We Three

Alexander Ortega

I recoiled the first time Patricia and Carl kissed—in my room, no less, Patricia boxing up my books. I’d first seen her need for touch on the porch one sundown—her need for me to affirm my attraction to her. The dimples of her smile had hinted that she liked me, and her hand confirmed the notion as it clasped mine. Carl had said Told you so, after she left, and poured us celebratory shots of Jameson, our drink. This time, her sallow eyes revealed her deprivation, and Carl felled her with his arm around her shoulder, a peck on her forehead. Then he moved his mouth to hers. They either didn’t notice or paid no mind when I tapped on the touch lamp on the nightstand. 

It was in Carl’s nature to provide. I simultaneously trusted him to take care of Patricia but also lamented that it wasn’t me who would be listening to her vent about her austere, humorless boss, whom she needed to exorcise before she could sleep. Carl was the one who’d told me I needed to listen better when she and I fought about how she needed time to go out with her friends. Indeed, I still wanted her to myself. But all the same, I felt the instinct to signal Carl that they should go for curry-fried chicken when she came home from a hard day and asked him what they should eat. Son of a bitch knew it before I could whisper it into his ear. 

Patricia wasn’t ready for full-bore intimacy yet. But Carl was satisfied with heavy petting. He was patient. I’d had to be patient with Patricia, too. Even though she had Carl, I knew that there was a part of her that still loved me. Her room was once mine, the room where we’d cradled each other, thanking each other for finding us. 

Now she sat alone on our bed, scrolling through photos on the cracked screen of her phone. From one of its functional speakers, she blasted Bouncing Souls—the sole punk band in her collection that I liked. She found the photo she was looking for, the one of us in Moab, her hugging me from behind with her arms around my neck, us wearing dirty baseball caps and cheap black sunglasses. She wept freely, and I was glad that it was because of me—my raison d’être. I sat next to her, feeling like I was crying myself, in that moment basking in the closeness we shared once again. 

Their first fight happened when Patricia drove home drunk from the bar where she’d been singing karaoke with her friends. She’d killed it with “Total Eclipse of the Heart.” Carl chided her in the bathroom while she peed. She stood up, yelled at him that he shouldn’t try to control her and that she was well aware of her limitations. I tried to coach him: Just let her know that you were worried and could’ve arranged a ride—and that you should’ve offered sooner. Fess up! But he missed that cue and blurted out that I would’ve been worried, too. She asked if he was fucking kidding, so I slammed the shelf with their toothbrushes, floss, and toothpaste—it all crashed onto the sink, making them jump and yelp. I retreated to the living room couch. 

After picking up the mess, Carl went to the kitchen and retrieved our trusty Jameson from the cupboard—the last bottle I’d bought. He poured himself a full glass with a rock, then sat down next to me on the couch. Fuck, what did you do when she was like this? he asked. He put his earbuds in and listened to some song demos we’d recorded together on my old laptop, RIP. Nothing special—him playing cello, me classical guitar. He downed the whisky and fell asleep to our mournful jams. I tousled his hair, just like I did when I’d wake him up when he passed out on this same couch. 

A rainstorm caused the power to go out one night. The house was dark, and Carl and Patricia bumped into the walls, seeking the flashlight that was in Patricia’s nightstand. That room’s door was closed, so I slipped underneath it and flashed the flashlight on and off when they passed by in the hallway. “What the hell’s that light?” Carl asked. Patricia looked bewildered. He opened the door to see the flashlight turned on, atop the nightstand. As the light illuminated his face, I noticed Carl’s jawline and tall stature. Handsome devil. I felt a smile haunt me as they cuddled on her bed. 


I could see it coming when Patricia arrived home from work early on a Saturday. She still had energy. Spring was at the apex of its two-week duration, and it finally felt pleasantly warm before it would become uncomfortably hot. Carl welcomed her by picking her up and holding her while he kissed her—I was used to it by then. She pressed her face into his, and I embraced them both, pressing them toward each other. I pushed them up the stairs to my room. I helped them disrobe, and caressed their backs as we removed their shirts, assuring them that it felt right and, more importantly, good. 

I kissed their shoulders as they collapsed on our bed and weaved through the thin hairs on the backs of their necks. Carl, she said, is it okay if I love you but I still love him, too? Carl tapped off the touch lamp. He told her yes, and they kissed again. Patricia loved having her back rubbed, and I pressed Carl’s hands beneath her shoulder blades. Something sank as their gazes fixed on one another, yet I nevertheless slipped between them, acquiescing to the shrinking space between their bodies, their compression of Patricia’s incantation of me. As they combined, so did I with an utmost joy.