Hamlet. I’d left Hamlet trapped in that box this whole time.
Filled with purpose, I sat up, clear headed again for the moment.
“I’m sorry, I need to take her home.” I was standing and reaching for her crate, when Garrick took me by the elbows.
“Stay, love. You’re upset. I’ll take care of the cat.”
No. I couldn’t let him do that. Because then he’d see that all the cat stuff I’d bought the night before was still brand new and unused.
“No, it’s okay. I really should go. I’m okay, now. Thanks.”
“Bliss, please, talk to me.”
My body was leaning toward him against my will, aching for his comfort again, but I hadn’t made a decision yet.
“I don’t know…”
“How about this—you go home and take care of the cat, and in a little while, I’ll bring dinner. We can talk or just watch a movie or whatever you need to do. I just… if you leave like this, I’ll go crazy worrying about you.”
After a moment, I nodded.
“Yes, just give me an hour, okay?”
He smiled, and I knew… I was in trouble.
I was pretty sure my new cat hated me.
Not that I blamed her, after I left her in that box for so long.
No matter what I did, she let out that closed mouth growl every time I took a step anywhere near her. I set up food for her in the kitchen, which she ignored. I made a litter box and put it in a storage closet. I picked her up, and carried her to the box, placing her inside so she’d know where it was. She hissed once, and then ran, kicking up litter in her wake. She disappeared under my couch, only her glowing, evil eyes visible in the darkness.
Why hadn’t I told Garrick I had a cat named Lady Macbeth? That would have been so much more fitting.
For the rest of the time, I was left alone with my thoughts, which were about as pleasant as the Ebola virus. I straightened up the living room, then thought about running away. I straightened up my bedroom, then rushed to the bathroom, certain I was going to vomit. I didn’t. I almost wished I had. I could have said I was sick.
Before I really got the chance to talk my self into or out of this… there was a knock at the door.
My heart felt like someone was using it as a trampoline. I took a deep breath. I hadn’t promised him anything. He’d said we could talk. Or watch a movie. Or do whatever I wanted. This didn’t have to be a big deal.
When I opened the door, Garrick looked so cheerful that it was hard to keep dreading his presence.
“I forgot to ask what you wanted, so I got pizza, a burger, and a salad.” He was balancing all three in his hands, and I was all at once overwhelmed with how much I liked him. Not just in a romantic way. In general. He was kind of amazing.
I smiled, “Pizza is good.”
I moved back, and he stepped inside my apartment. As much as I was freaking out earlier, it felt natural to have him here. Not that I wasn’t still nervous, it was just… he felt like he belonged.
We made our way into my kitchen/living room, and he set the food on the small circular island that jutted out from my kitchen counter. I busied myself getting us both drinks and plates, and when there was nothing else I could distract myself with, I pulled out one of the barstools tucked underneath the island counter, and took a seat beside him. I pulled a slice of pizza on my plate, and he opened the salad.
I narrowed my eyes at him.
“You are not seriously going to sit there and eat a salad while I stuff my face with greasy goodness, are you?”
He dumped dressing on top of his lettuce and grinned. “Oh, I’m going to eat the burger, too. And some pizza, if you leave me any.”
I rolled my eyes. Guys sucked.
We talked. Not really about anything that mattered. He balked when I dipped my pizza in ranch. When I made him try it, he puckered his face up like it was gross, but I saw him dip a slice again later when I was up refilling my drink. It wasn’t until I was so full that I felt like I was going to burst that he brought up my earlier breakdown.
“So, can you tell me now what happened with Cade?”
I picked at the pepperoni on the half-eaten slice of pizza on my plate.
“We had a fight, I guess. I think. I’m not sure. We’ve never really had a fight before.”
I pushed out the air I’d been holding in my lungs, and set about returning things to the fridge, and placing our plates in the sink.
“About the kiss.”
I could imagine Garrick’s reaction without seeing it, so I decided to go ahead and wash the dishes… by hand… even though I had a dishwasher.
“He likes me,” I continued. “He told me after the kiss, and we’ve been trying to act like nothing changed, but it was awful, and I just got tired of pretending things were normal.”
He appeared beside me, taking a plate, and drying it for me. He must have realized by now that it was easier for me to talk, when we weren’t looking at each other because he kept his eyes focused on the plate long after it was dry.
“So, what did you do?”
“I told him I didn’t think it was going to happen.”
“You weren’t even a little interested?” Garrick asked.
I didn’t think Garrick really wanted to hear this, but he was going to get what he asked for. I needed someone to vent to.
“I thought about it. Cade is sweet, and I like being with him, but he doesn’t really make me feel anything.”
He stopped staring the plate, and turned toward me, leaning his hip against the counter beside me.
“Do I make you feel anything?”
I glanced up at him just long enough to see if he was joking. He wasn’t. I looked away.
“That’s a stupid question.”
“Is it? You’re harder to read than you think you are.”
I dried my hands on a towel, and moved to the couch, pushing myself into a corner, and dragging a pillow into my lap.
