Wiping off the mirror so he could see to shave, Ethan stood razor in his left hand, shaving cream on his face- staring intently at his reflection. Recollection of the night before slowly unraveled in his mind. He and his best friend, Kevin, had gone to the party of another friend. Vienna had been there, too - college friends getting together. Why had he gotten so drunk? He enjoyed drinking, but he rarely got drunk- especially too drunk to function, and he had never gotten too drunk to remember.
Then a painful flash in his mind- his father again. The nagging houseguest began once more plundering through his consciousness. Ready or not, his memory was slowly returning and forcing him to deal with the real issue at hand- Michael McBride.
The feeling wasn't good as he began putting pieces of the previous day together like some giant, horrific jigsaw puzzle. As piece by piece fit into place, a sick feeling that was more emotional than physical crammed itself into his hangover-ravaged body, making him feel even worse, which he didn't think was possible.
He wasn't sure he could trust himself with the razor in his unsteady hand as the inevitable kept revealing itself little by little in a diaphanous vision somewhere between his eyes and the mirror in front of him. God, what had he gotten himself into now? Then the last, elusive piece of the puzzle - Sandra.
"Oh, shit" he mumble out loud. Now he remembered.
Quickly finishing up, he went back in the bedroom to get dressed in the clean clothes that he had left behind some weeks before. First, he stopped to ingest the aspirin and wash it down with orange juice that Vienna had left on the nightstand. He needed something to get his head together before he took on his father again.
Vienna had abandoned the breakfast when he said he wasn't hungry, and she now had other things on her mind. Standing behind him as he buttoned his shirt, she admired his tall, thin body. He lacked athletic muscle and hardness; his stature was solid but slender and more suited to the arts and classics of his upbringing. He looked like some dashing prince right out of a fairy tale. All he lacked was the shining armor.
She encircled his trim waist with her arms and ran her hands along his firm stomach. He was 6' tall, so she had to stretch as she began to nibble at the back and sides of his neck.
"Vienna," he managed to say with less irritation than he felt. "Did you get me that bag?"
"No," she purred as her hands began to play with the waistband on his boxers. "Come on, get back in bed. I want to have your baby."
"Where the hell did that come from?" he asked, his irritation becoming more evident. He pulled away from her. "I feel like shit, and I have a million things on my mind - none of which is the same as where you're going."
"Okay," she relented, "but screw that damn bag. You have how many closets filled with clothes? Leave these here. You never know."
He glared at her, too distracted to argue. He'd never miss the clothes, but it was the principle of the whole thing. Still, he knew this thing with his father was unresolved and sooner or later, he'd have to face it, so he dismissed the issue of the clothes. He couldn't deal with this petty quibbling right now. Once he finished dressing, he looked like he had just stepped off a page of one of his magazine ads.
"Everyone should look as good as you when they have a hangover," sighed VIenna.
"Did you sleep in bed?" he asked, ignoring her flattery.
"I wanted to, but I thought you'd get mad - so, no, I slept on the couch."
"That's where you should've dumped me. You didn't have to give up your bed."
"It's all right. The couch is actually very comfy."
"Well, thanks. I'm sorry if I was any trouble."
"You? Never. What's going on with you anyway? That was rather out of character last night. You just kept mumbling some rather nasty things about your dad."
"Nothing's going on. I got myself in kind of a jam with him, that's all. It's going to take a little doing to get out of it."
"Well, it's not," he lied with a smile that all but stopped her heart. "I'll work it out. I always do. Can I use your phone to call a cab?"
"Let me get dressed, and ..."
"A cab is good, Vienna. Thank you for taking me in last night, but now I have to go - by myself. I'm hoping my father is peacefully settled in Highland Park, and I can get my head together before I have to go another round with him. I walked out on him yesterday - in the middle of an argument - so he's going to be pretty pissed."
Time stopped for Cain at that moment. Everything froze into an unnatural setting as he began to fully realize what was happening to him. Somebody wake me up! But the nightmare continued. Suddenly, he looked up to see Mr. Browning extracting a gun from his dresser drawer. CHRIST!
"Hold on!" screamed Cain. "For God's sake, don't shoot! It's not what you think!"
"Drop the file!" ordered Mr. Browning visibly shaken.
Cain looked absently at the nail file he still held in his left hand and let it drop. He didn't even remember taking it from Carrie.
"Now move away from her," asid Mr. Browning clutching the gun frantically. "Over by the wall."
"Okay, okay," said Cain, "I'm moving."
Cain did as he was told. The man was extremely nervous, and Cain feared he'd do something crazy. Looking down the barrel of what he assumed was a loaded gun was the most terrifying thing he'd ever done. It didn't take much to notice that Mr. Browning was an amateur when it came to guns, and that made everything all the worse.
Mrs. Browning ran to Carrie and brought the sobbing hysterical teen a robe as her husband continued to hold Cain at bay with the gun. She picked up the phone and called the police.
