“Move in with me.” He whispered the words into her neck. He had been wanting to ask her for weeks, somehow though, whenever he tried to hint at the possibility, it was always brushed away, albeit lightheartedly.
“Jonas would be disappointed, the man cave would be infiltrated.” This was what she had said just yesterday when he had suggested a permanent spot for her toothbrush. Yes, it was cliche and terrible and he knew it, but he had been uncertain, and he always ended up venturing into cheesy territory to overcompensate for a lack of confidence.
Jonas, the aforementioned canine, was curled up on the sofa, dreaming of rabbits. He could see his back legs jumping every few seconds, caught in an imaginary chase.
Samejima felt the cool twinge of anxiety sink into her stomach. His lease was ending next month, he told her, and he had found the perfect studio along the park.
She had been brushing off his advances for the past week. She knew he had noticed, she knew it was hurting him. Avoiding was what she was good at, and she wanted to avoid the reality that she wasn’t in love with him. Maybe she never had been.
It wasn’t until he actually asked for more that she realized she couldn’t give it.
He wasn’t a fool. He had noticed the walls that she had put around herself from day one of their relationship. But he had expected that as time went on, those walls would slowly come down. And she did open up to him in some ways.
She was always honest, straightforward. This is why he had sprung this on her, in a direct, succinct manner...right before they were going to have sex.
Actually, it was because he had gotten his arousal confused with self-certainty. Wasn’t this the relationship faux pax? He wanted to backtrack, tell her to put a pin in it. But it was too late, the words had tumbled out of his mouth before he could stop them.
“Um.” She pulled her hands from the buttons of his shirt.
The timeline of their relationship had reached move-in-together junction. Her friends asked her about it, her mother asked her about it, she had even gotten questions from her coworkers. She had told herself that they were just nosy, that it wasn’t any of their business. But she also knew as time went on, she was just stringing him along.
It was time to be honest with him and he was obviously intent on getting an answer.
He sat back on his heels and remained quiet, giving her room to process. She could see a myriad of emotions playing across his face. “We can’t keep doing this.” He said it so quietly it was almost a whisper.
He had prepared for a little apprehension on her end, she had always been a little dodgy about this kind of stuff. But still, he expected her to at least consider it, even if only for a moment. “I know that the idea might make you uncomfortable.” he stated, “It’s a big step, and I get it, I do. But I need to know what is going on here. I just need an answer, any answer.”
“I-” She frowned. “I know.”
The silence hung between them like a thick black cloud. She used the excuse of putting her sweatshirt back on to elongate said silence.
“You’re doing it again.” he nudged her lightly after a minute had passed. He was smirking now, and that was so like him, shrugging off the little cracks in the woodwork because the building still stood. Their whole relationship she had avoided vulnerability, and he had avoided conflict. It was why they were here today, on totally separate pages.
She opened her mouth, closed it, then opened it again.
“You have always let me be honest with you. I’m not going to sugar coat this, I don’t know how I could. I don’t want to move in with you. I don’t think...I ever...will.” She tried to say it all in one breath, before she could lose her nerve, but the last words were harder to say than she expected.
It was because of the face he was making, that face, the one she was looking at now. It was like a wad of gum on the back of a shoe or a pit of mud on a bike trail. He told her he had always valued her honesty, but she didn’t realize until now how brutal honesty could be.
Now it’s was his turn to be quiet. When she had spoken his expression shifted suddenly, the smirk lost in a hard, somber expression.
“Did you ever love me?” he finally asked her, looking up to meet her eyes.
He wanted to kick himself for doing it again, pointing the proverbial flashlight at her and asking her to spill her guts. Apparently his thoughts were bypassing his processing zone and moving directly into the speech center. Gin was not his friend. Gin would never be his friend.
“Would my answer really change anything?” Her words feel sharp, like the twisting of a knife. She said it instantly, no pause to mull it over, no hesitation to spare his feelings.
But she didn’t say it to hurt him. She said it because to stay silent and lead him to believe in a lie, wouldn’t that hurt him more?
He let out a small, humorless laugh.
“You know, it used to irritate the hell out of me when you’d do that, avoiding the question. I never understood why you did it until now. You never could lie well.”
Maybe he was just a glutton for punishment. What did he want to hear? No, I never loved you. Our whole relationship was a lie.
But it wasn’t, was it? There was something there, something real, even if it had already passed out of existence.
“It did...mean something.” She says as if reading his mind. “I mean, it still does.”
She let out a small groan, flushing red, “I just-. It doesn’t make sense if we both want different things.”
He gives a small nod in reply. He is busy trying to navigate the absolute train-wreck of his emotions and he doesn’t want to speak, for fear that he will ask yet another stupid question.
“Are you angry?” It isn’t he who does the asking this time. She keeps her eyes glued to his as she says it.
“Angry? Nah. I think...” He pauses, rubbing his chin thoughtfully, “I think I’ve kind of known for a while now.”
They both sigh, almost simultaneously, as if to announce that, perhaps, the worst part has already come and gone.
She is walking up the stairs of her apartment building when she is finally pulled from the ocean of her thoughts. A man juggling two moving boxes is trying to wade down the stairs without dropping them. She recognizes him as her neighbor, the one who always hosted parties that lasted until 2 am. He had a cat named ZuZu who liked to hop over to her veranda to take a shit.
In the first few weeks of his move-in, she had placed a barrage of bamboo plants flush against the railing to deter further invasion. They died in less than a month, either from overwatering or too much direct sunlight. The first and last time she had looked up care instructions for her plants was to find out their cause of death.
“Ah, Samejima, hello!” he said as she scooted aside to make room for his passing. There was a small toy bear poking out of the top of the box. She had had the same one growing up and wondered if they were a household staple, or if this was just a serendipitous reunion.
“Hello.’ She said, more to the bear than her neighbor, but he wasn’t in a position to notice. She offered to help him with his boxes once she changed clothes. It would be nice to have something to focus on besides the cool blue of her bedroom wall.
“Ah, no that’s okay, I’m nearly finished actually.” She glanced down at the small trailer attached to his grey Sedan. There were a few gaps in the piles of boxes and none of the top boxes were sealed. Once, she read a newspaper article about a semi-truck transporting beer that had gone over a ditch. Dented, broken cans littered the freeway for nearly half a mile.
“Some of your boxes are open still.” She muttered as he yanked the door of the trailer down.
“ZuZu will miss you.” He said, wiping his hands on the legs of his sweatpants. He hadn’t heard her.
“Well, I hope you have safe travels.”
“Oh, I’m not going far. Got a new place just about twenty minutes up north. My girlfriend and I are moving in together.”
“Of course you are.”
“Sorry, I didn’t catch that.” he climbs the stairs two at a time until he reaches the step below hers.
Had she said that out loud?
“I said I will miss ZuZu too. It is going to feel empty over there.”
“Well, it won’t for long.” He throws a conspiratory glance to his left and right. “The landlord says he already has the vacancy filled.”
She says farewell to her now former neighbor, and glides past the now-empty apartment 204. And as she dips her hand into the pocket of her coat, she wonders about what kind of person will occupy the room next door.