After All


She was in love with him. She thought she wasn't but that was all there was to it. Three hours a week was enough to convince her that he was her brother, the rare occurrence of a true friend. That wasn't it.

"Does she ever have a crush on that boy," Sue's Mom says. Alice had just told her friend that Adam is broken.

"I think he's a wonderful person, actually," Sue says. She wants to call Alice back. After dinner she goes up to her room and dials the number. Alice picks up on the first ring.

"Hey."

"What were you telling me about Adam?"

"He's broken."

"That's what you said."

"He doesn't work."

"What happened?"

"I broke him."

"Yeah, I got that, Alice. What are you talking about?"

"Well," Alice said, dragging out the word conversationally. "Sue-sannah."

Sue is glad that Alice is having a better day. Yesterday she called in tears, twice.

"I was talking to him yesterday."

"Mm." Sue turns off her radio and turns it back on again.

"And he suddenly starts going on, I suck at the cornet, you could out-play me any day –"

"What?" Sue laughed. "If he was sleeping maybe. That's ridiculous."

"I know! So I told him that and I was lecturing him and all this and then out of nowhere he turns the conversation right around and starts asking me all these questions, and making me feel so guilty –"

"About what?"

"Everything! Not being better than him! I don't know. And lecturing me."

"That's the most manipulative thing I've ever heard. God."

"I know, I envy him. I wish I could do that."

"He's a terrible person."

"He just feels really bad. He's blaming it on all sorts of things but it's Tempest, what happened was -"

Tempest was stunning, in an ethereal way. She was dark, and small, and wore that shade of green that makes everything else look dull and useless, and she had something like a lisp that could never be quite placed. She was the sort of girl that a man could fall in love with. Adam did, or so he thought.

"You remember how Adam slept with all those girls, after his mom died?"

"Yes."

"Because he couldn't stop himself."

"Okay."

"And he was doing better and getting past all that."

"Did he slip? Oh, god. Tell me he didn't slip."

"He was making out with Tempest and she told him to stop and finally had to push him off. He couldn't stop himself."

"Did he tell you this?"

"No, she did. He will once he's gotten over it."

"I was thinking about this today, how he's broken. I think you should fix him. I think he's been breaking for a while and eventually someone's going to have to put him back together. You might as well do it."

"He broke a long time ago," Alice said. Sue could tell that she was forming a thought and kept quiet, even after such a statement. "Maybe I should."

There was a pause. Sue laughed. "I think I should become a master slot machine person, with my toes. Damn it, I lost. I give up."

She switches the radio off again. "I wonder what Adam'll do to my boyfriend," Alice said distractedly. "I'm gonna have one eventually."

"Kill him, I'll bet."

"Yeah, but what if he really doesn't like him? I think he'll go the subtle way."

"Not if it's going to hurt you."

"No, he will," Alice insists. Sue doesn't want to argue. She doesn't know Adam too well.

In the car on the way to band, Alice brings Adam up again. He's not going to be there tonight because of a bad cold.

"What time of year did his mom die?" her mother asks. Alice looks to Sue for help.

"It was during the school year."

"That's right, his brother missed a couple weeks."

Adam was a few years older and had a brother their age. "Maybe around now," Alice says.

"Do you think that's why he's so depressed?"

"Maybe," Alice says.

Silence for a moment.

"See what happens," Alice's mom says. "You talk on the phone and have nothing left when you see each other."

Adam had a lot of charisma. That was most of his charm. He was crude, too, and aggressive, but he drew people to him. He told Alice, when her grandpa got sick, to call him any time. He had had no one to talk to: for years he fell asleep every night hoping he wouldn't wake up. He was trying to be open for her, and failing, but not by much. It took them years to realize what they had done for each other and by then it was too late.

He was generous. He was an egotistical jerk but he could be kind. He never meant to use anyone, he didn't even want to hurt himself when it came down to it. Things just happened.

