“I’m so cold,” Morgan said as she shivered alone on the old brown couch. Chris lie beside her on the floor.  

            “Me too Morgan, me too,” Chris said as he got up.  “We can try to put our blankets together and do the body heat thing.”

They cuddled up on the small couch together, but she was still shivering and her teeth were chattering.

            “Hey, remember they’re out of town.  Let go upstairs.  It’s too cold to sleep down here. C’mon Morgan, I’ll grab the blankets, you take the pillows.”

            Chris flung the blankets around his shoulders, while Morgan hugged the pillows to her chest. They went up the basement stairs and Monte the dog followed them up.

            “Hang on a second.” Chris put the blankets down on the floor and started pushing the furniture to the corner of the room to make space in front of the fireplace.  “Come, sit. Just one more thing left.”  He reached down to the fireplace, stuck his hand under the iron grill, and turned the little knob.  The fire felt so good.  She felt herself begin to thaw.  Morgan’s face was the closest part and it was almost burning. After being so cold, she welcomed it.  Chris pulled the blankets over them and she handed him a pillow.  They lie in front of the fire with Monte between them.  “Goodnight Morgan.  I’ll wake you up in the morning.”

            “Ok, goodnight.” She looked at him, and couldn’t help smiling.  He always looked so sweet, whether he was sleeping or not.  She thought for a moment how perfect this moment would be if she were with a boy friend. They could cuddle in front of the fire, but she thought about it only for a moment.  She knew if she was with a boyfriend Chris couldn’t be there.  Morgan decided the moment was perfect as is.  He was the only one she would want to share this with.

*                    *                    *                    *                    *

 

Danny came in.  She knew he was still in his bathrobe.  Morgan hoped she looked delicate. She didn’t see why it mattered, but she still wanted to.  Why had she come?  It didn’t matter now. This is where she was, in a dirty little apartment alone with a moron. She turned, rubbed her eyes, and smiled.

“Hi. All clean?” Morgan said in a little voice.

He just smiled that terrible smile of his.  That crooked arrogant smile. It had no sincerity in it, just arrogance.  She strained not to react to the smile. “Not for long.” He said.  Then he climbed on her. She didn’t know why she let him, but she did.  He kissed her.  Danny never tasted good. Not dirty, but just bad.  She hated kissing him.

The night went by just as she knew it would.  The same way it always did.  One of her friends said she would make a perfect guy, the lack of conscience, the severe detachment, the time limits, the escapes, the Machiavellian nature, and the painful superficiality, but she wasn’t always like that.

            “Will you please stay till after dinner?  I know a great Italian place we can go to.  It will be nice” Danny wrapped his arms around her. “Will you turn and face me?  I’m not on the wall.”

            She doesn’t turn.  “Can I use your phone?”

            “Who do you need to call?”

            “My dad, it’s his birthday.”

            “Shouldn’t you go see him?”

            “Trust me, calling is enough.”

            “But it’s his birthday, you really-”

            “If you don’t know what you’re talking about, just shut up.” Morgan climbed over Danny out of bed. She grabs a tee shirt from the floor and pulls it over her head. She hated how every boy she’d ever been with in the last five years felt the need to tell her how to live. “You know nothing about the situation so don’t even think about telling me how to deal with my dad.  Don’t tell me how to deal with anything for that matter.  Can I please use your phone?”

            “Go ahead, do whatever the hell you want.  Why the hell are you even bothering to ask?”

            “Thank you. Where’s the phone?”

            He pointed to the desk.  She was sure it was underneath a thick layer of filth and clutter.  Danny turned back over to sulk. Maybe next time he’ll shut up.

She left not too much later.  After not calling Danny for a few days, she finally returned his call and made plans. She felt guilty about ignoring him but she didn’t know why.  Morgan even offered for him to go over there.

 Morgan got into her apartment.  She put down the blockbuster bag and the Chinese take out.  Danny did not deserve this but after the way she’d treated him the other day she had to.  The red light on her answering machine was blinking.  She hit the listen button to listen.

            “Hey sweetie, it’s Danny.  You probably know that... Umm, I’m going to have to cancel tonight. Uhh, it has nothing to do with you.  My dad has been really sick and asked me if I’d stay home tonight.  God, I hate leaving messages like this.  If you want to come here I’d love to see you.  Um, if you could get back to me soon.  Please don’t be mad, I’m sorry I couldn’t tell you earlier, but I just found out.  Please call me back. Bye Morgan.”

            She picked up the phone and dialed.  “Hi.  Peter.  How are you?”

            “Hi,” He seemed so shocked to hear from her. “I haven’t heard from you in a while…  Did you get the flowers, and my card?”

            “I did, and they were beautiful.  I was actually calling in response to that.  If you want to come up tonight, I have a little surprise planned for you.  Do you think you can make it such short notice?  I just wanted it to be a surprise.”

