Authors: Andrea Randall
Tags: #Fiction, #Literary, #Romance, #Contemporary
In the Stillness
Without you as my mentor and good friend, this book would still be writhing in the dark recesses of my brain. Having you standing behind me saying, “No, you’re
to write this book,” is the only reason it’s here.
Thank you. For everything.
My soul sister.
Late nights, early mornings, and every time in between—you are there for me.
You get it.
I love you.
I exist. Right?
The blood rolling haphazardly down my left forearm says I do. The blade in my right hand agrees.
Sheryl Crow is so full of shit.
The first cut most certainly is
the deepest. If you started with the deepest, where would you go from there?
I never thought I’d cut again, until I found myself thinking about it. I mean, I’ve thought about it a lot in the time that’s gone by since the last time I did it—the time I thought,
damn this is dumb.
Yeah, I often thought a lot about how crazy that all was. Until I no longer had a choice. Until I found myself rifling through my bathroom cabinets trying to find a clean, sharp blade.
Eric’s been in the lab so much these days that I feel trapped in a hell decorated with playdates and PBS. The release is euphoric. It’s just like the first time, only a little scarier since I know where this road can lead. I don’t think too far down that road as I deliberately carve three lines into my soft, shiny skin. It hurts at first. Like hell. But a second later it’s gone—just gone—and I’m left with a visual reminder for the rest of the day that I’m in control of my pain, anxiety, and fear.
Do I even fucking exist?
Ryker doesn’t exist anymore. I mean, he didn’t come home in a body bag like Lucas did, but he may as well have. They took his soul over there,
and left me with the breathing carcass. Then I left him. He’s married now, supposedly happy.
So am I. Married, that is.
I don’t think about him much anymore—that’s not what this is about. He’s just the first person I ever saw not exist while they were still walking the earth.
Bang! Bang! Bang!
The bathroom door rattles under the force of four-year-old fists.
“Mommy! Ollie pulled my hair!”
They’re. Always. Around.
I sigh, turn on the sink, and address the situation from behind the closed door. “Max, don’t tattle. Oliver, leave your brother
God, is it too much to ask for it to be kindergarten already?
My blood forms a candy cane pattern in the white porcelain sink. I stare at the cat as I wash my arm.
I never wanted to be a mother. My twenty-three-year-old graduate student self happily reminds me of that whenever I’m cleaning yogurt from the boys’ backs. Seriously, their backs. She had enough of my shit and left. Just packed right up and vacated the part of my spirit that mattered—that made me ... me. That’s when my twenty-year-old self started whispering that I could buy ten razors for something like three dollars at Walmart. She’s a crazy bitch, but she’s right. You buy them, bring them home, and break off the little line of safety plastic that prevents you from cutting the hell out of your legs. It really was no different than the last time I bought a bag of generic razors—except this time I had four-year-old twins in the cart.
I still can’t decide if that made the purchase easier or harder, seeing their faces, but here we are anyway, washing blood down the sink.
A few hours later I’m washing dinner dishes in our dishwasher-less kitchen, when Eric comes home.
“Hey Baby, where are the boys?” His eyes scan our Amity Street apartment as he tosses his messenger bag carelessly on the couch.
I sigh. “Sleeping, Eric. It’s after seven. How was your day?”
“It was great, actually . . .” Eric launches into a series of events I should care about.
He’s a doctoral student in chemical engineering at UMass Amherst. His research is in biofuels and sustainable energy. I know that sounds all “hip” and “responsible” of him, but all that means is he’s nearing thirty with no job and hours upon hours in a lab. Sure, we get a decent stipend to live on, and full financial aid, but it still leaves me with a twenty-nine-year-old husband who has no job. I slap my former grad student self for bragging his major up to my parents. They loved it. So did I. Then, everything changed.
“Nat, you okay? Natalie?” Eric walks over and shuts off the faucet I left running while I stare out the window. I hate when he calls me Nat; something about the way it
sounds sliding off his tongue makes me feel like a bug.
“Huh? Shit, sorry, I spaced.”
I reach for a towel to dry my hands when Eric’s tanned hand wraps around my much paler arm.
“What happened to your arm? That’s a huge scratch.” Those honey-brown eyes, one thing left that I don’t resent, tell me they can’t handle the truth. He’d never get it.
“Stupid cat.” I shrug and tug my arm away.
