Stay

My fingers dial the numbers on their own. I hardly recognize what I'm doing before I put the telephone to my ear. After four rings, the answering machine picks up. Thank god. I don't think I can handle talking to him in person.

"Hello, this is Tai's machine. Don't hang up, no matter how much you want to. Leave a message, and I'll get back to you as soon as I can."

Damn it. I know he's been expected my call. I hear the tone indicating that I should speak my message. My voice sticks in my throat for a moment, and I consider hanging up. I struggle to begin, though I've been reciting this speech for days.

"Hey Tai, I've been thinking a lot about what I said last week." The memory clicks into place, and I find I've lost the words I had planned on saying.

The cold wind had whipped around the taxi door as I pushed it open. Stepping out of the vehicle, I had pulled my scarf tighter around my throat against the chill. His hand was suddenly on my wrist, postponing my escape. "Come on, Sora, don't be like that."

The heat had risen in my cheeks, and I shook my arm free before slamming the door in his face. My feet ached in their heels as I climbed the front steps, stomping too heavily in my frustration. I could have easily twisted an ankle in those damn shoes, but I didn't, and I didn't worry about it either. The revolving door kept swinging behind me, making a soft whispering sound as it turned, while I headed for the elevator at the end of the lobby.

The small elevator had been empty, thank god, and I had ridden upstairs in relative silence. The corridor had been empty too, understandably so. It had to have been around eleven o'clock. I had shut my door behind me, and the darkness of the apartment had closed around me comfortingly.

Once out of the bath that evening, with the grime of the day washed away, I had paused before my dressing table and vanity, staring at my reflection, wrapped in a thick bath towel. The unsuccessful date an hour before had left me still trying to calm the frustration and anger. I had been in the middle of towel-drying my hair when a knock came at the door.

I had looked at the clock as I moved toward the door. Who would be visiting this late at night? Checking to make sure my towel was in place and secure, I had peeked through the glass spy-hole into the corridor. I had quickly unlocked the door and opened it up to Tai.

He had entered the apartment in a flustered manner, as though he was confused as to why he was there. He hadn't seemed aware of anything around him until I told him to take a seat while I put something on. I saw the stunned look on his face when he noticed my attire. I had quickly gone to the bedroom and pulled on a robe. When I had returned and sat beside him on the couch, his lost expression had not left him.

"What's the matter, Tai?" I had asked, a hand on his shoulder. It took him a moment to respond.

"I just talked to Mimi," he had replied, leaving me confused. I thought of asking how she was doing, but that seemed irrelevant considering Tai's state. He was at a complete loss for words.

"Then I went for a walk. I don't know how I wound up here," he had tried again to begin. "Something she said about holding onto what we have and reaching for what we want…." His words had faded from my ears. However much I would have wanted to be sensitive to Tai, his mumblings had exacerbated the frustrations left over from my failed date. I stood abruptly.

My mind returns to the telephone and the message I was supposed to be leaving. I begin to pace as I talk to the machine, feeling rather ridiculous. "I'm not sure what I said or did that night, but I know it upset you. I had just had a bad night, and I was angry, and—" Another tone at the other end of the line tells me I had run out of time on Tai's machine. I curse under my breath and redial the number.

The voice that picks up on the machine seems to be mocking me. I swallow the knot in my throat as it tells me to leave my message. "I know that doesn't excuse what I did. I was rude and insensitive, and I didn't listen to what you were saying. You have every right to be mad at me. Especially since you needed my undivided attention."

My words from the week before ring through my ears, and I can almost feel the pain they must have caused Tai. Under the whip of my tongue, he had shrunk back from the lashings. His back curved as he leaned forward, hunched over, his elbows on his knees and hands thrust deep in his hair, there on my sofa. For a few moments, I hadn't noticed the small spasms of his back that could only mean tears.

"I know there's no way for me to take back what I said," I whisper into the receiver, barely able to hear myself over the screaming in my head. "I never meant to hurt you or push you away…."

Tai had stood up, wiping at his cheeks. "You don't seem like very good company right now, Sora. Maybe I should just go."

"Yeah, well, maybe you should." The words had spit out of my mouth, and it hadn't bothered me at all then.

He had turned for the door, and I had done nothing to stop him. I had just stood there with my arms folded across my chest in anger and proud triumph. As I watched the door close behind him, I had sworn that I didn't care. "Stupid Tai."

I had been wrong.

The tingling in my sinuses is unmistakable, and I know the tears are coming. "Tai, when you walked out that door, I was so scared it was closed forever. That I'd ruined everything. And I was too proud to tell you, so I just let it fester. Oh god, if I could go back and change things… you'd stay."

Damn it! A clear note signals the end of the space on the answering machine tape again, and the dial tone sounds in my ear. I throw the telephone to the ground in my frustration, cursing loudly and pushing the tears that had been welling up over the brink. As I bend down to pick up the phone, determined to finish the message I had begun, a knock sounds on the apartment door. I jump and nearly drop the phone again, juggling to keep a hold on it. Deep breaths, calm down, wipe off your face.

Still cradling the cordless phone, I answer the door. And all my resolutions to appear calm and disinterested fall away with my inhibitions. I had never been so happy to see Tai in my entire life as in this moment. I fall against the door frame, crying freely now in spite of my smile. I clutch the phone to my chest and begin to laugh through the tears. A whole minute must have passed before either of us spoke.

"I was just talking to your answering machine," I say, my voice choked and hoarse.

"I know," Tai replies. "I could hear you through the door."

In indignation, I reach out, trying to hit Tai on the arm. He catches me up in his arms, and I resign myself to remain without complaint. "You weren't supposed to hear that."

"And I wouldn't hear it later?" We both break into laughter, his of appreciation for irony, mine of embarrassment. A sincere expression of concern replaces his smile, though, when I stop laughing.

"How much did you hear?"

"Enough to know you're too proud to say you're sorry." His hand brushes away the damp streams from my face, and I feel myself blush.

"I am sorry, Tai. I haven't been able to think straight for a week, just thinking how much I hurt you. I never thought I could make you cry, and now," I let out a hollow laugh, "now I'm the one crying." The tears are back, and there seems to be no end in sight.

Through my watery eyes, Tai's face is clear and confident. "I thought today seemed like a better day to stop by, that there might not be any yelling or crying."

"Well, we made it halfway there."

"Yeah, I guess so." He matches my smile.

"Better for what?"

"Huh? Oh, for telling you I love you." His voice is so carelessly composed and indifferent, that it takes a moment for his words to register in my mind.

I suddenly notice our close proximity and his arm about my waist. And my hands at his chest. Tai's lips are soft and warm, his embrace tender. The telephone clatters to the floor, but our attention is elsewhere.

The end.