Chapter 18: This Is What You Do

Stretching herself across the bed, Penelope watches Gil saunter over to his closet. His jeans hang from his hips as he flips through the hangers, pushing his clothes to the far end of the rod.

She props herself up on her elbows. “Making space for me to hang my clothes? Ah, that’s sweet. What’s next? Do I get a drawer?”

His arm stops shifting through clothes. His shoulders stiffens. He pauses for a moment before responding. “Penelope.” His voice quiet, flat.

“Gil?” She grins as she reaches over the side of his bed to find her pants. Buttoning them up, she pulls on her shirt as she walks towards him. Her arms around his waist, she slides her fingers against his skin, feeling the contoured muscles. His breath pulls in with a rush of annoyance she’s grown to recognize.

“I was actually looking for this.” He pries her fingers loose as he grabs a shirt from the back of the closet. He steps away from her and walks into the hallway pulling his shirt over his head. In the kitchen, he pours a glass of orange juice and returns the container to the fridge.

“That’s okay. I’m not thirsty. Thanks for asking.” Penelope leans against the counter, her voice dripping with sarcasm. When he doesn’t say anything, she sighs, “What is it this time?”

“You’re getting a little too comfortable here.” Gil wanders into the living room where he flops into one of the armchairs. Penelope follows him into the room, standing near the window.

“What’s that supposed to mean?” She watches the downpour of rain outside the window.

“We’ve only been seeing each other for like a month and you’re already talking about moving your stuff in.”

“Hello, I was joking.” She rolls her eyes.

“Really?” He rubs his fingers over his forehead “You let yourself into the house without even checking to see if I was here. Or to see if I maybe had other plans tonight.”

“Do you? Have other plans?”

“No. But that’s not the point.” He crosses his arms over his chest. “And you were nosing through my stuff without asking.”

“I know you’re mad about that. But it’s not like you ever tell me anything about your past.” She jumps at a huge crash of thunder. “I just want to know a little more about you.”

“Maybe that’s because we’ve only been dating for a month.” He enunciates the words he’s repeating. “Maybe I’ll tell you the important stuff later. After we’ve had more time to see where this is going.”

“I thought you wanted to be with me. Isn’t that why you’re risking your job? Isn’t that why we’re lying to everyone? Part of being with me is telling me about yourself. I tell you stuff about me.”

“I thought you liked the idea of sneaking around. I thought it made everything more exciting for you.” Lightning flashes outside, highlighting the contours of Gil’s face as he stares at her, leaning forward with his elbows on his knees. Abruptly he pushes himself out of the chair, and stalks towards her.

“That’s right! Come on. Take it out on me.” She motions him forward with a curl of her fingers. “That’s what you do, isn’t it? Take out all your aggression and anger on me and then blame it on your fear of getting caught. Well we’re not going to get caught in your house, so come on!” By this point, she is screaming at him. “Show me what makes you a man, Gil.”

“You don’t know what you’re talking about.” He slams a fist into the wall beside her.

“I don’t! I don’t? Then what the hell do you call this?” She pulls up her sleeve to reveal a line of healing skin running down her upper arm. “This is from where you shoved me into that brick wall when we were at the Antique’s Mall and you saw another teacher. And this” She pulls down the waistband of her jeans down to show him a dark purple bruise spreading from the small of her back “is from where you shoved me into the corner of the counter the other day. In your kitchen. Because I left some dirty dishes on the counter.”

“I apologized for that!” Anger flashes across his eyes. “It’s not always like that. We have some great times together. I love spending time with you.” He reaches forward to brush a thumb along her jaw line. “We have something special.”

“Oh my god! I don’t understand you!” Penelope twists out from between him and the wall. “You think that will always just make it better? You just stroke my ego and I forget everything?”

“What don’t you understand, Penelope? You want to be here. You keep coming back. You’ve never had a grown up relationship. It’s not all sunshine and roses all the time.”

“One minute you want to be with me. You want me to be here. You’re so happy. And then suddenly you’re angry and you hit me or push me or yell at me.” She crosses her arms over her chest, her anger deflating as she stares into those eyes. At those lips that are always gentle. “Oh! And don’t forget when you accepted a full time position at the school without even telling me! You announce it to me like I’m any other student. Like you didn’t take my virginity.”

“I only found out that it was happening for sure that morning. And the school asked me to announce it.”

“You could have texted me or called me, or something! Or told me when they offered it to you.”

“I knew you would react like this. You would have tried to track me down to talk about it.” Gil stalks back into the kitchen. “So I thought it would be best if I told you with everyone else.”

