“How did you know?”
The question was once posed to her from her sister, sitting across the small round cafe table while several baristas hustled behind her in the mid-morning rush. Pam considered her response as she took several long sips from the steaming cup, buying herself some time. The simple, rather cliché answer was that she just knew, but that wasn’t what her sister sought as she wrestled with the monumental decision she saw coming encased in a small black velvet box.
In truth, it was a series of moments; the whole of the story greater than the sum of its parts that left no doubt in her mind and yet made it difficult to put into words. It was that same truth that had carried her through the valleys, traversing the dark forests of difficulties that life had thrown at them. It was his love she heard not only in the early days when meaningful silence and glancing touches meant everything, but also in the tense quiet of the car after an argument or the seemingly impossible distance of strained phone calls. She had told Nellie confidently once that he loved her too much to ever leave, and even in the moments when that confidence wavered, he had always reconfirmed that certainty time and time again.
It was more than extravagant gestures and declarations, she wanted to tell her, their brightness blinding yet short-lived, sometimes burning holes if held too tightly. Instead, it was underneath and within the enduring, unspoken and ordinary that made up the melodic chords of their love song. And that was how she knew.
She saw it in a look meant only for her.
The expression he shot her from across the room felt like a confessed secret and it made her heart skip just enough to cause her to take a shaky breath to steady herself. She had a fiancé, a wonderful committed fiancé, that was not the man currently making the smile hidden under her hand even wider. He had only worked there for a few weeks. A salesman, lanky with an easy grace and a boyish smile whose clothes seemed to hang undefined and yet led her mind to wander down paths it certainly shouldn’t.
The room was dark, another ‘training video’ they had been forced to watch droning on, as the Thursday afternoon seemed to slow to a standstill. She sat against the wall and he sat against the glass windows, too far away to get his usual running commentary, so instead he glanced in her direction at particularly uncomfortable moments making them all at once bearable. Half a dozen middle-aged office workers merely existing until five o’clock sat between them, and only one turned to look in her direction when she tried to hide her laugh with a demure cough.
She pretended that the look she returned to him, her cheeks sore and her eyes nearly watering from contained amusement, would have been for anyone instead of only for him.
She heard it in wordless conversations.
Their friendship had gradually consumed her like a slow burning fire. They had simply been acquaintances that worked together; he had made her laugh, and she had made his day tolerable. Before she had even begun to define him in any way, she realized she looked forward to being there, to being with him. The inglorious monotony of the office suddenly felt less draining and their time together seemed to move too fast, five o’clock coming with dreaded certainty.
It wasn’t long until they had begun to move with each other like magnets, attracting and repelling the insults and antics with a synchronicity that she had never known. Their wordless communication became fine-tuned and through looks and pointed shifts of the eyes, they spoke paragraphs between them.
When the cameras arrived, their subversive dialogues extended to IMs. She felt herself moving their playful banter into something more daring as the faux detachment of pixels on a screen helped separate what she did there with what her reality was outside the four walls of that building.
When he was gone, she felt his absence like a hollow emptiness and she felt alone, a single sane voice in a room full of madness. The day her new computer arrived, she realized it came with a CD burner, and she spent an entire afternoon while he was at the dentist burning him a playlist of all the songs they had talked about, made fun of, or ones that just reminded her of him. When she snapped the CD, freshly marked with ‘Death of Receptionitis 5’ in bold black permanent marker into the jewel case, she tried not to think too hard about what it meant. She slipped it into his coat pocket the next day and nearly forgot about it until it was time to leave.
“You’ve lost a button,” he tugged at the edge of her coat after she had shrugged it over her shoulders and he seemed impossibly close, the woodsy scent of the remains of his cologne and of him causing her to blink slowly as she had suddenly lost the ability of the witty comeback.
He seemed to find her distracted expression humorous and mercifully gave her an out, “I can’t take you anywhere.”
“Yeah, exactly,” she mumbled and struggled to mentally place him back in the neatly contained partition of her mind where she kept him.
