Franco is sprawled on Elizabeth's white sofa, long legs stretched out and crossed at the ankles, feet covered by striped, mismatched socks the boys had picked out that morning and insisted he wear, hooting and giggling their musical sounds as he'd pretended to grumble as he pulled them on, pretended impatience with this new daily ritual... when the truth is, he'd been silently giggling right along with them...
Elizabeth's sofa. He tries to catch himself when he thinks that way, hears her voice correcting him over and over… No, Franco, this is OUR sofa, OUR bed, OUR home… but he can't quite bring himself to completely settle in and inhabit all this softness and cleanliness and simplicity. He fakes it well, even sometimes to himself, like now, sprawling and territorial like this… but mostly he feels like a reckless, hulking thing, or a stain he's trying desperately to contain and keep from spreading over the purity of these innocent lives…
The open book on his chest long ago lost his interest, the words swamping together into a gray, unintelligible mass. Elizabeth is curled up with John Grisham in the adjacent puffy armchair, absently twisting her hair around her finger, chewing her lip, utterly engrossed. He wishes he could lose himself like that. It used to be so simple — pick up a paintbrush or a spray can and he was in another world, energy buzzing like current through a live-wire. And then it would be full night, or cool dawn, or he'd be so hungry his stomach would be cramping and he'd realize he'd missed an entire day. It had been glorious… but also terrible… to disappear like that, easy as smoke on a breeze. But the thing was, the thing is… it was reliable, there for the taking. And he doubts he'll ever have that again.
He feels eyes on him, looks up to find Elizabeth half-smiling at him.
"Why the face?" she says.
"I'm having a face?"
She transforms her features into a deep, exaggerated frown, brow comically furrowed.
He pushes his reading glasses up his nose to get a better look, long past feeling self-conscious about them. He's not vain, it's just that they always remind him of loss — lost years, lost potential, lost purpose… however hideously misguided. It amuses him that she refuses to wear her own glasses in front of him, insisting they're just for night driving. He tried them on once and was oddly stunned to find that her eyesight is worse than his… but then it made a kind of sense, provided an explanation of sorts, to realize that darkness confuses her, that her distance-vision is limited… so of course she can't see ahead to all the things he can see so clearly, all the things that terrify him…
He shakes his head. "Nope. Never in my life have I looked like that."
"Uh-huh!" she chirps, face settling back into its usual beauty, and she smiles at him with such fervent affection that joy ripples up his arms and nestles into his heart. It always amazes him — the fresh, unpredictable effect of her on all his parts, inside and out.
He smiles back, sighs deeply, tries to re-engage with his book, but she's still watching him… with soft eyes and that air of patient encouragement that he's learned means she's seen in him something he wants to talk about, even though he hasn't realized it yet. He searches himself, retraces a trail of feeling that has some coherence to it after all…
"I think I miss… things I don't want to miss," he says hesitantly. "Things I shouldn't be missing."
She tilts her head, listening.
"Like... a certain kind of confidence. Power." He winces at the idea… but it's true. "An identity."
She furrows her brow for real. "You don't feel like you have an identity?"
"I did. Sure. It was monstrous... but it was whole and it was mine and I believed every inch of it." He takes off his glasses, lays them and the book on the coffee table next to his bowl of cheese curls. "But it was based on lies and sickness… and now that I know all that, the supposed truth, it's like I'm standing in a huge pile of rubble, sifting through everything, trying to figure out what to get rid of, what to keep, what's okay to want to keep… what I might really want to keep that's not okay... not anymore…"
His body warms then with recollections, sensations — the thrill of the game, of mastering an opponent, the dark pleasure of imposing his will, his utter faith in his own superiority…
The knot of shame he swallows down nearly chokes him.
She's quiet, wearing a look of gentle concern, waiting for him to continue or not ...
"I'm just so tired, Elizabeth," he says. "Every time I turn around, there's something new, some new upheaval, some new lie—," he breaks off, acutely aware of all he himself is hiding, even now… all that's preventing him from truly being here, from settling into and inhabiting this place… and this incredible love.
The heavy weight of an unfathomable universe suddenly seems on the verge of crushing him. "Why do people lie so much?" he whispers, more to himself than to her.
"Fear," she says simply, as though it's the most obvious thing in the world. He blinks, tries that on… it's certainly one reason, but he quickly comes up with half-a-dozen other reasons he'd used in the past — like personal gain, the pleasure of a well-executed mind-fuck, the sheer fun of getting away with it — but mostly, in this new world he's working hard to understand, she's right.
He blasts out a sigh, pushes it all away — the past, the ruminations, the words he needs to say but won't — and she lets him. For now. She eyes him as she slowly returns to her book, a small enigmatic smile on her lips. He knows that she knows he's struggling with something. She's known for weeks, but is giving him time, space… patient encouragement.
He'll tell her. He will — when the shame of his own cowardice and the pain of loneliness, of staying apart in the midst of all this love are too great to bear… he'll tell her everything. All the things he's omitted or distorted, all he's hidden from her out of fear… he'll tell her.
And maybe then she'll help him pick through the rubble, find the best pieces, discard the rest. Maybe she'll even accept the things he's not quite willing to reject, tell him it's okay, we can work with this. Maybe she'll help him rebuild himself into someone both of them can love.