Nothing had ever been easy between them. There was never anything they would instantly agree on without some level of arguing, so why did she think their life together would be any different?
She stopped trying to fix things after she went from wondering when had it all gone wrong to when had it ever been right.
He was barely the shadow of the man she had fallen for. Or maybe he actually was the same, but the unhealthiest version of it. A version that she couldn’t bear being around. They weren’t helping each other in any way so was there really a point in remaining there?
Leaving him was the second most difficult decision she had to take. But this time, she still retained a semblance of hope, no matter how slim it really was, that they would find their way back to each other.
After her last box was securely sealed, her hand went to her front pocket and from the tip of her fingers, she redid the shape of that small metal object that was surprisingly warm against her skin. There had been no second thoughts when she had it made. She was highly certain of its sole purpose and of where it belonged.
She quietly stepped into the foyer, turning around, glad that he kept the tiny office’s door open so she could get a last, long, lingering look at his somber profile. He was sitting at what had been her desk, head bent and forearms resting on his thighs, picking at his fingernails, or what was left of them. His beard was thick enough to cover his skin. She longed for its scratchy touch along her neck and cheek...
As her eyes started to sting, a warm and now too familiar dampness coming to blur her vision, she inhaled, deep, and took the last steps toward the door. She stood by the entrance hall table, picking up the now foreign pen and blue post-it block with which she had developed a painful love-hate relationship.
He would leave unanswered mysteries, ideas, theories, and occasional words of affection whenever he would be up all night or would have woken up first, deciding to remain locked away in his gloomy office but also letting her know, before she walked out the door on her way to work, that he was still alive. But it had stopped. And all that remained were the feeble marks of glue on the mirror, covered in dust.
Avoiding her reflection, she picked up the pen and scribbled a few words on the blue square piece of paper in a wobbly handwriting that was so unlike her. She squeezed her eyes shut, swallowing hard while a tear made its sinuous way down her cheek to come crashing down near her hand, carrying the weight of all that was left unsaid. She reached for the key in her pocket, fixed it on the mirror with a piece of tape and then delicately placed her note next to it, firmly retracing the part where the glue was with her forefinger, making sure that it wouldn’t fall. But after a few seconds of false hesitation, she placed another piece of tape on it. Those things never stuck properly anyway. And this had to.
When the door slammed shut, the unexpected noise startled him and as a result, he abruptly peeled the skin around his nail. He winced and gritted his teeth, watching the skin redden.
When had it gone wrong? When had it ever been right?
A few weeks later
There was nothing left to eat in the house. He had done his best to make them last as long as possible but by now all the home cooked meals that she had frozen for him or left in the fridge were done and gone. The cupboards were empty there was no one to replenish them with his usual sunflower seeds.
Of course, those were only metaphors to describe the free spot in their bed, the empty drawers and space in the bathroom cabinet, the deserted closet, the vacant office, this blank house devoid of her warming fire. And not only because he had left the heating bill unpaid.
After his putting on an old sweater and creased jeans, he picked up his wallet with the few dollar bills he had left and his credit card. He went to the kitchen and made a mental list of necessary things he should get, thankful for all the times she had made him put away the groceries so now he knew all the brands she used to buy.
When he got to the foyer, he looked for his car keys and saw them resting on the entrance hall table. Standing in front of it, he raised his eyes and that’s when he saw it, shining from the reflection of the ray of sunshine that hardly made its way through the partially opened blinds in the living room. His eyes then focused on the note. He recognized her handwriting, even though it was rushed and not as neat as it used to be. I have to write lots of prescriptions now, he could still hear her saying to her defense. An address and a phone number. Who even had a landline anymore?
20 years and a post-it. He shook his head, picked up his keys and left.
Glad that she hadn’t closed their checking account, he had bought a lot more than he needed. Putting away her ungodly cereal bars next to his sunflower seeds, he wondered for how long he would try to fool himself. How long he would last.
He stepped into the shower and picked up the brand new yet familiar body wash, that smelled of her, and that he had bought in hope that as he restlessly rolled in bed at night, he would manage to give back her scent to the bed sheets where it belonged and that had now faded away.
The next day, after finally putting some clothes in the washer, he walked to the foyer, detached the key from the mirror and put it on his key chain. Without a second thought, he neatly transferred the note to the telephone book under the letter S. There was no need, really. A fraction of second after he had read it the first time, he already had it memorized. But he wanted it there.
