Once, a therapist made you take a test to determine your love language. You shifted on the leather couch, causing it to squeak, as he briefly described the five possible results - words of affirmation, acts of service, receiving gifts, quality time, and physical touch - before handing over the test.
You handed it back to him, telling him you didn’t need to. Declaratively you stated, it’s physical touch. He sighed, asking you to humor him. It took four minutes for you to complete the test, and two for him to determine the results.
He pulled off his glasses and rubbed his hand over his eyes as he handed over the results. They were definitive.
You nodded once, self-satisfied. You made a neat note of it in your notebook: love language - physical touch. Alright, you asked him, what’s next?
You pass him in the commotion of the arena hallway, voices reverberating, ringing laughter filling the space. Your hand traces a light line over his back while he talks to someone else, a hello, and he throws you a grateful smile over his shoulder as you continue down the hallway.
You two stand at center ice, the only sound the breathy exhales of exertion after a near perfect run through. When his fingertips trace your jaw and tap lightly at the apex of your chin, he’s telling you to look up, kiddo. Take it all in.
During a gala rehearsal, when you wrap him up in your arms, his back to your chest, and rest your forehead and feel the ripple of his breath under his skin, it’s comfort, it’s home. You’re asking for a place to rest. His arms wrapping up yours, warmth seeping into your skin, it’s a silent peace.
In the quiet of his kitchen, when his hand traces down your abdomen, dipping under your waistband to seek out the wetness below, it is reverence and appreciation and escape. When you push him onto your white couch, wrap your arms around him, and sink onto him, it’s synergy.
When the crowd roars its approval as your edges glide smoothly in line, the pattern crisp and fluid, your hair flowing in the wind, it’s love.
When you beam at each other after a brilliant performance, hands clasped together, it’s grace.
When it’s just the two of you, sharing contact, it’s ease.
It’s when words become involved that your communication falters, you find. Words are so futile, so easily misconstrued. You don’t know when you became a cynic, but his words are never just words. There’s something behind them, an undercurrent, and you wish you could wade into the waters of his emotion, dipping your feet in, to understand it a little better. But do so, and the riptide will take you out.
He says he’s leaving. He’s seeing her, and he’s leaving you here, and you think to yourself this is how it ends. No longer the most important person in his world, but he’ll still be yours.
The words echo throughout the room, their meaning opaque. You struggle to comprehend but he doesn’t wait for you to understand. Communication, or lack thereof. You wish he would just reach out and touch you. His footsteps are heavy when he sighs loudly and walks away.
He stands at the doorway a moment. His back is to you, and you watch the muscles ripple as his fingers grip the door handle more tightly.
But then the door shuts with a dull thud, anticlimactic, and you think that can’t be it. You wait, thinking any second now, you’ll hear his feet turning around before the elevator, the knock at the door, the scrape as he swings it open.
You stand there, staring at the dark grain of the wood, the swirls etching themselves into your mind, while the world keeps turning silently around you. The sky fades, the light around you tinted red, before sliding into blackness. You can barely see, but the door is in perfect clarity, stark darkness against the light that filters in the cracks from the hallway.
You stand there, a sentry on guard, until the soles of your feet ache, until your legs shake, until your stomach growls and your eyes burn.
And then you turn and walk away.
You spend the next week reconnecting, rebooting.
You see a friend. He looms above you, tall and strong and dark, and his hand and yours intertwine as you stroll through a farmer’s market, pointing out the most malformed produce. Those are the ones you choose, the ones others would reject. His hand drops yours so you can dig out dollar bills from your pocket, but he immediately picks it up afterwards. You lean your head against his shoulder. Presence.
Your sister visits you, and the two of you frequent your favourite haunts. It’s an ordinary day – bright sunshine beaming down, surrounding you in its warm embrace, a light breeze rustling the leaves on the branches – and you’re walking along the street when you wrap her in a hug. She hugs you back, a tight squeeze, before slinging her arm around your shoulders and continuing in the direction of the creperie. Comfort.
