Astronomical Unit: A unit of measure equal to the average distance between the Earth and the Sun, approximately 93 million miles.
Sometimes, when my mother talks to me, I sit and watch her mouth. Her full, light pink lips move up and down, opening and closing endlessly and with such rhythmic frequency that she looks like a brown-haired, blue-eyed goldfish. She swims around her small town Washington fishbowl every day, all day, circling the same old scenery no matter which direction she turns in. So, I can't really begrudge her the excitement she feels when she gets a glimpse of life beyond her tiny, monotonous world.
That's why on nights like these, when my brother and I are home, we all sit at the dining room table and listen to her ask endless questions about my job, or Emmett's girlfriend, or why neither one of us loves her enough to visit more often. We answer her dutifully, sprinkling little bits of our lives on the surface of the water for her to devour, and she eats them up with abandon, always waiting impatiently for more.
Occasionally, just to make sure she stays on her toes, I lean over and tap on the glass.
"I started a new job," I say abruptly, interrupting her as she tells Emmett the story of how she talked the manager of the Thriftway into giving her a discounted price on spaghetti sauce, even though the sale had already expired. I don't tell her that I've quit my old job, because I figure if I use positive words they will somehow lessen the blow.
"Bella..." Emmett breathes. I don't acknowledge him.
Mom looks at me, holding her empty fork halfway between her mouth and her plate, and finally her goldfish lips stop moving. Now, they're just kind of hanging open in shock, and I fight the urge to reach over and push her chin up to close them.
"I told you to wait until after dessert," Emmett says quietly, leaning over to whisper to me as if Mom and Dad won't be able to hear him through the thick silence that has spread across the room. Emmett pouts and drops his fork on his plate, because he's worried that Mom's going to get upset and forget that she made his favorite chocolate pie for dessert. God forbid Emmett doesn't get a piece of that pie.
Mom sighs, not paying any attention to Emmett, and Dad, well, he just puts another forkful of pork chop in his mouth quickly, as if he wants to fill up while he can before World War Three breaks out.
Before he swallows, Mom fires the first shot.
"You quit?" she asks, punctuating that question by stabbing a piece of asparagus angrily with her fork. There's panic underneath all of that fire in her eyes, and my insides churn when I see it. "I thought James asked you to stay on permanently."
"He did," I explain, twisting my poor, abused napkin between my fingers. "But I told him I wasn't interested."
"Not. Interested," Mom says, as if the words are foreign to her. "You told him you weren't interested." She still sounds confused, but her eyes, her angry eyes are focused only on me, and suddenly I think it might've been a good idea to let Emmett have some of his pie first. "Your Aunt Jane called in some favors to get you that opportunity, Bella. You were on your way up."
She's acting as if I don't know this, as if she hasn't brought it up every time she possibly could over the course of my time at that firm. My chest tightens at how quickly a decision I was so sure of begins to seem like a very bad idea. Only my mother can make me feel like this; like everything that was nailed down is beginning to float away, right in front of my very own eyes.
"What is it you're doing now?" She's not yelling, but she wants to.
"I'm an Executive Assistant," I say, but the words slur together, and I'm kind of hoping she doesn't hear me, because if she does-
"Assistant?" She lets out this bitter puff of a laugh. "Assistant." She keeps repeating things, like the words will somehow change if she says them enough.
"Ma," Emmett interjects in an attempt to shield me from Mom's wrath. He's always done this, stepped in whenever I need protecting. "It's not that big-"
Mom silences him with that look she's perfected, the one that used to precede two weeks of restriction and dish washing duties for a month. Even though he's twenty-five now, that look is all it takes to shut Emmett up.
She shakes her head, exasperated. "Bella, you could've gone somewhere with that firm. The opportunities they would've offered you were unbelievable, and now you're just going to assist?" She enunciates the last word, and it makes her hiss like a snake. "You've wasted all this time out of college just drifting. No roots, no drive-"
"No drive?" My voice vibrates with anger. "Only you would consider time I spent figuring out what I don't want to do with my life time wasted."
