“What’s really going on with you, Morgan?” It seemed to him that the hard set of her mouth and those wrinkles in her brow would never disappear from an otherwise lovely face. He missed that light in her eyes, but soon, he knew, he would have to accept that it had left her.
“Nothing, Aaron. Really.” He flinched at the slight hiss in her voice, the ever present sarcastic tone. Really? he wanted to reply. Really?
He shivered, though couldn’t figure from which source it came – her or the chilly city air. Winter had long since descended upon the city and its inhabitants, if not shown in the slush covered intersections, then perhaps in the news lines that read ‘Car Crash: 6 Injured, 1 Dead’ or ‘Number of Psychiatric Patients Skyrocket’ or even the simple ‘Donate to the Salvation Army: Help the Homeless.’ The weather didn’t need to exude the effort and send a gray cloud over the city, the annual and inevitable mood of depression and eternal boredom already gave far too charitably. Some days, it seemed to Aaron that Morgan had received more of that darker aid than she deserved.
The cold feeling that crept along his skin didn’t recede. “Want to go inside?” he asked softly.
“No.” She was staring above his head at something that his eyes couldn’t see; he sighed, decided he wasn’t moving. She noticed, and her gaze turned into a glare. “What?” she asked, defensive. “Go inside if you want to. Work your butt off.”
The sigh reached deeper this time. “No. No, I don’t think so.” Small talk had seemed to work with her before – perhaps a lighter subject would be more welcomed. “How was your vacation?” he asked, voice bright. Too bright, he noted.
She shook her head, a light snort coming from her nostrils. “Why would you care?”
“I don’t know.”
They sat there on the company patio for a few moments longer, in silence, watching cars drive by covered in layers of dirt and snow that their controllers hadn’t had time to brush away. She surprised Aaron when she asked, “You ever want to leave? Just get up, and leave.” She said the final two words with such longing, Aaron almost wanted to believe that some life had returned to her. But her face remained impassive.
“Yeah, sometimes, but the idea doesn’t make any sense. My life, your life, well, they’re centered here. The money’s not bad and it’s comfortable. So no, I don’t seriously consider leaving.” He spoke as if what he said was fact. Perhaps his solidarity would convince Morgan of her own necessary need for stability.
“Yeah,” she replied in an almost bitter way. If she can still feel bitter, he thought. “Yeah,” she said again, “I guess so.”
He felt helpless, not liking the feeling that there was nothing he could do against her wintry, inward gaze. Something had shifted in Morgan, had shifted so quickly that there was nothing he could do to stop it. She was on a collision course, except, the location of the brick wall remained a secret. Aaron knew she was slipping.
“You’re uncomfortable with me now, aren’t you?” she asked in a simple way, as if it was a normal yes or no question. But it wasn’t, she knew that, and Aaron thought she wasn’t being fair. Yet, he’d answer it as simply as she wished.
“No,” he lied. She smiled and it was real.
A ray of sun found its way through the colorless sheet spread above the city, the patio being one of the few surfaces it touched. The small smile remained on Morgan’s lips for just a moment and then slipped away with the dying sunbeam. “Who’s in the boss’ pocket now?”
“Cindy.” Gossiping employees, especially a certain twosome, found a favorite topic of conversation in who’d managed to become the boss’ pet; it was an old pastime and could become an addiction that consumed without reason. Aaron considered Morgan an addict.
She laughed derisively, a short hysterical puff. “Cindy. Expected.”
She cast a sidelong glance. “No. Positive. Just look at her.”
“Maybe looks have nothing to do with it.” This topic combined with Morgan made his stomach tie in fisherman’s knots.
“Sure.” She looked away from him, and he knew he’d lost her again. Yet, finally, an expression had appeared on her face, but the sad look had not been his intention. “You really want to know?”
She looked in his eyes; he noticed shadows in hers that hadn’t been there, not a few months ago. He’d never thought that was a particularly long stretch of time, until then. “Winter in Italy can get just as cold as here, but, somehow it’s not so cold. The sunrise on the ruins is something to see, something magical – the weather doesn’t matter.”
“It doesn’t,” he prompted.
She looked at him for a moment, yet the faraway gaze had returned. “No,” she told him, her eyes growing wide. “My favorite place was the Pantheon.” She paused and turned to him completely, leaning on her hand. “Do you ever want a Pantheon moment?”
He felt his eyebrows knit together. “A what?”
She sighed and slumped back into her chair, leaving Aaron to fear that Morgan would fall back further, away from him again. But she continued in a dreamer’s voice, the kind of tone that rises and free falls with the emotion elicited from a vision that comes from a place as distant as another planet. Or Italy, he thought. “A Pantheon moment, Aaron. A moment where you’re standing inside, and you’re beneath that small circle of light shining into the darkness. The circle is so small that no one is standing in the light with you. Outside the circle, the gods and history are watching, they are watching you, Aaron. “ Her voice rose, the longing tone more apparent. “And there are no Cindies and no cities and no winters. There is only you standing in the light and everyone else paled in darkness with the gods watching.”
He gulped, whispered, “A Pantheon moment?”
“Yeah,” she smiled, “A Pantheon moment.”