“You Don’t Live Here” by Krista Diamond

19 April 2019 on Fiction   Tags:

I’m hunched over a trash can at South Station, vomiting out pools of blue Gatorade, when Mason Riley appears for the first time in years. The milky light streams through rows of windows. The transit center is like a cathedral; the ceiling is that high. He is immaculate, standing there in his navy blue blazer as escalators carry passengers to trains and buses behind him. There’s a single freckle on his cheek and a whisper of a smile on his lips, but he isn’t about to laugh at me. His expression is benevolent as he peers down. My stomach turns over like a washing machine and I retch again. 

“Are you okay?” Mason Riley asks. His voice is deeper than I remember. We both went to the same private school in New Hampshire, but I doubt he recognizes me. I was on a scholarship. His family paid to build the library. 

I wave him away with the hand that’s missing two press-on nails, wishing that my fingers were manicured because they are all Mason Riley sees of me. 

When I look up, he’s gone, probably already on a bus to an alumni event at Dartmouth. I’ve never been to Hanover; I hate the countryside. All of those dead leaves, those English majors driving south on I-91 to Cornish to see where J. D. Salinger died. Who needs it, I think, wiping the vomit from my mouth. 

I go home to my apartment, eat dumplings in bed, and then spend the rest of the day alternating between napping and feeling restless. In one year, when I turn thirty, I’ll be too old to be this hungover, but for now I close my eyes and tell myself that it is okay. 

*

Boston in the winter makes me ache. It isn’t the cold. It’s the sight of peacoat-clad college students carrying duffel bags. Winter break. Each December, the city releases them and I can feel the collective exhale of all of those dorm rooms emptying out. 

I avoid the phrase college feels like just yesterday, because it wasn’t. After graduation, most of my friends left town, but not me. I’m a receptionist at a marketing firm. It is, in a word, okay. Each morning I slip into a pencil skirt and walk to the office where I drink coffee out of a mug that the last receptionist left behind. I still feel like a child playing dress-up. Look at me, the young professional, I think to myself as my heels click on the cobblestone street outside of the office. The muted makeup, the after-work happy hours with everyone still dressed in business attire. This is the way to move forward; to throw out the college hoodie and become a grown-up. Even in high school, Mason Riley was punctual and knew how to tie a tie, how to parallel park. The South Station run-in with him was proof that the gap between us is even wider now. 

Because it is December, I walk to work in the dark and when I leave the sun has already gone down. The wind howls through the tunnel of skyscrapers. I climb the stairs to my apartment and the air inside is tropical. The furnace is acting up again—it’s an ancient radiator that clunks and whistles like a ghost. My building is about a hundred years old. Usually, I love the way the yellow streetlights pour through the bay windows, but tonight there is this frostbite burn I get every time I see Mason Riley’s self-assured gaze. I scroll through job listings online, inputting random search terms for things I might want to do. I majored in poetry in college, but no one is hiring anyone to pen sonnets. It starts to snow, and I think about writing a few lines of verse, because in a way this is how I always thought it would be. The life of a poet: sitting on the worn hardwood floor of a third story walk-up, scratching a few words onto a yellow legal pad while a blizzard blankets the city. 

*

The city is hard with ice the next morning. My boss declares it a snow day for all non-essential personnel. As a receptionist, I am non-essential.

I can hear my neighbor listening to The Weather Channel through the wall. For now, the blizzard has ceased and the emptiness of my apartment is unbearable. I should get some furniture besides the bed. I imagine Mason Riley sitting on a white couch that he never spills wine on. Please, he says to guests when they enter the foyer, take off your shoes.

I walk to the aquarium and stand in the warm dark, watching spectral jellyfish suspended in water. The feeling of other people around me dulls my loneliness. Afterwards, I go to the Boston Sail Loft, an old clapboard restaurant standing on stilts above the ocean. In college, guys with trust funds used to buy me Long Island Iced Teas here. Sometimes they still do. But today the restaurant is nearly empty. I eat clam chowder and look at the harbor. My phone rings. It’s Lacey Anderson, current unsatisfied copy editor and former wispy blonde party girl from my sophomore year dorm. The last of my college friends. 

