Adam took his iPod classic out from the inner pocket of his large pea coat and scrolled to Alcest. He selected "Souvenirs D’un Autre Monde", placed his earbuds snuggly in his ears, and pulled out the Marlboro box to light his fourth cigarette. He had told Shannon to meet him in front of Kohl's. She was already late, but she wouldn’t be able to keep herself from showing up. It’d been two years.
His foot wouldn’t stop jiggling even with his legs crossed. He uncrossed them and put his head in his hands. He wondered how she’ll take the part about drinking champagne in the apartment after coming back from the clinic. It was boxed white wine, not champagne, and she was the one, after all, who had suggested to pour the glasses.
The Alcest song continued to play. It was always awkward cumming and then hearing the swell of the instruments like he had just plowed the elf princess of Middle Earth into his mattress. Shannon had gone through a phase where she always had to have this song playing while they did it. He hated it, but he usually zoned it out as they fucked. She would get out of the bed, squat down in her bare feet on the wooden floor, and plug her iPod into the speaker system with such needless finesse. If only she could have been so sensual putting the condom on.
Shannon crept up and stood in her ankle-boots, thick black stockings, heavy loose black sweater and large-framed glasses. He instantly wanted to take her back to New York. As she sat down next to him on the bench, her shoulder length blonde hair wisped by his face and gave off the scent of Bath & Body Works perfume, some scent like Serenade at Moonlight. He gave a muffled chuckle without thinking.
‘What?’ She responded playfully and smiled.
‘Nothing.’ He smiled and put his head down and shook it. He put his hand over the bottom of his face and gave it one stroke downwards. Shannon went into her bag and pulled out her cigarettes. It was a new pack and she spent a few extra seconds futzing with the wrapping. After she lit her first cigarette, she’d probably never shut up. With the one second he had left to himself, he made the conscious decision he wouldn’t light it for her.
Shannon lit up, inhaled, and let out a soft stream of smoke. Her actions seemed slightly forced. She was nervous. Whenever she was nervous she would act as though she were envisioning the situation as a movie and herself as the character everybody loved, even if they loved her in a tragically sympathetic way. It was something Adam had always been fond of about her, despite the fact that it sometimes had gotten in the way during sex.
‘So, may I see them?’ Shannon asked.
‘Yes — of course — yeah.’ Adam stuck his cigarette between his lips and reached into his pea coat’s inner pocket.
In the glance that he caught of Shannon’s breasts, he thought they might have gotten bigger since last — but then again, she had always worn those little bralets. From his pea coat’s inner pocket Adam pulled out a black Moleskin notebook. Stuck inside were a thick stack of loose pages folded. He had printed out the short story that he’d written and felt was his responsibility to have Shannon read before anyone else.
He paused with the pages in his hand. His insides felt tight as he caught a glance her knees covered in thick tights. Sometimes in bed he had felt like he would break her. He had to say something.
‘You know I don’t think I’m a very good writer. I’m still convincing myself I can write at all. It’s always frustration and disappointment and — two Advils with a glass of water. Even though I think I should bump the dosage to four now.’ He jerked his head as if suggesting that it was a joke, but with some seriousness.
‘Mhm.’ Shannon continued to smoke with self-conscious motions.
Adam lit another cigarette and then, with his legs crossed, he crossed his wrists on his knee, papers still in hand. He continued to avoid her eyes.
‘Sometimes it’s easier when I’m with Jim and Karen and there’s coke. But I jot stuff in my notebook and I feel like everyone is watching and smiling affectionately at me, which is nearly the same as laughing, and I don’t take it well. Especially when I looked back over it and realized that somewhere in the middle of things I started writing my own name instead of the protagonist’s while he’s sliding down her panties.’
‘Which panties?’ she asked with lots of cheek.
‘Which pair of mine are you remembering?’
‘Uhm, I don’t know, the black ones? The high-waisted ones that were always a pain in the ass to take off. I think you stopped wearing them ’cause you stained them one month.’ He added the last part for detail. He thought she’d like that.
‘Eventually I stain all my underwear,’ she said with spite. ‘You never did pay attention. You were always so anxious to slide everything down every time.’
Adam wanted to object, but then he thought to let her have her jabs. She was really just wildly swinging into the air anyway, considering that whether he ever looked at her underwear or not was completely irrelevant to anything at this point. How long can someone look at underwear when hard and ready anyway? He’d let her make something pointless significant. He could grant her that.
She looked at him with a devious half smirk, took the papers from his hands, and unfolded the middle crease. Her legs were crossed and she kept that smirk as she dragged on her cigarette and read.
