This story is by Tiana Pauline and was part of our 2022 Spring Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
I knew that it would end just how it started. With Angel.
She was the one constant between us and when the end came, I knew that it would be just me and he would still have her. That made me feel better.
I’d been in apartment 3B my entire life. Our apartment building was battered and bruised from age and it was quiet, for the most part. My neighbors in 3A were the exception.
Every night like clockwork, I was jolted awake by the belligerent curses from the husband and wife next door. They’d go on for hours, never backing down until they’d grown too tired. At some point, their son would always storm out and slam the door behind him. I was always curious about where he’d go. Even though I didn’t know him, I felt an ache for him. I couldn’t imagine having to leave my own home and seek solace elsewhere.
So, instead of being frightened out of my sleep, I listened for his heavy feet stomping towards their door. Scrambling out of bed and I pressed my ear to the door, waiting there until he opened his door and I opened mine.
I’d never really looked at him before. I passed him by in the lobby of course, but we never made eye contact. Not like we were anyway. His hair billowed around his face in tight light brown curls. His face was reserved and innocent. His eyes were a gentle hazel that were sadly hidden behind wire frames and I couldn’t turn away from them. We were standing in the hallway just looking at each other.
“What’s your name?” he finally said. His voice was husky, yet smooth.
“Quinn,” I said, “And you?”
We stood there awkwardly for a moment, not knowing what else to say. “I actually have to go, it was nice to meet you, though” he said nicely, turning and jogging his way down the stairs.
“Can I come?” The words flew out of my mouth. Embarrassed, I clamped my mouth shut as he looked up at me from his spot on the stairs.
He shrugged his shoulders. “Sure. And I’ll introduce you to Angel.” he grinned.
Angel was a sleek, night black Ford Mustang and she was cleaned to perfection. I opened the door gently, afraid to smudge her with my fingertips. When I laid back into the seat, I pictured myself being there, in that passenger seat with him forever. I held onto that image until the end.
Conversing came so easy to us. That night, we talked about things that we’d both locked away until the time was right to discuss them, and we had found our time with each other. He opened up his heart to me, letting me walk through its cracked and torn canals with such ease. It was there that he told me about his parents.
His mom suffered from severe depression and her diet consisted of bottles of pinot and her prescriptions that she abused, which lead to her frequent emotional outbursts. His father quit his job to look after her. He’d turned to whiskey just to deal with her. Both drunk, they spewed their hatred at each other, aided by their liquid courage. They were only together because she needed a caretaker and he didn’t want to be alone.
That left Drew with turning to Angel for a sanctuary. When their fighting started, he would jump into Angel and cruise the streets with no particular destination in mind. Angel was the one thing he could control. The one thing that he could count on and he clung onto her for dear life.
We both had been holding on to so much for so long that we didn’t want to stop talking, and we didn’t. Exhausted, we finally trudged back up the stairs to the third floor, where we said our regretful goodbyes. I fell in love with him that night and he fell for me.
Every night after that, I waited up for him. We’d drive around until the pedestrians disappeared into the night, leaving no one else but us. For a while, it was our thing, until it wasn’t.
After three months, our relationship went south. Whenever we were in Angel, we argued. For some reason, he couldn’t wrap his mind around the fact that he had someone who loved him. So, he pushed me away. If we weren’t fighting, it felt like we weren’t loving each other correctly and I believed that for a long time.
When I would question him about why he was so cruel towards me and treated me the way he did, he told me it was supposed to be that way. He said that I should be thankful that he even loved me. Because to him, I didn’t deserve it.
Ritualistically, after we’d argue, I’d look at myself in the side mirror and tell myself how ungrateful I was for taking his love for granted, for questioning him. I made excuses for him because I knew he lacked knowledge of what love was supposed to look like and for the rest of our relationship, I was determined to prove myself to him. I wanted him to see that I could love him in the way that he needed me to. Even if it meant that I had to adjust my idea of what love was.
The day had finally come. And I was scared to death.
We were in Angel, as usual. The top down, sweeping the metallic, pre-rain air over us. He was humming contently, while I watched the streetlights flash by in a stream of fluorescent light, letting my mind wander.
I realized, then, that I had become the clone that Drew created and my true self had diminished. Completely. I’d let him pull me away from everything I once knew and loved. I was alone even though I was with him. I was past my breaking point, my soul was drained. It became hard trying to love someone who was forced to seek love elsewhere.
So I just went for it.
“Can we talk?” I said.
The skin over his knuckles went taut as he squeezed the steering wheel tight. I thought he was going to turn it to dust.
“Here we go.” he huffed, knowing the time had come for our typical Angel argument. “We’re having a good time right now. Right? ” he said, trying to make me believe his words.
“I can’t do this anymore…”
He waited for me to continue. He didn’t expect the “this” to be about us. But it was. “Do what?” he spat.
Those welcoming, warm eyes I had fallen for had turned to stone. Emotionless.
“I just, I–”
“SPIT IT OUT DAMN IT!”
I flinched, ceasing my back. His scorching spit, filled with his disappointment, sprayed me. It always terrified me, when he yelled, because I never imagined that he could summon the volume to spew his words at me with such hatred, just as his parents had with each other.
I inhaled unsteadily, mustering up the courage to say what I desperately needed to. But before I could, he clamped his hand around my jaw and yanked me forward so our foreheads were touching. He gripped my face so strong that I thought his fingerprints would stain my skin.
“Speak!” he growled.
“I don’t want to be with you anymore.” I said, quickly.
He shoved my face, disgusted. The car was filled with so much heat, so much anguish, that it felt like a furnace and we were the ones set ablaze.
He jabbed his finger into my chest, “Get out.”
I just stared at him, wishing it were like the first time. Wishing the Drew that I thought needed saving would come back.
“I said,” his mouth was barred back over his teeth. He looked sinister, capable of anything. “Get…the hell…OUT!”
Clumsily, I reached for the door handle, keeping my eyes on him the entire time and got out backwards, cautiously. Before I could shut the door, he muttered “You’re just like them, an imbalance.” Angel squealed off, leaving a cloud of dust circling around me. That was the last time I saw them both.
A clap of thunder shook the ground and a downpour of rain followed, drenching me in seconds.
I stood there, stunned. Not only at the fact that he had left me, deserted, on the side of the road, but at what I had just done. I looked up at the murky sky and slowly began to smile. It was so foreign, that my face almost forbade it. The rain washed my pain away that night. I had broken away from his chokehold and gained back my life.