Living with the Devil
I loved Jason with all of my heart- really, I did. But there was something about moving in with him that haunted me at first. It was frightening to be moving in with a guy to begin with, considering I had never done anything of the sort. To see him everyday without fail, to sleep next to him every night… I was excited about those things but at the same time I was dreading it. What if I got bored? It was in my nature to get tired of men far too quickly- given my track record, as Alex had pointed out to me countless times before. I wanted to believe that Jason was the one for me. He was good to me, and as worrying as my whole living situation seemed, I was determined to make it work. Jason gave me all the space I needed. He even understood my need to leave for my old apartment on the first few nights- a fact that bothered me on occasion, I have to admit.
My parents had never given me a middle name, but I was starting to think that if I did have one, 'Idiot' would've suited me best. I sure as hell was behaving like one and I couldn't explain it even if I tried. The minute I moved in with Jason, my first instinct was to rush back to my old apartment and stay in the safety of Alex's embrace. It was the most unfair thing to do to both guys, and I cringed every time I thought of how I handled things.
First, I had had the nerve to kiss Alex before leaving. Well, I was really going for a kiss on his cheek because we're just friends and all, but my mind sort of blanked right at the pivotal moment and I hit his lips instead. Sophia Idiot Fox definitely has a familiar ring to it now.
And then, as if that weren't enough, I had to keep showing up at his place almost every night for the first week of my move-in with Jason so I could get a decent night's worth of sleep. I'm a slut. Honestly, who does that? And to top it all off, Jason was cool with the whole thing, and I didn't understand why. I mean shouldn't he have reacted at least a little jealously? Don't get me wrong- jealousy isn't appealing to me in the slightest, but dammit, I left his bed almost every night that week and he didn't once complain. He trusted me way too much and I didn't deserve it. I was practically cheating on him with Alex.
Of course, I haven't been stupid enough to let my relationship with Alex escalate into one of more than friendship. Even though I'd slept in his bed, wrapped up in his arms like we used to back in the old days, it wasn't technically sinful, was it? I mean when Alex first slept beside me like that in university, he was dating that Anita Band woman and we had both agreed that we weren't doing anything wrong, so things should be the same right now, shouldn't it? But I know it's wrong, no matter how innocent we had been about things. And I'm beating myself up with guilt over it. And really, what right did I have to reappear in Alex's life like that, using him for comfort when all I'd done in the past couple of months was push him away?
I buried my head in my hands and heaved a dry sob. Treza said it was a natural female response to overanalyze and blow things out of proportion… maybe that's what I'd been doing? Anyway, as if all of this wasn't confusing enough, I had larger issues at hand like upcoming exams and a broken dog on my hands.
And that's what scared me the most. Dopey didn't take very well to the move and spent his days lying in a corner, refusing to eat or do anything. He didn't even run up to greet me when I came home from work in the evenings. Jason didn't notice it, of course- he was busy writing his next book. I tried to get Dope to eat, but it wouldn't work. I took him for my morning runs as per usual, but he had to be forced into them. It was killing me.
I spoke to a vet friend of mine about it, and she told me that adapting to a change of scenery took a while for some dogs and that I shouldn't worry about it. But somehow Dopey's demeanor got progressively worse everyday. Then, at the end of my third week as Jason's live-in girlfriend, I called up Alex to ask for help.
"I'm at a loss, Alex," I said into the phone.
"Well, what's the matter with him, exactly?" he asked in his usual cool and collected manner. I felt better already.
"I don't know, really. It's like his spirit's broken or something."
"Okay, would you mind if I dropped in to say hello to him?"
The relief that hit me was overwhelming. "Please do, Alex. That would mean the world to him," I said a little too quickly, "And me," I added after a moment.
It was a Saturday afternoon and I was at home, attempting to study old patient files. The exams that I had coming up were alarmingly close and I was grateful for the break- the hospital had given me four days off starting that day.
I sat at the windowsill of the enormous living room, watching the sun melt the snow outside, leaving water droplets running down the window. I took occasional glances at Dopey, hoping he'd miraculously come around. I sipped on my tea and tried to will myself to refocus on the files on my lap.
Jason had left for Russia on work the night before, and for the first time, I had the house entirely to myself. It felt weird. I had to quell the urge to run off to Alex's again. Having him come over instead was a step forward.
Alex had purchased a car a few days after I had moved out, and he loved it. It was a second-hand Beemer and he had named her Lucy and I secretly believed that Lucy was my replacement. Jeez. Guys. However, it was strange to me that he had never once come to see me at Jason's up until then. It was only two blocks away from his law firm, so I didn't really understand why he never visited, especially when I had left my new address on the kitchen counter the last time I had slept over at his place.