“What? You think you know me that well? Like you keep saying, we’ve only been dating for a month! Maybe I’m not this crazy nutjob you seem to think I am.” Penelope calls as she follows him.

“Are you saying you wouldn’t have wanted to talk about it?”

“Well no, I probably would have.”

“And how would you have done that in a school full of students and teachers without making them suspicious?”

“I don’t know! You didn’t give me a chance to figure that out.”

“I couldn’t take that chance.” Gil grabs an apple from the bowl on the counter. His teeth break through the skin with a loud crunch.

“What chance? Did you think I was going to freak out in the middle of the hallway?”

“P, when things don’t go your way, you tend to over-react.” His voice getting calmer as her anger grows. He casually slumps against the counter, chewing his apple.

“Me? I’m the one who overreacts!” Penelope’s face is hot with anger.

“That you’re a bit of a fanatic. Sometimes it’s cute, but a lot of times, it’s just annoying and immature.”

“Wow!” Penelope stomps across the room until she’s only inches from his face. “If I’m so immature, why are you with me?”

“Your guess is as good as mine…” His voice cold and even.

“I can’t…” She throws up her hands in frustration “I cannot believe this.” She feels tears prickling behind her eyes. “Are you…?”

“Breaking up with you?” He takes her arm, his fingers tightening slowly. “I don’t know, Penelope. Maybe we need to reconsider if we should still be doing this.”

“Did you take the job just to have an easy way to break up with me?” She tries to pull away from the pain but he grips her fingers tighter.

“Since you’re still a teenager, I’ll forgive you for thinking that my life revolves around how it will affect you. But no, I took this job because it’s a fantastic opportunity. And I took the job a month ago, Penelope. Why are we arguing about this now? If I’d wanted to use it as a way to break up with you, I would have done it then. This is what I want to do with my life. I am certainly not going to throw that away for a piece of ass.” He releases her arm and brushes back a strand of hair.

“Don’t touch me! I hate you! You dirty old man.” Penelope screams, snapping. “And just cause you’re the adult here, doesn’t mean you get to make this decision. I have more power here than you do. You don’t get to decide when we break up. I do.”  She slaps her chest. “Me. This piece of ass who can report you and destroy your fantastic opportunity in a second.” She turns and rushes down the hall. Jamming her feet into her shoes, she grabs one of the plants lining a small shelf and throws it at the hallway wall. Dirt showers the flooring as she pushes through the backdoor. She doesn’t feel the rain crashing against her skin as she rushes across the yard. Lightning flashes, lighting up her surroundings for brief periods. Glancing over her shoulder, she sees Gil standing in the doorway, making no move to come towards her. After a few seconds, he closes the door gently.

The sight of the door settling into its jam feels like a hot poker slamming through her chest. She rushes around the side of the house, blindly running towards her car. When she reaches it, she stops and leans against the door. Tears shake her body. She forces herself to gain some control. To at least get in the car before she breaks down.

“Fuck!” She screams into the storm as she realizes she’s left her purse on the floor of Gil’s bedroom. Her keys, her coat, everything is still in there. She turns back to his house. She only has to take one step before the image of Gil closing the door jars her to a stop. “What the hell am I going to do now?” She mumbles to herself. Panic pumping through her veins. Her wallet is in the house, so she can’t take a cab. “Rowena. I’ll call Rowena.” She reaches in her pocket for her phone but her fingers find nothing but fabric.

Frantically, she tries all the pockets in her jeans, pushing her fingers in as far as possible, hoping the phone is hiding. “God damn it.” She jumps up and down in frustration as she remembers placing the cell phone on the desk in the office. Composing herself, she runs her fingers through her sopping wet hair and takes a deep breath. The rain falls in sheets, her clothes and body so drenched that the continued downpour no longer has any effect. The warm light of Gil’s living room glows from behind the curtains. A small gap is visible. She wonders if Gil is watching her. Her anger returns, warming her against the frigid cold of the wind.

Spinning on her heels, she turns away from his house. Pushing herself forward. Running towards the trails. She’ll run home. That’s what she’ll do. The dim light of the street vanishes behind a curtain of rain as she enters the tree line. The branches overhead block most of the rain. She runs by instinct, feeling the path beneath her feet. The dark envelops her in an uncomfortable blanket. Her sobbing has stopped, but tears still run down her face. At a break in the trees, the rain once again pounds against her skin. She pauses to gather her bearings as lightning fills the sky. Turning to the right, she starts to push herself forward when a set of fingers wrap around her bicep. Thunder drowns out her yelp of surprise.

Chapter 19

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