Lily is sitting across from me, napkin neatly draped over her lap as she daintily picks at her food with her silverware. Chicken Caesar salad. Classic. White dress, jean jacket, flats, bracelet. Brown curls styled to perfection. I keep trying to find the human flaws in her, and I keep coming up with nothing.
"Lily," I address her. She glances up at me, wiping at the corner of her small, pink lips.
"Is everything alright?" I ask her. Lily arches a brow.
"What do you mean by everything?" she asks me.
"I mean…are you feeling…okay?" I ask, biting my lip.
"Yeah, I'm feeling just fine," she replies, narrowing her eyes at me.
"I want to apologize for the way I treated you three days ago when you told me to get out of bed. I was wrong to say those things to you," I say.
"Terry, the truth is, you've been treating me badly for a long time," says Lily. "You've said a lot of awful things over the course of the past few months, and I've begun to consider stopping this engagement several times. You mock my feminist ideals before saying the next day that I need to get my own opinions, you tell me to try harder to look pretty before you tell me I'm trying too hard, and you never clearly say anything. You've disrespected me, my own struggles with life, and you've completely disregarded my opinion in a number of matters."
"I'm starting to see things differently now," I confess. "I can change, I just…I think that the way I live right now…it's not working for me."
"And what do you mean by that?" asks Lily.
"Well, living off Dad's cash, for one. As long as I'm indebted to him, he controls my life," I offer.
"But that's natural, Terry. If we go to expensive schools, then how will we establish a career afterwards while burdened by debt?" Lily responds. "Our parents have experience, and they're willing to impart that onto us, which is an advantage in these competitive times."
"The thing is, I don't like what my Dad's imparted onto me," I say. "I've never been good with numbers, I've never been ruthless like him. I'm not decisive, I'm not a team player, I hate hurting people, and I tend to grow anxious very easily. This combination of traits clearly won't make me the CEO Dad wants me to be. I won't honor his legacy, and I'll only disappoint him. As long as I'm indebted to him, I am not free to pursue happiness," I explain to her.
"I've heard this speech ten billion times," Lily says, crossing her arms over her chest.
"And I can give it ten billion more, but the crux of it will always be the same—this life of pretending isn't for me, and it never will be. You're better suited for it than I am, because you are all the qualities required of higher management in business. The fact is, I can rattle off reasons why your appearance is flawed any time of the day, but that won't change the fact that I am threatened by you personally because you have the qualities that Dad wanted me to have. It's taken me a while to realize it, but I've been jealous of your bailiwick in business since day one, the way that Dad doesn't treat you like a country bumpkin the way he does me. I'm sorry it's taken so long for me to realize it, but in a lot of ways, I am a jerk, just like you said," I say.
"I'll have to think this over," Lily says after a long moment of silence. She takes a sip of her water, then of her champagne. "I'm going home. Please don't come back for at least an hour."
"Take all the time you need," I murmur, standing. "I'll pay."
"Your dad froze your account for three days, remember?" Lily sighs. "Something about disobedience…?"
"That," I mutter, shoving my hands into the pockets of my pants.
"So I'll pay," Lily says, and she strides over to the cashier. I leave the establishment, eyes trained on the sky. God, if you can hear me, don't let this thing Lily and I have end. We could finally make this work. I can change. I also know that I can be better. Just please, give me more time.
I walk to Central Park, and my thoughts caress the vast emptiness of my mind. Finally, I allow them voices in the hollowed chamber of my head.
"You realize that she's most likely going to leave you behind," the rational part of me says.
"After all we've been through together? She wouldn't," laughs the sentimental part of me.
"What exactly have you been through together? You met through a mutual friend who you're not even friends with anymore. You went through your cute little flirting, and because she fancied you, you wondered, well, why the hell not? Then after a few dates, you reckoned, why not introduce her to your parents? Then, after Dad loved her, you went, why not get engaged? All of this in less than a year," my rational side snaps.