As she said goodbye to Stanley, he put on his own coat then, draping his scarf casually over his neck and his messenger bag on his shoulder before he froze, pulling the mysterious CD from his pocket.
He turned it over, reading the handwritten label before looking up at her with amusement and something else, “Did you make me a mixtape?”
“CD. Tapes are so nineties, Jim.” She dared a glance up at him and knew he saw through her flippancy. “I was bored yesterday when you were gone,” she tried to explain, but somehow that made it even more embarrassing.
“Wow,” he rocked back slightly in amazement, “I’ve never gotten a mix CD before.”
His voice was light, but there was a meaningfulness behind his eyes that caused her cheeks to burn hot.
“Forget it,” she reached suddenly for it but he was too quick, stuffing it back in his coat pocket.
“No way. It’s mine.”
She felt it when she wasn’t supposed to.
She looked down uselessly as if she could see her own upper chest. He noticed, she mused. Of course, he noticed. He had been at work all of ten minutes before he leaned against her desk, familiar and reassuring, unknowingly giving her all she needed. It had been a long weekend away from him, and the striking contrast of frustrated disappointment at home and nameless comfort at her desk made her shift in her chair stiffly with the veracity of it.
“I just bought it,” she replied as she tilted her chin up to look at him fully. His expectant expression made her press forward nervously. “Roy,” she began again, apologetic, “used the money we had saved up for the wedding to buy two wave runners. So while he and Kenny took them to the lake this weekend, I cashed a check for the rest and bought this.”
She tugged at the rebellious pearl pendant, running it along the gold chain around her neck and feeling the rhythmic zip against her fingertips. There was something disconcerting in the sage of his eyes for a flicker of a moment that quickly disappeared again.
“It’s not expensive or nice...” she mumbled as she looked down and pretended to check the phone for the blinking light of a message.
“No, I think it’s great. I didn’t know you were so into pearls, Pam.” She smiled at the smooth way he rescued her from her awkwardness with humor, like he always did.
“Shut up, Halpert.”
It was the briefest brush of his fingers against her collarbone that made her inhale sharply as he reached down and examined the necklace. Their faces had never been that close, and she held her breath and studied the fanning sweep of his eyelashes as he spoke low.
“Seriously, it’s very pretty.”
His eyes flitted up to meet hers and there was a fleeting second of time that stilled and the pull of his gravity drew her in against her will. The second hand once again ticked forward and he let go and it was gone.
But it had been enough.
She noticed when he did that thing that he shouldn’t have.
She tried not to notice, of course. By noticing, she felt as if she was pressing the boundary, that invisible line she had drawn between loyalty and a benign friendship, causing it to bend ever so slightly. It was one of those rarely talked about things she loved. Roy had done it once, back in their freshman year of college, when some guy at a party had gotten too handsy and flirty. When he had rather dramatically shoved him and told him to back off, the naive girl she was then had felt loved and cherished. She had clung to that moment with misguided desperation when the many years after he seemed apathetic to her entirely. Age had removed her rose-colored glasses and when he did it again years later, when the circumstances were partly her doing and the man in question was her best friend, it only left her cold and bitter.
With a comparison she desperately tried to avoid making, Jim was different. She had never asked him to do it, she rationalized, and he didn’t always interject in her defense, walking the fine line of impassive acknowledgment and knowing when pushing back would invite more embarrassing attention. It was never overt, and he tried to hide it, but after years as a receptionist, she had gotten very good at reading body language and lips through the blinds when conversations happened behind closed doors.
The unintentional subtly of it and the instinctive deeper meaning sometimes took up space in her thoughts unbidden in the darkness of night when the body next to her in bed seemed a million miles away. The time Dwight had pushed her too far, questioning her engagement, and she had stormed out of the conference room only to watch as he went in there after her, determined to return the favor for her hurt. Or the time he had said something to Michael about her Dundie, what she couldn’t tell, but she knew he was the reason she was suddenly acknowledged for her sneakers. She had remembered bits and pieces of that night, the gauzy blur of alcohol making it all seem surreal but she remembered the way he had hovered, making sure she got home safely and the way he had physically placed himself between the angry manager arguing with Dwight and her. She tried to convince herself that these were all things her fiancé would have done if he'd been there, but for some reason, that she dared not examine too closely, that never felt entirely honest.
