I found her outside a coffeeshop, our coffeeshop, the one where we met, feet propped up on a chair, dark circles looming under her eyes, big like quarters, cigarette in hand.
I pulled the chair out from under her feet, taking back what should have been mine. “I thought you didn’t smoke, Serena.”
As I spoke her name, I realized how fitting it was, she had no idea. Serena. Like siren. Men heard their call, went mad with desire, dashed their ships on the rocks. All they brought was destruction.
“I don’t,” she said, her gaze like the cigarette smoke she blew out, going all around me, but never right at me.
“Obviously,” I replied, shaking my head at her contradiction. It was at her very core, she was contrary by nature. Saying she doesn’t smoke while smoking. Yelling at drivers who cut her off, then merging without looking. Saying she loved me, then disappearing for days at a time. “Where have you been?”
She glared at me, eyes full of fire, the only part of her face betraying her emotion. “Who are you, my mother?”
“No, I’m your boyfriend, in case you’ve forgotten.” Her voice had been like poison, but so was mine. She should know how it felt.
“Boyfriend,” she muttered, low and cruel before taking a drag on her cigarette. “Aren’t we a little old for labels like ‘boyfriend’ and ‘girlfriend?’”
It hurt me, right to the core, but I didn’t let her see. I remembered a time when her eyes lit up when she introduced me. “This is my boyfriend.” There was a time we belonged to each other, once. Now she belonged to no one, not even herself. But I. . . I was still hers.
I wondered what kept me there, why I stayed. I should have left ages ago, I knew that. I was fed up; her coldness, her absence, the way she could destroy me with a single look. But then I remembered her eyes full of light and warmth, the way she cried at sad movies, her hand on my shoulder when my father died.
She had been gone longer this time. Five days, but I hadn’t worried as much as I should have. I stared openly, trying to figure out where she’d been, waiting to see if she’d own up to anything. But she was a wall, impenetrable.
Then I saw it, the red, blotchy bruise on her neck, and I knew where she’d been. My heart turned to stone, cold, dead, just like hers was. I reached across the table and pulled out one of her cigarettes. I saw her face as I lit it, took a puff, and I smiled inside.
“I thought you didn’t smoke, Jude,” she told me.
“I don’t,” I said, my gaze like the cigarette smoke I blew out.