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August 15, 2022

Life Less Love 2

By Peter Driscoll

Mope At Your Leisure...

I

"Well now, there is some dangerous thinking, my friend."

"I really think she's cheating, though. I mean what other explanation is there? She's been so fucking absent. It's like she's not even there. I mean, I would never say this out loud, but sometimes I feel like I'm better off without her."

"Nah, you can't say that man. If there is one thing I've found in life, it's that you're better off being with someone than without. If you meet someone who is worth leaving the girl you're with for, then leave her. But don't leave a girl just cause you think there may be better options out there. You gotta have a plan."

Jaylin paused and took a sip from his rum-spiked coke.

"I mean, if there is one things girls love, it is a guy who is attached. Listen, I'm a knowledgeable enough guy to know that there is nothing sexier than a girl who is attached but willing to sleep with you. And I know enough to know that girls think the same way. Even if you don't have a girlfriend, you at least have to pretend. Pretend you are willing to give up your relationship for this girl and she'll fucking love you. And you know the only thing better than pretending is? Is having a real girlfriend! Even better is if the girl knows it."

"Yeah, I guess that's all true. But it doesn't help my situation. 'Cause I think my girlfriend is cheating on me."

Jaylin laughed as he rubbed his chin, raising his drink to his lips and peering around the room. While still vaguely looking at other members of the bar, he continued his talk with his coworker.

"That is even better, my friend. Let her cheat. Fuck her. If any girl is cheating on you she isn't worth it. Use her infidelity as a way to ring in other girls. The only thing holding you back is you. Treat people like they're two years old and they'll love you. Pick anyone you want and just walk right up to them. Break any conversation they're having and just tell them that you are having trouble with your girlfriend. They'll all fall for it. If they don't, pretend you're getting a phone call from her. They'll come to you eventually. It is literally too easy."

"Yeah, I guess you're right, man. But I just don't feel like it tonight. Maybe next time."

Jaylin nodded absently, scanning the room for a second time.

"So, anyway," his coworker continued. "How are things with Marissa? You guys are living together now, right?"

"Yeah, we've been living together for a couple months now. Things have been weird, though. Things get different when you move in with a person. Besides just the things you always get warned about. Like seeing them sick and using the bathroom and stuff."

Jaylin smiled and his coworker laughed.

"No, but like, things get different. She has been getting mad about things she never used to get mad at before. Sometimes it is almost like she is going out of her way to start fights. I really just don't get it. I'm hoping it's just a phase or early jitters or something that will eventually go away. The thing that really scares me, though, is what happens when you marry a girl? Does this shit get even crazier?"

His coworker laughed again. "I know what you mean, man. It's like girls have different levels of crazy, but they only come out one at a time. Eventually, it has to stop though. Maybe after they have some kids they become normal. More like us."

"Here is to hoping, man." Jaylin raised his glass and the two cheersed. "Ugh, speaking of women, though, I gotta go see mine. She gets mad when I stay out too late. But then she goes to bed at like ten and I'm still wired. I'll catch you tomorrow, though. You working?"

"Yeah, I'll be in at three."

"Nice, not too bad a shift. Well, I'll see you tomorrow then. Good luck with your girlfriend, dude. And remember what I told you. Use it to your advantage and find yourself a nice girl tonight. You only live once."

His coworker nodded as Jaylin walked out of the bar and hurried back to his apartment. He hugged himself against the cold, unsure if he really believed any of the things he had said.

II

Jaylin laid on his side as Marissa wrapped her arm around his waist. She caressed his hip with her fingernails and kissed the nape of his neck. Eyes closed and breath held. The light smack of her dry lips on his skin reverberated in the night.

She uncurled her hand and pressed her palm against his stomach. Her outstretched fingers found the waistband of his underwear and inched their way below it. Her mouth moved around and over his neck, climbing the stern outline of his face. Slowly.

He remained motionless as her warmth enveloped him. He fought against the rush of feeling that echoed through his body.

Marissa felt no return of the heat she was emanating and stopped. Her hand receded from his thigh and she pulled away from his face, sitting up on her elbow.

"What's the matter? Are you all right?"

