I asked Anders to come to dinner with me.
I knew that it would be the last thing he felt like doing, but after how energized I got from those few seconds of feeling like a real human being with Wearing Way Too Inappropriately Small Swimming Shorts Guy the other day, I knew that we needed to act like regular human beings from time to time. At least, that’s how I put it to Anders, and being the amazing man who loves me that he is, he kissed me on the forehead and agreed.
He had told me, when he got home the night before, a little drunk – a couple of beers, happy buzzed – clearly unwound from time spent with his best friend, that Tove had gone to her mom’s in a little town a couple of hours north of Stockholm for a few days. He said that Daniel seemed kind of shell shocked, didn’t really answer when he asked if everything was okay with them, so Anders changed the subject and they just hung out like everything was normal.
On the bus on the way to the restaurant, Anders was kind of quiet, then he suddenly blurted that he didn’t ask Daniel about the story of Hanna making a pass at him that night. He thought about it, but decided that, for that one night, he didn’t want to know. It was in no way relevant to her death, he knew, and he felt weird about having been a pawn in one of her drunken games. Staring out blindly at the darkness of the water as the bus trundled alongside Gamla Stan, he said that if everything had been normal, and Tove or Daniel told him what happened the following morning, he would have been pissed with Hanna – for using him for entertainment, for being disrespectful to me. They would have had a fight, especially as things were already tense between them because of Jenny and me, and he isn’t ready to deal with that thought.
I thought about how he had blown her off at dinner, snapped, “not now,” and how it was one of the last things he said to her. Feeling useless, I slipped my arm through his and kissed his shoulder through his sweater. He rested his head on mine, and we fell silent.
Over the last few days, since Anders opened up to me about Jenny, I’ve been giving a lot of thought to the stuff he doesn’t know about me. It was such a relief to finally hear the truth about Jenny, to have all those puzzle pieces fall into place, that I didn’t give any thought to feeling betrayed by the secret. I wondered if he would feel betrayed by any of my secrets.
So over dinner, I did something I haven’t done, not once, in almost 20 years. I talked about my parents’ deaths. I did what scores of middle school and high school counselors begged me to, and opened up about how it made me feel. Anders just listened, his hand gently on mine, the kindness in his eyes never faltering, as I described how I once read in a stupid women’s magazine about some lady who had woken up during surgery. She was getting her appendix out or something, and somehow became conscious, but because of other relaxant drugs she had been given, she couldn’t move a muscle to signal that she was awake and so had to lie there, feeling every excruciating slice of the scalpel as she was cut open.
Anders squeezed my hand then, and said with a gentle smile that he was pretty sure that was medically impossible. I told him that that was how it felt, like a scalpel hacking away at my insides and nothing my face or voice could possibly do could communicate how I felt, so I didn’t bother try. He asked if that was when my night terrors started, and I said yes, and yes I have been to enough shrinks to know that they are probably my unconscious self screaming in the way my conscious self wouldn’t.
Around then, the DJ started playing. It was that kind of place, a swanky open air restaurant/bar/club kind of place on a square in the city center, filled with impossibly glamorous people chattering and posing. After seeing the article in the free paper on the bus the other day, I found it online and translated it. The woman who spoke about Hanna being a bitch was Ida Mattson, a pretty hot Stockholm DJ. I watched Anders as he glanced over at the booth, but he didn’t react, as I was pretty confident he wouldn’t: Hanna’s worlds never collided.