CHAPEL HILL, NC—It’s a cold night. You pad softly to your bedroom, pausing in the doorway to take off your slippers. Houston is on his laptop in bed. You’ve gotten used to this by now, but you convinced yourself that he’d be waiting for you tonight, smiling, asking you to crawl into bed so he could kiss your neck like he used to.
Maybe you should close the laptop and kiss him. Jen told you to initiate things. Just do it. You think about your honeymoon in St. Augustine, about Houston’s bare, sun-kissed chest after a day at the beach. It was beautiful then, it was different.
“This diversity incubator is giving me a lot of trouble,” Houston says to himself, or maybe to you, pulling you out of your daydream. “Nothing about it makes sense. I mean literally nothing.”
Of course it doesn’t Houston. It’s well-intentioned buzzwords without real thought. The same as your idea that the male minority retention rate can be fixed by using models from athletics. The same as your idea that you can poll students and bring the results to the Board of Governors. The same as all of it, Houston. Talking without saying anything.
When is the last time you two actually talked?
It would be hard to listen to him now. You hate his voice. How reassuring and honest it sounds, like he’s trying to win over some potential voter. Like you’re just another woman with a baby he has to kiss. When did things get this way?
A year ago, you were sitting at one of Houston’s baseball games, watching him pitch. It was the Arizona Diamondback Prospects vs. The Stillman Elementary School T-11 Titans. A big one. You were in love.
At the top of the 7th inning, you saw a message pop up on the jumbotron. “Baby, you’re my grand slam. Will you marry me? Love, Houston.” Your heart stopped, and suddenly you were in his arms, crying.
Yes, you said. One million times, yes.
Now, sitting on the edge of your shared bed, you wish Houston would call you an asshole. You wish, for one second, he’d lose his temper and tell you off. Then you’d have a reason to be mad at him, to really hate him, to feel something. Anything.
You know every other woman at Carolina would be happy to be married to Houston. His smile, his hair, his laugh. Houston Summers: The Golden Boy. So why don’t you love him? Why can’t you be happy with ‘good enough,’ with ‘the best Carolina could do with a shit junior class’? Why can’t you love Houston Summers?
Because you’re a real voter. Because you’re more than the sounding board for Houston’s ideas to make vanilla ice cream and high-fives the pillars of UNC innovation. Because you’re more than the girl who writes emails to the Morehead-Cain listserv, as Houston dictates to you his need for good-looking, confused full-merit scholars anxious to do “something that will get your name out on campus.”
Not you. No, not you.
You get into bed and turn off the light beside you, trying hard not to cry. You feel a bit better with the blanket pulled up.
“Love you babe,” Houston says to you. He leans over his laptop and kisses your hairline.
“I love you too, Houston,” you hear yourself say, knowing deep down you’ll have to keep pretending for another year. “I love you, too.”