For my very dearest and loveliest friend SaturnineSunshine, who was there for me in the depth of my crisis and who is always there, and for all of you. This is a little confusing with an awful lot of 'he's, but a lot of lines are blurring and I wanted to convey that.
'You can complain because roses have thorns, or rejoice that thorns have roses.'
- Alphonse Kerr.
He's too young for this, he thinks, one hand passing over his neat hair and disorganised thoughts, his face guarded and set so she can't see right through it. He loves her, of course he does – it's so hard not to love her – but to accept her, to understand her and to support her in all she does may just ruin him. He made plans for her, plans for him, plans for them; her eyes are quick across the airport, and the grey overcoat she is wearing is buttoned up to her chin and sucks all the life from her face. Her fingers are cold within his, and his stomach churns; he'd give a lot for simplicity, and even more not to be so solidly cemented as second best. She didn't mean to, she told him: 'it just happened', and he still wouldn't give her up.
Her lashes dart up and down, but she's not looking at him.
If only he could bring himself to hate him, but he can't. He raised her, in his way, this boy who's a man who folds his wife in his arms and holds her silently. There is something between them, and there always has been, and there always will be, and she is so slight that she has to wear a heavy coat that hides the thing which will now and forever be between them.
"I'm so sorry." His head is bowed.
"It's not your fault."
"How are you?"
She makes all the right responses, this beautiful, beloved wife of his, but her lips look enchanting in the twilight of a long day and he can't be the only one who notices.
When he knows all he needs to know, she is taken home. They sit by the fire, this doe eyed girl and her husband, and he kisses her fingertips – one by one by one. Tears form on the frontier above her cheekbones, tremble and spill. He can blame her for nothing. He can begrudge her nothing. He chose her, and this too must be a part of her he chose: the part that has loved, and which carries the scars and ornaments of love without and within her. He chose her, so he chose all the vagaries of her heart, the places where names are written.
"I'm so sorry," she whispers, the other's words from earlier.
"It's okay." He watches the fire past wisps of her brown hair, wills himself to love hard enough to pull them through. "We're going to be okay."
"I never apologised to you."
They stand together, their backs to the room, and her husband smiles.
"You don't need to be sorry for something that makes her so happy."
She is all lit up, all aglow, a spark in her dark eyes that is like a spark rolling beneath deep water. She feels different, she holds herself differently, her face is softer and her arms are ready and she wants to share, wants to pull herself out of the blackness of grasping and share.
"Take care of her," he says, and then promptly leaves.
This child will never be alone, never more adored, never more hated.
This is a city of strange sights, strange scents, but as they sit in the doctor's office and are alternately smiled at and scowled at by all and sundry, he wonders. What kind of a creature is this girl, this girl who's a woman who is holding tight to his hand but not looking at him? The other hand faces upward on her knee: an invitation. He's not worried, knows that she needs to bleed their strength to add it to hers, but he knows who is worried about causing offence. A vicarious pleasure comes from ordering the first choice around, but the second cares deeply enough not to revel. He raises his eyebrows to give assent, and then his wife has both hands swathed in others, other love, others lovers. Have these hands touched all of her, good and bad, both hands together? Which him is the him to have touched her soul?
She is entranced by its heartbeat, in love at first sound.
She turns, is insistent, pushes out her bottom lip. "Listen!"
He says nothing in return, only listens almost harder than she does until his whole face is warped. If anyone can feel more than she does, it would be him, because he is one half of a life that three people now take a share of, now promise to protect, and yet it will have her mouth, his nose. Her husband can't help but stare at what might be the features of his son and daughter: the sharp lines and planes and the grace which is horrible and unethical and which she is looking at too.
"At least we've got the same hair colour," he says, and everyone laughs.
It is uneasy.
They are uneasy.
There is less sickness now, less pain, and it is safe to return to their evolving lives and to make love when they crave it. He trusts every art and science of her body that he knows, and she clings to him and cries out and does everything the right way, everything the same way. He is reassured that her heart still beats in a north facing direction, but when her legs tangle with his and she lies still, he wonders why she closes her eyes at the peak of her happy ending and whose face it is she's seeing.
He must trust her.
He must trust them.
It's an art, not a science, and they do it again in the morning just to make sure they're doing it right.
"Stop looking at her." It's cold, unsteady.
"I won't ever look at her again," he replies quietly, too quietly. His eyes are thick and whisky coloured and filled with – what? What is that emotion that taunts her husband so, the one for which he has no name? "Not in the same way."
"No," he agrees. "Not the same. But your new way is no better."
It's beginning to get to him (understatement), irritate him (understatement), eat him alive (almost). They are everywhere, they three, never a two because one is taboo and two would be 'unfair', she thinks. He wishes he could beat it back into him, the hardness of years past, the selfish little boy his wife fled from. He wishes he could pull them apart, but it's as hard as trying to separate opposite poles of a magnet, even though they both point south. Her husband's love for her, for the love inside her grows exponentially, and he tries not to love only half the child. They'll have more, he tells himself, and then he can be sure.
He dreams about it when they come to names.
"You like Charlotte, don't you?"
He can always tell when her mind is elsewhere.
