"You back early."
Our eyes lock across the room and I feel his hesitation despite the cocky façade. There is something almost like fear hidden behind the playful arrogance. It's gone so quickly I almost think I had imagined it. Almost.
His expression solidifies, a defeated certainty replacing all else and he turns back to the tv. The buzz of alcohol is gone from my head, replaced by a cold, stark sobriety. The words don't come. I knew exactly what to tell him. Now, they won't come.
Bryan doesn't look back. The advert changes, a green beer bottle filling out the screen. I can see him tense in response and wonder if he misses drinking.
"My name is Clara." He looks back to me, expression blank. "You asked, before. I'm sorry it's taken me so long to answer. I'm sorry I've..." I hesitate, but force the words out, "I'm sorry I've been a bitch. Don't know what I was thinking. I won't ignore you anymore. We're stuck together, I guess."
It's all coming out wrong, but his face lights up anyway.
"I know, Clara," he laughs, a real, proper laugh filled with relief. "I've known since day one." He must notice the surprise in me, and adds, "I saw your post. Was curious", he shrugs.
I like how my name sounds on his lips. It's not right, and I want to scold myself but the alcohol starts buzzing through my veins pleasantly again. What's the point of pretending. I make my way cautiously towards the sofa. The flat is a mess, yet all around it it's clean, no sign of the slight clutter which features predominantly through the rest of my living space.
Don't get me wrong. I'm not dirty. Just, messy. And busy. And, sadly, lazy.
The couch doesn't feel wrong, or cold, or out of place any longer. I suppose knowing the cause had fixed that. After all, Bryan wasn't something to rot the air, he was just a man, only not quite. I sit down. It's very comfortable. He shifts away from me, giving me more space. I feel a little spaced out. Guess I'm drunker that I thought.
I think he notices it, the sway in my step, lilt in my voice. He's looking at me, cautious. "Will you remember this tomorrow?" His words come as if through mist. I will, I nod. I want to. The armrest is comfortable under my head.
As the world turns into a blur of colours going round in circles, I think I can hear his voice. It sounds like a thank you. It's hard to say.
But morning comes with headaches, and lights too bright, and waking up in strange places. I slept on the couch, without meaning too. My body is stiff from it. I'm still wearing yesterdays' clothes. Bryan sits by me, looking forlorn.
But I remember.
"Good morning." The words are as much an olive branch as they are painful. My own voice reverberates around my skull. It's my own fault, however, and it has to be done. It should have been done Wednesday morning, when I woke by him for the first time.
He lights up, but still looks wary. "Good morning." His voice is deep and thoughtful, and careful. He's stepping on eggshells around me. The guilt is back, and fortified by another hangover. Wasn't I meant to detox this week?
Bryan is quiet now, and it might be the first time I've seen him be. It's ironic, how now when I'm actually listening he's run out of things to say. It makes me wish for another basketball match for him to comment on, or more bird stories. But he stays silent. I feel the urge to offer him coffee, or breakfast, common convention prevailing in the new waters, but of course that would make no sense. I bite my tongue. What the hell now?
Yesterday, I felt so sure what I was doing. Now, maybe I should have stayed in the bar. Kept things as they were. Neutral. Familiar. This new way is awkward and makes me face my shortcomings. Bryan doesn't look his usual cheery self either. What a mess.
I make coffee, hoping it will provide a new outlook for the situation. The welcome warmth of it spreads through me quickly, as I contemplate if sitting on the couch is allowed now we are talking. It wasn't a problem in the night, but now, in the stark light of a grey Saturday, Bryan might resent it. It's silly, but the couch doesn't feel mine. It's his. He is the ghost that haunts it. This is not a train of thought I'd want to explain to anyone, but to me it makes sense. I take my space at the kitchen counter. Bryan watches on intently. It's unnerving.
How do you do small talk with a ghost?
Opting for maintaining our previous routines I turn the tv on, expecting his attention to go back to it. Instead, he stands up and walks towards me, taking a seat across the counter.
"You aight'?" Bryan's New York accent feels stronger than usual, his voice rougher. I nod, dismissing the question, but shake on the inside, hoping it doesn't show. My anxieties are my own and nothing to do with him.
We sit in silence which stretches throughout the day. It almost feels as if we're back to before, back to me pretending he didn't exist – but now, instead of the incessant nagging he's silent and reserved. It doesn't suit him and I can't focus on anything. I go to bed early, hoping sleep will solve it.
It doesn't, of course. We fall into a new routine; one where heavy silences and uneasiness prevail above all else. Some small talk in the mornings, but nothing extending beyond "how are you". We're more the awkward neighbours you pass by once in a while than two people sharing a small flat. Again, I'm contemplating selling the couch. Or moving, and leaving it behind. Instead, my eyes keep returning to him, as he watches tv and the weekend passes like that.
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Love, Death & Second-hand Furniture | CompleteRomance
Clara is thrifty. She rents a cheap apartment, works multiple jobs, still has the same set of chairs from her university days. When she decides to get a free Craigslist couch, she knows what to expect: questionable stains, damp, assortment of bugs...