Thursday, March 1, 2007

License - Chapter Three

Unfortunately, I must request that you take Friday afternoon off. It will be necessary for our cause.

Your humble request is, to me, an announcement from above. I am at your service, commander.

Meet me at my apartment at 3:00.

The ill willed shall tremble before us.

Mike and I are on the roof of our apartment building because it’s still daylight. We huddle together, peering over the side, giggling at times. I sit back for a few moments to light a cigarette and rest my legs. Mike’s eyes follow me back, but his face is pressed into the top of the wall. It’s awfully high up and I worried that he might be afraid of heights, but he’s not. His legs splay a bit as he leans in.

“Are those jeans new?” I ask him.

“Yeah,” he says. “Oh!” he says, and I perk up, but he relaxes. Nothing is happening yet.

Mike and I only really got to be friends after Troy and I broke up. Troy was a jealous kind of guy and Mike knew that. Even though there’s clearly nothing between Mike and me, nothing then either, Troy forbade me from having male friends. It’s one of the reasons I ended it. If you really get back to the root of our problem, it’s the only thing that really ended it. Mike’s an attractive guy too, though not my type. He’s got an aging frat boy look, always in baseball caps in the summer, clean cut and a big, white-boy smile. I can see it in other women’s eyes when they see us together, that grimace of disappointment when they imagine he’s taken. A couple of times even a wink of congratulations. I want to tell them he’s not mine, to encourage them, because Mike needs someone, but you don’t talk to strangers about that. Why Mike isn’t with some little cute girl is out of my capacity to explain. They would hit on him all the time if he would only look their way. Troy saw them looking too, and kept me away.

“Here’s one,” he says, waving his hand frantically at me. I throw the cigarette down and take it. He helps me up, though I hardly need it, and I stand shoulder-to-shoulder next to him, watching a confused girl with a basset hound far below. She stands for a moment, flabbergasted, and goes out of sightlines around the building. Mike laughs. I never feel like my ideas are as good as his and it shocks me when he laughs. I reach for his forearm to give him a thank you squeeze. He looks at my hand. I take it away.

“How’s Troy doing?” I ask. He looks uncomfortable with the question. I soften it. “Is he finding work okay?”

“Yeah, work is good.”

A man in a hoodie with a backpack comes up to the building and stops. He looks around for a sign or something and then pulls his iPod out, shuts it off, finds his cel phone and makes a phone call, his right arm across his chest, tucked under his other elbow. “That’s two,” Mike says.

“I’m glad he’s working,” I continue, if only to end that part.

Mike kicks the wall and smiles, then looks at me, serious. “He still has no idea why you left.”

“It’s probably too late to tell him now.” This seems to irk Mike most of all.

“Tell him what?”

“Why I left.”

He wants to ask me, but changes his mind. The woman and the basset return. The backpack guy looks at her and the dog, but continues his conversation. The dog smells his shoes, but he doesn’t see it. Another man, this one in business casual wear, comes behind them. The dog notices him first and almost breaks the leash to get to him. The woman turns around, waits for the man to greet the dog, then lifts her chin to him for a kiss. There’s something about this, something that the Troy conversation probably primed me for, that makes me very sad, and I feel bad about my idea, that it caused me to witness this couple and their dog.

Mike, however, is laughing. “Three people.”

“And a dog.”

“They’re just standing there. I’m amazed.”

He looks at me and laughs some more.

“What?” I ask him.

“I keep forgetting about the mustache.”

“I take this very seriously,” I say, blushing. I forgot about the mustache too. “But you look good. You’d make for a hot construction worker. I probably wouldn’t even tell you to fuck off if you whistled at me.”

“Do they still do that?”

“Of course.”

“Well, I’d whistle at you,” he says, then blushes at himself. Another woman, also with a hoodie and a backpack, but also with shopping bags, joins the crowd at the entrance to my building. She talks to the others, a brief conversation of short sentences, and then she too tries the other side, going around and disappearing at the cornerstone, a bit miffed that the other three were so stupid.

“Four,” Mike says.

“If I tell you why I broke up with him, would you keep it to yourself?”

“Of course.”

“I’ve been with another man. His name is Jason.” Mike is suddenly painfully silent, then pushes away from the wall for a quick pace. “Mike? What? Look, I know he was cheating on me. I wasn’t doing anything he wasn’t. I just had the manners to end it with him. Mike?” He’s standing about three feet away from me, leaning on the wall, staring at the ground in front of me. “I’m sorry, okay? I’m not perfect, but I did the right thing.” Mike won’t say anything and I can’t imagine why he would be so mad. I change the subject. “Look, there’s another one.”

A black woman of about forty-five joins the group and sizes up the situation. “She’s the one,” I say. Mike won’t look at her. “She’s going to do it!” The woman leans in and begins to pull on the window washer scaffold. She yells at the man on the phone and he takes the other side with one hand. The basset runs around the scaffold. “Mike, look, they’re finally doing it!” Suddenly, I feel his hand take my wrist. I feel his breath, see him come to me, blurry up close and he kisses me. I try to break away, but he holds me tightly. “Mike!” I muffle into his mouth, but he pulls me tighter. I give in, stop fighting him and wait for it to end. He’s serious, pressed into me tightly, enveloping me, shutting out the rest of the world. Part of me unlocks, though I’m screaming at it not to, part of me opens up, tries to take up all the space in this small room that he’s created with us. “Mike,” I try again, softer, and give his cheek a stroke. He loosens me and looks me straight in the eye.

“Mike, I don’t want to end this.”

“I’m not trying to end anything,” he says, breathy.

“I know, but you are.”

“I’m in love with you, Emma. Mustache and all.”


Tears well up in my eyes as I turn away, open the door to the stairs, descend two flights to the elevator, take it to the ground floor and head for Jason’s house, caution tape in the doorway flapping. I tear it, put my helmet on and swear. Mike, dammit, no!

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