Love, Immune: A Short Story
SARAH GRACE VILLARREAL

It happened so quickly. I fell and I fell hard. Head over heels, completely smitten and all of those other clichés that nauseate me. But I have to admit they worked in this situation. It happened to me.

Purple Party Ribbons

I met him at a friend’s party. He caught my eye. His soft wavy brown hair, just long enough to kiss the nape of his neck but still styled. I wanted to cry. I distinctly remember chatting with Jess in the dining room about some nonsense when he walked in. A work buddy of Rob’s, Jess’s husband. They greeted each other with a hug and a laugh and Rob walked him around the room, introducing him to the other guests. I shifted, wanting to run away, and yet I watched impatiently as Rob made his rounds with the stranger.

I fought back the urge to stare, scolding myself inwardly every time I snuck a glance back to see where they had gone. And when he smiled I wanted to cry. I still don’t know why. This was not the usual reaction to a smile. No. I wanted to cry and for that reason my attraction to him scared me.

Magnetic. Like he was the exact opposite frequency of mine and it drew me in, like a riptide dragging me further and further from the shoreline of my reality and sanity. How fitting his name would be Andrew.

Drew and I talked all night. His eyes, deep brown behind long, dark eyelashes. His skin, warm coffee with two splashes of milk. I imagined it tasted like cinnamon, sweet and spicy. And every time he smiled my heart broke. I was drowning.

I watched his lips move from a smile to the rim of his plastic cocktail glass and I prayed to be that cocktail glass. The night ended with a hug, some awkward giggles, and an exchange of numbers. I’d been here before. If we did meet up, in the light of day and less under the influence of mid-tier vodka, this infatuation would surely dissipate and I’d be myself again. That or neither of us would find the courage to text, letting the number stew too long in our phones to be appropriate to reach out. By morning I’d be back to my senses anyhow.

And yet two days later we were meeting for coffee. I found myself being more honest about my hopes for the future than I had ever been, even to myself. We didn’t have time to waste on something fun and casual. We weren’t in our twenties anymore, and the cold reality of time’s quickening and inevitable march was ever-present on our minds.

Dramatic Espresso Drip

That first year, an intense whirlwind, seemed unbelievable and more like a dream than reality. He and I had become one. Grafted to each other under our sheets and in embraces. He lived inside my every molecule. Attached to my very DNA. How does the song go? I think I might have inhaled you? He was most certainly in my bloodstream. We lived this way, utterly inseparable. He, an eternal part of me, I, fully a part of him.

Why was it so intense? It couldn’t just be the sex. It had never been like this before. It had to be something more.

It felt naive to think it was love. Love came after all of this infatuation. Love came from years of working together, of dealing with hardship and happiness, with adventure and tragedy. All of that stuff you read in a 50th anniversary greeting card. But we had been so enamored with each other from the start. Everything felt dramatic. Everything revolved around us.

Year two started with the same passion. Life with Drew became a comfortable dance. We had our routine, we moved in sync. I couldn’t remember what life felt like before we were us. How had I existed before?

Drew’s smile, once a source of near agony, became a welcomed fixture in my life. I lived for that smile. It woke me in the morning and it was the last thing I saw before I fell asleep at night. But I realized one day as I drove home from the office that Drew’s smile had not given me the urge to cry for a long time. I could not remember the last time that feeling that had once frightened me had bubbled up in my chest.

I found myself mourning the melancholy feeling, the tears welling as I watched him smile. Then suddenly a cold chill rushed through me. Had we lost that ridiculous passionate energy? When did our need to be completely intertwined together dissipate? I parked the car and grabbed my bag, my stomach turning at the prospect of that loss.

Wilting Flower

But as I walked into our tiny apartment I saw Drew, wearing one of my frilly aprons, standing over the stove cooking dinner. A completely different feeling swelled in my chest. There was my sweet, caring, hardworking man, adorably shuffling around the kitchen listening to a podcast about weather patterns. I quickly buried my fears deep down inside myself because something new had taken root without me even realizing. I felt at home with Drew. Our love became like a warm blanket and less like the waves of a rolling sea.

The years passed as such. The two of us, a part of each other, like the right and left hands of the same carpenter, building a life. We worked together almost without words or discussion. We knew what the other needed and wanted, as if our neural pathways had attached. We were dancers with a psychic connection and we went on like this for seven years.

And yet something had changed.

Abstract Zoomed-in Flower

I began to hate that I knew everything he was thinking. That smile, the smile that had broken my heart, rarely made an appearance. In its place sat a tight lipped line of a mouth that hardly said two words to me.

I resented those deep brown eyes, now always staring at a screen and never at me. The nights had become silent. We ate dinner at different times in different rooms, all his free time spent online. All my free time was drenched in wine.

His hands, once so strong and graceful, now seemed clumsy and unthoughtful. They annoyed me. Everything he did was not done correctly. I constantly corrected mistakes he made with the laundry, with the dishes, with the vacuuming. My stomach turned at how utterly mundane these defects were. I didn’t want to kiss his lips before bed.