"You don't know what you want," she says, but the fight in her is lessening and she sounds resigned and disappointed. What she really means is that I don't want what she wants, and therefore whatever I do will never be valid in her eyes. It will never be good enough.
"Mom," I plead, leaning over my plate to get closer to her. If I get closer to her, so she can see me, really see me, maybe she'll understand. "You didn't have to work in that office every day. I couldn't work for James anymore...he's a prick, and I was-"
"Language, Bella," Mom says, and I hear Emmett chuckle beside me.
I elbow him in the ribs, because I want to take my frustration out on someone, and I'm wondering what made me think it would be a good idea to tell her about my new job in the first place. I should've just kept my mouth shut and hoped she never called me at work again. Or spoke to Aunt Jane, for that matter.
"Fine." I sit back in my chair and cross my arms over my chest, just like I did when I was a petulant thirteen-year-old. "James is an ostentatious, grandiloquent, maladroit imbecile," I say, shooting my ten dollar SAT words at her like arrows. I know what they mean and she doesn't, and I can see the hurt in her eyes, because she knows what I'm doing.
She remembers those days as well as I do; the fights we'd have over studying and schoolwork back when I was in high school. She was the one who insisted I learn those ten dollar SAT words, and I paid for them with the only currency a teenager has to give: a social life, a boyfriend, a prom.
Mom swallows, and she blinks a few times too, and I immediately feel bad that I've hurt her because I can tell she wants to cry. We've had this fight before. Different words, different players, but always, always the same argument.
"Everywhere you go, Bella, there are going to be people you don't want to deal with, but you have to deal with them. That's life, kid. Life isn't want to, it's have to," she says, balling up her napkin and throwing it onto her plate. She rubs her face with her hands, smoothing out the wrinkles under her tired eyes, and I wonder if I'm going to look like her in another twenty years.
"What a wonderful way to live." I push my mashed potatoes into a pile on the far side of my plate. I can't eat any more. My appetite is gone, and I feel sick.
"That's enough," Dad says, reaching over to put his hand on top of Mom's, and it startles me because I've forgotten anyone else is even sitting at the table. Dad squeezes her hand and gives her a small smile, even though it looks like it hurts him to do it.
When he turns to me, his face isn't as friendly, but I can tell he's not mad. I feel bad for him, the way he gets caught in the middle of us sometimes. My dad is very judicious and fair; a characteristic that has served him well over his career as a police officer. He's never too quick to judge or accuse: he listens to arguments, collects evidence, and analyzes the data. Unfortunately, that makes him Switzerland in the war between Bella and Renee Swan.
After the table is cleared and the dishes are washed and the dust has settled, Dad will begin negotiations with Mom, and then with me, and sometime during the weekend before I leave, we'll both sign a treaty. It'll hold until we spend another weekend together, and one of us becomes the aggressor in a new battle.
Mom gets up and takes her half-full plate to the sink, not washing it off or anything, just leaving it there. I stare down at my abandoned dinner, and I feel the breeze as she walks past me and up the stairs. I hear her footsteps padding across the hallway, and then she quietly clicks her bedroom door shut. No slam, no anger. Just one small, soft, click.
The way the floorboards creek over our heads, I can tell she's walking toward the bed, and when the noise stops I know she's probably sitting there on the edge of the mattress with her head in her hands, crying. Now I feel like an ass, because I never meant to make her cry.
Dad and Emmett both sit here and eat, because neither one of them knows what to do. So I stand up and push my chair in, not even bothering with my dishes, and I walk out onto the front porch. I sit down on the swing that's hung here for as long as I've been alive, and I lean back on the old weather-worn planks of wood, spreading my arms out on either side of me as I begin to rock back and forth. The rusty chains creak, and I take a deep breath as the cool air fans across my face.
