It has been so long and she has come so far, though she suspects some of what she has done is regressed, or perhaps just circled round and forgotten the original landscape.
There was the night he again asked her to be his girlfriend; she’d just performed her staccato’d body tremble trick for him, on his behalf, for an hour or so; it made him happy.
Afterward, she took an enormous drink of water, no small amount of it overflowed the cup in her lust and poured down the side of her face.
“Why would you want me to be your girlfriend?” she asked, gasping, smiling. “I’m a total pain in the ass, you know.”
He laughed. “You really are,” he confirmed. Dismissed the hair from his eyes in that way he has, the back of his thumb sweeping down his face. “You are an enormous pain in the ass.”
She laughed, kicked at him with her knee sock-clad legs. He grabbed her up and spun her over on her belly, laid out across his lap, before she even had a chance to know what was happening.
In the days since, she recognized that she has fallen in love with this man. But at this stage she was unaware.
Or perhaps there was still a fighting chance for her.
So he asked her to be his girlfriend and she playfully acquiesced and he held her on his big couch and told her stories in quiet tones about all the women he’d been with, his ex-wife among them, about those experiences, through his lens.
One couldn’t say it was the first time they’d covered this topic, or even the third or the seventh. He liked to tell her about the women he’d been with, and up until now she liked to listen. Up until now, she laughed at the demise of these sad women with the narrow focus.
But in hearing these stories in the new role of girlfriend—even while suspecting it was more an honorary title than an actual definition— she noticed how her perspective changed. Whereas before the stories were a source of idle amusement, now they were something else.
She squished up her nose and ignored his voice for a moment.
What was it?
It was as if, as if now she existed within the stories, as if now these were stories about her.
Needless to say, it was an unfavorable shift. If there were one thing she had gleaned in half-listening to his stories for the past nine months, it was that wife, girlfriend, whatever, was not the desired role with this man.
She squinted her eyes, turned this over. The prize he thought he was awarding her was a dud. A protest started in that darkest pit of her heart and slowly spread, though never making it past her lips.
There were other things that happened that night; he treated her with so much tenderness, so much adoring, soft love. But in the hours leading up to very early morning, it was the turmoil-inducing interpretation of her new identity that prevailed.
“Where are you going?” he asked, when she vaulted out of bed.
“Water,” she answered, not entirely sure, but as soon as she saw the front door she knew what she had to do, and she didn’t even close it behind her but just kept going, and before she knew it she was driving away in her car, and it was kind of right at the moment she descended the long drive that she realized perhaps she actually loved him. Because she recognized the sensation of almost losing herself, from which she was fleeing.
And it felt good, in a way. Just to drive away.
Or at least the part of it that didn’t feel miserable did.