She should have been thrilled. After two years of dating and hours upon hours of planning, Juliet had finally married the love of her life just a few short weeks before Christmas. It had been a magical ceremony, complete with a surprise homage to the Beatles and a beautiful honeymoon after. Peter was a good husband, and she adored the way he still looked at her after all this time. Things would be absolutely perfect if she could just forget, but Mark was still very much on her mind.
He had always been kind of an enigma to her, distant at best and downright cold at his worst. Juliet had never thought him to be too keen on her until she had watched the wedding video when her pictures had turned out horrible. It was only after watching how he saw her through a lens that she realized why he had held her at arm's length. It much be a hard thing to love your best friend's girl, she reasoned, not really sure what else to do with it at the time. Had he not showed up at her door that night with the silly boombox and too-cute cue cards, she probably wouldn't have ever allowed herself to imagine the possibilities. However, one kiss in a London alley beneath the pale December moon had changed everything.
Here she was, just six weeks later, sitting alone in a coffee shop, contemplating her very existence. She was far too young to be so jaded at twenty-three, but she was already growing weary of her marriage. She had been perfectly happy until Mark had to kiss her so absolutely perfectly that any time Peter even looked at her sideways she had to stop herself at being angry at him for not being his best friend. What kind of wife was she to feel like that? It only made it worse that she kept trying to come up with new ways to invite Mark over.
For his part, Peter seemed thrilled that his best mate was getting along with his new wife. He missed the uncomfortable glances from Mark and the longing looks from Juliet that passed whenever he left the room. He didn't see how she went out of her way to touch his best friend or the way he would recoil whenever her fingers as much as brushed his while reaching for a cookie. Juliet supposed that Peter was the lucky one because he didn't have to deal with this torture. Then again, he stood to be the one that was hurt the most by all of this. She wondered how Peter could have missed the fact that Mark had loved her for so long. Then again, she couldn't believe that she had missed it either.
Finally, the bell above the quaint cafe's door chimed, and Juliet spotted a bundled-up Mark coming in out of the cold. The snow was really starting to come down now, and she knew that her husband would soon start to worry about why she wasn't home yet. It was Valentine's Day, their first as a married couple, and he had planned a romantic dinner for them. Juliet had pretended to be excited but had immediately asked Mark around for a late afternoon coffee. When he had pointed out the holiday, she had shrugged it off and said that Peter was going to be late at the office. She probably should have felt more guilty than she did.
"Er, um, hello," Mark greeted her awkwardly as she stood to greet him. He brushed a kiss over her cheek before discarding his coat on the empty chair between them. Juliet smiled fondly as he signaled for the waitress and ordered an Earl Grey . "I must admit that I was quite surprised when you rang."
Juliet nodded thoughtfully as she fingered the delicate handle of her coffee mug distractedly. She caught the faint glint of her simple wedding band. She hated how the cool metal glared back at her, a stark reminder that she shouldn't be hear. Slipping her hand into her pocket, she managed to maneuver the ring off for safe keeping. She could slip it back on later before she met Peter for dinner.
"Yes, well, I just thought maybe that it was time that we spoke about what happened during the holiday," Juliet proposed. Mark shifted uncomfortably and seemed relieved when the waitress appeared to deliver his tea. Once they were alone again, Juliet attempted a different route for the conversation. "Mark, why did you decide to tell me after all that time?"
Looking down at his hands, he could only shrug. The last thing he had expected was to ever tell his best mate's girl that he had loved her from the very moment he had seen her. However, after she had seen his wedding montage, he knew that it was inevitable. Such a confession was dangerous, but it had felt worth it at the time. Once he had kissed her, it sealed it for him. His grand romantic gesture had been successful, but as he had professed when he had walked away that night, it was enough. That had been his goodbye to her and the life together that they would never get to live.
"I told you because you deserved to know," he finally told her. "Few people ever feel what I felt for you, Juliet. I thought that you deserved to know how absolutely beautiful you are, how you make my heart stop when you smile and the way that the whole world seems to just light up when you are around. I wanted you to know that no matter what happens in your life, I will always be somewhere loving you – even if it has to be from afar. You're so wonderful, and you deserve to know that. It's far too great a though to keep just to myself."
