The glass tumbler whisked by my right cheek, leaving a stream of gin behind on my face. As I heard the tumbler shatter behind me, I felt our relationship finally shatter as well, the last of the stress fractures finally giving in. I watched Penny continue her manic tirade toward me, not really hearing her words any more as much as just feeling her general malevolence toward me. I felt suddenly hollow and the full exhaustion of trying to keep our mercurial relationship afloat. I smelled like spent gin. I hated gin, and not just because it was her poison of choice.
I was aware of Penny screaming at me, but it was some of her family members that came to mind to distract me from it. Her sister Nichol, both warning me early on on how her sister could be, and grateful that she finally met a guy that might have the fortitude to withstand her turbulent mood swings. I thought of her mother giving me a fierce hug every time we visited, as if I did her the greatest of favors for standing by her little Penny. I felt like I was failing them, even as I could hear them almost say, “You gave it a better go than most, we know how she can be.”
“...Do you even care?” I heard Penny scream at me, bringing me back to the moment.
“I will always care about you Penny,” the words came out of me weakly. Deep down I know they were true, but right now I wanted this moment to be over. I wanted to be gone. I wanted to not reek of gin, it made me think too much of her and of all of the things of her that kept me wanting to try to make us work.
“Incredible! Did you even hear what I just said?”
It was hard to put the pieces of the disjointed tirade together; when everything and nothing were my fault. When her loathing shifted to me and back to herself too quickly to keep up. She said something about Kyle. I initially took it as a jab, but perhaps it was more.
“Yeah, blowing Kyle. Do you not even care that I did?”
My focus snapped toward her, even as I replayed the tumbler shattering behind me. “I care, Kyle is a jackass. He is not worth your time, even if you feel I am not anymore either.”
“Dammit David, I just sucked his dick, it didn’t mean anything…”
She wanted me to care a moment ago, and now wanted me to believe it didn’t mean anything. I thought of all of the times she went down on me, those times meant something to me, those times were never simply just the act itself. I needed to go. I needed to be away from this...everything.
“I need to go Penny.”
“We are not done!”
“That is where you are mistaken. We are. I am. I am too tired for doing this over and over again.”
“You are leaving me, because of Kyle? You are such a bastard!” She wanted it to sound strong, but she suddenly sounded scared, as if she suddenly realized just how far I have slipped away over the last few months.
I turned my head and looked at the wall behind me. I could feel her eyes follow where mine went. I cringed to see that the tumbler hit the painting I bought her on our first month-iversary. It was torn and ruined. It shocked me that the sound of the shattering was so loud hitting the painting. It made me sad. She loved that painting more than almost anything else, when her episode subsided, she would feel it’s lost. I looked at it for the last time, a bright angel pulling a woman from a dark abyss. A promise now broken, by both of us. A failure I would feel later, right now I just needed to be gone.
“No Penny, not because of Kyle,” I left the rest unsaid.
I walked out the door with just the clothes on my back. At some point we would have to work out who would stay in the apartment. As I closed the door, I heard her rage try to cut me a final time. I ran out of room for anymore scars from her. I felt just a deep loss, a deeper failure, and I reeked of spattered gin. God, how I hated gin!
My phone rang, it was Penny. It was the first time she had tried to call since the breakup, since watching her and Nichol leave the apartment with the last of her belongings. I remember Nichol’s apologetic eyes, the weeping mess that Penny was, and the guilt of just wanting them gone. The harsh need to bury the broken relationship and the slow trial of needing to move on.
I almost didn’t answer it. The safer path was not to answer it. Alas, that was also the coward’s path and while I lost a lot of myself with her, I still wanted to believe I was brave enough to try to have a civil conversation with her. I answered it. As soon as I heard her voice, I realized the depth of my folly.
“Hi David, how are you?”
The words were velvet and sincere, projected with her one, sweet voice. My body reacted instinctively to that particular timbre of hers. In that moment I realized that perhaps for the rest of my life, if she used that tone toward me, I would always react to it. Too much history, too many of the good times were mixed with that certain tone. To say it was seductive, would to not understand it, or her, at all. All of my ex-girlfriends had a seductive tone, this was something else entirely. This was one of the ways Penny was more of a force of nature than merely a woman.
“David, are you there?”
There was mirth behind the words; deep, erotic mirth. It was a rhetorical question. She knew I was there, and regardless of all that we lost, that she still had some sway over me in this way, she knew that her voice in that tone soaked into all of my pores until my flesh burned, my blood boiled, and my desire unraveled.
