The Town

I am the worst kind of liar.

I live in a town that pretends to be a city. The downtown streets sit at right angles, named with letters and numbers, and give way to the winding hills where people live.

The homeless are not anonymous here. Everyone knows them by name and by face. They are weathered and dirty, but they probably have more money in their pockets than I do. And when I pass them on the street, they know that I am the one who is a miscreant. I can see it in their eyes.

My legs are restless, pacing the grid of streets until there is no more ground to cover. I should go home, but it's like I have the wrong blood in my veins. My muscles ache from painting all day. Other reasons too. I wipe the sweat from my brow and stare into the sun. Seeing spots isn't the distraction it used to be.

I try to pick the dried white paint out from under my fingernails. But it refuses to leave.

I took my first shot of tequila out of a coffee mug when I was thirteen. It tasted like poison. I went back for more. I drank myself stupid that Saturday afternoon. My father found me wrapped around the toilet. He didn't dump the liquor down the sink. He simply moved the bottles into his bedroom.

He claims to be sober now. He's a liar too. Although I haven't seen him in years. There was no falling out, no dramatic declaration that I wasn't going to come home any more. I simply stopped going.

I pull my ringing phone from my pocket and stare at the flashing photo of my wife. She's laughing, trying to cover her face with one hand. She's beautiful. Happy.

I answer the call to make the photograph disappear. "Hey."

"Are you on your way home?" There is a smile in her voice and it almost makes me smile too.

"The job ran long." I've been wandering the streets for hours.

She exhales into the phone. "I thought we could try tonight."

I choose not to answer her question that isn't a question. "I'll be home soon." And it's true for the next five seconds. Until I reach the crosswalk. Until I make a different decision and turn left to save myself from suffocating.

I send her a quick text. Emmett wants to meet up for a drink. Be home soon.

My wife has a pink scar on the inside of her left knee. I've never asked her how it got there, but every time I lie to her I think about that scar.

I walk past the blue-eyed man with too-dark skin and filthy yellow hair. He is wearing too many clothes, too many layers of black that belong in the snow. His eyes are ice on my skin, blatantly staring, daring me to look at him. They scream liar. A cigarette hangs from his cracked lips.

Smoking is a disgusting habit.

I round the corner, counting my footsteps.

This will be the last time.

I don't have anything left in my pockets. Except a wad of cash from doing work a monkey could do.

I know where all of the pay phones are in this town. I never use my cell.

I don't let myself think about what I'm doing.

An hour later, I hold the bag of pills protectively in my pocket. I walk all the way to the opposite end of downtown, far from the elderly woman who now has my money, far from my home, far from my wife.

I find the hole in the mangled gate that leads to the freeway underpass. The pillars are covered in chipped paint. This town's failing attempt to beautify corruption. I can remember laughing at the cement covered in yellow sunflowers when they were first painted. Laughing because the homeless who sleep here at night don't care about cement flowers. My wife thought they were beautiful. We were just married. It wasn't the first time I realized that we don't see the world with the same eyes.

This place is abandoned during the day. Because there is no sun.

I pull two pills from my pocket and they're in my mouth before I can look at them. I hold them in my teeth.

I swallow one dry. Before I do something stupid.

The second one pressed to the roof of my mouth, I tell myself to swallow it. But I know it won't be enough.

I bite down, chewing it to bits. Letting out the inside. It tastes like contempt. Infatuation. Opulence. Poverty.

I light a cigarette and lean my head back against the cool cement wall. Until I don't exist. Until the pack is gone, the sun is down and I'm not alone.

I close my eyes, just for a second. Until there is a shoe against my ribs. My hands immediately go to my pockets.

It's dark.

The blue eyed man towers over me. "You can't sleep here." His teeth are gray.

Lying on the concrete in the cold night air, I wish I was wearing more clothes.

"I'm not fucking sleeping." I'm on my feet, walking away from him. And even though he's behind me, I can feel his eyes burning my skin.

My phone vibrates in my pocket and I remember who I am.

I'm going to sleep. Dinner's in the fridge.

I scroll through the missed texts. There are only two more. Two.

Where are you?

Damn it Edward

The guilt over wanting more from her seeps into my fingertips.

I pull a pill from my pocket and stare at it. Imagining the little old lady these are meant for. The little old lady whose body is wrecked with age and cancer. And then it hits me that she may die soon. I can feel it in my chest. Because what will I do then. But this is the last time. The last time.

I don't go straight home. I stop by the liquor store at the edge of town. For a bottle of cheap tequila. I will try to pick a fight with my wife.

I drink just enough to make my skin hot and my breath rancid. I try to remember the way it used to burn going down.

I leave the nearly full bottle on the edge of a concrete planter box, confident that it will keep someone warm tonight.

I go home to my wife.

The porch light is on. The front door is unlocked. I hate it when she does that. When she sleeps alone in an unlocked house.

