700 words away from 20,000. I will remedy that by 4:00 p.m. Then off on the great race to write 30,000 words in 24 hours—now there's a competition!
Uh, more awkwardly written prose just to prove that I'm not bullshitting.
* * *
I had it wrapped tight around my body, tucked beneath my armpit. I didn’t feel naked wearing only the towel in front of Kate. Material-wise, we were dressed just about the same, only I was wet.
I opened the door wide and she turned to look, her head at my knees. “Feel better?” she asks.
“Much,” I say.
* * *
On the sofa, she has shed her stockings, her hosiery, and wears one of my sweatshirts. On her it is big everywhere. I sit in jeans and a sweater my grandmother knitted for me before she died. Finding it in a bag beneath my grandmother’s bed, my mother found the note—“For Julia”—left behind, and that winter she finished up where my grandmother had left off, the right sleeve’s cuff.
It is 12:35 a.m.
Kate asks, “Do you mind if I smoke?”
I say, “Go right ahead, but I don’t have an ashtray.”
“Can I use a saucer? I’ll wash it even, and replace it if you need me to,” and she is on her feet.
“You know where they are,” I say, and she goes.
From the kitchen, she says, “Do you have someone in your life right now? Someone you’re not telling us about?”
I hear her open the refrigerator door again, the clink of the thick glass bottle against the others. “Who is this ‘us,’ exactly? Just so I’m not giving shit to anyone who doesn’t deserve it.”
Kate laughs a little. “You’d love to know, wouldn’t you?” and she’s inside my cabinets again. “But you’re not answering my question.”
I pull a blanket from the back cushions of the couch and cover my feet, my legs. I say, “There’s this dog at the local shelter. Two weeks ago, it was a featured pet. Cute, cute mutt that I would have renamed Milo because he was all white but had one black eye, a perfect circle, and he looked like a Milo. But I’m not allowed to have pets here and, worse yet, when I called to check his availability, certain that I could convince my parents to take him in, the man on the phone told me he was gone.”
“Euthanized?” Kate walks back to the sofa in her too big sweatshirt, with her beer and her tiny dish.
“No. Picked up and moved to New Hampshire with a little old lady.”
“It’s good that Milo found love, though,” she says and then sits, a leg tucked beneath her. She looks at the beer and then at me, “Oh, do you want one of your beers, too?”
I have moved from tea to black coffee. I shake my head no.
Her bag sits on my coffee table. She puts down the saucer, her beer, and picks up her bag. “Are you seeing someone?” she asks with her eyes away from mine.
I watch her move her hands in her bag, find the pack of cigarettes first, and then her lighter. I say, “No.”
Kate is motionless, looking again at me. She says, “That answer makes me feel opposite things. Considering the time of night and how many drinks I’ve had, it’s very strange.”
“Tell me,” I say.
The cigarette in her mouth, the spark to flame, she says, “It’s good that you’re single, but disappointing that you’re not having me. Elation and disappointment.”
“That’s the liquor talking,” I say, pointing to her. “That’s the liquor.”
“I am a little drunk,” she says, then inhales.
“You hold it well.”
She giggles, a soft ruffled noise, puts a hand up to stop herself. She says, “You have no idea.”
* * *
“So why did you invite me in?” Kate asks, smoking her last cigarette, which is good for me because the smell of smoke has given me a headache, the taste of it sour in my mouth.
“You saved my life,” I say, don’t smile.
“Come on,” she says, her neck, her arms and body loose from drinking. She sits on the opposite side of the couch, but she keeps moving closer, gaining inches when she leans forward while talking, when she gestures to make a point, to drive it home. “Tell me why I’m here right now.”
I rest my head back on the sofa’s cushion, think this over. I say, “I don’t know the best way to answer that.”
“Just be honest.”
“It felt like the polite thing to do.”
She stubs out her cigarette, the last one. “Is that it?”
“You didn’t seem like you were in a rush.”
“I wasn’t. I was coming to see you.”
“That, too. How could I know this and not invite you in?”
“I told you that after you did the inviting.”
I wait, considering this, and then I say, “I don’t know you that well, but I like your company. I like that I can leave you alone in my place and you can find everything to make me tea, that I’m okay with you doing that.”
Physically she is ideal. Even at this time of night, in the dim lighting of the living room, our faces pale and my eyes heavy and tired, there is nothing about Kate that I find unattractive. Even at this close range, with all imperfections exposed, only feet away. For example, the pimple coming in on the right side of her chin. For example, my obvious indecision and bogus stalling techniques. My bitten-down nails. But God—her small frame and those long legs, her dark hair that shines in fucking rainstorms, her brown eyes and small nose, her pink lips. Her red dress beneath my too-big sweatshirt and her determination, her body here in front of me, in my apartment. Her pink lips.
Kate says, “I don’t know you that well, but I like your company.” She says it like she was the first one, like they were her words before they were mine.
“That’s what I’m saying.”
“No, that’s what I’m saying.”
We spend some time and just look.
“Do you think you need longer than two years?” she asks.
I say, “I don’t think I’ll need longer than a few more nights of this,” and I watch her look up from inspecting her empty cigarette box, I watch her look up and smile.