While on his fourth glass of wine, George decided glass was his favorite substance—it was sharp, solid, and, most importantly, clear. Light shone through it brilliantly. It was a near-perfect conductor for vision. It magnified, it reflected, it allowed. He swirled his glass, watching the last sip of the dark red liquid spin and slosh at the bottom.
Beside him, Tammy sipped her water—she only ever drank water, usually with lemon—slowly, meticulously, then set it down, centered, on the coaster. She swirled the water around in her mouth, red dusting her cheeks, her eyes slitted like the horizon. George had never seen anyone drink water with as much pleasure as his wife. She swallowed, then dabbed her mouth just once with a napkin. She always did that.
“The Fosters have divorced, I’ve heard,” she said.
George tried to think of something to say to that.
“After losing my kid like that, I wouldn’t be either,” Jake said. Holding the knife daintily with his thin fingers, George’s brother-in-law made a small incision on the giant cheese-stuffed mushroom, speared it, lifted it up to his mouth. “Who could?”
Felicity set down her knife and fork, her own mushroom gone, plate scraped clean. “Not even a psychopath, I bet. A rock would probably break from that, even.”
Tammy opened her mouth.
“Rocks can be hard to crack,” George said, then regretted it.
“That’s certainly an important thing to say when someone has lost a child.” Tammy’s hand tightened around her water glass and her wedding ring twinkled. She didn’t look at him. Not for the first time, he wondered at the pliability of gold—sometimes, the ring seemed about to melt away it was so soft, and at others, it could be as hard and cold as iron ore. Her words hit him like harsh wind—a wall shot up between them, hard and cold.
The last sip of wine slipped tart and spicy down George’s throat. Thirst hit his throat—he desperately needed more. He scanned for the waiter’s white coat in the smog of dress shirts and dresses around them. The restaurant was packed full tonight—forks and glasses scraping, mouths chewing, voices humming and buzzing; the rich, thick scents of cooked food uncurling from the silver trays crooked within the waiter’s arms. And so many smiles. Everywhere, people’s faces glinted, stretched. Laughter popping and bubbling like champagne.
The waiter arrived. He held the wine bottle high. “Another glass, sir?”
Relief filled George. “Please. And leave the bottle.”
The wine waterfalled in. He sipped greedily from the cup. Sometimes, he thought of himself as a vampire scuttling around in the dead of night, the only one of his kind, searching for grape blood. He could be a creature the grape parents warned their grape children about before they went to sleep.
“You haven’t finished your steak, George,” Jake said.
George looked down at his plate. The meat lumped there, cold and mossed with mashed potatoes. He loved steak, but now couldn’t eat it. He tried to think of something funny to say. Something interesting. He opened his mouth. “I—”
“As usual, he’s on the grape diet,” Tammy said.
A ghost of a smile crossed Jake’s face. “We envy you, George. Felicity and I have been limiting ourselves to one glass, Friday nights only.”
“I admire that,” Tammy said. “Your restraint from alcohol. It’s impressive.”
Now a real smile cut Jake’s face. “Thank you, Tammy. Restraint is one of our most prized values.” He and Felicity smiled at each other. “We’re approaching a year of cutting out meat, too.”
“It’s just so bad for the environment,” Felicity said. “And inefficient. For every six-hundred calories you put into an animal, one goes into a human. What’s worse, too, is that so many people waste what they make, or order.”
George gulped down his fourth glass.
Tammy raised a forkful of her stuffed mushroom. “And you know, the vegetarian diet actually tastes good, too.” All three of them—Tammy, Jake, Felicia—had ordered the stuffed mushroom, while George had gotten the steak.
“Absolutely!” Felicity said.
The wine had lit a warm fire in George’s belly. Now it flared. He opened his mouth.
“But not you, George!” Felicity said. “I didn’t mean you. Just other people.” She gave him a small smile, thin as air, but it was enough to loosen the hard feeling in his chest.
Instead of yelling, perhaps even standing up and walking away, bottle in hand, George poured himself another glass of wine, the last one in the bottle. He glanced beyond their table, at the restaurant windows. Although the world had begun to tremor from the alcohol, he saw that they were huge glass panes, wrought with gold and polished to such a shine, it was almost like they weren’t there at all. It was beautiful. It was so far away.