“Maybe we should get rid of her, that’s the second time this month she’s torn your arm up.” He kisses my cheek, right by my ear. For a second, I remember what it felt like the first time he did that. Then I remember everything that happened after that kiss.
“It’s fine.” I shake my head and pull away. “I tried to give her a bath, serves me right.”
Eric laughs just under his breath. “Want some wine?”
Well, that was easy.
Eric slides me a glass of white. I hate white. “What were the boys up to today?”
That doesn’t stop me from drinking it. “What happens after graduation?” I ignore his request for information on our children.
“What do you mean?” He sits back against the couch.
“I mean a
, Eric. It’s been a long time—”
“Oh Jesus, Nat, not this again.” He rolls his eyes and walks back into the kitchen. “How many times do we have to go
this? I would have been done two years ago—”
. Trust me, I know. You would have been done two years ago if we hadn’t had twins in the middle of everything. You graciously demoted yourself to a part-time student while I became a
mom.” I swallow the rest of my wine and walk to the kitchen to pour another glass. “Do you want my list about how the last two years would have gone? Screw that, do you want to know how the last
years would have gone?”
” Eric holds out his hands, as if to give me the floor. We’re speaking in whisper-yells to avoid waking the identical monsters down the hall.
“You’re the one who wanted them, Eric.
the one who begged me to keep them, to pull out of that parking lot and come home.” He winces under my tone, but I continue, “Yet, somehow, I leave my degree program to raise them, while you play mad scientist in Goessmann.” I point out the window in the general direction of campus.
Eric bows his head, placing his hands on his hips while he takes a careful breath. When he looks up, his face is a mess of exhaustion. We’ve had this argument almost every single day for the last two years. For every single minute of the last two years since he returned as a full-time student, I’ve hated him. I’ve said it, too—
I hate you.
But he just thinks I’m crazy or stressed when I say it. I am. And it’s because of him.
It’s because of him and his assertion of “the right thing to do” that I find myself staring past his jet black hair that needs to be cut, past the athletic physique that makes him stand out amongst his colleagues like he’s just there to pretty up the department, and find myself fantasizing about those little blades twenty-five feet away in the bathroom. Hidden in an empty tampon box.
* * *
I didn’t always hate him. In fact, the first time we met it was something else entirely. In April 2005 I was preparing to graduate from Mount Holyoke College. South Hadley, Massachusetts had provided a picturesque existence for me over the previous four years. I’d only applied to UMass Amherst for graduate programs; I was more than academically qualified, and their anthropology program was great, but I really just wanted to call this place “home” for a while longer.
“Yo, Natalie, over here.” Tosha waved from the front of the Odyssey Bookstore, where she was cashing out. I was glad that UMass was only a short drive because I loved that bookstore.
I approached Tosha’s petite frame as she tried to sell some of her textbooks. “Did they take anything back?”
“Just the novels,” she shrugged, “it’s something.” Tosha threw her curly blonde hair into a ponytail while she waited for the cashier.
“You want to go to Antonio’s for lunch?”
Tosha shrugged. “All the way in Amherst?”
“All the way?” I laughed. “It’s just a few miles. You act like 116 is a fortress.” I joked about the stretch of road that separates our campus from Amherst College, UMass, and Hampshire College.
“It ought to be.” She rolled her eyes. Tosha was a snob, but I loved her anyway. She was irritated that Mount Holyoke wasn’t exclusively women, as it had been in the past, and really wished that it could be an island all its own. “Let’s go, though, their pizza is too good to turn down—even if we have to slum it with ZooMass.”
I laughed and kicked her as we left the bookstore.
Twenty minutes later we were sitting at the bar in the window of Antonio’s. The place was tiny and usually standing-room only, but damn they made good pizza.
“Fluid Mechanics?” Tosha scoffed as she drank her soda.
I looked around. “What the hell?”
“That pretty face down there with the UMass t-shirt.” She nodded to the benches just across the sidewalk and down a bit. “He’s reading a fluid mechanics book . . . outside in the sun . . .”
I looked up, and there he was. He was pretty. Too pretty, almost. His skin was bronzed, but it looked natural, like he’d be dark even in the winter. His black hair was longer than I cared for, but it was tucked just behind his ears and hidden under a Redskins hat.
“What’s your point, Tosh?” I chuckled, trying not to stare as he thumbed through the book with concentration searing across his face.