"You know, it's getting late. I should probably head out."
Henry opened his eyes and sat up abruptly from his somewhat uncomfortable sleeping position. He glanced down and saw that the textbook he had been studying was on the floor, and he realized he must have fallen asleep."Sorry, what?" he asked, shaking his head to try to wake himself up.
Elizabeth smiled at him from where she was sitting on the other end of the couch, legs pulled up next to her. "I said it's getting late," she repeated. "I think I'm going to head back to my dorm."
Henry checked the time on his watch. "Babe, it's almost 2am. Are you sure you don't just want to spend the night?"
Elizabeth reached out and patted his shoulder. "Sorry, babe, but you're not getting me into your bed tonight."
Henry blushed. "I wasn't-I didn't mean-"
"I know you didn't," she assured him.
"You could sleep on the couch. I mean, I could sleep on the couch," he corrected, still pink.
Elizabeth leaned forward and surprised him with a kiss, effectively shutting him up. "It's okay," she said when she pulled away, "I know what you meant. I'm going to go home now." She stood up.
"I'll drive you," he said, standing as well.
"You don't have to do that," she said.
"Elizabeth," he said, "it's late. I'm sure you can handle yourself, but I just don't like the idea of you walking across campus by yourself at this time of night."
Elizabeth sighed. They had only been dating for 3 weeks, but she knew him well enough to know that there was no point in arguing. "Okay," she said. "Thank you."
"No problem," he said, grabbing his coat on the way out.
"Hmm," came the half-asleep response.
"Could you scoot over a little? My arm is falling asleep."
"What?" Elizabeth opened her eyes and blinked a couple times before sitting up abruptly, rubbing her eyes. She glanced at his alarm clock. She had only been out for a few minutes, but she felt groggy. She slowly remembered their dinner tonight, going back to his place, how what started on the couch had finally migrated to the bedroom. Looking over at him, sprawled out under wrinkly sheets, she smiled. Their first night together.
Well, not the whole night. "Sorry about that," she finally replied. "I should get going, it's almost 11:00." She reached for her shirt and pulled it over her head.
"What? No, stay!" Henry said eagerly. "I mean...please?"
Elizabeth chewed her lip. "I don't think that's a good idea," she said. Pausing, she searched for her clothes on the floor, but it seemed to Henry she was just searching for a realistic reason. "I, uh, I don't want my roommate to wonder why I'm gone."
"Come on, she's never hung a sock on the door?"
"What? We don't do that," Elizabeth countered. She was now fully dressed and inching closer to the door.
"I know what you meant. I'm just not ready to have that conversation."
Henry sighed. "Okay. See you tomorrow?"
"Tomorrow." Leaning over his small bed, she left him with a firm kiss.
A few weeks later, Henry cooked dinner for her in his apartment, which was becoming a regular occurence when they had a free night. The dinners usually ended in some cuddling on the couch, and tonight was no different. Henry had an eye on the clock, though, and he knew it was getting close to the time that she would move from her comfortable position resting against him and insist on going back to her dorm. He was hoping to avoid that this time.
"So, I was thinking maybe you could stay the night," he said carefully.
She didn't move her head from his chest. "Why's that?"
He shrugged. "No particular reason. I just...I'm always sad to see you go."
She smiled softly up at him, but he wasn't quite finished. He held her gaze as he continued. "I miss you every moment you're not here, Elizabeth. I- I love you."
Her smile widened, and she let out a sharp breath. Reaching her hand up to cup his neck, she surprised him with a fierce kiss. He smiled into the kiss, holding himself up against the couch with one hand and tangling the other in her hair.
She finally pulled away, and the look on her face was the only one he ever wanted to see. "I love you too, Henry," she said. "So much."
He didn't know what else to say, so he just kissed her again before wrapping her up in his arms and settling back into the couch.
Henry couldn't help but savor the moment as they just lay there together, sharing a few lazy kisses and talking occasionally, but mostly just enjoying one another's presence. He thought it was perfect-until it wasn't.
Elizabeth yawned and stretched before sitting up. "I think I'm going to head out," she said.
"What? Why?" he asked, clearly disappointed.
She looked nervous, avoiding eye contact as she started putting on her shoes. "Because it's almost midnight and I need to sleep," she said, like it was obvious.
"No I know that," he said, sitting up as well. "Look, can we just talk about this?"
"Talk about what?"
"The fact that you don't want to sleep with me."
"Okay, what?" She stood up, backing away from him. "That's not true. We've slept together multiple times."
'No, no, no," he quickly backtracked. She was getting riled up fast and he wanted to de-escalate. "I'm sorry, I didn't mean it like that. You don't- you've never spent the night. You've never literally slept in my apartment with me. You always make up some excuse."