Sometimes she tried not to notice what she had written off as being a good friend treaded precariously close to that line that had seemed to fade ever so slightly.
“Thanks for risking sleeping in the car to tip it our way. I always knew you were secretly on our side,” he spoke low between long drinks from his water jug. Seeing him casually dressed and slightly sweaty from the exertion of the game was altogether unnerving, and she knew her blushing was giving her away.
“It was really just me timing it wrong and the ball just slipped a little.”
He smiled a roguish smile in her direction, spinning the ball nonchalantly on his finger, knowing she had absolutely done it on purpose. Roy’s dismissive comment only minutes after she had wished him good luck had made her hand push the ball in the opposite direction of its own volition. Only when she had unconsciously cheered for Jim and he shot her a confident smirk, did she remind herself where her loyalties should lie but it was undeniably difficult to not get caught up in the charismatic ease in which he seemed to be in his element.
It was also hard not to notice the way the game had dissolved into a competition between only the two of them, the male subtext that something was going on and that Jim had taken it personally. She tried not to think about what that something was.
She could feel it on the way home.
“You were so dorky.”
She glanced up at him and smiled. He was blushing endearingly and the way his hair flipped over his ears now as it had gotten longer was driving her quietly mad.
It was a peculiar sense of intimacy being in his room and as she looked around at his things, it almost felt intrusive. There was a magnetism, a mysterious allure about knowing all she could about him, the secret things that made up the essence of him. His friends, his family, the people who had shaped him into the person he was, captured her imagination. He was her friend she had always justified, and as her friend, it only made sense that she was interested in his life.
She turned the page of the yearbook slowly. The faded color pictures and smiling faces looked back up as the classic mid-Pennsylvania high school Americana was laid out before her on the bed.
“Who was this girl? You are in several pictures with her.”
He moved over from where he had been sitting at his desk to the bed, leaning over to see the particular blonde-haired, blue-eyed girl she pointed at.
“Yeah, that was Anne Caspers. We were dating then.”
“She’s pretty.” It was yet another piece of evidence in her mind that Jim only dated beautiful women and it wasn't jealousy that caused the tightness in her chest. Just like it wasn't jealously that had caused a giddy feeling to wash over her when she heard Jim tell Ryan that he hadn't talked to Katy in a while. She wasn't sure exactly how she would have defined those emotions but it wasn't jealousy, she was sure of it.
“Oh yeah, she was great until I caught her kissing another guy on the basketball team. That tells you how that ended,” he answered with only the slightest hint of bitterness.
“Roy did that too,” she blurted out without thought and then froze. She hadn’t wanted to bring his name into that room at all, and the pinpricks of guilt felt sharp in her gut.
He picked up on her panic because he did what he had always done and made her smile, “Roy kissed another guy on the basketball team?”
“No,” she shook her head in amusement with a small huff of a laugh before resigning herself to the fact that she would now have to tell the story. “No, he uh… I caught him making out with a cheerleader on the bus after an away game.” She chanced a glance up at him, and the mixture of interest and sadness she found there made her look down again. “We hadn’t been dating that long, so it wasn’t a big deal,” she finished weakly.
“But you were dating?”
She didn’t answer, his question rhetorical, and instead turned the stiff pages mindlessly until she reached the page full of stern-looking teachers in poorly posed portraits and then shut it.
He looked at her meaningfully, a dozen phrases that remained unspoken behind his eyes, “I really need to go put the burgers on.”
The rest of the evening was fraught with contradictions. She had desperately had wanted to know what she suspected was happening between Angela and Dwight but when her own subversion had been brought to light, she felt suddenly naked in a room full of people. All the things that she knew deep down were placed on display, and she felt the shame of it.
