You awake but know you haven't slept for long. The digital clock on the other side of the room confirms what you already know, unless it's that you've slept for a day and seven minutes. Your mind refuses to let you rest, your thoughts are in turmoil. She, oblivious to all the noise in your head, and is dead to the world. You feel her breathing more than hear it in the darkness, her body pressed against yours. In time past, you would have kissed her gently on the forehead, hugged her a little closer and closed your eyes to drift off again. But of a sudden, her hand on your chest makes your skin walk. Her breath on your neck is repulsive. All you want to do right now is get out of that bed and get her out of your space. You kiss her on her forehead anyway and ease yourself out of her embrace. As you get out of the bed, you look back at her and can't help but think how beautiful she is, how pretty you always felt she looked while she was asleep. The image of her splinters, and you force yourself not to weep further.
You can see just well enough to make your way out of the bedroom without having to feel around, and close the door softly behind you. A draft in the corridor raises her scent on you. You breath deeply her sweat, her non-designer perfume that you like so much, her essence, as you tread softly toward the bathroom. You remember seeing her yesterday, seeing her smile, remember the good times you had together. It was the first time you'd seen her in a month and a half, and of a sudden, the reasons you had for separating became frivolous. You wanted to stop the car and reconcile with her right there and then. But your friends wouldn't let you. They reminded you of the reasons you decided to leave her, the reasons that caused you to determine that the two of you needed to separate for a while. You didn't tell them that you had kept in touch with her, that she would cry and beg you to be with her, that she promised that she would make things right, that there were good reasons then for her being wrong but that she would change, that she would fix things, that she needed you, that you were the best thing that ever happened to her. You ponder on her sincerity, and on theirs, as you start a hot shower running and close the bathroom door.
The water is near scalding, but you don't care. You want her off you, want to deaden your flesh, burn off even your skin's memory of her touch. Her perfume rises on the steam and then just as quickly is gone. You just wish that getting her out of your head would be as easy. You step out of the shower to get a fresh bar of soap, and you have no idea how long you've been standing in the shower mindlessly lathering it, but when you come to yourself it's half gone, down the drain in a swirl of suds. If only it would be so easy to wash away what you heard tonight.
You began to fall in love with her on the day you met her, and you find it hard to deny that you don't still love her despite everything that you now know. You're convinced that no matter what happened, she does love you desperately, or she came to love you over time, or you got under her skin after a while and she couldn't do without you. She began to cry uncontrollably when she heard your voice outside her front door, and she could barely get it open to let you in. When she finally did, she just stood there, weeping, not moving, like a deer caught in headlights. You remember hearing her gasp softly as you locked the door behind you, and how she continued to stare at you as you led her to the couch and dabbed at her tears with your handkerchief. You remember how fiercely she'd hugged you when you put your arm around her shoulders, remember her pleading with you not to stop loving her, begging you to forgive her, that she never meant to hurt you and that she never would again. You remember thinking, as you ran your fingers through her hair and softly shushed her, that she had no idea what you knew, what you'd found out. She had no idea how much bitterness had been stirred up in you. She had no idea how much you truly loved her, how much you had wanted to forgive her, how much you wanted to return. You remember that after announcing yourself, you had not spoken a single word. You just kissed her to shut her up.
You step out of the shower and get a clean towel from the bathroom cupboard. You dry yourself as you walk to the living room to look for your clothes. As you pull up your underwear, you realise that you are very, very sore, and make a mental note to go easy when zipping your pants. You'd rutted her like an animal in heat and only stopped when she let the neighbours know that she couldn't believe that she was coming again and near passed out. When she came to her senses, she'd kissed you gently on the mouth and giggled as she pleaded for mercy and told you that she loved you. Then she curled up in your arms and fell asleep. You had only felt worse.
You locate your shoes and socks and sit to put them on. Your mind goes back to the events of the day. You'd seen her and loved her again. Your boys ran all the misogynistic rhetoric they could find, and they were right. You'd all been disappointed around the same time by the women you'd cared for, and that was your bond. It was a day for a bunch of chauvinistic shits to hang out. And it had been a really good day too. You'd gone PC shopping, spent some hours playing pool, and sat and shot the breeze and laughed for even longer. After a while, you all got tired of being in the same clothes for so long and everybody went home. But you were restless and the music you heard in the distance didn't make it any easier to sit still. Both you and your best friend heard the music from the fete as it rolled across the hills and you had called each other. The day had been too good to end yet, so you'd meet up there and be disgusting sleazes and pick up chicks. The vibes were nice, the women decent enough and the talk was sweet. You came back from the bar with your fourth round and said that you really thought that she could turn around. He disagreed, not vehemently, but firmly enough. She called your mother to beg her to talk to you for crying out loud. He said that that was all well and good, but just showed her desperation. But you weren't listening. You told him that you thought that maybe what she did wasn't so bad, that you two could work it out, and that you wanted to. He shook his head and said that she was no good, and that it wasn't a good idea. You'd left her for reasons that probably weren't going to change. But you weren't hearing that either. You said that she loved hard and she loved you and you wanted that for yourself. He said that he didn't want to tell you at the time because he would have been shooting himself in the foot. He was after all seeing your sister at the time that he introduced you to her.
You still can't understand how you took the revelation so good naturedly, not only that he'd slept with her, but that he had been sleeping with her while she was with you. With that, you agreed with him. He was just looking out for your best interests after all. You'd talked about all sorts of things after that, from the number of women you both had been with to the politics of the day. It hadn't sunk in until you sat in front of your PC waiting for it to boot up so that you could check your email. Then you'd made the forty-five minute journey to her apartment, numb and on automatic. You didn't know where you were going or why, but this was where you ended up.
You get up and pull on your t-shirt, and realise that morning is coming because it's a little brighter in the living room. You want to leave, want to get out because you can't stand being where she is. You can't understand how she could love you and do this thing. You can't understand how he could be your best friend and near be your brother-in-law and could do this thing to you. A wave of bitterness sweeps over you and settles. There's one more thing that you feel you must do before you leave.
The sun is high in the sky when she awakes. She reaches across the bed to hold onto you but only grabs sheets. She smiles and rushes out of bed, out of the bedroom into the kitchen to greet you, but you're not there either. She stops and turns around, heading for the bathroom. The door is open and she can see that you're not in there either. As she passes the entrance to the living room she notices that only her clothes are scattered there. She goes in and picks them up, wondering where you are. She shrugs, and remembers that it's Sunday and thinks that you probably went out to get the papers from the shop on the corner.
She goes into the kitchen and puts on the kettle, and then heads back to the bedroom to tidy up a bit. She tosses the clothes in the hamper and stops for a second before she decides that she should change the sheets. As she tugs at the corners, her eyes fall on the nightstand.
She feels like someone has punched her hard in the middle of her chest. There was no way that he could have known. She'd ended it when she realised that she was falling in love with him. He treated her like no man ever had. He made her happy, happier than she had ever been in her life. They had vowed that the secret would go with them to their graves. He was never supposed to know. She needed him. She loved him. She knew now that he was gone and would never be back.
There on the nightstand, in a plain white saucer, was fifty cents.