I located Daniel almost immediately, as if my eyes were on the hunt without my brain. I was so drawn to him even in frustration. An invisible hold, as it were. I shoved myself between body builders and sexy girls; half-suited men leading women into bathrooms; Paul.
“So you’re back,” Paul said matter-of-factly after I was involuntarily pushed onto him. Before knowing who it was that bumped into him he was turning his head to give me this cold, hard stare. Like, I will cut you, bitch.
“Yeah, well, I saw Daniel.”
Paul threw away the annoying look on his face, and leaned in eagerly. “Where is he?”
“He’s with some friends, I guess.” I didn’t want to unnecessarily annoy Paul, and give him a bad impression about the man he barely knows.
“Let’s see him then.”
“No, no,” I said, shaking my head and waving my hand, “it’s okay. I kind of want to see him on my own.”
He narrowed his eyes. “You okay?”
I shrugged. “Sure.” Acting like Paul was being weird, when in fact I was avoiding his gaze just a little too much. “I’ll see you later, okay? Sorry I ran out by the way.”
Paul nodded, keeping his eyes on me as if he were making a study. “It’s okay.”
I started again through the crowd and noticed Daniel didn’t even take notice of me yet. He was throwing his head back and laughing, all the same. Getting handsy with that same girl, curling his arm over her shoulder as they both cackled and so did their friends. I’m guessing all mutual. I have a faint memory of this same interaction; when he was single, he’d flirt with girls, twirling their hair in his hands, tapping underneath their chin with his forefinger as he told them how beautiful they were. The more I strode towards him, the more it felt like I was sauntering.
Finally, I stood next to them and just smiled. I had no idea what I was going to do, I had nothing planned, so in an instant, my brain worked overtime and I cracked…a smile. Like a crazy person eavesdropping. One of the guys looked at me and blinked a few times; he probably thought he was just seeing things because he was so drunk. Then he eyed his friends and flickered his attention between them and me. Daniel turned his head slowly, and then dropped his hand from the girl’s shoulder on sudden realisation. He was already in the process of slowly removing it, then it lingered, and when he saw me BOOM, it was like he lost it.
“Hi,” the girl smiled, confusion colouring her tone and her face.
The random guy nodded my way and a polite, but also mean-girl, smile rose to his lips. Almost like he was enjoying this weird display.
“Oh, guys, this is Anna,” Daniel said.
Then nothing. I was waiting for him to say ‘…my girlfriend’ or something along those lines. But no.
“Ian,” the guy said.
“Rick,” another added.
“Valerie,” the girl nodded. “You guys know each other?”
I stepped closer to Daniel. “Should I tell them or…” I fake-pondered for moment, giving Daniel the illusion of choice, and continued on, “well, we’re friends. Good friends I imagine.”
Daniel tilted his head. His lids low, his eyes hazy. He’d been drinking. A lot. More than usual. Again. I figured since he was kind of hurting me, that I wouldn’t let him beat me to the punch of hurting me again, just more publicly, in front of his friends. The longer I thought about that type of mindset though, the more I felt disgusted with myself. We literally were in competition of, who can hurt who more?
Frazzled and a little uneasy, I spoke with the speed of machine gun bullets. “So I just saw Daniel from across the room and wanted to come say ‘hi’, so now I did, and now I’m going to go.”
Daniel remained frozen staring at me. His neck turned in a weird way, almost as if he were avoiding his troops as much as he could.
Okay, so maybe this confrontation wasn’t exactly a confrontation. Aren’t you supposed to feel better? A little more secure with yourself? I’m never good with confrontations, I hate them, and I cringe whenever I see them advertised for reality shows. Or maybe it was the fact that the weight of this particular confrontation was burdening me. Like drowning in shallow water; the surface is just there, it’s just there, and I can’t reach it. I can’t breathe. I can’t even sink. I’m stuck between knowing I’m so close to breathing, the proposition teasing me, and not being able to even swim lower just to free my mind of the shackles. I wondered how Daniel felt.
