by alejandra

I heard about it from Lucille, the woman who cleans the offices every night. She comes in around eight every night. I learned her name the night after Ray called me a snob--not screaming, like so many of our fights had been, but quietly, like he was just realizing that we'd grown up differently, that no one had ever said no to me until he told me that he didn't want kids.

"We're not even grownups ourselves. We'd screw em up, Stell," he said. "Uh-uh, I'm not doing that to a little person."

And I said, every time, "Ray, we'd be great parents," and he said, every time, "No way, Stella. Just get those ideas right outta your head."

By the time he called me a snob, he'd said no to me so many times about so many things, I was used to it. But he almost never used that voice, the quiet, steely voice. It was the voice he used when he told his lawyer, "Give her the divorce--she don't want children," forgetting that for so many years I had begged for them, finally given up, had moved on with my life. He couldn't just come to me when I was thirty-three and say, "Okay, Stell, let's have kids."


Ray always had rewritten history to suit himself: Stella never wanted children, Stella never really loved me, Stella always played hard to get, Stella fetishized my poor background. Well, Ray never would have used the word "fetishized"--even before he insisted on boxing all the time and getting four concussions, he never was one for multi-syllable words. But the sentiment was there. He thought I was with him to scandalize my parents, to thrill my girlfriends, to get a taste of what it was like to be with a bad boy who'd run off the horrible bank robber.

I never had the heart to tell him that I knew the whole time he wasn't a real hero. I was just trying to save him the embarrassment... my mother always taught me that a lady never took pride in another's misfortune. That's where all our trouble started: the day we met. Everything based on my lies and his lies. He thought I thought he was a hero. I thought he was sweet. He wanted to be the hero. I wanted him to be sweet.

We never really had... We never really. We never.

We... never had real fights, not until I became a lawyer and he went to the cop shop. We did everything together, all through high school. I had my guy who was tough on the outside and sweet on the inside, the guy who remembered the anniversary of our first kiss, the guy who bought me a piggy bank every year on the day of the bank robbery. But he wouldn't let me change, he wouldn't let me be anyone but the Gold Coast girl he rescued. It was like... No, it wasn't like. He needed me to be the girl who needed to be saved. He needed me to fetishize him. He needed me to believe that he was a tough hero, to ignore the sweetness.

I could never do that. I still can't. When I think of Ray, I think of the way he used to kiss my down my spine, the way he loved to wash my hair, the way he desperately needed to be needed. I never needed him enough.

But we were friends, once. Those times when you forget that there's a history, that you're supposed to be angry--those times when we were bowling and he was drinking beer and he'd stretch his arm across the back of the chairs and run his fingertips up and down the back of my neck. During sex, when I couldn't ever remember my own name, much less why I was supposed to be angry with him. Early Sunday mornings, before church, when we'd laze in bed, his head on my stomach, my hand in his hair, everything still and quiet. Even when he'd get on his back under the sink to fix the clogs or do some other thing I never quite understood to the plumbing, and I would sit at the kitchen table and watch him.

He still comes to me, sometimes, paces outside the door to my office or the door to my apartment. No one does a shuffle-ball-change while pacing quite like Ray. I pretend he's not out there, and he pretends that I don't know he's out there, and we both pretend that if he knocked on my door, I'd be able to send him away.

He's always been my weakness.

I would have thought... Obviously I was wrong, but I would have thought that he'd have come to me, told me. He never said, never implied, never... I never would have guessed.

But Lucille said it, that the girl who cleans over at the 27th told her that Francesca Vecchio said that Ray and Fraser had kissed before Ray left the bar that night; Lucille said that the girl who cleans over at the 27th said that Francesca Vecchio had looked like she was going to throw up; Lucille had said that she wouldn't have told me, but someone should know that my ex-husband was going to hell.

Then she crossed herself and pushed the giant garbage pail further down the hall, left me with my feet on my desk and my mouth hanging open, the brief for the Johnson stabbing falling off my lap.

Normally that's the sort of unsavory rumor I would immediately disregard, especially coming from Francesca Vecchio--but didn't she always have a bit of a yen for the Mountie? I never was a uniform girl, and I don't understand women who are, but Francesca seemed to be. Or maybe it was just the Mountie; I don't see his appeal, personally.

Would she make something like that up? I don't know. I don't think so. I know in my gut she's right. Ray always put such an emphasis on instinct--and in a job like mine, I can't run off instinct. I have to have proof. I've trained myself to wait for proof. But the proof is in the way my stomach feels queasy, the way so many things about Ray's relationship with Fraser slot into place, the way he seems to finally be over me--he doesn't knock on my door, I should have known, because he doesn't knock on my fucking door, doesn't bury his face between my legs, doesn't pant out, "This won't be anything, I just need you, Stell, I love the way you smell, Christ--"

Hours later, home, in the dark, in bed, under my heavy comforter, I can't get warm. I just see them behind my eyes, their lips meeting. I know what that feels like, the quick press of Ray's mouth on mine, the slight swipe of tongue, the waft of his breath across my skin, the smell of cigarettes and beer that always rises off his clothes, even when he hasn't been smoking or drinking.

I don't remember when I fall asleep, but when I wake up, my face is sticky, one hand is cupping my stomach, and my other hand is pressed to my lips.


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