“You’re a giver, Henry,” she says, rolling over heavily and flicking off the lamp. “I like that.”

Henry doesn’t quite know how to respond to that statement. He feels a pang of emotion at the words. Something he can’t put his finger on.

“Uh, my pleasure, and perhaps we will see each other again??”

He scrambles into this pants and shirt. Jams his feet back into shoes and pauses in the doorway.

“Yeah, sure. But hey, next time bring better wine,” she mumbles, now half asleep, nude body curled on top of the rumpled bedclothes.

He taps the doorframe on the way out. “Gotcha. Good night, Valerie.”

“Night, Henry. You can leave it open.”

Henry takes a long, hot shower and thinks about the evening’s events. But not for too long. One shouldn’t over-analyze. After all, they’ve only just met.

She’s a fast girl. He hears his father’s voice in his head. Yes, that’s what he would say. Like it’s a bad thing. A fast girl is just what the doctor ordered, Henry thinks to himself.

The silence of the empty living space hangs heavy as he clicks on the old turntable. He twists the top off his last bottle of beer as Miles Davis crackles in mournful shades of blue. The apartment came modestly furnished. A good thing since Sharon wanted nothing disturbed, in the house that he is still paying for.

All she seemed to want was his absence. To remove all traces of him. All his clothes, his books, his carefully curated collection of vintage vinyl, cassette tapes and compact discs from the shelf he built himself. But, the shelf could stay. She just wanted him to go. To disappear. Like he never even happened.

He switches on the television and drops into the faux leather sofa, pressing the mute button on the remote control. Checks his phone one last time.

“Miss you. Still.”

He considers ignoring the message. But, what the hell. They can still be friends. That’s what they agreed on.

“I miss you, too. I hope you are well?”

Marisa knows she shouldn’t, but it’s just too tempting to rouse his interest again. Such a welcome diversion from her lackluster days and nights spent with young children and the specialized misery of a careless, absentee husband.

“As well as I can be without waking up to you every morning, like before.”

Henry can tell when she is fishing and he knows he needs to shut it down. He can’t be responsible for another failed relationship. It’s bad enough, what happened with Sharon. There was a certain inevitability, though. He is sure of that.

“I’m sorry how things ended, Marisa. I’m sorry I hurt you. I hope we can be friends.”

“We are friends. I just wish…”

The ongoing push and pull of a no-win situation is exhausting, but Henry can’t seem to deny her. He will always answer her messages. Always be her supportive, sympathetic ear.

“Me too, xx”

To be continued…