I Love You
Soft footsteps approached her from behind. She tensed, refused to turn and face him. He placed his hands lightly on her shoulders. She jumped at the touch, frustration, dread and guilt setting her nerves on edge. A flicker of a frown crossed his face. She glanced up at him, a forced smile on her face. His breath was warm in her ear as he set his lips close and whispered.
"I love you."
She said nothing and struggled for courage. Those words wrapped around her like a vise, binding her with supplication and debt. His hands tensed expectantly on her shoulders. She swallowed the bitter tears that threatened her voice. "I love you too," she answered softly. The words drifted in the silence like dead leaves on a chill winter breeze. She sighed as the waiting hands withdrew, their demand answered.
She turned to face him. His eyes searched hers. She met them with a gaze as bright and opaque as obsidian. She hid her sorrow behind a dutiful smile. It was all she had left to give him. He smiled back in acceptance and walked away wondering why he felt like a thief.
A Delicate Balance
She walked the unfamiliar street looking for the shop she knew was there. Her heart began to pound when she saw the sign in the distance. She walked faster, as if to outpace the insistent beating in her chest. Outside the door she stopped, afraid to look through the glass. When she finally forced herself to peer past the reflection in the window, a sigh of relief escaped her lips. He was there. With a trembling hand she pulled the door open and went inside.
They had never met face to face outside of dreams, yet they knew each other as they knew themselves. He looked up as she walked towards him. She reached him as he rose. She smiled into his surprised eyes and lifted a hand to his cheek. His hand felt hot as it covered hers. In the crystal moment when their lips met, time and space softened their grip, bowing in submission to a force that had always been greater. A second or a year later, they pulled apart and stood staring at each other, unasked questions shouting in their eyes. His hands held her firmly as she made to step away. A tiny smile played at the corners of her lips. He opened his mouth to speak but she laid a finger over his lips.
She felt his eyes on her back as she walked away. He knew she would have stayed, had he asked her. She knew he would have asked, had she let him. They smiled. It was enough.
Tipping the Scales
His smile faded as he watched her walk away. Words he desperately wanted to speak refused to come out. He sighed. What could he give her that she didn't already have? And why should she leave it all for him? Yet he couldn't believe she had come so far just to turn around and leave.
She paused at the door, hoping yet dreading to hear his voice. She held her breath, her heart fragile as glass. If he spoke could she turn back? The price was high, the future uncertain. The memory of his eyes filled hers to overflowing. How could she come so far just to leave? So close, yet separated by so much more than distance, she waited. All she had was nothing if she left her heart standing behind her.
He found words just as she raised her hand to the door."Please..."
Light flashed as she turned, her eyes bright with hope and withheld tears. His eyes strayed to the shining place upon her hand which rested still on the door, then faltered. He looked away, unable to finish. Light flashed on the tears rolling down her cheeks like shards of glass. The price was high.
She smiles and holds him close. His arms answer, telling her of his need. Suddenly her head is spinning and she tries to pull away. Panic mounts inside her. He doesn't let go. Back stiff, she tries to hold the smile for him while she drags her body out of his grasp. Her eyes flash daggers through her unwilling smile. She wraps her arms around herself, hugging wounds he cannot see. Bleeding anew with every kiss, each heartfelt 'I love you' is a fresh cut to a battered heart.
She turns away, swallowing tears and resentment. "How long?" comes the silent howl within her soul. His eyes follow her as she treds the eggshells between them. Does he know? Her labored heart pounds the question. She feels his eyes hold her and she knows he knows. But he won't let go.
Across the Abyss
She shivered in the silence that stretched between them like an uncrossable chasm. The delicate span that had bridged the gap only moments before was a mere memory drifting rapidly down the abyss. The chill in her fingertips as she wrapped her arms around her misery was nothing compared to the ice growing in her heart. Her eyes searched the shadows of his face and found no answer. Though light rippled across his pale eyes, she could see only their surface, not what moved in the seas beneath. She withdrew her gaze so he would not see her pain and draw further away. In resignation, she released the frayed edges of the moment and turned away.
