“See what you’ve done?”
I turn around and find my mother staring at me from the end of the hallway.
“Not now, mom.”
“First, you ruin your marriage…” she starts.
“Please, mom,” I beg.
“Now the boy is confused. You need to talk to him,” I try to quiet her voice in my ears. I don’t want to listen to her. “Tell him it was entirely your fault. I’ll explain if you won’t!”
“You’ll explain what exactly?” I give up on trying to keep my temper. I walk towards her to move away from Sean’s door.
My mom doesn’t like it when I talk back. She expects me to just take everything she says to me quietly and without complaint, but I’m done with that. She stares at me like she can’t believe my tone.
“How stupid you were,” she says plainly.
It occurs to me now that even if I don’t think Tony “crucified me”, my mother surely did.
“I made a mistake, mom, and I’ve paid for it tenfold. But it is none of your business. You won’t say anything to Sean. Stay out of it!”
“None of my business?” She says outraged. “I’ve had to deal with your mistakes too.”
“You’ve been living here ever since.”
“I didn’t realize we were such a burden”.
“Oh please,” she says. “I gave you an education. I sacrificed myself so that you could go to school and what for? So that you can throw it all away and be a waitress? You behave like a teenager because you have me to pay the bills.”
“That is not true! I give you money every month. And I’m not a waitress. I own my own business.”
“A very successful one, isn’t it?”
No, I cannot be having this argument with my mother right now. Sean’s words have carved a dent in my heart. I need to deal with my son, not with her.
“If you had listened to me back then…” She carries on.
“And do what, mom?”
“Fixed things with Tony,” she says as if that had been a possibility.
“You don’t think I tried?” I step past her exasperated and head for the kitchen. Lord, I need a drink.
”Not hard enough,” she follows me.
“What was I supposed to do, mom. Huh? Beg him to take me back?” I say turning around to meet her eyes again.
“You could get back with him now,” she says.
“I don’t think so,” I say turning away from her again and reaching for the high shelf where I keep the booze.
“You’re not seriously considering getting involved with Erick!”
What? I let go of the bottle and turn to face her again.
“Erick is sweet,” she lowers her tone. “But apart from the fact that he’s your husband’s best friend, you can’t tell me that’s the life you want for yourself.”
“What do you mean?” I dare to ask.
“It’s bad enough that you’ve thrown your carrier away and that you’re practically broke. Now you’re going to be with a disabled man?”
I don’t answer. I can’t listen to this.
“I know why you turned down that job when he got injured. You’ve wasted enough of your life looking after him already.”
“Shut up!” I hiss. “Just shut up!”
My mother takes a step back. We’ve had our fair share of arguments over the years, but I’ve never spoken like this to her before. She drops her jaw, offended. But I don’t care. Whatever respect I had left for her is now gone.
I head for the door.
Tears roll down my cheeks as soon as I cross the threshold. I desperately want to call Erick. I want to fall into his lap and weep. But I can’t tell him about any of this. How can I tell him my son hates Tony and wishes we were together. How can I tell him my mom thinks I’ve wasted my life away looking after him.
I can’t call Tony either. Will I tell him our son wants me to marry his best friend while my mother’s rooting for him?
Then I realize I can’t call anyone. I left my cell phone and my purse inside the house. I didn’t bring my keys either. I can’t go back to the house, not that I’d want to anyway. And I don’t have any money on top of everything. I cry harder. I head for the end of the street. At least I’ll be alone there with no nosy neighbors watching me cry. But as I’m walking, I see Erick’s unmistakable figure coming out of his house.
“Jules,” he calls me.
“Jules,” he says my name again and pushes his rims hard to reach me.
I try to dry the tears from my face but it’s useless, they keep coming.
“What’s wrong, Jules?” He says when he reaches me. He lifts both his hands to try and grab mine, but I’m pressing them to my eyes.