You meet her in a bar, and when your tongue wraps around the cherry stem in your drink, she licks her lips. The bar is noisy, and when a loud fight breaks out, you lean forward to whisper in her ear, hand bracing yourself on her thigh. It’s not long before you’re seeking out the comfort of her warmth in your bed. She twists her hands in your hair as your tongue and fingers work in tandem, pushing her over the edge. Power.
A cup of hot cocoa sits in front of you on the coffee table, steam rising from it gently. Your fingers trace absent-minded patterns on your arm as you look out the window, studying the falling leaves. Serenity.
Your mother hums and rubs your back when you get the text message he’s returning. Love.
You didn’t fall apart when he left.
You don’t fall apart when he comes back, a smile on his face. His laughter surrounds you, tracing uneasy patterns across your skin, disturbing the peace of your home.
He wraps you in a hug, but pulls back before you can breathe in even once. Discord.
He tells you that you must meet her, and you smile and nod. You ask questions about his trip, and he speaks a mile a minute, the pacing almost too fast to follow – he reaches once, to accent a point with a squeeze on your bicep, but recoils before he touches, as though you burn. Dissonance.
The words he speaks become orchestration, background noise for your thoughts. You drift in it. In your head, you see that closed door, the bulk of it dark against the light that filters through the cracks. You see it shut, and you think to yourself how satisfying it would be to throw yourself against it, beat it to a pulp with your fist, until the blood drips from your knuckles, raw and torn. Loss.
Your back straightens and you let the smile come to your lips, and you tell him how lovely it would be to welcome her back home. The resentment is bitter on your tongue, a rusty taste, when you think of having to share him with someone else. When he leaves, you don’t hug.
The slam of the door reverberates. You place your palm against it. Strength.
Cold fingers nimbly lace up boots, pulling tight on the laces. The door flies open, making you jump. He walks through, skates slung over his shoulder. A quick smile graces your lips as you stand when he sits to lace up.
The ice is strong and smooth beneath your feet, the rasp of your skates striking it a lullaby. You let your gloved hands run along the sides of the boards. Stability. You push away, the momentum carrying you faster, faster.
He slips into pace next to you, a solid presence looming silent and strong. Gently, his arms extend, and he has your gloved hand in his, his other resting on the swell of your hips.
You pull off your gloves and shove them in your pockets. He smiles at you gratefully, as your bare skin makes contact with his, your hand small in his grip. You run your one hand over his where it rests on your hips.
It’s easy. It’s faith. It’s you and him, alone in the world.
The ice welcomes you home.
The first time you see her with him, you think to yourself that it’s a good thing. The party is loud, the chattering clamorous and grating. His hands trace over her back lightly, and she beams up at him like he hangs the moon. He looks down at her and scrunches his nose and smiles, before placing a kiss on her forehead.
She makes you laugh almost immediately, cracking a corny joke that reminds you of his, the smile on her lips daring you not to be amused. You’re at the bar when a chill shimmies up your back, your sixth sense; the frown spreads across his face, signaling his souring mood during a conversation with one of your sponsors. You sigh and place down your drink, smoothing your hands over your dress to get ready to insert yourself into the conversation.
But with a smile, she pulls him away, leading him to a corner, before leaning forward and speaking into the shell of his ear, her hand tracing soothing patterns in his hair. His grin is swift and brilliant.
He’s safe. They’re happy. And you realize with a jolt that you are too.
You have the freedom to run, to hide, to fly. You can say yes and no and make decisions at a whim. You chase down every moment, and you don’t answer to anyone. You have your independence, and you have your best friend, and your shoulders are light.
You lean back against the bar and pick up your drink, studying the crowd. You study them.
He looks at her like she’s comfort and happiness, and, your eyes meeting across the room, he looks at you like you’re home.
In the darkness at the back of the ballroom, you see the closed door. Suddenly, it swings open, and on the other side is brilliant possibility.