Crossroads

He watched her as she slept in his bed. She looked happy and serene. Their talk last night did her good.

He got up and took a cold shower, replaying the events of the night before. He found himself at a crossroad: the path was diverging and his decisions could no longer coexist. But what was he hoping to find? What could help him make up his mind? This wasn’t just about him anymore. It wasn’t a decision he could afford to rush into, but he must not take too long, as the opportunity could evaporate at any moment.

He went back to his bedroom and saw her, waiting for him. She smiled. He returned the smile then went to his dresser as he put on his work clothes. She watched his every move. Something was off about him lately. She could tell how distant he’d become. He was quiet all the time, in his own little bubble, barely noticing her, as if his thoughts overcame everything else.

“Joe?”
“Yeah?”

He didn’t turn, staring at his face in the mirror, fixing his hair.

“Are you okay?”

He nodded. She could tell that he wasn’t really there. She could feel that he wasn’t hers anymore. She could tell that he was going to hurt her again, he was going to leave.

And with sadness, she realised they needed some time apart.

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Protection

She had protected herself… She tried to at least.

Sometimes when you keep your guards up, you also keep the good people away. But she had become prisoner of her own fear and doubt.

But if the one person she trusted above any other could leave her so easily, how could she fight this fear. The person she loved the most, the only one – she felt – who didn’t just tolerate her but actually enjoyed her company. Why on earth would she ever let anyone else in? Why in the world would ever trust again? How could she hope that their feelings would honest, or hope they would share whatever feelings she might have for them, or hope that they won’t just get up and leave, or hope they remain in her indefinitely?

“Hi.”

She could feel her aching. His voice had never sounded so cold.

She turned to him. “Hi.”

“I brought you some breakfast.” He puts two plastic cups of coffee and a couple of sandwiches on the bedside table.

He took his cup and drank silently as she stared at him, replaying the events of last night. She ruined their plans after she came up with them.

“I’m sorr…”

“It’s fine. You need time. I get it.”

Did he really?

“I shouldn’t have rushed you like that.”

“You didn’t. I wanted this too.”

She sat on the bed.

“I don’t know what to do.”

He came closer and sat next to her.

“None of us really do.”

His hand brought her closer to him.

“We just need someone to tag along.”

She looked at him and smiled.

“We just need someone to protect us.”

Midnight

They had to make sure that no one noticed.

“It’s lovely to see you again!”

She said it in a way that immediately made him feel special.

“The pleasure is all mine Miss R…”

“Misses. Ross.”

A spear hit his heart. He smiled.

“Of course, all the good ones are taken!”

They all laughed. She smiled back as he took her hand and kissed it gently.

“The pleasure is all mine Misses Ross.”

“You’re gonna get in trouble Robert, her man is at the bar.”

Robert looked at the husband asking for a whiskey refill.

“Maybe I should introduce myself to Mr Ross. I bet he’d enjoy meeting me.”

She froze and looked at him, her eyes widened. He stared at her for what felt like an eternity. He could read her thoughts, how worried she was. She previously had made a poor job of hiding their relationship and almost blew the whole thing.

“I’m sure he’d love it.” Her boss insisted. “Mr Ross is a fine man and an outstanding businessman.” Robert laughed. Poor guy didn’t know what he was getting them all into. He looked back at her: she was breathing heavily. He didn’t want to tease her any further.

“Well if you excuse me, I must go and find my lady before the countdown.”

He smiled to her as she breathed a sigh of relief.

“Mrs Ross, until next time. Jeff, still waiting for that drink you promised me.”

“Right away!”

Robert walked away as her boss laughed and headed to the bar. She felt so alone when Robert took his beautiful date’s arm. She smiled and kissed him on the cheek.

“There you are.”

Not him. She turned to him as he handed her a glass of wine. He pointed to Robert.

“Who’s that?”

“Jeff’s friend. A businessman.”

“Businessman? Maybe I should introduce myself.”

She held him quickly.

“Not before the countdown.”

He laughed. “Of course. I’m looking forward to that kiss.”

She smiled.

“Ten.”

She looked at Robert.

“Nine.”

Robert looked back.

“Eight.”

He smiled.

“Seven.”

She blushed.

“Six.”

Her husband held her tight.

“Five.”

His date put her hands on Robert’s neck.

“Four.”

Their lips came closer.

