*** Please Note: As of April 30 2020, we are temporarily suspending paperback shipments to locations outside of the United States because they seem to be getting 'stuck' in Miami. We apologize for the inconvenience. Please email info@BellaBooks.com with any questions. ***
by Eva Indigo
The rings are bought, the day is named and Cassie Windler is ready to tie all the knots with Asha Graile. But there’s a secret she hasn’t told Asha: Cassie thinks she can see the future. And it’s not pretty.
In her desolate visions she appears to be alone and destitute. There is no sign of Asha in her life. Should she say no to the wedding? Would running away spare Asha, or cause the bleak future Cassie dreads?
Giving up Asha is unthinkable. Yet telling Asha her fears might drive her away. When her anguish reaches the breaking point, her visions become violent. Shocking duplicity from people she trusted puts Cassie on a dangerous quest to save the life of a stranger—at all costs.
Join Eva Indigo for this page-turning thriller with a paranormal twist!
The day had already been long, and I knew it was about to get longer when Michael Morales walked into the lecture hall. A few remaining students packed their book bags and made plans for study groups, dinners, hookups and who knew what else as Michael’s long legs ambled down the gentle incline toward my desk. I looked up at the huge wall clock behind me, hoping Michael would understand that my time was limited. The beginning of the second quarter at the university was always chaotic.
“Windler, how are ya?”
“I’m doing well, Michael. And you?”
“I’m okay,” Michael responded, hopping up to make himself comfortable on my desktop. He ran his hand through his curly black hair. How was it that he still carried the scent of his cologne—a crisp lime and woods scent—at this time of day? Mine had faded before I had even started my first class. He smelled good. I smelled of static and paper.
“This is going to take a while, isn’t it?” I sighed and took a seat in the front row of student chairs. I slouched low in my seat, sat up to remove the ponytail holder from the back of my head and then sank down again. I might as well get off my feet. Despite his clean forest scent, I wasn’t thrilled to see my friend. I sensed a request coming on. I rubbed my forehead, right between my eyebrows, letting my glasses slide down the bridge of my nose, and pasted on a fake smile. Michael knew me well enough to not be offended.
“What is it?”
“We have a new adjunct teaching Biology 1001 this quarter, and he needs a little guidance from you, our resident neurobiology expert and…” Michael looked up and behind me as the door creaked open and closed. The last of the students must have left.
“Look, Michael,” I said, standing up so that I wasn’t at as big of a disadvantage by being seated fully four feet below his eye level. He stayed planted on my desk.
“Come on, Cass, it’s just a small thing. I promise.”
“No.” I held up my hand to cut him off. “Look, just because I am decent at understanding students doesn’t mean that I should have to guide every wanna-be-a-real-professor of an adjunct that struggles in our department. The last three adjuncts I had to guide decided to leave anyway, after I had spent countless hours grooming them. I’m not going to do it.” My tirade bounced off the empty lecture hall walls.
“Uh, Cass,” Michael tried to get a word in, but I cut him off. I was not going to dedicate myself to training some fly-by-night adjunct who’d leave the university in less than a year after I spent time and energy on him. I was so tired today. Any other day Michael would have gotten a different response from me, but not today.
“No, Michael. The answer is no, I won’t work with this one. If he’s a horse’s ass, he’ll remain a horse’s ass.”
Someone behind me cleared his throat. Michael’s face was full of bemused delight. My neck heated with a rising blush. I didn’t have to turn around to know I’d be face-to-face with the new adjunct, but I turned around anyway. I was surprised by the warm, laughing face of an elderly man. His mostly salt but some pepper hair was thick and on the verge of being out of control. He had dark eyebrows that sported a few silvery white strands, not as many as his head of wild hair, and these eyebrows had arching, laughing lives of their own. Under the lively brows, his eyes were brown and infinitely intelligent.
“Good afternoon, Dr. Windler. I am the horse’s ass.” He held out a weathered, dry, rough hand, and I shook it. His smile showed his amusement, and one of his eyebrows was cocked like a mirthful schoolboy’s. I smiled, but embarrassment prevented it from reaching my eyes.