It felt weird referring to it as "his place." It used to be mine and I missed it so much. Of course, what was weirder than anything was how comfortable I felt sleeping next to him on those first few nights after my move. Jason didn't know about the details of my sleeping arrangements during those days, of course, and honestly there was nothing much to tell. Well, unless the overpowering, searing jolts of guilt meant something big… Alex and I never did anything. Overstepping our boundaries was the last thing on our minds, really.
I would feel exceptionally guilty the next morning without fail, however, even though I technically had no reason to. It was unfair to Jason, as I keep thinking over and over again. I know I would've been shattered if Jason slept over with a female friend of his like that. Alex and I never spoke about the arrangement of those few days. It was as if we had both just accepted it for what it was without question. And I was incredibly grateful for that. God, I was so fucking confused.
The doorbell rang and I jumped up to get it. Alex stood outside, dressed in his usual classy-casual way. He was wearing my favorite navy blue sweater vest of his, over a white shirt and khaki pants. If I had been a single girl in New York City, with no history with him whatsoever, I would've stared after him longingly if had walked past me on the street.
I shrugged those thoughts out of my mind as I let him in. "Thanks for coming," I said, remembering the reason for his visit. "I like what you're wearing."
"Thanks, Soph," he replied with a slight blush. "So where is the old pup?"
I pointed towards Dopey's dark little corner and was surprised to see that Dopey had his head up and was looking inquisitively at us, while his tail bobbed up and down, slowly.
"Dope? You couldn't possibly have forgotten about me already, could you?" Alex murmured as he made his way over to him. Dopey's tail wagged harder and he let out a tiny bark as Alex finally reached him and pulled him into a hug.
Although Dopey wasn't quite back to being the way he used to be, Alex's presence had made him happier than I had seen him in weeks. They played their silly little games together as I resumed my pretense of studying on my windowsill.
After Dopey finally fell into a happy sleep, Alex came over to me and sat at the other end of the lengthy windowsill.
"I like your new place," he said somewhat shyly.
"Thanks. And thanks for fixing Dopey."
"I haven't really cured him, you know. I think it was just a temporary uplift for him, Soph. I don't think I've ever seen a dog like this before." He saw my face fall in dismay and he quickly added, "But I'm sure it's not permanent. Just give him some time and see what happens."
I nodded gravely and looked out the window toward the fabulous view of Manhattan that lay spread out before us. A moment later, upon remembering my manners, I asked Alex if he wanted something to drink, and then went about giving him a tour of the rest of Jason's and my home.
Alex was unusually quiet through it all and I didn't understand why he was being so aloof. I was filled with fear at the thought of him being upset over my sporadic sleepovers earlier on in the month. "Is everything all right?" I ventured, as we sat down in the living room.
"Yeah. It's just strange, you know? Seeing your new place…"
"I suppose I still think of you as my housemate," he said softly, staring at his feet.
"Oh," I replied, following suit and looking into my fresh cup of tea.
"What are your plans for today?" he asked, attempting to mend the awkwardness. I hated how there were these inexplicable bursts of discomfort between us.
"Nothing, really. I was going to study and then cook up some dinner and head to bed. Hey, would you like to stay for dinner?" I asked, getting energized. "I could open a bottle of wine and whip up some wild rice and curry… what do you say?"
"Sure, why not?" he grinned at me. "But dinner's hours and hours away and it's too late for lunch… and since you're going to study, maybe I should just…"
"No!" I exclaimed hurriedly. "I mean, don't go. Look, Dopey's sleeping at your feet, which is a huge accomplishment for him considering he hasn't left his depressing corner at all since we moved here. So don't leave. And I don't really want to study anyway. Let's watch a movie or play Scrabble or something, like old times."
"Soph, I don't want to hurt your feelings all over again," Alex said with an expression of pure seriousness, confusing me completely. "I mean whooping your ass at Scrabble and destroying what little confidence you have in yourself…" he added with a cocky laugh.
I tossed a cushion at him, which he caught effortlessly. "Oh, just you wait and see whose ass gets whooped," I retorted, getting up to retrieve my trusty Scrabble board from the bedroom.
"You're a thief!" she screamed at me, standing up and fixing me with what appeared to be the fiercest look she could manage. I just topple over laughing.
We were playing Monopoly now, after I had beaten her at Scrabble. Sophia was not happy. She hated being beaten at anything, most of all by me. I had a tendency to get intolerably cocky and infuriate her to no end.
"No, really, Alex. You've been stealing from the bank for how long now? And I let it slide the first few times but to actually steal from me?! That's inexcusable! I'm done playing."
"Aww, Soph," I cooed as condescendingly as I could manage. I grabbed one of her legs and dragged her back down and pulled her into a bear hug, locking her arms behind her so she wouldn't be able to escape no matter how much she squirmed. "You're just being a sore loser."