"No!" pleaded Cain. "It's not what you think. Tell them Carrie! This has gone far enough. Tell them what happened!"
"Shut up!" said Mr. Browning waving the gun as his wife continued the phone call to the police. " We saw enough to know what happened- you raped her. Turn around and put your hands on the wall. The police will be here in a minute. And don't try anything funny because this gun is loaded and I'd like nothing better than to have an excuse to use it on you."
"Jesus," sighed Cain as he slowly turned and put his hands on the wall. "Carrie, please. This is getting out of hand. Tell them what happened."
I never saw it coming, but I really should have. You don’t love someone so much for so long without knowing that you’re headed for the edge of a cliff and the brakes haven’t been working right lately. I hear the ultimatum in Erika’s words and I wrack my brain for an appropriate response. She’s not giving me time, though. She slides her hands into my unbuttoned shirt and rubs my back, pulling me toward her as she does. Only moments ago, happily ever after took a big hit from my girlfriend of forever. She just turned my world upside down and now she’s shaking it up and mixing it with seduction. This is not a good place for me to be.
“Shit,” I sigh under my breath, closing my eyes to intensify the feeling of her touch on my skin, sending me back to denial. My eyes roll back behind my lids as Erika gently prods me toward the point of no return. Her warm hands soothe and heighten my senses. I want to forget for just a while longer. I want to go back in time—only a few minutes—to when I was nineteen, hopelessly in love, and foolishly believing in till death do us part.
Erika continues her magic, but I’m distracted now. I’ve been shaken, and stirred, and I find it quite distressing. I open my eyes and reality does its job; I back away from her.
“What?” she asks.
“Tell me,” I look straight into her eyes. “Tell me I didn’t hear you right.”
Demurely she looks down between our feet and then raises her eyes to my chest as she reaches out and runs her hands up my abs to my shoulders. A diversionary tactic for sure. I gently take her wrists and remove her hands from my body.
“Don’t,” I say. “This is too important.”
“I love you, Jake.”
“Then none of this makes sense.”
“I thought you’d be happy for me.”
“How can you know me your whole life and still think that? Maybe if you would’ve talked to me about it before you just went ahead and planned the rest of your life—our lives.”
“Why can’t I live my dream and love you, too? You know how much my music means to me.”
“I just never thought . . .”
“. . . I was that talented?”
“. . . you’d ever leave me behind.”
She backs up and sits on my bed. This was supposed to be a romantic interlude, a stolen afternoon while my grandparents are away at work, but it’s turning into a train wreck right before our eyes.
“I’m not leaving you behind. I want you to come with me.”
Ah, now she’s cut into the heart of happily-ever-after. I rub my hand along the faint stubble on my chin, taking time to think before I say the wrong thing.
“What about my dreams? I’m just supposed to walk out after a year of college and move to Chicago with you?”
“There are colleges in Chicago, Jake.”
“And there are orchestras around here. You don’t have to drive nearly three hours to live your dream.”
Her jaw is set and she fixes her eyes on the ceiling of my bedroom as if she’ll find some answer there. She’s wasting her time; I’ve been doing that unsuccessfully for years.
“You just don’t understand.” Her voice is even, frustrated.
But I do. I do understand. I guess that’s the problem. Denial time again. I don’t want to admit what a gifted violinist she is and that she should be in Chicago studying music and that this is the opportunity of a lifetime. I want it to be about my love of the simple life. Marrying Erika, having kids, and living happily ever after in rural America. That’s what we always talked about when we were kids. Our life was all set before she started all this craziness last year when we graduated from high school.
Since then she’s been going for interviews and auditions. She said she was just curious how far she could get. It was a challenge, just for the fun of it. I’m not sure when it ceased being fun for her and became an obsession instead, but I’ve felt something unsettling whispering in my ear for a while now. I kept tuning my head, refusing to give it authority until just now when she told me she’s moving to Chicago to pursue this amazing opportunity.
Erika gets up and steps closer to me again. She pushes my shirt off my shoulders and kisses my chest and my neck and on up until she finds my lips. “Let’s don’t waste our time fighting,” she whispers hotly on my mouth.
I tangle my fingers in her silky dark hair and kiss her in a way to drive all the demons from our love and make us remember a simpler time. It takes only seconds for the effect to take hold in both of us. The phone’s ringing somewhere in the real world a million miles away, but we’ve crossed over and there’s no way I can answer it. No matter—I’m not usually home this time of day anyway.
We lose ourselves in each other and the love we share. We’re good at that. She makes me feel as if I can fly, as if I am flying. My body is so alive and the mid March afternoon sunshine bursts around us and lights up the room, showering sparks of excitement and warmth all over us. God, how I wish this was all there is to life. This moment. This amazing feeling.
After the euphoria ramps up to a fever pitch and then settles softly around us like a blanket enfolding us in our secret world, I let my body relax and settle contentedly on the bed. Erika dances her fingers across my back.
“That was nice,” she sighs. She makes nice sound like chocolate ice cream.