Chapter six: Cat Food
"A woman thinks she regrets the lover, when she only regrets the love"
~ Quoted by Franchois de la Rochefoucauld
"It is as a soldier that you make love, and as a lover that you make war"
~ Quoted by Antoine de Saint-Exupery
When I woke up, the other side of the bed was cold.
I istantly caught myself fumbling beneath the sheets. We had spent the night together, he should be here. It was a well-respected ritual for both of us; every Saturday night we made love, just to wake up together the next morning, with the prospect of having all of Sunday to ourselves. On my bed. In my apartment. And yet all I managed to find was fabric; fabric and the melancholic chill of his absense underneath my fingers.
Fully alert now, I stood on the mattress, propping my torso against the pillows, eyes swifting to glance at the clock lying next to me. The red letters flashed from eleven twenty nine to half past eleven, making me automatically jolt forward, as though propelled by some mysterious switch. Sonic would have woken me up long ago. That is, had he actually been there.
Tears exacerbated my vision, and I mentally rushed into putting the blame on my girlish little hormones running crazy, along with their owner. Okay, there was no reason to panic. No reason to be emotionally unstable to no avail; no reason to live up to my reputation as the hysterical bride. I had probably confused the days. Obviously, it was some random day of the week, and ours sleeping together had given me that weird, unexplainably stupid sensation of it being Saturday. Maybe I was going paranoid, what with all those peculiar happenings of the last weeks.
It was only when I walked across my ghastly mess of a bedroom and unhanged my nightgown from the doorknob, where it always spent its nights, that I realized my hands were trembling, wan with pallor. Taking my chances -that is, emotional-wise -I decided not to mind, urging myself with a somewhat exaggerated enthusiasm to descend the stairs, down to the small kitchen, walk up to the kettle and prepare some coffee with mechanical moves.
Allowing the slight lisp of the boiling water distract me, eyes fixated on the sugar and the coffee dancing their brief interchange towards the green mug, I whistled out of tune the first stanza of some rabid new pop song. I think it had to do with a couple not being able to live, neither with, nor without each other. Then a beeping noise informed me the electrical device had done its usual task, and it was time to pour the content on the motley bittersweet duet.
Mincing half-heartedly towards the table, my eyes fell on a small piece of paper lying next to the fruit basket. Feeling a certain vital organ pounding hard against my ribcage, I distractedly plucked an apple and skimmed through the rough scribble. It read, Knucklehead will be there by afternoon. He can't leave the shrine unprotected, and you'll probably have to follow him to Angel Island, so prepare your things, 'kay? Love you always.
Although we were amidst a bleak February, it was only at that specific moment that I clenched the silk of my gown tight against my chest, shivering cold. The subtle trembling of my hands spread across every limb of my body, slowly turning to a rather unpleasant shaking. Every nook and cranny of the house was immediately filled with shadows, the fruit suddenly unpalatable in my mouth. An ominous series of images marched, one after another, beneath my shut eyelids; a barely touched plate of spaghetti al dente; the shards of a broken vase scattered all over the planks of the floor; two strangers fervorishly making out, losing their balance and slamming against the fridge; Sonic ranting about his new adventures-to-come; the sketch of a big headed angel; a clock flashing eleven thirty; the rough scribble of someone in a hurry; and then just me, pathetically sitting on the kitchen table, with a half-eaten apple in my one fist, and a crumpled paper in the other.
I had totally forgotten about this. My memory probably found it too difficult a piece of information to process.
I angrily buried my teeth in the fruit, cutting a great deal of its flesh.
And now I will have to pray for him to return alive. And deal with Knuckles and whatever went on between us. And feel weak and useless because he never lets me follow him any more.
It's hysterical bride time. Come on, Ames, let's turn lunatic and make a feast of your own emotions, shall we?
To facilitate the apple's way down my throat instead of choking on it, I took a big sip from the green mug, whose content turned out to be discouragingly bitter, horrendously clashing with the sweet juices of my breakfast. Totally abandoning my previous eagerness to look at the bright side, I quickly made a mental overview of the last month and decided it was the perfect time to panic.
The whackiness of the situation had blurred my brain function so, that -although there must had been some kind of way I ended up there- next thing I remember is frantically stuffing clothes in a small suitcase without really looking at them, pushing like a maniac with both hands to make them fit in, and finally collapsing on a messy tile of garments in a sudden outburst of tears.
Reluctantly trudging towards the most surreal day of my life, I was breathlessly rehearsing my lines of saying hello in a nonchalant manner, incusing strange looks of confusion and pity with every step forward; apparently, a madman mumbling stuff to himself isn't the most common of views one is likely to come across, even in a crowded and busy place like Station Square.
