His Girlfriend Is Forgiving
By Marta Pelrine-Bacon
Jim Moss knows Abbey Nightingale likes him. He knows a lot of girls like him. Girls have liked him all his life. He has no secret, he tells his friends. Attraction is a gift, and who is he not to appreciate it?
But Jim has a lovely girlfriend waiting for him, and he’s going to marry her, and even though his girlfriend is very forgiving—he loves her for this—he is going to be good. Besides, Abbey is certainly not any prettier than the right kind of girl to marry.
Abbey is clever though. He sits next to Abbey in language class and she picks up new words like playthings, turns them over in her mind, and sees things in a language rule others don’t see. She is like that with everything.
Jim knows that Abbey likes him because she laughs at all his jokes, she doesn’t point out when he is wrong, and she sits too close him, lowering her voice when she has something to say so that he has to lean in to hear. Her mind unsettles him if he thinks about it. He suspects she must turn him over in her thoughts and find things even he doesn’t want to see. And yet still she walks beside him wherever they go, using any excuse to touch his arm or say his name.
Abbey Nightingale knows better. Jim Moss, she thinks, is froth and good looks. Every morning on her way to class she resolves that this is the day she sits somewhere else. This is the day she pretends to barely know him.
This is the day that she clears her mind of him.
But Jim smiles at her when she walks in the room and he
moves his books so she will take the seat he has been saving. She hesitates every time because this is the day that is different. She is wrong, of course, and she sits beside him, telling herself it doesn’t mean anything to sit so close.
He talks to her a lot. He tells her stories about his life, and she finds them dull if she thinks about them. She thinks about what he says and sees where he leaves things out, things that matter. She guesses, correctly, he leaves out all the unflattering things. She listens carefully, but he is meticulous in what he doesn’t say. She wonders if he has a girlfriend. He doesn’t slip up, but she suspects the girlfriend in the empty places of his chatter.
Jim thinks he is better than this, but in the evenings, at the parties, he makes sure Abbey always has drink. He knows, because he’s learned to see these things, that some girls can’t stop themselves from drinking when they have the bottle in their hand. And when he hands her another beer he tells himself that he is being a gentleman, giving her what she wants and saving her the trouble of having to get anything for herself. He is thoughtful that way.
When Abbey drinks she feels lighter. During the day she feels her heart is a wire coiled up tight, careful not to risk unwinding and getting her into trouble. After a few drinks she doesn’t care and all the bright and shiny bits of knowledge and wisdom she’s collected all day, bounce around in her mind, playful and free.
When Abbey drinks she sits next to Jim and rests her head on his shoulder, and watches the others talk and dance and party. Jim sees
her mind relax and he puts a hand on her knee. Everyone sees and thinks they know what is going on, especially Jim’s roommate who knows about the girlfriend but stays quiet.
Abbey and Jim do this almost every night for many nights. He helps her up and walks her to her room. They say goodnight. That is all, though everyone else is waiting for something to change. They assume there will be something more or, possibly, something less. Abbey does too. Tonight is the night she isn’t going to drink, she says to herself. Tonight is the night he isn’t going buy her a beer, he says to himself. But that is not what changes.
Jim misses home, and he knows everyone does. He knows Abbey does not like her roommate. “Come into my room for a while,” he says. She has been in his room many times between classes and before dinner. There is almost no difference between 2pm and 2am, she thinks, and an ‘a’ is almost a ‘p’ if you work it around the right way.
Jim’s roommate isn’t there. Abbey sees a letter half-written on the desk. “Hello Gorgeous,” the letter begins. She thinks about this, but because of the beer her mind doesn’t quite pick it up. The word spins around in the bottom of her brain where she thinks she can find it later.
Abbey sits on his bed and he sits next to her. They talk about things they don’t really care about. She is tired and again puts her head on his shoulder. She’d done this many times, of course, in the crowd. “I should go to bed,” she whispers. She feels like she could float.
“Stay here,” Jim says because he doesn’t want to trouble her to put on her shoes and go back the room with the judgmental roommate. He is a gentleman, and here she is with her head on his shoulder. He can’t possibly tell her to leave.
Abbey doesn’t want to lift her head from his shoulder, but she doesn’t want to move at all. He moves instead, getting up and holding her arms so that he eases her down onto the bed. He lifts her legs from the floor and puts them on the bed as well. Her eyes are closed, and he lies down beside her.
