As they finally reached that shopping cart shelter under the pouring rain, he lit a cigarette and brought it to her lips first, then took a puff himself. She couldn’t have done it on her own — her hands were full; she was carrying two not excessively heavy but massive bags full of useful and less so things a person usually buys as they move to a new apartment. Dave only held one: she insisted on carrying most of them herself because those were her things and she subconsciously felt the need to emphasize it.
«You can put the bags down,» Dave said.
But the ground was too wet, so it did not seem like a good idea.
«You can give one to me,» he said for the third time that afternoon.
She refused and he shrugged. He would probably not ask again; Dave was not a guy of particularly gentlemanly nature, which she actually appreciated. It helped her retain the feeling of independence, which, in her opinion, women all too often sacrifice when their relationships get past the initial dating phase. Recently, it happened to her now former housemate who followed her boyfriend when he was offered a job in another city. Basically, that’s why she was here in the IKEA parking lot, waiting for a taxi to an address she did not yet remember well.
Everyone expected her to move in with Dave. They had been together for almost a year at the time and were she just a little younger, she would do it without hesitation. Between them, there was an unspoken understanding it might come to that. His place was not grand, but he actually owned it, and it could easily accommodate two; it even had a guest room he used to host friends from abroad or couchsurfers when he felt particularly generous, or lonely. She secretly took comfort in that, although personally, she did not know couples who wouldn’t share a bedroom.
She enjoyed sleeping with Dave. He was the most adept and attentive lover in her life, he didn’t snore, didn’t steal the blanket, and, unlike her, always woke up with the first alarm. Out of their ten months' worth of nights, maybe five she spent in his bed. Still, she dreaded the idea of calling it hers, the commitment, which, in her eyes, would inevitably lead to merging of their selves.
As she had been bracing herself for the conversation that would turn it into reality, at the very last minute she managed to find an affordable studio and five days later moved in. It was well-located, in one of those older downtown buildings with ornate cornices and tiled stairs, but miserably small. The kitchenette fit in between the wardrobe and the bathroom door, and the few furniture pieces which could be seen as vintage in another place looked sad. The bed wasn’t even a bed, just a foldable couch, which she never cared to fold for the lack of guests.
She signed a contract for a year. To make the studio feel cozier, almost immediately she bought about a dozen of houseplants — like most people do as they enter millennial adulthood. It helped. Within a week, as all unpacking was done, she started to feel at home. It was the first place she did not have to share with anybody.
When Dave first saw it, she could tell he shared none of her excitement and was hurt that she settled for something as cramped just to avoid staying with him. He never said it out loud but she knew, and it made her feel defensive. It was the first week, she said, and there were so many things to buy, and she would make everything look so much better, though to both of them it was obvious that the main problem lay not in stylistic choices but the size, functionality, the fact that her not-even-a-bed absorbed all smells when she was cooking on the stove some three meters away from it, the cracking of plaster on the ceiling.
Anyway, they went to IKEA. She bought a new blanket, curtains, two dark green bedding sets, which, she thought, would nicely contrast with the pastel walls, a better frying pan, a bathroom rug, and many other small things that can add personal touch basically to everything. It made her really excited. By making that place better, she was taking control of her life.
The cigarette quickly burned out; the stormy wind smoked more of it than either of them. Dave threw it away and reached for his phone to check the Uber driver’s location.
«It shows seven minutes now,» he said.
She was tired and somehow so grateful that he was with her in this parking lot, and so she suddenly said:
«I don’t think I love you enough,» which, in her mind, was undoubtedly true.
She loved his presence and the way he smelled, how gentle he was when she was vulnerable, his risotto and sense of humor. He helped her land her first junior tester position by patiently training her for three months, though he left tech to pursue social work, which she admired and never quite understood.
They shared so many things but the small differences between them felt alienating. The way he could be content with less, that he didn’t drink coffee, that he hated the movies she loved and she found his favorites incredibly boring. She hated sports, and he got into habit of hitting the gym more and more often, which, she admitted, made him more handsome in her eyes, but the fact he was investing time into it was somehow off-putting. He loved baking and she hated everything sweet.
«What if no one loves us in a way we need to be loved?» he said casually.
It was another thing she did not understand about him. He seemed nonchalant even when he was sincere.
For her, that she did not love him enough was a fact. She did not know if he realized it, but deep down feared he did not love her enough either. At 28, he was already two years divorced. Her longest relationship was the one that started in high school. She knew she would never be his wife.
Dave took out another cigarette, lit it, brought it to her lips. She breathed in the smoke and remembered that teenage thing, passing the smoke to another by kissing. Her bags were so massive, though, that she would just awkwardly bump into him. He took a puff. She took another, and suddenly felt like kissing him anyway, so she dropped the bags and did it, passing the smoke to his mouth. He backed away for a second and then did the same. Maybe, she thought, in the end, she could learn to love him a little more.