Adam finished the bookshelves in record time. They had finished cleaning Maggie’s apartment out in two weekends, and afterward, he committed himself to building bookshelves for her books. All told, there were thirty-two boxes there. He talked to himself while moving them. Thirty-two! Who has this many books? What have I gotten myself into?
He muttered all these asides with a quick, shy grin to Maggie, and really, she didn’t mind them. Adam was growing on her. He was polite, and considerate, and impressively thoughtful; he’d moved them into the master bedroom and converted the two opposite spare rooms to studies, and gone out to buy a queen-size bed. In the three weeks of comparative marital bliss, Maggie had gotten used to having someone around who didn’t vex her, and she certainly didn’t miss the lonesomeness of singlehood at night.
He came bounding up the steps. “They’re done! Come and see!” He opened the screen door and charged into the kitchen. “Come look!” He waved his hand frantically at her, and she smiled and stood to join him. She turned the sewing machine off, and with a sigh, ignored the growing mess of scraps on the floor. Nimbly, she stepped around them and followed Adam’s swiftly departing back.
Inside the barn, her new bookshelves stood towering, a mosque of storage. He touched one of the shelves, thumped it, satisfied, and turned to her. “What do you think?” he asked candidly.
Maggie brushed her hands across the shelves, framed the dark wood in her slender palms, and impulsively, hugged the varnish-scented dark wood. “I love them! Adam, how are you going to make them fit…?” They were taller than she’d have thought possible to fit into his house, but together they moved them up the stairs and through the kitchen and dining room and into the left-hand study, her study. The bookshelves covered the walls, with holes cut for the windows, shelves built around them. Only one wall remained for her desk and computer, which Adam promised he would remedy with another bookshelf atop a desk. He touched her cheek and smiled as he told her that, and gazed at her. She found her eyes resting on his shoes. It was hard, still, to try and love him, even if she did already, in a way.
After the work, they sat and had a cup of coffee together in the dimming evening. It was a quiet night, hot, and still, but the crickets were cheerful and as Maggie and Adam sat together in the dark, she felt a completeness coming over her, a sense of fullness filling her from the inside out. Quietly, she slipped her hand inside of his and leaned over, touching his lips to hers. “Thank you for my bookshelves,” she said, simply.
He smiled, touched his forehead to hers. “Anything for my girl,” he said, and kissed her hand. He smelled and tasted like coffee, like wood shavings – fragrant and real, not intangible like merlot and cigarettes. Maggie pushed herself off of the swing and smiled back at him. In the light, Adam thought she looked elfin, impish: small and pure. He stood as well and she took his coffee cup from his hand. “Let’s go to bed,” she said quietly.
He did not misunderstand her meaning. Since their first night together, their bedtimes had been platonic and comfortable. They stayed up talking in the dark, learning about one another – brothers, sisters, fathers, mothers, exes, hopes, dreams, loves, failures, everything – before rolling back over and curling up around one another. Adam slept with his back to her, but Maggie preferred it: she curled up behind him and threw a tiny arm over his stomach, cradling him as he slept. While every night he went to bed hoping she would express affection, he desired not to ask or initiate and instead wait until she was comfortable. They weren’t normal, he supposed, and he was courting his wife, which was frustrating, but since he’d waited so long to marry her, he could wait a little longer until she was comfortable enough to want more. It seemed she had found her footing, and he followed her, in a manner he hoped was not too eager. They brushed their teeth together, and noted down a list of things to pick up after work from Whole Foods; they took off their socks, jeans, shirts, and underthings and sat together until Adam leaned over and turned off the light.
Maggie slipped over to his side of the bed, laid her head on his chest, feeling his heart beating like a drum. She let her hands wander, and the night took care of itself.
Will closed the last of the journals and sighed. He’d finished, finally, after reading for almost two weeks. According to his bathroom scale, he’d lost seven pounds, and he had started coughing, a result of the two-pack a day habit that had resurfaced when he started reading. He’d cut back before to about three cigarettes a day and was frustrated with himself, but, he reckoned, at least he wasn’t drinking. He wanted to think about the contents of the journal, but there was a ruckus going outside in the hallway. When he opened the door, he narrowly escaped having something slam right into his face. Ducking just in time, he realized it was Robert’s copy of Blonde On Blonde.
“And you’re fucking spineless!” Terry shrieked. She was pulling Robert’s records from the shelf and hurling them at him. Then she started on the books. Will leapt forward as she grabbed a copy of Proust and snatched her wrists in both hands. “What the hell is this about?” he yelled.
Terry started weeping, softly, wailing under her breath. She dropped to the floor and started crying in earnest, her face in her hands. Will stood there uncertainly. He had no idea what was going on. He’d been sequestered in his room for a fortnight and was oblivious to the rattles and shakes of the marriage of his two close friends; worse, he had no need to interact with them as he had his own bathroom and foraged for food at night. Even coffee had ceased to socially stimulate him. Outside, the fog stole across the Bay despite the summer’s heat, and there had been an unexpected summer storm, so the street was slick with rain.
Robert offered, “She’s in love with you, but married me instead, and now she’s angry with me about it.”
Will turned around. He left Terry on the floor, walked over to Robert, and touched him on the shoulder. “I’m sorry, man. I didn’t…” He trailed off, uncertain. He whirled; Terry was lost in her own world, a mess of mascara and Steve Madden heels. He looked her over with a critical eye, for the first time. She was an editor of a glitzy art-fashion magazine and always looked the part – perfect suits on corporate days, high fashion on average days at the office, towering above everyone with those damnable high heels. He crouched down to her level. “Theresa,” he said.
She raised her eyes to his, luminously, like a doe caught in headlights.
“Get the fuck up, take a shower, stop crying for God’s sake if not my own and we will all sit down and have a discussion.”
Robert strode over to Terry, offered her a hand, and Will did the same. Together they pulled the girl from the floor and walked her, stumbling to the bathroom. They looked at each other in silent agreement, and Will went into the kitchen to attend to the whisky while Robert stayed behind to care for his wife, the woman he loved, accepted, even cherished, no matter how hard and tarnished her own heart was. He helped her into the shower, and shampooed her hair, wrapped her in her bathroom, led her to the living room. He led her to the chaise she loved, sat her down gave her some whisky, and kissed her forehead. At nine o’clock, she gathered herself up enough to speak. And it wasn’t what anyone expected.