“Are you going somewhere, Rose?”
Rose cursed and dropped her bag, startled by Albert’s sudden appearance. “I didn’t see you there, Albert. Don’t sneak up on me like that!”
He gave her a small smile. “Sorry. Didn’t mean to frighten you. I was just wondering where you’re going… it’s almost ten o’clock at night.”
Rose sighed, retrieving her purse from the floor. She had hoped she could, well, escape before Albert noticed. Because the truth was, she was tired. Tired of feeling like all she did was give, and never received anything in return. Of course, she still loved him… that’s why she had tried to leave without him noticing. She thought it would hurt less.
“I’m leaving, Albert,” she admitted, looking down. Feeling ashamed and refusing to meet his eyes. After all, it had been eight years. They had so many good memories together, memories she was leaving behind… but she thought it was better this way.
“Leaving?” Albert repeated, feeling as though his heart had been torn from his chest, or— or ceased beating all at once. “Leaving where? Why?”
Rose tightened her grip on her bag. “I— I have an apartment in the city. Well, a friend’s apartment. And… when I said I was leaving, Albert, I meant—”
Albert swallowed. “You’re leaving me?” he finished. Rose nodded once, still not looking at him.
No. No no no, Albert thought. She’s leaving, she’s leaving me. Panic began coursing through him; everything he had feared and worried over the past eight years was happening right now, right in front of him. “Rosie, please,” he stammered desperately, lunging forward and taking her hand. “Please don’t, don’t leave me—”
All of a sudden she felt pinned in place; her luggage was blocking the door but Albert was right in front of her and he was so close so suddenly, she felt like she couldn’t breathe. She wrenched her hand from his grasp and stumbled backward, nearly tripping over a suitcase.
“It’s been eight years, Albert!” she snapped, finally looking at him, meeting his eyes. “Eight years we’ve been together, and you never— I thought you cared about me, all those times you said you loved me—”
“I do!” he cried. “I do, I do…” He couldn’t take it anymore; his heart was racing too fast and she was leaving and he felt like he couldn’t breathe and everything was crashing down and tearing apart all at once. He couldn't help it. A sob tore itself from his throat, and Albert found himself leaning against the wall for support, sinking down to the floor, head held between his hands just desperately trying to get himself under control just trying to breathe.
Rose looked on in shock. It happened so quickly; one moment he was right in front of her, almost larger than life, and now it was like he caved in on himself and collapsed. He was muttering under his breath, the same thing over and over: “I do I do I do I do I do I do…” It broke her heart to watch.
So she put down her bag, and knelt beside him. “Albert?” she whispered. “Are— are you all right?”
“No no no no no…” he moaned, dropping his head to his knees and bringing his arms up to serve as a barrier between himself and Rose. Just when she thought it couldn’t get any worse, she watched as Albert dug his nails into his arms, tearing the skin, and his breathing became more desperate, almost hyperventilating.
“Albert!” She was right next to him and he wasn’t responding. Tears that had been threatening to fall all evening spilled down her face as she tried to rouse Albert from the panic that consumed him. “Albert, dear…” she whispered, gingerly putting a hand on his shoulder. “I’m sorry, I’m so sorry…” When that did nothing Rose started rubbing his back, trying to be gentle and soothing and suddenly hating herself for putting Albert through this. Because of course it was her fault; she had upset him by trying to leave and it killed her to see him like this.
Nearly twenty minutes had passed by the time Albert seemed to come back. Slowly, he raised his head, still in the process of getting his breathing back to normal. He looked shocked to see that Rose was beside him, her hand still on his back, looking at him with deep concern.
“Why are you still here?”
“I… Albert, I—”
“You weren’t supposed to see,” he whispered brokenly, meeting Rose’s eyes. “You weren’t supposed to see me like this.”
Rose didn’t say anything. What could she say?
Albert finally looked away, sniffling slightly. “For the longest time, I was terrified that you would find out about my panic attacks,” he admitted. “But now you know. And— and it doesn’t even matter now, because you’re leaving anyway, and—”
“Has this happened before?” Rose interrupted.
“These— these panic attacks. Have they happened before?”
Albert nodded, picking at a loose thread on his shirt. “I’ve had them ever since I was a teenager. I just hid them from you because… because…”
“Because?” Rose asked finally.
“Because I thought you would leave me. And now—”
“You thought I would leave you? Because of this? Albert, I would never! I care about you so, so much… just because—”
“Then why are you leaving?” he demanded, his head snapping up again, angry now.
“Because you never proposed!” Rose snapped back. “Eight years we were together, and— Albert, what’s wrong?” She couldn’t tell if he was laughing or sobbing; either way his shoulders were shaking violently and he had dropped his head onto his knees again.
“I should have known,” he managed at last. “I should have known! You’re leaving because I never found the goddamn nerve to ask you to marry me.”
Rose frowned. “What? Do you really think it’s that absurd to expect—”
“Do you want to know why I never asked you?” Albert said softly, looking at Rose again.
“Because then you would have known,” he said sadly.
Rose’s harsh look melted away. Oh. “You mean… if you had tried to propose—”
“I’ve brought on attacks just by thinking about asking you. If I actually had—”
“Then I would have known about them,” Rose finished sadly.
They sat there in silence for a moment or two. Finally Albert got to his feet.
“Do you need help with any of your things?”
Rose shook her head, also getting to her feet. “I got everything out of my room; I can put it back just as easily.”
Albert froze in place, brow furrowed. “You— you’re not leaving?”
“What? No!” Rose exclaimed, looking shocked. “Albert, I—” She shook her head, frustrated, and decided actions would explain better than words. Taking each of Albert’s hands in her own, she pulled him to her and began kissing him, almost fiercely; she immediately abandoned his hands in favor of cupping his face in her palms, trying to bring him closer and closer. After a moment of surprise Albert responded eagerly, not bothering to question the display of affection.
Finally, they broke apart, if only slightly. Rose looped her arms around Albert’s neck, and his hands settled on her waist. And they stood there for a bit, breathing in and out. Holding each other. Feeling calm again.
“Albert,” Rose said at last. “I’m not leaving.”
“Because it would be a mistake,” she answered, looking up at him. “It would hurt you, and I would regret it… I was wrong to even think about trying to leave,” Rose insisted. She dropped her gaze, shaking her head. “If I had known…”
Albert took Rose’s chin in his hand, making their eyes meet again. “It’s my fault you didn’t know—”
“It’s my fault for trying to leave!” Rose fought back. Albert just shook his head.
“If I had swallowed my pride and just told you…”
Rose gave him a small smile. “Seems like we’ve both made mistakes.” Albert was silent for a moment.
“I’ll forgive you if you forgive me,” he said softly.
Rose stood on her tiptoes and pressed her lips to Albert’s. “Deal.”