“Yes, Penny. I am here. Just surprised you called. What’s up?”
She laughed. In a near forgotten time, I would have tore at her clothes because of the sweetness of that laugh alone, if she happened to be wearing any in the moment. I had a deep feeling, she currently wasn’t wearing a thing. That particular voice unraveled her just as much. She was a brewing storm now that was just an inevitability that would eventually be unleashed.
“I was just thinking about you. How you were doing? WHAT you were doing?”
I could almost see her hands wander her naked body, trying to entice me, in the rare event her voice didn’t already. So many memories, good memories with her.
Not that it was just the sex. Sex with Penny was an experience all its own. But, it was the aftermaths that I enjoyed just as much, if not more. Every time after, she would curl into me like a lost n’ found cat, and just need that closeness after and she seemed so happy to have it. She seemed to find balance to her mania in those calm moments. The way we would walk hand in hand the day after and just how her fingers interlaced with mine would remind me of how we connected the night before, and how we would again once we got back home. How her smile would be equal parts sweet, loving, and lusting in those moments. Penny was the one that truly taught my heart how to translate love into all of its forms.
“I am doing I suppose. How are you, Penny?”
“I miss you. Can’t you tell?” She laughed and she moaned softly. I could almost see how she touched herself to stir such a sound.
“Penny. We can’t do this…”
“You are wrong, we can. But, for tonight, I got what I wanted. I know you still want me. For tonight, that is enough. Sweet dreams David.”
She didn’t hang up. I heard her breath get more ragged. I felt my heart pound out of my chest. I just wanted to hold her again, if only once more to seal the good memory of her, of us. To save this final ember of us. Then I thought of the tumbler.
“Good night, Penny.”
I hung up before I finished losing my mind. No matter how hard I tried to get the conversation out of my head, her hooks were into me, my body was a traitor to her cause. For a while I tried dreaming of anyone else, but she always bled back into my thoughts. Her contours, her smiles, her scents and how she could completely unnerve me just with a certain tone of voice.
Lightning blinded my vision and the thunder followed immediately after. The storm outside was brutal, so it was not to my surprise that my phone started to ring a moment after that. Penny. Penny the pluviophile. God, but how she loved the rain and a good thunderstorm. I was on my second glass of bourbon. I found that I always needed to drink now with a storm like this, storms being just one more thing I could not experience without thinking of Penny as well.
“Good evening, David. Wonderful storm we are having, isn’t it?” She was speaking in the voice. It made me think of an earlier time, a better time, hearing her whisper, “I am the lightning and you are the thunder...that comes after.” My cock got aroused by just hearing her voice in that sweet tone. My lust stirred from all of the memories fucking her during storms such as this one, especially the first time out on the balcony, the rain pounding on us in sheets and the first time she whispered, “I am the lightning and you are the thunder...that comes after.”
“It is definitely something,” my pathetic reply. I take another hard sip, too tired to will my arousal down. She caught onto something in my voice. A crack in the armor perhaps. Or perhaps she was not in the mood to making a game out of it, instead needing to cut to the chase just as much.
“I think I am going to come over to visit you, David. I am just wearing my raincoat and not much else. I want to feel the storm in my hair and feel your eyes soaking me in.”
The part of me that wanted to soak her in barely lost to the part of me that was already starting to get ready to not be here when she showed up. I didn’t have the strength to fight her today, I had even less to resist her.
“I won’t be here when you arrive.”
She laughed, her damned alluring laugh, “That is ok David, I want to walk in the rain regardless. Perhaps our paths with cross. I miss you so much, especially on evenings like this. Hope to see you soon.”
She hung up. I was out the door a moment later. Not even caring that I fled like a coward. My life was too much like that shattered tumbler since Penny and I parted ways. Moving forward was proving to be much more difficult than I could have ever imagined.
By the time I got to a bar I never would have dared visited when I was with Penny, I was soaked to the bone, as were half of the broken souls that ventured into such a place. She would never seek me out here, this place always made her wary when we passed it, bad memories she said only once, and I never pressed further.
I took an open seat at the far end of the bar, part because it was near a heater so perhaps I might get a bit dry while I was there, but it also gave me view of the door so as to watch the other souls that drift in and out. I tossed my cell phone face down on the bar top and waited to catch the bartender’s attention.
