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You Deserve Each Other: Chapter 10


Since neither of us had dinner, we both head straight to the fridge when we get home. Or some version of home. I’m still thinking of it as Leon’s place, just with our stuff in it.

The bare shelves of our refrigerator wink back at us.

We each rush to blame the other. “Did you not go to the store?” he says, like it’s to be expected. “You forgot to go to the store,” I say, as if we’d already decided he’d make a grocery run and he’d neglected to do so. Then we frown at each other. Our methods aren’t covert anymore. Our bullshit radars are fine-tuned.

He checks the microwave clock. “There’s still time for you to run to the gas station for frozen pizza.” He hands me his keys.

“I’m all pizza’d out.” I hand the keys back. “When you go get us some burritos, I want the chicken and cheese, not beef and cheese.”

We commence a fierce stare-down. I’m doing him a big favor by staying here with him in this house that’s probably haunted, saving him from miserable dinners with his mother where she’ll criticize every single restaurant employee in the most devastatingly personal way possible. “Go get the burritos and I’ll be nice to you forever,” I say.

“Go get them yourself and I’ll be nice to you forever.”

Not worth it. “Nah.”

“Don’t you want to see how the Jeep drives? You’ll like it better than the Saturn.” His lips twist. “Much, much better than the … ah … what kind of car did you trade it for?”

“It’s a monster, and I love it like it’s my child. Besides, I can’t go anywhere because I’m still shaken up.”

I’m not shaken up, because being far removed from Deborah has revitalized me. He can tell.

“Fine.” He relents, performing another inventory of our fridge. “I’ll fix something for myself, then.”

“So will I.” I open the cupboards and hope to god there’s an entire Thanksgiving meal up there. “For myself.”

He gets out bread crumbs and eggs. I’ve seen this pattern before: he’s making mozzarella sticks. They sound amazing.

My first thought is to make spaghetti. He doesn’t like my spaghetti?

Then I’ll cook enough for a banquet and let it overflow from every Tupperware container we own.

Nicholas watches me retrieve a box of spaghetti noodles. “I see you’re still mad about the spaghetti thing.”

“Not mad.” Just holding on to it forever.

“Sure, sure.” He smiles, because the idea of successfully pissing me off makes him just as gleeful as I’m going to feel when he realizes I ate all the mozzarella cheese.

I scavenge for a big jar of tomato sauce and come up with nil. I do find a leftover plastic tub of marinara from Benigno’s and plenty of ketchup, so I say what the hell and squirt it into a saucepan. I find that the spaghetti box only contains four noodles, so I have to supplement with half-empty boxes of gluten-free fettuccine and organic brown rice farfalle. I put them on to boil and wish I lived with someone less nutrition-conscious when it comes to carbs.

“What are you making?” he snickers.

“Farfaccine.”

“That’s not a thing.”

“It’s my favorite food ever. I talk about it all the time; not my fault you don’t pay attention.”

He rolls his eyes and turns to root through the fridge. My body coils tight like a jack-in-the-box, waiting. Finally: “Have you seen the mozzarella?”

“Nope.”

His gaze falls onto the trash can. He pops the lid and sees the crumpled mozzarella stick wrappers. Busted.

“Darned Leon,” I say. “I bet he kept a spare key and snuck inside last night. We should change the locks.”

Nicholas glares, then dumps his prepared breading into my saucepan.

“Hey!”

“It’s going to suck, anyway.”

“It is not.”

“Your pasta’s overcooked. And you forgot to stir.”

“Fudge.” I hurry to drain it. There are clumps stuck to the bottom of the pot. Gluten-free anything is already atrocious. Boiling it just makes it worse. While I’m fussing with the pasta, the marinara-ketchup combo starts spitting. I rush back and stir, then throw in some seasoning. I’m a regular Alex Guarnaschelli.

“Interesting choice.”

“Huh?”

