Define Love (For Me)

Love can be quite the messy affair.

I'm not delusional, even if my actions speak differently sometimes.

I haven't viewed this as something new and exciting, a novelty or anything of the sort, because I came prepared – I welcomed love into my life with a heart made of steel and mind ready to broaden its opinions. Compromising, breaking out of your comfort zone – love does this to you. And most often than not you let it.

Forgiveness has always come easy to me ever since I was a mere child and I knew that if I felt my loved one's words to be true, I would never hesitate to let him back into my heart, regardless of how much pain I might've suffered because of him, or how much harm he's caused me – intentionally or not. I knew that life was too short to waste it on such troubling thoughts; I knew that the first sign of remorse is the first step to atonement; I knew all of this because I've felt it in my heart what love is all about.

It isn't about who is wrong and who is right.

It's not a bet and it most certainly is not a game.

It's not something you could put into words. It's something too beautiful for words. That is, if it's true.

It's not something you know or something you can be taught, it's something you feel.

It doesn't come always invited, but when it does you shouldn't slam the door into its face, or it might not knock onto your door twice.

Hearts aren't made to be broken, there are meant to be loved and treasured, like they're something precious. Once broken - even fixed - they would never be the same, still bearing the scars of old battles.

I've always considered myself lucky for finding the boy I was going to love for all the years that stood ahead of me before I'd even hit sixteen. I read this statistic once, that most people meet the one they're going to marry by the time they're sixteen, way before they even go to college, or go into the 'real world'.

Have I ever thought I'd be part of the statistics? Have I ever wanted to? No, but I am.

I had someone who would stand beside me even in the darkest of times, who loved me with everything he had – with his heart, body and soul.

But what happens when there's another, third person in our fairytale romance, the villain of our love story, standing between us like an invisible wall that kept us apart? What happens when he wouldn't let us get our storybook happy ending and wouldn't step aside, instead getting more and more involved with us and with our lives, messing with our minds and screwing up the good thing we have? What happens when this same person puts my love to the test and the more I let him get to me, the harder it becomes for me to decide whether the only thing I've ever really wanted is the one thing I've always truly needed.

Carrying a heavy bag of groceries in each arm, I walked up to his apartment, but it was too little, too late when I realized my hands were already full and I'd have to face some difficulties going in.

Standing in front of his door and mumbling under my breath about what a ditz I was, I searched for my very own set of keys to his apartment in my bottomless totebag, all the while balancing the two paper bags I was holding.

The bags were straining my muscles and I longed for the moment when I'd be able to put them down and shake my arms to get the circulation going again. It was an unnecessary stress for me to always make sure his fringe was stocked, but boys would be boys no matter what I said or did and without me I knew that he would starve to death because he hated shopping. All kinds of shopping. Even shopping for food. That's why I decided to play the part of the good girlfriend and shop for him, knowing what a relief that was to him.

I did a little victory dance in my head when I finally got hold of my keys, but as my lucky would have it, they slipped from my fingers and fell onto the ground. Groaning inwardly at the unfairness of it all, I crouched down to pick them up, but I found it a tad difficult to lean forward without dropping everything on the floor or pulling a muscle.

Eventually, I accomplished my mission and let myself into the apartment, not bothering to ring the bell, but the rattling of my keys must've alerted Mrs. Pierce, the next-door neighbor, of my presence because she immediately unlocked her door and peeked outside in the hallway to see what was going on, never mind the fact that she was still wearing her pink night-robe and looked ridiculous. Not that I'd ever dare tell her that.

"Good morning, Mrs. Pierce," I chirped, trying to be as polite and hospitable to the ever so grumpy and suspicious old lady who had been living next door to my boyfriend ever since he moved here and who also seemed to be incapable of overcoming the grand distaste she felt towards us. My parents had taught me to always be respectful to the elders; even the ones who couldn't stand my gust, like say Mrs. Pierce.

Maybe it was personal or maybe she just couldn't stand anyone under the age of eighty, but I'd never heard Mrs. Pierce say one good word to anyone, much less us, the fresh out of college kids who wouldn't let her rest at night.

Upon seeing it was, in fact, me and not some serial killer or mugger who had come to disturb her peace, Mrs. Pierce's glare softened a notch and muttering angrily something I couldn't quite hear, she made a move to go back into her apartment, slamming the door into my smiling face, but I shrugged it off, not really surprised or offended by her total dismissal.