I hate it when I let her.

In the dark kitchen with my hand on the door to the fridge, I open it slowly. I stand in the glow of the light that looks warm but is colder than cold.

Spaghetti. My favorite. I feel sick.

I microwave it until I can see the steam rising. Hot enough to burn the roof of my mouth and remind me for days.

I leave the lights off in the kitchen.

I swallow down two huge bites. I dump the rest into the sink, flip the switch and listen to the jarring sound of the garbage disposal. Gripping the edge of the sink, the unsteady vibrations under my fingertips, I watch the tangled pile of spaghetti sit in the drain. Refusing to go under.

I use my hand to force it down. And I imagine the spinning blades taking me with them.

I jerk my hand away to erase the image.

A light flickers on behind me. I turn around to the sight of my wife standing at the top of the stairs. She rubs the sleep from her eyes. We stand in the harsh light, neither of us speaking.

She's wearing one of my old T-shirts. She says she likes the way it feels on her skin. A shirt that's been around since high school. When I was simply the boy who loved her. And she was the girl who didn't know it.

I turn the light off at the bottom of the stairs. It's the only way I can walk up them.

She doesn't move until I'm in her space. Until she can breathe me in.

She rests her hands on my chest, closing her fists around my shirt. Trying to decide if she's going to pull me to her or push me away.

My lips rest at the corner of her mouth, "I'm sorry."

She exhales against my skin. And my heart is beating.

I say it again. "I'm sorry." I say it forever. I mean it every time.

I am nothing without her forgiveness, her smile, her close your eyes. Nothing.

I rest my lips over her fluttering eyelid. She smells like sleep and resentment.

"Don't do it again." If only she knew what she was saying.

Don't hate me. "I won't." That was the last time. The very last time.

"Don't lie to me."

"I'm not." I'm not.

She pulls me to her. My fingers slide under the unraveling hem of her shirt, hooking themselves in the tattered edge.

"Where were you, Edward?" She sounds defeated.

I don't know. "At a bar. I lost track of time."

I try not to think about that scar.

I run my lips over hers. Forgive me. For things that aren't real. Please. Forgive me.

She doesn't speak. She doesn't move. She doesn't breathe.

Pull me closer. Do it. Forgive me. Hate me. Do something.

I kiss her sleepy lips. The ones that don't kiss me back. "I'm sorry." I kiss the corner of her mouth. Until she's breathing. Running her nose along my cheek.

And with my lips on her lips, this time she kisses me back. She lets me have her mouth. I know she can taste the alcohol and cigarettes on my tongue. She forgives the lie.

Her hands pull at my jeans, and I freeze.

"I need to shower."

The darkest eyes in the darkest room stare me down. Until she walks away from me, with her lip caught between her teeth.

She tucks herself into our bed, with her feet on my side. I stare at her back, with her hair draped across the pillow, before I close the door to the bathroom.

Pulling the remaining pills from my filthy pocket, I hide them in one of my seven places.

In the shower, I scrub my skin raw. Trying to get to the filth that lives under the surface.

Standing in the open doorway with the towel around my waist, I wonder how much time has passed. If she's asleep or merely pretending. She's in the same exact place. Her feet. Her hair. She hasn't moved.

I drop the towel and slide under the sheets. They're cold against my too hot skin.

I lie next to her without touching her. For as long as I can. Until I feel like I might die.

I run my fingertips over her perfect elbow, down her forearm, until I reach her hand. Until she curls her fingers around mine. She turns to face me, never letting go.

I rest my ear to her chest. She has the brownest hair and the softest skin and the purest heartbeat.

She's been trying to get pregnant for nearly a year. She assures me that sometimes it takes a while. But I know better.

She won't get pregnant.

"Do you still want...?" I silence her with my mouth before she asks me something I can't answer. Because there are so many things I want and so many things I don't.

And right now there is only one thing that I need. She needs it too.

I run my thumb over the soft sliver of skin that is exposed between her shirt and her underwear. My thumb and then my lips. She laughs at the scratchy feeling of my face against her hip.

I undress her slowly, determined to make this high last.

Pinned beneath me, she's still the girl I thought I could never have. She still looks at me like I'm an honest man. I want her to look at me now. But I don't want her to see me. I'm terrified of what she'll do if she ever actually sees me.

Fuck me, love me, love me, fuck me. Just don't hate me or leave me or see me.

With every thrust, every moan, I can't help but feel that my time is running out.

I cling to her.

She's a different kind of drug.



Susan betas and I love her more than she could possibly ever know.

Kim tells me I can when I think I can't and makes me smile when I want to cry.

CC has the memory of an elephant and the heart of a lion.

Thanks to the handful of you who gave me feedback on this first chapter. You gave me the courage to post!

And THANK YOU all for trusting me with this story. I'd love to hear from you :)