"But we love each other," my sentimental side says. "We can be better, and she knows that. She's amazing."
"And how is she amazing? Why has she been so perfect she's boring lately?" asks the rational side.
"Well…she's beautiful and smart and-"
"What does she love, and why does she love it? What's her favorite color, Terry?" the rational side asks me.
"She loves math, because it never changes. Her favorite color's white," I answer.
"Well, at least we've got that down," drawls the rational side.
"We need to wait this out and figure out where we'll go from here. We can suspend the engagement, figure ourselves out, and return to the relationship with clearer heads and happier smiles," suggests the sentimental side.
"And how're we gonna get there? Continuing to live this way? Living like one of those damsels in distress in the fairytales?" roars the rational side. "How do we plan to figure everything out while contained in an airtight cube?"
"We will, we'll find a way," protests the sentimental side.
I sit on the bench, rocking back and forth.
"And what will we do if she leaves?" murmurs the sentimental side.
"Well then, what'll there be to stop us from leaving this box?" asks the rational side. "That's right—nothing."
"But we love her!" exclaims the sentimental side.
"No, not really," murmurs the rational side. "We love the idea of her—a woman who has a mind, but not too much of one. A woman who's beautiful in a delicate way, like a cherry blossom. A woman who doesn't argue with us, who has confidence in a quiet way, a mother figure. We got all of that in Lily. She secured us to this life, but that's exactly what we don't need at this age. We need to find our own way."
"But…how…and we won't have help from anyone…and we could end up on the streets! We aren't quick-witted enough, we're not strong enough," says my sentimental side. "And what'll Mom and Dad say? We'll be cut off, just like Sadie. Imagine Dad's face when he realizes no one will replace him. We'll be just like him…a disappointment."
"Let Grandpa call us 'the Disappointment' like he always does," retorts the rational side. "Dad never believed in us, supported us, or loved us. Those are all the functions of a father. Therefore, he was never our father, strictly speaking. So why should we fear disappointing him? Because he'll ruin our life following our departure from the world of the wealthy?"
"That's exactly what I'm afraid of!" shouts the sentimental side. "He will find us and he will find some way to mess with us. Gramps will probably involve himself, and Mom, as usual, will not do anything. We need to make a clean break, and we're not ready for that."
"Lily wouldn't adjust well to the life we plan on leading. She loves stainless steel, cleanliness, languishing on the couch in the morning, coffee on a daily basis, expensive restaurants, and traveling. It's likely that after our plight, we won't be able to afford any of that," reasons the rational side.
"But…love…it should be enough, right?" asks the sentimental side. Silence.
I stare at the trees, narrowing my eyes. Already it's evening. I should get home, just to check on Lily and hear her final decision.
The evening sky is dappled in eery shades of purple, and I marvel at the rarity. Purple skies have always given me a flash of chilling innocence that I can't really explain. It's like listening to a song by "the Birthday Massacre," or reading Alice in Wonderland. It's just…odd. Displaced, even.
I stop walking in the middle of the sidewalk, and I look at all the people around me. What if Lily and I will be like our parents? Silence answers my question in my head, and the chatter of people passing me is distant. What if I become my father? Well, that would be a tragedy indeed.
I take the elevator up to the apartment, listening to the smooth jazz coming from the speakers. My foot taps along with the drums. The elevator lurches as it halts, and I step away from its confines, taking out my keys to the apartment. I enter my box, and I close the door behind me as surreptitiously as I'm able so not to disturb Lily. I walk further into the unlit apartment, and the darkness of the night sky adds to the shivering fear that's starting to chill my innards. I open the bedroom door, and I see Lily's pale back wrapped in a white dress. There's a rustling of the sheets as she stands, regards me for a moment, takes her luggage, and passes me without a word. I stand there, and I don't stop her. The door shuts behind her as she leaves without a goodbye. I saunter over to the bed, and I sit on it. Across the street, through the window of the other apartment, I see the shadows of two people fucking each other senseless.