HEAR YE, HEAR YE! If you’re tired of being TORTURED by the wait for SPACE, I have a very exciting announcement… You can grab SPACE two weeks early, exclusively on Apple Books! Keep an eye out on February 25th for SPACE on Apple Books. It will release on all other platforms as scheduled on March 11th. Also, as a bonus I’m sharing half of the prologue from SPACE (Which is Abram’s Point of View)
ENJOY THE TORTURE ᕕ( ᐛ )ᕗ
Reaching for Lisa, my hand encountered only a cold, vacant couch. I’d hoped to find her next to me, to curl myself around her. But she wasn’t there.
Opening my eyes, blinking at the darkness, I listened for a sign of her presence. A ballooning disappointment deflated hope. When it was clear she wasn’t anywhere close, I flexed my jaw, stood from the sofa, and stretched while yawning. Discontented. Frustrated. She was gone, she’d taken her sweet softness, and—
Gone, and she took all softness with her.
Gone, and emptiness takes shape.
Gone, and summer is winter.
Gone, and… And?
Cassette tape? Fate? Concord grape?
Scowling for many reasons, I pushed the hair out of my eyes and left the dark theater in search of my lyric book, a tooth brush, and the exceptional woman constantly on my mind.
I wouldn’t use ‘fate’ to end the fourth line of this new stanza, and obviously not ‘concord grape.’ The first part was useable—her/winter wasn’t a textbook rhyme, but that only made it more perfect—yet I couldn’t work out what word to use with shape.
Gone, and I browse the internet using Netscape? No.
Gone, and where did I put that videotape? No, but it made me grin.
Gone, and something about a great ape? Ha ha!
Great ape. Funny. Perhaps I was the ape? . . . worth considering.
Stopping by the basement bathroom, I brushed my teeth and splashed my face with water. This was my usual waking-up routine, whenever I might wake up: absentmindedly going through the motions while words played musical chairs in my mind. Since agreeing to house-sit for Leo’s parents, I’d been sleeping mostly in the recording studio on the couch. That’s where all my lyric notebooks were as well as my guitars.
Before Lisa came, I’d found it was easier to write while in the studio, trying and testing lyrics with background accompaniment via the soundboard. But now that she was here, writing music, poetry, lyrics had been just like sharing her company: effortless.
Gone, and she took all softness with her.
Gone, and empty (or emptiness?) takes a shape. . .
Shape. What else rhymes with shape? My priority was to capture this feeling, that moment upon waking, discovered loss or whatever it was.
I wouldn’t force it. If I had to force the words, then they were a lie. Studying words had been a compulsion of mine from a young age. I collected and hoarded them. I thought about how to assemble and arrange them to communicate the most truth in the least amount of syllables. I treasured them when they were real just as much as I reviled them when they were false.
Because of this, I wouldn’t force the missing line, and I was certain I wouldn’t need to. With Lisa here, the right ones would come to me.
I miss her.
Yes. That was it. I missed her. And missing someone is not just the absence of the person. Distance exists. Separation is real. It is a measurable construct, but also intangible.
This space between us is what? This space of separation is what?
Distracted, I left the bathroom and crossed the hall to the studio, flipping on the light and moving to my pile of notebooks. They weren’t organized by anything other than the approximate date, and so I picked up the only one that was neither full nor empty and wrote those first three lines of a stanza that might become a song.
Then, when I reached the fourth line, I frowned at my reflection in the studio glass. I shook my head.
Gone, and . . . what do I miss about Lisa when she is gone?
Potential answers immediately and effortlessly piled upon each other: her eyes when she laughed; her smile; her body in that white bikini; smooth, hot skin; her strength; a silk waterfall of dark hair spread over my chest while she slept; her humor; her eyes when she was angry; her kindness; the color of embarrassment on her cheeks; her voice; her surprising cleverness; her equally surprising awkwardness; how, with each breath last night, the rise and fall of her breasts pressed against my side; her eyes when she was surprised; the weight of her, the warmth, and the awareness where every inch of her touched every inch of me; her mouth; her softness.
I don’t think women understand how much decent men appreciate softness, not just in the woman they admire and desire, but in the world. I’d had conversations with Leo about this a few times.
“What is it about her?” I’d asked the last time he’d gone crazy for a woman.
