“This relationship has been hard for both of us,” Charles whispered into the pressing, humid darkness, “But it’s also brought such good things.”
Fran lay with her back sticky and clinging against Charles’s solid chest, biting her lip to hold in her dread. Shut up, shut up, shut up, Charles, you’ll ruin it. Hours later, sitting in the tub with her head on her knees, she’d look back on this moment as the last she would ever have of any illusion of his love.
“You make me feel alive. I like who I am when I’m with you.” Stop there. You don’t have to talk after break-up sex Charles. Just SHUT UP. His hand was vaguely caressing the soft rolls of her breast and waist. “You turn me on, you make me laugh. I love you, Sarah.”
The air froze with silence; the walls seemed to flex with the pressure of it. A cold prickling traveled from Fran’s scalp to her stomach.
“Woah,” she said. Her heart raced and her hands trembled, as if his words had been a snake or a gunshot. As if a landmine had gone off inside her.
Charles groaned, “Oh my god,” and sat up, draped his legs over the edge of the bed, and buried his face in his hands.
“Woah,” Fran said again, heart thumping, ears ringing in the echoing aftermath of the bomb.
“That was bad. That was really bad.”
“Yeah,” Fran said. She pulled herself out from under the covers and felt around for her clothes, scattered across the floor. Her body seemed to require specific instructions for each breath, so she focused on that – in… out… – while she pulled on her clothes with shaking hands.
Charles sat, palms on his forehead, elbows on his knees, and as Fran dressed she watched him through the haze of her hurt and her rage. She saw him like a little lost boy. Hell, she thought. How long will it take me to stop loving him?
“I said you weren’t over her,” she said gently.
“I’m sorry, Fran,” Charles muttered into his palms. “I’m sorry.” He looked crumpled up – like a bad poem, she thought, tossed in the bin with all the other clichés.
“I know. You didn’t do it on purpose.”
Noticing she was dressed, he said, “Let me see you out.”
“I’d rather you didn’t.”
Still he didn’t look at her. “Please Fran, I don’t want it to end with this.”
“Oh no.” She looked through the bedroom window at the sliver of golden dawn at the edge of the horizon. “It was over long before this.”
But he pulled on a t-shirt and boxers and trailed her through the living room, saying, “I’ll call you.”
“No!” She could see the word slap him hard in the jaw. She reined herself in. “No don’t call me. I’m done.”
“I’m sorry,” he repeated, and looked her in the eye at last, stunned, disbelieving.
“I know. And I forgive you. And I’m done.” She turned, walked away, and got into her car.
Still he followed her as far as his door, stood in her headlights, his skin dewy in the humid pre-dawn.
There are three seasons in western Massachusetts: winter, humid, and fall. It would switch from humid to fall overnight sometime in late September. This night had not been that night. Fran started her car in the sticky gray of dawn. Charles’s face collapsed and his eyes welled. Fran watched him take a great gasping breath – chest expanding and nostrils flaring – and then release one choked, dry sob. She had to grit her teeth hard to prevent the heat behind her own eyes from welling into tears just as tragic. Fran put the car in reverse and pulled away. His tears weren’t for her.
Fuck this, she was going to the gym.