Nicole stood over her sink, the end of day ritual prepared before her. For six weeks the blue toothbrush had laid dormant next to hers, but she had no more thought of removing it than removing her sink.
Tonight was different.
She glared at the bristled abomination, the curséd beacon blinking Daniel’s name across her mind. It seared her neurons and fixated her thoughts, but her ritual had already begun. She found the red toothbrush, her own, fast in her fist, ferociously scrubbing her poor, innocent teeth.
In her head, the evening replayed in fast-forward snippets: grimaces, kind greetings, and are-you-here-alones, until she reached the scene of the laughter. It spouted perfectly round, water-droplet, pearly shaped from the woman on Daniel’s arm, as lush and bubbly as the champagne in her glass must have poured from the bottle. The woman—no, she was a girl—no, surely a hyena—eyed Nicole’s long-legged, sleek-stepped, I’m-not-intimidated approach toward the chattering clique of Daniel’s friends, Nicole’s own friends-now-foes.
Hyena had smiled at her, a glint of flame hiding behind an otherwise innocent demeanor. Someone else greeted Nicole.
“Fashionably late, as always, Nicole makes her appearance.” They volleyed generic smiles and greetings about the circle.
“Yes, I only just arrived, direct from JFK, back from Los Angeles. You know the taxis in this town,” she said, flawless execution, perfect ten.
Hyena spoke: “Too bad, so sad—“
Nicole paused the playback. Those weren’t the words Hyena used, but she liked the rendition and hit play on the memory.
“Too bad, so sad for you, Miss Priss. You missed a joke, a knee-slapper, from Dear Darling Daniel.” Hyena beamed at him—a puppy with its master. No, actually, the look was one of more grown-up regard; Nicole corrected herself and spat viciously in the sink.
Hyena: “It goes a little something like this: What, pray, is the difference between a vulture and a lawyer?” (The body of the group collectively stiffened.)
Nicole shifted her weight. (Slight weight. Slighter than Hyena’s, including top-front, but never mind that.)
Hyena cackled. “Lawyers get frequent flyer miles.”
Nicole smiled, feeling the horrified askance-glances of friends/foes. “I most certainly do.” She nodded at Daniel. “Got us a pair of round-the-world tickets two years back.” (Back when Hyena was on a study abroad in Madrid, no doubt, shocked by the vastness of the omg- so-awesome-wish-u-were-here world.)
She put the scene on repeat in her head, changing each iteration to her delight, her bitterness, her attempts at fairness and forgiveness, then back again to stunning the friends/foes with her starry superiority.
When she noticed the blue toothbrush again, she remembered it wasn’t about Hyena (thieving wretch) but Daniel—the true love in her starry-eyedness, trench mate during disillusionment, the constant friend in her otherwise dull days of money-making madness, and lover, of course, through it all.
She picked up the blue toothbrush. She tried to snap it in two, to no avail. She tried, again and again, to throw it into the trashcan with enough force to satisfy her rage. Still, to no avail. It wasn’t until she roared, angry lioness, at the memento—when upstairs neighbor stomped in 2am Morse-code “Shut up down there!”—that she sank to the floor, clinging to the brush like the little match girl’s match, and cried. They were burning tears: hot-tub on sunburn, summer asphalt on bare feet, whisky down your throat tears.
She confessed to her attentive bathroom between gasps, “I love him. I love him.”