orinne stabbed the dirt repeatedly with a spade. The soil grew darker with every inch and she could smell the damp of fertile soil. It soothed her, this elemental potential for life. She dropped radish seeds into tidy rows and spaced her tomato plants with room to thrive.
Gardening was a good distraction, but she couldn’t fight a faint feeling of envy toward her tiny seedlings. Somehow they managed to flourish far apart from one another.
She on the other hand still craved him. It got worse at night. Like a fever, she could feel it starting and spreading. Instead of intermittent heat and shivers, it was emptiness that punctured her chest (starting in the vicinity of her heart) and spread throughout her torso to sink and settle in the pit of her stomach.
She knew she would see him the next day, and the day after that. That wasn’t the problem. In fact, part of her wished she wouldn’t. They shared so much: a job he’d handed over to her that allowed her to work from home — or his home — as well as a band they’d formed together with another good friend. They were passionate about the music. In fact, it was what had brought them together in the first place. Late nights spent on the rooftop staring at stars and hearing seeing and feeling new tunes. They had created something together and felt the swell of artistic ecstasy bloom. They gave into it as any human would.
He had always been apprehensive, she hopeful. It felt so right that to oppose such powerful instincts couldn’t possibly end badly. That’s what she had told herself. In truth, his actions, from her perspective, were absurd. They flew in the face of all sense and all they felt so powerfully when they were together.
Ask anyone who knew them, and no one could say just when they got together. It was as if they always were. Or weren’t, but were still.
Corinne had tried to keep their relationship status private. He had insisted on it to keep their professional and artistic relationships balanced. She figured everyone would eventually find out but savored their secret for a while. Their knees would touch under tables and during animated conversation she would find ways to playfully punch him in the shoulder. He in turn would grab her fist in mock defense, and hold it tight.
They found reasons to walk home together, left objects on each other’s sofas and always had work or music as the perfect excuse to steal off together, or to show up side-by-side at the café.
When they finally decided to label themselves a couple very little changed. They carried on as they had before, only now they could link arms as they walked down the street or kiss goodnight on her front stoop on nights they spent apart.
She liked calling him her boyfriend, instead of just Adam. She played with the order of the words. Adam, my boyfriend versus, my boyfriend, Adam. Sometimes she dragged out the pause before his name for extra emphasis.
It is also true that as much as she enjoyed saying them, the phrases didn’t roll easily off her tongue. At first it seemed to make sense. They’d gone so long feeling it without saying it that the actual saying almost felt arbitrary.
At first he protested. What we have doesn’t need a label. All that matters is how we feel.
But Corinne wanted to own the words, and she wanted him to say them back to her. She marveled at the power of language and its conventions. When they took their relationship public, the mere declaration of their respective roles implied intention. Suddenly the ritual of marriage made sense to her. Everything made sense when they were together.
And just like that, after six months of coupled existence, he told her he was afraid he couldn’t give her everything she wanted.
She tried to tell him that he already was. What more could there be? And whatever it was, maybe they would both want it. Together.
He refused to budge, at least on shedding the label. She removed everything of hers from his bedroom, but left her almond milk in the refrigerator. When they met up for breakfast before work he ordered for her as usual, but she was ready with a $10 bill in hand.
He offered to drive her to a meeting later that day. She declined.
As a friend? he had asked her, putting his hand on hers.
She shook her head and looked past his face, over his shoulder and out the door.