* * *
George tilted the loupe and the grainy, pebbled surface of the rock sample came into focus. Igneous rock formed inside the hot flow of magma, deep inside the Earth’s core. Pressure and heat. While he liked the idea, he didn’t care for the product: these rocks were dark, gritty, volcanic. They didn’t reflect like glass did.
And yet, he admired crystals. The way they could be clear, yet distort. Twist. For Christmas, his step-niece—a girl nicer than Jake and Felicity to such a high degree, he couldn’t believe she was their daughter—sent him a box stuffed with crystals, and a tarot card set. For healing, she’d written on the box. My cards said you have a hard future. When George received the box, he felt so warm inside.
One day, he overheard one of his graduate students talking about the card readings he’d do on weekends, so George brought the cards in one day and convinced the guy to tell him his future. George hadn’t known how to approach him, how to ask, so he ended up just blurting out the question when the guy was bent over a sample, making him jump. George apologized at least five times.
Mouth pinched, the student flipped over three cards in the break room and told him he had an impending transformation. George agreed with that. He could feel something bubbling to the surface, ready to erupt, like the volcano he’d hiked up with his study abroad group so many years before. There had been a warning about unusual activity in the crater when it would have been too late for their group to retreat, but instead of boiling skin and charred bones, it turned out to simply be a false alarm. He thought this time, however, he was on the verge of something new. Something real.
Volcanic eruptions were extremely beneficial events.
* * *
While driving down the snaking path leading to the site, through the valleys and trees, George finished the bottle of wine. It was a local pinot noir gifted to him by the client. Expensive, but not very good—it was currented with a sour tinge, a roughness.
Not that he needed it: the tree leaves brushing by outside the window had taken on a blurry quality, and the road’s sharpness had subsided in just the right way. Like usual, he’d ingested just the right amount for a scouting expedition. Dinner with his in-laws, like yesterday, however, always required far more than one bottle. Two at least. Maybe three, if he didn’t want to remember what they’d said. For some reason, they’d always treated them harshly. He didn’t exactly know why—had he missed early, critical opportunities to form a connection? Had he been too oblivious to see?
He popped the cap on a tiny bottle of gas-station cabernet and sipped it. The gravel side road appeared ahead—a grey ribbon in the green. He turned onto it. After a few minutes of crunching, he reached the site. It seemed promising for a new vineyard: slightly sloped, situated high up the hill, good aspect. Yet that didn’t mean much. In Napa, it came down to the ground. Down to him.
He parked and stepped out into the air. The cool evening breeze tickled, but with the alcohol, it didn’t cut. Lugging a backpack and the large, t-shaped auger with him for the soil sample, he wandered out to the center of the field. Stretching out before him, below, was a golden view of the valley—trees rippling away in emerald rows like sea glass, hills lifting and lolling, the sun and the sky, blue as blueberries. The lushness, the life, all lifted him up.
He was George Lendon. He was still fairly young, a geology genius; he knew all the soft indents and fertile valleys in the body of the earth; the rarest life flowered into existence within his careful, knowing palms. Right now, he alone decided if this patch of land, this tiny pinpoint along the great vast canvas of the planet’s skin, would be chosen to erupt and twist with life—the vines of grape. At this moment, he was God.
He wished Tammy were here with him to experience it. The thought deflated him. She used to accompany him in the early days of their relationship. They would drive up together, sipping iced coffees, nineties rock crackling loud and bassy from the speakers. Cold air and warm conversation. At the site, she’d help him with the measurements, and often she did a better, more precise job than he did. Sometimes they’d head up later in the evening, styrofoam’d steak dinners seat-belted in the backseat, then eat and make love beneath the stars.
Every moment then had felt timeless, as if they were the sole two people in California. She’d smiled a lot then. So had he. He could remember it so clearly, so vividly, like sheets of the clearest water streaming over beds of pyrite.
