Je ne t'aime pas.
The first time Alicia had heard the words, she had not recognized them as such. She had tried very hard to ignore the woman standing beside her in the small space. And when the elevator had opened its doors, the sound of its arrival, of her possibility to escape, had drowned the mumbled sentence. She had not looked back and had gotten to her car as fast as possible. Once there she had sat, just staring at the wheel, for several minutes, trying not to wonder what was affecting her so.
At least she thought that had been the first time. Although if she allowed her mind to wander to the time before everything had been broken, the time she had trusted and admired Kalinda above everyone else, the time she had placed the woman on a pedestal, she was almost sure she had heard it before. But she wasn`t sure if that had been in real life, or a dream.
Kalinda was not a woman of many words, Alicia had known that since their first, unorthodox, meeting. But these words, flowing from her tongue like a mantra, seemed to fit the investigator, like the gloves she so frequently wore for her job. And those eyes. So much more eloquent than their owner they spoke of emotion, from raw pain to genuine pleasure. Those eyes simply spoke to her on so many levels. And the pained expression that always accompanied those melodious words touched her to her very soul.
She had tried so many times to keep her distance. To see Kalinda as a co-worker and not one she particularly liked. To see her as the woman who broke her marriage, even, although she knew that wasn`t true. But it helped sometimes. It helped her to stay away from the woman who had the ability to hurt her beyond all others.
A few months ago she had given up, lacking the energy she needed to keep fighting Kalinda, fighting her feelings. The feelings she was reluctant to put into words. She had slowly let the woman come closer to her again, unable to keep up the wall she had built so carefully around her heart. No matter how hard she had tried, she simply could not stay away. Yet sometimes, she noticed, especially after she had shared a moment with the investigator, something inside her made her lash out and hurt the other woman.
Kalinda never complained at these unbidden and unpredictable outbursts, but seemed to accept their renewing friendship as it came, making Alicia feel even worse about her behavior. The only response she sometimes received was the inner turmoil, so clearly visible behind the other woman`s eyes, the, quickly hidden, shaking of a hand, the moving of her lips as she muttered the mantra Alicia did not understand.
Sometimes she tried to analyze what was happening to her. But, when she came close to finding the answer, the words to describe her feelings for the mysterious woman who allowed her, without judgments , to figure out who she -Alicia- was, she would halt. Terrified of the consequences if she admitted, even if only to herself, what those words might be.
It had taken a dinnerdate with Peter, of all people, to make her realize which language Kalinda had been speaking. As he had ordered in French, something he was obviously proud of, her mind had picked up the sing-song sounds, and she had looked up from the rim of her glass, suddenly interested. He, of course, had thought his display of the language of love had earned him her attention, but it had been the association with someone who spoke the tones with much more ease. It had been then she had remembered Leela was Canadian, and the things started to fall into place. A crucial part of the puzzle, however, was missing. Never having learned the beautiful language herself, Alicia had no idea of the meaning of the investigator's words.
She had pondered it for quite a while, waiting to see if it would happen again, if she could, now, finally grasp the words that made her shiver. She had thought about the occasions in which she had thought to have heard them.
She remembered… Will… The hopeful glimmer in his eyes as she, too loudly, had laughed at his joke, from the corner of her eye gauging Kalinda`s reaction through the glass walls. Knowing, sensing, the woman would be watching, but not anticipating on the reaction of her own heart as she had seen the slight, bittersweet, smile lingering on Kalinda`s lips. Then, as she, confused, had left Will`s office,she almost had bumped into the woman she had tried to hurt with her happiness. The hand that had stopped her had burned on her upper arm and was quickly withdrawn, but not, she had noticed, before its owner was certain she was completely steady. She had heard it, then, behind her as she had quickly made her exit out of the awkward situation.
She also recalled the moment Kalinda had reached out to her, offering her the beer-bottle with that endearing, vulnerable look in her eyes. She felt again the rush of emotions that had overwhelmed her, and the urge to push that away. She had spoken harsh words in order to close off her heart and try to shut out… What exactly? Everything? The moment the words had exited her mouth she had regretted them, even more so when she had seen the glimpse of pained surprise quickly followed by defeated acceptance in Kalinda`s eyes. The investigator had swallowed, she remembered, and she could not get the thought out of her head that Kalinda had swallowed away tears that night, and maybe spilled them later when she`d been alone. And again, as she had confirmed Alicia`s hard words, that it was enough for them to work together, -something that, Alicia knew, would never be enough, although she did not allow her mind to wander to the question what, if anything, would be- the softly spoken French had followed.
More recently, when she had been tuned in to identify the mantra, she had heard them in a bar. As she had slid into the stool next to Kalinda, feeling more at home than she had in a long time, she had briefly wondered if she was becoming an alcoholic. It had surprised her that her heart and mind seemed to find that explanation more comforting than the truth, that it was the woman and not the beverage that held her fascination. She had spoken nervously of Will and Peter, trying to rid herself of these confusing feelings, when the bittersweet smile had adorned Kalinda`s lips once more. The words had slipped, -more clearly? Or had she simply learned to listen?- and Alicia had engraved the dulcet tones in her memory.
It was not until this very night, when she heard her children bicker about their homework, that it occurred to her who could help her. Although she had tried to find the meaning of the words in one of those internet search-engines she despised -mainly because she did not know how to handle them, if she was honest- but she had not known how to spell the words that now kept her awake at night. She had thought to ask Peter, and immediately discarded the idea, knowing it would be wrong. She did not want to link Kalinda with the man she had once thought to spend the rest of her life with. Not like this. But now, as her son, with pretended patience, quizzed his sister, she had let the sentence slip, herself. The words felt warm in her mouth and sweet as honey as they rolled of her tongue.
