But that was then. Now across her living room Stacey said, “It was so long ago, ten years. Can’t we just leave it in the past?”
“I do have something for you,” she said, and walked to the bedroom.
He walked back to the coffee table and picked up the photo again. Stacey and her fiancée were standing ankle-deep in water and looking out toward the sea as the sun set. Andreas felt nothing but he wondered who had taken the picture. Then he punched it, right at the head of Stacey’s fiancée. It was just a little pop, but strong enough to break the glass. There was now a white dot at his face and cracks extending around it.
“I wrote you a letter!” she yelled from the bedroom. She paused, waiting for him to respond. But he stayed quiet, trying to determine what to do with the photo.
“Actually, I wrote you a number of letters—drafts. Honestly! I wanted to explain myself. I just didn’t have the courage to mail them.”
Andreas took the photo over to the window. He considered sliding the window open and throwing the picture out, but it occurred to him that she would hear and ask him what he was doing. And, besides, he might accidentally hit a car, or worse, someone’s head.
“I’m just having trouble finding it,” she called again. “It’s a little on the mushy side, so I keep it hid. I was so young…a-ha!”
He heard a drawer slam shut in the bedroom so he re-took his seat and rested the picture on his lap. As she approached he held it up saying, “I’m sorry. I accidentally knocked this over.”
She looked at the photo, then at Andreas and said, “It didn’t fall, Andreas. Your hand—it’s bleeding.” A pause, then, “This was a mistake. I want you to go.”
But before he could move toward the door Stacey led him to the bathroom. She ran warm water in the sink, took a bar of soap and washed his hand. The cut was small, on the knuckle, without much blood. She opened a mirrored cabinet and pulled out a box of band-aids, which she handed to Andreas with a towel. “Here, finish-up. Then I think it’s best if you leave,” she said, and walked out.
Andreas sat down on the toilet and dried his hand. The cut had stopped bleeding so he just placed the band-aids on the sink. And when he did he saw the letter lying on the counter—yellow lined paper, folded in two places, looking a little weathered.
He wasn’t sorry he’d broken the picture, and he was glad to be alone, even if it was in the bathroom. He just sat on the toilet for several minutes rubbing his knuckle and looking downward. If he hadn’t met Stacey tonight he’d likely be home now finishing dinner or maybe at the gym. He had gone to the art gallery to buy a painting, just a small piece, perhaps a still life or a watercolor. Once Stacey appeared he considered buying something outrageous to impress her, but in the end he left with nothing.
It was a large bathroom and he walked over and shut the door. The walls were lined with more photographs. They looked like vacation pictures: the Eiffel Tower, Grand Canyon, ski slopes. But there was also one photograph that he remembered taking: Stacey in it, sitting on a picnic table at a fish restaurant in Malibu wearing tan overalls with pant legs that stopped mid-thigh. They had spent the day at the beach, swimming, baking in the sun; she slipped the overalls over her still damp suit. Wasn’t it odd that she kept that picture? Even now, if he happened to be eating at a place that served fish tacos, he thought of her in those overalls.
He sat down on the toilet again and read the letter. Not read, really, just skimmed it catching phrases like: “I’m confused,” “my first love,” “we’re both so young,” “I do love you.” She had drawn a smiley-face at the top of the paper. One night, weeks after she left him and moved to Portland, after he had been out getting drunk with his friends, he left a rambling message on her answering machine. The next morning he wished he hadn’t.
He had been in the bathroom for over 20 minutes and he supposed she would be wondering what he was doing. He flushed the toilet and then ran the water in the sink. As he walked out to the living room he saw Stacey’s empty wine glass on the table, but she wasn’t there. Was she just going to let him walk out? He moved toward the front door and walked past the kitchen where he saw her standing by the sink. She didn’t look up, but he knew she saw him, so he approached her. Her head was down.
“I’m going,” he said. He suspected this would be the last time he ever saw her.
“I think that’s best.”
They walked together to the front door but just before they reached it Stacey squeezed his hand and said, “I thought you wanted to see my tattoos.”
As they moved back into the apartment, even before they embraced, Andreas felt both anguish and regret.