"Or how about Audrey? Audrey Eleanor, or Audrey Grace?"
"I think..." Her fingertips flicker across his palm, so intimate, so casual. They're a fixed point in a universe of stars. "Evelyn, for a girl. Evelyn Grace."
"Who is Evelyn?"
It's when she closes like a clam that he knows she is a star herself, and she only turns and shines when she has no more secrets to tell, because the other already knows them.
"A boy, then," he says, and they move past the moment.
He dreams about somebody named Evelyn, somebody beautiful, but the eyes are the same and he can't kiss his daughter goodbye on her wedding day because he knows she's marrying the wrong man, that so much is wrong with her, that her face is too sharp and her mother's lips sit awkwardly and beautifully upon it. In the dream, he remembers her birth, her growth, and wakes when the strength with which she grips his finger is actually his wife, clinging to his bare waist. She'll send him out for green tomato soup in a few hours, but until then he watches the slight silver glitter of the lines which cross her navel.
She's a star again, so bright.
He gets out of bed and orders anyway, ready for her when she wakes. She is grateful, happy, laughing when the maid of honour who scowls at the other and just loves her husband arrives with brioche to kiss them both on the cheek. He arrives with a rough jaw, shadowed, sombre; his wife, his star, presses the pad of her thumb to the purple beneath one of he who must be Evelyn's son's eyes, and he closes them and looks like he wants to kiss her fingertips.
Behaviour, deportment, self-control.
Those and love, he holds onto.
It tears him up when he knows, knows for sure, knows by her pallor and her drawn face and the fear that has settled on her – something about his company, something about him, always something, something, something. Her husband makes a point of never getting angry, but he knows that her heart is caged once again to preserve its beauty. He's too young to be a father and she's too old to fall back in love, and yet they drive to the Hamptons and she starts up from the dinner table when she sees him.
Her shoes lie abandoned, and that means so much.
It's ironic, he thinks, that he's losing his love as she's losing hers too, and so they run and roll in a vicious circle of having and not having, and they have sex all the time now because they are both so desperate to feel together, to hold each other and choose, and choose, and choose again. She wears silk one day, satin the next, and he tears them or slides them off her as per the preference he sees written all over her face. She doesn't mean to be cruel and neither does he, but they find themselves being cruel to each other. This is how simple loves die, with disquiet, while the great ones thrive on it and bare their backs like many broken beasts.
He knows of beasts, and broken beauties.
But no matter what and come what may and silly, insignificant things, they cling on. They cling together because they're terrified of what might happen if they let go, even for a second. Once upon a fairytale, she loved her husband with her whole heart; that love is still strong enough to hold up the walls, but she loves him with her heart and her head and her soul and her fingertips, and her husband realises that the light brush of her thumb and the contact they had at the airport is the only time he's ever seen them touch. They are so close, and they jump, and it's as if she's carrying a bomb and he is her proximity trigger.
Everything blows up.
But not quite yet.
Until then, they walk together and comment on the colours of the flowers while the father of her child conceals himself and she worries herself sick over him. They fight, and fight back, and it's only because they're crumbling.
And then they become friends.
So slow, so steady, so unexpected are the steps between untrue love and friendship that they do not count all the wounds on their brows and weapons in their hands and instead talk of the future, of the child's future, of all that has happened and is yet to come. This is like falling in love in reverse, and both are grateful for the time it takes to disconnect, inch by inch, until compassion has overrun passion and both their hearts are trampled.
This long line of love has led them right back to the beginning.
"I'm so sorry."
"It's not your fault."
They never see him, and she makes a fist over her belly and bites her lip, and can't let him go.
She goes hard, hard because she is willowy and ripe, hard because she is alone. Her husband is there with her, of course, guiding her every step, but even when her back arches and she screams and it hurts her, she refuses to push. The entire world is holding its breath for what she's holding her breath for, for what's keeping her from splitting at the seams – but only just. He is in Thailand, so Thailand is where one must go to seek the other, to grab him by his collar and drag him.
"She loves you. Be a man."
"I said she loves you."
She couldn't hold on and turns her face away from the door when they both come in, towards the plastic oblong which holds her magnum opus, her greatest creation. They are two: small and flawed and half and half, but her husband lingers at the door when the mess of the man in an overcoat says her name once, and then again. He keeps saying it as he looks down at her children, their children, and his voice breaks on the single syllable and he does not look like less than a man, and she closes her eyes against him.
He'll sit there for two days longer, breathing the life back into her, trying.
Her hair is in a snarl and she looks so tired when he looks down at her, the ex-husband looking down at her, at Blair Waldorf, his friend, slowly building her life from the bottom up, still a girl and a woman at once.
"Take care," she tells him, and the tears spill. He can't stop them, and nor should he try.
He leaves and yet stays, hovering around the children that were almost his long enough to see their first kiss as he passes that neat room for the last time. They lie together, on that single bed together, just watching, and then she slips sideways like the movement is practised and it's a little thing, a small thing, but her ex-husband hears the next words that comes out of his mouth and takes leave of his rival, her first best, takes leave of his friend, now better, walks away from something that is harder and stronger than even the diamond she so recently returned.
She says nothing, only breathes out emptiness and breathes him in.