An Aperture Apartbyohmanon©
A special thanks to editor JapleinViera for his time and insight.
All persons and characters featured in this story are 18 years or older. Please do not copy, reuse, or reproduce without explicit written permission of the author.
We fucked for the first time last night. I didn't see it coming so fast. This morning I told A I wanted him to use me. "Yes, I'll use you," he said.
I begged him to tie me up and blindfold me yesterday, but he wouldn't do it. Every time we hang out in his room it's all I can see. At the head of the bed... a thick black boat cleat.
He says nothing but I know it's because he doesn't want that to be the reason we're together. I hate that he talks about how he used it, and the expensive linen rope, on his last girlfriend... but wouldn't use it for me.
Last night he said, "Eventually we would have to be apart, and soon. But you're crazy about me, aren't you."
I don't know why I started crying. I couldn't stop. He kept asking me what was wrong, but how could I tell him? I couldn't tell him that I actually despised him. I couldn't tell him that I despised myself even more for thinking that I felt otherwise.
Eyes sullen, Aiko leafed through the pages of her leather-bound journal, then shut it.
The sound of teenagers bantering drifted in through the second floor window of her parents' Brooklyn brownstone. She released a shallow sigh from her lungs and eyed the full suitcase lying open next to her on the bed. Sitting up a little straighter, she reached beneath a thick pile of neatly folded shirts and tugged out her one triumph from Japan. She turned the bottle carefully in her palms, feeling its heft, inspecting its beautifully painted blue and white porcelain surface. She tipped it ever so slightly and savored the sound of its liquid contents gurgling and shifting shape against the inner contours of its neck. With a practiced gesture she circled the cap with her left hand, bracing herself for the sweet, pungent aroma.
The next evening, Aiko stood the empty bottle neatly next to the trash bin.
What a waste, she thought of its pretty shape and color. If it weren't a gift from him I'd take it with me.
She ran her face under the cold tap in the bathroom, then dried off on a white towel as she watched herself in the mirror. She seemed pale, sallow somehow.
"Aiko, where you going?" her mother called out from the kitchen as she padded downstairs and towards the front door.
"I'm going to go see Hannah," she said, stepping into pair of bright yellow flats, "I'll be home for dinner, don't worry."
"Okay, don't forget. I'm making your favorite tonight."
Through the glass of the front door, the shady street was captured and distorted in a series of swirling circles. Aiko opened it with a loud creak and glided down the steps towards the sidewalk.
Three avenues away, Hannah's door swung open. She was almost shaking, her face brimming with joy.
"Aiko! Oh my god!" She flung her arms around Aiko, heaving a satisfied sigh. "It's been too long, lady."
Aiko returned her embrace in full, taking in her familiar scent. Hannah's wispy brown hair tickled her nose.
"I know, I've been totally MIA."
"Yeah, for like a hundred years!" Hannah stood back to appraise her. She could hardly stand still.
"More like two," Aiko said matter-of-factly.
"Two, ten, whatever. It was forever." Hannah motioned wildly, "Come in!"
Aiko stepped tentatively into the hallway of a house she had spent a good deal of her teenage years in. Its subtle musty scents and woody odors took her back to a time that was hardly past, yet felt like ages ago. She fought back a sudden and unexpected rush of tears.
"How long are you back in town for?"
She looked behind her into the soft shadows of the narrow hallway, finding Hannah's silhouette moving towards her.
"Five days. Then I go back to Providence."
"Yeah, I just came back too late from Kyoto. And school starts in a week," Aiko replied lamely.
Hannah gently escorted her out of the hallway, past the living room and into a modest but elegantly lit kitchenette.
"Well, at least I can come visit you. You won't be a twenty hour flight away," she laughed. "Let me fix you a drink. You want sangria?"
Most sangrias don't come with ice, but Hannah's did. The cubes were now melting at the bottom of her and Aiko's glasses.
"You know, I sort of don't get why you were so fixated on Japan that you had to stay an extra year," Hannah remarked, pulling a tupperware box full of cut watermelon out of the fridge. "I mean, aren't there a ton of awesome photo programs and internships here in the city?"
"There are..." Aiko shifted her weight against the counter. "I just wanted to see other cities. That's not so hard to understand."
"I guess," Hannah said. "Maybe it's different because I haven't been in the city as long as you have."