Stepping inside my boyfriend's apartment, the first thing that registered into my mind before I even set the bags down on the ground was the smell – the smell of sex, weed, beer, and more sex, Wes' distinctive smell. I knew now what the weird look Mrs. Pierce had given me in the hallway meant.

It was pity that had shown into her eyes before it was quickly replaced by her usual nonchalance.

My heart got caught into my throat as noiselessly I walked further into the apartment, realizing that he'd left it in a fine mess of clothes thrown everywhere and empty, smashed up beer cans were all my eyes could see at one point.

His friends had obviously spent the night here, but they'd had half the mind to make themselves scarce by the time I came around, knowing that I didn't appreciate having them messing with the good life my boyfriend had going on for him by participating in whatever devilry or heinous idea Wes had cooked up to spoil the good life I had.

Crossing my arms over my chest, I looked around the place, trying to disregard the fact that it was like a bomb had fallen into the living room, simultaneously coming to terms with fact number two, the one that told me this was just another day I'd playing maid for Wes. Sighing inwardly, I began the slow process of cleaning up and putting some order into this place, realizing that once my boyfriend woke up, he wasn't going to be thrilled at the prospect of finding his apartment in such an awful state, one that gave his OCD side the chills and sent his brain into overdrive.

I worked efficiently and quickly, moving around the apartment with a practiced ease, whether because I'd gone through this procedure one too many times and was used to it or because I'd been on my own since my mother's death, I wasn't too sure, but what mattered was that I'd always get the work done in negative time.

I purposefully left the bedroom for last. Not because it would be in the worst condition – furthermore, I had every reason to believe this was the room I'd find in the best shape, compared to all the others I already took care of, since Wes didn't let just about anyone in his private world – but because I was partly afraid of what I'd have to face there.

Bracing myself for the worst and knowing that I couldn't prolong the inevitable any longer, I walked in and my eyes instantly fell onto the two sleeping bodies lying on the bed, blissfully unaware of my presence looming over them and for a moment there I felt like an intruder, an outsider walking in on their private moment in paradise, lost in each other's arms. No matter how many times a similar sight had greeted my eyes; it never got any easier for me to get over it, even if I was practically numb to the feelings it would evoke in me. And even if I knew that my boyfriend could never intentionally do anything to hurt me, Wes' promiscuity was that part of him I could never really accept nor love him for.

It hurt my eyes at first to look at their entangled bodies, which the passion of love-making had drained of their energy as they now laid there sweaty and exhausted after one long and hard night that had finally come to an end. Judging by the self-content smile on the redhead's face and the afterglow of her skin, I'd say that if it was up to her, this night would've never had an ending to begin with. She obviously appreciated what I had and now that she'd had her slice of heaven, I didn't want to dwell on how much suffering getting rid of this feeling was going to cost her. I felt bad for her because she clung to Wes like a little child would hold onto its mother's hand, but what I knew and she didn't was that at the end of the day my boyfriend would always come running back to me, shattering every romantic notion she might've gotten in her head.

He wasn't going to call her. Moreover he wasn't even going to remember her in the morning light. It was nothing personal; it was merely how these things worked; how we, as a couple, worked.

But I had to give it to Wes: he knew how to pick them. The ground might've been littered with thousands of rotten apples and yet he was going to find the only ripe one out of them.

Girls from all ages were drawn to Wes like magnet. Whether it was his natural charisma or sweet-talking skills, he knew what to say to make a girl's head spin and I'd seen even the most resilient of girls fell victims to Wes' charms because he was not the type of guy who took no for an answer.

Wes liked his girls feisty with fire pumping through their veins and model-esque looks and this was why his attraction towards me boggled my mind – merely because I couldn't make any sense of it, mostly because there was no sense of logic behind what Wes did or felt.

With one arm slung over my boyfriend's chest, the redhead was everything Wes looked for in a girl and I wasn't surprised to find her warming my side of the cold bed. Approaching the sleeping couple to take a closer look at her face, I was careful to avoid stepping on the condom wrappers that could be found on the floor, a reminder of what had happened here last night behind the closed doors.

