Sam wiped the tears from her face and took a deep breath. She’d finally stopped crying but still felt raw. The shattered picture frame was still in pieces by the bedroom door. She checked her phone again, even though she knew there was no response.
Why did she have to needle him? She should have noticed when he came into the apartment that he was in no mood to talk about it. She should have just let it be for the night.
But why did she have to put things on hold for him? You can’t just not have a response to someone saying ‘I love you’, it wasn’t fair to her to have to sit on her hands for him to decide to talk about it. Sam felt more tears creeping up behind her eyes. Her feelings were so churned they were tying her insides in knots.
Every item in the bedroom sent a fresh bolt of emotion through her. The little grey teddy bear he’d bought her on their third date, the almost empty bottle of clubman aftershave that he had clumsily asked her for, the Notre Dame sweatshirt he’d specifically ordered two sizes too big for her, everything had some story or history attached to it. All she wanted was to rewind time to a week ago when they were a normal couple.
Sam kept replaying the way he left in her head. In her mind’s eye, she could see him clench his jaw and see him twitching with frustration and anger. Then something inside him snapped and he turned around. Not a word or even an angry slam of the apartment door, just a turnaround and then he was down the hall.
Fine! Just fucking go! She had screamed at him as he left. She might have even meant it at the time. What she really wanted was for him to let it out. He’d been off since her birthday and she wanted him to just talk to her about it. It wasn’t too much to ask, was it?
Her feet were freezing but she couldn’t bring herself to lay down. She just sat at the foot of the bed, feeling the fallout cling to every piece of fabric as it poisoned the memories around her. The bright white numbers on her phone read 2:40 AM. She felt completely spent but had no energy or desire to sleep. The melted yellow light from the streetlights filtered in through the windows, casting a dim haze on the otherwise still and dark apartment. The air still smelled of winter night as the cold crept through the glass pane.
Sam’s ears perked as she heard a key unlock the door and John walk in. Her heart fell down into her stomach and all the air in her body jammed itself in her throat. He stood before her in only a button down and his slacks. His shoes were still untied and caked with melting snow. Even in the low light, he looked terrible. His hands were cracked and his eyes looked sunken.
The two stared at each other for what felt like ages. Sam no longer tried to fight the tears as they rolled down her face. God, she needed him to say something, anything. The apartment was so quiet she could hear his wristwatch tick, second after second.
He stepped forward with heavy and exhausted steps. The smoldering repression was gone from his face, replaced with weariness and pain.
“I can’t go” he said.
“What?” Sam asked, not fully sure what he meant. John paused for another moment, as if one wrong word might unleash an avalanche.
“You told me to go. But I can’t” he said. Sam felt regret burning up inside her. She had a million things to say right, all bubbling inside her throat. But before she could even start talking, John slowly cupped her face in his hands.
His skin was frozen and sent shivers down Sam’s spine but she kept her eyes on John.
“Not now…” John continued, his voice wavering. Vulnerability resonated off his body as much as the cold did. He looked at Sam like she was fate itself. She’d never seen him like this before. He was so raw and unprotected. It filled her with a sense of fear that even the slightest breath might shatter him.
“…cause I love you” John said, the words leaving his mouth like a prayer of absolution. The collage of emotion inside Sam continued to blend and overlap as she felt warmth slowly pour into her soul. John slowly put his arms around her and held onto her like without her, he might collapse. His shirt was damp and cold but Sam didn’t care. She ran her hands through his hair and kissed him as softly as she could as he hung his face on her shoulder.