There were playlists she’d made, at least a dozen of them. I clicked on a few of the recent ones—ones she’d made since she moved by us—and scrolled through the songs. Kelly Clarkson! Was she still a thing? I thought she was happy now—marriage and chubby babies. Aside from Barbra, she was a pop junkie, whiny girl voices on top of synthetic beats. I had to look up some of the lyrics, songs I was unfamiliar with because they weren’t my style. I was getting tired of it when a couple of lyrics caught my attention. The naive fog lifted, and something clicked into place in my brain. It was like a Rubik’s Cube when the last color aligns and all of a sudden all of the colors are where they should be. Each song bore exactly the same theme. A theme that didn’t sit well with me.
I’m in love with you
I don’t know what to do since you belong to someone else.
Leave her, be with me
My heart is breaking watching you with her
Maybe in another life…
Etcetera, etcetera-etfuckingcetera. I slammed my MacBook shut and picked up my cold coffee, holding it to my lips but not sipping. I imagined my eyes were wide, vacant like the empty windows of a building. That’s how I’d write them into a book in that oh shit moment. I was downloading information into my brain that I wasn’t sure I wanted, puzzle pieces clipping quietly into place. I’d watched her around him, hadn’t I?
Women told a story with their eyes. And if you watched closely enough you could translate: the shimmer, or the blank deadness, the slow blinks, and the fast ones. A story … a screen of emotion. A person’s eyes rubbed you the right way, or the wrong way. What had Darius said about Fig’s eyes? You ever watched a psychopath fall in love? It’s a lot of idealism, drunken emotion, and them seeing what they want to see. I studied the way she watched, and spoke, and laughed when she knew he was looking. It was more than a crush, but it was less than love—an obsession. I felt guilty, Fig had told me how lucky I was. I could see the earnestness in her eyes when she said it, like she really needed to reach me with the news. It bothered me that I had something she didn’t—love … an attentive spouse. Hadn’t she said countless times that George was … I don’t know … detached? I didn’t want to rub my good fortune in her face. I wouldn’t even touch Darius when she was around and watching us like a hawk. My own husband. I didn’t want to hurt her—pour salt in the wound. People couldn’t control who they fell in love with. I know what you’re thinking and I don’t blame you sort of thing.
Did I tell George? No, I didn’t know him well enough. He never came around even when we asked him to, and I had no idea what his reaction to something like this would be. Fig hardly spoke about him, and if you brought him up she’d quickly change the subject. Sometimes I got the feeling she was trying to keep things separate. And at any rate, this was between Darius and me. Yes, I was being the wife with the overactive imagination. I laughed out loud at myself. Eyes. You couldn’t learn someone’s true history from their eyes. Could you…?
I felt bad about my reaction at the park. Darius had been different with her. When she came over, he left the room. In terms of their relationship, he’d ignored my advice and had cut things off with her cold turkey. She’d outright asked me one day if she’d done something to offend him.
“No,” I’d said. “He’s under a lot of stress. He’s so used to unburdening people he doesn’t know how to unburden himself.”
I didn’t want her to feel alone. I wished he’d been more strategic about the whole thing. In truth, Fig needed to learn to rely on her own people. Not mine.
It was a Thursday morning when Fig invited me over for tea. Tea! Like proper British folk. Mercy had started a half-day program at a little private school in Queen Anne and I was finishing up edits on my new novel. I’d never been to her house and I was curious. I shrugged on my favorite cardigan, a grey wool that reached my knees, and headed out the back door. I was grateful for the distraction. I felt like I was sitting around waiting for a call to come about my dad, who’d been deteriorating rapidly the last few weeks. I’d been repeating his words to me over and over, hoping to gain some comfort from them. All men die. Death was part of life, something everyone faced.
The latch to the gate that led from Fig’s garden to mine had rusted badly. I gave it a good shove before it creaked open. Fig’s back door was glass, and for a second before she spotted me, I saw her leaning against the counter, her arms crossed and her eyes huge and unmoving as they stared at the ground. I had the fleeting thought that she wasn’t actually human, but some kind of alien posing as one, and then laughed at myself. Darius was getting to me with all of his anti-Fig propaganda. It was Darius who pointed out that every time she was around me she studied me with unnaturally wide, unblinking eyes. I’d not noticed it until he pointed it out, now it sort of gave me the creeps, like she was downloading information into her brain. It was mean of us to talk about her behind her back, make fun. I liked her, but Darius made some pretty funny and true observations. She probably didn’t know she was being weird, but maybe she did. You could never tell with her.
“Hey, hey,” she said, opening the door. “Creeping through the backyard like a stalker.”
I laughed, because … well…
Her kitchen was warm. I was taking off my sweater before she even closed the door behind me, slinging it over the back of a chair. There were two sets of breakfast things in the sink, mugs, and plates, and silverware.