NOTHING was right between Scott and me anymore. Nothing. I lived in a nightmare, with no exit in sight, with no clue why my whole world had collapsed around me.
EVERYTHING was fine between us until I suddenly received the silent treatment. From one day to the next, Scott stopped touching me, stopped talking to me. He never listened to anything I said, just stalked off. Nothing I did could placate him, absolutely nothing.
Even the slightest touch made him jerk away whatever body part I dared to touch. His dark-blue eyes blazed at me, the furious expression on his face sending shivers up and down my spine. Never in our entire time as a couple had he looked at me this way. It was almost… hostile.
It broke my heart, literally. I felt it shattering into tiny little pieces, every shred of it piercing through me, making it difficult to breathe, to think, to be.
Somehow, I managed. Though it became harder every time he pulled away from me. The more he withdrew from me, the more I clung, or tried to cling. I can’t say I grew indifferent to his rejection, but I lived with it.
His sadness added to my concern. Scott came home and went straight to the sofa in the living room, where he spent hours staring into nothingness. It scared the living hell out of me.
This wasn’t the Scott I knew. The Scott I knew and loved would never ignore me, nor would he ever let a fight get out of hand. In the beginning of our relationship, I had been, uh, a tad on the campy side. Whenever something hit me the wrong way, I stomped or flounced off, expecting Scott to follow me and beg me for forgiveness. He never did.
He did, however, tell me to grow up and come back to him when I was ready for a serious relationship. I wasn’t impressed and vowed never to talk to him again.
I avoided him as much as possible, an achievement in itself since we shared a dorm room. My avoidance lasted two days; then he caught me by surprise. He waited for me behind the door, pulled me in a tight embrace, and carried me over to his bed. There, he dropped me and lowered himself on top of me. “We do not run out on each other, Riley, is that clear?”
I shoved against his chest with both hands, enraged and indignant, but he didn’t budge an inch. Leisurely, he grasped both my wrists in one hand and put them above my head. The first time he did this, I struggled madly, only to end up crying that I didn’t want him to leave me while at the same time battling against the horrible feeling of embarrassment.
“I’m not going to leave you and the same goes for you. You’re it for me.”
He said it with so much conviction, so much compassion, that I burst into tears. Scott was all I’d ever wanted. He was fun to be around, had an easygoing attitude, and it didn’t hurt that he had a body to die for. I never got what he saw in me. I was a whole head shorter than him, skinny, and never found the time to get a haircut, which naturally led to my curls growing into a barely tamable mane.
“You can’t say something like that,” I whined. “We’re only nineteen. All nineteen-year-olds promise each other to stay together forever. It never works.”
“That’s not true and even if it were, then we’ll be the exception to the rule.”
“You can’t just—”
He silenced me with a kiss. He deepened the kiss and the whole incident ended in us doing more fun stuff. I still flipped from time to time, but after a few months I stopped running. Scott told me he was proud of me when I stayed for the first time. I jumped him for that, muttering, “I don’t get why you put up with me.”
“I have a thing for drama queens,” he deadpanned.
For a fleeting second, his comment hurt, but then I discovered the mischievous twinkle in his eyes. “Asshole.”
He grinned at me before he lavished my asshole with attention.
I got better at the not-flipping thing, though I never got the hang of the not-being-jealous thing. To be fair, Scott never gave me a reason to be jealous. It was merely the way other guys or girls looked at him, the open hunger in their eyes. The man was mine and mine alone. I never failed to make this clear to whoever dared to sidle up too close to him.
“Ri, cut it out, it’s not a pretty sight,” Scott always said in those moments.
I made a show of batting my lashes at him, all fake innocence. “I don’t know what you’re talking about, Scotty. Aren’t you the one who always tells me I’m the prettiest thing you ever saw?”
“You’re a scamp.”
I gasped in shock, put my hands above my heart, and widened my eyes before I gazed up at him. “Me? You’re wounding me.”
“I am? Hmm, would it help if I tell you that you’re the prettiest scamp I’ve ever seen?”
“I don’t know, big guy, I really don’t know.”
Scott pulled me into his arms, kissed me thoroughly, and asked, “You made up your mind now?”
“Yeah, I’m keeping you even if you suck at giving compliments.”
That was how we worked. Scott was the calm one, grounding me, loving me in a way I never fathomed anyone would. If anything, we grew closer over the years. We forged a bond that nothing could ever destroy. Or so I thought.
