She stands there…alone. In a way it’s almost poetic, seeing as how she usually feels a little bit alone anyway. It is raining outside…pouring really…and she remembers something her literature professor once said about atmosphere and setting the mood. Having been half asleep at the time, she truly cannot recollect exactly what he had been droning on about. On another night she might have thought about how silly that concept sounded…that the weather could possibly tap into someone’s psyche and be sympathetic. Not tonight. Tonight it seems perfect…a storm within and a storm without.

The wall is cold against her shoulder, but she is hardly aware of it…hardly aware of anything really. It is as though everything has ceased to exist, or at least been relegated to merely revolving around her thoughts. The wind blows in occasional gusts, driving the droplets against the window in a fast and painless death. The sound is almost comforting, like an old friend who will at least try to make it better. She remembers nights like this when she was a child and she’d huddle under the blankets in front of the television, a bowl of popcorn at her side, and think how lucky she was to be out of the rain.

She wishes that she could be out of the rain right now. Or maybe out in the rain. She wonders what the few people who are scurrying by would think if she walks out into the downpour and lets it wash over her. Maybe it could wash away some of the hurt and the anger. Maybe it could wash away some of the doubts that still lingered, even though she has tried to convince herself that her mind is made up. She has never been quite that strong. Not when it comes to……

A soft sigh escapes her lips and she briefly thinks about putting on a light. Lord knows what her friends would think if they were to see her at this moment. Somehow it doesn’t seem necessary. She knows this apartment inside out by now. It might not be hers but she can navigate it with her eyes closed, and she has on numerous occasions. She shudders a little, as if trying to chase those memories away. There is no point to them now. She doesn’t want to think about it…needs to not think about it…and yet it is all she can think about.

As soon as the door is closed, she finds herself pushed up against it. Not forcefully…more like a gentle melding of bodies. Their kisses start off slow, as they always do. She marvels at the softness of the lips on hers, even as her fingers touch the softness of skin. Something feels different tonight, as though there is a subtle change in the desire that normally flows between them. The lights remain off and it is as if her other senses have decided to make up for the affront. The scent of her perfume…the slight shift in her breathing as fingers run along her back…the soft swell of her breasts against her own…all serve to inflame her.

She is not the only one, as hungry kisses trace the length of her jaw before settling in the curve of her neck. Tender caresses give way to a steady pressure and she feels the sweet sting of teeth against her flesh. She knows that she will be marked and welcomes it. It is a secret of hers, one that she does not reveal easily; that she craves the signs of passion on her skin…craves the possession it implies. But she knows…knows all her secrets…knows just how to touch her, as she is touching her now.

Fingers work their way under her shirt, trailing up her stomach…further still. Feather light strokes elicit first a gasp and then a moan. Her own hands have not been idle but it seems that her dominance is neither wanted nor needed. She has taken the lead before, but is oh so willing to submit at this moment. She feels a thigh work its way between her own and cannot keep from crying out when it makes contact with that spot…right there. The gentle rocking that ensues is enough to force her head back as she loses herself in the sensation. Her fingers dig into soft flesh and the whimper it causes is almost a supplication. This is further than they’ve gone before…and it feels so right.

They haven’t done the deed as yet…and what a crude term that is by the way. She wants to…is sometimes filled with an all consuming need to…but so far fear has held her back. Fear that it will change things between them. Fear of how close it will bring them. Fear that she just won’t be good enough. She has had other lovers before, but not many, and those who have been allowed to touch her body have always seemed to be in a rush…to have a need to conquer her. But not her.

She can sense her need…her desire…even as she can feel her holding back. She doesn’t want her to hold back…not anymore. She forces conscious thought through a haze of lust long enough to whisper ‘I need…I need you…now…inside me’. She has no idea what compels her to be so bold. All she is aware of is the ache that she needs to have soothed away. She feels the body molded into hers begin to move away and has a moment of panic before she realizes that she is being led to the bedroom.

She is almost certain that they will bang into some piece of furniture, just as she is certain that it will not stop them. Not now. And she is right…at least about not stopping. They make it to the bedroom without incident and fall together in a mass of groping hands and throbbing desire. It is not clear who is more desperate to disrobe whom, just that the need for skin on skin has become almost as great as the need to breathe. The hand on her zipper falters and she hears ‘Are you sure?’ She wants to answer. She wants to say that she has never been more sure of anything. She cannot find the words and has to settle for a nod, useless in the darkness. Something must have given the assurance that was sought because her jeans are pulled off hard enough to leave a scratch on her thigh. She barely notices it. Certainly it will not be the only one tonight.

There is no holding back now as the final barrier is removed and she feels warm fingers sliding first through her wetness and then slowly into her. She is not usually so receptive…usually needs much more, unless she is severely aroused. She cannot remember ever being more aroused. Her hips begin to move of their own volition, matching the rhythm that is thrusting in and out of her. The tiny part of her brain still capable of coherent thought wonders why she has waited so long, before it too falls silent. Her need is too great to last and it is only a short space of time before she loses herself completely…fingernails digging into skin hard enough to draw blood as her cries echo in the darkness.

