Back at the couch, I thrust the knife through the leather back and pull a deep slash along the length. I repeat with another slash down the arm. Then another. I’m not crazy or wild with my strokes, but the carving takes energy. By the time I’ve sliced up the piece of furniture, my arm is aching.
I roll my shoulder to relax the muscle and survey my handiwork. The place is a disaster. And it’s the most life I’ve ever felt in the room without Alayna. I cling to it, holding the life as long as I can.
All too soon, the energy fades and dies.
It’s then I know that I can’t live here anymore. Not alone. Not again.
I find my phone and dial my assistant. He’s used to requests at unusual hours, so though it’s after ten, my call isn’t out of the ordinary. I tell him to arrange a truck for Alayna on Monday. “Also I need packers and a moving crew for this weekend. I can be here at nine on Saturday to supervise. Most everything needs to be out by Sunday night.”
After everything’s arranged, I head back to the bedroom. This is where much of my time with Alayna took place. I fall onto the bed, and though the sheets have been changed and they no longer smell like her, I clutch them to me, pretending I’m clutching her. I let the memories of us settle in and sing me to sleep.
Sunday afternoon, I send Alayna a copy of the John Legend CD with a note that reads: This is the song that makes me think of you. Track 6. – H
By that evening, everything in the penthouse has been packed up and removed except the few things that belong to Alayna and the mattress from our bedroom. Celia had picked out the bedframe, which is now on a truck headed to a donation center, but I’d picked out the mattress. And it has too many memories to simply toss away.
I take a look around the empty space, remembering the first time I’d seen the place. I’d walked through it once before purchasing it. The next time I came back, Celia had finished designing and installing all the furniture and art. I’d forgotten how it looked in its blank canvas stage. There’s so much potential to be a real home. There’s ample wall space for personal pictures and mementos. The balcony has room for plants. The rarely used guestroom could be transformed into an office or a workroom. Or a nursery.
When I live here again with Alayna, I tell myself, we’ll decide together what we want our home to be.
Later, I waffle about contacting Alayna. When she finds the penthouse empty, she’ll have questions. I could call her before to explain, or I could wait until she calls me.
Or I could be there when she comes for her things.
It’s not really much of a debate. The conversation feels more appropriate for in person, and I’ll take any excuse I can to see her face-to-face. Preferably alone. There may be a way that could happen.
I decide to take a risk and call Liesl. She’s with Alayna, but she’s able to step away for our conversation.
“Laynie’s been listening to your damn song nonstop,” she tells me. “And let me tell you, all of me thinks you ought to buy me a pair of earplugs.”
I’m so f**king elated by this information that I offer to throw in a whole new stereo as well. It doesn’t take much effort to convince her to get Alayna to the penthouse alone in the morning. The gifts probably factored in Liesl’s cooperation. Or maybe she really is on our side.
I wake Monday more excited than I can ever remember being. Having spent a lifetime pushing down emotions, I’m frequently thrown off guard when I experience one. I’m not prepared for the adrenaline pumping through my veins or the sweat gathering above my brow. I know Alayna isn’t an early riser so I get in a few miles on the treadmill in the Pierce Industries gym before I have to head over to the penthouse to meet her. The run helps calm me.
I wonder if that’s why Alayna loves the sport so much.
At the penthouse, my excitement returns. Or maybe anxiety is a better term. I pace the length of the hallway, up and down, twenty times. A hundred times. It’s unbelievable that she can turn me inside out like this. That she can bring a powerful man like me to my knees. I’m helpless about her. I’m hopeless without her.
While I wait, I try to settle myself by thinking about what I expect from our encounter. It’s akin to creating a hypothesis in an experiment. This time there’s no manipulation though—just predictions. I often do it before an important business meeting, sorting the realistic possible outcomes from the fantastical. It was a trick that Jack taught me, actually.
The dream, of course, is that Alayna will want to try to be a couple again. She’ll accept my mistakes and learn to forgive me. It wouldn’t matter if we stayed at The Bowery or if we got engaged right away. The dream is that we’re together, period.
But that’s not a practical prediction. I slow my pace as I imagine what’s likely. She’ll arrive, she’ll see the empty house, and she may feel uncomfortable. She’ll refuse my offer to let her stay here with Liesl—she’s too independent to take what would be perceived as a handout. But she’ll see yet another demonstration of how my life just doesn’t work without her. And maybe I’ll win a pity date.
I could handle that scenario.
There’s another scenario though. One I don’t want to think about. Now, for the first time since our breakup, I imagine her without me. I test the idea softly with my mind, focusing on what that life would mean for her. She’s strong and healthy. She’s in control of her emotions. She runs The Sky Launch and makes it one of the hottest clubs in town. She’s happy. She finds someone to love her—someone who doesn’t lie to her, someone who isn’t so bossy. Someone transparent and open.
It’s a good outcome for her. But I can’t hold on to that image. It doesn’t resonate in my mind. Because I know Alayna. I know that she will settle for less than she’s worth. She’s too worried about her obsessive tendencies to put herself out there. She thinks she’s a burden to men, so she folds herself up and inward. Closes herself off.
If I could be convinced that her future would play out better without me, then I would walk away, despite the fact that it would kill me. I would let her go. I know I don’t deserve her more than anyone else, but there is no doubt in my mind that we belong together. We fit together. We fix each other. We make each other whole.
It’s this conviction that makes me realize it doesn’t matter what happens today. I’ll see Alayna. We’ll move forward in some way, and whether we take baby steps or leaps and bounds, we’ll be headed in the right direction. Together.