“Three.”

Their lips came closer.

“Two.”

People were happy.

“One. Happy New Year!”

And as fireworks lit the sky, they kissed someone but not each other.

Jasmine

“Ray.”

We were both standing by the door. None of us moved or talked for the past ten minutes.

“Are you ready?”

He didn’t answer.

“Ray?”

“Hmm?”

“Are you ready?”

“Uhu”

He clearly wasn’t. I take his hand and stand in front of him.

“I know you’re nervous. I am too.”

“I’m not nervous. I’m okay.”

“Okay.”

He took out his keys and opened the door. He let me through first – always a gentleman – then closed the door behind him. The TV was on, we could hear it.

“They’re in the living room.”

I nod. He put his keys on the counter then looked at his reflexion in the mirror. He ran his hand into his hair then turned to me and smiled. I held him in my arms for a few seconds then kissed his forehead. He whispered:

“Don’t worry about it too much darling.”

I let him go gently but kept both of my hands on his back and whispered back:

“I want you to know that I’m so proud of you.”

He smiled, it was a little forced this time.

“I felt so much better when I did it.”

“But it’s different here. Mine are not like yours.”

“I know but it will be okay. I’m with you.”

He smiled again.

“Let’s get this shit done then.”

I shake my head.

“You don’t have to, you know? Definitely not with this attitude.”

“Oh really? We’ve been having this conversation for months and you’ve made it clear that we didn’t have a choice.”

“That’s not true. You can do it later if you’re not ready now…”

“Look I’m not going to argue with you right now…”

“Ray?”

We both turned to his mother leaving the living room holding a tray with two empty mugs. Jasmine tea, probably. His parents always drank Jasmine tea. No sugar. Three cups a day, at least. Jasmine tea always smells nice. I like his parents very much.

“Hey mom.”

“Hello Mrs Williams.”

“Hello Tim.”

I smiled to her and silently prayed she wouldn’t hate me in the next few minutes. Ray took the tray from her hands and put it on the counter.

“What’s wrong honey?” she asked in her sweet voice.

Ray – always the drama king – remained silent and lead her back to the living room. I quickly followed. His father was still watching TV, he turned to us and smiled.

“What’s with the long faces boys?”

“I caught them ‘not wanting to argue'”, Mrs Williams joke.

Her husband giggled: “Well neither do we.”

Ray stood in front of his father as his mother sat on the couch next to her husband.

“Come on then, have seat both of you. We’ll make some more tea!”

Ray remained silent for little more as I came closer to him. And I stood there next to him and waited, my heart skipping beat after beat.

“Mom, dad. I’ve got something very important to tell you.”

The First Date

He walked her back to her dorm. They strolled slowly across campus. He wanted to look at her, to examine her face some more but did his best to avoid her gaze. She was still talking about the film. She said she loved when movies made her think.

They reached her room and stood by the door. Out of the entire night, this was the only moment he was dreading. He couldn’t explain his nervousness. “Fear of rejection”. His psychologist’s words played in his head over and over again. Maybe.

She smiled at him. He quickly took a step back.

“Do you wanna come?” she asked hopefully.
“Come?”
She pointed to the door. “Come inside for coffee.”
“No thank you, I don’t drink coffee.” He looked away. She couldn’t hide her disappointment.
“So…”
“I should go”, he said in a rush. “But, I had a great time.”
“Yes yes totally, we should do it again soon!” He nodded.

She took a step closer to him, sent shivers down his spine. He was about to protest when she kissed him on the cheek and held him tight in her arms. He tried to let go.

“I should really get moving.” She agreed. “And you should get inside, it’s getting chilly.”
“Good night Tom.” He smiled tenderly, she could see how sincere he was.
“Sweet dreams, Sarah.”

She went into her dorm as he walked away, his head down. He had a long way to go before reaching the parking where he had left his car. He walked, mentally kicking himself for the missed opportunity.

She kicked off her shoes and laid on her couch replaying the events of the night in her head. She liked him, a lot. But she knew that he was going to take more time than any other man she’s been with. He was worth it, she thought.  She was going to help him.

She turned the TV on, the votes were still being counted. She stared at the percentages slowly changing without really focusing. Her mind kept going back to Tom, his walk, his eyes, the way he looked at her, the way he ate, the small details that she noticed about him. She daydreamed for a good hour before dozing to sleep.