I smell the humidity around me as a light mist begins to fall from the sky. As the rain slowly picks up, I close my eyes and let the steady, peaceful calm quiet my troubled mind. I sit there with my eyes closed until night has fallen, and the only light around me is a buttery yellow streaming through the screen door. I watch the light, and a shadow moves across the wooden porch before the door hinges slowly begin to squeal.
Emmett maneuvers onto the porch by holding the door open with his left elbow, carefully balancing a plate in each hand. I smile as he walks toward me, holding a piece of Mom's chocolate pie in my direction. We've had this little ritual for years, the two of us eating pie together on this old swing. It started the day Emmett came to live with us, a couple of weeks after his parents were killed in a car accident on their way home from Seattle to Port Angeles. That night we had our first taste of pie out here, and when we went inside with our plates, he started calling my mother 'Mom' instead of Aunt Renee, and it's been that way ever since.
"Move over," Emmett says, so I slide across the swing, far enough to make a space for him. He sits down and I scooch back, my feet dangling in the air. Emmett's feet still touch the ground, and he gently rocks us back and forth while we eat.
"Sorry about earlier." I know this is the first of a few apologies I'll be offering tonight.
Emmett shrugs, scraping his fork along his plate with a high-pitched squeak. "Well...you had to know that was coming."
"How come no one pesters you about your career goals, or questions your ambition?" Emmett is the manager of the River and Trail Outfitters over in Port Angeles, and as far as I know, Mom's never harassed him about his drive, or given him speeches about 'want to' versus 'have to.'
"Well," he begins, and the left side of his cheek is all puffed out and full of pie, making his words sound garbled. "I think Mom and Dad consider me a success just because I grew up to be pretty well-adjusted. I made it through high school without getting into a ton of fights or offing anyone, so in their eyes, I'm sure they see that as a win."
I've never heard him say anything like that before, and it makes me sad to think that Emmett believes Mom and Dad only wanted him to get to a certain point, without caring if he ever went above and beyond it.
"Em, that's not-"
He smiles. "I know, Bell, I know. I'm just teasing you. Look," he says, moving a bit closer to me before he leans over to put his pie plate on the porch railing. "People will only push you as far as you let them. Mom and Dad, they know my limits, and that's that. You, Bell, you're a people pleaser, and you want to help and make other people happy. Mom knows that if she just keeps goading you, she can push you right on over the edge, and you'll eventually do what she wants."
Emmett puts his arm around me, and I tuck my head against his shoulder. He gets me, and he always has.
"How was your first week of work?" He pats my shoulder lightly as we swing.
"It was okay." I can see Emmett looking at me suspiciously out of the corner of my eye, and I immediately wish there was some way I could reach out, pluck the words from the air, and put them back inside of me.
"Okay? You got into a fight with Mom over something that's just okay?"
"Well, I just started," I say defensively. I don't dare mention the enemy I seem to have made in Edward Cullen, because I don't feel like getting a second lecture on how to deal with difficult people. If Mom's good at the guilt trip, Emmett is a master of the lecture. "I want to give it some time before I make any judgments. At least I'm not scared I'm going to get violated in the copy room."
Emmett cringes, and I regret making light of the situation with James.
"I'm sorry. I shouldn't have made a joke like that." James is a creep, and he is a prick, but he never touched me. Not once.
"Okay. All right," he replies, even though he doesn't sound so sure. The good thing about Emmett is that he knows when I don't want to talk about something, and he never forces me to.
"You want this?" I ask, placing the plate with my uneaten pie on his left knee. It's a ridiculous question, because Emmett will have eaten whatever is left in the refrigerator by the time we roll out of the driveway tomorrow.
"Do you realize who you're asking?" In a flash, his arm is no longer around me, and he's cradling the pie plate against his chest, shoving huge forkfuls of chocolate into his mouth.
I scoot over a bit to give those two their privacy, and the only sound between us for the next few minutes is metal scraping across glass. When Emmett finishes, he leans over and puts my plate on top of his, where the rain has already formed a small puddle of water.
