Michelle drove in silence as Craig finished calling his boss. The car was hot, the sun was bright, peeking over the horizon, turning the morning sky red and yellow. The flight was early in the morning, so they’d left before dawn, clutching coffees and wiping their eyes, turning the radio off to avoid headaches.
Craig hung up. “I swear, my boss has a stick shoved so far up her ass it’s gonna come out her ear someday.” Michelle didn’t laugh. “Hey, come on, sweetie. It’s just a week. We can do a week apart, can’t we?”
Craig knew just as well as Michelle did that there was no way to prove that. They had been inseparable since they met, lucky enough to have been from cities less than half an hour away, and choosing to live on the same dorm building every year through college—usually on the same floor. And now, living together in an apartment just out of town, they hadn’t had more than a weekend apart in over four years. A week for work? Why was it necessary for him to go all the way to New York anyway?
“Honey, be happy for me,” Craig said, running his hand along her forearm. “If this goes well, I could—”
“You’re not going to see her, are you?”
“My boss?” Michelle shot him a look. “What? Who’s…Bonnie?” Craig shook his head, incredulous, and took his hand off her arm to slide it down his face. “Michelle, what do I have to do for you to understand that Bonnie is nothing to be jealous of? No. I’m not going to see Bonnie.”
Craig slid his phone into the inside pocket of his jacket while Michelle was focused on the road. She didn’t need to see the text messages he and Bonnie had shared about catching up over coffee. Besides, Bonnie had Michael.
“I believe you,” Michelle said, her hands straining on the wheel. “It’s just…I don’t believe me.”
Craig dug his nails into his palm. He hated when she pulled this nonsense, this Lifetime movie drama, whining about stupid non-issues full of self-doubt and wistful angst.
“I’ve never been alone,” Michelle said, and god help her, she started to tear up. “Not except for the summer before I met you, and I’m scared about what might happen.”
Never been alone. Craig sipped his coffee, tried to slow down his heartbeat. Oh, poor thing, never been alone. It must be so difficult to be beautiful, to have everyone you meet trip over themselves to kiss you. Yes, naturally, it’s worse than torture, isn’t it, Michelle?
“I know,” Craig said, the most neutral phrase he could manage.
“You’re the first person I’ve ever loved.”
“And I just don’t want to mess this up by spending too much time apart,” Michelle continued. “I don’t…like, trust myself.”
“Should I trust you?” Craig asked. His thumb was denting the side of his Styrofoam coffee cup. “Then, if you can’t trust you, should I trust you? Is this you saying you’re going to cheat on me, like all those other people, like how you said you wouldn’t, ever again?”
“I don’t know,” Michelle said, her voice small and garbled. “I just wish you didn’t have to go.”
“Well, I do. I have to go, and you have to take this opportunity not to cheat on me for seven days. Can you do that? Seven days, for our five goddamn-year-goddamn-long relationship?”
“I want to…”
“Stay? I dampen my career because you can’t keep your pants on?”
Michelle jerked the steering wheel to the right, slamming on the breaks.
“Stay!” she screamed, leaning into the spin. The left back corner of the car rammed into the guard rail and sent the car careening off the road and over the shoulder, tipping onto two wheels and landing sideways, its right side stuck a few feet up the side of a tree.
It was dizzying, loud, crunching metal, screeching tires, the two of them screaming, tugging the wheel, the tree and guardrail groaning, the world spinning like they were inside a blender. Craig’s fingers impaled the Styrofoam of his coffee cup and the scalding liquid splashed onto his thighs, his feet, his stomach. Branches forced their way in through the open windows, covering them both with pine needles and tiny scratches. The air bags went off in the middle of all this, smacking them both in the face hard enough to make the spinning seem to reverse direction. They sat frozen for a minute, stuck on the tree at a forty-five degree angle, silent, dazed. Through the cracked windshield, the hood of the car was crumpled like a wad of paper. Craig then realized he was burning and began smacking the coffee off his reddening skin.
“Are you okay?” Michelle asked him.
“Yes…are you okay?”
“You jerked the wheel,” Craig muttered. He touched his lip—his nose was bleeding.
“I was avoiding something.”