Nicholas taps one of the spice bottles I just used. Cinnamon.

“Oh. Yes.” I stand tall. “It’s the secret ingredient.”

Nicholas is still hunting for a mozzarella replacement. It’s no use. We have nothing. He gives up and eyes my pasta with resignation.

“Farfaccine, eh?”

“A traditional Italian dish passed on from grandmother to grandmother.” It smells like raw sewage.

“Maybe if it were creamier?” he says helpfully. “Looks a little dry.”

We’re out of milk, so we do something dubious here and dump in half a cup of coffee creamer. It does look better afterward, even if the foul smell intensifies. Nicholas gets cocky and adds a sprinkling of pink Himalayan salt.

Our stomachs are growling. We ladle slop into our bowls and prod it with our forks to make sure it’s not still alive. There are so many weird textures at play. Our low food supply reflects our carelessness, and the only place in Morris that delivers is closed. I’m stricken by a thought: Benigno’s might not deliver all the way out here. I think their policy is delivering only within city limits.

Morris sucks. Nicholas should have taken that job in Madison.

We take a bite on the count of three. I want to spit mine out but he bravely chews his mouthful, so I make myself do the same.

Nicholas takes another bite. “This is the worst thing I’ve ever had in my mouth.”

Nicholas thinks Warheads are haute cuisine, so he doesn’t get to pass judgment on farfaccine. “The cauliflower you poured buffalo sauce all over and told me was a chicken wing,” I say. “That’s the worst thing I’ve ever had in my mouth.”

“It’s going to be a drill next, what with all the Butterfingers you eat.

Storing them in your cheek like a chipmunk and letting them slowly erode your molars. You’ll be in dentures before you hit forty.”

“You’ll be right there with me, pal. You and your Skittles.” I can’t believe we’re still eating. We’re going to end up in the emergency room.

“My tongue is numb. Is that normal?”

“I can taste this in my sinus cavities. Taste. Not smell.”

I dig out a can of La Croix and we split it. The taste pairs horribly, so it’s right on theme.

“We should mark today on the calendar and memorialize it by eating this travesty every year,” he remarks.

“I’ll copy down the recipe. Cinnamon, bread crumbs with egg in them.

God, did we really use coffee creamer?”

“We’re artists. No one understands.” He slurps his sauce, a ring of red around his mouth.

I hear the crunching of gravel and we poke our heads into the living room. The tow truck driver is here. He must’ve had trouble finding the entrance to our driveway, because we’ve been waiting on him for close to an hour. I have to run upstairs and hide if I want to preserve my delusion that this never happened.

“Peace out,” I say, and vamoose.

“Coward!” he yells after me.

Nicholas finds me in the kitchen on Monday morning heating up farfaccine in the microwave. He falls against the doorjamb laughing, straightening his cuffs. He’s heading in to work. Today, the Junk Yard will only stay open from noon to three, and Brandy and I are the only ones scheduled. Brandy texted this morning to say that Melissa’s quitting, and I feel like we’re the kids in Willy Wonka’s factory, dropping off left and right.

“You’re eating a bowl of food poisoning, Naomi.”

“I’m hungry. Don’t judge.”

He takes down a bowl for himself and chisels out a congealed glob from the storage container. The microwave beeps, but I go ahead and press three more seconds onto the timer. When it beeps again, I press three more seconds. Nicholas stands there and lets me get away with it two more times before bumping me out of the way with his hip.

“We really need to go to the store,” I inform him. “There’s nothing here for dinner.”

“I’ll probably have dinner at Mom and Dad’s tonight.” He admires his reflection in the shiny oven door and smooths his hair. “You don’t have to come.”

This has never been optioned to me before.

I try not to be sulky. “Fine, then.”

“I thought that’s what you’d want.”

“To eat dinner alone? Here all by myself? Sure, that’s the dream.”

“You don’t want to go to my parents’ house,” he points out in a deadpan.