"When are you gonna tell Mom and Dad about you and Rose?"
Even though it's dark outside and I can barely make out his features, I can tell Emmett is smiling. He always brightens up whenever he talks about Rosalie, like just having her in his life makes him feel light and uncomplicated. It hits me that I've never felt anything like that before. Surely I would remember if I had, wouldn't I?
"Well, tonight was going to be the big night, but you sent that to hell and back," he says, leaning into my shoulder and pushing me a bit.
He's teasing me, and I laugh. I'm so glad he decided to come home this weekend. I don't know what I'd do without him now or...ever, really.
"I was thinking I'd have them over for dinner at the house," he says, looking down at his hands. "Rosie makes the best lasagna, and you know how much Dad loves it. I figure Mom will want to see the ring, right? And she and Rose will probably want to talk about cakes or some girly shit."
"Yeah, they'll definitely want to talk about some girly shit," I reply, laughing.
Emmett laughs with me, and I feel like we're both kids again, swinging together into the night during summer vacation, talking about boys and fishing and things that don't really matter. Only we're not kids anymore, and this, well, this matters the most, and I wonder what he thinks about it.
"Do you feel all grown up?" I ask, tilting my head to look at him. I want to ask him if he's scared, but I don't.
Emmett is quiet for a minute, but he doesn't look conflicted or anything. He's peaceful and happy. "Nah," he says, shaking his head with a grin. "I still have my Wii and my porn collection. She already has me forever; we're just sealing the deal with some hardware."
That's such a simple way to look at it, really. Uncomplicated, and just so...Emmett. Laid back, easy-going, and carefree. He looks at something, and either it is or it isn't, it does or it doesn't, it will or it won't. Me, I see complications in everything: white, and black, and every shade of grey in between. I wonder if life would be easier for me if I were more like him.
"Do you think you and Jake will ever get married?" He rests his elbows on his knees as they flex, still moving us forward and backward.
The heaviness of his words crush my chest like a boulder, and it constricts under the strain, making it hard for me to breathe. I swallow and think of a way to stall or some witty comment that will take the heat off of me, but nothing comes, even though the unrelenting weight of his question is bogging me down. Emmett notices my silence and looks back to study my face. He stares at me for a moment, and I wonder what exactly it is that he sees.
If he's curious about my silence, he doesn't say so. He just nods his head and stays still for a moment before he stands up, the old chains clanging and the wood creaking from his movement.
"C'mon," he says, reaching out to take my hand in his, and when I'm upright I pick up the plates and carry them inside as he holds the door open for me.
We head over to the sink, and since Dad has already cleared the table, Emmett turns the faucet on and fills each side: one with bubbles, and one without. Dish by dish, Emmett washes and rinses, and I dry as we move the contents of Mom's cupboard through our two-person dishwashing line. We laugh and chat and splash each other with water, just like we did when we were kids, and when we're finally finished I've nearly forgotten about the fight Mom and I had earlier.
That is, until I turn around and see Dad sitting at the table with his arms crossed in front of him, like he's just set up his own mini interrogation room right here in our kitchen.
"Well," Emmett says, stretching his arms out over his head and faking a yawn so big that his mouth is a hole that I could easily fit my fist into. "I guess I'm gonna head up to bed." He pats Dad on the shoulder as he walks by, and he gives me a sympathetic look and mouths, 'I'm sorry' before he turns to head upstairs.
I glare at him, because he's sorry all right, but not in the way that he thinks.
Dad notices the look I give Emmett, and I hear him laugh. "Sit down, baby," he says, patting the placemat at the empty spot across from him.
I pull the chair out, and the wood feels heavy beneath my fingers as it scrapes against the linoleum. I sit down, scoot in, and grip the sides of the table just so I'll have something to do with my hands. I look over at Dad once I'm settled, and his eyes are soft as he presses his lips together in a thin line. I know this is hard for him; we've had these talks before. Sometimes Mom starts the fight, and sometimes I do, but these talks are always the same.
