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First Name
Kaleigh
Last Name
Perkins
Grade
11

[ Day 1 ]

The dishes are still in the sink.

Julia reminds Tom for the fifth time, tone clipped and accusatory, as she’s precariously balancing a platter of half-eaten salmon pilaf and collecting the mostly-dry drinking glasses from the drying rack beside the sink.  His fork hits the side of his plate with an echoing clatter and the ensuing argument, though short-lived, is cataclysmic.

It’s a cluster of every single one of their past mistakes condensed into a neatly packed powder keg that neither of them had so much as mentioned for the past few days-- weeks, actually, months, even-- because Julia has never been good at confrontation, and Tom knows that. And she’s put up with it and excused it and pretended she didn’t mind that he started sleeping with his back to her, pretended it didn’t bother her that he stopped saying “I love you” when he would leave for work, pretended that everything was fine and perfect and okay--

It isn’t.

It isn’t okay.

He takes the car keys off of the granite countertop and storms out, leaves her standing in the kitchen with shattered bits of porcelain dishware and a sinking feeling in the pit of her stomach-- something that tastes acidic in her mouth, makes her head spin and her world tilt and her thoughts echo with why why why--

The door closes with an anticlimactic snick of wood and rubber insulation.

He doesn’t look back.

[ Before ]

Their wedding had been beautiful.

The ceremony itself took place in the gardens beside Tom’s grandfather’s old Victorian home, lit up with feather-light paper lanterns that were hung on the draping boughs of a willow tree, and everything had been so perfectly surreal that even now, two days later, Julia still couldn’t wrap her mind around it.

She woke up with Tom’s face pressed to the nape of her neck, and she smiled as he sat up and yawned, scrubbed his palm down the dark blond stubble on his jawline and tucked his thumb into the hollow of her pelvis, absentmindedly, thoughtlessly, like it was the most natural thing in the world--

“You were snoring,” Julia said drolly, even though he wasn’t.

He laughed, the sound rich and warm, and shoved her away-- she smiled and kissed his cheek, climbed out of bed with his old college soccer jersey slipping off of her shoulder, her hair in tangles and clumps of day-old mascara collected under her eyes.

He shaved while she brushed her teeth, she showered and complained about his awful water pressure while he made them both coffee. She walked into the kitchen to see the newspaper spread across the countertop. Up in the top left corner was a solitary photo from their wedding-- a picture of them, after the ceremony, foreheads pressed together, a smudge of blue frosting smeared across her nose and Tom’s eyes crinkled at the corners as he tried not to laugh.

“I don’t like it,” he grumbled. “I look stupid.”

(She framed it anyway.)

[ Day 37 ]

He’s going away on a business trip. Four days-- four days, and she had checked and double checked and triple-checked with his senior manager at the office building where he works and she knows that it’s a lie.

When she gets home, there are roses on the kitchen table.

The flowers are beautiful, conspicuously placed and perfectly arranged-- but she can’t seem to fathom why they’d be there in the first place, and something about how out of character it is strikes her as odd, makes unease slink down her spine like a spider, spindly and scared--

There’s no reason. No birthday, no anniversary-- nothing.

And Tom-- everything he does has a reason. Everything has a purpose, everything is carefully controlled, every cause has an effect and every action has a reaction and she doesn’t quite understand why, what this is supposed to mean--

The phone rings. Julia flinches. Tom Russell, the caller ID reads in blinking letters, 860-371-6526.

She hesitates over the phone, debates ignoring the call, wonders if he’d believe her if she said she had fallen asleep--

“Hello?”

Tom clears his throat. “Hey.”

The ensuing silence is incredibly tense, resentment-fueled and suffocating, something that Julia is certain she would be able to touch if she were to reach out for it, a solid, physical barrier that had somehow been erected between them.

“I’ll be back on Monday,” he says, voice unnaturally hoarse. “I… I left you flowers.”

“Yeah.” Julia replies. “I saw.” She doesn’t ask why.

This is wrong, she thinks suddenly. This isn’t what was supposed to happen to them. But the reality is crushing, the weight of everything he says and everything she doesn’t say is painfully heavy on her shoulders and she wants to pretend that it isn’t already over, but--

He swallows; the sound crackles over the phone receiver, echoes and echoes and echoes in her ears, sad and lonely but mostly just tragic.

“I--” Tom says, stumbling, not catching himself fast enough to mask the tremor in his voice, but they both ignore it anyway. “I’m sorry.”

She doesn’t even know what he’s apologizing for.

No--

No, actually, she does.

Julia picks up the smallest rose, petals faded and wilting, and winces as a thorn catches in the pad of her index finger. Everything about this feels unreal, like she’s outside of herself, watching, unwanted and unwelcome, as she stares at the blood beading into starkly crimson droplets against her skin.

She wants to say something.
But ultimately, she doesn’t.

She doesn’t say anything at all.

