Defeat has never sat well with me. But this isn’t a game. Games come and go. You win some, you lose some. There isn’t anyone else like Anna. I can’t simply go out and replace her. And I’ve just lost her.
My gut clenches hard. I’m going to be sick. I’ve pushed it too far. My knees hit the pavement a second before I throw up in the grass. It’s violent, but it doesn’t purge me. No, that sick feeling simply returns, filling me back up.
I sit on my ass, panting, sweat trickling into my eyes. Birds chirp. Someone’s starting a car. In the distance, a woman calls for her kid to come inside. I wipe my mouth and hug my knees to my chest.
I miss my parents. I miss them so badly that the hole Anna left in my chest when she ripped out my heart grows so large that I fear I might fall apart. I want to talk to them. Which is ironic, considering that when they were alive, I never discussed my love life with them. Were they still alive, I probably wouldn’t talk now either. But I would have gone home, had dinner at their house, and let their idle conversation wash over me until I felt some semblance of normalcy. Instead, I feel more alone than I’ve ever been.
It’s enough to make me want to shout. I force my legs to lift me up and keep moving.
Hobbling home, stomach aching, pain spreading, I don’t think of anything other than putting one foot in front of the other.
The house is quiet when I let myself in. It’s always quiet. But now the silence scrapes along my skin. I just might hate silence now.
My hand shakes as I help myself to a bottle of sports drink. It tastes foul to me, bitter and off, but I gulp it down. Rivulets of sticky drink run down my chin.
Then I spy it, sitting on my counter like a f**king mockery. The brand new, shiny chrome espresso machine. My vision goes red as something hot surges up through my body. The bottle in my hand flies through the air, smashing in an explosion of bright orange on my cabinets. And then I’m reaching for the machine, ripping the cord from the socket with enough force to crack the socket cover.
Sharp steel pokes my arms as I kick my door open and hunt down the garbage can. With a shout, I slam the stupid machine into the bin. I want to stomp on the thing, f**king punch the hell out of something, but I catch sight of my elderly neighbor Mrs. Hutchinson gaping at me. The tiny woman appears ready to keel over. Shit.
Clamping my mouth shut, I turn and slam back into the house. I stand in the empty hall, clutching the back of my neck and struggling for deep breaths as rage runs rampant through me. My chest lifts and falls, my teeth aching where I grind them together. And then the rage simply flees. Only it leaves me with something worse, an insidious pain that nearly brings me to my knees.
I stagger to the shower and stay there a long time. By the time I can stand again, my throat is swollen and my body is weak. I don’t want to think about anything.
When Gray arrives, I’m sitting on the couch, playing Dead Rising in the dark.
As usual, he barges into my house and flicks on the lamp next to the couch. “I’m going to assume you meant to cram that thousand dollar espresso machine into your garbage.”
I grunt and continue to annihilate zombies with my virtual baseball bat.
“I took it,” he adds, as if I’ll care.
“Knock yourself out.” It hurts to speak, so I decide to refrain from doing any more of it.
Gray sighs and comes further into the living room. I catch the scent of some smoked meat product but don’t bother to look. I don’t want anything to eat anyway. But my attention shifts when he sets a six-pack on the coffee table with a plunk. The bright green bottles seem to glow against the dark wood. A lump gathers in my throat. Green River soda pop. I loved that shit as a kid. My dad used to let me have them during summer barbecues.
“Where…” I clear my throat. “Where’d you get that?” You can only really find them in Chicago.
“Special order. I meant to give it to you on your birthday,” Gray admits, settling on the couch beside me after he puts down the other bag, the one containing food by the smell of it. “But I figured you’d appreciated it more now.”
No need to ask how Gray knows; this f**king campus spews gossip with the power and efficiency of a fire hose.
“They’ve been sitting in my fridge,” he continues, “because if we’re going to drink what looks like toxic waste, it ought to be cold.”
The lump in my throat grows to epic proportions. The controller hangs heavy in my hand as I blink down at it. Gray is silent for a moment then hands me a pop and pulls a hot dog from the other bag. “Now, I realize these aren’t as good as a Chicago dog, but we’ll have to make do. Because none of those bitches deliver.”
I hold the ice cold drink in my hand. “Thanks.” Shit, if I say anymore, I’ll be bawling, embarrassing us both.
Thankfully, he doesn’t say anymore. And we sit together, drinking lime soda, eating subpar hot dogs, and playing video games until it’s dark out.
THE NEXT FEW weeks are an exercise in perpetual misery. My state of comfortable numbness thaws. In its place an aching chasm opens up. It is so big that I’m surprised when I look down at myself and don’t find a gaping hole. All my effort goes into not curling over into myself, to remain upright each time I enter our shared class and see him. Not that my false front of calm matters. Drew won’t even look at me.
Worse? He’s changed seats. He selects a desk as far from me as possible, all the way at the opposite end of the room where I’d have to crane my neck to see him. Everyone notices, of course. He’s their sun. Any time he shifts position, their worlds go out of orbit. Mine most of all. I feel off center, as if I might topple over in between the desks.