15 | Butterflies
I spend the better part of the next few days in the spare bedroom Terrence had generously lent me against his will. Nothing seems to be happening, everyone at a stalemate. I had read two long novels with my free time, and am currently sitting with a hardcover copy of Gone with the Wind. I had read the book when I was younger at my moms wish. She used to have me read it aloud to her. The nostalgia is jarring, but I am fond of the memories it brings.
I have an empty cup of coffee beside me on the dresser. I had eaten breakfast with Terrence and Spencer but once I was done my plate I took my mug and locked myself back in my quarters. It’s become standard. I am always alone—I prefer it as such. Time goes by quickly yet I can never recollect why it moves that way. The same thing happens day in and day out. I am always thinking as I read and, as a result, I believe that’s where I lose most of my hours. Words I’ve been confronted with millions of times seem foreign. I’m never completely focused on what’s in front of me.
It’s early afternoon when I hear a phone ring from outside. Terrence answers. My interest is piqued and I fold the corner of my page before shutting the book and resting it beside me on the bed. I stand up and put my ear to the door. Terrence’s voice is muffled, purposely hushed, and I purse my lips as I open the door just a sliver. I can hear Terrence more clearly, but I’ve missed the incriminating parts of the conversation he is having.
Yes, Lawrence and I will be there tonight.
11pm? We’ll leave around 9.
It will be done.
And then he hangs up. I roll my eyes and close the door. There is no lock on it so I can’t lock it, but neither Terrence or Spencer have entered unannounced since the former delivered the books to me. Terrence will knock when it’s time to eat, but he does not come in. I think it’s too much for him. I know he doesn’t enjoy seeing me settled in a room that isn’t his own. I can tell by the way he looks at me that he resents me.
I go back to reading Gone with the Wind. I can make out the low murmur of the television but other than that it’s silent. I’m absorbed in the book yet once I turn each page I cannot remember what I had previously read about. I yawn. Doing nothing is tiring, somehow, which sounds silly but it’s true. The words start to get blurry and my blinking gets more and more frequent. My eyes start watering from strain.
I save my page and put the book down. I lay on my back, closing my eyes. I tune into the sound of my breathing as if it’s coming from my own ears. I could sleep. I start nodding off, relaxing, mind wandering back to Beth. I wonder what she’s up to. I wonder what she is doing to help me—if she’s doing anything at all.
Heavy footsteps make me alert. I expect to hear a knock on the door but instead I hear a knock on a neighboring door: Spencer’s. I sit up as I hear it open. Terrence informs Spencer that him and Lawrence are working tonight and he’ll have to stay upstairs to watch me. I can make out the slyness in Spencer’s response even through the barrier of the walls. Butterflies erupt in my stomach. I can’t tell if it’s excitement or fear.
Spencer’s door closes and the footsteps draw nearer. A knock is heard on my door next. I have trouble finding my voice but eventually it comes to me.
“Yes?” I ask.
“I’d like you to meet me outside,” Terrence says. His voice means business. “This isn’t optional.”
I roll my eyes.
“Alright. Give me a few minutes.”
Terrence says nothing but walks away, granting me my wish with his lack of response. I don’t really need a few minutes—it’s a hot day and I’m already showered and dressed. I only need it to hype myself up. I expect him and I are going to engage in another battle about me being alone with Spencer. He’s going to warn me to be careful with him, and remind me that Spencer is only friendly because he thinks I’m pretty. I take his warnings with a grain of salt. I spend all my time thinking; I’ve already been over all of these truths and possibilities with myself dozens of times.
I exit the bedroom after a few minutes. Terrence is outside waiting, sitting at the outdoor 4-piece conversation set that him and Spencer had put together a day ago in front of the large window. It’s too casual for a home that carries so many secrets. The chairs, table and sofa are made of dark wicker and have bright red cushions. The table has a pane of glass for the top. I’m sure better conversations have been had around similar sets.
I step outside and turn the corner just as Terrence lights a joint. He’s made himself at home on the sofa and I take a seat in the chair furthest from him. I tuck my legs close to me as I face him, stern. He smiles at me, offering the joint, but I had learned from the first time. I decline his offer.
“You heard me talking to Spencer a few minutes ago, yes?”
“I got called into work again tonight,” he tells me, oblivious to the fact I heard him on the phone earlier. “I’ll be leaving around nine and I’ll be back late.”
“Another night shift,” I comment.
“Yes, that’s right. You will be alone with Spencer for a few hours. I’d prefer if you just spent it in the spare room.”
“How can you afford to live as lavishly as you do if you only work a few hours every couple days if not weeks?” I ask. My question catches him off guard—out of context.
“My boss pays me well. My brothers and I do work that no one else can do.”
“Wow. I didn’t know running restaurants was that difficult,” I mock. “Impressive.”
Terrence clenches his jaw, taking a long puff. He doesn’t appreciate being ridiculed—no one does, but I’ve seen how he responds to it when it comes from Spencer. He likes to think that he’s vindicated in everything he does—that in spite of everything he is a good person because he has his reasons and convictions. He’s an interesting case study.
“You need to drop that,” he says calmly, exhaling smoke. “I do what I need to do to make a living. One day the money I make, you will allow me to put towards you.”
“For sure,” I agree sarcastically. “I’d love for you to spend every penny of your blood money on me.”
“Beth certainly didn’t mind.”
His response shuts me right up. I know what he says is true. Beth had kept a lot hidden from me, and what she kept hidden for Terrence did not result in her loving him any less. Beth was a good wife—she respected his privacy, and stood by him until he decided her younger sister was more tantalizing. It is hard to hear him say abrasive things about her, but I accept that there is a lot I don’t know. There is only so much I can defend.