It was a place where many bad decisions began. Any bad decisions I was to make sitting here though, would still be wiser than deciding to stay home and try to face Penny head on.
The bartender slid a glass of whiskey sans rocks, my way. I gave her a queried look since I didn’t even put in a request yet, she smiled warmly and replied, “You have the look of needing a stiff drink without anything to cut it. Your eyes burn like whiskey, so I took a guess that that was your poison of choice. It’s on the house if I am wrong.”
A rough looking sort a few stools down cut in, “But, she isn’t wrong, is she? Sweet Molly is never wrong about such things.”
“She is not wrong.”
Molly gave me a slight bow and smile and went to banter with the other patrons, knowing I was currently there for the stiff drink and not for random chitchat. Molly possessed a wisdom beyond her years.
I was halfway into the drink when a woman wetter than me took up the stool next to me. She was a storm that came from another storm, thankfully though, she was not Penny. Half her head was shaved, the other half dyed purple. Half-cut leather jacket, barely covering a very wet, vintage Ms. Pac-man t-shirt underneath. Ms. Pac-man’s strategic placement on the shirt would have made it provocative enough, the fact that it was soaked only enhanced its purpose. The jacket was the only thing that kept every warm blooded male and lesbian from locking onto what Ms. Pac-man was about to eat.
Oddly enough, as much of a rebel look this woman had, she also seemed like she couldn’t escape the girl-next-door vibe she gave off. Most of the lost souls at the bar seemed to brighten up at her presence.
“Hey sis, can you get me the usual and point me out to anything interesting that has wander through the door.”
Molly gave me an eye, and the woman followed it. “I would say possibly, him, but he is here to brood and drink alone, I am afraid sis.”
The woman smiled, as if just accepting a dare. “So what is your story, sailor? Why are you brooding and why the hell would you want to be alone in a place like this?”
I smiled in spite of myself, “Obfuscation.”
Her smile deepened. It was a warm, dangerous thing, that smile of hers, “You are lucky my mother taught me how to read big words. Are you the one that is obfuscating or are you perhaps obfuscating our conversation, to try to prove my dear sister, correct?”
“My ex informed me that she wanted to visit. I did not have the energy to deal with it so I disappeared here for a while.”
“Why here? I am fairly certain I have never seen you here before. I would have noticed if I did.” Her smile deepened, surrendering her dimples. She was impossible not to like. Surprisingly her eyes were more interesting to lock onto than her bloody wonderful t-shirt.
“She has an aversion to this place. Never learned why. Needed the space from her.”
As if summoning her, my cell started to buzz on the bar. I didn’t need to pick it up to know it was Penny needling me.
“Going to answer that?” the woman asked.
She smiled with a feline’s playful malice, “Would you like ME to answer that?”
“No offense, but definitely not.”
Molly and her sister both laughed. Molly chided in, “Oh, Vicki could probably make your ex problems go away…”
Vicki cut off her sister to finish the thought, “...in more ways than one.”
Vicki turned out to be the tonic I needed. She was witty and sweet. Sharp and spicy. Her laugh was soft like her soul. Minus her outward appearance, she seemed completely out of place here.
We played off of each other too easily. What was to happen later was already a foregone conclusion, it was just a matter of terms to be made. I was a man looking to get lost, she was someone looking to get lost into.
“So, if we go to your place Dave, I might be able to solve your ex issue once and for all. Assuming she is hanging out there…”
We stumbled into Vicki’s place about fifteen minutes later. Her door was barely closed before half of our clothes were in a wet pile on the ground. The only thing wetter than the two of us were my fingers buried between her thighs and my tongue buried in her own whiskey-soaked mouth. I was already thanking God that Vicki’s usual wasn’t bloody gin.
I watched Angie fork her salad in the danty way she attacked everything she ate. All the while thinking of the conversation I had with Vicki earlier.
“...give her a chance Davy. I know she can’t be as wonderful as me, but she seems to fit you.”
The words haunted me. It has been six months since Vicki moved away, and thus put whatever we had on hold. She played us off as the very best of friends with the very best of benefits, which was true, yet she felt us taking a break was better than trying to do the long distant thing. Molly admitted to me Vicki was going to miss me, but felt the break would be good for both of them. Vicki was too quick to fall in love with wounded birds that ended up leaving her once they were healed.
“How is your steak, David?”
Angie was currently on a meatless diet, so it was hard to tell if the question was laced with something else. It was always so hard to tell with Angie.
