04: night, deception, sweater, stationary

by Chris J

Deception is such a cold word, so dark and dense with connotations, but it's the only word to describe what he did to me. What he's still doing to me, because he doesn't think that I know. And, dammit, I want to use a dark, hurtful word for it, because I'm feeling so dark and so hurt right now.

I sit on the balcony railing, half of me towards the safety of the hotel room, half of me dangling over the distant street below. I don't want to go back inside. To where Joey is talking to his mother on the phone. To where Chris is playing video games. To where he and his new lover are sharing covert gazes and secret smiles.

When he comes to me at night, he tells me that I'm the only one. He lies. He kisses me with lips that have touched another, touches me with hands that have just been stroking someone else. Deceives me with words and actions and looks.

I know better now.

My first clue was the sweater, tucked in a ball under the bed, discarded in the throes of passion. It was Lance's, his favorite, the one he never lent to anyone under pain of torture and death. Yet here it was, in Josh's room, tossed aside and hidden--lost--and still smelling of Lance and Josh and sex.

Then one night I saw them. Last night. On this very balcony. Kissing, groping, thinking they were hidden by the thin curtains on the inside of the room. I almost wish they had been. I wish I didn't know, that I could accept Josh's embrace tonight with blissful ignorance. But that's all over now. Gone. Tossed away by someone I thought I loved. I thought loved me.

I don't want to go back inside, but I have to. It's cold out here, almost as cold as it is inside me, and if I think about this any longer I'll forget the safety of the hotel room and lean towards the oblivion of the fall. I'm a joke, worthless, easily discarded for someone new. And I'm not even worth the courtesy of being told, of being dumped with my dignity intact.

I let my feet hit the metal floor of the balcony and stand there for a moment, staring at the curtains that fail to screen the glass doors. I'd left the door open, and a moment later step through.

"Close that," says Joey, putting his hand over the mouthpiece of the phone for a moment. "It's cold."

I don't even acknowledge the words, other than to slide the glass door shut. Josh gives me a fake smile--I know that smile; you can see it all over the pages of teenybopper magazines--and I return it. I wonder if he recognizes that it's my fake smile. I wonder if he cares.

Quietly I step around the lounging bodies and leave the room, heading for the solitude of my own room. Josh's bag is in here, his things strewn across the room in his typical method of unpacking. I bite my lip and hold back tears--tears of sorrow, tears of fury, tears of humiliation--then begin to pick up his things and place them in the bad. Deliberately, carefully.

When the room is picked clean of any trace of my former lover, I place the bag next to the door and turn away from it. I don't want to see it anymore. Don't want to be reminded that it was ever welcome. I walk over to the desk--ours is clear of papers; I'd bet money that Lance's isn't--and pull out a piece of hotel stationary.

'Dear Josh,' it begins, and it's funny how much that sounds like Dear John. I bite my lip again, then chew on the end of the complimentary pen. I thought writing songs was hard; this is harder. The words come, at last, in a torrent that's matched by the tears that finally fall from my eyes. I sign it with large, spiky letters--a fake signature, also visible in teenybopper rags--and wonder if he'll recognize that, too.

I turn and my breath catches for a moment as I see someone standing in the doorway. Chris looks down at the bag by the door, then back up at me with sadness and sympathy in his eyes.

"You know," he says.

I nod and scrub the tears away, the note still in my other hand. I take a moment to lay it on top of the bag, then look at him again. I'm calm now, the tears quickly drying up. "Why didn't anyone tell me?"

He shrugs and a guilty look passes through his expression and his posture. "I hope it would end," he admits. "I hoped that Josh would come to his senses. I hoped that it would work itself out without me having to do anything."

"Well, it didn't," I say bitterly, wanting to lash out but unable to direct my anger at one of my remaining friends. "How long?"

"A month. Maybe more."

I shake my head and will the tears away again. I'm stronger than this. I'm down but not out. Not yet.

He nods at the bag by the door. "For what it's worth," he says. "I think you're doing the right thing." I let out a quiet sob despite my best efforts. "I know it hurts," he says, and he holds his arms open so I can cry into his shirt. I don't want to, but I do it anyway. And it feels better than I expected.

"Come on," he says, putting an arm around my shoulders and leading me out of the hotel room. Out of my sanctuary. Out of my hiding place. Away from my former life with Josh. "Let's go downstairs and I'll buy you a drink."

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