'Je ne t'aime pas.'
The surprise in her children's faces made Alicia smile, noticing, once again, how different they were. Zach had looked up from his keyboard, the flickering light of the laptop illuminating his features, the raised eyebrows, the twinkle in his eye. Grace, more serious, the frown of concentration, the biting of a lower lip. They were growing up so fast and she wished, as she had many times before, she could freeze the time.
It was her daughter who, with her translation, unknowingly, crushed her hopes. The hopes she had not even known she had. She felt the tightness in her chest, the tears that threatened to spill. She tried to hide the emotion, that had overwhelmed her unexpectedly and with breathtaking force, but found she was unable to. The pain was dull, and throbbed through her chest with every beat of the organ behind it.
She knew now what it was, what she felt for Kalinda. The fierce, unable-to-grasp-a-hold-of, mystery of a woman. The one who had broken her heart by sleeping with her husband, but not because of HIM, but because of HER.
How could it hurt to lose something you had never possessed? But it did, so much sharper than she ever had imagined anything could. She closed her eyes and let it wash over her, the heartache of relinquishing something she had never been able to call hers. The giving up of hopes and dreams she had not even dared to admit to herself.
Kalinda did not love her.
She had known it already, deep in her heart, but had never dared to face the truth.
And now, she knew. Now she was certain. And the knowledge drained her, of energy, of strength, of hope.
She looked into the worried eyes of her children as she dragged herself to the bedroom, willing herself not to cry in front of them. She tried to smile, to show them it would all be okay, that they didn`t have to worry, but the muscles of her face didn`t want to obey her. Once the door had been closed, she fell against the wood, not even feeling its unyielding hardness as she slid down, hiding her face behind her hands. The emptiness in the pit of her stomach burned, like a ball of fire, spreading through her body with every heartbeat. She felt the tears burning, but even thought she wanted nothing more than to shed them, she found herself unable to.
It seemed like all the feelings she had suppressed set themselves free in an uncontrollable wave of emotion. She felt the tickling butterfly wings on her abdomen, the surge of desire flaming through her body, the sensation of being ripped apart by that one word. 'Leela'. She felt the ache she had not allowed herself to feel that day, when Kalinda, trembling, had gathered her belongings and had exited her office. She finally allowed herself to feel the urge to cry out, to grasp, to hit, to hurt and, above all, to kiss. It was like she was pulled down by the undercurrents of the sea, seemingly in different directions but in the end all streaming to one goal, guided by one tide.
And Kalinda was her moon.
She saw now, so clearly, all the things she had tried to hide, her feelings raw at the surface without even the slightest protection.
She didn`t remember pushing herself up, or her turmoil of emotion drifting into an unquiet dream and she only knew she had slept when she woke up.
Her mouth felt dry and her head ached, as if she had drunk too much the night before. When she moved her hand to reach her throbbing temple, she unmistakably heard the rustle of paper. Slightly confused to wake up in her bed, she grasped the sheet that lay beside her and pushed herself up. With her back against the headboard of her bed, she blinked several times before the blur before her became words.
Her son had written, unevenly, that he and Grace had gone to school, that he had found and printed the song for her and that, not always, everything was what it seemed. She wondered again when he had grown up so much and, for a moment, felt shame that he had seen her weakness.
Then, as she turned the sheet of paper in her hands and began to read, it felt as if everything froze. She did not dare to move, or blink, out of fear that the words on the page would change. As she came closer to the bottom of the page, she sensed that the tears she had not been able to shed the night before, were sliding down her cheeks. She read the lyrics 2, 3 times, letting them sink in, linking them to all the occasions in which she had heard Kalinda utter the words. The words she had spoken, indeed, as a mantra.
Hope began to warm her chest, and it felt as if, for the first time since the night before, or, maybe for the first time ever, she could breathe again. She saw the, much neater, scribble of her daughter in the bottom of the page, and smiled as she saw that the child, in English, in French and phonetically, had written the answer that her heart was screaming. The headache, the heartache, it all was gone, and the only thing that was left, were the hints of doubt.
Seeing, so clearly before her, the eyes of the woman she loved as she had spoken the words, the bittersweet and pained turmoil within, she could almost certainly check that item of her list of insecurities. But the handwriting of her children, so close to the lyrics that sang to her heart, made her fear their reaction. Just as that thought had entered her head, a strange sound pulled her out of her pondering. Placing the piece of paper carefully on her nightstand, she glanced around looking for the source of it. As she was about to mentally scold her daughter, for changing her ringtones again, she heard a, now familiar, sentence in French, which made her heart stop. Her hands trembled as they recovered the phone from under her pillow, her heart pounding in nervous anticipation. Her eyes fluttered to the screen and in that moment everything fell into place. The combination of the music and the name appearing diminished her earlier doubt and her heart filled itself with love for her daughter, who had such a modern, unorthodox, but yet poetic way to show her all was well.
She answered the phone and held her breath, almost unable to utter a word. Kalinda`s voice had always felt like a touch and Alicia suppressed a moan when the investigator spoke her name. She did not need the paper to speak the words, the French already engraved in her mind.
'mais moi, oui, je t'aime'
The silence on the other end of the line made Alicia bite her lip. But then, she noticed, it was not silence after all. A gasp, the holding of breath, followed by a soft sob, and then, Kalinda`s voice, broken.
Alicia smiles as she hears the love the woman puts in that one word. Habit makes her suppress the urge to let Kalinda`s name roll of her tongue, like a carress, like an endearment, like a promise. But then she realizes there is no need.
She tastes the name on the tip of her tongue and swallows, knowing she can repeat, in an endless circle, that single word that means everything to her.