"Yeah, I'm fine. I'm just tired. I was just getting to sleep. I didn't even realize what you were doing until just now."

"Well, okay, now that you're awake..."

She gently pushed his shoulder, smiling playfully to his back. He absorbed the contact and then fell back to his reclined position without any sense of amusement. Her smile faded and she fell onto her back. Staring at the ceiling.

"Are you sick?"

"No. I told you. I'm just tired. Jesus, you haven't wanted to have sex before. I don't get on your case."

"Um, first of all, yes you do. Second, you're a guy. You're supposed to always want sex."

"What is this? A fucking movie? Where the hell do you get this shit from? Why are guys always supposed to want sex? Because some stupid television show tells you that? Or some movie you watched. I don't have to do anything I don't want to. I'm going to bed."

"Wow. Where the hell is all this coming from? God, we don't have to have sex, okay? I just thought maybe you would want to. You just better not complain to me the next time I don't want to."

"Oh, great, so now you're going to hold it against me. I don't want to fuck you one time and now you're going to deny me for the next month, aren't you. You're so fucking petty sometime."

"Jesus, Jaylin, what the hell is your deal?" Marissa sat up in the bed and looked over at him, seeing only his back. "I'm not going to do that. I'm just telling you not to get on my case the next time I don't feel like it. Which may never happen again for the rest of my life."

"Yeah right, we'll see about that."

He pulled the covers up to his chin and shifted his position. Marissa laid back down and stared at the ceiling again. Two light tears welling in her eyes. She could tell by his breathing that he wasn't asleep yet.

"You're not cheating on me, right?"

He rolled over on the bed, stretching his neck to look at her face. She continued to stare upward.

"Come on, what kind of question is that? You know I'd never do that. Besides, you're the most beautiful girl I've ever known, I have no reason to cheat on you."

She laughed quickly and turned to the left, opposite his stare, as the two tears finally plunged down her cheeks. She quickly wiped them away and then turned back to Jaylin. Kissing him quickly on the lips.

"I'm sorry, I know you'd never do that. It's just that, you've never not wanted to before."

"Sure I have. I just always do anyway. Listen, I just really am tired is all. Tomorrow I'll feel better. I promise."

He reciprocated her kiss and then turned back over on the bed. Marissa stared at him for a while and then looked at the ceiling again, knowing she wouldn't sleep easy. After a few minutes she turned to the left and closed her eyes, praying for it to be morning, aware from his breathing that he was already asleep.

III

Jaylin shivered as he stepped out into the cold and onto the balcony. He looked up at the stars and breathed at them, the heat of his lungs dissipating in the air.

"Nice night, isn't it?" Kimberly said from the end of the balcony, clutching a cigarette in one hand and a Solo cup in the other. She blew her smoke in his direction.

Jaylin sighed at the sight of her. The last person he wanted to see right now.

"I hope that isn't beer in your cup, I know you aren't twenty-one."

"Yeah, it's my first drink ever," she mocked.

"You can be such a bitch, you know that?"

"Of course I know that," she drank from the cup. "You want a cigarette?"

"Actually, yeah," he took one from her outstretched pack and she tossed him her lighter. "This is the only night of the year I let myself smoke. We're all starting over anyway, might as well do everything bad tonight."

"That has to be the dumbest thing I've ever heard," she said as she took back her lighter. He took a drag and looked back out at the stars, shaking his head.

"Can you tell me what the hell your problem is? Do you hate all your sister's boyfriends or is it just me?"

"I don't hate you, stop being so sensitive. You're never going to survive my family if your skin is this unthick."

"Unthick? Is that what they teach you at Boston College?"

"There you go, fight back. Atta boy."

She smiled flirtatiously at him and he shook his head again. His face stern.

"By the way, mom and dad were upset you guys didn't go down for Christmas. They wanted you two to see the new baby. I think they wanted to see you too. I think they like you, amazingly."

"How come you're here anyway? No parties for you in Boston? You had to come hang out with your older sister and her friends?"

"Why are you here? Do you even know anyone?"

"I've met a few people before. I would have rather gone to Boston. If I didn't have to I wouldn't be here is all I'm saying. Wondering why you are. That's all."

