Pushing Boundaries / Breaking Barriers


by Erika Staiger

  BOUNDARIES Home  |  Contents  |  Authors  Wordrunner eChapbooks  | March 2017  |  echapbook.com      


You knew this was going to happen eventually. Even when he’s just holding you, he’s greedy. But, you’re greedy too and that’s really why you’re here, when neither of you should be. Because you both want things you can’t have and you’re both strong enough and dangerous enough to try and take them anyway.

It’s morning now. You roll over; rays of sunlight come in through the window, the window that he cracked open for you, because you can’t sleep unless it’s cold enough that you can practically see your own breath. He calls you his Ice Queen. The word you always paid the most attention to was his, possessive even though it never had any reason to be. He’s your best friend. You were not dating. You were never dating. You’re still not dating. You have no idea what the two of you are anymore.

You lift your head up and blink. He fell asleep last night before you did, with his arm wrapped around you and his head pressed into your neck. He got a face full of hair the entire night and for some reason never complained. Maybe that’s because you only slept for about two hours. When you try and sit up, you inevitably make his arm slide down your body. Your hair tickles his nose. He stirs next to you. You both sit up.

He looks at the clock and frowns. He had somewhere he was supposed to be fifteen minutes ago, but even though he’s staring straight at the clock you know he can’t see it. His vision is terrible without his glasses. You know he’s waiting for you to tell him what time it is. You don’t want to because you don’t want to have to leave. The second you’re gone from his apartment, you know everything will stop making sense. You look down and run your fingers through your dark red hair. Out of the corner of your eye, watch the way it catches the light from the window..

“What time is it, Liza?” he asks.

“Nine fifteen,” you answer. Your reluctance is palpable.

“Shit,” he says, but he doesn’t move. He doesn’t try to leave. Instead, he lies back down and reaches up to take the piece of hair you’ve been playing with away from you. He weaves it between his fingers and stares at you. You shrink away from him because you know everything about this is wrong. At least, you think it is. You don’t know what wrong is right now.

He asks you if you’re okay.

“Fine,” you say. “You?”

He just nods, but you know you’re both liars.


You walk home. It’s colder than the night before. You pull your sweater tight around you. You feel exposed, both to the cold and to the other pedestrians waiting to cross the streets. You feel like they know where you’ve been—that they can somehow look at you and know what you’ve been doing. You want to turn around. No matter how tightly you grip the sleeves of your sweater, you can’t stop the cold from seeping in. You feel the cold inside you—in an empty space you didn’t know was there before. Whatever used to go in there got left behind and you don’t know if you’ll be able to go back for it.

In your English class later that day, you skim the chapters of Wuthering Heights you were supposed to have read last night. Listen to the girls in your class wonder how Heathcliff and Catherine can love each other, when all they do is tear each other apart. Feel compelled for the first time in a long time to raise your hand. Think about what you would say—likely something about how some people don’t know how to love any other way. Put your hand down before the teacher notices you had it up in the first place.

Go home and try to watch TV to relax. Realize with a shiver of something not quite unlike terror that nearly every story you’ve ever been told is about love. Decide to watch the first Harry Potter movie instead. Eleven-year olds may not be that great at acting or wizardry, but they are proficient at not sleeping with their best friends. You could learn a lot from them.

For a while, you let yourself go and believe you are an eleven-year-old wizard.

You did not just have sex with your best friend.

His girlfriend is not your roommate.

Margo comes home from French Club at nine. When you hear her keys in the door, your apartment feels like it’s closing in on you. You turn the TV down and pull your blanket more tightly around you. Maybe if you’re quiet, maybe if you don’t even breathe, you can just fade into the upholstery of your second-hand couch. Maybe you’ll never have to talk to her again.

“Hey, Liza,” she says. She sounds distracted. You can hear the wheels grinding away in her mind. She’s thinking about Miles as she takes off her shoes and hangs up her coat behind you. You wonder how much she knows, how much she suspects. There is a part of you that wants her to figure everything out, but then you think about what Margo is like when she gets angry—how she always finds something to break—how easily she could break you.

You ask her how her day went. At first she doesn’t hear you and you are exhaling before you realize you had been holding your breath. Don’t repeat the question.

