One of my biggest setbacks has been this story, the one you are about to read. I have been trying for at least six months to re-write this story. It's something I've wanted to do for a long time, and I finally put myself to the task, not quite realizing how herculean it would become. It seems simple, rewriting a 2000 word story, and certainly something that could be done in a matter of days, if not hours. Again, I've been working on it for SIX MONTHS. And you know what? Every time I try, I make it worse.
When I re-read it for the first time in years, it seemed so juvenile, so out-of-touch, and just not quite right. And after spending way more hours re-writing it than I ever spent thinking about it in the first place, I came to this conclusion: It may not be quite right, but it's as close as I'm ever going to be able to get with this one.
So instead of letting you all drag on for months more waiting on a fruitless endeavor, I bring you the original, only slightly edited story.
Bring Me Home
Celeste stepped out of the shower, and dried herself off. Somberly, she wrapped her hair and lay down on her bed. Their bed, she thought. No- he was gone now. Why had it happened this way? She turned her head and looked at the clock. 8:30. She put on her bathrobe and blow-dried her hair.
She paused as she was pulling her dress out of the closet. She put it back. Scooping the phone out of the cradle, Celeste sighed, and dialed the number.
“Hello?” the voice answered.
“Celeste? Hey what’s up?”
“Listen Paul, I… um…” Did she? Yes. “I have to cancel for tonight.”
“What?! The dinner is in a half-hour, what am I going to tell everyone?”
“I don’t care. Tell them I got suddenly ill or something. I dunno. I don’t give a shit. ”
There was a pause. Then, “What the hell is up with you? Is this about Seth? Did he call? Listen, if I see him I’ll-”
“Shut up Paul. Just shut up.”
“I’ll go kick his ass right-”
“Paul, shut the fuck up!” she stopped, took a breath. “No, he didn’t call. And this is not about him. I just decided that if I have to sit through one more night of you and your prissy college friends babbling back and forth to one another about inane shit while I sit there on your arm looking pretty, I would have to put a bullet in my head.”
“What the fuck is your problem?”
“Fuck you Paul.” She hung up the phone and sighed. It rang. “Hello?”
“Celeste, I’m coming over.”
“Paul? No, don’t come over, I’m going to bed.” She lied.
“No, we have to talk. If I can get a cab fast I’ll be there in fifteen.” He was worried and angry. What an ass, Celeste thought.
“Paul, we don’t have anything to talk about. I’m fine.” Then, on second thought, “In fact, I think we’re done talking altogether. Don’t call me anymore.”
“Celeste, I’m coming over now.”
“Do it and I’ll call the cops on you. You’re self-absorbed, empty-headed, and I hope I’m the first to say it, but you’re bad in bed. Very bad. We’re through talking, now and forever. Bye.”
What was she doing? Paul wasn’t that bad of a guy. But he was no Seth. No- Seth had hurt her, and Paul would never do that. It would be bad for his reputation. That’s why she did it… all she was to Paul was a reflection of status. What an ass. The phone rang again.
“Goddamn it Paul-”
No, this couldn’t be right… she hadn’t even heard from him in… what? Two months? Three? After they broke up, they had still talked. She had been lonely one night, had invited him over, and they had… but nothing since then. Seth had understood that she still didn’t want him. He always understood those moods. She had been dating Paul for about a week at that point, and when she told Paul what happened… well, it hadn’t been pretty.
Since then, as far as Paul was concerned, Celeste could do no wrong. Any bad mood, and temper, anything Paul could find wrong was blamed on Seth. She had loved Seth, but he had hurt her, and it was over. Since that one night she hadn’t so much as said a word to him. Not because of Paul, but because she believed it was the only way she could have any sort of closure.
She started to shake a bit, and gawked at the receiver… some closure.
“Hey, sorry to call so late.” She looked at the clock. It was 9:10. Seth always got so nervous calling after 9:00. Just one of his thousands of idiosyncrasies. “But I…” His voice trailed off.
“Are you OK? Are you hurt?” her voice came out in real concern- something she hadn’t intended.
“No… I mean- no.” There was silence for a few moments. What could he seriously be calling for? He seemed troubled… but… “Can I stay with you tonight?”
“I mean, I don’t have anywhere else to go… I can stay on the couch like last time- erm, sorry, I just…” He was fumbling his words. He only stuttered like this when he was scared- or nervous. “I wouldn’t be asking you unless I had nowhere else to go… shit, I didn’t mean it like that, I just-”
“Sorry, I just-”
“Come over.” She hung up the phone. She knew that the longer he stammered on, the more pitiful he would be. He was so adorable when he was pitiful, and she hated it. She slipped on some clothes- underwear, a tank-top and sweatpants, then grabbed a pillow and some blankets and went downstairs to the cramped living room. Fifteen minutes later, she heard the familiar ‘tat-tatta-tat-tat’ at the door.
Oh god, she thought to herself when she opened the door. He looked just as pitiful as he had sounded. His chin length hair was soaked through, his coat dark with moisture, as were his faded, ripped jeans. Even though he stood a head taller than her, he couldn’t have looked any smaller. Like a wet cat, she thought. “Come in, give me your jacket. Did you walk here or something?”
