"You're being weird again," Adrienne tells him when they're sitting in her living room, trying to scrub paint out of her carpet. "Quiet and stuff, like you're stuck in the past or something."
He wants to tell her that he is stuck in the past, that it's that time of year again, when spring blooms from winter and his life changes forever, but he doesn't. He hums low in his throat and says nothing, picking at a small speck of a hot pink color with the toothbrush Adrienne had given him for the job.
Rather than push the issue, Adrienne leaves it, letting the quiet seep in, the songs playing from the stereo across the room seeping into their ears and smoothing out the silence. The one playing sings of lost love and broken hearts and Josh doesn't feel like he understands it at all.
Two CDs and an hour and a half later, when Josh is still working on the same spot in Adrienne's carpet and she has moved on to bigger and better things, the ugly brown dots on the walls and drapes, she wipes her hands on her jeans and says, "Dinner, I think," and steps towards the kitchen.
"Careful," Josh warns as she steps in the exact spot he was hoping she wouldn't. "It's still wet there."
She hardly seems to mind, waving away his concern and picking up the landline on the counter. "How's pizza sound?" she asks, and Josh hardly has anything against pizza, so he says it's fine and goes back to picking at the spot on the floor.
"Why don't you take a break?" Adrienne says once she's off the phone with the restaurant and Josh is still scrubbing like the act holds him to Earth. "I'll just have to replace the carpet," she adds, almost like an afterthought. Josh brings his hand to his hair, fingers scraping across his scalp just for something to do. When he pulls them away, they still itch with restlessness. "Come on. Pizza will be here in twenty minutes." He still scrubs at the spot. It sounds like Adrienne's responding sigh comes from miles away, fogged inside his head as it twists around his thoughts.
He still scrubs, focusing on the small speck that he's been staring at for too long, that's starting to remind him of the past just as everything else around him is. He jumps when Adrienne plucks the toothbrush from his hand gently.
There's something deep inside him that wants to explode, that wants to fill that emptiness he's dragged around with him for years, but instead he offers Adrienne a neat smile, all the lines where they should be, and says, "Sounds good," as he stands and heads to the sink to wash his hands.
The noises she makes when she follows behind him sound like she wants to argue, to ask, beg, plead, anything to get him to talk, but she doesn't, just leaves it. He doesn't blame her; he hardly understands this more than she does.
No one has ever spoken to him about Taylor's disappearance before. Whether that was because he was adamant about not speaking about it or because everyone knew, he's not certain. He still talks with Taylor's girlfriend—ex, now, he supposes—but only because she's too stubborn to let Josh go.
Sometimes, in the dark of night when the rest of the city lives around them, the two of them lie in her bed and listen to the CD Taylor had made her. She cries in his arms and he holds her close, listening to the words in the songs and trying to find a meaning around them, clutching at straws while she clutches at memories.
Helen sometimes asks if he's listened to his CD yet. Every time, his answer is the same answer that masks his reality, "I haven't gotten around to it yet." She scolds him; he doesn't listen, never listens. He's afraid to find the emptiness in her mixtape reflected in his own.
"Josh?" Adrienne asks, dropping a hand to his shoulder. "You've been washing your hands for five minutes."
Looking down at his palms, sparkling with remnants of soap and rivulets of water, Josh clears his throat. "Right. Sorry," he says, taking the outstretched towel from her and wiping his hands dry.
"No need for apologies," she says, looking as though she's ready to cry. Her hand drops from his shoulder as she turns to scrap some of the paint off of the counter. He hadn't asked why there was paint everywhere in her apartment or why she'd waited so long to clean it up, but figured that at this point, there was no need. She hadn't asked the questions that were obviously plaguing her. He felt it right only to give her the same treatment.
They stand in silence for the next few moments, listening to the songs playing over Adrienne's stereo. She looks like she finds meaning in them, closing her eyes and singing along with a look of peace about her. Josh wonders if he ever looks like that, so content to even be living. He imagines that he doesn't, perhaps never has. At the very least, he's certainly never felt like it.
The pizza delivery boy is short, young, impressionable. He has acne that covers his entire face and a smile that Josh knows would dazzle if he let it grow. Adrienne pays for the pizza, folding the twenty in half and smiling as she says, "Keep the change," and closes the door. She meets Josh's gaze for only a moment before she holds the pizza box out in front of her.
"Cheer up, would you?" she says, and Josh knows she means it in the nicest ways, but it still comes out in the nastiest of tones. He bites back the urge to apologize. She doesn't deserve it; neither of them needs it.
She adjusts the rabbit ears on top of the television and picks up the remote sitting on the edge of the coffee table. Three legged, held up by a pile of books, just like Taylor's. Josh desperately tries to back away from the similarities. Adrienne sends him a glance as she drops the pizza box to the coffee table and clicks on the television.
Hardly hungry, Josh debates whether or not he should eat, maybe leaving the pizza to Adrienne for lunch, but the least he could do is appreciate her efforts. Not many people would be so willing to let him sulk around their apartment without a well-rounded reason.
Fifteen minutes into a bad do-it-yourself show, Adrienne drops her pizza back into the box and turns to Josh. "There's a painting class downtown on Thursday nights."
Not quite sure what this has to do with him – or either one of them, really, because Adrienne is a terrible painter and has been her entire life – Josh nods slowly and swallows. "So?"
"So… I was thinking. Maybe you and I sign up for some classes. You can work out some of your…" She sighs again. "Emotion."
Josh clears his throat. "I think I'll pass."
"No, come—come on! You have to come with me!" She bites her lip, looking worried. "You know how it is downtown with me. I get… flustery and can't handle the people."
"Not enough of a reason to get me to paint, Adrienne. I'm sorry."
"Please. Josh, come on. You have to start doing something." The mention of Taylor isn't explicit, but Josh knows it's there. He knows Adrienne's trying to get him to cope with his disappearance – he refuses to call it anything other than that – without telling him to cope, but he still can't bring himself to care about her problems. He's not sure why. It's been like this for as long as he can remember. At the very least, it's been like this for as long as he's wanted to remember. "Just this once. If you really hate it, I won't make you go again."
What could one time do? Just once wouldn't get him hooked, he's not much of a painter or a sociable person anyway, making one appearance for the sake of a friend couldn't do much to either of them. Adrienne's not exactly the sort of person to beg more than once.
"When is it, then?"
She beams with happiness, the corners of her lips curling up the way they do when she can't contain herself. "Thursdays. So, you'll go?" Picking his hands up in hers, she bites her lips again.
"Just once," he tells her, trying to sound firm. It falls flat on his tongue. "I'll go just once."
After placing a kiss on his lips, Adrienne leans back and smiles. "Thank you. Thank you so much."
She's not only thanking him for going with, but when he finally realizes that, she's hopped off to the shower with promises that when she gets out, they'll go see a movie or something. Josh suspects the night to end with her finding another boyfriend and him going home alone, disappointed at once again finding that all the men in the clubs, the streets, the cars, will never and can never be Taylor.