“No, I don’t. But I think you should try making it three days without going over there.”

“You know how my mom gets. Especially since we blew her off last night. I want to please everybody, but I can’t, and in somebody’s eyes I’m always falling short. Don’t put me in this position where I have to choose.”

I never make him choose, but he always does, anyway, which puts me in a position where I’m forced to be crabby. I press the release button on the microwave to open the door thirty seconds before his food is ready, then walk away.

“Real nice.”

I scuttle up to my bedroom so that I don’t have to say good-bye to him when he leaves, pondering what I’m going to do with my life. I check my phone for missed calls from potential employers, but I have no notifications because no one loves me and I’m a failure. I don’t even have any spam emails.

I scroll through Instagram for five minutes and then have to shut my phone off because everybody else’s lives are amazing and mine is a black hole. I have zero job offers and one fiancé too many. I have an abundance of odious fiancé. How am I going to get rid of him? I cannot marry this mama’s boy.

Every time I picture the wedding I break out in hives. Deborah will want to come on our honeymoon with us, and she’ll switch out my birth control pills for placebos. When baby Nicholas Deborah Jr. comes, I’ll walk into the house one day to find all her belongings stuffed in the right-hand bedroom. I’ve come to stay with you, she’ll threaten with a nightmarish smile, head spinning all the way around. Forever!

I’m putting a pin in plan D and picking up the lost momentum on plan A. I can do this. I can convince Nicholas to call it quits without getting his mother involved. I never want to see her again. I think about eating dinner by myself tonight in this empty house while Nicholas scarfs down a three-course meal cooked by “the woman,” Deborah petting his hair and telling him he’s special. There’s no doubt in my mind that at some point in his teenage life she subjected him to a public mother-son dance.

You can’t pick your parents or your grandparents, but you can pick your children’s parents and grandparents. I don’t have kids yet, but I think it’s failing some kind of morality test to give them Deborah as a grandmother.

It’s particularly important that my kids have sweet, attentive relatives on one side of the aisle because they won’t be getting any from mine. My parents are as distant and withholding as Deborah is smothering and omnipresent, and haven’t expressed much interest in my life’s developments aside from “Aren’t weddings supposed to be in the spring?”

They didn’t even come down when I was being shuffled in and out of bridal boutiques with Deborah and her four closest girlfriends, which is supposed to be a momentous mother-daughter experience. Naïvely, I’d hoped for a close relationship with Nicholas’s family, to give me that warm, supportive, grounded sense of belonging I’ve long been missing out on. I have so much unused love sitting inside me with nowhere to direct it.

I like the Nicholas who drops everything and runs when I’m freaking out at the side of the road. The one who wraps his coat around my shoulders and eats a bowl of food poisoning with me. But I can’t wait for that Nicholas to pop up every now and then, leaving me a different version of him to deal with regularly: the man who abandons me in more ways than one to placate his demanding mother.

That’s the Nicholas I need to be focusing my energy on. I can’t let myself forget.

It’s November twelfth and I’ve got to hand it to him, Nicholas is upping his game. I have a new document on my computer that keeps score.

Sometimes I catch myself regarding it too objectively and from that point of view, we’re immature children who need to grumble forced apologies at each other and shake hands. It goes without saying that I try to stay as unobjective as possible.

The past week looks like this:

Point Naomi: pirate b-day, lol

Point Nicholas: Instagram pic

Point Naomi: Brownie

Point Nicholas: Brownie

Point Naomi: Toothpaste

Point Nicholas: Shoes

Point Naomi: Shoes

Point Nicholas: Underwear

If you think about it, it’s all Deborah’s fault.

After Nicholas ditched me to have Family Fun Night at dear old Mr. and Mrs. Rose’s house, he brought home an ugly set of salt and pepper shakers that Deborah gave him. They’re porcelain babies. If you’ve ever seen a medieval painting of a baby, they look like straight-up demons. They have scary little old man faces and their necks are twisted at unnatural angles.

