She saw him and wondered who he was. There was something—no, not love at first sight, but something—that she liked. A lot. She smiled and nodded whenever she saw him. She would have liked to stop and introduce herself, but… not now, not right now. Occasionally she also said hello and asked him how he was, and she came to expect the same friendly and polite but impersonal response: Fine, and you?
So, she thought: he’s not interested in me. Well, she thought, the hell with him. That is, at first she thought, the hell with him: I’ve got someone anyway. But because there was something about him, she never voiced this, her sense taking over where her ego failed, and once they became speaking friends, she realized that she really liked him.
When her relationship failed, during that time when she tried to rearrange all the pieces of her broken life, she realized she had come to feel more for him than for anyone ever. He had become, almost surreptitiously, a friend. She talked with him about her sadness over the breakup. She could rely on him, she let him see her as no one else had. He was a sensitive kind of guy. He understood her.
When he asked her to go away with him for the weekend, he was equally surprised and flattered that she accepted. He had planned an easy trip to the shore, some sun, some swimming, some snorkling, lots of good seafood and good wine. He knew she would love this: he knew almost everything about her by now.
She wasn’t prepared for the amount of tenderness she would come to feel for him by the end of that weekend. After all, she was far from ready for another relationship this soon. She had loose ends to tie up or cut off.
When she told him she loved him, he almost shouted “No!” and he looked as if he wanted to run away, but he held back. As he listened to her he realized that he had loved her for a long time already. His heart began to smile as he watched her express her feelings earnestly, with a tentativeness that was endearing. He saw her opening up to him, offering him a likely once-in-a-lifetime gift. He smiled.
She loved him. She loved him! He spent his days soaring, letting the joy of this knowledge carry him over the clouds and darkness of his past. Gliding freely, his life became interlaced with this revelation, traces of it brightening his life randomly, making his smile and hum. He would whistle if he didn’t think whistling was weird.
When he first became aware of it, small hints of this love peeking out from here or there, from under woolen layers of fear, it was easy to ignore. He found many ways to divert his attention or he simply looked away. As his awareness of it stirred and grew, however, he came to like it and he became comfortable in its presence and came to be comforted by it. Slowly, over time, he came to cherish the idea of loving her, and he couldn’t believe he had been afraid. He loved her! And he told her so.
He lived it; it wasn’t just talk. He showed it, and he knew it. After so many years of wondering when and where he would meet someone, he took care to express his love, over and over. It fed him as well as her.
He never doubted that he would meet someone, eventually, but he recalled painful times. Times of anguish, of loneliness, of feeling worthless and unfulfilled, of wrong relationships, of being told he was heartless and unfeeling, that he didn’t know how to love. Someone once told him he was contentious. He disagreed, of course, not even really sure of what was meant by it, but he was sure that was wrong. He knew when he was right, which wasn’t all the time, but yes, honestly, most of the time. Was he to be condemned for that? It wasn’t as though he threw it into other people’s faces. He was truly quite humble about his superior knowledge. It was a gift.
He remembered wandering through valleys of loneliness, in shadows. He learned religion because of the pain brought by being alone, and he learned new religions when the old ones failed to ease his pain. Searching, he sometimes met God, and sometimes he walked and talked with God. Other times he cursed God and all the gods for the pain. But he plodded ceaselessly, never losing his own faith, though sometimes losing sight of it. He knew it remained, however, somewhere around some future corner.
He was wary of her at first. He didn’t think she was the right one. She didn’t fit his image, and he knew she was involved with someone else. He didn’t know how serious the relationship was, but it was no matter: he would not fall in love with someone who was taken. He was that mature, at least. That adult about it.
Despite his wariness, he liked her instantly; her easygoing, quick laughter. She was generous, giving. He knew that everyone who knew her liked her a lot, loved her; and he saw that as proof of her innate goodness. Since he didn’t think of her as a future lover—she was practically getting married at that time—his demeanor was relaxed and open around her. They became easy friends, quickly, and their friendship rooted and grew and blossomed into a loving and meaningful one. He began to relax.
