HER 2: Behind Her

She had stopped crying by the time she came back from Sheridan’s apartment, and the blood had long since been wiped away. She could feel it clot in one of her nostrils though, making it difficult for her to breathe.
“Where have you been?”
“Just out for a walk.”

She had expected the question to come, and the answer she gave was the usual one. She didn’t feel any need whatsoever to explain herself. She kicked off her shoes and went to the shower immediately, locking the door behind her. She didn’t want her girlfriend to see her naked again just now. She let the water run for a long time, and just stood there with closed eyes until a knock on the door reminded her that she wasn’t alone in the house.
“I’m almost done,” she called, and hurried to dry herself.
It was a typical evening in every other way. She came out of the shower, fetched a bottle of cider from the kitchen and went to the living room. She knew that her girlfriend would be annoyed if she turned on the TV, but it was her habit to do so every evening nonetheless. They would fight about that sometimes.
The arguments were the usual ones.
“The noise disturbs me. Even if you take off the sound I can hear it hum, and it makes it impossible for me to concentrate!”
“But how am I supposed to know what’s going on in the world if I don’t watch it?”
“Read the news online or buy a newspaper!”
She didn’t bother fighting about it, but as long as her girlfriend was in the bathroom it would hardly happen anyway. She zapped through the channels for a while, her mind elsewhere. It was a calming preoccupation. When she heard the door open she hurriedly turned the TV off, and pretended to be staring abstractedly out of the window.
It was a typical day in every other – expect that one – way.

She hadn’t seen it coming, although perhaps she’d ought to. She told herself so now anyway. She should have seen it coming. Already when she was standing in Sheridan’s bathroom, cleaning the blood off her face, she told herself that she should’ve seen it coming. And although she had told herself that it was probably just that one time, she knew that she was lying to herself. It never was. Even she could see the pattern.
Sheridan had leant onto the wall and cursed. She had been quiet. It had taken her a while to stop crying, and now that she had finally succeeded she didn’t want to start again. It would be an ongoing circle if she allowed herself to start again. She focused on breathing calmly.
“I should’ve seen it coming this time,” she told herself but knew it to be an overdue and pointless musing all the while thinking it. It had happened before, and if she didn’t get herself away, in time it would happen again. It always did.

Her girlfriend was busy reading now, and she tiptoed to the bedroom in order not to disturb her. When she was focused on something she tended to get very angry when disturbed.
She opened the window and inhaled the fresh evening air as well as she could through her battered nose. A bird sang sorrowfully in the distance – presumably somewhere near the lake. She wondered whether the frogs were active yet. She liked watching the tiny little brown things gingerly hop across the sidewalk after a rain shower. She watched the reddening clouds and tried to stop herself from crying again. The impulse came and went away.
The door opened behind her, then closed again.
She didn’t want to turn around. She didn’t want her girlfriend to see her cry. Not now, not ever.
She felt a hand on her back. It ran through her hair and rubbed the back of her neck gently. After a moment’s doubt she leant back to meet it. Then a kiss on her ear. Then a full embrace. And then she turned around.
Apparently her girlfriend must’ve sensed what kind of mood she was in after all.

She met Sheridan again the next day on her way to work. They were on the same bus. She couldn’t look him in the eye. She could feel his gaze on her, and she deliberately went to take a seat as far away from him as possible, but he didn’t allow her to escape. He came to sit next to her.
“Did you tell her?” he asked.
She shook her head.
“Why not?”
She just shook her head again. “I just couldn’t.”
He swore beneath his breath.
“Sooner or later you will have to,” he told her, “you know it can’t go on like this.”
“I know,” she mumbled, but couldn’t look at him. How could she tell him how she really felt. He wouldn’t even understand it anyway. She did love her girlfriend. She had loved her since they met in elementary school. She was temperamental and impulsive at times, but she was loyal and caring all the same, right?
She remembered falling asleep in her arms the night before. How could she tell Sheridan about that? Would he even believe it if she did? Probably not.
He had said something she hadn’t heard. He tapped her arm. She turned her head to look at him.
“You should leave her,” he said sternly. “You told me you would tell her it’s over. We cannot go on like this indefinitely. I know it’s difficult for you but we have discussed this over and over again… When are you going to accept some common sense? It will never get better between the two of you.”
She didn’t answer. She looked out of the window again, with the feeling that the whole bus must’ve heard his outburst even though nobody looked at them.
“Who needs enemies when there’s friends like these…” she thought bitterly to herself.
Sheridan remained silent for the rest of the trip. She was grateful for that, but not actually surprised. He did tend to be a lot quieter in public than in private.
She didn’t want to run the risk of another private conversation just yet though – she hurriedly hid in the crowd when they reached their stop.