She shrieked against my chest but it came out completely muffled. Dopey had woken up again and was watching us with amusement. He was finally looking happy again. I winked at him and for a moment lost control over Sophia's thrashing. She managed to kick the Monopoly board and strew all my hotels and houses off the grid.
"No!" I yelled with disappointment. "Look at what you've done!" I exclaimed, letting her go and pointing at the Monopoly mess.
She smirked victoriously at me and then lunged at me in an attempt to wrestle me. I was caught off guard so I fell back in shock as she sat on top of me and proceeded to twist one of my arms. It didn't really work too well in her favor because I was much stronger than her and I managed to turn her over so that I was on top of her, twisting her arms into a lock.
"Guess your new tennis skills aren't paying off too well," I joked.
"Mmmph," she managed. "What tennis skills?"
I let her go and lay down beside her. "Don't tell me you've given up already."
"It was too hard and I wasn't getting anywhere with it. Plus, my instructor was a jerk. He kept telling me what to do."
I burst out laughing. "Soph, you do realize that was his job, right?"
"Whatever, he could've been polite about it."
I propped myself up on one elbow and regarded her curiously. She was staring at the ceiling with her bright grey eyes, scowling. "What if I taught you?" I asked her softly.
She turned to look at me. "Why would you want to do that?"
"I don't know, it might be fun. How about we make some sort of deal to meet up like twice a week for lessons and then have lunch or dinner together right after? I mean then we'd still be able to see each other and you won't suck at everything anymore."
"What does that mean?" she snapped, getting up on her elbow as well.
"Well," I began with a smirk, "Seeing as how you already suck at Scrabble and Monopoly…"
She whacked me playfully in the gut. "You know, I might just take you up on that offer. I do want to learn how to play tennis, and it's not like I want to stop seeing you altogether," she said, thoughtfully.
"Thanks," I deadpanned. "So how about every Saturday afternoon and whatever other day you're free during the week?"
"Sure," she replied easily, with a big smile. "Hungry?"
I opened a bottle of red wine while she put the pasta to boil and lit a bunch of candles. "Don't worry, this isn't a date or anything… I was just in the mood for candles," she explained to me as I poured us a glass of wine each.
She turned on a U2 CD and Bono's In a Little While song filled the apartment. "You know what, since we're going all out, why don't I start a fire in your forsaken fireplace, too?" I suggested, pointing at the unused fireplace at one end of the living room. "Actually, wait, that might be a bad idea. Jason might walk in and get the wrong impression."
"Jason's in Moscow," she said, sipping her wine. "And a fire sounds lovely. I think we have a bunch of those special fake logs that last for hours somewhere in the store room."
We located the special logs and I tossed one into the fireplace and went about lighting it as Sophia disappeared into the kitchen to finish up with fixing dinner. I joined her after the fire was ready, hoping to speed things up. I didn't want her to miss the fire- it was beautiful.
After a couple of minutes of frenzied activity in the kitchen, the two of us sat down with our refilled glasses of wine and our plates full of pasta and salad. We ate in silence, staring at the fireplace in front of us. Dopey hovered over and lay in between the two of us.
I offered to do the dishes once we were done, and Sophia spent the time massaging Dopey's head. She was more worried about him than I had initially expected, and seeing her carefully caress his head, worried me too. I didn't want her falling apart over her dog so close to her exams.
"Soph," I started once I had seated myself beside the two of them again, "Has Jason attempted to get acquainted with Dope?"
"What do you mean? They know each other, obviously, if that's what you're asking."
"No, I mean do they play together and stuff?"
She shook her head. "Jason's not that big a dog person like you and I. I mean don't get me wrong- he loves Dopey, but he just doesn't show it much because he's not that type."
I had to refrain from voicing my thoughts out loud: what the hell was she doing with Jason?!
"What would you say to Dopey coming home with me for a couple of days… you know, living at our old place? Maybe he's just a little homesick," I suggested instead.
She looked pensive and studied her hands for a while. "Okay, sure, why not? It'd really suck for me, though. I mean Jason's gone for the week and I've got holidays for the next four days. This house is scary enough with just Dopey and me, but with him gone, it'd be awful. But you know, if you think it'll make him feel better, then by all means, go for it."
"Well, you could stay over for a couple of days, too," I ventured. "I mean it'd probably be better for Dope because he'll probably miss you too much if he came home with me alone."
Sophia smiled. "Don't you think that'd be somewhat of an inconvenience to you?"
"How exactly?" I asked, baffled. "In case you've forgotten, you used to live with me just a couple of weeks ago. Having the two of you back in my life is not going to be an inconvenience."
"All right, all right," she said, laughing. "One thing though, how is this any different from the last time? How will he know it's temporary and not permanent? I don't want Dopey to think that we're back to living there and take it away from him all over again."