We’d been sitting in a VIP room at a club called Outrageous. He liked it because they changed the interior often. This made it feel like we were going to a new place but without the hassle of learning the names of new waitstaff, bartenders, bouncers, and managers.
“She’s soft, you know? Like, she’s not jaded. Man, my parents and everyone I know is so fucking jaded. It’s just nice to be around someone who still has the wonder.” He took a drink from his beer, smiling an uncertain little smile, his knee bouncing in time with the bass. “That’s why I keep you around, Abram.”
“Oh yeah? Do I have the wonder?” I didn’t smile. I wasn’t convinced.
“You so do, man. Yeah, you’re also an abyss of deep thoughts and depressing shit, but—” he leaned forward, hit my shoulder “—you still make me feel my age, not . . .” his eyes drifted to the crowd beyond the wall of glass separating our VIP box from the club. “You don’t make me feel like I’m ninety years old all the damn time.”
I’d smiled. I knew he was referring to Charlie in specific, our other good friend, drummer, and frequent co-conspirator. Where Leo was an optimist, Charlie was an eternal pessimist. I fell somewhere in the middle. They were both good guys, and unlike many of our mutual acquaintances, neither Charlie nor Leo needed to be high or drunk to have a real conversation.
“You have the wonder too, Leo.” I returned the compliment, because I thought maybe he needed to hear it.
“Thanks.” His eyes grew big, solemn. “Seriously, thank you, man. I try. I try to stay soft, but the world makes it hard.”
I try to stay soft, but the world makes it hard.
I’d written down Leo’s words about softness because they were true. It was maybe the truest thing I’d ever heard. What he’d said was brave and a difficult thing to live. I respected Leo for trying to be soft, but I respected him even more for never forcing it.
Presently, staring at the studio glass, I didn’t sit on the stool by the soundboard. But I did flip through the last few pages of my notebook, letting my eyes skate over the iterative versions of a poem I knew would eventually be a song entitled, Hold a Grudge.
I wasn’t finished. It needed a chorus and structured stanzas, I still need to figure out where to put the bridge, how often to repeat the chorus, and how to end it. But first, it needed the right melody. I was a much better lyricist than a composer. Even so, I found myself nodding at the accuracy of the words and I flipped back to the new lines I’d just written.
Gone, and . . . What sounds like shape? Manscape? God, no.
I rolled my eyes at myself, and then read first the three lines of this new poem again. I repeated them silently until they were fully memorized. And then I closed the book and returned it to the pile, certain the last line would come to me sooner rather than later. But right now, I was anxious to see Lisa, so I left the studio in search of her.
The longer I was awake, the more urgent the need to be in her company. This had been the case since the morning we drove to Michigan. At the time, I’d assumed it was because I was worried about her, because of how shaken she’d been that night before we drove to my parents’ house. But now there was no mistaking it or explaining it away.
I was in love with her.
I didn’t lie, not even to myself, not even when the truth felt impossible to explain. I could almost hear my friend Charlie and his jaded view on everything, “Don’t be a dumbass. People don’t fall in love in a week.”
To which I would say, “Fuck people.”
Over the last six days, Lisa and I had clicked seamlessly into place. I’d considered fighting, resisting the enormity of giving into wanting her so completely. But even when she’d pushed me away with talk of ‘appropriateness’ and ‘power dynamics,’ giving into the potentially impossible daydream of her felt better—so much better—than the idea of anyone else.
I’d fallen in love with Lisa, and all her contradictions, and all her beauty and character and strength and softness. She’d become my place. With her, I never had to force the wonder, and being soft hadn’t seemed so hard.
Now, ascending the final step to the kitchen level, I spotted Lisa and it was like my body and mind finally became fully awake. She was on a stool at the island, her lovely profile to me, her waterfall hair sweeping the center of her back, and the whole stanza came to me at once:
Gone, and she took all her sweet softness with her.
Gone, and emptiness takes a shape.
Gone, and summer is winter.
Gone, and I sleep.
But when she’s here, I’m finally awake.
A barren landscape,
Now beauty in her wake.
With Lisa, vibrancy. Without her, emptiness took shape, a barren landscape.
