I Wish I Heard Him
“I didn’t marry for love.”
We were friends. I cared about him. One day, drunk and upset, I had recounted how I needed to be married. He had awkwardly patted my shoulder and sympathized, telling me about his problems. I offered the solution. He accepted. The perfect answer for both of us, dropped straight into our laps.
Izra chewed an ice cube thoughtfully. “Then why did you?”
It had been one of the hardest decisions I’d had to make. My parents had fought through an advancing civil war, an unstable political state, ethnic tensions, and a revolving door of anger and fear in order to get me this world. They’d given me years. Months and weeks and years of hesitating, waiting, hoping, and watching. A few failed dates. Finally, frustration. Theirs and mine. They wanted to see me happy and in a family. I wanted to see them happy, and I didn’t want to be alone. I could be, but I didn’t want to be.
How could I let them down?
“Husband plus wife plus kids plus good career equals safety, security, and satisfaction.”
Izra looked at me, aghast, her jaw dropped to reveal bits of ice in her mouth.
“It’s true!” I protested. “I’ve seen it work before, the idea of it makes me smile, and I don’t want anything else.”
“He’s so handsome, too,” Izra countered, propping her hand on her fist dreamily.
He had been one of the most sought-after boys in our year by everyone, debate stars and models alike. But somehow, things never seemed to work out. The curses of being pretty and successful.
I took a long sip of my tea. “It’s not the reason I married him.”
Izra smacked a napkin on the table. “Then why him?”
A biracial kid from the South with my sense of humor. Sweet and dopey but a painful past. Kind and harmless.
I shrugged. “He’s my friend, and he had the same goals as I did.”
Another jaw drop. “The same goals?”
“His family was pressuring him, he didn’t believe in love, either –“
“What do you mean, either? You don’t believe in love? Real, romantic love?”
My parents laughed whenever I brought up the idea of their loving each other. It was the family joke. Marrying for love was seen as a scandal, a weakness – something that never worked out. And how could it?
“It’s a fake dream made up by Hollywood. Everyone knows that.”
“What? No! Not everyone thinks that.”
“Well, he and I do.”
Izra shook her head and tapped my hand, the one with the golden wedding ring on it. “You should see how he looks at that.”
“My hand?” I held it up to the light in consternation, watching the ring’s metal wink.
“No! His ring! He looks at it and smiles, like, every day!”
This surprised me, and I fumbled for an explanation. “Probably because it’s heavy and he wants to take it off.”
“It’s not a golden shackle.”
I barked out a laugh.
Izra sighed and tipped our trays of Panera leftovers into the trash. “Whatever, nerd and love-hater. I’ve gotta get back.” She smiled at me. “Love you, though.”
“Don’t hit on my husband!” I joked, our line for years.
“Don’t hit on mine!” she replied with a smile.
She worked in my husband’s law office. Her husband worked in the same hospital I did.
It was all fun and games.
He smiled and leaned on the back of a chair, coffee mug in his hands. “How was work?”
I smiled back. “Sorry I’m late.” I sighed, dropped my bag to the floor, and face-planted into the couch. “Work was…long. So much. Dr. Figg—”
“The Fig Newton,” he interrupted knowingly.
“Correct, the Fig Newton, his legal name. He complained about Ann, Pretty Selfish Dazzling Ann—”
“PSDA, the greatest acronym—”
“—and said that she was too slow to do vitals, and she said that if he wanted her to do a half-assed job, then he could take the fall in the courthouse, and Jesus Christ Our Lord And Savior—”
“Dr. Trevor? The one with the Jesus hair?”
“Yeah, him. God, he has amazing hair. So he told me that he’d rather referee a wrestling match than deal with those two again—”
“Maybe they should wrestle. It’d solve their problems, I bet.”
I laughed. “That’s what I said! But then I asked, for the millionth time, why he doesn’t just switch up the pairings and make sure that she doesn’t work with him, but –”
“Everyone needs to learn to work together,” my husband and I finished in sing-song.
I giggled again. “So that’s the highlight of my day. The patients were good –“
“How’s the lady with the cast?”
“Better, now. I think seeing her son helped, she was a lot less cranky after he left.”
He gave me a goofy wink. “Maybe that wasn’t her son.”
“Ew, you nasty.” I settled onto a stool by the kitchen counter and dropped my face into my hands. “Order pizza?”
“My cooking’s not that bad.”
“I fed some leftovers to the stray and I think it keeled over.”
I reached up and smacked him. “Meanie!”
He held out the phone. “Pizza-ordering Angel.”
I sighed and dialed. “Flattery will get you everywhere.”
He raised an eyebrow. “Everywhere?”
I rolled my eyes and shoved him away. “Want wings?”
“They’re not supposed to glow in the dark, you know.”