The alcoholic warmth in his chest faded—thinking about old memories always required so much energy. Gnawed hot and fast through his buzz like a spark through kerosene, leaving him cold. Hollowed. He needed another drink.
After twisting the auger down into the dirt, he crouched and scooped a soil sample into its plastic case. Looking at the earth, touching it, even without the lab analysis, he knew that this site would be worthless. The dirt was too barren, too homogeneous, to nurture anything—it lacked the vital nutrients that life required.
* * *
The next day, head pounding, he went into the lab early for a faculty meeting. Somehow, he was the first one inside, and under the foggy polish of his hangover, the conference room seemed too sharp—the glass table glared like the side of a skyscraper when the sun hit the panes just right. He did notice, for the first time, however, that this particular university room had cabinets the same deep brown shade as his favorite blazer. It made him feel immersed in the color of himself. Comfortable.
He popped two Advil, swallowed them dry, and waited for everyone else. The second to arrive was a younger man who George had never seen before. He had precisely shaved stubble, and his button up was sharp-edged, freshly-pressed and the color of cream—he looked too clean for a geology department. He must have been fresh out of his PhD, a new hire whose misty face hadn’t had time to settle around the halls.
The man locked eyes with him and smiled, revealing bright teeth. He crossed the room and sat directly beside George. “I’m Adam,” he said, holding out his hand. “New to the university.” A pungent wave of cologne, like festering grapes, wafted off from his cuffs.
“George,” George said hoarsely, returning the shake. He hadn’t been expecting this level of socialization so early—usually, it was nods of acknowledgement, slideshows and work-language without warmth behind it, quick entries and faster exits before George could crack a joke or ask about anyone’s day.
“How long have you been working here?” Adam asked.
It took George a moment to form a response. “Five years now, I think.” He fumbled a question in return. “Did you just finish school?”
Adam nodded, his smile remaining. “Postdoc at Columbia.”
“Columbia!” George said. “That’s where I went. God, it feels like yesterday I finished my own post-doc. Did you work under Dr. Hafford?”
“Wow, small world. And I’m sure you know more than anyone that I wish I hadn’t. That old goon tacked on an extra year for nothing.”
George laughed. “He did the same for me, a few years ago. My friends and I called it the ‘Hafford Extra Mile.’”
Adam leaned in. “Between you and me, I think he was just lonely.”
“I bet. The man was so immersed in rocks, I don’t think he’d seen natural light in years.” The Advil must have kicked in because George’s hangover disappeared. “What brings you to the west coast, Adam?”
“My family lives out here.” Adam leaned in. “And I appreciate the vineyards here, so when they sent me the employment offer, I just couldn’t pass it up.”
The subject sparked a thousand questions in George. He’d just begun to ask Adam, of course, the obvious first question, the one with really only one right answer—red or white wine?—when everyone shuffled in for the meeting. Waves of coats and blazers and thick beards. Dr. Ryson flicked on the powerpoint, and George had to turn away.
* * *
After the meeting, when George was about to exit through the doorway, head back to his office, Adam caught him, and asked, “Are you busy? I’m hungry and could use some conversation. There’s a fantastic lunch spot that does tastings nearby. Have you heard of ‘The Silent Peacock?'”
George hadn’t, but the invitation itself, the fact that someone wanted to go somewhere with him for the purpose of talking, of sharing food and wine and conversation willingly sold him before the word ‘Peacock’ had finished leaving Adam’s mouth. And besides, anything would be better than the cold chicken salad sandwich lumped in his office fridge.
When they arrived, George noted the place was small, tight, charcoal, crammed snugly between a larger corner cafe and a bookstore. The logo was wooden, and featured a carving of a peacock in flight, its outline slightly smudged behind elegant purple cursive spelling out the restaurant’s name.
They took a booth beside the bar. The restaurant was pocketed with men in dark coats, business attire, pink golf polos. Everything was dark wood, dark lighting, sophisticated; a water feature of a peacock towered along one wall. In the lighting, the water bubbling down it looked like liquid crystal.
The waiter was dressed for five-star dining. They ordered the California tasting and the charcuterie board and he didn’t need to write it down.