She stops on her way into her room. “Hey, you wouldn’t have happened to have heard from Miles today?”

“No,” you say. “Why? Is everything okay?”

She shrugs. “I think so. He hasn’t responded to any of my texts all day. It’s just kind of odd.”

“Maybe he forgot to charge his phone or something?” You are impressed by how genuinely helpful you sound.

“I guess.”

Ask if everything is okay between them. She tells you yes, but you can tell by the way she looks slightly to the left that she’s lying. You tell her you’re sorry. You say you hope he gets back to her soon.

You are both liars.


You think about how long you lied to yourself about what you wanted. You’ve dated three other guys since you met Miles. Miles was the only one who laughed when you said post-third break-up, that you think you may have only been dating Number 3 for his car. You realize now that you were actually dating Number 3 because he distracted you. He took your mind off of all the times in the last year Miles came over to your apartment and looked right through you when you answered the door.

The clothes you were wearing yesterday—purple jacket, red tee shirt, a bra you never really liked until now—they’re in a pile at the foot of your bed. You were supposed to do laundry today, but you can’t bring yourself to wash them just yet. They still smell like his pine-scented air freshener and that unnamable, clean smell that clings to all of his clothes, no matter how long it’s been since he’s washed them. You forbid yourself from looking at them.

You’re spending the night alone in your room, pretending to study organic chemistry, when really you’re just watching your Facebook page and the little green dot next to his name. You think about sending him a message, but the words hit a wall inside your brain and you just sit there, watching the little green dot.

A day ago, it would have been easy just to send him a message. You never run out of things to talk about. That’s why through all the boyfriends and girlfriends that have come and gone over the years, the two of you had been a constant.

You’ve been friends with him for five years now, since a high school chemistry class you loved and he hated. Remember how you both went to prom with different people and how you agreed—at three in the morning in your parents’ basement—that it would have been simpler if you had just gone with each other. How much pain and frustration it would have saved you both. Remember how you used to laugh at the idea of the two of you as a couple. How you used to think he would drive you crazy as a boyfriend. That he would tear your brain apart. Think about how you once told Number 2 that you could never date Miles, because you were too different. You like hard numbers and straight answers. Miles was an artist who thrived off of late nights and missed deadlines. He liked to ask questions. Remember the reason why Number 2 left you. Because no matter how many times you swore you loved him, Miles always got more answers out of you than he did.

Through the wall your bedrooms share, you can hear Margo laughing. You hear a few muffled words, spoken by a voice on the other end of her phone. This is all it takes for you to recognize Miles.

Remember the first night you heard his voice through your bedroom wall. The first time he came over here, not to see you, when you were supposed to be asleep but you weren’t. Remember how you lay in bed, your hands balled into fists under your blankets. Remember how you woke up the next morning and saw him drive away. How you were so angry that it gave you enough energy to clean your entire apartment and still have time for your physics homework.

You met Margo during your first year of college—when Miles was busy trying to have a long distance relationship with a girl from your high school. He would leave every weekend and Margo was there for the moments he missed. She forgave you when you threw up all over her pale blue bathmat the first time you drank too much. Of course, that may have had something to do with the fact that she was also the person who encouraged you drink too much in the first place. Spending too much time with Margo was exhausting in a way that staying up until five AM on Miles’s futon somehow never was. She was better at those late nights than you were, though, and one night, six months ago, the two of them stayed up later than you did and then Margo and Miles started calling themselves us and you were just a you.

Remember how stupid you felt when you realized you loved him. Remember how shallow you felt when you realized the thing that drove you over the edge was the way he would sit on your couch and curl her hair around his fingers. Remember how it felt like someone had scooped out all of your insides with a shovel. This is your chance, you realize. To banish all those memories for good and replace them with memories like last night, where things are simple, when you’re the only one he’s thinking about. You have no idea how possible this is. You’re not actually sure you want to know how possible this is.

You’re just about to tell him, hey. Because you want to see where you stand now. You can’t live in limbo, no matter how preferable limbo is to being without him.

He messages you first.

You feel like you won something when he asks you to meet tomorrow.


