I tried to keep a conversational tone that evening. We had just finished dinner and he was picking away absent-mindedly at the meringue
that clung to the side of his plate while the coffee
was cooling. Nervously, I smoothed my eyebrows with my index finger and tried not to sound provocative as I said, "You've never lived for anyone, have you?"
He continued to pick at the meringue for a moment, then violently jabbed a bit of crust and lemon filling into his mouth. The smacking of his lips betrayed his disapproval and annoyance. There was an all-too-audible swallowing sound, then he looked down at his hands (still paint-stained) and muttered, "Whatever do you mean?"
I watched him sleep for a long time that night. Without the mischievous glint in his eyes or the combatitve set to his chin, Argenis looked cherubic in the yellow-orange light of the streetlamp. He had forgotten to draw the blinds again, and for a long time I sat on the edge of the bed watching him sprawled out, dreaming placidly. Furtively, I ran my fingers across his lips, through his dark, wild hair. There was a time, not long before, where I would have curled up next to him, fallen asleep with my nose pressed into his hair.
But this was not one of those nights. This was a night for confrontations. I crept out of our room and down the hall into the place that was solely his. The other room, his studio, his refuge from the world. His refuge from me. For days and nights he had been in there, sketching and painting, without a model, without breaks except to sleep and snatch something from the fridge. We had not been fighting; we had barely seen each other in the last two weeks. I had never gone into the studio without his permission or presence. But now I stood barefoot on drop cloth trying to find where he had taken his love. The solitary beam of my flashlight illuminated the room, illuminated the new painting.
I had seen her before. She has appeared in many of his paintings; as a fruit-vendor in a market, as a concubine in the seraglio, as a whore on Hollywood blvd, as a shadow. Once, I had asked innocently who she was and Argenis had laughed, he never used models, she was a dream and nothing more. But she was more than a dream now. She was unfinished, and yet magnificent. Her hair was black, except for one silver streak. Her emerald eyes were cruel but her mouth was kind. I threw open the heavy, ugly drapes and her beauty in the moonlight overthrew me. I felt clumsy, heavy and uselessly male before this woman made of dreams and acrylic paints. He had used no model, she had no equal.
A thousand thoughts churned in my mind as I backed away from the studio and stumbled into the bathroom. I drew a bath and began to plot insane scenarios. I would torch all of the paintings, assasinate my competitor with fire. I would go out into the city and come home in the early hours smelling of cigarettes, strange men and cheap alcohol. I would wake him up and make love to him until he forgot that phantom woman, until he remembered the man who loved him. In the end I did none of these things. In the end, I let the bath water drain and walked naked and vulnerable to the side of our bed and began to weep.
He awoke not long after. There was enough light that I could see the faint stubble along his jawline, the confusion and suspicion in the hazel eyes. When, at last, we made eye-contact for the first time in weeks, I said, "I have decided to leave you forever".
There was a long moment where neither of us looked away. Finally, he ran his hand through his black, wild hair and said, not without tenderness, "I had forgotten how beautiful you are when you've been crying".