Even before the wine arrived, the conversation seemed promising. They spoke of the merits of a good merlot, Columbia—how it had changed, how it had remained the same—and George gave him some secret tips about the university. “The coffee maker in the faculty room pours rust.” “The Red Lounge has the best ribeye.” “Avoid Dr. Albert on every fifteenth of October—his wife died.” They spoke of different vineyards they’d been to, including a gimmicky one George and Tammy toured once that had California’s spiciest cabernet. His mouth still burned from the memory.
“I see you’re married,” Adam said, gesturing with his near-empty glass to George’s ring.
George had been smiling, but at that, his smile winked away. “Yes.”
Wonderful wouldn’t have been George’s word. He sighed and fingered the cold metal band around his finger. How much to mention? The rapid blossoming of he and Adam’s friendship came, suddenly, to the foreground—they didn’t know each other. Despite this, George wanted to talk. He could feel the need to vent rising like steam, about to shake the kettle and come bursting out.
Adam set his drink down. He crossed his hands on the table and leaned in. “I went through a nasty divorce recently. You have the same look I had before it went downhill. If you want to, you can talk to me.”
The floodgates opened. By the time the charcuterie board arrived, which took longer than expected, he’d vented to Adam most of his concerns. “She never cheated. It wasn’t like that. There’s just been this distance. We don’t act the same way together. She doesn’t see me anymore—when she looks at me, it’s like her eyes pass right through me, except when she’s angry—then, there’s a hardness. A wall.” George took a second to finish his first glass of wine—wait, was it really only his first?
Adam nodded. He’d listened intently the entire time, his brow furrowed, his eyes wide and accepting, never interrupting George. When the waiter set their second glasses down and slid their charcuterie board on the table, Adam took a circle of sausage, placed it on a cracker, and popped it in his mouth. He chewed slowly, washed it down with the wine, and said, “I’m sorry, George. Do you think it’s her that’s changed, or you?”
George stared into his glass. “I’m not sure.” He took a sausage and the meat melted in his mouth—the quality was superb. He sipped the second wine, a cabernet from Hilltop Winery, and the blend of the meat’s spices with the wine’s blackberry leanings seemed to spark into something transcendent, something satisfying and full. He licked the grease from his fingers. “Thank you for bringing me here. The sausage is amazing.”
“It’s one of my favorites.” Adam smiled. “And of course. The pleasure is all mine.” He raised his glass. “Cheers.”
George raised his in return. “Cheers.”
They clinked glasses, and the sparkle, touched perfectly by the sunlight, was nearly blinding. After they’d paid and they went to leave, Adam asked for his number. “Let’s keep in touch,” he said.
George agreed. On his drive home from work, he couldn’t stop smiling. He’d worked for years with people who he’d seen forever, but never really spoken to. His colleagues, despite his memorization of their names, their doctorates and fields of study that were cemented from so many endless years of emails and gold-edged initials on office doors, were always so enclosed, so impassive. Whenever George spoke with them, it was always through the current of necessity. In fact, he found himself unable to recall a single different color to conversations with them. Their marriages. Their hobbies. They were like the outsides of houses—he knew their walls, their shuttered windows, but not their furniture, their kitchens, and the echoes of laughter inside them. With Adam, he might have finally found a lifeline to something more open.
* * *
When George pulled into the driveway and went inside, Tammy was cooking dinner.
The oily, pungent scent of sizzling asparagus wafted through the house. He hated asparagus. Like pyrite was the worst of all rocks, asparagus was the worst of all vegetables. Usually, he would circumvent the kitchen when Tammy was cooking, head to his office, but after lunch with Adam, he felt charged. Eager to talk.
He entered the kitchen. Tammy stood at the counter, prodding the asparagus with a fork as it cooked. Her hair was up in a perfect bun, not a hair out of place. Even in her gym clothes, as she wore right now, she looked so precise, so put together. He wondered if sweat popped on her skin when she ran on the treadmill, if her breath ever quickened to accommodate the increased motion and effort.
He threw his coat on the back of a kitchen chair and sat down. “I’m home.”