"I'll apologize," I say, and even though I start off with that because I know it's the surest way to shorten these talks, I really do intend to.
"Mmm-hmm," Dad hums as he traces his finger along the edge of his placemat. He's looking down, and this makes me nervous for some reason. "Wait until tomorrow. She's about had her fill of drama tonight."
I nod, feeling contrite. I wish my mother and I could have a normal conversation without everything getting blown out of proportion, but we've never been able to, so I don't see why we'd start now.
"The thing you've got to understand about your mother is that...she means well," he says, rubbing his chin with the pad of his thumb. He squints his eyes for just a second before he speaks again, and he looks kind of sad. "Ten years from now, she doesn't want you or your brother to feel like you're stuck."
"I did feel stuck, Dad." I'm not worried about ten years in the future, not when I have to live here in the present.
Dad shifts in his chair, and he clasps his hands together in front of him. I can tell he wants to elaborate, but he doesn't, because something about this conversation is making him uncomfortable. He just flexes his fingers and looks down at the table before his eyes meet mine again.
"Just promise me you'll really think about what you're doing before you do it."
"I'm not going to stay at this job forever, Dad. I was just...I was in a bad situation, and I wanted to get out of it. That doesn't reflect on my drive or ambition, it just shows that I need to retain my sanity. I'm not looking at this as a downgrade, it's just a stepping stone to something better."
The right side of my father's lips pull up into a half-smile, and he looks amused. I can tell that what I've said has put his mind at ease.
"Good. That's good."
He reaches across the table and pats my hand before he stands up, and he tells me he loves me before he walks upstairs, his footsteps heavy as they pad across the old wood.
An hour later, I'm restless as I lie sprawled across the tiny twin bed that sits in the corner of my old room, and I toss and turn for half the night before I finally get comfortable enough to fall asleep.
When I wake up, I walk downstairs to the kitchen and greet a father and brother who are warm as the sun, and a mother who's so frigid she could give a polar ice cap a run for its money. The four of us spend time together throughout the day, and Mom thaws; she melts a little with every joke and laugh we share. By the time Emmett and I leave, her arms are fluid, and they wrap around me with ease. She pulls me close and kisses my forehead before she tells me she'll miss me and that she loves me.
I tell her I love her and I'll miss her too, and I think about her during my long drive back to Seattle.
When I finally pull up outside my apartment, I sit there, looking up at the second floor window of my living room. The blinds are open, and I can see the flicker of the television across the ceiling. I turn the radio to the channel that's broadcasting the Mariners game, and I look at the clock on the car's console to try to figure out how much time I'll have to wait down here until the game is finished.
I know Jake's routine by heart now; it's been exactly the same for the past two years that we've been living together. Once the game is over, he takes out the trash, then he reads for fifteen minutes, brushes his teeth, and goes to bed. I estimate that I could easily be out here for another hour or so if I want to catch him at bedtime, when he's least likely to engage me in a long conversation about my weekend.
For some reason it dawns on me that I should want to run up there to see him, and I should be excited to talk to him since I haven't heard his voice for the past couple of days. I think back over the time we've lived here together, and I can't seem to remember the last time I flew up those stairs and into his arms.
Resigned, I turn off the ignition, get out of the car, and open the back door to retrieve my bag. I sling it over my shoulder and trudge up the stairs, flipping through the keys on my keychain as I go, until I find the gold one that fits in our lock.
I push the door open to the sound of the seventh inning stretch, and all I can see from my vantage point is Jake's arm flung over the back of the couch, and his gigantic feet resting on top of the coffee table.
"Hey, babe," he says, lifting his back up off the couch at an odd angle, so that I can only see one eye, the bridge of his nose, and his mouth. The grouping looks odd, like he's a live-action Picasso.
