"You don't know what you're asking me to do. I don't want to do this. Please don't make me," she pleads, so quietly that I have to concentrate to hear what she said. I feel a tug at my heart, and suddenly I don't want to make her do this. It's like I can see her heart breaking in her chest, and I don't want to be responsible to make her hurt anymore.
But I keep my resolve; I have to. If I chicken out, nothing will get fixed. "I know you don't want to. But I need you to tell me, and frankly I think you need to talk about it, too."
"And if I don't?"
I could tell Charlotte that if she doesn't come clean, that I can't do this with her anymore. I could try to threaten her, but I know her well enough to know that won't work. She tries to keep a thick skin, but I know it's really paper thin. There's just no getting out of it this time. We have to do this; she has to talk, open up, and let me in. "That's not an option, Charlotte."
"Fine. Okay," she bites out, succumbing to my request but not sounding pleased about it. She bats my hand away from its place on her knee like she's mad at me. Well, I can't imagine she's happy with me right now, but she shouldn't be mad. Doesn't she know this is just as much as for her own good as much as mine? And did she really think she could avoid this forever? "I can't have you touch me when I think about him," she further explains. I take it for what it's worth and give her a bit of space as she closes her eyes and hides some of her face. "So, what do you want to know?"
"Everything," I tell her. It might be overwhelming, but I want to know it all. "How did you meet him?"
I listen as she begins to talk. And basically, it becomes a one-way conversation. At one point, I want to ask a question, but she stops me before I can get out a word. She's anxious to get all this off her chest, and she seems to be in another world as she spills forth her guts. It's not eloquent or smooth; her speech is emotional and raw. Charlotte almost seems like a fragile China doll as she relays all this information, and not at all like the strong woman who pushed me aside at first, made me wait for her, made me work for her.
I wasn't sure how I was going to feel when she finally told me all this stuff—mostly, I think, because I didn't know what she was going to say. And now that it's happening, I'm still not sure how I feel. I'm jealous that she loved someone who isn't me. I'm mad at him, and I'm sad for her. I feel her pain and frustration, and I want to take all that away and erase it. I want to kill the coward that broke her heart and left her like this.
But then again, I don't wish that things had worked out between them, even if it meant she wouldn't be so upset. Then she wouldn't be mine. I just wish that this whole thing could be easier.
She speaks her peace. I ask her what happened that made her finally decide to leave him. For how much pain he's caused her and how uncomfortable this whole situation has been, Charlotte has told her story with composure. That is, until the very end of her speech. "...I was trying to forget all about him, just like Gina told me I should, but I wasn't sure if I could or if it was worth it. And then... I met you."
At this point, she starts to cry. And not just gets a little teary-eyed; I mean she begins to sob. I'm so clueless as to why. Oh shit. I mean, why is she crying now, once I come into the story? Did I do something that I don't realize I did? Did I make things worse? Because I thought before she said that liked that I didn't know. Does she need me to comfort her? I have no idea what to do. I grew up with two brothers; I don't know how to act in these kind of situations. All I know is that I want to hold her and absorb some of that hurt, so that's what I do: I reach out for her.
Initially, she pushes me away as she begins to take steady breaths again. "I hate you for doing this to me."
"What did I do?" I ask, so confused and a little offended.
"You turned me into this emotional wreck. Don't you get it, Max? John was my everything, and when I left him, I thought I was nothing. But you saved me. I seriously think you rescued me from drowning in my own despair. I couldn't have been able to do it on my own. When I was around you, I forgot about him and got to see the good side of life again. You made me realize that I didn't deserve that." She breaks down into sobs again. "I didn't deserve that."
"No, baby. You didn't," I whisper, and this time, she lets me hold her. I pull Charlotte against my chest and rock her as she cries. What I want to do is find the perfect thing to say that will make her feel better, but nothing comes to mind. "You didn't," I repeat.
Finally, she stills and pulls back a little. I wipe away her tears, which smears her make-up; I know Charlotte well enough to know that if she could see herself now, she'd freak out for not looking presentable. But I don't care. I don't care about her make-up. "I'm sorry. I thought I could get through it without crying. I mean, I did. I'm done crying over him. Apparently, though, I've moved on to crying over you."
"Charlotte, I never want to make you cry," I tell her. I don't know what in the world I did that upset her. Man, I really wish I had a sister. "Whatever I did to make you cry, I'm sorry."
"It's okay, Maxime." I love when she uses my full first name. Usually, she does it during very intimate times, when we talk in whispers at night or going at it in bed. "It's not a bad thing. I never really understood when people said they cried happy tears. Maybe it's more like relief."
"Yeah." I feel her body shake again. My heart palpitates with worry, thinking she's weeping again, but when I bring her face toward mine to examine it, I see that she's laughing. "You must think I'm crazy, but I am feeling relieved. Would you believe me if I said I feel a little better? That now it's out in the open?"