"So you're saying my sister forced you to come and you hate all her friends?"

"You know what I'm saying Kim, don't be a bitch."

"It's Kimberly," she said sternly, blowing out smoke. "Man you're easy to get to. I came here 'cause my sister always gets crazy on New Year's and I wanted to keep an eye on her. I've been doing it pretty much every New Year's Eve since I was fourteen. I figured you'd be in the same condition as her."

"You mean she gets like this every year?"

"When she was a senior in high school she went to the hospital. I don't know what it is about this holiday, but she goes batshit insane. The only other day that comes close is her birthday, but she never gets this bad."

"Is she always this annoying, too?"

She nodded. "Hopefully she'll pass out soon, give us a rest."

"Great, so I guess I have this to look forward to every year. No wonder she wanted to come to a place where we both knew everyone," Jaylin snubbed out the cigarette and flicked the butt over the railing.

"Not all of us Baker girls are crazy you know. Some of us are pretty normal. We don't all drag our boyfriends to places they don't want to go." She looked at Jaylin with pursed lips.

"Why do I feel like you always have an ulterior motive? Do you ever say anything genuinely? Anything that isn't a test? Don't you think I remember you flipping out on me? I love your sister, so stop trying to get me to break up with her."

"Relax, it was a joke okay. Obviously I'm crazy. None of the Baker girls are sane. Everyone knows that."

Jaylin opened the sliding door back inside and Kimberly called his name as he was stepping through. She held out her cup.

"Mind getting me a refill?"

Jaylin wordlessly took the cup and stepped inside. He made his way through the kitchen, tossing the cup in the garbage and found Marissa in the living room. She was dancing with two of her friends. Mainly, she was flailing her arms and turning in circles while they laughed at her. She spotted him as he walked in.

"Jaylin! Happy New Year!" she ran over and hugged him, spilling beer out of her cup and onto the floor, some of it kicking up and splashing against the back of his jeans.

"Easy, Marissa, you're spilling beer on me. Come on, watch it."

"I'm sorry, Jaylin," she said through a soused laugh. "Happy New Year!"

"Marissa, it's only 10:30. We still have over an hour before you can say that. If you even make it."

She turned to the two friends she was dancing with, watching the conversation.

"Jaylin's brother is gay," she snorted, the words bursting out like she'd been saving them up and they couldn't be contained anymore.

"Marissa, what the fuck!" he looked at her but she was laughing at the floor. He looked at her two friends trying to contain their laughter. He didn't know if they were laughing at his brother or at Marissa's drunkenness, but he also didn't care.

She unbent herself and looked at her friends again as her snorting calmed down.

"He -- he -- he is horrible at the carnival," she said while pointing at Jaylin through herself, concealing her hand from him, like he wasn't supposed to be in on the secret. "He can't shoot the clown's face with the water. He can't win the prize."

One of her friends couldn't hold in her laughter anymore and it burst through a confused look on her face. She shrugged at Jaylin to show she had no idea what Marissa was saying, but it didn't help his anger.

"He -- he can't win the prize. I've never known a guy who can't win the prize. Makes you wonder what kind of man he really is."

Marissa held up her right hand to the two girls, her thumb and index finger a few inches apart and curled towards each other. Prominent.

Both the girls collapsed over themselves in laughter and Marissa joined in, unaware of what was funny or what was said or even who said it. Just laughing because they were.

Jaylin looked on in shock. Marissa had turned into someone he didn't recognize. He thought for a second she was playing a joke on him, some sick joke, until she looked back up at him and he saw the look of concern on her face. She had no idea what she had just said about him. She didn't even know who she was.

"What's wrong, Jaylin?"

He turned and walked back through the kitchen, toward the sliding door leading outside.

"Happy New Year!" Marissa called after him and then turned and shrugged at her friends. The three staring at each other until one broke into more laughter, and the other two soon followed.

IV

"This is the first time I've opened presents on Christmas morning without my parents."

"Me too," he paused. "Wow. I'm officially an adult I guess."

