He could see the wisps of fading smoke that came from his cigarette as he sat in a chair, relaxing and not thinking of anything in particular. The smoke had a hypnotic quality to it – it was one of those things you could watch forever because it never dissipated the same way twice. It was even more mysterious in the candlelight, and he found it compelling in a way he couldn’t find the words to describe.
He could hear the pounding of the rain outside, thinking only of how much he hated the thought of being out in it. He said a silent ‘thank you’ to whatever Gods that were listening to be inside, warm and dry. He supposed the rain was a romantic thing given the circumstance, but a clear night under the stars was more preferable to his tastes.
Shifting in his chair, his eyes glanced over to the figure sleeping contentedly in the bed. As he stared at her, a million stray thoughts ran through his mind as he wondered what would come next – a happy ending, maybe?
“Seems kind of far-fetched given the world we live in,” he thought. “I’m probably better off not thinking about it.”
Taking another puff from his cigarette, his body felt paralyzed. He didn’t know whether he should get up and go back to bed or stay where he was. When she stirred from slumber, the decision was made for him.
“What are you doing over there?” She asked.
He responded, “Just thinking, I guess.”
“Don’t tell me you’re tired of me already,” she said.
Funny how the smallest word or gesture from her was enough to make him smile. It was a quality that made him love her more than he ever thought possible. “No, not really. I just wanted a cigarette.”
“Penny for your thoughts?” It was her favorite term of endearment, and she used it constantly. Most people would have thought it annoying, but he didn’t. It meant that she cared what he was thinking at any given moment.
“I’m not sure they’re worth that much.”
Not knowing how to respond, she stayed awkwardly silent. The silence made him feel uncomfortable. He said, “I was just thinking about us.”
Cautiously, she asked, “And what were you thinking?”
“I was wondering if I really loved you or not.”
“I was wondering if I really loved you or not,” he repeated.
“You just said that!”
“I thought you didn’t hear me.”
Her piercing glare summed up everything she was thinking.
“Hold on there,” he said, “I was thinking about it in an abstract sort of way, not literally. Of course I love you!”
“So this isn’t a horribly lame break-up scenario?”
He laughed. “No, of course not. I’ve just been asking myself questions like, ‘How do I know this is the real thing?’ ‘How does anybody know?’ Or, ‘Does anyone really fall in love anymore?’”
“You completely lost me.”
“Don’t get upset. This isn’t about us, it’s about the way we define love. I don’t want to be with anyone other than you.”
He went back to the bed and lay down beside her.
She snuggled up to him, “That’s a relief. But why are you thinking about this now? Isn’t it a little late for second thoughts?”
“It popped into my mind while you were sleeping. Think about it – we’ve both been involved with other people, and we’ve even used the word ‘love’ with them. I was simply wondering what makes our relationship different from any we’ve had with anyone else.”
She hugged him a little tighter and whispered, “Oh.” She didn’t know what else to say. She also didn’t want to share her thoughts on the matter. She thought it better not to question it. Some doors are closed for a reason.
He continued, “I look at you, and I see something there that tells me you’re the one. I can’t explain it. It’s just something I feel with certainty. I don’t pretend to understand it.”
She looked up at him and asked a question she wasn’t sure she wanted the answer to, but asked anyway. “Are there any doubts?”
He paused for a moment before answering. “If there were, I sure as Hell wouldn’t still be here.”
“Penny for your thoughts?”
He giggled. “Don’t you ever get tired of asking that question?”
“Maybe I’m a sucker for punishment.”
“Seriously, do you ever have doubts about us?”
“Occasionally. It’s only natural.”
“Is there any reason you wanna get into this now?”
“Hey, you’re the one who brought it up. I’m curious.”
“Give me a break. I want to sleep.”
“Don’t tell me, then!”
“I can’t believe you’re getting pissed off about this.”
“I’m not the one having second thoughts!”
“I told you – I’m not having second thoughts! I want to be with you! Is there some law that says I can’t get philosophical in a quiet moment? That’s what I get for sharing!”
