I lean against the railing surrounding the balcony and light a cigarette.
"It's hot tonight," I say.
"Yep." He is fidgeting, but I pretend not to notice.
“There’s something I need to tell you,” he says.
“OK.” But I still don’t look at him.
“First of all, I want to just tell you that what I did was incredibly fucking stupid.”
He waits. I can only assume he’s expecting me to ask what he did. But I don’t. I continue to smoke and not look at him.
While he mentally rehearses the lines he should use, I make myself think about when we first started dating. It was more than two years ago and it was unbelievable. His sense of humor was inappropriate. He was completely irreverent about nearly everything. He was oblivious to anything he found uninteresting. And I was crazy about him.
“Oh, God. This is harder than I even imagined it would be,” he says.
I knew two months into the relationship that this was the one. This was the relationship I would compare every other relationship to—whether they were one I was involved in or not.
We found with each other the best of everything. The best talks. The best snow cones. The best sex. The best bookstores. The best fights. The best late-night takeout. The best laughs.
I make myself think of these things so that his news might have the proper impact on me. I want to be hurt. I want to be heartbroken. I want to be so fucking angry with him that I physically lash out at him. A slap. A slam. A push. A claw mark across his face.
I don’t want to physically hurt him, of course. But I want to want to hurt him.
I’m thinking of the greatest moments in my life that I’ve spent with him. I’m thinking of the time we broke up for a month and I thought I was literally going to fucking die. I’m thinking of these things, reminding myself of what I once felt, hoping I might feel it again.
But he still hasn’t made his announcement. And I just smoked my last cigarette from the pack I have with me and my other pack is downstairs in my car and I know I’ll have to go get them soon. And I have to pee a little bit.
So I turn to him. Because I’m getting bored and a little impatient.
“I know,” I say.
He looks at me, eyes enlarged with shock.
“You know what?” He’s checking to make sure we are talking about the same thing so that he doesn’t make some kind of sitcom blunder and confess to something he’s not aware of.
“I know what you did. I know you slept with someone. And I know who it was. And I know where it was. And I know when it was.”
He has the deer in the headlights look that people talk about but that I have never actually seen anyone have before.
I continue, just to prove to him that we are taking about the same thing.
“It was Kate. And it was at her apartment when her boyfriend was out of town. And it was nearly a month ago.”
“How di-? When wa?” He stammers. I watch him and I wait for tears. Hope for tears. Mine. Not his.
“I’ve known. It doesn’t really matter how or when, does it?”
He looks at me, waiting for his punishment, bracing himself for the worst.
I look at him, waiting for the desire to punish him rise up in me, waiting for the worst to burst through.
But the worst is already here. It has been here the whole time.
“Well?” he says.
“Go be with her, if that’s what you want.”
“Do what you want to do.” I’m not angry, although God knows I wish I were. I’m just honest. I’m really wanting to go grab that pack of cigarettes.
“What is that supposed to mean?” he says. It’s sweet the way he is trying to provoke something—anything—in me. Anger. Frustration. Irritation. He was always so good at picking fights with me.
“It means exactly that. If you want to be with her, be with her. If you don’t, then don’t.”
“I don’t want to be with her.”
“Fine. Then don’t.”
He’s angry. He’s frustrated. He’s not giving up.
“Look, I know it was a stupid thing to do. But I swear, it didn’t mean anything.”
“I hope that it did,” I say.
“Because to act on something because of a feeling—passion, lust, desire—it’s so much better to act on a feeling than to live every single day void of feeling. Even if that act is cheating.”
He looks at me in silent astonishment.
“So I hope, for your sake, that it did at least mean something.”
“I love you,” he says. “You have to believe me when I say I love you. Because I do. I love you so much. I never meant to do anything that might…”
He continues talking, professing his love, his devotion, his apologies. He begs for forgiveness, for another chance, for love.
I see now that he doesn’t hear me. He hears what he wants me to say. He hears me say what I want to want to say. He continues as if this is all playing out just as it would in a clichéd movie or an hour-long television drama.
“Do you hate me?” he asks.
I take a deep breath. It is the most difficult thing I have to admit.
“No. I do not hate you.”
“I don’t think I could stand it if-”
“I don’t hate you,” I don’t even let him finish his sentence. This has gone on long enough. “But I wish to God I did.”
He looks slightly confused, and it’s sweet. But I know he knows.
“I wish I could hate you, because if I could hate you, then maybe that would mean that I could love you again. I’ve been trying to hate you for the past month. I’ve tried everything I can think of, but no matter what I do, I can’t make myself hate you.”
He doesn’t pretend anymore. When he speaks, his voice quivers with hurt and anger.
“We’ve been together for two years. And you don’t hate me for what I’ve done?”
“I’m sorry. But no. I do not hate you.”