When morning comes, they're tangled in each other, like so many other mornings before. Her feet are tucked between his legs, soles pressed against his calves; his arm has encircled her torso during his sleep, pulling her tightly against him. Her faces is buried in his side, her nose tucked into the crevice between his body and the sheets. She sleeps best like this--she's learned to be most comfortable pressed against him, and room to spread out feels empty. His breathing and his heartbeat lull her to sleep now, and the night is too quiet without it.
He wakes first, flopping over to smack the alarm clock. Unusual, but he has a meeting--an obligation--and needs to be awake. Her eyes flutter open as he lets go of her, one body part at a time. He rolls his shoulder out from under her head, pulls his arm off her stomach, letting his fingers trail behind, untucks her legs from between his. With every inch of skin exposed to the air, she moans slightly and twitches her fingers, grasping in her dreams for the warmth to return. He hates to do it to her--hates to do it to himself--but he can't bear to wake her, and he really does need to get out of bed, so he kisses her on the top of the head as he slides out from under the covers, and moves as quietly as possible to the bathroom. By the time she manages to pry her eyes fully open, he's finished in the shower and is standing in the kitchen in charcoal gray dress pants, a white t-shirt, and an unbuttoned blue dress shirt, barefoot, his hair still damp, and the coffee is already brewing.
"'Morning," he says, as she pads into the kitchen in the shorts and t-shirt that she slept in, bare feet cold against the hardwood floor. She yawns and makes an indistinguishable noise, waving her hand aimlessly in front of her face, shuffling forward until she runs into him. He laughs, wrapping his arms around her. She grabs the tails of his shirt and wraps it around herself, cocooning them both in its folds, and rests her cheek on his chest, closing her eyes.
"It's early," she mumbles.
"Big meeting today," he replies, "and you know me. Always the responsible one."
She pokes him in the side feebly. "Liar," she mutters into his shirt.
"But I made you coffee," he says, reaching for the mug that's resting on the counter behind her.
Her head remains on his chest for a moment longer, then she pushes herself away, takes the cup from his hand, and takes a long drink. How is it possible, he thinks, that he can almost see her wake up with every ounce of caffeine that hits her system? It's like that elementary-school experiment with the celery stalk and the food coloring in the water, and you can watch the colored water work its way up the stalk until the leaves turn blue. With her, he can watch the caffeine work its way through her body until her eyes are open and alert and she's able to stand up straight.
They drink their coffee, eat a bowl of (sugarcoated) cereal, rinse the dishes, and she puts them into the dishwasher. Routine, mundane things--the stuff that everyday life is made of. Routines that they have shared before, but always in "her house" or at "his place," not "theirs." Their dishwasher. Their dishes. Their cereal. Their coffee. Still his dishes, though, she thinks. She never got to choose the pattern. She still feels a little awkward in his--their--kitchen, like a guest. Knowing where things go, but not quite comfortable enough to rummage through the cupboards on her own. Seeing the stocked refrigerator and pantry, but feeling like she should ask before she helps herself.
They talked about it last night, though, snippets of conversation caught between the phone call to her mother and the dinner and the boxes being delivered and the tour around campus and the panicked phone call to the newspaper office and the quick trip to get an extra key cut and the finally falling exhausted into bed, barely managing to brush their teeth before falling onto the mattress, onto each other, and letting sleep overcome them. He said that she could use anything, put her stuff anywhere, make a list of the things that they needed to set up a full household, and they would get it together. That this was their place now. It may have been his place first, he had said, but now it's theirs. And when she shared her mother's concerns, he reassured her. This isn't just a move because of a housing shortage, he had said. Maybe it wouldn't have happened so soon otherwise, but I know we're ready for it. This just makes the decision for us and keeps us from second-guessing ourselves too much.
They end up side by side in the bathroom, brushing their teeth in unison, catching each other's eyes in the mirror, still a little overcome by the euphoria of it all. A little more overcome than the night before, to tell the truth. A good night's sleep and several cups of coffee make everything seem less dire--made the whirlwind of the day before slow down just a little.
She debates going back to bed but knows that she can't, in good conscience, waste today, so she gets in the shower instead, sneaking glances at him from behind the plastic curtain as he shaves, gels his hair, ties his tie, puts on socks. He yells to be heard over the running water; they talk about things like what they'll do for dinner and where she should put her empty boxes. She leans far out, dripping wet, to kiss him goodbye, a quick peck on the lips so he doesn't get his shirt wet.
"See you tonight," they say. Not unfamiliar words, but they take on a new depth now. See you tonight, he thinks, because we'll come home to the same house, and we'll fall into the same bed, and we'll share the same bathroom. See you tonight, she thinks, and we can unwind after your meeting with your father (are you going to tell him about this, by the way?) and my battle with the cardboard boxes. Maybe we'll go out for a drink? they both think, but we'll decide that tonight.
She sits cross-legged on the floor, faded jeans and fitted t-shirt covered in that fine brown dust that cardboard boxes give off. Her hair keeps falling out of the messy bun she threw it into after her shower, and she wonders idly what the point of the shower before unpacking was. Unpacking another hastily packed box, she sorts the now-wrinkled clothes into piles. T-shirts here, pyjamas here, socks, underwear, bras...