"Hey," I reply, throwing my keys down on the counter. I look in the sink and see about two days' worth of dirty dishes piled there, just waiting for me to scrub them. I can't be bothered with that tonight, because I don't want to start another fight with Jake. I just want to unpack and get into bed.
"Did you have a nice trip?" he asks as I walk by him on my way to the bedroom. His arms are resting across his stomach, and he's wearing the same ragged old T-shirt he had on when I left Friday night.
I turn and try to muster a smile, but it's weak, so weak I can barely feel it. "It was fine," I reply, but I don't bother to elaborate. Luckily, Jake doesn't seem to mind, because there's baseball to watch and dishes to dirty. A thousand trivial things now occupy the place in his mind that used to belong to me.
Forty-five minutes later, the contents of my suitcase are either put away or in the laundry basket, and I'm standing at the edge of my side of the bed wearing one of Jake's huge shirts. I look at the mess on his side, and see that mine remains mostly untouched. I notice that my pillow is all wrinkled and lumpy, lying vertically down the middle of the bed.
I don't know what it is about the gesture that feels so incredibly tender, but I smile when I realize that he's been holding it while he sleeps. The very sad thing is that this is the closest I've felt to him in months.
He walks up behind me as if he can hear my thoughts, and one arm wraps around my shoulders while the other slides across my stomach. He lifts my shirt up so his skin is on mine, and I know there was a time when his touch would set my body on fire. Now when he wraps me up, I just feel weighed down and suffocated.
My head involuntarily falls to the side when he kisses my neck, and I put my hands over his as he touches me, because I want this. I want him to touch me the way that he used to; not just with his hands that have always made me feel so good, but with that wonderful, intangible thing that made our hearts fly, and our skin tremble, and bound us together more tightly than our arms and legs and lips ever could. It's missing, along with everything else that used to make us who we were, and I know that this is our last chance to find it.
He quickly turns me around, and then his lips are on my lips, and they're soft and familiar. They first kissed me like this six years ago, during the summer before my freshman year of college, but the feeling is so different now than it was back then. When our anniversary rolled around last month, Jake didn't remember, and I couldn't forget.
He only stops kissing me to lift my shirt over my head, and he moans softly when his tongue brushes mine. His fingers move up to rub slow circles around my nipple, and at some point in time I must've done something that made him think that I like this, because it's part of his standard routine now. I know him well enough to predict that he'll cup my ass next (he does), and then frantically try to push his boxers down with only one free hand (he does that, too).
We fall on top of the bed in no time, and I watch the blinking dots in between the eleven and the twenty-six on my bedside clock as he rolls on a condom. Before I know it, Jake's on top of me, and he reaches down and runs his finger along the wet flesh between my legs. He's so methodical with his movements that I feel like it doesn't even matter to him that I'm here; all he wants right now is willing lips and soft breasts and warm skin.
We're fading away right in front of his eyes, and he doesn't even see it.
When we first fell in love, there was joy in the exploration of the unknown; so many new places for tongues and lips and hands to discover. Now I think he's just got a mental checklist of all the things he needs to do to get my body ready for him, and when he parts my legs and settles between them, I know he's close to the bottom of that list.
I reach up and place my hands on his cheeks, bringing his face down so I can kiss him, because I know, deep down inside of me, that this is it for us. I take his bottom lip between mine, and I try to find just a piece, a tiny sliver of what used to hold us together; the thing that makes this more than just skin on skin, lips on lips, and body against body.
As our mouths fumble together, I search for that feeling that used to overwhelm me when we touched; the warmth that covered me from head to toe, that made me feel so safe and loose and loved when we were like this. I can't find it. No matter how hard I try, how tightly I squeeze my eyes shut, it's not there.
Jake pushes into me, and I long for the days when that simple movement would make my heart stutter and swell, back when I could get lost in the feel of his mouth on my skin for hours. Tonight I lie back and grasp the sheets beside me as I listen to the way our skin claps together when his body pounds into mine hard, and then harder still. I count how many times I hear the headboard hit the wall, and there are fifty-six thuds before Jake's back finally arches and his eyes squeeze shut, a flurry of sounds falling from his lips.
