Denise and the bedroom clock sat in a silent war.
She had come prepared to ignore it and it had come prepared to stare her down.
She had settled into bed with the prepped aura of unbothered. Her head rested comfortably on side-sleeper pillows, her king-size, rainforest duvet was pulled up to her chest, her laptop was seated on her lap ready to pull her from the noise of the ticking clock. That was the weapon in her arsenal. A Netflix series that had the power to time-travel her into any drama she chose. She pressed play on a saved series and allowed it to draw her in. Nothing was going to unsettle her tonight – well… that was what she thought. How could she know that this particular episode would have a relationship drama a little too close to home – and then there it was – the soft ticking of the clock winding her up and pulling her back into reality. Even though, she tried her best to fix her eyes to the moving images on the screen, she found herself – just sometimes – throwing an un-bothered-but-bothered glance at the clock.
It sat smugly like an omen on the opposite wall in front of her. It was placed high, looming, knowing that each tick was a trigger. It had no problem showing her how late home Terence was. Right down to the last minute, to the last second. It was approaching 10pm. That was three hours of space that he wanted away from her, three hours to replay their argument down to its shoddy detail, three hours of curled toes and anxious thoughts. It was driving her crazy, then she heard the front door slam downstairs.
She leaned up against her pillows, hearing the snap of the corridor light, the shuffle of feet in the hallway, and then the inevitable padding of feet up the stairs. Her stomach began to squeeze. What was she going to say? Should she say anything? She didn’t want to be the one to stoke the embers of a two-day old argument. Just thinking about it made her heart pound and her palms start to sweat. When she got like this, her words dropped out of her mouth in half-broken excuses and poorly thought-out defences.
The bedroom door opened, and there was no movement, just the cold air rushing in from the landing. She glanced up, but she didn’t expect to lock eyes with him. Her eyes broke away to the clock and then dropped back to her laptop. Heart thudding, she waited for him to say something about his lateness. There was nothing but his woody cologne which filled the room. She heard him move and then the loud clatter of his keys as they hit the table. Was he mad? She wanted to say something but the words stayed trapped on her tongue.
Her own thoughts started to mock her saying how stupid she was. She had the voice to do a whole empowerment video on insta, but she didn’t have the voice to ask him why he was home three hours late? She clacked at her laptop keys, annoyed with herself. She hoped he would say something, anything. She knew deep down that her silent war wasn’t with the clock, it had just been keeping his spot warm.
Denise glanced up to see Terence walk out of the room, shutting the door behind him. She relaxed back into her pillows. This was just great; she’d missed another opportunity to put this fight to bed. It was like knuckles rubbing on her temples. It was annoying, because after the moment was gone, she always wished she had said something. In the moment, she was just as frozen as she had been with her parents when she was a child. She honestly thought she had moved past this. She wanted to move past it but her reactions were like a revolving door. She was trapped, walking around in the same cycle. As she wiped her sweaty palms on her nightdress, she wished she would’ve told him about her past before telling anyone else but it had been difficult for her to talk about it. Especially with him.
Denise’s phone buzzed, making her jump. It was time for to start planning her next event for her female empowerment group, Flourish. She thought about how her passion for this group had allowed her to peel the cracked layers of her past away. She was able to talk about what had happened in a therapeutic way that empowered other women. The thing was, how did she start to tell Terence? She didn’t want his mind heavy with her past. She couldn’t see how it was going to empower him. Every time she thought about telling him, her anxiety broke out like a rash and all she kept thinking about was how he would look at her differently. What he said meant a lot to her but now his words had dried up into a cool silence.
But why was she feeling bad? It wasn’t like he opened up to her all the time. Did he open up about his ex calling him near the beginning of their relationship? Or the fact she tried to give him a lap-dance at his best friend’s party? Even now, the memories were grating on her nerves. When her temples began to throb, she remembered why she hated arguments. She swung her legs over the bed, she wanted to talk to him, but did she really have time for his blunt energy? It was too late for that. But she didn’t want to go to sleep with this cold-shoulder energy either.
Maybe... maybe she would just go down and talk to him.
Terence sat in the car, steadily ignoring the clock.
