Poking his head out of his little gray room, he notices that her bed in the room across the hall is a mess. It’s also empty.
He throws on a robe hanging on the bathroom door, heavy from the humidity of his hasty shower, and catches a glance of himself in the hallway mirror. He averts his gaze, and makes his way down to the kitchen.
Though he tries to go unnoticed by his better half, she turns her pretty head immediately and catches him descending the stairs. Her hair is too immaculate for the early hours of a Saturday, and the ring on her finger is glittering too harshly.
“Good morning, honey.”
He nods back, taking a seat at the breakfast bar as she makes her toast. It’s almost mesmerizing the way she moves around, spinning around as she closes the fridge, grabbing the jar of blueberry honey off the counter in an attitude derrière, then striding towards the sink to grab a butter knife, as if curtsying to him with a yellow-eyed flourish.
This is my wife, he thinks to himself. There was a time the thought was cause for excitement, unbelievable dumb luck, a flurrying incredulous jaw-drop.
Now it felt hollow. Just a dull fact.
“How was your night?” she asks conversationally. Her tone is neutral, back still turned to him as she rummages idly through gold-plated utensils.
“Just another all-nighter,” he murmurs, lying without any forethought. There was a time he had vowed to take care of the woman before him, to never lie, or cheat, or devalue her. Now, his tongue is practically laden with silver, no longer heavy since he had begun to exercise deception years ago.
Her tone is still unfathomably neutral. He gulps the small amount of sticky saliva in his mouth.
She turns around to face him. Though she is only brandishing a butter knife, she is nevertheless intimidating. She’s wearing a blush silk nightdress. The one with the spaghetti straps, pretty lace, and open back. The one that makes him want to kiss her shoulders and bury his face in her honey sweet hair that once made him want to devour her whole.
He bought the nightdress for her ages ago, trying to woo her. Though it isn’t the gifts that ultimately got her to fall for him, she had told him slyly one evening, over fish and chips, that it did tip the scale in his favor. He’ll never forget the twinkle in her eyes when she said that, or the taste of heaven on her lips that night when they kissed on their way back home. Fast food heaven.
“You worked all night,” she repeats. She’s back to facing her toast.
She clenches her jaw. Setting down her knife, she leans onto the counter, squeezing her eyes shut. They’re completely dry, used to this constant heartache.
Funnily enough, the peak of their relationship was during the recession. Quitting their jobs on their own terms, the drive back to a home they could no longer afford was hardly uncomfortable. In fact it felt easy, like distress was their natural calling.
They built everything they’ve got now since then with rock bottom as their foundation. Even the wall standing between them today was built in the aftermath of the recession.
“You can’t even lie without disappointing me,” she growls suddenly.
The silence shatters into a million pieces. Blood runs out of his face.
She immediately begins preparing a hangover solution. She does it roughly, nothing at all like the careful dance she had perfected earlier.
“Here.” She places the glass in front of him roughly on purpose, eliciting a sharp sound against the pristine marble.
He takes it without question, a wave of nausea to accompany the sudden rise of frustration crashing down on him. She’s leaning against the counter, now munching on her toast. She doesn’t make an offer of preparing him any. Instead, she simply stares at him, waiting for an explanation. He doesn’t have one, and she knows it.
He detests that she seems to know absolutely everything. Her deadpan expression makes him want to lash out completely, to punch a wall right beside her head just so he could witness a genuine expression of shock on her face, for once.
He settles for a different angle.
He had predicted as much.
“Bullshit” is a common line between them. When he had told her he loved her for the first time, on a morning spent dozing in bed at a hotel in Rio, she had giggled and called bullshit. The sun had been glinting from between the curtains behind her as if to wink at him, hinting at the future.
He hadn’t ever dreamed he would lie about this too one day. These days, loving her feels like a chore.
“You could have come to me. You could have just come and told me you weren’t feeling well. I could… I could have taken care of you.”
They both know that the option of approaching her is cracked and dusty, packed up to be taken away by the garbage men on a Thursday. She is the last person he would ever go to. For anything.
There’s a long silence, and they both regard each other as if they were complete strangers.
“This isn’t a goddamn flu,” he snarls, low and husky so that it emanated deep from within his chest. His tone is barbaric, and it makes her skin crawl. Externally, though, she doesn’t seem at all fazed by his aggression.
“I can’t get rid of it, the…” he searches for the right word, “the…”
“Guilt? Bullshit. Bull. Shit.”
He runs his fingers through his hair as she repeats herself, his agitation making his hand adopt a heavy tremor. Pity swells in her chest, but it tastes bitter from exhaustion. She recalls the same heavy tremor that had encompassed her hand when they went to counselling together. An entire empire, built from the ground up, and they can’t even make a life between them.
With that, he chose to adopt a bottle of alcohol instead of the baby they had been looking at overseas. To give credit to his careful nurturing, the dirty habit has dutifully grown into a healthy burden on their marriage.
This wasn’t the life she had signed up for, either.
She pushes her weight off of the counter, taking a step and leaning across the breakfast bar. She places her hands on his and pulls them towards her body. She waits until he finally looks up at her, square in the eye as she begins rubbing the inside of his palm with her thumb in small circles.
In a moment of hesitation, his fingers begin to unfurl. Bringing his hands up to her mouth and kissing it lightly, she looks back up at him with sweet eyes, like honey.
He feels repulsed.
“Will you talk to him, or should I?”
She’s referring to the shrink he had requested to go to alone when couple counselling had failed.
He sighs heavily, averting his gaze.
“Can I trust that you will? Or is that another white lie?”
He looks back up at her. She’s oozing honey now, from every crevice of her face. There was a time he called her that. Honey. In the days before he had morphed himself into a liar.
He lets her massage his hands further, but is about to pull away before the kettle starts whistling. She places his hands back down on the cool marble surface like delicate china, and turns to pour both of them some tea. He takes his hands back, letting them crunch into tight fists under the marble surface.
“At least tell me you left something for company next week,” she teases lightly, trying to distract him as she poured boiling water into their mugs. Her back is turned once again, so her real expression is a mystery.
He forces a flat chuckle.
“I don’t know. You’ll probably have to re-stock on whiskey.”
“Should I?” she turns her head to look him in the eye again. She was holding a jar of organic blueberry honey, poised above his mug. The question rings in his ears.
He gets up from the bar.
“Yes,” he answers curtly, deciding against breakfast, “I just slipped up last night. I can control myself.”
It’s her turn to sigh, watching him ascend the stairs back to his little gray room.