They sleep. They do not hear the roommate come in. They do not know the roommate watches them sleep for a while. Jim has his arm around Abbey, and she is curled up to him. The roommate notes that the two of them are still dressed, and that Jim’s hand rests in the curve of her waist.
They don’t know who wakes up first but everyone else is getting ready for class, and Jim and Abbey both know, though they don’t say, that they don’t want anyone to see her leave his room in yesterday’s clothes and with her shoes in her hand. Abbey stands behind the door and he peeks into the hall. No one is coming.
Without saying goodbye, she dashes to her room. She is not seen by anyone but her roommate whose questions Abbey doesn’t answer. On her way to class she tries to think what kind of day this is going to be. She reminds herself that they have not kissed, and there is nothing really to think about. Nothing at all.
Abbey walks into class and Jim moves his books and he acts like it is an ordinary day. It is an ordinary day.
Jim reminds himself he has to finish his letter to his girlfriend,
the girl he knows he will marry, and that this is going to be an ordinary day. He is happy. He has not kissed Abbey, and he has kept his promises.
That night everything is like the night before—the drinks are the same, the talk is the same, the end is the same, but this time the roommate is in the room. The roommate doesn’t say anything when Abbey and Jim fall asleep.
Abbey and Jim wake up wrapped up in each other, but she gets up as silently as she did the morning before and dashes to her room. This time her roommate doesn’t ask anything.
And class is the same. Every day is the same.
This happens every night. Every night Abbey thinks this night will be different—he will ask her to stay and she will say no. Or she will say yes, and he will kiss her when they are so close together.
These things do not happen. But after a few nights Abbey doesn’t fall asleep as quickly anymore. She pretends she is asleep and moves her arm around him. She presses her face to his neck. He holds her tight.
Abbey looks for signs during the day that he likes her, that he is thinking of her. She listens to every word he says to other people, listening for the space she is in–his girlfriend has one, she wonders if she does too–but she doesn’t hear herself in any space at all.
Jim waits for her to say something. He waits for her to ask him how he feels because he knows this is what girls do. When she asks, he will think of an answer, but she doesn’t ask—he can’t figure out why
because he knows, after all, that girls always ask—and since she doesn’t ask he tells himself again that he is a good boyfriend.
One day his roommate wants to know what is going on. Nothing, of course, Jim says. He’s never even kissed Abbey Nightingale.
This night Abbey takes a long time to fall asleep. She listens to his breathing. She wonders if he is sleeping now. She begins to drift off. His hand on her cheek opens her eyes. Even in the darkness, she sees his are closed. His hand runs down her neck, over her collarbone, down to her hip and stops. She wonders if he is thinking of her or of the girlfriend he doesn’t talk about. She thinks that he keeps his eyes closed because he knows who he will see if he looks.
A curve, here or there, Jim tells himself, is not a kiss. A touch is not a promise. He knows how to promise girls things, and he knows how not to. He has always been sure of what he knows. He knows that that Abbey is relaxed when he touches the side of her neck and that she is tense by the time his hand reaches her hip. He tells himself that soon he will tell her about his girlfriend who is waiting for him and who is very forgiving, but for now he hooks a finger around the belt loop of her jeans and he sleeps.
Abbey walks into class and watches him move his books to give her a place to sit. She thinks of his finger hooked around the belt loop of her jeans and she thinks about how this is supposed to be another ordinary day.
She walks to the other side of the room to sit at a table she
doesn’t have to share with anyone. The wires that hold her heart together tighten and knot. She sees that Jim doesn’t turn around to see where she’s gone, and that after class begins he pushes his books back into place.
Tonight Abbey doesn’t sit next to Jim at the party, and she gets her own beer. She pretends she doesn’t notice when he leaves. She pretends she doesn’t notice the time. She tells the girls she is sitting with–girls who don’t know what to say to her—-that she is going to bed.
She walks down the hall and hears voices. She looks around the corner and sees Jim. He is with another girl from class, and the two of them are kissing. Jim doesn’t stop kissing this girl, but he reaches behind her for his door. The door opens and the two disappear.
Abbey stands there for a while. She pretends she can’t still feel his hand on her waist.
Jim knows a lot of girls like him. Girls have liked him all his life and his girlfriend is very forgiving.