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Romance Sad

Alem and Tasmin weren’t a new couple. The people in the Tiki bar could tell by the way they sat gently apart from each other, opting to loop a finger or two around the other’s hand instead of draping across each other like so many of the honeymoon couples were doing, becoming more curtains than people. Alem and Tasmin were fading from their marriage, becoming a bit too drawn into themselves to notice how much time they spent apart. At least, they didn’t notice until about a month ago, when Alem sat down in the kitchen and told Tasmin he missed her. 

“I miss you.”

“Why? I’m right here.”

“I know, that’s why it’s weird.”

Tasmin was eating cereal. A splash of milk jumped from her spoon and landed on the table. It rolled off the table and into her lap, staining the bathrobe wrapped around her. “You miss me?”

“Yeah,” Alem reached across the table for her hand, and she laughed.

“What are you doing?” 

“Can we not hold hands?”

“I mean, sure, but I’m eating.”

Alem put his hand back in his lap. “We should go on vacation.”

“What? Why?”

“Because I feel like we’re not even married sometimes. When is the last time you remember sitting with me and just having a nice chat, Tasmin?”

She took another bite of her cereal. “Does this constitute as a nice chat?” 

“No, I’m trying to save our marriage. That’s not… Why would it be a nice chat?”

“Our marriage is fine.” Tasmin stood up and took her bowl to the counter. “Stop trying to fix it.” 

“I can get tickets. We’ll go to the beach.” Alem followed her to the sink. “You like the ocean, don’t you?”

“Yeah, of course.” Tasmin turned around. “You really wanna do this, huh? You’re so concerned?” She touched a hand to her husband’s face, the most affectionate she’d been in weeks. “Fine, we’ll go.” 

“Really?”

“Yeah, why not? You’re paying.” 

They shared a bank account. Alem laughed and bounded into the office to start booking plane tickets and hotel rooms. The next weeks were full of computer screens covered in pictures of beautiful beaches and bikinis on sale, even though Tasmin knew she’d be sticking to her floral one piece she’d bought for a mission trip to Cancun three years ago. Still, she indulged Alem as long as she could stand. On the morning of their departure, she sat on the porch in a floppy blue sunhat, perched beside three large suitcases and holding the plane tickets in her hand. Alem was a few minutes behind her, running around the house and trying to figure out where he’d left his passport. 

“Hey, babe, ready to go?”

“Sure.” She grabbed one of the suitcases. “You got your passport?”

He held it up. “Got it.” He got the other two suitcases and headed down the driveway.” It was a rare sight, but a taxi sat waiting for them. In a small town, people didn’t call cabs or taxis or Lyft or anything like that. If you needed a ride, you called your friend or grandma or grandma’s friend. But Alem and Tasmin didn’t have a lot of friends, and there was only one grandma alive between both of them. Her name was Shameera and she was ninety seven years old, living in a tiny condo with her chihuahua, Jim. Needless to say, she couldn’t take anyone anywhere. So Tasmin sat in the front of the taxi next to the driver, and Alem sat smushed in the backseat with a suitcase on either side. 

“Where are y’all headed?”

Tasmin smiled at her nails. “Vacation. He hasn’t told me where to yet. Figures a nice surprise would do me well, I guess. I’m just looking forward to the sunshine.” She straightened the bottom of her sundress. “And lots and lots of quality time, of course.” 

“Oh, neat. I wish I had a wife.” 

Tasmin didn’t say anything. Alem said, “Sometimes, so do I.” No one asked him what he meant by that. The rest of the ride to the airport was very quiet and awkward and when they got out of the car, Tasmin left Alem in the car to get the suitcases on his own. She told him later that it was only because she wanted to check in early, but he knew she couldn’t stand being in the car longer than he had to. She didn’t sit by him in the airport, even though they had a three hour wait due to the fact that their pilot got food poisoning from bad tuna and was currently locked in the tiny airplane bathroom, which would be out of service the entire rest of the plane ride. 

“Are we sitting together? On the plane?” Alem trailed behind Tasmin as they boarded. “I made sure the tickets were seats next to each other.” 

“Then I guess we’re sitting together. That would make sense, wouldn’t it?” Tasmin stopped in front of their row and squeezed into the window seat. She laid her head against the wall, keeping the window closed, and shut her eyes. 

Alem sat down and poked her lightly. “Are we not gonna talk? You used to love watching the plane take-off, I remember. You don’t wanna watch it this time?” 

Tasmin opened the window. She stared out of it. “Same old tarmac, same old wing, same old sky,” she turned around to face him, “And same old you. I’ve seen in a million times, a million ways, and okay, whatever, it’s nice, but I don’t care enough to watch it again. Do you need to switch seats with me?” 

“No, I just, I don’t know.” Alem put his face in his hands. He didn’t know when his wife got to be so apathetic. He reached for her hand and, at least, she curled her fingers around his. He smiled, looking over at her, but she was already asleep. He let go of her hand. “Sleep well, Tasmin.” He leaned over and closed the window. “I love you.” 

