“Give it to me.”
A strong sense of dislike uncurled in my stomach. Staring, I forced numb lips to part, to mutter in frozen disbelief.
The snow fell around us, light drifts of fairy dust on her beanie, her thick, warm jacket- my heart. Only moments before a romantic moment with her, now-
“The ring. Give me the fucking ring.”
“I don’t think so, Katherine.” I scoffed, looking away. I think my face was in shadow a moment. She shifted, her cold, pale face- ugly in the yellow street light.
“Don’t make this about you- give me it. You don’t have a choice here- you don’t get to have a choice. It’s mine.” I glanced at her, slant eyed, at her too-still hands and strange hair.
“How can it not be about me- how can-” I gestured futilely at the place, about five meters off, where I’d been curled in her arms, before. “Why?” It was a futile question, I knew. It was over, and even should she apologise, it would stay over. The golden haze of happiness was gone, already. My eyes stung. She sighed.
“Look, I warned you. This-” she waved her hand between us- “this isn’t what I wanted.”
“I’m not a sex toy, Kath. You can’t just use me at night, when you’re off your face, and take out the batteries in the morning. I’m a human.”
“You’re a woman.”
“Fuck you.” The court rang with the scream for a few moments, and I became uncomfortably aware of the people in the pub on the corner. There was a pause, and then someone laughed shrilly. I turned back to her. “Fuck you.”
“I’m sorry.” I stared at her, and her hopeless expression, at her beautiful eyes and awkward mouth and long, beautiful hands and her god-damned posture that screamed it to everyone that saw her. She wasn’t fooling anyone. “Just give me back the ring.”
“No.” I couldn’t do it, couldn’t sever that final connection, the brand that confirmed for me what I most needed from her, more than her mind or body or heart- her ownership. Once again, I was drowning.
“Fuck,” she whispered. Suddenly, she wrenched my hand up and into the gap- the gulf- between us. I couldn’t move, so used to obeying her. She grabbed the small, tin ring on my smallest finger, twisting it in her hurry.
“Ah-” I cried, nearly a sob- “ah.” Then it was free. I watched as my finger began to burn, knowing I’d have a bruised, raw mark where once it’d been. I stood, quietly, unable to look at her, unable to look away. The shadow of her body was half-draped over me, and half-draped behind her. We were caught between polarised lights, and her expression in the half-light was grim.
“Jesus. You’d think I’d killed you.”
“Don’t worry about it. It’s fine.”
“It’s not fine. I know it’s not fine. It’s how it is.”
“I wish you’d-” I cut myself off, unsure of what I wished.
“What?” Her voice had gone soft, and she’d drifted towards me again. I thought she wants me, now that I’m vulnerable. She liked me fragile, and about to break. I shook my head.
“Nothing- just… If you changed your mind, you know.” Her mouth twisted.
“You don’t have to be so nice about it.” I thought, ironically, that it was the most painful thing she’d said. I turned, beginning to walk away. “Can we be friends? I don’t want to lose you.”
I turned back briefly, looking at her in the lamp light, and smiled.
“You and I, Kath, are going to be great friends.” I wanted to kill her.
* * *
“Hi.” I stood up, grinning. She smiled back, in her awkward way, and accepted my hug. I breathed deeply, savoring her smell. “It’s so good to see you!”
“Hey.” She sat down, and my eyes ran over her, taking in the white shirt, the open collar, the swell of her breast at the button close. My smile widened.
“You look lovely- I love it when you wear shirts.” She shifted uncomfortably, not talking. I didn’t notice, busy chattering away. I told her the mundane details on my day, my breakfast choices, the traffic. She watched me, her eyes piercing, barely moving. I felt disconnected from the talk, watching like a third person, my hands drifting across the scene of her quiet face, their excited darting punctuating the monologue and shaping the characters with personality. When I fell quiet (at last), I looked at her intently.
“It’s your turn to talk now.” She half-smiled.
“You always say that.”
“That’s because you never talk!” She shook her head, sighing.
I looked away, dipping my finger into a water glass and tracing a pattern on the table in the pause. I stubbornly refused to talk, not looking at her.
“What it is?” She asked, stilling my hand. I twined my fingers with hers.
“A door- it was in a book I read once.” She smiled. “Tell me about your day.”
“It wasn’t anything. I got up, I came here. I came to see you.” I smiled back at her, flushed.
She is like a drug. When I see her, I cannot breathe- I have to talk, fast and tripping over my own words, to hide the fact that I am caught, breathless. My heart beats under my chest, it’s wild thumping messing up the rhythm of my thoughts. Confused, falling down the hill of my own inadequacies and my body’s betrayal, I cannot impress her with any sort of wit. Only enthusiasm. I think that she watches me with such an indulgent expression, because I am like a child- full of naivety and unstructured thoughts. It must surprise her when I suddenly show a flash of insight. ‘What is this creature’, she must think, ‘that is so lost in her head most of the time, yet completely without a lifebelt in my presence. She drowns in me.’
“We should order, maybe?” I ask, still reeling in my pleased embarrassment. She looks around, as though surprised. I feel her lift her hand from mine, to push back her long hair, but it returns to her lap and where it sat, my hand felt chill with its departure. I refused to sigh at the loss.
“Oh, yes, I suppose. What would you like?”
“No,” I look up startled. “I’ll get it! Here.” I quickly lifted my purse from my bag, halfway standing.
“Don’t be silly. I invited you here.” I raised my brow at her.
