“You wanna do something fun?”
I couldn’t deny the sparkle in his caramel brown eyes when he asked me that. I felt like all my dreams had come true, all my Christmases and birthdays at once… I felt like the stars were literally sparkling out of my skin. To be sat there beside him, the sole proprietor of his entire attention. How fucking lucky could I get?!
“Sure,” I smiled. If it hadn’t been obvious how nervous I was the entire time, it was now. He laughed softly, the sound making my stomach twist painfully. Love sucks. Love hurts. If this ends, I’ll die. He looked down briefly, and back at me. Old Spice, anyone?
“Don’t be nervous,” he said gently. “We don’t have to do anything. I just… y'know…” he ran a hand along the shorter hair at the back of his head. A few greys speckling the otherwise rich, dark locks… Great. Now he was nervous. And that sent me more into a spin.
“Oh – I’m… you know… It’s…” I looked at him. This was going so horribly wrong.
I’d been flirting with Zach for an embarrassingly long time. Not weeks, but long enough that something needed to happen, otherwise it would be one of those stories that got told over a pint somewhere, everyone laughing. And I’d never be able to work with him again.
He stood up, and I followed suit.
Something had to happen.
Zach said something to me, but I didn’t hear what. I steeled myself. I stepped to him. He was stupidly tall. Six-four. I’m five-three. He looked down at me. I looked straight at his broad chest. I reached up and took two fistfuls of his sweater. My heart had stopped. I pulled him towards me, reached up onto my toes, and kissed him. At first, he was a bit shocked, but then he leaned forwards into it and kissed me back, his arms wrapping around me. He was lifting me up. I felt like I was on fire, my cheeks burning with a ferocious blush. When he broke the kiss, his arms didn’t move, and it took me a moment to realise that my feet weren’t touching the floor. His arms didn’t budge.
“I suppose that gives me my answer, then.” His voice was gentle. I stared at him.
“I… I didn’t actually hear your question.” I looked down. My hands still curled into fists around his sweater. The soft wool was thick, a maroon colour which complemented his eyes. The muscle beneath it was hard. Zach laughed, the noise a rumble in his chest.
“Thank you.” I smiled at him. “Are you going to put me down?”
“Do you want me to put you down?”
“A little yes, a little no. I quite like being held.”
“And I quite liked being kissed.” My cheeks lit up again. Regardless, I kissed him again. “I asked you if you’d felt anything these past few weeks…”
“Oh… yeah…” I bit my lip.
“Don’t do that…” his pupils dilated. “You don’t wanna do that.”
“That’s not for now.” After another kiss, he put me down gently, lips still on mine.
It was like magnetic electricity. It was more than words. People have talked about love in so many different forms – songs, poems, stories… but nothing I’ve ever read or listened to has ever done it justice. The way my breath caught in my throat whenever his skin met mine, even if it was just when his hand touched mine. The way I felt like every atom in the universe aligned when I was near him. The way his laugh made my heart stop, or the way a single look from him could make time itself stop… no-one warned me what it was like to find your soul mate.
We spent a little while dating in secret, hiding everything from the public, which felt at times like an impossible task. Meeting in November in London gave us all the perks of cute dates – ice skating and hot chocolate; snowball fights in the park; crisp winter morning walks and cosy evenings curled up on the sofa of his apartment watching movies… it was perfect. I loved every second of it. Even when we parted for Christmas, me heading north to spend it with my family and him travelling back to the states to be with his, we still kept in touch, although it felt like I was missing a limb the entire time we were apart. The week he’d spent with me, meeting my family, was a little tense, but that didn’t matter to me so much, since their biggest issue with it was the age gap. He was a little closer to my mum than to me, but that didn’t get in the way of us fitting so well together.
Truth is, Zach was a lot of firsts for me. My first kiss. My first date. My first sofa-snuggle with someone who wasn’t four-legged and furry or a sibling. And my ultimate first, too. The only person I ever trusted to know me that intimately, even though he was 39 years old to my 25. My history isn’t so rosy, you see. The first relationship I ever had turned out to me a huge joke. Jacob hadn’t been single at all, and he stood me up in town for three hours on our first date because he was with his actual girlfriend. I say a huge joke – it was an actual joke a friend had set up to see how desperate I was. When I turned out to be shy and innocent, Jacob couldn’t do it any more, and he ‘broke up’ with me. I guess standing in the cold waiting for him to get off a bus he was never intending to get on was just too much for his conscience to bear. My second relationship lasted two weeks before a very jealous friend decided she wanted to put an end to it, and slut-shamed me into letting it fizzle to nothing. I waited seven years, and had two years of therapy, before I felt confident enough to start thinking anyone could love me. And Zach loved me so much, I thought I’d burst.
