On the nights when Gordon was away on tour, Lizzie preferred wearing his t-shirts to bed because they still smelled like him. He would occasionally complain when she kept one of his favorites, the ones from his favorite bands of the moment, but he would eventually give in because she patiently pointed out to him that she filled them out much better than he ever could. So when she came home from work and he wasn’t there, she decided that she would surprise him by wearing his Talking Heads shirt and nothing else. He’d often gone on and on about them, something about David Byrne and legends. She’d never really paid attention, but she wished she had.
The hours slipped by. The wine she’d chilled had started to sweat all over the kitchen counter, so she gave in to uncorking the bottle and pouring herself a glass, just one to taste it. It was too sweet, and she knew it wouldn’t be to his liking. She liked it though. Didn’t her needs count for something?
At ten, she was too drunk to cook but too embarrassed to order food. She rummaged through the fridge and found some cheese to pair with bread. She giggled to herself about how positively French it was. Maybe next year they could spend the day in Paris if he wasn’t busy. That would keep him from forgetting the most romantic day of the year. And really, it didn’t matter that this happened to be that day specifically, just that they did something nice to celebrate the years that they’d spent together. She didn’t want to end up in a rut, and maybe she’d been overly harsh in chasing him away earlier in the day. He’d just wanted to do something nice for her, and he’d had a rough time with his own job, so to speak. They just had to remember why they were together as a couple in the first place.
By midnight, she was worried, but she forced herself to brush her teeth to get the lingering taste of the wine off her tongue. She settled on the couch, her head turned to the door as she queued up one of her favorite programs. It would figure that he would walk through the door the minute she gave into the impulse to watch her soaps. But neighbors argued, relatives betrayed one another and cried, and the lock stayed firmly engaged.
She woke with a start when the light came on. For a moment, she felt lost, but the vacant blue screen of the television brought her back. She cleared her throat and ran her fingers through her hair roughly. The white t-shirt was wrinkled from her nap, and she was certain that her makeup had rubbed off on her pillow. But that didn’t matter. They’d seen each other at their worst and could still find the beauty in one another no matter what. A quick check of the clock told her that it was nearly five in the morning. Even most of the ambitious bars would have closed hours ago.
She put it from her mind as she looked at her boyfriend. He didn’t seem to notice her as he stood in the kitchen, both hands heavy on the counter as he struggled to kick off his sneakers by stepping on one heel at a time. He was distracted enough that she could surprise him. Her bare feet were silent on the carpet as she crept over to his side and put her hand on his arm. “Gordon, I’m so sorry about earlier. I’ve just been really stressed, and I feel like everything is about you sometimes. I get proud, just like you did that night we met, and I know I have to be better about that. Can you forgive me for being a bitch to you?” The words tumbled out, loosened by the bottle of wine. “I planned a big night, but I didn’t deserve you coming home and enjoying it with me. We can fix this though, I know we can. Just look at me, Gordon. I love you.”
She reached for his chin to turn his face to her, but she froze when she heard a strange noise. Her mind was still slow with sleep, but she knew a sob when she heard one. And then she noticed that he hadn’t managed to get his shoes off yet. He wasn’t standing there because he needed the extra balance. He was bent over like that because he was crying, his shoulders shaking with the weight of his grief.
He didn’t look at her, didn’t even acknowledge her, and she knew. His self-pity was never this strong. “What did you do, Gordon?” She was surprised by the coldness of her voice, but she had to cut through, had to bring him back to her.
“…thought you didn’t love me…” he mumbled, struggling to get a breath in.
The accusation struck her like a blow, but she couldn’t focus on that. He had to continue, tell her exactly what had happened to devastate him like that. In their years together, she had never seen him get so emotional. “I asked you a question,” she said. “What did you do?”
He pushed himself up but could only scrub furiously at his eyes with the back of his hand. She had never seen him this miserable, this emotional. It scared her to see him this out of control. When he looked down at her through his swollen eyelids, his lip began to tremble again. “I fucked up.”