You must fight to get to sleep. Your brain refuses to shut down. Think about Miles and how soft the small of his back was. Think about the clothes you’ve forbidden yourself to touch.

Think about how you’ve never done anything like this before. You’re not all that familiar with breaking the rules. You’ve never really done much of that before. But, then again, maybe you have.

Realize that you and Miles were always closer than you should have been. Think about how during your late nights on his futon, he would ask to brush your hair while you talked. Think about how eventually he would set the brush down and massage your back. Eventually, he’d get tired and rest his head on your shoulders and his hands on your thighs. You wonder why it’s so easy for you to let him touch you.

Maybe it’s because he knows more about you than anyone else alive. He was your first call when you found out your Grandpa died your freshman year—not Number 1, not Margo, not even your parents.

You probably shouldn’t have let him get that close, but you did—because it felt good. Because it felt safe, even though in retrospect, letting him in was probably the most dangerous thing you have ever done.

You think about all the things the two of you ignored when you were together. All the things you pretended weren’t there. Lying should be harder, you think. Right now, it seems so easy. It’s automatic, like blinking.


You plan to go over to his apartment as soon as the optometrist you intern for says you can leave. Miles thinks it’s gross—that you like looking at the parts of people’s eyes. You don’t understand how blood can make people squeamish. We all have it, you would always tell him. You shouldn’t be grossed out by you.

That’s how you feel though. Grossed out by you. Disgusted, actually. Disgusted by the excitement you feel pulling your favorite red dress over your head and shivering as the soft, cotton fabric makes contact with your bare skin. You have no business wearing that dress—it is too short for work and too thin for the weather. You wear it anyway, though. Because it makes you feel beautiful.

Hold on to that feeling as you put your toothbrush and a fresh set of clothes at the bottom of your backpack so the other students in your classes won’t see them.

Margo sees you, though.

“Nice dress,” she says, startling you. You are in the kitchen toasting a bagel to eat on the way. “Got a hot date or something?”

Be glad your back is to her, because you know you look like a suspect in a cop show. Feel the heat in your cheeks as your face turns the color of your dress.

“No,” you say. Don’t turn around yet. Control your expression. From there, it’s easy for you to figure out what to say next. “I’ve got a work thing. They’re doing a party for all of the interns so we can mingle and stuff.”

“Damn,” she says. “And here I was hoping Miles and I would finally have someone to double with.”

Laugh at her joke. Decide it’s safe to turn around now. Don’t look uncomfortable. See your reflection in the microwave door. You look uncomfortable.

Margo, however, does not notice. Her eyes are glued to her phone and the messages Miles is sending her. You want to know every single detail of those messages and you want to rip her phone out of her hands and flush it down the toilet so you’d never have to read them.

“Did you ever get a hold of Miles last night?” you say, even though you know the answer. Instinct tells you that not asking would give yourself away.

She tells you he just forgot to charge his phone. Don’t press her for more information. You are going to see Miles today and she isn’t. Let that be enough.

Margo leans against the counter as you wrap your bagel in a piece of paper towel for the road. Her thumbs hover over her phone—she’s thinking about what to say to Miles. How to respond. She frowns and goes back to typing.

Decide this is a good thing for you.


Miles opens the door for you wearing track pants and a sweatshirt that don’t match. For some reason, this makes your heart sink a little bit when you see him. You think about how you got up fifteen minutes early to shave for him, just in case, and he couldn’t even be bothered to put on matching clothes for you? Tell yourself that this just means he’s comfortable around you. Do not spend your time thinking about all the times he asked you to help pick out outfits for dates with Margo. All the effort he put in for her. Don’t do it.

“Hi,” he says, and his eyes are alive. Mischief. That’s what this is. Breaking the rules. That’s what this is. You smile, too.


“You look really nice today,” he tells you, stepping aside so you can cross the threshold.

Your face turns red. This makes him smile wider.

Look away.

“We need to talk about last night,” you say.

He nods, but he doesn’t say anything. You follow him into the kitchen and he pours you a glass of cherry coke with way too much ice. He does this without asking you if you want one, because he knows you do.