I filled my lungs with the sight of her, energized by the deprivation of desire—to see her, touch her, listen to her, engage with her—and reminding myself to take it slow. Wait. Tread carefully. I was certain of what I wanted, how I felt, but she wasn’t someone to rush. The truth was, I had no idea when or if she’d get there. Though that was somewhat terrifying, it didn’t stress me. Especially when she made the waiting and anticipation so much fun.
Lisa’s eyes were on a magazine spread flat on the counter and she was hunched over a bowl of something, distractedly eating spoonfuls while reading.
I loved that she read so much. I loved, even though she’d dropped out of school, that her brain was obviously hungry for knowledge, debate, and philosophy. I loved that she’d been kicked out of school but seemed to be an unbending rule follower. I loved that once you knew her, nothing about her past made any sense.
Leo had been worried about his youngest sister for a while, specifically that their parents had “fucking ruined her.” According to Leo, Mona, the older twin, had never needed much from anyone and automatically knew what to do and how to behave in all situations.
I’d never met Lisa’s sister, but there were pictures of her in the front room. From what I’d seen, Mona and Lisa didn’t resemble each other much. In the family photos Leo had pointed out to me from Mona DaVinci’s recent college graduation, I never would have guessed that the two women were twins if I didn’t already know. She was shorter than Lisa in all the pictures of them together, and seemed smaller, fading into the background, always smiling with a closed mouth, and definitely lacking Lisa’s vibrancy. To be blunt, the older twin looked like she’d stopped aging at twelve.
“Mona is smarter than all of us combined,” he’d said when he asked me to keep an eye on Lisa over a week ago. Leo didn’t usually talk about his sisters, but he’d wanted to prepare me for her arrival. “I’m Mona’s older brother, but I go to her for advice. She’s like a superhero, I swear. Doesn’t need or take shit from anyone, doesn’t care what anyone thinks, not even me, not even my parents. But Lisa . . .” Leo had sounded worried. “I know you don’t like her, man. And I’m sorry for what she did last year, but she needs people, you know? She needs community. She needs someone to take care of, someone to take care of her. Some people don’t need that, but Lisa does.”
Presently, I stuffed my hands in my back pockets so I wouldn’t reach for her. I wanted to. I always wanted to touch her. But something had happened to Lisa since last year, something she didn’t yet feel comfortable confiding, something that made every first touch difficult. Maybe more time together would fix it for her. Maybe not.
Whatever she needed, because I knew exactly what Leo had meant about Lisa needing people.
My sister and I had been born with this same curse: Someone to take care of, someone to take care of me, an inescapable desire for codependency. Another song lyric. I wasn’t happy with it, it needed work, but that was basically the gist of why I didn’t fuck around with my time or with people.
Lisa didn’t look up as I approached, so I said, “Hey,” not hiding my smile.
From now on, all my smiles belonged to her.
Her eyes flickered up, and then dropped just as fast to the bowl of what I now saw was cereal. She straightened her back, closing the magazine and clearing her throat while I studied the bowl. Note to self, she likes Lucky Charms.
“Abram,” she said, swallowing, tucking hair behind both her ears. “Good morning.”
Immediately, I heard the guarded, distant, and particular quality to her voice. But it was the particular that resonated like an out of tune piano. I ignored it, eager to remove that barren landscape between us.
“Good morning, Lisa.” I leaned my elbows on the kitchen counter, making my tone ironically formal and bending at the waist to bring us eye level. “And how did you sleep last night?” I hoped this would make her blush. She was so very exquisite when she blushed.
She didn’t blush. But also, she still wouldn’t look at me. “I, uh, didn’t sleep very well, honestly.” Lisa lifted her chin but not her eyes. “We should talk.”
I frowned at the persisting particular quality to her voice, my eyes moving over her. It was at least eighty-five degrees outside and she was dressed in a baggy black hoodie and yoga pants. On her feet she wore socks and she’d stuffed her hands into the pockets of her sweatshirt. She was also wearing a lot of makeup, darker than usual, like the day she’d come home last week.
“Are you okay?” I dipped my head to one side, hoping that would encourage her to meet my eyes, hoping she’d let me take care of her.
Someone to take care of, someone to take care of me.
I couldn’t shake those words. Spending time with Lisa, they resonated in a new way, one that was 3-D and in color, with softness and wonder and not just black ink written on a white notebook page.