I thought for a moment. "How about if you bring him back here, to your place during the daytime while I'm at work, and return to my place in the evenings? That way he'll get used to this place, too, without thinking he's lost his home completely." I paused for a second, debating whether to add my real thoughts on the matter or not. I relented. "It'd kinda be like how you needed to crash with me for the first couple of days to get used to things," I told her, sounding bitter even though I didn't want to.
The truth was, I had let my hopes rise when Sophia's sleepovers became habitual for her over the first few days of her departure. She had said Jason was all right with it because he knew how difficult it was for some people to adjust to new homes. However, I had started getting used to her nightly arrivals and I loved waking up beside her in the mornings. So when she had stopped coming over, I was hurt as hell. I felt used, almost, and I guess as a result, I hadn't really bothered to talk to her as often as I could've in the weeks that followed. I was just as apprehensive about asking her to stay with me as she was about Dopey's feelings. I didn't want to get used to her and then lose her all over. It was becoming too frequent. And it's not as if my feelings for her were getting any easier to deal with.
She looked torn and chewed on her lower lip while mulling over the implications of my words. "Okay, sounds logical," she answered, finally. She broke into a smile after that. "Did you ever consider going into dog therapy?" she asked me, with her eyes dancing.
After Alex and I sobered up from the wine that night, I packed a tiny rucksack full of necessities, we got into our respective cars (Alex took Dopey) and drove to his apartment. I felt really strange doing so. Maybe it was residue from the wine, but I almost felt as if I were cheating on Jason somehow. I knew that more than likely, I wouldn't tell Jason about spending my vacation at Alex's. He probably wouldn't even think to ask me (why would he, after all?), and I wouldn't end up telling him.
We stopped at a traffic light and I began to seriously consider calling Alex up to tell him I wasn't going to go. It had been so lily-livered of me to tell him that I would be too lonely with both Jason and Dopey gone. And with a grudging realization, I came to the conclusion that I would've been lonely with Alex gone.
The past three weeks of living with Jason had been wonderful, like I had said earlier, but Alex had been right in predicting that we'd stop seeing each other. Sure, I'd spent the first couple of nights sleeping curled up beside him, in the safety of his arms, but after my initial shock of moving, I hadn't once made an attempt to meet up with him.
Part of me reasoned that I shouldn't have been the one going out of my way to get in touch with him, seeing as how he had forsaken me in the past and not bothered to call or anything. So moving in with Jason, away from Alex, was some sort of twisted way of getting back at him. Of course, that wasn't the reason I had agreed to live with Jason; I loved Jason and living with him was the logical course of action. The revenge on Alex was just a juvenile bonus which didn't mean anything.
By the time we reached Alex's apartment, I had decided that I wasn't going to continue holding that grudge. Yes, I had promised myself I wouldn't hold it against him anymore and be the bigger person, countless times since he had reentered my life, but this time I was serious. The fact that Alex was taking actual measures to make sure my baby Dopey was going to be okay was a good enough reason to start forgiving him for real. He had been a really good friend to me after I had moved out, too.
I knew once again that it was unfair of me to be sleeping next to him- I imagined it must've been difficult for him, considering he was being an idiot about the whole "having feelings for me" ordeal (even though it was very possible that he had gotten over that completely). But I figured that if indeed we were to go back to being friends like we used to before all the other stuff happened, then sleeping next to each other shouldn't be a problem anymore.
It was lame, but I really wanted to be around him and I didn't want my plaguing thoughts to come in the way of that. The rational side of my brain knew that more likely than not, I was heading for disaster by agreeing to stay with him, but the rest of me wanted to be happy for now, and I couldn't really fight that.
As soon as Dopey entered the apartment, his whole being sort of woke up. He looked happy as hell and ran around the house, barking occasionally at the furniture- his furniture. Alex and I just laughed.
We ended up watching one of Alex's DVD's, but Alex fell asleep midway through it, so I turned it off and attempted to wake him up.
"Alex," I said softly, prodding him. "Get up for a moment so you can sleep on your bed."
I laughed softly as he turned over on the couch, hiding his face from me. "Alex, come on," I pressed, pulling on his arm. He finally opened his eyes a little and got up and trudged over to his room. I followed him, turning off all the lights on my way.
Alex collapsed unceremoniously onto his bed and I knew that he had fallen asleep instantly. I went about brushing my teeth and slipping into my pajamas, brushing my hair and basically prolonging the inevitable act of crawling into bed with Alex, even though I so desperately wanted to. The guilt was seriously hounding me.
But I took one look at Dopey's peaceful, sleeping form at the foot of Alex's bed and all thoughts of wronging Jason flew out of my head and I found myself getting under Alex's blanket beside him and smiling contentedly as he draped his arms around my body in that typical way of his. I'd deal with the guilt tomorrow morning, but for now, Dopey was happy and so was I.