But just as easily as she had fled those accusing eyes, she slipped right back into the uncomplicated way it was with him. The muscle memory resuming the familiar pattern she had secretly come to revel in as they were pressed shoulder to shoulder on his couch.
“I don’t want to bother you,” she spoke hesitantly as the last of the coworkers filed out into the night air. “I’m sure you’re sick of me.”
He was managing to fit a fourth empty red solo cup between the fingers of his left hand and three beer bottles in his right as he looked up, “Bother me. Anytime.”
“Do you think I could get a ride home? Roy dropped me off, and I was going to ask Angela, but I haven’t seen her since your breathtaking karaoke performance.”
There was an indiscernible expression and an easy smile that slowly spread as he spoke, “That’s fine Pam, but I have to tell you, that Corolla is not just any car. It’s paid off and highly sought after, so, be ready. It’s an experience.”
“I’ve been warned.”
Just like his room had been, his car was as equally fascinating to her. Less prepared, it felt like a true peek into his life, a basketball in the backseat and extra napkins stuck in the cupholder. As he turned the car over, the space filled with the voice of Elliot Smith and a song she recognized as one she had burned for him on a boring Tuesday afternoon months ago.
She glanced over at him and he only shrugged, “Someone has great taste in music.”
By the time The Cranberries began singing of dreams, they were sitting in front of her house, several beat-up trucks scattered out front. She sat there frozen in the passenger seat as a strange realization washed over her, the car idling in the driveway like a ticking clock.
“I don’t want to go home yet.”
He looked at her and nodded slowly in understanding, and once again silent words passed between them.
“I know a great little all-night diner that makes a killer cup of coffee.”
She felt it in the way she was letting go.
It was pressing her luck, and it was perhaps a bit unfair. The last time they had been up on the roof together, microwaved grilled cheese, a single firework, and an iPod, caused them to forget the delicate boundary they hovered around — and caused her to play it back in her mind looking for justification and something else. He had called it a date and she had recoiled against him for even acknowledging and daring to speak it aloud.
This time as she leaned back slightly on his desk, playfully pretending to stretch, she knew what she was doing. He had always tried to hide the way his eyes flittered down her body when she did that, but he had always agreed to what she was asking as a result. She felt a twinge of guilt at using his predictable response to her benefit and asking him to go up there again even though she had cut him down the last time for misinterpreting, had felt just this side of cruel.
“Come on, please? They say it’s a once-in-a-century meteor shower and I want to make a wish. Didn’t you ever do that as a kid? Make a wish on a falling star?”
“My wish would be to finish these reports in this century, Pam,” his words not quite matching the smirk on his face.
It was pushing nine o’clock as the cheese on what was left of the pizza congealed, and the remaining people begrudgingly tried to finish the yearly reports that Michael had handed out at a quarter of five. She hadn’t necessarily needed to stay, her role only gathering them and putting them in the interoffice mailing envelope, but she had stayed out of solidarity and the hope she would miss Roy’s poker night at their house entirely.
When they pressed through the hatch door, the Pennsylvania night sky was a clear and limitless domain and the starlight flickered exceptionally bright. She spotted the two folded lawn chairs against the AC unit but ignored them, not wanting to conjure up the ghosts of past mistakes and disrupt the sometimes delicate air between them.
“Do you ever look for constellations?” his voice pulling her back into the present. “My dad used to tell me stories about how explorers used to navigate by the stars, all the myths like Orion, and Taurus.”
“I had no idea you were so into astronomy, Jim?” she teased, but there was no criticism in her voice, just the allure of this new facet of the person that he was.
“Ha ha. No, seriously, it’s interesting. See that star there?” He pointed up, his shoulder brushing up against hers, and she savored the warmth she felt through the cotton of her shirt for two breaths before following his view.
“That is Vega. So the legend goes, Altair was a poor shepherd that fell in love with the weaver girl, Vega. Their parents never wanted them together, and they were forbidden to see each other.”