“It is wonderful. How is salad?”
“I’ve had better.”
We both seemed somewhere else. That seemed to be the problem with us. We fit in all of the obvious ways, but we were somewhere else as much as we were ever together. Vicki always spoke her mind. Angie, always buried her message in propriety and manners.
Just when I thought the evening couldn’t become more awkward, I spied Penny and her sister Nichol walk into the restaurant. Penny spotted me instantly, as if I was still programmed into her radar. Nichol saw me a moment later and followed in Penny’s wake, an apology already forming on her pretty face.
“David! What a surprise to see you here, how have you been?”
The people at the tables near ours turn at the question. Penny made it all a spectacle without even trying to make it a spectacle. Penny eyed Angie in a way that measured everything about her. Angie’s look back was a cold thing, that made the ice in her water seem like it was floating on the surface of the sun.
“I am well, Penny. How are the two of you?”
Nichol tried to answer, Penny was faster, “I can’t speak for Nickel, but I am great! Are you going to introduce us, David? Or should I do it for you?”
I introduced Angie to Penny and Nichol. And gave as brief a summary of who they were as was safely possible. Angie could barely stand that I still had a relationship with Vicki, and already showed jealousy toward Penny’s ghost. Penny-in-the-flesh was already dooming any chance of savaging something pleasant out of the evening.
Nichol, bless her heart, was able to pry Penny away fairly quickly. Even so, Angie made it well known to me everytime Penny looked over at us from her table.
Angie became attentive and possessing. I yearned for that attention a half hour ago, now it seemed plastic and for all the wrong reasons. Angie was a perfect fit, except where she wasn’t.
I was already believing the relationship was doomed at the beginning of the night, now as she caressed my hand and smiled all of the ways she was going to devour me later, I knew it was.
I took another sip, staring at nothing in particular when I hear a familiar voice behind me ask, “Funny finding you here, do you mind if I join you?”
I turn to see a very sad Nichol standing there. I give her a slight smile and nod at the stool next to me. I noticed her wedding band was nowhere to be found.
“Why is it funny? Finding me here?”
She smiled bigger and giggled, “Because, one you are alone, and you never seem to be able to be alone for very long, and two, I always assume you mentally torch a place that Penny has seen you in, so surprised you are here.”
“She is not close behind you, is she?”
“No, I have enough on my mind without, dealing with Penny today. Although, to be fair to her, she has been seeing a doctor and getting herself...help. But, the road has been hard on her. It is like she has woken from a nightmare and now is forced to see the carnage she left in her wake.”
“Well, for her sake then, I am glad she doesn’t have to face me right now.”
“Yeah, facing you right now honestly might be a bit too much for her. She is completely different since the last time we saw you...here.”
“I see…” I really didn’t, because I could not imagine that type of Penny. If Nichol was to be believed, I think new Penny would almost be harder to deal with.
“So, how is your girlfriend, Angie, right?”
“Fine I suppose, and she is not my girlfriend.”
“Good, she seemed cold, not that Penny helped that night.”
“Angie could be cold, all on her own. We had a lot in common save genuine warmth. All her heat for me was something almost...”
“Yeap, that is a perfect way to put it.”
Our eyes caught, and we shared a silent moment. I missed Nichol’s friendship. I didn’t try to hold onto it after the breakup. Sometimes you can, in this case, it would have just been an extra complication that would have died a miserable death because of it.
“So, you and Andy just split or…”
“We are very much done,” the pain in her voice was heartbreaking.
We sat and drank in silence for a time. Nichol broke the ice, “Want to know a secret?”
“Sure, what the hell, a secret sounds like as good of a thing as any to talk about.”
“My mom always wished you and I met before Andy and me or you and Penny did.”
“Yep. Almost a bit too much. She loved you to death and thought we would have fit together wonderfully.”
Another shared, silent moment. As both of us played the what-might-have-beens through our heads.
I imagined laugher and tenderness. Deep discussions and the most intimate of sex. I imagined it easily, without illusion. Nichol’s mom was nothing, if not a wise woman. Oddly enough, I never gave it a thought until now. Why ever dream about impossibilities?
“And what about you, Nichol? What do you think about that?”
She was quiet for a time, as if trying to find the proper words to string together, “I didn’t think much of it until after you were gone. I realized I missed you more than I would have thought. You brought something nice and kind to the family. Boy, I was furious with Penny, which hurt her. She felt she deserved sisterly loyalty. Perhaps some of that fury was misdirected.”
