(This one’s old, so like, if you think it sucks, gimme a little slack)
They said their goodbyes and left the party at the first sign that it was dying down. Paul would have stayed if she wanted, and he told her this, but Emily wasn’t fond of her coworkers and in fact only went because Paul said he would go with her. She had asked him on a whim, knowing his presence would merely be a substitute for the real thing, but he showed up in a tailored suit with flowers and just for a moment she felt better.
Throughout the night she had caught herself looking at him, at the way he moved and talked and laughed and how much it all reminded her of the past. Now here they were, side by side, wandering the cobblestone streets with nowhere to go except wherever they wanted. Emily realized that they were holding hands. She hadn’t meant for that to happen and wondered if he had. In fact she wondered a lot about him. For years she had known him and yet the details of his life were a mystery. Funny how circumstance brought these thoughts out of her.
“What?” Paul asked. She hadn’t been aware that she was still looking at him, and she blushed at the question.
“Nothing. It’s just… your face. It’s similar.”
“Huh. People always told us we didn’t look alike.”
“You just have to know what to look for.”
“And you know what to look for?”
They continued walking. By and by a light drizzle began, enough that they noticed but not enough that they minded.
“I used to love when it rained when I was a little girl,” she told him. “It seemed magical. Like the movies.”
“Magical like romantic?” He glanced at her sideways.
“I don’t think so. More like, it was new. A change of scenery. Cities are different in the rain, more intimate.”
“Intimate seems like a synonym for romantic to me.”
“It’s not a romantic type of intimate.”
“Then intimate how?”
“Like the sense of scale is different. The city feels smaller.”
“Okay. I think I know what you mean.”
“I only like it when it isn’t raining too hard, though,” she said. “It’s never fun being in the rain when it’s pouring.”
Water pooled thinly on every cobblestone, and the lights of the city danced across the floor and set the night aglow. Through the windows were shopkeepers cleaning tables and friends drinking together and televisions flickering and those faces watching them. Emily was hungry and they stopped for a slice of pizza. Paul tried to pay but Emily didn’t let him. She handed the man a five and dropped the change in the tip jar. They slid into a booth while she ate, and when she was done she wiped the corners of her mouth with a napkin and they rose and left. Back to the neon streets that called to them with car horns and indistinct chatter and rain.
Paul asked Emily if she wanted him to hail a cab or call an Uber. She said he didn’t need to do either. Her apartment was twenty-four blocks away and his was only six, and Paul did not say that he would have preferred for her to sleep in her own bed but he did think it.
“Is there room for me at your place?” she asked. “I’ll sleep on the couch. I’d just rather not be alone tonight.”
“Sure. I can sleep on the couch.”
“I’m not kicking you out of your own bed.”
“It’s fine. I sleep on the couch a lot anyway.”
She didn’t respond. They weaved through the streets towards Paul’s apartment. For the clouds and the city lights they could not see the stars, but the moon hung full and bright, bathing the streets in a pale blue hue. This with the streetlights playing off the cobblestone puddles made it so the city roads felt like the stars had left the heavens and settled at the feet of Paul and Emily and as they walked through the city it was like taking a stroll across the firmament.
They found their way back to Paul’s apartment. Emily noticed a park across the street and told him she’d like to take a walk through it if he didn’t mind. He said he didn’t, and she led him by the hand across the street and under the arch that acted as the entrance.
The park was not large, but it held a pond that was lined by many trees and flowers. Small lamps flanked the winding path but were dim enough that Emily could only make out the silhouette of Paul’s face. The outline of it so familiar. They sat on the bench overlooking the pond. The calm of the park at odds with the fervor of the city that surrounded it.
“I never come here,” Paul told her. “I live right there and I never come. I forget it’s even here.”
“That’s just how people are. It’s easy to take things for granted.”
“Yeah.” He said this softly, not a whisper but close, and there was sadness in the voice.
“Would you miss it?” she asked.
“The park. If it was gone, would you miss it?”
“I don’t know. Probably not. I never use it.”
“That makes sense. But I miss things all the time that I never realized I even liked. Once things are gone it’s easier to see their value.”
“I hate that you never know when things are about to change. People would live differently if they knew. I know I would have.”
Paul turned to face her and in the pale moonlight he saw thin tears streaking her face. He put his arm around her shoulder and squeezed her gently.
