TW: abuse, cheating
We have plenty of time. The sun has barely reached the windowsill, liquid gold on dark grey, light green where it touches the bouquet that you brought, the one leaf that you couldn’t stop from sticking out and making the whole arrangement feel a little rough.
You’re facing me, chest rising and falling in slow, deep, safe breaths. I move a little closer until I can hear your soft sighs, my fingers tracing your shoulder where the blanket has slipped off. You frown a little, relax again and I catch myself smiling. My gaze finds the clock on my nightstand. 7:05 am, too early for me but with you I never want to sleep. We have to cherish what little time we can get, squeeze it into the early mornings or late nights, exchange kisses in the doorway on our way out.
The light is getting bolder, it’s dripping onto the carpet now, the far corner of the bed, getting closer and closer to your bare feet. I want to pull the blanket over you, protect you from the inevitable flow of time. A cocoon for this moment, where nothing ever changes. I’m afraid of what might happen if it does. What destination we are headed towards. I’ve read too many stories like ours.
You wake up and your eyes have that familiar look in them that reminds me of late summer afternoons and mint ice cream and laughter. You blink, rub your eyes with one hand and run the other through your tousled hair, stretching your sleepleaden muscles.
“You could’ve woken me.” Your voice is still a little rough. I shrug, my hand searching yours between the sheets.
“There’s no rush. It was a long night.” The memories make me smile. The little bar down the street, the bitter taste of more wine than I know is good for me, the chilly night air. Your hand in mine as we are walking back to my apartment. A risk we can only take in the dark.
I lace our fingers together and squeeze your hand, warm and familiar.
You turn towards the window, look at the sun stretching her fingers across the floor and onto the bed. “I have to go.”
My heart does a little leap, a familiar one but painful every time.
“What if you don’t go?” Silly, naive hope blossoms in my chest and I am too tired to push it back down. My fingers are gripping yours harder and you run a thumb over the back of my hand. I know what you’ll say. We’ve had this conversation before. Maybe it’s bound to repeat itself, over and over, me hopeful, you realistic, and maybe a little scared. Maybe it will never change. Not in a year, not in twenty.
“I have to.” You pull back your hand, giving me a little smile that feels like pity. For whom I don’t know.
You push back the blanket and start to gather your clothes from the floor and the sight makes my chest tighten for a heartbeat. I know you’re turning away on purpose but I saw the faint bruises on your waist yesterday and I don’t have to ask where they came from. They’ll go away, you say but that’s not the point. I shift my gaze to your profile, your slightly wrinkled nose as you’re struggling into your trousers.
“But what if you didn’t?” I move to the end of the bed, the sunlight runs over the skin of my thigh and I resent it for its warmth and all it’s taking from me, again. “What if you stayed?”
My words linger between us for a moment, I can see you hesitate as you put on your shirt, then you tuck it into your trousers with more force than necessary. “She’ll notice.” You look down, searching for your shoes but I know you’re avoiding my eyes.
Let her notice, I want to say, it doesn’t matter, she will eventually, we can’t keep doing this forever. But I don’t and smile and close my eyes when you bend down to kiss me.
It hurts to see you leave. I’ve told you before but I haven’t in a while because I can see in your eyes that it hurts you to go and I don’t want to remind you during our little havens of safety.
I stay in bed a little longer, watch the sun rise over the rooftops and bury my nose in the pillow, the side where you slept, while I imagine things were different. I get up eventually, eat breakfast, go to work, come back to my flat where your scent has faded and I don’t know how long it will take for you to come back this time.
The next week I find a letter in front of my door, the landlady left it there. It’s more of a note, really, but it feels like pages and pages of good news. I pick my best clothes, a giddy feeling in my stomach like a schoolgirl before a dance, and rush outside. The restaurant is only a few blocks away but I’m gasping when I arrive.
I spot you near the entrance, hands in the pockets of your suit, wrinkled from work and you smile when you see me. “I wasn’t sure you’d get my message.”
I want to kiss you, right here, right now. Your cheeks are a little flushed, your chin a little stubbly and I wish I didn’t have to hide how that makes me feel. Instead I smile, two feet away from you, my hands gripping my bag too tightly while the faint hint of your smell makes my heart twist.
“I wasn’t prepared for something this spontaneous,” I say but it isn’t the first time.
“An unexpected call from work.” You smile and I know whose work you’re talking about. I feel my smile quaver and force it wider.
When I enter the restaurant I feel your hand brush my back for just a heartbeat.
It’s an adventure, the longing glances, hidden touches, and stolen kisses in the aisle at the back near the bathrooms. It’s an adventure because romanticizing the unchangeable is easier than bearing the pain of desires that can never be realised. There is a beauty to unfulfilled daydreams, the “what if”s and “maybe”s. A painful, bitter beauty that leaves your chest aching with feelings that are growing too big to be contained in such a small space, longing for a chance of freedom, but a beauty nonetheless.
We stay until the place closes, lose more and more of our care and I slip my fingers between yours on the way out. Your smile is light and free and magical and for a moment I can believe in all the possibilities of the world. You walk me to my apartment, eyes holding mine, unafraid, and I take in this rare moment. I ask if you want to come with me, if you want to stay and I don’t only mean for the night, but the boldness in your eyes dies like a flame when you get too close too soon and you say no. “She’ll be back soon.” Your mouth twists a little and your eyes lose their spark.