Marissa looked up from the present in her lap and stared at their tiny Christmas tree. About a dozen gifts huddled beneath it. They sat on opposite ends of the couch, looking at each other, holding what the other bought them.

"This is all so weird. Every year of my life, at this exact time, I've been in Virginia opening presents. This is so weird. I'm feeling weird for some reason."

"Let's just open the presents. We'll feel better," Jaylin started to tear the wrapping but stopped. Realization crushing what little spirit harbored in him. "There are no kids."

"What?"

"There's always supposed to be kids around. There's always been brothers or cousins or nephews or some little kids around for this. This is kind of dumb, isn't it? Without them. When it's just adults there kind of is no point."

"This is going to turn into a depressing day isn't it?"

Jaylin looked up from his one-quarter opened present. Her left leg was tucked into her body, draped across the couch, and he lifted his right leg off the ground to touch her shin. He pulled her robe away with his toes and rubbed the sole of his foot along her skin. She pulled away.

"You're freezing Jaylin," she laughed. "Put some socks on!"

"I love you."

Her laugh died away and she stared at him, mouth slightly open. She grabbed his foot with her hands and started rubbing it, unconsciously. She swallowed.

"I love you, too," she let out at last.

She tore into her present. Undoing the shoebox lid to find a small, purple, velvet-draped case. She looked up at Jaylin.

"Of course you would make such a small gift look big."

Slowly, like commercials and movies had taught her, she brought the case up to her eye level and pried it open. Inside was a white gold bracelet. She gaped at it. Her eyes canvassed over the box and found Jaylin's, he was smiling at her.

"Merry Christmas."

"Oh my God, Jaylin, this is too much. This is too expensive. I can't believe you did this."

"It was worth it for you."

"Thank you so much, honey."

She leaned across the couch and he pulled his leg in to meet her in the middle. They kissed.

"Thank you so much."

For a while they just stared at each other. Marissa took out the bracelet and tried it on. She looked at it from afar.

"Hey, your turn! Open my gift. I hope you love it as much as I love yours."

Jaylin finished off the wrapping he had begun to mutilate earlier. Inside was a thin, rectangular box that bragged of candy. He took off the lid to find three Red Sox tickets. He held one up and examined it.

"Opening day! Marissa, holy crap, how did you get these?"

"One of the teachers' brother is a season ticket holder and he's gone that weekend, so he gave them to her to sell," she giggled. "Luckily, I'd been eating lunch with her for the past month."

"Marissa, this is amazing. You don't even know."

He looked at her, emotions at their peak.

"I think this might be the best Christmas I've ever had. I'm so used to being with my family, but I'm kind of glad they went away. Now I can spend the whole day with you, just doing whatever we want."

He leaned across the couch, pressing himself up against her as she laid her present's wrapping on the coffee table. She wrapped her arms around his shoulders and pulled him into her.

"Merry Christmas," she whispered back.

V

Kimberly was piqued. Surveying the manor before her. The envy radiated, wafting around the room and into the pores of her sister. Marissa breathed it through more than just her mouth and nose. She knew the words before they were uttered and cut her off.

"It was going to happen sooner or later. You knew that. I wasn't going to be an old maid forever. Besides, you should be happy, you don't even have to get a roommate. Dad will pay for my half."

"Only for the rest of the semester," Kimberly said from the doorway, reluctant to break the imaginary line that represented the apartment entrance. Like a vampire waiting to be invited in. Hovering on the border.

"Well, you'll find a new place by then. I can help you. I found this place pretty fast."

"No kidding."

Kimberly finally stepped across the seal, breathing out as she ventured in.

"You're lucky, you know. You don't even know."

"How am I lucky?" Kimberly asked, hands shoved in her pockets, bearing the imagined apartment cold.

"You're the smartest out of all of us. You're going to find a great roommate. You're going to find a great guy. You're going to graduate with all A's and get a sweet freakin' job. You got all the good things of mom and dad."

Kimberly picked her words carefully, mulling over a slew in her head. Taking the ones she needed and saving the rest for later.

"As long as he's better than Jaylin," she shrugged, swiveling her head around the room to simultaneously avoid Marissa's painful reaction and pretend to admire what they'd done with the place.

