It was so cold as I walked home that night. I was in a hurry. I was hurt. I was angry. My hair smelled of bonfire and my breath of bourbon taken straight from the bottle. I focused my stride as a police cruiser went by, told myself to breathe, and I hoped that James would freeze to death behind me.
It was the holidays. Just after Thanksgiving and right before Christmas, the town was decorated and festive. My friend and I had eaten dinner at the local brewery earlier, but I always stop before I’m full. A single drink is enough but it’s never where we stop. The old schoolhouse glowed warmly. Local merchants had set up inside and everybody bustled merrily to buy gifts and catch up with one another. Cheeks pink and fingers blue, we wandered through town grabbing little things here and there. A friend invited us to a party. The ceramicist and the metal sculptor were doing drinks at their studio after everything else was shuttered. This is the place I call home.
Catherine and I sat next to one another in front of the fire chatting idly but sticking close. This is what single women do. She’s happily single and not looking. I was in love with someone I didn’t think loved me back. Not like that. I told my friend Nick as he was leaving that I love this place. That it’s weird like I am, and the only place I’ve ever felt I belonged. As if to illustrate this, his wife ran across the street, a ham in her hands, yelling “Happy birthday! Have a ham!” Catherine and I still stayed. The mixers all gone, and being just drunk enough not to care, the bourbon was passed around the circle. I don’t even like bourbon but I drank anyway because comfort comes in many forms, and alcohol makes it easier to ask for some of them.
It wasn’t my intention. Catherine and I had been flirting with him. He’d picked us each up in a bear hug over and over again, and I’d screamed each time. I got up to go to the bathroom and came outside to find him standing there. I asked him if he wanted to kiss me. He said yes and then he did. I didn’t want him. He wasn’t smart. He wasn’t intriguing. He was nothing like the man I loved. What I wanted was validation. What I wanted was to be wanted. What I wanted was the distraction and the power.
Catherine became concerned about me. I’d disappeared on her, and she began texting me. I ignored it. My pocket yelling, “people, what a bunch of bastards,” over and over again. Eventually, she came to find me. I was pinned against the side of his car. I said I was fine. She said she was leaving. I said, “okay.” She said, “are you sure?” I said, “Yes.”
This was where the narrative should have ended. Where the spell should have been broken. This is where I should have gone with her, let her walk me home. I didn’t. I stayed.
The party began to break up around us. They left trailing by as they went to their cars or to walk home. The hosts asked me if I wanted to come with them. I said I was fine. They said, “are you sure?” I said, “yes.” There were warnings in their eyes. Later, there would be apologies from them. For their lack of insistence.
This was where the narrative should never have gone. This was a bad decision. I made it. I stayed.
It was cold outside, and though two bodies pressed together are warmer than one standing alone, we got into the back of his car. The back seats of the SUV already down as if he’d earlier transported something. It wasn’t comfortable, but it wasn’t exposure to the elements, either. We stayed there awhile. He kept trying to undo my pants, and I kept moving his hand away. He said he wanted to sleep with me, that he had protection with him. That was when I said, “no.” That was when he became angry. That was when he said, “your friends warned me about you. They said you’re a slut. You can get out now.” I gathered myself. I gathered my things. I said, “my friends wouldn’t say that about me because they’re my friends.” I got out of the car.
It was so cold as I walked home that night. I was in a hurry. I was hurt. I was angry. My hair smelled of bonfire and my breath of bourbon taken straight from the bottle. I focused my stride as a police cruiser went by, told myself to breathe, and I hoped that James would freeze to death behind me. I also hoped he wouldn’t follow.