She knew that he was trying to help her in his own way. She halfway appreciated it, but she didn’t agree half as much with him as the signs of the violence he’d witnessed the night before might’ve accidentally led him to believe. She had been upset, and rightly so. But she had not been in her right mind, and after having been calmed by her girlfriend’s embrace she could hardly remember what things she’d said to him before she went back home. It had probably not been as important as he seemed to think. Had she really promised him that she was going to leave? She couldn’t imagine. It must’ve been a mistake, and surely he wouldn’t hold her onto something she’d said in a state of mind like the one she’d been in the night before?
She feared that he might just attempt to do that. He’d talked of common sense. But did he even possess that himself? He was so sure that he was right that he didn’t wait to listen to others. Her girlfriend always said that it was a bad disposition. And she agreed with her.
But her most pressing reason for avoiding him the rest of the day was the memory that he’d seen her the night before. He’d seen the tears and he’d seen the blood – and she knew that he would remember even though she herself preferred to forget.

“Sheridan was here just a minute ago,” her girlfriend said when she returned home, “you just missed him. He seems to be in a rather bad mood today.”
The remark was followed by a rather suspicious look and she hung her head with guilt as she took off her shoes.
“Yes, I talked with him on the bus this morning,” she muttered, “he didn’t seem quite like himself.”
“And I can’t blame him for that,” a voice screamed inside her head. “Just think of what happened yesterday!”
But she rarely spoke her mind. Instead she went to hug her girlfriend. The hug was returned with some reservation.
“She knows I went to see him,” she thought to herself. “She knows I was at his place yesterday – she probably knew it last night already, even though she didn’t say anything.”
They didn’t talk as much as they usually did while cooking. Her girlfriend was a skillful cook – she herself was just the assistant. When they moved in together this had been part of the deal.
“I grew up on potatoes done a hundred different ways, and the fish my father caught,” her girlfriend had said, “so I am sick and tired of potatoes and fish. I want meat and vegetables. I want real food. I’d be happy to do the cooking.”
She had seen no reason to object to this, in fact, seeing as she wasn’t much of a cook herself, it was a relief to her that her girlfriend had taken it upon herself to do the majority of it. She did a good job at it too. Normally she enjoyed the process but tonight she was obviously feeling low.
They remained quiet throughout dinner. Not even a work-question was exchanged between them, and she knew that the good mood they’d restored the night before had gone away.
What did Sheridan tell her, she wondered? What did he tell her about the events of last night? Did he tell her I said something – but I didn’t mean any of the things I said at that time, did I? It was just temporary weakness. It doesn’t matter.
She bit her lip, looking at her girlfriend across the table. She was too intent on eating to look up.
She was starting to have some doubt about staying at home that night. If this was how the mood was starting out, surely it would only get worse from here. But where would she go off to? Sheridan’s again? Out of the question. Last night ought to be the last visit she ever paid him. How could he have behaved the way he did, and still expect her to return? But knowing her girlfriend’d temper to be on edge already, she decided not to turn on the TV that night, despite the urge. She brought the computer with her into the bedroom instead. Perhaps her girlfriend was right after all. Why not just read the news online? She did that for a while. And then she read some poems even. But she could find no rest. She knew that a conversation she didn’t want to have was awaiting her – or possibly two of them. They kept preying on her mind.
I can’t do it, the voice persistently told her, I do love her after all. I can’t leave her. No matter what he says.
She felt her nose, but it seemed all right now. A small clot of blood was still stuck inside one of her nostrils, but it wasn’t big enough to be a serious disturbance anymore.

She had expected it to happen a day earlier, but she had been granted almost a full day’s respite.
No questions had been asked when her girlfriend finally came to bed. She had even held her hand under covers. It wasn’t quite the cuddle she had hoped for, but it was better than nothing.
She had even allowed herself to be hopeful before going to work in the morning but when she came back in the afternoon she knew what was coming.
Why had Sheridan not been on the bus that day, she asked herself? What did he do instead?
She knew the answer as soon as she walked in and saw the look on her girlfriend’s face.
“You told Sheridan you’re leaving me?”

She’d promised herself never to visit his apartment again. As if she ever had a choice in the matter.
It took a while before he opened the door, and her heart was beating painfully all the while. She caught herself wishing that he wasn’t home at all – despite her urgent need for help.
She couldn’t look him in the eyes when he opened the door, and when her eyes focused on the floor, she realized that the blood from her split eyebrow had stained his doormat as well as the front of her clothes.
He guided her into the apartment. She still hadn’t looked at him. She didn’t know what to say.
He handed her an icepack and left. She knew where he was going. But she knew that the fight would be futile – and she also knew why. She could just picture it in her head:

“Why the hell did you do that again? I told you not to touch her!”
“Why did you tell her to leave me? That’s none of your business! You just want her for yourself, that’s all you ever wanted, isn’t it? Right from the beginning you’ve been jealous of me! Of us!”
“You’re the jealous one, not me! Every second she’s out of your sight you think she’s screwing someone else! Even me! And I’ve been your goddamn friend for two decades! If you can’t trust me you can’t trust anybody.”
“Why would I trust you? She’s staying with you now, isn’t she? Just like she went to whine at your place last night, and got you all riled up.”
“All riled up! You nearly broke her nose!”
“She was flirting with one of her colleagues! I saw it!”
“You’re seeing ghosts. Again!”
“Oh, am I? Like I don’t know she’s been screwing that guy regularly since we moved here!”