KNOCK KNOCK KNOCK

He waited by the door, nervous as ever, hands in pocket. He knocked quickly again until she opened. She was barefoot, sleepy and clearly not expecting this. He hoped her face would brighten up and it did.

“You came back!”
“I couldn’t stay away.”

He closed his eyes, wished himself good luck then grabbed her hand and brought her closer to him.

She couldn’t believe her eyes. Him out of all people initiating a contact, that’s a first. But she wasn’t complaining.
He was looking at her with intensity, staring right into her soul. He held her head softly and brought his closer slowly. She came closer as well and as he leaned his face towards her, their lips met for the first time.

The kiss reminded him of chemistry lessons in school when if the right two elements were put together, they’d explode. It was an explosion indeed.

Her Life Was Over

Just tell yourself they’re only stories. ― Pamela K. Kinney

“My life is over.”

The first words that came out of her mouth.

It’s been a week. She hasn’t spoken since. Nor ate. I managed to force her into drinking a bit of water. At least, she was still breathing.

She did cry a lot. A lot more than I expected. But she never blamed me, not once. Always herself. She kept saying that she failed us, that she failed me. Said she should have helped me more, carried some of the load.

You know that moment when everything you’ve been building falls apart? That week was full of these moments. And that was only the tip of the iceberg.

Maybe I’m getting ahead of myself.

“My life is over.”

I shook my head. “Stop saying that. It’s not. Actually, if you think about it, it’s easier this way”.

“How can you even say that?”

She looked at me with her big teary eyes. “You think it’s better to be apart?”

“Not better. Easier. For you.”

I took a deep breath.

“You’re over me.”
“I’m not. I’m just tired. I’ve been thinking a lot lately and I think I’m running out of energy.”
“Energy?” She asked.

“I used to take pleasure in the smallest things and now I just don’t. Everything is taking too much effort and I need to take a break.”
“A break?”

I nodded.
She stood there in silent and disbelief.

I came closer, tried to hold her hand. She took it away and grabbed the packet of cigarettes from her desk. She lit one. She knew I hated it.

“Don’t smoke…”
“You don’t take a break when you’re married.”

She was right.

“It’s not you…”
“I know, it’s you. You need the space. You need time. You need to think. You. You. You.”

She rolled her eyes.

“Selfish.”

She was pushing me and she knew it. It was her way of dealing with things. Driving me crazy enough to crack.

“Maybe I deserve to be selfish.”
“It proves my theory, though.”
“Which theory?”
“You stopped loving me.”
“I didn’t.”
“You’re done with me.”
“I have been through the most humiliating experience of my life and instead of getting the time to deal with it, I had to take care of you.”
“This thing affects the both of us and you know it. You’re not alone in this.”
“I felt pretty alone all week!”

She laughed.

“Whatever.”
“I’m broke, I’m jobless and I feel like the past twelve years of my life just went to fucking waste. So excuse me for being a little selfish and asking for a stupid timeout to get my shit back together so I can still have some sort of respect for myself and be the man you thought you married.”

I was obviously yelling at that point but I calmed down rather quickly.

She turned off the cigarette.

“For rich or poor, right?”
“Yeah sure.”
“How did you expect me to react?”
“Have my back maybe. I don’t know, comfort me next time.”
“Next time…”

She stared at the burning ashes. The room was quiet again. I looked at her. I knew she could sense my gaze.

Who was I kidding? I could never leave her. She was my source of air and I could never let her go. There was always something bringing us closer, despite everything else. She knew I couldn’t get away, even when I felt useless when I felt like a total failure. Going bankrupt makes you feel this way. She was probably thinking the same thing. Feeling bad for me, and a lot of pity.

“It’s amazing how quiet we can get.”

She turned to me.

“We both knew we’d eventually run out of thing to talk about.”

I shook my head.

“I didn’t.”

That look. That face. Those eyes staring at me. That intensity.

She sighed.

“Goodnight Jimmy.”

She walked towards the door.

“I love y…”
“Don’t. I don’t wanna hear it.” She turned to me. “Enjoy the couch.”

I smiled, defeated, as she left the room. I let myself fall on the sofa, thinking how many fights did this uncomfortable piece of furniture witness. And how many apologies.

“Jimmy…”
“Mmm?”
“I’m pregnant by the way.”