He presses my elbow between both his palms to pull my arm down. I look at him from behind glassy eyes. His face is so endearing. He looks so worried about me. I fall on my knees and throw my arms around him.
He holds me tight. His fist caresses my hair up and down. I’m in such an uncomfortable position, my knees hurt against the rough pavement, his wheel is stabbing my stomach, but I don’t want to let go. I want him to hold me forever. I need him to hold me.
“Oh, Erick, I’m so glad you’re here,” I cry into his shoulder.
He pulls me away slightly, just so that he can see my face. He looks at me tenderly with curved eyebrows. He grabs my cheeks between his fisted hands and whispers like I’m a child.
“Tell me what happened?”
“I had a terrible fight with Sean,” I snivel. “And then another one with my mother.”
“Let’s go inside,” he says, but I really don’t want to see his mother right now. I don’t want anyone to see me like this.
“Can we go behind the school?” I suggest instead.
“Sure,” he nods.
He let’s go of my face and I use a hand on his wheel to push myself up. When I do so, I push his chair backwards without meaning to. He gets his hands down and sets them on the pushrims to stop the chair from moving.
“Sorry,” I apologize.
“It’s ok,” he disregards it and moves only one wheel to turn around. We head silently to the end of the street. His shoulders go back as he grabs the rims and then forth in a circular movement. He lets go and repeats the process. When we reach the school, he gives one last push and lets the chair roll to the corner on momentum alone. He stops one wheel and the chair turns around. I sit on the curve in front of him.
“What did you fight about?” He asks when I settle down.
“I told Tony you’ve been teaching Sean to play,” I confess. “Sorry,” I add. “He kind of interrogated me.”
“What did Tony say?”
“Nothing,” I sigh. “But he wasn’t happy about it.”
“I bet,” he cringes. “And Sean was mad,” he deducts.
“Sean’s really angry at Tony because of the divorce,” I explain. “I feel so stupid, Erick. I’d no idea he was holding on to all the things that happened back then. I thought he didn’t realize... He remembers everything. He thinks Tony is a terrible person because he didn’t forgive me. Christ, he thinks he kicked us out of the house.”
“He was old enough to notice,” he wipes a tear from my cheek with his knuckles.
“But he blames Tony for everything,” I shiver at the memory of Sean’s words. “He doesn’t understand it was my fault.”
“It wasn’t your fault, Jules. Why do you keep thinking that?”
“Of course it was my fault,” I straighten up. “Tony told me about her, he warned me. How could I’ve been so stupid?!” I try to stand up but Erick stops me with both his hands. He tries to grab me, but he ends up just running his hands across my torso clumsily.
He takes his hands back, embarrassed and frustrated. He looks at his arms awkwardly, like he doesn’t know what to do with them. Finally, he sets them down on his lap and sighs.
“You weren’t stupid, Jules,” he continues, shaking it off. “You were just being a good person. What that woman did is on her, not you.”
I suck in a breath.
“As for Tony,” he squints at me. “How he treated you is on him. If Sean is mad, he has every right to be. You let Tony fix it.”
I’m surprised at his words. Erick’s always been neutral about the whole thing. He cares about both of us, so he can’t be on anyone’s side. Not that I’d ever ask him to.
I don’t know what to say so I just stare at him.
“What about your mom?” He changes the subject.
“Oh, she blames me alright,” I sniff. “And she thinks I’m a loser. God, I wish I didn’t have to live with her. She complained about that too, and I wanted so badly to tell her I’ll leave then. I can’t stand being there anymore.”
“You know your mom, Jules. I’m sure she didn’t mean it,” he tries to comfort me.
“Oh, she meant it alright,” I take a deep breath. “I want to move out, Erick. I want it so badly. I’m a grown woman, for God’s sake! I should be able to afford my own place. And now I’m losing the café. I guess she’s right. I am a loser.”
“Don’t you ever say that again, Jules. You’re not!” he shakes his head at me.
