“I think we should get married.”
I laugh without looking up from my crossword puzzle. Michael knows what I think about marriage.
“What’s a fiveletter word for ‘bitesized appetizer’?” “Olive. I’m serious.”
I look at him and the laugh dies in my throat.
Michael is kneeling in the middle of the room, his large hands wrapped around a box. A
He can’t be serious. “Michael–”
“Olive, just hear me out–” “I’ve told you–”
“Goddammit would you let me TALK!”
My eyes close and I swallow, hard. I count backwards from ten and breathe in through my nose out through my mouth and start counting my fingers and toes ten times but still I feel bile climbing its way up my throat as the room starts to feel smaller and smaller and my shoulders fight to crawl beneath my ribcage.
“Please don’t yell at me,” I say, softly, as if to a wild bear.
Michael takes a deep breath. “I’m sorry.” His disdain for my ‘condition’–his word– turns the air around him whitehot.
I push my shoulder blades back into place, square my jaw, and meet his gaze.
“Olive.” I can feel the impatience rolling off of him in waves. I switch to staring at his pant leg, trying to count the threads of his jeans. “It’s been a year and a half. This can’t be that much of a surprise, even to you.”
I exhale sharply.
“Olive…I love you, and I want to be with you, not just dating, not just–”
“I’m still in school,” I mutter, trying to keep the list of excuses at bay, knowing they can only make him angry.
“I know, but–Olive–”
I wish he would stop saying my name and I don’t know why.
“If you want to wait, that’s fine, but I…I can’t wait forever. I’m a man, I need to…be with you. Physically.”
A lead weight drops into my stomach, and I suddenly understand.
“You won’t move in with me, you won’t let me sleep in the same bed as you, you won’t even let me touch you below–”
“And you think I’m waiting for marriage, is that it?” Michael’s head jerks as if I’ve slapped him. I almost laugh. “Because you know why we haven’t. That. Yet.”
“But I’m not him, Olive, I’m not some attacker, some–”
Please don’t please don’t please don’t please–
“–Some child molester–”
I go very far away. To a beach.
I remember the feel of the threadbare seats in the back of our family van, the one with wood paneling along the sides. The salty air floating in through the open windows promises paper white beaches and crystalline water. Everything seems so much brighter as a child.
“I’m your boyfriend, Olive, I love you–”
If you loved me you’d drop the goddamn subject–
The beach is empty apart from my grandparents and me. My grandfather sits beneath an umbrella with a book in his lap while my grandmother helps me apply my sunscreen. “Stay where your feet still touch the bottom,” she instructs as she spreads SPF30 across my cheeks. “Stay where I can see you. Watch out for jellyfish!”
“I’m not going to hurt you, you have to trust me –”
My grandmother sits back and watches as I run and hop through the waves, digging my toes into the sand and giggling as the water rushes past. I chase seagulls as they run on stickthin legs before taking flight again. I am carefree and vibrant. I have never been stung.
“Don’t you love me at all? Don’t you want me to be happy?”
Something shiny riding the surf catches my attention a little ways away. My grandmother is back by my grandfather, rifling through her purse for a water bottle. I edge away from them, towards the strange spot.
“I’ve been beyond patient with you, I’ve never cheated on you–”
Before I can inspect the pretty milkypink blot as it washes up onto the beach, my grandmother’s slender arms lift me up. “That’s what I was talking about. Jellyfish! They may look nice, but they sting if you touch them, and it hurts.”
“I’ve never lied to you, I’ve done everything you ask–”
I am hauled off to my designated play area, where my grandmother promises a jellyfishfree zone. We build sand castles until the tide comes in and my stomach begins to growl.
“I’ve been a good fucking boyfriend, Olive!”
I come back to myself. I count my fingers and toes, two sets of ten, over and over again. Michael is still lording his good behavior over me, as if it excuses his current outburst. He must have thrown the ring box while I was away–it sits expectantly at my feet.
“Fucking say something, would you?” “I can’t do this anymore.”
The words escape my lips before I realize they’re there, and my eyes widen. I know only that I am tired, so tired I can feel my bones yawning beneath my skin, wishing I would climb into bed and let them rest.
I look up. Michael’s eyes are alight with a kind of hatred I have seen before. I tremble but
I do not avert my gaze this time. “You’re a fucking tease, Olive.”
The words sting just like my grandmother promised. “Just because you’ve got some baggage–”
“I don’t want to see you anymore, Michael.”
“I bought you a goddamn ring–”
“A goddamn ring, Olive, and you won’t even–”
He rushes towards me and I scramble to the opposite corner of the couch. He snatches the ring box from the ground and stomps his way to the door.
“Nobody’s ever going to love you the way I loved you, you know,” he spits. I find it somehow comforting that he is already referring to me in the past tense.
The door slams behind him and my skeleton sighs with relief.
I climb into bed with the lights on and worm my way beneath a pile of blankets. I hug myself tightly and drift.
Back on the beach, the tide has come in. My stomach growls. My grandmother’s soft hand in mine leads me to the car as I drag my feet, not yet ready to say goodbye to the waves.
I wish she were here to help nurse the stings he left along my heart.
S.B.R. is a writer and theatre artist from Atlanta, GA. She has a penchant for wearing too much eyeliner and offending meninists, often at the same time. When she isn’t working, she enjoys horror movies and petting a lot of dogs. Keep up with her over on Twitter @sammmtastic.