I place a hand on your chest and feel you flinch for just a second. It’s not as bad as it used to be. I can feel your warm, firm skin through the fabric and know I will miss that feeling as soon as the touch ends. When will you leave her, I think, but what I say is: “Okay.”
You bend down and kiss me and I can feel you lingering, stretching a heartbeat into a moment into a promise and a hope but then it’s over and you leave and I let you go.
I recognise your knock every time. It’s Tuesday and I know something’s wrong even before I open the door. The first thing I see is your hair, wet from the rain, your jacket soaked. The second thing is the fresh bruise on your cheekbone.
You don’t say anything and I don’t have to ask but I know our time is up.
“Someone saw us,” you say and I think of our careless moments in the restaurant and can’t shake the feeling that it’s all my fault. I get water and a towel and you push me away at first but eventually give in. Your gaze doesn’t once leave the carpet.
“I made something up. She doesn’t know,” you say, your voice toneless and flat. “She doesn’t know.”
You are the realistic one but it seems like even you need to resort to wishful thinking at a moment like this.
I sit down next to you, the wet towel in my hand, one end a little rosy. Your shoulders are all tense, your back arched as if you’re trying to hide even from me. I reach for your hand but stop mid-movement, pick a piece of fluff from my knee instead. You’re not ready yet.
“What do we do?” I try to catch your glance but it’s fixed on the worn carpet. I wait but you don’t answer. I get another towel for your hair and this time you don’t protest. “Stay.” I can barely hear myself.
You sigh, a heavy sound, and your hands close around your knees but I can see the shaking. You look tired, so tired and I want to hug you and hold you and take the weight off your shoulders but I can’t.
“We could go somewhere. Anywhere.” I wring the damp towel in my hands. You’re still soaked, you need a change of clothes, but I can’t form the words and you don’t move either.
“We could.” I wish you’d just say something. Anything. This feels like a moment frozen in time, a scene arranged behind transparent walls, and I can’t break the glass alone.
“What’s keeping you here?”
You look up, finally, and I see the answer in your eyes. I wish I could take away your fear and show you how much more you deserve.
“I have to go,” you say and I let you. The door closes softly and I listen for your steps in the corridor but I can’t hear you. I try to keep my mind empty but the pictures are there, of you getting home, of her waiting for you. What will you talk about, what will you say? I can’t shake the bitter feeling in my chest, the knowledge that it shouldn’t be like this and that there is nothing I can do.
I have a plan and I don’t know how to tell you about it. You’ll say no, you always do and I know I should respect that. But every breath aches and I know it does for you too and we can’t go on like this.
I quit the apartment, sell what I can and pack everything else in a suitcase. I don’t know if this will work, I don’t know if you can finally find the courage but waking up every morning without you, no letter, no note, is more than I can bear. I put the tickets, platform 3, 7:25 pm, into the pocket of my coat and leave my apartment for the last time. It’s not hard, despite the memories we made there, the conversations, the kisses. We can make new ones, wherever we’ll go.
I wrote you a letter, clumsyly, never finding the right words for what I am feeling and leaving out the rest. I don’t know if you got it. You didn’t reply. I try to calm myself with the thought that it may have taken you a while to find it, between the flowers near the kitchen window, maybe you didn’t find it at all. I push the thought away, take a deep breath, grab my suitcase tighter and hail a taxi. You will come. Will I go even if you don’t come with me? What reason would I have? Then again, why would I stay?
On my way to the train station, it starts raining and I’m trying my best not to see it as a sign. You won’t come, I can feel it.
The taxi stops, I pay, more than I can afford, take my suitcase and push through the crowd in the hall towards the stairs to the platforms. My eyes are constantly searching for a glimpse of your hair, your coat, while my heart is stumbling along in my chest.
I find the platform, the train is already there and I go all the way to the end looking for you.
You’re not here.
My chest tightens and I have to force every breath. I turn around, blink through the smoke, the rattling of another train makes my ears ring. I can hear the bell over the chatter around me. Our time is up.
I surrender to the crowd and let myself drift to one of the entrances. You didn’t come. The thought seeps into my consciousness, thick and black, and blots out everything else. Maybe I should have known. Maybe I was asking too much of you, taking too much of a risk.
Every breath is an effort. Through the viscid film I see a young man in uniform taking my luggage and pulling me by the arm onto the iron steps.
I turn around, a last feeble resistance, and let my gaze roam over the faceless crowd.
And there you are, running up the stairs, one hand pulling the collar of your jacket higher against the rain. Our eyes meet and I can see the sparkling from here. I lean back further, not caring that the man in uniform is the only thing keeping me from falling. I scream your name, wave and now the rain is on my face, running down my cheeks in streams of relief and joy and pride.
You join me on the steps, we barely fit together, and kiss me. Without hesitation, without a look back. Just like that, like it should be.
“Where are we going?” You’re out of breath, but your face is radiating and I don’t mind anymore that things changed.
“I don’t know,” I say and laugh and kiss you again. “We’ll find out together.”