The title IS the summary. It's a love story, though... just like everything else I write ;)
She should’ve known. No one is THAT broken up about their girlfriend, 2 years after the fact. She should’ve figured out, right from the beginning, that it went a lot deeper than the obvious.
He was lovely, though. She’d never met anyone like him. Someone who consistently got the door for her, who pushed her chair in at the dinner table, who offered his arm when leading her onto the dance floor (who led her to the dance floor, in the first place). If he didn’t want to talk about Sarah, well, that was his prerogative. Hers, was to enjoy everything he did want to talk about, and all the things he wanted to do (most of which centred on her).
He did everything she asked of him. Everything. He let her look at his baby photos, and looked at hers. He shared all his opinions, on music and movies and TV shows, and listened avidly to all of hers. He wasn’t nasty about the fact that, unlike most of her friends—including him—she wasn’t a huge fan of animation, and he didn’t balk when she asked him to watch sappy movie after sappy movie that really was not his cup of tea.
There was a word for men like him, she mused. Gentlemen. Or, as she’d have to admit, gentleman. In spite of her genuine, heartfelt desire not to come across as a ball-buster, she had to agree with her best friend’s statement on the subject—before him, she’d never actually met anyone worthy of being called, gentleman. Caveman, was a much more apt term, for most of the men she knew.
But not him. He was, exactly as the word implies, gentle. Kind. Intuitive. Sensitive to her feelings, without wallowing in his own. In touch with his feminine side, without being remotely camp or flamboyant. Intelligent, without being smug. Good-looking, but neither overly vain nor particularly conceited. He was an absolute prince among men, as far as she could tell. She hoped he’d ask her to marry him, and soon.
He had asked his other girlfriend, she knew. Less than 6 months into the relationship. She chewed her bottom lip, thinking about it. Would he ask her, 6 months into theirs? He’d been hurt, that much was obvious; his ex had just disappeared off the face of the Earth, according to his friends and family, and he was nearly in tears when she tried to ask him about it. She wondered if that would make him less likely to ask her. She hoped not—sometimes it felt like she knew him from the inside out, and he her. Sometimes, it felt like they shared the same soul. She never wanted to lose that.
But she knew the old adage. Once bitten, etc. She smiled. He would know it too, not as a literary phrase, but as a line from an old rock song. Classic rock, he called it. Dinosaur bands, her friends called it.
Like everything else about him, she had quickly grown to love his taste in music. Even though it was far from her cup of tea.
In that respect, at least, they were alike. Their mutual respect for one another’s wishes and likes and dislikes would keep them together, she thought, even when things happened to push them apart. Even when their opinions didn’t coincide, or their tastes didn’t mesh. She smiled again, thinking of it. They’d be fine, she decided.
She continued her musing. She began humming a song, one from the 80s. It made her smile all the more. She repeated her thoughts to herself. They would be fine. Better than fine. They would be happy. And if she had to wait 6 more months, 6 years, for him to ask her to marry him, well, she would. He was worth it. And already, she was happier with him, than she’d been in a long, long time.
She stayed happy, too, in the months that came after that. Even though he didn’t ask. And when they moved in together, she thought marriage might be overrated. Surely no one could be happier, than she was at that moment.
It was a few weeks later, when she was going through an old box of photos, that she noticed something.
“Babe?” she called from her perch on the couch. Looking at the photo in her hand, she was ever-so-slightly amused. It was so strange. “Is this you? In this photo?”
He came to the door. “Hmm? Yes, of course it’s me.” He smiled, a little uncertainly. “Who else would it be?”
Well, that was fair comment. The tall, skinny, pale boy in the black-and-white photo, holding a guitar and smiling, just a little uncertainly, at the camera—yes, that must be him. But . . . “I never knew you had straight hair as a kid,” she said, looking up at the wavy auburn locks framing his face.
“Oh.” Another small smile, half a shrug. “I don’t remember when it went curly. When I was 13? 14, maybe?”
“Huh. I guess it’s just one of those weird things that happen during puberty, yeah?”