But I was panicked, infuriated, and restless.
"Hey, Ames- no, wait, nonchalant guys don't use such a personal thing as a nickname!"
Having passed a cross-section totally absent-minded, I had barely avoided being hit by an incoming truck. The hairy beast of a driver stuck out his hand in an unpleasant gesture before speeding up and vanishing. More eyes stuck on me, I kicked an empty can of cat food, which turned out not to be so empty after all. Giving a fatalistic peek at the sticky substance that had splattered over my shoe, I entered an offshoot of the main street, where Amy's appartment was.
"Yo, Amy!- YUCK! That's a monster! What is she, dude, your beer-drinking partner? Oh, my god, I am gonna make a fool of myself in front of that bitch..."
I was so dangerously close that could even discern the red front door of the high rise slowly walking up towards me. And -even if what was actually happening was the vice-versa- for a second this hair-triggering impression dawned on me, and it immediately seemed that the wood was staring at me with an unpreceeded bloodthirst.
"You know, she's not a bitch."
"'Course she is, what's wrong with you, man? I mean, a month ago we were talking about this hysterical fangirl stuff, remember?I don't see why this has to change."
" Oh, but you know, cuz."
I nearly killed myself by stumbling upon a step. Gulping in sheer dread, I raised my eyes to meet with the vampiric monster of a door, now looming over me threatening as ever. Sweat drops tumbled their way between my eyebrows. What the hell should I do? What the hell did I want to do? All of the thoughts that had tormented me for the last four weeks emerged from the backyard of my mind.
Everything was so simple; even if Amy wasn't as shallow as I had initially thought, she didn't cease to be Sonic's girlfriend. Sonic, on the other hand, was the closest thing to a friend I had ever had. And then me, an abberrant loner with one eternal duty. So, what was this pang of frustration and doubt that kept me from thinking clearly and just going on and doing what I was supposed to?
Oh, gee, blah, blah, blah. Nothing could change now that I had accepted to protect her.
Closing my eyes shut and with the chaotical heartbeat of someone bound to be executed, I pressed my finger against the small rectangular surface that seemed to mock at me.
When the doorbell rang, I immediately fled out of the bedroom and literally tumbled down the stairs, as though my clothes had caught fire. An alarm had been set on beneath my skull, shrieking away every second bringing me closer to meeting him, Knuckles. Is. Here. Knuckles. Is. Here.
Totally aware of how useless it was, I pressed the small silver button next to the door and croaked, "Who is it?"
Silence fell on the other side, and for a moment I was ready to sigh in relief, thinking it was some children's joke, when his voice sent an unwanted shiver through my spine.
Waiting for no further explanation, I pressed the second silver button , unchained the door of the apartment, holding it half-opened with my left arm, and then fixed my eyes on the stairs. The disheartening sound of his heavy footsteps was becoming louder and louder, making me sick. The shivers had returned for yet another time, the apple was having a major fight with the coffe within my stomach, turning my belly into a battlefield; when Knuckles appeared smelling of some low-quality cat food, I was by all means ready to spill my guts on the floor.
The echidna kept staring at me with an utterly puzzled expression imprinted on his face, as though trying to process some unwelcome thought, while I felt my limbs turn to jello and my heart start to palpitate like mad. For a moment an insane possibility crossed my mind, because all of it reminded me of our last meeting, giving me this weird impression that the guy would suddenly lean in and kiss me. Then my eyes fell on the source of the repelling smell spilled all over his left shoe, and I remembered what an oaf I had to deal with.
"I think..." he finally muttered, raising both arms in the air, and then letting them fall again at the sides of his ribs, as if not knowing what to do with them.
"Don't tell me- you do think?" Gesus. That was it-the same thing that happened every time I saw him. I had become cynical and hostile before the guy could even utter a word.
He rolled his eyes and sighed. "...I think that we should at least try and be friendly to each other for Sonic's sake."
My heart sank in a mixture of relief and frustration at those words. How could I face that person directly in the eye? It was me who had leaned in, the one who had had an emotional breakdown, who had nearly attacked a stranger, who had betrayed her fiancee. Even now I had addressed him with demeaning adjectives. And he, in return, had had the discretion not to mention anything of the above, and ask me for a reconciliation.
What a messed excuse of my old self I've become, really.
"I am so sorry for all the trouble I'm causing, Knuckles." I couldn't believe it was me the one blurting out that specific line. But, by the confused look he gave me, I think it indeed was. For a great deal of minutes, those eerie violet eyes stayed fixated there, and you'd think the guardian was trying to figure out what to do with me. Then he raised his shoulders in surrender.