            “Yea, I can come, um, yea… yea definitely.” He laughs, he sounds so happy, and still so shocked. “I just need to call and cancel some plans I had with friends, but they’ll understand.  I’ll be up soon.”

            “Great, you know the drill, just buzz.”

            “Yea I know… I’ve really missed you.”

            She bit her lip and nodded, she couldn’t turn back now. “I know. I’ve missed you too.  I hope you like dim sum.”

            “I love it. I’m going to go get ready, see you soon.”

            “Bye Peter.”

            “Bye Morgan, see you soon.”

*                    *                    *                    *                    *

“I miss you so much.  No one wants to hear me talk about you anymore.  I just can’t help it.  When I got in yesterday, I went for a drive.  It was one of those nights.  It was humid and cool, but so beautiful.  The air was full.  I wanted to enjoy it, but I couldn’t.  It wasn’t the same without you. The boy I’m seeing right now, I know you wouldn’t approve of him. I don’t know if I approve of him, but he’s convenient.  I know you understand. He isn’t you.  My job is going well.  I’ve been putting my all into it.  I’ve broken the glass ceiling so to speak, and on my own merit.  Remember how you told me I could do anything if I put my mind to it.  Maybe you were right. I don’t know.  God I miss you.”

*                    *                    *                    *                    *

Chris thought it was funny to take the turns quick and sharp especially on the bottom of Morgan’s driveway. She couldn’t get her seat belt on fast enough to stay in her seat.  She’d always end up in the center console of his mom’s jeep, but she didn’t mind much.  It was fun.  They headed out to the back roads.  The sky was so cloudy, but big clouds, where the thick clouds did break the stars were clear and bright, and it was humid.  She loved nights like this, and she knew he did to.  Chris saw she was looking up at the clouds. He opened the moon roof, and he turned the heat way up to make up for the chill of the wind. 

            “Too bad the moon isn’t out. It would make tonight perfect,” He said glancing up as he drove on the roads they knew so well.

            “I’m ok with it as it.” Her eyes focused on the stars and the clouds out the moon roof.

            “Yea, it’s definitely nice. I guess we don’t need the moon.” He turned the music down a little. “I know death scares you, but I’ve been thinking about this lately.  What if this is all you get, like if you died tomorrow?  Would it be enough?

            “That’s kind of a scary thought.  I mean what if I died right now?  I haven’t done everything I want to by a long shot.”

            “Me either, I don’t mean that, but I think if I was to die right now I’d be happy with my life.  I mean I have some wonderful moments I wouldn’t mind staying in forever.”

            “Yea, I guess I do too.”

            “Like what,” he turned towards her for a second, and smiled.

            She loved his smile. He had a little gap between his front teeth. She thought she was the only one who noticed. She loved his mouth. It went up just so on the ends and it was this eternal pout, but it fit on his face so well.  Morgan loved his eyes. They were so blue, not tainted with green, brown, or gray, just deep blue. “Right now for one,” she finally replied.

            “Right now?”

            “Yea, good company, good music, beautiful night, just a good feeling all around.  I’m perfectly content right now.”  She meant it too.  She thought for the first time since she was a little girl she wouldn’t have changed a single thing.

*                    *                    *                    *                    *

Morgan was sitting at her kitchen table with her closest friend Elizabeth.  They had been best friends since sixth grade.  Elizabeth had a beer. Morgan had water.

            “I don’t know what to think or do anymore.”

            “About which one?” Elizabeth asked.

            “Either, neither, both, I don’t know what I’m doing.”

            “I thought you weren’t talking to Peter anymore.”

            “I wasn’t but he sent me this huge bouquet and the sweetest card saying he wanted another chance and he knew he didn’t deserve me but he’d do anything he could… just all this stuff.  At least he’s trying.  I feel so bad.  I’m just overwhelmed, and I think the truth of it is I don’t want either of them.  I should go home and visit Chris.”

            “Why do you constantly date people you don’t want?  You make their lives hell until they react to you, then you leave them for their reaction making them feel like they were to blame. Don’t go see Chris. I’m serious. We’ve talked about it a million times over the last seven years.   It isn’t healthy. You need to move on.  You know that.”

            “I don’t know.” Morgan was leaning her forehead on her hands. She lifted her head and gestured out. She just couldn’t put it into words.  She never could. “I thought maybe if I tried.  They just aren’t what I want.  They aren’t what I picture in my head. I just miss him.”

            “I know what picture that is, and you need to get over it.”

            “I know. It’s just so hard.  I miss him so much.” Morgan put her head back into her hands.  Morgan knew Elizabeth could say nothing to change, or help it. So, she wisely just let it alone.