“I’m not looking forward to you being with Spencer tonight,” he tells me. “Last time you got too close to escaping.”
“You’ve both taken the measures to avoid that this time,” I remind him. “Spencer doesn’t want me on the run just as much as you don’t.”
“I know. For the same reasons, too,” he takes another long drag before releasing it. “I don’t want you playing his game. I will know if you are, even if you don’t.”
“This is all a game,” I say. ”Everyone is playing. But no one is on the same team.”
“You’re wrong, Sunshine,” Terrence smirks, shaking his head and running his free hand through his hair. “No one is on my team. They’re not quite on your team, but they prefer it to being on mine. I know you and I know the same things. We’re never a step or two in front of one another—we’re always in line.”
“They feel sorry for me.”
“I know they do. We have never done this before—it wouldn’t bother either of them if it wasn’t someone they knew.”
“Would it bother you?”
“No. Do you feel sorry for yourself?” he asks, raising a brow.
“No,” I tell him honestly. “I feel sorry for you, though. You should have moved on. You should have left Beth and I in the past.”
“No, Sunshine. Beth should have left me in the past.”
I stare at Terrence as he finishes the rest of his joint. It’s checkmate. I know asking him more questions is fruitless, so I bite my tongue. He’s adamant Beth played no small part in this—I suppose her saying this is all my fault indicates the same thing, but I had assumed the blame was split down the middle and she was being rhetorical. It’s getting more difficult to hold onto that belief. I don’t think Terrence has any reason to lie. There is no sparing his image.
“I miss having you in...my room,” he confesses. “Even though I know you hated it, it was just nice having you close. It feels emptier than it did before. I can still smell you on the pillow.”
I stop looking at him, facing the trees directly ahead of us. They sway in the zephyr that Terrence’s house blocks from rustling us. Sweat begins beading on my chest and forehead. It’s only going to get warmer, the sun higher.
“When Beth first introduced us, you were double my age,” I recall. “I was fifteen and you were thirty. You are no longer double my age, but you are still fifteen years older than me. Even if you wouldn’t have been married to my sister, the age gap alone would have the same effect. We’re both consenting adults, but you have fifteen years of additional experience. It strikes me as weird that you find comfort in the smell of someone you knew when they were a teenager, but with you still being a consenting adult at the time.”
“You make me out to be some creep. It’s not as if I was counting down the seconds until you became an adult when I first met you. I did not know upon first glance that I’d fall in love with you eventually. I didn’t know even after you became an adult. These things happen, and they can’t be predicted. I’m sorry it had to be you of all people.”
“Feeling, thinking, and acting are three different things,” I say. “I understand you can’t help how you feel. I understand you can’t help what you think. But you can help how you act. You didn’t have to act on anything, yet you did. After you and Beth got divorced, that should have been the end of everything. But it wasn’t. Something happened: Beth gave you an opportunity and you acted. Knowingly. I fault both of you for that, yet I cannot help but be angrier at you.”
“Because you are here,” he finishes.
“Everything was good before you entered the scene,” I say with detestation.
“Untrue, Sunshine. Things had been falling apart before I came around. Beth’s life was kept together by threads. You might think everything fell to ruins leading up to and following our divorce, but you’re wrong. I was not the final nail in the coffin.”
Terrence stands up and positions himself in front of me. He places his hands on the armrests, hovering over me as I sink back into the chair. I stare up at him, heartrate spiking, under the impression he is going to kiss me again. I try to sneak under his arm but he pushes my back by my chest. I stare straight ahead, fingers clenched in a fist.
“Her past. It sealed her fate long before we met. Do you believe our lives are already laid out for us by the time we’re born, or do you think it’s all improvised based on our choices?”
I move to sneak under his arm again, and he allows me. I narrow my eyes at him as I watch him over my shoulder until I turn the corner and go back inside the house. I head straight to the spare bedroom and slam the door behind me. I stand against it for a while.
I believe it’s both.
Terrence, Spencer, Lawrence and I eat dinner in silence. Once everyone is finished eating Terrence takes everyone’s dishes and starts washing them at the sink. I’ve come to notice how Terrence doesn’t make food that requires anything sharper than a butter-knife. It’s the most trivial details that end up being the most crucial.
I stand up to go back into the spare bedroom but Lawrence grabs my wrist before I get far, an action that doesn’t go unnoticed by Spencer. I bite down a gasp and immediately turn my attention to Terrence to make sure he hasn’t looked back yet, which he hasn’t. Then I focus on Lawrence.
“Are you okay?” he asks, appearing as a concerned friend. “How are you doing?”
“I’m fine,” I shrug, offering a small smile to back my claims. “I appreciate you asking.”
Lawrence nods and releases my wrist. I waste no time in resuming my trajectory to the spare bedroom. I turn on the light as I read my novel; twilight is beginning to draw near. It feels as though it should be getting cooler, but it isn’t. I had opened the window as wide as I could earlier but it’s still like a greenhouse. There is no breeze to speak of anymore. The air feels thick; humid. It’s getting warmer by the second.
I hear when Terrence and Lawrence leave, and I know Spencer is still upstairs as per Terrence’s request. I wait for as long as I can but when I can no longer take it I enter the bathroom in a rush, quickly closing the door behind me. I splash my face with cold water, taking a few sips from the tap, and pull my hair back into a messy bun with a claw clip that can’t contain all my curls. No matter; just as long as there is less heat on the nape of my neck.
As soon as I step out of the bathroom Spencer’s voice rings to me from the living room. I had been anticipating this with both dread and zeal.
Butterflies beat their wings against my ribcage.