“Are you off from work, too?” she asks.

I tell her where I am.

“Ew,” she says. “That place is crawling with finance bros.” 

Not during the day it’s not. 

“I’ve never been there before midnight,” Lacey says. “What are you doing tonight?”

*

The bar is on Tremont Street, tucked between sleepy Victorian houses. Lacey is standing on the sidewalk scheming, her face awash with the glow from her phone. 

From the outside, it looks like the home of someone with old money, the kind of place where third-year Harvard Law students buy scotch for prospective employers. 

 I wish I wasn’t wearing jeans.

“So I met this guy at last call at Ruka,” Lacey says, looping her arm through mine and guiding me through the entrance. “He mentioned that he comes here sometimes.” 

The bar is outfitted like a study and bathed in soft light. Men wear loafers and women wear cable knit sweaters. They don’t look much older than me, but their body language is all handshakes and subtle nods, as if they’re at an art auction or a yacht club. A fireplace roars in the corner beside a leather couch. Everyone is drinking martinis, but no one is drunk. 

“There he is,” Lacey says.

Of course it’s him. 

Mason Riley descends the stairs, his hand grazing the mahogany bannister. He has the sunkissed hair and tan skin of someone who should be standing on a sailboat in Sperry Topsiders. I wonder if he summers in Martha’s Vineyard. His eyes fall on me.

“Didn’t we go to high school together?” he asks. The feeling is like cold raindrops on skin; he does know who I am.

“Hi, Macy,” Lacey says. 

He smiles briefly at her and then turns back to me, waiting. I realize that he did recognize me at South Station, but I know he will be gracious enough not to acknowledge it. 

There have been other times that Mason Riley has seen me at my most vulnerable, but I doubt that he will bring those up either. In eleventh grade, I went skinny dipping at Lake Winnipesaukee and saw him standing on the shore in tennis whites. Years later in Boston, he appeared beside me on the steps of a library as I wept openly over an ex-boyfriend. He glanced at me, his face briefly molding into an expression of concern, before disappearing into the open door of a cab. And again he materialized from the back room of a bar on my twenty-fifth birthday. I was sitting alone, angrily eating cake with my fingers when I looked up and saw his eyes in the barroom mirror. I remember wanting to ask him if he was having a quarter-life crisis too, but I took one look at his platinum wristwatch and graceful movements and knew that he had already figured his shit out.  

His honey-colored eyes flicker, and I see that he remembers all of it. 

“You guys know each other?” Lacey asks. 

“Yes,” says Mason Riley, his dimples showing. “We’re old friends.”

He isn’t a liar; he is just the kind of person who refers to other human beings as friends. I wonder which book or conference taught him to do that, and then some undetected match lights a fire inside me as I briefly consider the fact that he might really mean it.

“Excuse us a minute,” Lacey says, pulling me away. “Okay, so I, like, barely know him. Tell me everything.” 

I study him from over her shoulder, wondering if he reads the newspaper every morning, if he arrives at the airport two hours before takeoff, if he always remembers to send thank-you cards. I give her the yearbook edition, the things-I-read-in-the-Boston-Globe edition. Mason Riley, National Honor Society, lacrosse team captain. Dartmouth College, Harvard Law, and then a civil rights firm. Mason Riley, two-time Boston Marathon finisher.

“Mason Riley is going to be the best sex of my life,” Lacey tells me, breathlessly. “I heard he lives on the twentieth floor of the fucking Platinum Tower. If I do it with him against the window, I might feel like I’m going to fall and die, but I won’t even care. Have you ever had sex like that?”

I think of the last time I brought a man home. It was before the election and he was canvassing outside my work. He had glasses with thick frames and an Irish last name and in the morning he stood in the fragile sunlight and said, “Your apartment is a mess.” 

No, I tell Lacey. I have not had sex like that. 