“Oh but I am, Erick. I’m forty three and I don’t have anything. I’ll be unemployed in one week. I can’t give my son twenty bucks. They hit him because his wallet was empty,” I start to cry again.
“Jesus, Jules, you don’t think that’s your fault too!”
He grabs my forearm and pulls my hand away from my face.
“Look at me, Jules,” he says with that voice I love so much. “You’re smart, hardworking, and beautiful.”
I look up at him then. His blue eyes shine on me and I know he believes everything he’s saying.
“Aw Erick,” I bury my face in his lap and hug his legs.
I stay that way for a while. He caresses my hair and my back and we just stay there in silence for a few minutes.
“Do you want me to sing for you?” He jokes, and I laugh despite everything.
“Yes, please,” I chuckle into his lap.
I raise my face from his legs to look at him and wipe my tears. As I straighten up, his legs start jumping. The left one falls out of the footrest. He presses his palms against his thighs to settle them, then he picks up his leg and puts it back in place. He leans in towards me.
“Let’s move in together,” he blurts out all of a sudden.
“Let’s be roommates,” he says, looking straight into my eyes. He’s not smiling, he’s being serious. “I’ll get an apartment and you and Sean can move in with me.”
“Are you serious?”
“Yes,” he nods. “I’m sick of living with my mom too. I just stay there because sometimes…” he hesitates. “You know.”
I do know. He stays there because sometimes he still needs help with things. Although his mother isn’t that much help. I don’t think she’s ever helped him dress or bathe, not to mention transfer. She has a bad back so there’s no way she could carry him. Besides, she’s a lot older than my mom. I think Erick just lives there because he’s close to me, and I can easily come by and help when he’s sick and such.
Erick’s come a long way since he first got hurt, and he’s mostly independent. But I don’t think he could actually live alone. He really struggles with some pretty basic things, like opening jars and buttoning shirts.
“I wouldn’t be able to pay for my share of the rent,” I sigh. “Hell, in a few days, I won’t even be able to pay for food.”
“So, I’ll pay,” he shrugs like it’s no big deal. “I have money, Jules. I never spend on anything.”
“I know you have money, Erick, but that doesn’t mean you should give it to me.”
“I would give you anything and everything, Julia,” he says with a deep voice.
I can’t remember the last time he called me Julia. I don’t think he ever has before except when he introduces me to other people. My name melts in his caring voice. I love the sound of it.
He’s looking at me with such an intense gaze. His blue eyes are so full of love. His brows slightly curled up expectantly. Our faces are but a couple of inches away from each other and I want so badly to lean in and kiss him. I picture myself living with him. Nothing would make me happier. He would make me happy. Sean’s right, he would make a great husband.
Except for the fact that he’s Tony’s best friend.
“How was your date with Lou?” I say and the spell breaks.
His face falls, but he doesn’t break eye contact. He’s holding my gaze like he wishes he could compel me to say yes and I notice his chest moving up and down in shallow breaths. He looks sader every second that goes by, every second I leave him wanting.
He’s leaning his body forward by resting his elbows on his knees. This is the closest he can be to me from the chair, and since I’m sitting down on the curve, my face is lower than his. He’s looking down at me like he would if we were standing. I don’t think that’s happened in a long time. I wonder if he’s thinking the same thing, or at least feeling the same effect, because he stares at me for the longest time. His expression is unreadable. There’s a certain resignation to it, like he’s settling for this moment, like he’s contempt just watching me like this. I’ve never been sure if Erick has romantic feelings towards me, and I’m not sure now either. But, whether it’s romantic or not, I’ve no doubt this man loves me completely.
So much time has gone by when he speaks again, that I don’t even remember what we were talking about.
“I might be getting a harassment lawsuit,” he says shrugging.
I don’t know what he’s talking about at first. I’m so lost in the way he’s looking at me. Then I remember I asked him about Lou.
“Oh, no. Why?” I snap out of it.
He tilts his head to the right and gives me a grim smile. He finally looks away. Then, he presses one palm on his knee and pushes back from it to rise and lean against the backrest.