“I’m sorry,” I began.
“Dr. Arthur Pinehurst.”
“I’m sorry, Dr. Pinehurst,” I said.
“My dear professor, it is I who am sorry. And you may call me Art,” he said with a wink. “I can’t get my Moodle discussion sections to run in conjunction with the existing framework. Michael said that you knew how to set it up so it is usable.”
He knew, at least, what the problem was. I was impressed. I had an immediate change of heart, and I wasn’t sure if it was his endearing charm or the fact that his issue was specific and solvable.
“Can I meet you in your office at three thirty-five? I have one last class that starts in ten minutes.” I didn’t have anything going on after class today anyway, and setting up one’s first Moodle course could be tricky. “I’d be happy to help you, despite the impression I must’ve given you,” I added.
“Perfect! Thank you in advance,” Art said, presenting his hand for shaking again. “I will see you in my office, 313A, at three thirty-five.”
“See you, Windler!”
Michael hopped down from my desktop and escorted Art out of the auditorium, throwing me a smirk over his shoulder when he was halfway up the stairs. I gave him the finger and smiled broadly. I was such a dumbass. I must have sounded horribly petty to Art Pinehurst, as if my time was to be prized above everyone else’s. Not a team player, that one, he was likely thinking. I pulled my reddish-brown hair back into a ponytail for class.
My students started trickling into the lecture hall in groups of twos and threes. I forgot about Art and my bad behavior as I started the lecture on triangulation of research methodologies. The students in this class were usually engaged as much as, if not more, than the students in my other classes, but today the teaching and learning dragged.
No one raised his or her hand when I opened the floor for questions. No one commented as I described the next assignment—a mixed methods research project regarding the preferred methodologies of undergrad bio students. I thought they’d value working with students who were a few years behind them in their education, and I thought they’d appreciate the humor of a research project that examined others’ research methodologies, but not one student indicated that this irony even registered. I looked at the classroom clock. 2:29? That couldn’t be correct. I checked my cell phone. 2:45. No wonder they were dragging. Why hadn’t anyone noticed?
“It appears,” I announced, “that our clock has stopped.” I apologized for the second time that day, the students filed out listlessly, and I sank back into the front row seat I had sat in earlier. I rubbed my forehead. What a long day. I had planned to take care of some mundane computer work prior to helping Art Pinehurst, but it felt so good to sit. I slouched into the padded chair and closed my eyes.
I mentally ticked through the short list of things I had to attend to this evening, and then let my mind wander…
Instead of wandering to a pleasing, relaxing place, which I had hoped for, my mind took me to a two-storied, sun-blistered, weathered blue building. An artsy sign made out of two large pieces of driftwood hung beneath the upstairs windows. The top piece had the word “Sandy’s” painted on it. The lower one read “Sand Bar & Café.” The door of the place hung on rusty hinges that no longer held it securely shut, but rather insisted that it be pulled, pushed and propped. There was a gash in the door’s screen that had existed long enough to become frayed at its edges. Bits of colorful neon glinted from the building’s interior, which is where my mind next took me. The salty tang of the air outside the building was replaced with a dank, close scent of the stale beer and sharp alcohol.
The bartender was a woman who had an armful of tattoos and beautiful long blond hair. Her face was that of an angel, but the bulk of her body kept her firmly earthbound. She laughed with two women at the bar and cleaned glasses as the three amused each other with small talk. There was a group of four at one of the tables, eating fish, chips and sandwiches, and another group of three who were studying what must be a very limited menu—it was not much bigger than a postcard. The last group sported tropically colored T-shirts, crisp khaki shorts and bright white tennis shoes. Tourists? Was the draw of this eating establishment its rundown appearance? It made me think of a restaurant in Florida called “Po Folks” where you were made to feel like you were slumming but in an adventurous sort of way. My waitress there had actually been missing a front tooth.