“Then what are all these doubts you’re having?”
“They’re just little things, for Christ’s sake! Little things that every couple goes through – even the ones who are rock solid!”
“I can’t believe we’re having this conversation.”
An hour later, she asked, “Are you awake?”
“Yes,” he answered.
“Penny for your thoughts?”
“You’d be wasting your money. I’m not a wishing well. All I’m thinking right now is how great it would be if I could get some sleep.”
“Don’t you think we should talk about this?”
“There’s nothing to talk about.”
“You said you were having doubts.”
“I said I was having little ones – regular relationship bullshit type of stuff. Nothing major. I was just thinking about the way we use the word, ‘love’ in the hypothetical sense. It doesn’t relate to how I feel towards you. Not in the slightest.”
“If you’re thinking like that, then it seems to me as though you don’t believe in it, and if you don’t believe in love, then you can’t possibly be in love with me.”
“This is getting ridiculous. You’re taking something I said out of context and blowing it completely out of proportion. The bottom line is this – if I didn’t care for you, I wouldn’t be here now. What I said was not a reflection of how I see you and me. I swear to you!”
“Then why don’t I believe you?”
“I wish I knew what to say to convince you. I’m sorry I even brought it up.”
Outside, it started to thunder.
“Why did you get out of bed?”
She was in the kitchen, reaching for a glass. “I wanted some water.”
“Oh. For a second, I thought you were leaving.”
“I’m not that upset. Do you… want me to leave?”
“Of course not.”
“Do you want anything?”
“Nothing except you.” He put his arms around her waist and kissed her.
She said, “What was that for? Guilty conscience?”
“Not really. I just felt like it, and you looked like you needed the reassurance.”
“Do you think about being married?”
“You’re kidding, right? I thought we settled this earlier when you said, ‘yes’.”
“We did, but I meant after the fact.”
“You mean, in the day-to-day?”
“I’ve always thought you should deal with things as they happen. How can you plan for the future when you don’t know what tomorrow will bring?”
“My parents thought like that. They didn’t think of the responsibilities or obligations that go into a marriage. They were young, and not ready. After two years, love wasn’t enough to keep them together, not even when I came along. Let’s hear it for divorce.”
“Nobody’s perfect. Marriage is a crapshoot at best. Just because two people say they love each other, that’s no guarantee they’ll go on forever.”
“That’s my point. Love fades.”
“Now who’s the one being negative about relationships?”
“You started it. Let’s go back to bed.”
He slipped under the covers. As he got comfortable, he put his hand underneath his head while she sipped the last of her water. She then lay down and cuddled up against him.
“If love fades,” he said, “what makes us so different from everyone else?”
“I don’t know. Maybe it doesn’t. Maybe it all depends on the person you fall in love with.”
She said, “I know that even after all these years, my mother still loves my Dad. He was her first love.”
“How would you know? Your Mom’s been married to your step-dad for years, and they seem happy to me.”
“They are, but she reminisces on the past a lot. Whenever she talks about her life as a teen, he’s always in her stories. They grew up together. One time, I caught her crying, looking through some old photos.”
“You think she still loves him?”
“No, I don’t think so.” She paused to listen to the rain. “I think it’s more like she wonders what could have been had they stayed together.”
“I guess I can understand that. In a way, it explains a lot about you.”
“What do you mean?” She asked.
“Look at how paranoid you got when I expressed some doubt. You had a fit.”
“That has nothing to do with this.”
“Sure it does. To some extent, we all get influenced by our parents and how they handle relationships.”
“So you’re saying I’m just like my mother?” She turned and threw him a scathing look.
