I open my eyes.
I am readying myself for the morning.
A golden cheekbone lined by the rising sun, beautiful in its simplicity. I touch it, once, her skin warm under my fingers, a reminder of how alive we are. How young we are.
We are teenagers. Our hands are clumsy, too big for our skinny limbs, not sure where to go or what to think. These hands hold pens, and books, and dreams. We discuss the future in vivid colours, full of blossoming hope of what it could hold. Neither of us say it, our lips tied by the thin string of fear, but our dreams involve each other. Neither of us knows what love means, our kisses fuelled by wandering hands and inexperienced tongues, but I know the lines of her face better than I know the words of my textbook. Neither of us knows anything, but we know each other.
We grow, as all things do, messily, with anger and lust and tears. She holds the neck of a bottle of beer, her head titled back, laughing into the night, her cheeks flushed. She is brighter than any star, and I wonder if I could replicate the jewels in her eyes, and make them into a jewel for her finger. I smile, small, and take another sip. I know that she is the one.
Our wedding is small, but loud, screams of joy echoing from every lively corner. Her mother gives me a talk, my mother gives me a heart attack. All I can feel is the creases of her hand enveloped in mine, and the sweet press of her lips on my face. I do.
"You do nothing!" She screams at me, waving at the dirty dishes lining every corner of our rotting kitchen. She is tired. I am tired. We both know it is not each other we are angry at, but the bank, the debt, the crushing weight of the tiny house. I bite my cheek. It is both my fault, and hers, and neither.
She still crawls into our bed, and hugs me tight. I still make her coffee in the morning. It is a test, and we have passed.
The first one is a surprise, with delighted screams and happy tears at the start, and terrible screams and pain filled tears at the end. But she is alive, and our child is alive, and they both nestle deep into the lining of my heart and refuse to let go. Surely my heart will run out of space for any more love.
I was wrong. We have two more, and it still makes room.
The children grow fast, faster than we ever did. They are sickly sweet when young, chubby cheeks and grotty hands, always reaching for something more. A little older, and they're cheeky, and quiet, and confused. A little older, and they're angsty, quiet, and polite. A little older still and they're angsty, angsty, and quiet.
Then comes the dreaded stage. Angsty, angsty and angsty. Teenagers.
A little older, and it's going, angsty, and angsty. Then gone, going and angsty. Then gone, gone, and going.
It's not long before the last kisses us both on the forehead and thanks us for the privilege of receiving our love. I hold her hands. "Love is not a privilege," I say, "it is a necessity."
She smiles, and thanks us anyway. She was always far too polite.
We move into a smaller house. Cozy, not cramped. It brings back memories of our first place. "Don't talk about that!" she says, "that place was awful!" She smiles more now, and fills her days reading books and making bread. I kiss her neck as she makes cookies, and she playfully pushes me away. She thinks I only want chocolate, but her love is the sweetest thing in our kitchen.
She takes up knitting, and I joke that she's getting old. She pretends to disagree, but we both know I'm right. My knees scream every time I bend to remove a weed from our growing garden.
She gets sick.
I get sick.
She has glasses now, small and oval shaped, perched on the top of her nose. The kids in the neighbourhood call us "Gran and Pops." Apparently, according to our son, we have a "reputation." I disagree, of course. The only reason she makes cookies for the school children is so they don't drive their chunky bikes through my nice flowers. So what if I help them fix their punctured tyres? So what if she makes them fresh lemonade? So what if we told them "just ask him on a date, he told me he liked you the other day"? That doesn't mean we like the buggers.
The young men flirt with her, as a joke. They say she's the most beautiful thing they've ever seen. I growl at them, of course, but only because they're right.
Our faces are lined with wrinkles now, and my hearing is half gone. She's stooped now, hunched and pinched, yet every time she smiles we go back to being young, with those jewels in her eyes, and I fall in love all over again. We don't go out to the kids anymore. They come to us, and a young man helps her make the cookies when her hands shake, and a young woman helps me with the weeds when my knees give. I hear on the news every day about the new generation being lazy, and I shake my head every time. These kids are just growing the way all things grow. Messily.
I wake up one morning to the sweet sound of birds. I wake up one morning to the smell of fresh grass. I wake up one morning, the sun peeking over the horizon, its gentle limbs stroking our faces from the window.
I wake up one morning.
A golden cheekbone lined by the rising sun, beautiful in its simplicity. I touch it, once, her skin cold under my fingers. A reminder of how long we had together, how lucky we were.
I close my eyes.
And let myself slip into the night.