*

The next morning, I sit in my gray office building, thinking of his straight white teeth, his pressed shirt, the tilt of his head that said yes, I’m really listening. My mind goes to Mason Riley’s summer house in Martha’s Vineyard. I’ve constructed a life for him, etched out every detail so clearly that it feels like a memory. The house is white with black shutters. A crisp American flag waves in the sea breeze. Mason Riley is barefoot and wearing only jeans. He pours olive oil into a pan in a sunlit kitchen. When the oil simmers, he presses two fillets of salmon onto the surface. He sprinkles fresh rosemary onto the fish, squeezes a wedge of lemon, and suddenly the room is warm with citrus and herbs. His body is muscled and smooth. I imagine myself leaning in just far enough to run the tip of my tongue along one of his shoulder blades. It tastes like the Atlantic.

My stomach sours, thinking of Mason Riley and Lacey. The way she called him Macy. 

I compose a text to her. Did anything happen with you and Mason last night?

 But no, I want to affect the tone of a giggling girlfriend who is three vodka cranberries deep. I add a smiley face emoticon and a few exclamation points. 

She does not respond. 

The back of my neck burns, picturing her in his bedroom. He has plants that he remembers to water and sheets that he changes once a week. He never sits on the comforter with Chinese takeout; he eats home-cooked meals at a table, with utensils that aren’t plastic. I know I shouldn’t care if he is kissing her goodbye in the lobby of his building.

The office is freezing; my boss believes in keeping the thermometer at sixty-three for “better productivity.” Tires spin in slush on the street below. I go back to the summer house in Martha’s Vineyard. Here, sitting in the white-tiled kitchen, I feel clean and carefree. My hair is wet from the ocean and I am dressed in linen. The salmon is ready, and Mason places it in front of me on a china dish. There is a carafe of chilled white wine on the table. 

Maybe we should dine alfresco on the porch, I suggest. Maybe we can sit and watch the sunset. 

Maybe you can stay all summer, he says.

*

The wind is so relentless on my walk home that I feel my face blistering. I take shelter in the kind of bar I always imagined writing poetry in. 

There’s no time like the present, I tell myself. After all, I have a notebook in my bag and a fresh paycheck in my bank account. Rainbow Christmas lights twinkle among the liquor bottles and the snow starts again. 

I sit at the oak bar, order an Old Fashioned, and try not to think of him. After two cocktails, I give in. 

Mason Riley is the kind of person who uses the word network as a verb. He knows how to hand over a business card and say, let’s get lunch on the books. Mason Riley drops off dry cleaning, has a fully-stocked fridge, goes to the doctor regularly, orders the Veuve Clicquot without looking at the price. At night, he slides between Egyptian cotton sheets and dreams of nothing.

Still no response from Lacey.  

Suddenly I think of the mornings in high school when I’d stand outside of the locked cafeteria and see him running through the fog, his amber eyes fixed on something just out of sight. He was taller than all of us, and he would move with ease through crowded hallways. Even as a teenager, he spoke to everyone—friends, parents, coaches, teachers—like he was at a job interview. He rarely appeared at parties, but was always invited.

No one really knew him, but watching him crest the hills as he ran, I felt like I did. There was an intimacy to the way his face sometimes strained when he landed hard on his right foot. Eventually I would come to observe the almost imperceptible way it affected his posture as he gave presentations in class, danced at prom, and made his way to the auditorium stage for his valedictorian speech. I began to imagine what the rest of his life looked like. I pictured him setting his alarm, eating egg whites for breakfast, and slipping an SAT prep book into his leather backpack to study in between school and lacrosse practice. 

Years later, when I saw him striding through the grass at Boston Common in a cobalt blue suit, past ponds dotted with great white swans, I started to imagine again.

I pay my bar tab and step outside into the growing snowstorm. I am intoxicated, snowblind. I hate how easily he navigates the world. It isn’t fair that he has that knowledge; I am so tired of not knowing.