When I returned home I found an invitation for a little party Janet was having for her engagement; the idea of which joyed me. I’d imagine she thought it was too early in the year for a wedding rehearsal but that she did want some type of celebration. I couldn’t wait to go back to California, visit all of my friends, and have one hell of a bash.
I stared at the invitation, lost in all its fine letter printing, when a sudden knock on my door hit me. It was so loud, throwing me out of my reverie, that I sprinted to open the door and make the stop just so my neighbours weren’t annoyed. I only just moved in, people!
Daniel had his hand on the doorway, leaning into it and holding himself up. He looked up when I opened the door, his eyes seemingly clearer from all the funk and happy juice. “You left.”
“I did,” I said, standing my ground.
“Aren’t you going to invite me in?”
I sighed. “It’s late Daniel. Why don’t you go home?”
“I am home,” he said confusedly.
Ugh, now that crushed my heart. “You’re drunk. I don’t want to talk to you while you’re drunk.”
“I know that,” he said, “and I’m not as drunk as you think. I only had a couple of drinks.”
“A couple?” I crossed my arms speculatively.
“Anna, baby, let me in.”
Don’t baby me. “Daniel, baby, what’ve you got to say, huh? That you’re sorry? You love me?”
“That’s not what I came here to say.”
I narrowed my eyes. “Well then you’ve come here to pick a fight and I’m seriously not in the mood.”
“Will you please stop guessing and just let me in,” he laughed incredulously. “You’re making me feel like an unwanted stray dog out here.”
I rolled my eyes and opened the door wider, allowing him to walk seamlessly through. Of course he’d look like he was gliding across my room. Of course he’d look better in my apartment than I ever could. Of course he acted like it was his place more so than I could ever feel like his apartment was mine as well. Of course.
He peeled off his jacket and plonked on the couch. “Got any vodka?”
“You’ve really got to stop drinking,” I said, standing across from him.
His jaw tightened and his nostrils flared. “You make me sound like an alcoholic.”
I quieted, no words coming to mind about that comment. In the silence Daniel stood and, as I avoided his eyes, walked straight passed me, in this tiny room, into my kitchen and began perusing the cabinets.
“Are you really going to pour yourself some vodka?” I asked, astonished.
Daniel scrunched his face in offense, picked a glass, and opened on the tap water. “Give me a little credit, will you?”
I turned red, feeling embarrassed, but at the same time I couldn’t help myself with the strange way he’s been acting. What am I supposed to think if he’s putting out a certain image?
He gestured with the cup in front of me and I waved it away. He took a few gulps and then settled it down on the coffee table.
I shrugged. “So?”
“You’re mad at me.”
Obviously! I nodded.
“Why?” he asked.
“You know why.”
Daniel chuckled. “Anna, we’ve been down this road before, it’s not safe to make one’s own conclusions, and we both know that. And even though I may know exactly what it is that’s pissing you off, I’d rather hear it from your lips. So give it to me.”
“Well,” I began, “first, you get mad at me for not getting the promotion you’ve worked so hard for and then break a glass on your hand—” shit, I forgot about that. I looked at his bandaged hand and then glanced back at up, narrowing my concentration “—then, you ignore me the whole time I’m trying to get in touch with you. You don’t even answer my texts. Then I see you at a club with your hands all over some girl!”
I so didn’t want to get into a fight with him, but as my voice rose with each word, I knew it was inevitable.
“Now can I say my peace?” I nodded to allow him to continue. As if he needed the permission. “I know it’s not your fault that I’m not getting the promotion. There’s nothing in your power that you could have done, that I would have been happy with, that could have helped me; because I know you would have done it in a heartbeat. And it was rude of me to ignore you, I was in a bad mindset then, and I just thought I’d only hurt you even more.” I crossed my arms, waiting for the third. He sighed, eyes on the floor, and then looked up at me, suddenly taller. “But I’m not going to apologise for hanging out with my friends, who are only trying to cheer me up.”
I lifted both my brows. “Say what now?” I turned my head slightly, my ear facing him.