She is not surprised to find a tear working its way down her cheek. She is surprised at first that there is just one, but then there are only so many tears that a person can cry. She brushes it away as she has done so many times before. She tries to steel herself…to find the courage to do what she knows she must but has been putting off. It’s good to come to a decision. It’s good to finally take a step in what you believe to be the right direction. If this is so good then why does it feel so bad?

She makes her way to the bedroom, where she has already deposited her on small suitcase. In so many ways this is their place, even though her name is not on the lease. She has her own apartment…has been reluctant to give it up for some reason…perhaps this reason. They have talked about buying a house together. They have talked about many things. In the beginning it was a promise, lately it’s been nothing but talk.

She turns the knob on the small lamp at the side of the bed. It’s just enough to see by…not enough to foster the illusion that everything is okay. She runs her fingers along the edge of the closet, where their clothes lie side by side, and pick up a light trail of dust. A small smile plays on her lips, gone almost as soon as it has appeared. Cleaning has never been a favored activity for either of them.

She opens the first draw, wincing slightly at the creak that she had been meaning to fix but never got around to…probably never will. She doubts that there will be any going back now, and curses herself for the minute glimmer of hope that worms its way into her brain…a hope that maybe…just maybe…..No. It’s better not to think about…to concentrate on the task at hand. It’s a mindless, mechanical job to sort through the rows of garments and pick out the ones that are hers. Perhaps that’s why she falters and takes up a t-shirt that isn’t her own. Before she can stop herself, she brings it to her face and inhales deeply. Is it her imagination or can she still detect the faint traces of her scent over the crisp cleanness of detergent? She wonders, not for the first time tonight, where they went wrong.

Certainly she is not the easiest person to live with. She is a writer after all…one step away from madness in the eyes of some. She has her moods, growing more frequent and less far apart as the years have gone by, where disturbing her can be seen as an act of either courage or folly. She is always walking a razor’s edge…trying to touch the murky waters within her without allowing herself to drown. Some have thought her cold when in reality, out of necessity, she has learnt to protect herself better than most. But she gave her heart this time…worked up the courage to be the one to say ‘I love you’ first…found the strength to wear her heart on her sleeve. The day they took those first tentative steps beyond friendship was one of the happiest of her life, perhaps the happiest if she was truly honest with herself.

She’s changed so much of herself, or at least tried to, for no reason other than to make them work…and they did work for a while…and it was beautiful. She could ask for no one more attentive and open than the one she had. Then the little things had started…the missed phone calls, the weekends apart, the silences…little things that she should have confronted, that she should have brought into the open. But that’s not her. It’s never been her way to demand anything for herself. She’s the strong, silent type…willing to suffer through anything to prove that she’ll be there…to prove her love. And so the little things continue to grow until so much just seemed to not matter anymore. It’s a hard lesson to learn…to realize that the things which are important to you just aren’t as important to the woman who means the world to you.

It wasn’t anyone’s birthday. It wasn’t an anniversary. It wasn’t any special day…except that being with her made every day special. And that’s why she decided to do something special…a surprise that wasn’t quite a surprise. She had elicited a promise to come straight over and she was counting on it…which meant she had no more than two hours to put her plan into place.

She let herself into her apartment and set the bags down in the kitchen. It had taken her a while but she had finally managed to find everything that she needed…all her favorites. Everything that was required to make the perfect dinner was methodically laid out on the counter. Rarely used appliances were taken out from their hidden corners and brought to life. It wasn’t that she didn’t like to cook…she just didn’t like to cook for herself.

She was a sweating, food covered mess by the time she was done but finally she was satisfied. It was time for the finishing touches. She was a hopeless romantic at heart and candlelit dinners held a great appeal to her. She was just searching for the matches, which she knew she had put down right there but which seemed to have grown legs and taken off for parts unknown, when her phone rang.

“I’m sorry baby. Something happened at work today and Jesse’s kind of upset. A bunch of us are taking her out to cheer her up. I promise I’ll make it up to you.”

A part of her, the traitorous part which refused to stand up for itself, told her that she shouldn’t be disappointed. After all, she couldn’t get in the way of helping a friend, wouldn’t dream of it actually. So she said she was fine, and no she hadn’t gone to any trouble (as if anyone would believe that was true) and sure they could do something another time. Still, she wondered if there wasn’t anyone else who could take up those duties, just for one night. Perhaps she was being selfish, thinking about the work she had put in to making tonight just perfect. Perhaps she was being a realist, knowing that the promise made would be broken. Nothing could make up for the hurt being caused time and time again.

She finishes her packing, turns off the light and goes back to her spot by the window. She doesn’t want to sit…it might prove too hard to stand and walk out. She sees a taxi stop in front of the building and watches as she runs from it, seeking shelter. She considers attempting a silent escape…longs for it…but their relationship was worth so much more once. Those memories are worth at least an explanation, as unpleasant as it will undoubtedly be. After a few minutes she hears the metallic ring of the key in the door and feels her stomach clench. She hears the flicking of the light switch and wishes she was anywhere else.

