We stood frozen. I didn't know what to say. He didn't know what to say. I wanted the ground to swallow me up.
Mr. Ryan set the cups down on the counter, speechless. He was casually dressed. Dark wash jeans and socks. A slim fitting long sleeve, sleeves bunched up to the forearm. I could see the definition in his shoulders through the thin fabric. I stopped my breath. I took a step back and set my water glass down.
"Jenna?" He asked, trying to stay calm. I could hear the shock in his voice. He was staring, the intensity in his eyes was hard to look away from.
I gasped and rushed out of the kitchen. Cutting around the couch, I grabbed the blanket resting on the sofa arm, and wrapped it around me like a fluffy toga. My heart was in my throat. Mr. Ryan gave me a moment before finding his way to the doorway to see if I was okay. He stood under the archway and leaned against the wall, investigating the room, before bringing his gaze to me, wrapped up securely, by the coffee table. I opened my mouth but could not speak.
"What are you doing here." He asked, but it didn't seem like a question. He looked around the living room at our blankets and pillow arrangements, as if piecing together the puzzle of what happened last night. I waited for him to speak.
"Wait." He said, slowly as if being sure his words were correct. "You're friends with Audrey."
He sighed, and ran his fingers through his dark hair, seemingly frustrated. His eyes narrowed and he looked away from me. A minute passed as we stood quietly with our own thoughts.
I couldn't take it anymore. How was I supposed to stand here like this.
"Why are you here?" I whispered loudly. My voice was a bit frantic. I wrapped the blanket tighter around me and took a few steps back.
He looked at me again, with a hint of concern in his expression. His brow furrowed and he waited for me to speak again. Was he not going to say anything?
"Why are you in my friend's house? What is going on?" I said, throwing my hands up in frustration. What was happening. This had to be some sort of sick joke. There was no way I was standing in front of this man. My eyes darted around the room, looking for some kind of clue. Everything the same as last night - nothing out of sorts. Stacked pillows. A few empty cups on the coffee table. And then my eyes caught the family portrait on the bookcase behind Mr. Ryan. Suddenly, it clicked.
"Oh." I exhaled, my eyes moving between him and the photograph.
It was her brother. Mr. Ryan was Audrey's brother.
"Audrey is my sister." He said. "Now calm down." He said, rolling his shoulders back and looking around the room trying to figure out what to say. I felt a rush of anger.
"Don't tell me to calm down." I said, my face turning red. I can't believe he would be so dismissive.
He glanced at me, the intensity in his face softening. He realized that he had upset me.
"I'm sorry. I am just a bit surprised." He said, crossing his arms and began to the pace the room.
"Look, why don't you sit down and I'll make some tea. I'm guessing Audrey is still asleep." He said, with a kindness in his voice that I had never heard him use. I wasn't convinced by his sudden sincerity.
"Passed out." I said, and lowered to the chair on the opposite side of the room.
I could hear the clanging in the kitchen, as Mr. Ryan got out a kettle and set it on the stove. I turned my eyes away, and focused intently on the pattern of the rug in front of me, trying to breath. Three deep breaths. I cocooned the blanket around myself in the leather seat, my head peeking out from the top. I should have just run upstairs the second I heard something. Actually, I should have never stayed the night.
I pulled my legs to my chest under the blanket and leaned my head on my knees. Now that I had a moment to process this, I was more perplexed. Mr. Ryan was Audrey's brother. It was insane. But I guess it wasn't impossible. Audrey never really talked about her brother. I knew a few details from pulling them out of her in past conversations. He went to school in California. He was a writer. He had just moved back here last year for personal reasons. She didn't say much more than that. I got the impression that they were not close, so I never pushed her for more information. She didn't like talking about her family unless she absolutely had to.
I peeked into the kitchen. I caught a glimpse of Mr. Ryan's broad shoulders, as he picked up the tea kettle and inspected the water. He worked patiently, pouring the water in slow intervals. He seemed like the type that took pride in making a perfect cup.
I looked back at the rug. Before I could start to piece together my thoughts, he came into the room two cups in hand. He noticed me on the opposite side of the room and walked to my chair. I glanced up at him silently, as he extended his hand of tea. A peace offering. I stared at him for a few seconds, noting the almond shape of his eyes, his irises laced with a touch of green. I held my breath.
"You're going to need to grab the cup." He said, with a half smile, trying to lighten the mood.
I smirked, and wriggled my arm from the blanket formation carefully.
"Thank you." I said quietly, and took the cup from his firm hand, holding from the top to not burn my fingers. I let the blanket fall loosely around me, and made a small nest for the mug to cool off.
Noting my unease, Mr. Ryan took a seat on the other side of the sofa farthest from me, and sat down.
"So." He said calmly, staring at the ground, and then at me with hesitation.
"Judging by your reaction, I'm guessing Audrey decided to leave out some details." Mr. Ryan said, with a bit of impatience in his voice when mentioning his sister.
