Eight years ago he held my hand as we walked down the street. He kissed my cheek, we dined with our families. He was tentative, inexperienced. He kissed me hungrily, all tongue and little tact. We were young, hormonal. We were hot and cold, cold and hot, then hot and cold again.
“In the neighborhood.”
That had been enough for me to walk away. He couldn’t give me space then, and I was 16. I needed space. I needed a lot of space. I never told you I got space from you for someone else.
We hated each other. We fought. We ran. We played with each other, carelessly.
He came home from Australia and we devoured each other again. I sat on his lap, kissing his face.
“Do we want to do this again?”
“If you want to.”
He was always asking if it was what I wanted. He never took for himself. I abused that.
On my 21st birthday, 21 roses arrived at my house. The card said Happy Birthday Kiddo. No one else called me that. Beatrix Kiddo. Black Mamba. Kiddo. Only one. I felt the air choke out of my lungs. 21 roses. On my 21st birthday. I was terrified he loved me again. He said it was just as friends. He didn’t think it was the right time.
Later that year, I went through hell. I wasn’t in control
of myself, I was far from breathing on my own. I was existing outside
myself for the sake of someone else’s safety and sanity. I abused his
kindness. He finally fought back, saying I owed him.
I thought we’d never speak again. I’d never hated him so much.
Three years later, I found myself wrapped in his arms,
feeling as sure as I ever had. Never had my soul stepped into another so
easily, and felt safe. I am done looking, I believed. I was scared he’d
leave. I was terrified that this was temporary. That this would run the
way it had before with others. Until he said it, out loud. Those words
changed everything for me. After all this time, he still said it, he
still believed it. He still meant it.
"I love you."
His words echoed in the small apartment between us.
"What?" It fell out of my mouth like a puff of smoke, hanging in the air.
"I love you."
His eyes were earnest, terrified with hope.
I was silent.
I was watching.
My mouth was open, my hands holding a bowl of popcorn and a drink. He came towards me, taking each from my trembling hands and sets them down.
He touched my arms. I felt instant heat where his fingers stayed.
"I said 'what'." I whispered again. He seemed to have taken the oxygen from my lungs.
"I know. Say something else?" He looked in the fragile state between utter heart break and forever bliss.
My eyes were a mixture of fear and confusion.
"I... " I looked down. He clutched my fingers between us. I watched his hands move, and remember all the times those hands held me through knee scrapes, death, heartbreak and more.
He squeezed gently. I looked up.
His lips touched mine gently.
The instant they were gone I wanted them back. I had never considered this. I had never wondered. I had thought we had broken each other. I thought we’d never be happy again. After eight years, after everything we’d put each other through. This had never been a possibility, that he would still feel that way.
But in that second, everything became clear.
"I love you, too."