enee acted as if she didn't hear Joel's question. He felt himself getting angry, but remained composed. He sat up in his king-sized bed and hit the snooze button on the radio alarm clock.
Birds sang a variety of songs outside of Joel and Renee's bedroom window. Traces of sunlight pierced their way through tiny gaps in the mini-blinds. With every passing second the morning sun's brightness intensified. The darkness was gone and now it was time to shed some light on the truth.
Joel said, “I asked you a question. Who's Robert?”
A puzzled expression covered Renee's face. “What?”
Frustration moved throughout Joel's body and found its final resting place in his head. He placed his hands at his temples and said, “I hate when I ask somebody a simple question and they play dumb or act like they didn't hear me.” He paused. When no response came, he said, “See, now you're playing dumb. Who the fuck is Robert?”
Joel's typically cautious approach was out the window.
Bright eyed and surprised, Renee asked, “Why are you cursing at me?”
“Because you know damn well you heard me and understand perfectly well what I asked.”
Renee threw the covers off of her and sat up looking for her slippers. “I don't know no damn Robert.”
Joel yelled, “I heard you say his name last night!”
Renee found her slippers and then quietly slipped into her robe. As she fastened it she said, “You need to calm down 'cause I don't have a clue what you're talking about. And judging from your expression, I can see that you don't really know what you're talking about either.”
Joel jumped out of bed naked and wrapped his towel, still damp from his shower the night before, around his waist. “Come on. Cut the bullshit. I know there's somebody else. No need to hide it anymore. We're both responsible adults. Well, at least I am. Maybe I'm not meeting your needs.”
Renee sucked her teeth and rolled her eyes. She walked into the bathroom and sat down on the toilet. Joel noticed that Renee unconsciously broke her typical morning routine. Usually she would take a good look at herself in the mirror first, but this time she didn't. Joel figured that Renee wasn't in the mood to see the guilt in her eyes.
Renee looked at Joel and said, “It's too early in the morning for this. You need to stop being so insecure. You're always trying to interrogate somebody. That's nothing but your guilty conscience.”
Joel stepped into the bathroom. He confidently looked at himself in the mirror and prepared to shave and brush his teeth. “Yup. That's why you can't even look at yourself in the mirror and exactly why you're always checking up on me. I swear to God that there isn't anybody else in my life except you. You're guilty and you're dying to get some dirt on me to help take the heavy load off your conscience.”
Renee was pissed because she hated when Joel scrutinized her actions and more than that she hated to be chastised like a child. She got off the toilet and turned on the shower. Out of habit she closed the bathroom door. She looked at Joel and said, “I don't know what you mean.”
Steam from the hot shower quickly filled the bathroom, fogging up the mirror. Joel thought that Renee was rude for not considering the fact that he was using the mirror. He wiped a line of fog from the mirror, but within seconds it steamed up again. Since he couldn't see, shaving was definitely out of the question. He decided to brush his teeth first.
As he put toothpaste on his toothbrush he said, “Since you don't know what I mean, then I'll tell you. I mean stuff like our big argument a few weeks ago. When I came home and you were in here looking crazy, color-coding my damn cell phone bill with different highlighters based on numbers that were or weren't familiar to you. That was some ridiculous shit. I'm not a child and you're definitely not my mother.” He began brushing his teeth.
Renee sarcastically said, “If I was your mother you wouldn't talk to me like this, would you?”
With his mouth full of white foamy toothpaste, Joel mumbled, “What?”
Climbing into the shower Renee looked at Joel and said, “Nothing. Just forget it.”
Joel spat the toothpaste from his mouth and then yelled over the noisy shower, “That's exactly what's wrong ... communication! Act like a responsible adult for a change and speak up. Your unspoken words are the ones with the most meaning. When your words are left unsaid, your actions speak loudest. Your actions from last night told me a whole lot about you.” He shook his head in frustration because he felt like Renee was ignoring him. He yelled, “I know about you and that punk-ass Robert and you know I know.”
The steam and noise of the shower were too much for Joel to compete with for the moment. He decided to give Renee a few minutes alone to think about what he had just said. After relieving his bladder he headed back into the bedroom.
When Renee was finished in the bathroom, she quietly stepped back into the bedroom.
Joel was calm and very clever. He knew how to get what he wanted out of Reneeâall he needed was the right approach. He looked Renee directly in her eyes, gave her a pleasant little smile and calmly asked, “Does Robert make you happy? Does he truly make you happy? Does he fill your heart with joy and make it overflow? That's all I need to know.”
Renee's bitter expression gradually changed. She felt warm inside and lit up on the outside with an undeniably radiant glow. She battled like hell to control her emotions and facial expressions. Joel watched closely as the corners of her mouth seemed to spasm. Within seconds a bright smile emerged. Joel couldn't believe what he was seeing. Just as quickly as Renee smiled, her eyes began to water. Tears streamed from her eyes. She was as beautiful and as messed up as sunshine on a rainy day.
Renee was absolutely unpredictable. She sighed and then put her right hand up to her mouth for a few seconds to help compose herself. She wiped her tears and said, “Robert is one of my co-workers. I said his name last night trying to get a reaction out of you.”
Joel was so shocked by Renee's open admission that he felt like he had just stepped into the twilight zone. He grimaced and said, “Okay, you got a reaction. Why are you crying now?”