As she slept, Alem scrolled through his phone. There was no internet yet, and he didn’t really care because he didn’t need the internet to look at his photo album, almost thirteen years of pictures with Tasmin. They met at a small tattoo parlor, waiting in the lobby for their friends to get done. Neither of them had or wanted tattoos, but they were willing to wait for their friends who did and, in doing so, met each other. Tasmin used to joke, before they moved, that her friend walked out with a permanent tattoo and she walked out with a permanent person, even though she had no clue at the time. They’d only talked for a few minutes, barely grazing the important topics of whether or not pineapple pizza was an abomination or not. Later, though, when Alem couldn’t stop thinking about her and felt he’d go insane without at least knowing her name, they ran into each other again at a basement concert, again invited by the same tattooed friends. 

Two months later, they were dating. Two year after they met, Tasmin and Alem got married. Small venue, big party. They liked to do things on the second day of every week or month because those two things had happened in two… well, it was a tradition, anyway. Alem couldn’t believe he was only twenty two when he met her. Now, at a practically decrepit age of thirty five, he could feel Tasmin slipping away from him. She never smiled in their pictures, not like she used to. It didn’t make sense, because Tasmin wasn’t the kind of girl who would cheat, but every now and then Alem had the sneaking suspicion that the reason she seemed so uninterested was that she had moved on to another person. Was it possible that he bored her? The insecurities haunted Alem to the point where his fingers itched to check her phone. 

So, despite everything he’d learned, he took her phone while she was in the shower one day, lucky that she had left it unlocked. That should have been the first sign that she had nothing to hide. Alem frantically swiped through Tasmin’s cluttered phone, looking for dating apps or locked albums, but there was nothing. No illicit affair to be found, he’d gone back into the kitchen and made her some pancakes, a silent apology for doubting her like that. The bad thing, though, was that even though Alem knew he should have been overjoyed because, you know, his wife wasn’t cheating on him, it eliminated what would have been such an easy way out of the relationship. Or, at the very least, something that had gone wrong. But she wasn’t cheating, so he didn’t know what to say or do at all. Now, as Tasmin slept soundly, Alem pulled her phone out of her bag. He held it in his left hand, then the right, and then put it back in her bag. She hadn’t broken his trust, there was no need to further intrude her privacy. On his own screen, a picture of Tasmin sitting in front of a crib startled him. 

It wasn’t their baby, the one sleeping in that crib behind Tasmin. One of their good friends, from before they moved, had a little boy a few months old. His name was Fredo, and Tasmin loved him so much that for a while, Alem was worried she’d try to take him whenever they left the house. She used to go over to that house and sit with the baby for hours, not even talking to her friend or their partner, both of which were home most of the day. She wasn’t babysitting, merely sitting with a baby. Alem tried to talk to her about it, to see if maybe she’d caught some kinda baby fever. They’d been married six years at that point, he wasn’t opposed to the idea of children. 

“So, you and that baby, huh? Should I be jealous?” Alem joked one night as they lounged on the couch, watching an episode of whatever was of interest to them at the time. She was curled in his arms, head resting pleasantly against his chest, probably dozing off or close to it. As soon as he mentioned Fredo, though, Tasmin snapped to attention, almost knocking his teeth out with the sudden jolt. 

“What?” 

“Fredo. The baby? I didn’t mean anything by it. You’ve just been spending a lot of time over there.” He patted her leg. “Are you thinking-?”

“No,” she snapped, “I don’t want kids. You know that. We’ve talked about it. Can’t I visit a friend’s baby without you assuming I’ve changed my mind?” 

“Yesterday you asked what colors I’d paint a nursery.”

“In theory!”

Alem shook his head, “Tasmin, you keep buying baby name books. There’s three new ones on the counter from this week alone.” 

“So? Maybe I want to write a book!” 

“That wouldn’t explain the sudden interest in crocheted blankets.” 

“Stop.” Tasmin stood up from the couch. “Just stop.”

“I’m trying to talk to you! Please, help me understand why this is so upsetting.” 

“Because you wouldn’t understand! You can’t. You’re not me.” She sat down again. “I feel so lonely, watching all my friends have families with children and hearing my parents constantly ask where mine are, why haven’t we had kids, can I even have kids, why am I so selfish, why do I put my career first… And the truth is, I don’t think we’d be good parents.” 

Alem clutched the edge of his collar. “What? Why not?”

“Because we’re not kid kind of people, Al. We hate not getting enough sleep, we watch too many movies, we’re big travelers, big spenders, and we work all the time. Besides that? I’m moody, you deal with it, and we learn to get along but we can’t do that to a kid.” 

“You don’t think I’d be a good dad?”

Tasmin shook her head, “No, Al. But you don’t have to be. I’m not asking you to be.”

“Why haven’t you mentioned this until now? It’s tearing you up, I can see that much. You want a baby? We can do that, we’ll learn as we go. We don’t have to be perfect.” 

