Peer Review by Ash (United States)

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Nothing's Changed

By: Carol

She stared out the window. Maria would be back soon, and everything would be different. She'd known all along. For weeks, she'd felt the resignation gathering in her spine, and now it pressed her to the chair, sickeningly sweet.

When he called for her, she wanted to not answer. She wanted to bury herself in her aloneness. She wanted to stay here forever, but his voice demanded her and she unfolded herself from the chair to go to him.

They both knew that it would be different, soon, and he didn't reach out for her. There were no smiles or laughs or little touches on the shoulder. Before, neither of them wanted to let the other go. And now they were near strangers, again.

"Snowing a lot," she said, standing at the corner of the room. She leaned on the doorframe and peered at him, not wanting to get any closer.

"Yeah," he answered, and his fingers tapped rhythmically against the watch strapped to his other wrist. "It'll be hell to get out of the driveway."

"It's pretty," she said, the words slipping out, forcing their way through all the layers of her anxiety.

"It's a mess, that's what it is," he said, finally leaving his watch alone and striding across the room, towards her. She shrank back without even thinking, and it was so imperceptible that she hoped he wouldn't notice, but he did. She knew by the way his jaw trembled slightly, his fingers curling, his stride faltering. He reached for the curtain near her head and let it drop across the window, sinking the room into near darkness.

She could hear the whoosh of his breathing and she wanted so much to go to him, to hold him tight and tell him it was all going to be okay. But she couldn't bring herself to spit out the lie. Not after all the lies he'd once told her.

"I'll get Maria from the airport," she said, wanting to push back, blaming him for what she couldn't say. He didn't falter as he turned to her, his face organized and polite, so polite she felt bile in her throat.

"No, let me. It's snowing. Your car isn't up to the trip."

"I'll take your car."

"Please, do you think I'm going to entrust my car to you? Remember what happened when we went to-"

He stopped mid-sentence and they both looked at each other, so hidden inside their shells that neither felt that familiar sizzle. Of course she remembered what had happened. They'd gone to the beach, last weekend, the last weekend before Maria was back. It was an impulsive trip and she'd begged him to rent one of those rickety two people karts that you drove up and down the boardwalk, and then begged him to let her drive. He'd let her, begrudgingly, only after she'd kissed his cheek and promised to be careful.

She'd hit a lamp post and barely avoided running down a grouchy businesswoman on spindly tall heels.

He was still looking at her, now, and she shifted uncomfortably, pressing her palm to the cool wall.

"Okay," she said, finally, curling her fingers. "You pick up Maria."


He left around noon and didn't return until eight. In the meantime, she had vacuumed, dusted, and wiped every surface of the house, carefully putting away the cute knick knacks and sweet photos. Maria would want the pillows plumped, the artsy decor returned from their stay in the attic. Maria would want the comfy yellow couch to be back in the basement. Maria would want, and want, and want.

She was cleaning the kitchen for the second time when she heard his car pull into the drive, snow crunching under the tires. She hadn't realized how tense she'd been, waiting for that sound, until she'd heard it, and her shoulders sagged as she hurried to the door, her back aching.

She hadn't really thought he wouldn't come back, had she?

She hesitated before the door. She hadn't heard the car door open yet. She'd wait for them to get closer before opening the door. It was too warm and cozy in the house to let in any cold winter air, really. Of course. And maybe she should turn on the lights. So they could see their way. Yes, that was why. She tapped her fingernails into the pad of her thumb, uncomfortable. Her hand reached out, almost on their own accord, and flipped the light on, illuminating the huge front window of the car, snow laced delicately over glass.

He was in there. With Maria. The pain in her back vanished as she felt the sting of bitterness rise, blurring out his face so that she couldn't see Maria, kissing him, her familiar blonde hair draped over his chest.

She wiped away her tears, furious. Hadn't she always known this would happen? They knew things would change when Maria was back, if only because Maria wanted him, and Maria always got what Maria wanted.

The door swung open in front of her as Maria blew in, the smell of summer and meadows filling the hallway. He followed, lugging two heavy purple suitcases, his face shadowed.

"Oh, I've missed you!" Maria squealed, wrapping her in a hug. She smiling politely as Maria kissed her cheek, grinning.

"Welcome back," she said, trying her best to sound happy.

