AUGUST 2009

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Just the Truth
By Alan Stewart Carl, May 31, 2009

The elevator rattled, Grant and Milli wedged inside, so close they could smell the gin on each other’s breaths. Milli was going on a liquor run for the party. Grant volunteered to tag along.

“What would you do if the elevator got stuck?” Grant asked.

Milli widened her eyes. She knew the game. They’d pledged to always tell each other the truth. “I’d kiss you,” she said. And she did, the two grappling each other, tongues darting. He had a girlfriend visiting family in Texas. She had a boyfriend upstairs. They’d never been able to drink together without one of them kissing the other.

“When we’re eighty, we’ll get married,” Milli said as they bought a liter of Gordon’s from the man behind the cage.

“Why eighty?” Grant asked.

“That’ll be the first time we’re both free.”

“We’re free now,” he said, taking her hand as they walked along the cracked sidewalk.

She leaned into him. “But we won’t be in a minute.”

At the party, the Boyfriend repossessed Milli, wrapping his skinny arms around her thick hips, pressing his stubbly face against her neck. The Boyfriend was an artist, a painter with a growing reputation. Milli liked that. She hoped to be a painter too.

From the corners, Grant watched the lovebirds, the soft pecks they exchanged, the way Milli said to others: “he has a show in Nolita” as if he’d flown to the moon.

“Does he have good connections or something?” he asked Milli as they both poured another drink.

“It’s not that,” she said. “He’s sweet.”

Grant ran a finger up her leg. “How sweet?”

Her leg tingled. She pulled away. There was no path for them. Not that night. Not on any foreseeable night. “I think he may be the one,” she said. A small lie for the greater truth.

She returned to the gin many times, and each time Grant joined her. He touched her arm. Her thigh. He saw the Boyfriend watching, arms crossed.

“I don’t think he likes me,” Grant said to Milli’s flat mate.

“He’s worried you’ll do something to Milli.”

Grant’s face flushed. “Fuck him. He doesn’t know me.”

The Boyfriend stopped letting Milli make her drinks alone. He stood watch beside her. She spilled her drink. He cleaned it up. He took her to her bedroom and laid down beside her, his shoes still on.

“Now I’m worried about him,” Grant said to the Flat Mate.

“He’s harmless.”

“Is he?”

Grant stayed late, sitting in a high-backed chair in the corner, nodding as others said goodnight. At his angle, he could see the Boyfriend’s scuffed black shoes, motionless at the end of Milli’s bed. When Grant’s girlfriend called, he silenced the phone. When the Flat Mate turned off the lights, Grant said he was staying to sober up. He waited. Then, in the blue darkness, the shoes moved. The Boyfriend wandered into the living room, hair askew. Grant held his breath, remained unseen. The Boyfriend left.

A moment later, Grant stared down at Milli. She opened her eyes and said his name. He sat down beside her, took off her shoes. She said she’d been dreaming of a ship and an argument with her mother about the depth of the water. “You would’ve known the answer,” she said. “You know everything.” He smiled and helped her slip off her sweater, a man’s undershirt beneath. She moved limply, made no protest. He kissed her on the cheek. She sighed. He kissed her mouth. She made no sound.

“He’s not really the one, is he?” Grant asked as he slid his hands beneath her shirt, his fingers caressing her breasts, her nipples. His other hand undid the fly of her jeans, pulled back the elastic of her underwear. He stroked her. Kissed her. “We don’t have to wait,” he said, pushing his hands against her, licking her ear, her neck. “Right?” he asked. “Right?” But she wasn’t moving, her flesh gone tepid. “Come on,” he said. He waited. “Come on.” He pulled his hands away.

She breathed slow. Grant watched. He wanted to tell her she was wrong about him: he didn’t know everything. He knew nothing. Not why she’d fallen asleep as he kissed her. Not why she chose the artist. Not why he kept showing up every time she called.

He pulled her shirt back over her chest. He kicked off his shoes. He tried not to think. But he thought about her.

Alan Stewart Carl’s fiction has appeared or is forthcoming in Flashquake, Convergence, Stone’s Throw, Emprise Review, BULL and The Dead Mule School of Southern Literature. He is a fiction editor for The Splinter Generation and serves as the lead contributor at Donklephant.com, one of the nation’s largest independent political blogs. He’s currently earning an MFA in creative writing from Antioch University while raising two wild and beautiful children in San Antonio, Texas.

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