There were few things that those words could mean, but when she saw how torn up he was, she knew that he hadn’t been off drinking with his friends until it was nearly dawn. “Tell me you didn’t do it.”
His hands were up, the same way they had been when they’d argued earlier in the day. It didn’t seem so funny to her this time. “I needed you. I thought you were leaving me. I didn’t know what to do.”
“Just because I told you I’d be home after work didn’t mean that I was dumping you. That didn’t give you permission to…to go fuck some slut!”
He didn’t recoil from the words, so she knew them to be true. He really had done it. He’d cheated on her. After she’d moved to a city where she had nothing but him, after she’d paid their bills to support his art, after she’s sacrificed everything she’d really wanted out of life just to be with him. Her friends had warned her about musicians, but she had insisted that things were different with Gordon because they’d gotten together before he’s established anything even resembling a parody of a career. She’d defended him for years while he’d been away or forgetful or just not attentive enough. And this was her repayment.
“I love you, Lizzie.” He couldn’t look her in the eye as he spoke, and his voice was weak. “I love you so much. I thought I’d lost you, and it hurt so fucking much. I just lost my head. I wasn’t thinking. And I’m so, so sorry. After Keith, then you, I just thought you weren’t in my corner. You were leaving me. I had nothing. I just didn’t want to feel that way for a little while. I didn’t know you were here. I made a mistake. I made the fucking worst mistake, but I love you with all my heart and was fucking sick at the thought of losing you.”
“So you did the one thing that would make sure you did? Is that how it works?” she asked. All she wanted was to collapse and sob, but he was already doing enough of that. She felt sick, angry, disgusted, confused, betrayed. All the negativity fought to occupy her veins and make her drunk on one specific emotion, but the cocktail itself was more than potent enough. “How could you do this to me, Gordon? How could you think that just because I had to focus on my job meant that I picked it over you? We fucking live together. I said I’d be home for dinner. How the fuck is that me leaving you?”
“I made a mistake! I was a fucking idiot, and I know that! What I did, I can’t defend, but I know that I fucked up and don’t want to lose you over it. I was hurting because I thought I had. I can’t face that. I can’t.”
She turned away from him in disgust and marched toward the bedroom. “I can’t stay here. I have to go.” It wasn’t for his benefit that she said the words aloud. She had to get some sort of plan together because she couldn’t stay in this apartment, not when he was at some girl’s place fucking her and she’d been waiting around in his clothing. She’d never felt dumber, and it was a crushing reminder that she’d been foolish to think that she’d find and keep her soulmate after meeting him as a teenager. She’d trusted him as a musician, a boyfriend, and a friend, and he’d betrayed her on all those counts in a single evening.
“Lizzie, wait.” He reached out for her, and she flinched away from his touch. How had he touched that other woman? Had he showered at all before coming back, before daring to put his skin to hers? “It’s late. You don’t have anywhere to go.”
The reminder made her chest burn, but she wouldn’t cry or break down in front of him. He had taken away everything she had here, but she still had enough pride that she could manage to go back to Pennsylvania and get a job there. She had some experience, and there were people who were friends of the family. They’d help her out. The subways were always alive. She could get to a bus station and get a ticket anywhere. She’d get by. “If you were really so concerned about me getting a good night’s sleep, you should have stayed in that whore’s bed until morning. But you came here, and you told me the truth, which is all I’ve ever asked of you. So now I’m being honest when I’m telling you that I’m going to pack up my suitcase and find somewhere to go, because you’ve hurt me so deeply that there’s no way I can trust you.”
She recognized instantly the pain that cropped up in his eyes. It was the same need she’d seen come over her brother’s face so many times, that desire to numb himself chemically as quickly as possible and remain that way until the problems subsided. She wasn’t going to let his retreat be the solution. “Let me go then. I’ll stay with Simon or Damon or—” He bit his lip, and she knew that he’d almost blurted out Keith’s name by habit. “It’s not safe for you.”
