She spins slowly, as though she is in a slow motion dream. Her arms float up and down, her skirt twirling around her, her long hair tangled in her face.
He thinks about the word beautiful.
He doesn't know how to tell her what passes through his mind when he sees her like this. How vulnerable, how afraid he feels. These are the things that he will never tell anyone.
Beams of afternoon sunlight flash behind her, through her hair, on her smile, her laughter echoing across the small apartment.
She's doing a loopy, ballerina half swing dance, swerving, laughing, keeping no time and measure. As he blinks, he feels the world slow down, and his eyelids feel heavy. They open again, just to see her move so gently. The sound is off, like in a movie.
He wishes he could cry.
He counts the money every night, hungry, afraid. He lies about eating, he reads old papers, he asks for more work. In moments like these, where she floats before him like a drowsy angel, it's all he can think about. Only with her he is gentle, warm, smiling. He has to be cold, hard, businesslike, wary, and careful the rest of the time.
Dust particles float like diamond powder in the gold light, slowly drifting down to the ground, in clouds, wavering.
The sound is still off, and all he can hear is a sort of distant buzzing in the silence. Her eyes are so huge, her smile so brilliant, and she tilts her creamy white neck back, laughing with her whole mouth, her eyes, her hands, but all he can see are her hands outstretched towards him. Her smile becomes puzzled, and he wants to wake up, to make things speed up to normal again, but it's not working. Now the corners of her mouth are falling down and her lips are opening. She's hurtling, floating towards him so rapidly but slowly, like an asteroid, growing larger, closer. When he blinks flashes of light shoot off behind his eyelids. He feels himself oddly suspended, pulled backwards by something, and then the world goes black.
When he wakes up, all he can hear is her voice. He is in the shadows now, and she is crying and begging, her icy cold hands dripping with water holding his face, then shaking his shoulders.
She's sobbing, telling him to wake up.
"I'm awake," he whispers hoarsely, and she just draws backwards hard, plunking down, and she puts her head down in her hands and cries. He tries to sit up, dizzy. "It's ok. I'm alright. Rory don't cry, see, I'm good now, I'm fine. Look at me, look, see?"
"What's wrong with you?" she's asking, wiping at her eyes, her face, angry, sobbing pitifully like a small child. "Huh? You gonna tell me?"
His forehead is cold from her hands. He takes a dry swallow.
"I think……I just need to eat something."
They sit side by side. The afternoon is darkening. Neither says much. He finishes drinking from the orange juice carton. It's empty.
"We need to talk," she says, her tone flat.
"Look, I just forgot about lunch," he tells her, a hint of anger seeping through his gentle words.
"So you pass out? Jess, what about all the times you said we didn't need groceries, just because I told you I already ate at my job? This is insane! What's 20 dollars??!!"
He turns towards her, his eyes dull.
"It's a run for me. It's two hours of work for you." He rubs his jaw roughly, and turns away. "It was just today. I'm fine all the damn time, I just didn't have time today."
She trembles a little.
"Jess, at the rate you're going now, we're going to have more than 30 thousand by next fall. That's enough! Don't you understand this?"
He stands up. He is tired. He knows she will not understand this, she will never know that the only he can keep her is to make enough, make more than enough.
"It isn't enough."
She stands up too, almost hysterical.
"What more can you want? What else?!"
He looks away, and tells her because he knows she won't allow lies.
"I want Emily and Richard Gilmore to let me have you," he says. "I want you to not be ashamed to introduce me. I want to come to Friday night dinner. I want to have some kind of money, respect attached to my name that will make them take you back and love you again."
She blanches, grabbing his hands, shaking her head.
"It doesn't matter to me, Jess! I don't care about them! It doesn't!"
"Rory, when you're at Yale, when you graduate, where do you want to go?"
She looks at him confusedly, her eyes damp.
"Jess, I've already told you. I want to be a foreign correspondent! I want to go to state dinners, and do specials for CNN, and……."
They both stand there in gentle, electric silence.
"Where do I fit in Rory? How do I afford to come out and see you? What will you tell everyone, all your high society friends that you make? What makes you so sure you won't change your mind when it gets too hard, when it becomes difficult?"
She drops his hand, stepping away from him.
"You're the only one that runs away," is all she says, and her voice is cool and detached. He feels the knife drive cleanly through.
She starts searching for her purse. It's dark in the apartment now, and she has forgotten to turn on a light. Tears of frustration are beginning to form as she throws aside pillows and looks behind furniture. He flicks a light-switch on, and sees her purse behind the counter. He hands it to her.
She grabs it, and slides on her coat. She turns her wet eyes to him, and sniffs hard, wiping at her nose.
"I'll be at that diner where we ate breakfast yesterday. I need to think of something to fix this. Come and find me later if you have anything else to add."
He nods, letting her go.
Alone in the apartment, he curses and throws the empty juice carton hard against the wall.