My mind’s eye focused on the backs of the women at the bar. One had long, shiny brown hair that was loose and reached almost to her waist. Behind the swinging curtain of tresses, she was checking her phone or dialing someone. The other woman, the one with coppery hair twisted up and pinned to the back of her head, was wiping her mouth, just having finished the sandwich she’d been eating. I looked at the exposed back of her thin neck. She had a glass of milk in front of her, which she drained as I watched her from behind. After setting the emptied glass on the bar, she leant back on her stool to peer at the floor, her feet trying to locate her worn-out flip-flops. Everything about this woman looked depleted. Her tank top was nearly colorless, either faded from the sun or too many washes, and it hung over her bony shoulders much like I imagined it would hang on a drying line, appearing empty inside. Her skirt was equally limp, but the faded denim still held traces of blue. Even her hair, which was a color similar to mine, looked like it had seen healthier days.
As she prepared to leave, the bartender said something to her and grabbed a paperback book from the bar’s countertop. She held it out to the woman who was about to leave. It was a copy of Tartuffe by Moliere. Who reads Tartuffe anymore? The woman took the proffered book and tucked it into the back pocket of her skirt. She laughed one last time with the bartender, gave the woman seated next to her a quick peck on the cheek and turned my way. In that instant, I felt as if someone had turned a mirror toward me. I was staring at myself, only the woman looking back at me didn’t seem to see me…
My eyes flew open, and my gasp echoed in the empty lecture hall. Had I fallen asleep? That woman had been me! Older, worn-out and as weathered as the building she had been in but with my angular face, my own soft green eyes.
It wasn’t me. It couldn’t have been. But…my nostrils still stung from the acrid scent of the bar. I rubbed my forehead, but I didn’t close my eyes again. I pushed my glasses up and glanced at the clock before remembering that it had stopped. It didn’t feel like more than a couple of minutes had passed, but at the same time, it seemed much later.
I jumped up, grabbed my phone, which showed the time as 3:20, and scooped up the rest of my papers and books. I jammed everything into my book bag and headed over to Art Pinehurst’s office. It just couldn’t have been me.
“Honestly, that’s what I said, with him right there behind me! Horse’s ass!” I moaned to Asha Graile, my partner, as she tried to keep a straight face. “I was the horse’s ass.”
“Yes, you were, but he must get it—he must know that nobody has time to do other people’s work or train other people in or whatever.”
Asha tried to console me. I must have corrupted her too somewhere along the way, because she spoke as if I had given her the impression that I didn’t have time to help my colleagues. I promised myself to go out of my way to be a better team player from here on out. I couldn’t talk about it anymore.
“Yeah,” I conceded, “he probably gets it, but I need to stop being so selfish with my time.”
“Oh, come on, martyr, no matter how hard you try, you can’t squeeze more hours from the…” Asha’s voice trailed off as I raised my hand and closed my eyes.
“I can do better,” I said. Case closed.
Asha hopped up from her chair at the dining room table, threw a leg over me and sat down across my lap. I laughed. Her short black hair caught glints of light from the dimmed chandelier, giving her bluish highlights. We hadn’t eaten in the dining room for quite a while, and I was glad to be here with her now. Food seemed to taste better here, and more romance existed in this room than at the breakfast bar where we usually ate.
Our noses were centimeters away from each other. She closed the short space between us, heading for a kiss, just as the phone rang. She pulled back, but I pulled her to me and kissed her, letting her alleviate my pitiful mood. As I felt her tongue slide against my bottom lip, I heard my mother’s sharp voice knife out of the ancient answering machine we still used. Wasabi, our elderly cat, bolted from the chair she’d been occupying. She raced out of the room as fast as she could.
“Jesus,” I said, the passion dying at the sound of her request to call as soon as possible—it was an emergency, she said.
“An emergency,” Asha murmured. “You better answer.”
She removed herself from my lap and let me up to answer the call. I rounded the corner into our kitchen, and Asha followed me. We knew my mother would talk to the answering machine until I picked up. My hand wavered as I held it over the phone. What if I didn’t pick it up this time?
