Ten years we'd been together. Two mature women, and we dated like college kids. Rebecca had been easy on me, never left more than a toothbrush at my place. But when she found the new job, she told me it was time. We should find somewhere new, make it ours. She said there was no hurry--I could just put my place on the market and see. But I knew she wouldn't wait forever. I wanted to prove my intentions, so I lowballed the price.
The first couple came the very next week. The woman was cute, little and dark-haired with a decisive chin, and she swayed as she looked out the window. She noticed the pot of geraniums on the ledge, the newly painted drainpipe, and the swallows that nested in the tree over the fence. I thought I would let them have it when she pointed out the swallows. But when she called to the man, he didn't look up, and his rough fingers swatted his phone in the silence. I couldn't think about his hands on her here. A man would not have the delicacy to appreciate a woman like her.
The second couple gushed about the charm. She was blonde, by choice. Her jewelry flashed in the sunlight, blinding me. When her thick heels clacked on my floors, I could feel the tiny dents they made. Those planks took six months of sanding, I wanted to say. On my knees. Before I met Rebecca, when the house was all there was. Someday, I could see those pumps tread on a daughter's infant toes. She would rush the baby to the emergency room where the doctor, shaking his head, tilted the crushed digits in the light.
They planned to remodel. She strode into the kitchen, slammed open the cabinets and scraped their edges with her nails. "Open kitchen!" she called, pulling at the supporting wall as if to tear it out. "Radiator leaks," he said from the next room, scuffing at something on the floor. They went on like this, parallel but out of sync. I could hear their disjointed conversations echoing into the future, merging through time like discordant notes from an organ.
They would bring in furniture, large and shiny, that slashed black streaks in the walls as it pushed its way in. Holes in the plaster, gouges in the doors. Boygirl sex on the floors to christen the place.
Rebecca must have known how I felt. She bought me dinner, took me to see some new places. She had tried to find something I'd like. They were made with actual materials: wood, brick, granite. But they were too new. They smelled of plaster, cleaner, fresh grout. She thought I didn't want the work, maybe, in creaky middle age. Or that I didn't want to start over again, with another. But all the lists of square footage, ceiling heights, and closet dimensions could not recommend these places without history.
She took my hand on the porch. A light evening fog rested on her cheeks. I loved the feel of their cool dampness on my lips. Somewhere else, then, she said. Anywhere.
But the next day, when the couple offered more than the asking price, I said I'd have to think about it. It's not that don't love Rebecca, or that I'm not in love with her? I'm not sure what that means, but I'm happy with the way things are. When she first came, I wasn't sure she'd fit. I grew up in a military family, and we moved every couple of years. So when I saw this place that no one wanted, I wanted to make it mine. You should have seen it. Paint slopped over the metalwork, grout smeared on the tiles. She was like a woman who hunches her shoulders and hides her beauty. Now she preens: shoulders back, chest out.
Didn't I find a place for Rebecca's toothbrush, make room for her frozen fruits, and tolerate the flax seeds I found in the cracks of the floor? Now, there's a light finger trail on the hallway wall. She must touch it on her way to the bathroom at night. I saw it just last week, and I thought about repainting. But I like it. Haven't I changed? I like her hands on our curtains, her soft feet on our floors, her fingertips on our walls.
She has been good for us. The place didn't need fussing, after a time, and I needed to get out once in a while. We've mellowed together, me and the place. Changed ourselves for her.
And she is welcome to stay. We could spare another drawer, or even a whole chest. Right here along the wall—we could make space. She'd feel more settled, then. Maybe that's all she really wanted. She can't really have believed I could leave, could she? This place made me who I am. We belong together.
BIO: Diana Reed's fiction has appeared in the online journal Six Sentences, and her non-fiction work has appeared in various publications for the educational testing market. She currently lives in Chicago, where she is at work on her first novel.