“Come on!” he yelled after her as she stormed away.
“Look, would you just listen?” The words were called after her retreating back moments before she slammed the bathroom door. Zack started pounding on it.
“Open up! Come on, Jane!”
“Get the hell out of here!”
He threw up his hands, as if invoking lightning. “It didn’t mean anything, all right? Would you cool it?”
Staring at the closed door for several seconds, various options presenting themselves, he settled on the easiest, and kicked the door down.
The flimsy frame splintered around the latch, sending bits of wood everywhere. Through the gap, which he quickly pushed open and moved through, Jane’s shocked and tear-streaked face was staring at him. “Are you nuts?”
“I want to talk about this, okay?” He quickly kneeled in front of her where she sat on the toilet. “Okay, look—”
“I don’t want—”
“Listen, all right? Her name’s Lana. She’s in my Torts class. Every time I see her, she’s all goofy on me, and she saw me at the party, and she was all over me, and I was drunk as fuck, and what do you want? It didn’t mean anything.”
It was early January, but the freak climate of the past few months was keeping the apartment in a thick heat. Zack didn’t want to be doing this. He wanted to be in the pool. He needed to be studying. Instead, he was kneeling on a thin (and, as always, damp) carpet over hard tiles, trying to get his girlfriend to meet his eyes. How did this kind of thing happen to him?
“You were slobbering down that whore’s throat!”
“Look, we were just feeling the party, okay? It’s not even worth tripping about. It’s not like we did anything.”
In retrospect, and even last night in then-spect, he should have stayed home. The party had been a wash, undergrads vomiting in corners and half the people there only for the beer, dozens of lights out and the music dead after they blew a fuse. He hadn’t mean to drink so much, but he’d taken his Jurisprudence final earlier that day, and wanted to flush unneeded facts and figures from his system. One of those nights. His car was towed, too, which he didn’t discover until he woke up with a splitting headache sprawled on an Alpha Kappa Lambda sofa and hitched a ride home, just in time for this.
Jane was looking pointedly at the opposite wall, lips tight, but after a bit she glanced over at the door and said, “You going to fix that?”
“We don’t have a bathroom door now.”
“You’re such a fucking moron.” She shoved past him and walked back into the brightly-lit living room, sniffing a little and wiping under her eyes with the backs of her hands. He rolled his eyes and got to his feet, grimacing at the soreness in his knees. Maybe he should just start wearing knee pads. About right for this relationship.
Following her out, he leaned against the doorframe, scratched behind his hairline and said, “It’s different for me than you. Girls have to get emotional whenever it’s physical. Guys can just have fun and not mean anything. Just pretend I was playing Scrabble or something, no difference.”
She spun around, still visibly angry, but starting to compose herself and focus it. Yikes. Maybe he should hide the dishes. “Do you like her?”
“Not really. She’s a whiny drunk. And she kind of has cankles.”
“You fucking p—”
First, a sonorous ringing of glasses on the kitchen shelves, followed by an accompanying baritone as the open windows over the sink started to tremble very slightly, made Zack turn, but half a second later the vibration switched to a slamming, rolling explosion, the entire apartment heaving up and down like a loose film reel. He stumbled forward, threw a leg backwards to find his balance, and was flung into the air, losing his feet completely and bruising his left arm against the hammering ground. The noise was incredible: plaster cracking, wood everywhere in the walls and floors creaking and snapping, and glass exploding on all sides. A tiny shard hit him from an unseen angle and lanced into his unprotected forearm, like a hypodermic; it welled up with blood immediately.
Trying to climb forward, his mind strangely distant with thoughts like Hmm, this must be the big one they were waiting for, Zack was heaved back and forth, getting bludgeoned by the floor like a surfer caught in a wave. Casting around, barely able to see, he suddenly found an arm, grabbed it, and pulled himself towards Jane, who was huddled in a ball in the corner.
He had no thought of finding shelter; it was almost impossible to move, much less navigate. Instead, he wrapped himself around Jane and clamped an arm to a nearby masonry support column, pressing desperately against the comforting wall. Noise everywhere. The wall jumped out at him harder than he could resist, bumping his forehead and slamming Jane’s side. “Shit!” he yelled in sudden pain.
As if in response, the shaking stopped, as suddenly as it had started. Like its power was cut. Move, move, still; Zack’s sense of balance made a phantom jump in anticipation, giving his stomach a kick when he remained motionless, like walking down a staircase one step too far.
Wrecked furniture lay in piles around the suddenly quiet apartment. Zack opened his eyes, looked around; the destruction was unbelievable. Nothing that had started upright was still standing. A light dust was hanging in the air, several papers on a coffee table beginning to shift as wind blew through the smashed living room windows. Blood twisted around his left arm in a solid line, tapping down onto the wood floor with slow drips. From far off, a cacophony of sirens began to erupt.
In uncontrolled, outright shock, he started to sob. Jane moaned in his arms.
Holding one another, they cried for a long time.