He’d closed his eyes against its glare but every so often his phone would buzz and, like an idiot, he would look. The time was bold, and in his face, cussing at his conscience. Telling him he should’ve been in the house three hours ago, not camping in his car. Telling him that he was being petty. That what was the point of paying for this house, if he was more comfortable in his car. He would then glance at the clock on the dashboard because maybe – just maybe – his phone time was incorrect. But nope, it was spot on. The mistake he’d made was to open himself up to a tag-team countdown. He had to go in at 10pm. Any later and he was pushing it. He sighed and closed his eyes again. Apart from his bed – that was calling to him right now - he really had no incentive to go in. He was drained after a full working day, and he was relaxed right now, warm, comfortable even. He really had no energy to deal with the frostbite that was waiting for him at home.
Denise had been moving mad lately and he couldn’t understand why. She kept opening up to random people about her past but keeping it from him. Like, what was that about? Telling his half-sister, Cassie, about her parent’s divorce. Telling her girl group about a fight between her grandparents. Weren’t these things you would tell your man? Why did he have to turn up to support her events and hear about it at the same time as everyone else? She didn’t know any of these women like that. She didn’t know Cassie from the chicken shop man at Morleys. Why would she confide in her and not him? If this was the first time, then cool, but it was more than once, more than twice even, and he hated feeling blindsided. Like there was a huge part of her he didn’t know. When he’d confronted her two days ago, all she could say was, ‘It’s not something I felt comfortable discussing at the time’, but she was ready to discuss it to hundreds of strangers? He closed his eyes and breathed out as if to still his racing thoughts.
His phone buzzed and he thought it was a text from Denise. It turned out it was a random notification, but it was right on 10pm – classic. He got out of the car and headed towards the house. As soon as he stepped in, he was met by darkness. There was no murmur of the TV, no clank of plates in the kitchen. Just the stale air of a two-day old argument. Snapping on the corridor light, he took time to pull off his shoes before heading upstairs. Each step was a battle – talk, don’t talk, say something, just leave it – he shook his head, wishing he could leave his mind at the bottom of the stairs. He decided he would say something if she was awake.
He took a silent breath before walking into the bedroom, half-hoping Denise was asleep, but stopped short when he saw that she was still up. For a split second, he thought she’d been waiting to talk to him. He’d clearly got that wrong because she didn’t even look up at him when he came in. She was propped up on her pillows, eyes fixed on the laptop screen, earphones plugged in. He was just about to say something when she suddenly hit him with a cold look, which seared through his conscience. He felt a burn rising through his body. Her eyes cut to the clock, and then flicked back down to her laptop. She kept her eyes down, making a point of ignoring him.
He sighed, rubbing the back of his neck. Nah, that right there, he wasn’t doing this tonight. Memories of his ex eye-rolling him, blanking him and talking down to him started to flash through his mind, making his chest tight and his jaw tense. He chucked his keys on the bedside table. Fine, he shouldn’t have stayed out late but was Denise going to act like she was totally in the right? He knew he should’ve been used to it by now, that Denise always loved to feel she was driving in that direction. But this time, she had moved left and instead of acknowledging it, she was giving him the cold shoulder. Instead of facing Denise, he changed out of his work clothes and went straight downstairs.
He sat on the edge of the sofa, distracting himself on insta. He knew this wasn’t the way to sleep. He remembered his Mum had said to him that you don’t go to bed with your anger. He found it hard not to hold grudges though. When people he loved hurt him, his first reaction had always been to distance himself or to cut them off. Over time, he would come around but would still find the residue of a grudge festering inside him. That grudge made him straight-talking, or ‘blunt’ as Denise put it, if any reminder of it triggered him. His Dad was kind of the same way. Even now, he would make indirect, passive-aggressive ‘jokes’ about things in the past. He was trying not to be like that. He didn’t think he was like that until he had had an argument with Denise about his non-factor ex. When they’d sat down to talk about it, she’d told him that his reactions put her off saying anything sometimes. He didn’t want that, he wanted both of them to have the space to be open and real in their relationship.
Maybe… maybe he would go up and just talk to her.
What do you think Denise’s love language is?
What do you think Terence’s love language is? Do you know what your love language is?
Why do you think they find it hard to communicate? What are some signs of unhealthy communication?
Do you recognise any of these signs in how you communicate?
How has their past family relationships and trauma shaped their present behaviour?
Have any past traumas or past relationships affected how you interact with people in the present?
What are some changes they could make in order to have a healthy relationship?
Written by Jennifer Enti
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