Daniel and I have never been so quiet in our relationship up until now. It was a gruelling drive and flight, and just when things couldn’t get any worse, the entire cab ride home made me feel like I was invisible. Daniel barely looked at me too. In the most obvious way possible he was avoiding my eyes; eyes that were pretending to know nothing. We said nothing until we had to, and even then it was like an under ten-word conversation. The only time he ever seemed to have a little life pumped into him was when he told the cab driver his address. I could hear it in his voice, he couldn’t wait to get home. I figured he’d say something to me, but I guess he couldn’t bring himself to reveal anything just yet. Neither could I.
When we pulled up to his place, I stayed seated as Daniel started shuffling out of the car to get his suitcase. I was wishing he had more just so I’d have an excuse to talk. Daniel then came to my side of the car, and I wound my window down.
He leaned in and pecked my cheek. It was a dry peck; not in the physical sense but in the emotional sense. I would’ve read a rock better but him, no chance.
“I’ll see you later,” he said, forcing a smile.
I nodded. “Sure.”
And that was that. No more, certainly enough of less; suddenly I was unsure about us.
I have a habit of keeping things bottled up, just to see how they played out, so right now, all I was begging for was a distraction. I didn’t want to tell anyone that unfortunate incident of our trip (anything to avoid those sympathy looks!) so only good news travelled. I know it’s bad, because it’s like I’m not living the truth or facing the truth or ‘insert verb here’-the truth, but hey, it’s the only way I know how to deal with things when the wounds are still fresh.
Distraction came easy when I didn’t do any school work over the weekend. Or any shifts at the club. Or any work for my advertising agency. Simply put, I had my week cut out for me. I couldn’t have been more sullen. Luckily for me, I had girlfriends who didn’t always press for details when they knew something drastic was up. Most of the time they did, but I guess not in this sappy mood of mine. Derek, however, nosed, lipped, and eared his way into my trip.
“How did everything go?” he asked, leaning on my desk once again, in that Calvin Klein model way that was sexy when I first met him.
I shrugged and nodded. “Fine.”
Derek wasn’t as easily convinced of my charade as Nikki was. Unless she was playing it very cool. “You don’t look good. Not getting any sleep or what?”
I had used every eye cream, and make-up to conceal my dreary and baggy eyes. Clearly the shit I packed on to practically mask my face (and, more importantly, my emotions) was not working.
“Or is it something else?” Derek prodded.
“I don’t really want to talk about it.” My smile was limp. Futile at best.
Derek stared at me for a moment, as if he was making a study of me and then sighed. He clapped his hands together, startling me, and then rubbed his palms. “St. Patrick’s Day is coming up soon. Got any plans?”
I shook my head.
“Well now you do,” Derek grinned.
“I don’t really feel like going out.”
“Who said anything about going out? A few of my friends and I are going to hit a couple of bars in the city, have a good time, and hopefully not get too drunk, all in preparation for the party we’re having back at ours. You should come.”
Sometimes I hated the word ‘should’ when it came to invitations. Made the whole attendance seem vital. Like if I didn’t attend I’d be the suckiest person alive and the world as we know it would come to an end. I know, I know, I should, no, I need to stop being so dramatic. There should be a manual on how to prepare yourself for an inevitable break up. Should, indeed!
“Drunk? You? Me? No thanks.”
“I’ll make a deal, I’ll drink as much as you.”
“That would mean you wouldn’t be able to drink until you come back to your place.”
Derek considered this for a moment. “Okay, then I’ll have only one drink when I’m out. And then I’ll drink as much as you.”
“I’m not a heavy drinker, remember?”
“Oh, I have a feeling that day will be different. Deal?”
“Hmmm…drink less than me, and you’ve got yourself a deal.”
He held out his hand. “Deal.” I shook it. “Better get back to work now then, otherwise our bosses will go apeshit.”
I smiled a lazy smile and watched him leave.
I had texted Daniel during work to let him know that I needed to come over so we could talk. At first I was going to stay quiet about what I heard, but then I thought I should just rip off the Band-Aid and just talk about it. Even if that meant the bleeding won’t stop.
Stanley went out for the night, as per usual, so it was nice to have the alone time that we needed. Although, it did almost feel like the calm before the storm, which was starting to freak me out. Daniel placed a couple of cups of ice-cold water on the coffee table when he came to sit next to me on the sofa. His mood seemed less heavy since the last time I saw him. Had he figured out an answer to his little dilemma? I guess I’ll soon find out.
