Ray stood in the kitchen and poured another drink into an old chipped coffee mug. Jess sat on the couch, turned around and watching him while she smoked a cigarette.
“Aren’t you going to offer me something?” she asked.
Ray turned around and opened the fridge and grabbed a can of beer, tossed it to her. She caught it.
“You can have one of these,” Ray said quietly. “Careful when you open that.”
She popped the tab and took a sip.
Ray drank a little bit of his whiskey. Outside it was dark and raining heavily. Jess was hanging her head and arms over the back of the couch, looking down at the floor with her cigarette dangling from the side of her mouth and holding the beer can by the top. Ray grabbed his mug, dimmed the lights, and walked out of the kitchen and sat down on the couch next to Jess. She stayed in the same position. He leaned back and put his feet up on the coffee table, on top of some magazines and papers that were scattered about, and grabbed the remote that was resting on the arm of the couch and turned on the TV. He flipped through the channels until he came to some old black and white movie that was on, turned the volume almost all the way down, until just a quiet murmur came from the speakers. He drank some more of his whiskey as the smoke from Jess’s cigarette floated up past his head. She sipped on her beer. Neither of them said anything for a while. Neither of them was sure what to say. She had picked her gaze up from the floor and was taking in what she saw around Ray’s apartment – to her left was a bookshelf that was horribly messy and unorganized, books laying on their sides or looking ready to fall out at any moment. At the top of the bookshelf there were some vases filled with flowers – all dead – along with a few standing picture frames displaying old photographs, one of them a portrait of much younger versions of both Ray and herself. In front of her was the counter that separated the kitchen from the room that they were in – which she guessed was the living room, or den, or whatever it was called. There were several dirty dishes and utensils on the counter, and an empty whiskey bottle. She wondered if Ray had drank it all himself. That would have been normal for him. To her right there was a brick wall and a window, out of which she watched the rain for a moment. She turned around and sat up straight and crossed her legs and adjusted her skirt, seeing the movie that Ray had put on. On the screen there were two characters kissing, a man and a woman. It was boring. This could have been any old movie, she thought. They all seemed the same. Ray was raising his drink to his lips again. She watched him. She examined his face in the dim flicker of light cast by the TV. He looked so much older than the last time she’d seen him. He obviously hadn’t shaved in a few days, and there were dark circles under his eyes. His cheeks were bony, as was the rest of him.
“Why are you here?” he said quietly.
She leaned forward and set down her beer, rubbed out the rest of her cigarette in the ashtray next to his feet. She thought of something to say.
“I wanted to see you.”
He was looking intently at the TV. He drank some more.
“Why would you want to do that?”
She didn’t know.
“I don’t know,” she said.
“Think about it. Give me a cigarette.”
She gave him one. He lit it, put it between his lips. He was silent again.
“I love you,” she said.
He got up, walked back to the kitchen and began pouring himself another drink. Jess turned back around and watched him. Moments later, he replied.
“Well that’s good. I would hope so. You keep doing that.”
He leaned against the refrigerator and looked up at the ceiling. Jess sighed and looked back at the TV. It was still boring.
“I’m sorry,” Ray said. “I’m no good. Finish your beer, please.”
“Do you want me to leave?” she asked, not touching her beer. She didn’t think she wanted any more.
“I don’t think so.”
He finished the whiskey in one long, drawn-out raise of his mug. He grimaced as he hit the bottom.
“That’s good stuff,” he said. “Maybe you can have some.”
“Suit yourself.” He poured himself some more and sat back down on the couch. He grabbed the remote and turned up the TV. A scene in a lounge was playing. There was a woman singing an old love song and people were sitting around and watching.
“Beautiful,” he said as he blew a puff of smoke from his mouth. Jess looked at him, then at the TV, then back at him.
“What? That woman?”
“No. This music. They don’t make music like this anymore.”
She watched the woman on the screen.
“I think she’s beautiful.”
“Good for you. So are you. I’m drunk.”
Jess rolled her eyes.
