"I Will Be" by Ka'Dia Dhatnubia
I Will Be
The afternoon sun paints the small studio apartment in its pale-yellow glow. A box fan sits in the window, working tirelessly to provide relief. The wooden ceiling fan is a blurred spiral above her, hypnotizing her half-awake mind with its constant motion and steady hum.
The humid air oppresses her lungs and rests like a second, thicker skin on her own rich brown skin. Stray curls cling to her forehead. Sweat runs down her cheek. Her eyes blink once, then twice, bringing the room into focus. Everything feels slow and laborious in the heat. She draws her white camisole above her stomach, trying to expose as much of her skin to the miserable excuse for a breeze as possible. Her sweaty, bare legs stretch across most of the bed, while the comforter lies in an abandoned pile on the oak floor.
A gravely snore alerts her to the other side of the bed. She turns her head to see Joseph asleep on his stomach with nothing on but his plaid boxers, mouth resting open as air struggles through his wide nostrils. The gentle sunshine illuminates his pale brown skin and the sweat running down his temple.
His body takes up as little space as possible, aware of how wild a sleeper she is. It is his nature after all — thoughtful, generous, patient. Everything a good person should be.
But he shouldn’t be here.
She knows this, and yet she watches him stir awake, watches him draw his long legs toward his stomach then extend them all the way to the end of the bed.
He groans, blinking awake. “Hey,” he says in a hoarse voice.
She avoids his outstretching hand, turning her back toward him. Her chest tightens. The corners of her eyes sting and threaten to spill a fresh set of tears.
“Why are you here?” Her voice is fragmented, hesitant.
“I don’t know, really.” His words are a breath against her neck, a ghost of a whisper.
She bites her bottom lip and grips the covers. “How are you here?”
“I don’t know, really.”
She feels his fingers trail down her arm and rest on her hand that’s gripping the sheets. She entwines her fingers with his. When his chest presses to her back, she relaxes against him, molding her body to his.
While he draws idle circles with his thumb over her knuckles, she can’t help but remember how close they were to getting matching tattoos on their ring fingers one fun crazy night three years ago.
“How are you feeling?” he asks.
He stops his caresses. Pulling her to lie on her back, he swings his leg over her torso, so that he’s hovering over her. He loosely holds her hands. His head drops to her exposed neck.
She rolls her head to the left, avoiding eye contact. The sun catches the silver band around his right ring finger, the flash of light blinding her eyes. She anticipates the feathery touch of his lips. Instead, she feels the light tickle of his short-cropped hair under her chin.
“You’re an awful liar, Moni,” he teases.
His stubble tickles her cheek. A laugh sparks deep within her but doesn’t find its way to the surface. “I’m fine. I’m fine.” She pleads for him to believe her. This is just like when they would cuddle after rough days at work. They’d order Chinese food and try to forget the stress of the everyday.
She squirms beneath him, pushing away his ticklish beard, a smile cracking her face. “Stop! Let me go!”
He stops and holds her hands again, resting his full weight on her hips. His dark eyes catch her own. His mouth straightens in the way it does when he doesn’t want to admit he’s scared. It’s the same expression he wore in his last moments during the car crash.
She struggles to breathe under the weight of him. “Let me go.”
The sun has flooded the room in a vivid crimson, and the heat has somehow increased its overbearing presence.
“You have to.” A sob begins to interrupt her words. She stares at him, through him; and the tears fall, forming quiet trails down her cheeks. A cool breeze brushes her ear. She locks eyes with Joseph.
His face breaks and softens, revealing the melancholy beneath. “I miss you.”
“I miss you, too,” she admits. “But you need to go.”
The breeze shifts, blowing the phantom of her late fiancé away.
She presses the heels of her palms to her eyes and wakes to an empty bed. The room is steeped in an inky blue darkness. The sound of running water floats from the bathroom to her ears. She rolls out of bed and hurries to the bathroom, feeling weightless for the first time in a while.
She opens the door to find Aiden brushing his teeth with a towel wrapped around his waist.
His eyes brighten in amusement when he sees her tousled curls and slouched form, but he pauses his brushing when he sees her red, puffy eyes.
She hops up onto the counter and watches him, gaze soft as if seeing him for the first time again. He’s always been here — thoughtful, generous, patient. Everything a good person should be.
He rinses his mouth and begins saying something about ordering Chinese.
She kisses him, capturing his face in her hands. She tastes the mint on his tongue, as he leans in to return her unexpected hello.
He rests his forehead on hers. “You okay?”
She smiles and plants a kiss on the corner of his mouth. “I will be.”
Award-winning writer and fashion journalist, Ka'Dia Dhatnubia placed 3rd in the state for an Abraham Lincoln essay writing contest. Having won scholarships based on academic and literary merit, she is completing a BFA in writing at the Savannah College of Art and Design. She also writes regularly for the school's online fashion publication, The Manor, and serves as The Manor's head copy editor, advancing her expertise as a professional copy editor and fiction novelist.
Photo Credit: Staff