She didn’t meet my eyes, instead speaking to my forearms on the counter. “You have been very nice to me. Thank you. This is a difficult time, and I’m going through a lot, so I’m sorry if I’ve been acting weird.”
As she spoke, I felt a chill. Something was . . . wrong. Her voice continued to hit the wrong note over and over.
Mystified, I said, “No need to apologize. You haven’t been acting weird until just now.”
Her eyes cut to mine and I started, flinching back and standing. What the hell? The chill became a sense of freezing dread I couldn’t explain. Something was most definitely wrong. I couldn’t identify the problem, but there was a problem.
“. . . Lisa?” I asked like a fool, but—seriously—what the hell? This wasn’t her. Her eyes were different. Not the shape or color or size, and yet unquestionably different. Lisa was there, but she also wasn’t, like she’d been possessed. Or she was absent. It was freaky as hell.
Her eyes widened for a briefest of seconds, and then her lips flattened, her gaze moving to the closed magazine. She picked it up. She stood from the stool, glaring at the wall behind me, looking irritated and therefore the closest to acting like herself since I’d walked in.
“Look.” Her voice was hard but also soft, quiet; I prepared myself for a whisper since she was visibly upset; an odd quirk I’d noticed about her, when she was upset, she always whispered. “Why are you doing this?”
“Pretending like you care about me.” Her gaze fell to the floor and she sounded angry, but not at all hurt.
Were we playing this game again? The push Abram away game? I didn’t like games. I had a low tolerance and I’d never put up with them. Maybe it wasn’t true for everyone, but I couldn’t keep the wonder while also fucking around and playing games.
I made too much of things, I gave words too much weight, I searched for meaning where none existed. For me, there was no such thing as casual friends; you were my good friend, or you were an acquaintance. Likewise, there was no such thing as a meaningless hookup. An action, a touch was sacred, or it wasn’t. Maybe that’s why Leo thought I wasn’t jaded? Because I didn’t play games?
But with Lisa, I seemed to have an infinite reserve of patience that extended to game playing. Even when she was sour, she was still so intoxicatingly sweet, it was like being caught in a web of cotton candy.
So instead of giving into the building apprehension—even though she did sound off—I said, “Pretending.”
She needed to push me away again? Okay. I could give her space. As long as later today, when she came to her senses, she also came to the pool, wearing that white bikini.
“Yes, pretending,” Lisa said, her tone hard. “Gabby is my best friend, remember? She has my back.”
“What are you talking about?” I needed to keep my head, but it wasn’t just her words that unsettled me, or how she wasn’t meeting my eyes. She was speaking to me like we were strangers.
Lisa gave her eyes a half roll. “You’re a player, Abram. So whatever act this is, drop it.”
The accusation angered me, and therefore distracted me from the discordant tone in her voice. Needing space was one thing. But believing and then spouting lies was another.
“This isn’t an act.” I tried to conceal the spike of temper by lowering my voice.
“And I don’t know what Gabby told you, but she is misinformed.” But obviously Lisa trusted her, and that had a shot of adrenaline clouding my vision.
“Okay. Sure. So, she just imagined the depth and breadth of your harem at gigs?”
Is that what this is about? I relaxed a little, breathing out. “Come on Lisa, this is nuts. I have female fans, yes. But I’m not dating any of them. Do you honestly think—”
“You don’t date anyone. You just flirt with everyone and lead them on.”
“I absolutely do not.” Fucking Gabby. I could strangle her for filling Lisa’s head with this shit.
She crossed her arms and shrugged. “I don’t, for one minute, think that I’m special to you. Sure, whatever, we’ll be friends, fine. But can you be cool and cut the act?”
She doesn’t think . . . ? Was I hearing her correctly? How could she possibly think that?
The adrenaline returned, full force. “Then you’re wrong, because you are special to me. And what happened last night was special, and damnit Lisa—would you listen?”
She’d turned and marched away. I reached for her arm, which she shook off. I let go immediately and stepped back. I shouldn’t have touched her. Shit, I knew that. But I couldn’t just let her believe Gabby’s lies.