“How can I prove chivalry isn’t dead unless you let me pay?” She smiled, shaking her head, but let me stand. “So, what would you like?”
“A flat white, thank you.” I nodded, drifting away towards the counter. The cafe was crowded, bursting with the after-university crowd. I smiled at a few acquaintances from various classes as I waited, tapping my foot. Briefly, I looked back at her, but she had her head bowed. The place was warm with the heat of a fireplace in one corner, although the hint of the chill autumn day outside belied itself in the presence of gloves, hipster scarves and light jackets. I smiled at one girl, whose earmuffs were discarded casually by her messenger bag. They were the new fashion accessory of the season. When I finally had the drinks in hand, I drifted back to our table. She was talking to someone, a young man who loomed in gangly height over her.
“Katherine, who’s your friend?” I smiled politely, setting our mugs down between them. The boy stepped away.
“Oh, this is Angus. Angus, this is my friend-”
“Kath!” A girl interrupted us. “I thought that was you!” The new girl twined her hand with the boy’s and shot me a cold smile. I felt my mouth tilt ironically, even as my body relaxed. Katherine was blushing.
“Ah, hi, Emily- I was just introducing everyone. Do you remember Beni?” I smiled warmly now, retaking my seat around our barely-there table.
“Of course, of course. I met you last summer, at Hannah’s party, didn’t I?” I nodded, still smiling, still intensely aware of Kath’s cold, stiff body next to mine. Her eyebrows were puckered in tension, and I had to stop myself from reaching out to her- it would only make it worse.
“Yes, Hannah’s- the party where I met Kath, actually-” I smiled at her. “But I hadn’t seen you since. Would you like to sit? We’re having coffee.” I felt Kath’s startled eyes flash at me. The girl looked likewise startled.
“Oh, are you sure? We’re not-” she suddenly took in the tableau, Kath and I sitting side-by-side, our chairs too close, and her and Angus before us like players on a stage. She raised her brows. “Interrupting anything?” Kath laughed shakily, leaning away from me.
“Of course not!” She said. “Yes, please, sit. What have you been up to?” The two pulled up chairs, and although I’d been the one to ask, I tried not to be disappointed.
They all talked like old friends, which of course they were. Occasionally, I’d add a small joke or affirmation, but mostly I marveled at Kath, who’d suddenly opened up, talking and gesturing and- my God, she’s beautiful. Kath glanced at me, her eyes a warm secret between us. Beneath the table, I felt her hand squeeze mine, and the shell of a cool object slipped into my palm. As her fingers slipped away, I investigated it. A ring? Her ring, taken from her hand.
The others must have wondered at my sudden smile, and the covetous look I gave her, but I didn’t notice.
I never did.
* * *
The party was loud. Parties are always loud, and I hate that about them.
“Pardon?” I asked, leaning closer. The girl mumbled at me again, her drink sloshing as she gestured with it. I grimaced- drunk bitch.
“I said, have you met Katherine?” Looking towards where she’d indicated, I observed her friend. The other girl looked vaguely embarrassed, eyeing the precarious lip of the vibrant green drink in the drunk girl’s hand. It tilted alarmingly over my cream skirt, and with a swift gesture, the other woman retrieved it from capsizing on me.
“It’s Kath. You’re Beni, right? Sorry about my friend.” I shook my head, smiling up into her eyes. Wow, I thought, feeling suddenly too close.
“It’s fine. I mean, there’s nothing to be sorry about.” We both glanced over at Rachael, the friend, who had fallen asleep on the sofa arm and was drooling slightly. Kath rolled her eyes.
Laughing, I took another look at her. She was tall, thin, her long hands rested comfortably on the chair arms only serving to accentuate the relaxed, confident sprawl of her limbs. And yet, the strange tilt of her hips and the quiet rise of one shoulder belied the tension inside. I thought, she may not be as comfortable as all that.
We spent the party quietly in the corner, in what must have looked to every one watching, as intimate a conversation as I felt it was. It seemed like I’d spent hours in bed with her rather than just talking on a filthy lounge in a mutual friend’s basement. I wanted so much to kiss her.
“So, why are you here?” She asked as the night was winding down. The room was mostly empty now, except for a passed out person or two, and Rachael still asleep on the sofa. I was curled up, my legs tucked under my chin, her arm along the back of the couch we shared.
“I broke up with my girlfriend a month ago, today. I guess its a bit of revenge.” She’d raised one brow, looking me over. She didn’t say anything, but I know she’d heard the word girlfriend as though it had echoed.
“Revenge? How is going to a party vengeful?”
I blushed, looking away. “Oh, I’d thought I might get wasted and hook up with someone. But, that’s a bit too self destructive, don’t you think? And, I don’t really like drinking.”
“You don’t really like parties, either, I think.” Katherine smiled gently, tilting my face back towards her. “Maybe I can help?”
When she kissed me, I was only half expecting it. The other half of me thought it really was an awful kiss- awkward, and my knees were in the way, and she didn’t even move her lips. It was like kissing a virgin. But, still, it was perfect.
Later, when I saw her again, she explained she’d been drinking. I knew she hadn’t, but I was willing to accept the excuse. It didn’t stop her from seeing me, however. It certainly didn’t stop me from seeing her. She was a drug, a narcotic for my heart, and the simple kiss, the confession of my life to her in the night, surrounded by noise and the opportunity to excuse it all away was addictive. I would hold her hand, secretly, beneath my skirts, and take a quiet thrill in every moment.
But that was then, when I was hers.
By Danielle K. Day