The Grace That Comes By Violence

The Grace That Comes By Violence

Joanna Acevedo

The Grace That Comes By Violence

Lorrie called it “The Lost Weekend.” Roger called it “The Last Weekend.” Annabel was pregnant, so she wasn’t drinking. Designated driver, everyone said. Lou didn’t say anything at all.

They met on a Friday at a bar none of them had been to before. It was a dive. Roger was getting married a week from Tuesday. He had a reckless, harried look about him, as if he wasn’t sure if he was signing his life away or making the best decision of his life. Roger had always been like that—impulsive, sharky. It was these qualities that drew the others towards him, made them gather around him like a moth to a flame. He wasn’t the leader of the group; no, that was Lou, but he was the glue that kept them all together, or at least he had been, when they had all been friends. They weren’t friends anymore. Now they were strangers, fifteen years out of college, unsure how to behave around each other.

“How far along are you?” Lorrie asked Annabel.

“Five months.”

“A boy or a girl?”

“We’re waiting to see.” Annabel instinctively put a hand on her stomach, as if protecting the baby that she hadn’t met yet.

Conversation was stilted. Lou tapped his class ring on the table several times. They had all agreed to meet, one last hurrah before their old classmate got married and settled down, a sort of symbolic goodbye to their youth, even though most of them had been adults in their own right for years now. It was only Lou, Lou who still went to punk shows and did cocaine on the weekends who existed in a sort of extended childhood, Lou who they depended on to make this trip into any kind of adventure. Because it was adventure that they all wanted, adventure they craved, any kind of shake up from the mundane middle-thirties lives that they were all leading now.

Lorrie now lived in New Jersey, with her girlfriend. She commuted into the city to work in advertising. She had not been gay in college, and this new development surprised everyone. No one knew how to act around her, although it was a small change, it put everyone ill at ease. Advertising, too, was a shock. In college, she had been the wildest of all of them, a performance artist, prone to lighting fires and staging protests against the fascist art department, who she claimed was stifling her creativity. Now she sat at the table drinking white wine, wearing a blazer and jeans, demure with a new short haircut that confused everyone.

Roger had come uptown from the financial district, where he did something with high-frequency trading that the others pretended to understand. They had always known he was going to make a lot of money; he was a whiz with numbers even when they had been in school together. He showed them pictures of his fiancée, who was tiny and blonde and smiley. Roger and Annabel had dated in college, but they had broken up when she had moved to Michigan for graduate school, and they were awkward with each other now, unsure and careful. They had exchanged a few emails over the years, and Christmas cards, but nothing concrete.

If he was honest with himself, and he never was, she looked good, even pregnant. She had that glow about her. He couldn’t help but imagine what would have happened if he hadn’t moved away. Would it be his baby instead of her new husband’s? He pushed these thoughts away with a sip of his Miller High Life. It was no use thinking about the past. He had to focus on the present, on the Annabel who was sitting in front of him.

Annabel had pursued a PhD in English Literature and now taught at a small community college in the Bronx. She was married. She rarely spoke of her husband, except that he was also a writer, and they were very happy. She seemed happy, too, at ease in her own skin and at ease with the pregnancy, wise in that way that pregnant women often are. She could feel Roger’s eyes on her, but she avoided his gaze. She too had thought, what-if, but she also knew that these thoughts were useless. Things had gone the way they had gone. There was no changing the past.

Lou was the most uncomfortable of the bunch. He worked as a music producer these days, made good money, and had a lot of fun spending it. He had no use for people who didn’t share his freewheeling attitude. Already, he could tell this weekend was going poorly. His old friends were stiff. They weren’t the people he remembered; Roger who used to hitch his skateboard to the back of passing trucks and ride them around the city; Annabel who could drink grown men under the table; Lorrie who had slept with half the dorm. Who were these sedated, normal people? What had happened?

“Alright,” Lou said, hoping to break the tension. “Let’s do shots.”

The rapid consumption of alcohol did little to diffuse the awkwardness that had settled over them like soot. They clustered around the pool table, nursing drinks, while Lou kicked their asses, methodically and with relish. “Do you remember that pool bar we used to go to?” Roger said. “Right by campus?”

“Do you think it’s still there?” Lorrie asked. She flipped some of her bangs out of her face.

“It’s not,” Lou said. “They turned it into a McDonald’s.”

“Oh, that’s a shame.”

“Well, it has been fifteen years.”

They all let that fact sink in for a moment. Lou was lining up his shot, and he took it in the interim, balls cracking. He looked the youngest of the four of them, his face unlined and sweet-looking, framed by shoulder-length dark hair.

“Fifteen years, and I can still beat you at pool,” Lou said.

“You always were the pool shark,” Roger said.

“And the card shark, and the best at all the drinking games,” Annabel offered. She felt uncomfortable, not drinking, but she was doing her best to keep up with the conversation. “Face it. Lou is better than us at everything.”

“I suppose you’re right,” Roger said. “We should just give up now and go home.”

Lou flinched. “We have the whole weekend,” he said, surprising himself at how much he wanted his old friends to stay. “Stay for another drink.”

“Relax,” Roger said. “I’m not going anywhere.”

Annabel said she had to pee. Walked away.

Lorrie ordered another drink at the bar, a High Life. She was drunk, wobbling in her sensible two-inch heels, and she couldn’t remember why she had thought this trip was a good idea. They had all taken hotel rooms at a hotel downtown, adjoining rooms, the girls in one room and the boys in another. Lorrie wondered if they would even make it back to their rooms tonight. She wanted nothing more than to go home to her partner, snuggle in bed, and watch America’s Next Top Model.

“Why do you look so sad?” Lou asked Lorrie, breaking her out of her reverie.

“I’m just tired. Long day at work.”

“We’ve all had long days,” Roger said. He went to take his shot, missed, and said a curse. “Lou, do you have any drugs on you, by any chance?”

“Roger, you’re thirty-six. You do not need any fucking drugs.” Lorrie admonished him.

Lou smiled a sly smile. He patted his shirt pocket. “Roger, my man.”

A few minutes later, the three of them were crushed into the cramped bar bathroom while Lou scooped out bumps of cocaine with a set of keys. Lorrie hated herself for being roped into this. The coke made her feet sharper, but it also made her feel as if her teeth were going to break.

They reappeared from the bathroom to a furious Annabel. “I thought you all had left me,” she said. “I swear, I step away for five minutes, and you disappear on me.”

“We just went, uh, to take care of a few things. Nothing you need to worry about.”

“Just because I’m pregnant doesn’t mean I’m stupid,” she said. “I know what you were all doing in there. I used to do it too, you know.”