“Baby? I wasn’t expecting you this……what’s going on?”

She knows that her suitcase has been seen and retorts with a “What do you think is going on?” before berating herself. There’s no need for either of them to go on the offensive. Besides, the look in her eyes betrays that she has been half expecting this. Perhaps she wasn’t quite as unaware of the problems between them as she had thought.

“You’re leaving? You can’t be serious. Why would you even think about doing that?”

“Why wouldn’t I think about doing that?”

“I don’t know what you mean.”

“Yes you do, you just refuse to recognize it. It’s been so hot and cold with you lately. One minute I mean the world to you, the next and I’m back to being ignored. If you want me then just say so, otherwise let me walk out of here. I am so damned tired of being on this rollercoaster with you…trying to figure you out. I need someone who’s sure of what they want, and that what they want is me. I think I deserve that much.”

“I do want you. It’s just….”

“It’s just what? You don’t want to make effort anymore? You don’t think this will work? Do you really think that I know anything more than you do? All I know is that I love you and just that fact alone was enough for me to try to make it work.”

“Was?”

“Yes…was. Do you even know what you have? Do you have any idea how much I was willing to go through for you? How much I was willing to do for you? There’s only so much a person can take, and I’m so tired of feeling like I’m running around in circles. I just want it to stop.”

“Are you sorry that we got together?”

The voice which asked the question was so small that she almost didn’t hear it. She wants to say no…unequivocally no…but she has had her doubts before. When things are good between them it is almost as though everything in the world is a study in perfection. When they are not, she feels like she is standing on quicksand, ready to sink at any moment.

“I’ve thought about it. I’ve wondered what it would have been like if we had just stayed friends, or never even met at all. But what’s the point of that? I can’t change things, and I don’t know that I would even if I could go back. I knew from the start that loving you wasn’t going to be easy, that it would take a lot of work, but I feel like I’m the only one who’s working. Everything else seems to matter more to you than I do.”

“That’s not true.”

“Isn’t it? How many times have you left me alone? How many times have you just not bothered to call because you know I won’t make a fuss about it? That’s one of the things you love about me right? That I don’t ever pressure you? I should have stood up for myself before. I suppose that one’s my fault and I accept responsibility for it.”

“There are things you don’t do anymore either you know.”

“Tell me why I should. Give me one reason why I should keep trying when I get nothing in return. What am I getting out of this relationship? You have someone who cares enough about you to be there whenever you need her…to worry about you…to always put your needs first. Where are you when I need you?”

“I’m right here.”

“You haven’t been right here for a while. You’re always out there, doing everything else for everyone else because you know that at the end of the day I’ll be there. I’ll be your refuge. Who’s going to be mine? All I’ve been feeling is this hurt and this anger, until I don’t know how to feel anything else. Sometimes I love you so much that just the thought of you is enough to bring a smile to my face. Sometimes I hate you for doing the one thing that you know I wouldn’t stand for, being taken for granted”.

“I’m sorry. I’ve never done this before. Half the time I don’t even know what I’m doing. I never meant to hurt you.”

“You’ve never done what before?”

“Been in love. Not the way I’m in love with you.”

She feels herself deflating and almost wishes that she had made a break for it when she could. She knows she has been edging towards the door and stops. This was supposed to be simple, if not easy. This was supposed to be her saying her goodbyes. But she is looking into the eyes that she loves…eyes that she has stared into so many times. She is looking at the woman whose body she has held close through nights upon nights. And she is feeling the pull that has caused her downfall on more than one occasion.

“You never say it. How am I supposed to know if you never say it? Give me a reason to stay. Give me one reason why I shouldn’t walk out of that door right now.” She is vaguely aware that if she sounds like she’s pleading it’s because she is.

“Because I love you. Because I’m afraid of loving you, and losing you, and I need you to calm my fears. Because you’re right and I’ve been wrong. I’ve been a fool. I’ve had what everyone else is looking for, what I’ve said time and time again that I was looking for, right in front of me and I haven’t appreciated it. Because I would deserve it if you walked out that door, but I’m begging you to stay. I can only promise to try to do better, because I know that I will mess things up again, and I’ll beg your forgiveness then too. Because I need you. I don’t want to lose you. I couldn’t stand to lose you.”

The hand which now holds hers, although slight smaller, fits perfectly…and that is her biggest problem. They fit. Although the edges may be jagged, there is still enough that they are both pieces of the same puzzle, and that is why she allows herself to be led back. Because I need you. Because she needs to be needed. Maybe they’ll be able to talk things through. Maybe they’ll just end up in bed. Maybe the morning will bring with it sanity…or madness. But for this night…just for this one night…she needs for things to be okay between them. So she will stay, and she will be what she has always been…the hero in search of a knight in shining armor.

The End