“Uhm… she wasn’t interested,” he shrugs again like it’s no big deal. And the truth is, he doesn’t look that thorned up about it. “Do you wanna go get a drink?”
“So badly!” I sigh heavily. “But I’m worried about Sean. I wanna check on him, but I left my purse inside so I have no keys, and I’m not about to knock right now.”
“Do you want me to call him?” He offers.
He nods. “He might be mad at me too, though.”
“Oh no, trust me. He’s not mad at you,” I refrain myself from telling him how Sean feels about him.
Erick fishes out his phone but then stops abruptly. “They stole his phone, I’d have to call the landline,” he cringes.
“You’re right. Don’t.” I huff thinking about what to do. “Ok, let’s go get that drink.”
We head back the way we came and keep going past our houses. We’ve walked these streets so many times. I remember us riding our bikes through here. There’s a park ahead, we used to always take the path among the trees as teenagers. We stick to the sidewalk now, because it would be harder for Erick to roll on the grass. We make a left in the corner and go towards the avenue. There are some bars within walking distance.
“Are you hungry,” he asks looking up at me.
I skipped lunch and actually, I do feel kind of hungry. I nod.
“I wanna take you somewhere nice,” he says.
“I’m not dressed for somewhere nice,” I look down at my yoga pants and sneakers.
“You look beautiful,” he says so matter-of-factly, like he’s saying I have brown hair and it’s an unquestionable truth. I grin at him.
We end up eating at a small restaurant that sells italian food. Erick rolls in and notices the space between tables is pretty narrow. He has to grab onto chairs to propel himself, but he manages to make it to our table without rolling over anyone’s foot or knocking anything over.
“I made it!” He announces in triumph and laughs. I move a chair for him and he rolls under the table. “Let’s order spaghetti and meatballs so that we can do the Lady and the Tramp scene,” he jokes.
I laugh. “Yes, let’s do that.”
“You know what else?” He continues.
“What?” I ask.
“Let’s order booze,” he smiles.
I feel so much better now that I’m with him. Our conversation flows so naturally. We don’t talk about moving in together again or about Lou. We talk about Sean a little bit and about the café. Then we get off the heavy subjects and go into what we each want for Christmas, and what he’s expecting me to cook for him that day. It’s like it’s always been, easy. At some point, I think back about that moment earlier by the school. What would’ve happened if I’d kissed him? For a moment, I was thinking about Erick as a husband, but the truth is, he never made any insinuation that he was thinking about me that way. He mentioned moving in together as roommates, not anything else. “I would give you anything and everything, Julia,” I bring back the echo of his beautiful words. When he said them, they felt like… something else. But maybe he was just talking to me like what we are, best friends, family. I know Erick is beyond grateful to me for the way I looked after him when he got hurt. Maybe this was just his way of thanking me.
Me and Erick have always been friends, ever since the day he moved to our street when we were nine. I was riding my bike with Tony when we saw the movers truck. Erick was standing outside, kicking a football against the white fence. I wanted to go talk to him, but Tony didn’t. I finally convinced him by saying he was a boy because Tony was always complaining about me being a girl. I still remember his words.
“But aren’t you afraid I’ll change you for him?” Tony is tall for his age, his dark hair is a little long and he shakes his head to clear it from his face.
“What are you talking about?” I ask.
“What if I become best friends with that boy and stop being friends with you?”
“Why would you do that?” I’m not following his trail of thought. Tony stares at me for a few seconds. He’s got a crease between his brows.
“I wouldn’t. Would you?” He asks and holds my eyes while he waits for my answer.
“Of course not!” I say after considering it.
I hear him let out a breath I hadn’t noticed he’d been holding.
So we talked to him, and the three of us became friends instantly. Still, Erick was always more Tony’s friend than mine. They shared the bond of being boys, and I was left out more than once. It wasn’t until he broke his neck that we became really close, the way we are now.