“Well you know me…” he muttered with a stupid, shy smile, “always gotta make things difficult.” He reached inside his jacket and proffered a bottle of wine. “It’s a goodwill gesture. It’s all I could grab from my apartment.”
She took the wine and hung up his coat. As she walked towards the kitchen, she said “So what’s up? What’s the emergency?”
“Well,” he paused, “about two months ago, I got fired, and I’ve been looking around for a job. In the meantime, a guy’s gotta eat, so I had to sell some things off for food. Then, of course, before long rent was due… and before I knew it, the apartment ended up being a mattress, a radio and the fridge. I came home today from a job interview to find a notice on the door, evicted as of tomorrow. So I grabbed the wine and split.”
Celeste came back in carrying two mugs the now-open bottle of wine. “My god… what are you going to do?” she set the cups down, already filled.
"I haven’t quite gotten that far yet. I mean things are just so fucked up right now. And…” he sighed, then gulped the wine, and added softly “And I’m lonely.” He looked into her eyes, but quickly looked away, and downed his glass of wine. “Sorry, I’m not being fair.”
Celeste sat in silence. She looked down into her own glass, realizing she had already emptied it. “You’re goddamn right you’re not.” She said weakly. They both finished a second, then third glass without speaking.
“So how’s work?” Seth asked. He filled up his glass again. He was always really bad at changing the subject.
“Same shit,” she mumbled unenthusiastically “different day.” She could feel the wine starting to hit her. So she finished off her fourth glass and said “look, I’ve had a pretty long day, and as I could imagine you have too. I’m going to go to bed. There’s a blanket and pillow for you.” She hugged him, and started up the stairs. Stopping halfway up, she turned. “If you’re up before I am, make some coffee.”
She went into her room, and stripped off her sweatpants and tank-top. She lay on top of the covers, feeling too warm to get underneath. She had been drinking too fast, she scolded herself, especially since they had been drinking out of big mugs.
Before long, she realized she was well and truly drunk. She stared at the ceiling, and thought.
Seth lay silently on the couch, for the moment unable to sleep. He shouldn’t have pushed her, he thought, he wanted to take it back. The wine hit his bladder, and he got up and went to the bathroom. He lingered a moment after washing his face and hands, picking up and smelling various lotions and perfumes. They were all so familiar. They smelled like home.
He walked back into the living room, his eyes adjusting to the darkness. As he got closer to the couch, he thought he saw… no. But there she was, standing at the top of the stairs. As his eyes grew accustomed to the moonlight, he picked out every detail. Her long blonde hair tumbled over her shoulders, covering her bare breasts and most of her torso. She was wearing a pair of light purple panties he seemed to recall buying for her. He caught the gleam against her pale green eyes.
As she reached the bottom of the stairs, he tried to use some reason. “Celeste, we shouldn’t. You’ve been drinking. We’ve both been drinking, this won’t get us anywhere. That, and Paul will never-” She put her finger to his lips.
“There is no Paul anymore.” She brought her arms around his waist. “And believe me, I want this.” She leaned up and kissed him, drawing him in. They fell against the couch, absorbed in each other. Time lurched on, passions raging between the two- the passion of those who have loved and lost, the passion poets dream about, singers sing about, and every soul burns for. The heat of their bodies against one another, sweat singing the praises of the night. As time ticked on, they existed only for one another. They made love, and love made them whole.
Nothing stirred. She lay against his chest listening to his heartbeat. “Make a wish.” He whispered.
“It’s 11:11. Make a wish.” He said. She giggled. “So what now?”
“Don’t tell me you want to do it again.”
This time he giggled. Then his voice took on a bit of seriousness. “No, I mean… Where do we go from here?”
She thought for a moment, and a frown crept across her face. “Nobody could ever hurt me the way you did.”
“I know, and I could never begin to tell you how I ache every day because of it. And how sor-”
“No, I didn’t mean it like that. I’ve never loved anybody more. When I say nobody could, I mean it literally. I’ve never loved anybody enough to let them become that close to me, to be capable of it.” With tears holding off in the corner of her eyes, she smiled a strange smile at him.
“A strong compliment.”
"And I mean it.” She stayed quiet after that.
“I’ve missed you. Every day. I still have your picture by my bed. I pawned off the frame, but I still have the picture.” She didn’t respond for a few minutes. He thought she had gone to sleep.
“Are you going to get a job?”
“They told me at the interview that I start Monday.” Sweat still hung in the air, the smell of sex still lingering on their bodies. Celeste put her hand on his cheek, and softly pulled his face down so he was looking in her eyes.
“Stay with me.” She said. “Forever.”
“You sure? There’s not a lot of room here.” He replied with a smirk.
"Who needs it?” she kissed him. “We only need a little bit of room to love.” They both laughed at how cheesy she sounded. They made love again, but this time, slow and gentle. And most of all, familiar.
The next morning, the sun rose, and Seth made the coffee.