She didn’t want to think about it and had avoided the subject the entire six months of their relationship. She’d managed dodging conversations about exes in that time, not out of any guilt or unmended emotion, but as preservation. She’d never met anyone like Leonard, never expected to again; she didn’t need to hear about the woman who had let him go, who was probably plotting a way to get him back. She liked the way he looked at her, talked to her, and she preferred to imagine these were all firsts for him, as well, hated to see herself as a cardboard cutout replacing the last woman he’d touched the same way.
But she was dying now, the Ex, the Serrina she’d evaded like a pothole, the One (she assumed) That Got Away, though she had no evidence to back up that fear. It was the absence of evidence to the contrary, however, that confirmed the suspicion for her. It was the lack of an expression of disdain, of proclaiming the Girl’s inferiority to her that kept her awake most nights they didn’t sleep together and some nights that they did. This sequence of events made sense to her, like those number series questions on the SAT: 2, 4, 6, then __. Leonard doesn’t denounce his ex-lover, Leonard doesn’t declare Annie’s superiority, Serrina reenters the picture. Since he broke the news to her–I’ll be flying home to see her–her imagination had filled in the missing link in the sequence without pause. One night, post-coital, she pretended to be asleep, wanted to feel him staring at her, enjoyed the feel of his chewed fingernails tracing the arms that had just been clasped around him. She enjoyed feeling the duplicity of sleep and consciousness that pretending to be asleep afforded her, that is, until he gently pulled his arm out from under her and got up from the bed. She assumed he was going to the bathroom and adjusted herself to look as angelic as possible for his return. He didn’t exit the room, and soon she heard the soft tap-tap of the keyboard. She tried to gauge if he was being quieter than necessary for an innocent bout of internet browsing and peeked out from under the folds of the sheet and pillow cases to look at him. It wasn’t until the next day, scanning through his web history while he showered that she figured it out: he had bought his plane ticket home while she slept not five feet away from him.
The whole day following she wondered if he had been thinking about Serrina while they made love. If his eyes were closed, not caught up in moments of inexplicable ecstacy, but so he could picture Her more completely, see Her with more clarity than looking down at Annie’s crumpled and inadequate body would allow.
“Are you asleep?” he whispered. She wasn’t, of course, but considered letting him believe she was, letting him feel alone as she had felt all day.
“No,” she admitted, a little too loud.
He moved so their eyes were level. The whites of his eyes were bright in the dark room until he closed them and pushed his face into her chest. She reached around his head with her arms and forgave him everything. They fell asleep that way–Annie, then Leonard, and the moisture from his eyes had dried from her t-shirt by morning.