Kelsey was dealing the cards out to us, and it caught my eye.
“That really is a nice ring,” I said. I turned towards Cody, her boyfriend. “What’d that cost you again?”
He put both hands in the air and widened his eyes. We all laughed a little.
“The cost isn’t what matters,” Kelsey said. “It’s the year we’ve shared together that counts.”
She smiled at him, and he smiled back. I groaned on the inside.
Kelsey played first. The game was golf.
“I wanted to get Arielle these high heels she really liked,” I said. “56 bucks, and I couldn’t even do that.”
I put my hand on top of Arielle’s and smiled at her. She half-smiled.
“I mean,” Kelsey said, “you’ve only been together, what, a month or two?”
“Month and a half,” I said.
“I only paid a portion up front anyway,” Cody said. “I have to make payments from back home.”
“God,” Arielle said, “I don’t want to go back. I heard it’s snowing in Bloomington.”
“Let’s stay,” I said. “I will if you will. Forever. Honest.”
“You know we can’t do that. There’s school.”
“Yeah, there’s always gonna be something.”
I finished my beer and stood to get another. I kissed Arielle on the head as I walked towards the kitchen.
“Grab me one,” Cody said.
I sat back down, opened my fifth, handed him his second. I took a good pull, and the game went on silently for a while. An Adele song was playing. She sang something about waking up to her lover’s face in the sun. I almost said I didn’t think that was real love, but I didn’t want to start an argument I’d never win with people like these.
I ended up winning the round, though. It was the fourth or so we’d played that night.
“I thought you were bad at card games?” Kelsey said.
“I guess golf is my bag,” I said.
“You ever play any real golf?” Cody said.
“Oh no. I’ve never been much into sports. I don’t even consider golf to be a sport anyway.” I stood to grab another beer. “Want more wine, Arielle? Kelsey?”
“I’ll have some,” Kelsey said.
“No,” Arielle said. “I’m still on my first.”
“Back when I was a kid, though,” I said as I filled Kelsey’s glass. “I was the best hitter on my baseball team. No shit. Damn good second basemen, too.” I gave Kelsey her glass and sat back down. “I was also the best goalie around when it came to soccer. I swear not a shot could get past me. Then I got into music. Then writing. And here I am at 21 with a potential beer belly.”
I held up my can to toast with Cody, and everyone laughed. Except Arielle. She just gave that half-smile again. I leaned over and kissed her cheek and had a pull on the beer.
“I think that’s the most I’ve ever heard him say,” Kelsey said.
“Me too,” Arielle said.
“Always keep ‘em guessing,” I said.
Arielle rolled her eyes, but then narrowed them at me a bit.
“Your head looks terrible, Anderson,” She said.
“I mean the sunburn. It’s blistering a little.”
She reached up and gently touched it. I winced.
“Oh, sorry,” she said.
“It’s fine. It’s not that bad.”
“It does look kinda bad,” Kelsey said.
“I’m fine. Curse of being a ginger.”
They laughed. Even Arielle.
Cody started dealing another round. Kelsey put her hand on his shoulder.
“Ya know,” she said. “Cody is great soccer player.”
“Oh yeah?” I said.
“I mean,” he said, “it’s not that big of a deal. I’m not a published writer or anything.”
“Four times published,” Arielle said, rubbing my arm.
She finally smiled at me. I smiled back and kissed her twice.
“That’s not much of a big deal either,” I said. “Only two of those stories are any good. I wrote the first two back when I had no idea what I was doing. Shit, I still don’t know what I’m doing.”
“You must be doing something right,” Kelsey said.
“Maybe I’m just sucking the publishers’ dicks.”
The regulars laughed.
I won another round.
“Whaddya fuckin’ know,” I said.
Cody got us both another beer.
“You didn’t even ask him if he wanted one or not,” Kelsey said.
“Never any need to,” I said.
“Yeah,” Cody said. “He looked thirsty.”
“Still,” Kelsey said, “that’s common courtesy.”
“Do I have to separate you two?” Arielle said.
“Oh, whatever,” Kelsey said. “You two bickering over the music in the car yesterday.”
“We don’t really fight,” Arielle said.
“If this one would stop doing everything wrong,” Kelsey said, smiling at Cody.
“Yup,” he said. “I’m always wrong.”
“I don’t believe it matters who’s right or wrong,” I said. “That’s not what’s important. It only matters that the problem gets solved.”
“I’ll remember that,” Arielle said.
“But I thought we didn’t fight?”
“Not yet, at least.”
“He’s just lucky I love him,” Kelsey said, playing with Cody’s ear.
“Love is toxic,” I said.
Silence. I didn’t look at Arielle.
I started rubbing my beer cans on my forehead, the burns beginning to assert themselves.
“Are you alright?” Arielle said.
“Yeah,” I said.
I lost this round.
“I think I’m ready to pass out,” Cody said. “’Nother big day of doing nothing in paradise tomorrow.”
“I’ll come with you,” Kelsey said.