She pulled the lid off the container and produced two forks.
Aiko watched her silently. Practical, thoughtful Hannah. Hannah's family was too closely knit for any of its members to stay far apart for too long.
"I bet it's a boy," she said suddenly. Aiko flinched.
Hannah looked back at her, lips cocked in a half-grin. "I know you. It's a boy."
She was still momentarily stunned.
"Come on, out with it." Hannah stabbed at a chunk of melon. "I know you well enough to know you wouldn't tell me unless I asked."
Exhaling softly, Aiko wrung her hands. "I did meet a guy out there..."
Hannah popped the melon into her mouth, not even looking at her. A brief silence passed between them.
"He was from Finland," Aiko continued. "The foreign exchange students just sort of hung together, you know. And we hit it off pretty early in the semester. I didn't think he was hot, initially. I didn't really think much of him. But then..."
"Then..." Hannah trailed off for her.
"He also did some photography, but mostly video... When I got to know him better, he just— I just— I can't really talk about him right now."
"It didn't end well?"
"No. Not at all."
"Well... how did it end?"
Aiko struggled to find words out of the ocean of novels she'd already written in her mind about the breakup. She failed miserably.
They heard the front door of Hannah's house click open—then shut. The sound of heavy footsteps reverberated in the hallway.
Hannah's younger brother strolled into the kitchen, eyes never leaving Aiko's face. His short dark hair was matted against his head, shiny and damp. He walked with a swagger that can only ever be observed in a teenager.
"Hey, Aiko," was all he said. She thought she could almost see him holding back a grin. Or a grimace?
Ignoring Hannah altogether, he yanked open the fridge door, a dusty basketball still tucked between his hip and other hand. After several seconds of burying his face in the fridge, he resurfaced with a mostly empty jug of milk. He flicked off the plastic lid with his thumb and drained what was left of its contents down his throat. Aiko detected a hot blush spreading furiously all over his sweat-slicked face.
"Hey, Paul," she said as he wiped his mouth with the back of his hand. "Been a while, huh?"
He nodded, finally darting a furtive glance at his sister.
"What are you doing these days, playing football?" Aiko stared pointedly at his thick biceps. He had rolled up the sleeves of his black t-shirt. He was hardly what she remembered from senior year. Sophomore Paul had been a lanky, gangly boy with wild hair who had yet to grow into his large hands and feet. He'd also gotten several shades darker. The Paul now seemed to take up the entire kitchen.
"Basketball," Hannah said, rolling her eyes. "It's all he ever does now."
"While I was still in school," Paul corrected, avoiding Aiko's gaze. "I'm gonna go grab a shower."
He set the empty jug on the counter and paced towards the stairs at the front of the hallway, abruptly ending their conversation. Hannah and Aiko heard the stairs squeak and moan under his weight as he lumbered upstairs and out of earshot.
"Wow, transformation." Aiko said, eyebrows high.
"Don't let him fool you," Hannah smirked, placing the empty jug in the trash. "You should see him when he's not around you."
"Why, what do you mean?"
"That kid is on my computer all the time, drooling over your Facebook page."
"Yeah, he has been totally hot for you since before you left for Rhode Island. Didn't admit it for the longest time, either. It's almost funny."
Aiko did a mental rundown of vague images of him sneaking looks at her when she was over with Hannah. More often if she had on shorts or skimpy tops for the summer. She had dismissed it, thinking it was his hormones going wild.
"So he's not usually this ... withdrawn?" It suddenly felt odd speaking about Paul this way. It occurred to Aiko that she had barely known him, all the while becoming fast friends with his sister.
Hannah shook her head. "Not at all typical of him to act this way. Probably really nervous." She snickered.
"Well, that's good to know he's not antisocial."
"Yeah, well. We're just worried about him."
"He managed to graduate, but mom and dad can't talk him into deciding what he wants to do." Hannah stared distantly into the hallway. "We're having a tough time convincing him he should keep going to school, and not just working odd jobs around the neighborhood, you know?"
Aiko was silent, thinking back on her own senior year, how easy it had been for her to decide what she wanted to do. It came as no surprise to her what school she wanted to go to, what she wanted to study, where she wanted to do it. There were also no second thoughts as soon as she got the opportunity to go abroad.
Hannah's voice shook her out of her reverie. "Anyway, just don't tell him what I told you. He'll kill me."