I grip his shoulders so that his chest presses against mine, because even though he's here, he's right here, on top of me and all around me, it seems like he's drifting a thousand miles away. I stretch out to grab him, to stop him before he's out of my reach, but the little bit I could touch has already slipped through my fingers, and I know I will never be able to bring him back. He's gone. We're gone. Gone.
Jake's breathing hard and his chest is heaving as he leans down to kiss me. He smiles against my cheek, and his hot breath puffs against my neck.
"Did you come?" he asks breathlessly.
I shake my head. "No." There was a time he would've known the answer to that question, but I don't mention it.
He moves his hand down between us, and I let him touch me there because I just want to feel. I want to feel something when he's this close to me. I close my eyes and I try, God do I try, but there's nothing like there was before. Nothing at all. Everything we used to have has fallen away, and now we're just two empty people who used to be so full of each other, sharing a home and a bed.
"Stop," I say with a shaky voice as I reach down and grab his wrist. I roll over and get up before he can see my face, because I'm going to cry, and I don't want him to think he's the reason. It's me. It's me, me, me.
I close the bathroom door behind me, and I turn the faucet on, hoping the sound of the running water will drown the noise out. I cry, I splash my face with water, and I wait until I calm down before I finally open the door to go back in the bedroom.
The room is dark, and through the thin sliver of light that peeks through the curtains, I can see that Jake is sleeping. His Tranquil Moments Sound Machine pumps gentle raindrops through the air, and as I pull the covers over me, I can hear the beginnings of his soft snores.
I lie here for hours and stare at the clock, until I finally turn to look at Jake. He's facing me, and he looks so peaceful. I move closer, because it's easy for me to be with him like this, when there's silence and no expectation. I place a friendly kiss on his sleeping lips, because that's what we became when we let our life drift away while neither one of us was paying attention.
I love Jake, but I'm not in love with him anymore. He deserves to be with a woman who's in love with him and wants him and who runs up the stairs to fling herself in his arms when she hasn't seen him for days.
I've finally realized that I am not that woman.
After we wake up in our sunny bedroom all twisted and tangled in sheets, I make him breakfast like I usually do. Over scrambled eggs, biscuits, and bacon, I tell him that the way we're living is not enough anymore.
"You just realized this over the weekend?" He's sitting next to me at our dining room table, and we're angled toward each other so that our knees are touching. I can tell he's not surprised by the conversation, but he's hurt, that I can plainly see.
My eyes are watery and my face is so hot. I've been crying for the past two hours, because this is the hardest thing I've ever had to do in my life. When something is right, you think it'll be easy, but it's not. It hurts like hell and it makes me feel like I'll never be the same again.
"It's been coming for a while." I can't tell him that I've been falling out of love with him for a long time now, because that would crush him. I don't want to crush him, I want him to go out into the world, whole and unbroken, to find the person who can be everything for him that I can't.
Jake looks down, and I know he's rehashing our time together to figure out when we started to grow apart, but I think he knows as well as I do that it's not something that can be traced back to a particular day or time. Over the past few months, the chasm between us has grown so deep and wide that it can't be crossed; the bridge that used to connect us is broken, and we're both standing on opposite sides of it, alone.
"I'm gonna fight for you," he says, taking my hands in his as he moves closer to me. His skin is so warm, just like he is. Everything about Jake is warmth and light, but that warmth and that light is meant for somebody else. It doesn't belong to me anymore.
I struggle to say the words I need to, and when they finally come, they sound more like a sob than a sentence.
"You stopped fighting for me months ago. We stopped fighting for each other," I say, because neither one of us is blameless in this. "We still care about each other, Jake. We need to let go before everything is gone."
Jake says nothing because he knows I'm right, and we sit in silence for a very long time.