“Alright, alright, super detective over here.” Lou patted her on the back. He had a glassy smile on his face. “Come on now. Don’t be mad.”

“I’m not mad,” she said, but she was. She sat at the table and said nothing for ten or fifteen minutes, while they resumed their game of pool and tried to act more sober than they were.

Roger was the first to say it. “This scene is played out,” he said. “We need to move on.”

“I know a nice place a few blocks from here,” Lou said. “Live music. Who wants to do a little dancing?”

Annabel perked up. “What kind of dancing?”

“The best kind.”

“Ew,” Lorrie said.

“Okay, not that kind.” Lou gathered up his leather jacket. “Come on. Let’s go.”

They broke out into the autumn night like an egg breaking open. Lou led the charge, his nose red and running. They walked briskly, Annabel trailing behind. People surged around them, the Lower East Side on a Friday night, snatches of conversation burbling past. The sky was dark and huge. Finally they got to an unmarked red door, which Lou opened with a flourish. A large man stood in the doorway and nodded as Lou ushered them through.

“What is this place?” Annabel asked.

“Don’t you worry your pretty little head about that,” Lou said.

Inside, the walls were clutching and close. There were people everywhere, people spilling out of rooms in every direction, people at the bar, people by the stage. The music was deafening. Annabel held onto her purse. It was so loud that it was pure noise, guitar sounds and bass unintelligible, drum beats humming in all of their sternums, people slamming into them from all angles. Roger yelled something in Annabel’s ear, but she couldn’t hear him over the sounds coming from the band. He grabbed her hand, and suddenly they were dancing, or something approximate to dancing, and Lorrie was throwing her hands up into the air, and Lou was grinning a skullcap grin, and they were all lost in the madness and there was nothing to do but let go.

They pulsed with the music for a bit, letting themselves be wrapped up in it, falling apart and letting themselves be put back together again, their minds beautifully blank with sound. Lorrie was kicked in the ankle bone, but she didn’t care, it had been so long since she had danced like this, so free and absolute, so pure, so at peace with herself. Roger was edgy from the coke but he didn’t mind, it felt right to be moving his body and holding Annabel’s hand, he felt like a kid again. Annabel knew she shouldn’t be here, but she held tight to Roger’s fingers and tried to make space for herself in the crowd, her mind spinning, losing herself in the music. She shouted at Roger. “Are you having a good time yet?”

“Yes!” he shouted back at her. “Are you?”

“I think so!”

“Good!”

They had lost Lou, lost him to the madness, and then suddenly he reappeared again, sporting three beers—one for him, one for each of them, except Annabel—and told them to follow him. They crushed their way through the crowd and followed him into a small room off the main stage where they could still hear the music, but now, they could also hear themselves think. “So,” he said. “What do you think of this place?”

“It’s amazing,” Lorrie said. “How did you find it?”

“One of the kids I manage plays here sometimes.”

It was just one example of the ways Lou was still plugged in, and they were not. Annabel sat down in one of the red plush chairs in the small room, her feet aching. The rest of them followed suit. “What’s this band called?”

“I have no idea,” Lou said. “But they’re pretty great, aren’t they?”

Annabel nodded. Lou had always been this way—inscrutable, cool, on a separate level than the rest of them. They had always depended on him for their kicks. It amazed her that fifteen years later, almost nothing had changed. They were along for the ride, no matter what strides any of them had made in their lives since college.

“Do you remember that show we went to, at the Mercury Lounge, where Lou got into that fight with the bouncer?” Lorrie said.

“Oh yeah,” Roger said. “He wouldn’t accept your fake ID, and you punched him in the face.”

“It was not a fake ID,” Lou said. “It was my real ID, I had just gotten a haircut. I tried telling him it was really me, and he didn’t believe me.” Lou rummaged around in his pocket and pulled out an ID card. “Look. It really doesn’t look like me.”

They clustered around him to look. Annabel got so close she could smell Lou—cigarettes, leather—and was surprised that after all these years, he still smelled the same. She remembered the last time they had been so close. The last night before graduation. Blushing, she pushed the memory away, and moved away from Lou. It was no use to dredge up the past, not with Roger, and not with Lou. It would only lead to hurt feelings and bad memories. She didn’t want to hurt Roger most of all—and he had the most to lose from all of this.

She still felt guilty, all these years later. She put a hand on her stomach. She had a new life now, she reminded herself. Her husband didn’t even know about what had happened. She had never told anyone—not Lorrie, not her best friends back home. She had never breathed a word of it. Now the secret burned in her mouth like a star. She would never tell, she promised herself. Not when the truth could hurt so many people.

“Do you remember,” Roger was saying, “when we all stole those shopping carts and rode them down Fourteenth Street?” Annabel laughed a little too loudly. Lorrie took a sip of her drink, gesturing wildly with her hands.

“And we all crashed into that police car, and they were going to arrest us, but Lou talked them out of it?”

“I thought you were going to die in that thing,” Annabel said. “I still have a scar on my elbow from falling out of it.” She rolled up her sleeve to show the group. There was a crescent moon shaped scar on her elbow, shiny and white.

“Whose idea was that?” Roger said.

“Lou’s, of course.”

“Lou is always the one with the ideas.”

They all looked at Lou. What next? They seemed to be asking him.

“Well,” he said. “What are you guys in the mood for?”

Annabel was afraid, as she followed Lou down into the abyss of the subway, Lorrie behind her, Roger bringing up the rear. She didn’t know where he was leading them, and she wasn’t sure she wanted to know. They took the L train into Williamsburg, silent the whole time, except for Roger’s ruminations on college memories that none of them could place or remember. “Do you remember when—“ he would start off, and one of them would say, “No, I don’t,” and he would be quiet for a while, and then start on again. Annabel wished he would shut up.

They had met in an Earth Science seminar. She had thought he was cute, sitting in the front row with his notebook and his pen and his textbook all in a line in front of him, and she had gathered the courage to ask him out over a series of weeks. They had gone to a party together. She had kissed him in front of the punch bowl. They had casually and then seriously dated all through college, the kind of power couple that other people despised for how happy they were.

She remembered, dimly, how happy she had been in those days. How naive. She had imagined a whole life in front of her, a life with Roger. Babies and white picket fences and the whole thing. Now she had that, a house in Upstate New York and a job at a community college in the Bronx that she commuted to a few times a week and a husband who loved her and a dog named Goldie and a baby on the way. And talk of more babies. A house full of babies, her husband liked to say, as he rubbed her stomach in the evenings.

