Gary Preston is lying next to the woman he’s loved for so long, he can’t remember a time without her. He’s on the edge of sleep when she says it, in barely a whisper.
“I love you.”
I love you too.
He doesn’t say it, so he pulls her closer and hopes she already knows.
He knows she’s been waiting for him to say it back ever since that night in the restaurant. It’s the one thing he’s never been so sure of, and until then, he thought it was solely his secret. But when time stopped and she declared her feelings, he realised it was hers too.
He’s been able to admit that there’s something deeper than friendship between them, something with more fondness and affection, even lust, but love? The thought of speaking those words into the universe fills him with terror. He knows it’s what she wants to hear, but that would mean opening himself to the unknown; beyond the idyllic bubble they’ve been living in, where everything is perfect and unbreakable.
It would just be three words, a roll of the tongue. He knows it should be easy, but the weight of every syllable pulls him under. And if it turned out that loving her wasn’t enough, he’s not sure he could bear what would follow.
Their bubble bursts. She confesses her doubts about his commitment. He knows men who happily recite I love yous and empty platitudes, but it doesn’t matter. He knew this would happen. The pain still hits him in the chest and knocks the air out of his lungs, but he lets her go and tells himself it’s the right thing to do.
He throws himself into work and does everything he can to distract himself. It works for a while, until she starts haunting his dreams, denying him peace in sleep.
So this is it. A future where the two of them don’t make it. No waking up to her heartbeat against his chest; no lingering of her perfume on his pillow, its sweet scent both comforting and intoxicating. Her seat at the restaurant is an empty reminder of all the stories and laughter they once exchanged over the bar. The jokes only she understood now remain untold.
And then, right when he’s least expecting it, she bursts back into his life.
He doesn’t know how this story ends, but he can’t bear the thought of her not knowing his feelings any longer.
It’s something he’s whispered it inside his head a thousand times. And this time, he’s the first to say it.
“I love you.”
It was always you.