"I am sorry for the trouble you are causing, too."
I laughed, taking it as a joke, but the look on Knuckles' face didn't seem to falter. Failing to decipher his maze of a behavior, I was left with no other choice but turn my back and enter the small apartment, carelessly leaving the door open for him to join me.
"I left my baggage upstairs. Do you mind giving me a helping hand to carry it down?"
I saw him nod with the corner of my eye, and silently crossed the hallway, heading towards the staircase. Ascending, I could feel his presence behind me, hear his breathing lose its rhythm, then turn calm again, then go frantic for yet another time. The echidna seemed to be thinking of something, and just when I had started wondering what could be going on within his head, a certain voice echoed again from behind.
"He loves you, you know"
At that seemingly irrelevant exclamation, silly little Amy froze in her tracks, just at the end of the stairs. What could he possibly mean by that? How had he guessed the question bubbling in my mind for so many months? Was it so obvious, then? My desperation, I mean. Now I can easily answer yes, but back in those days I was struggling so much to convince myself I didn't really care.
"What?", was the most intelligent answer I could manage, still petrified in the same exact position.
"Back at that night", I distinctly heard him gasp for air when he reached the reference to 'that night', "You had said he hated you."
Suddenly I started to remember. How I had gone nuts and had started screaming obscenities and accusations at the wrong person. How he had hugged me the way a doctor comforts a mad person.
And those stupid three words I had let out. You hate me, Sonic.
"It's not your business." I growled, and barged furiously in the bedroom, followed by an even more infuriated Knuckles ferociously yanking me by the shoulder.
"Oh, but it is my business." his right hand had immobilized me while the left one was forcing me to face him straight in the eye, "Since I happened to be the receiver of your outburst. Now tell me what's wrong."
The last line set me laughing angrily, trying not to show I was in pain because of his arm clenching like that around me, or how embarrassed I was feeling about my behaviour. And, in any case, since when was he interested in the well-being of my love life with Sonic?
"And what do you care? Did your hero of a friend complain about mine running nuts?"
"I care," he virtually screamed in my face, totally ticked off by my latest verbal attack, "Because you are leading a miserable life, and yet you tell no one.", Knuckles lowered his gaze, red with anger. "That's why."
My laughter went even more wild than before, causing his grip to grow tighter and me to remain breathless, insane and confused, trying to control the current situation, like I sensed he was doing. The chain reaction that followed proved that we both failed terribly at it.
"Come on, Knuckles. You barely know me. You barely stand me. Am I supposed to believe in all this bullshit you're selling me?"
"Why?", his breath now was caressing my face, sending all of my senses into overdrive. "Was I wrong?"
He wasn't. But the realization of it literally pushed me over the edge. I plunged my nails in both his shoulders and struggled to get him off me.
"What do you know?" I was screaming, crying, and fighting at the same time. He had won, we both could see it, and it was eating me from the inside out.
"Was I wrong?" now we were both over the edge, screaming at each other, for a reason neither of us could really figure, our initial verbal attack having evolved to a hand-to-hand combat. Only that it was clear who would win; the harder I tried to break free, the tighter his grip would grow, to the point that our faces were touching each other.
"You love nobody, you are alone, what would you know?" I insisted, and then his left hand pushed even further, violently, causing our lips to collide.
Having pushed every trace of logic out of my head, and barely aware of what I was doing, I realized with terror it was me the one kissing her full on the mouth. But it no more mattered who she was, or what I had just done, or even why I had done it. My entire world could be translated to senses. Touch. Taste. Sound. Feel.
Before I even knew it, she had given, tilting her head, holding my face close with both hands, deepening the kiss. It only ended when we both gasped for air, only to nearly devour each other the second after, playing for the first time our shared game of saint and pretender.
Allowing my hands to explore her, I trailed my fingers down her back, enchanted by the warmth of her skin against mine, while my other hand was occupied with the front of her shirt, trying to overcome its trembling and unbutton it. Then she bit my lip, causing me to inanely whisper her name and her to run mad; I didn't know if she was doing it out of desperation, or because of something else -which seemed highly unlikely- but I didn't care, for the very first moment in my life. Maybe I was using her. Maybe she was using me.
But my defences had broken, and it became clear after I yanked her shirt by the side, causing it to slip down her shoulders, and the two of us to trip over a pile of thrown clothes and onto her bed.
We stayed there until the sun had begun to set and the light passing through the half-closed window had started to grow weaker and weaker. Voluntarily trapped in a room that smelled of sweat, lovemaking, and cat food.