“I’m not a dog,” she told him. “I’m not going to have a litter.” But it was a nice thought.

Roger was a thing of the past. But she had to admit he looked good, with his new haircut which had to be expensive and his shirt sleeves rolled up around his tan forearms. She wondered how she looked to him, five months pregnant with someone else’s child, with swollen ankles and puffiness around her face.

He never talked about his fiancée, she noticed. He never mentioned her. He was inscrutable to her now, a mysterious presence. She still remembered when she had been able to predict his every thought before he had it, when she had known all of his facial expressions and been able to catalogue them. This new Roger, this new person, however good he looked, was a stranger to her. She remembered waking up next to him in the tiny dorm twin beds, rolling over and seeing his face next to hers, countless times. It was his same face, but now that face was connected to a person she didn’t know at all.

“This is our stop,” Lou said. Annabel stood. It wasn’t productive to have thoughts like this, she told herself. Just focus on the present.

They got off the train and immediately Annabel was even more worried. They were in a desolate part of East Williamsburg, full of pickle warehouses and abandoned buildings. The smell of cooked pasta floated through the air. Graffiti covered every available surface. She walked quickly behind Lou, who seemed to know exactly where he was going. He took them down some side streets, where there was no one on the sidewalk, and down an alleyway.

“Where are we going?” Lorrie asked. She seemed even more apprehensive than Annabel felt, tapping her sensible heels on the ground in nervousness. Annabel remembered that Lorrie had once been the one of them that was down for anything, who would go to any party, no matter what time of night it was. She would jump on any harebrained scheme no matter how far-fetched it was. This new Lorrie wore blazers and had a three hundred dollar haircut. She couldn’t imagine this new Lorrie doing lines of molly off of a toilet seat in their dormitory and then traveling to Astoria to go to an underground rave in a parking lot behind a Wendy’s drive-thru.

“Don’t worry about it,” Lou said. He finally stopped at the side of an abandoned-looking building and knocked twice on the door.

There were sounds of music from inside, loud music. Another underground rave? Annabel thought to herself. She wasn’t prepared for that. The club had been enough for her, now she just wanted to go back to her hotel room and lie down. The door swung open, and an enormous, tattooed man answered. “Louis.”

“Mac.”

“I thought Andy said you weren’t welcome here anymore.”

“We, uh, we had a little chat.” Lou rocked from heel to heel. “We’re good now, I promise.”

“You sure about this? Who’re your friends?”

“They’re cool.” Lou nodded his head in Roger and Lorrie’s direction. About Annabel, he said nothing. Annabel wondered how she must look—a pregnant woman, trying to gain entrance into whatever illicit activity this was. She smiled up at Mac, trying to gain favor. He glowered down at her, dubious.

“Behave yourself,” he said, and it seemed as if he was speaking only to Annabel.

They walked through the doorway, down a long hallway, and into a huge open room. There were a cluster of men inside, in a loose circle. In the middle of the circle, two men were fighting, bare chests and bare fists. The men were slick with blood and sweat. The men around them cheered and shouted, egging them on. Annabel’s mouth fell open. “Lou,” she said. “What did you bring us into?”

“This,” Lou said. “This is a good time.”

Roger had never seen two men fight like this before. He had never seen a fight before. He had grown up in suburban New Jersey, and he had never gotten into a bar fight, never slapped anyone. His whole life had been nonviolent. He didn’t even believe in violence. He had dabbled in vegetarianism in college. He gave money to PETA.

But something about it, something about watching them go at it, triggered some mechanism within him. It lit a fire in his belly. He found himself cheering along with the crowd as one of the men, a slight, towheaded man with eyes like chips of ice, threw a punch like a sledgehammer into the stomach of the other man. The man dropped like a ton of bricks. But he was already up again, and sprinting towards his opponent, and suburban Roger was yelling along with the crowd as they collided again, blood flying through the air. Lou was beside him, his best friend, united by violence. He threw an arm around Lou’s shoulders, and Lou left it there. Previously, they had been so uncomfortable with each other that such a gesture would not be tolerated. But now the boundaries had melted and they were as they had always been, two brothers in arms, united by the fight.

Lorrie gasped. The fighters were bloody, they were panting, and yet they excited something in her too, something primal. She wanted to see how it would end. It was only Annabel who was truly horrified, who couldn’t look, but also couldn’t look away, as the two men beat each other up in the center of the circle. Lou presented them with a bottle of whiskey that no one remembered him buying, and the three of them—minus Annabel—took turns swigging from it. They did bumps of cocaine out in the open. There was no one to stop them. There were worse things going on in this crowd around them.

The crowd surged and moved along with the fight, which melted and changed as the men moved around. Annabel couldn’t stop watching. She had never seen such a thing. The blonde fighter was skillful and sharp, sending cutting shots into the darker fighter’s ribs and torso. But the darker fighter had an endurance about him; he took the shots like a truck, barely hesitating before he fired back at his opponent. They sprung apart, circling each other, and then snapped together again for a flurry of activity, then were flung apart again. The men cheered when one of them went down, and cheered even louder when someone got up again.

“They’re waiting for a knockout,” Lou said, looking at Annabel. “They’re waiting for one of them to go down for good.”

“Are there rounds, like boxing?” Annabel wracked her brain for fighting knowledge and came up mostly empty.

“No, it’s not like that. Hang on.” Lou disappeared into the crowd and reappeared a few minutes later, holding a piece of paper. “I just put some money down on the blonde fighter. He’s a monster. I’ve seen him fight before. The other guy is just some guy they found because no one wants to fight the blonde guy.”

“You’re gambling?”

“Relax. It’s just a harmless bet.”

“Are you sure?”

“I do it all the time,” he said. “I’ve even made some money.”

She turned her eyes away from Lou and looked at the men fighting in the middle of the circle. The blonde fighter was pummeling the smaller man. She didn’t enjoy displays of violence. Roger was enraptured, she noticed. Lou couldn’t stop cheering. Why were men so interested in fighting? She thought their energy could be spent elsewhere.

“Uh, Lou, where’s the bathroom?” Annabel asked. She had been holding in this question for too long, and now it had become imminent.

“Here, I’ll show you.”

He walked her around the perimeter of the warehouse, ignoring the shouting of the men and the various drunken stumblers who tried to intercept them. “I’m happy for you,” he said gruffly, not looking at her, in a way that made her think that he wasn’t happy for her at all.

“Thank you. I’m excited.” She smiled at him, and he didn’t return the expression.

“I know this is what you always wanted.”

Annabel’s face flickered, confused. She had never thought that this was what she had wanted, until it had already happened. “Are you serious?” she said. “I never said that.”

