I half expected Danielle to be gone in the morning, after the bomb I dropped last night.
Of course, we had more sex during that night than I could remember having in a week, so she might've been distracted.
Was she processing and slowly accepting our feelings (and them not being a flirtatious light buzz), or was she ignoring my statement to avoid answering and pretend it didn't happen?
Right now I was watching Danielle as she tried to brush her hair with my tiny comb, wincing as it got stuck in the tangles I'd created earlier in bed.
Come to think of it, it has been months since New Year's and almost a year since we met again through work. Was anything really different?
She made my heart sing and ache at the same time, as being with her could top anything else, but she was never quite fully open. There was something distant about her sometimes and I couldn't figure it out. She seemed willing, she said she was, and yet whenever I offered anything more commital than staying the night or going out, she would flinch and drift away.
"You'd better bring some of your stuff here, mine don't seem to work for you," I chuckled at her struggle with the comb.
Then watched the butterfly effect causing an avalanche.
The only way to describe her face was panic. She met my eyes in the mirror she was standing in front of - accidentally, no doubt, - and I could swear I saw anger in her hazel ones.
"What's wrong?" I asked worriedly, pushing my own frustration away.
"Nothing," That sounded nothing like her own voice. It quivered and shook.
"Danielle," I sighed and got out of bed to walk up to her.
"What?" That feable attempt wasn't working on me and she should've known that.
"Why are you freaking out anytime I offer to take one tiny step forward?"
"I'm not," She actually winced when I placed my hands on her arms, still looking into her eyes in the mirror. "Leaving stuff in your apartment isn't a small step, you know that, right?"
"Are you serious? A toothbrush isn't a catholic matrimony, Danielle."
"Ian… Let's not go there."
"Okay. Come to my work thing with me," I released her, but kept my eyes on hers pointedly. There was a party held by my firm coming up and I'd asked her to go with me twice already. She declined both times, visibly stressing at the mere suggestion.
"Absolutely not," She tore her eyes from mine, fumbling with the buttons of her blouse as an excuse. She brought it with her the night before, of course. She wouldn't leave even a spare change of clothes at my apartment.
"Why?" I pressed, unlike the previous times this had come up. There was no patience left in me.
"Do you realize how mortifying it would be for me to come there?"
"So you're never showing up there again? Should I switch jobs, or are you not planning to stay long enough for the next event?"
"Ian," She sighed, as if I was tiring her. "Do we have to figure everything out now? Why can't we take it one step at a time?"
"Because you're not willing to take any steps at all," She turned around to face me and was about to say something, but I cut her off. "I can't do it anymore, Danielle," She looked away again and I took a step back. "And here we go again…" I sighed, fighting the anger starting to warm up my blood.
"Ian," She said softly, trying to take my hand, but it was fisted tightly. I closed my eyes for a moment, trying to compose myself.
"It can't go on like this, Danielle. Have some mercy,"
"What do you want me to say?" Her voice was barely above a whisper. I ran my hand through my hair in frustration. This was all painfully familiar.
"I want you to tell me what the hell you want from me. I just can't keep up with this hot and cold game you've been playing."
"I'm not playing games Ian. I just don't want to… to jump head first into this. I wanted time…"
"To what, get to know each other? Ten years isn't enough?" I felt like a broken record. We'd had this conversation already.
"We'd been together for six months in college. It's hardly enough to claim we really know each other, we might be different people now!"
"Are we?" I knew my eyes flashed dangerously, challenging her to contradict me. Both of us knew I was right, I could tell by her guilty expression, as she studied the floor again.
"We don't know everything about each other."
"I never said we did. But do we need to right now? I think I know you well enough to say what I did last night.
"I know you're ambitious, motivated and hardworking. You're really good at anything you try and you know what you want from life - everything except this relationship, it seems." She opened her mouth to protest, but I went on. "You hate being wrong, and even worse than that, you hate being told that you are.
"You're a realist, which is why you question everything that seems too good to be true. You can even be a pessimist about one thing - us. You always have been, with good reason before, but I'm not sure why now.
"You love your family, more than anything, and you love being with them even though your father's side of the family doesn't have tact and embarrasses you quite often. A trait you did not inherit at all. Which is why you're closest to Owen, who's most like you, although he's older and at a different stage of life. You actually get along with everyone, even if it comes with harm to you.
"You have the biggest heart, you care about everything and everyone and always find the time to help someone. You always volunteer to give.
"You love chocolate more than life itself and you prefer the dark, quality kind. You can talk about food all day long, especially if you can eat it at the same time.
"You seem to enjoy my chest more than any other part of my body and you love it when I kiss your hand or shoulder.
"You have this little magical spot that can send you over the edge in a matter of seconds. You're especially aroused when I tell you how attractive you are or how much I want you. And it's bewildering to me that you're still surprised by it every time. As if you don't know how I feel about you, as if you still need reassurance...
