About two weeks into the new living arrangement, I had managed to make myself quite comfortable in his cluttered mess deemed "humble abode." One afternoon Taylor came home early from piano lessons, threw himself at the mercy of the kitchenette table ("kitchen" is too dignified of a word for the cooking area, really), and stared at me.
"I've been working all day!" he muffled into the table.
"Good?" I looked up from the sheet music I was teaching myself to read and yelled across the apartment.
"Feed me?" he pathetically begged, throwing himself on the ground, crawling halfway across the room and pretending to die for dramatic effect.
"Are you sure you want me to do that?" I pivoted on the piano stool he actually kept immaculate, as opposed to the rest of the room.
"Just pasta or something. Anything!"
"Oh…kay…" I closed the piano and stepped over piles of scattered papers. "Pasta it is."
I slowly meandered to the kitchen, suspicious of his sudden need to die from food poisoning. Furtively, I'd glance out of the corner of my eye to see him following me. Pretending to know what I was doing, I threw a pot onto the stove and lit it.
"Water," he instructed from the doorway.
"Right," I added two cups of water to the pan and threw in a handful of shell pasta; he didn't believe in spaghetti. I hovered over the quickly boiling pot, waiting for something amazing to happen.
"Sauce?" He teasingly threw his hands in the air. "I like the garlic-tomato."
"You can make your own damn sauce."
"I already know I can cook, I don't need to prove anything," he laughed, enjoying pushing my buttons a little too much.
"Oh, I'm proving myself?" I dug his clean wooden spoon into the tomato-garlic pasta and spattered it on his face. "Are you sure you want that kind, because I see you also have some Alfredo." I reached for the cabinet again.
When I turned around, my face met his sauce-covered hand as he smeared it on my cheeks. "I'm not sure, what do you think?"
Pulling tomato chunks out of my hair, I furiously turned to the stove and pulled out a shell. I grinned at him, wiped the shell over my face and ate it. "Tomato garlic is fine."
"Good," he ran his hand over his face to remove the splattered dots of sauce. "But I think you missed a spot there." He dug in the pot with the spoon for another shell. Upon sampling from my face, he agreed that I had, for once, made the right decision.
I refused to accept that I was covered in Italian condiments, and proceeded to drain the pasta and place them neatly in a glass bowl. Smiling, I turned to him. Setting the bowl on the small table, I tackled him to the ground, rubbing my paste covered visage on his.
He characteristically squealed like a schoolgirl and tried desperately to shove me off his body. When I refused, he finally gave up and lay in the middle of the petit kitchen. Satisfied, I reached to the table and brought the bowl of pasta to his level.
"I hope you're hungry, you have a lot of sauce to clean up," I rubbed the shell against my forehead and offered it to him. Grossed out, he laughed and accepted.
The first month was flawless like that, as I suppose all first months are. The fear of waking up next to a man I had known for mere days quickly diminished to a habit once we realized talking was an unnecessary part of our relationship. The only time we spoke we were sexual; everything was sexual banter. We had managed to turn mundane activity into foreplay: cooking, dusting, eating, washing clothes, washing dishes, everything was just building anticipation for the next time.
After finally dragging our fatigued corpses out of bed, we'd wander into the kitchen where Taylor worked ceaselessly to make me learn how to cook. At first, his attempts were futile and the kitchen only ended up saturated with flour, egg yolks, and soggy pasta. The only other time I'd actually tried to cook, the pancakes came up runny and yellow and Taylor spent the next half hour relieving himself of their awful memory in the bathroom.
After breakfast, if it wasn't already past noon, Taylor scurried off to various addresses teaching small children and old women how to play the piano. While he was gone, I taught myself to pick up his dirty habits which had amused me. First I acquired the caffeine addiction. Mostly precipitated by its inexpensive cost and endless availability, I started drinking it every hour. Not only did it curb the appetite, but it kept me awake during all those long nights at his jazz club. I knew I was finally damned, though, when I tried balancing a tray of alcoholic beverages and suddenly spilled them in someone's lap due to a piercing withdrawal headache.
Most of the evenings were like that, me dropping cocktails and slipping tips into my pockets while Manhattan's socialites gossiped in a smoky room about how one day "that man on stage" was going to be big. I had learned that flirting with ugly men pays well. More importantly, I had learned that pretending not to notice other women flirting with Taylor paid better.
Once his hour of musical love making was finished, he delighted in being the worst asshole of a customer I'd ever had. He got a kick out of ordering the same drink three times because there wasn't enough brandy or the vodka was too bitter. He enjoyed calling me "Hot Thighs" when he wanted my attention. Most of all, he loved the fact that I couldn't yell at him for it until hours later when we were at home.
One night in early August business was especially slow. Taylor was still behind his piano and I was fighting the urge to down a few shots to get me through the rest of the night when I noticed a guy in the corner, running his finger along the edge of my missing shoe which was perched on the table.
"Shit," I muttered, hoping to never run into him again, especially here.
Former Love Affair kept his eyes locked on me, glaring as I walked in his direction. "You dropped this, Cinderella." Angrily, he pitched the shoe at me. "Thought you might need it for the long walk back to Chicago. Oh, wait."
"What the fuck, Kate?"
He wasn't really searching for an answer when he asked. I couldn't explain anything to him without sounding ridiculously selfish, so instead I threw the empty tray in his lap returning the enthusiasm with which he'd chucked the shoe and stormed out, declaring to no one in particular that I was taking off early that night.
Frantically, I grabbed Taylor's jacket and left through the front door, parking myself on the curb of 54th street. Instinctively, as I'd seen him do hundreds of times before, I reached into his left pocket and pulled out a cigarette, lit it, and began giving myself lung cancer. I didn't know how to react otherwise.
Thirty minutes and two cigarettes later, I heard someone breathing above me but didn't bother turning around to identify him.
"What?" I kept looking ahead, finding that the third dose of nicotine still couldn't stop my caffeine craving and the shaking in my fingers.
"Since when do you smoke?"
He knelt down beside me, pulling the cigarette away from my face and indulging himself. Realizing I was in no mood to discuss my newest vice, he stretched out his legs and made a spot for himself on the sidewalk next to me. After quickly finishing the rest of the cigarette he turned to me without speaking.
"Found my shoe," I crushed the cigarette he had finished into the asphalt. "Can I have another one, please?"
Ignoring my plea, he asked me if I honestly expected to never hear from the man I had abandoned one month before. Defeated, I told him I hadn't planned on it and lifted myself up from the sidewalk. Determined to finish the conversation, he snapped me back down by my arm. Casually, he reclined on the cooled concrete and suggested I do the same.
Together we lay on that sidewalk beneath a flickering streetlight staring at the absence of stars in lieu of solving the pressing issue of my neglected ex. We had never mastered the art of conversation, and finding my shoe seemed like a shotty excuse to start practicing.
He reached over and entwined his fingers with mine. "My favorite color is red."
"When I was a kid, I broke my little brother's nose."
"I'm an only child."
"I really hate onion bagels."
Slowly, I turned to look at him. "Tell me something I don't know,"
He didn't hesitate a single moment, "You're trying to escape something out of your control, and that's why you're in New York."
I returned my stare to the starless night unsure of how to respond, afraid of the truth in his statement.
"C'mon, let's go home."
"Can we just stay here a little bit longer?" I couldn't muster up the strength to move.
"Sure," he leaned over and kissed my forehead as we lay hopelessly on the Manhattan concrete in the middle of the night.