What did she mean, “not a mistake”? I could see her frame trembling. What did she want? She loved him. She just said she loved him. That’s it. That’s the end of it.

But what if..?

Dammit! I thought I was done with that… that thought.

What if?

There was a hollow silence between us, her and me, and the damned thought took advantage of it, needled its way into the empty space. I was tired and I didn’t want to fight it.

What if she did?

I looked at her and let the thought take over. It wasn’t hard, like jumping off a roof and letting gravity do the rest. When I found out this morning—that’s right, it was only this morning, wasn’t it? A few hours ago she was all mine, and now she was getting married to someone else.

But what if?

Anyone could see she was conflicted about it. Wait, was she saying something? I could see her mouth moving, and there were sounds ringing in my ears, but I couldn’t connect the two, not with that damned thought buzzing around like a gnat, nasty and persistent, too small to swat away.

This morning, when I found out, that’s when it really started, that damned thought. But I’d ignored it since then, keeping it to periphery, scratching at it only when I thought no one was looking. Now it was flying in my mouth and nose, crawling through my ears.

She could. Maybe she should.

Itchy. I was itchy. Everything was itchy. What was she saying? I tried to offer a smile but I don’t think it looked right. Her mouth stopped moving. She was staring at me. My hands. My hands were clawing at my jeans, raking over the denim. The thought had dug its way under my shirt, into my skin, down my legs, irritating and spreading over my body.

Tell her. Ask her. It’s what you want. It’s what you deserve.

No! She already chose. Didn’t she? What did she say? How is the entire world not on fire right now?

What if?

I was breathing too heavily.

What if she chooses me?

My heart was beating too fast. If I didn’t let that damned thought out It was going to kill me.

“Do you love me?” I said it too loudly, without any finesse. I had waited all day to ask it and it came out all wrong. But it was out, and all that fire inside me went out with it. It was an insane question and it felt like an insane question as it fell through my teeth and into the cold air. But it was not the wrong question.

These last three weeks, the only thing missing between us were more days. I found her eyes—dangerously deep, chocolate pools, easy to get lost in—and I set my teeth. She looked away. I watched the last sliver of daylight cut across her cheekbone. I watched it fade.

“Clark, I… have to go.” The words reached me but didn’t make sense. I looked at the spot where she was sitting and realized she wasn’t there. I heard her footsteps cross the rooftop and carry her down the ladder. I heard my apartment door sigh open and clunk shut. I heard her walking down the stairs and all I could do was stare at her outline in the quilt, as though it might give me a different answer.

An answer?

I jump to my feet so fast I nearly lose balance. I dash across the roof and swing over the ladder, landing at its base without touching a single rung. In through the window, I leap across the apartment and out the front door. I nearly fall again taking the stairs three at a time, down. Outside, I see her car pulling out of the parking lot. The world slows.

There’s a stop sign at the end of the street. A few drops of rain fall onto the hairs standing straight on the back of my neck. The road is deserted except for her, and soon me. The cold feels sharp in my lungs. In one, two, three steps I’m through the gate and over the sidewalk, and now I cut loose on the open road. Her glowing red brake lights bob to my step, and grow in size. I’m gaining.

The rain starts in earnest and threatens to obscure my vision, but I keep running. The car reaches the end of the road and stops. It stays stopped—she sees me! I break my reckless pursuit, fifty feet from the car, but keep walking. In with the next gasp of breath comes a chill of fear.

What am I doing?

“What are you doing?” Her voice is muffled through the rain. She’s cracked the door open, trying to see me while staying dry. I can’t tell if she’s just surprised, or scared, or mad. I stop, forty feet away.

“You never said ‘no’,” I call back. The world around us darkens, soaked in rainfall. She puts a foot on the ground, pulls half her body out to face me.

“What?” She puts two feet on the ground, takes a step, and shuts the door. All I can see are taillights, and her profile, stark against the shimmering glow of streetlamps. We both stand, clothes taking on more and more rainwater, seconds and minutes passing at the same rate. Then I take another step. Thirty-eight feet.

“You never answered my question,” I say. Another step; thirty-six feet. “You left but you never said ‘no’.” Thirty-four.

“And you didn’t take the hint?” She starts toward me. Thirty. We shout through the rain.

“I don’t want a hint, I want an answer!” Twenty.

“I… It’s complicated.” Ten.

“It’s not. Either tell me you don’t love me, or stay.” Five. The cold air pierces through my nose and invigorates my mind. It hurts my lungs and makes me feel brave. One. She’s looking up at me, blinking against the downpour. I find three more words before my courage expires:

“Be with me.”

Her face is half-illuminated in the glow of a streetlamp. I see the glint of her smile in the low light. Her eyes sparkle. She grabs the front of my waterlogged shirt and pulls me toward her.

“I can’t believe you almost let me go.”

Just then a car door slammed, ripping me out of my daydream. I was still staring at the blank spot on the quilt next to me. I looked up—not a cloud in the sky. I heard her car start, and I heard the gravel crunch as she pulled out onto the road. Her engine revved, then her brakes screeched, then the engine revved again. She was gone.

I sat on that rooftop until my teeth chattered, who knows how long. I let the waning world speak its goodnight to the dusky glow of a setting sun. My fingers were numb as I gathered the quilt and stood up to leave. I took a last look around. The snow glowed beneath the streetlamps. The trees loomed and cast creepy shadows. Nothing moved; even the air was still. The quiet was surrounded by the muffled sounds of city night, punctuated with my own shaky breaths.

I broke the stillness with a cough, and as if on cue a breeze shuttered through the leaves, and a cat plodded its way across the snowy ground, and a few late-day strollers jangled keys on their way up the stairs to a neighboring apartment. I walked across the roof and climbed down the ladder. I opened the window and crawled in. A few chirped salutations between evening birds called out, like the hopeful words a mother sends her child to bed with, promising better days. I slammed the window shut before they could finish.

This isn’t a love story, so I don’t know where it starts or where it’s going to end. I only know there are a few stories along the way that will be important, eventually. So I’m going to tell those, as best I can, and maybe if I tell enough of those I’ll find out where all this is going.

2 thoughts on “Not About Love, Ch 2: What If

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