Maybe she hasn’t grown up at all since, Adam thought. Maybe she’s happy just knowing she got what she had hoped would happen to her when she went off to the city. She had never told him what she’d thought about at sixteen, but he had always known it. He knew just from the way she smiled. He knew it the first time he had brought her up the steps, more than tipsy, to his apartment and she sat on his full bed and smiled. When she had gone to sit, she plopped down so that her dress ballooned up and he caught a glimpse of her underwear through her see-through stockings. He had wondered how many times she had done this before. She had seemed so young then, sitting there, beaming at everything. He’d looked at her flushed cheeks and bright eyes and went to the bed without the joint that he had rolled earlier and placed on his desk. He had come onto the bed and put his hand under her thigh and felt the shape of her. She’d crooned softly and the snow had not entirely melted from her hair. He had laid her down on her back, and she sighed with a rare anxious innocence. One that only results when her and the boy she lost her virginity to only had sex six times before that moment when you have her on the bed. When she was a sophomore, she had looked at him like he was some sort of poet when he was really just an English major in senior year.
He glanced over at Shannon reading. He knew he shouldn’t say anything. There was nothing to say no matter how badly he wanted to explain himself. She flipped to a new page and then turned to her bag, got out another cigarette, lit it and continued reading. The smirk completely wiped from her face.
She was completely absorbed in what he had wrote, but he wasn’t even sure if what he had written is what he had even meant. Watching her slowly lift her cigarette, drag on it, and lower it was making him more nervous than he could have imagined. He clenched his hands together hard and kept exerting that force to keep his feet from jiggling.
He tried to distract himself, since he was finding the way Shannon casually crossed her legs difficult to accept. The tighter she squeezed them together the more it seemed like she was wrapping herself and the story’s character into one. In itself this was completely fine, but it was her seeming thrill of the association that was aggravating.
He spotted to his left a little girl in a pink ski jacket trying to pick up some mulch from below a distant tree. The girl’s mother came over and started shaking the little girl’s hand with the mulch in it. Eventually, she dropped the mulch and gave the mother a look that had as much disdain in it as a little girl could muster. Shannon had looked at him in the same way in the clinic’s lobby when he’d suggested they go outside and smoke a cigarette while they waited. She had been shaking so much, and he had just wanted to help at the time. He couldn’t think of any way to help and needed a smoke.
‘I forgot that we drank champagne afterwards.’
Adam turned and Shannon was looking at him. With a faint smile she handed him the stack of papers. He kept his glance away from her; the complacency in her voice was adding to his agitation. He had thought at this point there would be a tear down her cheek and he’d have his hand on her knee or an arm around her shoulders.
‘It was wine, actually.’ And she had gotten sick after two sips and thrown up all over his bed. He had the sheets washing in the washer while she’d sat on the dryer sobbing, puke on her shirt and jeans. He had tried to help, but she’d refused to undress and throw them in the wash. All she allowed him to do was keep her in sight. So he sat on the concrete floor, smelling the vomit and the detergent and drinking the boxed wine himself.
‘I know, but that’s only because we didn’t have champagne.’ She smiled faintly as if looking at a boy who didn’t understand the ending of a rhyme.
‘It was a fucking creative adjustment, Shannon, for the sole purpose of making our fucking shit show interesting.’
‘Ours? Or Yours?’ She snapped. ‘You wouldn’t be coming at me with this if either one of us were where you’d hoped we’d be at twenty-seven and twenty-five. Don’t act like you wouldn’t have just forgotten the whole thing.’
Adam raised his hand. As he brought it up, there was a strain, a tightness in his upper arm, a hotness in his palm. He lowered it.
Shannon’s eyes were wide. She didn’t say anything. He didn’t know if she thought that he’d actually do it. But, she would be an idiot if she thought that he would. She gazed off into the distance with her hands in her lap and rubbed the tip of her middle finger over the nail of her pointer finger.
‘I wasn’t making room. I was making a decision, Adam, so that I could like her in your stories as much as I do.’
The smile suddenly faded, and she looked right at him as though she was about to think about kissing him. He kept still, shocked that he didn’t act on her slightest inclination.
She got up abruptly and started to leave. ‘I have to go to work.’
He watched as she crossed the parking lot. The last time had been from behind. It was a good one. He told himself it was a good one. It would have been if she hadn’t played off so defeated and used after it. Something she must have seen in some pornographic tumblr GIF. Her biggest downfall had always been her wanting to be great-- more than great.