We didn’t laugh together, we didn’t cry together, we hardly did anything together anymore. We never even fought. It felt like living with a plastic bag. Lifeless.

Late one night, I stared at the ceiling, trying to piece together what had happened to the life of the first years, or even the middle years. Suddenly I heard rustling and a sigh. This sigh, had it come during the day or even the grey of dusk, would have sent a pinch of aversion through my neck and shoulders, but tonight it devastated me.

Messy Bedsheets

“What happened?” he said.

I blinked in the darkness, trying to make out the outline of the ceiling fan. I knew exactly what he meant.

“I don’t know,” I half whispered, as if my voice would wake me from this dream. But it wasn’t a dream, and the next words were worse.

“Maybe we need to do something about it.” His voice now matched my whisper.

I felt my eyes fill with tears. Why now? Why mourn something that had clearly been lost years ago? I couldn’t speak, and I didn’t know what to say. I felt his hand slowly touch mine. I almost jumped. We hadn’t touched in a few months, not even a chaste brush of hands. I felt as if I were floating above my body.

“Like what?” I asked. I dreaded the thought that his answer would be to run, but the idea of staying and fighting for what we once had seemed equally painful, and maybe worse.

“Whatever you want. We can try counseling or—,” he paused, and then in a lower tone said, “we could take a break.” He didn’t let go of my hand. But what did I want? I played both scenarios over in my head. Would we just end up here again if we tried to work together? We had once been so in love. Would freedom be the exciting adventure I imagined every night after two glasses of wine? If it would, why hadn’t I been brave enough to ask for it?

“What do you want?” I flinched at my cowardice.

He stayed quiet for a long time.

I began to panic. Could I survive without him? Even this dull husk of a relationship we still had seemed safer somehow. Or would cutting myself off from him allow me to grow and thrive? Were we strangling each other with our listlessness?

Hand on Sheets

“Remember the night we met?”

“Yeah, of course. Why?”

“You looked so cool and collected, practically glowing under those lights that hung over Rob and Jess’s bar. I remember literally feeling like the wind got knocked out of me. I wanted to go up to you so badly. But I was so scared I’d look like an idiot. But I had to, so I did.”

“I’m glad you did.”

“You are? Still?”

“Always.” I almost added, even if we don’t stay together, I’ll alway be glad we had each other, even for a while. But I stopped myself. I still didn’t know what he was thinking and I didn’t want to ruin it. This felt new for me. I had known for so long what he wanted, how he felt. But tonight in the dark, I had no idea. And I didn’t want to lose that feeling just yet.

“Me too. I’m glad I did too.” He picked up my hand and kissed it.

“You never answered my question.”

“Neither did you.”

“You brought it up, so you must have a preference.” It almost felt like we were flirting again. I enjoyed this banter. It didn’t matter that this could be the end. Right then I felt so connected to him.

“My preference is that I want you to be happy. I know you haven’t been happy for a while.”

It didn’t feel like flirting anymore. This felt serious and grown up and it was not what I wanted to deal with at 11 P.M. on a Tuesday.

“I haven’t been happy for a while.” I paused. So many things were running through my head. I wanted to apologize for not doing anything about it. I wanted to let him know that I didn’t want him to be unhappy. I wanted to reminisce about the early part of our love. I wanted to climb on top of him and reenact our early nights together. But I wanted it to be real, now, not a callback to what we used to have.

I squeezed his hand tightly and took a deep breath. “I want us to be happy.”

B&W Hands

Us. The word sizzled on my tongue and in my ears. Maybe we could be happy. Maybe we could still be us. It had felt like that part of us had died so many years ago. But maybe it had simply been hibernating. Could I break down the wall I built up and let myself hope?

“Me too.” He finally said. “I want to be us again. But you can’t shut me out.”

Those words stung. I wanted to run. It couldn’t only be on me. The knot in my chest twisted tighter. I almost let go of his hand but he squeezed it tighter and added “And I can’t ignore you either. I’m sorry I haven’t fought harder.”

The knot in my chest eased slightly. My mind rushed. I didn’t want to lose Drew. I didn’t want to lose our relationship. I didn’t want to lose us.

“I’m sorry I pushed you away. I’m sorry I gave up so quickly. But I also forgive you.” My heart pounded, butterflies materializing in my stomach. What was happening?

“I forgive you, too.” He took a deep breath and then, very soft and low, he asked, “Does this mean you want to try to make things better?”

I closed my eyes and played those early years over in my mind. Then I thought of the in-between years. The warm blanket love. I felt tears run down my cheeks.

“We can make things better,” I whispered. “We’ve got a lot of work to do but I’ll do it if you’ll be there with me.”

“I promise.”

I let go of his hand and rolled on my side, propping my head up on my elbow. I could barely make out the outline of his face in the darkness. I put my hand on his cheek.

“Can I kiss you?” I asked. I felt his smile, and I realized why I was crying.

“Always.”


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