I’d slept for just a little over an hour in two days when I got home from New Orleans and Laila’s going away party was just a few hours after my touchdown. I was in a haze as I spoke to the woman next to me on the plane, as I collected my bags, as I climbed in a cab to go back to my apartment.
When I got home, I emptied my suitcase and started a load of laundry, counting the number of munutes before I’d have to leave again. I had just enough time to shut my eyes for half of an hour and laying across my bed in the afternoon sun, I fell asleep fast and hard. I hit snooze twice when my alarm went off and then forced myself out of bed and into the shower, where I found that my hot water heater was out again. The spray of cold water helped wake me up as I shivered and washed away the feeling of airports and travel.
Laila texted me that she was running late for her own party and that she’d meet me at my apartment on the way to Daniels and we could go together from there. We grabbed a cab and caught up on the way, not having seen each other in a week.
Laila had been gone the weekend before and was leaving again the next day on another short trip for a friend’s wedding. We had just that night to see each other before she left town for the weekend and then a couple of days when she got back on Sunday before she left again, possibly for good.
Laila is moving to San Francisco to take classes in coding and she’s had this plan for almost as long as I’ve known her. She might be gone for a few months or she might be gone for good, it all depends on how well things work out for her there. She’ll be staying with another one of her partners while she’s there figuring it all out.
We were the first to arrive at Daniel’s and the three of us set to work in the kitchen chopping and peeling vegetables for dinner. Laila was making a vegetarian shepherds pie, so I chopped beets and sweet potatoes while she sliced cucumbers; all of it happening in the warmth of the kitchen while I moved back and forth between states of lucidity and what felt like dreaming. The sound of the knife on the cutting board, the whirring of fan blades and their soft voices speaking sweetly to one another as summer crept through the open door all made my head swim just a little.
“Aren’t you supposed to be on another continent or something?” Harper asked, being the next to arrive.
“I was in New Orleans and I just got back tonight” I explained and she was gone again.
I found myself alone in the kitchen for a moment, slicing vegetables and thinking that it might be the last time that I saw any of the people who were there. Laila was the common thread and in my sleepless state it felt a bit like that thread was unravelling.
Others arrived, none of whom I’d really met before and all of them were colourful, interesting people. It can certainly be said that Laila’s life is as interesting and vibrant as she is. Everyone gathered in the kitchen to talk as Laila and Daniel made dinner and laid out the things her friends had brought for the pot luck.
The topic of conversation moved from sci-fi to philosophy to porn and in some moments I was too quiet, while in others I spoke too much. In my sleepless state I stepped carelessly on something Daniel was saying while giving my insight on a company that I don’t particularly care for in adult entertainment. I felt at times like I was dreaming and was often speaking before I realized that I was.
It was a good night and as people said their goodbye’s to Laila, I stayed in the kitchen and started to clean up not wanting to be in the way. I rinsed dishes and cleared the table as the conversation continued in the next room. While standing at the sink, I saw Harper coming back into the kitchen in search of another drink and I tuned off the water, listening to the drip slow as she approached.
She picked up the spatula and offered me a taste of the shepherd’s pie, which I hesitated to take, before giving in and taking a bite.
“You have a lot of shame, doesn’t you?” she asked and I laughed.
I couldn’t tell if she really believed it or she was trying to get me to argue to the contrary, but the fact remained that I felt no shame standing there with her.
We went together into the next room, but Laila and Daniel seemed to be deep in conversation, so Harper turned me around and we headed back into the kitchen.
“Let’s let them have their moment” she said.
I passed her and went back to the table to wipe it down and when I turned to go back to the sink, she attempted to get me to stop what I was doing by putting her hands on my chest and pushing me back toward the door. I let her move me at first before I dug in and stopped her. She was tipsy and I didn’t want things to get out of hand, so I was trying not to be too rough. She taunted me once, twice as she pushed against me and then I had her wrists in my hands and was backing her across the room until we hit the washing machine. She fought against me, insisting she could overcome me and then told me she hated that I was stronger than she thought I would be. We were incredibly close and the more she struggled the tighter I held her, pinning both of her wrists in one hand.
“I’m not going to kiss you!” she proclaimed.
“Who said that was even on the table? That’s awfully presumptuous of you” I answered, scolding softly but meaning it.
“I saw the look in your eyes”. she said, though she was doing her best not to let hers meet mine.
Whether I wanted to kiss her or not was irrelevant because we were at Laila’s going away and I was standing in her boyfriend’s kitchen. Being in an open relationship doesn’t mean there aren’t boundaries and I wasn’t going to test them just then, no matter how many of my buttons Harper pushed.
“Let me go please” she said and I did immediately. “Thank you” she quietly but firmly replied.
She eyed me with smiling contempt and I wondered what it was that she was hoping to provoke me into doing or if she even knew at all. It felt like there was a reason, but perhaps in my exhaustion I was looking too hard for one.
“You aren’t switchy at all, are you?” she asked.
“No” I responded and she looked a little disappointed.
Daniel came back into the room then and I used it as an excuse to go find Laila. Standing in the doorway to Laila’s bedroom watching her pack, Harper passed behind me more than once, patting me on the top of the head condescendingly on one pass, so I turned around and did the same to her. Laila shot us a curious look and then the moment was past.
Laila gathered up her things and we were ready to leave, so she went to say goodbye to Daniel and Harper. Harper left them to it, walking toward me in the doorway and while Laila and Daniel were behind her, she smacked me in the face before giving me a hug goodbye.
I laughed, finding it entirely ridiculous that she’d done it and I could see over her should the look of uncertainty on Daniel’s face about what had just happened; he’d heard it but not seen it. The warmth of her hand print on my face and the vague ringing in my ears were bringing me back to the present and while I wouldn’t dream of letting most people get away with something like that, I smiled at Harper and she smiled back. I wrapped my arms around her in goodbye and she felt waifish and ethereal.
I was dreaming on my feet then; I felt wide awake but nothing seemed real. I hugged Daniel goodbye too and Laila and I headed back to my place to spend the night. The next afternoon she was catching a bus to go to a friend’s wedding and the plan was to spend the night and the next morning together before she left. There weren’t many days left for us and I was grateful for the time that remained.
On the cab ride home I sat close to Laila, watching as the car cut quickly through the streets. I looked at houses and street signs and lights as it occurred to me that I’d started the day in an entirely different place, surrounded by different people and living what felt like a vastly different life. The car windows were down and the breeze was in my face as little drops of rain splattered me and I found everything terribly amusing just then. Laila took my hand in hers and I looked at her beautiful smile, happy to know her, happy to have her, happy to be with her.