“But you’ll save me, won’t you?” He gave me his best pout.
I laughed. “I’m not sure we have a treatment for radioactive chicken wings.”
“How’s your research?”
“Team meeting’s tomorrow.”
“So you’re going to be stressing until then.”
“You know me so well—Pizza Hut man! An order of your finest ‘za, please.”
My husband pinched the bridge of his nose. “Dear God, I want someone besides Izra and Ken to think we’re normal.”
“Cheese, please!” I said into the phone. He wrapped his slim arms around me from behind and dropped his nose to my head. I ran my fingers through his hair. “A large!”
“Only a large?” he mocked, breathing into my hair.
Ignoring his remark, I finished ordering and ended the call before turning to him. “Then how was your day?”
“Big day’s tomorrow. Today was just the final prep work.”
“That’s right! Are you nervous?”
He shook his head. “I’m only nervous and shy around, like, very specific people.”
“Like Boss King Man, who thinks he’s Jesus but he’s bald?”
He burst out laughing. “I’m gonna call him ‘Jesus but Bald’ behind his back now.”
“Please do. And tell Izra and Kimmy that I came up with it.”
“Heard you met up with Izra today?”
“Yeah, we had a funny conversation.” I twisted the ends of my hair nervously. “Actually, I told her. About…us.”
He twisted his ring on his finger, and I felt the air sharpen around us. “You didn’t have to.”
“We’re friends with them. Good friends. So, n-no, not really, I…guess. How’d it come up?”
“We were talking about if love was real. I, obviously, mocked rom-coms the rest of the meal. Speaking of, we need to unwind…Wanna watch one now?”
He hesitated. I turned back to look at him.
“What is it?”
He shook his head, as if waking himself up. “Nothing.”
“C’mon, you know I know you better than that.”
“It’s just…why don’t you?”
“What? Where is this coming from?”
“I’ve wanted to ask you this for a long time, but why don’t you believe in romance?”
I gestured to our TV. “No one ever falls in love by dancing with them, doing a cooking competition with them, or locking eyes with them across a room. It’s all about lust, really. Sex. That’s all it really is.”
“But, when you watch one, do you want to sleep with the actors? Or do you just like the little glimmery feeling it gives you?”
“The first one, of course.”
“Okay, fine, be sarcastic. But that feeling you get, that cutesy feeling? That’s real, Angel.”
“But I thought—”
He slammed his hands onto the countertop. “I just—I can’t believe you told Izra I didn’t love you!”
“What? No! I told her…I told her that I—that we didn’t marry for love. But like, I love you, you know, because you’re my best—”
“Friend?” He ran his fingers through his hair and paced around the room, before finally settling to a stop in front of me. He took hold of my face, gently but firmly, and kissed the top of my head. “What do you think loveis?”
“Romantic love is different from friendly love. It’s different! And it doesn’t exist.”
He looked directly into my eyes. “Then tell me: Why do you think I married you?”
“Because—we’ve talked about all this before. Because of your family, your South Asian side, and mine—”
“I married you because I love you,” he whispered.
“I fell in love with you and your spunk and your sense of humor. Like, you say the weirdest shit and I love it. I wanted to spend all my time with you, and just as I thought we were getting close, you told me all that stuff about love, and how it isn’t real, and how you were feeling the pressure of getting married, but you didn’t want to just have an arranged marriage, but you also didn’t believe in romance, and how you were stuck. And then, I told you I loved you.”
“Wait, no. No, that’s not what I remember. You told me how you had family drama, too, and how you were struggling in the dating world, too, and then I proposed our solution, our current arrangement—”
“I said, ‘Well, I’m in love with you. Does that make it better?’ and you said—”
“ ‘Families are super complicated, huh?’” I finished, and my eyes widened. “No.”
“You did tell me, oh my God.”
“And you couldn’t even hear me. And then, you asked me to marry you – to solve our so-called problems, and I know this was manipulative of me, but I agreed, because I thought that it was the only way for me to have you, at least a small piece. I thought I could make you love me! But I was wrong, wasn’t I?”
He walked away from me. “I haven’t got a chance, have I? I’ve been cooking for you and laughing with you and taking care of that stray cat with you and trying to make you feel something this whole time, and it hasn’t even changed your mind one bit, has it?”
“No, no! It has, it has!” I protested, following him. I tugged at his arm and spun him around, cupping his face in my hands. “I don’t want to lose you.”
“You’ll never lose me,” he murmured.
“I can’t. I can’t lose you.”
“Do you think you can love me? It’s okay if you can’t. I just—I need to know!”
I hesitated, my breath coming out in harsh gasps.
“Do you think you can love me, Angel?”
I closed my eyes. “Yes, I can. And I do. I love you.”