She stole a surreptitious glance, but he was still focused upward as she spoke, “Like Romeo and Juliet.”
He looked down at her with a smirk, “Something like that.”
“In the story, a river separates them and up there,” he turned back to the sky, “the Milky Way separates them. They say the gods felt sorry for them and let them spend one night a year together, so once a year the Vega star and the Altair star move closer,” he looked down at her again and there was something invisible that coursed between them as he murmured the final, “together.”
In the span of a heartbeat, she held his gaze before he broke it and shifted away, “Look.”
He pointed up again as several falling celestial bodies streaked across brilliantly and then faded into nothing. He watched the meteors for a few more minutes and she pretended to watch with him, stealing occasional glances at his profile.
“Make a wish, Beesly.”
She heard it in the silence.
Her fragile sense of disassociation had been shattered as a pair of confessions played in her mind like a broken record. He had blindsided her in the middle of idle banter, treading into the forbidden topic of them with abandon, recklessly disturbing the carefully placed separation of the office and home, of him and Roy, that she had established in her mind. One sentence — that he had once had a crush on her — sent her into a panicked spiral of lost control.
She knew, of course. She would catch him occasionally when he wouldn’t quite school his expression enough, and traces of truth leaked through like light through a crack. The damp, cold air on the deck of the boat still remained in her memory when the silence was so loud that she frantically had to escape the truth in his eyes and the unsaid words on his lips.
Saying those words aloud, confessing them to Michael of all people, had made it all entirely too real. The walls she had set firmly in the foundation of loyalty to a decade’s old relationship began to chip away and she couldn’t quite explain the gripping disappointment in her chest when he told her he was over it. She also couldn’t quite explain why she had cried in a bathroom stall for twenty minutes.
She had tamped down the flicker of hope, and patched up the hole in the wall before it became any larger in her mind when Michael’s slip of the tongue sent all her work crumbling at her feet again.
When he waited for her, like he always did, and they made their way silently to the elevator, she looked at him anew. They had seamlessly resumed their well-choreographed dance of denial except this time What if? gained dangerous purchase in her heart and she let it linger there.
She knew it when he kept his word.
There was a gradual awareness. First it was the sunlight she knew was streaming in through the window even though she had yet to open her eyes, then it was the soft tick of his bedside alarm clock and the occasional bird faint and in the distance.
She sat up suddenly with a gasp, “Oh my God, we’re late!”
A strong, warm arm snaked around her waist, pulling her back down into the blankets.
“It’s Sunday,” his muffled voice came half-buried the pillow.
She held still for a moment, doing the mental math, then relaxed back down into his embrace, pulling the blankets up to nearly her chin. She dozed again for minutes or hours, she wasn’t entirely sure, until she felt him humming with need at her back; his lips on the soft place where her shoulder met her neck and his hand parting her legs, pressing her against him.
There was sublime surrealism to it all, like a high that they would never come down from. The familiar blended with the new and exciting. Every learned intimate detail a revelation. Every newly discovered patch of skin a miracle. It had only been a few weeks, but it felt like they had only just returned to where they always had belonged.
She could hear the low sound he was making, his breath warm against the back of her neck, his hand on her breast and deep, so deep she never wanted him to leave. She still hadn’t opened her eyes when she heard his murmured mixture of ‘I love you’ and ‘Good morning’ into her hair before he slipped out of bed and the sound of the shower turning on filled the room.
She laid there listening to the soothing sound of water until the desperation of her stomach compelled her to the kitchen.
She slipped on the old basketball t-shirt that had been discarded over the back of his chair, the letters and numbers cracked and faded. There was something about the Halpert across her back that made her feel both claimed and possessing; being the only woman who would ever wear it again told the world that he was as much hers as she was his.
She had set out the fourth charred piece of toast on a plate when he moved up behind her, hands gliding up under the shirt and wrapping around her waist.
“I’m bringing my toaster oven over. This thing is terrible.”
