I was nearly asleep when Harp shoved my door open. She must have heard me sneak upstairs, but I wasn’t expecting her to be awake. She looked barely alive herself, her eyes half shut, but she shook the tiredness away as I sat up. I would have expected Beck to be the one to wake up, if anyone.
“Faust!” she hissed. “I thought you left.”
I motioned for her to shut the door.
“I didn’t tell mom, ‘cause… Well, you know how she is,” she stepped into the room and sat beside me. Once she settled, she flung her arms around me and tried to squeeze my eyes out.
“Ow,” I grumbled. “Sorry… I went out with Mark and Zeke.”
“You smell like beer.”
“I was drinking.”
Harp laughed. “Don’t tell mom. She’ll have a fit. I think she forgets you’re old enough sometimes? She talks about you like you’re still in high school. It’s hilarious.” She let go of me.
“Wasn’t planning on it!” I replied. I leaned back on my hands, staring at the popcorn ceiling. “He’s… coming to pick me up tomorrow.”
“Oh. You’re really leaving…?”
“I said it before and I’ll say it again: you better visit. I’m serious. I can only handle so many mom lectures! You gotta protect me.”
I turned my head, looked straight at her. Something about her words was off, but I couldn’t tell what. She looked determined, waiting for me to promise. For me to protect her… I’d gotten plenty of those lectures, but I wasn’t entirely sure what she meant. I just nodded.
“I’ll talk to him. I’ll visit, I promise.”
“I’ll miss you.”
We stared at each other until I turned back to the ceiling. I don’t think she expected it. I mean, I said it every time I left here, but it still surprised her each time, to hear a small ounce of my feelings.
“You should get to bed,” I continued. “I’m tired. We can say bye in the morning.”
“You better! If you skip, I’ll hunt you down and feed you to the… Uhh, fisher cats!”
“Those don’t live that far down here, Harp.”
She glared at me, pouted, and shoved herself to her feet. I thought she’d flip me off, since that’s what I’d do, but she didn’t, just slipping out of the room without another word. The door shut quietly behind her. Eventually I heard her own door creak.
Deep, haunting silence.
I curled up in bed properly and pulled out my phone to read through his texts again. He was coming to pick me up. I felt warm inside; I couldn’t tell if it was love or anxiety. Perhaps both. I hoped he felt the same way. That he was worried I didn’t come home when I said. That maybe we had a chance to talk and I could spill how I felt. I missed him, but my body hurt. It hurt less here, even if my sister and I didn’t get along.
But I still missed the feeling of his hand in mine: soft, warm, thumb stroking gently over my knuckles when we fell asleep in each other’s arms. His were strong and looped around me in a protective caress. When we laid like that his face pressed into the back of neck, where I felt his hot breath against my skin. The temperature was comforting. It was cold to sleep alone, no matter how many blankets I wrapped myself in.
I fell asleep thinking about him–I didn’t dream about him, not like before.
Beck woke me up at the crack of dawn. She jostled me awake and snapped at me before I could fully open my eyes. “He’s here, Faust. Get up.”
“What?” I mumbled.
“Your husband,” she clarified. “I told him to go away, but he won’t listen.”
She looked frazzled, like someone had accused her of kidnapping. Her eyes were wide, her clothing disheveled. She couldn’t have fought with him. He’d win, certainly. If they’d already spoken… I wondered how long he’d been there, when he’d arrived. When he’d left. Early, most likely, to get here before the day even began.
I couldn’t help but smile. Beck tilted her head, raised a brow.
“It’s OK. I’ll talk to him. Alone.”
I felt alright about it. If he got aggressive, I’d bite back. But he wouldn’t get aggressive, because he’d look at me and love me again.
I slipped past Beck and out the door, not saying another word. I heard her scoff. If I had looked at my phone I would have seen a torrent of angry messages scolding me about the whole ordeal. But I didn’t look until later. I was excited to see him.
My husband sat on the couch, hands folded in his lap. His jaw was set in a frown, but quickly quirked into a smile when he heard footsteps. He wore a nice suit, perfectly tailored to all his edges and curves. He still wore his shoes inside. As he turned to look who arrived, he brushed a curl of hair behind his ear.
“Faust,” he said.
“Hey,” I breathed, pulse racing. He was stunning.