*                    *                    *                    *                    *

Morgan saved some money for Chris’s birthday.  They couldn’t go out on his actual birthday because things had come up.  First, there was his football game. She went of course. Then it was Thanksgiving, then his parents wanted to celebrate, but Morgan got him the next day.  She took him to a Mexican place they went to when they actually had money, which was almost never.  When they got there, she told him she had to go to the bathroom.  Morgan went and told the greeter it was his birthday.  About half way through the meal, she heard the clapping.  So did Chris. 

            “Communist” he said he looked at her hard.  It was one of his new insults for her.  Not mean, but more like an insulting pet name.

            She couldn’t stop laughing the whole time they were singing. He just stared at her.  She laughed so hard her stomach hurt and her face was red.  Morgan tried to say something but she couldn’t speak through her laughter.  She just held my stomach. 

He couldn’t hold his glare anymore, and he broke a smile and laughed, mostly at her laughing.  “I hope you can’t breath, and you aren’t ever allowed to go to the bathroom again.”

Chris had gotten his own car.  They could stay out later now.  Instead of back roads, they would go exploring by the river.  They’d drive as close as they could get and then they’d walk.  That night they found something especially wonderful.  It was an old railroad bridge.  The wood was old, and some of the slats had rotted away.  The condition it was in let them know that no train would ever use it, so they knew we wouldn’t get squished. 

They started walking down the slats. As soon as there wasn’t ground underneath them, Morgan couldn’t move.  She was afraid of heights when there was a chance of falling.  Chris got a few slats ahead of her and looked back.  He saw how scared she was.  Morgan was completely frozen.  He came back and took her hand.

“I’ll walk on this side of the rail, and you walk in the center.  This way, if one of us falls we have a chance of saving the other.” She knew it was bull.  If a slat broke they would both die, but she still felt safer.  They walked one slat at a time to the center of the bridge.  They sat down on the cold track and looked out.  From the center, they could see everything.  The river was so wide and beautiful.  They could see where the towns divided on the 106 bridge.  He kept holding her hand.  She didn’t think he paid it any mind.  He was just comfortable with it.  Morgan was comfortable, but to her it mattered.

He told her a while later he had made it to the other side of the bridge with his girlfriend.  It didn’t bother her though, well, it did but only for an instant.  She knew it was their bridge.  They would go back to the bridge often, always hand in hand, but never past the center. 

*                    *                    *                *                    *

“My mom and Elizabeth say I need to just get over it and move on.  I can’t though. I can’t stop thinking about you. Chris, I look for you everywhere, but I can’t find you and it kills me. I met this boy Eric.  You two would get along.   He actually reminds me of you.  I think that might be why I like him.  Sometimes I feel like I’m with you.  When neither of us are speaking and we’re just lying together, it reminds me of that time you got me from school when no one else would. You didn’t even have the money for the tolls, and you had to mail them checks for $3.50.  You left ten minutes after I asked you and didn’t even ask for gas money when you got there.  I miss that. I miss how unconditional you are.  I keep thinking about that whole week. When we curled up on the couch with Monte, me on you, and Monte on me.  You made me watch the Indy 500.  You should know I still watch it every year now.  Eric has a dog.  He isn’t Monte, but just the same, it’s nice.  Thanksgiving is coming up soon, and so is your birthday. They are the same day this year.  I wish you were here to celebrate.  I’m lonely right now.  I know, I have lots of people to be with, but I think I’m even lonelier when I’m with them.”

*                    *                    *                    *                    *

Morgan woke up from a nap and got into the shower.  She shaved her legs well, taking care to get her ankles and around her knees.  Eric was taking her out tonight.  It was supposed to be somewhere fancy.  She put on that perfect little black dress, did her makeup stunningly, and as a finishing touch tucked a Billie Holiday geranium behind her ear.  Everything about her appearance was perfect, and for the first time in years, she was excited about going out. 

She had met Eric because of a fight with Danny.  She was sometimes too honest. Danny asked her about Peter, and she didn’t lie.  Morgan knew it wasn’t worth it. She didn’t really care.  Honestly never helped the duration of her relationships, but it made things simpler.  Peter, Danny and everyone else were practically interchangeable.  Danny had yelled at her and he started crying in the middle of the supermarket.  She didn’t have a ride home, and no purse, so no money for a cab.  Eric, an innocent shopper who had watched Danny’s outburst, had offered to drive her home. Danny had called her later that day and apologized.  He also sent flowers, and a teddy bear.  He told her in the card he went back to see if she was there.  She was tired of being relieved when someone gave her cause to abuse them, and she was glad she didn’t need to deal with Danny anymore.  Morgan hoped Eric would be different.

Her intercom buzzed, she ran to the door as quickly as her heels would allow.

“Who is it?” She asked, knowing full well who it was.

