As soon as Lou left, I washed my face and went on my way. I went to see Claire. I rang her bell long and hard, its chime echoing through the empty rooms of her house.
“Where’s the bloody fire?” she asked as she opened the door. “Oh, Lee, it’s you.”
“Can I come in?” She stepped aside and I slipped past her, inhaling her DKNY scent.
“I assume Lou didn’t take my advice.”
“You know why I’m here, right?” She stood there, one hand touching her neck, the other resting on her hip, her chin tilted up in typical Claire-pose.
“Revenge,” she said. I nodded and moved closer. Before I kissed her I looked her in the eyes and I understood why Lou had fallen for her. I had done the same over and over again. It didn’t make it hurt any less. Claire backed away from me a little bit.
“Are you sure about this?” she asked. “You’re about to burn all your bridges here.”
“She’s the one who set them on fire.” She pulled away a little more.
“Let’s talk for a minute first, OK?” She took me by the hand and sat me down in her couch. “I know how you think, Lee. And you haven’t thought this through.”
“Are you saying no?” This option had not occurred to me. I had expected Claire to throw herself at me with an unflinching abandon born from years of stacked-up guilt and months of just plain old waiting.
“No, I’m not.” Thank God, I thought. Because how would I cope with two rejections in one hour? “By the way, you do know I had absolutely no idea Lou, erm, had those feelings? I need that to be clear.”
“Yeah.” The pain, the pure anguish at the mention of Lou’s name spread through me again, destroying any resolve I had left. I knew the moment had passed, that small window of opportunity in which my anger surpassed my grief. Then I started crying. Claire moved a little closer and put her arm around me. I let my head fall on her shoulder.
“I’m so sorry, baby. I know how much you love her.”
“Can I stay here tonight?” I was too wrapped up in my misery to notice the irony of the situation – that Claire ended up being the one consoling me. The last strength I had left flowed out of my body as she stroked my hair and forehead, careful not to put too much meaning in the action.
“Of course you can.” I sat there crying in Claire’s arms for a bit, it could have been minutes, it could have been hours. Outside the night grew darker and the frantic hum of traffic faded into a gentle fizz. Then the doorbell rang again.
“Stay here,” Claire said. “Whoever it is, I’ll get rid of them.” I watched her as she made her way to the hallway, her posture always taut, on the verge of rigid. She spoke in a muffled voice. I made out hushed short sentences, their volume amplifying as Claire seemed to get more agitated. I stood up and snuck my head around the corner. Lou filled the doorframe, backlit by the streetlights, like angels in dreams.
“Well,” I said, “it looks like I got here first.” Claire stood between us and the situation couldn’t have been more striking. Lou pinned her watery green eyes on me and I wondered which one of us had lost the most. If she’d fallen for anyone else, maybe, somehow, we could have found a way through. But she’d only gone and had herself a crush on Claire Burns and destroyed our affair forever. I never wanted to see her again.
To be continued…