“Easy. Calm down. I didn’t mean it that way. All I’m saying is that we grow up with our parents’ marriages as relationship examples.” He continued, “Let me tell you a story. My folks have been together for nearly thirty years, and in that time, they’ve been pretty happy, but every time I’ve seen my father tell my mom, ‘I love you’, it came out sounding as though he were saying, ‘good morning’. It never sounded like a genuine expression of love. Then, about two years ago, my mother needed to have a gallstone operation. It’s a fairly routine procedure, and the risk was fairly minimal, so I wasn’t worried. The weird thing was, I sat across from my father in the waiting room, reading a magazine, and I guess my mind started to wander off. I glanced around the room, and at one point, I happened to see my father. He looked almost panicked. It was as if his whole world was on the verge of collapsing. It freaked me out. I’d never seen him like that before.”
“Can’t you see that he was worried for your mom?” She said.
“I know that. It was just completely out of character for him.”
“I never knew my dad felt that way. He’s not the type to show a lot of emotion. After the operation, I went to buy my mom some flowers, and when I walked up to the doorway of her room, I saw her asleep in recovery, my dad sitting by her side, holding her hand, and crying his eyes out. I’ve never seen him cry at anything. Ever. I didn’t want to intrude, so I stayed in the hallway for a bit. It freaked me out.”
“I knew my father loved my mom, but I guess this was the first time I realized how much. Every single time he said, ‘I love you’, he meant it.” He sighed. “I never thought I’d see anything like that, especially coming from him. In a strange sort of way, it was probably the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen. Aside from you, that is.”
She smiled. “Well, it sure had some effect on you! Do you think you’ll love me as much in thirty years?”
“There’s no way I’m even going to try and answer that question.”
“Because it’s a no-win situation, that’s why. If I say yes and we break-up, then that makes me a liar; if you cheated on me, then that would make you a hypocrite. If I said no, I’d be hurting your feelings. I’m better off not saying anything.”
She rolled to her left side. “That’s a convenient out for you, isn’t it?”
“No, it isn’t.” He leaned over to touch her, but she pulled away.
He lit another cigarette, and she closed her eyes, eventually falling into a restless sleep.
Images flashed through his dreams. Visions of her; of memories, good and bad.
He saw her standing under a tree, looking more beautiful than at any other time he’d seen her – walnut-brown hair shimmering in the sun and whipping away in the wind. He longed for her, wanted to spend his life with her. She embodied everything within him, his hopes, his dreams, every single desire he’d ever had or will ever have. He walked up to her, gathered her in his arms, gazed into the blue diamonds that were her eyes, and became lost in them. In that one moment, he realized that he had finally found the piece of his soul that he never knew was missing. His hands caressed her face, and he gently pulled her lips to his, and in that moment, he knew.
They were meant to be.
He opened his eyes – tears streaming down his cheeks. She lay next to him, sleeping softly, at peace. He ran his fingers through her hair, staring at her.
“Are you awake?”
She moaned softly, as if to assure him that she was.
“I guess it’s just as well,” he whispered, “I probably couldn’t say any of this if you were wide awake. I… I just… Sweetheart, you have no idea how hard this is for me. I don’t even know where to begin, really. If I… If it seems like I don’t tell you how I feel enough, it’s because I’m afraid of making those words sound empty and… ordinary. And I don’t want them to become that, because you’re not ordinary. What we have is not… ordinary. I want the words to mean something. When I say, ‘I love you’, I want it to feel the same way it did the first time I said it. Every single time.”
“If I lost you, I don’t know what my life would become. I don’t want to know. And that’s my biggest fear – a life without you in it. I love feeling secure in the knowledge that everywhere I go, in everything I do, I always feel you with me.”
“I’ve never told you this, but whenever I’m without you, I always feel as if I’m missing something, and then I’ll look down at my hand, realizing that the thing I’m missing is your hand in mine. I know it sounds like the craziest thing in the world, but it’s the truth. I’m crazy about you…
… And I wanted to say that I really love you.”
When he opened his eyes, the sun was shining through the curtains. The storm had passed. He leaned over to see if he she was there lying next to him, only to find her gone.
On her pillow was a note.
He unfolded it, and a small object fell out and rolled beneath him. He reached for it, and pulled up a penny. He held it between his fingers, then read the note.
The note said, “…For your thoughts.”