Image of Long Story Short Award - 2022
Image of Short Fiction
I watch you light a cigarette through the hazy glass and, avoiding my gaze, turn your wedding ring around absentmindedly. You slip it off into your pocket, the outline of the ring making an imprint in your jeans. I wonder briefly if your mind is finally made up, or if this is the moment I have stopped being able to read your thoughts. I think about a few months ago, on this same balcony, when the weather was warm and you laughed freely.

"I don't need to smoke," you tell me, putting one of your palms out in case I drop the cigarette, your most prized possession, just plucked from your lips. "I can quit when we start talking about getting pregnant."

"What if I want to talk about getting pregnant now?" I ask. You kiss me, hard and deep, against the railing.

Looking at you now, your hair almost glowing from the lights of the city, I crave to rest my hand on a bulging stomach and know that our love has brought something good into the world. Not everything is your fault, although I would like it to be. I didn't quit my habit either.

You slide the screen door open and lean against the wooden doorframe.

"I don't know what to do," You say, finally bringing your eyes to meet my own.

The memory of the stranger's tongue in my throat makes it impossible for me to answer. Your face tells me that you have not been able to stop the images from forming either, sweaty bodies clinging to the leather in the backseat of my car. It's not the first time we've had this talk. I long to explain to you that it's not about the fucking. It's this moment I crave, bathed in your attention. The journey matters less when we arrive here all the same. I still can't find the words.

"I guess I'm leaving."

You walk into our bedroom and shut the door. I hear the drawers of the dresser, the first piece of furniture we bought together, open and close. You emerge a minute later, backpack slung over your shoulders. I think I start to cry.

I ache to be twenty-two and scanning the crowded bar for your red hair, butterflies in my stomach. I ache to finally find you and smile, purple bruises from my lips the night before peeking out from your collar. I want to sit down with you in our booth and know that you really see me sitting in front of you, know that you hang on my every word and miss me when I leave. I know that falling in love a second time would not hurt either of us less, but I would give anything to hear you say you love me without the catch in your voice.

You open the door and walk out into the hallway. I know you'll be back. I hope you'll be back. You've always come back before.