“I know,” he said. “But you know. You were always the one who took care of all of us.”

“I don’t know about that.”

“I’m just saying. You’ll be a good mother.”

“You would have been a good father, too.”

Lou laughed, a short barking sound. “Right.”

“I always thought so.”

“Don’t flatter me,” he said. “You’re no good at it.”

Annabel felt her throat lock up. There were so many things she could have said, and she didn’t know how to say any of them.

They reached the bathroom door. He ushered her into it. She wished there was something she could say to make this better, but there was nothing. She looked at his face—the same as it always had been, Lou’s lovely open face, and found no answers. “Go on,” he said.

So she did.

The two men were still going at it when she got back. She wiped her wet hands on the sides of her pants, and searched Lou’s face for signs of something—anything. She found nothing. He was fixated on the fight, on making his money. Roger was elated next to him, cheering and taking swigs from the whiskey bottle, and Annabel felt sick to her stomach. She looked to Lorrie for some signal, some companionship, but Lorrie was still and silent as a stone, her face unreadable.

“He’s going to win the bet,” she said to Lorrie.

“I know,” Lorrie said. “Then we’ll have some money to spend this weekend.”

The two men were circling each other, panting, the darker fighter bleeding profusely from a cut on his forehead. He was clearly faltering, his knees bent into a catlike position, ducking punches that seemed to come faster and faster.

Then, suddenly, as if inspired by some grace of God, he threw a wild punch at the blonde fighter. It was a knock-out punch. The blonde fighter spun, fell, and crashed to the ground.

The crowd erupted into cheers, most of them negative. The blonde fighter’s corner man ventured into the center of the circle to pick him up. He was bleeding from his mouth and nose, and there were bruises all over his bare chest and torso.

Lou’s face turned white in a way that Annabel had never seen before. “We need to go,” he said. “We need to go, now.”

“Why?” Roger said. “The fun is just starting.”

“I’ll explain later,” Lou said. “Just follow me.”

They slipped out of an exit in the back of the building. Lou led them down a side street, stopping to light a cigarette, and they walked quickly down Bushwick Avenue, Lou looking over his shoulder the whole time. They crossed onto a side street and kept walking, faster than was comfortable for Annabel, until they got to a bar that she didn’t recognize. Lou ushered them inside, ordered four drinks, seeming to forget that Annabel wasn’t drinking. He sat them all down at a four-top table in the back and said some words to the bartender that Annabel didn’t hear.

Lorrie looked confused. Roger looked disappointed. Lou looked positively terrified.

He drank off half of his beer in one gulp, then slammed the glass onto the table. He didn’t say anything. Lorrie was the one who spoke up, finally. “Lou,” she said. “What the hell just happened?”

Annabel was reminded of a time when they had been in college, and Lou had started a fire in his dorm room, trying to burn photographs of an ex-girlfriend none of them had liked. The RA had smelled smoke and came knocking on the door, but the fire was already out of control and the fire department had to be called to put out the blaze. Lou was almost kicked out of the dorm and was only allowed to stay because he claimed he had no knowledge of how the fire started.

He had had the same guilty look on his face then, the same shame, the same fear, as he had talked to that RA. The same acknowledgment that he had somehow, irreparably fucked-up.

What had he done? She wondered. That fight club was obviously illegal, and he had obviously lost his bet. But it seemed to be more than that, it seemed to be dangerous. She had never seen him scared like this. His face and knuckles were white. His hands were shaking. His eyes flitted back and forth like a skittish dog’s. He kept looking at the door of the bar, as if he was afraid that someone was going to come in and bust him. But who?

“I’ve made some bad bets lately,” Lou said finally. “A lot of bad bets, actually. With money that isn’t mine.”

“What do you mean, with money that isn’t yours?”

“I’ve been borrowing money,” he explained carefully. “From a man. You don’t need to know his name. In fact, it’s better if you don’t know his name at all. I’ve been making these bets and I’ve lost a lot of money.”

“What does that have to do with us?” Lorrie asked. She had always had the determination to find the truth of a bull terrier, Annabel remembered suddenly. You could never lie to Lorrie. You could never tell her, no, I feel sick, I’m not coming out tonight. She would show up at your dorm room with a bottle of Jose Cuervo and a bowl of chicken soup, and that would be that.

“It doesn’t have anything to do with you, except that you’re with me,” Lou said. “So you’re a part of it, now, too. These men are going to come looking for me eventually, and as long as you’re with me, they’ll come looking for you, too.”

“So why are we still with you?”

“We can’t just abandon him if he’s going to get killed,” Roger said. “Besides. It’s the Last Weekend.”

“I’m not going to get killed,” Lou said. “Just beaten up a little bit, most likely. I think. I wasn’t even supposed to be at that fight. I’ve been kicked out of that ring for betting before, I already owe the owners money.”

“Why did you bring us there, then?”

“You said you wanted a good time.”

“You risked your life to show us a good time?” Lorrie asked.

“What can I say?” Lou said. “I’m a great friend.”

“I think we should split up,” Lorrie said. “Lou, you should go somewhere. Somewhere they can’t find you.”

“They know where I live. They know where I hang out. I only brought you all to this bar because it’s the last place they’d look for me. My ex-girlfriend is the bartender.” He gestured with his hand. The bartender waved at them. “So they’ll assume I’d never set foot in here.”

“We can’t split up now,” Roger said. “It’s only Friday night. This is supposed to be my bachelor’s weekend, isn’t it? We can’t let a little violence spoil the party.”

Annabel looked at Roger in shock. She didn’t recognize him, this man who had been so gentle when she had known him. He had never even been in a fight. Who was Roger now? This hard-partying, gun-slinging person. Was getting married changing him this much? She was afraid to find out.

“That’s very sweet of you,” Lou was saying. “But this is my mess. I need to clean it up on my own. I can borrow some money from a guy in Chinatown. Pay off my debt. It’ll just get me deeper in the hole, but it’ll keep the monkey off my back for now.”

“So we’ll go with you,” Roger said. “Come on. We’re all best friends, right? This is what we do. We help each other.”

“I guess Roger’s right,” Lorrie said. “Besides. How hard can it be? To go see a man and borrow some money?”

“It’s too late at night to go now. We can go in the morning.” Lou drained his drink. “We should all go back to the hotel now. They won’t find us there.”

“Call a car.” Lorrie put her hand over Lou’s. “It’s going to be okay. I promise.”

