Luke paced frantically around his living room. It looked positively silly to see a top student at the University of London and renowned puzzle solver so flustered over something. It was only multiplied by the fact that this was at least the sixth time he had engaged in this task, taking breaks at regular intervals to sulk on his couch or fail at focusing on his schoolwork. He was just consumed with the need to answer a single question. A question that had been pondered by the greatest minds of the human race, all of which had submitted answer that was never wrong, but also never succeeded in being correct. All this was pushing Luke to the brink of his sanity. That, and he was running on roughly five hours of sleep and at least ten cups of coffee spread out over two days.
His dilemma began two days ago in the evening. Flora had come over after one of their dates. It had been simple; a dinner at her favorite restaurant followed by a walk along the banks of the Thames. It was supposed to end there, but she decided to return with him to his apartment. While Luke was worried what his former mentor and current professor would say, he ignored the thoughts. After all, Layton seemed to have nothing short of complete faith in Luke and was confident he would never try anything on Flora. It didn't hurt that not once over the course of their seven year relationship did Luke ever deny that he had intentions to marry his girlfriend. Since she always responded to this with an embarrassed but ecstatic silence, he was confident she reciprocated the desire. Regrettably, it was probably through this promise that had been made countless times over the years that led to the difficulty that now had befallen the young man.
When the two entered his apartment after careful navigation of the halls and stairwells to prevent any others from learning of his companion's presence, the two planted themselves on Luke's couch. From there, they browsed the limited channels he had access to until they found a movie that they could agree on. However, Luke found it difficult to focus on the movie when there was someone endlessly more fascinating and much closer to him than any screen. He could only gaze in wonder and admiration as he replayed their entire relationship in his head. He recalled the time he finally screwed up the courage to request a date with the beautiful young lady that was a year his senior. She had gleefully accepted, leading to what was, at the time, the happiest night of the boy's life. A year after that, she graduated high school and prepared for college. While Luke was worried at first, he was certain his bond with Flora could withstand the strain. It proved to be true as he graduated and decided to attend the same college as her. Now, they were both working on obtaining their Master's degrees. Luke was going to become an archeologist in order to succeed Professor Layton while Flora had plans to become a teacher, though she was conflicted on what level she wished to teach at.
"That wasn't too bad," she said as the ending credits rolled, snapping Luke out of his euphoric memories and back to an equally blissful reality. "Granted, it wasn't too good either," she added, raising a smile to Luke's lips.
"It was better than last week's choice," he replied, remembering how he had selected a movie so bad that ten minutes into it, they had turned it off in favor of studying since, as Flora put it, "School doesn't make me hate the world." They both laughed as they remembered this and Luke wrapped his arm around Flora, pulling her close to him. She was practically laying on him, filling Luke's mind with fantasies that Layton would classify as "unsuitable until marriage." Luke could proudly say he had yet to give into these base urges, though more than once he was certain that divine beings were trying to get him to abandon being a gentleman.
"Luke," she mumbled happily as she looked into his eyes. He stared back, feeling like the world could collapse around him and it wouldn't matter in the slightest.
"I love you."
Those three words were all she said, yet did exactly what he was prepared to ignore. His entire self stiffened as the ramifications of those words shook his body. No matter how or when the couple had expressed their fondness for each other over the years, not once had those words been the selected way to do so.
"Are you alright?" she asked, her cheeks flushing as she felt like she had broken some unspoken taboo. "I… I…," Luke stuttered, but the words were incapable of forming. He was clueless as to how to respond to her. He had no idea what to say, but he knew he had to say something before she got the idea that he didn't care for her and she- "I think I should go," she said, desperate to hide the shake of her voice and the tears in her eyes as she broke out of his embrace.
"Wait," Luke finally squeezed out, but he was too late. Flora was gone. Ever since, Luke had been consumed by those three words. Love was supposed to be a complex feeling that was the pinnacle of human emotion. How could one express it so simply? The countless puzzles he had solved told him there must be some hidden meaning. After all, it's always the puzzles that seem simple that turn out to be the most difficult.
This had been his train of thought of quite some time, but he had yet to reach any sort of conclusion other than Flora deserved a man far more decisive than he. Accepting that this was a task he was incapable of completing on his own, he turned to possibly the greatest collection of knowledge in the history of mankind. If there was anyone or anything that could answer his question, he would find it here.
He googled the word "love."
Not surprisingly, this first hit was the Wikipedia article on "Love." He opened it up, but decided a few sentences in that, while it was a complete and thorough examination of the concept of love, it wouldn't tell him anything new on the subject. After that, he found a calculator that supposedly possessed the arcane ability to predict how compatible two people just by typing their names into it. Luke laughed when he saw this, wondering how many fools believed this device actually had the described capabilities. Before he was aware of what he was doing, he had typed "Luke Triton" and "Flora Reinhold" into the box and pressed enter. The ensuing sixty-four percent that appeared on screen did little to raise the young man's spirits and actually made him feel far more hopeless about the situation. He continued to sift through all of the entries, finding more definitions, poetry, stories, calculators, dating services, videos, and more than one porn site specializing in "romantic" porn. After several hours of fruitless searching, he shut down his computer while resisting the urge to throw the useless device into traffic. He took a wide stretch and groaned, feeling like all his options were exhausted. He pulled himself up and over to his bed were he proceeded to collapse onto the mattress. As he waited for sleep to overtake his worn out mind, his thoughts drifted to the past when everything was simpler. Well, not actually simpler, but they seemed that way to his younger self.
