by Jane Blunschi

Get in the shower. Hurry up, she’ll be here in a few minutes and you want to catch her before she can knock on your door.

Say: Alexa, play Dancing in the Dark.

Wait, don’t take a shower. If she says you smell good, it will make you weak. You’re fine, you smell like yourself.

You smell like the restaurant where you work. You smell like the Sunday brunch shift you just finished. Count your cash and listen for her car to pull up. Put all the twenties together, and the tens, and the fives, and then stuff the ones in the money-for-cigarettes jar on top of the refrigerator.

Open the refrigerator door and close it. You’re not hungry. Walk in a circle in your kitchen for a minute.

You know what? Call your Alanon sponsor right quick. Call Julie.

Flinch a little when she corrects you and says No, you’re not stupid? Your choices are? Judge Julie for making everything she says sound like a question and then ask G_d to help you stop judging Julie and yourself.

Don’t think about Alanon, actually. Don’t think about the last time you saw her at the noon meeting when she started talking about having a new qualifier and how that person’s messiness was bringing up some control issues she was working to surrender. Don’t think about how you had to sit on your hands and then put your fingers in your mouth so that you didn’t shout Look, motherfucker, your new qualifier is my qualifier and if you think it’s bad now, wait until your new qualifier “borrows” one of the nice James Perse t-shirts that you saved your tips for and then spills the mango kombucha that you saved your tips for down the front and washes it in hot water without Spray ‘N Wash so it gets fucking ruined, plus there was basically no kombucha left, just the gummy dregs and her backwash. Stop thinking about that and every other upsetting, messy thing Elise did when you were together.

Answer the door. She’s here, and that’s what you get for thinking.

Let her kiss you. Let her kiss you on the lips really quickly and then on the space between your neck and collarbone a little longer, because that makes you weak. Fuck it, just let yourself be weak.

Right, now stop her before she can get her hands further into the back pockets of your jeans.

Say: Bernadette, we talked about this.

Think about the time you hooked up after the noon meeting, a different noon meeting, and you were both wearing black jeans and she accidentally wore yours home and you wore hers for the rest of the day and finally understood what people meant when they said that sometimes cheating is exciting.

Remember, Jody: You were cheating too. You were cheating first, remember?

Okay, stop kicking yourself in the ass. You felt like shit most of the time. Remember that.

Say: Alexa, stop.

It’s time to go. Get your wallet and nudge her toward the door.

Buckle up. Reach for the radio and then put your hand back in your lap because it’s not like that anymore. Look out the window when she says Hey, that’s okay. Find something. Plug the aux cord into your phone and play No Surrender by Bruce Springsteen. Start talking about Bruce Springsteen. You both love Bruce Springsteen. See, this is easy. Everything is fine.

Look at her. She’s looking at the road. Look at the veins on the back of her hands and the place on her neck where her silver hair tapers to a perfect V. Look at her thighs. Feel like reaching over and squeezing her knee and then leaving your hand there. It’s not like that anymore. Feel that.

Throw some things into a basket at the store. You need tampons. You need dish soap. You need bread. Figure out pretty quickly that she’s buying things for Elise. Oreos and grape jelly. Tampons, razors. The nice, expensive razors. Feel that.

Start to wonder why you agreed to let her come and get you. Wonder why you’re trying so hard to fit her into your life in some way, any way. Wonder why you’re trying so hard. Wonder why you’re trying.

Pay for your groceries and put them in the back seat of her car. Take her bags and put them next to yours. Tell yourself to stop being codependent and let people put their groceries wherever they want. Ask her to take you home. You don’t want to run any more errands. Say you’re tired. Say that brunch was busy.

Play Tom Petty on the drive home. The Apartment Song. She can’t stand the sound of his voice. Let her put her hand on your thigh and leave it there, even though it’s not like that anymore. Look out the window and think about the time Elise went shopping in New Orleans with her mother for the weekend and you spent the entire time in Bernadette’s apartment. In her bed. In her bathtub. Think about the bruises her thumbs left on the insides of your thighs.

Jump out when she pulls into the space in front of your house. Duck into the backseat for your bags. Look at her. She’s looking at her phone. Reach into her bag and throw the package of expensive razors into yours. Rustle the plastic and act busy while you grab the other bag, the one with Elise’s Oreos and grape jelly. Put it on the ground and make sure you wedge it tight in front of her back tire with your foot. Now take the other bag and put it on the ground there too.

Say: Bye, Sugar. Slam the door.

Jane V. Blunschi holds an M.F.A. in fiction writing from the University of Arkansas. She was a 2014 Lambda Literary Emerging Voices fellow, and her collection of stories, Understand Me, Sugar, was published in 2017 by Yellow Flag Press. She lives in Fayetteville, Arkansas.