The fucking Platinum Tower. Lacey’s voice is in my head as I put my hand out for a cab.

The fucking Platinum Tower, I tell the driver, delirious. 

And when I arrive the lobby is more massive and shining then I could have ever dreamed. The doorman does not question me. Miraculously, I enter the elevator without a question from anyone. Lacey said he lived on the twentieth floor. 

The elevator opens and I am standing in front of a door with a nameplate that reads Mason Riley.

I know in my heart that he has not gone home yet for Christmas, that he is not out with colleagues. He is inside. He must be. 

I lift up the knocker. I want Mason Riley to lay me down, peel off my pantyhose, cup my frozen toes in his hands, and kiss my feet. I want Mason Riley to dress me in his clothes and send me off to his job. I want him to fuck me, to whisk me away to Martha’s Vineyard. 

The knocker falls heavy and suddenly I am sober. Panic floods my chest. 

The door opens immediately, as if he has been waiting. Mason Riley is standing in front of me. He smiles, amused, and then rests one hand on the doorframe and looks at me, awaiting my explanation. 

The things I could say filter through my head like a rolodex, and they are all wild and wanting. 

I am shivering. I can smell meat and potatoes roasting in his oven.  

He puts his hand on my shoulder and it is warm, as if he’s been sitting beside a fire. It is the first time anyone has touched me in a long time. Perhaps he will call security and say, this crazy girl just showed up at my door. 

But he doesn’t reach for his phone. Instead, his hand stays on my shoulder. And the next words out of his mouth are a gift.

“Come inside,” he says. “I’m having dinner.” 

This is it; I’m finally going to see the glossy hardwood floors, the table with extra place settings just in case, the alphabetized bookshelf. I am both desperate and scared to cross the threshold. 

Maybe he’ll show me to a guest room and I’ll fall asleep cradled up high in this sleek tower. When I finally get the courage to knock on his bedroom door, he’ll say, I’m awake; come in. 

Or maybe there will be camping chairs for furniture, Scarface posters instead of artwork. He’ll drink Dr. Pepper and stare at me until I realize that he isn’t an enigma; he just has nothing to say.

I look at him now and see his suntanned shoulders in the kitchen on Martha’s Vineyard, his easy smile as he opens the screen door to the porch, his knowing brown eyes studying me from the Adirondack chair. And then I remember his worried face hovering above me in the divine morning light of South Station, his hand extending briefly as if to pull me up from my empty apartment, my icebox office, my aimless life.

“Are you coming in?” Mason asks, a slight teasing in his voice, as if, as he said at the bar on Tremont Street, we really are old friends and he is not just some magnificent stranger waiting for me to make up my mind. In or out? The real thing or the illusion?

*

Five minutes from now, I’ll be outside on the sidewalk and he’ll be twenty floors above. Boston will glitter behind a curtain of snow, and Mason will stand in the blue winter light and look down—or at least that’s what I’ll tell myself when I walk away.

---

Krista Diamond is a freelance writer located in Las Vegas. Her fiction and personal essays have appeared in Barrelhouse, Longleaf Review, After Happy Hour Review, and elsewhere. She regularly contributes to Eater and NPR's Desert Companion. She graduated from the University of New Hampshire with a BA in English in 2010. You can find her on Twitter @kristadiamond or visit her on her website, www.kristamariediamond.com.

"Blue Bell," watercolor and mixed media on canvas by Marta Spendowska from her Bloomlands series. Marta is a Polish-born American artist and illustrator based in New Hampshire's Seacoast region and working primarily in watercolor. In Marta's words, "Watercolor is immediately responsive; it reminds me that life does not allow for 'do overs.' The only certain thing is here, now. The fluidity of my materials allows me to be spontaneous, with no plan or obligation." She says of this painting, "Here, the flower, the petal is like a veil between what's alive and what's not, becomes a pure essence of life, fleeting from certainty and foreverness." Find Marta's work at http://verymarta.com and follow her journey on Instagram http://instagram.com/MartaSpendowska

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