That was just like Lorrie. To make a promise with no understanding of whether or not it could be kept. But it made Lou feel just a tiny bit better that he had gotten his friends into this mess, and he smiled at his old friend. It would be okay, he thought to himself. He just had to get the money, and pay his debt, and they wouldn’t break his kneecaps.

It was so simple. So simple, it couldn’t possibly go wrong.

The ride to the hotel was an hour, but it was almost completely silent. They had checked into the hotel earlier in the evening, two rooms, adjoining. The girls in one room and the boys in the other. They said goodnight and went their separate ways. Annabel was exhausted, but she didn’t know if she would be able to sleep. She lay in bed for a while, with the lights off, listening to Lorrie’s steady breathing, before she got out of bed and walked quietly to the hotel’s roof deck, which strangely wasn’t closed off yet. She stood out on the deck and looked out at the city, which looked like someone had taken a jar of fireflies and shaken it up. It was beautiful up there at night, with the sounds of traffic rushing below her. She lived Upstate now and taught in the Bronx, so rarely did she get to see Manhattan in all its glory, and she smiled to see its beauty was still intact.

“Couldn’t sleep?” a familiar voice sounded out behind her. It was Roger. He was the last person she would have expected to see out here, and also the last person she wanted to see. She was still shaken up by his reaction to the fight—so different from the person she had known in college. She kept looking for signs of the old Roger, but he had been eclipsed by this new person, this high-powered finance official who liked to watch men beat each other up and was getting married in a week and didn’t love her anymore. Did he? She couldn’t tell. She supposed a part of her would always love him, and she had come to terms with that fact a long time ago. When she had left for graduate school, she had let him go, but she realized now that a part of her had been holding on to the what-if of their relationship for all this time. Now she was seeing that it was gone.

“No. You?”

“I can never sleep in hotels. They’re too sterile.” Roger lit a cigarette—another new habit he seemed to have picked up—and came to stand next to her. “Wow. The city is beautiful at night.”

It was such a simple statement; of course, the city was beautiful at night, but it struck Annabel. Roger was still capable of recognizing beauty. Her Roger, he was still in there somewhere. “Yes,” she said. “It is.”

“You should be sleeping,” he said. “You’re growing a person. You need to get your rest.”

It was his first direct reference to her pregnancy, which somehow she had forgotten about. In just a few moments, she had reverted back to her college self, and she was simply a girl standing on a rooftop with a boy she liked. But then the spell was over, and she was married and pregnant again, and she had to act like it. “One night of bad sleep won’t kill me,” she said. “I’ll make it up somehow.”

“What does it feel like?” he said. “Being pregnant, I mean?”

“I don’t know,” she said. “It’s hard to describe.” She didn’t know how to describe it to Roger, of all people. She didn’t know how to talk to him. “It’s a good feeling, though. Once you get over all the morning sickness and the feeling heavy and the nerves.”

“It looks good on you. You look at peace.”

“Thank you.”

They stood in silence for a while, Roger smoking. He stood upwind from her, so he wasn’t blowing smoke directly at her.

“I can’t believe I’m getting married,” he said. “You know, I always thought I’d only ever get married to you. For years, you know. After.”

“I know,” she said, surprising herself with the quickness of her answer. “I thought that too. For a long time.”

“But you met someone. And I met someone.”

“We did.”

“It’s just such an odd thing, you know?”

“I know.”

“People change, I guess.”

She wanted to say so many things, but she didn’t know how to say any of them. I didn’t change, she wanted to say. I’ve always loved you. I always will. But none of those things were appropriate, none of them would have changed anything, the chips had fallen and they were separated forever by time and distance and the forces of other people. There was no way to change the past. If she had never seen Roger again she could have lived her life and been perfectly happy, but now that she had seen him she realized all the things she had given up, all the things she had lost, and her Roger was gone, replaced by this person who said such awful things, and at the same time he looked like and moved like her Roger, and before she knew what she was doing she was closing the distance between them.

“I didn’t change,” she whispered into his mouth. And then they were kissing, kissing like they always had, and it felt familiar and alien at the same time. He was working his hand into the waistband of her pants and she was looking for blind spots on the video cameras.

When Annabel had left for graduate school, she and Roger had talked about staying together. They had talked about long distance. “It’s only five years,” she had said. But that “only” had hung in the air between them like a curse. It was too long of a time to be separated, to live lives that weren’t in direct conjunction with each other. “We’ll visit, we’ll talk, we’ll call,” he had said. But they hadn’t done any of those things. They had let each other drift. Now, it seemed, after fifteen years, they were finding their way back to each other. It felt familiar, easy, simple, like two-puzzle pieces locking back together. Annabel felt no guilt. When they snuck back into their hotel rooms that night, they kissed for the last time. She knew that she would not leave her husband for him, but it was a nice feeling at the same time, a moment of closure, as if she needed to get Roger out of her system once and for all. Prove that what had happened between them was real, that it had happened. That he still felt something for her, and she for him.

She didn’t know if that was how he felt—she was afraid to ask. She had a sinking feeling that he would drop everything for her, that he would leave his fiancée and start a new life with her, but she didn’t want to bring it up at all. This was the end, she told herself. It ended here. Just two old friends, revisiting something that had ended a long time ago. She slipped into her room and tried to fall asleep. She was up for several more hours before she finally fell asleep. When she dreamed, it was of the new baby, of the future, not of the past.

In the morning, Roger was subtly attentive. He opened doors for her, pulled her chair out in the dining room where they had their Continental breakfast. Lou and Lorrie noticed, but said nothing. They were used to Annabel and Roger being in their own world, and there was nothing they could say or do to take them out of it. Lou was on edge anyway, nervous and frustrated, and he didn’t say much, just picked dejectedly at his food. Lorrie tried valiantly to make conversation, but without the lubrication of alcohol, there was little to talk about. They were four strangers again, back at square one.

They set out to see the man in Chinatown around noon. Lou was nervy, jumpy like a racehorse. He smoked several cigarettes on the walk to the subway, tapped his foot on the whole train ride, made ignorant small talk. Annabel and Roger were in their own little world and ignored everyone else. Lorrie amused herself with her phone. She missed her partner and wanted desperately for this whole affair to be over, so she could go home. She had a hangover from the night before and had tried to kill it by drinking whiskey in her coffee, but it wasn’t enough, she still felt terrible. She was tired of her friends, although she wouldn’t have admitted it. She was trying to remember what had brought them together in the first place. She no longer had anything in common with these people, nothing but shared history. And it wasn’t enough.