He waited until I was ready for him. He waited four months, pressing my boundaries carefully, spending time touching me where I’d let him; a hip, a thigh, my waist… eventually I let him slide his hand under my shirt, behind the waistband of my sweatpants, and from there, I grew more comfortable, feeling safer under his touch. Zach loved me regardless of the fact that it hadn’t been physical yet, as attentive and caring with me driving home from somewhere as he was when we lay on his bed and he spent time kissing me. I always felt like I was made of stars, and it wasn’t long before, on one bitterly cold evening, when we’d spent the day doing nothing but watching movies and cocooned up against the frost outside, he ran his hands along my thigh and I broke the kiss. I gazed into those caramel eyes and ran a hand through his hair.
“I want you,” I whispered softly, biting my lip. I remembered well enough what that did to him. His pupils dilated to almost entirely black, something which sent sparks straight down my spine.
“Are you sure?” he replied, his hand still firmly on my thigh. I nodded, blushing deeply. He kissed me again, gently this time, and then removed his shirt, keeping us both under the thick duvet. He murmured gentle words of affirmation, constantly asking if I was okay, if I still wanted it, his movements so sure against my shaking, nervous ones. In what felt like no time at all, I was naked next to him, gazing up at him like a startled deer, terrified yet secure with him. My skin felt like it was on fire, flushed pink from head to toe as he touched me gently, soft strokes where I’d never been touched before. I was embarrassed at the noises I made, but he chuckled and kissed them away, letting me guide his hand, showing him what I liked. Something caught me, though, and I froze, grabbing his wrist. His head snapped around to look at me.
“What?” he asked softly, stilling his movements.
“I… I d-don’t know what… I… it’ll hurt?” was all I could manage. I knew myself well enough to know what a climax felt like, and he almost had me there.
“Relax,” he whispered, kissing my jaw. “Relax… it might hurt, but we can go as slow as you need to…” I nodded, my grip on his wrist relaxed. He slipped a finger into me and kissed my throat, and then another finger. The noise I made wasn’t human. I curled into him, and he chuckled again, a rumble deep in his chest. “That’s what it’ll feel like.” I nodded, silently giving him permission to go ahead. He was leading me, guiding me with love, letting me guide him when he did something I knew. Before long, he’d pulled my thigh up around his hip and slid into me slowly, and after that I don’t remember a lot.
I remember the sound of his deep growl, groaning my name, and I remember the heat of his breath against my throat as he kissed any bit of skin he could reach. I remember the feel of his muscles working, taut under his flawless skin. I remember the grip of his hand in mine, pressing it into the soft pillow beside my head. I remember the look in his eyes when he brought us both to a climax unlike anything I’d felt before. Maybe it was because it was my first time, but I knew then I’d die for him. I fell asleep in his arms, and when I woke up the next morning and saw him sleeping, his arms still around me, defensive against the horrors that usually plagued me, his hair mussed from sleep, face set in a frown from whatever dream he was having, delicate lines framing his eyes.
I kissed him from it, waking him. His eyes never failed to take my breath away. I’ll never forget the way they sparkled, the way they shone, telling every emotion that his face didn’t dare portray. A stellar actor, as was his profession, but if you knew him, then you knew what he was really thinking. And I knew. There was a look just for me, easy to spot in press shoots when I was a little way away in the crowd, waiting to rejoin him in secret. It was there when he did panels and TV shows… posing as his assistant made things easier. I’d given up everything to be with him. And it was worth it.
“Guh mornin’,” he mumbled, yawning away from me.
“Good morning,” I replied, smiling.
“Guess,” I grinned. I kissed him deeply, and he returned it. It was Sunday. That meant nothing to do, and it was too cold anyway.
“Hmm… I’m going to say I kept you awake all night in your dreams, so no. You didn’t sleep well.”
“Damn it,” I laughed.
“You’re beautiful, Anna. You know that, right?” I blushed. He stroked my cheek. “And the way you fell apart last night was spectacular. I didn’t think it was possible to fall more in love with you.”
“You’re just saying that.”
“The rest of my life says I’m not.” I looked at him. His gaze was unwavering. The intensity said he wasn’t lying. I kissed him again. I’d never get tired of the soft roughness of his lips. A pure contradiction that tasted like honey, nor the roughness of his beard against my cheek. He broke the kiss to yawn. “What do you wanna do today?” he asked, and I rolled on top of him, which earned me a perfect grin.
“Wanna do something fun?” I asked. I bit my lip, and he caught my mouth in a kiss.
