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What We Missed

“Where did you go?”
She keeps staring at my hands, at my long fingers tapping anxiety into the arms of the leather couch.
“Home.”
“—is where your heart is.”
She finishes my sentence angrily, her voice like a candle, hot, soft, potentially dangerous, like she is.
The ants in my bones stop marching, start squirming, and my leg spazzes suddenly. Then my foot begins tapping a higher level of anxiety into the auburn carpet she told me her grandmother made her when she was seven.
“You told me I don’t have a heart.”
“You don’t.”
The tapping gets louder, the clock over her head ticking softly, like a tongue. The only sounds in the apartment for a full minute.
I fiddle with my watch, anxious for the time to pass faster. The tie digs into my throat.
She glares down at her hands, folded in her lap, but abruptly freezes. When she looks up at me, her face is paler than a wedding dress, and for a second I swear she looks like a panicked deer.
“Did you ever…?”
“No. Did you?”
She stands up, walks past me to the wall of photos behind the couch, taking the smallest frame down. Then she turns, her heels clunking on the carpet in the dull, quick fashion of a heartbeat as she hands me the ultrasound picture.
I can see the grey and white shape of an eight month old baby curled up, tiny, in the center. The shape of the face looks so familiar to the one staring at me now, across the coffee table, that I bite back a small sound of pain.
Then the ants start moving faster, the palm sized spiders in my stomach rolling around unpleasantly, trying to crawl up my esophagus.
“It looked like you.”
My voice comes out dry.
She stares across the coffee table, her eyes as blue and intense as a New England hurricane, her burgundy lips pursed like a bow…like a little girl’s bow, tucked lovingly in her hair by her mother on the first day of school.
My eyes blink rabidly for a moment.
“You still call her an It.”
“Less personal.”
“You can’t keep trying to make what happened – our loss – ‘less personal’.”

Her voice is more like a mocking bonfire now.
“I’m moved on.”
“So have I. But I still think about her.”

The tapping pauses for a second, the clock still ticking.
“How’re your parents?”

My question seems abrupt, comes out awkward, like a crooked painting of a naked woman in an art museum.
“They’re fine. Maggie says hello.”

Maggie – my ex mother-in-law – wanted to love me. But I didn’t have a heart.
“How’s Frankie?”

Her older brother never liked me. I wonder if that changed.
“He still thinks you’re a bastard.”
“He always did.”
“Now I think so too.”

The tapping stops, but the clock keeps ticking.

I swallow, adjust my suit jacket and stand. I’m ready to leave, before things get ugly. But she looks up at me, her eyes watery, and I remember how I loved her…once.
“I…I’m sorry for what happened. I never wanted…to lose…her.”
I shove my hands into my pockets, shrugging off the urge to apologize for everything, for how I behaved after, for what I said and didn’t mean.
“I’m sorry as well.”
She sounds relieved. Then she stands, smoothes her thin, beautiful hands over her skirt. She looks up at me, sparing a small smile.
“How’s the writing thing going?”

Her voice is back to being a candle, a polite tea-light.
“Good. I made New York Times Bestseller’s List.”
“I’m…happy for you.”

I nod a thanks. The clock keeps ticking.
“Do you ever…miss Us?”

Her voice is weakened, smaller, an ember.
“All the time.”
“We were good together.”

I nod, smiling slightly when she nervously tucks her long hair back behind her ear.
“I wish we had tried again.”
“It wasn’t in us. We were both too upset, too angry, too miserable, too preoccupied with our personal feelings.”
I’d never told her that the guilt had eaten me up after what happened to her. She’d fallen down two flights of stairs at the hotel when she left me and I wasn’t there to catch her. We lost the best thing we could’ve had, and failed at trying to save the suffocating flame that had been our marriage.
The therapist told me I hadn’t wanted to save it. I could, once I really wanted to.
But by then, I drank too much, we fought too much, and I left. Sometimes I wished I’d been stronger, softer. I’d really wanted that daughter.
“Pepper.”

My voice comes out quick. I’ve never told her my secret.
“What?”
“I wanted to name her Pepper Melanie Stone.”

Her smile widens; a softer and inevitably sadder version of the smile I fell for.
“That’s a beautiful name.”
I nod quickly. My cell phone buzzes beneath my hand. Pulling it out, the message from my publisher tells me I need to go. But she looks at me desperately, her eyes miserable.
“I’m sorry.”

My voice cracks.
Suddenly she moves toward me, her thin arms pulling me close and wrapping around my chest tightly. She presses her face into the bend of my neck, inhaling, and then sighs grimly, the sound muffled into my shoulder.
“I’m sorry. I miss you. I miss us.”

I say again.

Her breath over my shirt is warm and soft.
I bend slightly to rest my jaw on her head, press my nose into her brown hair and gulp in her scent. Then I wrap my arms around her shoulders. She has such a scent, so her, like cinnamon candies and a bite of a sweet yellow apple. Her shampoo claims mango and pomegranate, but all I can smell was her.
My phone buzzes again but I ignore it, instead kissing her hair gently.
“I miss us too.”
We‘re quiet for a long minute, simply holding each other for comfort.
Then my phone buzzes one last time.
“You have to go.”

She pulls away, wiping tears off her face.
“I have to go.”
I nod in agreement. She crosses her arms over her chest, a gesture of habit. One she did everytime we fought, and again when I left. Like she’s protecting her heart from me. But I don’t want that, even after our divorce; I still want her comfortable and happy. So I stretch out an olive branch.
“I’m having a barbeque, next Tuesday.”

She smiles, snuffling faintly.
“Are you inviting me?”
“Yeah.”
I shove my hands back into my pockets.

























“I’ll try to come. What time?”

I smile a little.
“2 to 7. Bring a dessert.”

Then I move towards her door, opening it before turning to look at her, standing there and smiling at me.
“Bye Lila.”
“Bye Peter. See you soon.”
I turn to step out and almost have the door closed when she speaks. When I look over my shoulder I see her smirking at me.
“Peter? I lied.”
“About what?”
“I don’t think you’re a bastard.”

I can feel my smile widen and a laugh rumbles out of my throat.
“Good.”

Then I walk out, closing the door softly behind me.



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