"Why would you say that? Jaylin's a wonderful guy. Don't undermine the man I may marry."

"You won't marry him."

"How do you know? We're close, you know. We could, Kim. We could."

"You won't though. I don't think for any particular reason really, you just won't."

It was Marissa's turn to look around now. Taking her mind off her sister's negative outlook. Always a chore.

"What if I told you he hit on me?"

Marissa returned to her sister, taking in her harsh glance. She took a breath.

"I would listen to what you said carefully and then ask Jaylin about it."

"You wouldn't take my word for it?" Kimberly broke in even though it was clear Marissa had more to say.

"Has he hit on you?" she asked slowly.

"I just want to know if you'd believe me."

"Oh my God, Kimberly, why do you always do these things? Why would you mess with me like that? Do you enjoy this? I'm sorry, I love you, but sometimes you just don't act like a sister at all."

"Good thing I'm so lucky then."

"You can't even take a compliment. I was trying to say how much you have going for you. Trying to cheer you up. I guess I deserve that for trying to be nice to you. You're only happy when you're miserable."

"But I'm never miserable," she paused, waiting for her sister's expression to change, or at the very least, for her eyes to shift. "So I guess I'm never happy, either. I guess I'm just a misanthrope."

Marissa tried to respond. Let her mouth open and close in thought. Kimberly walked across the room to her, removing her hands from her jacket pockets and wrapped them around her sister.

"I just want what's best for you, Marissa. I don't want anyone to hurt you. I don't mean to be how I am. I just want you to live happily ever after. I want to make sure no one ever hurts you again."

Marissa stroked her sister's back in a circular motion, holding her close against her. Letting her let it out.

"You're the lucky one," Kimberly's eyes were burning on the edges. Erupting. "It's okay that you left. I just wish you were still with me. I get lonely sometimes."

"You'll be okay," Marissa cooed. "I'm not so far away. You can always come here."

"I don't want to," Kimberly was hiccupping her sentences. "I don't like him."

"You've never liked a single guy I've ever dated. Even back before you knew I was dating guys. You hated them when you were still in elementary school."

"Cause none of them was ever good enough. And I was right."

"How can no one ever be good enough?"

"Well, maybe someone is good enough, but it isn't him. I can just tell. He's going to break your heart."

"Jaylin is a really good guy, Kim. You just need to get to know him. Do you really think I would be with someone who wasn't good for me? I know what I'm doing."

"Are you still gonna come visit me at the apartment? At least until I move?"

"Of course. It's close to work, so I can swing by whenever. You're still my sister. We're still family. It's not like we'll never see each other again."

"Oh, by the way, mom wanted me to convince you to come down with me for Christmas."

"Ugh, she's been giving me such a guilt trip. I can't though. We're still unpacking and Jaylin can't get that many days off work and I really want to spend this Christmas with him." She paused, catching the look of disappointment on her sister's face. "Tell her I love her though, okay, and that I'm sorry. Next year, I promise."

"As long as Jaylin says it's all right, right?"

"No, that's not it at all," Marissa scoffed. "Stop making him out to be so bad. It's my decision, not his."

They stood for a few moments, neither wanting to speak. Kimberly made a motion to sit on the couch and Marissa followed her. They sat next to each other, their minds in their own separate states.

"So, what do you think of the place?"

"It does look good. I can't believe you found it so quick. And for a pretty good deal."

"They say the best time to move into a place is between Thanksgiving and Christmas. Renters get desperate since no one wants to relocate."

"I'm going to miss this couch."

"Well, you are more than welcome to come sleep on it anytime you want."

"Really?"

"Well, as long as you have a good reason. Not just because you want to."

"Jaylin won't mind?"

"I don't care if he would or not," Marissa laughed. "It's my decision."

Kimberly smiled. "Thanks."

"We had some good times, didn't we? In our place. I'm going to miss it."

"Me too. A lot."

"We'll make a night. I'll come over and we'll hang out. Relive the old days. It'll be fun."

"Okay," Kimberly nodded, a smile broadening on her lips.

