The Picture Show

“I want to show you something,” he says to me.

We’re sitting in the kitchen of his oceanfront apartment on the 20th floor of the Oceans Three Complex—me, propped up on the counter and he leaning against the opposite side, waiting for the microwave to stop running.

“I’ve been waiting to show you the whole week.”

It is late, perhaps almost midnight even. The only light in the apartment glows from the hanging lamp in the kitchen above our heads, casting dark shadows all over the common area.

I can’t look at him. Instead, I glance everywhere else my eyes could possibly set sight—the freshly vacuumed white rug, the neatly piled books on the mantle, the screen door left open leading out to the balcony, welcoming in the sweet, salty breeze. I inhale deeply and take my time letting the air escape my body. Maybe if I hold it in long enough, the air will have no choice but to stay where it is down inside—or at least for the few more moments I have the power left to hold it there.

His touch still sends shivers down my spine, every time like it’s the first. I look down at his hand gently rubbing my thigh, and I realize he’s made his way over to me. I grab his hand and lock it with mine to hold us together. I still haven’t managed to look at him. I concentrate now on the light inside the microwave, watching as our two mugs circle around inside, a bubble of water occasionally spilling over the edge. And then I feel his hand lift my chin.

His eyes are the perfect shade of crystal blue. On the surface, they seem so light, so airy, so free and unburdened from all the struggles life brings his way, even though they find him. I get lost in his eyes, for they tell a story all their own—a story he shares with no one. For fear? For judgment? Fear of self-pity? That, I do not know for sure. Maybe it’s just one of the few things left in this world that is entirely his and his alone.

“Are you okay?” he asks me.

“I’m fine,” I lie.

I can’t tell him how I really feel, how broken up I am inside and how I’d long to do anything I could to change what would happen in the few hours we had left. But he knows I’m not fine, anyway. Because the truth is, neither is he.

I allow my shoulders to slump, and I slowly melt into his arms. He doesn’t protest or ask questions, but lets me fall and takes me in towards him completely and wraps his arms around my body until my face is fully buried in his chest. He plays with my hair, pushing a few escaped strands behind my ears until I feel his chin rest softly on my head and his hand stop moving.

“You gotta be excited a little bit,” he says.

He feels me bury my face deeper into his arm and lifts my head and cups it in his two hands. He forces a smile, but just a faint one before it disappears. His skin is paler now than it was earlier when we were laughing over dinner and wine with his parents. They’re gone now.

I try to smile back, I try to do for him what he’s doing for me. But it’s useless. We both know what tomorrow brings. In fact, we tried to ignore it the whole night, but with only a few hours left and dawn approaching, we know our time left together is limited. Our eyes finally meet and lock, our gaze hanging in the split silence of the apartment for a few long seconds. The microwave buzzes.

He moves from me and opens the door, taking out one mug and slowly dipping the tip of his finger in the hot water.

“It’s good now,” he says.

He takes out the other mug and sets it next to the first one, carefully unwrapping the tea bags and laying each one on the surfaces of the two cups. We sit in silence again as we wait for the tea to creep in and transform the water as quickly as day turns to night.

My mind is wandering. Most days now, I can’t get it to sit still. It’s almost like a picture show, flashing to particular moments we’ve shared together, flickering and fading so quickly that my mind has no time to register each one before it’s gone and onto the next image.

I barely grasp why my mind makes sense of my life in that way, because that’s all it really is, our relationship—a few flashing, fleeting moments we manage to trap in time before life and circumstance rip us away from one another, each one strung together to make up one long, continuing story. Until the next moment…whenever that may be, we never know for sure, and like one open-ended question, the uncertainty lingers and hangs above our heads—it never goes away. Some people tell me that is no way to live. I tell them it is the only way.

The roar of the waves brings me back to the present, and I notice he is already pouring milk into my tea. I find myself smiling for the first time since dinner.

“You remember,” I say.

“Come on,” he says. “The Bigdog remembers everything.”

He lifts his mug to mine, and they clank together.

“Look me in the eyes,” he says. “You know what it means if you don’t.”

“And who told you that?”

“The Skipper,” he says, pointing to me.

We laugh together, also for the first time since dinner.

“Hey, I got an idea,” I say. “Let’s sit out on the balcony and listen to the ocean.”

“You know why you love me right?” he says back.

“Let me count the ways…”

“Because I always have better ideas than you.” he says in his foolish voice that half the time gets under my skin.

But I don’t care tonight. I’m just happy to see his smile.

“I’ll be right back.”

My mind wanders again as I watch him disappear into the bedroom. This is getting so hard. Why does it have to be so hard? Will it ever be easy, or will it just keep getting harder the closer we become? I think about the morning, the silent ride we’ll have to the airport, me waiting in line at security as I watch my bags go through while the man tells me to have a good morning when it’s so clear that I won’t, slouching over in my seat hoping nobody will talk to me so the tears won’t begin flowing uncontrollably so much to where I can’t stop them. I can’t cry tomorrow, I can hear myself whispering into the darkness surrounding me. I won’t.

“Okay, let’s go,” he says, returning with a screwdriver.

“Where are you taking me with that thing?” I say, but he’s already at the door. “I’m not going until you tell me.”

“Come on,” he says.

“Tell me.”

“Then it’s going to ruin the surprise.”

“Good, I hate surprises anyway.”

“Can you just trust me?” he says.

He looks at me so longingly with those crystal blue eyes. I have no choice but to comply. But not just yet—that would be giving in too easily.

“You’re going right now. Let’s go.”

I tell him fine, and I make my way out the front door as he holds it open for me, but he quickly takes the lead, and with our two coffee mugs and a screwdriver, we head up two flights of stairs, passed the boiler room until we’re stopped in front of a dark, narrow hallway.

“More stairs?” I say. “There aren’t any floors left to go up.”

“Just trust me. Come on.”

I follow him up the last flight of stairs, where he’s already waiting at the top for me to take his mug. I grab it from him and watch as he begins to unscrew the lock bolted into the door.

“What are you doing? You’re gonna get us in trouble.”

“Live a little,” he says, and he continues fiddling.

The elevator room is behind me, and I peak inside to see what’s in there. I look behind me to see if anyone’s coming, to see if they hear us. But there’s nothing. The hallways are silent. There are no footsteps on the stairs. Just me, him and the door that he managed to unlock and is now holding open, leading out onto the roof of the entire building.

“You’re something else,” I say.

“So I’ve heard,” he says. “I can’t wait to show you.”

He takes his mug and rubs my back, gently nudging me forward in front of him, until we’re both walking on the roof.

“I came up here the other night,” he says. He continues talking, but his voice seems further and further away.

I stop to look up at the night sky. A blanket of royal blue sweeps the entire Daytona Beach skyline. There’s not a cloud in the sky, and the stars—the stars, like little flashing bulbs of white lights, all aligned perfectly and in their places, touching down on the surface of the water. I haven’t seen this many stars in a long time, so long I can’t even remember. But then I do.

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