"I'm glad," I tell her. I am glad she feels better now, even though I feel worse.
"I'm glad that you made me tell you, even though I was kicking and screaming all the while. Thank you, Max. For everything."
Since I don't know what to say, I don't bother with responding to that. Instead, I ask another question. "I'm still a little confused. You say you weren't happy with him before you left. And you're the one who left him—"
"So why was I so hung up on him?" she continues, asking my question for me. I nod, letting her know that is indeed what I want to know. "That's the million dollar question, isn't it? For the longest time, I thought he was going to go back to the way he was when we first met. I wanted to believe that that's the person he was, that charming guy, and not the manipulative little asshole he turned out to be. I thought that he would just wake up one day and be that wonderful person again. I knew the love that he was capable of giving, even if he couldn't give it to me anymore. Does that make sense?"
I nod. Sometimes, you want to see the good in people and overlook their mistakes and changes in behavior. Tanger comes to mind. But, then again, sometimes you have to accept that you can't get back to good.
I'm done asking the big, emotional questions. I think we've both had enough. My next question is if she wants to get some sleep, and she agrees. I lie down and bring her with me, waiting to take my cue from her. She's got to be exhausted. I'm exhausted, and I only had to listen to her. Charlotte doesn't make a move to change her clothes, so I help her out and pull off her jeans for her. Then I strip out of my dress clothes, which are now wrinkled. By the time I get myself down to my boxers, Charlotte's already fast asleep. I curl up around her and pull the covers over our bodies.
At some point during the night, I wake up alone. I rub my eyes and blink, focusing my sight. Really, I should stop sleeping in my contacts. It's a good thing there's no game today, and I can wear my glasses for a while. The clock reads 3:47. I toss back the blanket and head out of her room. The television's on and casting a bluish glow from the living room, where Charlotte's sitting on the couch with a half-eaten pint of Ben & Jerry's. Her face is freshly scrubbed and free of the streaky black marks that painted her cheeks, but I can tell she had been crying again.
"What are you doing up?" I ask, sitting beside her. She's put on flannel pajama bottoms and took off the hoodie, now in a tee shirt.
"Was tossing and turning, and I didn't want to disturb you. Ice cream?"
I shake my head. If she can't sleep and she's eating junk food, I know something's up. "What's bothering you?"
Charlotte sighs. Usually, she'd make up some bull-shit answer, because she doesn't talk openly about stuff like this. I'm surprised she was as free with the information she gave me earlier. But she shocks me by being honest. "So now you know. You know everything I didn't want you to know, and somehow our relationship is going to change because of it. I don't know how, and that worries me."
There's a question in there, somewhere; she didn't ask it, but it's there. "My opinion of you and my attitude toward you doesn't change. You're still the person you were before. I still like you, and I still want to be with you. Charlotte, I—"
"No, Max. That's all I needed to hear. What you want in the present is enough. I don't want either of us to make any promises for the future, or for you to say whatever you think I want to hear. This.... This is enough," she says, gesturing between us, like all that matters is that I'm here with her now.
If she's not going to let me say what I want to, I'm going to act on it instead. I sit beside her and lean toward her to kiss her. I'm not sure what she'll allow me to do, seeing as though she's obviously still upset, but when she kisses back, I take every inch she gives me. Reaching up for her face, I cup her chin and gently push so she'll open her mouth for me. Her tongue tastes of chocolate and is cold as it flicks against mine, sending a rush of blood below the belt.
Reading my mind, she scoots closer to me as I open my arms to her and slide my hands under her shirt to her back, pulling her against me as I lean back. A sudden sensation of cold makes me jerk back; in our jumble of action, her container tilted and spilled liquid, melted ice cream on my bare chest. I look for something to wipe it away with, until Charlotte places her mouth right below my pec and licks it up.
"I don't want to be wasteful," she says, and I can feel her warm breath against my skin.
The differences in hot and cold and the rough feel of her taste buds is too much. I close my eyes and groan. "Oh, Charlotte."
"Oh, Maxime," she mocks me, a little teasingly, a little seriously. "You've been so amazing in how you've dealt with how crazy I am. Will you let me make it up to you? Pay you back and even out the score?"
I know what she's hinting at; it's so obvious, and I would love to take her up on her offer. And I intend to, but I've got to clear something up first. "You will never have to make up anything to me, Charlotte. You don't owe me anything, and I'll never make you feel like you need to. Everything I've done, I did it because I wanted to, not so you would want to balance it out by doing something for me. Okay?"
"See how wonderful you are?" she asks, running her hands down my chest and placing a few kisses along my jaw. "Fine. No paying you back. How about I simply show you my appreciation?"
Her hands slip under the elastic band of my boxers before I can reply, and then no words come to mind at all. She says I saved her. Well, I think I'm the one who needs rescuing now. But if this is drowning, I'll gladly give up breathing.