I saw the love bites on her neck, but what I couldn't get out of my head was the image of her hair, her vibrant read curls, beautifully spilling over the pillowcase and how good they looked together, my boyfriend and her. They complimented each other in a way that made me momentarily jealous of what they had before I chased such unbecoming thoughts out of my mind.

My eyes were automatically drawn to the strange scar on her left wrist, an angry red scar that still must've hurt a lot and which also was about the size of a penny. There was a swelling around it that wouldn't go away for a little while – it was obviously still fresh.

They must've partied pretty hard last night if she was so numb to the pain. It was actually a burn in the shape of lightening. At least that was what most people would see upon looking at it, but I knew better. It was not what it looked like – lighting, that is. It was the letter W.

W stood for Wes.

The girl had been branded by Wes, like cattle. It was amazing what he could do with a lighter, the damage he could cause. He'd marked her as his territory; it was his little way of saying "fuck you" to the world; his way of also saying, "Wes was here before you. Deal with it because you're getting my sloppy seconds."

It would heal in time, wounds like this always did, and it would fade, but the reminder of last night would always burn bright in the girl's memory. Her memories would never fade.

The girl shifted in her sleep and I thought she was about to wake up, but instead she snuggled closer to his chest, making an approving noise in the back of her throat as a ghost of a smile passed over her lips when she buried her nose in his neck and breathed him in. Figuring that once he woke up and saw her pushing herself against him, he would literally jump at the sight, I decided to spare her the humiliation and sent her on her way before her 'walk of shame' became ten times worse once my boyfriend opened his eyes and realized it was her lips he'd been kissing and it was her body that was lying fast asleep next to his equally naked one.

I touched her shoulder gently, hoping that I wouldn't scare her and this would go as painlessly as possible because last thing I wanted was more unnecessary drama in my life. Getting rid of Wes' one night stands had never got any easier for me, either. They all turned out to be nice girls in the end; they'd just made some pretty bad choices that they'd have to pay for and live with for the rest of their lives.

She slowly stirred from her sleep and opening her big brown eyes, she looked up at me confusedly and I saw belated realization flash across her eyes as she did the simple math and all the pieces fell back together. Then as if scalded by hot water, she sprang to her feet, desperate to get away from me, like I was out to rip her red-haired head off. She looked a little bit green in the face and instantaneously, a part of me reached out for her, wanting to hold her and assure her that everything was going to be okay, even if neither of us was going to believe it.

She tightened the bed sheets around her shivering body and gazed at me fearfully as my hand was still frozen in the air. Apparently, this was her first time waking up next to some stranger, unfamiliar with her surroundings. All signs pointed to it.

But most girls like her never repeated this experience, all thanks to Wes.

I glanced around the room, quickly trying to pinpoint the whereabouts of her clothes before I collected them in my arms as she stood there, rooted to her spot, watching me pull her lacy black bra out from under my boyfriend's toned legs as he burrowed his head further in the pillow. Bringing my eyes up to meet hers, I put a finger to my lips, silencing whatever onslaught of questions was coming my way because there was not even one explanation I could think of that could justify what I was doing, or more importantly – why.

Her jaw had already dropped to the floor by the time I reached her and taking her by the elbow, I led her out of the bedroom - and out of his earshot - before his alarm clock buzzed and all hell broke loose.

Besides, nothing ever good came out of a heart-to-heart talk that happened between the boyfriend, the girlfriend, and the girl who had spent the night with the said boyfriend.

Thankfully, the poor girl was so shaken up to even have me there that she barely made any sound even after I showed her to the bathroom and let her get dressed. I patiently waited for in the kitchen as I decided to make some coffee, figuring that all of us were going to need it, anyways – for various reasons, even if the cause of them all was Wes.

She emerged out of the restroom after a few minutes that she'd used to collect herself and I gave her an encouraging, nerve-soothing smile to let her know that I had no intention of killing her and dumping her body in the dumpster. She rubbed her upper arms, as if she was cold, and bit her bottom lip, looking at me scared to death, like she didn't know what to say. Was there anything to be said? Between the girlfriend and the other woman?

Not wanting to dwell on the peculiarity of the situation, I busied myself making breakfast, giving her some time alone to organize her jumbled thoughts and restore her normal breathing, but she had to hurry up because she definitely didn't want to be around when hewoke up and found her wandering around his apartment. By default, he despised everything that would remind him of what he'd done last night.