I took a sip of tea, letting the hot water burn my throat. The slight bit of pain was welcome.
"Well. She said - I have to split the place with my brother, but he's never home. And I know your name is James." I said, and met his gaze. "And now I guess I know that you are my professor."
He sighed again, and leaned forward leaned his elbows on his knees. His jaw clenched as he sat in silence. I could sense the frustration in his posture, so I didn't want to say more.
"Well." He said, holding back much more that he had wanted to say. "I'm sorry that I surprised you. I didn't know Audrey was having friends over last night."
I took another slow sip of tea and let the steam fill my throat. I didn't say anything.
"How long have you and Audrey been friends?" He asked. I tilted my head in thought.
"A few years." I said, turning the cup in my hands. "We met at the coffee shop I used to work at."
He nodded his head and fell silent.
"How long have you lived here?" I asked.
"Well we just moved to this place a few weeks ago. Last night I was getting more stuff from my old apartment." He said, leaned back in his seat again.
I nodded, and sipped my tea in silence. The last few minutes played out like a slow investigation. I studied his body language. Soft but guarded. He tapped his cup in thought and occasionally looked to my side of the room. Another silence.
Then from the top of the stairs, I heard a door slam.
"Jenna, where are you? I heard something." I heard a groggy, muffled voice from the room above us. A few thuds of footsteps down the stairs before she turned around the stair banister and studied the living room as if it were an intricate painting. She looked at me. Then to the other side of the couch. A deep frown.
"James, what the fuck." She said, rolling her eyes. Her tank top was crooked, and the hair on the right side of her head looked knotted. She leaned on the banister, shaking her head.
"Are you serious?" She said in a low, angry voice. "You said you weren't going to be home this weekend."
He placed his cup of tea on the table, and stood up.
"No Audrey, That was next weekend. I was at the old place last night getting stuff from the move." He said, crossing his arms again.
It was quiet. His eyes traveled to my side of the room, to indicate my presence. Audrey's gaze followed. She gave me a shrug, and a head tilt, as if nothing was strange about any of this.
"Well. This is James." She said, pointing to the direction of her brother, her arm extended to his side of the room. Her tone was heated.
I set my cup of tea onto the end table with a clank, and stood up.
"Yeah I know. I need to go Audrey." I said, my voice short. She looked surprised by my departure.
"Thank you for the tea, Mr. Ryan." I said, and rushed upstairs without even looking his way. I pulled on my jeans from yesterday and tucked the sleep shirt in unevenly. I didn't even have time to change into my own top. I just need to get out of there. I was fuming. I grabbed my bag that was leaning against the wall and threw it over my shoulder before Audrey made her way upstairs. She threw open her door dramatically and watched me, flustered.
"What's wrong with you?" She asked, leaning her hand on the doorknob. She frowned in confusion.
"Did you not just hear that? I said Mr. Ryan." I said and pushed my face closer to her. "He's my professor. Thanks for telling me!"
Her eyes widened. I walked out of the room, and she followed suit.
"Wait Jenna, what? I didn't even know!" She said defensively, descending the stairs behind me. I didn't look back at her. I was too upset to respond.
"Wait, wait Jenna!" Audrey said grabbing my arm before I made it to the front door. I turned back to her and sighed, as we stood in the front hallway. her eyebrows tensed and I could sense the guilt in her voice. My anger faded for a moment.
"Jenna, I swear to God I didn't know." She pulled at my arm in a pleading way. "He adjuncts all over the place, and doesn't ever tell me what he's doing. He taught at Weston last year, but I thought it was like a one semester thing." She said helplessly.
"Please please don't be mad at me. I'm sorry he's an idiot and walked in on you." She groaned and let go of my arm, letting her arms swing to her side.
"This is why I didn't want to live with James in the first place. I knew this kind of shit would happen." She curled her hand into a fist and punched her palm.
I shook my head, and pushed her fist down.
"Stop Audrey. It's no one's fault. I'm just surprised." I lied, shoving my phone into my back pocket.
"I need to go home. We'll talk later." I tried to sound as level headed as possible. She looked at me desperately.
"Are you sure? I'm about to go yell at him. You can come in and watch. It might make you feel better." She said, crossing her arms defiantly.
I forced a laugh, and closed my eyes. A wave of exhaustion was beginning to overwhelm me.
"Seriously Jenna. I'm so sorry." She said, clasping her hands together. "Can I walk you home?
I shook my head again, reassuring her.
"Hey, it's fine. I just need to cool off." I said, turning away from her to hide my face.
It didn't matter how much I tried to place the image out of my head. My chest felt tight. Remembering those eyes - how they paralyzed me. The morning light shifting across your face. Events had been set in motion. Even then, I could feel something taking shape. A fraction, embedded in the skin. Undoing me. Pulling at the seams of everything I knew.