Stella lies on her side, sheet pulled over her waist. It’s raining, and she listens to sound of water against the roof. Ray stares up at the ceiling, rubbing his hand across his chin over and over.
They’ve just had sex for the last time, they both know it. She’s been talking about leaving for months, and they’ve been screaming at each other for longer than that. This morning when Stella woke up, Ray was sitting hunched over in their bed, staring at her face.
“You look so different,” he said, voice flat.
He sat in the shadows – all she could see was his mouth, the tips of his ears and his hand as he reached toward her. “Sometimes I wake up, and Stell – you look so different.”
She knows what he means. Sometimes she comes home and sees him standing in their kitchen, badge silver at his hip and dark straps of his holster criss-crossing over his back, face folded as he frowns at a file on the counter top and drinks his coffee, and thinks, “Who the hell is this guy and where’s Ray Kowalski?”
Ray Kowalski is the twenty year old who married her in the middle of morning on a Tuesday while she skipped class. Ray Kowalski is the guy she got in a bar fight to protect when somebody thought Ray was hustling them in pool. Ray Kowalski laughs with his whole body, and has opinions on everything, and he’s got this special grin in the corner of his lips, tucked away for nobody but her.
This guy doesn’t have much to say, except, “When are you coming home?” This guy stares at her sometimes like she’s about to disappear, and sometimes like he’s about to bolt. This guy’s shoulders are always curved in like he thinks he’s about to be hit, and his face has mean lines in it from his job.
She knows she’s got the same lines, too. She knows she’s different, she’s changed – she just always sort of thought he never would.
They sleep next to each other. They eat dinner together, they shower in the same shower, they’ve got their whole lives in common, but more often than not they can’t think of anything to say to each other.
Stella remembers how he used to talk all the time – all the things he used to say to her, how they’d lie next to each other and when she drifted off, he’d still be ranting about something or other. It used to be like there was so much energy in him that it kept tumbling out, like he was electric.
This morning his hand was grey when it reached for her, and she almost burst into tears when they touched.
“I’ve fucking loved you,” he said, coming out of the shadows. His eyes were so dark, and there was a red line across his chest, a crease from the sheets. She pulled him on top of her, and dug her nails into him when she kissed him. She left scratches all over his back, red bite marks on his throat.
When he came, he screamed and it sounded like he was being torn up.
She kissed him first when they were kids, because he was too shy. She could see that he wanted it, and she wanted it too, and so she kissed him. It was after he dyed his hair that first time, and it was bright yellow in the sun and soft against her fingers, and he didn’t even know where to put his hands. After, he looked surprised and sweet, and she’d thought she’d kill anyone who tried to hurt him.
“So,” he’d asked, trying to play it cool, “you’re my girl, right? I mean – you’re not – ”
“Yeah,” Stella’d said, and she’d loved him too, she’d fucking loved him too, “I am.”
It’s not that easy, not anymore. Stella’s tired, she’s so tired, and together, they’re exhausting. She knows he feels it too – when he comes home, he looks around the apartment, and it’s all over his face: “What am I doing here? What is this place?”
Beside her, Ray gets up, off the bed, walks to the bathroom. He’s pale and naked, and when he turns the light on over the bathroom sink, she can’t see his face in the reflection. For half a second, she’s glad. That’s maybe the biggest shock of all.
Ray leans his forehead against the mirror, and his shoulders start to shake, and she can tell he’s crying. Her lips are still a little swollen, and she can feel scratches left from his stubble against her breasts, her neck, and she lies there alone in their bed.
She sits up, maybe to go to him, maybe to go to the closet and start packing her things, but Ray hears the bed creak. Without looking at her, he turns just enough to grab the door. It slams shut behind him.
Stella doesn’t know what she wants to do – if she wants to go to him, if she wants to make him open the door, or if she wants to just walk out. They’re done here, she knows that, and if it doesn’t hurt yet, it’ll hurt later. Stella knows that much. She’s a little dizzy, but she doesn’t cry. She just lies there and she stares at the paint as it peels on the bathroom door.
When he comes out of the bathroom, he’s wrapped a towel around his waist and he’s got his arms crossed over his chest. His eyes are red, and he stares at the wood floor by his feet.
“It’s nine,” he says after a while, looking up at her for the first time. “Late already, know how you hate that.”
He tries to smile, and can’t, so instead he looks away. He’s so thin. When did he get so thin? She can’t remember.
She clears her throat, and it sounds so loud. “I’ve gotta go.”
Ray sniffs, walks over to the window. He makes a dark line leaning across it, and rain hits the glass behind his dry shoulders. “I know,” he says. “I get that.”
Stella walks over to him, puts her hand on his arm, and leans over. She kisses his cheek, just a soft press of her lips against his skin. Then she gets dressed, and she leaves. She calls him at work, and tells him that she’s going to stay at her parents.
All he says is, “Yeah. Yeah,” and he doesn’t sound surprised, he doesn’t sound angry.
He doesn’t sound anything. Her hands start to shake so she hangs up the phone without saying goodbye. She hugs herself, and she doesn’t cry. She sits there in her office. Her fingers tremble a little bit, and she sucks in breath after breath, and her eyes burn, and she misses him already. She’s missed him for so long already.
They’ve been leaving each other in increments for months, and today’s just the first time it’s obvious, the first time they can both feel the big empty spaces they’ve scooped out of one another.
The phone rings again, and Stella blinks at it for a second before realizing she has to pick it up. When she does, she realizes she doesn’t know what to say, doesn’t know who she is right now, can’t think of a name.
“Is this Stella Kowalski?” a woman’s voice asks when she’s been quiet for too long.
“Yes,” Stella says immediately. “Yes, it is.”