“I’m signing him in at a group home,” Mrs. Sanders says to us outside Erick’s hospital room.
“What?” Tony gets up from the bench he’d been sitting on.
“It’s a really nice place,” she promises. “I went to see it this morning.”
“No, you can’t do that!” Tony hasn’t raised his voice, actually he’s speaking slowly and in a low tone, but I know he’s outraged.
“I can’t look after him. How would I lift him? My back… I can’t carry him. And he’s going to need care all the time,” a tear scapes her eyes. “I just can’t.”
Tony turns to look at me. I know what he’s thinking. I nod.
“He’ll come live with us,” he announces.
But by the time Erick came out of rehab, Tony and I were already at odds. I remember him rolling in the house through the ramp Tony built in. He was trying so hard to hold it together, but the look on his face was of pure despair.
“Are you coming to bed?” I ask Tony as I have every night for the last three months.
He shakes his head at me. I thought perhaps today would be different, now that Erick’s here. We’ve settled him in Sean’s bedroom, and between the two of us, we’ve undressed him and got him in the new bed we got for him. I watch as Tony lies down on the couch and I try to keep from crying yet again. I turn my back to him and head down the hall to our bedroom where our son is already sleeping. As I pass through Erick’s door, I hear a strange noise coming from inside. I think he’s coughing, but just barely.
“Erick?” I say. The door is ajar and I push it open.
He’s coughing, or trying to, and I get the feeling that he’s choking. I run to him. He was on a ventilator for a long time after the accident, and I’m still not sure how well he can breathe. When I reach him, I see him gasping and attempting to cough, but his cough is much too weak to clear his throat. I lean in on the bed and squeeze my arms under his back to lift him. He grabs unto me sort of hugging me. I manage to sit him up and then I press his chest, still half hugging him. He coughs a little louder when I do that, so I do it again, until I feel him breathing better. I rest his shoulder on mine and reach for the pillows without letting him go. I place two pillows behind him and then help him lean back down on them. When I let go, I see tears in his eyes. They could be from choking, or they could be because he’s just so sad. He doesn’t look at me. He just wipes them down quietly. So I circle around the bed and lie down next to him.
“I’ll stay here tonight, ok?” I say. “In case you need me.”
He nods silently.
I don’t cry myself to sleep that night because I’m next to him, and I don’t want him to see my cry.
The next morning, Tony leaves for work and it’s just me and Erick. At night, I lie down next to him again. By the third day, he asks me what’s wrong, and I tell him everything, unable to hold it in any longer. I haven’t talked to anyone about it, and it feels good to finally get it off my chest.
I have two whiskies after dinner. It’s dark outside now. We’ve been here for hours.
“What do you want to do about your keys?” Erick asks me when we finish our drinks.
I ponder over it for a minute.
“Will you call Tony for me?” I ask.
He nods, a resigned look on his face.
He dials and then hands me the phone.
“Hi, Tony, it’s me,” I greet him.
“Are you ok?” It’s his response because I’m calling from Erick’s phone.
“Yeah, I’m fine, I just…” Better to jump right into it. “I had a fight with my mom, and I left the house in a hurry. I left my phone and my keys inside. I was wondering, do you think you could come over and get them for me? I really don’t want to knock, and Sean doesn’t have his phone.”
“Ok,” he agrees. “Are you at Erick’s?”
“We’re heading there now.”
“So, do you want me to wait for you there and we go in the house together?”
“No,” I cringe. “I really don’t want to see my mother tonight. I was thinking you could go in and get my purse and my phone for me.”
“Then, where are you sleeping?”
“I’ll stay at Erick’s,” I say and look at him for approval. He nods.
“He doesn’t have a spare bed. Stay with me,” he says.
“You don’t have a spare bed either,” I point out.
“I’ll take the couch,” he insists.
“I…” I look at Erick. He can only hear my side of the conversation, but I’m sure he knows what Tony just said. “I’d rather stay at Erick’s,” I stand my ground.