I can remember the softness of his hair. The way he’d laugh at nothing, and then cripple up laughing so much that he couldn’t tell me. The way he’d creep up behind me and pick me up, and carry me away from whatever I was doing. His singing in the shower, and the way his playlist went to some 80s classic to a cheesy 90s pop song, to a ballad, to something by Whitney Houston, and then to 80s rock. The way he’d let me hold his hand on the gear stick when he drove. He’d kiss me all the time, on the forehead, my temple, my cheek, lips, nose, hand, throat, anywhere he could get to. I remember the tone of his laughter, the joy we both felt dancing to Disney songs in the kitchen. The way he’d cry when life got too much. The way he cried… the tenderness he had towards his mum told me so much about how he’d father children.
We planned two children, siblings, maybe a third. He wanted them quickly, and I didn’t care, as long as they and I were healthy. We started trying, I came off my birth control, and for a time we were unlucky. But he never stopped loving me. He made it known in the small ways, and the big. Flowers. Chicken nuggets. A random, wordless kiss. A cup of coffee in the morning. Holding me through panic attacks. Driving me to therapy and waiting there so he was there when I came out. Coaching me through a heavy workout at the gym. It was heaven, and I never wanted it to end.
But in the same vein, he’d ruined me. He’d set my standards so high, set the bar so high, that any other man coming after him would never be able to fill his shoes. He’d formed such a huge part of me that if he left me, no-one else would ever compare.
“Zach?! Zach! I have to talk to you!” I was excited, bounding into the kitchen. Fast-approaching our third year together. We were a solid, sure thing.
“Anna, I have to talk to you,” he said softly. He looked tired that day, yet his smile was still there, a mirror of my excitement. “Oh…news? What is it?”
“No, no, you go first!” I wanted to surprise him, and I knew that my news would blow his out of the water entirely. He hesitated, and then pulled me to the living room. I sat down opposite him. Tears formed in his eyes, and he looked… guilty. I’d never seen that on him. “Zach?”
“Anna, I… I’m really sorry. I never wanted this to happen… but I… I have to c-come clean.” He pressed his lips together, but when I tried to comfort him, he turned away. “No, please. Listen.” He took a shaky breath in. “When… during the second lockdown, I… I wasn’t entirely alone.” He swallowed, and looked me in the eye, his cheeks wet. “I kissed one of my co-stars…” he fell silent. I looked down. My heart had stopped for the wrong reason.
“I… well… that’s alright,” I said quietly. “We’d been apart a while… I… I can forgive that, Zach…” I took his hand. He shook. “Zach, if it was just a kiss, it’s not that bad. We can work through it.”
“It wasn’t just a kiss,” he whispered. “It… it was more than that. I… I slept with her, too. And I think I fell for her.” He couldn’t look me in the eye. I looked down. I couldn’t believe it. I’d started to believe he’d never leave me. Not like this. It couldn’t end like this. “I’m so sorry, Anna. For everything. I’ve betrayed you and… and I’m sorry.” I nodded and swallowed. I turned from him, letting go of his hand. I reached into my pocket and pulled out a print-out I’d got from the doctor. I debated giving it to him, and in the end, I lay it on the table.
“I need to go for a walk,” I said quietly. I got up, hearing the rustle as he read it. A sob choked in his throat.
“Anna?! Anna, wait – pregnant?!”
“Not for long.” I stopped. “Please, don’t let me keep you from her.” I don’t know how I had the breath to speak clearly.
“Anna, please – we can make this work –“
“Are you still in love with her?” A heavy pause.
“A… a little.” I turned around.
“Are you still in love with her?”
“I… yes.” I closed my eyes.
“Then I need you to leave.” He nodded, and I turned and made my way upstairs.
I said I couldn’t live without him, and it’s true. After the horror story of my childhood, finding him was paradise. He breathed life and ambition back into me. He built me up. We were a solid unit, yin and yang, Harley Quinn and the Joker, strawberries and cream. And he’d fallen for someone his own age, on his level, who the press loved and who looked good on his arm on the red carpet. I couldn’t compete. I didn’t stand a chance. I’d self-harmed before, but never so deep. The blood dripped into the water and swirled around, dancing mesmerizingly like tiny ghosts of life. I felt a sense of calm wash over me. I couldn’t handle the pain. I could be without him, but I couldn’t handle the demons that came back for triple revenge. Words I hadn’t heard for years circled my dying mind. This is where you belong. Even then, as the pain gave way to peace, I could hear his voice.
Something pulled me from the water. Pressure on my arms. Lips against mine. Pressure on my throat. Pain. So much pain. Muffled voices. A single, clear shout.
“Anna! ANNA! I love you!”
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