She buried her face in the icepack, and anxiously felt her body with her free hand. At least nothing appeared to be broken. So far so good. But the thought of them cursing at each other right across the street made her cry again, even though she’d promised herself that she never would.

“He’s never done anything remotely intimate with her. The most he’s ever done was hug her – is that illegal, now? Is it?”
“You just stay out of it, you hear me!? She’s my girlfriend. It’s none of your business! Can’t you fucking face it?”
“She’s my friend. And so are you, despite everything. But I can’t allow her to go back here until you learn to control yourself! What the hell is wrong with you? I used to think you’d grow out of this, but you just keep getting worse and worse with age. In the beginning this wasn’t half as bad as it is now! Get a grip!”
“It’s not me who comes crashing into your apartment to yell accusations – get the hell out! And if you don’t send her back to me voluntarily, I’ll have to come and fetch her myself. It’s about time I do it – this has been going on for long enough…”
“She only comes to me when she needs to get away from you… She only comes to see me when she needs help! Can’t you see that? Normally she’s too afraid to even talk to me because she knows how you react when se do, but when you lose control like that she has nowhere else to go…”

At this point she realized that she wasn’t worried about the outcome of the fight. They were friends after all – Sheridan and her girlfriend. They’d known each other since before she came into the picture herself. They grew up together. They would make it up later, no matter what. And no matter how angry or jealous her girlfriend would be, and no matter how upset Sheridan could get, they would cool down after a while and reach an agreement.
Normally this meant that she returned home after a while. Even though Sheridan knew her girlfriend’s temper as well as she did herself, he let her return because he knew how close they were, and because he hoped they would work things out. But last night he’d finally seen the end of it.
“She will kill you some day,” he’d said, “she doesn’t mean to, and she will mourn it afterwards – but afterwards will be too late for you. You must leave her – for your own good. I’d hate to see you go. You know how much I care for you. And I know that she’ll miss you a lot too – but I see no other way.”
And she had finally agreed. She knew that he was right, of course, from a technical point of view. But she also knew despite all other reasoning that her girlfriend did love her. Always had. And when she returned home and she’d been so tender, it had been so easy to forget it all. Again.
Whatever agreement the two of them might reach on this occasion, she knew that she wouldn’t be going back this time. It was out of the question. She couldn’t return now, the way things were. He’d been right the night before. She had to get away – at least for a while. And if she allowed herself to go across the street and face her girlfriend again, she knew that she’d be convinced to stay against her will. And she didn’t want to run that risk. She would have to leave now before Sheridan came back.
It didn’t matter whether he would let her stay or tell her to return home any more. She needed to get away before he returned to his apartment.
She knew where he kept his first aid kit. She’d used it numerous times. The eyebrow was still bleeding a lot, but it helped when she cleansed the cut. She could see that it wasn’t as bad as she’d feared. She put some cotton wool under a band-aid and hoped it would suffice.
Her eye would probably blacken soon, but there was nothing she could do about it now. At least she didn’t have any other injuries.
She left a note for him on his desk.
“I don’t even blame you for telling her. I know you just tried to help.
But you were right last night – I do have to leave. I am going away for a while, but I will probably miss her enough to return eventually. It happened once before, and I can’t promise that it won’t happen again. I am leaving now, before I have to see her again. If I see her, I’ll just be convinced to stay.
I’m sorry about the money – I will pay you back. Someday.”
And after taking his wallet and one of his jackets she snuck out of the apartment and ran to the bus stop. On second note, she knew that he could very well find the note before the bus arrived, so she ran along the road to the next stop where one of the regional buses happened to arrive at the same time as her.

“Someday I’ll probably return,” she told herself, and tried not to cry as she looked out the window. At the moment it didn’t really matter whether she cried or not since her girlfriend (now ex – she told herself, with some difficulty) wasn’t there to see it. But she tried not to cry nonetheless. It was just a matter of habit.
“I should’ve written some more,” she told herself, “but I didn’t have the time. When I get the time, I will send her a postcard or something. Yes, I will. I must. I hope she will forgive me someday – I hope she will understand.
What should I write?
“I’m sorry for leaving, but I didn’t feel as if I had a choice. I do love you – despite everything. I always did. And don’t be angry with Sheridan for long, he just tried to help – he’s always just tried to be a good friend. For the both of us…”
But she knew that the latter part was unnecessary. They were probably friends again already. They always had been. They always would be, now that she was out of the picture again. Temporarily, she told herself, but I will return.
And the bus drove on and her tears obscured the signs and she didn’t care for the destination.

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