“Jules,” he uses a strange tone. “Where are you going to sleep if you stay at Erick’s?” Tony’s never been the jealous type. And he has never been jealous of Erick and me no matter how close we are, but somehow, I think he is now. Perhaps he’s still mad about me calling Erick and not him last night, or maybe Sean said something to him, the thought crosses my mind. God, I hope not. “Will you sleep in the bed with him?” He asks in a low voice.
I look away from Erick.
“It wouldn’t be the first time,” I reply.
“I think it’s a little bit different now.”
Obviously, he doesn’t know I slept on his bed just a few days ago.
“Tony, will you come or not?” I press.
“I’ll be there in ten,” he gives in.
“Thanks,” I hang up.
So he does it. We meet him in the street by Erick’s house, and Tony knocks on my door while we stay behind. My mother opens the door and lets him pass. We wait for about fifteen minutes before he comes back out. I see him walking towards us, and I think back of when we’d meet here as teenagers before heading out. I imagine his tall figure carrying his guitar case as he strolls down the street, past what used to be his house. He turns slightly to look at it. The place has been painted and looks different now.
We sold the house about a month after his father’s funeral. I remember the look on Tony’s face as we handed the keys to the new owners. He just stood there, staring at the place, for about ten minutes. His look was so grave that I was afraid to make any sound. We had owned our house for less than two years when we lost it to the bank. We hadn’t paid that much of it either. But this place, this place was his home, and I know he was thinking about his father and how much he struggled while he was growing up.
He looks away from the house quickly this time, and directs his eyes back to us. He takes me apart when he reaches us. Erick wheels aways to give us privacy.
“Jules,” he looks down at me. “Stay with me please,” he almost begs.
Stay with me Tony, just stay with me, I beg in my mind when he drops me off to live at my mother’s place. He’s carried the boxes inside, and Sean’s bed. The largest thing we kept from our furniture.
“Good bye,” he says and walks away.
I look up at him. He grabs my hand.
“I know I haven’t always been there for you,” he says lowly. “But I want to be here for you now. Please,” he repeats, “stay with me tonight.”
And I don’t have in me to say no to him. He looks so relieved when I agree that I’m glad I caved in so fast.
I walk over to where Erick is sitting. He looks up at me as I approach him.
“You’re going with him,” he says before I can.
I nod feeling guilty now.
“I just…” Why do I even bother? “He asked me to,” I tell the truth.
“Call me tomorrow?” He doesn’t look offended, but I feel like I’m betraying him somehow, like I’m choosing Tony over him. Although Erick didn’t ask me to stay. It was me who suggested that. Where did I get the idea that Erick wants me to choose him? Maybe it’s all just the same to him.
“Sure,” I lean in and hug him. “Thanks for everything,” I kiss his cheek goodbye.
Tony opens the door to his small one bedroom apartment and then steps back to let me pass. I walk in and stand in the middle of the living room. The last time I was here, I stormed out like a crazy person because I started to think about Erick as something more than friends. Tonight, I can’t really say those feelings have gone away. But Erick isn't here now, and the pull I feel towards Tony is strong enough to push all thoughts about Erick to the back of my mind.
“Want a drink?” Tony offers.
“Please,” I nod. I’ve already had a few drinks today, but I still feel like I could use one.
He pours me a scotch and hands it to me where I’m still standing at the same spot and in the same position.
“For Christ sake, Jules, sit down,” he smirks at me. “Or do I need to offer you a chair?” He mocks me.
I sit down at the piano bench, hoping he will take the couch. I don’t want to be so close to him.
“Want to play?” He says.
I look at the piano behind me. It would be nice. It would relax me. So I turn around and set my glass down. I go for classical music to keep Tony from singing, Debussy’s Claire de Lune. I taught Tony to play back when we were kids. Not that he needed much teaching. Even back then, he could play a song after listening to it for only a couple of times. Tony settles on the couch with his own drink and just listens to me.