He remembered the saddest thing he had ever witnessed: Claire walking away from the Professor and around the corner, both of them knowing that she would die as soon as she was gone. Luke couldn't believe she would do such a thing and dashed after her in an attempt to change her mind. But when he reached where she should be, she was gone. His exclamation of that fact only hurt the Professor more, driving the man that had fearlessly dueled a man that appeared immortal, created a glider while the building he was in was collapsing, and countless other impossible tasks, to cry.
He remembered when he lived with his parents. They were a sporadic couple, never able to choose between being a loving couple and fighting to the point where Luke wanted to rip off their mouths, though he believed they would just use sign language to argue then. But while they had their bad moments, Luke couldn't deny that, during their good ones, they looked truly happy. It was during these moments that Luke was proud to be a member of his family
He remembered when Amelie came down to see Inspector Chemly one day while Luke and the Professor were at the station assisting the investigation of a particularly troubling case. Luke was shocked to see the usually grumpy and impatient man transform into someone so happy and caring. He had half a mind to attempt to remove his face in case another imposter was hiding beneath. The strangest thing was that not once while Chemly behaved in this manner did it ever seem like he was acting. It was obvious this is just how he was around Amelie.
Then he remembered his moments with Flora. Those countless moments that spread out across more than half his life. When he was thirteen, he first noticed Flora as not another child for him to socialize with but a funny, cute, intelligent, talented, and kind being wrapped in the most perfect form imaginable by any being, divine or otherwise. Not long after, his first wet dream with her as the subject caused him to burst into tears. Not because of what was happening to his body, but because of his crimes against all things holy that he had committed in his head that created the incident. The Professor spent a long time convincing the boy that it was perfectly natural and he had done nothing wrong provided his desires remained tethered to the land of fantasies. While this calmed the young teen down, he did speand many a day afterwards avoiding the quizzical looks, questions, and all around presence of the object of his affection.
He remembered when he was fifteen and began to distrust the whole concept of love. He would hear it everywhere at school, girls and boys alike showering the other with the phrase only to give it to someone else in a month's time. All through this, he believed that none of them thought of each other purely or even with respect. He was thankful that neither he nor Flora ever engaged in such a self-destructive relationship.
He remembered when he was sixteen and got into his first real fight. He was changing in the locker room while some deadbeat guys were talking about what girls they wanted to violate. Flora's name came up and all of them had something to add. Luke wasn't sure whether it was the boys that called her a dog, the ones that said she was just average, or the ones that said they would "totally hit that," that angered him more, but he flew into a rage. He was horribly outmatched and outnumbered, leading to a bruised and beaten Luke, but he was certain he had landed at least one good blow on each of them, so he was satisfied. It spread around school that Luke was defending Flora's name and, while embarrassing both of them, was probably the catalyst that led them to begin dating.
He remembered when he was seventeen and Flora graduated. They were both in a mixture of joy and reluctance. While Flora could now go to college to pursue her dream of becoming a teacher, it meant that she would have to be apart from Luke. While this had been coming for some time now, it was hard accepting that she was finally done with high school. It was all they could do to vow that they would spend all the time possible with each other during the break.
He remembered when he was eighteen and he finally earned the right to go to college with his girlfriend. Layton had been worried that Luke was only choosing where he went based on Flora, but he accepted that he would be unable to change their minds. And he admitted to not even wanting to change his mind when he saw the pure happiness on their faces. But Luke didn't notice him at the time. He was only focusing on the beautiful girl before him. The girl that would go on to become the center that his universe revolved around. After all, she was-
Luke bolted upright before leaping out of bed. He made over to his dresser and removed several articles of clothes with no signs of discrimination or even choice. When he was remotely presentable (provided the term was applied quite loosely), he was out the door and heading straight for Flora's apartment. He had finally realized that a person couldn't rationalize love. Book definitions were fine, but failed to really explain the emotion Luke now knew he had been suffering for at least a decade.
"Flora," Luke tried to call out as he knocked on the door of her apartment much harder than was necessary as he gasped for breath. It wasn't long before the door opened to reveal a Flora in the clothes she usually wore when she was alone which still showed less skin than the average outfit worn by most girls anywhere. "Luke," she said quietly, shying away. She still hadn't got over the shock of what had transpired those few evenings ago. Luke looked up as his breathing steadied, seeing the slight hint of red around her eyes. "Flora," he said, quieter than before but with the same amount of desperation. "I…I need to tell you something," he blurted out. He had been trying to think of how to phrase it earlier, but now all the things he wanted to say were jumbled around his head. He wanted to tell her that he always felt safe to be who he really was around her. He wanted to say that she was the only person that knew him better than he knew himself. He wanted to scream that he was never a better person than when he was around her. He wanted her to know that he would move the stars if that's what she wanted him to do. But now, everything was cluttered.
"Just say it," she said, half with ecstatic expectation and the other half with bottomless dread.
"I'm sorry," he started, but that just seemed to anger her.
"I don't care. Just tell me," she said, her voice cracking as more tears threatened to fall. Luke paused a moment to try to regain composure but just barely succeeding in standing up straight. She looked ready to flee when Luke reached out and pulled her into an embrace.
"I love you," he whispered, his arms wrapping tightly around her, fearing with his whole being that he was too late.
"You should have just said so."