“I guess so, yeah,” he said, and then, smiling, leaned over to kiss her. He was so tall. She loved watching him stoop down, to reach her plump, childish lips with his own wide, finely-chiselled mouth. She was watching him so closely; then she noticed something else.
“Hey. What’s that?”
“What’s what?” His face, like his voice, reflected genuine puzzlement. She reached up, and touched the centre of his forehead with one short, slim finger. “That scar. I’ve never noticed that before.” Unbidden, her hand returned to her own face. “It’s like my chickenpox scar.”
Frowning slightly, he glanced in a mirror. “I have no idea,” he said, his tone as puzzled as it had been a moment before. He looked at her, and his signature, playful smile stretched across his face. “Maybe it’s not just chickenpox that’s contagious. Maybe the scars are, as well.” And when he leaned in to kiss her again, she closed her eyes and waited for him to swoop her up and carry her into the bedroom; and when he did, she was far too busy to think of anything other than what she was doing, until the next morning.
But the next morning, after he’d gone to work, hours before her shift started, she went back to the box of photos, and began rummaging through it. She didn’t know what she was looking for, but when she found it, it all made sense.
The photo of Sarah. As she stared at the picture, everything slowly came together in her mind. And when she had the pictures of him, from birth onwards, spread out beside his one photo of his ex-girlfriend, it only confirmed everything she’d already worked out for herself.
The handful of colour photos of him, a brown-eyed boy, with straight, dark brown hair, and beautiful, lightly golden skin. Her memory of the way he looked now—paler, with gently curling, reddish hair, and eyes that were blue, but with brown streaks through the irises. The features that had been blunter, almost masculine, at 11 or 12, and had begun to go softer, more delicate, around the age of 17. A body that had, at 11 or 12, already shown the first signs of persistent teenage stubble. A body that now, she knew, was virtually hairless compared to most men. A body that was tall—but less than 3 or 4 inches taller, than it had been at 11 or 12.
She stared, again, at the photo of Sarah. A short, pale, pretty girl, with feminine features and bright blue eyes and wildly curling, endless hair the colour of a new penny. Pink lips, finely drawn, on a face sculpted out of marble.
A picture of him at 17, pre-Sarah, looking like the grown-up version of the boy of 11. A picture of him, 19 or 20, with brighter eyes and instantly long hair and, was he slouching? oh no, he was just 3 inches shorter than he’d been at 17. It couldn’t be. It wasn’t possible.
She went to the mirror in the hallway. Through her tears, she could see her chickenpox scar, hated from the moment she discovered it at age 5. It was already shallower, less substantial, than it had been a month, a week before. As was she. Looking down at her body, she smiled wryly, finally understanding the effortless weight loss of the previous weeks; the unexpected gifts of looser trousers, slimmer thighs, firmer-seeming muscles.
There was only one thing to do. She had promised him never to go, or if she had to, never to do what Sarah had done to him. The noise finally broke from her throat, and she howled through the tears that had, until that moment, been completely silent. She had never wanted to hurt him. Out of all the people in her life who had hurt her, he never had, not even once. It was a dirty trick, a prime example of no good deed going unpunished . . . but she would have to do it.
She would have to get away. Without a word, without a trace, without leaving him any way to find her. Just run, as far and fast as she could—while there was still enough of her left to do it.
It was so unfair.
As she weighed up her options, the tears ceased, and the howl in her throat turned to one of rage.
When he came home that night, there was no sign of her outburst. The pictures she had scattered about during her fit of temper were neatly packed away, back in their box, and stored under the bed. When she informed him that she had put in for some time off work, and that she wanted to try to make a success of her painting, he smiled at her, and informed her how proud, and how envious, he was. He was still talking about it that night, when he carried her into bed, as he had every night for the past month. As she knew he would continue to do, for the rest of her life—however long that was.
“I know it’s a cliché, but I can’t even draw a straight line,” he said, settling her into bed, smiling at her as always.
“You never know,” she said shrewdly, easing him inside her, smiling right back at him. “Give it time. You might learn, someday.”