“I’ve missed hearing you play,” he says when the song is over.
I turn to look at him but stay quiet.
“Will you play Chopin for me?” He has a dreamy look in his eyes. It’s strange, I haven’t seen the look in such a long time. “Prelude 4?” He asks.
I indulge him. I turn to look at him after the first few keystrokes. His eyes are closed. He’s holding his glass between both hands on his lap and he’s rested his head over the back of the couch, facing the ceiling. It’s a sad song, one I know Tony likes very much. He used to ask me to play it over and over again after his mother came back into his life when we were sixteen, only to leave again a few months later.
It’s also a short song.
“Again?” he asks without opening his eyes when it’s over .
So I play it again, and then a third time before he can ask.
“Thanks, Jules,” he whispers.
I go to him. Why is he sad?
“Our son hates me,” he opens his eyes.
“Why do you say that?” I ask fearing the conversation they had while I was sleeping this morning.
“He asked Erick to teach him to play,” he says softly. “Why didn’t he ask me?”
I sigh. According to Erick, I should let him know why Sean is angry so he can fix it, but somehow, I can’t bring myself to explain.
“He doesn’t hate you,” I lie.
“Jules,” he whispers my name. “How could I’ve screwed up our marriage so badly?”
“I wish I could take it all back.” He says with utter sadness. Sadness without anger, like I’ve heard on his voice only twice.
“How can I help him, Jules? I can’t help him,” it was the first of only three times I’ve seen Tony cry. Erick was lying on a hospital bed with a metal halo literally nailed to his skull. He had a breathing tube on his throat and he couldn’t speak. He kept mouthing something and Tony leaned in to try to decipher what he was trying to say.
“Help me,” were Erick’s soundless words.
The doctor had to give him a sedative, and we watched him doze off with clear despair in his eyes.
“I can’t help him,” Tony’s tall figure judders with heavy sobs. We were told earlier that Erick’s injury is most likely permanent. His spine is severed at the C5 vertebrae.
I pull him to me and feel him whimper, his back hunched down, and his face buried behind his hands. He doesn’t put them down to hold me back. I press him tightly trying to calm him, but his body keeps shaking inside my arms.
“Play some more, would you?” He says before I can’t think of an answer, like he hasn’t just brought up THE subject between us.
Since I still don’t know what to say, I go back to the piano and play. I stick to classical music but I’m making a lot of mistakes, partly because it’s hard to concentrate after what he just said, and partly because it’s been a long time since I’ve practiced. My mother sold my piano after the divorce as a way to punish me. To this day, she maintains that it wasn’t my piano, which I suppose is true, my father had inherited it from his mother, but I was the only one who ever played it.
“Sorry,” I finally stop and drop my hands down. “I haven’t practiced in like forever.” Eight years to be precise.
“You could come here to play, you know?” I roll my eyes internally. “I mean it,” he stresses. “It’s your piano too.”
“Thanks,” I say, but I don’t mean it.
“Why don't you want me to sing anymore?” He asks out of the blue. “I thought you liked it when I sang.” Something about his tone makes him sound like a child. It’s all the more tender because Tony is always the adult, the responsible one.
“I do,” he has no idea how much. “Why do you think I don’t want you to sing?”
He huffs smiling, but it doesn’t reach his eyes. “You haven’t played one song I can sing since I’ve been going to the Valhalla, and you’re playing only classical now.”
“I…,” I strain to find a credible excuse even though I know it’s useless. “What do you want me to play?” I smile at my defeat.
“Mmhm,” he considers it. “Scoop over,” he stands up and joins me.
He plays the introduction to “Piano man”. Then he stops and reaches across me to get his father’s harmonica. He winks at me. Tony’s one of the very few people who can pull off a wink and not look ridiculous but incredibly sexy. I roll my eyes at him for real this time. But I indulge him again, I take the piano part, he sings and plays the harmonica.
