William often took Serena with him to visit his great-aunt. She sat politely on the edge of the bed, listening to Sylvie’s chatter as if humoring a child. She always seemed wary of touching anything in the room, and clung to William as they passed through the hallways. The residents of the home seemed to disturb her.
“I do wish you wouldn’t make these visits so long,” she said once on their drive home. He said nothing as he stared at the road ahead, lost in his own thoughts. “William?” Serena insisted, turning to look at him.
“Hmm?” He muttered.
“Oh, don’t get like this,” she said, throwing her hands up in frustration. ““You always tune me out. I’m sick of waiting for you to notice I’m here with you. You’re not like that with your Aunt Sylvie.”
“You hate her, don’t you?” William asked in a low voice.
“Why do you say that?” she asked, glancing at him sharply.
“You resent her.”
Serena’s laugh sounded more like a cough. “Resent a one-hundred-year-old woman?”
“You resent that I prefer to be with her than off shopping or brunching or something trivial like that with you.”
“Don’t start,” she spat, turning her back to him and staring out the passenger window. The rest of the ride home was spent in angry silence.
When they pulled up to William’s flat, she asked, “Do I spend the night?”
“Do you want to?”
“Do you want me to?”
This was the way it was between them. He shrugged and said, “Since you’ve got your stuff and it’s late, you might as well.” What he really meant to say was, “Yes, Serena. I want to make love to you over and over again until I see the woman I fell in love with.” It was like sculpting to make love to her, to bring out the soft flush on her face and expose the vulnerability that she rarely showed him anymore.
He sat on his bed staring at her as she shuffled through her overnight bag. She did not feel embarrassed or shy as she changed before him, but she did it so perfunctorily that he took no pleasure in watching her. When she finally sat beside him, she stared at her hands folded in her lap. Her hair was still pulled back, and he could see her long eyelashes brush her cheek as she avoided his gaze, avoided touching him, waiting to see if he’d make the first move. Sighing, he lowered his head into the crook of her neck, inhaling her scent deeply, whispering, “Serena.”
He had instantly fallen in love with her name. Serena. It suggested tranquility and all things good. Her face mirrored her name. Her complexion was flawless and smooth, and when she smiled, William swore he’d never seen anything more beautiful. Yet beneath the beauty was a hard soul.
He whispered her name again and reached up for the pin that kept her hair in place. She didn’t move as he pulled her blond locks free, then sat back to see them spill around her face and over her shoulders. He reached out and lifted her hair in his hands, sifting it through his fingers. So soft. He lowered his hand to cup her breast through the sheer material of her negligee, at the same time lowering his lips to her mouth.
She was cold against him. He drew back, staring at her. “What is it?” He asked.
Serena only shook her head and lowered her eyes. He pulled his hands into his lap and fell still, watching her. In her silent elegance, she looked like a work of art. But then she spoke.
“I don’t think I love you anymore.”
William jerked like he’d been slapped in the face. “What?” He asked, his voice guttural. It was an accusation more than a question.
“Please, William.” She said in a deceptively soft voice. “This shouldn’t come as a surprise. We haven’t been seeing eye-to-eye for a long time and you know it. I need some time to think.”
“So it’s over?” He said. “And the decision is yours entirely? I have no say in this whatsoever?”
“I didn’t say it was over.”
“You don’t love me. What more needs to be said?”
She didn’t answer. Suddenly, the impact of her words hit him full force. He fell to his knees, grabbing her hands and kissing them over and over, pressing his cheek to her palms. “Don’t talk this way, Serena. It’s not over. It can’t be.”
She didn’t respond, but she didn’t pull her hands away either. He felt tears in his eyes and blinked furiously, feeling weak, just as his grandmother had once predicted. Serena never cried.
“Maybe we need some time apart,” she whispered, her hand pliant in his.
“Come on, William. We’ve been walking on eggshells lately. We keep hurting each other.”
He knew this was true. Every little thing sparked an argument between them.
“How much time?” He asked, hating the desperation in his voice.
“A month. Maybe two.”
This shocked him. He had thought a week would be sufficient. After all, they saw each other every day, spent every night at each other’s home. A week would be more than enough time. “A month?” he whispered, shaking his head. He couldn’t accept that.
“Give me time,” she said. “I’m just so sick of arguing every day.”
In the end, he nodded, feeling her pull away from him. She sat back against the pillows, looking very tired. He saw her glance at her bag sitting in the corner. “No,” he said, “just stay here tonight. There’s no reason for you to go home. I’ll sleep on the couch.”
“Don’t be silly,” she said in a controlled voice. “This is your bed. It’s not like we’re strangers.”
He nodded and walked to the bathroom. He stood under a hot shower for the longest time, until steam filled the small room and condensation clung to the mirror. He wrapped a towel around his waist and walked back into the now-dark bedroom. Serena lay against the pillows, her hair spread fan-like beneath her. The blankets rose and fell as she breathed evenly. He resented her suddenly for the fact that she was able to sleep. What had passed between them left him hurt and angry. And full of need. He lay down beside her. Instinctively, he rolled over to put his arm around her, then stopped himself and stared up at the ceiling, waiting for sleep. In the silence, her words resounded in his mind. And he knew that no matter how much time they gave each other, it was over.
Melissa Hunter is an author and blogger from Cincinnati, Ohio. Her articles have been published on Kveller.com and LiteraryMama.com. She is a contributing blogger to the Today Show parenting community, and her short stories have been published in the Jewish Literary Journal. She is currently writing a novel based on her grandmother’s experiences as a Holocaust survivor and the psychological impact this had on her life. When not writing, Melissa loves spending family time with her husband and two beautiful daughters. Connect with Melissa via her website, Facebook, and on Twitter as @cleancopywriter.