The Only One


Ever took the stairs slowly, each step getting a bit harder than the last to hoist up her hundred-pound body.  She ached down to the bone and knew that if she stopped moving, she’d probably fall asleep on her feet and end up in a heap at the bottom of the stairs.  She didn’t get it.  It had been two weeks, and neither the fatigue nor the pain had subsided.  She grasped the cool, iron railing, pulling herself up the stairs by her arms now, letting the burning ache fill them.  Why the hell was the elevator in this building still broken?

What are you doing?” she heard, and jerked her head upwards to see Lindsey staring at her.  She hadn’t even known someone was there, making it easy for him to spot her first.  He was standing on the landing just a few steps above her, his hand still on the railing.  He’d obviously been watching her a while.  She looked at him, seeing his incandescent blue-green eyes grimace and scrutinize her over.

He was right, she thought, to look at her that way.  Why would she be here? What possible reason could she have to come to his home?  She opened her mouth to speak, but as usual, when around him, no words immediately came to her, only a dozen thoughts that found no real voice to express them.  Damn him, he was the only one who could make her feel like this.  How the hell did he always do that?  Around anyone else she never had trouble speaking her mind and knowing what she wanted to say when she wanted to say it.  She was a songwriter; that was her job.

She shook her head.  She guessed that was one reason she was here.  Lindsey made her feel the way no one else could.  She broke away from his look for a moment and focused on the pale beige floor, noticing how cracked and chipped it was in areas.

When she looked back at him, he was still waiting, but his expression had softened a bit, the way it always did when he looked at her long enough.  It was that way on stage, too.  He’d be singing that song, the angry one he wrote for her, at her, really, the one she did backup vocals on, and would suddenly angle his body toward hers.  He would never miss a note or a word on the song, would keep strumming those angry chords on his Gibson Les Paul, and though she was miles away on that colossal stage, she’d feel him turning towards her and would turn, too, the way she used to do when they were starting out and had to share a mike.  She’d still have hold of hers the way she always did and for the rest of the song, even though they never moved closer together, they’d sing just to one another, oblivious to the sounds of the crowd or the percussion, hearing only those angry words he’d written to her the day their relationship ended.  And even though the words were harsh, his look never was.

“I wanted . . .” she began, starting out the conversation slow, feeling the urge to say, “I wanted to talk to you.”  But, wasn’t that much obvious? Why else would she be coming to his home, his creative fortress where she was no longer welcome?  She sighed.  May as well get it done with.

“I had an abortion,” she said, letting her sins be known to him.  His expression stilled.  She kept her eyes even with his, ready to accept whatever reaction he had.  It was a long time before he gave her one.  The hand resting on the railing finally took her arm and he pulled her the rest of the way up the stairs with him, shoved his hand in his pocket, extracted his keys, and pushed the door to his studio apartment open, letting her walk ahead of him the way he always did.

She walked into the studio, warmed from the afternoon sun shining in the open blinds, and surveyed his usual mess: kitchen sink overflowing with dishes, unopened mail stacked on the tiny two-seater breakfast table, clean and dirty laundry mixed together on the sofa, pages of finished and unfinished songs scattered over his desk.  She couldn’t help but half-smile at these subtle reminders of living with him not three years earlier, at his complete contentedness to still live like this despite the millions of dollars he raked in for the band and himself.  She supposed that, after seeing this, few would guess that he was the organized engineer behind the band, the one who brought it all together at the end of each album, and the one who kept it together.  If he left, everything would undoubtedly fall apart.

He gathered a pile of laundry and took it to his bedroom, emerging seconds later, pulling off his leather jacket.  He folded it over the chair opposite the sofa and stood with his hands on his slender hips for a second.

“Drink?” he asked.

“Yes.  Please.”

He turned to leave the room, didn’t have to ask what she wanted.  He knew her drink of choice after a long day was a rum and Coke, just like she knew his was Jack Daniels.  He knew to leave the light on in the hallway after coming to bed because she didn’t like total darkness; she knew that just because he was quiet in the early mornings didn’t mean he was angry.  And they both knew that one another needed time alone, and lots of it when they were writing their individual songs.

She hummed quietly to herself as she thought about that.  She could hear him rinsing out glasses and mixing the concoction she liked, and took a minute to look at her surroundings once more.  There was a small wooden table next to the sofa.  Various random pictures of the entire band laughing or smiling, though they could have been fighting not ten minutes earlier, sat on the table.  She reached over to pick up one of the larger ones and heard something fall as she did.  When she stood up to look for the fallen object, she saw it was a smaller photo of just the two of them, in a plain black frame. She put the larger one down and reached down to retrieve it.  It was a picture taken shortly after they’d gotten together.  Her blonde hair was shorter than it was now, barely on her shoulders in loose curls, the way she liked to wear it back then, and his was longer, unlike the shorter cut he wore today.  He was behind her, looking at the camera and she had her head turned to the side, laughing at something he’d said to her a second before the camera had snapped.  He used to do that a lot, say something witty or out of the blue funny and keep a straight face, though she could always tell he was laughing, too.  What had he said to her that day?

“Like what you see?” he asked.  She jumped and turned.  He was standing over her, holding out the drink he’d made.  She half-smiled.

“You caught me,” she said, taking the drink and replacing the picture on the table.  “I can’t believe you still have that.”

He sighed, sliding down on the opposite end of the couch, never quite making eye contact with her, instead looking at the building across the way from his apartment.

