I perch on a tall chair and rest my elbows on the counter. My chin in one hand, I half-turn to watch Daniel as he orders the coffee: some fancy, milky, sugary thing for him, black for me. I watch his smile as the young barista takes his change. He flirts with everyone. He can't help it.
He carries the cups over to the table. My chair is facing towards a a tall window. His faces a cork board with ads tacked to it, torn along the bottom where pet sitters and landlords have provided phone numbers. A tiny piece of paper, the size of an index card, is barely hanging on to the bottom right corner of the board. "ONE-BEDROOM APARTMENT, WOOD FLOORS, ONE-CAR GARAGE, WICKER PARK, $625/MO," it says.
"Daniel." It comes out as a whisper. I've been sick all weekend. Again.
"Daniel," I repeat myself. This time, the El Train is rambling by a block away, and he can't hear me.
At least this is what I tell myself.
"Look. We could live here. That would be affordable. I wouldn't even want a car."
He looks at me, half sad, half exasperated. I am the only one who calls him by his full name. Everyone else calls him "Dan," or relies on his silly nickname, "Dan the Man." After two years, I can't bring myself to shorten his name. Something about "Daniel" is endearing. It makes me feel like somehow, somewhere, he needs me. It is the same feeling I get when I see him reach for something and notice the slight tremor in his hands, or when I watch him sleep.
I know this trip is the beginning of the end. I cleaned out my bank account and maxed out my last credit card so we could go away and spend some time together, and on the way here, I got sick. Even after all this time, Daniel doesn't understand. He seems to think I have control over it, and can turn it on or off at will. He does not want to be with someone that is going to die. He is focused now on school and parties, and in a few years, will want a home and children. Things I can't do now, things I won't be able to do in the future. Nothing left for me to do except "try to enjoy life!" they say, leaving out "what's left of your" in the middle of that statement. Illness kept me isolated for so long that I have few friends, and Daniel feels pressured to be everything for me. I know this, but I can't vocalize it. I can't change it this late in the game. I will die without friends, I will die misunderstood, and the only thing that will be left is a pile of paper covered in my handwriting.
Daniel remains silent; he is now flipping through a newspaper. He has his eye on an ad for a warehouse party. Another part of my past life. My life BD: Before Disease. I rest my head on my folded arms for a moment. When I look up again, a small handful of blonde hair is attached to my dark sleeve. The tears begin to well up and I try to fight them, try to think of honey and puppies and my dad, anything that makes me happy. Eventually, the tears win, and one falls right into my untouched coffee. Daniel starts to say something, but I look up and notice a small painting hanging above the bulletin board. The colors are dark, and it is oil on canvas but has a watercolor-y feel to it; the outlines are not very defined, and the brush strokes are wavy. It is a woman with short blonde hair, in a claw-footed bathtub, clinging to the pushed-aside shower curtain, seemingly trying to get out. You can see her entire back, and her small arm grasping the curtain. There is no water in the tub. The tiny card at the bottom right of the painting says "BATHTUB" and an artist's name.
The painting makes my soul ache. This girl is me. I cannot explain why, but she is so much me that I almost can't move. I look at the $300 price tag and the tears begin to flow freely. I am dying, and I can't buy a $300 painting that moves me. Daniel reaches for my hand, and I wonder if the girl in the bathtub has a Daniel, or an illness, or a crazy mother, or debt, or a friendless existence, and which of these things she is trying to escape.