Chinatown was bustling and busy. People surged back and forth on the narrow streets. Lou seemed to know where they were going, and they ducked around people selling touristy merchandise and merchants hocking fruit on side streets. People yelled things at them in Chinese. Bike messengers flew by. Neon signs announced all sorts of Chinese characters. Lou led them down an alleyway, to a blue door, where he rang the doorbell twice and the door opened. They walked up three flights of slim stairs.

At the top of the stairs was a large room, where a small Chinese man sat at a desk. “Louis,” the man said, without looking up from the pile of papers at his desk. “I was wondering when I would see you again.”

“Mr. Mark,” Lou said. “It’s good to see you.”

“It’s never good to see me,” the man said. “Don’t lie. It’s unbecoming.”

“So you know why I’m here.”

“I was told you’d be coming.”

“You were?” Lou looked scared. “By who?”

A large man stepped out from a door to the right of the desk. Annabel recognized him as the doorman from the fight club. He was enormous, heavily tattooed on both arms, and he kept cracking his knuckles. Another man followed him, holding a baseball bat. “Lou,” the first man said. “We thought you’d come here.”

“I guess I’m more predictable than I thought,” Lou said. Annabel could tell he was trying to keep the fear out of his voice. “Now, can you let me borrow some money so I can pay you nice gentlemen?”

“It’s not going to work like that,” the Chinese man said. “You already owe me more than you can pay, and they’re going to have to give you some incentive to pay it back.”

“Come on, guys. Just this once. I’ve been a good customer. You know I’m good for it.”

“We don’t know that, actually.”

“Please,” Lou said. “Come on. Please.”

“Don’t worry,” the Chinese man said. “They won’t do any real damage. Nothing permanent.”

The larger man advanced. Before Annabel knew what was happening, Lou was flying backwards into the wall, blood gushing from his nose. The man with the baseball bat hung back, possibly waiting to see what would happen next. Lou fell to the ground. The large man delivered a series of vicious kicks to Lou’s ribs and stomach, and Lou cried out. He reached out, trying to defend himself, but the large man was too strong, and he was already on the ground, prone and defenseless. The whole encounter lasted less than a minute, and then the man was stepping back, leaving Lou lying on the floor, bleeding.

“Next time,” the larger man said, “we won’t be so forgiving.”

“You call this forgiving?” Lou spat, blood pooling from his lips.

“We’re letting you keep all your parts. Now get out of here. And take your friends with you.”

Roger bent down and helped Lou to his feet. “We’ve got to get him to a hospital,” he said. “I’m sure he has broken ribs.”

“There’s no point,” Lou said. “They’ll just tape them up and send me home. Take me to my apartment. I can tape my own ribs there. I don’t have insurance, anyhow.”

They limped down the stairs. Out on the street, there was some confusion over what to do. Lou was in a lot of pain; Annabel could tell by the shallow way he was breathing. His nose and mouth were bleeding. “Call a cab, we’ll go to your apartment,” she said. “We can’t take him back to the hotel.”

“Why not?” Lorrie said.

“He’ll get blood everywhere,” Roger said. “We’ll have to clean it up.”

“I just want to go home,” Lou said. “I’ll call a car.”

They called the car and piled in when it came. Annabel held Lou’s hand the whole ride, letting him squeeze it when they went over potholes. The building, when they arrived, was a walk-up, and they struggled to get Lou up the stairs.

Lou’s apartment was Spartan. Annabel had expected a mess, but he had very few possessions. A television set, a leather couch, a bed that had recently been made. A few cooking implements. The walls were painted red. They got Lou to the bed and laid him down, gave him some OxyContin they had found in his medicine cabinet (leftover from when he had had his wisdom teeth removed, he said—Annabel didn’t know if she believed him) and waited until he drifted off to sleep. There was some talk about whether or not they should stay, wait and see if those men were going to come back, but none of them wanted to wait around in that case. They felt strange, leaving Lou unprotected and injured in his apartment alone, and so it was finally decided that they would sleep in shifts on the couch, drinking Lou’s whiskey and waiting around for him to wake up and get well enough that he could take care of himself.

They ordered takeout and spent the evening playing cards and eating bad Chinese food. It felt familiar. They were getting used to each other again, getting used to each other’s habits and tics, working out the kinks of being separated for so long. Annabel almost had the sense that after this, they would keep in touch again. She had missed this—the camaraderie, the engagement, the friendship.

They all fell asleep on the couch—so much for shifts—and slumped against one another, like how they used to sleep in each other’s dorm rooms, crushed into twin beds. Annabel remembered, dimly, as she was falling asleep, how she used to know her friends’ bodies better than she knew her own. It felt good, to be here with all of them once again. It felt right. She had good dreams.

Annabel was awoken in the middle of the night by a sound coming from the small kitchenette attached to the living room. There was movement coming from the kitchen counter. She got up and made her way over to the kitchen to find Lou pouring himself a glass of water. “Jesus,” she said. “You scared me.”

In the dark, Lou’s face glowed. “I’m sorry,” he said. “Do you want some water?”

She took a sip from his glass. “So,” he said. “You and the boy are back at it again, huh?”

“What?”

“You and Roger.”

“I don’t know,” she said. “I guess so.”

“That’s cool.” The way he said it was mean, nasty, like he definitely did not think it was cool at all. His breathing through the broken ribs was labored, and it seemed like every movement was causing him pain.

“It’s fine, Lou.”

“I’m sure it is.”

“You know, you could always make a different choice.” Lou’s eyebrows flagged.

“What? And choose you?” She said it too sharply, and realized she sounded mean.

“I’m just saying.”

“We slept together once.” Annabel bit her lip. “It was just something that happened.”

It had happened at the last party of the year. They had been drunk, both of them. Afterwards, they had been guilty and nervous around each other, unable to look each other in the eye. She had never told anyone. She would never tell anyone. It had been a mistake. Hadn’t it been? She had always thought so. But now Lou was making it seem as if they had a future together, as if that was something he wanted. Lou wasn’t really a future type of guy.

“It was more than that,” he said.

“What are you saying?”

“I think you know what I’m saying.”

“Just say it.”

“I’m saying I want you,” he said slowly, measuring out his words. “I always have.”

“Well, you’ve got a funny way of showing it.”

He kissed her, a bumpy kiss that almost missed her mouth, an awkward kiss that felt more wrong than right. But she felt herself leaning into it all the same. Lou. Her best friend. His strange, feline way of being, his mysterious ways, his unreadable face. She had never been able to unlock him; now he was inviting her inside.

She pulled away after a beat too long. “Lou,” she said. “I can’t do this.”

“You are doing it,” he said. “Come on, Annabel.”

“No,” she said. “It’s too confusing. Too complicated.”

