Throughout the course of the night, William has told me he loves me seven times. I’ve counted. It is beginning to frustrate me. Not because I don’t want him to love me and not because I don’t appreciate his professions, but because there is something being left out. I see on his face each time that there is something he is holding in; there is something more that he’s not saying, and I can’t ask him what that is.
This is one of our biggest compromises. It was hard for me to accept that William can’t be pushed, but I eventually realized it was for the best. We came to the conclusion that things would be handled by me just not asking. My half of the promise is that I won’t ask him what is bothering him, even when I know that something is; we wait and when he is ready, he will tell me. His half of the compromise is that there will never come a time when he won’t be ready. So far, it has worked.
Over the past two years, I have learned more about William’s face than I could ever know about my own. His eyes glisten from time to time, but tears never fall. The tip of his nose becomes startlingly red when he isn’t feeling well, and he’s the most adorable human-Rudolph I’ve ever seen. When he is putting a lot of thought into something, his mouth screws over to one side of his face, and he chews on the inside of his cheek. Just before he comes up with a solution, he runs his right index finger slowly along his jaw and snaps his fingers with purpose and intent. His brow becomes furrowed when he’s angry, and his lips purse and turn white when that anger is directed at me. He blinks more often than normal when he’s sleepy, and his eyes become bloodshot after just one drink. I could come up with countless little things that happen between his forehead and his neck, and at night when I can’t sleep, I like to count his expressions. The last time I tried, I reached sixty-three, although more than half were just variations on his mouth.
Tonight, his face is full of new expressions. I’m not sure what they mean and it’s unnerving. I am eating dinner with a stranger, but then, without warning, I’ll catch a glimpse of my thoughtful William, and I wait for his finger to shoot to his jaw. It doesn’t. My mind races with a thousand thoughts…
He’s found another woman, but he hasn’t the heart to tell me. Perhaps it has been going on for a long time, and he thinks I have found out, so he is trying to be noble. I wonder if she is prettier than me. Or thinner. Maybe she has larger breasts, a smaller nose, or hair that is so shiny and straight it reflects the sunlight. I wonder if she has one of those laughs that stays with you for hours afterwards, the kind that makes you think of bells or wind chimes. I wonder if her eyes twinkle when she sees William.
He met her at work. No—he met her at the gym. She works out just like he does, and he couldn’t help but be attracted to someone physically fit. That would explain his lingering touch on my love handles or the way he squeezes the fat of my upper arms. She’s an aerobics instructor who volunteers for the homeless on weekends. She makes her own piecrust from scratch and shudders at the thought of buying frozen meals or canned soup. She leaves love notes on his car to remind him she’s thinking of him. She buys him gifts “just because” and wraps them with homemade wrapping paper. She keeps her kitchen stocked so that any time he wants biscuits, or cheesecake, or Boston cream pie, she can whip it up in a breeze.
His friends adore her. She knows all the popular athletes and loves watching action movies. She picks up after him and doesn’t complain. She washes his dirty socks and underwear and folds them just right. She is perfect and wonderful, now she has William, which makes her even better than before.
After dinner, we return to my apartment, and I know it is coming soon. I can tell he wants me to be ready, and I prepare myself for the worst. As he bows his head, I am mentally calculating an inventory of what we have shared at one another’s apartments, I don’t want to linger any longer than necessary.
I realize he is kneeling before me. He’s pulling something out of his pocket. William is asking me to marry him. Relief washes over his face as he forces the words out, and confusion fills my eyes with bitter tears.
What about the girl from the gym? She’s perfect and I’m not.
The first time I see the tears fall from my William’s eyes is when I tell him, “No.”
© Denise H. Long, 2013