I felt my heart constricting as he made his way across the grass. I couldn't possibly be losing him again. There was too much that I wanted from him, too much that I had missed having over the last month. Was he right? Had I had enough of living alone while I was away?
The word shocked me. I had always wanted to escape. Escape my family's ties to the world of politics, escape what people expected of me, escape that look that appraising mothers gave me.
But I loved him.
And that was just as shocking as the other thought. I loved him? Did I want to make my life with him? That meant three million other things besides just the two of us. Even though I had always thought it was about us, was that enough? Enough to stand his campaign speeches and late hours? Enough to smile and wave on a stage? Enough to spend my summers working on his campaign?
There was no use fooling myself, that was what was sure to happen. But I couldn't stand the thought of losing him. The thought that someone else might be the one whose bag he stole so that he was sure she got home safely. That I might miss his first election or being part of the way that he changed people's lives. There was no way I could miss those things, no way I was going to be able to learn to live without him for a second time.
"Noah!" I called after him, limping to try to catch him. He apparently did not hear me, and as he was a good distance away, I couldn't be surprised. I called louder.
"Noah!" This time he stopped. He didn't turn, but he stopped, and I hobbled over to him as quickly as I could. My heels sunk into the grass, making me nearly fall again. Finally, he turned, but still he didn't move.
"I can't, Ruth. Please." He said, staring at me with those big brown eyes pleading. I stopped moving towards him, but I had no intention of leaving him alone. I knew what I wanted now. I knew it, and later I could be surprised at how long it took me to get there. Right now, I had bigger things to worry about.
"You can't leave me," I said, stupidly. I could hear the whine in my voice and I knew that I had said the wrong thing. I had just hurt him, how could I sound petulant like that? What I didn't expect was for Noah to cross the ten feet that separated us in response.
"What right do you have to say that to me?" He lost complete control of his voice and yelled. "You can't say you don't want me and then tell me not to leave you, Ruth. Even I have a breaking point."
I was shocked by the force of his words, and I stumbled over my feet to step away from him. I had heard Noah yell before, I was certain, but I couldn't remember it just now. He certainly never yelled in public, and he had never yelled at me.
"I didn't mean to hurt you," I said desperately and I wanted to add a plea that he hear my explaination. The truth was, though, that I didn't have one.
"You seem to manage just fine without trying," he quipped, but the yelling had gone out of his anger. I wasn't idiotic enough to think that he was no longer anger, just that disappointment and depression were becoming the prevailing emotions. I had to say something to make that better. He had said he wanted me, and I wasn't going to let something as trivial as a bad mood ruin that.
"Please, Noah, I can't lose you." I told him quietly. "It was hard enough in Arizona, and even then I had to throw away my phone so that I wouldn't be tempted to call you. I can't go through that again."
"You can't lose me?" He threw the words back at me. He didn't have to say the words that would finish his statement, there was no need. Who was I to say such a thing, when I had left him for so long? Who was I, when I had turned him down at every chance, run away when I had asked for a date? I may not be running now, but had I waited too long? Had I lost my chance?
"No, I can't." I kept my tone soft. "I love you."
The words hung in the air for a few moments, filling the silence so that it was almost impossible to speak through it. His expression changed to one of wonder, then back to grim acceptance before he answered.
"You know, I think you probably do," He kept his voice light, but I could hear that it was his diplomatic voice. He was shutting me out. "But not the way I love you, Ruth. And I can't stand to play this game anymore, hoping you will change your mind. Because you're never going to love me enough to make it okay that I want to be a politician. You're never going to love me the way your sister loves Isaac, or the way your friend Cecilia loves Ryan, and it's a hard life I've chosen. I need someone who will be there for me, who will shake hands and run on only a little sleep. Someone who might have to put their own life on hold for a little while. I couldn't ask it of you, Ruth, and you wouldn't do it."
Oh, wouldn't I?
"Have I ever, even once, given any indication that I wouldn't know what being involved with you would entail?" I asked him seriously. He shook his head. "Or have I indicated that I haven't had to grow up around these types of things?"
"Well, you did hide who your family was for a considerable amount . . ." He trailed off, perhaps thinking that the argument that would follow wasn't in his best interest. "No."
"Then do you think I would be standing here, telling you that I love you if it wasn't enough for me to be part of your life?" I asked, hoping he would see that I was serious. "This is between you and me, it always has been. I don't know how to talk about love the way you want me to, but I do love you."
"I can't start this again only to have you run out on me." He returned, the anger rising in his voice again. But he took a step towards me, leaving only a foot or so between us.
"I'm not running, Noah. I haven't been the one running for a while." I matched his anger with my own, but I held my ground this time. "And I'm tired of being accused of doing just that."
He stared at me, that look I had seen on his family's boat all those years ago, when he had first realized who my family was. He looked at me with those wide brown eyes, studying. I could almost feel the unspoken questions behind his eyes: Did I mean what I said? Could he trust me? Was this really me? Would I stay this time?
"You say that you want to be with me? Well this is me." I said, ending the silence. "I'm offering you whatever is there, but don't expect anything other than what I have. I will live my own life, with you or without you, but I don't want to lose you. You're probably the best friend a person could have. But either you want me, or you don't."
Though a part of me wanted to continue arguing with him, another part knew it was pointless. Perhaps he just needed time to think about it. Certainly he had given me time. I took off my shoes and started heading to my car. I'd had it shipped to New York last week.
"Ruth, where are you going?" He asked stopping me as I passed him.
"Home," I replied, completely honest, but mildly surprised I thought of his apartment as my home. "I'm tired."
"You can't drive like that," he said, a hint of worry creeping into his voice.
"Oh, and you can?" I turned, annoyed.
But there on his face was a tentative smile, and it stopped me short.
"No, but I can hail a taxi like nobody's business," he offered. I remembered him doing just that this past June, when we wanted to go up town to see the Museum of Natural History. My own smile was reflected in his. Then his face went serious again.
"Do you think we could make it work?" His voice was half curious and half hopeful.
I thought about that, understanding that he wanted a serious answer. I had only recently come to the conclusion that I loved him, what if I fell out of love just as quickly. I would never put up with his life or even some of his friends if I didn't want him.
"I don't know," I replied. "But I'm willing to give it a go if you are."
"I don't see how I could not, with such an auspicious opening to our relationship as we've had." He joked, and I couldn't help but kiss him.
It wasn't a kiss that made my knees go weak or my head explode, but it was a good kiss. His lips felt right against mine, and he responded to me without reservation.
It warmed me to my toes.
A/N This is better than where I started, but it still isn't where I'd like it to be. Still, I couldn't keep you guys waiting forever. I'll be interested to hear feedback. ~jlr