“You’re one to talk about safety,” she said, giving a bitter laugh. “Did you even bother to use a condom?”
The question kept him rooted to the doorway, and she was grateful for that. It gave her a chance to haul up her suitcase and throw in her clothes. She didn’t look to arrange them or fold, just drop in everything and then tuck in what had gone beyond the edges. “Yeah, I did.”
“Good. I’m glad you protected yourself. At least you knew what you were doing there.” It killed her to know that she was in love with this man, but in time, she would get over him. Like the boyfriend who’d hit her, or the one who had liked the drugs a little too much. She’d get over this and remember what it was like to be on her own again. She’d be okay once she only had herself to rely upon. Really, was it so different from her existence with him most of the time? “At least you were responsible for something.”
“I didn’t cheat on you, not knowingly. I thought we were over. I was wrong about it, I know I was, but it’s not like I was trying to hurt you!”
Looking at him, she could only try to picture the woman he’d slept with. She wanted to know if she was taller, curvier, thinner, more beautiful. She was disgusted by her curiosity and knew that she couldn’t think about him and forgiveness without constantly comparing herself to a woman who existed out there somewhere, a woman who had been able to seduce her boyfriend in a matter of a few hours. “Well, congratulations, because you’ve done it anyway. I just can’t believe you. I love you, but I can’t be here with you.” She snatched up the top blanket from the bed and threw it across the room at him, followed by a pillow. “There. Take that. Fucking go. I don’t care if you sleep in the hall or if you go to your friends’ place. It doesn’t really matter to me. Go back to that whore for all I care. But you can’t stay here. I’ll be out of here in the morning.”
“Gordon, if you do not leave this apartment in ten seconds, I am going to scream so loudly that people are going to call the police. I’m serious. I need you to get away from me because I want to punch you, and I’m not going to give you the satisfaction of being any sort of victim. You did this to us, and you have to deal with the consequences. Unfortunately, so do I.”
She wasn’t interested in his excuses. Even if he had genuinely thought he’d been dumped, then he had taken little time to honor the memory of what they’d had. She could disregard his feelings just as quickly. At the same time, she had never felt like a smaller person, and she couldn’t stand the way he was looking at her like she could end his pain. “Ten,” she said, crossing her arms over her chest.
“You really just need to sl—”
He gathered up the blanket and pillow, cradling them against his chest. It was clear that he understood what would happen when he stepped out into the hall. The door would lock, and when he made his way back in again, half of the belongings would be gone. She wouldn’t want to keep this apartment, not when it would remind her of him and the lease was in his name. She couldn’t even keep her job, that stupid fucking job that had seemed so important to her hours before. She didn’t know what she would do, but her family would look out for her.
“Eight. Seven. Six. Are you even fucking paying attention? Get out! Five!”
He finally managed to get his legs moving when she raised her voice. It was early enough that the neighbors wouldn’t appreciate the intrusion, and a few might already be awake enough to be going for their phones. She didn’t care anymore what those people thought of her. She’d be gone soon enough.
“I love you, Lizzie,” he said as he put his hand on the front door. This was the only way, and she had to remind herself to be strong as he looked back at her so mournfully. “If there’s anything I can do, you have to tell me.”
She just shook her head and yanked the door open for him. “There’s only one thing you had to do to keep me, but you fucked that up.”
“I hope one day you can forgive me, even if you don’t forget or understand,” he said quietly.
“Try me in five years,” she said dryly. When he stood there, pitifully clinging to the bedding, he looked like a child who had had a nightmare but woke to find that it was his own life. The haunted look in his eyes said as much, but she knew that he wasn’t her responsibility anymore. Still, she patted his chest over his heart and had to choke back her own tears. “Take care of yourself, Gordon. I know you’re going to want to get fucked up again, but you at least owe me that much. Get better. Be better.”
And with that, she closed the door on the love of her life and let her tears sink into the floorboards.