Tammy shot a glance at him, down at his arms, then returned her attention to the pan. “I’ll assume you didn’t stop at the store for my sparkling water.” She flipped the asparagus. A bag of unopened parmesan cheese sat centered on the counter. She ripped it open. When she sprinkled it in the pan, the scent thickened, turning the air sour.
George almost gagged. “No, I didn’t. I’m sorry.” Remorse curdled in his stomach.
She stabbed an asparagus stalk and transferred it to a plate. “Okay.”
A moment of silence stretched, disrupted only by the sizzling, then George asked: “I met a new friend. A transfer from Columbia. We had lunch.”
“That’s great, George.”
When it was clear she would say nothing else, he asked: “How was your day?”
“Like any other.”
“Nothing interesting? New?”
She filled a ceramic mug with tap water. “Not really.”
Another silence. George searched for something to say, and found nothing—his head felt empty of any possible topic to explore. His limbs stiffened, his skin felt hard and cold. For a moment, he couldn’t breathe, and around him, walls shot up. What was the point? This was stagnant. Immobile. Impenetrable.
The moment passed. He noticed the mail on the counter, and reached for it, welcoming the distraction. The stack was rife with the typical bills and credit card offers, but there was also something new. A letter, sawed open, from the National Endowment for the Arts.
“You got the grant,” George said in awe. It was for the sum of twenty-five thousand dollars. She’d been awarded it to continue her work translating an obscure Icelandic mythos—it had taken her years, so far, but the progress, from what he had picked up, was being made. Most of her nights were spent bent at her desk, shifting letters from one to another, then back again. He didn’t understand it, only knew that it was difficult. It was something he admired about her—her drive, her constant, gritted effort to breathe new life into a language even as it died.
Tammy shot another look at him—this time, for a small second, her face seemed softer; she seemed clear, polished. “Yes I did. Sorry, I meant to tell you.” She crossed with her water and her asparagus, now plated, around the counter, toward her office.
“Wait,” George said. “I’d thought we could have dinner together.”
“You don’t like asparagus.” She stopped, and now, the light streaming through the window failed to reach her face, or the glass of water in her hand—it deepened from clear to shadowed. Murky. “And don’t you want to drink a bottle of wine first? Anyway, I have a lot of work to do. I’ll be busy the whole evening.”
* * *
While driving home from the bar, the world had unhinged from its axis, and he’d forgotten how to read street signs—the words kept skipping back and forth, stubbornly rearranging themselves when he narrowed his eyes. Even in his current condition, when all the gears in his mind were grinding off one by one, a small, stubborn core of thought remained, created from long, tired years of experience—he should not have driven.
He hadn’t meant to get this drunk, but at the bar, while scrolling through his phone, he saw that Tammy had posted a photo on Facebook, smiling while holding up the letter about her grant acceptance, roughly twenty minutes before he’d arrived home. One glass became one bottle, then two.
If only he didn’t love her—that would make everything so much more bearable.
She had already long since gone to sleep; the windows were all dark, the porch light snuffed. He unlocked the door after missing the keyhole a few times, then stumbled into the black hallway. Luckily, the smell of asparagus had faded, or he might have thrown up all over their foyer bookshelf. Honestly, he thought drunkenly, that might improve the quality of Oedipus Rex, something he’d only read because Tammy had been studying it when they met.
Upstairs, the master bedroom was cold, the sheets neat and pressed and empty. Tammy must have fallen asleep working again. She often did that.
He took off his coat and swung down atop the sheets. Now the spinning lessened—from a tornado to a teacup ride at the fair—as it always did whenever he stopped moving. Being in motion had a habit of making everything worse.
Across, something glittered on the desk before the draped window. George tried to focus on it, but with his dull-drunk eyes, he just couldn’t penetrate the shadow enough to figure out what it was. It drew him. He lumbered up from the bed and swayed over to it.
It was a geode. A half-circle nestled beside the computer. Within the sand-dusted dark shell were crystals, white and sharp and shimmering; moonlight shafted through the curtains and struck the shards. Imbued them with a bluish glow, creating the sparkle he’d seen from the bed.