"Because you have changed. You are more confident, you're more mature, you know to demand what you deserve and you like control, even in the bedroom... but it seems you're still insecure about us, or me, I don't know.
"We've been getting to know each other again for a while now, don't you think?" I felt like a lawyer trying to prove a point, laying the evidence in front of her, as if she was the only judge of this relationship. "Look, I'm not saying I know everything there is to know about you, but I think we know enough about each other to get over the beginning casual sort of dating stage and be in the relationship phase already. We're happy together, why are you running away from it?"
"I'm not running, I just want to take the time to…"
"If we're going to pretend like we met last week, I need to know why."
"To me it sounds like a load of excuses. Do you or do you not want to be with me?"
"I-I-" Her voice broke and she swallowed her tears back.
"That's all I needed to know." I swallowed back mine. "You do the same thing to me over and over… stringing me along and then running as soon as it gets real. I never asked for any promises, I didn't push you to do something you didn't want to, I just want to not walk on eggshells in fear of scaring you off! I want you to not be scared of a relationship and I want to not be scared you will disappear tomorrow. I will not be your backup plan again! Fuck, I feel like a broken record! I've told you all of this already!"
"I never ran, you were the one to leave, Ian." She tried to fight back. It was quite obvious she was lacking the ammunition, it was almost pity-worthy, as not even she could believe in her lousy attempt. But it infuriated me nonetheless.
"Don't give me that!" I raised my voice slightly, then lowered it and narrowed my eyes at her. "I walked away when I realized you were hung up on some other dude!"
"I wasn't hung up on that idiot!" Danielle yelled in frustration, her eyes now glimmering with fury and frustration, battling mine. "I was young and insecure and scared to get hurt again. My pride was hung up on what he did to me, what I let him do to me!" The words exploded from her, and it looked like the dam was finally opened. "I'm sorry I couldn't commit and believe in us the way you did, maybe you were right and I needed time. I'm sorry I didn't tell you how I felt about you, I'm sorry I didn't realize how much you meant to me until I lost you…" She was fully crying by that point and it pained me, but I didn't move or interrupt her. "I was in pain for so long after you left it's embarrassing… And yes, I'm cautious. Hell, I'm scared even. You blindsided me by breaking up with me. It came out of nowhere. I'd thought we were doing great, making progress, I opened up to you… and then you just left me there… And I couldn't even blame you or be angry with you, I knew I'd hurt you, but I was hurt too! I lost us too! You broke my heart, even if you were saving yours.
"And what happened after that didn't make it easier. I thought having you away would help me get over you and what happened, but... For weeks, everyone talked about the public make out session we'd put on. Everyone knew we were together. I hadn't expected it to be such a big deal, I'd been convinced people already knew.
"Do you know they called me 'Turner girl' for longer than we actually dated? There were other names, less favorable. One time some idiot tried to buy drugs from me. Drugs! It took some convincing I wasn't being discreet and I actually didn't sell drugs. People thought it was funny to pretend they were scared you'd hunt them down if they spoke to me. Some actually were. It was a whole year before a guy had the nerve to ask me out.
"I know it's just a fraction of what you'd had to deal with for years, and I guess I finally knew how it felt in your shoes, being infamous over gossip and lies. But I didn't expect it to be so intense… and I also didn't want to be called by your name while trying to get over you.
"You'd been so much more to me than a boyfriend I'd dated for a few months…" She gulped for air, choking on her tears. I was stunned and in physical pain over what she'd said. I didn't know how to react, how to make up for what I'd put her through without knowing. She'd downplayed it so much every time we spoke about it. Even now, I could see there was more.
"I didn't think I'd ever see you again. I was over you. But we met again, and you had a girlfriend. I swear I tried to stay away, but I was pulled to you like I always am and you were so… you. Then you broke up and… And you wanted us to be something right away…. I didn't want to be the reason for your breakup! I also don't want to be your rebound, I can't be!"
"You are not my rebound, are you serious?" I finally let some emotion out and it was pure shock. Is that what she really thought? Or was it another excuse? "It's been so long now-"
"You still have her stuff, for God's sake!" Danielle threw her hands in the air in frustration. "I didn't look for it, but it's just there! Your bathroom, the spare room, the kitchen… It makes me feel like she was just here. Like you're waiting for her to come back. Everyone in your office talked about her to me. About how you were the perfect golden couple… how she is the promising, accomplished lawyer that also looks like a model… how can I show up at your party as your date after that?!"
"Danielle," I let a heavy breath out, but she cut me off again.