When she first said the words, when she first told him she loved him, she had long stopped seeing her long-time lover. She said the words and he jumped. She saw him start to panic, and she recognized the same fears she had had. She was a little amused by it—she took care not to show this—because she was secure. She knew. Even if he didn’t know yet, she knew. She was patient. She could cultivate this, confidently. She started to smile a lot. And she had been right. It was right. It worked.
They came together easily, in a harmony that was natural and fitting. They laughed a lot, at themselves and at each other, and they were buoyed by the ease of their developing tenderness. They found sense in their life together, in the simplicity of their needs. They touched each other, and their touch was electrifying.
They each held on briefly to fear, waiting for other shoes to drop, fear of skeletons about to be discovered in dark closets, fear of horrifying pasts. When a shoe did drop, it was only while they tore off their clothes as they dove into a passionate embrace, once more before going to work, in a fit of spontaneous elation and lust. Whenever a little skeleton dangled and bone-danced before them, they laughed in its startled, eyeless face. And it was all easy. They grew together, as long-separated twins would, on being reunited, but with the added excitement of intensely hot and satisfying sex. By now, their closets were empty of fear.
When they fought, it was usually quick, intense and painful. They had become so open with each other that they felt a good deal of ease in expressing their unhappiness or disappointment in each other or in life. They knew that ultimately this was a good thing, it would nurture their relationship, but while they were arguing it felt anything but good. They didn’t argue often, but the intensity of the disagreements seemed to grow, along with an indignation, as if they were asking themselves—not each other—”Why are we fighting? Shouldn’t we be past that?” They had a few walk-away fights, but they didn’t stay angry overnight. Mostly they cherished their time together, they missed each other when apart, and they fell in love over and over again.
It snowed again last night, huge heavy flakes. They dropped gently, thousands of brilliant stars falling from the night sky, a sky now left dark and starless. They shrouded the hillsides in luminosity, their light, their glow, their flicker just now diminishing. They made small sounds as they landed, barely audible from inside, and you had to strain to hear them, you had to listen intently. The silence of the night was scarcely disturbed by this sound, a primal stillness only damped more by the mantle of white. It went on.
When morning came, it was so brilliant it hurt. The bright, hard blue sky heightened the radiance of the snow cover, and the cold dry air carried the brilliance easily. It blew, sometimes hard, gusty, buffeting, and the cabin shuddered.
Still there were few sounds, not even the gentle plop-plop, plop of last night’s snowfall. It was a lifeless quiet. Nothing stirred except the dry trees that swayed in the wind. The wind scratched over them, and they complained, creaking. Small clouds fleeted overhead, trailing only momentary shadows across the blue-white brightness, silent shadows, moving on. Still again. Silent. Bright.
The cold-clad hills reflected distant dreams. An occasional shadow from a passing cloud recalled a hot-air balloon swiftly and silently soaring overhead, racing toward a new horizon and a new adventure. A trail could be seen winding up one side of a faraway rise. It divided the trees just enough to be visible, despite the snow that covered it, disappearing into the blinding white.
Inside now, the eager crackling of a newly lit fire signaled promises of warmth. As the fire struggled to life, it sought tender kindling, spreading and growing and consuming. The flames danced in the cold room, warding off the chill. As they grew, they cast a yellow-warm glow. The firecracker-crackling subsided as the flames settled, and now only an occasional pop — I’m alive! — was heard.
It was only much later, or so it seemed, that the gentle rumbling of water spoke in this near silence, boiling in the scratched-up saucepan sitting on the cast-iron stove. The steam swirled and rose, dissipating too quickly in the dry air. The bubbling became a gurgle as the water remaining in the pot lowered, a throaty rattle. Their two once-used teabags waited nearby.