Renee made a face that told Joel that she was still holding back the truth. She took a deep breath and said, “I'm crying because of all of the hurtful things you said. You made me sound like such a bad person.”
Another round of tears began to pour from her eyes. This time Joel wiped them away. With a hint of sarcasm he said, “Poor little misunderstood Renee. Look at you ... still lying. Always bending, contorting and redirecting the truth and the blame. Where's the truth? It must be hidden under your tongue or somewhere in the back of your mind. It might hurt me, but just think about how much you're hurting me by lying. C'mon, I know you better than you know yourself. Are you fucking Robert or what?”
Renee yelled, “No!” She stared at Joel for a few seconds. “Since you wanna know the truth so badly, then here's the truth.” She paused again to collect her thoughts. “Things did get a little heated and out of control between me and Robert once, but that's it.”
Joel raised an eyebrow. “Exactly how heated and out of control did things get between you and him?”
Renee appeared to be somewhat embarrassed, but Joel could see that a huge weight had been lifted off of her. She turned away from him and started to talk to his reflection in the bedroom dresser's mirror. “A couple of kisses and some light fondlingâthat's all.”
Joel spoke to her reflection. “That's more than enough, don't you think?”
Renee stood in front of Joel nude. She finished drying off with a pink towel and then slipped into her fancy underwear. “I know and I'm sorry. You were right. You win. I am a bad person. Hope you feel better knowing the truth.”
“Nope! I don't feel any different because I knew your ass was lying the whole time. And this isn't about winning, losing or who's right or wrong. This is about us and this stagnant and troubled-ass relationship of ours. Things won't ever be the same between us regardless.”
“What do you mean by that?”
“We had something special in the beginning, but now it's completely gone. I have no idea what happened.”
Renee sat down at her vanity and started styling her hair. In a real nonchalant manner she said, “I know exactly what happened. We happened, and time revealed our true selves. Now, here we are two-and-a-half years later.”
“Yup, and this is as good as it gets.”
“That's sad, but it's not all my fault.”
“Who cares about whose fault it is? You went out looking for attention from another man and had the audacity to call out his goddamn name in my bed. See, I'm really getting pissed now. The more I think about it the madder I get.”
“I was wrong for saying his name in our bed. But you can't even see your own faults, and you're too self-righteous to even ask why I did what I did.”
Renee attempted to turn the blame on Joel. He picked up on her trick and shook his head in disbelief. He laughed. “You're right. I didn't ask, but I was about to.” Joel put on a fake melodramatic voice and asked, “Why? Why, Renee? Is Robert's dick bigger than mine?”
Renee replied, “Typical male response. It had nothing to do with dick size. It's about how he treats me compared to how you treat me.”
“Whoa, that's funny. You just said how he
you. Don't you mean how he treated you? I mean, since things only got a little heated and out of control once.”
“There you go analyzing me again. I see Robert at work on a daily basis, therefore
was used in its proper tense, thank you.”
“Well, how exactly does he treat you?”
Renee answered calmly, “With respect and very gently. He isn't all rough and overly aggressive like you.”
Joel burst out laughing. “Shit, sounds like you and that nigga did a lot more than get a little heated and out of control. And listen to you, talking about I'm rough and overly aggressive. What about your damn whip appeal last night? I bet you whipped it on him, too.”
“When it comes to me and Robert, you can say and think whatever you want. And give me an f-ing break. I didn't hear your ass complaining last night about, as you call it, my damn whip appeal.”
Joel had reached his boiling point. “You're right. You know what? I don't have time for this anymore.” Joel paused and took a deep breath. “So, I'm gonna say that this right here, is officially over. We're done! Consider your walking papers signed and authorized, so you can step any time you get ready.”
“Don't make me laugh. I hope you don't think it's over because you said so.” Renee laughed out loud. “As far as I'm concerned, it's
over!” She sucked her teeth and threw her hand at Joel. “I don't have time for this either because you're making me late for work.”
“Go ahead to work. And you better tell that bitch Robert that I figured y'all out.”
“He doesn't care about you or what you figured out.”
Joel squinted with anger. “Hold up, he actually knows about me? Because if he knows about me and is messing around with you ...” He stopped himself, changed his thought process and let out a heavy sigh. He shook his head and said, “That's all right because you aren't even worth going to jail over. I'd be in jail and the two of you would probably be up in here calling out each other's names and shit.”
Renee used her usual sarcasm and carelessly added insult to injury. She shrugged her shoulders and said, “I wouldn't doubt it.”
Joel's anger level and blood pressure peaked, and then quickly dropped back down within normal limits. With a straight face he said, “I hate you.”
“The feeling is mutual.” Renee held up her left hand and paused. She felt her emotions getting the best of her. There was a tiny burning sensation in her nasal passages and a stinging in her eyes that made them water. “No, I'm not gonna sit here and say that I hate you, because I sincerely love you. I love you, Joel.”
This was the same dramatic breakup scene that had been repeatedly playing in Joel's mindâthe same scene that he had been trying to avoid for months. He hated when emotions flew high between him and Renee. He felt her words
I love you,
right in his heart making him realize that he loved Renee. After all that had happened, he stood there wondering why he still loved her so much. His mind raced. He began sifting through the sands of time, searching for something meaningful to hold on to. Sadly, everything just seemed to be slipping away. Hundreds of short but significant moments that he and Renee had shared flashed through his mind. These were happy moments he had pretty much forgotten. Joel knew they would never have the chance to experience anything like those moments again.