“Hello, Mother,” I said, clicking the old machine off. I hopped up onto the counter and leaned my shoulders back into the cupboards behind me. I kept my eyes on Asha as she leaned back against the counter. Her hips jutted out in her tailored pants, and she rested her elbows behind her between the microwave and toaster oven.
“Sweetie, I need your help!” Of course she did. The only time she called was when she needed my help.
“What is it?”
“Well, I’ve arranged a tremendously big to-do, a fundraiser, and the speaker canceled, and I need you to give a little speech. It’s the PDOC Charity Ball, and so you’ll fit right in. It’ll be perfect, sweetie. It’s October twenty-seventh, this Saturday night, at eight p.m. at Custer’s Ballroom in Eden Prairie. Say you’ll be there; it will be an absolute disaster if you can’t be there!” She sounded as if she’d practiced this plea for help. I rolled my eyes at Asha. She set her lips in a grim line and raised her eyebrows at me.
“We have plans this Saturday.” Asha’s eyebrows rose higher. We didn’t have plans. She smiled at me and shook her head.
“Sweetie, you’ll just have to change them! I need you!” I heard something slam on a desk or tabletop on her end of the line. I pictured her in her home office, the one with too many oversized paintings, extravagant decorations and lush trimmings.
“What am I supposed to talk about during this speech?”
“Oh, thank you, thank you!” She took my question as a concession. I sighed. “Speak about being differently oriented, about how difficult it is, about how you’ve had to fight, to struggle for your basic rights,” she sang into the phone, sounding triumphant that I had this perceived burden.
“Wait, Mother, I don’t have a big gay struggle story.” Asha stifled a laugh and jabbed at the phone several times with her index finger. Yes, my mother was my big gay struggle. I smiled at Asha.
“Why, you must, sweetie. Every differently oriented child has one. You’ll do just fine.”
“I’ll bring Asha. She’s had more of a struggle than I have,” I said. Why did I egg her on so?
“Oh, no, dear, I don’t think that’s a good idea.” Her nervous soprano titter made my eardrum ache. “She’s not really representative of PDOC, now is she?” Before I could answer, she said, “I want you to be there though, at eight p.m. this Saturday, okay? Please promise me, sweetie? Just you.”
“I’ll be there.”
I hung up the phone and pushed down the ire that rose like the aftermath of food poisoning. I made my third apology that day to Asha as I explained my mother’s request, or demand. We didn’t have plans, but I always felt guilty over the way my mother cut Asha out of everything. Not that there was much to cut her out of. Maybe twice a year or, tops, three times a year, my mother would need me to do some damn thing to help her keep up her social worthiness.
Being a speaker for a charity ball was, admittedly, bigger than the other things, but no less outrageous. I doubted she ever had a speaker lined up in the first place for this, her Parents of Differently Oriented Children Charity Ball. The fact that PDOC was the acronym was not a coincidence, as almost all of the members of PDOC were medical doctors and their spouses. My mother would not waste her time throwing charity balls unless the attendees could really fund a charity.
“Well, you will be a good speaker,” Asha said from the dining room. “And it’s the first big thing she’s asked you for this year, isn’t it? The way I see it, you’ve gotten off lucky.” She came back into the kitchen and handed me our plates from the dinner table so I could rinse them for the dishwasher.
“I don’t think so. She’s so hateful! She doesn’t want you there because she can’t handle the real gay me or the real gay you.”
At first I had thought my mother disliked Asha because she was Asian, but after a while I discovered it was because Asha was a lesbian and we were together. The fact that Asha was the owner of a successful remodeling and construction business did nothing to assuage my mother’s dislike of her. I looked Asha up and down, appraising her over the top of my glasses, and Asha laughed.
She looked like a poster child for lesbianism. Her jagged, cropped black hair, men’s white dress shirt, and low-slung, belted trousers gave her an edginess that I loved. Shiny wingtips finished off the look that my mother couldn’t handle. Asha looked like a hardened, yet stylish, dyke, but she was ten times the pussycat that I was. The only thing that looked remotely homosexual about me was my choice of eyeglasses. And they were more librarian-lesbian than hard-core dyke. My secondhand jeans topped off with hand-me-down cropped jackets didn’t really wave rainbows flags either. My style was closer to tailored vintage than it was to shabby-chic. Long story short, Lavender magazine probably wasn’t going to put me on their cover as a fashionable representative of Twin City lesbians.