She paused briefly in front of Hannah's stoop. They had hugged their temporary goodbyes moments ago, and the door had just shut behind her.
Aiko walked several paces before she heard the door open again. She turned around half-expecting to see Hannah, but instead saw Paul hurrying down the steps and towards her. He was still in his old clothes, but barefoot.
"Hey, um..." he sighed, stopping a few feet away from her. "Are you, um..."
Aiko arched an eyebrow, a soft smile forming on her lips. He reached an arm behind his neck to scratch at a nonexistent itch.
"Omar is um, having a house party tonight."
"Oh, uh! He's a good friend— from the team."
She couldn't help but be a little amused by his sudden change in demeanor. Was this normal Paul? Aiko grinned. Still, she couldn't bring herself to be seen at a high school party. That was just weird.
"I have to be home for dinner tonight, unfortunately. Maybe I'll see you again before I leave?"
"Ah— well." He reached into the pockets of his shorts and fumbled out a cell phone. "Maybe I'll leave my number with you, and you can call if you change your mind? I mean— if there's enough time..."
"I don't have my phone on me, but you can call me and I'll have your number in there."
"Yeah okay," he said, flipping his phone open immediately. Aiko gave him her number, studying his face all the while. In the dark part of her mind she wondered if he'd rehearsed this moment just shortly before.
"Cool." Paul tucked the phone into a pocket and did a half-hop back towards the stoop, as if relieved that the worst was over. "I'll catch you later."
"Bye," she said, watching him jog up the short flight of stairs and dart behind the safety of the front door.
A large steak was slowly settling in her stomach. Aiko carefully made her way down the front stoop of her house, her manual 35mm Canon strung around her neck. At eleven in the evening, the sun had long crept below the horizon. However, the city's night sky was bathed in perpetual washes of violets and pinks. Aiko walked quietly around the corner, her breathing and footsteps even and calm.
On the corner of the block was an apartment building five stories high. She spied a lone, lit window on the third floor. Seeing that there were no pedestrians coming from either direction, Aiko adjusted the film and shutter speeds, then directed the camera at the small square of yellow light. She sucked in a sharp breath and froze as her finger hit the shutter. The camera clicked softly. Moments later it clicked a second time and Aiko exhaled deeply, lowering the camera as she resumed her breathing. From her vantage point there was only ceiling. No potted plants, no one peering out the window.
She had walked about five streets down before coming upon a corner deli. Aiko probed her memory. Do delis carry wine? She swore softly when she remembered that she hadn't brought any money with her.
Aiko turned in Paul's direction as he strode towards her from across the street. A soft smile lit upon his face. His mouth opened ever so slightly.
"Hey, it's you again," she said.
"What are you doing here?" He stuck both hands into his pockets.
"Out for a walk." Aiko absently adjusted the strap of her camera.
Paul stopped two feet away from her, yet felt strangely closer.
"Taking pictures too?" he glanced at the camera, then back at her again.
"Isn't it a little dark?"
Aiko smiled, her face lit only by the orange light of a street lamp several yards away. "I like to shoot in the dark."
Paul had no reply but a wider smile. He breathed in softly.
"You heading back? I can walk you home," he said.
They settled into a slow, almost reluctant pace back towards Aiko's house.
Aiko's hands clung to the camera strap, suddenly self-conscious about her terrible conversation skills.
"How was the party?" she asked, relieved that she remembered.
"It was alright." Paul stared ahead. "I left a little early 'cause the guys just started drinking and smoking."
"I'm just not into the whole thing, you know," he said, looking back at her.
Odd, she thought. There was not a single student in her graduating class who hadn't gotten drunk or high before senior year.
"Why is that?" she wondered aloud.
"I just think—if I ever got really into it I'd just... go a little crazy."
Aiko surveyed the darkened windows of the buildings they were passing by, not sure how to respond.
"How was uh, Japan?" Paul asked, his voice a little uneasy.
"It was good. Everything's kind of expensive, but worth it I guess." She shrugged. "Very package-intensive culture."
They came to a momentary stop at the crosswalk.
"All the customer service there is great. Everyone is really polite," Aiko continued. "Almost everyone seems to drink a ton though."
"Ha!" Paul laughed. "Maybe I shouldn't go there then."