"I'm so glad I could make it," Maria bubbled. "I'd hate to spend the first month of the new year without my sister."

She smiled again, robotically. Yes. Her sister.

"It's cold," he said, for the first time, closing the door. She mentally dared him to meet her eyes. He didn't. He turned away and she knew that he knew she'd seen him and Maria.

"You're right, darling, it is cold. Let's go to the living room," Maria clapped her hands and extended her arm, waiting for him to take her jacket off for her. He complied silently, his eyes glued to the cuffed beige sleeve. "You did light the fire, did you, dear sister?" Maria said to her, all laughing eyes and shiny smile as he hung up the beige coat.

"Of course," she answered, smiling primly, putting Maria's shoes in the closet next to her own.

"You two go ahead. I'll go to the bathroom to freshen up first," Maria said, winking at her before smiling flirtatiously at him.

They walked to the living room together, silent, listening to the sound of the sink as Maria washed off her makeup, undoubtedly to reapply it.

"How was the trip," she finally asked, but her words didn't come out as a question, the way she wanted, but more as a pointed accusation. She found a sick pleasure in seeing his face contort in unhappiness. So he wasn't happier with Maria, then.

"Good," he answered. His one word response sounded more like a question than an answer.

"Mmhm." Her eyes narrowed, almost unconsciously. He sighed.

"Look, we both knew that this would happen." They were in the living room now, standing just out of sight of the hallway, their faces unbearably close.

"You knew. I didn't," she said simply. "I didn't know. Just like I hadn't known the first time."

"Are you seriously bringing this up again?"

"Yes, I am! I'm sick of being what you want. What about what I want?"

"I thought you wanted this. I thought you wanted me!"

"I did!" She felt like crying. He just didn't understand. "I wanted you. But you're the one who left me, remember? You left me for Maria, and I know we like to blame her because we can, but we both know that she never knew we were ever together. And then you came back to me when Maria left you. And now Maria wants you back, so you're going to go right back to her."

"I am not going to go back-"

"You left me!" She interrupted, furious now, feeling like she'd heard those exact words a thousand times. "You left me, but I waited for you, like the stupid fool I am, because you're just so good at apologizing and I-" She stopped.

"Because you what?"

"Because I-" 

The toilet flushed. Their time was almost up. He grabbed her wrists, his face unreadably twisted, his mouth close to hers.

"What?" It wasn't a question. It was a demand, and she was a sucker for demands. She always gave, and she did now.

"Because I love you."

He let her go. They stared at each other. Maria reentered the room, and the smell of her perfume drifted into the space between them. It was a reminder of how close they were standing, their breathing heavy from emotion.

"Maria." He was the first to turn away, settling a hand on Maria's shoulder. 

She thought maybe her heart would break. She thought she would cry, but not a single tear fell.

Thirty minutes later, when the fire was dimming, Maria finally brought up the subject. "You know," she said, "I almost thought there was something different about this year, maybe you two, when I first came in. It was just...different. But that's just silly, right? Nothing's changed."

She shook her head. He took Maria's hand.

Neither of them looked at each other.

Message to Readers

I'd like feedback on the pace of the story (too fast, too slow, does it jump?) and also if it makes any sense- sometimes I have a tendancy to make too many allusions or inferences which can make the story hard to understand. Also, a random question, what type of guy do you think "he" is?

Peer Review

Wait, I'm expected to have friends? Who READ? Oh man, am I in trouble...
This piece is about the crumbling relationship of two people who still have feelings for each other but one of them has started interacting with his old flame, making the other wonder if she was always just Plan B.

At times, your dialogue gets really repetitive. I just get the sense I kept hearing "he/you left me" over and over again. Maybe use some synonyms or different phrasing? Definitely keep it in the dialogue but maybe you can cut down on the number of times the narrator starts thinking about it?
Alright, now that that's done: props to you for this story. You wrote about something really complex and did a great job dealing with all the confusing emotions. Your characters seem very real, and that isn't something easy to do. Maria feels less developed than the other two, but for your story, she works better that way.

You did a nice job incorporating the required line in the story. Marie's ending dialogue is good and the ending really makes the story.

Reviewer Comments

The snow wasn't inspired by Snowpocalypse we New Englanders are experiencing by any chance, was it?