“It’s good for you to get out of that little house every once in a while.”
Too bad I wasn’t a good enough reason for you to, she left unsaid.
“Certainly was good for you.”
His mouth was on hers before they reached the front door and his hand slowly crawling under her blouse that he had now gotten out of her pants. Her cool skin was still as smooth as he remembered and he felt her shivering under his warm touch. As she moaned in his mouth, trying to put some space between them, he grabbed her by the waist and only brought her even closer. Don’t you know that I can’t let go?
“Muld-,” he gently captured her bottom lip between his teeth before his name could come out of her addictive mouth.
Putting both hands on his torso, she pushed him gently, then more forcefully when he wouldn’t stand back.
“Fox,” she managed to say. “Lemme get my keys.”
The words were rushed, taking advantage of the tiny break offered between two kisses but as soon as she had said them, she couldn’t resist and started for his lips again.
Reaching for his own set of keys, he felt rather than heard her complain against his mouth about the cold air that brushed her stomach as she already missed the warmth of his palm against her.
“Got ‘em,” he declared triumphantly, breaking their embrace and inserting his key in the lock.
With her hands still on his chest, she caressed him through his shirt, gently and stared at his hand, opening the door.
“You always have it on you?” she seemed surprised.
“It hasn’t left my side since the day you did.”
He avoided looking into her eyes, pushing the door out of the way and stepping inside, half carrying her.
It was a white lie since he had only seen it a few weeks after she had gone and left, but he considered those to be semantics. A year, nine months and three days... Or a year, ten months and eleven days. Who was counting?
His voice was devoid of resentment or bitterness. He hoped she had picked up on it, even though he was almost too surprised himself to notice. It was just a fact. And he wanted her to take it for exactly what it was.
“I’m glad you didn’t change the lock,” he whispered in her ear and smiled when she rewarded him with a throaty laugh for which only she had the secret.
“I’ve always wanted to believe, didn’t you know that?”
And with that, he put a lock of hair behind her ear and kissed away the fear that had been showing all over her features. Small kisses everywhere, trailing down her neck. There, he inhaled her perfume, which seemed to accentuate all of his senses.
She took his face between her hands and proceeded to plant the most delicate kiss she could master on his lips. When she opened her eyes, he was looking right into her, with that intensity she had almost forgotten about. And for the first time in years, there were no underlying feelings, no untold truths, no walls raised between them. They were both baring their bodies and souls to each other.
Her hand reached for his, intertwining their fingers.
It was barely a whisper.
She took him to her bedroom. It was only lit by the street lamp breaking through the window, as was the rest of the apartment.
She laid him down on the covers, turned on the bedside lamp and started undressing. When she was down to her underwear, he did the same.
Soon enough, their bodies were pressed together as if pushed by an invisible force. They knew each other from head to toe, every single square inch of skin. But they took the time to explore what seemed like countries they hadn’t visited in too long and had yearned for more than words could express.
Neither of them seemed to get enough of the other; grasping, kissing, nibbling, sensing, breathing in, touching, feeling, without ever letting go.
When he finally entered her, it felt comfortable and yet so new. It encompassed all that had been and all that was yet to come.
He filled her completely. And then, they both stopped moving. Looking into each other’s eyes, they took the time to adjust, to revel in their retrieved and reawakened connection.
Together they started on a new rhythm, that would subtly pick-up until they both became breathless.
Days later, in that little house
“I’m gonna take a shower,” she announced after catching her breath and rolling to the side, placing a kiss on his torso, near his heart.
He was on his back, sprawled on top of the covers, exhausted from their recent activities.
“Make yourself at home.”
That, he didn’t say out loud.
She smiled, stood up and went to the bathroom, completely naked, not feeling the need to shield her body from his gaze. He knew it by heart, eidetic memory or not.
Before she opened the shower curtain, she heard his voice, sounding so far away and yet so close.
“There’s body wash in the cabinet!”
She opened the little door and her eyes immediately saw it.
Her body wash that she had been using for more years than she cared to remember was standing there, between shaving cream, razors and an untouched toothbrush.
She exhaled what seemed to be like 23 years of tension, doubt, frustration and torment.
They hadn’t found all the answers. But there was no question or doubt left either.
And one thing she knew. Neither of them would ever let go of what really mattered...