He had rarely strung so many words together in a conversation with her, but she knew that each one of them had been carefully chosen to give her this perfect gift. Just like that kiss, it was enough to take her breath away. With most guys, it would seem like he was trying to undermine Peter and steal her away. It wasn't like that with Mark. He truly meant what he said when he told her that he just wanted her to know. Strangely enough, she could believe that would have been enough for him.
"I haven't stopped thinking about you," she said softly, looking up from the table and into his brilliantly shining eyes. "Since that night, since I finally felt what you've been feeling all along, I have carried you with me. Peter has no clue that things have changed. I wasn't entirely sure until today when I called you. Mark, I'm not worth it, you know. What kind of girl falls for her husband's best mate? You deserve a nice girl. I'm anything but."
"Oh, Juliet," he sighed gently before setting his cup back on the old wooden table. He reached across the surface for her hand, carefully curling his long fingers over hers. Tears shone in her dark eyes. "You are the nicest girl I know, absolutely lovely. I meant what I said when I said that you were perfect. To me, you are the very definition of the word."
"Mark, may I ask you a question?"
He smiled at her then, just the slightest curl of his lips at her simple question. "Of course."
"Are you sure how you feel about me? Are you sure that it is actually love?"
"It is love absolutely," he pledged, squeezing her hand still clasped in his. "I have loved you from that first day when we met at brunch. You were wearing that white sun dress with the little green leaves and those silly sandals with all the straps. Mark opened the car door and there you were, knocking my whole world off its axis with one smile and a simple hello."
"And am I worth it?"
"Worth what, Juliet?"
"Losing Peter, losing your best friend," she answered. "If I do this, if I left Peter, you wouldn't get to have both of us. You've known him much longer than you've known me. Am I really the kind of girl worth losing that for? I am contemplating on cheating on my husband, after all. I've already chased after his best mate to kiss him. Is that the kind of girl you really want?"
Mark took a deep breath as she posed the very question he had come to terms with on that aforementioned day when he had fallen in love with her at first sight. "There is this poem that says, 'I seem to have loved you in numberless forms, numberless times, in life after life, in age after age, forever.' I'm pretty sure that I have loved you in many lifetimes, Juliet," he proclaimed boldly, confidently. "You are the most worth it thing I have ever known. I wish that this, what I know to be my destiny, didn't have to hurt Peter. I wish it more than anything in the world. How many times have I cursed my own bad luck that he had to meet you first? However, we don't get a say in how fate works out. We only get a say in how we react to it. I didn't react for a very long time, perhaps until I showed up that night. I won't lie dormant any longer. You are the only kind of girl I have ever wanted. It's you, Juliet, you're the one."
And with those words, Juliet sent her chair crashing to the floor as she leaped to her feet and into his arms. Burying her face in his shoulder, she couldn't help but shake from the mere proximity of being in his embrace again. Mark spoke to her soothingly, raining kisses on her chestnut locks, and telling her over and over again just how much he loved her. He only stopped when she pulled back and licked her lips, and then he dove for her delicious mouth for an all-encompassing kiss that once again sent his whole world off kilter.
The two of them told Peter the following week over dinner, quietly telling their story while they watched his entire world crash down around him. Juliet left her wedding band sitting on her bread plate before the two of them left him there alone. There was no good way to do what they had just done. Mark would never speak to Peter again, Juliet only once when she returned her keys and picked up the last of her things from their apartment. Years later, while they were dropping off their daughter at school, they saw Peter with his new wife, walking a baby in a stroller down a quiet street. He smiled at them before moving along as if he didn't know who they were. Juliet told her husband later that night that she was glad that Peter seemed happier without them.
Coffee on Valentine's Day with a man who wasn't her husband should have left her feeling guilty. It had been a day for romance, the epitome of love, but she had found herself drawn to someone else. It had been a magical day, just this quiet little moment where everything shifted and she found herself finally coming home. Mark had been a good husband, and she adored the way that he looked at their daughter as if she was the best thing that had ever happened to them. He had been her destiny, she was his defintion of perfection. It was more than love actually; it was love absolutely.