“You know that night meant something,” he said. “You wouldn’t have kissed me like that if it didn’t.”

“It might have meant something then, but that was fifteen years ago.”

“And what? You’ll get back together with Roger, but not with me?”

“Roger and I have a history. Something to fall back on.”

“And you and I, we don’t have history? I’ve loved you since I was eighteen years old.”

“You never told me any of that. You never said—I didn’t know. I didn’t know any of that, Lou. You were always just my best friend. Someone good for laughs, for kicks.”

“Is that all I am to you? Good for kicks?”

“No, of course not.”

She couldn’t see his facial expression in the dark, but she knew he was hurt. “Look,” she said. “You mean a lot to me. But it’s too complicated, all of us together like this. Roger is the one. He always has been. And besides, I’m married now. It’s not like I’m going to leave my husband and run off with one of you. It’s just a weekend, a blip on the radar, and then we’re all going to go back to our lives and pretend none of this ever happened.”

“Is that so?” Lou said. “Maybe you should ask Roger how he feels about that.”

“It doesn’t matter how he feels about it. That’s my decision, and that’s what I’m going to do. It’s impossible to change the past. This is what happened, and this is how it’s going to go.”

There was a noise from the other room. Roger appeared around the kitchen counter, rubbing his eyes. The light switch was flicked, and all three of them were suddenly thrown into brightness.

“What are you two doing up?” Roger said. “It’s four in the morning.”

“Ask him,” Lou said. “Ask him if this meant anything. If any of it does.”

“Lou, please.”

“Or do you want me to tell him?”

“Lou, you’re being cruel.” Annabel felt sick to her stomach. “Please, stop this.”

“Ask me what?” Roger said. He saw the two of them, standing too close together. “Annabel, what’s going on?”

“Annabel here told me that the two of you aren’t getting back together. That this was a one-time thing. That she’s just messing around on you.”

“Lou!” Annabel said sharply. “You don’t need to do this.”

“And she didn’t tell you, of course, about me and her.”

“What about you and her? Annabel, what’s going on?”

“Do you remember the last party of the year? The night before graduation? When you got too drunk and had to go home early?” Lou was on a roll now, meanness edging into his voice, momentum growing behind his words. “Annabel and I, we had a little party of our own that night. And she never told you, never told anyone apparently, not a word.”

“Annabel,” Roger said. “Is any of what he’s saying true?”

“Roger,” she said. “It wasn’t like that. We were just kids. It was just something that happened.”

“She was about to go off to school, and she thought there would be no consequences,” Lou continued. “She’s always had a thing for me, you know.”

“That’s not how it went,” Annabel said. “We were really drunk, and I don’t know how it happened.

That was a lie. She remembered exactly how it happened: Lou in his leather jacket, leaning over her, smelling of beer and cigarette smoke, so different from Roger who was always clean-shaven and smiling. Lou inviting her back to his room, promising her a drink and her accepting the offer, knowing exactly what would happen. It hadn’t been premeditated, but the subtext behind his words had been implicit. She had understood exactly what she was doing, and she had done it anyway, and it seemed that now she was paying the price.

“I can’t believe this,” Roger said. “You—you didn’t. You never told me. You—how could you?”

“It was stupid. I was being stupid. I was scared and I was leaving and I didn’t know what I was doing.”

“And now, what, you two are rekindling whatever that was?”

“No,” Annabel said. “No, of course not.”

“Was that what this weekend was to you? Just an excuse to fuck around? Is that what I am to you? Just someone to use and throw away, a piece of history?”

“No, you’re so much more than that. Roger, I loved you.”

“Loved. Past tense.”

“I’m married now. It’s different.”

“And I’m getting married. That didn’t seem to stop you last night.”

“Last night was a mistake. I wasn’t thinking. I just—I missed you. Of course I missed you. It was just a habit.”

“So I’m a habit now.” Roger’s face twisted into something nasty. “Right.”

“No, of course not. You’re my first love. You’re my Roger. You’re always going to have a place in my heart.” She turned to Lou. “You both are.”

Lou gritted his teeth. “Annabel,” he said. “I think you should leave.”

“It’s four in the morning.”

“I’ll call you a cab. Back to the hotel.”

“But what about the Lost Weekend? The Last Weekend?” she said feebly, as if tradition would save her. She knew it was too late, the boys already hated her. She wished Lorrie were awake and here to defend her, but Lorrie had stayed fast asleep through the whole ordeal.

“It’s Sunday,” Lou said. “Consider the Weekend officially over.”

Roger and Lou watched Annabel leave with sinking feelings in both of their stomachs. She was going back to her husband, to her life. Roger knew he had a fiancée to go home to, but he had never felt so alone in his life. He couldn’t talk to his fiancée the way he had been able to talk to Annabel. He suddenly thought that he would never be able to talk to anyone again. He didn’t want to look at Lou, the man who had tried to steal his girlfriend, so he grabbed his jacket and told him that he was going for a walk. He’d be back, he said, but Roger had no intention of returning. This whole weekend had been a nightmare. Running from thugs trying to beat Lou into a pulp, the underground fight, drinking more alcohol than he had consumed all year. Roger had a headache. He broke out into the night and started walking.

There were almost no people on the streets. Roger lit a cigarette from the pack he had taken from Lou’s apartment. He didn’t usually smoke, but he had picked up the habit over the weekend, and now he couldn’t seem to kick it. His head was spinning. With rejection, with fear, with confusion. It all led back to Annabel, to the time they’d spent together in college when he had been on top of the world, the kind of guy people wanted to be friends with, the kind of guy people wanted to be. He had been popular, well-liked, well-respected. He had been one-half of a power couple people envied. Now he had a high-powered job and a beautiful fiancée, but it didn’t feel the same. He wasn’t the same. He had lost something, something intangible. Maybe it was his confidence. He wasn’t as cocky as he had been back then. He had gotten older. Life had knocked him back on his heels a few times. He knew what was lurking in the shadows.

He found himself walking over the Williamsburg Bridge. He was reminded of the night on the roof with Annabel, looking out over the city. Had that really only been last night? So much had happened since then. It had been a long weekend. He suddenly knew where he was heading—to the hotel, to find Annabel. He had to talk to her, one more time, before she was lost to him forever. He had to find her. It was his last chance. If he blew this, there was no chance that he would ever be happy again. He couldn’t risk that. He needed—what? Closure. Some way to resolve the boiling in his blood.

He kept walking, dodging bike messengers and the few passersby who were still on the streets at this hour. He walked until the sun came up. It was just starting to get light out when he reached the hotel, went upstairs, and knocked on Annabel’s door.

