The bus pulled up to the station, and they got on. It was ten minutes to their stop. They were silent the whole time.
“Have you thought about what you’ll say?” Erin asked as they got off the bus.
Ray let out a long sigh before speaking, “No. No, I haven’t.”
“That’s not good.”
“Well, on the ride over I was thinking about it, but nothing seemed right.”
“Are you sure it was a good idea for me to come along?” she said.
He paused, and then said: “Having you around makes it easier.”
“Is that a yes or no?”
“Yes. It’s a good idea for you to come. But not a good idea for you to be seen.”
They walked up the street to their destination in the cold March morning. The snow was beginning to fall.
“Well,” she said, “At least the snow is a little romantic.”
He looked up and held out his hands to catch snowflakes. He closed his eyes and smiled for a moment before his face became tense again. She put her hand on his shoulder.
“It will be okay.”
“You don’t know Maggie.”
“It will be okay,” she said slower and squeezed his shoulder. They rounded the corner, their boots making prints in the snow on the sidewalk. He stopped moving. He stopped breathing.
“What?” she said.
“This is her street.”
“What do you want me to do? Do you want me to stay?”
“That’s her house,” he pointed directly across the street from them to the first house on the block.
“Oh,” she said. He could see Maggie peering through the window. She closed the curtains in a swift movement.
“Are you going to be okay?” she said, facing him.
“Erin, I don’t know. Maybe this was a bad idea.”
“Well, it has to happen now. I don’t want to add to what you’re feeling, but you got yourself into this,” she said. She gave him a hug. “Do you want me to go across the street with you?”
“Would it be bad if I said yes?”
They walked across the street and as he began to climb the steps to Maggie’s house, she opened the door.
“Why are you here?” she said to Erin, who said nothing. “You can go across the street and wait,” Maggie continued, waving her hand in the general direction of the coffee shop across the street.
“I’ll come grab you,” he said, frowning. Erin nodded and left.
“Did you bring my stuff, Ray?” Maggie said. Ray nodded and pulled a T-shirt and a necklace out of his backpack. The necklace had a key pendant on it, it matched Maggie’s necklace which had a heart with a keyhole pendant. She tossed the things on the couch. Maggie stared at Ray.
“So?” she said.
“I’m really sorry,” Ray started.
“No you’re not. You knew exactly what you were doing,” Maggie snapped. Ray pressed his lips together tightly.
“I mean I’m sorry this whole thing happened. I’m sorry I did what I did, and I’m sorry I started things between us when there were still clearly things going on with her. Everything. I made everything bad.”
“Yeah, you did. You know, I believed you when you said you wanted to give us another try. I really did. But it really seems that all you wanted was what happened the other day,” she said.
“No that’s not why I,”
“No? Because I have a hard time believing anything you say right now.”
“Well that means that anything I try to say is useless,” Ray raised his hands in an “I don’t know” gesture.
“Exactly Ray, anything you say is useless.”
Ray looked at the ground.
“So why did you do it?”
“Could we sit down to talk about it?”
“No. You can stand.”
Ray flexed his hands open and cracked his knuckles and inhaled deeply, holding the breath for a second. “How honest do you want me to be?”
“I don’t care. I just want to know why.”
“So, very honest then.”
“You’re wasting my time.”
Ray’s cheeks turned red. “Erin and I have history. We’d known each other for years and there’s been a tension. Things always got in the way. A few years ago, I was seeing someone when we met, and then we split up but that was at the end of term and we were both going back home. The long-distance thing never worked, and I started to question if it ever would. Then in September when the new term began, we met and everything I’d tried to forget over the summer came back. To both of us. Except now she was with someone.” Ray closed his eyes and pinched his forehead.
“I tried to get over her at that point,” he continued. “I did not want to be involved with her, even though I did want to. I knew it was not best to continue. We tried being friends, but being close was not good for either of us. There was a lot of talk about ‘what if’. At the same time her boyfriend back home was not treating her well. I tried to step in to fill the gap that he left, but despite that, she stayed with him out of principle. I even told her how I felt, and she felt the same about me. But she wouldn’t let it go further than that because to her, our friendship was more important, but we were never really friends.
“We were awful together — in any sense. In January, we fought. It was a screaming match. After that I decided I was done with it and left for good.”
“That’s obviously not true,” Maggie said, and crossed her arms.
“It is. I left and started to move myself on. We started talking around that time. I know you didn’t trust me right away, I know I said it wouldn’t be like last time. And I’m sorry.”
“I thought you were done with her.”
“Around the time you and I started talking, she also started talking to me. Her old boyfriend was out of the picture. He lied about a lot of things,” Ray said.
“She knows how to find a good guy then.”
Ray pressed his lips together and looked away, and then back at Maggie. “Yeah.”
“She told me how she felt, and it was what I’d wanted to hear for so long. I was stuck. You, and her with all the history and chemistry we had. I wanted you both and I made a mistake.” Ray dropped his arms to his side. His eyes were lost, and he looked defeated.
“You can go now,” she said.
“I’m sorry,” Ray said.
Ray looked at the ground. He turned around, went to the door, put on his shoes and coat and left. Maggie did not go with him.
Outside, the snow had picked up. Ray looked through the coffee shop window at Erin sitting in the corner. He walked inside and sat next to her.
“How are you doing?” she asked.
“What did you tell her?”
“I explained all the background that brought me to where we all were. She told me to leave after. I don’t care. I don’t feel anything right now. This was all a big mistake.”
Erin held his hand and squeezed lightly, “It will be okay.”
“It was a big mistake.”
“Should we get a taxi back? The snow is really coming down.”
Erin called for the taxi to pick them up, and they rode back to her apartment. Ray said nothing, and stared out the window. Erin held his hand and made small talk with the driver. Ray paid for the ride and they went upstairs to her room on the ninth floor.
“Do you want tea?” she asked.
“Yes please. Can I sit on the couch?” Ray asked, his voice low.
“Of course. I’ll be over in a moment.”
Ray sat on the couch and listened to Erin make tea in the kitchen compete with the white noise in his head. He stared out the window at the snowy city. Erin put his tea on the end table near him and sat beside him. She pulled a blanket down from the back of the couch and wrapped it around her and Ray and she rested her head on his shoulder. Ray smiled a small smile with his mouth, not whole his face. He leaned his head on hers.
“What am I going to do with you?” she said.