One hour later, he wanders into the small restaurant. She is sitting in a far booth, her head bent over her coffee. The harsh electric lights flicker, and he can hear the hissing of the coffeepot. He sits across from her on the torn vinyl seat.
"I'm sorry," she says.
"It's partly my fault. Maybe…..maybe I didn't think this was enough to make you love me later, when you had so much better things you could do. Maybe I thought that you'll never respect what I'm doing because it's dishonorable, always hate the thought of taking this money."
She shakes her head, tears cropping up again. He plays with a sugar packet, dumping it out in a small pile on the table, separating it into tiny lines with a knife.
"Maybe I thought you resented me because your feelings for me brought you down," he continues. "Maybe I thought that this wasn't good enough for you."
She shakes her head, tears dripping down her cheeks by now.
"And maybe, last of all, maybe you just wanted to be safe again, to not have to worry about me, be afraid for me."
Her hands slowly come towards him, cupping his face delicately. Firmly, her thumbs trace his cheekbones.
"Everytime you say these things, everytime you push yourself too hard it makes me want to leave you more because I am ashamed I've forced you into this," she whispers. He wipes at her cheeks with the back of his hand, and then takes her hands from his face and folds them within his larger ones, protecting them there.
"I won't let you go. I won't stop either. I'm going to be worth something, so that I can truly deserve you, and no one else will be able to contradict me."
She shakes her head sadly.
"This isn't the way, Jess."
"I don't have enough time for any other way."
They sit in silence. She comes over to his side of the booth and curls up into his shoulder.
He pays her tab.
They stumble blindly into the apartment, her mouth on his, pushing him backwards. She seems feverish, blindly determined, confused but insistent. He's never seen her so aggressive, so demanding, so much like him. She pulls off his coat, crushing his lips with her kisses. He puts his hands on her waist; she grabs at them, and places them on her breasts. Her cheeks are still damp. A breath catches in her throat, a small hiccup almost.
"I'm so tired from crying. My eyes have nothing left," she whispers forcefully, her hands ripping at his belt, fumbling with the buckles. He grabs them, trying to slow her down, but things are waking up in him, a strangely intense arousal. She is frenzied, and her mouth is everywhere and nowhere at the same time, making him shudder. Clothes are being strewn. Socks and shoes, shirt. She crawls out of her clothes seemingly all at once, flinging them into the darkness, pressing her warm body to his fiercely. She tries to remember everything he likes, touching all the right places, playing some kind of dark and distorted magic on him, pulling him in. She forces everything, relentless, like a small, furious child, grabbing his hand and putting it between her legs, pushing her breasts into his neck, his mouth, her hair in his eyes. Her hands slip under his waistband, waking him up from the spell with a sudden jolt. He tries to lay her down, to take her, but she won't let him, petulant and insistent. She pushes him down to the floor.
He is whispering her name. Praying. Rory, oh Rory, God. Yes Rory. Yes.
She is wrestling with her panties, trying to slide them off her legs, kicking them away, and then she's pinning him down, clenching, and he's groaning, gasping for air, hands on her things, pulling her down. A cry of something between pain and sadness escapes her throat, muffled by his mouth. Every single muscle in his body contracts.
He hears her whisper something so softly and sweetly that he cannot hear it. He watches her lips, and she says it again, louder.
Darling. Lover. Darling. Oh love.
He closes his eyes, and lets her swallow, envelop, drown him completely.
The pale moonlight pools on her still face, her eyes still wide open. He could not sleep if he tried.
Her skin is salty and sweet under his lips. He places a chaste kiss on her temple, on her soft hair.
"I love you," he tells her. "I wish I had another way to say those same words, a way no one had thought of before."
He thinks about a cigarette and then lets go of the thought.
"While the lioness, loosed her slender dress, and naked they conveyed to caves the sleeping maid," he whispers to her, turning his head to look at her. He sees a small smile break out on her face that she tries to hide.
"William Blake," she whispers back. "Little Girl Lost."
She thinks for a second.
"Remember this summer when we were in Savannah and I was reading The Awakening by Chopin……."
"I put a mark on this page where I found something that I wanted to say to you but I couldn't."
He pulls his torso up, propping it on one elbow.
She crawls over to a stack of books, finger sliding down the bindings until she pulls one out, the book almost falling open to a place well marked by many openings and closings.
She curls up next to him, but does not give him the book.
Instead, she begins speaking, looking at him, barely looking at the words on the page.
"I love you," she whispered, "only you, no one but you."
She pauses, and his lips form her name. Rory.
"It was you who awoke me last summer out of a life-long, stupid dream. Oh! you have made me so unhappy with your indifference. Oh! I have suffered, suffered! Now you are here we shall love each other, my Robert," she finishes hoarsely, looking away.
She puts the book down carefully, almost sadly.
He doesn't know what to say.
They lay together in silence for a minute.
"I'm sorry for what happened that year."
He shifts, turning towards her.
"I loved you the entire time."
She nods tearfully, like a small child.