I fell in love with her in October.
I mean, I loved her before then. You don’t spend three years with someone without falling for the way the light curves around their cheek, or the sound of their first waking breath in the morning, or how their voice goes just a bit higher when they’re about to surprise you. And every single time you fall in love with them, your life together becomes just a little bit brighter.
That’s what you really have to be careful about in love. When you stop falling in love with every little thing about someone, I don’t think you’re really in love. And if the impossible day comes that the sight of her bedhead and bleary storm cloud eyes isn’t the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen, then that is the day that I might as well call myself a widow and prepare for the death of our relationship.
On that October morning, I woke to the smell of chocolate and coffee.
Helena sat on our couch with coffee and book in hand, and a half-eaten piece of cake forgotten on a plate next to her. The day was one of those gloriously dreary ones, where the rain drizzled half-heartedly down and wind played with the tips of every leaf to find the ones loose enough to plummet into the mud. Through the open window by our bed, I smelled rain and forest and just the hint of woodsmoke. My face was slightly damp from the rain that had made it inside, and the coolness felt refreshing against my oven-like nest of blankets.
I stretched from the tips of my fingers to the curling of my toes, arching my back against the mattress and turning my face towards the couch. “Morning, my love.”
Though my words had been mumbled, Helena looked towards me, and her lips formed into that little crooked smile, one corner of her mouth higher up than the other. I fell for her instantly. I wasn’t even wearing a shirt yet and I had already been sucker-punched by Cupid!
“Sleep well?” she asked, and I rolled my head in a leisurely nod. She looked back to her book before speaking again, shifting to a more comfortable position with an unconscious sigh. “What’s the plan today?”
“Hmmn,” I said, drawing out the hum into another satisfyingly long stretch. “It’s a surprise.”
She rolled her eyes at that, I knew it just by the way her head cocked to the side, even if I couldn’t see her face. “Well of course it’s a surprise,” Helena said. “It’s a Saturday.”
I chuckled lightly. “Why do you always ask, then?”
Her book closed with a gentle snap. “I need to give you something to be mysterious about, love.”
God, I loved her so much.
Helena stood from the couch, leaving the book and taking her coffee along for the ride as she perched on the side of our bed, gazing down at me. “Well?” she said, her brow arching up.
“Are you going to get your ass out of bed?”
I kissed the air in her direction before lifting myself up from the sweet embrace of my pillow. “I love the way you talk to me in the morning.”
Helena’s smile widened into a grin. “Lazy useless ass.”
“I love you too.”
She leaned over and pressed a kiss to my forehead before standing. “Can you at least give me a hint of whether it’s the ‘finish painting the bathroom today’ kind of surprise or the ‘doing all our shopping’ surprise?”
“Neither.” I pulled the blanket off and swung my legs over the side of the bed. “But it is outside and it will be cold.”
“Jeanne, it’s raining.”
I turned back to waggle my eyebrows at her. “Worth it for a surprise?”
She snorted, shaking her head at me. “Wait, let me see.” Lifting her coffee, Helena tipped her head back and chugged the remnants before looking back down. “Now it is.”
I drove for once. Helena fiddled with the radio, the tip of her tongue poking out through her teeth as she tried to reach the sweet spot with the dial. She always did that, though it wasn’t like I didn’t have all our favorites programmed. But she liked turning knobs more than pushing buttons, and the way her eyes lit up when the channel finally settled, made sitting through the static and cut off music all the more worth it.
We both wore raincoats, and I had snuck a couple buckets into the trunk when Helena was looking for her boots. The rain hadn’t made up its mind on whether to drizzle harder or finally let up, and any snatch of blue sky quickly fled when more clouds came to dump all over us. Trees bowed heavy with water and unshed fiery leaves, occasionally reaching to brush the top of the car.
When I first turned off the main road, I think that was when Helena started to suspect. Her eyes went dark and her hands clasped together, fingers twisting with the first signs of too many things worrying in her mind. I reached for the volume dial and turned it down. She looked to me, her brow beginning to furrow and any certainty gone from her gaze.
“Remember last summer?” I said, my smile and words warm. I kept one eye on the road and one eye on her, reaching out with my palm up to offer my hand. “When we were at that cidery. And you told me about growing up.”
The lines disappeared from her forehead and Helena’s eyes softened. She took my hand, squeezing it once. “We used to crush apples every fall. Cider. Pie. Cake. I told you how much I missed it.”
“That was your life, Helena. I think-“ I slowed the car, looking fully at her. “Those apples were the one thing you regretted more than anything else. And when you were kicked out, that was taken from you.”
“It’s been eight years. I should be over it.” She said that as if trying to convince me or herself, but the tone didn’t quite match the words. Helena looked back out to the road. It was familiar to her. Less so to me. “Why are you bringing me here?”
The car rolled to a stop in front of an old wooden sign with the words too faded by time and rain to read. Beyond it, and the winding gravel road, were apple trees as far as the eye could see.
“I wanted to surprise you with going apple picking,” I said. “I was touring some orchards a couple weeks back when I met a couple.”
Helena remained silent as I spoke, her eyes going to me once, before she stared out at the rows of trees.
“They recognized me from your profile picture.” Her hand in mine tightened, and I moved my other hand to lay over it. “They asked if we were dating and I didn’t lie. And they told me they were your parents. And that they were sorry and just wanted to see you again.”
She didn’t reply right away. Her grip was so tight now my hand was starting to hurt. I didn’t say anymore, just waited until she finally looked to me with wet eyes.
“They told m-me never to come back,” Helena said softly, only the faintest catch of a sob in her voice. “I thought-“ She squeezed her eyes shut, letting a tear dislodge and trail down her cheek.
“Today is just about the apples,” I murmured, letting go with one hand to catch the tear on her face before it could fall. “You don’t need to see them until you’re ready. They agreed to that. But you’re allowed to come here and pick apples whenever you want.”
Helena breathed in and out. She opened her eyes and looked to me with a wavery smile. “I never- ever -thought I could come back here.”
I leaned over, only a little awkwardly through the constraints of the seat belt, and wrapped my arms around her. “Happy October?”
Our hands only parted long enough for us to leave the car. Buckets in tow and the rain pattering against the hoods of our coats, Helena and I walked off into the orchard.
So that October day, looking at the woman who I hoped would accept me as her wife with tears in her eyes and hope in her heart, I fell in love with her all over again. And I knew that for the rest of our lives, every single day, I would keep on falling in love. Just as she did with me.