SIX years into our relationship, we both held good jobs at one of the big hotels in Atlantic City. We lived in a nice two-bedroom condo in a quiet neighborhood and never had much trouble with other people bothering us because of our orientation. We were lucky and we were happy. So happy that I sometimes thought my heart would burst from sheer overload.
When New York allowed same-sex marriage, I watched Scott soaking up every article in the paper, every program on TV that dealt with the topic. A couple of weeks later I found myself going through his very meager collection of jewelry, spotted a ring I thought fit him, and hid it in my wallet. The next day I explained to a jeweler exactly what kind of wedding band I wanted for my lover. A week later, he called to tell me I could pick it up.
I chose a dark-gray box lined with black velvet. I carried it home, smiling like an idiot the whole way. I was nervous, not absolutely sure I had interpreted Scott’s interest correctly, but I wasn’t going to chicken out either. After staring at the gleaming band for a long time, I hid the small box in the back of my sock drawer.
Smiling to myself, I got up and headed for the kitchen. It was still a few hours till Scott would be home, but I wanted a head start. I also needed to keep myself occupied, otherwise I knew I’d freak.
I turned on the radio, then hummed along with the music while I peeled potatoes, prepared the fillet steaks, and set the vegetable mix to thaw.
I never asked Scott to marry me. Something happened that evening, something that left me scared, terrified for a long time. Scott wasn’t there to catch me, which made it so much worse.
FOR about a week, I was alone in the apartment. Maybe it was for the best. Scott didn’t see me huddling under his blanket, crying myself to sleep, sometimes choking and coughing from the always persistent lump in my throat and my snotty nose. My chest ached fiercely, turning breathing into an activity I consciously had to put effort into.
There was no note, no call, nothing. I always froze, no matter how many blankets I wrapped around me or how many layers of clothes I wore. The bone-deep cold never left, but I learned to function despite it. I didn’t venture outside, nor did I go to work. I didn't remember making any arrangements for a leave of absence, but I probably did. I seemed to become incredibly forgetful. On most days I couldn't even remember what I had eaten—or if I had eaten at all—or if I had taken a shower. My confusion and loneliness rose higher and higher until I didn’t do anything other than cry a lot. Sometimes, I interrupted my crying sessions with staring at the gray box, opening it, and eying its content. I ended up crying some more afterward. Eventually, the box stayed hidden where I had put it the first time. What was the point in staring at it?
Then there came the day I heard heavy footsteps stopping at our apartment door. My gut did such a sudden nose-dive that I barely reached the toilet in time. When I finished retching, cold sweat covered my skin and I shivered. Wondering if I was coming down with the flu, I became aware of how badly I shook. As I held up my hands in front of my face, watching them tremble violently, I knew without a doubt there was more to the shaking than I was ready to accept.
I didn’t dare flush the toilet as it would give away I was there. Cautiously, and with my heart thundering, I opened the bathroom door a fraction. I heard men talking in the living room downstairs, neither of them sounding too pleased to be here. I shared their feeling.
Who were they and what were they doing in our home? Should I call the police?
I stood motionless and hesitant on the threshold of the bathroom before I finally walked to our bedroom door. Slowly and very cautiously I pulled it open, straining my ears to catch parts of the men's conversations. My hammering heart and the pounding blood in my ears didn't help with my attempt at eavesdropping.
“Just put the furniture outside,” someone said.
I frowned. What the heck were they doing with our furniture?
For a while I listened to the men carrying furniture, wrapping breakable items in paper, but strangely enough they didn't talk much. I became tired and slid down the door frame, curling my arms around my shins. They didn't seem to be thieves or thugs, so I was probably safe.
LATER that day, the men’s voices roused me from a doze. One of them said, “Let's have a lunch break, then we'll start removing the wallpaper.”
Oh. We were remodeling the living room? When did we decide on that? I couldn't remember, but since I seemed to have developed a head like a sieve, I shrugged it off.
Yawning, I struggled to my feet, trudged to our bed, and sprawled on top of it. If anyone needed me, they'd know I was upstairs. Or maybe Scott had told them to leave me alone because I didn't feel well. That thought brought a smile to my face. Maybe he still cared for me.
Despite the noises from downstairs, I fell asleep.
When I woke up, dread and terror held a tight clutch on me. Not one word escaped my mouth, though, no matter how much I wanted to call out for help, for Scott. He wasn’t there, and I’d started to think he’d never come back; he’d never give me a chance to talk to him again. I needed to know what I had done so I could fix it. Whatever it cost, I’d do anything necessary for him to give me another chance.