“Yes they’re sharing a drink they call loneliness, but it’s better than drinking alone,” he sings at the top of his lungs like we’re giving a show. I hit the keys louder too, with no mistakes surprisingly. He looks at me with a grin during the solo. “And the piano sounds like a carnival, and the microphone smells like a beer...”
“Man, I love playing this song with you!” He bumps against my shoulder when we finish. He’s out of breath from the singing and so am I just from watching him. He’s smiling broadly at me, his chest rising and falling with short strokes of air. He puts a hand through his hair. Damn, he’s sexy! “Wanna learn a new song?” He asks with childish excitement on his face.
“What do you have in mind?”
“Don’t laugh,” he starts.
“Ok,” I laugh.
“Shallow,” he reveals.
“Shallow?” I laugh again. “The Lady Gaga song from the movie?”
“You said you wouldn’t laugh,” he nods, that stupid smile still plastered on his face. “Ever since the movie came out, I’ve been itching to play that with you,” he confesses.
“You watched that movie?”
“No,” he shakes his head. “But I watched the Oscars.”
I laugh some more.
“Come on,” he bumps into me again.
He gets up and grabs the guitar from the wall.
“Do you know the lyrics?”
“Yes,” I admit. “But not the notes.”
“Ok, here,” he sits on the piano and plays it for me.
We spend the following fourty five minutes practicing until we get it right. He plays the guitar and sings Bradley Cooper’s part. He teaches me the piano part and of course, I get to be Lady Gaga. It’s amazing. I’m enjoying myself sooo much. The last time we play it, he acts it out like we’re in the Oscars and sets down the guitar for the ending to come sit with me and sing cheek to cheek the final verse.
When it’s over, I throw my head back and laugh hard. I turn to look at Tony. He’s not laughing, not even smiling. He’s staring at me like he really is Bradley Cooper in the movie and he’s in love with me.
“Tell me the truth, did you watch the movie?” I say to get him to stop looking at me like that.
He holds my gaze for a few more seconds and then laughs.
“I did,” he admits.
It’s almost three AM when we decide to go to sleep. We’ve talked, drank, played, and sang for hours. I’m exhausted. We go into his bedroom and he takes out one of his t-shirts.
“I didn’t think of getting you any clothes,” he hands it to me.
“This is fine,” I shrug and resist the urge to bring that old t-shirt to my nose and sniff at it.
Then, he fishes at the bottom of the last drawer to get his pajamas. I know Tony doesn’t wear pajamas, he usually sleeps in his underwear, maybe a t-shirt if it’s really cold. I go into the bathroom to change. I know he’s seen me naked before, but not for a long time. When I come out he’s changed too. He runs his eyes across my body and he’s not exactly discreet about it. He goes from my face to my braless breast, lower to the hem of the shirt and all the way down to my bare legs.
I look at him in those old black and red squares Pj’s and snicker. I think they were a Christmas gift from his father a million years ago. I bet he’s never worn them before. I laugh at him.
“What?” He asks looking down at himself.
“You never wear pajamas, Tony,” I point out.
“Should I take them off?” He smirks.
I roll my eyes at him. He grabs a blanket from the closet and heads for the door.
“Good night,” he looks back at me.
Damn it, I want him to stay. I picture myself getting those pajamas off of him and his sturdy hand reaching under the oversize t-shirt I’m wearing, across my thigh and into my center. I can almost feel him pressing me to his body, trapping me with his hands in my buttucks, and I dare to go a little further and imagine him lifting me up and throwing me to the bed. He lays on top of me and pulls my panties out of the way. He tests me with two fingers to see if I’m ready and then rams at me, no previous warning, strong and accurately into my insides. I pant.
“Jules?” He gasps.
He parts his lips and I can hear his haste breathing in the silence of the night. He pierces me with his gaze. I could lose myself in those gray eyes.
“Yes?” He whispers.
I close my eyes.
“Take a pillow,” I cower.