“I can’t raise a child with you. I can’t make a person grow up right.” 

Alem didn’t know what else to say. He paused the television. Tasmin curled back against him. They watched the show in silence, all the way until they fell asleep, dreaming of babies they’d never have. Alem knew a few friends of his who had kids in order to save their marriages. Before thinking of a simpler vacation, he considered bringing it up again. He took out a few of the baby name books and put them gently on the table beside her bed. She put them all back on the shelf, and neither of them mentioned it again. Tasmin was a person who hated to ask for help, and Alem hated confrontation. It didn’t seem like a big deal when they got married, but now Alem could see why they had so many issues. They couldn’t help each other because they didn’t know how to. Alem crossed his fingers and tucked his hand in the collar of his shirt before closing his eyes and joining Tasmin in the land of soft snoring. 

They landed in New Jersey two hours later. Ocean City sparkled in the same way a tuna can glittered. It was dull and shiny and warm and salty and Tasmin should have known her husband would think this was the place that would salvage their relationship. New Jersey. She watched the clouds from outside the rental car window. Beside her, Alem was smiling broadly. She didn’t want to look at him too long while he was smiling like that. It might remind her how much she liked his face. Tasmin wasn’t sure what they were hoping to do here. The ocean breeze wasn’t going to magically rearrange her brain into being a lovey dovey newlywed again. This was how marriages worked. People faded over the years. It was normal. She wasn’t upset about it, but she didn’t know why Alem was so intent on reviving something that had gone past its natural expiration date. 

“You’re gonna love the place we’re staying at. It’s so cute. It’s owned by this older couple, they’re like seventy or something, and they’ve been running the bed and breakfast since-”

“Okay, Alem. Got it. Cute place.” 

He deflated. “Can you at least try?”

“Try what? I’m here, okay. Leave it alone. I left work for this.” 

“Tasmin, I’m not trying to coerce you into having a nice time. I just feel like you hate me and there’s no reason for it that I know of. If you could at least tell me, we could work on it, but-”

“Stop, Al, for the love of God, stop talking. No one hates you. Least of all me. I’m just tired. And I don’t know why you think a little trip to stupid New Jersey is gonna bring us back to whatever you think we lost. Sparks fade. It’s fine.” 

“You’ve met my parents.” 

Tasmin rolled her eyes. Alem’s parents were #couplegoals before it was even a thing. They’d been married for a toppling twenty nine years, thirty this fall, and they still watched each other with stars in their eyes. Tasmin didn’t think it was fair to be held to such a standard. She remembered the first time she went to his parents house for the first time. They both stood by the front door, arm in arm, beaming at their son, his new girlfriend, and each other. Never in her life had Tasmin seen two people so thoroughly in tune with each other. Her parents, on the other hand, were blase. She could think of two times she heard them say they loved each other. Once was during her sister’s funeral, and the other was when they went, actually, to Florida one spring break. Maybe the trip wasn’t supposed to reach the same level that Aled’s parents did. Maybe he just wanted to find a balance. 

The house Alem had rented was indeed very cute. It also smelled overpoweringly of gouda cheese and chocolate ducks. It was exactly what Tasmin should have expected. She found the bedroom and put her suitcase down. She knew she’d have to hang up a few of her dresses later, but she was more interested, at the moment, in the view of the ocean. 

“Pretty, yeah?”

Tasmin nodded, “It’s beautiful.” 

“Good, good, I made sure the view was nice. I thought we might spend some time here, you know?” 

“What,” Tasmin scoffed, “The bedroom?” 

He shrugged, backing up, “I mean, I was talking about the house, like,” he pointed to the windows in the living room, “There’s a lot of windows.” 

“Okay. That’s fine. I get it.” She flopped onto the bed, wrapping her arms around the giant stack of pillows. “Mm, come feel this mattress.” At the invitation- though slight- of joining her, Alem carefully climbed onto the bed. The mattress was heavenly, a perfect balance of mushy and not mushy, like a loaf of bread fresh from the oven. Alem scooted the tiniest bit closer to Tasmin. He waited. She looked at him. “What?” 

“Nothing, nothing. Just thinking.” He turned over to stare up at the ceiling. “It’s gonna be a nice week, I promise.” 

“Sure, sure.” Tasmin moved three inches closer to him. He didn’t breathe, lest she change her mind. “So, what’s on the itinerary?” 

He smoothed a wrinkle in the faded quilt. “I have no clue. I thought we could work on it together?” 

“I don’t want to do any work while we’re here.” Tasmin buried her face in the pillows. “Surprise me.” 

April 28, 2022 14:48

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2 comments

Yves. ♙
01:44 Aug 08, 2022

Aww... a quite reasonable, though tragic, interpretation of the prompt. I was so worried for these two throughout, especially at their attempts at communication-- sometimes it just feels like there's nothing you can do, right? Thanks for sharing this one.

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11:03 Nov 06, 2022

new story

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