“Kate really doesn’t seem like the type to cheat, Billy.”
“She’s not. At least, she never was before.”
I nod. “And Drew . . . well, he doesn’t screw around with girls from the office. It’s kind of a rule he lives by. He’s never broken it before. Not once.”
He leans back on the couch, mollified—relieved—by my statement.
Then, roughly, he says, “This sucks.”
I agree. “Breakups always do.”
He snorts. “This is my first one. Kate and me . . . we’ve been together forever—since we were fifteen. She’s been my first everything. I thought she’d be my last everything too. My only.”
I just nod and let him talk.
“But the last few years . . . it feels like we’ve just been holding each other back, you know? I don’t think I’ll ever stop loving her . . . but it’s not the same. It’s not enough. We don’t . . . fit . . . anymore.”
Sympathetically, I tell him, “That happens—a lot. People change.”
He nods too. “Yeah.” He takes another swig of beer. “Still f**king blows chunks though.”
“It gets better.”
We sit silently for a few minutes—our heart-to-heart time over.
So I pick up the remote and pull up the on-demand movies. “You want to watch Predator?”
Billy pours himself another shot. “Sure. Never seen it.”
I grin. “It’ll change your life.”
A few hours before sunrise, Delores comes walking back into her apartment. I’m half asleep on the well-used recliner while Billy’s passed out cold on the couch.
The vodka bottle sits empty on the coffee table—its purpose fulfilled.
Dee kicks off her shoes with a sigh. Then she sees me. And she’s surprised. “You’re still here?”
“Am I not supposed to be?”
“No, no, it’s fine.”
She covers her cousin with the throw blanket, brushing his hair back tenderly, like a mother with a feverish toddler. Then, she walks past me into her bedroom. I get up and follow her.
Delores takes off the outfit she’s still wearing from the party—letting the clothes fall off her to the floor. Leaving them there. Revealing tiny leopard print panties and a matching strapless bra.
“Kate’s a mess. She’s hurt . . . Billy said some messed-up stuff during their argument. Harsh shit. And she feels guilty. Billy worked his ass off to support Katie while she was in school. She hates herself, now that she won’t be able to return the favor.”
Dee keeps her back to me when she removes her bra, only turning around after she slips a red Phillies T-shirt over her head.
“Thank you for staying with him, Matthew.”
She sighs, but her shoulders are stiff. “I’m really tired.”
I start to unbutton my shirt, to join Dee in bed. I’m not looking to get laid—although with the amount her cousin drank tonight, I don’t think even a full-fledged f**k fest would wake him up. But I’m not expecting what Dee says next.
“You can go now.”
My fingers freeze on the buttons. “What?”
“I said, thank you, I’m tired—you can go.” And her eyes are flat, her face taught—like a mannequin in a department store.
I step toward her, trying to make it past her attitude.
“Dee, I know you’re upset . . .”
“Or maybe I just don’t want you here, Matthew!” she lashes out. “Maybe I just want to be alone.”
And, yes—in case you’re wondering—this is my pissed-off face. Jaw clenched, lips tight, eyes alive with adrenaline. I’m angry at her words—her outlook—her stubborn f**king inability to look at me and our relationship without the black cloud of her past hanging over it.
“You don’t want to be alone—you’re just f**king scared. You see Kate and your cousin and you don’t want to feel what they’re feeling . . .”
She claps her hands slowly. Sarcastically.
“Brilliant deduction, Watson. Forget Chippendales—if banking doesn’t work out, it sounds like you want to be a therapist.”
I push a hand through my hair, trying to rein in the frustration that makes me want to put my hand through her bedroom wall.
“This pushing me away shit is getting really f**king old, Delores.”
“Well there’s the door.” She points at it. “Why don’t you go find yourself something brand spanking new.”
My voice is low—but fuming. “Good idea. I’ll do that.”
Then I turn around and walk out of the goddamn room.
I make it all the way to the living room—my hand on the apartment door—before I stop. Because this is exactly what she’s expecting. For me to give up. On her.
Dee would rather hit first and then throw in the towel than risk getting sucker punched later on.
I know this. As well as I know the last thing she really wants is for me to leave.
To leave her alone.
My hand drops from the door and I walk purposefully back into her bedroom. She sits ramrod straight on the edge of her bed, facing away from me.
“I’m not leaving. You want to yell? You can yell at me. Feel like hitting something? I can take a punch. Or, we don’t have to talk at all. But . . . I’m not going anywhere.”