From Marty Vee:
This is a RomCom novella I’m sharing in segments, about two people who don’t like each other getting quarantined together. I suggest starting at the beginning:
But I’ll recap anyway:
Billie is a junior reporter for a local network and Edgar, her least favorite person, works in the same position at a competing network. They are quarantined together at his house. She recently found out that most of her previously conceived notions about him are based on someone else’s lies. As these things go, feelings got all involved and they did the deed. On Day 10 she asked the National Guard if she could grab provisions from her house and come back to Edgar’s. Then a video was circulated on Day 12 that confirms she is at Edgar’s house and his ex-wife turns the narrative very negatively against them on social-media.
I hope you enjoy it!
When I finally forced myself out of the shower last night, the sofa was made into a bed. Edgar even laid a folded comforter under the sheet for extra cushion; that got me crying all over again.
We are avoiding each other with more efficiency than we ever have before. We’re magnets of opposite polarization. It confuses me when Edgar walks into the living room. For the barest of moments, I think maybe he’s coming to talk to me, but then he extends his phone towards me. I battle to hide my disappointment. Without making eye contact, I take the phone from him.
Panic pumps through my nervous system, thinking it might be Val. I press it to my ear. Instead of her cold voice, a man informs me of his name and rank, but my brain hasn’t caught up to comprehend him.
“Ma’am, I understand you’d like to go to your home and retrieve some items.”
I close the door to the spare room, the workout equipment smelling metallic and musty. “Actually, can I just go home?”
There’s a pause. “Yes ma’am, I was calling to confirm that you can go home if you please, but you cannot leave your home once you get there.”
I nod, even though he can’t see me. “Thank you.” He also can’t see the tears brimming my eyes or the way I clench my jaw to keep it from doing something stupid like wobbling.
“When can I leave?”
“I’ll ensure the soldiers at the correct checkpoints know to let you through.”
He tells me I have until “1800” to be at my home. I have to do the math to figure out that means six this evening.
“So, I can leave now?”
“Give me an hour to clear the checkpoints for you, but yes, you can leave shortly.”
“Just as long as I’m home by six.”
“Thank you, again.”
“Have a good day, ma’am.” He hangs up the phone.
I take a minute to wipe my cheeks dry and check that my eyes don’t look weepy, before I open the door and step into the hallway. The living room and kitchen are empty.
The thunk of my knuckles on Edgar’s bedroom door disrupts the silence that settled in the house like dust. I don’t wait for a response before I say, “Your phone is on the island.”
Retreating to my bathroom, I hear his door open. His bare feet make a quiet smacking sound on the hardwood floors. My eyes close as I picture him. There’s only a couple of feet and a wall and turmoil between us. He doesn’t go directly back into his room, I don’t hear him moving at all. I imagine him with a hand at the base of his neck, staring at the closed door of the bathroom. His eyebrows are drawn together and Crow’s feet by his eyes.
Or maybe he’s just checking his email.
I tug the scrunchy out of my hair. I open my eyes and notice my clothes washed and folded on the counter next to the sink. The sight rips my already aching chest open. I take off the clothes he let me borrow.
Once the water spraying from the showerhead is hot to the touch I step under it.
Day two of crying in the shower.
It’s not like I have a lot to pack, but it’s been over three hours since my phone call with Commanding Officer What’s-His-Name and I still haven’t left yet. When I leave, I can’t come back. I haven’t told Edgar; I haven’t spoken to him since giving him his phone; which can hardly be considered a conversation.
My purse is slung over my shoulder, as I lean my left elbow on the counter. The pen Edgar used a few days ago to write the note for the soldiers is clutched in my right fist. There’s a blank post-it note that has grown to the size of a barn. It’s a looming, foreboding thing. I could just write, “Went home, thank you for your hospitality.”
But I can’t.
I’m not a coward. I may be feeling cowardly but I am not a coward.
My purse thunks on the kitchen floor. I turn and stride into the living room and snatch his laptop and power cord from the coffee table. In the spare room, I sit on the floor with my back to the wall. After opening Messenger, I call Libby.
Controlling my expression, I force my face blank. It’s a practice I’ve perfected for work but I struggle to keep the facade when her face fills the screen halfway through the second ring. I can tell by the look in her blue eyes that she sees right through me.
“Hey, Bill.” Her tone is gentle and loving.
It makes my throat constrict. “Hey,” I reply in a strained voice.
“Have you talked to him yet?” She has this way of launching right into a conversation. She doesn’t approach from the side of any issue, she strides directly into the fire.
I shake my head. “What would I say?”
“I thought we talked this out yesterday?”
“I don’t know.”
“Oh, ‘I don’t know.’” She quirks her pursed lips to the side and lifts an eyebrow at me.
I swallow and glare back at her.
“So, where ya at?”
I know she means emotionally, but I can’t answer that yet. “I can go home.”
She nods, she seems to understand something I don’t. “Billie, what do you want to happen here?”