“What else is new?”
He suddenly turned and slapped her on the knee. It was a light slap, but it surprised her, causing her to draw back and curl her legs up onto the couch, wrapping her arms around them. She looked into his eyes. He looked angry.
“Don’t talk to me like that!” he snapped.
She didn’t say anything. She just stared at him. He stared back. They stared at each other for what seemed like minutes but was only a few seconds. Then his eyes left hers, and he looked down at his lap.
“I’m sorry,” he said.
She wasn’t sure if he meant it. He turned back to the TV, looking a bit uneasy. As he reached out to grab his drink, his hands trembled a little.
“Can you not put your feet on the couch?”
She unfolded her legs and set her feet on the floor. She thought about apologizing, but didn’t. The two were silent again. She listened to the rain outside and watched the movie on the TV, seeing what was happening but not really paying attention. She thought about Ray’s question from earlier – “Why are you here?” She didn’t know. She thought about getting up and walking out without saying a word right then, wondered how he’d react, wondered if he’d even care. But she stayed in place, sitting next to him on the couch while he drank and smoked and watched TV. It went like this for a long time. Neither of them got up. When Ray was done with his cigarette, he flicked the butt onto the ground, and when he finished his drink, he just set the mug down on the coffee table. He didn’t get up for another. After a while, the movie finished and the credits were rolling. Ray picked up the remote and turned off the TV. He turned to Jess. He opened his mouth to speak, but didn’t say anything at first. Then he did.
“I’m sorry. Thank you for coming to see me.”
“How…how are things for you?”
“I’m glad. Are you still with that boy?”
“Yeah, I am.”
She looked into his eyes as she said this. He suddenly appeared serious. He leaned forward a bit.
“Do you love him?”
She smirked, and laughed a little at his question.
“Yeah…I think I do.”
He put his hand to his chest and coughed and shook his head.
“You think? I think you need to stop thinking with your cunt.”
He laughed hysterically at his own comment. She just rolled her eyes and groaned, continued to look at him. When he was done laughing, he smiled. She looked at his teeth. They were yellow and unclean looking. He continued talking.
“You know…I think about you a lot. I wonder how you’re doing. You live so far away, now. I’m very lonely here. No one ever comes to see me.” He reached out a hand and put it on her thigh. She stared down at it, his uncomfortably familiar gesture sending a chill up her spine.
“I – I’m sorry,” she stuttered. His hand began to rub her flesh, moving back and forth. She pulled her leg away just a little, but his hand stayed. He kept talking.
“I spend all day here. By myself.”
His hand moved further up her thigh, closer to her crotch. She watched as it then casually made its way between her legs and under the fabric of her skirt, and felt his fingers as they tried to move aside her underwear. A sudden panicked feeling came over her as she immediately stood up, leaving his hand resting on the space on the couch where she had just been sitting. He looked up at her, a drunken confused look on his face.
“I have to go,” she said. Ray stayed on the couch, his eyes following her as she walked around the other side of the couch and towards the door of the apartment. He watched as she bent down and put on her shoes, hurrying to lace them. When she was done she turned towards him, shaking her head. She didn’t say anything. She couldn’t. She watched as the look on his face went from confused to angry. He narrowed his eyes and clenched his teeth. She’d seen him look at her like that before, and she knew what it led to. He snarled, then began to open his mouth. As he did, she quickly opened the door and left, slamming it behind her and shutting out Ray’s screams of words that she’d always hoped she would never hear again.
When Jess’s boyfriend called her the next morning, she was waiting at the airport with another hour to kill before her flight back home.
“I’ve missed you,” He said.
“I’ve missed you too. Sometimes I wonder why I got into this business. Too much travelling…”
He laughed, then continued.
“Well at least you got to see your dad. How was he?”
There was a long pause on Jess’s end. He waited until she finally said something.
“Oh, well, that didn’t really work out. There was a terrible storm last night and I didn’t leave the hotel. But that’s all right. I don’t think he’s too upset about it. Next time, I guess.”