A sadness overtook him. He reached out and touched the crystal. When he did, the room seemed to shift. A feeling waterfalled in him, blasting away the alcohol’s effects like a high-pressure hose shearing dirt from a wall. Everything sharpened: he could see. A revelation loomed just out of sight—something wet and flowing, dark waters, a roaring river puncturing the dam and solidifying into riverbeds of crystals.
It passed, the alcohol tilted back into place, and then, with it, a stiffness tightened his chest. His arms felt solid, weighted, hard to lift, and his skin numb and cold, as if he were sick, but his body had stopped trying to fight it. He let go of the crystal and it thunked down on the desk. Rolled. Teetered at the desk edge. Went still, now upside down. The crystals, so beautiful, were now shrouded. Hidden.
The feeling passed. George collapsed back on the bed and went to sleep. During, he dreamt of a still, black place, one in which he wanted to scream, but couldn’t open his mouth to do so.
* * *
The winery looked brilliant in the evening. Red and orange light starfished up behind the sloping roof, and to the building’s side, vines crawled over marble pillars that stood interspersed between the fading sunlight, calling to George’s mind the idea of a jail cell, but a better one—a prison for a god, someone so powerful they could direct the minds of those around them.
He climbed out of his car. The night smelled of sandalwood and lush vines; distantly, sharp, rich cheese and cooking meat, and the spicy linger of grapes, all of George’s favorite things. Adam was supposed to be here by now.
“Hey, stranger.” Adam slapped George’s shoulder. His teeth flashed white in the dying light. “It’s been a while.”
George nodded. “Thanks for coming.” His nose tickled. Adam’s cologne was crashing off him. He smelled like he’d showered in it tonight; the power of it was slightly repugnant, an overwhelming wave of strawberries and bananas that made George want to step back. And yet, he didn’t—he buckled down and forced a smile to Adam.
“I wouldn’t miss it,” Adam said. “Thank you for inviting me. I’ve been really looking forward to this with you.”
“So have I.” Warmth flowered in George’s chest at Adam’s words.
Adam gestured to the winery. “Shall we head in?”
George nodded, not trusting himself enough to speak. Cologne aside, it had been a long time since he’d looked forward to something like this. Besides Tammy, he really didn’t have anyone to talk to. No friends. He almost told Adam all that, but the words dammed up in his throat.
He followed Adam up the stone steps to the entrance. The name of the winery had been etched into the glass, along with an artistic rendition of a bundle of grapes. Inside, the foyer was expansive and high-ceilinged, red-carpeted, low-lit with metal lamps spiked along the scorched stone walls, spilling everything in muted yellow. Wine racks packed and stacked with bottles clustered the space, and somewhere in the distance whispered the tinkle of clinking glasses and laughter. Spice and the mouth-watering scent of a distant meat drenched the air. It was all so lovely. The place George had always meant to be.
“I like that this place operates as a restaurant, too,” Adam said. “That way you don’t just get drunk, but full.”
George laughed. “Yes. And that meat smells delicious.”
Adam smiled at him. “Yes. It does.”
A man in a crisp button-up shirt came out from the restaurant to greet them. “Mr. Lendon.” He shook George’s hand. “The owners welcome you to their vineyard and restaurant. As thanks for your work for them, the tour and your meal are on the house.”
He led them through the halls. The whole place was large, still, snaked with little passageways like tunnels through mountains of stone, all of it comparable to a mine, one that had been here, unmoving, for a long, long time. George noticed too that the human elements seemed to twist with nature—the stone walls were glassed with dirt, the air had a sooty quality, and as their guide led them out back to the patio, vines and bushes and gurgling water features all blended with the tables, the halls. It was rocky, dark and claustrophobic and closed, yet slightly magical, like something out of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, another play he’d read for Tammy.
At the thought of her, the openness he felt with Adam began to close. He tried to push her out of mind, yank the gate between him and the world back open. Not here. Not now.
The tour guide deposited them at a table just at the edge of the patio. The patio had been built atop the hill, so they were high up in the air and had a gorgeous view of the rolling fields, all of them rippling with rows of grape vines out into the distance like the arched, furry backs of cats.
