“Christian, I’m really not hungry.”
I ignore her as I look through the contents of the fridge. “Cheese?” I offer.
“Not at this hour.”
“In the fridge? No,” she says.
“You don’t like pretzels?”
“Not at eleven thirty. Christian, I’m going to bed. You can rummage around in your refrigerator for the rest of the night if you want. I’m tired, and I’ve had far too interesting a day. A day I’d like to forget.” She slides off the stool just as I find the dish Mrs. Jones prepared earlier this evening.
“Macaroni and cheese?” I hold it up.
Ana gives me a sideways look. “You like macaroni and cheese?” she asks.
Like? I love mac and cheese. “You want some?” I try and tempt her.
Her smile says all she needs to say.
I pop the bowl into the microwave and press heat.
“So, you know how to use the microwave, then?” Ana teases. She’s back on the barstool.
“If it’s in a packet, I can usually do something with it. It’s real food I have a problem with.”
I set up two place mats, plates, and cutlery.
“It’s very late,” Ana says.
“Don’t go to work tomorrow.”
“I have to go to work tomorrow. My boss is leaving for New York.”
“Do you want to go there this weekend?”
“I checked the weather forecast, and it looks like rain,” she says.
“Oh, so what do you want to do?”
The microwave pings. Our supper is ready.
“I just want to get through one day at a time right now. All this excitement is…tiring.”
Using a cloth, I remove the steaming bowl from the microwave and place it on the kitchen counter. It smells delicious, and I’m pleased that my appetite has returned. Ana dishes a spoonful onto each plate as I take my seat.
It’s staggering that she’s still with me, in spite of all I’ve told her. She’s so…strong. She never disappoints. Even when facing Leila, she kept her cool.
She takes a bite of her food, as do I. It’s exactly how I like it.
“Sorry about Leila,” I mutter.
“Why are you sorry?”
“It must have been a terrible shock for you, finding her in your apartment. Taylor swept through it earlier himself. He’s very upset.”
“I don’t blame Taylor.”
“Neither do I. He’s been out looking for you.”
“I didn’t know where you were. You left your purse, your phone. I couldn’t even track you. Where did you go?”
“Ethan and I just went to a bar across the street. So I could watch what was happening.”
“So, what did you do with Leila in the apartment?”
“You really want to know?” I ask.
“Yes,” she replies, but in a tone that makes me think she’s not sure. I hesitate, but she glances at me once more and I have to be honest. “We talked, and I gave her a bath. And I dressed her in some of your clothes. I hope you don’t mind. But she was filthy.”
Ana remains mute and turns away from me. My appetite vanishes.
Shit. I shouldn’t have told her.
“It was all I could do, Ana,” I try to explain.
“You still have feelings for her?”
“No!” I close my eyes as a vision of Leila, sad and waiflike, comes to mind. “To see her like that—so different, so broken. I care about her, one human being to another.” I let go of the image and turn to Ana.
“Ana, look at me.”
She stares at her untouched food.
“What?” she whispers.
“Don’t. It doesn’t mean anything. It was like caring for a child, a broken, shattered child.”
She closes her eyes, and for a horrid moment I think she’s going to burst into tears. “Ana?”
She stands and takes her plate to the sink and scrapes the contents into the trash.
“Just stop, Christian! Just stop with the ‘Ana, please’!” she shouts with exasperation and starts to cry. “I’ve had enough of all this shit today. I’m going to bed. I’m tired and emotional. Now let me be.” She storms out of the kitchen toward the bedroom, leaving me with cooling, congealing macaroni and cheese.
WEDNESDAY, JUNE 15, 2011
* * *
I put my head in my hands and rub my face. I can’t believe I asked Ana to marry me. And she didn’t say no. But she didn’t say yes, either. She may never say yes.
In the morning, she’ll wake and come to her senses.
The day started so well. But it’s been a train wreck since this evening, since Leila.
Well, at least she’s safe and getting the help she needs.
But at what cost? Ana?
She now knows everything.
She knows I’m a monster.
But she’s still here.
Focus on the positive, Grey.
My appetite has gone the same way as Ana’s, and I’m exhausted. It’s been an emotional evening. I get up from the kitchen counter. I’ve experienced more in the last half hour than I would have thought possible.
This is what she does to you, Grey. She makes you feel.
You know you’re alive when you’re with her.