Deborah’s salt and pepper shaker-babies look exactly like that. I shuddered when I saw them. I was all set to bury her gift in the back of a closet, but Nicholas was all: “They’re family heirlooms! What if Mom comes over and asks where we put them? We have to keep them on the table.” And I was all: “Are you friggin’ kidding me? These things are repugnant.”

At any rate, I ended up sticking one of them under Nicholas’s mattress.

The lump was just unobtrusive enough that I didn’t think he’d realize there was a lump, just that his back felt achy in the morning. If I’d hidden both shakers, Nicholas would know something was up, so I kept the ugly pepper baby on the kitchen table and threw a potholder over it.

The following day, the saltshaker was back on the table where I clearly did not want it. I was still stewing when we went out to dinner at Walk the Plank, a seafood restaurant. I pretended I needed to go to the bathroom, but instead I flagged down a waiter and told him it was Nicholas’s birthday. I asked if the staff could sing to him, which they did, while he wore a tri-corn pirate hat of honor and nearly collapsed from mortification. On Facebook Live. (It was INCREDIBLE—they put a lobster bib around him that had this little plastic parrot on the shoulder, and when he blew out the candle on his cupcake everyone yelled “Tharr he blows!” Lmao forever.)

I thought, Okay, we’re even now. Not so! I woke up to a notification on Instagram. He’d posted a picture of me while I was passed out on the couch. It’s brutally zoomed in so that you can count my every pore, and I do not look remotely cute. I’ve got a six-inch string of drool dribbling out of my open mouth, glistening in the half light. He uploaded the shot in black and white and captioned it with three hearts and Aren’t I lucky? I get to gaze upon this absolute work of art every single day. #LivinTheLife

#MarryingMyBestFriend #TrueLovesKissFromARose That picture has accumulated more comments than anything I’ve ever posted, and when I think about it I want to watch his blood drip into a bedpan. I want it to coagulate into a gelatin that I pour over a lemon cake, which I’ll consume using utensils carved from the stone that resides where his heart should be.

My next move wasn’t premeditated. I’d been driving home from work when I saw a little brown dog in the ditch licking the cardboard box for a Whopper Jr. He wasn’t wearing a collar and there weren’t any houses nearby, so I assumed he was a stray. Anyone would assume that! When I picked him up and gave him lots of pets and nuzzles, Nicholas’s voice ran through my head: Don’t get any ideas.

I got lots of ideas. My ideas had ideas.

I brought him home and cooked a frozen hamburger patty for him, since we didn’t have dog food and he appeared to like burgers. He fell asleep on my lap. According to the Internet, he is probably a mix of Jack Russell terrier and beagle. I decided to name him Whopper Jr. and I loved him more than any human I’ve ever known. When Nicholas came home, he found me carrying Whopper Jr. in one of Nicholas’s nice work shirts, which I’d fashioned into a baby-wearing sling. He said “Oh my GOD, where did you get that,” and I said “You’re a daddy! He looks just like you,” and Whopper Jr. sneezed on the pinstriped shirt-sling. It was so cute.

Nicholas didn’t care about the dog’s cuteness. All he cared about was that we’d have to get him neutered and vaccinated and chipped, and dog food’s not cheap, just so you know, blah blah blah. Whopper Jr. peed on Nicholas’s Sherlock Holmes coat (it was his own fault for leaving it on the floor) and Nicholas L O S T it.

Unfortunately, Whopper Jr. turned out to be Brownie, who’d escaped his backyard. The next day (after the dog and I bonded all night and I took over a hundred pictures of him wearing hats and sunglasses, sitting in baskets) Nicholas brought home a sign he ripped off a telephone pole that featured my new dog’s adorable face, surrounded by three smiling children. He reunited Brownie with his owners for me, because I was too emotional to do it, and when he got back into the car his eyes were red.

