We have to stop, I write, but delete it without sending because I never mean it, even when I want to.
She will be here tonight, his Queen; the universe finally noticed that I’m long overdue for some karmic punishment. I clearly need to look into the eyes of the woman I’m attempting to replace, and really feel the damage I’m going to cause her when she finds out who I am.
He wants me to play another role, distant, as if we are acquaintances. What he’s really saying is that we’ve reached a point where our eyes are enough to give us away; there are too many unspoken things in them. It goes unnoticed by most, but the Queen will see it. Women always know.
He doesn’t say this, because he doesn't have to. She is as much a part of our relationship as we are, though she doesn't know that.
“It will be easier,” he explains. Easier for who, I wonder, but don’t ask. After all, what do I care? I’m getting so damn good at pretending.
“What’s wrong?” he asks, and there are too many answers to that question, so I give none.
He asks me if I understand. Of course I do. I wish I didn’t.
I dress up in a way I know he likes, and proceed to stay as far away from him as possible. I spend the evening in separate rooms from him, never looking at him but making sure he sees me. I don’t know why I’m competing; she won this fight before I even entered the ring, but doing nothing still somehow feels like defeat.
I do not introduce myself to the Queen, because I am a coward. I tell myself I am protecting him, but if I’m honest with myself, I can’t risk the idea that I might like her. That would tear a new little hole in me, and I’m already starting to feel like swiss cheese.
The King and the Queen, holding hands. I view her from a distance, like she’s an animal in the zoo, and wonder what it is about her that he just can’t leave behind. I wonder why I keep staring at their interlocked fingers, at his hand on her waist. He and I cannot touch in public, and most days that’s harder than all our other damage combined. I always stand several paces from him when there’s anyone around who might see.
He finds me near the end of the night and pulls me aside. He knows that I’m feeling things, but I doubt he has any concept of what or how much.
“Are you okay?” he asks, but after an evening like this I’m not at all sure I can form words anymore. I look at those beautiful eyes that don’t love me, and I walk away.
I wish I could say the walking away was metaphorical, but if you’ve been paying attention, you know that’s too much self-preservation for someone like me. I prefer to ignore all lighthouses and sail straight into my own shipwrecks.
I go to bed later that night with my stomach in knots and my heart aching. Pretending I’m fine is going to eat me alive, or give me an ulcer, whichever seems less melodramatic.
“You seemed so distant last night,” he says the next day, like it wasn’t behavior he specifically asked for. I don’t answer and this seems to surprise him, though why I couldn’t say. I have gotten so good at making things look real that the lines are blurred; I’m no longer entirely sure when I am pretending.
This is Part Four of a ten-part series called Almost Love. Please consider leaving a tip if you like this work!