A/N: For an alphabet challenge ages ago. "R" is for "Rival".
Airports are great places to witness the dichotomy of happiness and despair. You can see it on people's faces- the abject sorrow of watching a loved one go, the unmasked joy of seeing a loved one arrive. Tears and laughter.
Your job often requires you to fly out of London; last year it was five times. Sometimes you're gone for the weekend, other times an entire week. And every time, I vow to not go with you to the airport, because I can't bear watching you walk away. But the day you leave I always relent, because… well, I don't know, really. You've often teased me by reassuring me that you will come back, and I know it's daft to think otherwise. Truth be told, it's not that I think you're not coming back. Barring a moment of fate that could happen to either one of us on any given day, odds are in my favour that you'll be back on schedule. So what is it about these separations that trigger this emptiness in me? When we say goodbye in the morning as we each go about our own regular days, it's not as if I burst into tears at the door.
It's the nights, you know.
As difficult as it is to be with you at the departure lounge, it's harder to be without you at home. The flat echoes in its emptiness and my heart feels the same. There's only so much I can do to distract myself from everything around me that reminds me of you before the heaviness of night arrives and reminds me I'm alone. The bed is the worst. I wonder if it's a result of my time in Larkhall. Three years of being alone in bed and now I can't bear it. I've never told you there are nights, particularly when you're gone for a long stretch, that I've slept on the couch; our large bed so mocking in its size, looking larger for your absence. Nights spent alone in that bed are fitful ones, as I stretch my legs out and come in contact with nothing, and your pillow being a pitiful rival for my embrace.
"I'm coming back, you know," you always tell me when you see my tearful face as you gather your luggage at the door.
"I know," I tell you, and the thing is, I do know. Even now, as a group of us stand underneath a row of television screens that announce arrivals, our faces upturned like flowers to the sun, I recognize the drop of joy spreading in me, banishing the idea of loneliness to the farthest corners of my heart.
I jostle for a good vantage point with the hundred other people who share my happy anticipation. My height comes in handy because, over the heads of the young family in front of me, I see you coming down the arrival tunnel. We make eye contact and our smiles say everything. I wait until you're at the end of the barrier that separates the waiting crowd from the passengers, and the minute I can do it without raising the ire of the watchful security, I wrap my arms around you and lift you gently off the ground. I can hear the luggage fall to the floor as you return the embrace. I murmur my greeting into your neck, and feel your hands in my hair and your lips pressing small kisses on my ear. You pull back slightly and with a little smile, you shake your head.
"What?" I ask.
"Nothing. I don't know. I just… I'll never get tired of you looking at me like that."
"Like… you'll never get tired of looking at me."
Your soft chuckle draws one from me and I grin. "Never. Welcome home, darling."
Suddenly, the dichotomy seems so one-sided.