I stood at the bottom of the stairwell, unmoving. He cleared his throat and stood, sliding around the couch to get a look at me. I flinched as he brought his hand up, but he only rested it against my cheek, pulling his thumb over my skin. He leaned down and ghosted a kiss across my lips.
“I missed you,” he whispered when he pulled away. “You didn’t pick up my calls.”
“Sorry…” I said. “I was… busy.”
“Your voicemail is full.”
“It’s OK, but you should clear it. Usually you text me back right away, or call, or something. I was really worried,” he sighed.
My husband drew his thumb across my cheek again, grazing the lasting bruise around my eye. He pressed a soft kiss to it, but the bone underneath still ached. He did the same on the other side, then drew back. Silence settled in the room as we stared into each other’s eyes, his crinkling at the corners as he smiled. Something I hadn’t seen. I wanted to burn the sight into my brain.
“Faust,” he began, his voice deep and wispy. I heard longing in my name as it fell from his lips. “Let’s go home.”
He took my hand in his, brushed his thumb across my knuckles like how I dreamed of it. The gesture was so gentle I almost missed it. My skin prickled, the hair on the back of my neck raising.
“I…” I started. I thought about what might be waiting for me at home, but also how much it seemed he missed me, how warm his touch was. I thought about Mark and Zeke and the pond I hadn’t been back to yet. I thought about Harp. About my aching face. He continued to smile down at me, waiting for my pathetic little answer. My voice was small when I continued. My stomach clenched. “My friends… want me to stay with them. For a while.”
His smile stopped reaching his eyes. “They do?” he asked.
“Yeah… And I haven’t seen them in a while, so–” I said.
“I think they just feel bad for you,” my husband said. He pulled my hands to his chest, held them tight. “You quit your job. You aren’t in school. They probably just feel bad for you. Don’t let them pity you.”
I shifted in my spot because I hadn’t told them those things. I hadn’t told them I’d uprooted my life to run away, really. Though I think they knew. Or maybe they didn’t. I hoped they didn’t. I hoped they couldn’t tell how much of a failure I was.
“Come on, let’s go home. You can visit another time when we get your shit together,” he said. “I’m worried about you. I’ll help you find another job, so you aren’t useless. Or you could learn to cook, if you’d like. Take care of the house while I’m away. Either way, we should go now. I’ve got a meeting later.”
“I don’t know…” I said.
“What isn’t there to know? You’ve never liked living here. That’s why you left. How would your friends be any different?” He let go of my hand, ran his own through his hair, then reached out to toy with mine. It wrapped around his fingers with ease. “When was the last time they contacted you? High school?”
I nodded slowly. When I skipped town, no one trailed after me. They never called. Even when I visited Beck a few times, no one said anything to me. Did they even know when I visited? I couldn’t remember what Mark and Zeke had said. They had their own lives now, anyway. They were just being nice. “Yeah, I guess since then,” I mumbled.
He shut his eyes and shook his head, disappointed. He cared about me.
My heart throbbed and picked up pace. I cracked a smile. “You care about me?” I asked.
He didn’t respond right away. “Yes. Of course. I came here to pick you up. Not that your annoying sister would let me,” he grumbled. “She tried to chase me out, that bitch.”
“Sorry,” I said. She was just worried about my face, that he’d fuck it up a little more. If I made him happy, he wouldn’t and he looked happy now. He’d be happier if I went home with him.
“What did you tell her?” he asked.
“You know what I mean.” He took my face in his hands again. His eyes drilled so deeply into mine I thought another bruise would form.
“Faust, I don’t like it when you lie.”
“I’m not lying! We never talked.”
He clicked his tongue. “Oh? Really? That nosy bitch never asked?”
“She asked… I just didn’t say anything.”
“Hah. Right. Faust, don’t lie to me.”
“I’m not lying. I swear–”
He rolled his eyes and turned away, then grabbed me by the wrist and gave it a tug, leading me out of the room. “Let’s go. There’s no point staying here any longer. Do you still have the money I gave you?”
I was supposed to have quit smoking. I was supposed to quit before we got married. And I had for a while, but sometimes I’d sneak a cigarette at work, or I’d bum one off a friend. So I never quit. If I told him I’d spent it on that… I swallowed and pulled my wrist from his tightening grip. I wish he’d just believe me, but he never believed me.
“Yeah,” I said. His gaze narrowed. “Most of it.”