“I don’t know,” I repeat.
“Yeah, you do.”
I shake my head.
“Yes, you do. You always know what you want.”
She’s right. I do know what I want. But I don’t know how to get it.
“Okay,” she sighs, “start at the beginning. What happened today?”
“Nothing. He’s been in his room and I’ve been in the living room. He handed me his phone so I could talk to the National Guard Officer. I have until six to get home. If I leave, I can’t come back.”
“Does Edgar know any of that?”
“He knows I talked to the guy.”
“But not what the conversation consisted of?”
“Oh my god, lady, talk to him.” I can hear the patients wearing thin in Libby’s voice.
“I want to go home.”
“Your deflection is next level.”
I’m not going to address that. “I almost left him a post-it note.”
Her mouth hangs open with the corners drawn down in horror. It would be comical if I wasn’t so broken.
“Like Berger in Sex and the City?” She whispers as if she’s afraid someone might overhear.
“No! Edgar and I weren’t in a relationship, so it’s not a breakup.”
“Oh, it’s a breakup if it’s on a post-it note. And not one you can come back from; that horse is in the ground, there’s no riding it anymore, kind of breakup.”
“That’s a little extreme.”
She shakes her head. “Okay, so why didn’t you do it?”
My teeth make a grinding screech and I have to purposefully unclench my jaw. “It felt like the wrong thing to do.”
“Because it is. So, I guess, congratulations on not doing it.”
It doesn’t take much, but my temper flares. “So what do I do?” I demand.
Her intake of breath is slow before she breathes it out through rounded lips. “Billie, what do you want?”
I don’t answer her.
She must take my silence to mean something. “Take what you want and work back from there. How do you get it?”
“This isn’t some mindful manifestation nonsense.”
“You’re right, this is putting on your big girl panties and doing what’s right.”
Her expression has shifted from gentle to firm. But it is still loving.
“Go talk to him,” she says in a tone that leaves no room for discussion, “tell him everything, about how you can leave but you can’t come back. And tell him what you want.”
She cuts me off. “If this goes any more tits up, do you want it to be because you were a chicken-shit, or do you want to know that you were truly courageous.”
I scoff. “Courageous is a bit much.”
“But chicken-shit, isn’t?”
“Shut up.” Rocks fill my stomach and it sinks. I hate being so wrong. It’s worse that I can’t figure out how to make it right. “Fine, I’ll talk to him.” I give a little wave. “Bye.”
“Hey!” She exclaims, offended.
“You didn’t even ask me how my day’s going?”
“I’m sorry.” Ugh, I can’t stop being the worse! “How are—”
“I’m just messing with you.” A wide grin spreads on her face.
I tisk. “Bye.”
As I’m closing the laptop she says, “Loveyoubye!”
I freaking love her too.
Outside of Edgar’s door, I hug his laptop to my chest. It’s still warm from my brief talk with Libby. It’s comforting. I feel pathetic taking comfort from a goddamn inanimate object, but when the shoe fits.
My fist keeps lifting a couple of inches away from the door but it never connects with the wood.
I’m about to make a fourth attempt, when he calls, “Just open it.”
So much for courageous.
My eyes squeeze shut, as I allow myself to cringe before fixing my face. The metal of the knob is cold in my palm. I twist it and swing the door open. With confidence, I don’t feel I lean against the door frame. I’m just holding the laptop, not cradling it like it’s the only thing that loves me.
He’s sitting on his unmade bed, his back propped against the headrest, a book pinched between his fingers and his glasses in his other hand. His Junior-Reporter-Face is on. It matches mine. I wonder if my lack of expression makes his heart feel like it’s being compressed into a too-tight box.
I don’t know how to start, but he saves me from figuring it out by asking, “What did the National Guard say?”
“I can leave but I can’t come back.”
If he has any physical response to this, I don’t see it.
“I have to be home by six.”
“You’re just on the other side of town, right?”
“Plenty of time still.”
The space around my heart shrinks. Was that him politely telling me to leave?
“Thank you,” my voice is mostly normal, “for your hospitality.”
My instinct is to leave it at that; retrieve my purse off of the kitchen floor and go home to cry in solitude. But I also don’t want to tell Libby that I’m a chicken-shit, so… fuck it.
That shocks a blink out of him.
I might as well start at the beginning. “I’ve judged you incorrectly the entire time I’ve known you. I’ve said shit about you that I shouldn’t have said, shit that wasn’t true.” Inside, I’m a mess but I deliver this speech like I’m reading from a TelePrompter. “I’m sorry that I was so concerned about other peoples’ opinions of me that I’d push you to do something you’re uncomfortable with.”
His head tilts and a crease forms between his eyebrows.
I’m staring at him and he’s looking back at me, void of emotion.
This was not the goal. This empty interaction. What do I have to do? I’m doing something totally wrong.
“Thank you for your apology.” His scripted response shines a cold light on my massive misstep. It’s clear what I have to do, but it goes against every one of my instincts.
