She burst out into a fit of laughter. “He’s not exactly the neighbor I was referring to.”
I nodded. I knew.
Her legs crossed and she sat up straight. “Do you have any wine?”
“Do I seem like the type to have wine?”
“No.” She shook her head. “You seem like the type who drinks the darkest, thickest kind of beer that grows hair on your chest.”
“Okay. I’ll take a hairy chest beer, please,” she said.
I walked out of the room and returned with a glass of water. “Here, drink up.”
She reached for the glass, but her hand landed against my forearm, and she left it there as she studied my tattoos. “They’re all children’s books.” Her fingernail traced Charlotte’s Web. “Your son’s favorites?”
“How old are you?” she asked.
“Twenty-eight. And how old was your son when he…?”
“Eight,” I said coldly as her lips turned down.
“That’s not fair. Life isn’t fair.”
“Nobody ever said it was.”
“Yeah…but we still all hope it is.” She kept her eyes on the tattoos, traveling up to Katniss Everdeen’s bow and arrow. “Sometimes I hear you, you know. Sometimes I hear you shouting in your sleep at night.”
“Sometimes I hear you cry.”
“Can I tell you a secret?”
“Everyone in town expects me to be the same girl I was before Steven died. But I don’t know how to be that girl anymore. Death changes things.”
“It changes everything.”
“I’m sorry I called you a monster.”
“How? How is that okay?”
“Because that’s how death changed me, it made me a monster.”
She pulled me closer, making me kneel in front of her. Her fingers ran through my hair, and she stared deep into my eyes. “You’re probably going to be mean to me again tomorrow, aren’t you?”
“I thought so.”
“But I won’t mean it.”
“I thought that, too.” Her finger ran against my cheek. “You’re beautiful. You’re a beautiful, broken kind of monster.”
My finger grazed against her bruised face. “Does it hurt?”
“I’ve felt worse pain.”
“I’m so sorry, Elizabeth.”
“My friends call me Liz, but you made it pretty clear that we are not friends.”
“I don’t know how to be a friend anymore,” I whispered.
She closed her eyes and placed her forehead to mine. “I’m really good at being a friend. If you ever want me to, I can give you a few pointers.” She sighed, lightly pressing her lips to my cheek. “Tristan.”
“You kissed me earlier.”
“But why?” she asked.
My fingers moved to the back of her neck, and I slowly pulled her closer to me. “Because you’re beautiful. You’re a beautiful, broken kind of woman.”
She smiled wide, and her body shook slightly. “Tristan?”
“I’m going to throw up again.”
Her head had been in the toilet for over an hour now, and I stood behind her, holding her hair up. “Drink some water,” I said, handing her the glass sitting on the sink.
She sat back and took a few sips. “Normally I’m better at this drinking thing.”
“We’ve all had these kinds of nights.”
“I just wanted to forget for a while. To let go of everything.”
“Trust me,” I said, sitting across from her. “I know what that’s like. How are you feeling?”
“Dizzy. Silly. Stupid. Sorry about, you know, vomiting on your toes.”
I smirked. “Karma, I guess.”
“Was that a smile? Did Tristan Cole just smile at me?”
“Don’t get used to it,” I joked.
“Dangit. Too bad. It’s kind of nice.” She went to stand up and I followed her movements. “Your smile was the highlight of my day.”
“What was your dark moment of the day?” I asked.
“Your frown.” She exhaled as her eyes locked with mine. “I should get going. But thank you for controlling my drunkenness.”
“I’m sorry,” I said, with a thickness in my throat. “I’m sorry for making you fall earlier.”
She pressed her fingers to her lips. “It’s okay. I already forgave you.”
She headed back toward her house, much more sober, but still moving on her tiptoes. I made sure she made it inside the house before I headed to bed. When we both got to our bedrooms, we took a few moments to stand by our windows and stare at each other.
“You felt it, too, didn’t you?” she whispered across to me, speaking of our kiss.
I didn’t reply, but yeah.
I felt it.
That night after Tristan and I left our windowsills, I lay down in my bed, still a little tipsy, and I imagined him and his wife. I imagined what she’d been like. I wondered if she’d smelled like roses or lilies, I wondered if she’d been a cook or a baker, I wondered how much he loved her. I imagined her with him, and for a moment I even pretended that I heard her whisper she loved him against his thick beard. I felt his fingers pulling her closer, the gentle touch to her spine as she curved into his body, the way she called out his name.