by Lori Cramer
The first knock’s almost indiscernible—more like a gentle tapping, really. George’s just gone into the bathroom, so I mute Baseball Tonight and check the time on my phone. 12:49 a.m. Who could be at the door this late? Probably that eccentric guy down the hall, the one who always wears Captain America shirts and keeps forgetting which apartment’s his.
Knock number two, considerably louder, comes about a minute later. I glance at the bathroom door. Still closed.
The next noise isn’t a knock at all; it’s a thump, a fist pounding against the door. I jump up from the couch.
“Sophie, are you in there?” a familiar voice calls from the hallway, slurring the S.
My hand flies to my mouth. Heath. What’s he doing here? Doesn’t he know I’m married now?
In an off-key baritone voice, Heath sings my name like a lyric from an oldies song: “Sophie, Sophie, Sophie.”
Afraid he’ll wake the neighbors, I rush to the door. Then I freeze. I can’t let him in here. George’ll freak. But if I pretend I’m not home and he leaves, I’ll never find out why he came here in the first place. So I open the door.
Heath looks startled. Pleased. Inebriated. Staggering into the living room without waiting for an invitation, he plops down on the couch like someone who’s been there dozens of times. Because he has. But not in the last year.
“What’re you doing here?” I ask.
He shrugs. “I was down the street at McDermott’s Tavern.”
His shaggy head bobs back and forth as he gives the room a once-over. “Something’s different.”
“But you look the same.”
“So do you.” Drunk.
He lurches forward, grabs my left hand, and examines my rings as if he’s never encountered jewelry before. “You got married.”
“Three weeks ago.”
Relinquishing my hand, he slowly shakes his head.
“Nobody told you?” Hard to believe that not one of our mutual friends has clued him in.
“Uh-uh.” He shakes his head again. “What’d you do? Elope?”
The bathroom door opens, and George appears, whistling “All You Need Is Love.” At the sight of Heath, his affable expression deteriorates into a scowl. He turns to me. “We have company?”
“Company,” Heath repeats under his breath.
“You remember Heath.”
Walking toward the sofa, George makes eye contact with him. “You’re in my seat.”
Heath stares back, bewildered. “Huh?”
“That’s my seat.” George points at the couch cushion.
Muttering something incomprehensible, Heath stands up.
Good. He’s leaving. My muscles begin to relax. But why’d he come here in the first place?
Heath stumbles over to the faded blue chair next to the sofa and turns back to George. “This seat okay?”
“It’s fine,” I assure him.
“Why are you here?” George sounds like a district attorney ready to convict a defendant.
“I was at McDermott’s.” Heath sinks into the chair. “Thought I’d stop in and say hi.”
“Hi.” George folds his arms across his chest, his expression so icy that I shiver. “Anything else?”
Heath turns to me. “Could I have some water?”
“We don’t have any,” George snaps.
Seemingly baffled by George’s words, Heath stares off into space.
“I’ll get you a bottle.” On my way past George, I mouth, “He’s harmless.”
The kitchen’s only inches away from the living room, but I waste no time retrieving the water, wary of leaving George and Heath alone any longer than necessary. “Here you go.” I hand the bottle to Heath.
“That’ll be two dollars,” George says.
Heath stares at him, mouth agape.
George holds out his palm.
Brow furrowed, Heath reaches for his wallet.
“He’s kidding,” I say.
“No, I’m not,” George says.
I shoot George a look. “Yes, he is.”
Heath opens the bottle of water and guzzles about a third of it. Then he blows out a breath. “So you both live here now. Together.”
“That’s what married people do,” George says.
“Why’d you get married?”
George scrunches up his face. “What kind of question’s that?”
“I mean, you guys didn’t even date that long. Not compared to….” He trails off, as if his brain’s just caught up with his mouth.
“Compared to what?” George asks, knowing full well the end of the sentence.
Heath turns to me. “We used to break up every few months, remember? I always figured it was only a matter of time before we got back together again.” He stares down at the multicolored throw rug beneath his Nikes. “I didn’t think you’d marry somebody else.”
“You expected her to marry you?” George practically spits the last word.
Heath’s face registers no offense. “I’m twenty-three, man. Marriage isn’t even on my radar.” He gulps more water.
“She could do a lot better than you,” George says. “Come to think of it, she did.”
He’s right. I did. But does he have to rub Heath’s nose in it?
Heath stands up. “I’m gonna get going.”
“Good idea.” George gets to his feet. “Best one you’ve had all night, in fact.” He escorts Heath to the door.
Turning to me, Heath says, “Sorry, Sophie. About…you know. Everything.”
I nod. Already forgiven.
George gestures as if to say “keep it moving, buddy.”
“Here.” Heath hands me the empty water bottle. “Enjoy married life.” He leans over, frames my ear with his hand, and whispers, “But if things don’t work out with this dude, give me a call, okay?”
George takes a step toward him.
Heath’s eyes widen. He rushes out of the apartment.
Locking the door behind him, George says, “I can’t believe you dated that guy. What’d you ever see in him anyway?”
Several answers come to mind, none of which George will appreciate. “Do you really want me to answer that?”
George chuckles. “Nah.”
Better for us both to leave the past in the past.
Lori Cramer’s short prose has appeared in Boston Literary Magazine, FewerThan500.com, Ink In Thirds, Rum Punch Press, and Unbroken Journal, among others. She lives and writes in Central Pennsylvania.