“I think it was Mark’s. I never remember buying it.” His chin bobbing with each syllable where it rested on her exposed shoulder. “We can go out and get something if you want.”
“No, I’d rather not get dressed today if I can help it,” she tossed back over her shoulder as she slipped into the chair at the small table in his kitchen. “Put plenty of butter on it to cover up the taste.”
He returned a sarcastic grin as he poured a cup of coffee and joined her.
They sat in comfortable companionship with the low hum of the refrigerator for several minutes before she looked up from the store advertisement she had been studying to consider him. “Did you really mean what you said yesterday? Are you really okay with me doing this thing in New York? Three months is a long time.”
“I really meant it,” he looked up at the newspaper he was reading, taking a decisive bite of his burnt toast with a challenging raise of his brow.
“You promise me this won’t change anything with us.”
“Pam, I waited years for you. Three months is nothing. And it’s not like we won’t see each other on the weekends.”
She pulled her socked foot up onto the edge of the chair, reaching around her own upturned knee to reach her plate. “It’s scary but exciting. I just feel like now might be the right time.”
“Of course, it’s the right time,” he agreed before looking back down at the paper.
“I’m just saying if I don’t do it now, I may never do it. Especially if I have kids.”
He looked up at her, eyes wide and questioning, “Kids?”
“I mean, you know, in the future. You want to have kids someday, like eventually, right?” She pushed a piece of burnt crust to the edge, precariously pressing the boundary like she felt she was doing with him, glancing up through her eyelashes.
He exhaled and gave her a soft smile, meeting her challenge, “Oh definitely. Several actually.”
“What an interesting coincidence.”
She could hear it in the way he told her to come home in the right way.
She had always loved this time of day, the magical hour when the shadows stretched long and the sun, raging against the inevitable night, cast a warm halo on everything as a departing gift. There was a slowing of time, a peaceful changing of tempo as the hectic energy of day gave way to the amicable evening when loved ones returned and rest was near.
It had been a long two hours home. Her decision, uncharacteristically impulsive, had been made and at once it felt as though the weight of ill-fitting expectations had been lifted, making her lighter. She mentally listed all the justifications: she didn’t like graphic design, it wasn’t art, and the city, while seducing in its layered fascination, made her miss the simplicity of Scranton. It wasn’t longing after him that played a part in her decision, she determined. That was something the old her would have done, putting her relationship above pursuing her dreams; his wants above her own. He had freed her from that burden, encouraging her in every way.
But as she leaned against his car, the setting sun casting a flattering glow on the building she had come to both loathe and cherish, she realized that when he had given her the choice, the choice inevitably and irresistibly became him. The logical and rational could be argued away, but his unconditional support made it all that much easier. Not that she would tell him that.
She knew he heard it anyway. The way he slowly ambled in her direction, scrunching his nose in amused skepticism, maddeningly reading between the lines of her proclamation of independence. She felt it in the easy way he kissed her there near the sidewalk, only the sounds her quickening heartbeat and passing cars.
“Welcome back,” his deep monotone beckoning her back to where she had always been.
“I want to go home.”
The tantalizing, yet not fully enjoyed, aspect of their relationship since his diamond resided on her finger was that ‘home’ was now her things in boxes in the spare room of his apartment, and by leaving her dorm room at Pratt she was, rather officially, moving in with him.
She felt home in the way he brought her fingers to his lips as he drove, the dusk light defining the late-day stubble on his jaw. He glanced over at her when the red light set the world on pause and everything about the way he was looking at her told her all she needed to know. It was in the way he pressed her against the inside of their front door, not wasting a single moment of the rest of their lives as he thoroughly loved her with his body, that left any doubts that she had made the right decision discarded along with their clothes at her feet.
She could see it with the lights out.
There was no particular reason she was awake, sated and content in the tangle of sheets and him. He was stretched out underneath her, skin on skin, warm and masculine, the coarseness of the hair on his chest brushing against her cheek with its rise and fall steadily as he slept. She stared at the flickering streetlight through the crack in the blinds as her mind swam through oceans of memories and regrets. There was a slight shift, his fingers flexing against the curve of her back where they rested, and even though it was impossible to see him in the blackness of the room, she knew he was awake again.
