coincide with the facts as he saw them. He hated himself because he had thought he had known her so well and he didn't like things to turn out to be a lie. He didn't like being wrong, but even now, he wasn't sure if he was wrong. He might never believe he had been wrong. He had been so certain it was that, it all fit into place. He couldn't be wrong. He was sorry though.
"Thank you for your apology," she said evenly. She was glad he had apologized because if anything, it had stiffened her resolve to leave him. They both knew she had just thanked him, not forgiven him. She didn't want to know the potential ramifications of forgiveness. She couldn't calculate them. He had been the one who was always calculating. All she knew was there were ramifications and if she forgave him, she would hurt him. She couldn't hurt him like that, not more than she already was. She was sparing him so much pain. It was just like him to try and take the blame and it was just like her to disagree. She turned and started walking away.
She felt his eyes on her back as she walked slowly away. She fought the urge to break into a run and get out of his sight as quickly as possible. She suddenly heard his voice, shouting behind her.
"I would never regret this!" he called. He knew he had been right. He knew her secret. "Even knowing everything I know, I would never regret this."
She froze. She stopped. He knew when she stopped that he had been right and his heart broke into even smaller pieces inside of him. He had been right. He hadn't wanted to be.
"I would never regret this!" She suppressed the urge to look back at him. She realized that it was, in fact, true. He would not regret this. She would though. She pulled herself together and even from a distance, he could see that it was an act of will. She forced herself back together, and slowly, still shaken, she began walking again.
He looked at the ground and kicked the cement. "I would never regret this," he whispered. She was out of sight. He wrapped his scarf around his neck, kicked the sidewalk again, and prayed it wouldn't snow that night.
Three inches fell by morning.