“I don’t get it.”
don’t you get?”
“You and Higgins.”
The pot boils suddenly as my temper flares around my wand. “Well, there’s nothing there for you to get because it’s none of your goddamn business.”
He laughs darkly. “It’s plenty of my business.”
I turn to him sharply. “What is it with you?”
He raises his eyebrows, his hand rummaging ambitiously through his trouser pockets. “What?”
“You with your little act
, coming in here and throwing me around like you own the place, like you’re my father or someone!”
He stares at me across the kitchen, his face twisted up as though he’s mortally confused. “I’m not your father, Tink.” He seizes what he’s searching for in his pockets and withdraws it. In a quick flash of fingers, he flips open the box, flicks out a cigarette, and puts it to his lips.
“Don’t you dare light that thing in my flat,” I warn, my voice deep.
His head tilted down, his eyes flash across to me as he tips the cigarette to his wand. It sparks.
But I’m faster. My arm shoots out, my wand whipping away from the two raw chicken breasts, which lie limply and wearily on the cutting board. I fire at him, and the cigarette bursts into flames that snap at his mouth. He jumps and throws the spitting cigarette on the ground.
“Tinkers!” he shouts. He stamps on the cigarette brutishly, and the flames die under his shoe. “What the hell was that for?”
“I told you not to light it!” I lower my wand to the skeleton of ash on the floor, and I let it disappear. “It’s a disgusting habit, and I don’t want any of it in my flat.”
“Well, get a new flat, then,” he mumbles.
I let out a growl of aggravation, and a hex goes flying out of my wand. He dodges it in a dog-like twirl, steadies himself, and looks at me as though I’ve slapped him.
“Merlin, you’re feisty tonight, aren’t you?” he says, his eyes scorching but his throat laughing.
I bite down on my lip and brandish my wand at the dead poultry on the cutting board. I can feel him approaching as it rips itself apart into neat, rectangular pieces.
“Come on, then, Tink.” He is behind me, his eyes prying around my head to try to see my face. “Why are you so defensive?”
“You know what?” I snap, throwing my wand down. “I’m not even going to do this. You make your own goddamn dinner.” I try to move away from him, toward the stove, but his hands stop me.
“Tinkers,” he calls, dangerously. He turns me to face him. I keep my eyes down. “Look at me.” I shut them. “No, look at me.”
I open them.
I can see the muscles in his head. They twitch as his eyes flicker between mine, back and forth, like a clock that is waiting for something to happen.
“You don’t love him.”
“Yes. I do.”
He shakes his head. “No, you don’t. I’ve seen the way you are around him. You can’t stand him.”
He can see my bones. I can feel the incision.
“How dare you.” My lips open up to the words as though they are solid shapes, sharp and heavy. “You don’t decide who I love, Emory.”
He doesn’t release me. “I’m not deciding anything, I’m doing you a favour. You know how miserable you are with him, but you’re not doing anything about it. I’m giving you a way out.
His voice is red. It slithers at me.
“I never said I was miserable,” I say back. My voice is low. It is shaking. It is vulnerable.
I try to make myself panic as his face draws closer to mine. I try to make myself ashamed, but all I can hear is the ridiculous bouncing of Oscar’s hair on his shoulders as he walks and the crinkling of his eyes when he smiles too widely. I try to feel guilty as Emory’s mouth meets mine, but I feel relieved.
I fall into the breadth of him. My lips move slowly, and I try to keep myself steady. His hands move to the back of my neck, into my hair. His skin smells clean. My fingers move timidly to his shoulders. He pushes me against the counter, and I wrap around him, feeling engulfed.
He breaks away, and I breathe in steadily through my mouth, trembling.
“Well, look at that,” he says. His forehead is pressed against mine. “I was right.”
I close my eyes, because I don’t want to hear him.
“Yes,” I answer. “Of course you were.”
He hovers there, his face by mine, and he is digging a hole in me. Our fingers clutch one another, and he is warm.
“Emory,” I say, my voice drawling out like wisps. I let the word hang in the air, waiting for a response.
He grunts. He doesn’t even look at me.
I thought I would like it more. It's enjoyable, certainly, but after all these years I’d spent wanting
him, I had expected something different. But it feels metallic. He’s not even kissing me. Oscar always kisses me.
It ends. I feel all of his weight on top of me now, and he feels like a boulder. He buries his face into the nape of my neck, and I can feel the air coming out of his nostrils as he pants into my skin. I don’t know what I should do. My fingers are still tangled in his hair. I am having trouble breathing.
I decide to stay silent. I hold my breath and wait, hoping he’ll do something. I’ve never seen him this way before. He’s so uncomfortably distant.
Finally, he lifts his head and pushes himself off of me, rolling over onto his side. His face is gone, and I can only see his back, bare and exposed the way trees are in winter. This is different. Oscar never ignores me. He never rolls over and pretends nothing happened. He presses his lips to my skin, telling me sweet, flowery things like how beautiful I am and how much he loves me. Emory just lies there like a lump.
“So that’s it, then?” I ask, staring at the ceiling.
“What?” It is said as he exhales, and I hear the sheets rustle as he pulls on them. I can feel his eyes are closed, and I can’t tell if his voice speaks sleepiness or annoyance.
“You’re not going to talk with me about it, or anything?”
He sighs through his nose quite loudly, and I wish I could hate him. “There’s nothing to talk about.”
I close my mouth, and it suddenly feels very dry. The air is prickly. I should have known better. There had been no connection between us. He had made sure of it.
“Just go to sleep, Tinkers.”
I let my hand, which had been clutching the railing of the bed, drop to my side, and it hits the sheets in a pathetic, puffing noise that sounds like a cough. I want to say something back to him, but I don’t know what to say. Instead, I roll onto my side, pulling on the sheets stubbornly in hopes I’ll annoy him, but I don’t fall asleep for a very long time.
The next night is the same. He doesn’t talk to me. He hardly looks at me. I should tell him to stop. That would be the mature, fair thing to do. But I like the feeling of him. Certainly more than Oscar. He is comforting, with his mouth on my neck.
When it’s over, he gets up this time and walks loudly to the bathroom, his feet making a scruffy noise against the carpet that makes me want to throw something at him. The sink gurgles as though it is choking, and I turn over.
When he returns, he lies back down beside me and throws an arm around my waist, pulling me into him.
I pretend to be asleep.