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  • She lit a cigarette, and exhaling slowly, blew the smoke directly into his face to see if he would wince or avert his gaze. He did both, turning instead to look at the lamp on the table beside her, his gaze still intense and focused. “So.” She said, “That’s what you really think of me.”
    He shrugged. “More or less, yes.”
    “Do you still want to stay together?”
    He mused on this for a moment, and then shrugged again. “I mean we might as well. We’ve been together for this long, and who else will we find in our own age?”
    She knew he was joking; she was barely 24 and he was only a year older. But she also knew exactly what he meant. They had been together for five years, who else would they find to accept all their many faults, and their adolescent tendencies that were unacceptable for people in their twenties?
    She also knew he loved her. Knew it in the same way she knew the sky was blue because of the way Earth’s atmosphere scattered light from the sun. Knew it in the same way she knew her mother loved her, even though they had barely spoken in years, and their conversations were now tight with tension. He loved her because he always had, and changing that now was pointless even if he didn’t really like her anymore.
    They decided to leave the apartment for dinner, walking down to the Thai place where they were regulars. Dinner was a quiet affair, both of their minds on the fight they just had (that was both identical and totally different from all the fights they had over their years together.) Dinner was so quiet; in fact, that their normal waitress came over several times to make sure their food was all right. They left the restaurant, skipping dessert, walking the six blocks back to the apartment slowly, both lost in their own minds. She almost stepped over the curb and into the street right in front of oncoming traffic. He stopped her, grabbing her arm and jolting her out of her thoughts. The bus whizzing by didn’t even faze her; she just looked at him, mild surprise betrayed on her face.
    “What?” He asked gruffly, “You thought I’d let you get run over by a bus just because we’re fighting?”
    She laughed softly at this. “No… I guess not. I’d be rather upset if you let me get run over just because we’re angry.”
    He smiled at her, his hand still on her elbow where he grabbed her. “I’m sorry I yelled. I’m sorry we fought. I’m sorry we always fight. It doesn’t matter if we’re together or apart, we feel nothing but sadness, or anger, or hurt anymore. Why do we make each other so miserable?”
    She smiled back at him, gazing into the face she’d grown accustomed to waking up next to every morning. “I’m not miserable now.”
    He blinked back surprise. “You know what? Neither am I. Let's not go home yet.”
    They took a five-block detour to get coffee and biscotti, to go, and looped around the street. They walked past their apartment building, pausing for a second to glance at their door, but after a knowing look at one another, they kept going. He flexed his fingers, finishing the last of his biscotti, and tossed the napkin in a wastebasket on the street corner. He swung his arm back down to his side, brushing her fingers in the process, and almost on instinct, they grabbed each others hand. She was looking at him from the corner of her eye, and he knew from the expression on her face she was trying to read his. She always did this, always tried to glean some secret from his eyes, brows, and mouth. Tried to see a story where there wasn’t one, only a face. He loved this about her. Sometimes, he wouldn’t say anything and just look at her, leaving her to try to guess his thoughts from the contours of his face. He didn’t want to lose that, but didn’t know how to fix things.
    She could sense the tension in his hand, he was grabbing a little too tightly, sweating in his palm a little too much. She thought he was thinking about their fight, the one that she thought they had come to an unspoken decision to forget and not think about. She dropped his hand, and it hung there for a moment, a heartbeat, suspended in the air between them. She turned to face him, holding her warm coffee in one hand, but her breath still smoky in the cool November air. He took a sip of his and took another step before realizing she had stopped walking.
    “I think we should break up.”
    The words were out of her mouth before she even realized that she had really said them, but now that they had been said, she knew that they were true.
    “Wow. Really not what I thought you were going to say. Okay, why? Or do I not get an explanation after I thought we decided to stay together.”
    “Yes, stay together and be miserable together, locked up in that apartment together until the end of days. Think about it, we basically stayed with one another for this long simply because we both forgot how to be alone.”
    He took a deep breath. She was right, he knew that she was, and maybe if she hadn’t said those words, he might have. But once they were out of their apartment, without those walls surrounding them, their fights didn’t seem as catastrophic as they did inside. So standing outside, a whole block and a half away from those walls, with the cold wind, the streetlamps, passing taxis and the stars and hearing the words that he was used to hearing indoors, was rough. It hit him harder, and even though he was the one that started this fight and a countless number of others, he felt attacked with his barricades down.
    “I thought we knew each other for far too long to hurt each other like this anymore.”
    She was fumbling around in her pockets, searching for her lighter, an easy excuse to pretend not to have heard for a second. She felt the hard edge of her pack of cigarettes with her left hand, and she could have sworn that her Bic was in her right pocket. Shaking her pack slightly, she felt the weight shift and after pulling out and opening it, she saw her lighter, slipped inside. She lit two, inhaling to draw in the flame before exhaling deeply, and handing him one.
    “You’re the one who told me that you didn’t even really like me anymore. I’m just saying, why pretend? Let’s just call a spade a spade.”
    “Oh you know I didn’t mean that the way it sounded. I just meant-”
    She cut him off, before he could explain.
    “I knew what you meant. We always know exactly what the other means. We’ve been us for so long, that I know what you mean more than I know what I do.”
    He hung his head down, for a second, then took the last sip of his coffee, swirling the dredges. “I do love you. Honestly.”
    She smiled at him. “And you know that I love you, too. But for how much longer are we going to act like that’s enough?”
    “Until we’re eighty? It’s not for that long, what, only a few more years?”
    They laughed together, standing on the street, smoking, and for the entire world to see, they were happy: young, hip, and in love. And she knew what they must look like to passerby, and yet she also knew how snapshots were deceiving. Their walls were covering in pictures of them together, from vacations, to holidays, and all the portraits they had taken of one another. They were smiling in every single one, and save for the few that lasted from their beginnings, roaring arguments either preceded most of those smiles, or followed very closely. She wished that she could see them from the camera’s perspective; only the happy times, the ones that were worth remembering. Not the betrayal, or the tears, the screaming or the nights spent in angry silence, both awake and yet both pretending to be asleep. Happiness was there, more frequently in their humble beginnings but not entirely gone these five years later.
    He saw her shiver, just once, and despite its understated connotations, he suggested that they turn around and go inside. It was warmer in the apartment, to be sure, and maybe they could put on a pot of tea, and have this conversation in comfort? She agreed, and yet they stood there for three seconds longer, totally still and immobile. All of their problems were real, and they either had to be dealt with together, or dealt with alone, and blaming a building, or a room, or to be more specific, three rooms plus the 3/4 bath, just wasn’t rational. However, weren’t they happier before they moved in together? This could be just another implication of their relationship, and if they were being honest, their own faults were probably entirely to blame, but something about those walls, instead of keeping them close together, drove them irrevocably apart.
    They turned around, and each lost in their own thoughts, began to slowly, contemplatively, walk back to the apartment.
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