When Adam went to school across the country Alice was heartbroken. She pretended it didn't matter. She needed that, or she would have followed him. Fortunately her father moved around a lot, and soon enough they were close to him again: Toronto, and he was in Montréal.

She went to stay for the weekend, sometimes. Her parents disapproved so she lied. All they did was watch movies anyway, play the horn, fuck. She liked his couch best but would settle for anything. He told his friends that she was a retired junkie, or else conformed, which wasn't entirely false. He was just combining events was all, for people he didn't trust.

Her family had to leave the country before she was ready and she decided to stay behind.

He was transferred to Boston. She made an excuse to follow him; he was secretly pleased and accused her of stalking him. She managed to leave him alone for awhile, but it wasn't long before she was back.

"I want to give you my little body," she said. "If you don't mind."

He still loved her, or so he thought. He was in love with her, anyway. But it could never last.

When they started it was September. She was a waitress and he a salesman: all their big dreams of jazz down the drain to make way for the practical things. He wasn't very good, and she was on minimum wage, but they got by on wasted brilliance.

The first time she came by was with a small travelling bag.

"Will you let me in?" It was a query, not rhetorical; she wasn't sure that he would. She sat on the familiar couch until he came out of his room with an armful of blankets. She felt intrusive; she poked around, putting down her bag, stripping wet socks from her feet. It had been raining.

After a few repititions she moved in. Their first mistake, speaks a second-guesser. He takes her in his arms and she lets him hold her, quiet after the busy world has closed its doors.

December brought snow. They stood on a street in Old Montréal, rough flakes melting against the wide panels of Adam's couch. He was holding Alice's hand and telling her not to cry, her tears would freeze and make a mess of her face. She told him to stop being crazy.

"You're crazy," he said. "You're crying over a couch."

"Why can't you sell the stove?"

"How would we eat?"

"We don't need to eat, we have each other."

"You mean you'd have your couch."

"That's what I mean. Please. Adam."

He touched her hair and then her nose. "No one will buy it anyway. It's soaking wet."

Someone did come, eventually. She made hot chocolate while he arranged the blankets on the floor. That was the first time she had been poor and it scared her a little.

They were separated. It was very nice, for a while. Then came the loneliness.

Marriage, of course, could be achieved only by a closeness that she had thought they shared, but that they had not been able to maintain.

They could not achieve love. They had parted ways, amiably enough. She had no hard feelings.

December brought snow, sudden, deep, blocking all roads so that buses were packed and only the very cautious, or the very reckless ventured to drive. He was reckless, cautious, knew his own hand. He went to get milk and eggs.

"Did you bring bagels?" Her eyes were deep-set, staring up at him. She made him feel obliged to bring her bagels. She made him angry to be obliged.

"Look," she said. He ignores her. "I want you to know that I respect you and I would honour you forever."

(He laughs.)

"I won't, you know that. We're drifting apart, aren't we."

"When was the last time we were away from each other?"

"You didn't get bagels."

They sat for a moment, in silence. She said, "I don't love you anymore."

She knew from the first that they would be friends. Even if they lost touch it would be old times when they found each other again. She was probably right – even if she wasn't she would make sure it happened – he would be married but that would be okay.

She found him in a street on a Wednesday afternoon. She didn't expect him there so she almost missed him. "Hi, Adam," she said to his back.

He turned around.

"Hi." She smiled because he hadn't spoken yet and she was scared. "Hey."

He lit a cigarette and dropped it. "Never smoke."

He would do anything to keep her from turning into him. He drove her away so that she wouldn't get hurt. She lit a cigarette.

"How's your wife?"

"Who?"

Maybe she was wrong. "I thought I heard you got caught."

"No. You want a drink or something?"

She passed a mirror in the hall and expected it to afford some argument, but it didn't. If only she were a man, or the economy crashed. Anything for a change.

A/N - kudos to Jill for the 23 percent I borrowed, of her for Alice; and more to Matt which this story is courtesy of (it would seem that I have a muse, as it were) and for whom I have enormous respect. Any suggestions on that ending are more than welcome, it's not the hottest.