Everything about this circumstance is familiar. You wonder why last night became last night and not just another Sunday where he asked how you were doing and you said fine, even though you weren’t. Even though you wanted to tell him that all you wanted was for him to stop texting Margo and just look at you. You wonder what was different. You can’t name it, exactly. It was the last piece of the kind of jigsaw puzzle that takes up an entire kitchen table, falling gently into place. It was the result of months of neglect that made you want him as close to you as possible. It was the flicker of bravery brought on by the second glass of wine what made you tell him—finally—that you loved him. That you were tired of him looking past you. It was the look on his face when you finally realized that he missed you, too.

You kissed him first. Feel a wave of guilt crash over you as you remember this. That you were the spark. Comfort yourself by remembering that you tried to pull away and he wouldn’t let you.

His phone is lying face up on the kitchen counter. Watch it move a little bit to the left as it buzzes. You read Margo’s name out of the corner of your eye. His body tenses up as he notices it, but he doesn’t say anything. Instead, he turns his phone over and smiles at you. You can see in the length of time it takes for the tension in his body to dissipate that he is torn, that he feels more guilt in this than even you do. But, right now, his phone is turned down and he is smiling at you. Take this moment. Right now, you know he is choosing you. Let him.

Change the subject.

“How’s your portfolio going?” you ask, because you want to see the way he brightens up when he talks about his art. He only does that for you. When anyone else asks about it, he looses five inches off his height—as though by making himself appear as small as possible he can get out of sharing altogether.

“Good!” he says. The brightness you’re used to is present in his eyes, but it’s tempered by something. Try not to read too much into this. “You saw most of the new stuff Sunday, but there’s one thing that’s new.”

“What is it?” you ask.

He has you follow him into the living room where his sketchpad is lying open on his futon along with the remains of his dinner. Notice the way the light catches a piece of your hair that’s stuck to one of his pillows. Take a moment to berate him as you clear off the trash from his dinner. He will respond (as you expected) by hitting you in the face with one of the pillows.

When you sit down, he’ll place the sketchbook in your lap. Feel your insides melting as you look down and your own face stares back at you. Your features are more angular; more ridged than they are in real life, but otherwise this is black and white you. The sketch is staring off in the distance; the piece of hair you always play with is wrapped around her index finger. You decide the paper you is thinking about something.

You ask him why he did this.

“I don’t usually like drawing people I know,” he explains. “When you know someone really well, you realize there are all sorts of complexities in the way that they look. I just feel like I can’t ever do that justice, you know?”

Your legs are touching and you’re close enough to him to smell that unnamable clean smell that clings to all his clothes, even though you can tell by his greasy hair that he hasn’t showered yet today. You know where this sort of closeness leads now, but you realize as he places one arm behind your back that you let him get this close long before you ever slept together.

“I know,” you say, because even though you can’t draw, you can look at Miles and realize how impossible it would be to put everything you know about him on paper. “So, why did you draw me, then?”

Miles sighs. “Because I couldn’t sleep and I knew the only way I could do that was if I drew something.”

“And I was on your mind?”

“A little bit, yeah.”

Whack him with the pillow. Try to stop smiling. Fail. Complain about how warm it is until he agrees to open a window for you. When he is done, he sits back down on the futon sideways and pulls your body against him. Feel his hands massage circles into your shoulders. Feel his hands gently push aside the strap of your bra beneath your dress.

You start to find the pieces you left here two nights ago. You forget about Margo and things start to make sense again. You feel yourself here. You are a girl wearing her favorite red dress who cannot believe that this is wrong. Or, maybe she does and she doesn’t care.

You are selfish and so is he. You do not talk about last night even though you know that when you leave in the morning your entire body will be screaming to know where you stand and what you are to him.

Pull away before he does something you can’t come back from. You know you could make things simpler for him. Tell yourself to walk away. Go home, Liza, you think, go home.


Don’t walk away because things are simpler for you here—where he takes the piece of hair you always play with and weaves it between his fingers. Stay and fight for what you want.

Take one more moment. Because you’re both stubborn enough and dangerous enough to take it even though it will hurt in the morning.

When you wake up next to him, he’ll ask you if you’re okay.

You are. You are and so is he. Because the moment still lives. Because the moments where you are together, where you are liars, are the only moments that feel true.

end of story

© 2017, Erika Staiger Go to top ^
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