The longer we sit, the more Jake's grasp on my hands lessens. When he finally lets me go, I stand up, and I lean down and kiss his forehead. My fingers linger on his cheeks, then they fall from his skin as I walk away from him, and into the bathroom. I turn on the sink just like I did last night, and I splash my burning face with cold water.
I don't know what I'm doing; it's like I'm lost in unfamiliar territory without a map. I can't see what's coming up around the bend, and I don't know which turns to take, but I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that I'm heading in the right direction.
But that doesn't make this any easier.
Minutes later, when I open the door, Jake is sitting on the edge of our bed with his elbows resting on his knees and his head hanging down. There's an open suitcase laying on the floor beside him.
"Keep the apartment," he says to the floor, as he reaches up to run his hands through his hair. "I'll leave."
"Okay." That's really all I have left in me.
He spends half the day packing, and when he's finished he loads his boxes and suitcases into the back of his rusty old Ford. By nightfall, I'm left alone with my half of our stuff, and enough sadness to fill the building.
I stand in the middle of the living room and stare at the empty spot on the entertainment center where the television used to be. For the first time in years, I miss the sound of cheering crowds and play-by-play filling the room. I sit on the sofa, right on the edge, on the place where I'm least likely to get comfortable, and I fuss with the tassel that hangs from the center of a throw pillow.
A panic begins to bubble in my gut, working its way through muscle and nerves until it reaches my hands, making them shake. I throw the pillow on the floor and stand up, stretching my body from my toes to my fingers, trying to give the panic room to move and escape. But it doesn't budge; it just settles in my chest, squeezing my weary heart between its fingers. It makes my limbs heavy and burdensome, and I'm too exhausted to fight it.
As my eyes wander around the room, across the half-empty shelves and the light spots on the carpet where pieces of furniture once made their home, I realize that Jake filled this place with more than just material objects. His belongings aren't the only things that are missing; he is, too.
When our lips began touching in quick, hurried kisses instead of the long, soft, warm ones that made our clothes melt off and our bodies fall into bed for hours and hours on end, I think my heart began preparing itself for the loss of a lover. But nothing, nothing prepared it for the loss of a friend.
Years ago, when the world was bright and new and spread out for endless miles before me, I sat with Jake on the hood of his beat-up old Rabbit along the side of the winding road that led to La Push. He told me one kiss would change everything, and my eager lips and thumping heart wanted him too badly to even try to comprehend what he was telling me. Those lips and that heart thought that one kiss would guarantee forever, but as I sit here feeling so lost and so empty, I finally understand what he meant.
More likely than not, I left the best friend I've ever had sitting on top of that beat-up old Rabbit, right there on the side of that winding road, on the night Jake took my hand and kissed my lips and asked me to make him mine. That night was the beginning of our end, and I wish I could go back and tell that girl that kiss would eventually make her heart crack into so many pieces that she wouldn't even be able to feel it. That the racing pulse and tingling skin she felt whenever he was so close to her would just fade away into nothing. That they would fade away into nothing.
I stand up, and shuffle my feet across the carpet and into our bedroom. No, my bedroom. I close the door behind me and I fall back against it, my knees slowly buckling as I slide down to the floor.
With all the strength left in my body, I reach over to my dresser and pull down the receiver to the cordless phone, and through blurry eyes I dial Emmett's number.
My brother listens to me cry until the early hours of the morning, and he wants to drive all the way from Port Angeles to spend the night and make sure I'm okay. I promise him that I'll be all right, and that I'll call him if I need anything. Before we hang up, Emmett offers me the one bit of peace that only he can. He tells me that I did the right thing.
Later, as I lie awake in bed after hours of restlessness, I watch the ceiling fan turn in endless circles as my tired, overactive mind turns in equally endless circles. I realize that I'm having a hard time sleeping because there's no Tranquil Moments Sound Machine pumping out the sounds of spring rain. There's no warm body beside me. There's no Jake.
The silence is so loud it nearly deafens me.
This story was written for a prompt given to me by the lovely and patient bemily.