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Balcony, by Sarah Marian Seltzer

As Carl readied himself for Theo’s party, he reflected on his three-day gap in communication with Maya. They were on some sort of break, triggered by a fight over her refusal to come out tonight, or any night, anymore. Carl missed Maya’s warm skin, her eyebrows arching with amusement or provocation. He even missed their arguments: over The Great Gatsby (Carl pitied Daisy Buchanan while Maya blamed her as spineless), and Impressionism (Carl preferred modern art, so much more to say about it), and about which films to see (he liked “smart” films, she would see anything playing at the local multiplex)—and really, at the bottom of it all over the fact that Maya, each day, shut him further out.

The very word “break” unmoored him, so he anchored himself to this party. Theo had invited him. Broad-shouldered, rugby-shirt-wearing Theo, whose father produced movies and owned a penthouse apartment. Who didn’t enjoy movies and penthouses? Besides, Carl wasn’t like Maya; he didn’t “know everyone” in this city. And he hadn’t gone to an Ivy League school; he had gone to a state school, which still left him with loans—no trust fund for him. So yes, he had to get to know people, because how else did you build a future. How else did you begin to fit in?

He had felt once like he belonged with Maya. Carl first saw her when someone pointed her out at another party, a less elegant shindig in someone’s grimy walkup. In a corner, she rode the arm of a couch as though it were a horse, or a man. She made faces; her friends guffawed until they spilled drinks. Dark circles ringed her eyes. She projected brash, vulnerable, hotness.

“That’s Maya Siegel, the one I told you about…”

“Oh, her…”

Carl had read about her dad’s infidelity and her parents’ high-profile divorce, regular fodder for the gossip columns he checked daily. He also already knew about Rina, Maya’s best friend killed by a subway train, an accident that had dominated the local news for days.

Carl, a transplant to New York, saw in Maya another soul isolated amidst the throng. He took her home that night and called her again, even after the postcoital brunch when she warned him of her “baggage.”  How stunning she’d been that morning, in her T-shirt with the collar cut out, her dark hair falling across her face like a pixie girl in the movies.

His friends from home had said stay away when he mentioned the divorce, the dead friend, but he’d ignored them—no, he’d defied them. Her pain opened a doorway Carl could enter. She always patted the seat beside her with nonchalance, yet it always made him feel like she had reserved the space for him.

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