Sample: I.C.E.

“You’re leaving again,” the words dropped into the air and sank to the floor like a stone. James surveyed the clamor of bags and clothes around his bedroom with dread and silent relief.

Evie’s auburn curls bounced as she glanced up from jamming a folded stack of t-shirts into a worn canvas bag and smiled meekly. “Hey there babe. You’re back…early. How was your meeting?”

James did not respond as he surveyed the room and tried vainly to collect his thoughts. A strange brew of sadness, heartache, and anger simmered somewhere inside. He should have known that this day would come–he should have known better than to get too comfortable with Evie in his life. He could see that she was talking to him, but James could not focus on her words.

“…and I could make some great connections there,” Evie chirped in that tone she used when she was trying to make something sound better than it really was.

“Wait…what?”

Evie furrowed her brow. “Weren’t you paying attention? I got an email about an art expo in New Hampshire that I really think I should check out.”

“When is it?”

“The last weekend in August. It’s a really big deal up there.”

“That’s three weeks away.”

Evie only nodded as she resumed her packing.

James tried again. “You’ve got three weeks to get ready.”

Evie flashed her favorite smile and tried to laugh a little. “You know me…I need all the prep time I can get. And this expo could really open some doors for me.”

“In New Hampshire….” James said as he waited for the inevitable litany of excuses. The bitterness of the truth was seeping into his head like a poison. She was never going to change – no matter what he did, she would always find an excuse to leave.

“Evelyn…” James cleared his throat, but Evie did not look up. Her soft skin and emerald eyes used to melt his resolve almost instantly. But in this moment, he felt impervious to her.

“Evelyn?” he tried again, knowing how much she hated when he used her formal name. “When are you planning to leave?”

Evie actually looked uncomfortable as she stopped folding a small pile of socks. “Um…today, if possible. I didn’t want to procrastinate on this…I have a lot to get ready for.”

James could not help but smirk. “Of course not.”

A lull of silence followed his comment. Evie seemed to quicken her pace as James continued to watch her pack up her life. Another pang of truth stung his thoughts, causing him to wince. Evie had not mentioned this expo recently, and this was the kind of thing she would have talked about.

“When did you find out about this expo?”

“Hmm?” Evie barely acknowledged the question.

“When did you get the email about the expo?” James reiterated.

Evie stopped packing again and looked up, her expression mingled with frustration and a hint of confusion. He had never before forced her to explain her departures – he always accepted her excuses and waited patiently for her eventual migration back to him. This time was different.

“What does it matter?” she responded.

“Well, I come home…early as it were…to find you packing…what looks like everything you own…apparently so you can leave immediately for some random art show on the other end of the country that doesn’t even start for…what…three weeks or so? An art show, incidentally, that I’ve never heard of until ten minutes ago. So let’s just call it curiosity.”

From the look on Evie’s face, James knew he should have tried to curb his sardonic tone. But six years’ worth of excuses and hastily thrown together stories suddenly flooded his mind and he did not care to choke down another story.

“For one…it’s not random…this expo is a big deal back east. And…I got the email a couple of days ago. I wasn’t all that sure that I was even gonna go…but…a friend of mine…um Ethan…he called and convinced me. It’ll be good exposure for me.

James closed his eyes, tired of the forced good-natured expression that he had felt duty-bound to wear since he walked into his house. “I guess it’s a good thing my meeting ended early or I might have missed you altogether.”

Evie stepped away from the bed, his words putting physical distance between them. James thought to immediately apologize, but something stopped him. Maybe it was finally time to deal with the unspoken issues that had lived in the corner of his life for so long.

Some of the budding anger in Evie’s eyes deflated. “James…I….”

James waved her off. “Forget it.”

“James, I thought you understood…I’m not good with…this kind of stuff. I need to stretch my legs and make my way in the world a little.”

Evie returned to the business of packing up her life. Another lull of silence settled in a space already heavily weighed down with garbled emotions and unspoken words.

“I could go with you….” the words jumped from his throat before James even knew what he was saying. “I have a lot of vacation time saved up. I could take a road trip with you.”

Evie looked down uncomfortably. “That’s really sweet of you, but you don’t have to.”

“It’s fine…in fact, I would love to go with you. It would be great.”

“James….”

James cut her off. “We could get a rental car and give your old Jeep a break for once.”

“James….” Sadness crept into Evie’s voice.

“I would love to see all those states, especially this time of year,” James talked over to her again.

“James, stop. Please.”

“Why can’t I go with you?”

“It just wouldn’t work out. I might get work while I am there and stay longer. Or I would need to travel for a job. It wouldn’t work.”

“I imagine my presence might make things awkward with Ethan…”

Evie was swiftly moving past frustration to anger. “Where did that come from?”

A surge of something deep inside James gave him the confidence to look into those green eyes that he loved so much and demand the truth. “Curiosity I guess.”

“Curiosity or jealousy?”

“Depends on what you’re doing with him…them…however many ‘friends’ there are.”

Evie’s tiny hand resounded like a cymbal across James’s cheek. He barely flinched—the pain of the slap dwarfed considerably against the anguish of her departure.

No sooner had Evie’s hand returned to her side before it immediately fly over her mouth in shock. Tears brimmed in her eyes as she shook her head from side to side.

“Oh God…I’m so sorry….James….I’m sorry.”

“It’s fine,” James lied. “I guess I was over the line.”

“James…I’m not like that…you know me…you know me.”

“So you’re faithful to me…all the time?”

The fire returned in Evie’s eyes. James could see hints of fear mixed in with the anger. He had never demanded such concrete answers before.

“Faithful…to…what…so I’m yours…is that what you think?”

