$8 mugs

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“I love you more!”  

That had been her regular response to him telling her he loved her.  They had had mock fights over that, until one day she shared with him a Facebook post that explained what she meant, about how she loved him more than fear, or fights, or insecurities.  He had smilingly ceded the point, willing to accept her love for him as his life’s greatest joy.

He had been sick for the last few days.  She had it before, but he had been too happy that she was letting him kiss her to worry about contagion. He still didn’t regret it now, even if his head did feel inflated to the point of exploding.  She was going to come over and see him, to take care of him as he had when she had been sick the week before.  Every night, he would bring food and stay with her until she was ready to go to sleep, only to leave to go back to his apartment, wishing he had stayed, for the night, for ever.

It had been a terrible couple of weeks for him.  A death in the family had already filled him with sadness when she had dropped the bombshell.  

“I want to be alone.  I don’t have the strength to be in a relationship.” she had stated with the same tone as one would use to complain about undercooked meat.

He had hoped that it was a lie. That she had felt too vulnerable after admitting her fear of being alone, of something in her pushing her away, just a few days before then. He had been supportive and tried to reassure her of his love, and devotion to help them make it through. And for the past two weeks, he was convinced he was right.  The “I love you” texts, the kissing, the smiles when they lay in bed watching TV, all were pointing in the direction of them reconciling.

She had offered to bring lunch, but he loved cooking for her, so he said that he would make lunch for them.  He had spend a long time agonizing over which of her favorites to make.  He had settled on the mushroom risotto.

Enjoying the breeze of a crisp, clear winter day flowing through the open balcony doors, a day filled with promise, he readied himself by picking out which of his things he would bring back.  He had arranged them in his closet so that they would be easy to throw in the car and drive them to her place, home.  He was certain that morning was the last one where he awaken without her.

He watched her approach from his balcony, and was moved by how beautiful she was.  It never left him, but it never failed to surprise him, either.  She was simply stunning.  She entered the building and kissed him as she entered the apartment.  His joy and his resolve grew stronger, almost eliminating the weakness from the flu.

They ate, and they spoke about various things for about an hour, easily, as they always have been able to. Laughter punctuated the conversation.  He was sure this was going to go his way.  They held hands, and her eyes smiled at him the way the always did when she first woke up to find him whispering “I love you” to her, as he set her coffee on the night stand.

With the dishes removed to the sink, he felt the moment was right.

“I want to come home,” he said plainly, certain that an affirmative response awaited his statement.

“I like being alone,” was her flat-toned response.

He suddenly remembered that he couldn’t breathe, because of the cold.  He tried to ask her if she meant it, but he knew she did.  At least at that moment.  She wanted from him the one thing that hurt him most.  Freedom.  To be alone.  

She actually went as far as to tell him that he would be better off without her.

Her, who had awakened his heart after a long period where he thought love would be one of those things that would not again be in his life.  Her, in whose love he had again flourished as an artist, as a person.  Her, who told him just a few days ago that she loved him with all of her heart.  Her, who had had touched so many parts of his. He couldn’t imagine her being right.

She no longer wanted to take refuge on the oasis of his love.  

She didn’t stay long, or say much after that.

The illness came roaring back as he watched her descend the steps from his apartment and disappear into the street.  He looked at the dirty dishes in the sink, their last meal together, and began to cry.  It might have been the sinus pressure.  Or not.

He lay in bed, feverish, unable to sleep, wondering how it had all come to this.  He sent her a couple of mean-spirited texts before realizing that he valued his dignity more than he cared to score points against her, and stopped.  He read through the history of their relationship, in their texts, and missed the woman that fell in love with him a year ago.

“We can be friends,” was one of the last things she had said to him.

“Maybe, one day,” he had replied, wondering how long it might take for him to be able to stand next to her without the mad desire to kiss her deeply, to take her into his arms, into his bed.  Maybe one day.  But not that day. Not while he was still in love with her.  He was still willing to ignore his newly-found fears and insecurities to be with her.  For him, she was worth it all.  For him, she was the one.  The one he had been waiting for his entire life; the one with whom he wanted to spend the rest of his.    

For the first time in almost a year, he had not tucked her in, either in person or via phone. Every night before then, he would kiss her and whisper “Sweet dreams” in her ear.  That night he started the process of rearranging his life.  He knew he wanted her back. He knew that, if only she would let him, he had enough strength and confindence in them to carry them while she worked on her fears.  It didn’t seem to matter to her.

He slept fitfully, waking multiple times during the night, something that was unlike him.  The insomnia allowed him to catch up with friends in other time zones.

A message from a mutual friend protested, “She’s lying!  You guys are meant to be together!”

“You may be right, but for now, she’s made her decision, and I guess mine, too,” was his fatalistic response.

Sleep finally came to him, and for a few hours, he was free of the heartache.

With the light in the transom window announcing morning, he got up.  He showered, but didn’t bother shaving, since he did that for her.  He entered the kitchen to make coffee, the dirty dishes still in the sink.

“You could have, at least, done the dishes,” he thought of telling her, as he had when had gone to take care of her.

He opened the cupboard to pull a mug and saw the ones he had bought for them.  “Love You!” was on the side of the first one.  “Love you more!” on the other one.  He was always expected the latter to be hers.  Now it would never be.  

He dropped it, and its companion, into the trash, not wanting to be reminded of a lie.

The truth was, he loved her more.  

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