“It’s important you hear what I have to say, Em. If the past few months have taught me anything, it’s that a life without you isn’t a life I want. You said I was a teenage fantasy, like somehow you weren’t worthy enough to think I could possibly love you. But it’s the other way around, Emilia. I want you to understand, need you to understand, you’re my wildest dreams. In the most epic, drawn-out love story, I couldn’t even dream you up. Yet how lucky are we that it’s not a far-off idea, us loving one another? We’re fortunate enough to experience it in this lifetime. What’s so wrong with a fantasy coming true? If it’s going to happen for anyone, it’s going to be you. You’re young, vibrant, and full of life. You’re not covered in this layer of cynicism that everyone else seems to be tainted by, despite the fact that you more than anyone should be.
None of it fazes you. You see the good in people and don’t waste your time on those who would possibly tarnish that. It’s not something to be looked down upon, Em. It’s something for us to be envious of. You want the storybook ending and that’s okay. It’s okay to want a Mr. Darcy or a Hugh Grant to chase after you in the pouring rain. It doesn’t make you naïve—it makes you human and truthful that you can freely admit it, and all of those things make me love you even more.”
♦ ♦ ♦
“It should be impossible for something so deadly to be so beautiful,” I mused, feeling his smattering of hair beneath my fingers as they explored his chest.
“And what about you?” he murmured, reaching for the elastic band in my hair and freeing my long dark locks. “Doesn’t that apply to you as well?”
I shook my hair, allowing it to cascade around my shoulders. “I think you give me too much credit.”
“Then what about our toast to dirty little secrets?”
“Dirty, not deadly,” I whispered, peering up into his midnight eyes. They’d been lit with passion before but suddenly appeared shuttered and closed off. It was the reality check I needed to remind me that I was playing with fire.
“You don’t have to be deadly to be dangerous.”
“I’ve never hurt anyone in my life.”
He lowered his lips to my ear, causing my heart to catch. “Then why the secrets? Secrets are born out of shame—if you’ve never hurt anyone, what is there to be ashamed of?”
His words were a knife straight into my gut, stirring up a wave of self-loathing that pressed against my chest and squeezed my throat. I could do nothing but gulp down the tears that burned at the back of my eyes.
“Sometimes, the pain we cause is circumstantial and unintentional, but that doesn’t erase the guilt.” I maneuvered past him and walked out the door, slamming it behind me.”
♦ ♦ ♦
“He studies me for a long second under naturally arched dark brows.
Maybe he’s looking for the truthfulness of my answer. Maybe he wants to see a reflection of his own conviction and decision to start the game.
I give him both.
Staring unblinking into his face taking in the beauty of his russet skin, the amber eyes that are more orange than yellow, the bow shaped lips that almost always curve with a knowing smirk and the dimpled chin that brings to mind images of Cary Grant in black and white standing next to an elegantly dress Ingrid Bergman in the film Notorious.
I examined him, and I let him see me.
The anxiety and the fear turning my stomach. The unmitigated trust and desire I have in him–for him.
We have a silent conversation composed of blinks and stares and sighs.”
♦ ♦ ♦
“My microwave beeps reminding me that it went off earlier.
“That your dinner?”
For the first time in a while I am embarrassed. I am a thirty-five-year-old man who is eating leftovers from his parents. I walk to the fridge and grab a beer, slamming it before grabbing another.
Anna watches me cautiously but continues to clean off the table. When she is done she picks up a giant bag from the floor I hadn’t noticed she was carrying earlier and pulls out a glass bowl filled with salad and unwraps garlic bread from a towel.
The smell of homemade food has me salivating. The only homemade food I’ve been eating besides sandwiches is from my mom.
Anna scoots past me and opens the microwave, setting the dish on the plywood. She then goes about opening cabinets until she finds plates and glasses. I just stand here dumbfounded while she tries to find silverware. I finally point to the pantry where it’s currently sitting until I finish the cabinets.
She sets the table and pulls out a bottle of red wine. “Do you like wine? It’s okay if you don’t. You can drink beer.”
“Uhh—yeah wine is fine,” I say as I set my half-full beer down. “I don’t think I have a corkscrew though. Maybe with the other serving utensils.”
She pulls one out of her bag. “It’s okay. I came prepared.”
She opens the bottle and pours wine into two pint glasses.
“Sorry I don’t have better glasses.”
“We’re just going to drink it anyway,” she says with a shrug.
This woman is like no one I ever met before.
She finally pulls the aluminum off the casserole dish and it proves my nose wasn’t lying to me.
She made me lasagna.
I could kiss her. It is my favorite food. And I only ever eat it when Mom makes it for my birthday.
“Take a seat, Noah.”
I feel like I’m dreaming. Why on earth is this woman doing this for me? I don’t deserve any of this.
I guess I said that last part aloud.
“You made me feel something I hadn’t felt in years. I may never be able to communicate that feeling, make you really understand it, but I need to thank you somehow.” She pauses as she’s about to cut into the lasagna. “I needed to thank you for everything, Noah. The water, the shower, the music. You made me feel a—you made me feel happy.”
I don’t think that’s what she was going to say judging by the color in her cheeks. But I am happy I put it there. I guess it’s time I try to find words again. “I’m glad, Anna. We all deserve to be happy.”
She looks up at me as she sets a serving of lasagna on my plate. “So do you Noah.”