Within seconds, a waiter with hairy hands set two glasses of red on the table. “House Pinot Noir.” He withdrew.
While sipping the wine, which tasted of cherry and truffles, they talked of work, and restaurants, and George commented on the beauty of the place.
Adam agreed. “It’s very nice. And quite romantic. I can see why they want to expand. How did your site testing go for them?”
“Not good. I knew the soil wasn’t fertile from eyeing it, and the lab test confirmed that.”
“You knew just from looking?” Adam whistled. “That’s impressive. You have true talent, George, and the university is lucky to have you.”
The warmth crackled in George’s chest, and for a moment, he thought something might break in him, and he would cry. He wanted to tell Adam how much he meant to him, how, despite the sudden development of their friendship, he felt like they’d known each other forever. Everything just felt so sharp, so clear, so open—a bond like a mirror.
“How’s it been with Tammy?” Adam asked.
“Not so well,” George said. “I’m—well, I’m wondering if it might be unfixable. If both of us have settled into something too different. We seem unable to connect, like we’re too set within our own grooves.” The idea, uttered and brought to life, seemed to make it more true.
Adam leveled a gaze at him, raw with understanding—he had been divorced, had likely felt the same way, George knew. The sun was in its final stage now, just a red smear at the horizon, and around them the lamps clicked on, bathing his face in half-shadow. “I know how you feel—my relationship was unfixable. But while I’d thought it was her, it was really me. I’d changed in a fundamental way—well, more just had an epiphany—and Jennifer and I couldn’t proceed like we were anymore. We had to end it. It was painful, but it had to be done. I think you’re in the same place I was, George. I think I see that in you—I saw it from the very first time we talked to each other at the meeting.” He reached forward and gripped George’s wrist. His eyes were wet. “It’s difficult to come to this realization after so long, after so much effort. It can hurt so much. But know that I’m here for you while you work through it—while we work through it.”
It was too much. George felt utterly forlorn. Why couldn’t Tammy do this for him? Why couldn’t she shift the stones until she found the geode within him? He had always loved her, and at one point, he knew she had loved him, but now, there was some wall there, an invisible partition between them that they couldn’t overcome, like a barrier of the thickest, densest steel. Whether it was his fault or hers he couldn’t tell. Somewhere, in the back of his mind, something scratched at him, wriggled to break free. Something roaring and wet.
He looked out at the horizon, at the sun as it flared in one final flash of red, illuminating the green, rolling fields, the grapes moist and glistening on their vines. It seemed like a symphony was playing, one that only George could hear—a swell of string instruments and lifting voices, a song that rocked the stage and set the orchestra hall rumbling, emotion crashing in like waves onshore.
Then Adam leaned in and kissed him. His lips were chapped and tasted of red wine, and his beard stubble grazed George’s cheeks. The cologne gnawed at him now, cloying, so bitterly sour that it felt a slap to the face, and now, the symphony lurched to silence, and the wonderful view of the hills darkened into shapeless lumps—the sun had left, and so there was no light left to magnify their details.
For a moment, George almost accepted the kiss—for one instant, he hovered somewhere in the middle, his core molten, but then, he became sturdy and rigid once more: he became a rock, as he had always been a rock, incapable of being anything else, and with this knowledge so to did domino a collapsing number of realizations, inevitable and unchangeable as the ground itself. George ripped away from the kiss. Adam’s face, in the dying light, changed—a look of shock, misunderstanding, and pure hurt seared from his features, bright and hot as magma, and then it collapsed. Became dark and cold and rigid as a distant mountain. It became Tammy’s.
Adam stood and turned away, George knew, in that moment, that he would never see Adam again, and with this development, an endless thirst burst deep inside him, the glass panes within him shattered, the hard walls shot up, the crystals dissolved to dirt, and the last fertile patch of his soul become barren and sterile and desolate—at that point, his skin hardened, his body clenched like a fist, his entire being folded inward, collapsed like a star, and then nothing remained of George but a smooth stone squatting on the white-clothed table beside an empty bottle of wine.