The Promise

Summary: Real life creeps into fiction again. The story is true to a point. Fiction takes over where the girl is. Someday though, I hope to relate this story to this mythical girlfriend. Whom ever she may be.
Rated: G

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You always have to give up something you want to keep for something you want more.

"Do you ever take it off?"

I look down at my right ring finger where the weaved band of silver sits. Fondling it absently I shrug. "To shower mostly, but no."

She nods as if she understands, but she really doesn't. Not yet anyway. A beat then, "Why?"

I grin half knowing that was the next question. Shutting the computer monitor off I turn to her and her face is a mask showing no emotion. "Do you know what it is? Where I got it in the first place?"

She thinks a moment. "No. For as long as I've known you, you've always worn it." She half laughs. "And I really didn't think there was this huge revelation behind it but knowing you, I shouldn't have expected anything less, huh?"

I nod. "Yeah, that's just how it is I guess." I grab my pack of smokes and take one out, lighting it. I'm in no hurry for this memory to break into the present, no matter how long ago it was.

"We were late for the folk festival that summer." I smile, allowing the memories to dust themselves off and float to the surface in their own time. "We'd gotten there well after the second act was on so we decided to look at the carts and vendors first. Sort of lazily make our way to our seats."

A realization dawns across her face. "Oh."

I nod. "Yeah." As soon as I said 'we', she knew who I was talking about and the period of my life I was touching on. "So there was this older woman packing up her stuff and she waved us over to her. She said she could tell love when she saw it and had just the thing we were looking for." I shrug.

It's funny. Had you asked me back then if I knew what love looked like, I would have said it was looking at her. Youth and naivety and hope for the future have a way of getting their hooks into you and hanging you out to dry.

I closed my eyes remembering, feeling, and knowing. Taking a drag from my cigarette I continue. "We both laughed and insisted that we really weren't looking for anything specific, but she didn't listen. She pulled out a box and handed us two rings." I pause for another long drag.

"How long had you been together then?" She cuts though my silence with curiosity. I try to listen close for a measure of jealousy or bitterness squeezed between the words, but it's oddly absent considering the subject.

I close my eyes to think a moment. "Hmmm. Not even six months I think." When I open them she's observing me. I can tell she's searching my face for any hint of. . .remorse possibly? Regret? I'm not sure. I stub out my cigarette and light another. "We tried them on and they fit. For some reason we weren't all that surprised by that." I grin and half laugh. "God, we were so young. She said it was some sort of divine providence or fate or what have you. Of course I bought them. Fifty bucks for both." I touch it lightly from the palm side with my thumb. It's become an unconscious habit I don't remember starting. I twist it a little with the side of my pinky to make the little X's show on top. "You've got that face." I look over at her.

She shrugs. Getting up, she grabs her pack of cigarettes from the coffee table. "What face?" She's avoiding my eyes, fumbling with the pack, searching for the lighter – filling the moments with tiny movements in between.

"The face that tells me nothing." I look over at her and blink through the smoke spiraling between us. "'Cause you're not ready yet to let me know how you feel about it."

She nods taking it in and lays down on the bed. Still, she won't look at me. We sit there in the silence, both reflecting on the new information. It's not new to me but, it's not a story I've spoken aloud in a very long time. I hadn't even let myself think about the origin of the ring in years. The meaning changed for me such a long time ago. "There weren't any loving declarations. We just slipped them on and went off to our seats." I shrug and take a sip of coffee. "It was a pretty good concert from what I remember."

I allow the moments to slide past us for a while. I've learned from loving her, that it's never a good idea to jump right into big discussions like this right away. She likes to let information marinate, take up space and soak in.

I get up to stretch. She doesn't look over; we both know it's just a preamble before I go to her. Grabbing my pack of smokes and cup of coffee I do, pretending that I'm saving her trouble of coming to me. I lay down on my side next to her. I'm staring at her now and she's laying on her back looking at nothing in particular, not saying everything she wants to say. It's just her way, I guess, of dealing with things. I reach out and run lazy feather-finger circles across her stomach just below her belly button. It's the only way I know how to relax her, coax her out of her head where she's been the past twenty minutes or so.

"It's been over now almost as long as it lasted," I finally say in a hushed voice, "but the ring is still where I put it all those years ago and you want to know why." My hand stills and she sighs.