He’d already fallen in love with the dog.

“We should go adopt a dog from a shelter,” I’d said.

“Now is not the right time to get a pet.”

Something that sucks about being part of a couple: Your partner has veto power and you don’t get to just flow wherever the wind takes you.

You’re not allowed to have kids or pets unless both of you are on board.

You can want a dog more than anything in the whole world but if your partner says no, you’re out of luck.

Which brings us to the pettier half of the list.

I replaced our dentist-recommended Sensodyne with charcoal toothpaste, which earned me an incredibly gratifying rant. He was ten minutes late to work that day because he had to lecture me about charcoal toothpaste, which he doesn’t believe in using. That’s how he says it: “I don’t believe in that.” Like it’s the Easter bunny. When I started to laugh, he got even madder. “DENTAL HYGIENE IS NOT A JOKE, NAOMI.”

In retaliation, he hid all of my shoes, which meant I had to wear slippers when Brandy and I went out for brunch. To get back at him, I took the dress shoes that he wears every day to work and tied the laces into a tight bow, then dabbed the middle of each bow with super glue. Watching him try to untie his shoelaces and getting progressively more and more pissed ranks right up there in the top five of Naomi Westfield’s Life Highlights. I don’t regret it even if he did end up nailing all of my underwear to my bedroom ceiling with a staple gun.

The Junk Yard is officially dead and I’m officially unemployed, so I have no reason to wake up in the morning anymore except to exact Nicholas sabotage. The effort has absorbed one hundred percent of my focus. Honestly, if it weren’t for the prospect of ticking him off I’d probably be steeped in a deep depression right now.

I contemplate this as I stick my sleeping fiancé’s hand in a bowl of warm water and tiptoe out of the bedroom.

Ten minutes later I hear a fabulous yell. I smile and stir my Fruity Pebbles. It’s going to be a great day! I check my phone for the fiftieth time in an hour, hoping for a missed call—a voice-mail from Print-Rite, a paper store in Fairview looking to hire a receptionist to work four days a week, six hours a day. The pay’s a joke, but at least they’re not demanding I have fifteen-plus years of secretarial experience and a bachelor’s degree. I can’t tell you how many entry-level positions I’ve been circling in the newspaper, getting hopeful and calling them up for details only to hear I need a PhD and half a century of experience in their specific field.

Suffice it to say, the job hunt isn’t going so hot. Every now and then Nicholas makes a comment under his breath about myriad job opportunities in Madison, and how different our lives would be if he’d accepted that job, and it fills me with the stubborn desire to prove him wrong. I will find work here. I’ll find fulfillment. I’ll be so damn fulfilled, it’ll make him sick.

Nicholas stalks into the kitchen holding an empty bowl. He looks deranged.

“Something wrong?” I purr.

“I didn’t piss myself, if that’s what you were hoping for. But I did knock the bowl over in my sleep, and it fell on my phone.” He shows me his phone’s screen, which has more cuts than the diamond on my ring finger.

Oh, shit.

“I didn’t have anything to do with that,” I say quickly.

“I had everything on my phone! All my pictures, my contacts.

Important information.”

“Isn’t it synced to your computer? You should be able to—” I start to ask, but his dark look shuts me up.

“This is over the line, Naomi.”

This is the line? I think taking someone’s pet home with me was worse than this, to be honest.”

He’s an avalanche of rocks, crashing through the house. He crashes upstairs and grabs some clean clothes out of the hamper, which I haven’t folded and put away yet because I am Extremely Busy checking my phone for missed calls from employers. I don’t have time to sort socks. My career is at stake.

He crashes into the shower, where I and all the ghosts who live here listen to one half of an argument he probably thinks he’s winning. Some of the points he makes are valid, but I holler back anyway. He’s even angrier when he emerges. It’s too bad nothing fun came out of the warm-water trick; I’ve been dying to try that one out since I was a kid and I’ve got to say, I’m disappointed.

