Chapter Twenty-Two

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Up at night cause I can't sleep, can't retreat into dreams, fighting her for the defeat. She never speaks, but when she does... it's true love when you hate your life but would never leave. At least, that's what she told me. -Jackson Killian

Chapter 22

I wasn't surprised to find Jack's Tacoma in my carport when I returned from Danny's the next night, though it hadn't been there when I'd left—still unsure if I even wanted to go. It had been Jeannie I'd waved 'bye too, already at the dining room table, a three-inch biology text open next to Quinn's bowl of cheese ravioli.

It had been a melancholy night. Danny was already a few beers in by the time I got to his condo. Still sweet, still tender—he was a little quieter than usual. A bit slower. He pushed harder to get me out of all my clothes, and I'd obliged him after he urged me with a quiet plea to let him see me.

Because this might be the last time, he'd said. When I left his embrace, he'd asked me to stay.

"You know I can't." I found my underwear and pulled them on while he watched.

"Yeah. I know. But it'd be nice."

His features were indistinct in the softly lit room, but I could see shine in his eyes. Suddenly, my own eyes burned. I sat next to him. He put his hand on my thigh.

Despite our being lovers, it was the gesture of a friend, an intimate friend. We always guarded that line, the feelings-line. His lovemaking was considerate and careful and measured. He made it easy to communicate what was working and what wasn't, maybe in part because he understood animals so well. He never assumed the touch that worked last time would work again, and he'd ask me.

It sometimes occurred to me that these were the exact things about Danny that kept an emotional distance between us. To me, often he seemed like an adult while I was still a confused, spastic adolescent. I was still trying to learn what he already knew. We weren't equals.

"Danny, nothing's changing."

His teeth flashed, and I knew he was smiling. "Okay, Katie. It's okay. I'm okay. But things are changing. And that's okay. Really." He gave my leg a little pat.

I knew he was right. Things were changing. I'd be pressed to say exactly how, but it was a sentiment I shared. It was a sentiment I dwelled on for the quiet fifteen-minute drive home. It was a sentiment I felt frozen by after I turned the Bronco off.

I didn't remove my seat-belt or gather my things. I watched the light from the TV play over the curtains, wondering what kind of Jack was in there. Why he was in there. Why I was afraid to go inside. How wrong it was that I should be afraid to go in.

Not afraid, exactly. That wasn't the right word. An anxious scribble of emotion and confusion.

Slowly, Jack and I were getting on. Coming home from work wasn't the springboard into quiet, terse arguments it used to be. Sometimes—on the nights I thought dissatisfaction gripped him, or anger had him, or frustration fumed in him—on those nights he left quickly with a short sharp "good night." Other nights, he stayed to finish whatever he'd put on Netflix. I'd join him on the couch for the end of Jiro Dreams of Sushi or Black Mirror. Sometimes, he'd be at the table with his notepad and a cup of tea. Sometimes he'd be on the porch breathing smoke. And sometimes, we'd talk. Sometimes, we'd laugh.

But I wasn't coming home from work this time. And he'd know that.

I had no idea what that meant for how the next few minutes would go. Maybe it would be fine. But maybe not. My car was cooling quickly, and I balled my fingers into the sleeves of my hoodie. I released my seat belt, but still didn't move.

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