There aren't enough hangers. She'll have to fold her jeans and put them in a drawer, at least until she gets to a store to pick up a 10-pack of wooden hangers. Thank goodness for the extra drawer. Three drawers. Her own dresser. Why is there an extra dresser? she thinks idly. She doesn't remember seeing it before. Maybe he had it delivered while she was sitting in the hallway surrounded by all her worldly possessions. They had seemed like a lot when she had to navigate through them, but now, she realizes that if it weren't for his stuff, the apartment would be bare.
She hangs her dresses and skirts in the closet (he cleared enough space, surprisingly), makes a pile of shoes on the floor. Shoe rack. Adds it to the list. Folds her sheets and towels. They go in a box--she'll take that back to her mom's house and store it there for a while. He's got plenty of linens, and they're nicer than hers, so she'll gladly sacrifice the use of her own, at least for now.
Her stuff is enough to fill a bedroom, but she sees that she doesn't have the makings of a house. She starts writing the list, adding things to it as she thinks of what they'll need, crossing them off as she discovers some of them hidden in his nooks and crannies, closets and shelves.
Her toiletries go in the bathroom. She clears a shelf in the medicine chest, puts her boxes of tampons under the sink, feeling very "How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days" (God forbid), puts the sticky note to remind herself to take her vitamins and birth control pills on the mirror, lines the ledges of the bathtub with bottles of shampoo and conditioner, body wash, and pink razors.
It's a boy's apartment. There's a pool table in the middle of the kitchen--reminds her of the fooseball table in Joey and Chandler's place. Girls are more civilized, aren't they? Boys and girls have different ideas of ideal decor. She'll have to fix that around here. Add a few pictures--she stands a small, framed shot of her 25-year-old mother and her 9-year-old self up on the nightstand. There are more, but she has no idea where. Her stuff wasn't so much "packed" as it was "thrown angrily into the nearest open box." She's surprised more isn't broken. Surprised it's all here. She almost would have expected something to be kept, just for the sake of a grudge. Of course, she isn't finished unpacking yet. Just watch--she'll be missing that crucial textbook she needs for Monday morning's class.
Treasure hunt, I guess, she thinks. I'll find it all eventually.
She still feels like she's intruding, being here while he's not. Home sweet home. For months now, home has been in someone else's domain. Moving into someone else's established routine, facing walls with paint already on them, pantry shelves already designated, bathroom cupboards with the towels already on the top shelf. They clear a shelf for her, make room for her toothbrush, set out an extra coffee cup in the morning, but it doesn't feel like the kind of home she came from. There, she was in the structure of the building as much as it surrounded her.
Was. Even that's changed. Home has grown, in size and in depth, to include one more, and she's still there, but her presence has been edged out, just a little, to include a new name on the answering machine, a new toothbrush (a whole new sink!) in the bathroom.
She records a new outgoing message on the answering machine, with both of their names on it. It's not too cutesy, but if he doesn't like it, they can think of something else later. She just needs to feel her own presence. She feels too much like a ghost in her own house, even though she is more prominent here now than she was only a few hours ago. It still seems like something applied to the surface of the apartment, like she's trying to applique herself to him, but she's all frayed edges and loose threads, coming apart a piece at a time. They need to be sewn together so that there are no loose ends; so that where she ends, he begins, and there is no overlaying of one onto the other.
There's nothing left to unpack now. Her boxes have been taken apart and put in the recycling bin; the disorder and chaos of everything she owns has been rectified. Her books have found a shelf (she had to clear aside some of his DVD's, but another bookshelf is first on her list of things to add to this place) and are no longer sad, and she even made it out to pick up some hangers. Everything else can wait until they go shopping together, until they decide what they need and what they’re going to do with what they have. Combining two lives into one household is not a one-woman job. Not a one-day job.
How long of a list do you have, he had asked when he phoned her at 5:45 to tell her that he would be home by 8:30.
She had glanced down at the piece of paper in her hand, turned it over. Not too long, she had said. Not a lie. The shopping list isn’t too long; it’s the list of questions that takes up most of the room. Do you have a toaster? What should we do with movies and cd’s? How are we going to split the bills? The cleaning? The groceries? How does inviting friends over work? Family?
He laughed, knowing the relative length of her lists.
Do you want to go out? one asked. Should we hang out with everyone tonight? the other wondered. Let's order in, they had said at the same time. You must still be tired from yesterday, he said. You probably want to recuperate from seeing your father, she suggested. She tucked the phone under her chin while she straightened and put things away, and they talked the whole time he was driving between meetings.
Now, she posts the list on the refrigerator, one side held up with one of her magnets, the other with one of his, and walks into the living room. Looks at the shelves. Should she integrate their movie collections? Shelve them together? Put the duplicates in a box to be dealt with later?
She decides to do nothing with the movies and puts in a cd and lights the fire in the fireplace instead. Sits down on the couch, pulls out a textbook and three highlighters. Loses herself in her work.
She means to order the food before he gets home--or at least to get a snack for herself while she studies--but she loses track of time and doesn’t move from the couch for hours.
He unlocks the door and opens the door to the apartment. Stands in the doorway for a minute, taking in the scene in front of him. She sits, sock-clad feet tucked underneath her, a pen stabbed through her ponytail, another stuck in her mouth, papers spread out all over the coffee table, a textbook in her lap. The fire is crackling, the music is playing, and everywhere he looks, he sees reminders of her presence. Her books, her movies, her master calendar on the kitchen wall.
This, he thinks, is what she—I—this apartment has been missing the whole time.
He lets the door shut behind him, and the noise causes her to look up from her book, meet his eyes, and smile.
"Honey, I'm home."