"Well, other than that I think you might like it there." She immediately realized she couldn't possibly know for sure. "At least you might blend in to some degree."
"Why? Do I look Japanese?"
"You could pass for half-Japanese, maybe. From the back at least."
Paul grinned. "It's the quarter of Spanish."
"Do you speak Japanese?"
"I picked up a bit while I was there. But before, no."
"Oh. I always thought you were from Japan."
Aiko resisted rolled her eyes. "No, I was born downtown at Beth Israel. Before Kyoto I hadn't even gone to Japan."
"But your family is from there, I mean obviously."
An uncomfortable silence crept between them for several moments. Aiko searched frantically for the words as they walked.
"So—was something bothering you this afternoon?"
Paul turned to look at her. "What do you mean?"
"When you came inside your house."
"Oh," he sighed softly through his teeth. "... I thought my sister would say something stupid and embarrass me, I guess."
"She seemed concerned for you." Aiko glanced at him.
"I know." His eyes were downcast. He exhaled deeply. "They have a problem with me not going to school right away."
Aiko was silent.
"They just don't get that I want to work and save up some money first," Paul said. "It doesn't feel right to rush into something just 'cause I should, you know."
"No, I guess not," she agreed. "What would you save up the money for?"
Paul shrugged. "Maybe school. Or maybe I'd go traveling."
They arrived at bottom of Aiko's stoop. She leaned her back against the railing.
"Oh yeah? Where would you want to go?"
"I don't know yet." He grinned broadly. His deep set eyes glinted under the streetlight. "I'm thinking Japan."
From: Anders Vang
To: Aiko Tachibana
Date: Tue, Aug 28, 2010 at 11:58 PM
Subject: (no subject)
i am sorry about what i said
i don't want you to regret our time together
even if you never speak to me again, i hope things won't stay bad between us
the world is small. maybe i will see you again someday
i am sorry
She sped through the email and immediately hit "delete," as if leaving it open would sear her retinas. Aiko was livid. She knew full well why he had just sent this poor excuse of an apology. She wondered if he knew that, or if he was just too oblivious to care.
"Aiko!" her mom hollered from downstairs. "Don't you want breakfast?"
Hannah hunched over to set down her several shopping bags. They crinkled loudly when they hit the floor. Winded from their trip to the city, Aiko flung herself into the cushions of the overstuffed couch. The girls let out a synchronized sigh. They looked at each other and giggled.
The living room was bathed in the lovely afternoon sunlight. Aiko pulled a naked foot out of one sandal and slipped it into a warm pane of light on the carpet.
"Hey, where's your brother?" she asked.
Hannah turned away from the open fridge to peer at the clock. "He should be doing lifeguard duty at the Y, I think."
"Lifeguard? Is he even old enough?"
"He jumped on it as soon as he turned eighteen in March. He says it's the 'cushiest' job in the world."
"I believe it."
"Why, you want to go see him?" Hannah grinned at Aiko from behind a frosty can of cola. Aiko stared blankly at her.
"You should go see him," she said, taking a generous swig of the soda. "It'd probably make him really happy. The guys at the front desk would let you in if you asked for him."
"Maybe a little later I can." Aiko got up and stretched her arms and back. No harm in entertaining a little crush.
"I'd come but my classes start in an hour and don't let out until ten," Hannah groaned.
"Yeah, no kidding."
Aiko yawned and looked about lazily. "Hey, can I use the bathroom?"
She dried her hands on the small towel. On the way back to the stairs she saw what must be Paul's room through a door standing slightly ajar. Quiet curiosity swept all other thoughts out of her mind as she crept towards it, pushing the door just enough for her body to slip through.
The mattress of his unmade bed sat directly on the floor, flanked by short stacks of clothes, sneakers, books, video game boxes and dvd's. Other than a tall dresser and an almost empty desk, there was no other furniture. Aiko noted an old black laptop on the desk, leaning open against the wall. Its hinge seemed to have snapped and come apart.
Aside from his belongings and the bed the room seemed mostly undisturbed, as if his living there was just a temporary stay. She turned around and saw that the back of Paul's door was densely plastered with photographs of his friends and family. They swirled like a multicolored ocean of faces around a large, blue map of the world. By its upper right corner, she noticed, was an old photograph of herself framed by Hannah's front door, turned shyly away from the camera.