“Do you remember the booze cruise?” She whispered into the peaceful silence of midnight.
His reply came thick with sleep and she felt it reverberate in his chest under her ear, “How could I forget?”
“Do you remember what you said to me? When Katy made you give a speech?”
There was a deep sigh, seeming to unwrap the painful memory in his mind carefully, and she could see the tableau of that night and the look he had had on his face as vividly as if it had just happened. He had been talking to one person in that speech, as if not another soul had existed on that boat, and certainly not the man she had been clinging to at the time.
“I told you that you were my best friend.”
She exhaled as it all returned, “I was so scared. Of all the things you could have said at that moment, that was the most terrifying.”
His other hand left where it rested beside him and glided smoothly up her arm until found its place under her hair, completing the encompassing circle of his embrace, “Why?”
“Because it meant more to me than all the words Roy had ever said. That somehow, without actually saying it, you had breathed life into something that I wasn’t ready to acknowledge and I was afraid that the entire world would be able to see the truth on my face.”
There was a stretch of wordless time, his heartbeat lulling her deeper with its reliable cadence, and she wondered if he had fallen back asleep.
“What was the truth?” His voice floated through the inky darkness, drawing out of her a confession from the past.
“That I loved you just as much as you loved me.”
Their love had a different flavor now, the ebb and flow of life had reshaped and transformed it into something both soothingly familiar yet deeper and more profound. There were moments where the harshness of the world had intruded on them, and times when the pains of stretching and growing had become too much. That even though her picture was on his desk and his voice was the last she heard on the phone before drifting off to sleep every night, it wasn’t enough. He was slipping through her fingers, and she was desperately trying to hold on. The dream that they had composed and written together had become faded and worn, the notes discordant.
The phone call that brought every fear and ghost back with aching reality and the sound of his angry voice a thousand miles away. The Valentines Day she had wanted to forget when he had lost faith in them letting the outside attention of someone so insignificant threaten him. She knew his reasoning, that someone else was doing what he himself had done all those years ago — what he swore would never happen — not being there for her. That in his mind, another man had replaced him, even for the briefest of moments, and that had shaken him to the core. She had wanted him to know that he had never been replaced, nor ever would be.
There were complicated and nuanced layers to life now and their love had evolved and altered with it, despite her protests. Adaptation had come with struggle and change with resistance. When she had reached her breaking point, when the opposite pull of their dreams had the wire between them so thin it was unraveling, he chose her. He would always choose her.
“Do you love me enough?” she asked in a hoarse whisper, needing to hear it again; the low hum of the asphalt disappearing beneath them, the soundtrack to her uncertainty. There was a precious set of time between the office and home, where the sounds of the children and responsibility would drown out the conversation of their souls.
“You know I do.” He slipped his fingers in between hers, bringing them up to his lips in a way that replayed in her mind from long ago. “Body and soul, till death us do part. You are the North Star that guides every decision I make. But if you have doubts—”
“I’ve never doubted that.” She interjected thoughtfully and with sudden clarity, a truth that had become covered up in the muddiness of their circumstances. “There might have been things I’ve questioned with us, but I have never doubted that.”
The umbrella, the talisman that brought the break in the months of storms they had endured, rested heavy in her lap as she contemplated them.
“Tell me what happens next," she turned to him, studying his profile in the fading light of day, “after tonight.”
The planet continued on its path around the sun and time pressed forward with heartless disinterest in their fragile breaths between the markers. She thought about telling her sister that even if he was the one, and even if his love was unwavering and unquestionable, it wouldn’t always be simple and it would never be easy. That true love, like the way he had clung to her in the hospital after the news that she was having his child, or the written confession he had held onto for years waiting for the right moment, was as equally weighty and depthless as it was in the romance of wars and the desperation of sonnets.
And that she would just know.