Author's Note: I'm not dead yet! I am not fully recovered from writer's block (which, let's get that in the DSM, shall we?), but I managed to write this chapter. Thanks to everyone who put this on their alerts and please, PLEASE, review and tell me how this went.
I watched Claire conspicuously from the living room, knowing that none of the three women in the kitchen would notice my staring as they hadn't looked in my direction for the last three hours. Both mine and Claire's mother had shown up at ten that morning, as was slowly becoming the norm, and all three had immediately settled into the same discussions they had been having for the last few weeks. Those being what color linens should the tables have, seating arrangements, the guest list, the tableware, the DJ, the music for the father-daughter dance, and their newest conversation topic: babies.
I would always see Claire peer sympathetically over at me as though to say she wasn't serious about any of it, just merely entertaining the mothers on the subject. She didn't know my reaction to the topic since we never discussed it ourselves, my reaction being carefully masked terror. Carefully masked terror was my reaction to almost anything at that point; waking up in the morning, getting dressed, going to work, coming home, even sleeping. My stomach was perpetually knotted in a debilitating anxiety that seemed causeless. I thought once of talking to Claire about it, but the thought alone had squeezed the breath out of me. I couldn't tell her that I was looking to the future in terror while she was looking forward to it with an almost impatient yearning.
I looked back to the television, trying to immerse myself into the program, but I had never been an avid watcher of television. I never liked the idea of sitting in front of a screen doing nothing and talking to no one. Nigel was the one who could do that, though normally it was on a computer. He was the one who could thrive in solitude, not me. He was the one who could explain exactly and eloquently his feelings, even if he was just stating he didn't know what they were. If I could just tell Claire what was wrong in the way Nigel could, I was sure that she would talk me through them, help me understand them. It was her job to do things like that. But there was no way I could explain to Claire how I was feeling without tearing her brutally from her happiness. And I'd already done that to someone once. Doing it again just wasn't an option.
My gaze turned back towards Claire at the table only to find hers and both mothers looking back at me. I felt my neck heat like I had been caught red handed, but they only laughed. "Aillen, I've called you almost five times already. What are you watching?" my mother asked, leaning away from her chair like she was trying to see what it was. I shut it off and stood, making my way slowly into the kitchen. "I was going to ask you to make a quick run to the grocery store for some dinner supplies. The way this is going, we'll be up late into the night. Do you mind? It might be nice to get away from all this estrogen," she said with a giggle and Claire's mother smiled. I nodded dumbly and took the list from her, grabbing my keys from the bowl by the door.
I was about to exit when Claire grabbed my hand and shoved herself inside of my arm, kissing my cheek. She smiled at me and I smiled back in a way I thought was convincing. "Sorry about all this. I know this is a lot for you every weekend. I'll make it up to you. I promise," she said, squeezing my arm and winking at me. I knew what she meant. She would repay me in bed with what she thought I liked, something that would make me happy, but the thought of having sex with Claire filled me with dread. It was just another scenario in which I had to prove myself, to meet a standard.
The grocery store offered a mind numbing drone of noise and a tedious list of chores. Since I never did any of the grocery shopping, I had no idea where anything was and instead of looking at the list to see if it was in the aisle, I would hunt for each item one at a time. My mind had been so overcrowded with thoughts of the wedding and the future and impending children that worrying only about chicken breast was like a godsend.
I spent twice as long as was necessary in the store, comparing prices and reading ingredients, and finally checked out two hours later with far more items than Claire had asked for. I couldn't even find the list she had given me for dinner and wasn't entirely sure I had fulfilled it, but I felt liberated. I placed the groceries in the trunk like they were trophies, smiling at them as I closed them up and then sat in the driver seat. Everything felt better to me; the steering wheel conformed better to my hands, the chair was more comfortable, the temperature was perfect. I started the car and headed home.
The sun was just below the horizon, leaving the sky an illuminated gray like a light behind a thick curtain. I hummed to myself, the radio off, and drummed my fingers on the wheel. I could see the neon lights on the bars for beer and after a few minutes, decided I deserved one and parked the car. I figured the groceries would be fine for ten minutes while I drank, it was getting cold out anyway, and locked the door.
I could smell the smoke from the cigarettes before I could see the bar, smell the stale spilled beer on the sidewalk, and hear the music from inside the establishment. It seemed alive to me. The conversations were diluted by the sound, people were screaming at each other over the music, dancing in clusters on the dance floor. I ordered my drink and sat at the darker side of the bar closest to the entrance and sipped at it. It had been a long time since I had drank anything at a bar, even with Claire beside me. The wedding had taken up our entire leisure time on the weekends. We didn't go out to eat like we used to, just for the sake of going out somewhere other than our house. We didn't go out for walks or watch a movie anymore. We went to work and, when work was over, we talked about the wedding and went to sleep. On the weekends all we talked about was the weddings. I hadn't realized how overwhelming it all had been until I had taken a few steps back from it.