“I can’t believe you,” he thunders, shaking his head.

“You’re really mad for someone who didn’t wet his pants. What’s the big deal?”

He waves his cracked phone screen at me. Oh, right. I’d already forgotten. The fact that I’ve forgotten and I’m calmly spooning Fruity Pebbles past my lips is more than he can handle. Nicholas reaches out and swats the box of cereal, like a spiteful cat. Fruity Pebbles rain off the table.

“Hey!” I stand up. The kitchen’s a mess now (after I just swept it four days ago) and all that’s left inside the cereal box is an inch of rainbow dust. “You wasted the whole box! How am I supposed to have a balanced breakfast tomorrow morning?”

“You don’t deserve a balanced breakfast tomorrow morning! You can eat butterless toast and think about what you did.” His feet are cinder blocks as he marches off for his wallet and keys.

I’m still frozen in surprise, half-standing, half-crouched. “But my nutrients!”

“You think I care?” he hollers from another room. “You put my hand in a bowl of warm water.”

Seriously, this is not as bad as taking someone’s dog. I stole a living creature. Who is part of someone’s family. I didn’t get this bent out of shape when I had to rip my underwear down from the ceiling, even though he’d punctured holes in all my favorites. Nicholas is a giant baby.

“But it didn’t even work!” I yell back. Or so he says. I’m not totally convinced I didn’t succeed, with the way he’s reacting. I turn to go paw through the mountain of dirty clothes piling up against the side of the washing machine. The dryer door is swinging wide open, and you could see the clog of lint from outer space. I recognize the turquoise fuzz from a sweater he only wears for Visits With Mother.

Fucking hell. “Clean the lint trap or I will seriously, literally murder you,” I threaten. “With an axe. Your blood will spray the walls. There are a million places to hide a dead body out here.”

“Oh my god, please do,” he responds. “Kill me and put me out of my misery.”

“My anger is way more justified than yours. You’re just mad about your phone, which isn’t my fault. I’ve been telling you forever that it’s stupid to keep your phone on the floor all night, next to the bed.”

Nicholas materializes in the kitchen, three feet away from me. He looks like he wants to push me down a very long flight of stairs and I’m sure I’ve got an expression to match. I feel alive and awake, adrenaline surging through my veins. Everything is falling so wonderfully apart, I hope.

“My charger is short! That’s why I have to leave the phone on the floor.

It won’t reach the nightstand because my cord’s not long enough.”

I don’t have to crack an immature joke, because my smirk says it for me.

He throws his hands up. “God! Sometimes it’s like I’m engaged to a ten-year-old.”

“What does that say about you?” I muse.

“Stop distracting me. I’m late. Again.” He glares at me like it’s my fault he stapled my underwear to the ceiling and forced me to hit back. “Stop making me run late for work. I get that you’re bitter I still have a job when you don’t. Take out your aggression some other way.”

I make sure he sees me drag my gaze over his lunchbox when I reply,

“You bet.”

Snarling, he tosses all of his pre-packed food (which I didn’t even tamper with, but the fact that he can’t be sure is a point for Naomi) into the trash and pulls his coat on. He skipped a shave and his hair’s a bird’s nest since he forgot to style it with pomade after his shower. The brightest hope in my life right now is that he won’t remember, so that he’ll get a glimpse of his tragic hair in the bathroom mirror after lunch and want to punch a wall. The two nosy receptionists at Rise and Smile, Nicole and Ashley, will whisper that he’s having “trouble in paradise.”

Lol.

He shakes his head, doing up the buttons on his coat. “You are just …”

Words aren’t adequate to convey his feelings, so he growls in his throat.

He’s so mad that he keeps missing buttons, skin burning from the roots of his hair all the way down past his collar.

“I’m just what?”