“I’m serious,” Garrick continued. “Sometimes you react… like, well, how I want you to react. But then other times, like outside during callbacks, you push me away like you’re not affected by me the way I am by you.”
I squeezed the pillow tighter to my chest.
“I’m affected, Garrick. I’m just also confused… and worried. And I don’t understand why you aren’t.”
He took a seat on the opposite side of the couch, the entire middle cushion separating us.
“I think that’s all I do is worry,” he said
“And you still think this is smart?”
He shook his head, laughing. “Oh, it’s definitely not smart. I know that. But honestly, Bliss? I’m miserable here. It’s great to have a steady job, and I’m enjoying teaching, but I don’t have any friends left here. I go to work, and then I go back to my apartment. And I think about you because I can’t help it, and there’s nothing else to distract me. Especially when I know you are only one building away. The night we met… Bliss, I don’t normally do things like that. But I was second-guessing everything about coming here, and you were everything I needed. I don’t know how many times I’ve stopped myself from coming over here and knocking on your door. And yes, seeing you with Cade was definitely motivation, but more than that… I just like you, Bliss. As a teacher. As a person. As a guy.”
It was hard to keep my breathing steady, hard to keep the longing from showing on my face, hard to keep from reaching for him.
“So, what now?” I asked him.
“I have absolutely no idea.”
I had so many ideas. That was the problem.
“If we do this…” I started, and then stopped. His entire posture had changed, and I felt it echoed in my own. We were about to cross a line, and we both knew it. “If we do this, we have to be careful.” He nodded, his eyes fixed on me. “And I think we should take it slow. If we get caught up in this too fast, we’ll get sloppy.” And I needed more time to think about this, about sex with him, and whether it was something I wanted to do.
I wasn’t sure slow was something we could do, but it was the only way I could do this without freaking out. Who was I kidding? I was going to freak out regardless. The difference was whether it was a feel-like-I’m-going-to-be-sick-freak-out or a lock-myself-in-my-apartment-for-a-week-freak-out.
“Okay,” Garrick slid closer to me on the couch, halfway on to the middle cushion. “I can do careful… and slow.”
My skin was invaded with goose bumps when he reached a hand out to me. I let myself be afraid for a second, but then the need to touch him overpowered even my fear. I pushed the pillow out of my lap, and slid toward him. I put my hand in his, and he pulled it up to his mouth, holding it there against his lips. He closed his eyes, and the simple touch soaked into my body, soothing my anxiety.
Like a key into a lock, my body fell into his, fitting perfectly. With my head on his chest, and his arm around my shoulder, I took a deep breath and knew there was no going back.
The easiness of the night before evaporated by Friday morning. Cade wasn’t mad per say, but he wasn’t much of anything really. He didn’t talk to me in the greenroom or sit by me in class. When I joined a conversation, he left it. I was a habit, and he appeared to be quitting cold turkey.
Garrick’s gentle smile in Senior Prep helped. We’d commandeered the computers in the Design lab for the day to do post-grad research. Some were researching graduate schools, others scouring for internships. Kelsey was looking at airline tickets and hostels in random cities around the world.
I was looking at the search engine homepage.
Hands curled around the back of my chair, and Garrick’s body leaned in close to mine. The proximity was altogether distracting.
“What are you thinking, Bliss?”
I should have said, you. Naked. That would have shocked him. Not that I was actually thinking of him naked… well, now that I mentioned it I was… damn.
Like I said, distracting.
I shook my head, because I didn’t have an answer, not one I could say out loud. He stepped around me and leaned on the table, looking at me.
“Acting or Stage Management?” The gaze he fixed on me felt too personal in this room full of my classmates, even if none of them were looking, well, other than Kelsey. She watched pretty much any time Garrick talked to me, which reminded me that we had to be careful.
“I don’t know,” I muttered.
“Okay, well what about a city? You can start looking at apartments. That’s certainly something you’ve got to think about, especially if you’re going to New York.”
I stared at the search engine box. It was taunting me.
“I can’t afford New York,” I told him.
“That’s okay. Most people can’t. There are plenty of regional markets to consider. Philadelphia.” I jerked around to face him. Was he telling me to look at Philadelphia? Where he lived? Was he trying to tell me something or was I reading too far into this. His face was blank as he continued, “Dallas and Houston both have a fair amount of work. Chicago. Seattle. Boston. D.C. There’s plenty to choose from, actually.” I turned back toward my computer, my heart still beating a little too fast. I was definitely reading into this. It wasn’t like we were serious. We’d spent the evening cuddled on my couch. That didn’t mean we were together or that I was ready to move halfway across the country with him.
“Just explore. Look up something,” He said before leaving me to continue walking around the room.
I placed my fingers on the keys, but they felt like lead, too weighted to move. I stared at the key with the letter “P.” I could see Kelsey watching me out of the corner of my eye, and as curious as I was now about Philadelphia, I typed “Stage Management Internships” into the search engine.