Daniel smiled brightly, erasing any and all evidence of the torturous conversation with the torturous Tanya (and making me confused because of it). “So what did you want to talk about?”
“The weekend,” I said, gulping.
“Ah. You were wonderful. I don’t think I got a chance to thank you. I don’t think I can thank you enough but…thank you. My mother clearly loves you.”
I smiled, though I wish I didn’t miss Jade already. “It was nothing.”
“Are you kidding?” Daniel said. “I don’t know what I would have done if you weren’t there.”
I shrugged. “I just made tea, and fixed us some food.”
Daniel narrowed his eyes in speculation. “Why aren’t you taking any credit for this? You know you did great for my mother and I.”
What was I doing? I surely wouldn’t have boasted, that would be totally wrong, but I was starting to feel it. The stomach in a knot, the tears ready to sprout, the clammy hands…I was trying to push him away. I was trying to give reasons of why I wasn’t such a good back-up when he needed me the most, even though he clearly was stating otherwise. So instead of going at this pushing game any longer, I told him.
“I heard you and Tanya talking before we left,” I said.
I had looked away when I told him but when I returned my eyes back to his he had shifted in his seat, and his eyebrows peaked into an apologetic gesture.
“What did you hear?” Daniel asked. I wondered if it made a difference.
“Everything probably. I started when Richard left.”
Daniel sighed and shook his head. His palms met and he hung his head. I immediately stood, thinking this was the moment that other Band-Aid was going to rip off and I’d end up pouring.
“I’m not going to make you choose,” I said. Daniel looked up and then stood as soon as he saw me, shaking his head in the process and about to say something. “I know what I have to do.”
“No, you don’t know,” Daniel said.
“It’s your mother, Daniel. Your family needs you.”
Daniel shook his head again. “Don’t do this. You don’t know what you’re doing.”
“Don’t I? It’s already been decided right after that conversation you had with Tanya. What am I supposed to do?”
“You’re not supposed to do this!” Daniel yelled.
The force of it took me out of my zombie mode and he noticed. He sighed and ran a hand through his hair, knowing the effects of his tone.
“I’m sorry but, how can we go through all of this and not have a happy ending?” Daniel asked. “My happy ending is to be with you. What’s yours, Anna?”
“I’m just trying to do the right thing—”
“—How? How is this the right thing?” his voice started to rise again.
A tear escaped me. “If this was my choice—”
He leaned forward and took my hands in his. He bent down to force me to make eye contact with him. “You do have a choice.” He then kissed me, telling me I have a choice at every breath he took.
When we parted, it was like a new, unknown Band-Aid had ripped off. “I don’t know what else to do, and I don’t want you choose between your mother and I.”
“I’ll find another way. There’s another way.”
“And what about next time when Tanya and Richard make another appearance? And the time after that? And after that?”
Daniel sighed taking my hands in his again. “I know it’s hard. But doesn’t the pay-off suffice?”
“Know this, they can’t take me away from you without my permission. And I’ll never let them. This is my life, you’re in my life, and I’ll find a way to support my mother.”
Daniel shrugged and hooked the corner of his mouth upwards. “I have my options.” It was then that I understood his mood change. Had he figured out a solution already? “Just, go home, sleep on it, and by morning everything will be back the way it was.”
I narrowed my eyes. “How?”
“How are you going to support your mother?”
He moved a stray lock of hair that was plastered on my cheek by my tears away. “Never you mind how. I’ll take care of everything.”
For some reason, an uneasy feeling crept into my system. This didn’t sound good. Something was up, and he obviously doesn’t want to tell me.
“So how are we feeling?” he asked, taking me out of my pondering.
“I should go,” I said.
“Anna…” Daniel said, almost in pleading.
“I have to go.” I wiped my tears (well, tried because they were dried on), grabbed my clutch, and bounced. Daniel watched me as I did, unable to speak, because he knew I wouldn’t listen.
Band-Aids had no use for me here. All the ones that were supposed to heal me had been ripped off. I know it’s not as dramatic, and I’m not trying to turn this whole thing into a Shakespearian tragedy, but for the moment, it felt like that. If Band-Aids are of no use, time doesn’t really heal all wounds, and most people are either trying to keep two people from being together, or have no faith in those two, then how the hell do relationships survive? There’s always a calm before the storm; is there ever a calm after?