It was an answer and it wasn’t. I was fine with it, because it was probably all I was going to get. I was pretty certain I didn’t want to chase the answer down any further.
Nichol surprised me though by continuing, “Honestly, right now, I think in my life I would love nothing more to see if mom is right, but…”
I looked in this lovely woman’s eyes, seeing another sweet life pass us by, almost tasting the rightness of it, almost hearing Vicki’s enthusiastic approval of such a pairing, “...if only it wasn’t Penny’s heart in between.”
Neither of us would open up that door. It could be the sweetest life behind that door, but our love for Penny would never let us truly enjoy it.
“For what it is worth, Nickel, I always thought Andy was a douchebag, no offense.”
“For what it is worth, David, I always knew you did. Mom did too, and was perhaps the second biggest reason she loved you so. Too bad I couldn’t see it until it was already too late.”
We returned to our drinks, and our silence, and our share moments in another life that would have more easily allowed us to have been something more than friends.
I sat alone on my birthday, sipping a fine Scotch that my brother sent me. It was an earthy thing. A drink made to burn serious moments into one’s mind.
I just got off the phone with Vicki. She was having a hard time out in L.A. She was a woman that was always hard to hear so sad, because her normal approach against life was so damn happy, in spite of all the obstacles in the way.
The last time we spoke, she shot down the idea of me quitting my life here and moving out there. Tonight wasn’t the time to mention it again, and yet I could almost feel she wish I had. She would have shot it down again, but it would have given her something.
The doorbell rang. I answered it without even peeking to see who was there. I was a bit surprised to see Penny.
“Hi David, Happy Birthday! May I come in, if it is ok?”
I nodded, shocked at the transformation. The Penny of old would have waltzed in as if the invitation was already granted and would have already made herself at home. This one stepped in cautiously, as if trying to detect landmines placed. My heart wilted a bit at that. It wilted more catching her look at the place where her painting once hung.
“Do you miss it,” she asked absently.
“I miss a lot of things,” was my simple and honest reply.
We sat down at the table and she held out a small bag.
“A present and a peace offering, David. I can never fully apologize for all of the hurt I inflicted onto you, but I hope you can at least accept this in my attempt to.”
I took the bag, removed the tissue papers and took out a small, wrapped box. I looked at her and she nodded eagerly, her breath caught until I opened it.
I unwrapped it, and opened the box, pulling out a glass tumbler.
A glass tumbler pieced back together from thousands of pieces, if not millions.
“This...must have taken you…”
“...a long, fucking time to put back together. At least my mania was good for something. About three minutes after you left me that night I was frantic and finding all of the pieces. Obviously, a few are forever gone but…”
She cut me off, “but, after finding most of them, I was just as frantic to putting it back together. I thought then, putting it back together could undo...andway, I did get that far. In talking to my doctor, she showed me the folly of my thought process, much as it was. However, she felt it might be good to at least offer it to you. So, here we are.”
I held the glass, as I never held it before. It was something sacred. I knew the mania that it took to try to recover it all, I battled it countless times. I knew the mania it took for her to want to put it back together. I smiled, somewhat surprised she didn’t try to melt it down and make it anew that way.
“Thank you, Penny. It is actually the best present I have received in quite some time.” It was.
“How are you otherwise, David? Are you well?” Her words were strangely sincere, it was comforting.
“I am, in my way.”
“Thank you. I never thanked you. I told you that I loved you often, but I never thanked you. And perhaps, you deserved that more. So, it is a bit late, but thank you.”
She squeezed my hand, as if to seal the sincerity of it. I smiled.
We shared a silent moment. A moment of what might have been, if things played out a bit differently.
We shared a silent moment, grateful for a moment of brief friendship, as the first shards of what was slowly glued back together.
We shared a silent moment, knowing there was not enough time in our lives to wait for those shards to resemble the glass in my hand, but there was something sweet in knowing that some impossibly broken things can still be repaired in a sense. Right then, that seemed better than the belief that some broken things are beyond repair.
We shared a silent, honest moment. I loved Penny. She still loved me. Yet, time has moved us both down different streams. I thought of her sister, I thought of Vicki. I even thought of Angie. Timing is everything. Perhaps Penny and I would get another chance. In that moment though, it was just nice to have a glimpse of my friend back. And a tumbler to remind us of our journey together.