“Are you?”

“What is wrong with you?”

“I just want to know where I stand with you….where we stand…where….what…this is….”

“I’m not property…not to you…not to anyone,” Evie announced defiantly. “And for the life of me, I cannot understand where all of this is suddenly coming from.

James quickly clenched his jaw to avoid exploding. “Really? I come home from a meeting at work to find you packing up to leave…again.” James breathed again before he continued. “I love you, Evie…with every ounce of myself, I love you. But I can’t keep doing this. I can’t keep my life on hold to wait for you to come back around someday.”

“Who asked you to put your life on hold? When did I ever make that demand on you?”

“You did, Evie…when you told me never to leave Hamilton because it, and I, was home to you…when you begged me to wait for you to discover yourself. And I’ve spent six years waiting for you….to decide I was worthy enough to stop leaving…six years of just waiting on you.”

“I didn’t know I was making your life so hard,” Evie spat, the words coming out of her mouth like acid. “Maybe it would be best if I didn’t invade your life anymore.”

Her words rocketed into James. Evie was seething as she threw the remainder of her clothes into the last of her ramshackle totes. Everything had escalated so quickly, and he did not want what might become their last words to be spoken in anger.

“Evie…sweetheart, please stop. I’m sorry.” The storm clouds in his blue eyes were dissipating. “It just hurts when you leave. It breaks my heart every time. I don’t want to be without you anymore. I don’t want to share you anymore.”

“And how are you sharing me?”

James closed his eyes for a few seconds. His heart was beginning to pick up some speed and he needed to calm down. He could push this, pull at the thread that had dangled almost seductively in front of him for six years. He knew what she looked like when she was lying. Whether the words coming out of her mouth were true or not, he could finally have the truth.

Evie was glaring at him, a conglomeration of anger and guilt clouding her face. She repeated her question. “How are you sharing me?”

James wilted. “Share time with you…that’s what I meant.”

The anger quieted, but the guilt remained. They both knew what he meant, but neither wanted to see that particular path to its end. “I thought you understood.”

James sighed. “So did I….”

“I’m sorry James. I want so badly to be that person for you…your perfect counterpart. I really do. I just don’t think I can. I tried this time…I really did. Something inside me doesn’t work right, I guess. All I know is how to be who I am right now.”

“Do you love me?”

The words resounded in the room as if they were standing at the base of a canyon. James waited for an answer, his heart slowly breaking with each muted second. She did not do well with straightforward questions, but there was no wriggling out of this one. He had to know.

“Do you love me?” James asked again.

“Why are you doing this?” was Evie’s tortured response.

“Because I have to. Please just tell me.”

“It’s an impossible question for me, James, and you know that.”

“Why?”

Evie huffed. “I don’t want to go through this again. I don’t believe in it. We’ve talked about this.”

“Right. I remember now.

“I adore you and I feel blissful when I am with you, but that’s all I can give to you. Why is that suddenly not enough for you?”

“Just don’t go,” James almost whispered his voice hoarse with emotion. “Please Evie…don’t do this to me again.”

“James please…please don’t do this…”Evie pleaded, her hands reaching for him. “This is hard enough for me. Please don’t make this harder.”

James did not immediately move. A part of him wanted Evie in his arms, just like last night, and all the nights before. He wanted to hold her and make her want to stay with him. But another side of him, trapped beneath layers of emotional scar tissue, knew to keep his distance.

Evie saw a fading light in James’s eyes and slowly withdrew her arms. The roots of their bond were already beginning to wither. She zipped the last of her bags and grabbed a cluster of handles.

“Let me help you,” James stepped forward, ever the gentleman. He picked up the heavier of Evie’s bags and hoisted them over his shoulders.

A fog of sadness hung in the air as James followed Evie down the hallways of his small house and through the front door. The cool air swept through his solid frame — James suddenly felt paper thin, and shuddered. Evie opened the back hatch of her Jeep and swung her gaggle of bags into the empty space. James followed suit and hoisted the large totes from his hands. He dropped them sorrowfully, as though he were letting go of the last remnants of Evie herself. He somehow knew that this would be the last time.

“I should get some good distance today,” Evie commented lightly. “I have some friends I can crash with if I can make it to the next state.”

“That’s great,” James said, his voice thick with forced enthusiasm.

Evie let her body drop against James’s chest and wrapped her arms around his waist. Her touch almost stung as he soaked in the last time she would be pressed into him.

“You really are special to me…you really are a sense of home for me.”

“I know,” he replied. James knew she was trying to make it better, but her words were a fistful of glass in his heart that shredded him with every movement.

“Do you need any gas money?” he asked in the usual obligatory manner. She never took money from him. They both pretended that her travels were funded by her art and jewelry sales and not by her immensely significant trust fund. “Do you need anything at all?”

“I’m good on the money…sales have been good. And I just need us to be okay….”

James nodded. “We’re fine, Evelyn.”

“I’m going to come back,” Evie stated with such surety that James felt that she truly believed what she said. Somehow, he knew otherwise. James steeled himself from begging her to stay one more night. It was better this way.

Evie smiled sweetly as she climbed into the driver’s seat of her Jeep, seemingly oblivious to the emotional evisceration both of them had endured not more than ten minutes ago. James decided later that evening that she must have been in denial.

“I’ll miss you, my James,” Evie sung out in notes of innocence and bliss. “Look for my post cards and letters. And for me too, soon.”

“I’ll miss you too,” James smiled back. “Be safe.”

Evie waved from the open window as she backed out of the driveway and ambled down the quiet street. The last memory of red tail lights burned in James’s eyes for weeks following that afternoon.

 

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