A cell phone vibrated in a dark room. Jonathan spun beneath bed sheets and buried his face into a pillow. The vibration continued. Turning, he reached toward the sound and tapped the phone’s bright screen.
“Hey,” Hannah said. Her voice cracked. “So can you come over?”
The night was late and Jonathan needed to wake up early to workout before heading to the studio. And the temperature outside was slipping into single digits.
“The thing is bothering me. And I’m sorry to call this late, but—please? It’s the thing.” Hannah sounded as though she was crying. And if the thing was bothering her, he would head there instantly. “It’s just too much. I need you here.”
“I can come over,” he said. “Absolutely. Give me ten minutes. I won’t even put on actual pants.”
“I’m wearing pajama pants. They’ll do.”
“You don’t have to come that quickly.” She laughed, tears choking her breath. “I can wait for you to put on actual pants.”
“No need. I’m pulling on my boots right now. My coat will keep me warm enough to get to your place.”
“Okay. So please walk fast,” she said and sniffled. “And just come in when you get here. Don’t ring the bell. Don’t even knock.”
“But what about—”
“Don’t worry about them. Just come in.”
Jonathan, wearing his dark wool coat and striped scarf, left his apartment building with the ends of his pajama pants tucked in his boots to keep the hems dry. The snow had stopped falling and the night sky was clear. Despite the late hour, he heard the rhythmic scrape of a neighbor’s shovel.
He walked a few blocks before crossing Irving Place. The street was choked with parked cars and piles of snow. Streetlamps looming above lit the night with yellow light. There were no empty spaces in which to park and he was thankful he had walked.
Carefully he stepped up the snow-covered stairs of Hannah’s porch. Jonathan could not simply walk into the house. Three girls lived here. With a cautious hand he rapped his knuckles against the green front door. He heard quiet footsteps creak on foyer floorboards before the green door opened.
“Come in, come in,” Sofia, the dark-haired roommate, said. A toothbrush hung from her mouth.
Jonathan stepped into the foyer, closed the door, and locked it. Before entering the dim living room, he tapped the snow from his boots. The house was silent. He pulled off his boots and leaned them against a black vent.
“Hannah’s in her room,” Sofia said.
“Thank you. It means a lot that you would come over. And thanks for not ringing the bell. Catherine’s sleeping.”
The wood floor creaked beneath him as he stepped through the house. Streetlamp light slid through a bay window allowing him to see the living room. The dining room, though, was dark. To his right, a crack of light glowed beneath Hannah’s nearly-closed bedroom door. Jonathan felt for a chair at the dining room table and hung his wool coat and scarf on its back. He turned to Hannah’s room, pushed open its door, and stepped in.
“Hey,” she said. Hannah lay in bed beneath a white comforter. Half her face was hidden by a pillow, her rusty-brown hair erupting in thousands of disheveled strands. A curtained window behind the bed allowed in filtered moonlight while to his right a nightlight lit the corner.
“Hey,” he said. “I tried to be quiet.”
“You were. I was just listening for you.” She sniffled. “So could you hold me? Like you do? And maybe rub me for a bit?” She spun beneath the comforter, revealing her back to him. This was his invitation to enter her bed.
“Yeah,” he said. “Whatever you need.” He slid into her warm bed.
“Your pajamas are cold.”
“Better these than actual pants, right?”
“For sure.” She forced a chuckle. “I’m sorry you had to walk in the cold, but I need you. I need to be held. And only by you.”
“I’m here,” he said quietly, sliding his knees behind her legs and embracing her with his entire body. Hannah nestled into him. His right hand traced whispering circles on her inner forearm. She sniffled again.
“I’m so glad you’re here.”
He squeezed her gently. “I’m glad to be here.”
“You won’t leave?”
“No. I’m here.”
“Thank you,” she said. “I keep seeing it. And I don’t want to see it anymore.”
Jonathan held her as her breathing slowed. He closed his eyes until Hannah choked a sob.
“It was so messy,” she said.
Jonathan remained silent. He knew she only wanted to be held.
“I’ve never seen anything that messy.” She sobbed again. “I would be eight months by now. Huge, I imagine.” She laughed and sniffled.
He did not laugh as he kissed the back of her neck through rusty hair. Jonathan’s fingers grazed slowly in circles from her elbow to her wrist. Hannah’s breathing softened. He thought she must be asleep.
Jonathan continued to rub her arm. A smile formed on her face, gently raising the corner of her mouth. She was exquisitely beautiful: vulnerable and open, moonlit tears drying on her round cheek. Nothing like the fiery and confident Hannah he had known for nearly three months. He tightened his embrace, slowly, and then breathed in deeply. She smelled of cucumber lotion and coconut lime shampoo. His eyes closed as his fingers slowed their dance. Sleep came soon to him as well.
Jared W. Gilbert teaches English and World History at a large urban high school in Milwaukee, WI. When not working he can be found reading, gardening, home brewing, sketching, or—most likely—working methodically on his latest manuscript. He is a member of the Wisconsin Writers Association as well as a Teacher Consultant with the National Writing Project. His work has appeared in English Leadership Quarterly and the Creative Wisconsin Literary Journal.
© 2020, J. W. Gilbert