“Unbelievably self-absorbed.” He walks backward to the living room, glaring daggers. He still hasn’t realized he forgot his hairstyling products and his hairdo’s going to air-dry like something from an eighties music video. The cold, moistureless air will not be kind. I sneakily check outside.

It’s windy as all getout. Somebody up there loves me.

“Self-absorbed?” I repeat in my highest register. What absolute slander!

“Do you have any idea how many Livestrong bracelets I’ve owned? Oh, and I’ve stopped killing all those bees! What have you ever done?”

I follow him to the door. He slams it shut but I open it up again, beaming at him as he terrorizes the poor driveway. Leaves have never been stepped on so hard. He realizes too late that a puddle is hiding beneath some of the leaves and a string of curses rips from his throat when he inspects the soaking hem of his trousers.

“If you’d used common sense, then you wouldn’t have wet the bed, now would you?”

“If I’d used common sense,” he shouts, getting into his car, “I never would’ve proposed!”

The remark is a direct hit on my pride. It’s sharper than it looks, surprising me by tearing right through its target and lodging a few inches deeper. I cross my arms. “Oh, shut up. Anyone would be lucky to have me.

I’m a prize.”

“You’re the trophy they give to last-place losers.”

He hears his self-burn and bangs his head on the steering wheel.

“Good luck!” I shout over the rev of his engine. “Have a great day, sweet pea! Try not to think about how everyone is staring at that zit on your chin.”

Through the windshield, he murders me with his eyes. He’s got his entire soul compressed right up against his irises and they’re the color of hatred. They desperately want telekinetic powers so they can blow me into the sky, through the fabric of our universe and into another one. I hope it’s a parallel universe with a parallel Nicholas and Naomi. I want to torture him with two of me.

I’m so busy dreaming of teaming up with my parallel-universe self for evil purposes that I don’t notice he’s backed over the baby evergreen poking crookedly out of the earth. The Charlie Brown tree. Jason.

He plows forward over Jason and backs up again. Weakling branches snap and crunch. It’s twenty-two degrees and I’m standing in the yard in a

tank top and an old pair of Nicholas’s boxers that I laid claim to long ago.

Yesterday’s mascara clumps in my eyelashes and my cheek is wearing the pattern of my wristwatch. We belong on Jerry Springer. I inhale half the oxygen in Morris and bellow: “NICHOLAS ROSE, YOU

UNFORGIVABLE LITTLE SHIT.”

He arches a brow at me. Then, to test my nerves, he puts his car in park and revs the gas. I try to convey with my stare exactly how deceased he’s going to be if he runs over Jason one more time. Poor Jason. He’s leaning so pitifully that another punch will do him in.

Nicholas smiles. Then his Jeep lunges forward, dragging up Jason by the roots.

Nicholas and I are a parable about bottling your frustrations. We’ve been inflicting a quiet violence onto our own feelings by confining them to tiny spaces with only a teaspoon of oxygen, fermenting them into an ugly chemistry incompatible with love. We’ve felt the glass trembling from the increase of pressure but continued suffering through our smiles.

I look at his smug, stupid face, and BOOM. The bottle combusts, releasing word shrapnel in the form of screamed nonsense.

“What was that?” He cups a hand behind his ear. “Was that … what you get for destruction of my property?”

“I didn’t break your phone on purpose! You know how much I LOVE

THAT DUMB FUCKING TREE.”

He tips his head back and laughs, harder than he’s ever laughed at anything: sharp and surprised and peppered with necessary gasps for air. I think I spy a tear running down his pinkened face. I want to throw a rock at him but I can’t move, I’m so fascinated by this strange and magnificent new laugh. The hood of his car dazzles with sun, which pings off the gaudy diamond on my left hand and spins light into my eyes. I hate this damned ring. It’s a symbol of possession, of love and eternity, declaring to the world that I’ve been taken over. The man who gave it to me is still laughing, reflected in the side mirror as he winds out of sight, out of our lawless frontier and back into the real world we’re so detached from.


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