They both stood and left. Arielle and I sat at the table for a while longer, not saying anything. I looked over at her a few times, but she was either staring at her phone or the wall or the floor or anywhere but me. This wasn’t unusual. I got up to grab another beer, and she got up and walked towards our bedroom.
I went outside to smoke a cigarette. The cool air of a southern night felt good on my forehead. I took off my shirt and let it hit my bright red chest and arms. I sat there and watched the pond sit idle. I wanted to jump in it feel the cold water on my skin and trudge through the woods beyond it, wet and naked, just to find something, anything, to serve as an antidote, to do something to help win the fight. Instead, I stood and went back inside.
As I walked towards Arielle and I’s room, I could hear Kelsey laughing loudly from across the house. I liked hearing it, but not coming from a room that Arielle and I weren’t in together. Arielle was asleep or at least lying in bed in the dark when I entered. I joined her and slept for a while.
Some time later, I woke up shivering, but I felt as if I were burning.
“Fuck,” I said. “Fuck. It hurts. It hurts so bad.”
“What?” Arielle said. “What’s wrong?”
“It hurts so fucking bad.”
She put her hand on my head.
“Don’t touch it,” I said.
“Go take a cold shower.”
“I’m fucking shivering.”
“Just do it, Anderson.”
I did it. It felt ok.
I came back out into the bedroom naked with a towel wrapped around my shoulders and sat on the bed, still shivering violently. Arielle sat beside me and handed me a glass of water and some Ibuprofen. I drank the pills down with the entire glass.
“I’m really thirsty,” I said.
“I’m sure all the beer today didn’t help.”
She refilled the glass in the bathroom and brought it back to me. I drained it again.
“Turn the light off,” I said.
“I’m sure Mr. Soccer Player out there is lifting fucking weights at two in the morning.”
“Stop it, Anderson.”
“Please turn the light off. I don’t want you to see me like this.”
She turned it off and put another towel on my lap and rubbed my arms. I shivered still. She put the back of her hand to my forehead.
“You might have sun poisoning,” she said. “I had it once on my lips. I know how you feel.”
“No you don’t.”
She got up and stood in front of me.
“I’m going to take the towels off,” she said.
She started rubbing aloe over my entire body. I looked up her. Her soft hair draped over her face and caressed my shoulders and arms. Her lips were just as red in the darkness. That was one thing about her. Her lips were always so red and full. Always. Her eyes, those gorgeous brown eyes, stared hard at every inch of my body. She concentrated on what she was doing, just like everything she put her mind to. She never gave up. She really didn’t. She really wanted to help me. I woke her up at two in the morning, and she really wanted to help me. I loved her. Right then.
I love you, I wanted to say. I love you so much, Arielle.
“I don’t want you to see me like this,” I said instead. “I feel so weak. This isn’t how men act.”
“Stop it,” she said. “Just relax. This will help you feel better.”
I felt like crying. She kept rubbing. I didn’t know if meant something to her. I never knew if anything meant something to her. Maybe it was just a sense of duty. Maybe that’s love.
“If you start seeing black dots,” she said, “we’re going to the hospital.”
“No. No fucking hospitals. I’m fine. I’m not ruining this vacation more than I probably already’ll end up doing.”
“Just please tell me if you do.”
When she was done, we lied back down. I couldn’t handle having the covers over me. Everything burned. The shivering stopped. We lied there silently for a while.
“I really like your friends,” I finally said. “A lot.”
“They like you, too.”
“I was scared they wouldn’t. I’m so different from them. From you. I’m so fucking nervous around all of you.”
Again, she said nothing.
I turned over on my elbow and put my hand on her face. I looked into those eyes for a while. I ran my fingers across her cheek. Silence.
“I promise I’ll get you those shoes,” I finally said. “Maybe a month from now. Or a year. I’ll get you a ring. I’ll get you a thousand rings. Anything you want. It’s yours. I promise. I really promise.”
“That stuff doesn’t matter to me, Anderson.”
“It matters to me.”
I kissed her a few times. I could never kiss her just once. I turned over and slept.
And a month later, she was gone. But I don’t break promises.
i love u
on the back
fortune cookie fortune you
on my mirror
months before you left
i’ve been staring at it for several minutes
put shaving cream
on my toothbrush twice as
cold water drips onto my foot from the
i had to handwash because
I’m over you
until I watch Mad Men and It’s Always Sunny alone
until I walk by the house with the Budweiser lights
until I go to the basement we once danced at
until an Asian girl calls out to another Taylor, but it’s not your roommate
until I pass Dats
until someone mentions playing Twister
until we get high and watch Portlandia
until I reach up and feel my hipster glasses
until I see huddled couples walking together in the 3:00 a.m. cold
until I see runaway dogs bounding down the street, one you would surely help
until Zach Galifinakeoifaoeicc talks about his huwting beeyord
until I see a sex scene on T.V
until I get in bed alone
until I get out of bed alone
until I feel your soft hair and big lips, always red, and eyes browner than the potent earth
until I think about suicide and calling you for help
until I hear the word love
until I breathe until I blink until I take a step towards anything
and you aren’t there
Two days gone
An eternity gone