"Are you-," the girl cleared her throat, surprised by her own croaky voice, "are you-"

"His girlfriend?" I supplied helpfully, thinking that we didn't have a whole day to beat around the bush and the faster we acknowledged the pink elephant in the room, the faster we could all get on with our lives and proceed like nothing out of the blue had happened. At least for me, this was how it stood. Then upon seeing her expectant, yet secretly horrified expression, I went on, "Yes, I am."

"But-but... but Wes said-," the redhead struggled to explain, anxiously scratching her hand until it bled. I rolled my eyes at her naivety, torn between feeling sorry for her and scolding her for her childish stupidity, but I couldn't blame her for seeing what wasn't there. We all wanted to be loved and appreciated in the end and Wes was a pro at playing with innocent girls' hearts.

"That you're the one he's been waiting for all along? That even if he's never seen you before, he feels like he knows you? That you're the apple of his eye, the most breathtakingly beautiful girl he's ever laid eyes on? That he connects with you on some higher level?" I cut off what would've been the most heart-wrenching spiel ever since Juliet killed herself over Romeo's alleged death. Yes, it was all the same old. The thing Wes did best was to leave broken hearts in his wake. For him, it was a no-brainer. He was made for this.

"Which one is it?" I wanted to know, not for my own, but for her sake. She needed to hear it, but if the look on her face was any indication, I think I just got my answer. "That's what I thought, too," I mumbled, turning my gaze away from her before the bitter, frustrated tears came falling and stained her cheeks. I wish I could switch my feelings off and on whenever I pleased, but even though I'd grown cold to the point where having this conversation with a nameless girl in every second morning was normalcy for me, I could never remain indifferent to the broken look I'd see in their eyes when the truth was finally out.

I'd been like them once, too, wasting my time wishing upon shooting stars that never really made my dreams come true. And Wes was just another pretty boy full of lies and empty promises.

"Why do you do this? Why are you still with him?" she asked me in a strained voice. Who knew how much willpower it took her not to break down right there, but it wasn't anything I hadn't heard before. Why would I be with this cheating scumbag of a boyfriend who brought a different girl home every night I was away when there were perfectly fine, non-cheating nice guys out there?

I could say this in thousands different ways. I could lie my way out of it or I could speak the truth and be free of the weight of his secret, and then be proclaimed crazy. There were many ways I could do this, but neither of them worked for me.

Why would I stay with Wes when all he did was hurt me? Why would I be with someone who obviously took me for granted and had no qualms about sleeping around behind my back? Why I would I be so cool about all of this, about his tendency to cheat and lie to save his skin? Why would I be stuck in a relationship with someone who didn't appreciate having me around?

Why would I stay when I had so many reasons to leave?

Why?

Why would I stick it out?

She wouldn't understand.

They never did.

'It's complicated' I could say and I wouldn't lie, but complicated didn't cover one half of the true story.

So I said the only thing that made sense; it made sense to me, that is.

"Because I love him," I answered honestly, thinking that it was only half-lie, that I loved the part of him that loved me back, the part that would lay down his life for us, for me.

I knew what she was thinking before she even said it out loud. She pushed the cup of coffee I'd handed her away and stepped back, away from me, as if my condition was infectious and gone was the sadness from her eyes, instead she was gazing at me in befuddlement, wondering what to make out of my words.

"You're crazy," she declared and her words rung out with such finalty that they had me questioning my motives. Cocking my head to one side, I watched her grab her stuff and run out of the apartment, eager to get away and erase this unfortunate episode from her memory. And I didn't even need to escort her out. It was a start. Let's hope all the girls Wes decided to take home would just as understanding as this one.

And oh, trust me, there would be more. There would be lots of them.

I placed the glass of freshly squeeze orange juice, coffee, and the plate of scrambled eggs with bacon on a tray, deciding to spoil my boyfriend with the breakfast in bed he fully deserved and would also desperately need after the aftermath of last night settled in.

And right there sitting on his bed and holding his head in his hands was my boyfriend, the boy who killed bugs for me and let me watch whatever movie I wanted to see, the boy who made butterflies flutter in my stomach and made my heart do that boom boom thing all the pop singers are singing about, the boy who would never cheat on me in a conscious state of mind, even if his life depended on it, the same one I trusted with my life.

"Good morning, Josh."