"Look, I wanted it to be right this time, to take our time to make it right. At first, I tried to stay away, to let time pass after your breakup, let you get over it and not become the tool for it. But it was so hard! You were so set on not being friends and I was so scared it would be too late… So I thought we would take it slow, maybe date casually, slowly become more serious… But it never felt like something new, all the feelings came back so much stronger and it's impossible to resist it! I can pretend like I'm testing the waters, but I'm fucking head deep! And you're making it so difficult!"
I was about to interrupt her again, truly shook by her confession, wishing she would have told me all of this months ago. Damn, so much confusion and pain could've been spared… And then she continued before I had time to say anything.
"It's just… It's not supposed to be so hard!" Tears were streaming down her face and she did nothing to stop them. "We were just kids when we met. It's been going on for years now, but we're never quite there. The timing is never right. Something is always off. One of us is always not ready. It's always wrong somehow! I think it's just not meant to be," The words burned in my chest as she said them. She looked like it pained her to admit this too.
She took a deep breath and exhaled slowly, closing her eyes for a long moment. I didn't move.
"God, you're so frustrating," I said at last, my voice wasn't angry anymore, but it came out a little shaky. "Don't you get it? You can't be my rebound, because every girl I'd been with since I met you had been a rebound from you!" I stepped towards her again, grabbing her by the shoulders, to make her look me in the eyes. Hers were astonished. "For fucking ten years! Only it never worked. Yes, you are the reason Megan and I split, but not because I thought something would happen between you and me. I ended it the same day you first appeared in my office, because in that one moment I felt more than I have in over a year that we've been together, combined! And even if there's something of hers in my apartment, it's not because I'm waiting for her, it's because I don't know it's there! But you are probably referring to some clothes and toiletries in the spare room that Hannah'd left here. She comes to stay here once in a while and she sometimes forgets stuff. Unlike other people I know, she doesn't mind, because she knows she will be back."
Danielle opened her mouth as if to say something, then closed it again. I moved my hands to her face, cupping it earnestly.
"Have you ever thought that maybe it has always been right and despite us ruining our shots, we keep being brought together time after time, pulled to each other again and again? Given another chance? Have you ever thought that it has always been meant to be?"
She didn't respond, but she also didn't push me away. I knew it was now or never, I had to lay everything on the table and whatever happened, was the end of it. She needed to know how I felt. I needed her to know.
"You are the love of my life," I breathed out. "You have been for so long the only girl I can think about... So long it's sick and pathetic... But it's the truth. I have no power against what I feel for you. It's so much more than I can say..." My heart was pounding against my ribs like a beast in a cage and my blood spread heat to every cell in my burning body. "I would never walk out on you, if I know that's what you want. I want a future with you, Danielle. I would marry you tomorrow, if you agreed."
There was a moment's long silence, ringing and thick with tension you could cut with a knife. It felt like it'd lasted an eternity. We both held our breaths for it.
"When we met, I was underage, you were a senior, there was nothing that could happen between us. Then we were both in college and I was so scared and damaged I thought I shouldn't let myself feel things so I wouldn't get hurt again. And now we met again and you had a girlfriend, so I wasn't supposed to have feelings for you. And we hadn't seen each other in over five years, so how many feelings could I have for you after only a few weeks of getting to know each other again? But truth to be told, I've loved you all this time, not letting myself admit it, but I have. I always looked for a little bit of you in every guy I met, but it was never right. I wanted the whole you. You are the one that got away. You are... just the one. God, I love you," She said without hesitation at last, letting out a defeated breath. "I'd been so scared to lose you again... so scared to get hurt like that again, that I was pushing you away, hurting you… I'm sorry, I should've said it before. I should've realized it before. I love you so much, I can't imagine my life without you anymore,"
Our lips met in a clash and she let out a sigh into my mouth. One of my hands kept cupping her face, while the other moved to her back, bringing her even closer to my chest.
Finally, we understood each other completely.
I knew why she'd been trying to distance herself, slow down what felt natural, stop any progress... I knew how much pain she'd endured without my intention. I knew there was more she still hadn't shared. I knew how much she cared and wanted it. I knew how much she loved me. And she knew the same. We both knew we wanted the same thing and anything else - we could figure out as we went.
I held her like I would never let her go again and she clung to me just as much, pouring into our kiss every bit of emotion we had. I felt like my heart would explode from so much happiness. This was bliss.
"And I do agree," She said breathlessly, when we finally broke away from each other, only to catch our breaths.
"What?" I was confused, my mind fogged by the euphoria and desire building up.
"You said if I agreed, you'd marry me. I do."
Damn. It actually could get better.
For real this time.
Thank you to everyone who'd been reading, commenting or silently hating the endless frustration. XP
Hope you enjoyed the long rollercoaster ride and it was worth the wait.
It was a bit more dramatic than I'd usually like, but it really was a long time coming (a fucking decade!)
Please share your thoughts with me, one last time!