The Passage of Time

It was my first time doing this for real. I'd sort of done it with this girl I knew when I was 14, but that was just a couple of kids experimenting. It wasn't serious. Not like this. I was nervous as hell, I can tell you that much.

She sat across the table from me as my heart pounded in my chest. The half-eaten meal sat between us, forgotten, and the candle burned low. Our hands were joined (hers felt like fire on a cold night, like a hug in an icy wind) and she looked into my eyes. That's when she asked me, without saying a word. That's when she told me she wanted us to be forever.

I wanted the same. I'm glad she didn't ask out loud. I couldn't have replied – my voice would have cracked, or would've just died in my throat. She smiled like you would at a kid, and gripped my hand a little tighter. Because I was trembling, you know? I don't think I'd ever been so scared. Not when I fell off the roof when I was 12, not when I made a speech in front of my whole school when I was 15. Not when I first made love at 17, nor my first job interview the same year. Nothing could compare.

She closed her eyes. I did the same.

That's when we see that in ten days time she will tell me for the first time that she loves me. It's too massive to deal with, so I'll shrug it off as a joke. A day later I'll say the same three words, and nothing will ever be the same again.

We'll spend every waking moment together, feel betrayed and scared and like something is missing whenever we're apart. When she has to be somewhere, has to stay somewhere, I won't be able to keep the hurt out of my voice. At moments like those she'll wrap me in a hug, and we'll struggle to let each other go.

A year later we'll move in together. A little house to snugly fit two, and we'll get a cat because she doesn't like dogs, not really. She always wanted to like dogs, but one day she'll explain it to me, will point to a dog gnawing a bone and say "They could hurt you, if they wanted to" and it'll make sense to me.

We couldn't be happier together. She'll clean, I'll cook (she'll laugh at my apron, I'll laugh at her marigolds), we'll watch TV together, or she'll read a book while I watch cheesy sci-fi. She'll glance over the pages, once at the TV, and then back to me with a withering look. Her little smile as she buries herself in her book again tells me that she might rib me about them, but she wouldn't change these moments, not really.

We don't argue a lot, and when we do it ends in phenominal sex.

(I cracked my eyes open. Her smile was so slight it was almost invisible. It's the kind she has when she's being sexy.)

Eight months after we move in, we'll lose the house. Her father dies the next month, and we move into a shitty little apartment in the bad end of town. It's just for six months, but for those six months the arguments don't end in sex anymore.

We're back to a house after that. It's...not as good as the last house. Bigger, but not as homey. Large but soulless, like a supermarket compared to a library. We'll do our best to make it home, but we're not there long, because she's pregnant, and she wants "somewhere more us".

Nine months and a new house later, and Matthew will be born. A perfect birth, easy and without difficulty and exactly on time. Matty is perfect himself, and soon enough will prove he's bright and friendly and will light the world wherever he goes. I know that one day he'll make a dear friend to somebody, one day he'll be the sweetest boyfriend, the most caring husband, and that's all the vindication I'll need for having brought him into the world.

Later that year I'll propose. I'll drop to one knee, almost hypervenitilating. She'll ask if I'm having a heart attack, and whether she should call an ambulance. I'll fumble the ring into my hands as she's dialing. She'll call me an idiot for worrying her, but that of course she'll marry me, and she'll call me an idiot again.

We'll want a sibling for Matthew. We're both siblings ourselves, both know how lost we'd be without them. Harry's birth will be tougher, premature, and Harry will spend time in the hospital before he can come home. Matty will ask us "Where's my new brother, mummy? Are they still making him?" and our hearts will melt and break at the same time.

We'll marry. No other day of our lives will compare.

When Matty's six and Harry's four, I'll die in a car accident. It'll be stupid, a moment's distraction as I try to fumble my phone from my pocket to answer her text. What I'll think is an empty roundabout will turn out to be occupied by a transit van and its sleep-deprived driver. It'll be over quickly. A jolt in my stomach, sick realisation, and then the dark.

(Her hand squeezed mine like she never wanted to let go.)

I'll leave the kids behind, and the laughter in the house will never quite sound so sincere as it once did.

But that'll be their story, not mine. I can't see any further than that.

We opened our eyes to each other's. She was crying. No, not crying. Trying to hold back the tears. Her eyes were watering, and she took a deep breath before she spoke. She needed time to take in what she'd just seen, so she changed the subject, danced around it as close as she dared.

'You said you've done this before. When you were fourteen. What did you see?'

I didn't look away, hoping that in my eyes she would see my resolve to live that long and beautiful future together.

'We were just kids, goofing around,' I said. 'We held hands and I saw she wouldn't say yes if I asked her to go with me. I saw who she really wanted to be with.'

'What did you do?'

'Asked her anyway.'

She looked down at our joined hands, thinking it over. Then she started to laugh, and to cry.