always

“I never imagined what life was going to be like without you.”

She stops, turning around to look at me as I say the words.  I was putting it all out there, telling her some of the things I’d stopped myself from saying before.

She is my whole world.  She is my sunrise, my sunset, my twilight, my early morning pink sky.  She is a breath of fresh air in a cold world.

And I have broken her.

I have cheated on her again, gotten scared, told myself that being with her was going to take a lot of work – as if the last eight years haven’t been a lot of work.  The first year she’d been three thousand miles from me.  Once I’d moved to California, things were better – if only marginally.  We were together, but we were both firecrackers.

Fire and ice, baby.

“I didn’t have to,” I say.  “I didn’t have to think about a future without you because you were always there.  You refused to leave me.”

She’s dropping her bags to floor, making her way to me.  She wraps her arms around my waist, enveloping me as best as she can.  I want to push her away, tell her to find someone better for her.  I can’t do it, though.

Because I’m as weak as she is.  I’m not strong enough to get my shit together on my own.  She’s not strong enough to walk away.  She was barely an adult when we met, and this dysfunction has been all she’s known the last eight years.

“I do refuse to leave you,” she says as tears stream down her face.  I have caused these tears.  I have reduced her to this.

walk away.

walk away.

walk away.

I can’t do it, though.  I can’t walk away from her.  I told her once long ago that I couldn’t live in a world where she didn’t exist.  I couldn’t pretend that she didn’t exist.

Because she is everywhere.

Her blue eyes are the color of the sky.  Her laughter is better than any bird’s song.  Her smile is brighter than the sun.

She is my world, and she is everything.

“You’re everything, Jake.”

I hold her close, sink to the floor with her, rock her back and forth.  I tell myself to let her go.  I tell myself she deserves better.

Much better than you.

But I just…

“I can’t.”

I can’t walk away.

“I can’t walk away from you.”

I can’t let her go.

“I can’t let you go, Simi.”

I want her to have better.

“You deserve better.”

But I can’t leave her.

“Please don’t leave me.”

Please don’t go, Simone.

Her name means ‘one who hears.’

She has heard me.  She has heard me call out for her so many times.  She has heard my plea for her to stay, and has been faithful.

She is mine.

“Jake…”

I brace myself, wait for her to tell me that she’s going to leave.  I wait for those words that I know will eventually come – even if they do not come tonight, as we sit on the floor of our apartment, shards of glass from her coffee cup on one side, a photo album opened to a picture of us from her friend Hadley’s wedding on the other.

The good and the bad.

The better and the worse.

I refuse to marry her until I am better.  I refuse to promise to her that I will be faithful to her until I can really be faithful to her.

She’d marry me in this moment if I told her that was what I wanted.

“I’m here, Jake.”

I release my breath.  I hold her close.  I scoop her up into my arms and cradle her.  I kiss her face and tell her that I’m sorry.  I apologize all over myself.

“I’m sorry.”

I’m sorry I’m not good enough.

“I’m sorry.”

I’m sorry I keep straying.

“I’m sorry.”

I’m sorry I won’t marry you.

Loving her was the easiest decision I ever made.  But so was hurting her.  Each time, it’s happened by chance, easily, so easily I don’t realize it’s happening until after it’s already happened.  She deserves so much better.

But instead she chooses to stay with me.

“It’s okay,” she tells me.

it’s okay that you hurt me.

“It’s okay.”

it’s okay that you stray.

“It’s okay.”

it’s okay that you won’t marry me.

And then she says the words she always says, the ones that bring me the most comfort when I am not sure where she stands.

“More.”

This is her vow, even though she can’t make vows to me.  This is her plea, her way of asking me to stop straying, to stop hurting her.

I tell myself this time is the last time as I carry her to bed.  I tell myself that this is all I need – this bright, beautiful girl who brought life back to my world.  I tell myself that as long as there is Simone, there is no pain.

There will always be Simone.

“Always.”

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