"The ring, it means I've made a promise to myself now. It stopped meaning what it meant that day. To be honest, it symbolized the love and happiness and a future together. Back then, I thought I knew that love could conquer all and all you needed was love and love is a many splendored thing."

"Okay, I get it." She smiles at my attempt to lighten the weight that's suddenly attached itself to this conversation.

"Point is, everything that was attached to this ring – I let go of when I let her go. It broke it's own promise way before we were ever through." I halt suddenly. The words aren't coming as easy as I thought they would for some reason. "That relationship with her; yeah I can't deny there were good times but. . .it was more hell than heaven. More work than fun. It never evened itself out in the end and it was too much work emotionally and physically. No relationship worth your time should ever be that hard. You know all about it so I'll save you from my habit of repeating the stories you've heard a million times."

"Thanks for that." She winks at me and grins, reaching to hold my hand. With that small gesture. . .somehow, this just got a little bit easier.

I'm playing with it again. Twisting it around and around the tip of my finger as I'm prone to do when deep in thought. She rubs the top of my hand with her thumb. Small, light comforting circles that are somehow drawing the rest of the words to the surface. Someday, I'll have to ask her how she does that.

"I promised myself that the next serious relationship I got into, it would be for all the right reasons." I smile and look at her. She's looking back and it's as if she almost understands what I'm trying to say. "I'd get into it because it was right and because I had to work for her and earn her trust and time. With me, trust and love and security aren't just, poof, there because you're attracted to someone. They grow as you get to know each other and I swore that I would take my time and wait and try to understand all of her faults and doubts and insecurities, and that she really understood those things about me. And even if we didn't understand it all, the point was that we both listened and tried together. In learning about her, I'd learn about myself and get into that relationship with my eyes wide open."

I pause for a moment to gather the rest of my thoughts. She's being patient, allowing me the time I need to get through it. Allowing me to just. . .be me. "I promised myself that if I could love her honestly deep down inside, even without knowing for sure what our future held, then I'd take it off if she asked me to." I inhale and exhale deeply, wondering if she grasps the complexity of it all. "It took me a long time to heal. Hell, I know I'm not done yet. There are some scars that never go away."

She touches the line of raised skin on my face near my eye. It's so small that unless you knew it was there, you'd miss it.

She noticed the first time I met her.

I lean into her touch and close my eyes, glad for the break. Glad for the moment she gives me to remember. The dust is all shook out now and the memories float just above the surface – suspended in mid air.

She wants to ask, I know she does. It's not very often her eyes betray her but her gaze darts for a split second to the ring then back to me. Had I blinked I would have missed it. Knowing and loving her the way I do, I've learned when not to blink.

"I guess I've been waiting."

Her eyebrows knit together, confused. "Huh?"

I chuckle as I take her hand and kiss it. "I've been ready to take it off for a while now." Realization dawns across her face and suddenly she gets it. Eureka!

"Oh." A pause, then. "Oh! Really?" she looks at me incredulously.

"Yes, really." I smile. "I've been waiting for you to want me to." I almost whisper. "Waiting for you to ask about it. Ya know, I've wanted to take it off so many times but," I shrug and smile, "You weren't ready." From the tip of my finger, the ring falls down onto the bed between us silently. It's meaning has changed again suddenly. Just. Like. That.

She picks it up and looks at it closely. Turning it around in her fingers a few times, she seems satisfied with what ever conclusion she just suddenly came to. Reaching up, she opens the top drawer and places it in.

She turns over and pulls me behind her. One arm serves as a pillow, the other begins to rub her stomach again lightly. She sighs in what can only be described as contentment. "I'll give you a thousand years to stop doing that."

"Only a thousand?" I smile into her hair and kiss her neck softly.

"Mmhm, for starters yes." A small yawn escapes before she has a chance to catch it. "The next thousand are negotiable."

"As you wish. I hope you know, I'm gonna hold you to that."

"You promise?"

"Promise." I whisper.

She's asleep in moments. I can tell from the change in her breathing and the peacefulness that's fallen across her face. I worked hard to get here. Hell, we both did. It's a process we know we're never gonna stop going through. It's like we both reinvent ourselves a little bit each day but still manage to keep each other in the loop about those changes without speaking one word.

She has a warmth that took me in and held me until everything cold and distant and hard melted away. There aren't many things I'm willing to promise anyone anymore but her? Yeah that's a promise I won't even think twice about keeping.