Cold As Fire - A Short Story
Letting her hair fall over her shoulder, she turned and fixed her hazel eyes on the cigar stuck between my lips. Instinctually, she wrinkled her face in disgust, but quickly softened her expression before her eyes found mine. Her nose crinkled at the smoke lingering in the air, but her practiced grace allowed her to stifle the repulsed exclamation ready to roll from her tongue. Years ago, when we first met, she didn’t hold back. She was steadfast in her opinion and the only thing sharper than her tongue was her wit. Five years married to me and this is what she had become. A woman easily repressed, desperate to create peace where once she ran toward discourse.
“You about ready to go?” She bounced up and down on the balls of her feet. I couldn’t tell if her nervous energy was from genuine excitement or anxiety. She always resembled a paranoid cat lately. The slightest movement made her flinch. One harsh glance made her cower. I’d never even hit her.
“We said we’d leave at four. It’s three forty-five.” I relit my cigar. She took the tiniest of steps back. A smile spread across my lips as I remembered her fear of fire.
“I know. I just figured since you’re excited to see them we could leave a little earlier.” My stomach churned at her encouraging tone.
“Excited to see the man who tried to fuck my wife?” She dropped her eyes at my words, but I let my stare bore in to her, wanting her to the feel shame as palpably as my smoke scented breathe.
“Nothing happened, Will, I’ve told you that.”
“But he tried. Right?”
“And he tried again. Right?”
“Yes.” We had this routine down perfectly. This conversation was well scripted. We knew every version. Improvisation had become an impossibility.
“And you wanted it. Right?”
“No. Will, he’s your best friend. Marlie is my best friend. We’re picking them up from the airport in two hours. This is a good thing. It’s time to move past what happened.” Her plea was nauseating.
I stood up and walked from the room, slamming the door behind me. I knew she’d follow. She always followed.
Twenty minutes on the road and neither of us said a word. I could feel her desperation to talk one more time before they arrived, but she was too afraid of me to bring it up.
“Say something if you want to, Amelia.”
“Don’t call me Amelia, you only call me Amelia when you’re mad.” She whispered.
“I am mad.”
“For setting up this ridiculous torture adventure. Jason and I don’t want to see each other, Amy. We haven’t so much as sent a text message in over three years. We aren’t friends. Just because you refused to cut him out of your life doesn’t mean I should be forced to spend an entire weekend with the man who tried to fuck my wife.”
“What about Marlie? Are you excited to see Marlie?”
I closed my eyes and drew in a breath – staying calm was essential now. “Yes, Amy, I’m excited to see Marlie.”
“Good.” I could feel her smile, “Let’s focus on that then.”
Annoyed with the conversation, I pulled my pack of cigarettes from the center console and shook one free. Amelia tensed before I even withdrew my lighter from my pocket. Years ago I would have been sensitive to her fear and waited until we weren’t in an enclosed space before clicking the fire to life. Nothing about her inspired compassion in me anymore. Everything about her made my bones shudder with life at the thought of causing her even the slightest discomfort.
“It’s fire, Amelia, it’s nowhere near you.”
“You know I’m afraid of it.”
“Ever since your house burned down when you were a little girl,” I recited in perfect imitation of her, “I know the fucking story.”
“Why are you still with me?”
“Because you didn’t let him fuck you.”
“Do you still love me?
Men’s bathrooms piss me off. Women go to the bathroom and chat through the stalls the whole damn time, but with men it’s a literal pissing contest. That’s why I ended up in the stall. Or at least that’s what I told myself as I pulled out my phone and flipped through the saved pictures of Marlie. Marlie’s breasts, swipe, Marlie touching herself, swipe, Marlie’s ass, swipe, Marlie, swipe, Marlie.
Five minutes later I’m standing next to Amy waiting at the edge of security for Jason and Marlie to appear with the images still sliding across my mind. Amy’s right, I am excited to see Marlie. I’m also excited to see Jason. It’s invigorating to know he tried with my wife and failed, but I tried with his and succeeded.
Amy sees them first and plasters a smile on her face while reaching for my hand.
“Ya know what I’ve been thinking, Amy?” She squeezes my hand in gratitude at my soft tone.
“I think we should have a bonfire tonight. Jason and I used to do that as teenagers. It would really make him feel like we were moving back to the way things were before.”
She squeezed my hand with a grateful smile on her face. I could see the wheels turning in her head. Anger at my disregard for her fear combatted the sheer joy she felt at my attempt to make things right with our friends. I relished in her emotional confusion.
Just as Jason and Marlie made it within earshot Amelia turned to me, “A bonfire sounds wonderful, sweetheart. Will that be before or after you take Marlie to bed?”