They were a perfect match. They seemed to fit together, not like pieces of a
puzzle, which are only pieces until they are joined, but like a flower fits a vase, and
fitting, gives a new beauty to both.
In the morning, they would smile at each other across the breakfast table,
and in the afternoons, they would walk, arm in arm, he bowing his head slightly, to
catch the bright words she spoke for him alone. At night, they slept, entwined. And
the days passed, bright, running together, until it was early autumn.
She noticed, this evening, how the leaves crackled under their feet, and how
the air smelled, sharp and new. She felt as if she had never known autumn before this
moment. Leaves, a warm gold, drifted down from the trees, and he laughed as he
brushed them off her shoulders and freed them from her hair. She thought how clear
his laughter was.
They were glowing and a little breathless as they came to the building
where he lived. He had several messages on the call board. The man at the desk
smiled as he gave them to the boy. He always smiled, to see them together.
It was not until they were upstairs, in his room, that the boy looked through
the squares of paper in his hand. At the second one he stopped, and frowned. He read
"It's Beth. She wants me to call her. She says it's important."
Something inside the girl froze, but her smile stayed warm.
"I'll wait." He did not have a telephone in his room. He would have to walk
to a pay phone.
"Don't you want to come along?" He seemed surprised. She shook her
head. With a kiss and a promise not be away too long, he was gone.
She sat on the bed. She tried not to think of where he was, of what he was
doing. It annoyed her that she had let the message bother her. He had known Beth a
long time. They had been very close.
He had been gone a long time, and she was getting restless. She got up,
walked around the room. It was small, and cluttered ,and smelled of paint. There was
an easel in one corner, the painting on it nearly finished. He had begun painting it
months ago, when they had just met. She had been fascinated, watching him sketch a
hundred preliminary drawings, mixing the paints, working with his brushes.
Watching him had struck something inside her. She had gazed at his hands, so
unlike what she had always imagined an artist's hands to be. They were not delicate
and long-fingered, graceful and soft. They were broad, rough, strong. The hands of a
creator, she had thought; the hands of a god.
She studied the painting. It was of a boy and girl, standing by a carousel. It
was a strong paining, with sharp colors and heavy strokes. He was having trouble
with the positioning of the girl's arm. No matter how he tried, it came out twisted. If
it were not for the twisted arm, the painting would be done.
The girl smiled at the memory of his anger, the day he had thrown his
palette against the wall. He had looked so much like a child. Later, she had scraped
the paint off the wall.
She was still smiling when he returned. She turned at the sound of the door,
anticipating his smile, his touch. She forgave him for being away so long.
At the look in his eye, her heart skipped a beat. He seemed tired. He walked
past her, and sat on the bed. He rested his head on his hands.
The girl could not speak. She did not want to ask what was wrong. The
silence was heavy.
"She's having a bad time, really bad. She's very unhappy there. She says
she misses me."
The girl stood very still. Her words were slow, and careful.
"Of course she misses you. Did you think she wouldn't?"
He smiled. She had known he would. It was a quick smile.
"Why can't she just forget me?"
The girl did not want to answer, but she knew she didn't have a choice.
They had done this before. He counted on her understanding. She always understood.
And who understands for me? she thought. After I understand, and understand, who
can understand for me?
"She loves you."
"I wish there was something I could do for her. She wants me to visit her.
She says she needs me."
Her heartbeat quickened. NO NO NO NO NO NO NO She wanted to hit
something, to hurt something. Her smile never faltered. She understood.
"You know I still love her."
Everything was cold now. She saw herself ripped open, ice spilling from
her. She could not look at him, could not answer him.
"That bothers you."
"Just a little." She could not keep the sarcasm out of her voice. She hated
herself for losing control.
"You've got nothing to fear from her."
"Haven't I?" Again, she hated herself.
He smiled at her. "She's a thousand miles away."
"Is that supposed to be reassuring?" She was angry now, and she couldn't
stop. "Do you have any idea how that makes me feel? Like geography is the only
advantage I've got. Like if I were the one who were a thousand miles away, she
would be the one in your bed."
"That's not true." He was angry.
"It certainly feels like it."
He was angry, and she was sorry for starting it all. They had never fought
before. The walk they had taken this afternoon seemed very long ago.
"Am I supposed to stop caring for people? Do I have to only love one
person at time? Is it really possible to for someone to say, 'I love this person more
than I love that one'?"
Yes, she thought, oh, yes, a person can love someone more than they've
ever loved anyone. She said nothing.
"You knew when I met you that I still cared for her. She was a good
A good friend, she thought, a good friend the way I'm a good friend, and
someday he will tell someone else that he still loves me and I was a good friend.
"Yes, I knew. I'm being silly. I must be tired."
It was a lie. She was tired of the fight. She was afraid for it to go on, afraid
they would both say things they really didn't want to. She had said too much already.
Words she could never get back.
"Look, I'm sorry. I just didn't realize how you felt. I thought you knew how
much I love you, enough not to get jealous. I won't talk about her, ever again."
"But you'll be thinking about her."
He stared at the painting. "Yes, I'll be thinking about her."
She sat down next to him, on the bed. His hand was warm on her cheek.
"I love you."
"I know. I think I want to sleep in my own room tonight."
It was dark outside when they left. The evening was turning cold. He put his
arm around her. They talked about his painting, about the twisted arm and how he
would mend it. The leaves crumbled under their feet. He held her tightly, fiercely, as
they stood at her door.
"I was so happy."
He did not answer, but turned and walked back across the fallen leaves.
It was not until she was alone, in the darkness of her room, that she began to