Norah fell asleep with the tip of her nose pressed against the nape of Stacey’s neck. They spooned beneath a thin beige sheet as Manhattan’s winter chill crept in and mingled with the dry heat of the radiator in their tiny apartment. When Norah woke up the next morning, she could smell the scent of Stacey’s shampoo on the pillow. They had been dating for six months when they decided to live together. Norah was a college dropout working at a coffee shop in the East Village and Stacey was a dental student at Columbia University. They seemed an unlikely pair on paper, but laughter and wine dotted their i’s as moonlight and introversion crossed their t’s.
Norah watched the steam rise as she showered, washing away the previous night’s lovemaking. Their relationship was racing forward like the A train on a good day. Stacey’s parents invited Norah over for Thanksgiving and marriage was already a topic up for discussion. A few of their friends thought they were moving just a little too fast and some thought the educational disparity guaranteed trouble, but they were a seamless fit, not easily torn by societal norms.
However, a thin strand of insecurity hung loose and vulnerable from Norah’s ego. She stood in the doorway of their bedroom, holding a mug of peppermint tea up to her lips while staring at the stack of letters on a shelf above Stacey’s desk. Norah always wondered who they were from and what they said. She never saw Stacey touch them, but they weren’t accumulating dust either.
For the first time since moving into Stacey’s apartment, Norah was alone. She grabbed the pile and sat on the bed, starting from the bottom and slowly working her way to the top. The letters professed love, missing you’s, and I hope I see you soon’s, each signed with “L. Hines.” Every note was a dot on the timeline of a two year long relationship, the last one postmarked only two months earlier. Norah’s tea was not hot enough to melt the lump forming in her throat.
She placed the stack back on the shelf with care and noticed a blue spiral bound journal. Anger and curiosity prompted her hands to pick it up, open it, and place it on the desk. She sat down and glared at the first and only entry recounting a trip Stacey had taken to Idaho with this other lover eight months ago. She described the quaint bed and breakfast where they stayed for a week and referred to her companion by initials rather than by name. The entry ended abruptly, sandwiched between two photographs of the landscape and their accommodations.
Norah leaned back and stared up at the ceiling, conflicted by both the urge to scream and cry. She knew she should give Stacey the benefit of the doubt, to wait until she got home so they could discuss the matter like a mature and loving couple. Jealousy overrode ethics and common sense as Norah grabbed her peacoat and one of the letters from the shelf. Racing downstairs to the lobby, she disregarded the security guard’s greeting and went outside to hail a taxi. She read the return address from the envelope to the driver and they headed south, past the university toward Morningside Heights.
When the taxi pulled up in front of the apartment building, Norah looked up at the many windows of its facade, wondering which one harbored this mystery woman. She paid her fare and got out with some reluctance, shutting the door only when the driver hollered. She made her way up the steps and scanned the tenants’ names posted by the call panel. Running her tongue over her teeth, she pressed the button next to “L. Hines” and waited.
The voice belonged to a man.
Six seconds of eternity floated by before Norah cleared her throat and called back, “Uh, no. This is Norah. Stacey’s girlfriend. Is L. Hines there?”
The nausea formed heavy pools of saliva in her mouth before the man said, “This is he. What do you mean her girlfriend?”
Norah shook her head, wrought with dizziness and disbelief as she backed away from the call panel and sat down on a cold concrete step. She slumped forward and put her head between her knees, feeling the urge to vomit before she heard an all too familiar voice.
“Babe,” Stacey said, walking up from the street, her voice dripping with guilt and shame.
Norah didn’t look up. She knew she sat between two lovers as she heard the door open behind her and the shuffling of feet. She could feel his glare burn through her back and straight into Stacey’s heart, the disgust in his mouth as palpable as the vomit threatening to fill hers.
“You’re gay? All this time I’m wondering if you’re sleeping around with some asshole on Bleecker Street, but it’s worse! You’re a lesbian!”
Stacey stomped up the steps, brushing Norah with her coat and retaliated, “What difference does it make if I’m with a man or a woman? I swear, Liam, you're so insecure!"
“Insecure? Gee, I wonder why!"
Norah took her time standing up, bracing herself with the railing as she descended to the sidewalk. She didn’t bother to look back as the volume of their voices escalated. Pulling up her scarf over her face and stuffing her fists in her pockets, she walked toward nowhere, remembering the relationship she ended after meeting Stacey. He was a nice man with hazel eyes and ginger hair, who always kissed her goodnight beneath her left earlobe, who always thought they would last forever. Norah didn’t tell him that her someone else was a woman. She just said thank you for the memories and that she’ll always love him. The sob erupted from her lips as she realized her experiment was not worth leaving him.
Photograph by: Emily Blincoe