“I miss him too, you know.”
They sat there, on that bench in the midnight blue, her crying and him with his arm around her. Neither spoke for some time. They just sat and looked into the pond, glassy and serene and reflecting the moon’s brilliant luminescence.
After a while, Emily turned to Paul and said, “Thanks for coming tonight, by the way.”
“I was happy to.”
“Yeah, well, I still appreciate it.”
“Your co-workers are nuts.”
“Trust me, I know.”
“I was talking to—what’s her name? She works in HR; bigger woman with glasses—she seems like a nightmare.”
Emily laughed. “That’s Rosa. And you’re right, she’s the worst.”
“She kept telling me about her seven cats.”
“It’s all she ever talks about.”
“In fairness to Rosa, that’s like 63 lives. I can see that taking up a lot of time.”
Emily laughed again. Her laugh was pretty, almost musical. She wiped her eyes with the back of her hand and smiled sadly.
“She’s not a nice person. When David passed I didn’t come to work for a few days, and when I came back she gave me shit for missing time. Never mind the fact that my boss knew what happened and told me to take my time. Rosa didn’t care. She told me I shouldn’t have neglected my responsibilities. I just about slapped her. If I wasn’t in the office I probably would’ve. Fuck her.”
All Paul could think to say was, “Jesus.” He looked back out across the pond. Its glass surface breaking now from droplets of rain, little rings racing outward and colliding with other rings and every moment more of them forming. Beauty in the disturbance. The rain came down harder until Emily asked Paul if they could leave.
They ran back through the rain the way they came. Emily took off her shoes and held them above her head in a futile attempt to protect herself. By the time they crossed the street and went through the building door they were soaked, and they left a trail of water behind them as they went into Paul’s apartment.
“I haven’t been here since that Christmas party you threw two years ago,” Emily told him.
“I remember.” Paul grabbed two towels and threw one to her.
“You should bring back those decorations. Really tied the room together.”
“I usually don’t put them up until August.” They smiled at each other, toweling off from the deluge.
“You have anything to drink?”
“Up in that cabinet.”
Emily opened it and picked out a bottle of cheap wine. Paul grabbed two glasses. Emily poured with a heavy hand, and they clinked their drinks together in a silent toast.
They finished the bottle, and they joked and laughed while doing it. Emily was having fun for the first time in months. Five months and sixteen days, if she was to be exact. She had forgotten what it was like to feel things in the moment; there was a long stretch of time where the only emotions she felt were from reminiscing.
Paul was having fun, too, but it was a guarded fun. He could see in Emily’s eyes the things she wasn’t saying out loud. Her eyes and her empty glass and her presence in the apartment all said it. Paul wished she would not say it at all. “Bedroom’s back that way,” he said, pointing. “Let me grab some blankets and stuff so I can sleep on the couch.”
“You don’t need to.”
“I think I do.”
“I can sleep on the couch.”
“No, it’s fine. You sleep in the bed, it’s more comfortable.”
“Your bed is a queen, right?”
“No. Just a double.”
She paused for a second, then said, “Okay.”
Paul grabbed a blanket and a pillow for the couch. Emily sat on the bed and watched him but said nothing. Eventually they both fell asleep, Paul on the couch and Emily in Paul’s bed.
Paul woke that night to Emily standing by the coffee table near the couch. She had something in her hand, but he couldn’t see what it was. “Hey,” he said.
“Sorry, didn’t mean to wake you. I just—” She paused. “I’ll go back to bed. Sorry.”
She set the item down on the table next to the couch and walked back to the bedroom. When Paul heard the door close, he tossed the blanket off of him and got up. The rain was coming down hard now. He walked to the table and picked up what she had put down. It was a picture, one of Paul’s favorites: him and his brother when they were kids, Paul laughing and his brother smirking, the similarities clearer than he ever remembered. He looked at it for a long time before setting the picture down and walking to the kitchen.
He pulled out his nearly-finished bottle of Jameson and poured himself a glass. Three fingers, no ice. He sat at his kitchen table by the window, and as he drank he glanced towards the shut bedroom door. Then he looked back out the window at the streets below, watching the people with their collars upturned and their umbrellas and their jackets glistening in the artificial light of the pre-dawn city. The rain continued to fall, and Paul continued to drink, and he wondered idly why in the world anyone would be out there in a storm like this.