I had tried the short-haired look when I was in high school, but it didn’t suit me. My copper hair, when short, made me look like one of those metal pot-scrubbers or, worse, Little Orphan Annie. I’d had long hair ever since that foray into stereotypical dykedom.
“She doesn’t get it, that’s all,” Asha said. “Wasabi, get off the counter!” With care, Asha scooted the elderly black and white cat onto the floor. “Your mother’s so wrapped up in appearances that she’s threatened by anything or anyone she thinks will ruin her social standing.”
“And you don’t see that as a fault?” I was incredulous.
“I see it as ignorance. It sucks, but it’s not really her fault. And there’s nothing you can do about it, so let’s get back to where we were before she called.”
Asha pushed me back against the counter and resumed our kiss. How did I get so lucky? This woman was so forgiving and so understanding, it was unreal. Asha’s hips pressed into mine as she leaned back to smile into my eyes. Her cheeks and lips were both reddened. I smiled back at her and undid the buttons of her shirt. One, two, three, four, five. That was exactly the number of days I had to prepare the speech. And that was the last thought I had of anything other than Asha that night.
The blankets pinned me down, and I was an unsuccessful Houdini in my pajama bottoms. I had a vague impression staining my mind of a sneering, handsome man holding me down on the bed. I dreamt of him, I thought. He had been telling me something, although what it was, I couldn’t exactly remember. But I could still hear the gravelly threat of his voice ringing in my ears. I tried to stop picturing him, but the more I tried to forget the details of his strong, whiskered chin and dangerous, but alluring eyes, the more sharply I saw him above me. It was rare that men threatened me in my dreams, so I felt especially rattled.
I could not bear it another minute. My phone lit up the dark. It was almost three a.m. How long had I already been awake trying to feign sleep to fool my body into dozing off again? I rolled out of bed as gently as I could so as to not wake Asha. I got a drink of water, attempting to drown out my vague worries and ease the dryness in my throat. Throat relieved, anxieties not.
I realized I was feeling concerned about something else, though the ability to recall what that was lingered just out of my reach. Digging a little deeper, I decided, incredulously, that I might have been fretting about money. I had never had to worry about money before—why now? I wasn’t certain that’s what my unformed thoughts had been of, but I thought it had been the image of that man’s face and the ache for money, just a little bit more, just enough to pay this month’s rent, that had been keeping me from sleep.
That was ridiculous; I didn’t even pay rent. My mortgage was firmly in check, never a financial burden, thanks to having purchased a big rundown Victorian that Asha and I had renovated on my salary from the university. We still had the basement to finish, but I was not in the least stressed about finding the cash for that.
I pulled back the curtain on the front window and looked out to assess the runability of the early morning hour. Scattered diamonds frosted the lawn. I leaned closer to the window. The streetlamp on the corner illuminated the air’s suspended moisture; it appeared it would snow later. Perfect morning for a run. I dashed a note to Asha and left it in the usual place—the bathroom counter—so she wouldn’t worry when she found my side of our bed cold. This was more out of habit than necessity since she knew my running habits were along the lines of wherever, whenever.
In our darkened house, I silently scouted out a clean set of running clothes, threw on shoes and tiptoed through the front door. Outdoors, I filled my lungs with the crisp, crystalline air, bent over, pressed my palms to the frozen earth in front of me and warmed up my hamstrings and lower back. It was cold for the end of October. As I stretched, my face a mere ten inches from my feet, I inspected my running shoes and realized I’d soon have to hit a runner’s store for another pair. By the yellow light of the streetlamp, I noted with sadness their creases and abrasions. The white sock covering my pinky toe on my right foot was visible through the worn mesh fabric. It wasn’t that I couldn’t afford a new pair. It was more that I got attached to my running shoes, and I always had a hard time parting ways with things with which I had shared great thinking, planning and imagining, not to mention many miles.