He watched her go but could not follow. Though all his desire was bent upon it, he could not bring himself to take what he wanted. Stifling the fire in his eyes with stony pain, he sealed himself in his blanket of isolation. Why should he hope if it might lead to disappointment? How would he bear the pain when desire became regret? Better the numb certainty of loneliness with which he was familiar than the ashes of love burned out.
She sighed against her own familiar loneliness. She could not give him hope if he could not give her trust. The abyss yawned in mockery behind her.
They sat chatting like old friends. And why not; they were. They joked and smiled, even asked personal questions. He would not meet her eyes. She tried to conceal her attempts to look into his. Her hands drew pictures in the air with her discussion. Perhaps he couldn't tell her expansive gestures masked trembling hands. Too conscious of their nearness, they consciously did not touch. He did not appear nervous, but he was adept at concealing his thoughts and feelings behind quips and quick laughter. Though she knew too much of what lay behind the mask, it blurred beyond her own tangled feelings.
All too soon he left with apologies on his lips. She remained alone, memories on her lips. He would not see the tears.
She spoke with a shy smile, her naked hands held together so he might not see them tremble. "I did it. I'm free." For an instant, she felt like she had wings on her heart.
"Congratulations," he said. He could hardly believe it. He'd seen her try and fail so many times.
Her eyes reached for him full of fresh hope. "Maybe now we can have a chance." Her smile suddenly beamed like the the first spring sun after weeks of rain. "There's nothing left to hold us back."
The words closed over him like a tidal wave. He was sure he was drowning and looked away in panic. How could he tell her? What could he say? Finally, in almost a whisper, he told her the truth. "I didn't think it would ever be possible."
Her smile only became wider as she tried to reassure him. She reached for him, wanting to touch him just once without guilt, or shame. "But it is. Finally." She stepped away, her smile fading as his tenseness shouted at her fingertips. "What's wrong?"
Like a cornered animal he looked into her eyes then struck. "It won't work. Don't you understand? This wasn't supposed to happen. I didn't think you'd really do it. We weren't supposed to be possible." It made you safe, he thought at her. It made me safe.
Dumbfounded, she stared at him as if he'd just shot her. Maybe that would have been better, she thought. Holding onto denial for courage, she finally spoke. "But...you made me...you let me believe...we were." She closed her eyes, shutting out the truth on his face. A wave of weakness washed over her. She turned away as hate raped her soul and love bled from her eyes. "You lied."
He watched, helpless. How could he tell her he hadn't when she wanted so much to believe him and never would again?
The Sounds of Silence
She comes near, gliding on cat-quiet feet. Taking up a seat within arm's reach, she looks at him boldly and smiles a warm welcome. A moment later, her eyes slip away as her thoughts wander. Her shoulders sag a moment, the smile disappearing like the sun blocked by a passing cloud. As the shadow passes, her chin lifts and determination returns to her gaze. The gesture seems unconscious, like ongoing steps along a well-known path.
Haunted hazel eyes meet his, hinting at the past like a mirror, yet touching him warmly as the kiss of a stray spring sunbeam. A door of welcome opens in a smile. Her eyes slide gently past his to caress his face, shoulders, chest, beyond...His skin prickles a moment as her gaze assesses, but the smile remains, hinting at relived memories and once and future dreams. When his eyes meet hers once more, a question is asked, and she nods, a tiny tilt of her chin, knowing he knows.
It is no surprise when a cool hand reaches his and squeezes his fingers lightly in far smaller ones. Eyes holding his, seeking permission, acceptance or a hint of pleasure, her other hand reaches his cheek, stroking softly with palm out, letting the sensation of warm skin rest along the back of her hand and fingers. His forearm is warmed as the other questing hand leaves its place on his and moves on, slowly. It continues its path, squeezing lightly now and then, to remember an angle or a muscle, all the way to his shoulder. Once there, she smiles again as her other hand glides to the back of his neck. As her face moves closer to his, he knows she will kiss him. She knows he will let her.