“I keep everything, baby,” he said.  “You ought to know that by now.”

She nodded.  She did know that.  She also knew that he was the only one she’d let get away with calling her ‘baby.’  She’d always hated that pet name, found something just a little seedy about it.  He used it a lot, though, around everyone, as more of an expression than a term of endearment, and she couldn’t help but find something undeniably charming about it.  And when he used it to address her, she’d feel like it was only for her, and there would be a small flutter inside of her that felt good.

Still looking out the window, he swallowed his drink almost entirely while she took a small sip of hers.  “You all right?” he asked.

She took a breath, then turned her head slightly in his direction and nodded once.

She could feel him studying her before saying, “Don’t believe that,” and downing the rest of his drink.

He read her right, the way he always did, but she didn’t acknowledge that. She swallowed hard and blinked a few times.  She hadn’t cried since she’d had the abortion, and now there she was, doing it all over again.

Lindsey said nothing to her as she put her face in her hands and cried silently, only placed a hand on the back of her neck the way he always did when he was comforting her.  He didn’t shush her or tell her it was going to be all right, or give her any other clichéd sympathies.  He just let her revel in it.

“You tell him, yet?” Lindsey asked when she sniffed and rubbed her nose, her sign that she was finished.

She shook her head, wiping at her eyes.  “I think he knows, though.”

“How’s that?”

She sighed, trying to get her ragged breath under control.  “Because when I found out I was pregnant, I stopped seeing him. Wouldn’t return his calls.  I think he’s picked up on something.  He’s left about ninety-eight messages in the past couple of weeks.”

Lindsey took a slow, but heavy, deep breath and settled even further into the sofa, the way he did when he was contemplating something—a song’s lyric, a guitar riff.  He had some thoughts, she could tell, but as usual, was keeping them to himself for now.

“You think I should tell him?” she probed.

He studied something outside the window for a moment.  “You think he wants to know?”

She shrugged then thought, no, he wouldn’t.  Like Lindsey, he was also the lead singer of a band and enjoyed the life a band offered him—lots of money, parties, women.  A child, even one who’d never been born, would ruin that, if only in part.

“Would you have?” she asked.  “Wanted to know, I mean?”

Lindsey looked her fully in the eyes then.  “Course I would’ve.”

She half smiled, knowing that was the difference between Lindsey and Stephen.  There was actually a time when Lindsey had wanted marriage and children with her, but the only thing they’d ended up ever creating together were songs, and the best ones happened after he’d ended it between them and they had to still go into the studio the next day and face one another and work together.  It took years to work through that pain and get to a point where they could go into the studio, and just work again.

Maybe that was another reason she was here, now. Seeing Lindsey all the time allowed her very little time to get over him.  He was her constant, and she was his.

“Why’d you tell me?” he asked, bringing her back to the conversation.

“You’re my friend,” she said, grabbing a tissue from the box on the coffee table and then blowing her nose.  When she was done she breathed in deep and wrinkled the paper in her hand.  She folded her arms across her knees, knowing her words to be true.  If she’d ever had a best friend, it was certainly Lindsey.  They were friends long before they were lovers, had seen one another grow from gangly, know-it-all seventeen-year-old kids to more seasoned thirty-year-olds, had lived with the tenacity with which they held to their work, tenacity that led to those stormy recording sessions that seemed to go on forever, one ending in Lindsey smashing one of his Les Paul’s against the wall.

They loved and hated each other in equal measures during those times, which, Ever supposed, was too much for almost anyone to handle in frequent doses.  So, one night, after giving her everything he was for nearly ten years, Lindsey began packing up his things, told her he was going to stay at a hotel until he figured things out.  That was the night he’d written the song that was to become their only number-one hit.

When she thought about it now, he really had done them both a favor.  She could feel the end of their relationship coming months before that, but instead of accepting it the way he had, she’d clung more desperately to what was left of it, thus draining it and the both of them even quicker.

“You know me,” she continued.  “What’s good for me.”

He leaned forward slightly.  “Why didn’t you tell me you were pregnant, Ev?”

She looked at him, seeing the help he could’ve offered her during the time she was sick to her stomach, and worried and hopeless and so tired she could barely move.

“I didn’t  . . . know how you’d react . . .”  She stopped and raked her hands through her hair.  “I thought I could handle it all by myself.”

“Like you do with everything,” he said, rattling the ice left in his glass.

Ever nodded.  Definitely true.  She was the one who, a year ago, had refused to see a doctor when, during a three-week bout with Bronchitis, constant coughing fits caused her to crack a rib.  She’d still pathetically tried to make it to the studio each day, fevered and fatigued and coughing every two seconds, until Lindsey had taken her out to his car, put her in it, and drove her home, himself, while she fell immediately asleep in the passenger seat.

She looked up at him.  “I was wrong.  You’re the only person I want to help me go through this.  But I understand if the answer’s ‘no.’”

He cocked his head to the side, giving her an exasperated look.  “Course the answer’s not ‘no.’”

Then he got up to refill his drink.  “I would’ve before.”

Tanya W. Newman has always been an avid reader of stories.  It was at the age of ten that she actually decided to write a story of her own. Now, more than twenty years later, writing is still something she loves to do each day.  Her previous works have appeared in writersINC and she is the recipient of the University of South Carolina-Upstate Center for Women’s Studies Fiction Writing Award.  She is a graduate of USC-Upstate and Clemson University’s Master of Arts program in English.  She lives in South Carolina with her husband and son.

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