Knowing I’d fucked up, I pushed my fingers through my hair and tried to calm down. “Here is the truth: I have all sorts of fans, both male and female. They like my music, they come to my shows, maybe they like me. I don’t know, I haven’t asked them. I don’t hang out with my fans and I don’t lead people on, I don’t flirt. The only thing Gabby told you that’s true is this: I do not date. If you don’t believe me, ask Leo.”
Her eyes remained steadfastly on the floor and she mumbled, “You don’t date because you’re a player.”
“No,” I ground out. “I don’t date because I don’t believe in wasting time treading water. When I know, I know.”
“What does that mean?”
“That means, I’m in love with you.”
Finally, finally her eyes came back to me. They widened, her jaw slackened, and she stood silent like a statue. I couldn’t believe this news stunned her as much as it seemed to. Maybe I could allow for some surprise, but she looked completely shell shocked.
Hesitating only a second—partly because I wondered if it would be taking advantage, but also because she was acting so strangely—I closed the distance between us. Everything was wrong, but this might be my only chance to make things right. I slid my hands around her back. I held her. I kissed her.
She flinched and didn’t respond at all, at first. But then she responded by twisting her face from mine.
“No, no, no!” She pushed me.
I let her go and grabbed fistfuls of my hair, turning away and pacing the length of the kitchen. Fire in my chest. My thoughts in disorder. What the fuck was happening?
I glanced at her. She’d covered her face and was shaking her head. And then she sniffled, the unmistakable sound of a sob rending from her chest that tore at mine.
Please don’t cry. “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have—”
“Goddammit! You don’t love me! I hate—” she cut herself off, shaking her head harder.
I watched her, helpless and so fucking confused, my mind all over the place, unable to see straight. What is happening?
“Just fucking listen,” she shouted, surprising me, her hands dropping and revealing a face that looked like a stranger’s. “I’m not who you think I am, okay?”
Despite hearing these words from her before, this time I believed her. I didn’t argue, just watched her and waited for . . . I had no idea. A sign? A glimmer of my Lisa? The woman I couldn’t get enough of? The woman I’d written twenty poems about in six days?
“But before I say anything else—” she swiped at her eyes leaving dark smudges on her cheeks, sucking in a deep breath, “—I have to ask you something.”
I waited, promising myself I wouldn’t cross to her or try to touch her until invited. Strangely, this promise didn’t seem as big as it had yesterday when we were in the pool, or when we were on the couch. Last night I’d promised myself not to touch her, and it had been torture.
Today? It was self-preservation.
When she didn’t say anything, I prompted with forced calm, “Fine. What do you want to ask?”
She licked her lips, shifting her weight from one foot to the other, a nervous habit I hadn’t noticed before. “If I lied to you, would you forgive me?” she finally blurted, shutting her eyes.
Lied to me? I straightened my back.
“About what?” The question slipped out, unplanned.
“No. I’m not—it could be about anything, okay?” Her eyes opened again and she stared forward at my neck. “If I lied to you at any point this week, would you be able to forgive me?”
My mind was racing with worst case scenarios, my stomach sinking. “Did you sell those drugs? To those kids?” More unplanned questions, but what could I do? She was acting so crazy.
“No,” she was back to whispering again, giving me a clue that the question had upset her. “I didn’t do that. I would never do that.”
I believed her. But the next obvious choice made my throat tighten with the urge to rage.
“Are you back with Tyler?” I asked roughly, determined not to raise my voice, but I was already so jealous. I didn’t want to be jealous. I’d never been jealous. But I was so fucking jealous in that moment, the cloud around my vision turned red.
I’d never experienced anything like this before.
I hated it. Hated it. It felt like being branded with a million tiny hot pokers.
“No.” Her glare turned distracted. “But it’s something like that—” her eyes came to mine, still guarded, still off, still wrong “—something just as bad as that. A lie that big.”
I’d never been so frantic before to recall previous conversations. I went through every day, every interaction, every word that I could remember. I came up empty.
“What is it?”
“Would you forgive me?”
I nodded but didn’t answer out loud, trying to convince myself while also dealing with this insane jealousy. I would. I would forgive her anything. I would—
“Hypothetically, what if I told you that I’ve been lying to you every day, this whole week, about something important. You say you love me, but would you forgive me?”
I stopped nodding. “Have you?”