I ran without a direction in mind, the streets graciously letting me make decisions at each intersection. I ran down the middle of the road. My feet made the only sounds I could hear. The city slept. Had I really been worried about money or had it merely been a dream I’d had? What I should be worried about was the speech I’d be making in a few days for my mother’s charity ball. What the hell was I supposed to talk about? I really didn’t have a big gay struggle to share with the audience. Would that be the theme—no struggle? Why had I not had a struggle? Asha had had one. Her mom, who had raised her on her own, had disowned Asha when she came out. For years, Asha blamed herself; she still might.
After Asha got her feet under herself enough, with the help of a neighbor family who took her in, she enrolled at the University of Minnesota—only to have something horrible happen to her there. She never told me what exactly happened, but I had the feeling it had something to do with dorm hazing or hate crimes. Regardless, Asha found her own path through building her remodeling and construction business without the luxuries of parental support or a university education. She attended the U of Life, according to me, and that was probably better than any other university.
I rounded a corner onto Nicollet Avenue. The street glowed with the yellow warmth of the windows in the row of small shops and offices. Still not a soul shared the city with me. The dim lights of the shops lit up the moisture in the air, and I ran through each hazy puff of crystalline breath like a magician appearing over and over before her audience. Her audience…my audience. My quickly advancing audience.
I spoke in front of audiences nearly every day, if overtired and stressed out students counted, but the upcoming PDOC audience had me unnerved. My runner’s high was in full bloom, and my mind became a garden of ideas for the PDOC speech. I didn’t want to use Asha’s story for the speech because it would be voyeuristic and disrespectful, but couldn’t I speak in general about what happens to most gay kids and young adults? Wasn’t struggle inherent in growing up when society reminded you all along the way that you were not accepted as the norm?
Maybe I could talk about how unjust the current legalities of being homosexual were. If I were to die, Asha wouldn’t get my Social Security benefits the way a man would if he were married to me. Not that we were married. Or would ever be able to get married if Minnesota voters decided to ban same-sex marriage when they went to the polls next month. Despite the fact that I’d paid into Social Security my entire adult life, that money would go back to the government upon my death. And that was utter—
“Whoa!” I cried out.
An uneven spot in the pavement sent me sprawling into the air, my breath catching painfully in my throat, my arms wind-milling as if to keep me safely airborne and my legs grappling for nonexistent toeholds. I landed without grace on my feet and ran out of the near fall. My first laugh was fueled with pure adrenaline, my second and third with mirth. My echoing laughter ricocheted off the building walls that surrounded me and joined my new laughter. Wonder if any city safety cameras picked up that move. It was a pity that no one was running with me. We could have shared the rush that comes from almost performing a face plant. I slowed down, realizing that if I did do one, it would be an awfully long limp home to get an ice pack.
The rest of my run was uneventful, and by the time Asha got out of bed, I had laid a breakfast spread on the counter that rivaled a few local brunch buffets.
“Wow! Good run?”
She eyed the apple and orange slices, the bananas that sported peanut butter dotted with raisins, the waffles hot out of the toaster oven, the eggs over easy, the pan-fried ham slices, the big bowl of oatmeal, and the bigger bowl of Halloween candy. She frowned at the impending gluttony, drawing her eyebrows together over her sleepy eyes, but I saw the undisguised glint of lust in the look she gave the waffles and ham. She had an empty plate, bowl and mug before her on the breakfast bar before I could comment, and her pajama’d chest was pressed to the counter as she reached for her first course.
“Good run,” I explained unnecessarily.
“I see. Thank you.”
Asha’s mouth was already full, so she spoke out the side of it like a gunslinger. Skipping the eggs, waffles, oatmeal and ham, I rooted around in the Halloween candy. Halloween was next Wednesday, so I’d only make a small dent in the candy bowl. I wanted something sweet, but with a kick of salt too. M&Ms? No. Not substantial enough. Twix? No, too little for the amount of unwrapping I’d have to do. Snickers, no. Milky Way, no.