I drank my beer, turning the bottle in my hands and feeling the cold condensation on my palm. It reminded me of college, reminded me how long ago that was. I ordered another, thinking the women wouldn't miss me too much if I were gone another five minutes. I pulled out my wallet as the barkeep handed over my glass and felt a hand on my shoulder. I looked up to see a hand offering a twenty to the bartender. Before I could protest, the money was gone and the bartender had moved on.
"What are you doing here, Aillen?" the man asked, sitting down on the stool next to me. I stared at him; the black hair, the heavy presence, the expensive shirt, but it wasn't until I saw the watch that it clicked in my mind who it was. I opened my mouth, but he cut me off. "Does Claire know you're here?" His cold blue eyes pinned me down to my chair, accusatory.
"No," I said quietly. I doubted he heard me, but he knew what I said anyway. He grinned in a way that made my hands sweat, quietly nursing his drink that I guessed was considerably stronger than my beer. I watched him, waiting for him to say something since I couldn't think of anything to say to him myself. He took a sip out of his glass and glanced at the crowd.
"Does Claire know you do this?" he asked, turning his head back to me. He made it a point not to look at me, but I could see from his profile that he was clearly amused about something. I shook my head in response to his question. "Are you planning to hide this from her your entire marriage?"
"The fact that you're gay," Paul stated, finally laying his eyes on me. I stared at him, my throat dry. I felt clammy, sweaty. I had no idea how he had come to that conclusion and why I couldn't just tell him he was wrong about that, that I wasn't gay and I was getting married to a woman, that he knew that. Instead I just gaped at him, barely able to stutter out, "why?" coherently enough for him to understand. Paul turned his body so he was facing me, leaning forward with his one arm on the counter. "You do realize you're in a gay bar, right?" he said, close enough to my face where he didn't have to yell for me to hear him. I could smell his breath, the alcohol on it, and his cologne. Paul put his hand on the stool I was sitting on next to my leg for support as he drew closer to me. "You didn't just accidentally walk into a gay bar, Aillen. No one ever accidentally walks into a gay bar."
I looked into his face and saw he was staring right into me. His bangs tickled my forehead and I knew we were too close, but I didn't want to pull away. I felt excited and guilty and I wish I had just gone home after the shopping and avoided all of this. Paul slid his hand in so his thumb grazed my jeans, boxing me in with his other arm on the counter. I could feel his breath on my lips, on my tongue, and I thought in my head that I shouldn't let this happen, that this was wrong, but I closed my eyes and waited for it.
"You should go home," Paul said quietly, his hand grazing my cheek, "to your wife." I opened my eyes and watched him walk away, emptying the rest of his glass into his mouth as he disappeared into the crowded room. I stood shakily, knocking my nearly full beer over behind the counter in the process, and stumbled outside to the car.
This was wrong. Out of the two of us, Paul should not have been the one who turned away. It should have been me. I should have been able to walk away from it laughing instead of getting caught up in it and surrendering. I rubbed at my face hard, trying to get my mind cleared. I had to go home to Claire. I started the car and pulled into the road, my mind running on autopilot.
Claire probed when I got home, wondering what had taken so long. With the excuse of a headache, I dropped the groceries in the kitchen and went to my bed, laying down in the darkness on my stomach. What I wanted more than anything at that moment was a vacation from being sentient. I wanted to sleep and not wake up for a week or two. I wanted to go back and redo everything I'd ever done. I wanted to be someone else who didn't have these problems. Anything. I closed my eyes and shoved my face into my pillow.
I felt sorry for myself. And I felt angry that I felt sorry for myself. I could feel my throat sting like I'd swallowed a razor and persistent tears soak into my pillow case. I hated myself. I had promised myself I would make Claire happy, that I would never hurt her the way I hurt Nigel. She would only smile and laugh and we would never get into fights and our marriage would be perfect. We would be happy together forever. That had been my dream. That had been the dream I'd given Claire, let her believe would come true. I thought if I could do that for Claire then I could forgive myself for what I'd done to Nigel.
I was a fool.
Note: I don't know why I do author's notes at the top and the bottom. Anyway, this was a bitch to close up and I don't feel I really did it all that well, but there it is. Leave some feedback for me, my lovelies.