She remained silent, her eyes now narrowed, searching. “You wouldn’t forgive me, would you?”
“I don’t know!” I exploded, not understanding her or why she was doing this. “You haven’t told me what it is. Fuck, Lisa. I don’t even know what we’re talking about.”
“Forget it.” She gave her head a small shake, her eyes dropping to the kitchen floor.
She looked exhausted and sad, and seeing her this way should’ve made me want to break all her unspoken rules about touching. I should’ve wanted to hold her, but I didn’t. If this had been yesterday, I would’ve promised to forgive her anything and everything, and I would’ve meant it.
But now? I had no clarity. Making promises now would be a lie, and I never lied. If she’d been seeing Tyler this whole week while spending time with me, falling for her, I wouldn’t forgive her. It wasn’t in me. I would despise her.
Clearing my throat, I grit my teeth to keep from yelling again. “Forget what? What should I forget?”
“Forget me. You don’t love me. You might think you do, but you don’t.” She sounded tired, but also as though she were trying her best to be compassionate, gentle. “Believe me, you’ll get over this—whatever it is—so fast, I’ll be a blip, a nothing. Seriously, forget it. You don’t want to know me. I promise you, you don’t.”
“So you keep saying.” I pushed back against a creeping numbness climbing up my ribs, stalling, needing a way to fix this.
“Then what’s the problem? Why don’t you believe me? I’m messed up, okay? I don’t know who I am.” Like a switch, her mood and manner turned exasperated. “I don’t know what I want. I’m all fucked up. I am telling you the truth, but you refuse to believe me!”
In a huff, she turned and stomped to the back stairs.
“I don’t understand what’s happening,” I called after her, another unplanned statement of my thoughts.
She stopped on the third step, turning halfway, giving me just her profile.
I walked to the bottom of the stairs, not seeing her or anything else, but wading through a general sense of everything crumbling to dust, a barren landscape.
“What changed? Between last night and this morning, what changed? What did I do wrong?”
Lisa swallowed, shaking her head. “I’m two different people, Abram.” She pulled her sleeves down to cover her hands, turning completely away and crossing her arms. “I’m the person I want to be and the person I currently am, and if my parents disown me, I feel like I’ll sink to the bottom of the ocean and drown. I feel like it’ll be the end of the world.” Initially her voice had been strong and steady, but it grew quieter and quieter as she spoke.
I stared at the back of her head, working through my own bitterness and this trail of crumbs she was leaving. I couldn’t believe what she was saying. I couldn’t believe this was the same person I’d spent the last week with. But there she was, looking just the same.
I’d thought her trust was a beautiful thing. I thought her values unbendable. But now? I couldn’t see what had been right in front of me the whole time, I’d been blind to the truth: she had no trust in me, maybe not in anyone.
Swallowing around the vice tightening my throat, I glanced up the ceiling. “So, let me see if I have this right: you lied to me, about something big, and you think I’ll tell your parents if I find out. Is that right?” The bitterness snuck into my voice.
We were now broken. This wasn’t like before, where she’d used logic and ethics and temperance to push me away. I could forgive that. In retrospect, it had almost been cute.
Maybe it’s for the best.
No. Fuck that. It wasn’t for the best. Us together was for the best.
Eying her back, her stiff shoulders bunched around her neck, I felt myself soften.
What happened to make her this way?
I couldn’t let her go without trying one more time.
“Lisa.” I placed a hand on her arm, keeping my touch light.
She tensed and I swallowed fear. I ignored my drumming heart, the taste of sand, the uncomfortable tightness in my chest that made taking a complete breath unbearable, and I reminded myself of Leo’s truest words: I try to stay soft, but the world makes it hard.
Be open. Be brave. Be soft, for Lisa.
“I told you yesterday, I just want to make you happy. Do you believe me?”
I watched her back rise and fall with a deep breath, and the barest glimmer of hope had me curling my fingers around her forearm.
But then she shook off my hand. “You can’t make me happy, Abram. People can’t make other people happy. I’ve tried that. It doesn’t work. The truth is, I’m still—I’m still in love with Tyler and—” She took another deep breath, and when she spoke next, I could barely hear her, “And sorry for dicking you around but nothing is ever going to happen with us, so just give me some fucking space.”
** END OF PROLOGUE **