Outside a streetlight flicked on and bathed the street below their apartment window. A slight yellow-green glow found its way to the window and painted the dark sky an ominous hue. The sullen, barren tree that framed the window shivered in the light and both sisters couldn't help but stare at it, finding the calm of its dance more comfortable than breaking the silence.

They both knew they were burying a time in their lives that could never be resurrected. Jaylin came home to find them asleep on the couch, bathed in the same glow, their shadows dancing with the tree.

VI

They sat on the floor, leaning up against the wall bordering the living room and bedroom. Jaylin yawned dramatically and stretched out so that he was flat on his back. He shifted his body so that his head found her lap and he looked up in her eyes.

Marissa was sifting through a carton of shrimp lo mein with a fork. She briefly paused and lifted her arms as he adjusted his position, then returned to picking at the food.

"Oh my God, there is still so much left to do," he said up to her.

She finished chewing and put the carton down, sighing loudly. She leaned her head back against the wall and looked around the barren room. Boxes and small pieces of furniture everywhere.

"We did pretty good today, though, you have to admit."

"Yeah, at least we got the bedroom mostly done. I think that bed might have been the worst part. The couch is going to suck tomorrow though. Ugh, and the chair."

"Well we don't have to bring up that chair you know. The couch is pretty big and our living room is kind of small. It might be enough."

He looked up at her, grinning.

"You really hate those chairs don't you?"

"Jaylin, I do not hate your chair. Even though it is ratty and ugly and worn, I know that you find it very comfortable and I don't mind if you want it in our apartment. I'm just saying that if you want one less thing to move in, you don't have to. You know Kenny would want both anyway. I think he actually loves those chairs more than you do."

"Yeah, you are right about that. All right, I'll let him keep them."

"Really?"

"Yeah, your couch is good, we don't need anything else."

Smiling, she leaned down and kissed him.

"Noo, Chinese food breath."

"Oh shut up, Jaylin, you have it too!"

He laughed and rolled off her lap, lying face down on the wood for a moment, then lifted himself up. He held out his hand.

"Come take a shower with me."

She let him pull her up and leaned back against the wall. He leaned into her and kissed her, pushing both of them into the unforgiving plaster. He pushed up her shirt and her back scratched up against the pocked surface. He let himself off her, looking down into her eyes. She stared back, biting her lower lip.

"Our first shower in the new place. This calls for some kind of celebration," she said.

"We can celebrate in the shower."

"You get it started. I'll be right in."

Jaylin kissed her again and then went into the bathroom by way of the bedroom. He turned the shower on, then scavenged through a few boxes marked "bathroom" until he found a bar of soap and shampoo. He stripped off his clothes and tested the water, adjusting the temperature until he got it that way Marissa liked it, hotter than he preferred, but still bearable.

He turned to find Marissa standing in the doorway, a champagne glass in each hand. Wearing only a grin.

She took a sip from one of the glasses and handed the other to Jaylin. They clinked them and drank. She set hers down on the closed toilet seat and stepped into the shower. She turned to Jaylin as he followed her in, her hair pining beneath the faucet.

"I still can't believe we live together," he said over the waterfall.

She leaned in close, hair deluged back. She pressed her hands against his body, washing him with the soap.

"We can do this every day now, if we wanted to. Be together like this."

He kissed her forehead then bent down and reached around the curtain for their drinks. He handed hers above the flowing water and they drank again.

"It could be like this forever, you know," he said to the tiles that lined the wall.

Marissa had her head between his pectoral muscles, her arms wrapped around him, the champagne glass at lip height. She swayed among him, the hot water unnoticeably tapping against her back. Reverberating her spine. Trying to break through her skin.

"We could. I hope we do."

The water changed on them. Somewhere during the transition from boiler to pipes to head, the liquid gained heat, and it lapped against their bodies.

With their glasses almost empty, they needed to refill, but neither was willing to step out of the atmosphere they were enwombed. They unconsciously found the floor, disappearing into a timeless world where nothing existed but their easy breathing. Neither able to remember the moment or forget the feeling.

To be continued ...

Article © Peter Driscoll. All rights reserved.
Published on 2010-03-29
Image(s) © R. Voza/S. Pilarski. All rights reserved.
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