Elizabeth squinted at him. "What are you talking about? I just- I have a bed. I sleep in my dorm. Why are you making it a big thing?"
"I'm not!" he insisted, standing to look her in the eyes. "It's not a thing. I just don't…" he sighed. "I don't want to fight about this. You should obviously have a say in everything we do together. But you seem specifically uncomfortable with taking this step, and we've been dating for a while now. I thought maybe we could talk about what's bothering you."
Elizabeth didn't make eye contact. "I can't do this tonight, okay?" She turned away from him and snatched her bag up from the coffee table, heading straight for the door. "I- I can't, I have class tomorrow, and I just…" Her hand on the door, she looked back at him one more time. "I gotta go."
Henry spent the whole next day trying to get in touch with her, but she was ignoring his calls. He thought about going to her dorm room to apologize, although he wasn't exactly sure what he needed to apologize for. He figured he would give her some space and try again tomorrow.
He was moping in his living room with a bowl of pasta and a football game he wasn't interested in when he heard the doorbell. He turned off the TV and went to open the door.
There was Elizabeth, with an apologetic look on her face and two VHS tapes in hand. "Hey," she said softly.
"I'm really sorry about last night. I brought movies as a peace offering?"
He opened the door wider. "Forgiven. What movies?"
She stepped in gratefully, already making her way to the TV. "I have Dirty Dancing and Star Wars."
They looked at each other. "Star Wars," they said simultaneously.
"I'll make popcorn," Henry said.
Elizabeth fell asleep about an hour and a half into the movie, slumped against the arm of the couch farthest from him. Henry let her sleep because he knew she'd had a rough day, and that she'd seen the movie already. But when it was over and he had turned off the tv, he wasn't sure what she would want him to do. His heart said to let her rest, but given their fight the previous night, he thought that might just make her angry. He contemplated this as he took the popcorn bowl and glasses they had drunk from into the kitchen.
He barely made it through the door before he heard a loud cry from the living room. Quickly throwing everything in the sink, he rushed back to find Elizabeth sitting up, eyes wide and filling with tears. Her chest heaved as she gasped for breath.
Henry rushed to her side, kneeling on the floor beside her. "Elizabeth?"
Her eyes followed him; her mouth opened and no words came out.
He gripped one of her hands in his, and she held on tight. "Breath with me, okay?" he said.
She nodded, and he guided her through some deep breathing. It did very little good, because soon the tears spilled over and she turned away from him, burying her face in the crook of her arm. "I'm sorry," she got out, muffled against the sleeve of her sweatshirt.
He rubbed her back, moving to sit behind her. "Can I hold you?" he asked. "Will that help?"
She nodded, shifting until she was sitting against him. She turned on her side with her face pressed to his chest. He wrapped both arms tightly around her and laid a kiss to the top of her head. "You have nothing to be sorry about," he said firmly. She continued to shake against him with her quiet sobs. "Everyone has nightmares."
"Does everyone wake up sobbing?" she whispered.
"No," he admitted. "But that doesn't…" he struggled for words. "It's not relevant, okay?" She nodded, and they didn't speak for a little while. Henry just held her, and her tears slowly subsided.
Elizabeth broke the silence. "My parents died when I was fifteen," she murmured. "They were in a car crash. My brother Will was in the car, but I was at home."
Henry's heart broke for her, but he stayed silent, only holding her tighter as he waited for her to find her words.
"Tomorrow will be four years," she whispered, not trusting her full voice. "I've had nightmares ever since then, but they've been really bad lately." Her voice shook. "Almost every night."
"And that's why you didn't want to stay the night?" He asked.
She nodded. "I didn't want you to know."
"About your parents or about the nightmares?"
She shrugged. "Both. I didn't want you to see me like this. It's not...I'm not very fun right now."
"Hey," he said, pulling away a little so he could look into her eyes. "I love you, Elizabeth. And that doesn't change because you're...sad. I want to be here for you when you're upset, no matter how not-fun it is. And then you can do the same for me, yeah?"
She nodded. "Yeah."
"I'm really sorry that you didn't feel comfortable with letting me in to this, this side of your life. But there's no going back now, and I'm not going anywhere. Long as you're here, I'm here."
He was hoping he had said the right thing, but he wasn't so sure as her eyes welled up again. "So you still…" her expression twisted as she tried not to cry. "You still want me to stay?"
His heart sunk. It was all he could to pull her into a tight embrace, trying to convey his love for her with his touch. "Of course I want you to stay. I always do."
She finally relaxed into his arms. She had never felt so at peace with another person. No one had ever been willing to just exist in her grief with her, without trying to fix it or help her. He was just there, and that was exactly what she needed.
"I love you Henry."
"I love you too. No matter what."