The vitriol settled into the stained linoleum. Still, neither of us moved. Ashley focused on the dripping faucet behind me; I took a sudden interest in my shoelaces. It should have been the end of the argument. The part where we’d take a deep breath and agree to disagree, like mature people. My original aim had been simple, or so I’d thought. I’d hoped to convince her not to worry so much. The time we had left on this planet was limited. Why spend it consumed with anxiety?
Yet I bumbled forward, as if choosing different words or rearranging them would suddenly make her understand. “I only wanted to say that—”
She gripped her purse strap tighter and looked at me like I’d slaughtered baby animals or something.
“What? What did I do wrong now?”
Her voice was brittle. “All I asked is if you were coming with me or not. You’re the one who had to turn it into an existential nightmare.”
“An existential… I am not going to your theoretical end-of-the-world pray-in. I refuse to spend what could be my last New Year’s Eve on earth sitting outside in the cold lighting candles and atoning for the sins of humanity. Most of which I didn’t commit.”
“Suit yourself.” Ashley began to turn, then stopped. “You really want me to kiss someone else at midnight?”
“You have free will and a can of mace on your keychain. I seriously doubt you’d let yourself be kissed by someone if you didn’t want to.”
Her eyes narrowed.
“Yeah,” I said. “I’m an asshole. Try to have some fun. But don’t get pregnant. You know, in case the world doesn’t end and you need something extra to atone for.”
And then she left. I cursed myself and flopped on the couch, arm over my eyes. Why do I say stupid shit like that? Why, when she stands there looking like the ripest peach on the shelf, does something break inside my head and whatever words happen to be hanging on for dear life come flying out?
As usual, post-argument, I turned to the television for solace. It wasn’t helping. All they were playing, it seemed, was an endless loop of war updates. Glowing green streaks across the night sky in a country I didn’t know how to spell. As if it was all just a big video game. The announcers sounded like it, too. Professional voices barely concealing their ratings-hungry glee. I couldn’t move for a while, transfixed by the flashing lights, the air-raid sirens, the incongruously perfect hair of the correspondent in her flak jacket, gas mask dangling from her neck. How did she do that? Why were we fighting this one, again? The money? The oil? Someone’s little feelings got hurt? I couldn’t even remember anymore. With some alarm I realized three hours had passed. And that I was a total hypocrite. Who was out immersed in the world, and who was a soppy loser bemoaning the state of it?
I grabbed my own gas mask and went out to find Ashley. Hopefully I could catch up with her before midnight.