He laughed humourlessly. “You’re going to chastise me for putting my hand on some friends of mine? I mean, I’m not touching her inappropriately and she didn’t think anything of it.”
“Well maybe she didn’t know you had a girlfriend.”
“Oh, by the way, ‘friend’?—” he flicked bunny fingers “—really? That hurt. I’m not entirely in the wrong here.”
“Daniel, how do you think it makes me feel that this woman is having the experience I’m supposed to have? Fine, you think it’s not so wrong to lay a hand on her, it still hurt that you were harsh towards me, getting angry with me over your promotion, ignoring my efforts to contact you, and then these people, whom I’ve never met before, get the best of you.”
Daniel closed his eyes for a moment, and then opened midway. “I didn’t think you were supporting me in my time of need.”
“How was I supposed to when you wouldn’t even let me in? You just told me to leave and then ignored me!”
How many times did I have to say it?
Daniel paused and I could see him thinking, his eyes off somewhere and then finding their way to me. “You were handsy with Adam, and Derek, and Martin, and Stanley, probably, I don’t know. But I know you’ve had your hands on these guys before, even while we were together, and I never complained. Suddenly when I do it it’s wrong? Do you think that’s fair?”
“I think you’re missing the point.”
“And that is?”
I looked down at the floor. “You pushed me away and confided in her. You made me feel like she was your safety, not me. And then it just felt like you were flirting with her—no, you were flirting with her; it’s a fact.” I looked back at him with pleading eyes. “At least admit that.”
Daniel breathed out heavily. “I did. I didn’t see anything wrong with it, but I guess when I go back into my old habits, my reckless mind just takes over and I…”
I nodded, urging him on. When he couldn’t, I finished his sentence for him. “You just forgot about me.”
“Now I really do need a drink,” he mumbled.
I closed my eyes, shaking my head. “Do you love me?” his shocked eyes locked onto mine. “I mean, really love me? You can’t live without me, love?”
“Of course I do,” he stepped closer, taking my hands in his.
“Why does it feel like…like I’m just a pebble in your shoe sometimes, then?” I whispered.
He smiled, stroking my lips. “Don’t think like that. I’m sorry I make you feel that way but, honestly, you’re the only thing holding me to the ground right now.”
I cleared my throat in the silence and regained what control I could over my wobbly voice. “You wouldn’t mind if I hung my arm over Derek’s shoulders?”
“Okay, in that case I wouldn’t, but if it were in Martin’s case—”
“But you know what I mean.”
He nodded. “Yes, with context in place, I do understand, but Valerie is a nice girl.”
Yeah, so was Samantha. “Daniel—”
He shushed me by bringing his lips down to mine. But I wasn’t letting him off that easy. I gently pushed him back and then gazed sleepily up at him. “Did you tell them I’m your girlfriend?”
No answer. Not even a squeak. I started walking away towards my bedroom. “What? You’re going to punish me now for seeking support elsewhere?”
I rushed back angrily, my feet stomping on the floor. “You pushed me out! How was I supposed to support you? I tried. Did you not see me try at least?”
“Godammit Anna! You want me to admit that I was wrong? Fine, I was wrong!” he shook his head incredulously. “How did I go from being an amazing boyfriend to an amazing girlfriend, and being on my way for a promotion; to being in the dumps with my job, and my girlfriend not even tolerating me? It’s so fucking weird.” I remained quiet. That was when Daniel rattled off some more, much calmer now. “And when I hear some guy wants to go out with my girlfriend, it hurts that she’s even considering it.”
“I was considering it for you! So you wouldn’t come back and say it’s my fault you didn’t get the promotion. Don’t act like it was a stupid reason, because it happened.”
“It is a stupid reason!”
An almost gargling sound came out along with my sigh. “Ugh! What are we doing here, Daniel? Did you just come to tell me off some more? Tell me what you want?” When he didn’t reply, I repeated. “What do you want, Daniel?” I closed the distance between us and attempted to cup his face. “What do you want?” But he turned his head away and glanced elsewhere.
Then, he looked back at me with red, glossy eyes. “I want to stop failing you. And I have no fucking idea how.”
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