[Before]

The night they graduated from college, they were sprawled across Tom’s neatly-made four-poster in the sticky June heat, both the windows flung open and the overhead ceiling fan squeaking ominously. Music played from a bulky, out-of-date CD player precariously balanced on his dresser-- she recognized the opening chords of Wonderwall and wanted to make some sort of scathing remark about how much of a hipster he’d become, with his mainstream music taste and cashmere sweaters and stupid fingerless gloves-- because that was most of their relationship, wasn’t it? Cutting comments and oddly specific insults and an unspoken sort of agreement that they were a thing, had been since high school, a constant. She would always find his jokes funny and he would always find her competitive streak endearing; they would always be on the same page, the same wavelength-- they didn’t have secrets. She knew everything, every mistake he’d made since he was old enough to know better.

“And all the roads we have to walk are winding,” Tom sang, off-key, voice catching and crackling as he laughed-- and his tone was strange, difficult to interpret, but when she looked at him he was smirking and his expression was playful, even pleased.

“All the lights that lead us there are blinding,” she drones back, dropping her head onto his shoulder, fingers winding together, fitting perfectly, like they were meant to be there. But there was a gravity to it-- to them-- something sweet and slightly bitter swelling in the space between her ribs, and she wasn’t sure that she wanted to face it, face change--

“And after all,” she hummed, wrapped her arms around his waist and straddling his knees, leaning over him, her hair tumbling down in a curtain around her face, blocking out the lone beam of sunlight seeping through the blinds. “You’re my wonderwall.”

[Day 53]

Julia doubts him.

It aches and it burns and it rankles, really, it gnaws at the fragile parts and the inadequate, insecure parts of her that she doesn’t even want to think are still there.

Tom hasn’t chased her. He hasn’t made any attempt to fix this-- fix them-- and the painful thread of tension still keeps them equal parts together and apart, stretches and stretches until she knows with crippling certainty that something somewhere is going to give or break or shatter--

Julia follows him.

And she hates it-- hates how much she cares and how much he doesn’t and it’s unfair and it’s stupid and she’s swerving out of the parking lot of the third bank Tom’s visited in the past hour, she’s pulling into a lawyer’s office and gripping the steering wheel with white-knuckled fingers knowing, objectively, what it means--

When Tom leaves, Julia follows, even though she’s already seen enough.

And the word-- divorce-- it tastes bitter and sour and wrong, she finds herself thinking about how to fix it even though it’s too late, even though she knows he would have tried if he wanted to, even though she knows it’s hopeless. She swerves over, vaguely makes out the back of his 2013 Mazda, blinks through tears and swallows down anger and tries to remember how to stay calm, but her hands are shaking against the steering wheel, starkly white in the faded sunlight filtering in through the clouds.

It’s raining. Hard. The building she’s parked in front of is low, built of brick and shale, and she can’t quite make out the sign, thin pale lettering whitewashed and sun-bleached. Julia squints her eyes.

Oncologist, she reads. Blankly. Thoughtlessly.  It’s an odd word, bulky and awkward, and she wishes there was a better way to say it-- something that sounded beautiful or tragic, something that could have been in a John Green novel instead of the ugly reality she found herself trapped in. It’s a word she wants to take back and swallow whole because it isn’t right, it isn’t fair, it wasn’t supposed to happen, not to them--

The rain comes down, hammers against her windshield and trickles down the pavement and soaks into the ground that’s dry and thirsty for it-- and she wants to cry.

Tom is seeing an oncologist. He’s getting a lawyer. He’s packing his things into boxes and closing his bank accounts and she feels like she’s suffocating because there’s nothing she can do-- she just sits there, digging her nails into the faux-leather upholstery and listening to Wonderwall play softly from the surround-sound radio and trying desperately to feel something other than exhaustion, heavy and cold, tugging at her ribcage, pulling her down and down and down--

It isn’t fair. Julia recognizes, distantly, that she should be angry, she should be furious, sad and scared and upset and a thousand other things, but she isn’t.

She isn’t.

She’s just--

Numb.

[ Before ]

They were sitting on his roof, feet dangling over the edge, and above them the moon was full and the stars were bright and it made his blond hair look almost silver, it made Julia think a myriad of ridiculously poetic things about him, things she would never actually allow herself to say out loud.

“You know I’ve loved you since middle school,” Tom says, abruptly, the words jumbled and too-fast and colliding with each other like he wasn’t quite sure how to say them or how to make them sound right.

It sounds like a confession. But it isn’t, not really, because she knew and she had known and she will always know.

“I know,” she said, “Me too.”

“I just-- I had to be sure,” he continued, as if she hadn’t said anything. “I had to know, right? I couldn’t just-- say it. Not if I wasn't certain.”

But then he stopped, and he pressed his lips together, and Julia looked at him-- actually, really looked at him for the first time that night, studied his face and the cluster of freckles like a miniature constellation beneath his right eye, the half-shaven patchy teen stubble on his jawline and the scar on his bottom lip from where he split it playing soccer when he was six--

“I think I’m always going to be in love with you,” he said. “Even when we get old. I could spend the rest of my life with you, and that would be okay.”

Julia doesn’t say anything for a long moment-- a peaceful moment, intimate and soft, something that was theirs.

“Yeah,” she said, smiling. “I love you too.”