Ah, yes, there it was! An Almond Joy would hit the spot. Coconut provided just the right amount of sweet. Now what could I back it up with? Yes! A Butterfinger found its way to my mouth, followed by another Almond Joy, which was chased down by another Butterfinger. Halloween-sized candy pissed me off. I always had to eat more than three or four pieces to be satisfied. But satisfied I was becoming. One more piece before I had some oatmeal and ham. What would my last candy be?
“Really, Cass, for a scientist, you sure do eat a lot of junk.” Asha’s laugh distracted me from my search.
“For a scientist? What do you mean, for a scientist?”
“You know, for someone who understands nutrients and the human body,” Asha said. “Here”—she handed me a bowl of oatmeal—“you need this rather than that.” She tipped her head at the candy bowl.
“Thanks.” I poured syrup over the top of the oatmeal in the shape of a hydrogen atom.
“Did I ever tell you that my last girlfriend never ate candy? Not once, not even one piece?” Asha quizzed me as she moved the candy bowl over to the other counter, out of my reach.
“Yeah, you told me. And then you told me that was the reason you had to break up with her. You left her crying at the dentist’s office where she had just been told she had the world’s most perfect teeth,” I answered. “Did I ever tell you,” I began, playing our old game, “that my last girlfriend never commented on my food choices?”
“Yeah, you told me,” Asha countered. “You told me right before you told me that’s why you broke up with her. You abandoned her in your couple’s therapy office…you stormed out screaming, ‘You don’t even love me enough to care what I eat!’”
I tasted the oatmeal and added more syrup. Asha helped herself to another waffle and a few apple slices. We chewed thoughtfully until Asha broke the silence.
“You won. The dentist…that was good.”
“Yeah,” I nodded, “that was better than the therapy, although I like that I screamed.”
“Okay, good.” Asha smiled and we continued eating.
I almost always won. Asha tended to get too caught up in attempting to explain herself through her “my last girlfriend” comments, and I just went for the most ridiculous thing I could think of. That was how the whole game had begun, years ago, really. We had been about to begin remodeling the attic, and I had thrown a major fit over Asha piling a bunch of my clothing into a garbage bag, telling me she was taking them to Goodwill because that’s where they looked like they came from in the first place. I told her that’s where all my clothing came from, Goodwill or some other secondhand store. What’s the point of buying new when there are so many good clothes out there needing homes?
Asha insisted that it was time for these clothes to go. I took it very personally. How could I not? They were my clothes. They were things I wore and enjoyed wearing. Granted, when I finally saw what items she had put in the bag I realized they really were ready to go—mostly gardening and painting gear—but by then it was too late because I had already said, “My last girlfriend never decided what clothing I wore!” Asha had dumped the bag on the floor in front of me and stormed out of the attic. Her footsteps had banged down the wooden staircase that had just been denuded of its carpeting the day before.
Later that day, I had to apologize. I told Asha that my last girlfriend rarely even looked at me long enough to notice what I was wearing, let alone long enough to decide when it was time to stop wearing something. That was the reason I ended it with her. I had wanted to break up with her via a life-sized cardboard image of me that had a little speech bubble glued to its mouth that said, “You’ll never know the difference.”
Asha had laughed and held me as I told her about the whole scene. She was rueful when she said she was sorry that she assumed the clothes were ready to be donated. I resisted the urge to agree that she should have checked with me. Instead I told her that it really was time for those clothes to go, and it was.
“I can’t eat another bite,” Asha groaned and pushed her plate away from her. She rested her pajama-clad elbow on the counter and eyed me up and down. “Where do you put it all?”
“I leave it behind me on the running path, I guess.” I was beginning to feel full myself. “Hey,” I said, “we have Thirsty Thursday tonight, don’t we?”
“That we do,” Asha replied.
“Good,” I said. “It’ll be nice to see what’s new in everyone’s lives.” I forked in one last mouthful before coming around the counter to give her a sweaty good morning hug and a syrupy kiss. “Oh, speaking of lives,” I murmured into Asha’s shoulder as she hugged me back, “have I told you yet today that you are the great love of mine?”