It wasn't really hot inside, just seemed that way from the tension, tempers flaring and subsiding, and it was no longer my problem, so I stepped out onto the balcony's cool night air and slid the door shut behind me.
Smoke filled my lungs, inhale, a deep drag from a Gitane, hold -
(The balcony door, double pane and insulated, separated me from them, but I could hear them still arguing inside.)
- and exhale, thin wispy clouds curling away from my lips and dissipating into the night.
I stood a moment longer on the balcony, and relished the hot fire of alcohol as I sipped from the wine bottle in my hand. I could feel it go down, seering and burning and ending up in my stomach smoldering like a hot coal, and I loved every minute of it. Let them argue amongst themselves, for all the good it did them. Me, I'd given up - it was in the past; but somehow kept being forcibly dragged into the charade they played with each other.
I finished the last of my cigarette, watching searchlights in the distance dance cloverleaf patterns in the clouds, and flicked the ember-tipped remainder off the edge of the balcony, arcing a clean parabola to the asphalt far below.
Their voices had quieted, at least for the moment, so I wandered back inside, a little lightheaded, and put the now-empty winebottle on its side on the endtable on my way to my customary position on the sofa, one leg curled underneath me as I sat and regarded each of them in turn.
He, with his determined jaw and heavy brow, worried at a loose thread in the carpet with his toe. And she, her eyes blazing, dark hair cutting a smooth arc as she turned her head. Each still furious with the other, and I was always the designated mediator.
I hate this job sometimes.
A moment passed, and another, an uncomfortable beat. He finally took a deep, remorseful breath before speaking, his usual modus operandus of informing everyone of the gravity of his statement, typically exaggerated. "You have any idea," he said pointedly, "how much she's told them?"
"No," I replied, waving a lazy hand vaguely in his direction, "and I really don't care, either."
"You should care," he began, and stopped, curiously tipping his head as though listening to something the rest of us could not hear. I exchanged a brief glance with her, and he began again, "You should. We all should. It's a paper trail, dammit, and it leads right here."
This was becoming too much, and I was not in the mood. I shifted my weight on the couch, and my head swam. The alcohol was beginning to affect me more than I was willing to admit; the alcohol, combined with lack of food and sleep in the past few days. I tried to force myself back into full sobriety, but failed to do so quickly enough to halt his continuance: "I told you to.." and his voice trailed off once again as he glanced about with darting eye movements that I'm sure he spent an hour a day practicing. Then, and you could almost hear his mental gears grinding back to life, he started once more - "I told you not to keep it there anyway, didn't I. What are you doing, I said, you can't use it that way. I said, didn't I? And you didn't listen. Did you?"
Rhetorical questions. What was I supposed to say to that? Yes, he had told me; no, I did not listen. But now - and this was the key point he seemed to be missing - it didn't matter, and I no longer cared. And while I tried, through blurry alcoholic haze, to put together a new way of saying this that I hadn't already told him, I felt cold.
Very cold, and very quiet. And he could hear it again, and now I could, and she shivered slightly and I knew she could hear it as well; a noise, faint rustling.
Her eyes pinged doorwards.
I nodded at each of them, our discussion then ended, and their argument vanished into the ether. I stood, not without a considerable amount of effort on my part, and weaved my way on unsteady feet through the obstacle course that the small apartment had suddenly become.
I approached the door, and turned one ear towards it. There was someone on the other side - someone, or something, and it hadn't yet summoned the temerity to announce its presence in a more dignified manner. Or perhaps it didn't want to.
I grasped the doorknob, cool and polished brass between my fingers, rotated, and pulled the door open, preparing, and --
It entered the room, noiseless, moving in a smooth ballet of menace.
A horrified silence engulfed us; she was on her feet, his jaw agape, as we stood petrified, unsure of reality, wondering if we'd collectively lost our minds altogether.
It was the head of Bryan, returned to us on the anniversary of the night we had betrayed him.