Lorrie woke up with a pounding headache and went into Lou’s bedroom. He was asleep. She shook him lightly, and he groaned. “Uh,” he said. “What time is it?”

“Almost ten. I thought I’d make you some breakfast. Where are Roger and Annabel?”

“Annabel left. Roger said he was going for a walk but I don’t know if he’s coming back.”

“Why did Annabel leave?”

“It’s complicated.”

“Does it have to do with the fact that you slept with her, on the night of our graduation party, when we were still in college?”

“Who told you?”

“No one needed to tell me. I’m not an idiot. I could tell by the fact that you two wouldn’t look at each other at graduation,” Lorrie said. Lou grimaced. It didn’t help that his friend didn’t miss a beat. “Roger finally found out, huh? That you carry a torch for his girlfriend?”

“Yeah, something like that.”

“If you love her, you should go after her.”

“It’s not going to work. I tried that. She doesn’t love me.” Lou rolled over in bed and pulled the covers over his eyes. “I should just move on with my life. Besides, we didn’t talk for fifteen years. How about we just forget about all this and don’t talk for another fifteen?”

“We could try that,” Lorrie said. “Or you could make a big romantic gesture.”

“To a married woman?”

“You never know.”

“Jesus,” Lou said. “I hate it when you’re smart.”

“That’s why they pay me the big bucks,” Lorrie said. “Come on. I’ll call you a cab.”

Annabel opened her hotel room door to find Roger, smelling of cigarettes, standing in her doorway. “You shouldn’t be here,” she said. “I’m just packing up my things. I’m going home.”

“I want you to stay,” he said. “I love you. I want you. I want you to stay with me.”

“Roger, no. I have a life. I like my life. I’m not going to run away with you.”

“Why not?”

“Because your idea of me is based on who I was when I was twenty-one. You don’t really know me. I’m a different person now. I have a whole different life.”

“Just do a trial run. Give me a week.”

“I’m not giving you anything.”

“Please,” he said.

She threw some items in a suitcase, zipped the suitcase shut, and brushed by him into the hallway. “No.”

“I promise I’ll give you a good life,” he said. “I can make you happy.”

“I am happy,” she said. “I’m very happy. I don’t need anyone else to make me happy. I want to have this baby with my husband. I want to keep teaching my classes at the community college. I don’t want anything to change.”

“You’re just scared,” he said. “You were always the woman I thought I was going to end up with.”

“You’d really do that?” she said. “You’d throw away your whole life, your whole relationship, just to be with me?”

“Yes,” he said, with certainty. “I would.”

They were standing in the hallway of the hotel, and Annabel was acutely aware that they were making too much noise, that they were going to wake up other hotel guests. Then Lou rounded the hallway corner, flowers in hand, and said, “Annabel, wait. Don’t leave yet.”

“What are you doing?” she said.

“I’m here to tell you something,” he said. “I’ve always loved you. I want to be with you. I can’t live without you. Please, forget about Roger. Choose me instead.”

“It’s not a choice,” she said. “It’s not like I’m choosing pie or cake for dessert. I can’t believe the two of you are making me do this.”

“You have to pick one of us,” Roger said, sensing he had the upper hand. “You can only love one of us, right? So pick one.” He stood next to Lou, shoulder to shoulder. “It can’t be that difficult a choice.”

Lou grinned at her, his typical lopsided Lou grin. Roger looked hopeful. “I love both of you,” Annabel said. “In different ways. I’m not doing this. I’m going home to my husband, who loves me. Who gave me this baby. That’s what I’m doing, and that’s my final decision.”

She collected her suitcase and her purse and started walking down the hallway. The two men stood behind her, confused, angry, unsure of what to do next. They waited until she was in the elevator before Roger threw the first punch.

When security finally came to break them up, Roger was bleeding from his nose and his mouth, Lou had broken another rib, and both of them were breathing heavily. They were tossed onto the curb and stared at each other for a while before Roger stuck out his hand. “I forgive you,” he said. “I know you didn’t do it to hurt me.”

“I forgive you,” Lou said. “I know you were just trying to protect your interests.”

“But maybe we should wait another fifteen years before we hang out again,” Roger said.

“Agreed.”

They hugged, slapped each other on the back, and separated. Roger stepped into a deli to get napkins to wipe the blood from his face, and that was the last Lou saw of him. Lou walked into the subway, wincing heavily with every movement. His body ached terribly. The rocking of the subway lulled him to sleep.

Annabel was gone. Annabel was gone forever. The dream he had held onto for fifteen years, the vague possibility that one day she would wake up and realize she wanted him; it was over. He felt strangely relieved, as if he had been living under a huge weight for as long as he could remember. It truly was the Lost Weekend. He had been lost, and now he had found a part of himself that he had forgotten about. He would move on. He would be alright. He knew this, suddenly, as surely as he knew the earth was round. He was free of her. He would be okay.

Annabel took the Metro North Upstate and was picked up from the train station from her husband, who asked her, “Honey, did you have a good time?”

“I had an interesting time,” she said. “I saw some things I didn’t expect to see.”

Like the volatility of human beings, she thought but did not say. Like sheer ugliness. Like brutality.

Like the grace that comes by violence. She looked out of the window at the neat suburban streets and imagined living with Roger in Manhattan, in some high-rise building. She imagined living in Lou’s seedy Bushwick apartment. There were so many threads, so many possibilities, and this was what she had chosen. She wondered if she had chosen incorrectly. But then her husband put his hand on her thigh and she knew she hadn’t. This was where she belonged—clean, safe streets where everything was predictable and she felt sure of herself. There were no fight clubs here, no dive bars, no thugs trying to beat her with a baseball bat. There was only love, a warm collision of sofa cushions and falling asleep with the TV on.

Lou and Roger could have their fast-paced lives. She was here. She didn’t want to take any more risks.

She chose love, in its purest form; without violence.

About the Author

Joanna Acevedo

Joanna Acevedo is the author of the poetry collection The Pathophysiology of Longing (Black Centipede Press, 2020) and the short story collection Unsaid Things (Flexible Press, 2021). Her work has been seen in Seventh Wave Magazine, Sheila-Na-Gig Online, FOLIO, Track Four, and many others. She was a finalist for the Editor's Chapbook Prize in Fiction from the Southern Humanities Review, was longlisted for the 2021 Sexton Prize, and is a Hospitalfield 2020 Interdisciplinary Resident, an NYU Goldwater Fellow, Poetry Reader at Frontier Poetry and Associate Poetry Editor at West Trade Review. She received her MFA in Fiction from New York University in 2021.