Then little by little, I let him see me. The me that I keep hidden from everyone. The me that I don’t even show to Libby.
My shields fall away. It starts with the nonchalant way I’m holding the laptop; I let myself hug it against my chest. Then I stop controlling my breathing; it comes out shaky and uneven. My shoulders are hunched and my chin is wobbling. I look down at the floor as tears collect in my eyelashes.
Words break free from the vice grip of my throat in a strained whisper, I say, “I know I haven’t given you any reason to trust me, so I understand that you don’t. But I actually…” I need to take a deep breath. Oxygen fills my lungs and spreads through my body, searching for every hidden place that courage could be stored. I’ve never said this to anyone before they’ve said it to me. Fear wants to silence me. But I am not chicken-shit. “I actually love you.” I still can’t look at him. I’m watching my tears fall in heavy drops on the hardwood. “I know, it’s like, creepy to say that this quickly but I’ve fucked everything up by being afraid, so if I’m going to keep fucking up I want it to be because I was… brave.” The last word is strangled by a sob.
I am physically shaking. My body has released adrenalin; I want to run away so badly. “I want to go home,” I say, and the rest of my words are unintelligible. I try again, but it doesn’t work. Fuck, I have to get this out. “I want to go home,” I force out the words again, “and I want you to come with me.”
He’s been silent this whole time, I haven’t even heard the bed creak. When he clears his throat, my eyes look in his direction. His voice is husky as he asks, “Are you okay?”
I shake my head. “I feel like shit.”
“Yeah, me too.”
It makes my heart hurt worse knowing he’s in pain. “I’m sorry.”
“I know. Me too.”
The next wave of pain is coming, I can see it in the pinch of his eyebrows and controlled breathing. I’ve done too little too late and he’s given up on me. The sleeve of my hoodie is rough as I try to dry my cheeks. I won’t fall apart more. I won’t make it harder for him to do what he needs to do. Because even though I know this is over, I won’t call it. I’m not strong enough for that.
“You were right,” the words are forced through his clenched jaw, “I do have baggage. I’m… I had you built up in my head. You seem like you don’t care what anyone thinks and that’s something I liked about you.”
My lip might start bleeding, I’m biting it so hard. I will not sob. I will let him speak his mind and then I’ll run away. I can make it. I can survive this.
“But it wasn’t fair to hold you to what I imagined. Of course, you care what people think, we all do. I wanted you to be more than human and that’s bullshit.” His eyes soften. “Stop biting your lip, you’re going to hurt yourself.”
“I know.” He inhales deeply. “Billie, you’re different than I thought you were.”
No. No. Nonononoooo.
“Okay.” I’m hyperventilating, I need to get out of here. “Thank you again. Bye.”
I’m turning away from him, but I stop and turn back.
In his usual graceful, athletic way, he moves to stand. There’s no hesitation but there is caution. In two careful strides, he closes the distance between us. The laptop’s weight slips from my grasp into his. He places it on top of the dresser. My arms are crossed over my chest as he pulls me into a hug. His arms are firm and tight across my back. I let myself rest my forehead into the crook of his neck and feel his chest rise and fall against my forearms.
Into my the hair at my temple, he says, “I like who you are. If my past was different, if I was who I used to be, but I’m not… You can only get me with the baggage.”
I look up at him with my tear-drenched eyes. “But you’re trying.”
“Is that enough?”
“Can anyone ask for more?” I thought I was already at my most pathetic, but then I realize there’s lower to sink.
“You should go home and think about that.”
“You won’t go with me?”
“It’s not a good idea.”
I shuffle away from him. He’s standing just within his bedroom and I’m just outside of it. It takes me a few seconds, but I force the insurmountable pain into a dark corner inside of me. I know it’s still visible in my eyes because when I meet his, he reaches for me.
“Don’t,” my voice is a broken whimper.
His chest falls in a exhale, both of his hands fist into his hair.
I clear my throat before forcing my voice level. “Thank you again. Bye, Edgar.”
My purse is where I left it. I swing it over my shoulder, ignoring the weight of his gaze following me. I keep my eyes fixed on the front door, then on the bright green budding leaves in the Spring sunshine.
With my car door closed behind me, I slip on my sunglasses and try to keep it together until I get home.
My house feels unlived in when I get home. All of my things are where I left them. But I am not in the same state upon my return.
Charging my phone, is probably the best first step. I set it on the wireless charger and give my fridge the side-eye. That thing is going to stink and I do not have the willpower to deal with it. Is one more night really going to make any difference?
My phone screen goes white as it powers up. It asks for my pin code. It’s alive and I’m bombarded with messages. One text message stands out among them all.
Sophia: I’ll take you down Bitch
I could almost thank her for the clarity she’s given me.
A plan forms and I begin executing it, immediately.
From Marty Vee:
Thank you for reading! If you’re enjoying the story please share it with a friend.
Day 14 and an Epilogue will bring our story to an end next week.