"How were classes today?"
She usually found me in the kitchen most evenings. The pasta or rice or stir- fry would be simmering, the table set.
"Fine. " I looked up for a minute to capture her face in my memory.
Something about not seeing her all day. It wasn't really a smile on my lips, it was more along the lines of an acknowledgment, a type of comfort that she was home.
I'd wave her over to peek in the pots and sample. She knew dinner was nothing to mess with, so she hardly ever fussed over what was cooking. Then she would stand on the other side of the counter looking over the mail. Her bum would rest on the edge of the set table and I would lose sight of her somewhere behind a cloud of rising steam.
There was this mutual silence when she came home. She would ask the perfunctory 'How were classes' and I would answer the same, 'Fine'. Talk came over dinner or later. Sometimes she made the juice, other times dessert or she would buy something on the way home: strawberry shortcake or ice cream, not always but she knew they were great stand bys.
I didn't usually ask what she needed. We had a kind of synchronicity. Sometimes she would come through the front door and slip behind the counter and wrap her arms around my waist, nuzzling her nose between my shoulder blades. Other times she would gently massage my back and find her way to the front of my jeans or skirt or robe. I wouldn't ever protest, She just had a way of knowing.
Tonight, she just stood on the other side of the counter. She hadn't picked up the mail. I wasn't sure what that was supposed to mean. I kept stirring and mixing and moving things.
"What's for dinner?"
"Chicken, cornbread, mashed potatoes and string beans. " She threw me a puzzled look.
"Classes are almost done, I only have Marketing left. The final is in two days. "I tugged the loose strand of hair that managed to get away from my ponytail holder and tucked it behind my ear.
"I'm almost done. The chicken is on the stove, the string beans are simmering, the cornbread has ten more minutes and the potatoes..." I gave one final stab at the bowl. "... are done. " She had vanished by the time I looked up and managed to slip in next to me.
She turned and met my eyes. I couldn't say anything. She still knew and she still waited and she still wondered.
"I wouldn't do anything to hurt you."
"You never have."
"Please let me in."
"I don't know if I can."
Tears have a way of sabotaging all your best efforts. Like ruining your nice white blouse with mascara or showing your weakness at the wrong time. I suppose when it's both persons instead of one, it makes it even.
"We can't keep pretending nothing is wrong. " She demanded my attention.
"It's not that easy for me. " I started cleaning the counter.
"I never forced you to come."
"I wasn't forced, I came because I wanted to, that still doesn't mean it's not going to be hard."
She looked at the bowl I was filling with the string beans and bit down on her lip.
"Then let me know what's going on. I can't stand not knowing." Her eyes pleaded.
I spun around and grated my fingers through my hair.
"I've only been here a year, I'm still adjusting."
She knew I meant to say I wasn't so sure about me and I wasn't sure about the world and I wasn't so sure about my decisions.
I left and headed to the bedroom. She checked the food and started to serve.
Moving had been my decision. I was almost as sure of it as I was about how much I loved her. Which was as much plus a bit more as I had ever loved anyone else. But she was just at a point in her life that I had some trials to get through before I would even understand. And she knew. And I knew.
But I didn't want to leave, I just wanted to change the world.
When I came back, She was waiting for me. I sat in my chair and waited for her to push it in. She paused behind me.
"If you don't love me, you don't have to stay."
I looked into my lap.
"I don't love the world for making our lives so hard to live. I don't want to be a martyr, I just want to live with the woman that I love."
I passed the cornbread and she placed a bit of chicken in my plate. The mashed potatoes went without gravy and the string beans without butter.
"How were classes today?"
"I'll have to see tomorrow. I'll just have to see."