“It's Prince Charming. Is Rupunzel ready for the ball?” He had such a soothing voice even over the crackling intercom.

 “No one by that name here, try 12d.  And that is a terrible confusion of fairy tales. Come on up.” She laughed and buzzed the door open.

 She hated that 5-minute wait.  They had to get in the elevator and come all the way up, and then they had to walk down the hall.  The anticipation was too much, and Morgan never knew what she should be doing when they arrived.  Obviously, she had to open the door but it had to look like she had been doing something much better that they interrupted.  She sat down at the table and started reading the funnies, waiting it out.  Finally, he knocked.

She got up and adjusted her dress, took one last look at herself in her hall mirror, and opened the door.  Eric looked terribly handsome, maybe even dashing.  He smiled so big, and he had a nice smile.  He had blue eyes, pure blue. He held a rose, just one, for Morgan.  She never did like roses much, too overdone, but one rose was ok.  Eric just stood in the hall outside the door looking at her for a moment, beaming.

“You look amazing.”

“Thanks, you look nice yourself,” she smiled. She knew she looked nice, but still she was slightly embarrassed.  “Do you want to come in for a minute while I put this in water before we go?”

He stepped in, and quietly followed her into the kitchen.

“I have a bag of clothes packed in the bedroom if you’d grab them for me.”

“Sure.”

 He went and grabbed the bag. Somehow, he didn’t seem too feminine carrying it.  He just looked like a boy friend, but she still couldn’t help but laugh when she saw him. He just started laughing back, curtsied, and kept smiling. 

“C’mon, I’m parked illegally.”

She used the vase that came with Danny’s flowers, and put the rose in the center of the table.  It looked little in the big vase but she had no bud vases.  She grabbed her coat, purse, and Eric’s hand and they headed out to the show and to dinner.

*                    *                    *                    *                    *

It was pouring out, so they couldn’t go to the river.  Morgan hadn’t seen Chris in a while.  She had been away at school, but the moment he pulled into the driveway it was like they were still in high school.  She had been waiting on the front step despite the rain.  After dinner, they were driving back to Morgan’s, but the rain was falling so hard.  They were on the parkway that went through the main part of town. All they heard was a loud crash of lightning, and then all the lights went out.  Other than headlights, the road was completely dark. They just laughed.

“Hey look, the gazebo light is still on,” he said, pointing to the town green.  “Do you want to go there and sit?  It has to be dry if the lights still on.”

“Ok” Morgan said, she was never in any rush to go home.

They parked in a drug store lot across the road and ran towards the gazebo.  She was wearing flip-flops and one fell off in the middle of the road.  Morgan stopped and started going back for it, but Chris beat her to it.  He handed it to her and waited for her to put it back on.  He was almost blocking her with his body while they stood in the center of the wet road. With her show back on, they started to run again. 

Inside the gazebo, the side benches were all drenched.  We had to lie in the center. 

“So tell me about more about your life right now.” He said.  He was leaning on his elbows facing me.  He took off his old brown shoes and moved them. “I apologize if they smell.” She then kicked off her flip-flops.

“I’m seeing this boy Andy, he’s older, a grad student. He’s like a trust fund baby.  He doesn’t distract me from school. I guess it’s nice.  He spoils me rotten.” Morgan held out her wrist and showed him a bracelet.

He nodded, “Does that really make you happy though? I hear no passion in that.”

“Well for now, I’m not looking for anything serious.  I have goals and right now I can’t have any distractions.”

“Why don’t you just wait then, and date someone when you have time?”

She laughed nervously, hating to tell him the truth, but he knew it anyhow. “I like the attention.”

“I know, but that’s a bad reason.  What about him?”

“I don’t think he gives a shit about me anyhow.  I just look nice on his arm.  I’m not hurting him any. So what about you?”

Me and Laurie broke up again.  I think it’s for the better though.  I mean, we date for 5 months we break up for five, and it just repeats itself over and over.  I think this time it’s final. I can’t take her bull anymore.  I’m obviously not happy when I’m with her.  You might not have been able to tell last time when you were home but you put me in the first good mood I’d been in for months.” 

She didn’t know what to say. So she just stayed quiet and nodded and let him go on.

He started speaking more calmly this time, almost monotone. “I’m thinking about leaving, I’m doing shitty in school.  There’s no point in me being there if I’m doing this bad.  They may not ‘invite’ me back next semester.  I’ve been thinking about joining the Navy or Air Force or something.  I’m colorblind so I can’t do anything that dangerous but they’ll still take me.  I got a recruiters number, I just haven’t been able to make myself call yet.  It’s a big commitment.”

The thought of him leaving for so long really upset her, but it was a good idea.  She wanted to see him succeed in life.  She didn’t let herself get choked up.  “I’ll miss you.”  said.

“I’ll miss you too.”

*                    *                    *                    *                    *